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Posts tagged ‘canada’

the evolution of toronto

We will get back to Chile but first a little more on Toronto.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and, even decades ago, when I made my first visit and the population was considerably smaller, it was an overwhelming place.  I was fortunate in that, in the early days, I always had local guides.

As a child, Toronto seemed as remote and glamorous as Oz and I had no idea how I was going to get there – just that it was a goal.  My interest was further piqued when I met Nancy who was visiting relatives in my remote middle Canada small town.  She didn’t actually live in Toronto but rather in one of the bedroom communities surrounding it.  A trip into the city was no big deal.  We became pen pals and I plied her with questions about the city.

My first Toronto guide was Marissa.  Somehow my Toronto stories always begin elsewhere.  Marissa was living at student residence in the University of Calgary that summer.  It was a popular accommodation choice for students with well-paid jobs in the oil industry.  She was Italian, the first I’d really known.  The Prairies are too cold to attract many immigrants from sunny climes.

At the end of that summer I was heading to London, Ontario to attend the previously mentioned fancy business school so would be about a two hour train ride from Toronto.  She invited me to visit and stay with her family in Downsview.  The Prairies are scarcely populated.  Not all countries are represented but there is a lot of diversity.  Lots of people have several different national groups in their DNA.  Toronto is different.  There are enough immigrants from certain countries that they can band together and create a replica of the old country within the new.

toronto-iconic-streetcarSo I was introduced to Toronto by way of Italy!  Marissa was first generation.  The house was decorated with lots of Roman looking knick-knacks.  We ate Italian food.  We went to the neighbourhood bakery to pick up cannoli.  There was great controversy because her brother’s girlfriend was Jewish.  I wasn’t used to cultures with so many rules.

That’s when I discovered there were all sorts of cultural communities within Toronto.  Almost any cultural group had enough members immigrating to Toronto that they could band together.  Often a few people started the pattern and then others followed because they knew there was a community to welcome them and immigration would be less daunting.  The early arrivals established a safe place, which attracted new arrivals looking for a mix of new opportunities and familiar tastes and smells.

Modern day Toronto is possibly the most multicultural city in the world.  About half the population is composed of immigrants and over 200 ethnic groups and 140 languages are represented.  This means that Toronto is full of festivals and events.  If you are OK with crowds, that’s when I would come.  There are festivals for almost any interest you might have.

One of my most significant festival memories was a festival called the International Caravan.  Apparently, it died out in 2005 and it wouldn’t be the same even if it did still exist.  In those days, Toronto was smaller and it was phenomenally safe for a large city.  Its nickname was “Toronto the Good”.  The concept of the International Caravan was to get a passport and go to national associations all over the city to try the food and see the music and dance of the old country.

The festival was created in 1969 to try and bring together the various national groups who tended to live in their silos in different communities.  I went to my first Caravan the first year I actually lived in the city.  My boyfriend had grown up in the city and we journeyed all over town, walking countless blocks, even to neighbourhoods with a shady reputation.  Sure, there was haggis and elaborate Ukrainian dancing and I was young and desperate to learn about all the countries I couldn’t yet afford to visit but what it really taught me was that there were all these different neighbourhoods, each filled with a unique character developed by the melding of all the cultures that had settled there.

1985 Toronto was a harbinger of 21st century Canada.  21st century Toronto is a city where you experience the entire world.  Next year is Canada’s 150th birthday so the celebrations are likely to be better than ever.  Check out a festival.  Or just pick a neighborhood and wander.  That’s where you will find the real Toronto, the one that left such an imprint on my life…

since Canada is trending ;)

I’ve been travelling all over the world as a Canadian for a long time.  It’s not a bad passport to have.  People generally have a favourable view of Canadians but they generally don’t know much about Canada, probably assuming it’s just America with fewer guns.

I’m OK with people not knowing much about us.  One of our virtues is that we are understated and polite.  It was refreshing to see the patriotism first hand at the Winter Olympics in 2010 but I hoped it wouldn’t change us too much.  What I saw when I saw the photos was how integrated and multi-cultural we were.  We are no longer a country full of white people and most people are cool with that.

I grew up just as Canada was starting to embrace multiculturalism so that has been part of my cultural identity my whole life.  It’s partly what makes me a great traveller.  I was taught to be curious and respectful of other cultures and to seek out interesting festivals and customs.

I am better able to represent Canadians than the average passport holder because I have seen most of the country and lived in five of the ten provinces, in both big cities and small towns.  I have had friends or family living in the missing provinces and territories so I have a strong sense of the country as a whole entity, not just my own backyard.

It’s my great familiarity with my own country that makes me think of it as “home” rather than “travel”.  I was just in Toronto recently and one of my friends there asked why Toronto never made the blog.  I told her it was on the list but it always got punted by a more exotic locale.

But since Trump has sparked interest in Canada and next year will be the 150th anniversary of our confederation, I thought it was likely a good time to write about Canada 🙂

I know a LOT about Canada so will certainly post more once I get some of the other travels caught up but, for now, we will talk about Toronto since I was a genuine tourist there twice this year.

My first serious boyfriend grew up in Toronto.  I met him in Calgary.  By that point in my life, I had managed to get to London, Ontario to go to a very fancy business school.  Toronto is the “big smoke” in Canada.  They used to share the power with Montreal until they passed Bill 101, making French the official language, and sending the English speaking elite to Toronto.

As a child, I spent a lot of time talking to my father who was surprisingly cosmopolitan in matters of business, history and politics so he seeded the dream that one day I would work on Bay Street (the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street).  Just the idea of GETTING to Toronto seemed an impossible dream in those days.

And the truth was that I wasn’t really prepared for it.  But I was lucky.  Michael was an extraordinary guy and introduced me to the city of his birth in a way that inspired and empowered me.  Toronto was where I came of age.  Where people started to think I had grown up in the city – not knowing how to clean a seed drill.  The transformation wasn’t instant but Mike allowed me to feel confident enough in the big city that I could eventually feel confident anywhere.

I’ve lived in Toronto twice and have had friends move there at various stages in their careers so it has been a constant presence in my adult life.  My most recent visit really demonstrated how tied I am to the city – celebrating the 21st birthday of the daughter of one of the friends I made at the fancy business school.  Why it’s so hard to approach it as a tourist.  Toronto to me has some of the same allure Montreal has for Leonard Cohen.

cn-towerToronto doesn’t have a ton of sights and must do’s for tourists.  That doesn’t mean it has none, just that it isn’t New York, Paris or London.  Its most famous attraction is the CN Tower.  It was completed in 1976 and was the world’s tallest tower at the time.  The record held until 2010 when Asia got rich.  It is definitely worth a trip.  My most memorable trip up the tower was on a rainy day where the rain changed to snow by the time we reached the top of the tower.  It appears there are a few other options now and I may need to relive the experience on my next visit to Toronto.  It also looks like the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower is a lot more sophisticated.  And for the daredevil, you can go on an EdgeWalk around the tower.

mind blowing chihuly

mind blowing chihuly

Another place tourists should check out is the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).  Given that there were a lot of dinosaurs ACTUALLY roaming around in Canada, that part of the museum is especially impressive.  The ROM also hosts a series of intriguing temporary exhibitions.  Until Jan 8, 2017, they are hosting an exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s phenomenal glass work.  It is spectacular!the-very-popular-persian-room

The other place I would send tourists to in Toronto is Casa Loma.  It has a long and turbulent history, which is as interesting as the estate itself.  Canada doesn’t have many robber barons and their spoils but Casa Loma defies that stereotype.  Henry Pellatt was a financier at the dawn of the twentieth century and bought up 25 lots of land on a hill from developers in 1903 and then engaged 300 workers to build a dream estate in Gothic style.  History wasn’t kind to Casa Loma.  First, World War I and then the Great Depression…  In 1933, the city seized Casa Loma for back taxes, which is why you can visit it as a tourist.

There are other formal tourist attractions as well.  If it is a first visit, the best is to buy a City Pass.

MY Toronto, though, isn’t the stuff on a City Pass.  There is a lot more to the city than is obvious as you step out of Union Station.

A topic for another post 😉


the stormy seas of independence…

By pure random chance, I happened to be in Croatia a few days before the Scots voted on independence.  You cannot, of course, time your vacation to Croatia to coincide with such an interesting time to be in a Balkan state.  There is no question the Balkans are a fascinating place – historically, culturally and geographically.  A visit is really rewarding.

It’s rare for me to see a random post on facebook that I really feel is worth sharing but I am going to link to this one as it is a witty representation of much I have observed of world politics.  Not all countries are represented and there is no Croatia imagery.  But the Canadian quote sums us up rather succinctly.  I am a huge fan of history and know far more about the facts and dynamics of my own country than most politicians, less alone most voters.


I understand the seduction of independence, flag waving and nation states.  But we would all be better served in the 21st century to be getting together and trying not to let the planet turn into Mad Max…

elaphite islands

elaphite islands

Anyway, to the travel experience!  One of the most unique aspects of Croatia is the abundance of islands to explore.  Many are tiny.  Some are not even inhabited.  It is a playground of fantasy for sailors.  I like boats but my sailing qualifications more or less end at a pretty good ability to tie knots thanks to my early years as a Brownie 😉

So, I thought I would sign up with Amico for a cruise of the Elaphite Islands.  It started pretty slow as apparently the ship is filled by numerous travel agencies so you start to wonder if you are going to leave the harbour…


They do ply you with homemade brandy before lunch… perhaps so you won’t realize nothing is happening? 😉  But eventually the trip gets underway and you bounce over the waves and reflect on the clear blue skies.

And – hopefully for you – that will continue for the remainder of the day.  Our cruise was a little different… at first the rain was benign and easy to ignore but it wasn’t long before the skies opened up and people had water running down their faces.  Being from a city where rain is a daily possibility, I was prepared.  I just put on my fleece and positioned myself under my travel umbrella.  Girl scouts are prepared 🙂

I was impressed by some young guy trying to frantically unfurl the canvas coverings that were meant to protect the ship in bad weather.  I think that should have been the job of the crew but customer service is still being developed in eastern Europe 😉

Apparently the gods did not totally hate us and we had a brief interval of sunshine when we reached our first island, Lopud.  The beach was deserted, the outdoor bar opposite the dock was closed and the monastery was under renovation so it’s obvious that, like most people from lovely climates, the Croatians are kind of wimps 🙂

I decided I would be adventurous and follow the signs to the mysterious art installation up the hill.  It was a great choice.  I saw a lot of the island, especially the flora, and the art installation offered a disrupting perspective that is what art is supposed to do!

It was called “Black Horizon”.  The customer service was eastern European style so had no idea what I was doing… but it looked like you went behind the curtain… it was totally black.  It was a former communist country so wasn’t sure about safety standards so crawled around the edge of the room so that I didn’t break my ankle or plunge into an unseen pit.  After a few minutes, the room did not seem absolutely pitch black and I could see a tiny strip of white light where there was a tiny break in the wall – the horizon!

experiencing art

experiencing art

I’m not sure the artist’s intentions but it was a really interesting visual and emotional experience, especially for someone living in a very safe western country where being thrust unexpectedly into a blackened room is unlikely to be an everyday event.

By the time I got back to the boat for lunch, the rain clouds were threatening again.  But it ended up being serendipity.  No one wanted to chance eating lunch on the roof of the boat so we took turns squeezing into the tables on the main deck, which resulted in random and unexpected pairings.  Most of my lunch time was spent with the guy who had battened down the hatches in the boat and his best friend.

It was pretty obvious as soon as they spoke that they were from Scotland.  Ryan’s dad was a fisherman so that was why he knew what to do on a boat when rain came calling (he is Scottish :)).  His friend Peter was more the suave ladies’ man.  Ryan was especially patriotic and very keen on the independence vote.  He had also worked in Norway so we became friends with a Norwegian guy since I had been to Norway only a couple of months ago.

My new friends convinced me I should just hang out at a pub with them for the next two islands.  On a sunnier day, I would likely recommend a different strategy.  But there is also something amazing about travel when you find a couple of people who can create the catalyst to turn an everyday event into a memory for the nursing home.

rocking the waves!

rocking the waves!

Making friends with Ryan and Peter totally changed the day.  It had been pleasant enough but a little boring as a solo traveller.  But we spent the trip back to Dubrovnik on the upper deck on really choppy seas.  The rain had stopped but the weather was angry.  What most people didn’t realize is that it’s better to be on the upper deck when the waves are high.

Ryan kept running the free (questionable and homemade) wine to the upper deck.  Peter had portable speakers so kept the tunes running.  A few people tried to dance but the waves made that more act of comedy than act of seduction.  But I ended up being part of an international impromptu party on a rocking (literally!) boat on the Adriatic Sea.

When we finally exited on our groggy sea legs, Ryan announced it had been one of the best days of his life.  I would have to concur 🙂


the playthings of superpowers…

london on a glorious day

london on a glorious day

I’m not sure I would want to live in London as it is so crowded and expensive but it is a fantastic place to spend a few days imagining other lives and wandering through history.  I’ve been to the city enough times now that I feel like a local and I have to remember to pay attention.

One of the ways I have found to make familiar places interesting is to change up my accommodation.  ME London put me in a new location from previous visits.

I’ve been to London so many times it often feels like I am just a local in an alternate location.  Regular life amped up a bit.  Lots of walking.  Power shopping.  Dinner with friends.

I normally don’t spend the big bucks required to stay in a location that doesn’t involve flashing an Oyster card.  But my sexy cave was walking distance to Bond Street – and the cashmere luxuries of the Burlington Arcade.

I had brought the sun with me from Oslo so a long walk seemed an ideal way to start the day.  Since I was the official photographer for my mom’s inaugural tour of London I have more tourist photos of the city than I have of Paris but there are definite holes in the collection.

So I stopped to read the plaques 😉  Having just come from Norway and its history as a bargaining chip, passing from Denmark to Sweden and struggling to establish an identity independent of the bigger powers, some of the plaques and statues spoke to me a little more loudly.

Reading between the lines in Westminster, you see the sacrifices made by Canadians and Australians at the hands of a condescending Great Britain.  They don’t teach it in school but apparently at one point Queen Victoria wanted to trade Canada for Barbados – at the time, sugar was a lot more compelling than beavers…

It’s surprising Canada hasn’t turned republican 😉  Lots of Australians have.  They have been mishandled by the Crown in a more flagrant way.

On Sunday I wandered the Thames – and some of the most important historical buildings in London – with an Irishman.  This visit really illuminated the elusive nature of history.

wandering the thames...

wandering the thames…

So many countries are the playthings of superpowers.  Superpowers are the bullies of the global schoolyard.  What travel teaches us, though, is that often the individual citizens of superpowers are lovely and charming.  One has to keep an open mind and not hold someone’s flag against them.

Strangely it’s likely easier to be a tourist when you come from a plaything country.  The expectations on you are pretty low.  You don’t have to defend yourself from generalizations about your culture that might not reflect your own point of view.

Visit the superpowers.  Learn about history.  A lot of it won’t be pretty.  But, despite their roles as the playthings of superpowers, Norway, Australia and Canada emerged fairly unscathed.  And all worth your tourist dollars!  All tough places to make a go of it in the 19th century – but the kind of places where you innovate to stay alive.  And the landscape is rugged enough to discourage newcomers.  The world without man is an incredible place…  and there aren’t a lot of places on the planet where you can experience it in the 21st century.

But 21st century London is pretty benign.  And while it’s hard to get behind some of the historical choices, you just don’t see that kind of architecture unless you go to a superpower with a questionable past 😉


there really ARE kangaroos on the front lawn down under ;)

Of course, you have to be in the driveway of a sheep farm in remote western Australia after the owners have been away for a few days so the roos are partying on the grass – cause they know he is one of the only farmers in the ‘hood who doesn’t shoot kangaroos.  But I really DID see kangaroos on the front lawn and I told my Australian boyfriend at the time, “I am going back to Canada and telling everyone they can see kangaroos on the front lawn if they go to Oz” 🙂

roo from kitchen window

roo from kitchen window

Of course it amused me mostly because I was Canadian and used to foreigners thinking we kept polar bears as pets or lived in teepees.  This was decades before the internet or even cable TV so most people didn’t  think the world was flat anymore but detailed knowledge of foreign locales was in short supply.

So, when I arrived in Sydney in 1990, I had very little idea what to expect.  Aussies love their country so I was expecting a land of milk and honey based on all the glowing reports I had heard from expats on my three month European tour enroute to “the lucky country”.  If nothing else, I had just spent most of the month of December on the Canadian prairie with my parents where a proper “you can feel your breath freezing in your throat” winter had given my Australian boyfriend a taste of the “real Canada” – where the tough people live 🙂

So, arriving from minus 40 to plus 40 in a matter of hours, was enough reason to fall in love with Australia the minute of arrival.

Like the relationships  you see in montages on-screen in romantic comedies, there was a reality check.  Australia proved to not just be “Canada with lots of sunshine” as I had anticipated.  But it was my first expat experience.  And there was much to love about the country and the people.

The Australian boyfriend not one of my best ideas… but it was the way I got to his country.  I am sure I would have got there eventually but it would never have had the same impact.

Going to Oz was how I grew up.  It changed my life forever and I can’t imagine its trajectory without the Australian – or his country.  I know it would have been a lot more boring and I am really grateful I got to take the less-travelled path.

This is much to say about Australia – and Australians.  I lived there for eighteen months.  I have been back twice.  And will return for a third visit this November.  I wish I had stayed longer and become a citizen – but I tend to have a rather messy personal life.  I can recognize an Australian accent – and don’t think they sound English – or South African.

Today’s post though is to celebrate Elizabeth.  Because it is her birthday!  And also the first year anniversary of this blog!  I wasn’t sure if it could be sustainable but I really enjoy writing and – even if there aren’t as many posts as I had envisioned – there is a regular commentary.

I noticed a little while ago that the blog anniversary was coming up and was trying to figure out what the right post would be.  And then I realized the anniversary was Elizabeth’s birthday.  So the answer was obvious 🙂

As has already been noted, most of my friendships have an unusual genesis compared to the average person.  I am very interested in people and happy to put a lot of effort into maintaining friendships with people who impress me.

Elizabeth is definitely one of those!  Back in 1990, I was her boss.  We were working in a firm of chartered accountants and she was doing a work term so was only 18.  But she was so poised and a model employee.  I didn’t really have to “boss” her at all so it was easy for a friendship to develop.  It was unexpected since she was almost exactly a decade younger than me.  But she really wanted to travel.

So that’s how it started.  I had only started to travel at that point but had just done a three month tour of western Europe and we talked about travel and Europe every chance we got.  I inspired her future travel plans and she reminded me of my own 18 year old mindset.

wedding in oz

wedding in oz

When I left to return to Canada, we exchanged addresses and vowed to stay in touch.  So often that doesn’t amount to much but we were both good at it.  In the early days we sent letters and always exchanged gifts at Christmas and birthdays, trying to find something local.  It helped me hold on to Oz – and introduced her to Canada.

I also promised I would come back for her wedding.  It took a little while… but she had to find the right guy 🙂  Going to her wedding was one of the highlights of my life.  She comes from this wonderful family who had always welcomed me as the third child and much fuss was made of the fact that I had come from Canada for the wedding.  But I meant it when I told her I was coming 😉

She also came to Germany for one of my weddings (there were three – all to the same guy :)).  It was her first trip to Europe.  She had finally made the leap and executed the first of the plans we had made back in 1990 for her world travel.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and I was still a new immigrant and equally enamored of all the “cute” German towns.

german cakes :)

german cakes 🙂

She now has a daughter – whom I will meet for the first time in November.  She looks just like her mom.  I think she will be 5 by the time I get to Sydney so a really wonderful age to meet someone.  I am really looking forward to seeing them all.

Sadly, there will be no kangaroos on their front lawn.  It really is a sophisticated, developed country with some of the best wine in the entire world.  When I went for the wedding, I took myself on a wine tour of South Australia to get out of Elizabeth’s hair while she was doing wedding prep, and decided a case of wine from different producers with different maturity dates would make a great wedding present.  I’ll be able to hear the stories of the bottles in person…

So… in honour of the blog’s anniversary (and Elizabeth’s birthday), I will pour a glass of Australian wine and make a toast to “the lucky country” – and kangaroos 🙂  You should do the same.  Aussies do it all well – so pick your poison – anything from sparkling to Shiraz…  or combine them and have a sparkling Shiraz, a personal favourite!

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