|Toronto and Niagara 1997|
Travelogue: Toronto and Niagara 1997
By Roger W. Reini
Saturday May 24: I wake up at 7:15 and get dressed. I finish my packing and do a final e-mail check. Since I'm not that hungry, I don't eat breakfast. I'm out the door by 8 AM. I stop for gas at the Amoco at Ford & Middlebelt (4 miles from my house, the trip odometer says) and gas up. Gas is more expensive in Canada than in the US. I then stop at the credit union main offices and deposit a check and pull some money for the trip. I make my way to Michigan Avenue, then the Ford and Jeffries freeways to the Ambassador Bridge, where I exchange my money. The $200 I had just pulled out becomes some $290 in Canadian money. The Customs station on the Canadian side was a bit busy, but I eventually got through. The agent only asked me a few questions, like where I was going and how long, and where I was staying in Toronto. Perhaps being dressed fairly nicely helped (I was wearing a sport coat). I make a quick stop at the Tourist Information Centre on Huron Church Road, but only for a bathroom break. I'd already picked up a lot of tourist information 2 weeks earlier. Then it's down Huron Church Road, past the E.C. Rowe expressway, then down to the 401.
Since Canada is a metric country, all of the signs are in kilometers. The speed limit on most freeways is 100 km/h, which is 62 mph. Since my Villager has an electronic cluster which can switch between English and metric with a touch of the button, I had no problem flipping to metric and keeping the speed limits. Still, a lot of people sped. I didn't, 'cause I thought I might be more likely to be pulled over, being from out of the country. Didn't see many police on the highway. I stop at a couple of service areas (more like the ones on the turnpikes, since they have gas and restaurant facilities) -- at one, I pick up a Toronto Star (the big papers come out on Saturdays there), and at the other, I have lunch at Wendy's. The drive was basically uneventful. It was a little unusual to see high "mileage" signs alongside the freeway saying how far ahead the cities were, and how quickly I traveled those "miles" (which were actually kilometers).
At last, I reach the outskirts of Toronto between 1:30 and 2. I gas up at an Esso station, then go to the Square One shopping center to walk around for a bit. It's in the middle of what appears to be downtown Mississauga, so the roads around it are busy. At one of the bookstores inside, I buy a TV Guide, a paper, and Carl Sagan's last book, "Billions and Billions." Outside, I can see the Playdium and Sega City nearby (a large gaming facility), as is a large movie theater. I also see that a Chapters bookstore (Canada's answer to Borders and Barnes & Noble) is to be built. Back on Hurontario Street, I travel a few km to the QEW, the Queen Elizabeth Way. It's the freeway linking Buffalo and Niagara Falls to Toronto. I get on the QEW and take it into downtown. There is an area of construction, but it's not too bad.
The Novotel Toronto Centre hotel is located near the Gardiner Expressway (what the QEW turned into), and it's located near Yonge ("Young") Street, which is the longest street in the world. So says the Guinness Book of World Records. Hotel parking is in a nearby garage. There is a little grocery store very close to the hotel, on the order of the one near the Mount Royal hotel in London. After checking in and settling down for a bit, I walk up Yonge Street looking for Lombard Street, the home of the Second City comedy troupe. I never found it. I ended up walking to Dundas Street, then turned around. I pop into the Tower Records at Yonge and Queen but don't get anything. As I discover later, Lombard Street does not intersect Yonge, so I'd walked well past it.
Back at the hotel, game 5 of the Western Conference finals (Detroit and Colorado) is about to come on, so I decide to order room service. I order a hamburger and French onion soup. The soup is very good. The burger isn't bad, either. Wish I could say the same for the hockey game, as Colorado wins it 6-0. But Detroit is still ahead, three games to two.
The TV in the hotel has pretty good coverage. Not only can I get several US networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, A&E, CNN, TLC), I also pick up several Canadian networks I'd never seen before, or had seen with difficulty (Global, CTV, City TV, Canadian versions of CMT and Discovery, CBC Newsworld, MuchMusic, TSN Sports, the Weather Network, YTV for kids, WTN for women, the Life Network). There were even three French language stations (CBC French, TFO -- the French network of TV Ontario, and TV5, which provides programs from several French countries like France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.).
Sunday May 25 My breakfast is skimpy; I nibble on some stuff I had in the room with me (some Finnish crisp bread that doesn't taste as good as Finn Crisp). I set out for the CN Tower at 9:30. The visibility isn't the greatest, as it is a cloudy day, but I do take several pictures and several minutes of video. I take some shots from the inside and outside observation levels. On one of the levels, a section of the floor was glass. Yes, a 3 1/2 inch thick piece of glass. It can support the weight, no doubt about that. Still, it is disconcerting to walk out onto it and be able to see 1000 feet to the ground. It was one very popular attraction. I spend some time in the gift shop, where I got some postcards to send, a birthday gift for Marie, and some Tower themed products for myself (a model of the tower, and a gift set of a letter opener, bottle opener and key chain). After returning to ground level, I stop at the nearby Planet Hollywood for some lunch. I have a chicken Caesar salad – it’s OK, but I've had better. Tonight, Donny Osmond (who was completing his appearance as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") is supposed to appear and donate some memorabilia. Then I proceed to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where I take a few pictures and shoot some video.
There are many interesting displays in the Hall, such as exhibits devoted to star players like Gordie Howe, displays of the varying types of goalie masks, etc. Several sections were devoted to international hockey and other leagues (minor, college, and the defunct WHA). There was an area where you could test your luck at shooting to all corners of the net. Elsewhere, the dressing room of the Montreal Canadiens had been painstakingly recreated. Finally, in the Great Hall (the former home of the Bank of Montreal), you could see the various trophies and awards, including the original Stanley Cup and its successor. Actually, only a replica of today's Cup was on display. The original was in Detroit, being exhibited at a few Penney's stores. Still, the replica was very detailed. I take a picture of it. You could get your picture taken with the Cup, but I chose not to do that. At the gift shop, I buy a model of the Cup for Lloyd. It commemorated Detroit's win in 1954.
I go back to the hotel around 2. Housekeeping had not yet been by, and this irked me. So I decide to take a drive. I pay for my parking for the week, then drive out to Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Hwy. 401 and Dufferin, on the north side of town). I had finished my first roll of film, so I get it developed. I spend some time looking for shirts. Unfortunately, they only seemed to go up to 17 1/2, while I take an 18. Later, I buy some munchies from Shoppers Drug Mart, including a bottle of Yoo Hoo chocolate drink. It was good. And yes, you could still buy cyclamates there. Explanation: in 1980-81, the debate case which David Horrigan and I used involved returning cyclamates to the market to replace saccharin (NutraSweet had yet to hit the market). While visiting Detroit in February 1981, I went to the Shoppers Drug Mart at Devonshire Mall in Windsor (cyclamates were legal in Canada) and bought a box to take home.
Back at the hotel, I decide to go for a walk and find a place to eat supper. I find Ken Wong's Chinese buffet on Church Street north of the Esplanade. The buffet was pretty good. I then walk north and find the home of Second City (Lombard and Jarvis). It's not that far from the hotel at all -- 15 minutes away, tops. Toronto seems to be a decent place, though there are a few street people. I saw some young kids doing the windshield washing thing at more than a few street corners. Another thing: most of the time, pedestrians obey their signals. They cross only when it says to cross. That's not the case in Chicago. London was a bit better for that.
One thing that struck me: in Toronto, several of the freeway directional signs are blue rather than green. They have both blue and green ones. In the US, blue is reserved for special cases. It's nothing significant, just something that seemed odd to me.
I close out the day watching a rerun of "The Tracey Ullman Show" on Showcase. It's only on once a week; Comedy Central carries it every day, but it is not legally available in Canada. Neither is HBO, home of "Tracey Takes On...". Until CBC starts to air it, the only way to watch it in Canada is to get a bootleg satellite dish or have a friend in the US tape it for you (something I've done, meaning I've sent tapes to Canada).
Monday May 26 It's Memorial Day in the US, but it's just an ordinary day in Canada. Their big holiday, Victoria Day, was last week. Once again, I don't feel like breakfast. I set out a little before 9 to catch the Olde Town Toronto tour. It's a bus tour similar to the ones I took in London. It even uses London doubledecker buses. I sit upstairs, fairly close to the front. The bus is very bumpy, much more so than in London. Are the roads worse? Perhaps. There are a lot of streetcar tracks; streetcars are very much in use in Toronto. We make a big loop around downtown, passing by several historic churches, some trendy neighborhoods, the Casa Loma mansion, the harbor area, etc. Unfortunately, halfway through the tour, my video camera battery runs out of energy. So I switch to the still camera. I end up finishing another roll of film, which I get developed after the tour. Back to the hotel room for charging the battery, then to the garage, where I drive to Mississauga in search of a big and tall clothes store. I never find the store, though, so I return home in disgust. They have a store not that far from the hotel (or so I thought), so I decide to walk there. It's a very long walk -- perhaps a mile or so away. But I eventually find it, and I find some shirts. I also get a pair of pants to replace the ones that wore out yesterday. These pants need to be shortened, so I make plans to return tomorrow. I note that there is free parking at the store; I'll drive there tomorrow. On the way back, I stop at the Golden Griddle restaurant at Front and Jarvis and have some pancakes. They hit the spot -- they were good. Back to the hotel.
I finally get in touch with Andrew Mitchell, a friend whom I'd met online. We share an interest in Tracey Ullman and have created Web pages devoted to her and her work. We plan to catch the show at Second City tomorrow night, but we need to decide where to meet. We decide that he will come to the hotel, since he knows where it is, but I don't know where his office is.
The tour bus ticket is good for 24 hours. By this time, the battery has recharged, so I reclaim it and head back out for the tour. I start at the same place as this morning, but I don't turn the camera on until Casa Loma. The tape acts up on me a bit, stopping occasionally. It eventually settles down, though, and I get through the tour. Near the Skydome, the bus hits a big bump. Turns out the driver hit the curb, claiming he was distracted by a "blonde bombshell." My tape was rolling, but I was looking up, so I couldn't judge for myself.
During the tour, I saw a film crew for "FX: The Series". There is a lot of filming done in Toronto (cheaper than New York or Hollywood). And when I dropped off my film, I saw that "The Defenders" TV-movie will be filming in the area on Wednesday.
I discover that I've become a redhead -- as in sunburned. The sun was out, and it beat down on my head. I didn't have a hat or put on any sunscreen, so I got it twice.
After the tour, I walk up Yonge Street to the Eaton Centre, the HMV superstore and the World's Biggest Bookstore. The WBB was being renovated, and it had a very Spartan interior. I wasn't that impressed. Back to the Eaton Centre -- at Coles bookstore, I get a TV Guide, a book on learning French, and a Catherine Cookson novel for Grandma G. Cookson's books are very hard to find in the US, but that's not the case in England or Canada. My supper consists of 2 slices of Sbarro's pizza. I wanted something fast, because game time was approaching. I make it back to the hotel in time for game 6. Detroit wins the game and the series. They are going to the Stanley Cup finals!
Tuesday May 27 It looks to be another nice day. This morning, I decide to have breakfast at the hotel. They have a buffet breakfast with cold (croissants, danish, toast, yogurt, cereal) and hot (eggs, bacon, home fries) dishes. It hit the spot. I get a late start, leaving after 10. I drive to the Ontario Science Centre. I was a little put off by the $5 parking fee. Inside the Centre, I decide to see only the IMAX film "Special Effects" and not visit the Centre exhibits. The film was good, though I think it suffered by being projected onto an Omnimax dome (straight edges were not straight). And it was amazing to see the opening sequence of Star Wars recreated for IMAX. Afterwards, I drive to the Scarborough Town Centre, where the only thing I get is a guidebook on Montreal. I wasn't hungry, so I decide not to eat. By this time, I can pick up my pants from the big & tall store, so I go there. I have a bit of difficulty getting there from the Don Valley Parkway, but I eventually find it. The pants look good and fit OK. Then it's back to the hotel, where I have a hard time finding a parking spot. But I eventually find one and shoehorn the minivan into it. After returning to my room and dropping off my stuff, I go to the Queen's Quay ( the British spelling of "Key") terminal and the Harbourfront area. I snack on a butter croissant and a can of Coke. Since the day is still nice, I decide to take an hour-long cruise of the harbor. I take several pictures and shoot a bit of video. Once again, I get sunburned on my head. I bet I start to peel.
At 6, I meet Andrew Mitchell in the lobby, and we head for dinner at the Mövenpick Marché. It looks like a French café on the inside. There are several stations where you go to select your items (move and pick, as it were). I had a hard time deciding what I want. I settle on a grilled Caesar salad (can't go wrong with that).
Our evening at the Second City almost didn't happen. Turns out this was an opening night of sorts, and it was officially a sellout. Fortunately, there were some cancellations, so we did get in. And I'm glad we did, because it was a great show. It was called LAST TANGO ON LOMBARD, since this is to be the last revue at their current location (their new theatre opens this fall near the Skydome). Here are some of the sketches: a scene inside a restaurant, with singing and no-singing areas; a man who decides to become a pet; a couple who find a great condo -- inside a recently-closed hospital; two girls who pick up a couple of old men who happen to be ex-Nazis; and a family who lives VERY quietly. One of the performers, Angela Shelton, is from Detroit. She's also the daughter of former Detroit mayoral candidate Sharon MacPhail.
Wednesday May 28 I have breakfast at the hotel once again. Then I set out via the subway for Casa Loma, a castle built in the 1910's by one of Toronto's leading citizens, Sir Henry Pellatt. To reach the castle from the subway stop, I had to go up a steep flight of stairs. I stopped and caught my breath before proceeding. The castle is magnificent. I took a self-guided audio tour. When you enter, you're given a set of headphones and a tape deck. I don't take any pictures inside, as I'm not sure if it's allowed. But I do take pictures and video from the top of the open tower -- the Norman tower, I think it's called. You can see downtown Toronto quite clearly. When I start my tour, the castle is fairly empty. By the time I finish my tour, it's filled with several school groups. So's the gift shop. I pick up a souvenir book and video. Back down the steep steps (much easier than going up them) and back to the subway station. I get off at the corner of Spadina and Bloor, and near that corner is the Toronto Baha'i Centre. I visit the bookstore and pick up a couple of books. I'm invited to the celebrations of the Ascension of Baha'u'llah, which will take place that night. But since it's fairly far away from the hotel, I pass (I'll celebrate the occasion tomorrow). I have lunch at Swiss Chalet (chicken sandwich and fries), then visit Chapters bookstore. It is a superstore, Canada's answer to Barnes & Noble and Borders. I think they own two other chains, Coles and Smithbooks. I get maps and a souvenir book on Toronto and Niagara Falls. At a nearby Shoppers Drug Mart, I finally get some sunscreen for my head. By 2:15, I'm back at the hotel. I rest for several hours -- I needed it.
The Blue Jays are playing the Yankees tonight, and I decide to go to the game. I get a good seat in the box seat area, right in line with first and second base (27th row). I have supper at McDonald's at the Skydome (supposedly the world's largest?). The seats were plastic, and they gave me a shock (or the metal parts did). The Yankees win the game, 6-4.
On one of the days I was there – I’m not sure which, it could have been today – the fire alarm went off. Actually, it was the first level of a two-level alarm. This level meant "stand by for further instructions." It also meant be ready to evacuate – and I’d just come out of the shower! Needless to say, I got dressed very quickly! Fortunately, the all clear signal came within 5 minutes. A false alarm – but a fire engine did pull up.
Thursday May 29 Today, I do very little sightseeing. I think I have seen the sights I wanted to see. So I take the subway out to Yorkdale, where the only thing I get is a Globe and Mail newspaper, which I read while eating at Casey's (something on the order of Chili's or Applebee's). I had a cheeseburger, onion soup and a sundae. Very good -- very filling. Back to Union Station via the subway -- I visit the CBC museum and boutique at the CBC broadcast centre -- the boutique didn't impress me, but the museum was somewhat interesting. I revisit the Spirit of Hockey gift shop but don't get anything there. On the way there, I see the preparations for a big bash at BCE place. Wonder what it was for?
Later on, I walk up Yonge Street again, back to Tower Records. I was looking for a particular CD this time. Since I didn't see it here, I walk to the other large record stores, finding it at the HMV superstore. I visit the Eaton Centre again, stopping at the Shoppers Drug Mart and getting another Yoohoo (mint chocolate, this time). Then it's back to the hotel. My feet and legs are sore, so I decide to visit the hotel's pool and Jacuzzi. They help. I return to the Chinese buffet for supper, then begin to pack.
Friday May 30 Today, I leave Toronto and go to Niagara Falls. I finish my packing, except for a swimsuit. Unfortunately, I don't remember the swimsuit until I'm in Niagara Falls. Around 9:15, I check out of the hotel and leave; rush hour is mostly over. I don't want to get there too early, so I stop at Square One in Mississauga and wander around for a bit. At one of the bookstores, the kid's character Arthur is making an appearance. Quite a few kids there. I look at Wal-Mart for some coloring books for the girls, books that are distinctly Canadian. Since I didn't see any, I didn't buy any. The drive down to Niagara is uneventful, even though it is cloudy. When I reach Niagara, I eat lunch at the Lido Pancake House. It was OK, but not the greatest. As I recall, there were few others in the restaurant with me. I was looking for the Golden Griddle but didn't see it. Then I drive into town, looking for the hotel. I miss the street, so I go down Clifton Hill, the tourist trap area of NF. This is where the Golden Griddle is located. At the foot of the street, I see the American Falls. I'm startled to see them; I didn't think I was that close. I find the hotel, the Renaissance Fallsview Inn. It's only 12:30, so I doubt that the room is ready. But it is ready. It's on the 12th floor, and it has a view of the falls. The Canadian falls are blocked by trees, so my view of them is obscured. But I can see the American falls quite clearly.
Since I am only going to be there one night, I don’t plan to unpack a lot of stuff. I spend much of the afternoon along the waterfront, admiring the falls, taking plenty of pictures and video. The cameras tended to get misted, the video camera especially. I see the Maid of the Mist boats venturing closely to the falls. Since I had no protection for my cameras, I decide to pass on that journey. I spend some time inside the gift shops inside the Table Rock facility at the brink of the Canadian falls. I dropped off a roll of film for developing. Nearby is an inclined railway, similar to ones in Pittsburgh. Since the railway is a lot closer to my hotel and the Minolta Tower, I decide to take it. I end up riding it several times.
I get some souvenirs for myself and for Sharon and family. Sharon gets one of those snow globes; the girls get magnets and plaques with their names on them; Randall gets coasters saying "Randy’s Bar"; and I get a souvenir book.
The view from the Minolta Tower is impressive. I get a combo ticket, which gives me two rides up to the top -- one right now, and one at night, when there would be a fireworks display. There are 2 observation levels, one enclosed, and one open. I visit both of them. It is windy at the top of the open one; I have to put the video camera's wind filter on. Even with it operating, you could tell that it was windy. I pick up the pictures, then return to the hotel. My next visit is the Skylon Tower, which is the tallest tower in the area. From that tower, I can see downtown Buffalo off in the distance. I'm told Toronto can also be seen on good days, but this must not have been a good day, for I can't see it. While in the tower, I could see a Ponderosa restaurant. I decide that would be a good place to go for supper. It's a bit of a walk, but I make it there OK.
This Ponderosa was a bit different from the US Ponderosa's. For one thing, the waiter took your order at your table, as in a regular restaurant. The salad bar was big, but it didn't carry any meat products. I decide to order a steak and shrimp, and the steak should be covered with mushrooms. It was quite good, though it was more expensive than the American equivalent. After my meal, I walk down the street towards Clifton Hill, then down towards the Falls. When I stop to take some video of the American Falls from a different vantage point, I discover that I'd left the camera running and that it was out of power. So back to the hotel for a quick recharge. The walk back up that hill was tiring. I'm glad the inclined railway is running until midnight.
Every night beginning at 9, and continuing until midnight, the falls are illuminated with powerful multi-colored lights. It is an impressive sight to see. The effect comes out well on video, but the pictures I take of it fail to come out. A little after 10, I head toward the Minolta Tower to see the fireworks. We do have an impressive vantage point. The fireworks don't last that long, maybe 8 minutes tops.
The Renaissance hotel is a decent one. It must cater to a Japanese clientele, for I see a number of Japanese tourists and flight crews there. There's even a Japanese channel on the hotel TV. The channel availability isn't as good as it is in Toronto. But it carried ESPN, which I didn’t think was available in Canada.
Saturday May 31 The fog has rolled in overnight. I can't see the falls at all. But I can still hear them. If I were staying, I'd be disappointed. But I'm leaving. So I settle my bill and leave around 7:30. I backtrack along the QEW to where it intersects the 403. But instead of staying on the QEW, I turn left onto the 403, towards the west. Part of the terrain becomes hilly, reminding me of Pennsylvania. But then it flattens out. The freeway ends west of the town of Ancaster (yes, just Ancaster, not Lancaster), where traffic must turn onto a regular highway. It's a 4-lane highway, so traffic is OK. Somewhere along this route, I see a large column of smoke. As I get closer, I see that it's a Chrysler car (possibly a Sundance or Shadow) on fire. The flames are intense; I feel the heat as I drive by, and I'm on the opposite side of the road from the car. The freeway resumes near Brantford, which happens to be the hometown of Wayne Gretzky.
Other than around Niagara, there was little fog. Drizzle started to fall the closer I got to Detroit. Around 11:45, I reach Windsor, and at noon, I'm waiting in the customs line on the US side. It takes 8 minutes to get to the front. I'm asked a few more questions this time, but I get through with little difficulty. Within 35 minutes, I'm home.
©1997, 1999 R. W. Reini. All rights reserved.
Written by Roger Reini