Exploring Ontario – Part II

My regular readers will have noticed that I only posted once while I was in Ontario and have been quiet since. My excuse is that I’ve been sick for 3 weeks and at the end of busy days there’s just been no energy left to show you what I’ve been up to. I do want to tell you about Ontario, though, so here’s the next installment.

Although much of our week in London was spent visiting with Cathy’s family, we did get out to do some exploring the city as well. London is an attractive city of just over 350,000 people, a population that I didn’t find to be overwhelming. One of its attractions is the Covent Market, which opened in 1845, five decades before gold was discovered in the Klondike.

Covent Market - London, Ontario

There are a few empty buildings downtown, though not as many as I thought there might be given the doom-and-gloom media stories I hear about southern Ontario. Even what Cathy called the rough part of downtown looked good to me – clean and vibrant though certainly not “trendy”.

Empty historic building in downtown London, Ontario

Eldon House was #1 on my list of historic sites to visit in London. Built in 1834 for John and Amelia Harris, the oldest home in London remained in the family until 1960 when it was donated to the City. Tara Wittmann greeted us at the front door, gave us an introduction to the property and appeared several times during the self-guided tour to add colour to the stories. Her passion for the beautiful home was wonderful to listen to.

Eldon House - London, Ontario

Architecture was one of the subjects that I spent a lot of time studying when I lived in Vancouver, and I still get a great deal of pleasure from looking at the details, the contrasts, the way buildings and people interact, and the way different architectural styles work together. The soft yellow brick seen in so many of the buildings from the 1800s was produced in southwestern Ontario from clay that has a very low iron content. When red brick is seen in this area, the brick was sourced elsewhere.

Contrasts in architecture in London, Ontario

Construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral was begun in 1880, and it was dedicated on June 28, 1885. It was designated a minor Basilica by the Vatican in 1961.

St. Peter's Cathedral - London, Ontario

The interior of St. Peter’s was redecorated in 1925-26, though the character of the building’s 13th Century French Gothic style remains.

St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica - London, Ontario

This Boer War memorial is in Victoria Park, beside St. Peter’s. The 6-hectare (15-acre) park is probably best known for its large population of black squirrels – they certainly out-numbered people by several times when we were there!

London, Ontario

The Delta London Armouries Hotel is one of the most interesting adaptive resuse projects I’ve seen, and we had a good look through it. Only the shell of the old armoury remains – inside is a modern, full-facility hotel.

London, Ontario

On Friday, September 30th, we headed north to see 2 women that Cathy used to work with, and their husbands. I’d met the girls when we were in Florida last winter, and the 6 of us are going on an Alaska cruise next June, so it was great to get together to discuss the trip details as well as lots of other stuff.

Stratford was our first stop along the way. It’s a particularly attractive little city but nasty weather shortened our visit (extremely heavy rain hit a few minutes after I took this shot). We did pick up some cheeses and bread at a couple of the shops along the main street, though.

Stratford, Ontario

It seems like every community has at least one war memorial – this one is in Stratford. The number of deaths listed on some of them is staggering.

War memorial - Stratford, Ontario

Mennonite country was a surprise to me. Although I reluctantly passed by 2 rural schoolyards with kids in traditional dress playing softball, this plowing scene stopped me for a few photos.

Mennonite country, Ontario

Eugenia Falls is one of the best of the many waterfalls that cascade over the Niagara Escarpment.

Eugenia Falls, Ontario

The soft rain was only a minor inconvenience at Eugenia Falls…

, Ontario

…and did enhance the fall colours on the trail.

Fall colours, Ontario

Collingwood was our destination, and we got a bit of touring in between visiting and cold, wet weather. This is the view from the top of the Niagara Escarpment, looking down on the ski chalets in the community of Blue Mountain, and on to the Nottawasaga Lighthouse.

Blue Mountain, Ontario

On our way to do some wine tasting at one of the boutique wineries in the Collingwood area, we passed through Meadford. Though it’s apparently having a tough time economically, their annual “Scarecrow Invasion” has really put them on the map, and it was booming. Over 2,000 scarecrows now appear in the town for the event, on sidewalks and lamp-posts, in cemeteries and parks, and in front of businesses and private homes. I could easily have spent a day there!

Meaford, Ontario

On Sunday, October 2, we had a more reasonable weather forecast so went into Collingwood for a look. I was particularly taken by this city – a wonderful combination of history and culture in a town nestled tightly between the natural wonders of Georgian Bay and the Escarpment.

, Ontario

This is the Nottawasaga Lighthouse, one of the 6 “Imperial Towers” among the 32 lighthouses on Georgian Bay. What a summer I could have here with a boat!

Nottawasaga Lighthouse - Collingwood, Ontario

In the background you can see the really big attraction in Collingwood – skiing! The number of slopes is huge, and we were amazed at the billions of dollars worth of homes that are only lived in for a few weeks a year.

Ski slopes at Collingwood, Ontario

A worm dispensing machine! No, we don’t have these in the Yukon 🙂

Worm dispenser at Collingwood, Ontario

The bituminous Craigleith Shale makes for a unique and dramatic beach. Back in 1859, a plant was started here to distill oil from it – the 27 to 32 tonnes of shale distilled daily in wood-fired cast-iron retorts yielded 950 litres of crude oil, which was refined into illuminating and heavy lubricating oils.

Craigleith Shale, Ontario

From the “wilds” of Collingwood and Georgian Bay, we headed south to Toronto on Monday, October 3rd, and checked into the Le Meridien King Edward hotel. This historic property has “location, location, location” for a big-city immersion perfected, and has wonderful character as well. This is Room 605.

Le Meridien King Edward hotel - Toronto, Ontario

That evening we took the GO Train out to Mississauga so meet another of Cathy’s friends, and so I could see how she used to live. This is downtown Toronto from one of the parks along the lakeshore.

Toronto, Ontario

Waiting for the GO Train to take us back to Union Station, a short walk from our hotel.

GO Train - Toronto, Ontario

Tuesday was our crazy-busy Toronto touring day. We find that Ho-Ho bus tours are a great introduction to new cities, and this was no exception. While we were waiting for the bus at the St. Lawrence Market stop, I got this shot of the “flatiron” Gooderham Building.

Gooderham Building - Toronto, Ontario

Our primary focus along the bus route was Casa Loma, an amazing castle built by financier Sir Henry Pellatt.

Casa Loma - Toronto, Ontario

We spent about an hour and a half at Casa Loma, leaving early because my bad back was causing me a great deal of pain and I could hardly walk anymore.

Casa Loma - Toronto, Ontario

We had superb weather for our tour. The guide we had for the pre-Casa Loma part of the tour was excellent, but I don’t know what the second guide was like as I hardly heard a word she said.

Toronto, Ontario

By about this point I’d begun to understand why so many people consider Toronto to be “the centre of the universe” – it is quite a place, from every city-type perspective.

Toronto, Ontario

The waterfront district has been completely redeveloped since Cathy left, and is an extremely people-friendly area now. A condo in the Riviera, seen here, will run you $225-500,000 “with extra added for exceptional views or larger balconies” according to the realtor.

Toronto, Ontario

Including in our bus tour package was a boat tour, and it was excellent – Toronto really shines from that viewpoint.

Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Islands are easily accessible by ferry or private boat, and offer everything from a bird sanctuary to one of Canada’s only legal nude beaches, Hanlan’s Point Beach.

Toronto, Ontario

Look up, look waaaaay up, and you can see people on the CN Tower taking advantage or a new thrill, the Edge Walk, 356 meters (1,168 feet) above the ground!

Toronto, Ontario

We went back to our hotel for a short break, to get dressed for our evening activities, and to get me some pain-killers. From our room, I got his photo of what is still commonly called St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, though it’s actually Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, serving a Chinese Catholic congregation.

Toronto, Ontario

Our first evening activity was dinner at 360, the restaurant at the 1,151 foot level of the CN Tower. The glass-walled elevator is very fast!

Toronto, Ontario

There are normally 2 prix fixe dinner options at 360, but the night we were there, there was also an all-Ontario dinner with paired wines and that’s what we chose. It was extremely good in every way, for a total cost including tower access and tip of $240 for both of us. Getting the full Toronto experience does not come cheaply.

The views, of course, are amazing on a clear day, and we had a very clear day. This was the first sunny day after over a week or cloud and rain, so we really got lucky. The iconic Toronto City Hall is rather buried from this viewpoint, though.

Toronto, Ontario

The view to the small industrial area left to the east of the city.

Toronto, Ontario

Cathy had timed the reservation to get us sunset as a finale, and that too worked perfectly.

Toronto, Ontario

From the CN Tower we walked a few blocks to the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre for a performance of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”, starring Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross. What a superb way to end our day 🙂

Next, we’re off to Niagara Falls…

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