One of my favourite outdoor spots around Toronto to spend time in is Tommy Thompson Park (a.k.a. the Leslie St. Spit), a not-too-well-known peninsula that extends into Lake Ontario from the far south end of Leslie St. It’s essentially a chunk of reclaimed land, formed from the dumping of unwanted construction material in the 1950’s, which has since transformed into an environmental wetlands & conservation area.

I’d written about it once before here on my blog, back in 2014. Take a peek at it for a more thorough photographic depiction of the gloriousness of this urban wilderness as a whole, but what I’ve come here to talk about today is a certain corner of the park’s backroads that I chanced upon in October 2017.

The good majority of Tommy Thompson Park is accessible by an asphalt road but there are a number of smaller, more rugged trails that branch off the primary track. My friend Conor and I were cycling in the area on a fall afternoon and opted for one such weather-beaten way. We came to precisely this point on the map when we noticed a curious structure made from the countless bricks and cinder blocks that lined the shores:

A very talented & motivated artist / amateur architect (quite possibly a group of them?) had gone to an incredible effort to build a fort along the park’s southern banks. We spent some time wandering around, marveling at how such a construction could possibly have come together in such a remote and difficult-to-access area.

I returned a few weeks later with my camera and took a bunch of shots to preserve the memory. As much as I wanted to share them to Reddit at the time, I refrained from doing so as a viral post could have led to an overabundance of curious visitors and potential vandalism of the site.

Despite my frequent return visits to the park it took me quite some time to stop by this particular corner again; alas, by 2020 the fort had been demolished. I’m not sure if its demise was accelerated by the harsh Ontarian wind or if it happened purely by human hands. Regardless, I finally feel like posting my pics of this magical lakeside artwork in memory of its creator(s) and the handful of people who were also lucky enough to stumble upon it and leave their own marks of appreciation.

Dotted around the fort were some smaller pieces of art and emotive dedications:

I was also quite impressed by the sheer number of ladybugs resting on the debris-laden lakeshore:

Prior to writing this post I tried to locate some further information on the brick fort, assuming others may have posted photos or a journal onto the web in the years that have passed. It was my hope that someone out there had laid claim to its creation. Aside from this Toronto Star article seven years prior to my visit questioning the origins of a similar, smaller brick shrine, I haven’t been able to find a thing.

Whoever you were, dear creator, the time I spent getting to know your charming fort was certainly time well spent. I remain in awe of your superb craftsmanship.

As a new resident to Toronto in 2013 it was impossible to ignore the bright lights of Honest Ed’s the first time I passed by the corner of Bloor & Bathurst, in the north-west of the downtown core.

Opened in 1948 by entrepreneur Ed Mirvish, it rose to prominence as the destination in town for no-frills bargains. Met with some resistance in its founding years, it ultimately carved a place in Toronto culture thanks its huge storefront display featuring tens of thousands of flashing light bulbs and pun-laden slogans (Honest Ed’s a nut! But look at the ‘cashew’ save!). You might compare its notoriety with something like Harrods in London – on the complete other end of the price & elegance scale, mind you – but a one-of-a-kind store that locals flock to & tourists read about in all their guidebooks. It became pretty clear to me that this place was an institution.

Unfortunately in mid-2014 it was announced Honest Ed’s would close on December 31st, 2016 to make way for a new residential & commercial development. With less than a week to go, I decided to drop by one final time today with my camera to snap a few shots of this lovable Toronto landmark before it’s gone forever.

 

One of the many glorious Honest Ed’s storefront signs

 

Busy pedestrian corner at Bloor & Bathurst

 

The first time I walked through the store I was awestruck at how full it was with all kinds of trinkets, clothes, appliances, groceries & housewares. I recall my bemusement at the randomness of some of the merchandise on offer, in particular some $2.99 water bottles with a choice of either a Jamaican flag or a Newfoundland & Labrador flag printed on it, of all things. This is exactly the kinda weird stuff that gave Honest Ed’s its charm! Only a few minutes later in the clothing section upstairs I found a pair of jeans on sale for $2 – less than the price of the bloody Jamaica water bottle. Thanks to Ed Mirvish’s contribution to the Toronto performing arts scene, my eyes were drawn to the scores of theatrical posters & props lining the walls of the two buildings, alongside hand-painted shop signs from years gone by. It was certainly a colourful & eccentric shop to spend time in.

 

Jamaica or Newfoundland & Labrador?

One of the many strange props adoring the walls

 

I wish I’d taken more pics of the place back then because the interior today was a shadow of its former self. The previously-packed rooms were now almost empty, with not much left to purchase aside from a few impractical bits & pieces which were clearly struggling to move off the shelves.

There was a whole section cordoned off for Honest Ed-related memorabilia though, where bins full of their iconic hand-painted signs were on offer as souvenirs. Most of today’s shoppers, including myself, could be found in this area trying to get their hands on a piece of Toronto signwriting history.

 

I got told off for attempting to take a pic of the memorabilia section, but there were hundreds of hand-painted signs similar to this posters one starting from $9, up to $100+ for a full-sized sign

 

A view of the rainy laneway from the overpass connecting the two buildings

 

What was left of the kitchenware department: a few tables with some unappealing mugs, plates and glasses

 

Along the Markham St entrance

 

Honest Ed Alley

 

“Only the floors are crooked” – along Bathurst St

 

Looking out at the sign from the Green Beanery Cafe across the road

 

This place looks awesome at night, I’ll miss these lights, even if half of them are blown

 

Last month the TTC subway station at Bathurst paid tribute to Honest Ed’s by installing signs & slogans in the spirit of the retailer. I’ve heard there are plans to turn it into a permanent feature of the station – here’s hoping this is true.

 

The Honest Ed’s-style entrance to Bathurst Station

 

Love a good TTC pun

 

There was another one that said Bacon & Eglinton, $3.25 … ha!

 

That Honest Ed’s typeface

 

Honest Ed’s facts plastered over the Bathurst platform

 

Thanks Honest Ed’s. It was a pleasure to have shopped in you over the past three years.

 

Bye Honest Ed’s

 

Oh and one final thing: I now have my very own authenticated piece of Honest Ed’s on display in my bathroom ūüôā

Around 35km east of Montreal lies¬†Mont Saint-Hilaire, a¬†mountain which shares the same name as the¬†surrounding township. With its multitude of hiking & skiing tracks and four summits ranging in height from 320m to 414m, it’s an accessible day trip for anyone in the Montreal region who fancies a moderately-graded trek or some cross country skiing during the snowy months.

I’ve spent much of my time in Montreal over the past year exploring Mont-Royal, the peak in the centre of the island which the city surrounds, but I’d recently been eyeing off some of the hills a little further afield. Mont Saint-Hilaire was one of those that caught my attention, so with a warm Sunday forecast of -4¬ļ (well maybe not warm in the strict sense of the word, but still 35 degrees warmer than the previous weekend) I set off on the #200 bus and completed my journey with a taxi to the park’s entrance, the¬†Gault Nature Reserve.

Here are some photos from my delightful 5 hour wander around Mont Saint-Hilaire ūüôā

 

Mont Saint-Hilaire-1

 

The eerie, foggy forest on the way to the first peak, Burnt Hill

Mont Saint-Hilaire-2

Mont Saint-Hilaire-3

 

A curious & hungry squirrel at the Pain de Sucre summit:

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Mont Saint-Hilaire-5

 

The breathtaking panorama of Pain de Sucre:

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Mont Saint-Hilaire-7

Mont Saint-Hilaire-8

 

From Dieppe Summit looking back towards Pain de Sucre:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-9

 

The sun finally came out of hiding along the hike to the Rocky summit:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-10

Mont Saint-Hilaire-11

 

Lake Hertel in all its icy glory:

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Mont Saint-Hilaire-13

Mont Saint-Hilaire-14

 

The highest peak as seen from the township:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-15

As an Australian who grew up only ever experiencing two seasons (namely: hot & wet followed by not-quite-as-hot & dry), the north American continent hasn’t yet ceased to amaze me after experiencing¬†its¬†seasonal variances for the past two years. From the brutal -38¬ļC Toronto/Montreal winter to the sweaty, humid summer a good 70¬ļ warmer than its icy counterpart, it must be a meteorologist’s dream (or nightmare, depending on how you see it) to know the job varies so extremely throughout the year.

Only last Monday the high was 24¬ļC with most of the city’s population out & about in their shorts & t-shirts; this weekend we had our first¬†snowfall of the season and it didn’t get above 6¬ļ. I think people would riot if a drastic change in weather like this ever took place in my north Queensland home town!

I took the opportunity over the past two days to explore the gorgeous¬†autumnal foliage of the city during its¬†transitional¬†period between summer & winter. I began Saturday morning on the north-western face of Mont-Royal, a small mountain in downtown Montreal bursting¬†with greenery & hiking tracks, before detouring through Mont-Royal cemetery where the skies opened up with a short but intense flurry of snow. After the sun returned¬†I ventured along a number of mountain trails, stopping by two lookouts as well as¬†the famous cross that can be seen lit up from miles away at night. Sunday saw a visit to Parc Jean-Drapeau, situated on a small island east of downtown, well-known for its 1967 world expo attraction, the ‘Biosphere’.

Here are a bunch of photos I snapped over this Montreal fall weekend:

 

Montreal Fall-1

Montreal Fall-2

Montreal Fall-3

Montreal Fall-4

Montreal Fall-5

Montreal Fall-6

Montreal Fall-7

Montreal Fall-8

Montreal Fall-9

Montreal Fall-10

Montreal Fall-11

Montreal Fall-12

Montreal Fall-13

Montreal Fall-14

Montreal Fall-15

Montreal Fall-16

 

Isn’t it beautiful?

Maybe my next post will be of Montreal in the winter…

 

This afternoon¬†I took my camera and went for a walk along the streets of Harbord Village, Kensington Market &¬†Alexandra Park – all home to a whole bunch of freakin’ spectacular urban artwork.

Here is a gallery featuring 60 reasons I fell even more in love with Toronto today.

I love Google Maps. Sometimes I bring up Toronto and explore the city from above, searching for interesting streets, suburbs, towns and green areas around the GTA to potentially explore in real life.

A few months ago I became curious about this peninsula extending into Lake Ontario, south of Leslie Street in Toronto’s east end:

 

 

I soon found myself researching Tommy Thompson Park¬†to see if it was worth visiting. I was surprised to learn¬†the peninsula, known as the Leslie Street Spit,¬†is¬†entirely man-made out of millions of tonnes of concrete, rubble, earth and dredged sand.¬†Construction¬†began¬†in the 1950’s with the intention of providing port facilities for¬†Toronto’s¬†outer harbour, but¬†the demand¬†declined in the end due to a decrease in¬†shipping across the lake. Nevertheless, there was still a need to dispose of¬†disused building materials from the ever-expanding city so¬†construction¬†of the headland¬†continued primarily as a dumping ground.

The headland was opened to the public in the early 1970’s¬†with a huge transformation taking place¬†in the decades that followed,¬†from that of a¬†refuse ground¬†into an area¬†of environmental and recreational significance. It’s with thanks to organisations such as¬†Friends of the Spit¬†that the people of Toronto can today enjoy a beautiful¬†green space boasted¬†as North America’s most remarkable public urban wilderness, complete with over 400¬†species of plant life, 300 species of birds,¬†cycling tracks, walking trails and some of the most gorgeous scenery you’re likely to see so close to a major city.

I paid my first visit to Tommy Thompson Park in July of this year, where I was quick to note its impressive greenery. Unfortunately it was a gloomy day and I barely made it a few hundred metres into the park before the skies opened up and I had to turn around. I did manage to snap a few pictures that day, which I took as a brief introduction to what was yet to come:

 

Tommy Thompson Park-1

 

Tommy Thompson Park-2

 

Tommy Thompson Park-3

 

It wasn’t until yesterday that¬†my friend Loanne and¬†I finally got around to¬†embarking upon an adventure to¬†the lighthouse at the far¬†end of the park.¬†It was a chilly fall morning – 1¬įC as I left home, as a matter of fact – but the sun was shining brightly and the air was still. Perfect weather for a 10km hike, as far as I was concerned!

Here is some of what we saw:

 

Tommy Thompson Park-4
Looking out upon the gorgeous Lake Ontario from a trail alongside Spine Road

 

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One of the many wetlands along the way, as seen from a lookout above the trail

 

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We took a trail off the beaten path in the marshlands only to come to this dead end – but it didn’t matter because it was so impressive!

 

Tommy Thompson Park-7
Toronto <3

 

Tommy Thompson Park-18
The lighthouse at the end of the trail

 

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The lighthouse & satellite dish, fenced away from the public

 

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The friendly grin of the satellite dish

 

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There was a hole in the fence so we snuck into the grounds of the lighthouse to find this super sketchy storage container

 

Tommy Thompson Park-11
Adjacent to the lighthouse was another storage shed. I loved the words of wisdom people had graffitied inside

 

Tommy Thompson Park-12
Stay classy!

 

Tommy Thompson Park-13
The view across the lake from the window in the storage shed. You can just make out Etobicoke in the background

 

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The many mounds of dumped bricks littering the outer headland. It kinda detracted from the serenity, but I must admit the debris did add a highly unique atmosphere to the scene

 

Tommy Thompson Park-15
Toronto as seen over the mounds of rubble

 

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Bricks in lieu of sand

 

Tommy Thompson Park-17
Tile art

 

Tommy Thompson Park-19
Toronto again <3

 

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Ugh… so tranquil

 

It’s difficult to believe that when construction of the spit¬†began, there was no intention whatsoever for it to become an urban wilderness. I can’t imagine what¬†anyone involved in its initial development¬†would think if they saw how breathtaking¬†it’s turned out today.

As with most attractions I see in & around¬†Toronto, I would highly recommend¬†any local to¬†visit¬†Tommy Thompson Park to see it for themselves. I’m already making plans to go back at some stage during the winter and I can’t wait to see how different the wetlands look under a couple of glorious feet of¬†snow.

Meet Coco!

She’s an awesomely adorable 4.5 year-old staffie who¬†lives with my mum & dad on their property in Bluewater, North Queensland.

Coco & I hung out quite a lot while I visited home earlier this month.

And this is what we got up to ūüėÄ

Coco-1
Massive smiles!

 

Coco-2
GIVE ME THE BALL. I WANT THE BALL.

 

Coco-3
IT’S MY BALL. AND I’M NOT GONNA GIVE IT TO YOU.

 

Coco-4
A happy scratch on the grass in the back yard

 

Coco-5
Just chillin’¬†in the chicken shed

 

Coco-6
MMMMM CHICKEN

 

Coco-7
LOOK AT ME, GENTLEMEN! I’M SUCH A POSER

 

Coco-8
HEY HOW DID YOU GET THE BALL AGAIN? I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU IT WAS MINE

 

Coco-9
IT’S MINE, I TELL YOU!!

 

Coco-10
Just chillin’¬†by¬†the barrel

 

Coco-11
GRRRRR MY STICK

 

Coco-12
Yum! Tasty stick.

 

Coco-13
HEY THAT’S MY BALL

 

Coco-14
JUMP!

 

Coco-15
DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT TAKING¬†MY BALL

 

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Cuddles with mum in the car

 

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Cuddles with dad in the car

 

Coco-18
Hang on, why are we even in the car? Are we going to the…? YES… YES WE ARE!! OMG WE’RE GOING TO THE BEACH!

 

Coco-19
THROW ME THE STICK

 

Coco-20
MY STICK

 

Coco-21
STILL MY STICK

 

Coco-22
Eyes temporarily off the stick to make a new friend

 

Coco-23
GOD I LOVE THIS STICK!

 

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CAN YOU PLEASE JUST THROW ME THE STICK?

 

Coco-25
Eyes temporarily off the stick to explore what’s in the bush

 

Coco-26
I LOVE THE BEACH

 

Coco-28
I’M SO PRETTY AMONGST THESE PURPLE FLOWERS

 

Coco-29
HEY THERE’S THE STICK AGAIN!

 

Coco-30
WELL HI THERE! THANKS FOR TAKING ME TO THE BEACH!

 

Coco-27
THERE’S SO MUCH SPACE TO RUN AROUND AND BE CRAZY!

 

Coco-31
AHH THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN! BUT NOW I’M HUNGRY.

 

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AND A LITTLE BIT TIRED…

 

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GOOD NIGHT!

 
 

If you liked this post, you should also check out Dogs, cats & sheep: the many wondrous pet cafes of Seoul!

In the very early hours of the morning I was awoken by strange whirring noises and sharp flashes of light radiating through my bedroom window. At first I thought it was some kind of hallucinogenic dream, but as I regained consciousness and peered behind the curtains I found a streetcar creeping along the tracks at a very slow pace. Each inch it travelled, it would let out a bright electrical spark at the point where the trolley pole touched the overhead electrical line. I assumed it was a faulty tram on its way back to the depot for repairs and I returned to my slumber, completely unaware that Toronto was in the midst of one of the most catastrophic ice storms in recent history.

Unlike a conventional storm of wind & heavy rain, an ice storm is formed when light drizzle mixes with a sub-freezing ambient temperature. A layer of ice gently and gradually materialises on exposed surfaces; often unnoticed if it occurs overnight, as proven in my case. Its dangers include an increased risk of road accidents, slips & falls on the footpaths, and the collapse of trees & power lines under the pressure of the icy build-up. This can of course lead to loss of electricity, heating and plumbing Рall vital for survival during the winter months. As I write this, an estimated 250,000 people across Greater Toronto are without power, a very un-Christmas-like situation which may not be rectified for another three days.

Having said that, the meteorological anomaly also has the ability to transform everyday objects such as bicycles, plants and rubbish bins into spectacular works of natural art, quite unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before. It wasn’t until I woke up again at around 9am that I looked out my window and first saw the effects of the ice storm for myself, on the overhead electrical lines above Dundas St West. One thing was for sure as I made my way outside to investigate further: there would be no streetcars today.

 

Toronto Ice Storm-1
No streetcars today

 

Toronto Ice Storm-2
(B)icicle

 

Toronto Ice Storm-3
Smoking dog / frozen tree

 

Toronto Ice Storm-4
Cold Kensington shrubbery

 

Toronto Ice Storm-5
Frozen berries

 

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Some playground equipment in Bellevue Square Park

 

Toronto Ice Storm-7
Polar pines adjacent to the playground

 

Toronto Ice Storm-8
Frozen tears

 

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Al fresco

 

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Outside a Kensington fashion boutique

 

Toronto Ice Storm-11
Bellevue Avenue

 

Toronto Ice Storm-12
A white driveway along Nassau Street

 

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I’m pretty sure this is the same streetcar that edged past my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning. He was stuck there presumably until the overhead lines defrosted.

 

Toronto Ice Storm-14
The almost-glacial Trinity Bellwoods Park

 

Toronto Ice Storm-15
A frozen pond in Trinity Bellwoods

 

Toronto Ice Storm-16
Rubbish bin

 

Toronto Ice Storm-17
Tennis court

Earlier this week I pulled some Bear Grylls moves through the brambles in order to reach a near-frozen river, which left me with slightly dirty shoes by the end of the day. I hadn’t yet bothered to wash them, but a thought struck me this afternoon while admiring the first proper snowstorm to hit Toronto this winter:

Can a walk through the snow clean dirty shoes?

I donned my filthy footwear, took my camera along for some company, and set through the chilly streets of Kensington Market to find out.

 

Can Snow Clean Dirty Shoes-1
Can snow clean dirty shoes?

 

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I began my shoewashing circuit at the southern end of Kensington. A good couple of inches of snowfall graced the usually-grey pavement as I made my way north along Augusta Avenue

 

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Healing Crystals & Organic Tea at House of Energy

 

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“Safety First”

 

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A bicycle attached to the perimeter of Bellevue Square

 

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Normally full of hipster skateboarders, Bellevue Square was deserted today except for a young family strolling along the invisible pathway through the centre of the park.

 

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Some Kensington townhouses

 

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Rob Ford’s crack video made an appearance

 

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Half way through the shoewash!

 

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The deliciously snowy My Market Bakery along Baldwin St

 

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Cheese Magic: one of Kensington’s many cheese shops under snow

 

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Frozen apples, anyone?

 

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Truck artwork

 

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The sludgy Spadina & Dundas West intersection

 

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An aerial view of Spadina & Dundas West under snow

 

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A few urban objects at the Dundas & Kensington street corner

 

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Frozen haircut

 

And so after 50 minutes, two slippery falls and some minor frostbite to the fingers & cheeks, I made it back home. I scraped off the layers of ice that had built upon my footwear, anxiously awaiting the answer to my question: can snow clean dirty shoes?

 

Can Snow Clean Dirty Shoes-18
No it can’t.

 

Yesterday was the day of the 2013 Toronto Santa Claus Parade! At 5.6km long and having been held every year since 1905, it’s one of the longest running and altogether largest parades of its kind anywhere in the world.

Now, I’m normally a major grinch when it comes to Christmas-related items. I’ve always thought it was a silly celebration in the southern hemisphere (commercially speaking, anyway). We’re bombarded with images of snow and Santa and reindeer when in reality it’s 42 degrees under the blistering hot sun and as humid as a sauna. But seeing as I’ll be in the northern hemisphere for Christmas this year, I figured I’d at least make a small effort to soak in the traditional wintry Christmas imagery we’re all so familiar with.

I almost didn’t bother going to the parade until my friend Laura mentioned on FB how impressive the floats all looked as she walked past them lining up for the event early in the morning – not to mention the fact that there was a One Direction float in the mix. That was enough to convince me to get out of the house, but I still had the inkling I wouldn’t be impressed, so I declined to carry around my camera.

Thankfully I still had my phone camera, because it actually turned out to be a darn lot more impressive than I could have imagined. Never in my life have I seen such a conglomeration of clowns, marching bands, gorilla/monkey/bee/squirrel/giraffe onesies, fairy floss, Santa Claus hats and floats featuring all kinds of crazy Christmassy characters… it was insane! And I couldn’t believe how many participants there were and how many people lined the streets to observe the jolly festivities.

I’m still not a Christmas convert but I’m glad I made it out to see the parade in the end. Here’s a little of what happened on the day:

 

CLOWNS:

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Clown

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Clowns

 

MARCHING BANDS:

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Marching Band

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Marching Band

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Marching Band

 

FLOATS:

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - 98.1 Float

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - One Direction Float

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Sears Float

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Toys R Us Float

 

RANDOMNESS:

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Jesus

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Hypnotize Your Husband

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Chalk Numbers

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Crowd By The Statue

 

CUTE!!

Santa Claus Parade 2013 - Christmas Dog!