What we’re seein’ from the CN

TL;DR version :

We did another tour, saw a show, it was all pretty awesome! The end.

The somewhat longer version  – sorry, this one’s wordy!

Today was a another good opportunity see and learn more about this vibrant city of Toronto.  We had a very small tour – just 4 tourists and our guide, which was nice.

The weather was a little cloudy, but none of the forecast rain ever eventuated – so we continue to be some of luckiest tourists ever.   Our first stop the day was …

CN Tower

I’ve kinda been itching to view Toronto from this tower since day 1.  But this day is near enough 🙂  Some days the cloud cover is low enough that you can’t see anything at all – but we were fortunate because despite the clouds, we still had a great view.  The fun part about the glass-walled lifts is that parts of the floor are glass as well.  For the easily freaked out they can instantly turn the glass parts opaque which is clever.

The whole tower is 553.3 metres tall.  The observation tower is about 350 m above sea level. For comparison, Sydney tower’s observation deck is about 268m above. So yep, it sure is big, and still dominates the city skyline.

The observation deck is surprisingly spacious – and of course offers some pretty amazing views.  There’s also an ‘open air’ deck just below, but its closed-in with a lot of wire.  It was a lot less windy up there than I thought it would be, and still pretty warm just like at street level. This lower level also housed a glass floor which was fun to walk on – we must have psyched ourselves up sufficiently after hesitating on the one at Calgary.

Exiting through the gift shop (of course!) we made our way back to our little tour bus and on to a very different destination:

Casa Loma.

But first, some history. (Or as Glinda said in Wicked last night, “Why can’t you teach us some history, instead of just harping on about the past…”)

Back in ye olde days of the late 1800s, there was a pretty smart cookie by the name of Henry Pellatt, who made his first fortune in daddy’s stockbroking business, but really got into the money when he foresaw that this fancy new ‘electricity’ thing really might have a future. We all know how that turned out – and as the sole electricity supplier for Toronto, he naturally made an absolute mint.

Well, as the very wise Jane Austen once said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” And so, Henry married Mary in 1882. But where to live? For the richest man in Toronto, moneybwas. I object so he ended up building his own grand castle – Casa Loma. Built over a period of three years, it’s a gothic revivalist confection of 95 rooms, 30-odd bathrooms, ballroom, conservatory, lavish gardens, and, for the era, all the modernest of mod cons. A telephone in every room (yup, 95 telephones…), fancy modern flush toilets in all-marble bathrooms, and in his own ensuite a kind of power shower equipped with six different taps (and, we were told, a full time shower tap attendant to turn them). It was the first building in Canada to have a centralised vacuum machine. Also, of course, it had the modern wonder of electric lighting throughout.

All this, for just Henry and Mary – and for a short time, their son Reginald, who moved out after a few years.

It also has turrets, towers, seperate but equally grand stables, the works. In later years the government of the time put a road through the estate, cutting between the stables and the main residence. This so incensed the very-rich-but-slightly-eccentric (and snobby) Mr Pellat, who saw it as a grave offence to have to walk on a public road. So he had a massive tunnel dug under the estate over to the stables, so he wouldn’t have to debase himself by walking on a road that the common folk would also be able to access.  Sounds like a bit of a dick, right? Well he also did some good things, like personally pay for the first few streetcar lines in the town. So … I guess one needs to draw ones own conclusions.

I figure he must have upset a few people in government though, because what they did sounds pretty much like revenge to me. They raised property taxes from $600 per year to $1000 per month.  They ‘public-ised’ (i.e. took) the electricity network from him without compensation, leaving him with no source of income.  He ultimately had to give up Casa Loma – but not until the indignation of having all his person effect auctioned off at trifling prices; some lucky bugger bought themselves a Rembrandt for only $25.  So yes, his financial downfall was about as huge as his fortune once was.  Ultimately, he only lived in Casa Loma for about ten years.  After that, it sat derelict for a while, the city tried (unsuccessfully) to turn it into a hotel, unit in the early 1930s it was purchased by an entertainment company, who still owns it and runs it to this day.  Understandably, it’s a very popular wedding venue, and our tour guide said some scenes for the Harry Potter films where shot there – though 30 seconds of Googling didn’t lead me to any tangible proof.

But what of Henry Pellatt?  When Toronto became too much to bear, he simply moved on to one of his other larger properties.  He passed in away in 1939, and the people of Toronto lined the streets to pay tribute to his funeral processing, and he was buried with full military honours.  His son (his and Mary’s only child) did not have any children, so that kinda the end of the line for the Pellatt’s.

Sorry that’s a lot words but I found it a really interesting story, and an amazing, fascinating place to visit.  Loved the secret stairway hidden in the study, and the tunnels to the stables were pretty cool, if a little slippery.  Casa Loma was quite the house, that’s for certain.

Having drink all that in, and exiting through the gift shop … it was time for lunch.  Where’s a good spot for lunch in Toronto? Why, that’d be …

St Lawrence Market

It’s no Pike Place, but it is much easier to get around.  A huge big old shed, St Lawrence Market was founded in about 1803, and since then a number of buildings housing the  market have been built, the current one is mostly from 1968.  It was here that we were able to sample one of most famous Canadian foods.  Poutine? No.  Maple Syrup? Nope.  Then what is it ?  Behold, Peameal Bacon Sandwiches!

Layers of thick bacon, some relish and some onion, nice bread and ta-da – a whole big package of deliciousness ready to go.  I swear there were at least 6 or 7 layers of bacon… so how could you fault it. 🙂

The other famous food is the ‘Butter Tart’ – though its usually made with raisins or with pecans.  In short – tasted like a pecan pie.  But that’s no bad thing – pecan pie is delicious!

We didn’t have a whole bunch of time here but long enough to wander around and check it out (except for the fishy area), seeing the lovely produce and all the good stuff Toronto has to offer.  Sydney keeps trying but failing to come up with  great market like this – maybe the one at Carriageworks is coming close nowadays, but, Melbourne, Adelaide, Seattle, Toronto … all these places have markets that seem heaps better than those Sydney can manage at the moment.

Facing the onset of market-jealousy, it was now time for a relaxing boat trip around the shores of Lake Ontario and the small islands near there.  It really was relaxing, and a bit of fun being so close to the smaller Billy Baxter airport, seeing the planes come in close by.

And just like that, our tour was at an end.  A stellar job by Tori of SeeSights Tours – thanks a lot! It was also nice to hang out with Erin & her husband from Chicago.  Very nice people, all of them.

Naptime / Wander time

Back at the hotel, Perry opted for a nap, and I went out on a bit of a random wander to see the city, and re-visit an area that looked pretty when we’d driven past it in bus previously – around the corner of University and Queen.  Ultimately there wasn’t too much more to that corner than what we’d seen from the bus.  Some fountains, a garden, a statue of Adam Beck (instrumental in taking the electricity network away from Henry Pellatt, so …), and I thought that was about it.  Pressing on a little further north was nice though – the 11 people, a great piece of art regarding the jury system – with the viewer of course being the 12th person.  A clever piece of public art, simple, but made the message clear that the decisions you take have power.  A second after taking the photo a friendly Canadian said hi, clearly seeing I was a tourist I guess, and had a quick but pleasant chat.  People in this city are so nice. All those things they say about Canadian manners and hospitality, looks like it’s all true.



I returned to the hotel in time to go out to diner – I took Perry to Red Tomato since I enjoyed it so much last night. Sure enough, excellent pizza was on offer, and a cocktail, because holidays.  The bubbly lady serving us had lived in Australia for a time so it was nice have a big old chat about it, and how it compares.  We get more holidays and they don’t get long service leave, just in case you’re ever considering moving to Canada…

…and a show!

“Come from Away” was tonight’s show – conveniently playing just a few doors down at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  I knew next to nothing about this show, other than the most basic outline of the story.  After September 11, 2001 – all planes currently in the air were directed to land, and anyone outside US airspace was not able to enter.  This mean the little town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada – a town of about 9000 – suddenly saw itself with 30-odd planes and around 7000 newcomers from all around the globe. What on earth do you do when that happens?  That’s what the show explored.

It was an amazing musical – 100 minutes long, no intermission, and after seeing the show it makes sense why it’s done that way.  It has an incredible energy that just does not let up, the music almost never stops, the songs keep coming and coming, the story runs along at a rapid pace, and it’s so funny in parts the place was roaring with laughter. Staging was simple but brilliant, the 12 main cast took on so many roles I don’t know how they remember who was who, and the whole thing was just brilliantly put together, end to end.

Normally, when a show concludes, the energy levels sink, there are some bows, everybody goes home.  This show ended on what I thought was a high – there was a theatre-wide standing ovation, everyone was cheering, it was awesome. But as the cast most off the stage, the musicians (who had been playing in a corner) took centre stage and lifted the energy even higher by continuing to play a rollicking Irish-inspired tunes (I think it’s fair to say there’s a fair bit of Irish culture and influence in Newfoundland. No I haven’t read anything of its history as yet).

Nobody left the theatre – instead we had 1200 people all on their fleet, clapping along, everyone finally leaving the theatre on a high once the music stopped.  Just brilliant.  And I think being able to see the show in Canada itself added a bit to it as well.

After that, back to the normal routine:  Hotel, Blog, Sleep, Repeat 🙂  Loving it!


One thought on “What we’re seein’ from the CN

Comments are closed.