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 in the late winter – still beautiful on a cloudy day


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.


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.





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.



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


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


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


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.


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.


Rice noodles


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!

A Spectator Weekend with the Edmonton Capitals and Eskimos

It was a bit of a coincidence that the first two sporting events Mack and I had the chance to attend this summer both fell on the same weekend, but it worked out wonderfully given how beautiful it has been these past few days. Surprisingly, the mosquitoes weren’t bad on either night.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

First up on Friday was an Edmonton Capitals game with some of my fellow Downtown Edmonton Community League members. Given we were playing the rival Calgary Vipers, we expected a larger than usual crowd, but the good weather (and promise of fireworks) also seemed to be big draws – there were over 3,000 people in the stands that night.

Edmonton Capitals

Play ball!

The game went pretty quick – the Caps seemed to put up a fight in the first half of the game, making a dent in the Vipers’ 4-0 lead amassed in the first inning, but in the end, they just couldn’t muster up the runs. The Capitals fell 9-6.

Edmonton Capitals

Captain Capital’s superpowers weren’t enough

In between innings, on-field antics kept the crowd entertained, including my favourite – a race featuring several mascots. I had no idea giant perogies (named Chee and Mo for one of the sponsors) could be so hilarious.

Edmonton Capitals

Mascot race

It was to be the last “Fireworks Friday” game until August 12, so we were fortunate to catch it that evening. Although Mack and I can see glimpses of the fireworks from our balcony, there was no doubt the best views are from the seats at Telus Field.

Edmonton Capitals

Light show

And no trip to Telus Field is complete without beer and a “gourmet” hot dog. Since The Dawg Father closed, the ballpark is the only place that I’ve come across in Edmonton that offer creative hot dogs (menu here). Mack’s Mexicali Dog ($5), topped with chili, nacho cheese, jalapenos and salsa cream was spicy, but texture wise was one-note. On the other hand, my K97 Dog ($5), with chili, cheese, fried potatoes, bacon and onions was a definite winner – I loved that they used bacon strips instead of bits, and the crispy fried potatoes made all the difference, adding a delicious salty crunch.

Edmonton Capitals

Mack tries his first Molson M

Edmonton Capitals

Mexicali and K97 Dogs

Football Frenzy

Mack’s Dad was in town again this weekend, and as Kim was able to secure us some free tickets to the Edmonton Eskimos game, we spent Saturday evening together at Commonwealth Stadium (curiously, it was the first-ever “Ladies Night”, with the first 1,000 women through the gates eligible to win a diamond ring. We didn’t arrive early enough to cash in, but we had to wonder if it was a draw at all).

Edmonton Eskimos

All decked out in Esks gear

This was the first time we’ve ever had seats on the east-facing side of Commonwealth, and boy, does it make a difference. Protected by shade, it definitely made watching the game more pleasant.

Edmonton Eskimos

Hanging in the shade

The Esks have been actually doing pretty well this year, undefeated at 2-0 so far. Playing the BC Lions, we were hopeful that they would continue their streak. After the first quarter, we were even more optimistic.

Edmonton Eskimos

Ready, set, hike!

Their momentum carried the length of the game, and the Esks beat the Lions 33-17.

Edmonton Eskimos

Touchdown fireworks

Because of how one-sided the game was, some fans had the need to find other ways to entertain themselves…such as building a pyramid out of empty beer cups.

Edmonton Eskimos

How high can you go?

Of course, we had to indulge in some stadium food. We chose mini doughnuts (thinking they would be a nice pre-cursor to the midway fare at Capital Ex). The doughnuts were crunchier and had less cinnamon sugar coating than Those Little Donuts (our favourite), but made a decent snack.

Edmonton Eskimos

Mini doughnuts!

Thanks again Kim for the free tickets!

Saturday in Edmonton

It was a great day to be in Edmonton this weekend – I’m not really a football fan, but the excitement in the city for Grey Cup weekend was palpable. It helps that where we live is right in the thick of things, but based on the numbers of people on the streets – tourists and residents alike were out in full force taking in one of our biggest events this year.

We started our Saturday at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market (which seemed to be emptier than usual, no doubt because of the festivities downtown), then wandered over to the Cosmopolitan Music Society, which was hosting the 9th Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair.

Royal Bison

Inside  the Royal Bison

There was some uncertainty earlier this year whether or not Royal Bison would continue, as founder Raymond Biesinger moved to Montreal, but thankfully, three of the artists/vendors saved the fair from demise. It’s such a great event – I love the unique products, but also the variety available.

Royal Bison

Fun vinyl accessories by Majesty Inc.

Royal Bison

Suitcase amps!

Royal Bison

Beautiful jewellery by Saraswati

Royal Bison

Omar Mouallem is multitalented – associate editor at Avenue Edmonton, he is also a writer and rapper

Royal Bison

Sarah Jackson of A Jam Story was nice enough to tell us our love fortune (something we missed out on at the last ArtsScene event)

We picked up a few gifts, then zoomed back home, just in time to catch the Grey Cup parade just outside our building.

2010 Grey Cup Parade

There were snowbirds

2010 Grey Cup Parade

And cheerleaders

2010 Grey Cup Parade


2010 Grey Cup Parade

And smile-inducing floats

2010 Grey Cup Parade


2010 Grey Cup Parade

And those that clean up after them

2010 Grey Cup Parade

Our armed forces

2010 Grey Cup Parade

And of course…a sea of green

I knew from attending an Eskimos game against Saskatchewan that Roughriders fans are rabid supporters of their team, but I really didn’t know how much until this weekend. It really was amazing to be a part of, if only for a few days. (You can check out Mack’s post on the parade here, and see the rest of his photos here.)

After ducking inside to warm up (funny how staying stationary in even mildly cold temperatures can be chilly), we wandered over to Huddle Town, centering on Churchill Square, to check out the festivities.

2010 Grey Cup Festival

A football game in front of City Hall

It was really amazing to us how many people were outside wandering around, enjoying themselves, not minding the cold. We hear so often that being a winter city prevents more programming of events outdoors – and though I recognize that the weather was actually not too bad, to some extent, the “build it, and they will come” mantra seems to hold true.

2010 Grey Cup Festival

The crowds

The Gridiron Zone, for example, held in the square just south of the Stanley Milner Library, is empty most of the year. One reason provided was that the concrete isn’t sound due to the parkade structure just underneath. Well, everything seemed fine this weekend – as the space hosted sponsor booths, and, what else – a bar.

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Inside the Zone

Lines seemed to be the word of the day, however – besides the massive wait for the Zipline (please, please bring it back in the future!), there were lines to get into the Spirit of Edmonton, the Huddle Dome and even the tented sports bar by City Hall!

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Lines everywhere

In spite of the waits, everyone was in such a good mood. We even got a random hug from a woman walking around with a huge “Rider Nation” flag!

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Spread the love

There really was something for everyone though, and enough activities to keep crowds busy. The music at the outdoor stage kept things lively, and of course, food is never a bad thing. It was great to see Eva Sweet out so we could warm up with some hot waffles!

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Fozzy with Chris Jericho

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Eva Sweet (without a truck!)

Though I’m sure people didn’t come out for the free stuff, there was quite a bit of swag to be had, some more random than others (we took the can of baked beans, but we live nearby; who would want to carry it around with them?). My favourites were the Mardi Gras-inspired beads from the organizers of TigerTown and the Grey Cup bandana.

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Mack with his swag!

For non-sports fans, Alberta House could have been a bit of a sanctuary, with a good variety of arts and culture programming. We finished off our tour of Huddle Town with a quick demo by Brad Smoliak, who used quick-cook barley from Progressive Foods to make a risotto (which also featured pecorino from The Cheesiry, and wild boar bacon from Hog Wild).

2010 Grey Cup Festival

Brad Smoliak at work

2010 Grey Cup Festival

The finished product (I’ve made it before, but never with bacon – it tastes so much better with bacon!)

Kudos to the organizers for such a great weekend! Hopefully it leads to even more events downtown in the winter.

Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. Edmonton Eskimos

As a volunteer appreciation gesture, my fellow board members and I were fortunate enough to receive two free tickets to an Edmonton Eskimos game this year – we even had the opportunity to pick from any of their home games. I offered to take Amanda (who had never before attended an Eskimos match), and she chose last Saturday’s tilt against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.


Roughriders vs. Eskimos

Though it wasn’t nearly as chilly as my below-zero experience last October, the intermittent rain during the first half and breeze throughout didn’t make it an entirely comfortable three hours either. Then again, we were probably two of the wimpiest spectators in our section – many around us were simply dressed in sweaters and jerseys.

Amanda and me

Amanda and me, all bundled up

Amanda’s principal reason for choosing a Saskatchewan game was that she had heard-tell about fervent, zealous Roughriders fans. Between the painted faces, green wigs and costumes, I can now verify those tales firsthand.

Though the majority of the fans to the left of us were cheering for Saskatchewan, there were thankfully still a fair amount of Eskimos fans scattered throughout our section, which made the scoring plays and the ultimate win even more fun to celebrate.


Field action

Though it wasn’t the most entertaining game to watch, scoring-wise, we were both happy that we were able to be a part of their 17-14 victory. The relief on the field (and in the stadium) was palpable.

Esks win!

Esks win!

With a record of 2-6, the Eskimos will try to continue their “streak” in Calgary on Labour Day. Go Esks!

Soccer Night in Edmonton: Portsmouth FC vs. FC Edmonton

I’ve attended more sporting events this summer than I did for the whole of 2009; I’m not sure what spurred it on, except to say that it has been a nice change of pace.

Last Wednesday, we joined Mack’s parents, Thom and Lana to watch the city’s North American Soccer League pro team, FC Edmonton, compete in the inaugural Edmonton Cup against Portsmouth (a team, which I am told, just fell from the premiere tier to the second tier of professional soccer in the UK – meaning they are pretty darn good). For this year, FC Edmonton is playing exhibition games, warming up to their first full season with the league to start in March 2011.

Go FC Edmonton!

The crowd on hand totaled nearly 9,000 – organizers must have been expecting as much, as they had closed off half of Commonwealth to better concentrate the crowd (thankfully, they chose to seat us on the east-facing side, protecting us from the harsh evening sun).

Mack and me

Though I knew Edmonton had our share of hard core soccer fans (evident with the outpouring of emotion during the World Cup), I didn’t think they would manifest at the FC Edmonton game – I was wrong.

Conga line of painted fans

This was my first time witnessing a game played on Commonwealth’s newly-installed artificial turf. It looked pretty good to me – much more realistic from afar than the flat, neon-green Astroturf I remember from the 90s. What was difficult to get used to was watching the spray of rubber pellets spring up in the wake of any hard pressure to the turf.

Game on

I always cite the lack of goal scoring during a match as the primary reason for my lack of interest in soccer, but in person, it was a little more interesting, being able to people-watch in addition to watching the game. Count me surprised when FC Edmonton managed to get on the board in the sixth minute.

FC Edmoton celebrates

Conversely, I wasn’t surprised that the next goal took another thirty-two minutes to score, bringing Portsmouth even with Edmonton.

The game was ultimately decided by penalty kicks, which was probably the exciting ending everyone was hoping for anyway. I still wonder how the goalkeeper is supposed to stop the rocket shots, but the Portsmouth keeper managed to save one, and helped his team defeat Edmonton 2-1.

Penalty kick

While I’m not sure I’d become an ardent fan of FC Edmonton, I know many people are looking forward to having a local, professional soccer team to cheer for again. Their next game is against the Victoria Highlanders on August 11, 2010 at Foote Field.

Baseball Night in Edmonton with Homeward Trust

Last week, Homeward Trust treated their Homeless Connect volunteers to an Edmonton Capitals game. It was a very different kind of volunteer appreciation evening, but one that provided a refreshing change from the usual appetizers and drinks, and as Mack said, the formal thank-you speeches. And really, what’s better than a local agency supporting another local organization?

Edmonton Capitals

Batter up!

As Mack said in his write-up, this was our first visit to Telus Field in a number of years. I know the last time I attended a baseball game, the team that played here was called the Edmonton Trappers! Much has changed since then – the team that calls Telus Field home is now the Edmonton Capitals, a part of the Golden Baseball League. Their season has been great so far, with a record of (as of today) 29-15.

That night, they were playing the Tijuana Cimarrones (I had no idea the GBL included teams from as far away as Mexico and Hawaii). The Capitals pulled into an early lead, and helped along by a few home runs, won easily 14-5.

Edmonton Capitals

Let’s play ball!

Though baseball is far from my favourite sport, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and the venue (with a perfect line of sight of both the High Level Bridge and the Legislature). However, it felt a bit like the opposite of what we experienced at our last Eskimos game – instead of being underdressed, we were overdressed – in jeans and without any sun protection, we absolutely baked in our west-facing seats.

Edmonton Capitals

It was HOT

To escape the heat, we spent a lot of time wandering the innards of Telus Field to check out their reasonably-priced food menu. We had eaten a full meal at home before the game, but couldn’t resist a slurpee and an ice cream as efforts to keep cool. And, well, when I saw their gourmet hot dog offerings (which they claim to be the most extensive in the city), I just had to try one.

The perogy dog ($4.50) came topped with cheese, bacon, onions, fried potatoes and loads of sour cream. I could have done without the latter, but other than that, it was pretty tasty, and definitely something creative that I wouldn’t have expected to be sold at the ballpark (Telus is no Citi Field).

Edmonton Capitals

Perogy dog

I also have to applaud the Capitals for being ahead of the curve when it comes to promotions. Though their regular tickets are quite affordable at just $10 each, between their 4 for $44 Thursdays (4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 drinks for $44), movie nights (watch a movie screening out on the field following the game), and innovative ideas such as offering free parking to those who carpool with four or more individuals, I think the Capitals will be around for years to come.

Edmonton Capitals

Mack and mascot Razzle

Thanks again to Homeward Trust for the tickets! It was a great way to unwind on a summer evening in Edmonton.

Friday Night Football: BC Lions vs. Edmonton Eskimos

When I told my family I had complimentary tickets to the football game on Friday, they laughed – they wouldn’t subject themselves to inclement weather even if provided with the opportunity free of charge. At half time, I started to agree with them.

Mack and I “bundled up” (in quotation marks because we did not have the a) winter boots, b) blanket, or c) long underwear that those sitting around us clearly did) and headed to Commonwealth Stadium after work on Friday to watch the Eskimos play against the BC Lions. I am not a football fan, but I haven’t been to a game in several years, so we went.

Before the start of the game, when we could still feel our extremities

The snow that fell just before the opening kickoff soon relented, but the wind did not, constantly reminding us about our mistake of under-dressing for the game.

Esks’ introductions

A flurried opening kickoff

At the end of the first quarter, we ducked into a heated concession area for a hot chocolate and a strange cheese-stuffed pretzel (enduring the cold translated into free reign when it came to greasy food, at least in my mind). The “mozzarella” had a consistency in between liquid and solid, and wasn’t all that pleasant to eat.

Mack with the pretzel

Half time meant hot dogs, and we made sure to take our time warming up. Though it was only around –10 with the wind chill, it felt much colder, sitting stationary and at mercy to the wind.

Other cold fans get warm at half-time

As for the football? The Eskimos trailed for most of the night, but with a minute left in the fourth quarter, managed to score a touchdown which vaulted them 31 to BC’s 27. If the Eskimos won, we figured the cold would have been worth it.


With 22 seconds left however, the Lions managed to deflate the whole of Commonwealth Stadium, with a touchdown that won them the game, 34-31.

Will the Eskimos make the playoffs? You’ll have to stay tuned. As for whether we’ll be back to another game soon – maybe, but a toque will definitely not be required at that time.