A midwinter visit to Toronto

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_20170315_172130157_HDR

The view from my rented flat, 30 stories up!

 

First question — why would anyone do such a thing?

Today’s temperature? 18 F, -8 Celsius.

Bloody cold, kids!

It was a week that fit my work schedule and I needed to renew my passport. I could have mailed away my old one (no thanks!) and paid $260. Instead I spent a lot more to stay in a rented flat for a week off, to see old friends and family.

I was out of the downtown Toronto airport — located on an island in the harbor — by 10:30 a.m., got my photos taken and had my application in, ($210, all in, including $50 for the rush job) by 12:30. Sweet!

IMG_20170314_164105643_HDR

Isn’t this a hoot? The Museum subway stop, which has been renovated and designed to a fantastic level (the Royal Ontario Museum sits just above)

 

Here are some of the things I’m enjoying this week, despite the bitter winds and blowing snow:

 

Seeing dear old friends

Catching up with people I knew at summer camp 40 years ago and from my college years at University of Toronto. My friend K was pregnant with her first child when she danced at my first wedding — her daughter is now a successful actress here. Whew!

Thinking in metric and Celsius

I bought 100 grams of salami, and have to keep looking up the temperature in F.

Canadian cash

No pennies. Loonies and toonies. (Those are $1 and $2 coins.) The Canadian dollar is 74 cents U.S., giving me an automatic discount on everything I spend here.

A modern, downtown rented flat

It came up on a search on Trivago, $109 U.S. per night for a 700 square foot condo on the 30th floor of a residential building downtown. It’s super-bright, quiet, and has a brand-new kitchen, bathroom and comfortable queen bed. I come and go with all the other residents, meeting their kids and dogs in the elevator. I like it.

IMG_20170314_164252194

OK, no big deal, but I love these biscuits, not easy to find in New York — here, for sale in a subway newsstand

Great food

Went to the legendary, enormous St. Lawrence Market, (took the streetcar for $3.25), to buy food for breakfasts at home and, of course (always!) fresh flowers to make the flat feel more like home. Brought home an olive baguette, a muffin, some cheese and pate and salami, butter, jam, fruit and a fistful of glorious, fragrant purple hyacinth.

Restaurants, bars, cafes

Had a very good lunch at Milagro, a 10-year-old Mexican restaurant, the one on Mercer. Anything that survives that long in a foodie city must be good, and my meal was.

Loved Balzac’s, a cafe chain across Ontario. I stopped in at the one next to the Market for a cappuccino and a scone.

A must-do on most of my visits is the roof bar on the 14th floor of the Hyatt Hotel, at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road. Small, intimate, quiet, elegant, it has terrific views of the city. I’ve been drinking there since college — Victoria College at University of Toronto is only two blocks south — so it’s full of memories. On one visit, the Prime Minister and his entourage sat in a corner.

My friend J introduced me to the Museum Tavern, a terrific five-year-old bistro directly across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. Great atmosphere and food — and lots of memories, with some of the original decor from a long-closed TO restaurant I once enjoyed, Bemelman’s.

Enjoyed breakfast at Le Petit Dejeuner with an old friend and colleague.

Convenience

I left Toronto decades ago and the downtown core has totally transformed, thanks to a forest of condo skyscrapers, which means there is every possible amenity within a few blocks.

I took a spin class at 7:45 at night, then walked a few blocks, slowly, back to the flat, staring up into the night sky at the CN Tower, with its lights beaming in rainbow colors. (I once interviewed the man who designed it — then later got a marriage proposal from him — and recently ran into him in a town near our NY home. Small world!)

Easy-going diversity

Yes, Toronto has racial tensions and even crime, just like other major cities. But it’s overwhelmingly a city of immigrants, with every nation you can imagine represented. I miss that; New York City is, arguably, diverse, but it’s very segregated economically.

IMG_20170314_081400496

A cardboard Mountie stands guard at St. Lawrence Market. A must-see!

It’s Canada Day! Twenty Reasons To Love My Native Land

3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment holds the American ...
Our flag and a Mountie...score! Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I live in NY, but I can still celebrate Canada Day.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto and Montreal, I still travel on a Canadian passport and people can still hear “aboot” when I say “about.”

Here are twenty great things about Canada, in hono(u)r of our day, July 1:

Tunes. Including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Feist, Arcade Fire, Barenaked Ladies, Drake, Cowboy Junkies, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Jane Siberry, Holly Cole, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Great Big Sea, fiddlers Ashley McIsaac and Natalie McMaster.

Hockey. It’s actually not our official sport, (believe it or not); lacrosse is.

Butter tarts. Nothing to do with butter, they are tarts filled with a gooey raisin-y center. Sooooo good!

Nanaimo bars. Sort of an iced brownie with thick creamy layers inside. Here’s a recipe.

Poutine. Cheese curds covered in gravy. I can’t stand it personally, but it’s now trendy as hell for some reason.

The Group of Seven. This beloved group of landscape painters from the early 20th century are our equivalent of the Impressionists. Their brilliant and powerful landscapes — from Tom Thomson’s Tangled Garden (my favorite) to the enormous ice-scapes of Lawren Harris, are a love song to the land. If you visit Toronto, get out to the McMichael Collection, which is the largest permanent exhibit of their work.

Awesome women writers. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Margaret McMillan, Anne Marie McDonald, Margaret Laurence.

Nellie McClung. She won Canadian women the vote and is memorialized on the $50 bill — and a life-sized statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Insulin. Discovered at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, by Banting and Best.

Karim Rashid. You’ve probably sat in one of this designer’s chairs or own one of his popular and stylish Garbo garbage cans, shaped like a bucket.

The Rockies. I spent a week in Banff, Alberta this past winter and was gobsmacked by their beauty. I can’t wait to return.

The Blackberry. Invented by RIM, a firm in Waterloo, Ontario.

Fantastic food markets — from Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market to Montreal’s Atwater Market to Vancouver’s Granville Island. Gotta try a peameal bacon sandwich.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta. The best dinosaur museum!

Mounties. We love them in their scarlet tunics and brown felt hats. We have Mountie dolls and T-shirts. Just seeing a Mountie makes me homesick.

Loonies and toonies. Those are coins of $1 and $2.

Canadian candy bars. Aero, Big Turk, KitKat, Crunchie, Crispy Crunch. Yum!

Inuit art and sculpture. Gorgeous stuff. I grew up with it in my home, so people like Pitseolak were as familiar to me as Picasso.

Terry Fox. Every Canadian of a certain age knows who he was — a brave, crazy 22-year-old with cancer who decided in 1980 to run across Canada to raise funds. He did not make it, but others honoring his memory have raised $550 million since then.

Bilingualism. On parle deux langues! Canada was founded by two European nations, the French and the English, and the country has two official languages, as every resident knows and every visitor soon learns — so words like “de rabais” (on sale) become familiar even if Anglos and Franco’s don’t know each other’s culture as well as we should. The English beat the French on the Plains of Abraham (in Quebec City) which is why every Quebec license plate says, darkly, Je Me Souviens — I Remember.

Do You Love Or Hate Your City? Noisy? Expensive — Or Consolingly Filled With Friends?

An easychair is set up next to a window overlo...
Shanghai...your city? Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Do you love your city? Hate it? Feel neutral?

I grew up in Toronto, a city many find lovable today, less so when I left 20 years ago. Today, some compare it to Houston in its flat, endless sprawl and unlovely architecture. I’ve been to Houston and Houston doesn’t have Lake Ontario and its lovely little islands a 10-minute ferry ride away — or, perhaps most crucially, my history. Cities are collections of roads and buildings and parks, more or less polluted, more or less pleasant, with fantastic/lousy public transit systems.

It’s the smaller, more intimate charms that may bind us to our cities of origin or choice. I love Toronto’s many funky old diners, dating back to the 1960s, 1940s, even several — often used as film sets between customers — from the 1930s. I miss its enormous, lovely, generally safe parks and its deep ravines, memorialized in Margaret Atwood’s book “Cat’s Eye.” I love the indoor St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best, an enormous hall filled with every possible food, the peameal (“Canadian bacon” to Americans) bacon sandwiches a favorite classic.

But most of all, I miss my friends and the history we have. I’ve also lived in Montreal, London and Paris and have spent much time in Manhattan, just south of where I live. I love visiting Montreal, but I loathed living there: long, bitter winters; nasty French-Anglo relations; insanely high taxes; corrupt police; lousy libraries and hospitals; high crime rate and potholed roads. For a long weekend, terrific! But I have a small soft spot for it, having met and fallen in love with my ex-husband there. I adore Paris, but as much for the life-changing fellowship year I had living there as for its famous, well-known charms. Its streets are filled with memories for me.

Here’s an interesting piece from The Guardian on why we love, or hate, where we live.

How do you feel about your city or town? What makes you love or hate it?