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Canada: Banff, Jasper, Montreal, Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls (Visit 2), Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara on the Lake (Visit 2), Quebec City, Toronto, Toronto (Visit 2), Vancouver, Victoria
Toronto, Canada: The golden horseshoe
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
I planned to spend 2 weeks in Canada in June 2019. Since the season commences from June onwards, it's always a good idea to plan and book months in advance... to increase your chances of getting the desired hotels and good rates; especially with airlines. Accompanying me was my wife Vrunda. So it was all set.
Just days before our departure, the weather reports from Canada were not sounding very favourable... it was showing snow in the mountains and rains in the cities that we planned to visit. So be it. As a traveler I take this in my stride (what other option is there really?) and move on with a hope that the weather Gods will deviate from their plans.
My home is in Pune, India. Convenient international flights for me are from Mumbai, a 4-hour drive from home. From Mumbai, it was an 8-hour flight to Munich and after a 5-hour break it was further 8-hours to Toronto. Our flights were a combination of Lufthansa and Air Canada. Both, good ones. So door-to-door it was almost 27 hours when we checked-in our hotel, Soho Metropolitan. Toronto time is ten and a half hour behind India time. All said and done, it was early afternoon in Toronto and the sun was out! Despite being deprived of good sleep, it was prudent to freshen up and explore.
Uber was our preferred mode of local transport; when walking was not manageable with the time frame on hand. Whilst Uber did a good job across all cities, sadly it was banned in the province of British Columbia... home to Vancouver and Victoria. This is not the platform to get into a political debate; but suffice to say we did miss the Uber services.
Hotel Soho Metropolitan is an excellent property very conveniently located in downtown Toronto. From a tourist perspective, it was ideal as it was walking distance from the waterfront, Rogers Centre, CN Tower and the main streets.
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada. It is the fastest growing city in North America, and is the anchor of an urban agglomeration, known as the Golden Horseshoe in Southern Ontario, located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. Toronto is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.
The diverse population of Toronto reflects its current and historical role as an important destination for immigrants to Canada. Over 200 distinct ethnic origins are represented among its inhabitants. While the majority of Torontonians speak English as their primary language, over 160 languages are spoken in the city.
Toronto is a prominent centre for music, theatre, motion picture production, and television production and is home to the headquarters of Canada's major national broadcast networks and media outlets. Its varied cultural institutions, which include numerous museums and galleries, festivals and public events, entertainment districts, national historic sites, and sports activities, attract over 25 million tourists each year. Toronto is known for its many skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, in particular the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, the CN Tower.
A good 20-minutes’ walk from our hotel along the Spadina Avenue and crossing over the Lakeshore Boulevard got us to the waterfront, the shores of the massive Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is surrounded on the north, west, and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the American state of New York, whose water boundaries meet in the middle of the lake. In the Huron language, the name Ontario means "Lake of Shining Waters". Its primary inlet is the Niagara River from Lake Erie. The last in the Great Lakes chain, Lake Ontario serves as the outlet to the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence River.
Though the smallest of the five Great Lakes (the other four being Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie), to a viewer standing on the harbor front it appears like looking at an ocean! The harbour front is home to Queen's Quay Terminal as well as Toronto Island Ferry Terminal. Manicured gardens along the shores do invite visitors to explore and spend time. The location is quite popular with locals for strolling and jogging.
On our way back, we grabbed a slice of pizza… that was our dinner. Of course, we were sound asleep as soon as we hit the bed.
After the much needed night’s rest, we were ready to explore the highlights of Toronto. It would be a day of walking, ‘Ubering’ and cruising! A short walk along the John Street was our first stop for the day. The CN Tower.
The CN Tower is a 553-metre high concrete communications and observation tower. Built on the former Railway Lands and was completed in 1976. Its name "CN" originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Following the railway's decision to divest non-core freight railway assets prior to the company's privatization in 1995, it transferred the tower to the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation responsible for real estate development.
The CN Tower held the record for the world's tallest free-standing structure for 32 years until 2007 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa and was the world's tallest tower until 2009 when it was surpassed by the Canton Tower. It is now the ninth tallest free-standing structure in the world and remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.
The tower is a signature icon of Toronto's skyline and attracts more than two million international visitors annually. Add two more to the number as we also decided to go up. The entrance ticket was CAD $38 per person. At the time of writing 1 US dollar fetched 1.30 Canadian dollars. Thankfully, it was a clear day, offering us a 360-degree of birds-eye view of the city below and the horizon beyond. The glass floor offered a little adrenaline rush. Happy with the ‘little’ we opted-out of the ‘high’ - the walk on the edge.
Just across the CN Tower is the Roundhouse Park. Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, the Roundhouse was built between 1929 and 1931 and now houses the Toronto Railway Museum, a brewery and a home furnishing store. The park stands on 17 acres of prime city land. The main focus of the park is the Railway Museum which features many historic locomotives and passenger cars as well as old and restored freight trains. There are signs in all of them explaining the importance of their role in history. There's also an opportunity to ride a miniature steam railway that takes the passengers back in time. At the time of our visit, the train was not in operation.
It was a Sunday and I could see scores of fans wearing the red coloured Toronto Raptors t-shirts. Curious, I stopped one of the fans and asked about it. He was surprised by my question, but realising I was from a distant land, he said, "man we have won the NBA basketball championship".
A little research tells me that The Toronto Raptors are a Canadian professional basketball team based in Toronto. The Raptors compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member club of the league's Eastern Conference Atlantic Division. They play their home games at the Scotiabank Arena, which they share with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League. The team was founded in 1995 as part of the NBA's expansion into Canada, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Since the 2001–02 season, the Raptors have been the only Canadian-based team in the league, as the Grizzlies relocated to the USA.
Earlier, to reach CN Towers, we had to cross the Rogers Centre. Originally named SkyDome, it is a multi-purpose stadium that was opened in 1989 on the former Railway Lands. It is home to the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball. While it is primarily a sports venue, it also hosts other large events such as conventions, trade fairs, concerts, travelling carnivals, and monster truck shows. The stadium was renamed "Rogers Centre" following the purchase of the stadium by Rogers Communications, which also owned the Toronto Blue Jays, in 2005. The venue was noted for being the first stadium to have a fully retractable motorized roof, as well as for the 348-room hotel attached to it with 70 rooms overlooking the field.
Next, a $15 ride with Uber and a $30 entry ticket got us inside of Casa Loma (Loma Castle).
Casa Loma is a Gothic Revival style mansion and garden in midtown Toronto. It is now a historic house museum and landmark. It was constructed from 1911 to 1914 as a residence for financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Casa Loma sits at an elevation of 140 metres above sea level and offers panoramic views of the city. Due to its unique architectural character, Casa Loma has been a popular filming location for movies and television. It is also a popular venue for wedding ceremonies.
In 1903, financier Henry Pellatt commissioned architect E. J. Lennox to design Casa Loma, with construction beginning in 1911, starting with the massive stables, potting shed and Hunting Lodge (a.k.a. coach-house). The Hunting Lodge is a two-storey 4,380-square-foot house with servants' quarters. The house cost about $3.5 million and took 300 workers three years to build. Due to the start of World War I, construction was halted. At 98 rooms covering 64,700 square feet it was the largest private residence in Canada. Notable amenities included an elevator, an oven large enough to cook an ox, two vertical passages for pipe organs, a central vacuum, two secret passages in Pellatt's ground-floor office, a pool, and three bowling alleys in the basement.
Most of the third floor was left unfinished, and today serves as the Regimental Museum for The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. Pellatt joined the Regiment as a Rifleman and rose through the ranks to become the Commanding Officer. He was knighted for his dedication to the Regiment. Pellatt later served as the Honorary Colonel and was promoted to Major-General upon retirement.
During the depression that followed the war, the City of Toronto increased Casa Loma's property taxes from $600 per year to $1,000 a month, and Pellatt, already experiencing financial difficulties, auctioned off $1.5 million in art and $250,000 in furnishings. Pellatt was able to enjoy life in the castle for less than ten years, leaving in 1923. Over the years and after many change of hands, today it's managed by Liberty Entertainment Group.
Post Casa Loma, we took the cab back to the hotel. Lunch was at Bobby Button, just across our hotel. The restaurant has a funny name, but they are quite serious about their breakfast and lunch. In fact that’s what they only do… they are closed for dinner. The joint has my recommendation to enjoy sumptuous options.
Using the services of our hotel's concierge we booked a cruise for 4 PM. This hour-long narrated cruise would take us around Toronto Island; the highlight being the city skyline view from the waters. The cost of the cruise was $30 per person and worth it I would say; especially if you want to carry back some nice pictures home.
We left our hotel at around 3 in the afternoon and walking casually along Wellington Street and York Street, we reached Queens Quay, well in time to catch the Amsterdam-style, glass-roof boat.
The Toronto Islands are a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario, just offshore from the city centre, and provide shelter for Toronto Harbour. The islands are home to parkland, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, several yacht clubs, Centreville Amusement Park, and Hanlan's Beach. The island community is considered to be the largest urban car-free community in North America, although some service vehicles are permitted. Access to the Islands is by ferry, including the City of Toronto ferries or by water taxis.
The island is a popular recreation destination. Recreational bicyclists are accommodated on the ferries. There is a public bicycle sharing station and bicycles and quadracycles can be rented at Centre Island. Canoes, kayaks and paddle boats can also be rented on the island. A frisbee golf course exists on the island. The main beach is along the south shore and the beach on the west shore is clothing-optional. There is ample park land suitable for picnicking which is quite popular, houses several playgrounds, and many gardens.
On our return to the harbor, we spent some time on the shores and then walked back to the hotel crisscrossing some of the other unexplored streets. The next morning we would be making a day trip to Niagara Falls and the pretty village of Niagara on the Lake.
Toronto Image Gallery Photo viewer
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