Back in the 6ix: Toronto Attractions

My sister Amanda moved back to Toronto in the fall, and I promised to visit her in the spring. I was finally able to keep that promise in April. It’s no secret I love visiting the city, and each trip allows us to discover (and in some cases, rediscover) our new favourite spaces, places and events.

Toronto Trip

Nathan Phillips Square

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market

Many years ago, Amanda and I had complained our way through a covered-but-outdoors Toronto Underground Market at Evergreen Brick Works. I haven’t been back since then, but their weekly farmers’ market seemed like a great opportunity.

Evergreen Bick Works

Evergreen Brick Works

We probably shouldn’t have taken her boyfriend Jason’s vehicle, given the number of times we had to circle around, but it did make us wonder why anyone would drive there on a regular basis at all – it would incite road rage in most people. Inside, there weren’t as many produce vendors as we were expecting (recognizing that farmers are now down to their cellared products), and not one greenhouse producer. We did pick up some Best Baa sheep’s yogurt to try (not as tangy as the cow’s yogurt we’re used to), and refilled our supply of my favourite mustard, Kozlick’s.

Evergreen Bick Works

Shipping container vendors

The covered part of Evergreen housed vendors in shipping containers (great idea, though it must have still been chilly for the vendors), and some food trucks. It was our chance to try Eva’s Chimney Cakes, a genius marriage of Hungarian cinnamon-sugar doughnuts (available one year at K-Days) and soft serve.

Evergreen Bick Works

With my doughnut cone

The "cone" had to be cooled in order to not immediately liquefy the ice cream, and lost its chewy doughnut quality in the process. I did enjoy the mix-in of apple preserves though.

Gladstone Flea Market

The Gladstone Hotel is considered (along with The Drake Hotel) the anchor of West Queen West. They host a monthly flea market curated with unique, independent vendors.

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Gladstone Flea Market

Amanda and Jason sampled some sustainable pasta sauce (with mealworms blended in), while Mack and I picked up some Toronto Bee Rescue honey, made from undesired hives rescued from homes or construction projects. Best of all, there was no entrance fee to the market.

The Social

Mack had never been to a television taping in Toronto, but was still a good sport when he agreed to accompany me to an episode of The Social. It’s not something I watch regularly, but on and off if I happen to be home during the day. Still, it’s always interesting to see how they produce the show behind the scenes (set changes, cues, etc.). Mack’s highlight was getting a high-five from actress Arielle Kebbel, who was the guest host that day.

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With The Social hosts Melissa Grelo and Cynthia Loyst

Battle Sports

I stumbled upon the Battle Sports website after learning about their Rage Room on a segment on The Social. They were featuring 50% off their archery dodgeball, and Amanda and Jason were game, so we tried it.

Battle Sports

Our Battle Sports team

In hindsight, even an hour in the arena wasn’t a good idea for our out-of-shape bodies, as we were not used to all of the crouching and quick movements required of us to stay in the game. At any rate, this sport required the use of foam arrows and axes to fell opponents, and between the adrenaline-inducing music and some overly aggressive participants, it was much more stressful than I thought it would be. While I enjoyed the actual archery, I could have done without the format.

New Urbanism Film Festival

I convinced Amanda to join us for the New Urbanism Film Festival, in its second year. It was a screening of a collection of North American short films, ranging in topic from the blight of raised freeways to the failure of pedestrian malls. As expected, some films were more engaging than others, but I would have appreciated a more localized context following the screening. A panel discussion about ideas as they related to Toronto would have been fascinating.

Toronto Blue Jays

Mack hadn’t been to a live Blue Jays game before, so Amanda made sure that was on our agenda.

Go Blue Jays!

Our view at Rogers Centre

The tickets were so reasonably priced ($26), and there was even a giveaway that day – Josh Donaldson bobbleheads. It was great to be in a packed house (46,000+), much different than the last game I attended. And even better, the Jays beat the White Sox, 6-2!

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With our Bringer of Rain bobblehead

Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park

Before our date with Real Sports (a tradition whenever I’m in Toronto), we had the chance to visit Jurassic Park outside the Air Canada Centre before Game 4 during their series with the Pacers.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

It wasn’t as packed as we expected (we learned later that the crowd is smaller for away games), but there was great energy in the square, with a live DJ, a big screen, and alcohol available.

Jurassic Park

Ready to beat Jason one on one

I know there are plans for something similar in Ice District’s winter plaza (if the Oilers ever get to the playoffs), so it’ll be interesting to see how an Edmonton version of Jurassic Park would play out. And yes, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an Edmonton branch of Real Sports in the District.

Jurassic Park

We the North!

I’ll be back with a food-centric post later this week.

Toronto Redux: Tourist Trappings

I don’t get to travel for work often, so I felt very fortunate that I was able to attend a conference in Toronto in early March, and even better, stay on a few days longer so I could visit with my sister. Though it seems like just yesterday when I was out east (in reality, it was back in July), it was a great opportunity to be able to see the city in a low-tourist season. I’ll do my best to recap the trip in a timelier manner than I have in the past!

Depending on your interests, the number of tourist-driven sites and activities to visit could take up the bulk of any visitor’s itinerary. And though Amanda and I made a valiant effort to clear off some of those highlights last summer, there were still a few boxes I wanted to tick off my list.

Westin Harbour Castle

The conference hotel happened to be the Westin Harbour Castle, and after our experience, I think it will become our accommodation of choice on future visits to Toronto.

Westin Harbour Castle

Our home for the week

Although the room itself and the service were nice but not exceptional, the location was second to none. Situated on the shore of Lake Ontario, our room had fantastic views of the water and of Billy Bishop Airport, all while being just steps away from Union Station and several major attractions. The waterfront location and directionality of our room sheltered us from the hustle and noise of the nearby freeways, and even better, we were able to easily take advantage of the trails and park adjacent to the hotel.

Westin Harbour Castle

Our view

Harbourfront

Harbourfront in the late winter – still beautiful on a cloudy day

Harbourfront

Do not feed the birds

We had crossed through the same area in the summer, but it was more peaceful in the time leading up to spring – smaller crowds and open waters – all the more conducive to relaxing, contemplative strolls.

Harbourfront

Even swans love the harbourfront!

Harbourfront Centre

We also made a point this time around to explore the Harbourfront Centre. We had no idea you could watch artists at work in the open studios, or take a look at the art displayed in the galleries.

Harbourfront

Studio

Harbourfront

Gallery

There were also skate rentals available to make use of the picturesque rink in front of the Centre, but (for me), the lack of railings were a deterrent.

Harbourfront

Rink

Steven and Chris and the CBC Museum

After sitting through another taping of a daytime talk show, I think Amanda and I have gotten it out of our system. She booked us tickets to Steven and Chris, a CBC lifestyle show that airs in both Canada and the US.

We couldn’t help but compare this taping to our experience at CityLine last year. It was clear that for Steven and Chris, the audience was somewhat of an afterthought. First of all, it was longer than advertised – about three hours from the expected arrival time to being released from the studio. Second, there was only one monitor where we could follow the action on stage – especially important given the camera and behind the scenes personnel obscured much of what was happening. This monitor was unfortunately also partially blocked by cables. Third, unlike CityLine host Tracy Moore, who spent a lot of time after the show taking photos with all guests who requested one, Steve and Chris, between segments, only managed to pose with about half of the audience, then ran off immediately after the show wrapped. The show assistant and audience wrangler did their best to entertain us during the breaks, with giveaways, but they felt divorced from subjects covered in that episode.

Steve and Chris

Our view

The topics, which included storage design tips, muscle building exercises, cocktail recipes and children’s snacks, were of marginal interest to us, but we could see the appeal of the show. Chris is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing up a persona of a bumbling but good natured host.

Steve and Chris

Steven and Chris

We left the show with something in hand – generous samples of a shampoo and conditioner. But if being a part of a Toronto taping is something on your list, unless you are a Steven & Chris devotee, I’d recommend that you sign up instead for CityLine tickets.

That said, one of the bright sides of the Steve & Chris taping was that it got us to the CBC building. We made sure to check out the public museum while there, where we saw artefacts from shows that both my sister and I grew up watching, including Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant.

CBC Museum

The tickletrunk!

CBC Museum

Old friends

CBC Museum

Doing her best Don Cherry impersonation

Raptors!

I will always remember my introduction to Canada’s only NBA franchise – they played an exhibition game many years ago in Edmonton, and although I’m sure the team itself should have been more memorable, what I recall instead was their mascot, Raptor. He has two versions: the more accommodating costume allowed Raptor to perform tricks and dunks, while the other (my favourite) was inflatable, and could be expanded and shrunk in the most comical matter. Needless to say, in anticipating our visit to the ACC, I was most looking forward to seeing Raptor again.

Toronto Raptors

Anticipation

Amanda was able to secure tickets to a game versus the Orlando Magic. They were great seats at an amazing discount, courtesy of her friend who works for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Toronto Raptors

Great seats

Toronto Raptors

The game

We weren’t treated to the inflatable Raptor that day, and as a whole, the Raptor entertainment factor was rather low that day – no half-time tricks or anything more than a pre-recorded video of Raptor’s attempts at making it onto the Canadian Olympic team.

Toronto Raptors

Raptor in the spotlight

The closest we got to Raptor was his foray into our section towards the end of the game, patty-caking with spectators a few rows away from us. His energy was certainly infectious, and it was clear that he was a crowd favourite.

Toronto Raptors

Patty-cake!

Unfortunately for the team, a late rally and a strong performance from DeMar DeRozan wasn’t able to push them past the Magic. They lost 88-92 that night.

Real Sports Bar & Grill

Also on the sports theme, Amanda took me to one of her favourite place in Toronto – Real Sports Bar & Grill, a sports bar in Maple Leaf Square. It’s definitely a feast for the senses, to the point where I felt overly stimulated – between the flat screens (including our own personal television in our cozy booth), sports-themed fixtures, spotlights and blaring DJ-mixed music. And though there was nothing overly inappropriate for children, given the amount of alcohol flowing all around us and the tightly-clad waitresses, I was surprised to see the number of families with young children on the restaurant side of the establishment.

That said, it’s the bar side of Real Sports that really wows. A wall of screens entertain two floors of patrons, seated at the bar and a mix of tables and booths, all lit with a stylish blue hue. In addition to this open space, Real Sports also has a variety of smaller seating options as well, including a private area featuring recliners and in-seat service.

Real Sports

This is Real Sports

Amanda was able to make an early 5:45 reservation, but because it was game night for the Leafs and the place had been entirely booked up a week in advance, we were only able to have the table for an hour. Thankfully, they weren’t very rigid in enforcing this, and we didn’t feel rushed at all.

The prices were definitely a little higher than what I was used to paying in a lounge, but given the location and the surroundings, the premium was understandable. I couldn’t resist ordering one of the hot dogs in “Burkie’s Dog House” (I wonder if this section of the menu would be automatically renamed if Brian Burke was no longer the GM). My southwestern BBQ dog ($12.99) came topped with coleslaw and pulled pork – the hot dog itself had a nice snap, but the barbecue sauce was a tad sweet. The fries were perfect, however, hot and crispy and served in a cute mini-fry basket. Amanda’s Real Sports burger ($12.99) arrived pretty charred, but she didn’t mind.

Real Sports

Southwestern BBQ dog

Real Sports

Real Sports burger

Real Sports did a great job in replicating some of the energy that would be found in a sporting venue. There is nothing like it currently in Edmonton, but I have to wonder if something similar (albeit smaller) would work in the proposed Arena District.

Pearl Harbourfront Chinese Cuisine

We decided to take it easy on our last day in Toronto, with the aforementioned trek by the water. At lunch, we could have ventured to other more well-known restaurants, but given our low-key day, opted for the convenience of a restaurant inside the Queens Quay Terminal.

Pearl Harbourfront offered a water view and a relaxed dining atmosphere, just what we were looking for that day. We knew its tourist-centred address would make the food a crapshoot, but we were willing to take the risk. Urban Spoon reviews directed us away from the pricey dim sum menu (even though the majority of diners around us were partaking in the shared approach), but we found the regular menu just as expensive.

Pearl

Amanda liked the view

We ended up with two dishes we were reasonably happy with (even though we weren’t entirely sure the server, with his limited English, understood what we wanted). Both the broad rice noodles and crispy chow mein ($15 each) hit the spot, and our only qualm was that the broccoli had been woefully overcooked.

Pearl

Rice noodles

Pearl

Chow mein

In all, it was a great place to sip tea and enjoy our last few hours together in Toronto, and contemplate when I’d return again.

I’ll be writing more about some of the unique food events and restaurants that we visited in future posts – stay tuned!