York University is a large educational institution (~35,000 students) located just within the Northern Border of Toronto. Toronto itself is a large metropolitan city containing about 2.3 million residents. But many of the people working in Toronto live in the surrounding Greater Toronto Areas (GTA) composed of communities ranging from small towns to medium size cities of about 1/2 million. The entire GTA contains about 5 million residents. But despite its size, Toronto remains a clean, safe, and relatively simple place to live. In fact, some years the United Nations has officially classified Toronto as the best city to live in - in the world!
Sunset View of Toronto from the CN Tower (courtesy of WP Medendorp).
Accommodations and Transportation. Because of its border location, York is accessible to many different types of residential communities. Many students choose to live on Campus for the sake of convenience (York is equipped with its own indoor shopping plaza and restaurants). Some York employees choose to live closer to downtown, in one of the trendy areas like "Bloor-West Village". Others (like me) prefer one of the smaller, town-like suburbs outside of the "megacity". And some faculty choose to live right out in the country. Like most North Americans, GTA people love their cars, but Toronto also has an extensive and efficient public transit system including subways and GO-trains. $2.50 Canadian will get you anywhere within the city, so many inner-city dwellers prefer to rely on this system for the more urban life-style.
Health. Living conditions in Toronto are clean and well regulated, and Toronto houses one of North America's largest medical communities. For Canadian residents and landed immigrants, health care is free. People on work-permits (like Foreign post-docs) also go onto the government health-care system after 3 months - the university can cover them up to that point. Foreign grad students pay a modest sum with the university to recieve health-care coverage.
Schools Besides York, there are two other universities: the University of Toronto and Ryerson; and there are many technical institutes and colleges. For children, two main government-funded systems are available (free) in all areas: Catholic and Public; and there are many private schools.
Immigration. For (non-Canadian) Students and Post-docs, this is relatively trivial. The university writes you a letter and if you meet certain standard requirements, your local Canadian Consulate issues a Student Visa or a temporary work permit.
Geography. Toronto is located at the Northern Edge of Lake Ontario (one of Canada's Great Fresh-Water Lakes). The largest highway running through Toronto is the "401" which connects Detroit Michigan (to the West) with Montreal Quebec (to the East). Toronto is thus fairly close to the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard of the United states. The countryside surrounding the GTA is mainly farmland, but within a two hour drive to the North one reaches cottage country and virtually unpopulated tracts of forest in places like Algonquin Park.
Weather. Despite its Northern Location (although actually it is South of many parts of the USA), Toronto is not as cold as one might expect. In the summers, temperatures frequently go above 30C, although not for extended periods of time. Winter day time temperatures are usually just below freezing, but we don't get much snow (usually just a few inches that does not accumulate). Occassionally it gets colder - it varries a lot from winter to winter. Springs and Falls are lovely, with the classic spring flowers and autumn colours. So you should pack a variety of clothes, depending on the time of year that you might be visiting.
Lifestyle and Entertainment. When you picture Canada, you probably picture quiet Northern lakes, forests, and wildlife. While this image is true to the North of us, Toronto itself is the quintessential modern cosmopolitan city. This has particularly come to pass over the last twenty years which has seen a huge influx of people from other parts of Canada and all over the World. Toronto has large Italian, Greek, East Asian, South Asian, African, and other communities, and they all get along very well. As a result, the United Nations has also classified this as the world's most multicultural city. In practical terms, this means that Toronto has more excellent international cuisine than you could ever hope to sample in a lifetime. But it also means a variety of cultural festivals and events. Furthermore, Toronto is replete with Entertainment districts, amusement parks, clubs, lakefront beaches, public parks, museums, art galleries, zoo, movie festivals, bike paths, concert halls, super-sized movie theaters, live theaters for major international productions, professional sports arenas (e.g. Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, and Blue Jays) and other amenities to suit any type of taste - so it is impossible to run out of things to do.
While these are too many to mention, the following
family entertainment venues are among my personal favorites:
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (very close to York)
Ontario Science Centre
Royal Ontario Museum Home Page
For More Information try:
Welcome to Toronto! Toronto City Guide & Information
Citizenship and Immigration Canada