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TORONTO - An 'Almost' Canadian Yorkshireman Says a Fond Hello!
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
A birdseye view of Downtown Toronto
Phil Hopkins, known to many readers as one of the YT's principal theatre reviewers, has written extensively about his international travels during a writing career spanning more than 35 years.

Today, we hope you enjoy the seventh and final of his Canadian articles which centred on his journey from Quebec City to Toronto, via Montreal, Ottawa and the famous Niagara Falls.


The year was 1930 and, whilst it must have seemed like a great adventure for my grandparents to emigrate all the way from Hunslet in Leeds to Toronto, little did they know that they were arriving smack bang in the middle of that nation's Great Depression.

Art Gallery of Ontario
So when my grandad was diagnosed as having a hole in the heart, and the only prospect of work was as a snow shifter, physically demanding at the best of times, it was a mere four years before the Melia family begrudgingly returned to a council house in Scott Hall Road, Leeds, austerity and the prospect of another World War II just around the corner.

"Grandma loved Canada," now recounts my 87 year old mother. "They had washing machines whilst we were still dreaming of them in Britain, and, when he returned, your Uncle John - then only six years old - was already doing real handwriting! I had a coat with a fur collar and all I remember is that we lived in Dundas Street. YOU might have been Canadian!" she would often tease.

Downtown Toronto - All the fun of N York without the guns!
And so it was with more than passing interest that this 'almost' Canadian Yorkshireman arrived at Toronto's Chelsea Hotel in the heart of Ontario's capital city, not knowing quite what to expect. All I knew was that I had just one and a half days in which 'to do' Toronto. Needless to say it wasn't enough, especially when you arrive at 11am but have to hang around for at least four hours waiting for a 3pm check in!

But that was ok, there's certainly no shortage of eateries in the vicinity of Gerrard Street West where I was staying, and nearly every outlet worth its salt has internet, even the car accessories shop at which I proceeded to announce to mother, via a Skype call, that I was mere minutes from Dundas Street! She was terribly impressed and, as a Yorkshireman, I would have been had the call been free but, then again, mother is not on WhatsApp! Skype had to suffice at a couple of cents an hour, burning a severe hole in my pocket!

The CN Tower - dominating the Toronto city skyline
The World's most global city!

There's around 2.8 million people in Toronto, putting it in fourth place in North America, but behind Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago in terms of population. However, with 50% of its residents born outside Canada it must surely be the world's most global city, boasting some 130 languages and dialects. The City of Toronto publishes information for residents in 30 languages!

Its actual name is a derivative of the Mohawk phrase 'tkaronto' meaning "where trees grow in the water" and refers to a time centuries ago when the swampy shores of Lake Ontario reached much further north.

Now it is a true metropolis where cultural diversity hits you with all the magnitude of a steam roller; Koreans, Chinese, Afro Caribbeans, a cultural mishmash that's even reflected in the city's street map; Koreatown, Old Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Portugal.

A day is not enough!

First piece of advice. Don't try and 'do' this city in a day; you'll run out of steam! The CN Tower alone will relieve you of a good two hours. Get there, gasp, get in, get up and gasp again and, if you walk on the glass floor 113 stories up, gasp for breath!

The CN Tower - Canada's National Tower - (nowt to do wi' CNN TV !) was completed in 1976, took three years to build and in 1995 was classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Maybe the committee included the same people who came up with that other wonder of the world, baseball's World Series, just that the game's only played in America! All said, the CN Tower, all 625.09m of it, is pretty impressive and around two million visitors a year agree!

It's also slap bang next door to Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, a wonderfully interactive, visual attraction for kids and guaranteed to keep them amused for hours, certainly with the biggest 'walk through fish tunnel I have ever seen (apart from The Deep at Hull! Better get that one in!)

Hop on hop off buses - quickest way to overview any city
But, a word of advice. If you only have a few hours the best way to see this sprawling city is by purchasing a ticket for the hop on hop off bus. You can get a family ticket for around £53 or an adult pass for £19 with discounts for senior citizens and, whilst it will not save you any cash on the various attractions, which can add up over the day, the bus will move you round the city's main attractions quickly and efficiently with an entertaining commentary, courtesy of local guides.

One was distinctly Irish sounding but with a Canadian twang. "Yeah, oim from Dublin," he said. "I fake the accent because the locals can't understand my Irish dialect. I'm at uni studying business at UCD and oi hate it," he added, before launching into a monologue about Downtown Toronto!

Toronto is an attack on the senses. As I sat atop that open air bus I wasn't quite sure whether to look up, down or sideways; I concluded that even a fly with its compound eyes would struggle with the visual overload at every juncture!

Royal Ontario Museum
There's so much to see, the wonderful Gallery of Ontario and its artistic sister, the Royal Ontario Museum, Chinatown and, and and.......I'm running out of nouns and adjectives but, for the sake of another sentence, you cannot forget Niagara Falls a mere one and a half hours from Toronto and a must, certainly considering that the Canadian side of the Falls is said to be more spectacular than the views from the US perspective.

The Canadian side of the breathtaking Niagara Falls
A friend sent me a message on Internet Messenger (yes I am a hip social media type): "Toronto's amazing," he wrote. "I was there a fortnight and still wanted more." I agree, it has a drug like quality that seduces you slowly.

If mum had stayed I might now be wearing a baseball cap and cheering on the iconic Blue Jays but, right now, I'm 'ome, the Yorkshire weather is drawing in and I must get my flat cap on. As mother never fails to advise me: "Bald men lose most of their body heat out of their 'ed." Doesn't sound quite as romantic as 'Downtown Toronto' does it?!

TORONTO FACT BOX
Visit: www.seetorontonow.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/visittoronto
Hotel - www.chelseatoronto.com

More articles in this series...
Ottawa - Capital Of Compromise?
A Yorkshireman's Eye - Train Travel in Canada
Montreal - The 'Fusion' City
In Bed With Lennon & Yoko
Quebec City - A Heavenly Experience!
Betty's With A Dash Of French Sophistication!
TORONTO - An 'Almost' Canadian Yorkshireman Says a Fond Hello!, 7th November 2015, 18:57 PM