Actor/playwright Aaron Rothermund chose cozy charm over convenience.
Aaron Rothermund had lived everywhere: Kensington, Queen West, High Park, Etobicoke, Greektown, St. Clair…Barrie. So when the 31-year-old actor and playwright found a nautical-inspired bachelor on the Toronto Islands for rent, he pounced on the rare opportunity. After almost two years of living off the mainland, it’s safe to say Rothermund has dealt with the quirks of island life with the greatest of ease. Just as long as that darn ferry shows up.
Of all places to live in Toronto, you chose the Toronto Islands. Why?
I’ve lived in Toronto for 10 years and I’ve always loved the island. I would always come here in the summer, sometimes by myself because my friends would always miss the ferry.
It’s almost impossible to score a home here and you found a rental. How?
I used PadMapper. It’s an apartment finding app that searches everywhere from Craigslist to Kijiji and maps out all the places that fit your criteria. I always feel bad saying that because I feel like people want this romantic story like I inherited this place or something. But it’s a rental. A very hard-to-find rental.
Your search landed you your own bachelor pad on Algonquin Island just off of Ward’s. Was living here your number one priority?
I wanted a balcony and something architecturally beautiful that had laundry. When this place came up I thought it was up north inAlgonquin Park. At the time my grandmother had just passed and I was like, “Yeah! I’m gonna move to Algonquin Park!” But I could never live there. There’s like, bears. In the end I really wanted the island. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown.
What a catch. Was the competition stiff?
My landlady’s first choice was a guy in Brampton who worked in Scarborough, but thought it would be difficult for him to get to his job.
How do you make a living?
It’s very glamorous. I bartend at the Arts and Letters Club, a private members club for doctors and architects who enjoy paintings. I also work on the island at the Rectory Café. (Living here helped me get the job). I also write plays and poetry.
What kind of plays?
I run a company called Afterglow Theatre. Charming Monsters was a show I wrote last summer. It’s about a town full of women that are charmed by a stranger and when he seduces the wrong woman they all turn on him in bacchanalian proportion. Ambiguous was my first play. It’s about a writer struggling with his character’s sexuality. Both premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
What’s it like relying on a ferry schedule to get to and from the mainland?
The last ferry to the island is at 11:15-11:30pm. If you miss it, you’re stuck. In the summer there’s a ferry taxi but it all depends on the driver’s mood. Sometimes he doesn’t want to work. Some days if it’s too windy the ferry won’t dock at Ward’s (five minutes from my place). In that case you have to go to Hanlan’s (45 minutes from my place). Sometimes I walk to Ward’s and see no one there and no ferry coming. Then I’ll see a boat going to Hanlan’s. That’s when I say: “OK. I’m late for work.”
But your friends must be a tad jealous that you live here.
I have friends who’ve never come here. They can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s like people who don’t go north of Bloor. Also, you can have friends over but they can’t leave whenever they want. They either have to stay over or catch the last ferry.
What do you do if you miss the last ferry home from the mainland?
Find a couch to crash on. I’m that guy who always leaves birthdays early.
Do you ever get lonely living here all by yourself?
There are times where I love my home, but meeting people is difficult. It’s isolated, which is good for when I’m writing. [But] as a gay person it can be difficult. Sometimes I think I may have come here prematurely—that I should have come here when I’m 50 years old. I think about moving back to the mainland, but it would be a culture shock. There’s no cars or stores here.
If there’s no stores, then what do you do if you run out of food?
You always make sure you have food. But you’re in trouble if you don’t want it. If you are craving something, you have to go to the mainland or suck it up and drink lots of water. Or make soup and potatoes.
What’s the gay scene like on the island?
There’s a large gay community of mostly older gentlemen. Ladies, too. It’s a different lifestyle altogether. They’re not going out every night. They go for walks. It’s very adult, but it’s also encouraging to see relationships function that way.
What do people do for fun around here?
Friday nights at the Rectory Café we have homemade pizza and live music. It’s really fun. Sometimes we do movie nights on Algonquin Island. A lot of guys will play hockey on the water when it freezes. There are lots of house parties, too.
The island is a huge draw for artists. What’s that community like?
Lots of painters and photographers; people who do tapestry and beadwork. One lady combs the hair on her cat and weaves it into fabric and makes sweaters out of it.
She makes sweaters out of cat hair?
Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.
There are about 300 homes on the Toronto Islands. You must cross a lot of small town gossip.
As soon as I date someone, everybody knows and everybody has an opinion about it. There’s also an online community board with lots of gossip about that one resident whose dog is barking at what time, and so on.
Do you play into it?
I keep to myself. You’re in such close quarters with people so it’s easy to accidentally see someone changing in their window. Everyone lives so close.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about living on the island?
It’s that you can live on the island. When I say I live here people think I’m in an artist residency or that I’m lying or something. Many don’t even know there are homes here. Another thing is that you can swim here. If you swim away from the city the water is quite clean.
Do you see yourself still living here in five years?
I have a really transitional frame of mind. I’m heading to Barcelona in March and it’s a one-way ticket.
So what you’re saying is that we may never see you again.
This article could be my opus! I’ll be back. I do like it here, but I need a change.