Raising Toronto

Meet 12 families raising kids T.O. style who wouldn’t want it any other way

With epic commutes, sky-high real estate and taxes up the wazoo, we asked eight Toronto families why they love raising their kids in the city. 

Food industry heavyweights

The parents: Grant van Gameren, chef/owner of Bar Isabel & Sunny Stone, metal worker and chef on mat leave  
Home: Detached house in Trinity Bellwoods
Kid: Wylie van Stone, nine months

What has it been like so far having a baby in the city?
Sunny: We had a midwife for the birth. The midwife was amazing, the follow-up care was unbelievable. There were a lot of babies this year at my GP. They just did a whole group together for their checkups, and then individually at the end you see a doctor.

What’s the biggest headache about city life?
Grant: Parking sucks around here. I drive everywhere, mainly because at any given moment I need to rush somewhere. We pay for two cars to park, but there’s generally no parking on our street. I’ll just park on Dundas and hope to God I wake up at 8 a.m. Sometimes I’ll wake up and be so tired and pay for parking, but I got a ticket at 8:03 a.m. I’m constantly paying for parking. 

Do you eat out as much since having a kid?
Grant: Since we had the baby, we eat at home 99 per cent of the time. Sunny was a professional chef for most of her career, so she cooks amazing dinners. 

Have you had many dealings with child care yet?
Sunny: We’ve had three dates in nine months. We take him to every event, every restaurant opening. Daycare is so expensive here in Ontario. Babysitters start at $15 an hour. As it is, child care would be more than my annual salary.

Are there many neighbourhood programs accessible to parents?
Sunny: The Artscape has cool programs; I’ve taken him to the drop-in.

Grant: I want to get him in the restaurants, washing dishes.

Midtown’s cultured condo-ers

The parents: Peggy Sher, full-time parent, former operations manager at Hermès, & Ori Sher, senior director, procurement and security at MedReleaf
Home: Condo at Eglinton & Avenue
Kids: Kai, 12, & Ami, four

Did you always want to raise your family in Toronto?
Peggy: We lived in Thornhill. We moved to Toronto when I was pregnant with Kai, my first child. I was extremely unhappy being pregnant and living up in Thornhill. We were always city people.  

Do you find living in a condo is cramped?
Right now we’re currently looking for a house, and it’s been a challenge because we love this area so much. The kids are sharing a bedroom now. My daughter came along when I was 40, so she is sharing her bunk bed with her brother. But if I had one child, I probably would stay in a condo.

Are there many safety concerns with the kids being in the city?
My son walks to school. He goes to Starbucks. He does his own thing. Now he’s got a phone. Kids with phones are life changing. When he’s walking, we use an app where we can literally see him walking to school, and we know he’s on track. When he’s going to his friend’s house, we know he’s on his way, so it’s good.

Does your family take advantage of Toronto’s cultural offerings?
We just signed up for the Infinity Mirrors at the AGO. We take advantage of every event at the ROM or AGO — we have family memberships. We just came back from Ripley’s Museum too.

Neighbourhood-driven news anchor 

The parents: Dwight Drummond, host of CBC Toronto News at 6 & Janice Drummond, model
Home: Detached house at St. Clair & Bathurst
Kids: Jolie Kara, 11 & Kayla Catherine, 15 

Was raising your family in the city always in the cards?
Dwight: We thought about raising a family out in the burbs, but it didn’t really appeal to us — especially after the long drive back into the city after looking at houses out there. We were lucky enough to be able to stay in the city. 

What do you love about your neighbourhood for kids?
We like that our kids can walk the neighbourhood with friends that they’ve had since kindergarten. They all started playing at Hillcrest Park in the sandbox, and now they play there on the basketball court. We go for family walks at Cedarvale in the summer and tobogganing there in the winter. There is a lot to do close by.

Do you think your kids have unique advantages living in the city?
With the population density in the city, there is more diversity, which for us is a good thing. We chose our neighbourhood over others because there were so many different kinds of folks living here. Our children are being exposed to different cultures, and their circle of friends reflects that. 

T.O. nature lovers

The parents: Jurgita Dronina, principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, now in The Sleeping Beauty & Serguei Endinian, real estate agent with Chestnut Park 
Home: Semi-detached house in Summerhill 
Kid: Damian, five

Did you always plan on living in the city?
Jurgita: I did want my child to grow up having both a city and nature setting. Once we moved to Toronto, we were looking for something very central in the city as well as having a neighbourhood that offers plenty of nature.

So how easy is it to access that nature?
We live just by a city ravine and have a small house. We come from Europe, where it’s all apartment living in the city, so having a house feels like a luxury. We spend a lot of time outside and are rarely stuck at home.

Do you take much advantage of Toronto’s cultural offerings?
We love going to the Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Centre or to a kids’ performance. Days off are strictly for family, and we treasure our time together. 

How does your commute affect your family time?
I don’t drive, so the distance between work, home and the theatre is very important to me. Home to school is a 30-minute walk, and home to the theatre is 15 minutes. I don’t depend on traffic.  

What unique advantages does your child have here?
Our son loves the city, and no matter how much we all travel, we always want to come home to Toronto. The education is fabulous, and the balance between work and life is splendid. Damian is often a guest at the National Ballet of Canada performances.

Community- loving east enders 

The parents: BJ Barone & Frank Nelson, TDSB high school teachers & bloggers 
Home: Semi-detached home in the upper Beaches
Kid: Milo, three 

What unique advantages do city kids have?
Frank: I think for us, for a diverse gay family, I think the most diversity per square mile is here in Toronto. There are a lot of families that look like ours in our community.

How engaged are you in your community?
We’re so involved in our community. Having a smaller house, all the kids on the street play together, and we’re lucky enough to live across the street from the school. We play movies on the back of our fence. One of the perks of being a teacher is they lend us the projectors for the summer.

How is your access to health care?
Milo’s had a few health scares. We constantly talk about how lucky we are to live in a city like Toronto, which has an amazing hospital like SickKids. Milo had surgery when he was four weeks old, and they took very good care of him and us. 

Do you have any safety concerns stemming from city life?
It’s a question after a shooting in a school, and it’s hard not to reflect on safety in bigger cities. We had a neighbourhood kid one night last winter write “f**k LGBT” on our car. I don’t know if it’s only being city-bound, but you feel unsafe — and you worry more about safety — when you have a child. We probably should have more of those talks, but we’ve been more worried about him running across the street and other things — those have been huge safety concerns.

What has it been like sharing your journey as a gay family on your blog?
BJ: After our birth photo went viral, we decided to start the blog, Family is About Love. We wanted more visibility for gay families out there. We have the same problems and issues as straight families in terms of disciplining and how much iPad time Milo gets.… We’re different, but we’re the same.

Forest Hill power couple

The parents: Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski, president and founder of Rock-It Promotions, & Matt Sadowski, head of production and development, partner at Original 
Home: Detached house at St. Clair & Bathurst
Kids: Mila, nine, & Jax, four

How family-friendly is your neighbourhood?
Debra: We love it. We have a lot of young families all around this area. All of the kids’ pals are in this neighbourhood. My daughter takes piano lessons on the street. My son goes to Hebrew school five minutes away.

What has your experience with schooling been like?
We’ve had an interesting journey. I thought it would be an interesting time  for me to talk about our daughter’s learning disability — now they call them LDs — because a lot of people don’t talk about it. We’ve empowered her so that there’s no embarrassment attached to it. Identifying it for us was a really long journey with the TDSB, but now that she’s diagnosed, they’re really supportive. We’ve had to use some private resources to help her as well. I would say our decision to keep her in the TDSB so that she is able to walk to school every day — stay with her friends, stay with her routine — has been a positive decision on her behalf. We are so proud of her for working so hard and dealing with her additional challenges. What I want to tell other parents is don’t be afraid to be loud and don’t be afraid to trust your gut.

How do meals work at your home?
Because I’m an entrepreneur and a mom, I tend to use grocery delivery services. Our school has a new program this year where they provide hot lunch for kids and they do it three days a week. It’s healthy; they love it.

Has living in the city taught your kids anything special?
I think it’s taught them a different sense of empathy and a little bit more about what real life is like. There’s not a filter. They’re seeing it every day.

TV parents in North T.O. 

The parents: Catherine Reitman, creator, executive producer, writer and star of CBC’s Workin’ Moms & Philip Sternberg, producer and actor on the show
Home: Detached home at Lawrence and Yonge
Kids: Liam, one and a half, & Jackson, four 

After living in L.A., what’s Toronto been like? 
Philip: There is an ease here. We work stupid hours, but people do respect the holidays and the three-day weekends. People definitely embrace family time more. There’s a little more humanity. It’s a beautiful quality when you’re trying to raise good people.

What do you like about your ’hood?
Catherine: We love the people in the area. We moved from L.A. two years ago. It’s got a really nice family feel here that we find grounding.

Philip: It’s not necessarily as hip as downtown but it’s got a lot of character. There’s a lot of great families in the neighbourhood who are like-minded and hard-working and smart.

Thoughts on local health care?
Catherine: Coming from America, we’re astounded at how amazing the Canadian health-care system is and, in particular, our pediatrician has been. I just adore her. She’s a working mother herself, and I’ve been floored with her generosity with my boys, who seem to catch everything under the sun. 

What’s a constant city parent struggle?
Philip: Crosstown traffic. If there’s a snowstorm or something, it takes me about an hour to get home, and then I miss dinner with the kids. You’re negotiating with people to come pick up your kids or meet them at the house.… It’s a humiliating constant challenge that working parents have to face.

Has school in Toronto been a positive experience? 
Catherine: We love the school we’re at, and he loves it too. We can’t wait to get his brother in. His brother is with a nanny, and he comes to set a lot — in fact he threw up on set all over Mommy when she was in full wardrobe and about to shoot a scene. Now every time he comes to set, the crew goes, “Uh-oh.”

Curator of culture in Koreatown

The parent: Mia Nielsen, director of arts and culture at the Drake 
Home: Two floors of a rented house in Koreatown
Kid: Ian Le Quelenec, 13 

What is the best part about your nabe?
Mia: It’s a really creative neighbourhood. There are lots of little parties and festivals in the summer that are very unique to the area. I walk a lot, and my son skateboards, so we’ll walk down to Kensington Market. We’ll go to the AGO. We’ll go to concerts. That’s what I love about the city.

What has your experience been like with schooling in Toronto?
Ian goes to an amazing school: Horizon Alternative. I was looking for a program that was academically advanced and challenging but something with a little bit of a different approach than the gifted stream. It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s a good fit. There’s also a lot of room for creativity. It’s a really neat program. 

What has your journey been like as a single parent?
I think there are lots of pros and cons to being a single parent. I feel like Ian and I have a really special bond because it is just the two of us. He often comes with me to openings and receptions and performances. I feel like, with it just being him and I, there isn’t as much distinction between “adult time” and “kid time.” Sometimes I’ll have friends over for dinner, and he’s usually there at the table with three other adults, discussing politics or whatever. One thing I’m really fortunate to experience is that, because I work in culture, I’m always really curious about it — whether it’s new music or street art — and I think that aspect of my job has allowed me to connect with him in different ways as he gets older.  

Do you feel that city kids grow up with certain advantages?
City kids learn to be independent because of the public transit system. My son told me a story where he was on the subway with a friend engrossed in conversation and they missed the stop where they had to transfer. When you’re 11 or 12 years old, you have to think on your feet and be confident that you can solve this. 

Nature-loving 905ers

The parents: Nikki Andal, photographer and blogger who works in IT, & Lenard Andal, software developer
Home: Detached home in Richmond Hill
Kids: Mason, four, & Carter, two

Did you always plan on raising your kids in Richmond Hill?
Nikki: We didn’t want to be downtown Toronto. Raising two kids, we wanted to be outside with parks and have just a little bit of a slower life. It’s like cottage life, but we’re five minutes from the 404 to go downtown.   

Do you find there are any challenges that come with living north of the city?
If you’re trying to go to a concert or a Blue Jays game, you might have that extra half hour drive. And sometimes we miss that downtown food. We’re OK with those two.

Where do your weekends take you as a family?
We love the outdoors and we have a lot of adventures. Every weekend now, we’re out on the boat in the lake in the summers, or we’re hiking through the trails. I find we’re a little more physical now. The kids are inside less and spend less time on their electronics. They’re more apt to be outside with the kids in the area playing.  

Do you find that there’s a great sense of community in your neighbourhood?
When we moved in, all the neighbours came out and started telling us where to go and where to eat. There are so many kids around us. It’s just an amazing environment that we love raising our kids in. There are days when we don’t even lock our door. It’s just a different mindset. We can just go walking at night and not worry about the kids playing. We always have our eyes on them, but it’s a different kind of safety. It’s a great feeling. 

© Joel Clifton

Bayview brood 

The parents: Ann Kaplan Mulholland, Real Housewife of Toronto and CEO of iFinance Canada, & Dr. Stephen Mulholland, plastic surgeon 
Home: Detached house on The Bridle Path 
Kids: Luke, 28; Gabie, 26; Barrett, 26;  Keaton, 25; Destiny, 20; Rock, 18; Molly,15; & Chase,14

Do you think city kids have unique advantages over those raised elsewhere?
Ann: I know kids who have grown up in more remote areas, but it doesn’t seem to be the area as much as the parenting. I’ve always wanted to raise my children where they had access to different activities. We utilize the Duke of Edinburgh program, so they can measure their community involvement in arts and athleticism. 

How much independence do your younger kids have?
My younger ones would call me a helicopter parent, but I do need to know where they are. I think independence has to be earned and proven. There’s a lot of temptations and choices and being keenly aware and working with your kids on having parameters and limitations is important. I do have a group of parents that are like-minded, and we talk on a regular basis. When we do have concerns, we meet up and get coffee. That is something that I am proactive about.

Do you have many safety concerns, especially with your daughters?
There’s a lot of safety talk in our home. I find it frightening that my 20-year-old daughter has men come up to her, making gestures. Look at what’s come out with #MeToo. I couldn’t help but look at my daughter and think, “Have I done enough to teach her to speak out? Or to be able to assess a situation and say, ‘This is wrong’?” If I don’t talk to them and give them the tools, how can they learn? 

Humewood homeowners

The parents: Marnie Adler, freelance TV producer & director and Pilates instructor, & Stephen Adler, executive director for the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University 
Home: Detached house in Humewood with detached Pilates studio in back 
Kids: Samantha, 11, & Mia, 9

How has it been raising a family in the city?
Marnie: We lived in Thornhill for 10 years, and we only recently moved to Toronto. It was unaffordable for us to live in the city, so we made a 10-year plan to move into the city. The Humewood neighbourhood is unbelievable. We spent a lot of time thinking where the best place for adults and children and school and social would be, and I think we nailed it.

How has the move affected your commute times?
When asking my daughter Mia, the major difference that’s a big deal for her is that she gets to see her parents more often. Stephen now has a 10-minute commute. The accessibility has been life-changing. It was 10 years of commuting. I can remember the day when I got into my car technically “early” at six o’clock, and it took me two hours to get home. 

Do you have major safety concerns now that you’re in the city?
I worry about it 10 times more than when we lived in Thornhill. We read about break-ins in the neighbourhood. Friends of ours have had their cars broken into multiple times. Did I ever think about locking my door in Thornhill? Here I’m locking my door and putting my shades down. We will need to get our older daughter a phone way earlier than I would have considered it. For safety, I think it’s a priority. 

How has the schooling transition been?
In Thornhill, we put them into French immersion, and they started getting bussed to their school. When they got home, there was no one to play with. Now they can they can walk to school, have play dates after school.…

Downtown transplants 

The parents: Jessica Kalsi, full time parent, & Tony Kalsi, chiropractor 
Home: Detached house at Yonge & Sheppard
Kids: Nyla, two, & Nolan, 13 months

Had you always planned on raising children uptown?
Jessica: We were downtown initially, and after I had my daughter we moved. I prefer living uptown over living downtown as a family. When we were downtown, we were in a condo, so we didn’t have the kind of space that we do now. Just having neighbours is the best part about being up here. Now I’m part of mom groups in the neighbourhood. I’ve now started my own circle time in my house and have a guy who comes over and plays the guitar and sings. I do like parenting up here because everything is so accessible. 

Do you think city kids have unique advantages?
Living in the city, the kids have more options and accessibility to some of Ontario’s main attractions. But even with the zoo, for example, we’re not too far from it. We have annual passes, and we always say, if we lived anywhere else, coming to the zoo wouldn’t happen as frequently as it does. Being able to explore more might get their creativity flowing and expand their minds.

What are your plans when it comes to putting your kids in school? 
My daughter is in Montessori right now. She loves it. They had several options, so we just started with the three days, and you could tell that she wasn’t very comfortable, so we did switch her to the five days, and it made a huge difference. Every morning she looks forward to going to school. We have also been looking into private schools, and we found one that’s not too far. It wasn’t like we did research on the schools in the area and didn’t like the ratings — it is just something my husband wants. We checked out a couple, and some of their methods are really good. At the Montessori school, the kids get the same teacher three years in a row, which is really interesting because the teacher can really get to know the students and work with their strengths and weaknesses. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO