In a practical sense we only had one day to see Toronto, so we settled for two things: the Royal Ontario Museum and the fifth-tallest tower in the world. (If we’d been two years earlier it would have been the tallest, but the Burj Khalifa and a few others all overtopped it in 2010.)
The most striking thing about the place, by far, was Lake Ontario. I have been to plenty of harbours in my life. None of them have been freshwater. Standing on a waterfront that smelled nothing like the sea was just plain weird. There were seagulls and ships and everything, but the smell was all wrong. It’s not the sort of thing you think about until you go there.
It was actually quite warm for the time of year, but the waterfront ice-rink was open - if deserted.
The defining characteristic of the city as a whole – I’m beginning to find that big Western cities have a certain sameness to them, in a convergent way – was definitely the construction. It was everywhere, on the roads and in the subway stations and on building lots, cranes and bulldozers and safety-vested people any direction you turned in. That hasn’t been a defining feature of any city I’ve been in since 2008, when Singapore’s harbour skyline was a forest of cranes, before the financial crisis brought much of that sort of thing grinding to a halt. (Any city except perhaps Christchurch, but that’s a peculiar mix of construction and destruction, newness and heartache, which is quite unique unto itself.)
Perhaps it was all the construction that caused us to stumble unwittingly into the very thing (or one of them) we’d been trying to avoid by visiting Canada – Black Friday. Secure in the knowledge that Canada’s Thanksgiving was a whole month earlier and they didn’t do the Black Friday thing anyway, we decided at the last minute to pick Mike up some shoes for the restaurant that evening (his good work shoes had torn as we were packing, so he’d just brought sneakers.) I hadn’t even heard of the Toronto Eaton Centre, it not being my sort of tourist attraction, and I definitely couldn’t have told you where it was, so when I saw a shoe store that looked like it might have the sort of thing we were looking for (comfortable men’s black work shoes are much harder to find than it would seem at first glance) we wandered blithely in. I even remarked that we were lucky; it looked like there might be other shops behind it.
Needless to say, I was wrong about the Black Friday thing (or, to be more precise, out-of-date) and the enormous mall that revealed itself to us was as crowded as any Boxing Day sale I ever worked. We did eventually find shoes, but not before establishing that a) Canadians apparently have really terrible food court etiquette (if there are ten or fifteen people standing around with trays, continuing to take up tables while not eating or even having food in front of you is not polite) and that Salvation Army bellringers inspire me more to wistful dreams of violence than charity. See, when I heard about them, I figured it was a form of busking – playing carols on bells, or something, which can get tedious (ask me sometime about the kid who played two carols repetitively for two hours outside the store I worked in) but is usually fine. Instead, it turns out that they just ring little bells. Repetitively. Not as a “if you give us money we’ll stop for five minutes” scheme, either. That would at least be logical. Just endless, chiming bells.
Fortunately, after we escaped the mall, the Royal Ontario Museum was exactly the sort of museum I like to visit, which meant it had large wildlife collections and lots of dinosaurs. The part of me that is still five years old and really disappointed at Te Papa’s extreme lack of dinosaurs is gleefully pleased every time a museum has them.
Including a big sauropod skeleton in the foyer, which is basically the gold standard for dinosaur skeletons.
Sadly I didn’t get a photo of their very nice mural of Crusaders Vs. Muslim Horsebowmen, nor am I quite certain of its relevance to a Canadian museum, but then again all the Roman statuary is pretty non-relevant to Canada specifically too and that was also pretty awesome.
We finished up the day by having dinner at the top of the CN Tower, because we had to eat dinner somewhere and why not? It fulfilled an apparently long-held goal of Mike’s by turning out to be a revolving restaurant, which I hadn’t known before booking it and probably would have given me second thoughts if I had (restaurants with views are bad enough; revolving ones seem almost to guarantee gruel) but it was actually a lot of fun. We got in early enough to get a seat right by the window and stayed long enough to go around one and a half times, trying to orient ourselves to Toronto’s geography and just making out lights on the other side of Lake Ontario. Even Mike accidentally ordering fish (note: Arctic char is a fish, in case you were wondering) didn’t spoil it. (He does like fish, he just wasn’t expecting fish.)
At the top of the tower. (The waiter was really good at taking photos. I guess they get a lot of practice.)
I’m not quite sure about this statue in La Tour’s gift shop, though. Unless they were deliberately poking fun at stereotypes about Canada for the benefit of unsuspecting tourists, which…seems pretty likely, now I think about it.
It's a moose wearing a Mountie uniform. You see my point.
The real victory out of visiting Toronto, however: Mike has decided that my lack of obnoxiousness in the face of bilingualism on every sign (and my knowledge actually saving the day when the waitress accidentally set the portable credit card machine to French at dinner our first night) means he will graciously consent to visiting Quebec next year. Toronto, you were nice, but that I can’t wait for.