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Where in Toronto: The PATH Now Taken

First Canadian Place offers a bevy of upscale stores in the PATH system

Each week, our intrepid interns reflect
on life and times in the big city.

I thought it was an urban legend, like a story that’s passed to you when you start working in Toronto. I mean, you never hear of special walkways snaking beneath the streets of Mississauga. I’d heard people talk about
the PATH, but I’d never actually walked it. Friends suggested that I use it to get to work, but I shrugged off the notion, thinking I’d rather not stride through an unfamiliar subterranean labyrinth. But on a January day when the windchill was well into the minus-20s, I pushed aside my worries and sought refuge underground.

The PATH was far from the obscure little tunnel I had thought it to be. Wide corridors, bright lights, big stores, multiple food courts and flocks of hurried businesspeople accompanied me on my journey. I started at Union Station equipped with a system map and navigation skills that I hoped would make Magellan proud. I’ll get to the office and I won’t have to brave the cold, I thought. A good decision. Ten minutes later, not so much. I was hopelessly lost. I searched for an exit, galloped up the first set of escalators I found, and found fresh air through a set of revolving  doors. Never had I been happier to see Bay Street.

The second time around I tried to outsmart the PATH. I entered on Queen Street with the goal of working my way backwards, this time toward Union Station. It was a reasonable enough plan, but halfway in my internal compass malfunctioned. I found myself halted at a crossroads, clueless as to my next steps. The whole situation was uncannily similar to Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Naturally I took a wrong turn and once again raced through the underground maze looking for a way up. I might as well have been in a Dan Brown novel uncovering a centuries-old secret while I was at it. After circling around several times, missing my 5:10 train, and not solving any Robert-Langdon-esque mysteries, I finally huffed and puffed my into the GO terminal.

Entering the PATH (photo by Faiza Siddiqui)

The PATH and I took a break for a couple of weeks after that. The weather was bearable but being stumped by a tunnel over and over again decidedly was not. Last week, though, my adventurous streak suddenly reemerged. I read somewhere that more than 100,000 commuters use the PATH system everyday. I felt a little braver so I took my chances and went back into the labyrinth. I’d now been lost enough times to spot the stores and restaurants I’d scurried past before. A trail of breadcrumbs would’ve been ideal, but the Bay’s home furnishings section, the Longo’s Market and Hockey Hall of Fame at Brookfield Place, and the boutiques throughout Compass Court and Scotia Plaza lead me in the right direction. I paraded into Union Station ready to throw my fists in the air in triumph.

The PATH was an urban legend no more.

Once you warm up to it, the network can definitely make your walk—to work, to attractions, to meet friends—easier and a lot more weatherproof. As I used it more frequently, I understood why everyone feels they have to tell you about it. It’s like a rite of passage for life in Toronto. I mean, where else in the world do they have a 28-kilometre underground system of passageways? Exactly: nowhere! Am I a PATH pro? Definitely not. I’d still get lost if I strayed from my tried and tested route to try shopping at First Canadian Place, for example, or to make my way west to Roy Thomson Hall. But after promoting myself from hopeless rookie status, I sometimes wonder if I should take Frost’s advice and walk an unfamiliar section of the PATH, just to see where in the city it lands me.

—Faiza Siddiqui

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