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The Globe and Mail

Buskers, short sleeves and smiles signal warmer Toronto days ahead

It was a soft April day in Toronto. A family group walked side by side along a downtown street: mother, father, teenaged daughter, teenaged son. As they passed the Eaton Centre, a busker with tangled hair down to his shoulders was pounding away at an old drum set.

The mom did a little shimmy to the beat. She had taken off her jacket in the warmth and tied it around her waist, so her arms were bare. She gave her shoulders a shake. She turned to her daughter and grinned.

For any self-respecting teenager, this is a waking nightmare. But instead of giving her mother a disgusted shake of the head, the girl allowed a half-smile to cross her face. The family group walked on.

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Winter can be grim in this city, with pewter skies and grey streets. Slush was perfected here. So when the weather finally turns and wisps of green emerge, people respond, if not with wild abandon – this is Toronto – then with almost giddy delight.

Gardeners claw with eager hands in the cold wet earth. Neighbours made strangers by winter, hail each other like war survivors. Bright-eyed kids chase each other in frantic circles.

You could see it happen on Tuesday, when temperatures rose and the Blue Jays were getting ready to play their home opener. Even in the concrete canyons of downtown, spring fever was raging.

Businessmen left their suit jackets inside and ventured boldly out to lunch in blue or white dress shirts, joshing among themselves like so many schoolboys. Women who had looked into the tights drawer and said "enough" strode along the sidewalks in bare legs and heels. Cyclists returned , swarming along main streets, bike bells chiming. Tattooed skateboard aces jumped concrete steps with a clatter and a bang.

Next to police headquarters, a woman in a wool cape rode by on one of those sturdy Dutch bikes, this one painted in burnt orange. A college-aged dude in a backward ball cap and pants that tapered to nothing at the ankle crossed the street in a muscle shirt, showing off his winter-pale guns.

Down the road, at Yonge-Dundas Square, two young men with lithe dancer's bodies took turns doing jetés on the pavement as their friend, a woman, snapped pictures with her phone. A biker on a rumbling Harley waited for the light.

Outside the famous bowed towers of City Hall, a pair of women with short-cropped hair sang the blues next to the reflecting pool, strumming their beat-up guitars. A mother with a baby strapped to her front, facing forward, stopped to snap a picture of the wriggling child. A handsome man in a sharp blue suit and pointy brown shoes crossed the square at an easy pace, hands in his pockets.

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Three high-school boys on the raised walkway above shouted out a rap verse before dissolving into laughter. A slim young guy bounded up the steps of the outdoor stage, his tiny white puffball of a dog bounding along beside him.

It was one of those fickle days when the sun fights to break through a milky sky, but when it did, faces turned toward it like sunflowers. On a south-facing bench, a woman in jogging pants sat still as a statue, eyes closed, absorbing the heat.

Upstairs on City Hall's green roof, a favourite retreat for trysting lovers, a couple sat on a bench, pressed hip to hip and taking pictures of themselves. When they stood to go, she pulled him close, hands on his waist, then disengaged and expertly covered her hair with a scarf before descending to the public world below.

Further into the city's heart, at the foot of the TD Centre's dark towers, another couple sat on a stone bench. She rested her head on his shoulder, crossed her legs and twirled a foot in a bright white sneaker. He said something. She threw back her head to laugh, then leaned in for a kiss.

Of course, the next day was nasty – blustery and cold. It is a Canadian spring, after all, and nature is always waiting just around the corner with a two by four. Oh, and the Jays lost.

But for a brief, not quite shining moment, Toronto was feeling the glory to come.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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