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To Market, To Market

Canada #30 St Lawrence Market, Toronto

On Front Street the façade of St Lawrence Market has an almost stately appearance. The red of the bricks is enhanced by overflowing tubs of begonias, shady market umbrellas and a line of Canadian flags flapping in the breeze.

Step through the wide timber doors and the feeling of calm elegance disappears, as the bustle of vendors selling their wares is matched by the urgency of shoppers in search of the freshest produce and best bargains.

There has been a public market on this site since 1803, first in the north building and, since 1845, in the south. Today more than 120 specialty stores sell fresh foods – fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, bakery and dairy products.

As well as filling their baskets with fresh food to take home, hungry shoppers flock to the restaurants and cafés to fill up on local delicacies and traditional treats.

In April 2012, St Lawrence Market was declared by National Geographic as the world’s best food market.

After devouring our lunch of freshly made crêpes filled with fruit and cream, we could understand why!

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The Kissing Bridge

Canada #28 West Montrose

As the pair walking hand in hand disappears into the darkness, it’s easy to see how the covered bridge at West Montrose got its nickname. In the past, lit only by coal oil lamps, there would have been ample time to steal a kiss or two as courting couples made the crossing in their buggies.

Even though the 62 metre bridge is now lit by electric fittings, there are still parts where the lighting is dim.

The covered bridge spanning the slow-moving waters of the Grand River is the last of its kind in Ontario. It has been restored and adapted to take the weight of modern vehicles, with the modifications cleverly hidden beneath the original structure.

Once across the bridge the country road continues alongside the river, but walkers are not encouraged to dawdle.

Just as pedestrians and 21st century vehicles regularly use the bridge, traditional Mennonite buggies also continue to go back and forth every day.

Although this gentleman has no pretty young lady by his side today, I wonder if he’s made use of the kissing bridge in the past.

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One Room

Canada #25 Casa Loma

On a hill overlooking the city of Toronto stands a Gothic Revival mansion, once home to the fabulously wealthy Pellatt family. Casa Loma, Spanish for Hill House, was built between 1911 and 1914. Now owned by the City of Toronto, the house and gardens are visited each year by more than half a million people.

There are 98 rooms in the house, some sumptuously decorated while others have remained unfinished since work stopped at the start of the First World War. From the grandeur of the Great Hall to the opulent private suites of Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady Mary Pellatt, there’s an exaggerated sense of luxury.

But the most beautiful room in this enormous house is also the least adorned.

The conservatory, designed in the style of a Mediterranean courtyard, is tiled with Italian marble. Garden beds lined with local marble from Bancroft, Ontario overflow with orchids, lilies and lush greenery.

Water plays over an ornamental fountain at one end of the conservatory; it sparkles in the sunlight shining through high arched windows.

The gaze of every visitor is drawn upwards to a central dome of elaborate stained glass. Decorated with trailing grapevines, the dome glows in the sunshine while at night 600 lightbulbs illuminate the delicate designs.

With a room as charming as this in their house, it’s a wonder Henry and Mary ever used the rest.

Sensing the Past

Canada #23 Fort York

When we first saw the historic buildings of Fort York surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto, the early 19th century defenses seemed out of place. It made more sense when we discovered that the city, originally named York, was founded here.

The first garrison was built on this site in 1793 by the British Army, in response to border hostilities with American forces. In 1811 it was fortified with the addition of the defensive wall and circular gun battery.

In 1812, the United States declared war on Canada and in 1813 the American Army and Navy attacked York. Much of the fort was destroyed at this time, but it was soon rebuilt by the British. In August 1814, a second American attack was unsuccessful. The war between Canada and the United States finally ended in December 1814 but Fort York remained an active military site until the 1930s.

Today the fort is a living history museum, with displays, exhibitions and re-enactments which heightened all of our senses.

We saw both the officers’ quarters and the enlisted men’s barracks. In the barracks soldiers, who were often accompanied by their families, lived side by side, eating and sleeping together.

In contrast, the officers dined in luxury with fine china, silverware and crystal. Probably even more precious in this building was the luxury of space.

Like the soldiers of the Guard’s Artillery Detachment, we covered our ears with our hands as the Cohorn mortar field gun was fired at midday.

We heeded the call of the Fort York Drums as they marched onto the parade ground. Wearing the uniform of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, the fifers and drummers played military tunes which would have been both familiar and comforting to 19th century soldiers.

We followed the scent of baking to the kitchen of the Officers’ Mess, where freshly baked gingerbread was cooling on the table.

While she shared the biscuits, the cook explained how these traditional treats are as popular now as they would have been in the early 1800s – there are never any left at the end of the day!

As we rested our hands on the kitchen table, we wondered about those who lived and worked here 200 years ago; who lifted the latch on the fortified gate, watched over the cooking in the open fireplace or dipped rainwater from the barrel with a bucket.

While we had time to wander in contemplation, we sensed we were surrounded by more than just those modern buildings outside the wall. The spirits of people from times long past were all around us.

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Welcome to 1867!

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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From the Sea to the Sky

Canada #11 Sea to Sky Gondola

We were amazed by the statistics connected to the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway.

For a start, it’s located between the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and the second largest granite monolith in the world. At Shannon Falls, water tumbling over the cliff edge drops 335 metres to the ground while, on the Stawamus Chief, rock climbers aiming to reach the 700 metre high summit resemble ants as they cling to the sheer granite wall.

Then there’s the gondola. As its name implies, the ride begins just 35 metres above sea level, at the northern end of Howe Sound. After a ten minute journey covering 1920 metres from Basecamp to the Summit Lodge, the gondola ride ends high on a rocky outcrop in the mountains, 885 metres above sea level.

From our shiny, green gondola we could see right around – up the mountains of the Coast Range and down to the blue waters of Howe Sound.

At the Summit Lodge, the sight from the viewing deck of the snow-capped Tantalus Mountain Range across the water was magnificent.

The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, named after one of two nearby peaks, stretches for 100 metres over one of many narrow gorges between the ridges.

We stopped several times on the way across to the Spirit Viewing Platform as the scenery demanded our attention. Perched on the edge of the granite ridge, the platform offers grand views of both Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot Mountains. The rugged peaks were white with snow and dense forests of maples, cedars and Douglas firs covered the steep slopes.

The Spirit Trail, one of many walks in the mountains, begins at this platform.

The 400 metre circuit took us on a journey back to the days of the Squamish First Nation. From the information boards along the track we learned about the first people’s connection to the land and their use of the abundant natural resources in the forests. For them, the trees were the source of many household items. To us, they were simply beautiful.

With another glorious view at every turn, birdsong filling the air and the lush green of the forest surrounding us, we forgot about statistics.

The wonders of nature had taken their place in our thoughts.

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