Postcards from Abroad: Toronto

With the start of the college year fast approaching, Niall Spain finds that accommodation problems are not just restricted to Irish shores

I arrived in Toronto homeless. This came to be when, despite applying for on-campus accommodation back in February, there were somehow no spaces available for me when July rolled around. Trying to find a suitable abode from Ireland had proved difficult, but the college assured me that it would be easy to sort out when I arrived.After landing in Toronto, I grabbed a bus outside the airport into the city. I was glad someone had told me about this because a three-dollar fare fitted my budget far better than a seventy-dollar taxi ride. As the bus dropped me a ten-minute walk away from the only lead I’d gotten in the accommodation hunt, I thought that perhaps my luck was changing.It hadn’t. The room I saw advertised in the Toronto Star ended up being already booked out, but the woman who owned it offered me a temporary bed in her living room for a low enough price. I didn’t commit but, despite fears of arriving in a serial killer’s den, I told ‘Bessy’ I would at least check it out.That was my first mistake.I arrived, the walk seeming far longer than ten minutes with two heavy suitcases strung over my shoulders and an equally heavy bag on my back. I was sweaty and tired after a journey that had lasted more than sixteen hours. I would probably have said yes to a bed in the middle of a building site; unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did.The bed was in the corner of a dusty room surrounded by copper pipes, planks of wood, large electrical saws and bundles of wire. I was assured that the work was finished and that no dust would get on my stuff. I caved, and said yes. It had been a long day and there was a free Mexican meal waiting for me at college. I didn’t want to miss that. That was my second mistake.Regardless, a quick shower, despite the filthy nature of the bathroom, somewhat validated my decision and I left for college refreshed. Helpful directions written in chalk on the ground led me to St. Michaels, the section of the college for Arts students, and to my free Mexican meal. It was ‘Frosh week’, the Canadian Fresher’s week, and daily free meals were just one of the many events.I was asked to pick a colour of bandana which would assign me to one of a number of different groups for the events of the week, the point of which was to help everyone make friends from the start. Leaving it up to fate, I told the guy to pick one. I remember thinking that whatever colour was chosen would establish the course of the year. I got orange. Whether this turns out to be a good omen or not remains to be seen.It started well. The minute I entered the orange group I heard the familiar tones of an English accent and swiftly made friends with its owner thanks to the fact that, among the group of Canadians, we were the only two who knew what Ribena was. It was after this chance encounter that the first of the events for Frosh week began. This was a lip-synch competition which involved each group taking to the stage and performing a dance to an assigned song. In front of everyone. Sober.Canadian fresher’s week is strange.The night dragged on and, thankfully, we bailed on the situation before we had to perform. I grabbed the subway home and realised, to my dismay, that there were no curtains to cover the large windows of the ‘building site’. The windows in question also looked out onto a busy road. The effect of passing cars in the darkness was like trying to sleep beside a strobe light. To top it all off, some mysterious cat came into my room and wailed at me all night long. None of the items I threw at it deterred its vocal efforts and, as far as I know, Bessy doesn’t even own a cat.The next day I was woken by a screaming contest between the landlord and her two amazingly annoying children. Well, it was either that or the entry of a group of blowtorch-wielding builders at pretty much the same time. When I returned that night, my room had no walls and my stuff was layered in dust. Needless to say it’s been a rocky start but it’s definitely provided me with more than enough motivation to find myself a real place to live.Wish me luck.