Ontario, Canada – November 1999

Southern Ontario vs. Northern California

I just returned from my honeymoon in San Francisco. I heard that it was one of the three most beautiful cities in North America, the others being New Orleans and Quebec City. Since I had already been to those two, we decided to finally see the third.

While in San Francisco we travelled in the region of Northern California. When at home and thinking of what to write for this article, I was struck by the realization that Northern California is strikingly similar to Southern Ontario (Okay, I love these cheesy, vulgar comparisons – so bare with me).

Both regions share roughly the same latitude. I know this is unbelievable. But Ontario does stretch fairly far south and California is extremely long. California is one of the most populous states and Ontario is the most populous province. They also have the most fertile lands and produce vast quantities of fruits, vegetables and wine. Both are bastions of industry, development and finance.

They are also both extremely multicultural. San Francisco is no melting pot, but rather has distinct ethnic districts. In many ways San Francisco felt like home, as Toronto is the world’s most multicultural city.

So here’s some other things I found strikingly similar:

(Note: for brevity’s sake the first place listed will be in California followed by an Ontario locale.)

World’s Largest Artichoke in Castroville vs.

Giant Artichokes!

Us newlyweds are but humble supplicants to the grand Artichoke!

World’s Largest Tomato in Leamington

These absurdly large produce are both awe inspiring and well worth the drive to these otherwise dubious destinations. While both places devote festivals to their respective veggies, Castroville has the claim to fame of crowning Marilyn Monroe the Artichoke Queen in 1948.

Napa & Sonoma Valleys vs. Niagara Peninsula

Everyone is familiar with California wines. Yet wines from the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, though less famous, are gaining popularity and have won many international competitions. I love the American way of wine tasting. Rather than spit it out, as they do in France, Yankees are only too happy to swallow their samples and then ask for seconds! My kind of people.

Pacific Ocean vs. The Great Lakes

The coast of California is truly stunning, among the most beautiful and dramatic coastlines in the world. However, the currents are treacherous and rampant with great white sharks. This alone makes the Great Lakes clearly superior (bad pun intended).

San Francisco Chinatown vs. Toronto’s Chinatown

San Francisco's Chinatown

My postcard shot of San Francisco’s Chinatown

San Francisco has the largest population of Asians outside of Asia, making it the world’s largest Chinatown. Toronto’s is the second largest in the world (about 5 times the size of New York City’s).

Our friend from Hong Kong loves San Francisco’s Chinatown because it looks "more authentic". The buildings there are older and postcard Asian.

Carmel-by-the-Sea vs. Niagara-on-the-Lake

Carmel-by-the-Sea (its real name) is the cute little California town that had Clint Eastwood as its mayor. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a cute little Ontario town famous for its summer theatre festival (the Shaw festival). Quaint and historic, which means trendy and overpriced. Both are called artist colonies despite the glaring lack of any living artists.

Lake Tahoe vs. Lake Simcoe

Both offer beautiful returns to nature, with cottages galore. We didn’t actually go to Tahoe but we flew over it, and with it nestled in the mountains it looked like Shangri-La. My feelings towards Lake Simcoe are less pleasant due to a near boat sinking caused by a sudden storm and an inept captain.

Alcatraz vs. Kingston Penitentiary

While Kingston Pen. may not be such a popular culture icon as Alcatraz, it nonetheless has an important role in Canadian history. The horrendous beatings and torture of inmates there prompted our legislature to introduce the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” into our Constitution, a novel concept at the time. We went on the night tour of Alcatraz, which I highly recommend. Not only is it more spooky but there’s a great view of the lights of the Bay area.

Fisherman’s Wharf (S.F.) vs. Harbourfront (To.)

I was warned by all the travel books and websites to avoid Fisherman’s Wharf, but they are wrong. Granted it is plagued by T-shirt shops, hucksters and other tourist traps. But there’s a lot to do and see there and areas like the Cannery are kinda nice. I particularly liked the sea-lions harping and jostling. It is probably one of the few places that would be fun and interesting for the entire family. However it is entirely for the tourists.

Harbourfront in Toronto is really for the locals. During the summer months, it is the cultural center of the city with free concerts, plays, art exhibits, etc.

Sonoma Mission vs. St. Marie-among-the-Huron

Both were but one of a series of missions founded by the Catholic Church hoping to affirm land claims and convert the "heathen" natives. The Sonoma mission was founded by Spanish Franciscans and St. Marie by the French Jesuits. The missionaries of St. Marie were brutally murdered by fed-up natives and flayed alive!

Silicon Valley vs. the Golden Triangle

Really there’s no comparison in scale. The technology pioneered and produced at the Silicon Valley really changes the world. The Golden Triangle, consisting of the three cities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph, are where a large amount of Canada’s high-tech industry is situated. The University of Waterloo is one of the best places for computer sciences and engineering, so we’re not that far behind.

Monterey Aquarium vs. Marineland in Niagara Falls

The former is a serious institute devoted to scientific study of marine biology and public education. The latter is a nautical theme amusement park with jumping killer whales (think Free Willy) and trained seals. Monterey’s aquarium is in beautiful surroundings and it’s kelp forest and jelly fish exhibits are the best.

S.F.’s Castro district vs. Toronto’s Church & Wellsley Streets

The Castro is famous as the ultimate gay district in the world, but we were immensely disappointed. Not that we were expecting Mae West drag queens to be belting out show tunes in the street – but it was just so dead and lacklustre. Toronto’s gay district has more street life than the Castro, even in the middle of winter.

San Jose vs. Mississauga

These are both ‘burb like cities with huge amounts of businesses and the corresponding white-collar populations. Though they insist they are distinct from their parent cities (San Fran and Toronto), they distinguish themselves only by their complete lack of any character.

Sausalito vs. Caledon

These are the antithesis of the above two cities. Beautiful little towns in the hills. They would both be great if it weren’t for the fact that they are overrun by rich people and their Gap-loving ways.

Earthquake of 1989 vs. Ice Storm of 1998

Snowed in

The streets of Toronto last January

Well, the ice storm may not sound quite as bad as the earthquake but several people did die as the result of an unbelievable amount of ice deposited within a short period of time and millions of dollars of damage resulted. No one died in our "snow storm", but they did have to call in the military. However, when it comes to natural disasters, the earthquakes of California really take the cake.

San Andreas Fault vs. Niagara Escarpment

Both have major geological features that mark the land. Both offer amazing heights and jagged cliffs. However, our geological features are not in the process of cataclysmic collision, so the similarity ends there. There is a fault line in Southern Ontario and we do get earthquakes. But they are the baby kinds that at worst cause dishes to fall off of shelves.

I was considering moving to San Francisco, since I will be starting my Web Development career soon and it is the capital of the Internet. But now that I think about it, I’m starting to think that life in the “provinces” isn’t so bad.

Toronto really is a much more happening and culturally vital place than San Francisco. The rents are astronomical there and I’ll take ice storms over earthquakes.

Anyway, undoubtedly we’ll end up pregnant sooner or later and before long I’ll be living in the dreaded Mississauga and driving a minivan.


If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.

It’s getting cold!

There are some events that occur almost everywhere in Ontario this month. Whether in a tiny hamlet or a mighty city, you can expect to see the following in Ontario this month:


Santa’s Here!

To encourage Christmas shopping, every place will have a Santa Claus Parade this month. Even my Dad’s hometown of Alma (pop. under 100) has one that last about 10 minutes.

Toronto hosts the world’s largest Santa Claus Parade and it is usually spectacular and worth a couple hours in the cold. (One San Franciscan had only heard of Toronto because he watches the parade each year). To warm up after, go to Second Cup for a mug of their white hot chocolate, and to go with it get a rhubarb muffin. (Nov. 21)

Another way to encourage Christmas shopping is to host arts and crafts shows. Even if you’ve had your fill of gnome art, knitted sweaters and homemade jellies they can still be interesting.

Toronto’s One of a Kind Show really does try to showcase stuff that is more unique, though the hefty prices reflect this. It’s also the largest showcase of Canadian crafts. (Nov. 25 – Dec. 5)

To promote a more festive spirit, the downtown cores decorate the streets and hang lights. A small "festival" undoubtedly will ensue to marvel at this wonder.

Now that it is getting cold, Ontarians start their winter sports. And the two that we most excel at are hockey (of course) and curling (seriously). There are countless leagues from very amateur to professional, so there’s always a hockey tournament or a bonspiel happening somewhere. Curling is actually a lot more fun and interesting than would first seem, so try it out.

OttawaWelton Beauchamp Bonspiel is the world’s largest cash curling tournament with over 130 national and international teams. (Nov. 12-15)

An important day is November 11. That’s our Remembrance Day, like Veteran’s Day though extended to remember all victims of war and the continued struggle for peace. I think this is probably the most important day of the year, but sadly fewer and fewer people honour it.

Some specific events this month include:


The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the world’s largest indoor agricultural exhibition, which means when you get that much livestock in confined space the resulting smell is enough stank to cause your lungs to collapse! My farmhick highschool principal made us go to this every year, and urbanite that I am, I still enjoyed it. New this year is the "Celebration of the Dog" with special "showdogs". They also have butter sculpture and pickle competitions.(Nov. 4th – 13th )

Sault Ste. Marie

World Cup Snow-Cross – 1000 of the world’s best snowmobile racers start the racing season here. Snowmobiling is huge here. Every year some overly anxious yahoos go out onto not-quite frozen ice and plummet to their deaths. I have some advice: stay on land! If so, snowmobiling is actually great fun. (Nov. 18-21)

Don't try this at home.

Don’t try this at home.

I met an American school teacher once and he asked me if I took a snowmobile to school, somehow mistaking me for Nanook of the North?


Festival of Trees – Now that they’re not chopping down all the trees in site, there having a festival to celebrate them. (Nov. 19-21)


Big Band Showdown – The excitement of contemporary big band sounds and professional dance demonstrations and a large dance floor to dance the night away. (Nov. 26-27)


Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art – Maya Universe is an exhibition featuring 150 royal Maya ceramic, jade and stone objects from the height of ancient Maya civilization. (Now to Jan. 2, 2000)

Ontarians obsess over the weather. Come share our obsession and find out the climate of places like Wawa and Moosonee.

About Me
I suffer from a fatal case of wanderlust. After trying the real world for a few years, I decided to return to school to study the Internet. I currently live in Toronto, but I am from Guelph, ON. I have also lived in Ottawa, Key West, Florida, and Stuttgart, Germany.

I will soon be finishing my Internet program and will have to face the real world.

I just got married last month, and I’m still in shock. Find out all the details at my wedsite.

Special thanks to my wife, Jenn, for helping me out with this article in specific and life in general.

Check out my past articles for some further tips, such as dining, attractions, and continuing festivals.

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