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Canada #22 Black Creek Pioneer Village

In a quiet place far from Toronto’s bustling CBD, a little cemetery sits beside a mill pond. On an overcast day the pond mirrors its surroundings in a perfect reflection.

In the middle of the cemetery is a memorial to the Stong family, who migrated from Pennsylvania in 1800 to start a new life in Ontario. Daniel Stong and his wife Elizabeth both lie at rest here in the cemetery.

On the other side of the pond is a flour mill, dating from 1842 and nearby is a whole village of mid-19th century buildings. Of all these old buildings, the only ones original to the site are those which Daniel and Elizabeth built.

Black Creek Pioneer Village, in the Toronto suburb of North York, has grown around the Stong family farm as historic buildings from elsewhere in Ontario have been added to the collection. Some have been moved here complete, while others have been reconstructed after being carefully dismantled at their original sites.

Many of the old buildings are 19th century stores where, like the original occupants, modern artisans practise traditional crafts. They are passing their knowledge onto a new generation keen to keep the old skills alive.

Others are small museums, with their tools of the trade left as if the crafters will return for a new day. The village is a time capsule, set in 1867.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, chickens wander where they please and sheep and goats graze in the field near the barn Daniel Stong built in 1825.

Two farm houses sit side by side next to the mill pond. The first, a simple three room log cabin, was built by Daniel and Elizabeth in 1816. Here they raised eight children before moving in 1832 to a new, two storey home next door. Their second home is much grander, evidence of their hard work and resulting prosperity. Elizabeth must have been delighted with her beautiful new home after living for 16 years in the cabin. It became a hen house and storage shed.  

Daniel died in 1868, one year after the time in which the pioneer village is set. If he returned now the little stores, the peaceful mill pond and his 19th century neighbours going about their daily tasks might all look quite familiar.

I wonder what would he think if he stepped beyond its boundaries into 21st century Toronto?

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Hello Toronto!

Canada #21 Toronto

The subway journey from our suburban Airbnb to Toronto’s CBD was not long but the difference in outlook was amazing. In High Park, a few people were out walking or enjoying the summer weather on their front verandahs.

At Union Station in the city centre, we were engulfed by a bustling crowd all intent on their own agenda. Unlike most of those people, on our first day in Toronto, we had no particular destination. We spent the day exploring.

From Union Station, we headed south along Bay Street towards Lake Ontario. At Harbour Square Park, we watched the ferries coming and going, taking passengers over the water to Toronto Islands.

Our plan to walk some way along the lake shore was dashed by the horrified look on the face of the lady in the Tourist Information van. “Oh no. Don’t go there,” she said with an expression which told us it wasn’t a good idea. She directed us back along Bay Street with a right turn onto Front Street, assuring us this was a safer and more interesting route. She was right! There was a lot to see along Front Street.

We didn’t have to read the name on this building; the images on the sides gave away its purpose. The Hockey Hall of Fame, first opened in 1943, moved to Front Street in 1993. The building dates from 1885 and was originally head office for the Bank of Montreal.

At Berczy Park we came across this fanciful fountain, where 27 dogs pay homage to a golden bone. Later we found out there is also one cat and wished we’d known to look for it.

Just beyond Berczy Park is the original Flatiron building. Constructed in 1892, 10 years before its more famous cousin in New York, it was head office for the Gooderham and Worts Distillery for 60 years. Today,  commercial offices and a popular pub fill the building. The rear façade of the Flatiron is decorated with a large trompe l’oeil mural, a mirror image of the building opposite.

Further along Front Street is St Lawrence Market. Farmers have sold their fresh produce on this site since 1803 and the current building dates from 1848. Voted the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012, there are 120 speciality stores selling locally sourced fresh foods. The market is open every Tuesday to Saturday.

Our final stop in this direction was the historic Distillery District, founded by the same family who built the Flatiron building. The first building on the site was a windmill constructed in 1832. The Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery soon followed and, by the 1860s, was the largest distillery in the world. Production continued until 1990. In 2001, the abandoned buildings were repurposed as boutique shops, restaurants and residences surrounded by gardens, sculptures and artworks. The district hosts a vibrant series of cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

We retraced our steps along Front Street back to Union Station and continued on in the other direction to CN Tower. At 553.3 metres high, the communications and observation tower is visible from anywhere. Up close, its height is daunting and tourists braving the Edge Walk outside the observation deck look like tiny insects.

The Rogers Centre, a multi-purpose stadium and home of Toronto’s major league baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays, is nearby. This day the stadium was quiet but when a home game is played more than 30,000 people come to cheer on their team.

Leaving Front Street, we walked along York Street to our final destination. Nathan Philips Square, where the old and new City Halls sit side by side, is one of the most photographed parts of the city. Toronto City Council operated in the old City Hall from 1899 before moving across the forecourt to the new building in 1966.

Three Freedom Arches dedicated to Canadians who have fought for freedom for all span the reflecting pool. The TORONTO sign is flanked at one end by a maple leaf commemorating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and at the other by a traditional medicine wheel acknowledging First Nations peoples.

We were glad we talked to the lady in her information van at Harbour Square Park. She really did send us in the right direction!

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Flying Over Canada

Canada #20 Vancouver to Toronto

After trekking across Canada on the Canadian Trail, we took to the skies in a virtual flight across the country at Flyover Canada.

Strapped into our seats in a darkened room, we soared above the land in an eight minute video journey from east to west through the four seasons. With snow-covered mountains and never-ending prairies, deep blue lakes and tumbling waterfalls, the scenery was spectacular and the special effects almost convinced us we’d flown cross country.

A few days later we did exactly that in the opposite direction, on a five hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto. From our window seat, our bird’s eye view of Canada rivalled that tourist ride  in Canada Place.

We said goodbye to beautiful Vancouver with one last glimpse of the city, the water and those stunning coastal mountains beyond. We could see places we’d become familiar with – the white sails of Canada Place and the cleared green area at the top of Grouse Mountain.

We flew over more mountains, sometimes separated by shimmering blue lakes or narrow winding roads.

Later the mountains became more rugged and wild – could these be the famous Rockies we’d read so much about?

Soon the mountains were gone, replaced by broad flat farmland stretching to the horizon. From above the fields looked like giant geometrical puzzles, with different shapes neatly fitted together. We were intrigued by the circles and, although we asked later, no one could explain their purpose.

At one stage, we flew again over water and decided it must be one of the great lakes. The deep blue, dotted with tiny islands, contrasted with the green of the land, densely forested and jagged along the water’s edge.

Then came more farmland, this time worked in neat grid patterns edged with dark green stands of trees. The fields were split by long straight roads; we could even see cars heading in both directions.

Eventually Toronto came into view. It seemed to go forever; a vast sprawl of homes, shopping centres and rows of high rise towers with wide green spaces in between.

The city centre, defined by a long strip of skyscrapers, was dominated by CN Tower, a building we would come to know well. Beyond the cluster of towers we could see more blue – Lake Ontario, so large it merged with the blue sky on the horizon.

The next part of our Canadian adventure was about to begin.

In the Right Place

Canada #19 Vancouver

The distinctive white sails of Canada Place are an iconic part of the Vancouver waterfront skyline and we quickly came to recognise them everywhere we went. From the Seabus on Burrard Inlet they stood out among the city skyscrapers, even when surrounded by cruise ships. At the lookout on Grouse Mountain, they were clearly visible on the waterfront. We could even see them from our 21st floor apartment in downtown Vancouver.

Close up the 30 metre high fibreglass sails are just as spectacular, but they are only one part of Canada Place. It’s the home of the Port of Vancouver and the cruise ship terminal, which can accommodate up to four huge ships at one time. Luxury hotels stand alongside the World Trade Centre and the Vancouver Convention Centre.

On the west promenade of Canada Place we went on a virtual trek across Canada, from ocean to ocean. The Canadian Trail consists of 13 sections designed to represent the 10 provinces and three territories of the nation.

Colourful glass plates embedded in the walkway list communities small and large, some well-known to us and others not familiar. We followed our own route through Canada, a few places we’d already been to and others we were yet to visit.

A mile-marker set into the pavement was another indicator of the distances we would cover on our Canadian journey.

This part of Burrard Inlet is an airport on the water, with tiny seaplanes continually taking off and landing. Even after seeing them in Victoria we were still entranced and stopped to watch as each one arrived or departed.

The trail ends at North Point with 360° views of the city, from the snow-capped mountains of the north shore to Stanley Park in the west, across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver and east to the bustling Port of Vancouver.

We retraced our steps across Canada on the Canadian Trail and returned to the white sails of Canada Place. From our apartment to the waterfront those sails became our point of reference for our city explorations.

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A Castle With No King

Canada #8 Craigdorrach Castle, Victoria BC

When Robert and Joan Dunsmuir began construction of their palatial mansion in 1887, they probably didn’t intend it to be known as a castle. But with its prominent position high above the city of Victoria, its imposing towers and ornamented gables, Craigdorrach Castle seems the perfect name for this imposing building.

Originally from Scotland, Robert Dunsmuir had several successful businesses in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fortune he made through coal, railways, shipping and timber was reflected in the lavish interior of the castle, including intricately detailed woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows and the latest modern conveniences of the time.

From the rooms on the fourth floor, including the tower high in the roof of the castle, the family enjoyed expansive views across Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympus Mountains in Washington State, USA.

Robert Dunsmuir never enjoyed the final result of his prosperity; he died in 1890 before the house was completed. Joan lived there with three of her daughters and two grandchildren until her death in 1908. Then the castle became a military hospital before being used as the site of Victoria College, the forerunner of the University of Victoria. After a third reincarnation as the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the castle was preserved as a museum.

First opening to the public in 1969, Craigdorrach Castle is now a Designated National House Historic Site. Every year, more than 140,000 people come to see the castle, experiencing for themselves the luxurious surroundings Robert Dunsmuir never did.

A Change of Plans

Canada #3 Victoria

At the start, it wasn’t going to be a long walk! From the waterfront in downtown Victoria to Fisherman’s Wharf along the David Foster Harbour Pathway was just one kilometre.

We could have taken a relaxing carriage ride past the elegant buildings on Belleville Street but we were glad we didn’t.

We would have missed seeing the continual arrival and departure of the Harbour Air seaplanes. We marvelled at the skill of the pilots and the lightness with which these tiny aircraft landed on the water.

We wouldn’t have come across the Friendship Bell, symbol of a 30 year bond between the citizens of Morioka, Japan and Victoria.

We wouldn’t have seen these beautiful waterlilies, serenely floating in a water garden along the front of an apartment building.

When we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf, the cafés, boutiques and tourist shops were all bustling with people enjoying the fine summer weather. We admired the colourful float homes lined up against the jetties and wondered about the lifestyle of the inhabitants. The queues at the cafés were long and the tables were full, so we decided to continue further along the path.

We passed the Canadian Coast Guard and the Victoria Harbour Heliport before arriving at Ogden Point, part of the traditional lands of the Lekwungen peoples. Ogden Point is the busiest cruise ship port in Canada; each year more than 400,000 passengers start their visit to Victoria here.

Ogden Point Breakwater, a 762 metre long concrete wall jutting out into the calm waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is decorated with Na’Tsa’Maht – The Unity Wall. The mural painted by Salish Nations artists depicts the stories, past and present, of the local First Nations peoples.

After trekking out to the Ogden Point Breakwater Lighthouse and back, it was time for a rest at the Breakwater Café Bistro Bar. We enjoyed steaming hot chocolates served with a view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains across the water in Washington State.

Continuing along Dallas Road to Holland Point Park, we joined the Waterfront Trail which passes through the park to the Shoreline Trail. Both tracks were lined with delicate pink flowers growing wild on the edge of the cliff. Huge piles of driftwood washed up by the ocean lay in stacks along the shore below.

At Douglas Street we left the Waterfront Trail, stopping first at the Mile Zero Monument which marks the start of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Nearby we paid our respects at a statue of Terry Fox, the inspirational teenager who, after losing his leg to cancer, started a run across Canada in 1980 to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. He never finished the journey, succumbing to the disease after running 5,373 kilometres in 143 days. Today, his legacy lives on in the Terry Fox Foundation.

Further down Douglas Street we entered Beacon Hill Park, where a giant watering can sprays cooling water from its spout on hot days. The ducks at Goodacre Lake didn’t need a hot day to take to the water – they were all bottoms up in search of tasty morsels.

We walked past a local school with a famous name and an intriguing place in Canadian political history and the Royal BC Museum, on our list for another day.

At last we arrived back where we’d started in downtown Victoria. Our walk may have been much longer than we planned, but we saw a lot more than we expected.

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The Red Door

Canada #2 Chinatown, Victoria

If you’re walking along Pandora Avenue in downtown Victoria remember to look up, or you might miss the sign for Fan Tan Alley.

The entrance to Canada’s narrowest street is nondescript and you could easily walk past without noticing. Once inside though, you can’t help but look up. A thin strip of blue sky dotted with a line of bright red lanterns guides you through the alley to Chinatown.


Located on Fisgard Street, Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. Here you’ll find restaurants, grocers and medicinal shops side by side with those selling paper umbrellas and happy cats. In Fan Tan Alley, there are quirky stores where you can treat yourself to an ice cream, a vintage record or some handmade jewellery, soap or clothing.

At the top of Fisgard Street, the brightly decorated Gate of Harmonious Interest marks the main entrance to Chinatown.

Red and gold are favourite colours in Chinese culture, symbolising good luck, wealth and happiness, and we feel endowed with all three in this lively atmosphere. More strings of lanterns gaily crisscross the street while ornamental signs point the way to other narrow alleys.



It’s the colour red which catches our attention in Fan Tan Alley. This slender door, its red paint worn and patchy, has an air of mystery. There’s no number 23 or 24, just this door – halfway in between.


Perhaps Fan Tan Alley is too narrow to fit them all!