Toronto man captures neighbourhood's heart with his chalk message board of love
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When Ayden Byle began writing cryptic messages to the neighbours, life changed on Atlas Ave.
Byle moved into the Cedarvale neighbourhood in April. His house is a boxy bit of modernism in a neighbourhood of traditional bungalows, duplexes and triplexes. It’s the kind of style everyone has an opinion on — love or hate.
“Then Ayden moved in and everyone loves it,” said neighbour Ian Taylor, 36. Byle, a tall 38-year-old with the faintest trace of grey in his dark brown hair, has the neighbourhood’s attention, and admiration, ever since he started posting daily messages on a chalkboard in his front window.
“One simple hello could change everything.”
“Grace trumps karma”
“Is there any better place than here?”
Every morning, parents who drop their children off at the nearby schools slow down to read the status updates. Some take pictures. Others leave sticky note requests on his front door.
“When I first started doing it, I was a bit self-conscious. I’m a single guy, I’m in here, do people think I’m bats--- crazy? Because every night I’m in here doing my sign,” he says, standing in his spotless kitchen, wiping off the chalkboard with a wet rag, because those chalkboard erasers just don’t work.
When Byle looked at the house with his real estate agent, he noticed that nearly all the drivers slowed down and peered inside. When he was decorating it — looking for a sectional couch and sturdy kitchen table — he saw a sign that read: “If you’re waiting for a sign this is it.”
He thought it was funny, so he bought it and put it in his front window. People knocked on his door.
Byle, who grew up in Kincardine and came to the Toronto area for university, liked that. He’s always found Toronto a place where girls in bars can be a bit standoffish and the people on the streets are easily thrown by a smile.
He’s done well as an account director with several online companies, as well as founding his own website. He has the big-screen television, the convertible, the two pairs of Crocs that he wears everywhere and his friends tell him will win him no favours with the ladies.
He says he’s bought into the materialism of life to a certain degree, “but it’s getting to the point . . . it’s getting too much, you gotta slow down and enjoy the small things.”
He finds writing the signs cathartic. He doesn’t mind the chalk dust.
“My dad always taught me communication is key and enthusiasm is everything, it’s just that kind of thing you know, life is way too bloody short,” he says.
One day, he wrote, half-jokingly: “Need: chalk, wife. SOON.”
Within an hour, several boxes of colourful chalk showed up on his stoop. Then the love letters arrived.
He grabs a pile of mail, sticky notes and cards, and spreads it on his table. There’s a big construction paper card from a Grade 7 class, complete with quote ideas. There are homemade cards from families welcoming him to the neighbourhood. Letters from anonymous strangers thanking him for the inspiration.
“I see that you got the chalk . . . how is the wife search coming along?” reads one letter typed on neon green paper with an email address.
Byle has been on a few dates as a result of his chalk escapades and had a housewarming party this past Friday. He invited the neighbours using the sign. Almost 100 people came. They brought biscotti, wine and gift baskets. He points to 20 or so bottles neatly arranged on the floor.
“This one’s 10 years old,” he says, holding it up.
Nobody called in a noise complaint. Everyone was at the party.
“Everybody’s talking about it. We all look forward to seeing what the message will be that day,” says Amy Freedman, stopping her bicycle in front of the house to chat. “Everybody wants to see who writes the messages.”
Byle — called “chalkboard guy” by some of the locals, is an enthusiastic person. A diabetic, he ran across Canada when he was 23 to raise money to find a cure for the ailment.
These days, he decorates the Buddha sculpture on his front stoop for the seasons. In the warm June sunshine, it is wearing sunglasses.
Curious strangers await the daily messages, which appear before Byle goes to bed each night, in anticipation of the morning rush.
Across the street, neighbours Tasha Managhan and Ian Taylor take their dogs out around 11 p.m. for a sneak peak. They like to watch everyone’s reaction.
Says Managhan: “There would be such an uproar if it disappeared.”