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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Edge Walking

Canada #27 CN Tower, Toronto

If the thought of walking around the outside of a concrete tower 356 metres above the ground leaves you feeling uneasy, it might be best to look away now. But if you’re comfortable seeing others do it please read on.

At a height of 553.33 metres, CN Tower dominates the skyline of downtown Toronto. With a 102 metre broadcasting antenna atop the concrete tower, the structure is visible from anywhere in the city.

Up closer, look again and you may see intrepid tourists braving the EdgeWalk, the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk. Balanced on a ledge just 1.5 metres wide and attached by safety harnesses, EdgeWalkers go right around the main pod, testing their daring along the way by leaning out over the edge.

I’ve said in the past I’m not bothered by heights, with the proviso that I know I am safe. Even though I had no reservations about the safety of EdgeWalk, I knew this was literally a step too far for me. So while Glen and our daughter took up the challenge, I rode up in the elevator to the SkyPod. From a further 91 metres above, I watched their father-daughter adventure unfold.

After half an hour outside, they re-entered the pod and I could see them no more. It was my turn go wandering.

As I waited for them on the Lookout Level I enjoyed spectacular 360° views of the city.

I gazed out over the Toronto Islands to the vast expanse of Lake Ontario.

I stood on the glass floor and looked down to the pavement 342 metres below.

I ventured onto the Outdoor Sky Terrace, where a chilly breeze blowing through the safety netting was proof that I did actually go outside the tower.

So if like me you draw the line at walking around the outside, make sure you still go to the top of CN Tower. The views are amazing and you can always look down on those who do go walking.

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Batter Up!

Canada #26 Rogers Centre, Toronto

The Rogers Centre, in Toronto’s CBD, is a huge multi-purpose stadium in downtown Toronto. It was the first of its kind to have a fully retractable roof and has a hotel with 70 rooms overlooking the field. The stadium hosts both football and baseball games and is home to the Toronto Blue Jays.

How do you know when it’s game day at the Rogers Centre? Look for the sea of blue!

Blue banners featuring Blue Jays players flap in the breeze right around the outside of the stadium.

Fans in team shirts enjoy the pre-game entertainment inside.

Massive screens project Blue Jays logos, encouraging fans and team alike.

Even the seats in the stands are blue.

Team mascot Ace struts around the stadium before the game, adding to the excitement and anticipation.

Once the game starts things get serious: Toronto Blue Jays vs Baltimore Orioles

Batter up!

And the final result: Blue Jays 8 Orioles 7!

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.

By Day and By Night

Canada #24 Niagara Falls

The mighty Niagara River flows for just 58 kilometres, between Lake Erie in the south northwards to Lake Ontario. In that short distance it moves at an average rate of 2,400 cubic metres per second. Several islands interrupt the course of the river while churning rapids and whirlpools are visible evidence of the water’s power.

Forming part of the international border between Canada and the United States of America, the Niagara River is visited each year by more than 30 million people. They all come to see its world famous falls.

Niagara Falls, at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge, consists of three waterfalls – the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Water moving at a speed of up to 65 kilometres an hour flows over the falls at a rate of 168,000 cubic metres per minute. A veil of mist constantly shrouds the falls and on sunny days brilliant rainbows enhance the spectacle.

Getting up close to the falls means getting wet. At the Journey Behind the Falls, yellow ponchos are handed out before visitors descend 150 metres in an elevator to a tunnel at the base of Horseshoe Falls.

Two portals are located directly behind the falls; the water roars as it rushes by on its downward course.

At two more observation platforms right at the base of the falls, the thundering water crashes down before continuing on its way through the gorge.

Tourist boats dwarfed by the massive gorge sail in a circuit past all three falls, sometimes almost hidden in the spray. From the American side comes the Maid of the Mist, her passengers bedecked in blue ponchos, while on the Canadian side passengers on the Hornblower catamarans wear red.

Even with ponchos on everyone is damp, but no one minds as exhilaration and excitement overtake all other feelings.

When daylight fades, the falls take on a different personality. Illuminated in a parade of colours, the water glows in an intensity which deepens as the sky darkens.

Later in the night fireworks play over the falls in celebration of this masterpiece of nature. The brilliant bursts of light are the perfect finale to a day spent visiting the Niagara River.

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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