Uncovering Some History in Toronto – Ontario, Canada

Arrival
The pounding rain didn’t dampen my plans to explore Toronto. I arrived at Union Station (opened in 1927) on the efficient GO train after visiting relatives in Ajax. This magnificent train station stretches 750 feet along Front Street.

Royal York
Across from the station is the elegant Royal York (opened in 1929, now known as the Fairmont Royal York). The 25-storey hotel was once the tallest in Toronto. Now, dwarfed by the nearby skyscrapers, it’s worth walking along the magnificent lobby. I peered in the Library Bar with its oversized chairs. It’s said to have the best martinis – too early – next time.

CN Tower behind the Renaissance Hotel
CN Tower behind the Renaissance Hotel

CN Tower
From the Fairmont Royal, I meandered to the tallest freestanding structure in the world at 1,815 feet (553 meters) – the CN Tower. I never tired of stretching my neck to view this magnificent marvel that turned 30 in 2006. The dark clouds flowed by quickly. I stood there for quite a while, trying to fathom the stages of building and the finishing touches.

More Sites
The Arriba Restaurant inside the Renaissance Hotel overlooks the Sky Dome, I mean the Roger’s Centre (new name), as well as the 70 most expensive rooms. The crew was preparing the inside for the upcoming baseball season – home team, Toronto Blue Jays.

Making my way back toward Front and Bay Streets to meet my niece, Andrea, for lunch, I passed by a statue of Glenn Gould sitting on a bench in front of the Glenn Gould Studio, where free noontime concerts are held. The sound track of Schindler’s List was recorded here. Glenn Gould was born in Toronto, a piano genius who started composing at the age of five!

Statue of a worker chipping away
Statue of a worker chipping away

Further down is WSIB (Workers Safety and Insurance Board) Park commemorating the 100 workers who died on the job. A statue of a man on one knee uses a hammer and chisel to etch the words “Remembering our past … Building a safe future”.

Old and New City Halls
Toronto has a fairly new City Hall built in 1965 by the Finnish architect, Viljo Revell. The twin clamshell towers flank the saucer-style structure in between. At least the officials at the time had the foresight to retain their old city hall (1899) where, at the entrance, you must go through x-ray security. It is mostly used for courthouses, has beautiful painted murals and stained-glass windows.

After lunch with Andrea at Shopsy on Front Street, I went to the Eaton Centre and glanced up at the tall glass skyscrapers. Then I stopped abruptly, looking across the street at the distinguished Bank of Montreal, established 1817. The interior is exquisite, the security guard said you must call in advanced (416-944-7340 or 416-867-6833) to get permission to take photos inside. Next to the bank is Canada Permanent Building (the word building is actually spelled Bvilding).

I went inside the new City Hall and spotted the Toronto Public Library, City Hall Branch. I checked my emails. You can use four of the computers for free; two for 30 minutes sitting down and two for 15 minutes standing up. This branch opens Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 6:00, closed Saturday and Sunday (416-393-7650).

Statue of Glenn Gould sitting on a bench
Statue of Glenn Gould sitting on a bench

Still More Sites
Finding myself on Queen Street after going through the Eaton Centre, I walked away with the Eaton Centre at my back. I found the Metropolitan United Church of Canada on Queen Street, past Younge and Victoria Streets. It’s open 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. The dark grey features outside are brighter than the dark wood features in the inside. I imagined the sun shining through the stained glass windows. Not far away was a small chapel built in 1818. As membership grew, another site was chosen. This present site was built 1868 with capacity for 2,000 people; in 1925, it became known as the Metropolitan United Church.

Looking at my map and my watch, I decided there was nothing of interest further down Queen Street. I doubled back in the direction of City Hall. A young man tried to get me to give monthly to the Red Cross. Instead, I asked for a place to get a cappuccino.

“And don’t say Tim Horton’s.”

His look told me I had said a faux pas. We laughed. His friend suggested Starbucks. I chuckled trying to give him a blundering look. “No. No Starbucks. No Timmy’s (coffee), no brand name company. I want to go somewhere different.”

“Just keep walking on this street (Queen Street) for about 10 minutes until you pass University Street,” one man said.

I noticed the statue of Winston Churchill right pass the new City Hall. At age 26, Churchill first visited Canada when he spoke at Massey Hall on December 29, 1900 and January 2, 1901. His second trip was by rail from Quebec City to British Columbia in the summer of 1929. In August 1929, he addressed the Empire Club at the Royal York Hotel. In September 1939, Canada joined Great Britain to declare war on Germany. His seventh and final visit was in 1954. In 1958, he was offered the "Freedom of the City of Toronto", but health prevented him accepting the honor which was instead accepted by Mayor Nathan Phillips (for whom the square at the new City Hall is named after).

Bank of Montreal
Bank of Montreal

Queen Mother Cafe
I finally found a place for cappuccino. Sitting at the bar of the Queen Mother Cafe, I looked at the pictures of the Queen Mother. If you go there to eat, grab a seat by the window to watch the world go by. Lunch still sat in my stomach, I had no appetite, but the food looked delicious – an Asian flare – and the usual sandwiches such as tuna melt.

Downstairs, the men’s room has a picture of the Queen Mother's husband, George VI; the woman’s room displays a small picture of her. Inside the woman’s room, above the sink, are photos of the Queen Mother as a young woman. It was cool, I must say.

I looked at my watch and figured I still had time before I grabbed the bus back home. Walking a few blocks, I couldn’t resist going into this pub for a glass of wine. The name on the outside read “Village Idiot Pub – L’idiot du Village” on 126 McCaul Street. The waitress told me it’s not to be confused with Village Idiot Restaurant on Spadina Street. My wine glass read "Idiot Hall of Fame".

Ah Toronto! So much to see. By bus, I’m only a few hours away (depending on traffic). I’m going to return – to uncover more historical sites of a modern metropolitan city.

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