Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

On the Wednesday of our week in Toronto, we caught an early bus out to St Catharine’s where we were met by fellow blogger Birgit of BB Creations and her husband Michael. This was the start of a wonderful day on which we had a pair of fabulous tour guides all to ourselves!

After a short drive from St Catharine’s, we parked by the Skylon Tower at Niagara Falls.

Perhaps remembering our fleecing at the CN Tower we didn’t go in, but walked down to the Falls which are, of course, best viewed from the Canadian side.

These guys seem to be thinking “seen it all before”.

Above the Falls, this building is the first major hydro-electric plant in the world – one of the investors being Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma, subject of an earlier post. Opposite is a statue of Nikola Tesla, engineer and inventor, who was also involved.

After visiting the Falls, we drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, making a few stops along the way. One was at Brock’s Monument, Sir Isaac Brock being a hero of the War of 1812. Some of the figures at the base were quite strange (and I don’t mean me and Birgit!)

We also stopped at the tiniest chapel I have ever seen, the Living Water Wayside Chapel.

Then we arrived at Niagara-on-the-Lake for a convivial lunch and a wander around this pretty town.

The fort seen in the gallery above is Fort Niagara, on the American side of the Niagara River. During the War of 1812 the British and the US managed to “swap” forts, with the former capturing Fort Niagara and the Americans capturing Fort George on the Canadian side. We visited Fort George – I’m not sure it was strictly open (there was a lot of work going on), but we wandered through without challenge anyway.

After that, it was time for Birgit and Michael to take us back to St Catharine’s to catch our bus. It’s also time to close my tales of Toronto – this must have been one of the most sociable breaks ever. Not only did we meet fellow bloggers Birgit and Jill, we met up with old friends from Glasgow too. So thanks Birgit and Michael, Jill, Stewart and Edith, and Amr and Anney for giving us such wonderful times.

Our next venture “abroad” was to England – coming soon, Northumberland.

Toronto: Bata Shoe Museum

Bata Shoe Museum
Bata Shoe Museum. Shame the ruby slippers won’t fit me.

You don’t have to be Imelda Marcus or Carrie Bradshaw to love this museum. I defy anyone not to be fascinated by the permanent display of shoes through history supplemented by several special exhibitions. When we were there in April, these included Arctic footwear, the history of men in heels, fashion victims of the 19th century and footwear of the stars. The last two were my favourites and I was excited to see a signed pair of Roger Federer’s tennis shoes and some shoes worn by Jon Hamm in Mad Men. Sorry, blurry iPhone pics taken through glass.

The museum’s atrium featured an installation by Jim Hake called Pump It Up. The glass shoes catch the light and are inspired by cathedral windows. Beautiful!

This was the last morning we spent in Toronto before flying home – but it’s not the end of my posts. I’ve saved our one venture out of the city till the end: next time – Niagara!

Toronto: Casa Loma

Casa Loma
Casa Loma

Casa Loma is a rich man’s folly. It was Sir Henry Pellatt’s idea of an aristocratic, European castle but to us it looks more Disney. Built between 1911 and 1914, it cost $3.5 million yet was valued at a mere $27,305 ten years later and Pellatt died penniless in 1939. How did this happen?

Part of Pellatt’s fortune came from the Toronto Electric Light Company, which he founded in 1883 and which obtained a monopoly on the supply of Toronto’s street lighting. However, he over-reached himself, taking his company further and further into debt. When the supply of electrical power was taken into public ownership he turned to land speculation, convinced that other rich people would want to build homes around Casa Loma. However, this didn’t take into account World War I, when Canadians put their money into war bonds, not homes, and after the war the economy slumped, bankrupting him completely. I can feel a little bit sorry for him, but not too much. We watched the short film on his life and he seemed like a man blinded by his own hubris.

Casa Loma spent some time as a hotel in the 1920s, but that failed too. The council acquired it in 1933 and over the years it developed into the tourist attraction it is today. It can also be hired for events and has appeared in many films – when we were there, a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was shooting. (Why? The original seems perfectly fine to me.)

Enough words, now for the pictures. The exterior:

The last photo in the gallery, taken from the house, shows the stables which you could walk to via an underground passage. In the stables you could see an exhibition of old cars and, on the way, the Casa Loma Hotel sign.

Some interior details – including the film set in the Great Hall:

Finally, my favourite part – the conservatory with its lovely fountain and beautiful ceiling:

There is another house – Spadina – very close to Casa Loma which you can also tour, but we’d had enough by this time. As there was still some of the afternoon left we got off the subway early and walked back via Yorkville. It has Toronto’s oldest library and a rather sweet Firehall.

The streets round about have an eclectic selection of designer stores and galleries.

We were pleased to discover a branch of Whole Foods – that solved the problem of where to eat that night. We were going to the theatre and needed something quick and easy, so a selection of veggie sushi and a bottle of white wine were purchased and enjoyed back in our apartment.

The play was The Judas Kiss by David Hare. I’d seen posters about town and my eye was caught by the star – Rupert Everett. A rave review from a fellow guest over breakfast one morning convinced us that we should go, and we were very glad we did. The first act was set just before Wilde went to prison, and in the second he had just been released. Everett was brilliant as both the ebullient and hopelessly optimistic Wilde and as the broken man he became. See it if you can!

The Ed Mirvish Theatre was also worth seeing – forgive the rather poor iPhone shots, but I hope they give some idea of the opulent surroundings.

I can’t remember if we were exhausted that night or not. I rather think we must have been, don’t you?

Toronto: ROM and AGO

Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

We visited both the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), spending several hours in each (not on the same day – that would be too much!) Coming from a country where state and municipal museums are free, our first impression was that they were expensive. We paid $25 per person (including the special exhibition on tattoos) at ROM and $19.50 at AGO. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably pay to be a member which gives unlimited access – I could then go in and concentrate on one gallery whenever I pleased. As it was, we walked through every gallery determined to get our money’s worth, stopping at a few artefacts in each to get a flavour of the collection.

Royal Ontario Museum

ROM opened in 1914 and was extended in 2007 with Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal which bursts out of the original walls (see above). I rather like it. Below are some highlights of what we saw inside – as you can see, the dinosaurs were a particular hit.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO has also been extended, this time by Frank Gehry. The interiors were pretty smart too. Inside the glass frontage, above, was the Galleria Italia where we enjoyed a post-lunch coffee in the Espresso Bar. (In both places, we used the self-service café for lunch. Neither was a memorable culinary experience, but AGO was better than ROM.) Walker Court has a beautiful spiral staircase.

Here are some of the exhibitions we particularly enjoyed.

Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard

One hundred vintage Chinese wardrobe doors transform the gallery into a series of walkways and small rooms reminiscent of Beijing’s densely populated hutongs. Seems we both had the same selfie idea!

Manasie Akpaliapik

Sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik is originally from Baffin Island and his work reflects a concern for the vulnerability of his Arctic homeland. Beautiful or scary? I can’t decide.

Norval Morriseau

Norval Morrisseau was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario, in 1932 and died in Toronto in 2007. These six panels are collectively called Man changing into Thunderbird. I loved them.

Benjamin Cheverton

In the 1820s, Benjamin Cheverton perfected a sculpture-copying machine which produced exact, miniaturised copies of full-sized busts by other sculptors. There were numerous examples on display as well as a case showing how it was done based on a bust of James Watt – one of John’s heroes, so how could he not love that?

We were very impressed with both ROM and AGO, but each day we retired punch-drunk. Culture can be so tiring!


Toronto: an urban walk

Monteith Street, Toronto
Monteith Street, Toronto

On our third day in Toronto, I was excited about meeting fellow blogger Jill from My Spanglish Familia. The rendezvous was a café in Little Italy – about 45 minutes walk according to Google Maps – so off we set.

Our starting point was Monteith Street in the Church-Wellesley Village. That’s our B&B above, the Downtown Home Inn, the first house in the row past the purple flag. We had the apartment at basement level which I can recommend as spacious and comfortable – it also meant we had our own kitchen which was handy on occasion. I wouldn’t book any of the other rooms because they all have shared bathrooms and ensuite facilities are one of my red lines. If that means I’m not a true traveller, too bad!

The Village itself is very gay-friendly with rainbow lines at road junctions and some fabulous murals.

Our route took us along Wellesley until we hit Queen’s Park, home of both the Ontario Legislature and the University of Toronto – some beautiful buildings here.

Cutting down onto College Street, we passed a rather splendid looking public library. I’m always interested in those!

Still, no time to go in – on we pressed to meet Jill. And it was just like talking to someone I already knew – which, of course, I did since we’ve been commenting on each other’s blogs for a year now. After a good blether over coffee, we walked to Kensington Market where we enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant (very good, not at all like Mexican food at home, but – Jill being something of an expert – I know to be much more authentic).

She also introduced us to churros – fried dough stuffed, in my case, with chocolate, Mmmm – that’s what I’m clutching in the photos below. I couldn’t actually eat it straight away because I was so full from lunch!

After the churro stop, Jill headed home to collect her children. We took a further stroll round the area enjoying its quirky sights. I can’t remember now which of these are Kensington Market, which Little Italy and which Little Portugal but they’re all quite close together.

Footsore by now, we retraced our steps home. This was one evening when our kitchen came into its own – we didn’t feel like another full meal out, so we purchased pizza slices and beer from local takeaways and consumed them with our feet up.

Many thanks to Jill for making the time to meet us for a few hours – it was a lovely, sociable day.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – check it out for more walks around the world.

Toronto: Distillery District

Distillery District, Toronto
Distillery District, Toronto

On the Sunday of our recent stay in Toronto we took the subway to Union Station and walked east to the Distillery District. On the way we passed this clever mural on the Flatiron Building. Some of the windows are real!

The Distillery District, formerly the home of Gooderham and Worts, is the most intact Victorian era industrial site in North America, though the distillery itself closed in 1990. Since 2003, the area has housed arts and crafts, live performance, and bars and restaurants. We enjoyed just wandering around.

When it came to lunchtime, we stepped into Cluny Bistro expecting the stripped back decor of an ex-industrial building and were amazed to find decorated ceilings and chandeliers. It was also very busy – obviously a go-to place for Sunday lunch. We couldn’t get a table in the restaurant, but got a seat in the bar. We liked it so much that we booked a table for the last night of our stay. (The picture with John is brunch – and that’s fruit juice in the glass, by the way – the others show the restaurant at night.)

In the afternoon, we decided to walk back to our accommodation instead of going back to the Subway. We passed Old City Hall:

Old City Hall, Toronto
Old City Hall, Toronto

Toronto Sculpture Garden:

Toronto Sculpture Garden
Toronto Sculpture Garden

And the Cathedral Church of St James:

Just outside St James, we liked this monument to a Scot, Robert Gourlay. Sounds like a fine fellow!

Our last stop before home was Allan Gardens with its six greenhouses. Beautiful!

Toronto: an island walk

Our week in Toronto started in sub-zero temperatures and ended around 15°C! However, apart from some snow on the second day, we didn’t get wet and the first day was so bright and clear we thought it was ideal for a walk on the Toronto Islands. We started at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, named after a former city councillor and federal Member of Parliament whose memorial was just outside with the slogan “Jack’s got your back”.

After a short ferry ride, we got off on Ward’s Island. It and the other 13 islands which make up this small archipelago are joined by a series of bridges and make a very pleasant walk with the Toronto skyline on one side and Lake Ontario on the other. We started by watching the ferry make its way back.

Then we walked over Ward’s Island Beach and took the boardwalk along the Lake to Centre Island.

The islands are probably heaving in the summer – there are amusement parks for children and other attractions – but we saw more birds than people.

From the pier on Centre Island, we crossed over to the Toronto side with good views of the ubiquitous CN Tower.

On our way back to Ward’s Island, we came across the small church of St Andrews on the Lake (the islands are inhabited, so it’s a functioning church).

We then had a decision to make – it was lunchtime and our stomachs were rumbling. Get the ferry back and choose somewhere in the city, or take our chances with the only island café which was open? The delicious smells emanating from the Rectory Café made this a no-brainer – in fact, I would say that it would be worth getting the ferry over just to visit it, so good was our lunch.

Rectory Café, Ward's island
Rectory Café, Ward’s island
After lunch, we caught the ferry back and continued our walk along the Lakeshore. Now, I had looked at the price of going up the CN Tower before we left home and thought it was ridiculous – I’m not mean, but I felt it was too much to pay just to ride in an elevator. However, as the Tower got closer it looked so enticing and the skies were so clear that we knew we’d get great views – so in we went.

Once there, it seemed churlish not to pay the extra $12 to travel as far as we could to the SkyPod which, all in all, meant we left about $100 lighter than when we went in. Was it worth it?

Well, the views were good (bearing in mind that these were mostly taken through rather dirty glass) so I’m glad we did it – but I still think it’s a rip-off!

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks – pop on over to see where she, and her other cyber-walkers, have been this week.

Postcard from Toronto

Toronto from Ward's Island
Toronto from Ward’s Island

Well – not exactly a postcard from Toronto, because we arrived home last night, but a holding post until I get time to write up our visit in full. We had an amazing time, not only sight-seeing but also meeting old friends from Glasgow and meeting online friends in person. It was a pleasure to spend time with Jill of My Spanglish Familia

Anabel and Jill
Anabel and Jill

– and Birgit, and her husband Michael, from BB Creations.

Birgit, Anabel and Michael
Birgit, Anabel and Michael

To be continued…..