Moose hunting in Toronto
Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
30Trip End Oct 02, 2009
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Ben says: Canada's largest and most famous city is Toronto. A few hours west of the Frenchier Montreal, and only an hour north of the USA, Toronto provided us a relaxing respite from our rigorous travels.
We moved through Toronto on no less than three occasions, between heading to Niagara twice and visiting Leah’s old summer camp at Orillia up north. We spent the bulk of our time, about four or five days straight in Toronto, after returning from Niagara the first time.
In size, Toronto seems smaller than Sydney but still quite big, maybe around the size of Melbourne. We had few preconceptions about what Toronto would be like, except the idea that it was Canada’s main city, on the English-speaking side of things anyway. And so, we were pleasantly surprised.
We stayed in a very large hostel, the Canadiana, which was excellent, the ideal hostel with lots of people around, lots of things to do and a free BBQ for dinner one night. There was a group of young Aussie’s there, talking loudly in some strange, flat nasally accent, sounding a bit like a tone deaf American accent, but we didn’t end up fraternising with them. Really, the Aussie accent sounds so odd when you don’t hear it for a long time. It’s surprising, almost like a take-off of the accent, and there was something about the way I heard one of them say, 'Aw, yea, and then hi gawt cayned’ that left me with a feeling of cultural cringe. But I miss the laid back drawl of the accent, I really do!
Anyway, we spent our first full day in Toronto, wandering around the city. It’s a pretty large city centre, ordinary and well-organised but I guess we’ve seen a few now. They had an excellent mall and a lot of really interesting niche shops. I spent some time buying up at my new favourite clothes brand, the Canadian owned ‘Roots’ brand. (Funny, I’ve never had a favourite clothing brand before. I guess travelling the world opens up your perceptions… your perceptions of fashion!)
The following day, after having gotten a sense of the city, we ventured to Toronto’s immense space needle, the ‘CN Tower’, which is the worlds tallest freestanding tower. It is 553 metres tall (or 1815 feet for you imperialists [or 553 meters for you Canadian’s]), which is over half a kilometre tall, which is really quite a lot if you sit and think about it. Fortunately, we didn’t have to sit and think about it, we got to see it first hand and were very overawed. In the end, though, we didn’t go to the top of the tower as it would have cost us $21.00 each, and our funds were fast depleting and it seemed like something we’d done before (see our blogs on tower climbing in Tokyo, New York and Sydney).
About five minutes away from the CN Tower, and the huge baseball stadium that is home to Toronto’s baseball team, is the Steam Whistle Brewery. This brewery is very new and only makes one beer: The Steam Whistle Pilsner. We walked in to this round barrel shaped building and the girl at the bar poured us a drink straight away. Good start, really. Either, they know how to entertain in Toronto, or she could tell we were Australian. We paid for a tour (only $7.00 each, with a free beer at the end and a free souvenir glass. Good value) and we were hence taken on an extremely interesting brewery tour. That’s right, that’s what I said: it was an interesting brewery tour. It is possible.
The girl running the tour took us through the bottling plant, the brewery offices and through the whole story of how the company came about. It was an interesting story, about three men who were working boring, blue-collar jobs, but then quit their jobs to pursue a dream – the dream of owning a brewery made in their own grand image. The reason the tour was so interesting probably came down to the fact that Steam Whistle was still quite small. It wasn’t a huge operation like Fosters or Heineken, so we didn’t get the ‘fašade’ tour; we got to see the whole company, every honest inch. We even got to see desk of the company presidents (the owners), all the machinery that makes the beer, bottles it, labels it etc. The details of the business made it interesting, and the transparency made it authentic. Being that there were only four of us on the tour made it more relaxed and personal as well. Anyone who criticises brewery tours probably has just been on the wrong ones (or doesn’t like beer, which is fine too.) So we left with our souvenir glasses and headed back into Toronto town for a wander. Admittedly, our drive and energy to see everything we possibly could on this trip was waning a little. Although to be fair, Toronto is a place that seems like it would be great to live more than tour.
The next day we got back on the tourist wagon and headed to Toronto’s historic ‘Casa Loma’, an old historic mansion house that sits atop the city on a hill. Casa Loma interprets as ‘House on a Hill’, and is the dream home of one of Toronto’s great pioneers, Sir Henry Pellatt.
Pellatt’s story itself is quite fascinating. While he was young he was an athlete, a successful runner, who won an important mile race in the 1870’s. After retiring from running he joined his father in a brokerage firm, and successfully made a series of investments that lead to his gaining a great fortune. He invested in rail travel to the poorly settled central states of Canada, he was one of the first people in the world to invest in electricity and he bought electric light to Toronto, with the first public street lamps. He was also a member of the Queen’s Own Rifles, a military group, for which he was knighted in 1905. He built the house as part of a dream, a very expensive dream, in fact. The initial proposed cost was about $200,000, which eventually ballooned out to over $3 million – proposed - the house was never finished, fully, although what is there is impressive.
We hopped on the subway and after getting about half way to Casa Loma, we realised that we’d forgotten both our cameras. That’s not like us. We decided we couldn’t be bothered going all the way back, so we bought a disposable camera from a drug store (they really call them drug stores over there! I suppose that’s what they sell, so…) sadly, despite using up all 24 shots from the camera at Casa Loma, we came out with a bunch of awful shots and realised why digital technology is so awesome.
We eventually found the place, a beautiful castle-style mansion on large grounds above Toronto. When I say ‘above’, I mean on top of a hill, not hovering in the sky above Toronto - In case you were confused. This impressive house looks like all those mansions you see in British murder mysteries, with a ballroom, a cool library, even a beautiful white and black tiled conservatory. I was almost expecting Professor Plum to be stalking the hallways with the lead piping. We walked around the place, and soon discovered that there was even a long underground tunnel from the house that lead to the horse stable and garage. This particular tunnel even ran under a main road and was quite cold and icy, considering its lack of insulation.
We saw a movie in the ‘movie room’ that told the Henry Pellatt story, and his passionate development of Casa Loma. Pellatt’s story unfortunately drew to a sad conclusion. Pellatt paid for and developed the hydro electric plant at Niagara, giving Toronto a cheap renewable source of energy. The Canadian government decided that this power should be privatised, for the benefit of the people, and took the plant from Pellatt and thus all his investment earnings. Pellatt had much of his money in a bank that went bust and so he was left with nearly nothing aside from his house. He managed to cling on to the house for quite a while, but eventually the government threatened to bankrupt him for what he owed on the house and take away his knighthood. Since Pellatt loved being ‘Sir’ Henry Pellatt so much, he gave up the house to keep his knighthood, and went to live in some crappy two story house that he didn’t even own. I guess he was a very proud man, proud of his name and his image, and I guess he had reason to be.
Casa Loma is now run by the Kiwanis Club and is open to the public to visit. At least this has given Torontoites a chance to learn about and appreciate one of their most important historical figures.
After our visit to Casa Loma our time in Toronto was almost over. I’ve since heard that it gets so cold in winter in Toronto that they have an underground shopping mall so the people of Toronto don’t have to go outside. I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t see any sight of this, or even hear about it, but we enjoyed the feel of Toronto. It seemed like a lively city with a lot of character, a place where you could live and never get bored. It was sad we had to leave.