Re-Discovering Toronto

,

Even though Toronto hasn't changed much, the Andersons still found it fun to re-discover Toronto, a slick, idyllic city famously described as "New York run by the Swiss."

Photography by the authors

We came to Toronto for the wrong idea: to attend TBEX 2013, a tourism trade show arranged mostly for young bloggers. We appeared to be the oldest there and with a $700 or so hotel bill plus other expenses it was an expensive mistake — although it was fun to re-discover the slick, idyllic city famously described by actor Peter Ustinov as “New York run by the Swiss.”

Toronto hasn’t changed much except when we walk past the CN Tower we notice the city is adding an aquarium at tower’s base and as we go to the top we see on its TV a new wild adventure Edge Walk had been added. You can strap yourself in and lean over the city from the outside of the roof!

As usual, merely standing on the famous glass floor and peering down from 1,122 feet is wild enough an adventure for us. We notice how elegant the Hyatt Regency is from the air. We look down on the main train station; we’ll be there to get our ride on VIA Rail to the East Coast.

With limited time our next move, as is common for us, is looking for the Sightseeing Bus company and plotting our day with its help. We call its main number (416) 463-7467 and go with it to start at Casa Loma, about the farthest away attraction from our Strathcona Hotel.

All those expensively built castles seem to have a similar theme. They were built by rich eccentric men for their wives and usually one or other died before those castles could be enjoyed. So Sir Henry Pellatt who built this, Canada’s largest private home fits the picture — his wife died as bankruptcy drove them out of their Castle Loma in 1924.

Pellatt’s life had one anomaly for a millionaire: at the age of 20 he ran a mile race in New York with a time of 4:42.4, a new world record. Pellatt won somehow the contract to supply electrical power to Toronto. His house had 30 bathrooms and his private bathroom had a shower with jets of hot water at all levels of the occupant.

One charm for us was finding how improved the Bata Shoe Museum has become in its move from its previous Toronto location. Now shoehorned into a boxy building that does indeed look like a shoe box, the exhibits Sonja Bata collected from all over the world (and from all over history) now have a home to do them justice. This is no Mickey Mouse organization. Bata was founded in 1894 and has sold 14 billion pairs of shoes and won the Guinness Book of Records prize for the largest shoe manufacturer.

The Bata Museum exhibits include Top left clockwise: Queen Victoria’s 1840 shoes the date of her wedding, Roger Federer’s tennis shoes, Elton John’s booties, Marilyn Monroe’s stiletto heels — all contrasting with a pair of 18th century Huron deerskin moose hair moccasins dyed with black walnut.

We pass the 8th largest art museum in North America, the Art Gallery of Ontario with its great architecture outside and its wonderful Henry Moore statues inside on our way to Canada’s impressive Royal Ontario Museum.

Those buildings make us feel that the United States has lost its edge when it creates public buildings. In Toronto you have a sense of awe before you even enter most of its museums and coming into the ROM is like crossing the threshold of one of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The effect is not lost when you wander its galleries showing Rome and continues when you move on to China and Egypt.

We are moving on, too, just a hundred yards or so to a new discovery for us: the Textile Museum of Canada. We’ve never found it on previous visits to Toronto because it’s about 30 feet down a side street at 55 Centre Avenue and easy to miss. Who would have thought fabrics could be that interesting, even photogenic? Central America, Japan, China, all exquisite!

And who would have realized that Canadian artists Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky could create art out of commonplace objects wrapped in aluminum foil to be part of a 30-foot long charm bracelet?

We are now close enough to downtown and our relatively inexpensive Strathcona Hotel where the front desk seems a bit grumpy. Maybe they’re tired defending they charge for Wi-Fi and don’t offer an included breakfast.

We’re now back in walking range for a few more attractions. We find a young local guide and founder of LiveToronto, Dustin Fuhs offering personal one-hour walks around town that fit our needs perfectly. He photographs his guests and creates walking tour images for their Toronto memories.

It was an easy walk with him around several popular attractions. His details emerge: Here is one of the most photographed exhibits in Toronto, Michael Snow’s 1979 Flight Stop at the Eaton Centre with its 60 life-sized Canadian Geese and here is a sidewalk tribute to Dr. Roberta Bondar, a physician and Canada’s first woman astronaut — and the first neurologist in space.

And here is Old City Hall completed in 1899 and guarded by some strange gargoyles and, yes, they have a story, too. The architect Edward James Lennox designed the building but it took 11 years to build and ran over projected costs. The city councilors refused him a plaque on the wall as architect and “subtracted $100,000 from his bill.” In reprisal he had the stonemasons “sign” his name as the architect in the stone all around the upper eaves — and he portrayed the city councilors as mentally retarded gargoyles.

On the water to the south as an easy walk lies Toronto Island. Taking the ferry over in the evening and watching its lights come on is a pleasant, placid way to end a Toronto visit, and you can walk back to your hotel easily because hotel location is always what is most important.

And not only is the Strathcona Hotel just across the street from the celebrated Royal York, now a Fairmont hotel, and its more elegant restaurant but it’s near the train station for our next adventure across Canada all the way to the West Coast.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.