Canada, 2005

I spent three weeks working in downtown Toronto. Fortunately I found enough time to head out and about while I was there.

[photopress:IMG_0740.jpg,full,alignleft]During the weekday evenings I wandered around without my camera, desperately trying to find a supermarket. I passed one on the first night and it took me another couple of days to find it again. Turns out it was just around the corner from my apartment!

The main oddity (from the perspective of an Englishman) is that they have a similar attitude to alcohol as the Norwegians. You can’t buy beer or wine in the supermarkets and have to go to a state-sponsored off-licence. It took me over a week to find one of those.

Most of the clients we have are investment banks, so I spent much of my time around Bay Street. This is the financial centre of Canada and is full of tall, glinting and expensive-looking buildings. Most have subterranean shops, a sure sign that it gets very cold here in winter.

The first weekend I did the touristy thing in Toronto itself. On Saturday, feeling like some air other than that found in an air conditioned office, I went on the local ferry to the imaginatively titled Toronto Islands. They are just a short distance from downtown Toronto yet feel like hundreds of miles distant. There are a few houses there and it’s generally well maintained with paths and even a fair (closed for winter). Not exactly back to nature, but I wander around far longer than I planned to and end up getting very burned despite it only being April. (For the record, I do burn easily but — even so — it surprised me!)

I waited until Sunday evening before heading up the CN Tower. I know the sun would be low and that this would be the best chance to get some good light and my best chance of some decent pictures.

[photopress:IMG_0908.jpg,thumb,alignleft]There are two levels, with the top one being a few dollars more. How often am I going to be in Canada? I pay for the expensive ticket. The lifts go outside the tower and have impressive views unless you’re cramped into the far side behind other inquisitive tourists as I was. (I made a mental note to get in the life last on the way down.)

The first level has a viewing platform and a few other amenities. The cafe looks like a motorway service station and I decide I’m not thirsty. A scuffed, transparent floor allows you to stand on nothing and look down to the ground, which is a disturbing distance below by this point. The wall here is adorned with CN Tower trivia, the height of this, the amount of concrete there, the quickest time that someone managed to climb the tower using the stairs.

I find the view exhausting and decide against competing.

I take a smaller lift to the top level. Stepping into it must feel similar to how top executives do when they get into their private lift to their penthouse office or the helipad. Alighting, we’re told that this is the highest observation platform in the world.


The view from the top didn’t disappoint. By late afternoon the mist had lifted and the sun was golden and casting long shadows over the city. The Toronto islands were clearly visible; even the ferry could be seen, its wake a wide triangle covering much of the bay. I spend a good time here just scanning the area, taking in the view and trying to identify the apartment I was staying in, the office I was working in and some of the places I had visited in the previous week.

I spend the weekdays evenings wandering around downtown Toronto thumbing through books, checking out the music and DVDs.

[photopress:IMG_0785.jpg,thumb,alignleft]For my final weekend I decide to get out of Toronto and take the train. I like using trains abroad. You get to see so much more of a country when you get out of major cities and don’t have to keep your eyes on the road. My destination is Niagra.

The area really isn’t geared for people without a car. The train station is some way from downtown and any of the sights. The guidebook tells me all this but I assume it’s exaggerating and decide to walk instead. Unfortunately the book was right and I was wrong!

The first I see of the falls is through the legs of the bridge over to the US side. Initially I was thinking of nipping over the border, but queues are substantial and a man I speak to suggests that even for pedestrians I would be in for a ninety minute wait.

Instead I press on, deciding just to make the most of the Canadian side of the falls. I am reliably informed that these are by far the most impressive in any case. Mid-April is before most of the paid attractions open, so I am not able to take the Maid of the Mist boat trip. I suspect the trip would have been spectacular, but I am able to get a good view of the falls from the side as there are so few tourists around.

Just about the only Falls attraction open is called “Behind the Falls.” There are tunnels behind the deluge of water allowing you to see just how powerful nature can be. I feel slightly cheated by the admission fee but realise the title was literal enough and I should have figured out what it entailed…

[photopress:IMG_0836.jpg,thumb,alignleft]It takes a while to fully appreciate Niagra Falls. The volume of water is just amazing, even the spray reaches higher than most waterfalls I’ve seen previously.

Niagra town also warrants a mention. It’s Canada’s Las Vegas, with all the class and culture you might imagine given such a moniker. There are casino’s and fairground rides, dozens of chain restaurants and plastic chairs. Initially I was considering staying here for the night but I am now glad that I didn’t!

The train ride back to Toronto is delayed considerably first by US customs and then by the Canadians. As the guard said, “It’s all in the hands of the government now.” We knew we had a long wait ahead…

On the next weekend I head home. It rains heavily all day, really pounding down on the taxi I take to the airport. I think I was in Canada for the right three weeks.