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Trip Report A Change of Pace from Montreal in Toronto

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After an excellent salmon and lamb navarin with probably a bit too much of wine-encouraged chit-chat with my travelling companion (thanks to the continual refills of the VIA1 service), VIA Rail dropped us off at Toronto’s Union Station at 8:30pm this past Saturday. A friend had been internalizing work stresses in our neighbourhood of the Plateau Mont-Royal, so I felt since it was my spring break as a teacher anyway, a change of setting would do my friend (and also myself) a bit of good, getting his mind off things. He’ll only visit urban places, had 3 days off, I suggested one of the few logical choices Toronto, he accepted and the rest is history now as of this weekend.

We stayed at the Selby Hotel (Clarion Suites) on Sherbourne near Bloor. I read breakfast was included, that it was in a Victorian mansion, that Hemingway lived there briefly, and somehow imagined it to be a bit more old-world Bed & Breakfast-like than it actually was. In truth, I was disappointed that it mostly felt like a chain hotel with conference-goers, but my friend liked the size of the room and we both liked the price ($110/night) and most definitely central location (we don’t drive, so Sherbourne station on the Bloor Line being right there was A+, plus my friend wanted to be close to the Gay Village). One of these days, I’m going to find an inn in Toronto that’s my style, I’m confident, but I think I’ll probably try somewhere else next go-round.

My friend enjoys bustle, and even though he’d been to Toronto once briefly about 10 years ago, he found it amazing how empty the streets seemed in his mind relative to Montreal (“Toronto is a larger city, right?”, he kept saying), even famous ones like Yonge or Church. Working in the fashion industry in Montreal, finding people ordinarily-dressed by-and-large compared to Montreal, he kept saying “I don’t get how this city is supposed to be Canada’s fashion center”. I’m more used to the different dynamic of the two cities, so I didn’t have expectations in this regard.

On Saturday, we met up with a Torontonian friend for drinks in the Church-Wellesley Village, braving the “deep freeze” as Toronto newschannels were calling the -6˚ temperatures (laughable (or good skating weather) from a Montreal point of view). We went to a mostly Gay pub called The Hair of the Dog on Church and loved the ambience and wood panelling, and were sorry Montreal had nothing like it in its Village. In this area, while walking to and from our hotel, I loved the contrast of Victorian/Edwardian homes that offer a touch of charm amidst the high-rise apartment complexes.

The next day I dragged my friend with me to explore Cabbagetown (which I’ve never seen despite having visited Toronto 5 times). My friend, even while he still was grumbling about the lack of bustle in this area as others we’d seen so far, was as drawn as I was to the angular and mysterious-looking history-filled well-preserved Victorian homes in this formerly working-class section of the city. I’m personally drawn toward older homes, so if money were not a concern, I think I’d probably pick to live either here or in Little Italy. I also appreciated the “petting zoo” (Riverdale Park?) area as a unique urban farm-like ambience that I’ve yet to see replicated in another North American city.

Next stop was the Saint Lawrence market, which be warned on Sunday is only about antiques (the building known for amazing food is open Tues-Saturday only). Next stop, I was glad to finally see the Distillery District, a former warehouse-y area transformed into mostly art galleries/restaurants that seems to be mentioned in guidebooks as a positive trend in Toronto urban renewal. The area was a bit quiet on Sunday I think due to the “Deep Freeze”, but I was pleased about some positive projects rejuvenating this part of the city, like a Deaf Cultural Center. We ate at Mill’s Brewing Company for seafood in the Distillery District… which had more of an ESPN-Zone sweatshirt-wearing hockey-watching suburban-like ambience; my friend who is more used to a Jean-Paul Gaultier-wearing setting told me he was having a bit of culture shock LOL.

Stay tuned: The next day, my friend discovers a part of Toronto that makes his rating of the city go from a 7 to an 8.5!

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