A trip to Bay Street on a quiet summer morning

As the pandemic labours toward its conclusion, can the downtown core return to normal?
Melissa Kluger

On a Friday morning in July, I took a trip to King and Bay. I hadn’t been in the area since the start of the pandemic, but I’d heard from lawyers who’ve been going into the office that it was worth the trouble to see Bay Street in its weirdly vacant state. I took the streetcar for the first time in more than a year. (And I had a good laugh when I realized that I had added $100 to my PRESTO card in February 2020, cash that I probably should have invested in Zoom instead.) To be fair, a Friday morning in the summer was always quiet downtown, with lots of people on vacation or rolling into work a little late. But this was different. It was eerily empty.

At the TD Bank Tower, there was one bike locked to a rack that could have held at least 50. In the lobby, every elevator bank sat empty waiting for passengers. Over at First Canadian Place, there was a hushed library vibe as I wandered down the vast and lonely marble hallways, sometimes without another person in sight. The street-level Starbucks was shuttered and gone for good. Some retail stores had closed, while others, like Harry Rosen, were papered over with a note in the window that simply said, “See you in the fall!”

For lawyers working downtown, Bay Street might feel a little emptier for another reason. While most of us were stuck at home unpacking our latest Amazon deliveries, other lawyers were packing their bags for a new adventure in American cities like New York and Los Angeles. Indeed, in the midst of a global pandemic that caused an epic health crisis and staggering job losses, business in the legal industry has been strong — so strong that major U.S. firms can hardly keep up with the demand. And, as history has shown, a busy market forces the United States to send headhunters to Canada.

In our cover story, journalist Luc Rinaldi digs deep into the ongoing recruitment boom. He looks at what has prompted so many Canadian lawyers to leave for the U.S. and whether Bay Street can do anything to stop the bleeding (spoiler alert: probably not). Managing partners at the city’s top firms spoke candidly with Rinaldi about losing lawyers to America and what it means for business. I think you’ll be surprised to hear what they have to say.

While I admit that I kind of enjoyed my visit to empty, eerie Bay Street, I am eager to see the financial district come back to life. The coming months will bring a lot of challenges as we all navigate what a return to the office should look like. I wish everyone luck, patience, flexibility, creative thinking and, hopefully, a new Starbucks.

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Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor

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This is a story from our Fall 2021 Issue.