September 1, 2005
Hello from Toronto: A First Little Driving
Tour -The City Viewed Through
the Eyes of First-Time Visitors
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.
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
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.
Old City Hall
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.
Metropolitan United Church
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
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.
to my brother's visit
Hello from Toronto (2) - Exploring the waterfront by bicycle and
the CN Tower
Hello from Toronto (3) - Exploring
Niagara Wine Country and Niagara Falls
Hello from Toronto (4) - Exploring
Toronto's west end neighbourhoods
Hello from Toronto (5) - Novice golf,
exploring the Kawarthas, and a final bike ride
my reflections after my European visitors left