So my brother is in town, together with his wife and 2 friends from my little home town in Austria. It is everybody’s first time in North America and their initiation to Toronto. Just to give you ideas of dimensions: Austria has a population of about 9 million and the country extends about 900 km from east to west while the Greater Toronto area nowadays probably has about 4 to 5 million people and Lake Ontario alone is over 300 km long. The first thing my visitors noticed was the difference in size: the size of the city, the size of the lake, the size of cars, the size of supermarkets, and even of refrigerators.
On Sunday we started off with a little driving tour of Toronto where I first took my visitors down to the lakefront by the historic Art Deco style R.C. Harris Filtration Plant. All of them love water and to have a lake as big as an ocean so close by fascinated them. After a leisurely drive on Queen Street through the quaint Beaches neighbourhood we parked the car close to the St. Lawrence Market and started our walk around.
Since my brother is a chef and always loves to purchase market-fresh food, I initially took him to the St. Lawrence Market which always has an antique sale on Sunday. The food market is actually closed on Sunday. We checked out the wares from old furniture to cameras to various knick-knacks.
Our exploration continued westwards along Front Street past historic 19th century houses and of course past the famous triangular-shaped Flatiron Building which has a mural on its west side. Approaching Yonge Street we walked past the Hockey Hall of Fame, a historic Beaux-Arts former bank building, the magnificent Royal York Hotel, built in 1929, once the largest hotel in the British Commonwealth.
One of the things that fascinated my visitors most was how old and new can coexist right next to each other: shiny skyscrapers are located right beside historic sandstone churches. Our walking tour continued past Union Station, Toronto’s impressive central railway station, built between 1914 and 1927 as a joint construction project by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Grand Trunk Railway (now the Canadian National Railway). Its monumental scale, classical detail and rational, ordered planning were hallmarks of the style. The station is massive and takes up an entire block on Front Street between York Street and Bay Street. The Great Hall of the Station is 250 ft. long and 84 ft. wide.
Our walk continued further west on Front Street past the Convention Centre to the base of the CN Tower and the entrance to the Skydome, Toronto’s multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof, now called the Rogers Centre. We then snaked our way up through the Entertainment District to Queen Street where we admired Osgoode Hall, built in the 1830s, and now an oasis of green in the city. An ornate iron fence, built in 1867, renowned for its peculiar “cow gates,” surrounds the property and its beautiful gardens. The cow gates in particular fascinated my visitors.
Our next stop was at New City Hall and Old City Hall, opened in 1899, which racked up construction costs of more than $2.5 million at the time which caused great controversy in those days. Continuing past the Bay Department Store on Queen we passed the Metropolitan United Church, an English style cathedral dating from 1872, whose churchyard was filled with people enjoying the warm day.
Once back in the car we drove through the U of T campus, my Alma Mater and we stopped briefly to check out Hart House and Kings College. Then we headed down to Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas and my visitors marvelled at this exotic, busy market area. Our last stop on the tour was Kensington Market, a lively little neighbourhood full of food and clothing stores and restaurants where we ended up picking up fresh vegetables, dry beans, and a variety of cheeses for some of the scrumptious meals to come. My brother, the chef, marvelled at the variety of food available here, combined with the inexpensive prices a food lover’s dream.
We took our loot home where my husband was waiting for us with a big brunch to strengthen ourselves for attending a birthday party of one of my friends that had the motto of “let out your inner child”. The party was unique in that it involved such time-honoured Toronto traditions as hitting a piñada while a bunch of adults were playing with water guns, chasing one another around the house with buckets of water dropping on the combatants from the second floor.
I think our visitors had a full day, from getting a first taste of Toronto, to participating in a rather eventful birthday party, their first impressions were very positive and they were looking forward to exploring more of this exciting city.