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:
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°C 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:
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.
Way back in 2009 while living & working in London, my delightful colleagues and I embarked on a team night out to Garlic & Shots, a restaurant in Soho that serves no meal without said ingredient. I recall ordering a pasta dish (the sauce of which was absolutely piled with the spicy white clove) and washing it down with a garlic beer before rounding off the feast with a huge bowl of garlic ice cream. That’s not to mention the shot of garlic honey vodka we sampled in the Swedish gothic metal bar below the dining room. I never thought I’d ever experience so much garlic in one sitting again.
Well, I’m pleased to announce today was the day I broke my garlic consumption personal best by a long shot, thanks to the Toronto Garlic Festival. Held annually at the picturesque Don Valley Brickworks, the festival celebrates the harvest of garlic throughout the province of Ontario. With around 80 exhibitors taking part in this year’s festival, punters were spoilt for choice when it came to the sheer variety of the bulb available for purchase, garlic-themed cooking demonstrations and garlic-inspired culinary delights – both savoury and sweet.
My afternoon at the event began at the garlic sampling booth, where friendly festival staff spent their time peeling & crushing ‘shots’ of raw Ontarian garlic into the hands of whoever dared to try. There was also lemon & parsley on hand to add some zest to the fiery mouthful.
I took a shot and explored the busy marketplace a little, eventually settling upon a cup of this delicious 4,000 Clove Organic Garlic Soup – the first of what was to be many samples of garlicy cuisine throughout the day. It wasn’t overpowering at all; the ingredients were perfectly balanced. I wish I asked them for the recipe.
I felt extra macho and went back for a second shot of raw garlic.
I tried a gourmet corn tortilla – this included beans, cheese, greens and salsa on a freshly-cooked tortilla full of roasted garlic within the dough. The garlic flavour wasn’t all that prominent, but the wrap was altogether well worth the $4 I spent on it.
Man, it was busy. There was a much greater turnout than I ever could have expected there to be at a garlic festival.
Next on the menu was a light refreshment in the way of a black garlic truffle from Laura Slack Chocolate Artist. Weren’t these just divine! I bought two of them; the sweet relish of the infused syrup proved nowhere near as intimidating as their black skull-like appearance.
Morgan’s On The Danforth were putting on a cooking demonstration so I stopped by to watch for a few minutes. They were serving up a pasta dish using five different vegetables (plus garlic, of course). I didn’t get to try any but it looked pretty fancy:
Of all the recipes on offer, I was most excited about trying the garlic coffee from Incredible Spice, especially seeing as it was described as a warm garlic infused spiced coffee with maple cream and pumpkin vanilla dust. It was in hot demand located right by the market’s entrance, taking nearly 10 minutes to get my hands on a serving. Although it sounded incredible in theory, I instead quickly concluded that garlic is not likely to become a staple ingredient in my coffee any time soon.
The friendly folk at Cedar Grove Organic Farm suggested a bulb of Ontario Music Garlic as an ingredient in my spaghetti bolognese sauce (which I have since cooked and thoroughly enjoyed):
I went back to the sample booth for my third and final shot of garlic. My mouth hurt a little after devouring that one.
I wasn’t finished yet though – for dessert, I couldn’t go past a serving of Magic Oven’s Garlic Apple French Toast with Crème Fraîche. I think I was becoming desensitised to the flavour of garlic by now. The French Toast was indeed as appetising as it looked, but I could barely make out the spice in amongst the sweetness.
By this stage I was pretty well garliced out. I was ready to call it a day… and then I saw Le Dolci’s garlic macaroons. Wow.
Ok, I totally would have gone the ice cream as well but it sold out by the time I made it to the stall 🙁
Tony V was easily winning the Ontario Science Centre garlic breath contest with a reading of 17 parts hydrogen sulphide per billion! I wanted to try it out but it took 10 minutes to recalibrate the machine after every use, and there was already a substantial line up.
The many varieties of garlic on offer throughout the marketplace:
What a great idea for a festival that was. I fully encourage other cities around the globe to take inspiration from Toronto and put on their own garlic festival.
I may be all garliced out right now, but I’ll definitely come back next year for more 😀
Well it’s been nearly 6 months since I first touched down on Canadian soil, and I’m very pleased to report that it’s been a delightful experience. I love this country!
I’m at the stage now where I feel like I’ve passed my probation. Settling in Toronto has given me the fantastic opportunity to get to know first-hand what life is like within the boundaries of the most populous & multicultural city in Canada, and I’ve done enough travelling around the province and south of the border to gain a basic understanding of the North American way of life in general.
So in no particular order, here is a list of a few Canadian quirks, loves, frustrations, tongue-in-cheek observations and comparisons to life in Australia that I’ve come to notice so far during my time here.
Rather than being sold in the screw-top plastic bottles we’re used to in Australia,milk in the eastern provinces of Canada comes in a package of three 1.3 litre plastic bladders (to give 4 litres in total). You simply place the bladder into a jug, cut a small hole in the top corner and pour. Admittedly the first time I tried to pour using this method, the bladder fell out of the jug and cow juice spilt everywhere, but I’ve since figured out how to keep it in place and see its benefit. It’s a surprisingly effective, drip-free pouring method, and once the bladder is empty you’re left with a hell of a lot less waste than that of an empty carton or bottle. 1L cardboard cartons are also available, but it’s a lot more cost-effective to buy the bladders.
The fat content of milk here is predominantly referred to as a percentage, and the descriptions are slightly different from home: it’s 3.25% for homo milk, 2% for partly-skimmed and 1% for low-fat.
Also there’s none of that ‘permeate-free’ marketing garbage infiltrating Canadian milk labels like it does in Australia. It’s just plain milk.
Australia has Oporto, Britain had Wimpy, America has McDonalds and Canada has Tim Hortons!
It was founded by hockey player Tim Horton in 1964 as a donut shop, before quickly expanding into a Canadian fast-food institution, well loved by almost every Canuck for their assortment of donuts, sandwiches and weak coffee.
I made the fatal mistake of bagging out Tim Hortons on Twitter after I tried one of their sandwiches for the first time, which wasn’t met with an overly joyous response from locals. My displeasure was justified though: it was not a very appetising meal at all, and the particular branch I dined at didn’t even have any seating so I had to stand at a crowded bar to eat it.
Since then I’m happy to say that Tim Hortons has grown on me. Their donuts have proven a lifesaver in the early drunken hours of the morning. I quite enjoy their Timbits (a popular bite-sized donut snack) and I’m somewhat smitten by their signature caffeinated recipe the ‘double double’ – brewed coffee with two sugars and two servings of cream. I’d never appreciated coffee with cream until I had my first double double only last week.
Oat & aboat
I was under the impression that every Canadian I was to meet would pronounce the word “about” as a-boot, but this isn’t the case. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Toronto they say a-boat. It’s so adorable 🙂
Another thing I’ve found synonymous with the Canadian accent is that if a word ends with R like door or floor, there’s an emphasis placed on the R at the end so that it sounds like doorrrrrhh or floorrrrrhh. This too is super adorable.
I find it quite odd that there is no need for the suburb in Canadian addresses – all you need is the street, city, province and postcode. In my case, the city is simply Toronto; there is no need to note the suburb of ‘Kensington Market’ anywhere in my address. The postcode is what holds the key to that specific information.
However in Sydney, for example, I worked on Miller St, in the suburb of North Sydney, state of NSW, postcode 2060; each of those details are required on the address for the post office to make the delivery. You can’t just put Sydney as the suburb – you have to put North Sydney specifically, because the postcode 2060 encompasses the areas of HMAS Platypus, HMAS Waterhen, Lavender Bay, McMahons Point, North Sydney, North Sydney Shoppingworld and Waverton.
People generally don’t refer to their suburb when they speak of where they live either – they either give a specific cross-street, or just say their city: ‘Toronto’ or ‘Etobicoke’ or ‘Mississauga’, all of which include multitudes of smaller neighbourhoods. I’ve heard that the naming and outlining of suburbs are only a recent addition to Toronto’s cartography.
Thanks to the grid system, cross-streets are a very popular way of communicating addresses, much more so than in Australia. In Toronto, if meeting a friend at a restaurant you’d simply say it was at ‘King & York’. Everybody knows where that is already. But back at home, we tend to use the full street/suburb address of 124 King St, Newtown… we wouldn’t really say ‘King & Bucknell’ cause most people wouldn’t have any clue where Bucknell St is.
Although I’ve passed through many areas of the world where cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, it took quite some time to get used to the fact I’m now living long-term in a country where the flow of traffic is opposite to that of home. There were a few instances early on where I’d mistakenly wait for the tram on the wrong side of the road, and when I enter a car I still habitually head toward the Canadian driver’s side when I should be aiming for the passenger side. I know I’m getting used to it though: I watched a British movie the other day with a driving scene, and it felt strange to see cars driving on the left again.
I haven’t actually driven a car over here yet, but I’m looking forward to the challenge when the day comes.
In Australia we have the “turn left at any time with care” lanes at intersections with lights, but these dedicated lanes don’t exist over here – instead, it’s completely ok to turn right at an intersection on a red light if it’s safe to do so.
There are no green & red men on the traffic signals at pedestrian crossings. The signals in Toronto (and much of North America, from what I’ve seen) display a white man when it’s safe to cross, followed by a red ‘stop’ hand and a countdown timer showing how many seconds are left until the lights change.
If a pedestrian is walking parallel to a road and comes to an intersection where there is no pedestrian signal, the pedestrian has right of way. Unlike in Australia where you wait for cars to move through the intersection before you continue on, in Toronto the cars will stop for you and let you cross first.
Everyone in every city I’ve ever lived in (including this one) is unhappy with the state of their public transit system, but I can honestly say that Toronto’s subway/streetcar/bus system run by the TTC is brilliant! Sure, there are times where scheduled streetcars don’t arrive or when a subway line is out of action for a weekend, but so far I think the pros outweigh the cons. The combination of a grid street plan with a city-wide bus, tram & underground system means public transport can get you very specifically to where you need to go, all on a single ticket which is pretty well affordable.
Something I find unique about TTC streetcars is that doors don’t open automatically when they stop – if you want the door to open, you need to stand on the step. It was an awkward moment learning this from the people behind me on a crowded tram when I was trying to figure out how to disembark at my stop.
There is another company called GO Transit who run bus & train commuter services in the Greater Toronto Area, and while the service has always been on time and comfortable whenever I’ve used them, it annoys me that their transit centres in regional areas are so bloody far away from the main hub. When I went to Unionville I had to walk 45 minutes in the freezing snow to get to the main street. Downtown Oakville was at least an hours walk away from the train station, and it was a $20 cab fare to get from Oshawa GO Station to Oshawa itself. To compare this with Sydney, it’d be like getting off at Merrylands but being told you were in the centre of Parramatta.
They’re mostly referred to as cell phones here, not mobile phones.
Canadian cell phone plans are extortionately expensive 🙁 I’m paying $65 / month at the moment with Bell Mobility. With tax, that takes it up to around $74. Add on the very minimal 7 minutes of calls (3 minutes of which were to my own voicemail) and 7 US text messages that I sent last month and my bill turned out to be $88. The only thing it’s good for is my 1GB of data. In comparison, I paid $35 a month with Virgin in Australia which gave me 2GB of data and texts/calls to just about anywhere. The only time I ever paid more than $35 was the month I made a few phone calls from within New Zealand while on global roaming.
There is a caller ID service here that automatically sends your name along with your phone number when you call someone. It’s pretty neat, because even if you don’t have the number stored in your address book, you get to see the name of whoever is calling (providing both parties are subscribed to the service).
Area codes and phone numbers are formatted differently over this side of the world. An Australian mobile number always starts with 04 and would be formatted as 0416 123 456, but in North America the cell number always starts with a three-digit location-specific area code and is formatted as 416-123-4567. The same format applies to landline phones.
Traditionally, Toronto had two area codes, 416 and 647, but the numbers are nearing exhaustion so last year they released a new area code into the mix: 437. I had no idea about this when I first got my SIM card so I chose any old number and ended up with one of the new 437 area codes. Now every time I give my digits to someone I get weird looks because it doesn’t begin with 416 or 647, and I have to give the whole spiel about how it’s the new Toronto area code. It’s important that people know this too – if they aren’t confident that I have a local number, they may hesitate when getting in touch as the cost of calling/texting a number outside the local area is significantly higher.
Toronto is a place like no other when it comes to cuisine. It’s incredibly multicultural here, and I love how there are numerous pockets of the city dedicated to the fare of specific worldly regions such as Little Italy, Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Poland, Chinatown and Little India.
In other neighbourhoods that aren’t necessarily laid out to feature a certain geographical area, the fusion of cultures & cuisine is second to none. In my own locale of Kensington Market, for example, we have restaurants featuring Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Tibetan, Indian, Afghan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Spanish, Greek, American, Mexican, French Caribbean, Jamaican, Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine – and that’s not to mention other eateries that specialise in vegetarian, seafood, apple pie and grilled cheese sandwiches. To say that my taste buds enjoy living here is an understatement.
Poutine is an artery-clogging but delicious Canadian dish of hot chips, cheese curds & gravy that I became aware of in the months leading up to my departure from Sydney. For some reason I had the impression it would be more of a specialty menu item, but it turns out it’s massively popular and you can get it anywhere from dive bars to to posh hotels; from street carts to chains such as Smoke’s Poutinerie and Poutini’s who dedicate themselves entirely to said meal.
There are hot dog carts on every second street corner in downtown Toronto, where you can pick up a fix of German/Italian/Polish sausage on bread for as little as $2. I can’t believe that some of them are even open and manned at 6:30 in the morning when it’s -15°C and blowing a blizzard.
An abundance of eateries around Toronto are open 24 hours, including a bunch in Chinatown just down the road from me. It’s great to know I can order a huge bowl of Vietnamese pho from across the street at 3am, should I ever feel the need.
After hearing so many horror stories of people being chased down the street for not tipping their waiter, I was petrified when I first started dining out because I didn’t want to offend anybody by not offering enough. I’ve since learnt that it’s pretty much compulsory to tip every waiter/barman/taxi driver/concierge in the US, but the rules are a little more lax in Canada, I guess because the service wage is higher. You won’t get chased down the street for not leaving a tip, but it’s not going to gain you any brownie points either. I go with 15% for average service but 20-25% for great service.
For reasons unknown to me, people in North America refer to an entree as an appetiser, and a main course is called an entree. It’s pretty funny.
There are a couple of words I’ve begun using here that I’d never be caught dead using in Australia.
You don’t drink soft drink – you drink pop. And never refer to the sweet clear carbonated stuff as lemonade because that specifically refers to the traditional recipe of water, lemon juice & sugar. If you want the pop form you need to call it Sprite or 7-Up.
People don’t live in apartments, they live in condos.
Electricity is called hydro.
Full-cream milk is homo.
You go on vacation rather than on holiday. But it’s a holiday when referring to a national day off, except instead of a public holiday, it’s a stat holiday (statutory).
People not from Toronto call Toronto the centre of the universe.
And god forbid if you ever call it a toilet – it’s a washroom!
Film is not a form of entertainment I’ve particularly enjoyed over the years, but there is something about the film culture in Toronto that speaks to me more than it has anywhere else in the world. There are a bunch of amazing indie/arthouse cinemas dotted around the city that delve deeper than the usual Hollywood rubbish such as the Bloor Cinema (one of the only in the world that focus solely on documentaries), the Royal (host of the European Film Festival and a rare venue that gives up & coming filmmakers the chance to showcase their works) and the TIFF Bell Lightbox (the Toronto International Film Festival, screening 365 days a year). In addition to my beloved Netflix subscription, Toronto’s cinemas have opened up a whole new world for me of motion picture discovery.
There’s little need for covertness in Canada when it comes to weed. It’s as though it’s perfectly fine to smoke anywhere you like. It’s still entirely illegal to do so (unless medically regulated), and arrests do occur especially if you’re caught with more than 30g on your person, but people smoke it anyway, the authorities tolerate it to a certain degree, and everyone gets on with their lives. So long as you aren’t caught dealing the stuff, really.
As a matter of fact, only about 200 metres from home, along Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market is a funky little BYO ‘vapour lounge’ called the HotBox Cafe. Providing you don’t deal or ask, it’s completely ok for any old Joe Bloggs to use one of the in-house vapourisers and relax at their table while they study/read/socialise/chill to their hearts content.
I also highly recommend their ginger tea.
I knew I’d be up for some inclement Canadian weather pretty quickly seeing as I landed in Toronto just in time for the winter. It turned out to be the most brutal season experienced in decades, complete with metres of snow, wind chill reaching 39-below-zero and an ice storm… but despite the polar challenges, I’ve fucking loved every second of it!
Come to think of it… there are two things that piss me off about the cold weather:
As soon as it snows the council & shop owners start coating the sidewalks with salt, as it assists in melting the ice. The salt gets onto your shoes and creates ugly white marks. You then need to spend the next four days meticulously cleaning your shoes: the first cleanse of the day only moistens the salt and camouflages it with the underlying material, the second cleanse starts to remove some of the grime, and the third cleanse usually wipes the stubborn stains away. You have to repeat that process again in the evening after you’ve walked home, and continue with it for days sometimes until the snow melts away and the salt disappears from the surface. Then it snows again and the whole process starts over. I HATE CLEANING MY SHOES.
Secondly, it’s really difficult to go running outdoors when it’s icy & windy as heck. I used to be pretty active in Sydney but I’ve cut down on jogging since the Toronto winter graced us with its presence. Hopefully I can get back into a regular schedule in the coming few weeks.
They’re red, not green.
It’s commonly known that Americans write the date as mm-dd-yyyy. We wouldn’t dream of putting month before day in Australia, but Canadians tend to take a diplomatic viewpoint of the situation and accept it either way, thanks to both European and American influence.
I actually find it makes a lot more sense logically to write the date in the Americanised style. If the month is written first, it goes to follow that the sorting order appears numerically by month (Jan 1st, Jan 2nd, Jan 3rd) rather than date (1st Jan, 1st Feb, 1st Mar). I can’t wait for the day the international standard of yyyy-mm-dd is widely accepted in informal situations, but until then, I’m a happy convert to the American format.
It does get confusing sometimes in Canada with the dual acceptance… I recently quoted ‘December 3rd’ to somebody when I should have quoted ‘March 12th’.
In a similar inclusive style to that of the date, it’s completely ok to pronounce Z as either zed or zee in Canada.
The music of Canada is one of the primary reasons I chose to move here to begin with. After stumbling upon the music of Newfoundland folk/rockers Great Big Sea a few years ago, it became a dream of mine to one day see them perform on home soil – a feat achieved in November last year.
Since then I’ve been introduced to dozens more indie Canadian artists who I probably would never have heard of if it weren’t for my GBS discovery. Some of my favourites so far include Hawksley Workman, The Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett and July Talk. I also learnt quickly that Drake is the darling of Toronto.
The live music scene in Toronto is pumping – plenty of local & well known musicians pass through the city’s eclectic venues on a nightly basis. But the best gig I’ve seen so far was at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club last Monday night – a fundraiser for the Company Theatre, feating Alan Doyle & Murray Foster (from Great Big Sea), Alan & Greg Hawco (actor & composer from TV show Republic of Doyle), Ed Robertson (from the Barenaked Ladies), Blake Manning, Stuart Cameron & Danhmait Doyle (from country band The Heartbroken), Keith Power, Kendel Carson, Barry Canning, Patrick Boyle and Tom Power… wow! A mindblowing assembly of pure Canadian talent. I can’t wait for more experiences like this; it’s only gonna get better as the summer months approach and more tours come to light.
On a freezing winters day if you needed to get from, say, the Eaton Centre to the Ripley’s Aquarium on the other side of town, you could walk the entire journey without even stepping foot outdoors. This is thanks to the PATH, the world’s largest underground shopping complex: a 1,200-store, 27km labyrinth of walkways beneath the city that acts as a link between dozens of buildings in downtown Toronto. It’s a brilliant idea – it might be -20°C outside, but it’s entirely feasible to do your grocery shopping, go to the bank, buy clothes, have lunch, take a class at the gym, fill a prescription, post some mail, watch a hockey game and venture up CN tower all while wearing a t-shirt & shorts.
Toronto isn’t the only Canadian city to feature a network of connective tunnels – Montreal has the 32km Underground City, Edmonton has the 13km Pedway, Halifax has the Downtown Halifax Link and most other major centres have some form of subterranean climate-controlled link between inner-city buildings.
I miss the simplicity in Australia of knowing exactly what you’re going to be charged at the cash register when you’re out shopping, because taxes are included in the price already.
In most cases throughout North America, items on shop floors are listed as their pre-tax price, and tax is added on at the register. It’s not so much the increased price at the end that annoys me, but more because if I pay cash for something, I always like to have the correct change prepared already to hand straight over to the cashier. Maybe I’m OCD, but it sucks to have to wait until it scans to find out how much I need to prepare.
When I first started dealing with North American cash it took a while to get used to the 25c coin denomination seeing as all I’ve ever known was the 20c/20p coin. It’s kinda cool though, and I like not having a stupid big 50c coin.
I still find it difficult to use the terms penny, nickel, dime and quarter, it hasn’t quite sunk into my head yet. I still prefer to say 1c coin, 5c coin, 10c coin and 25c coin, but people look at me funny when I do that. I really feel like a knob when I say ‘loonie’ ($1 coin) or ‘toonie’ ($2 coin) 🙂
They also look at me funny when I refer to paper money as ‘notes’ instead of ‘bills’.
Props to the Canadians for phasing out the penny. I hate the pile of copper that builds up in my wallet when in Europe or the US.
The first thing I had to learn when it came to banking was that rather than a savings account, Canadians use a chequing account for their daily spending. I became so used to pressing the SAV button on card terminals back at home that I did the same by habit in Canada the first few times and of course the transaction always declined. I’m used to the CHQ button now, and it does make a whole lot more sense to use your savings account for actual savings and not for day-to-day use. It just sucks that when you do have money in your savings and accidentally press the SAV button, the bastards at the bank charge you a $5 savings access fee.
Which brings me to my biggest Canadian frustration of all: spending money electronically.
In Australia I have a Mastercard debit card that allows me to spend my own money anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted. Simple.
Canada, however, uses a debit card service called Interac which can only be accepted for in-store transactions at select retailers within Canada and is utterly hopeless for those who wish to buy stuff online. So my bank gave me an even more useless “virtual” Visa Debit card for online purchases (it’s basically a card with a number only, no chip or magnetic stripe). Unlike my Australian Mastercard debit card (accepted throughout the entire Mastercard network), my virtual Visa Debit card can only be used at online retailers that specifically accept Visa Debit. In other words: virtually nobody.
For example, I had to physically go to Billy Bishop Airport to buy a plane ticket over the counter with my Interac card, because Porter Airlines won’t accept Visa Debit online. Greyhound doesn’t accept it either, so I had to use my Australian credit card to reserve a seat on a bus. (Thankfully, however, Netflix is fine with Visa Debit, so at least I get to watch my documentaries).
I wouldn’t have this problem if I had a credit card, but the bank won’t give me one because I’m a foreigner. So I’ll just have to live with the ridiculous fact that a bunch of Canadian retailers aren’t able to accept my hard-earned CAD, but are happy to accept my dwindling foreign AUD.
Tea has been my preferred choice of beverage since it was forced upon me while I lived in England, but it wasn’t until I discovered Canadian retailer DAVIDsTEA that I began to feel a real passionate devotion for the leafy hot drink. My workmates introduced me to Davids almost as soon as I started my job, and nearly every day since I’ve ventured to the shop either at the Richmond Adelaide Centre or on Queen St for my tea fix. I’m nearly two thirds of the way through sampling at least one cup of each of their blends.
Not only do they keep a delicious menu of nearly 150 varieties, but they’re one of the most loveable brands I know of. From their delightfully happy retail staff to their #caturday pics of felines exploring the insides of DAVIDsTEA boxes, everything about them is tops.
If I had to choose the #1 factor that’s brought the most joy and happiness to my Canadian experience so far, it’s gotta be the people I’ve met along the journey.
Seriously, what a top bunch the Canadians are! For quite some time now I’ve held Belgians, people from Perth and New Zealanders (only when sober) in high esteem as those who consistently come across as the most genuine, happy people I encounter throughout my travels, and it heartens me very much to now add the Canucks onto that same list. And I don’t just mean those who are born Canadian, but anyone from any country who has spent time here and adopted their beautiful, cheerful way of life.
Generally speaking, I feel a camaraderie here in Canada that’s rare to come across elsewhere in the world. It’s very similar to the Australian sense of mateship, where you celebrate the good times with a hint of larrikinism and stick together when times are tough. There’s a definite sense that the population supports & appreciates each other’s contribution to society. People smile. People say please and thank you. People are engaged and interested. People are happy.
And it’s true what they say about Canadians being delightfully apologetic. A few weeks ago I accidentally stepped in front of a car just as his light turned green, but instead of swearing at me, he smiled, waved and mouthed ‘sorry’ as if he took blame for my own error.
Aside from the cranky old bloke who runs the local coin laundry, there are very few people I’ve met so far in Toronto who I can say have been unpleasant!
To everyone so far who I’ve met with, lived with, dined with, drank with, explored the city with and – especially – worked with: you guys absolutely rock. You’re the reason I booked my flight back to Toronto after my three week Australian rendezvous in May. You haven’t gotten rid of me just yet 😀
On Sunday evening I went to the Air Canada Centre to see my first ever hockey game. Massive thanks to my brother Adrian for the brilliant Christmas gift idea!
Similarly to my first live baseball experience in NYC a few months ago, I barely knew a thing about the game of hockey and had never even gone as far as watching a match on TV before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Canada’s national winter sport.
I took some notes & photos throughout the match, and I present to you here a review in my (sports illiterate) eyes of the Toronto Maple Leafs vs the New Jersey Devils on Sunday 12th January, 2014.
I arrived at the Air Canada Centre around 15 minutes short of the 7pm face-off (I’m led to believe that’s the hockey-equivalent term for a ‘kick-off’). The venue is home to the Maple Leafs in the NHL, the Raptors in the NBA and the Rock in the NLL (Lacrosse), with a hockey capacity of just under 19,000. Judging by the sheer amount of people trying to get in, I figured there was a good chance that number would be reached.
One thing I love about downtown Toronto is that most buildings and public transport facilities are linked by an underground walkway called the PATH. The Air Canada Centre is no exception; it can be accessed via the subway without stepping foot in the chilly outdoors for even a second. However, as I’d spent most of the afternoon underground already taking part in the No Pants Subway Ride, I opted to take in some fresh air and walk my way to the arena along Bay St.
The hot dog
I was feeling pretty peckish and decided to grab a bite to eat before I found my spot inside. There were dozens of food options dotted around the arena; I knew I’d found the right place when I walked past a hot dog stand where they were frying up a bundle of bacon-covered sausages. Looking over the menu, they not only offered the bacon-covered dog, but a butter chicken dog, a poutine dog and a Ruben dog, amongst other varieties. I’d hit hot dog gold!
In the end I walked away with a footlong mac & cheese dog and a medium Molson lager for the princely sum of $22. Now to find my seat and tuck in.
The National Anthems
I could have sworn that when two countries take part in a sporting match, there are normally two different people from each of the represented countries in attendance to sing their respective national anthems. But not here at the hockey!
The US national anthem was sung first – and beautifully so, I might add. The majority of the crowd sang along with the Star Spangled Banner, including the Canadians. This surprised me. You’d never see Aussies sing God Defend New Zealand.
The Canadian national anthem followed, sung by the same girl. Perhaps she had duel citizenship?
A kid sitting next to me with a mini-vuvuzela decided to join in with a monotone squeal towards the climax of the anthem. It wasn’t to be the last I’d hear from him.
The first period
Vuvuzela kid squealed again with excitement to signify the face-off. And so the match began.
The first thing that struck me was that the referees are extremely agile. They ably dodged the speeding puck with precise accuracy every time it came hurtling their way, jumping over it or skating around it in the nick of time.
I loved the way the players ricochet the puck off the side of rink every now & then. They were also highly skilled at stopping the puck mid-air with their sticks, as well as at aiming the puck at the corner of the rink, curving it around behind the goal nets to the opposite side. It took me a while to get a gist of the general play of the game, but my attention was adequately garnered whenever a player performed one of these three impressive feats.
The crowd seemed fairly docile for much of the first period. The occasional “Go Leafs Go! Go Leafs Go!” chant would rise and fall, as would requests to “SHOOT!” from punters frustrated with the lack of pucks being hit towards the vicinity of the goals. We also vocalised our disappointment when a Maple Leafs player dribbled the puck halfway across the rink, only to go for a shot and miss the puck entirely.
The first of many time-outs was called. A group of people entered the rink during the break to choreographically sweep & shovel away the shards of ice dug up by the skates.
Vuvuzela kid let out a series of HONK-HONK-HONK, HOOOOOONK-HOOOOOONK-HOOOOOONK, HONK-HONK-HONKS, not dissimilar to the morse code distress signal.
The players would occasionally congregate around one of four circular markings around the rink where the ref would drop the puck for another face-off. I never quite picked up the hard & fast rules surrounding this activity.
Two more time-outs were called in quick succession. The time-outs were fast becoming my favourite aspect of the production thanks to the mini-presenations and shots of people in the crowd projected onto the big screen.
During the third time-out the camera cut to a man from Newfoundland whose name I recall was Geoffrey Randall. Upon announcement that he served as a marine in the Canadian forces, he received a standing ovation from the grateful crowd. It was very nice to see; he was clearly humbled by the gesture.
Finally, with 4 mins 7 seconds left in the first period, #42 Tyler Bozac scored a goal for the Maple Leafs! The action centred very close to the goals on the opposite end of the rink so it was difficult to see exactly how it eventuated, but the crowd went wild.
Some time was set aside in the break between first and second period for the Tim Hortons Timbits Minor Hockey. Two junior league teams made their way onto the rink to give a mini hockey game a shot. Despite the fact they only played for five minutes, it turned out to be the most engaging junior match out of any sport I’ve seen. Mostly because it was hilarious to see the kids lose their balance on the ice and fall over.
The second period
The Devils caught up very early on, scoring with 18:21 remaining in the period. A single NJ fan cheered loudly in the row in front of me.
A clumsy Devils players dropped his stick mid-play. He never went back to pick it up; one of the refs kicked it off the field and the poor guy played stickless for a few minutes until he was called off.
Another score to the Maple Leafs with 14:04 left! Vuvuzela kid let us all know about it.
A second point went to the Devils at the 13:37 mark, but I missed the action. To be honest, my interest in the game was beginning to wane by now and I was busy consulting Google to find out how many 20 minute periods make up a full match. I could tell I was gonna be hockeyed out by the end of the third period and I was worried there might be a fourth. Thankfully there are only three.
The Michael Hill Jeweller Kiss Cam was fired up during one of the time-outs. The camera focused on various couples throughout the crowd hoping to capture a kiss for everyone to see. Highlights included kisses from a sweet elderly couple, a guy kissing a horse, and two girls going in for a pash. The biggest laugh came from a guy who had nobody sitting next to him; a girl in the row behind came to his rescue and planted one on his lips. That got a massive cheer.
During another time-out the camera again panned around the crowd to find whoever had the craziest reaction to being on screen. The guy chosen as the craziest won himself a Blackberry.
By the end of the second period the scores were level at 2-all.
Brian from Ajax was called onto the rink in the break between the second and third period. It was his 24th birthday and he was the lucky fan chosen for a chance at $1,000, plus tickets to an upcoming match and a Maple Leafs jersey. 50 pucks were lined up along the centre of the rink and he had to hit 20 of them into the goals to win. He won the prize around 30 shots in – not a bad way at all to spend a birthday.
I took a quick break from the arena and grabbed a delicious Häagen-Dazs caramel almond ice cream from the snack bar.
The third period
One of the players rebounded the puck off the plastic guards above the rink – that was a bit dangerous, I thought. A little higher up and someone in the crowd would have ended up in hospital.
Vuvuzela kid realised his pipe was capable of producing a melody; not just a single note.
I noticed a bunch of banners hanging from the ceiling, dating 1918 through to 1967. I assumed these were the years Toronto came out on top of the league. Wikipedia indeed confirms this for me – the Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 🙁
A montage of the top 10 ‘game faces’ showed on the screen during a time-out. The most bloodied & gruesome looking faces of course received the most enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Börje Salming came out on top.
Vuvuzela kid was quite proficient at the Las Chiapanecas Mexican hand-clapping tune by now.
The third period came to an end at 2-all so overtime was called. Both teams played a 4-per-side sudden death match for 5 minutes. The Devils came exceptionally close to scoring with 2.2 seconds remaining but the Maple Leafs goalie was too good. Nobody scored.
Hey, Mike Myers was in the house!
The failure to score during overtime resulted in a shootout to decide the winner, which if you ask me, is a total waste of a game. They may as well have not wasted their energy playing the three periods and just gone straight to shootouts to begin with. Anyway, rules are rules, and each team had three shots each to score.
The first shot was a SCORE by the Maple Leafs #21!
The Devils missed…
The Maple Leafs missed…
The Devils Missed…
The Maple Leafs missed…
And finally, the Devils missed again, resulting in the Toronto Maple Leafs winning their first game of the year, 3-2!
Conclusion & post-match
It was fantastic to tick off another entry on my Canadian bucket list: seeing a hockey game in Canada, made even better by Toronto coming out on top. But you know what I’ve come to realise? When you enjoy the food, junior league and time-out presentations more than the main event itself, it’s a pretty good indication that perhaps sport just isn’t for you. I think I’ll leave my sports-watching endeavours on hold for the time being.
As I was leaving the arena I heard a guy calling people over to his stall for a free Maple Leafs t-shirt. I wanted to get in on some of this action so I lined up for my gift. He asked me for my size and was about to hand over my Medium when he asked to check my ID – ultimately denying me of my free shirt because I’m not Canadian. Dammit!
But I did manage to pick up a free Kraft mac & cheese dinner at the door on the way out 🙂
I knew I’d be in for a harsh winter before I moved to Toronto, but even the locals are saying there hasn’t been an icy epidemic as ridiculous as this for many years!
Almost every consecutive week for the past month now I’ve broken my record for the coldest weather I’ve experienced. Prior to leaving for Canada my record remained at -11°C, achieved in Jindabyne, NSW in 2001 (that’s even despite spending 15 months in Europe from 2008-2009). It didn’t take long to reach my -11°C record upon my Canadian arrival, followed quickly by minimums of -14°C, then -18°C, then an ice storm, and on Friday last week exceeding all my expectations at -23°C with a -35°C wind chill.
And then today happened. A blast of air direct from the Arctic made its way over Canada & the US, breaking decades worth of wind chill records. Just before I left home for work this morning, I checked the weather on my phone and found this:
Yep: that’s -24°C with a -39°C wind chill.
To think that the ideal temperature for a freezer is -18°C, today’s weather more than doubled the recommended climate for freezing food.
As an Australian who spent much of my life in tropical North Queensland, this kind of weather is simply unfathomable. So what’s it like to experience such bleak conditions?
The first thing I notice as I leave the warmth of my abode and venture into the outside world is that it’s surprisingly pleasant. Of course it’s colder than normal, but I’m wearing a few layers, gloves, a beanie & a scarf, and the alcove between my front door and Dundas St West is safe and relatively well sheltered from the blistering atmosphere. However, a step onto the footpath exposes the bare skin of my face to the elements and I can tell it’s not going to be a pleasant journey into work. My lungs appreciate the crisp intake as I breathe in deeply, but as I do, I feel icicles form in my nose. It’s an uncomfortable sensation and I try to only breathe gently through my mouth going forward, for fear of freezing my pharynx.
I walk along happily for two or three minutes until a gust of wind catches me by surprise, whacking me across the face as if it were the back of a saucepan lined with razor sharp chunks of ice. All feeling instantly drains from my uncovered forehead, cheeks, eyelids, lips and nose. I now know the true meaning of a -39°C wind chill: if this preposterous breeze sustains for any more than a few minutes, there’s a pretty good chance frostbite will kick in.
I make my way to the streetcar shelter on Spadina & Dundas. One other guy is waiting for the tram, but there’s no sign of an arrival any time soon. I debate whether it’ll take me longer to die if I stand still and keep waiting, or get active again and continue a few hundred metres to Queen St. I choose the latter, refastening my scarf so that it covers as much of my mouth and nose as possible. A few more gusts of that dastardly wind ensue, and I check that I can still feel my cheeks. Thankfully somebody had cleared & salted the ice along the footpath earlier in the morning, allowing me to speed along toward Queen without paying too much attention to the slippery undergrowth. I notice my scarf beginning to freeze at the point where my mouth touches the material. I wipe off the frost building up on my eyelashes. I clench my hands deep in my jacket pockets to try to regain the feeling in my fingers after wiping my brow.
I finally reach the Queen & Spadina streetcar shelter, only to find the next bloody streetcar isn’t due to arrive for another 23 minutes!
I curse the TTC and bitterly decide to continue with the walk after recuperating in the shelter for a moment. Just as I’m about to head eastbound along Queen, a tram appears out of nowhere. All my problems are instantly solved and I arrive inside the warm Hudson’s Bay building a few minutes short of 7am. My time at -39°C has come to an end.
As I write this, I’m in my toasty, centrally-heated bedroom wearing a t-shirt & shorts – a far cry from the polar frost of this morning, and having survived the slightly milder return journey back home. I’ll remain right here until my next venture into work tomorrow where the ambient temperature is currently set to be -18°C. Who knows what the wind chill will be.
But you know what? I love it like this! The 2013/2014 Toronto winter has turned out so remarkably different from any climate I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s extreme, it’s unpleasant and it’s just so goddamn freezing that it makes me feel an odd sense of accomplishment to have survived it (so far). I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s the most extreme temperature you’ve experienced? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!
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 – all 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.
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.
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?
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:
Never before have I been to a city so abundant in labyrinths!
My first week in Toronto led me on a chance discovery tour of said structure, first developed by the Ancient Greeks and featured over the ages on coins, walls, rock, paintings, tattoos and pottery. These days the labyrinth predominantly appears as a path set into the ground for the purposes of walking as if it were a pilgrimage – it’s said to bring a sense of meditational peace to anybody who follows its trail.
Unlike a maze, which is made up of a path that branches into multiple directions and often leads to dead ends, a labyrinth comprises only of a single twisting, turning path that eventually terminates at the centre of the pattern. And Toronto just happens to be full of them.
The Toronto Public Labyrinth
It was my second day in Toronto, walking toward the Eaton Centre along Dundas St West, when I noticed a street map at an intersection advising me the Toronto Public Labyrinth was in the vicinity. I made mental note of its location and took a right along Bay St, expecting a jungle of perfectly-trimmed hedges to pop up in front of me at any moment. At this stage I wasn’t aware of the difference between a hedge maze and a labyrinth – of course, the hedges were nowhere to be seen.
‘It’s definitely a good labyrinth if I can’t find the bloody thing to begin with!’ I thought to myself. I forgot about it and went on into the Eaton Centre to do my shopping.
I decided to have one more search after I finished at the mall. Upon exiting, I eventually found its giant granite arch gates and set foot upon the intricate spiralling pattern that was the Toronto Public Labyrinth.
I had walked through numerous hedge mazes in the past, but I’d never before encountered a labyrinth laid into the pavement such as this. The guidelines suggested I enter the labyrinth with a specific question or intention in mind, follow the path from the entrance to the centre, then stay in the centre to reflect on my question for as long as I want before returning back to the entrance via the same path. I did just that, and it felt surprisingly refreshing!
Walking the Toronto Public Labyrinth was as though I went on a mini expedition in the centre of the city, where I was able to drown out everything that surrounded me and instead focus all my attention onto myself walking the path that lay ahead. It was humbling to stand in the centre and reflect upon my question, before reversing back along the path the same way I came. It’s a form of relaxation I would recommend to anybody who may wish to slow down for a few minutes and look inward.
As impressed and intrigued as I was, my interest in labyrinths probably would have ended there if it wasn’t for the fact that I walked past another one the very next day.
Ashbridge’s Bay Park Labyrinth
I’d formed a plan during my first week in Toronto: on each day, I would visit a different area of the city. On my third day in town I took the streetcar to the end of Queen St East and walked through the beautiful Beach District. Toward the end of my walk from east to west, I found myself in Ashbridge’s Bay Park, where – lo and behold – there was another labyrinth. Two labyrinths in two days!
High Park Labyrinth
As if two wasn’t enough, a trip to the picturesque High Park a few days later led me to my third labyrinth for the week. I was running out of questions to ask myself but I still took the course to the centre and back again.
There’s something quite remarkable about Toronto in that I’d never visited a labyrinth before in my life, and of a sudden I’d seen three in one week. It didn’t take long to find there is a Labyrinth Community Network dedicated to collating information on all sites not only across Toronto, but the whole of Ontario, as well as spreading the word about the goodness of the labyrinth in general.
I was also impressed to find a World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, which is an online resource that lists details on their whereabouts across the planet. Although the majority of listings in the database are located in the US and Canada, the labyrinth is clearly a global sensation.
As time goes on, I’ll surely visit more sites and continue enjoying the serenity of the winding path to the centre – I encourage you to do the same if you happen to be close to one! For now though, I thank the good people of Toronto for opening my eyes to the labyrinth 🙂
Post-script: The bicycle arena
A few nights later during the Nuit Blanche celebrations I happened to walk past the Toronto Public Labyrinth again, where it had been converted into a nighttime bicycle arena. Anybody could line up for free and take one of the many bikes for a spin around the pavement 🙂