Go Big or Go Home

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Thursday, August 16, 2012

Howdy folks,

After a good sleep from walking around Niagara Falls, we bid goodbye to our campground at St Catharines and hit the QEW to Toronto. We were planning on stopping in downtown Hamilton, but we weren't that impressed when we drove through so we continued past to the outer Toronto suburb of Mississagua, home of Don Cherry. We caught up with the world via the internet and had wraps for lunch before continuing into downtown Toronto. It didn’t take long before we were among tall sky scrapers and deep in traffic. Luckily we were able to park our car at the hostel even though we were too early to check in and given a free afternoon to check out the local sights. It wasn’t far to walk to Yonge Street which is part of the 'main street’ of Toronto. Having said that, the city is so big that it doesn’t really have one main street, but many different districts like Chinatown, Greek Town and the Financial District.

We decided to walk to the Provincial Government building; home of Ontario’s government. We walked through Queens Park and security was tight in the somewhat ugly building. The brown brick facades didn’t really give the building any sort of charm or fascination. We were escorted through a fairly quick 30 minute tour of only the front 2 levels which didn’t have much information. However, we did get to stand in the government debating floor which was ok, but smaller than others Steffie and I have been in. We did note that the western wing of the building was marble instead of wood, apparently because of a fire after the building was finished. They decided to rebuild the wing in a different material which just makes it look out of place.

After the tour, we did some more walking around downtown before checking into the hostel after 4pm. This is the first hostel that we have stayed at on this roadtrip and it has been more than a year since I’ve staying in a hostel. It wasn’t very clean, but the room was spacious and came with breakfast. We made a quick pasta bake for dinner before jumping on the underground metro to go watch the baseball. The game started at 7pm and lasted almost 3 hours between the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox. The last time I went to a baseball game was Seattle and it was good to see another game. We opted for some midrange seats and sat right above the bullpen where the pitchers were warming up. After 9 innings, the White Sox had beaten the Blue Jays 9-5. It was a pity that the Rogers Arena stadium was so empty, but baseball doesn’t have the popularity of other sports these days.

We navigated our way through the crowds back onto the streetcar and transferred back to the metro to get back to the hostel. We crashed into bed exhausted and looking forward to busy days ahead. It was pretty warm in the room up on the 7th floor and the road traffic was ever present. In the morning, Steffie and I went down to the café for our continental breakfast. Apparently this dorm is student housing, except for the summer where it is offered as backpacker accommodation. No doubt they get more money from backpackers than they do from the students.

We took some time getting organised before leaving at 10:30am and catching the metro down to St Andrews station. We walked this time to Rogers Arena and into the CN Tower which stands next door. It was busy, although the line wasn’t as busy as I had been expecting. Eventually we were crowded into a glass floor elevator and sent 346m high above the skyline. The CN tower is the largest free standing structure in the Western hemisphere, higher than the Willis Tower in Chicago and has 3 observation decks: outdoor, indoor and the skypod which is another 101m above the indoor observation area. The indoor viewing area also has a section with glass floors where you can look straight down. Not for the faint of heart.

We took the next elevator up to the skypod (for an additional fee) where the tiny deck gave you the highest observation lookout anywhere in the world. They only let 10 people up in the elevator at a time and we had a nice clear day to observe the greater Toronto area although it wasn’t clear enough to see all the way to Niagara Falls as boasted by the advertising. We certainly had a good view of the Toronto Islands and was impressive to see the shadow cast by the tower in the midday sun.

While at the top, I noticed a train roundhouse below so I decided to go and check it out while the girls went off to explore the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. The roundhouse was actually converted into the Steam Whistle Brewery, a museum and a furniture studio. I signed up for a brewery tour, but I had an hour to kill so I walked down to the waterfront. I had heard about the Power Plant art gallery which was free so I went inside. It was good that I hadn’t paid because it was pretty small and not what I would call ‘art’. These days you can pass off anything as art as long as it is presented in a gallery.

I didn’t waste much time there before taking a walk along the harbor. There are many vessels here that do day or sightseeing tours of the Toronto Islands and there was a much more interesting photographic exhibit of random people who use the area from builders, sunbathers and fisherman. They also hold free events here over the summer at the Harbourfront Centre. It was time for the brewery tour, so I headed back for my free sample. I think I’ve had Steam Whistle once before back in Banff, although it is more of a microbrewery. They only make one type of pilsner and only at the one location.

We donned our headphones and were lead through a 30 minute tour of the brewery which involved all areas of production: brewing, fermenting, bottling and packaging. I was given a bottle fresh off the production line to consume and the date stamp confirmed it was only a minute old! This was my first brewery tour and it was pretty interesting to see all the production elements at work. It isn’t very old having only been founded in 1999, but given that it is made in an old steam engine round house it gives the beer some character. The story is that a big corporation bought a brewery and fired all the workers. Three of the workers decided to start their own brewery under the name Three Fired Guys, but nobody would invest under that business name. So they changed it to Steam Whistle in honour of the production premises. From the looks of things, they’re doing quite well.

After an additional sample and with a free bottle opener in hand, I walked over to the corner of York and Front Streets where Union Station and the Fairmont Royal York hotel face each other. Union Station was quite big, but not as detailed as the one in Chicago. Unfortunately the street long, road reconstruction detracted from the view of the Fairmont hotel which was built in 1929. It was the largest hotel built upon completion in the entire British Empire and formed part of the luxury hotel chain across the Canadian Pacific Railway which includes both the Banff Springs and the Chateau Lake Louise.

I met the girls there in the lobby around 4pm and after getting lost around the roadworks, eventually found the metro station underground. We decided after so much walking around to have a night in drinking and go watch the sunset from the rooftop. The sunset was hidden behind the clouds, but we returned later to see the skyline at night and it was quite cool.
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