3 Awesome things About Oshawa

I've been itching to be more involved in my community for the past few years. With commuting and multiple businesses on the go, it's been difficult at best to become involved. But, I have a new job, and not only does it free up some of my time (for important things like sleeping, painting, blogging and cooking) but it also allows me to be involved in my community as part of my career. Sweet!

When I was a kid, I didn't appreciate my home town at all. I thought it sucked. I would have used the word "sucked" with extreme emphasis. I don't claim to be the most worldly person ever, but I have learned as an adult that in fact, my hometown doesn't suck at all. In comparison to a lot of other places I've lived, it's actually pretty vibrant for its size and close proximity to a major metropolis (Toronto). Cities around the globe that live in the shadows of a major city often suffer similar fates - the residents see it as more desirable to travel an hour for a meal and gallery opening in the big city - making it difficult for culture and unique features to evolve at home.

In my new job, which is doing a  number things for The RMG (The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa) I've had to do a some research about art history in relation to the city. As it turns out, there is actually quite a legacy of important arts movements in Canada based in the town. One example being that the first abstract art exhibit in Canada took place in Oshawa. Who would have guessed? Even reporters commonly say it was "outside Toronto" or "east of Toronto" but don't give the actual city name. It's fascinating to learn about and I hope to continue to support community building efforts in Oshawa. I've been mentally using the slogan "Oshawa, Why Not?" as my own motivational tool, thinking, why not imagine Oshawa could fix its bad reputation? It is partially because I'm very stubborn, and I refuse to let malls and big box stores ruin what has the bones to be an awesome, vibrant downtown core.

I thought I'd blog about some recent goings-on in support of my new-found appreciation for my city. It's got one of the worst reputations of any city in Ontario yet I personally believe this is largely to do with the actual residents of the city perpetuating the stigma rather than anyone outside of the city reinforcing it. It has blemishes, but what city doesn't? When people tell me there is 'nothing to do' I'm left wondering what it is they are seeking, because I find more than enough things to do. 

At very least I figure there's enough people out there saying negative things, I might as well go against the grain and say positive things.

One of my favourite things about Oshawa is the choice of two great flea markets. One is at the north end, and one is technically in Courtice, but they are both pretty awesome and about 10 minutes drive from my house.The Oshawa flea market is truly a flea market. I'm tired of these 'flea markets' that sell only collectibles, bad gold necklaces, fake purses and puppy mill dogs. Those are not flea markets. Flea markets should be full of junk, antiques, books, vinyl records and weird paintings. The odd army collectible is fine. The Oshawa flea market is vinyl record heaven - if you are a collector, there are a handful of vendors each with huge amounts to dig through, often already organized and sleeved by genre. And very well priced. I'd venture to say it's one of the best flea markets I've ever been to as far as record collecting goes. I've also bought vintage Playboy's there (I collect 50's, 60's and some 70's issues - 10 for $20), Labatt's 50 Beer Mugs  ($2 each), a W Heath Robinson poster (framed, $15) and so on. It's a fun dig-for-the-good-stuff flea market.

The Courtice flea market by comparison does have some crappy collectibles vendors and some lame knock-off perfumes. But, it also has a whole barn called the "Junk Gypsy", a number of antique jewellery vendors, a bunch of vintage furniture vendors, an army surplus area and a farmer's market each weekend. At left are some huge pendant lamps I spotted there this past weekend. I loved them all. Especially the orange one. Unfortunately, I couldn't even justify the $5 each they were asking for them, since I've just replaced all the lighting fixtures in my condo. But I wanted them all.

Another favourite thing about Oshawa is Fiesta Week. Fiesta Week is what Caravan in Toronto used to be before it ceased to happen. It's a festival that the cultural community halls support themselves each year by way of throwing a parade, a beauty pageant, performing traditional dance and opening up their hall kitchens to the public for a week. My whole life growing up in Oshawa I never partook in the festivities, and thought of them mostly as a place people went to get drunk underage. In spite of this I'd never been, so in the past couple of years I have made it a mission to eat at each one of the halls. (Not that I don't like pageants and parades, but even the Fiesta Week site itself says the festival could more accurately be called "Taste of Oshawa".)  The beauty of it is the food is beyond delicious - it's like eating at someone's grandma's house. Authentic and delicious. I wouldn't say Oshawa is the most multicultural city in the world, but the variety of foods to choose from at Fiesta are still pretty spectacular.
While there is Indian, Thai, Persian, Japanese, and Chinese and other various restaurants in town, there aren't German, Hungarian, Portuguese or Ukrainian places, because I suppose, that's what people eat at home. But not me! So it's different than what you can normally find, and that's always fun.

This year we started at the German hall, ate wiener schnitzel with sauerkraut and potatoes, and had a home made pretzel on the way out. The pretzel was highly memorable as it was still warm from the oven and so, so chewy. Oh yes, and some beer. 

 On to the North Portugal hall, at which we had Portuguese beer and a number of items I've never had before but will attempt to describe.
Since we'd already had a meal (we did share, but still...German food is rather heavy) we went for appetizers and desserts. Pictured are two turnovers, one with salted cod (odd, but pleasing) and one with beef (I ate it in like, half a second) as well as a custard filled pastry that literally melted in your mouth. The north Portuguese seem to be pretty into salted cod - the main dish was also a salted cod dish served hot with potatoes, black olives, hard boiled egg and onion. It looked and smelled amazing, but my hunger was waning, and I had more ground to cover.

Next we decided it was time for pierogi, so off to the Ukrainian hall we walked. They were out, which was disappointing, but not so disappointing that we didn't stay to watch the kids dance, have another beer, and eat the Ukrainian version of schnitzel with sauerkraut (darker and different from the German, but hard to put your finger on  how exactly).  Ukrainian dancing is pretty exciting. This isn't a video that I took there, but you'll get the idea. The kids are pretty awesome at it, considering they're Canadian and oh, an average of 12 years old.

Finally we went to the Italian hall. We actually started out at the Metis festival, but then it started to rain and we were hungry. We had planned to go from there to the French Canadian or Hungarian (which are the only two we haven't made it to yet, having been to the Italian, Caribbean, Portuguese, Polish and Greek halls in the past) but due to the rain we went to the closest hall. It turned out to be a solid reminder of what Italian food should actually taste like. I had ravioli, my friend had a hot veal sandwich with mushroom and hot pepper topping, and it was all so amazing. In retrospect I'm sad I didn't get arancini, because they had those too. I like food a lot and I like all kinds of food, but really, there is nothing as good as homemade fresh pasta and that is hard to resist. I really am annoyed with restaurants using dried pasta all the time. I do eat in better restaurants but even there they cheat, and it is rare to find one that doesn't - though props to Fazio's in Oshawa for being the first restaurant to come to mind when I thought of one that made their own. Anyhow it was great. Super fresh and homemade and cooked just right.

Finally if listing awesome things about Oshawa I have to give mention to the Oshawa Creek Trail. The path, as we call it, runs from the beginning of the 'north end' to the lake following the creek. My condo overlooks the creek/ravine and the path and though I grew up in the city, I never knew the path existed until moving back here later in life.

I walk the path often. This week I've seen a rabbit, a groundhog and a Baltimore oriole. One time I saw a deer. I think it is one of the best things about Oshawa. It gets a bad wrap for being on the unsafe side at night but to that I say, what wooded ravine areas in a city are considered safe at night? The path is beautiful because the density of the trees and gurgle of the creek manage to drown out the city noise. I even enjoy the grafitti under the bridges. I'd go so far as to say the city should encourage grafitti under the bridges, maybe there would be some better art as a result.

I took two pictures this week of views from the path:

This is a lovely park full of old trees the path runs through at one point.

This part of the path is cool because it sits right on the river bank. Creek bank? This is the Oshawa Creek, so creek bank I guess. It is one of my favourite spots because you are right down on the water which is actually pretty quick moving in this spot. In this pic the creek is pretty muddy from the rain, but I think you can still see the rush in the water. At another point, the trail goes through a Peony garden and the Botanical Gardens.

I've been super pumped about Oshawa lately because I'm living and working in the city. I'm able to walk to and from work and I feel like I'm seeing another side of it. Using the city as more than a bedroom. I'm finding it super livable and affordable and actually pretty rich in events and culture if you are open to looking for it.

I always thought I wanted a downtown condo with foot access to things - shopping, restaurants, galleries - I just didn't imagine it would be in Oshawa. That said, I'm happy it is. 

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