Wearing the City on His Sleeve
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Wearing the City on His Sleeve

Jameson Skaife only lived in Toronto for two years. He chose to tattoo the city's skyline on his left sleeve so he'd never really leave.

Jameson Skaife, 26, wears his TO pride on his sleeve.

Out of his 26 years, Jameson Skaife only spent the last two living in Toronto. But in that short time, the city and its people left a permanent mark on him, his personality, and his education. And now, his bicep too.

A lifetime resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Skaife didn’t know too much about the city when he moved here to get his Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, only that “it was a bigger city” with “a lot going on.” He came for the program and the experience of living in a country that wasn’t too different. It wasn’t even love at first sight: initially, Toronto just seemed like another American city, maybe with a slight European flair from the streetcars and multiple languages he heard on the street.

But with his degree attained and a new job calling in Chicago, Skaife walked into Speakeasy Tattoo on Harbord Street about four weeks ago. Fifteen minutes and $80 later, he walked out with his first tattoo permanently inked on his left arm—the skyline of the city he’d come to love.

“I had wanted to get a tattoo for a good five years or so, but I just never could think of something that I wanted permanently put on my body,” he tells us over the phone from Chicago after one of his first shifts at his new gig, designing public spaces in the Windy City.

“A couple months back, I began to realize that my time in Toronto was winding down, realizing how much I grew to love the city, that these past few years were so influential in me becoming me…A friend suggested I get a Toronto tattoo, and I laughed at first. But then it began to make sense.”

Using images from Google as a guide, he drew a rough outline of the cityscape, gathering input from friends to fill in newer developments he may have missed. What resulted is a thin black outline of the city’s waterfront, from around Bathurst to Yonge.

“I love it, I absolutely love it. It just always reminds me of my time there,” says the American who chose to get a Canadian city permanently imprinted on his body. “I definitely love Milwaukee, I always will. But Toronto was just the perfect time for me, I grew so much as a person just personally, academically, and professionally.”

"I love it, I absolutely love it," Skaife says about his new tattoo.

“I definitely noticed that I grew a lot. I became much more outgoing, much more confident, more socially adept, made some amazing friends. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and very inclusive and accepting, it just made it easier to form those bonds and those connections. It was easier to always be looking for new people and finding new friends all the time…There’s just a really cool vibe about the city,” he says. “And I just learned so much too—about different cultures, about my profession, academically I learned a ton.”

Academically, this landscape designer also has more than a few thoughts about the proposed plans from the Brothers Ford for the city’s waterfront, like a Ferris wheel, monorail, and a mega mall, which he’s been following from across the border.

“It’s so terrible, it just makes me very angry…Waterfront Toronto has been doing an amazing job I think, they’re going through a process that will lead to great design and will be there for decades, and be an economic generator for the city as a whole,” he says.

The plans, if they come through, will (thankfully) be missing from Skaife’s tattoo—which he calls “a snapshot of the city” during the time he was there, a constant reminder of the people he met, the lessons he learned, and the experiences he made. For Skaife, it’s a tattoo that says, as he wrote to his friends a few days before the move, “I love you guys and the city, I will always carry you in my heart and on my arm.”

CORRECTION: September 12, 2011, 3:45 PM This article originally stated Skaife’s occupation as landscaper, when in fact he is a landscape designer. We regret the error.