Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A few days in Toronto

I can’t help wondering how many Americans have visited Toronto.  For those in Northeast Ohio, it’s a mere five hours drive – give or take traffic. But it’s like a different world.

Toronto is a lovely city, well planned and executed, with a nice, balanced energy.  In a way, it’s a larger version of the city that Cleveland could be - if city, county, and state leaders would work together and execute long term plans to properly develop the lakefront, downtown, and revive the neighborhoods.  Wouldn’t it be great if Cleveland had a lakeside landmark like Toronto’s CN Tower?  To do that, Cleveland would have to close Burke Lakefront Airport– Hopkins could easily accommodate Burke’s traffic.  Closing Burke would free up a massive slice of lakefront property that could be developed into Condos/Apartments, Retail, and other beachfront amenities.  But, enough about Cleveland for now.  

Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower

Toronto is very clean, well maintained, and boasts excellent public transport.  We did not avail ourselves of any of the public transport options, but used the PATH – an ingenious network of underground and elevated walkways – for getting around during hotter periods.  But we did get outside enough to see the variety of architecture – from preserved old homes and other buildings, to new skyscrapers – a good many still under construction.

A Toronto Streetcar - built in Cleveland

The Royal Ontario Museum is sort of a mix of the Cleveland Art Museum and Natural History Museum.  The collection of dinosaur skeletons there is the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  There’s also an excellent section on the First People of Canada.  The only issue I had with the ROM is that there wasn’t a clear flow from room to room.  Further, the ROM consists of two interconnecting buildings which makes navigation confusing – even with a map.  We also visited the Bata Shoe Museum – a specialist place that appealed to Daniel more than I.

Outside of London, Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever seen, with particularly large numbers of Asians.  The diversity extends to religions, and we in the United States could learn a few things from our northern neighbors.  In a previous post I pointed out that Muslims can be found in every corner of the world.  Toronto is a case in point.  I saw Muslim men and women in every area of the city I visited, from Eaton Centre mall to Church & Wellesley.  Muslims are an integral part of the social fabric of Toronto, yet I saw no sign of social tension as one would see in the United States.

Despite the effects both the mainstreaming of LGBT people and the Internet/App culture have had on gay neighborhoods, Toronto has a vibrant LGBT scene, with the Church-Wellesley area being the most notable gayborhood.  There is a generous selection of gay clubs and bars there, catering to every taste.  We were particularly fond of Woody’s (famous from Queer as Folk), and the Statler.  Daniel & I were moved to see a memorial to those slain in Orlando earlier this month, as well as the names and ages of every victim stenciled on the ground.   We have never felt safer as a gay couple than our days in Toronto, not even in Provincetown or in the Soho neighborhood of London.  We were able to walk through most of the city holding hands, with no one batting an eye – and we were far from the only same sex couple doing so.  Even at Eaton Centre, Toronto’s largest mall, there were teenaged same sex couples, holding hands, embracing, and looking at each other the way only people in love do – what a difference from when I was their age!  Canada is therefore far ahead of the United States in social tolerance and public safety.  Of course, when you’re in a country where guns are sensibly regulated, safety is a reality, not just a feeling. 

Church & Wellesley

As we were only there for a few days, Daniel & I did not have time to take a “deep dive” into the culinary scene.  Highlights were the ChurchMouse, and Smiths (both on Church street), and Elephant & Castle, on Yonge Street.  Smiths had the most perfectly balanced salads imaginable.  While ChurchMouse and Elephant & Castle were traditional British pubs - with the latter also being sports oriented.  We were there enjoying a late dinner during game 7 of the NBA Finals – and happy to learn most of the crowd was pro-Cleveland, judging by the reactions.

On the flip side, there were a large number of homeless people, on practically every block we walked on - more than I’ve seen in any American city or in London.  This was a surprise, given Canada’s strong reputation for social welfare.

Daniel and I stayed at the Chelsea Eaton, which proved to be both convenient and well appointed.  We can recommend it for anyone looking for a comfortable place to set their heads down at night – with the added bonus of an excellent fitness centre, several restaurants, and central location.

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