Archive for August, 2010

Along with Casa Loma and, later, the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play), there were a couple other major tourist attractions I visited in Toronto.  The first was St. Lawrence Market, which is actually a complex of several buildings, but I only explored the South Market.  The South Market building was Toronto’s first City Hall, but after major changes to expand it, because a market in 1901.

This, I suspect is a facade from the original City Hall building on the site, but it is now inside the market.

The South Market has two stories of vendors selling a huge variety of foods and goods.  The upper level has stalls specializing in meats, cheeses, produce, and fish.

That level also had a cooking supply vendor and several bakery stalls, including this one:

That’s the Carousel Bakery.  See that sign about a peameal bacon sandwich?  I had seen a placard outside a diner the previous day that had listed peameal bacon along with other breakfast options and had wondered what it could mean.  Honestly, I thought peameal must be some variation on oatmeal and that bacon was served alongside.  In fact, peameal bacon is the real Canadian bacon, as a handy dandy sign at the Carousel Bakery informed me.  It’s a brine-cured, unsmoked back bacon, originally coated in ground, dried peas, but now mostly made with cornmeal.  Apparently, the Carousel Bakery is the place to get a peameal bacon sandwich.  I know I risk alienating myself from my bacon loving friends by admitting this, but I did not sample the sandwich.

Anyway, the lower level of the market has more purveyors, including a little specialty salt shop, and a vendor specializing in an astonishing variety of rices, nuts, grains, and flours.

Most of the lower level consisted of food stalls, though, where I grabbed a tasty, albeit eclectic, lunch of Chinese dumplings and a cheery strudel. After lunch, I wandered down to Toronto’s waterfront and enjoyed the sunshine and sea lake breeze.  (Seriously, I couldn’t get used to the fact that a body of water that stretched as far as the eye could see was freshwater.)

The waterfront is lined with pathways, lawns, sculptures, and a little strip of sandy “beach”, where I rested for a bit in one of the Adirondack chairs, before continuing on.

It was a lovely walk, but I wasn’t meandering aimlessly; I had a destination in mind: the Music Garden.  The garden was designed by Yo-Yo Ma and Julie Moir Messervy, a landscape designer.  The concept was originally part of a film series Ma was working on, Inspired by Bach, and was supposed to be turned into an actual garden in Boston, my home, but since that plan fell through, Toronto stepped in to provide a site.

The garden is based on Bach’s first Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, and each part of the design represents a movement of the piece, including the Prelude,

and Courante.

The Sarabande section centers on a “poet’s corner”,

where this poem is posted:

And the Menuett area has a lovely metalwork pavilion that can be a stage for musical performances.

Enjoying the beautiful, peaceful Music Garden was a wonderful way to end my afternoon of exploring.  Aside from the lovely flowers and landscaping, it has a pretty spiffy view of the downtown Toronto skyline.


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grand entrance

I had only done a little bit of research into places to see and things to do in Toronto before we made the trip up, but one place that was definitely on my list as a must-see was Casa Loma, an extremely grand mansion built in the early 20th century.  See, I love history and stories about people, and I also really enjoy looking at unusual architecture and historic interiors.  I was excited to see what Casa Loma would have in store.

After my visit to Allan Gardens, I headed to the northwestern section of Toronto known as The Annex.  Toronto is mostly pretty flat, but the part of The Annex where Casa Loma was built is a steep hill overlooking the city.  In fact, Casa Loma means house on the hill, and I can vouch for the aptness of the name, since I had to climb a heck of a lot of stairs to get up to the house and grounds, on a hot, muggy day, no less.

The climb was worth it, though, as Casa Loma is a beautiful, grand, interesting, unusual place.

great hall, upper level

The mansion was built for Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady mary Pellatt, and they moved into Casa Loma in 1914, though work on the building had halted, due to the start of WWI.  (When touring the house, you can see the unfinished swimming pool in the basement. )  The Pellatts only lived in the home for nine years, before financial troubles forced them to sell the house and auction off many of its furnishings.  After the Pellatts moved out, Casa Loma was used as a nightclub and hotel before being seized by the city and slated for demolition, but the Kiwanis club bought the property and began restoring it and operating it as a tourist site in 1937.

Henry and Mary Pellatt's family crest on the library ceiling

Casa Loma is huge.  It has 98 rooms, five acres of gardens, and an 800 foot underground tunnel from the house to the garages, potting shed, and stables.  Aside from the size, the house is remarkable for its decorative details and the materials and technologies that were extremely modern or innovative at the time.  The rooms are peppered with niches for telephones, there was an elevator (mostly for Lady Pellatt, who suffered from a heart condition), a couple secret stairways, and even a shower with nine body sprays.

Sir Pellatt's bathroom with multi-spray shower

The grandiose exterior of Casa Loma is matched by the opulent interiors, with intricate details like ornate plaster trim, carved paneling, etc.  The Kiwanis Club has done a wonderful job of restoring the home’s grandeur.

living room

billiard room ceiling - I love the hunting dog in the mural

bedroom mantel

Conservatory stained glass ceiling medallion

Lady Pellatt's bedroom and sitting room

One part of Casa Loma that is conspicuously unimpressive is the main stairway off the great hall.

unassuming stairs

I believe the stucco was a utilitarian change from the period after the Pellats’ residence that may be renovated at some point, but the cool story is about the staircases.  Apparently, the house was designed to have expensive marble stairs from Europe, but the ship carrying them to Canada sank, and the Pellatts were never able to install a grand staircase as they had planned.

Casa Loma has two towers, called the Scottish Tower and the Norman Tower.  The Scottish Tower is the taller of the two, and I climbed the many, many stairs to the top, to see the spectacular view.

tower interior

view of downtown from the tower

The gardens of Casa Loma have also been beautifully restored.  They cascade down the hill behind the house, with the formal gardens at the top and more casual, winding, wooded garden paths below.

welcoming flowers and imposing stone

formal gardens

bridal pavilion

house view from garden terrace

Henry Pellatt was an avid gardener (the audio guide’s commentary on the library/family room in the house mentioned that Pellatt wasn’t really a reader and that many of the books in the library were gardening books.)  He was, supposedly, especially fond of chrysanthemums.  I’ve never been a fan of mums, myself, but the ones in the Casa Loma gardens made me reconsider.

vibrant mums

From the basement of Casa Loma you can walk through the long tunnel to the garages, potting shed, and stables.  These underground areas were secretly used during WWII for making a submarine detecting sonar system, even while tourists were exploring the house and grounds above.

Even the stables at Casa Loma are grand, with herringbone patterned brick floors, tiled walls, and nameplates for the hourses

stable stalls

stable doors and floors

stable details

There you have it.  Casa Loma is another Toronto spot I highly recommend visiting, if you have any interest in historic buildings.  It is lovely, easy to get to, and the audio tour (including in admission price) is very interesting and informative.  My afternoon there was quite enjoyable.

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The Palm House

One of the great places I visited in Toronto was a lucky find.  Allan Gardens was marked on one of the tourist maps I had, and it was really close to where we were staying, but it doesn’t appear to be a very well-known spot.  When I looked it up online, it seemed it is regarded as a bit of a hidden gem of the city, so I am very glad I found it.  It truly is a gem, especially, I imagine in the winter months.

The conservatory is set in the midst of a modest-sized park that features lots of grass, the seemingly ubiquitous black Toronto squirrels, and a nifty dog park, but the Palm House and attached greenhouse rooms steal the show.

such a tranquil, green spot in the city

The Toronto Horticultural Society has operated gardens here since the mid-19th century, but the Palm House has been in place for 100 years.  The Palm House has a classic, domed structure and, as the name implies, is filled with lush palms and other tropical plants.  Think how breathtaking it must be to enter it in the dead of a Toronto winter.

There are several greenhouse rooms attached on either side of the Palm House.  There are loads of flowering plants,



spidery lilies

variety of gerber daisy, I think

coral colored blossom

water features, including an iron water wheel, a waterfall, and a koi pond,

water wheel

koi pond and contrasting foliage

some really unusual plants,

twiggy spirals

I can't help but call it a pod plant

and an entire section of cacti and succulents.

serrated succulent

cactus room

barrel cacti

blooming succulent

Remind anyone else of Audrey Two?

bold color

Wandering among all the plants was a beautiful way to start a day in Toronto.  Allan Gardens is definitely worth a visit.

My next post will be a photo-filled one, too, since my next stop after Allan Gardens was Casa Loma, a stunning mansion on a hill above downtown Toronto.

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That title makes it sound like I didn’t mean to come to Canada, which is only a tiny bit true.  Sometime in late spring or early summer, a good friend of mine was seeking advice from folks about traveling for a conference when she would be in her third trimester of pregnancy.  She had some trepidation about making the trip to Toronto on her own, understandably.  At the time I was without vacation plans for the summer, so I offered to tag along with her to Toronto as company, support, etc.  I’d never been to Canada, and I liked the idea of simultaneously helping out a friend and having the excuse to explore a new city.  We later discovered that the Red Sox would be playing in Toronto during our stay; clearly the trip was meant to be.

So, here I am in Toronto.  My friend, E, and I drove up from Boston on Sunday.  It’s been a very long time since I have driven anywhere near that far, but E is a wonderful conversationalist and we spent much of the trip chatting about everything from pregnancy and daycare to reading habits.  We had planned to drive straight through, but were making good enough time that we decided to stop at Niagara Falls, since I had never visited there.

We stopped on the American side and walked through the park and to the edge of the Falls.  The park itself is lovely, but, of course, the real attraction is the drama and beauty of the waterfalls.  The noise and mist and rapids were all testaments to the power of this natural feature, and seeing Niagara Falls in person definitely lived up to the hype for me.  We took photos and walked along the path by the river and cliffs for a bit, watching the gulls and some smaller birds swooping over the water.

The natural beauty of the park and Falls is set against the tourist traps and casinos that have sprung up around on both sides of the border around Niagara.  I wasn’t prepared for that, and we had plenty of time to get a good look at the commercial enterprises as we were stuck in border traffic.

Once we got across the bridge and through the border crossing, we had a pretty easy drive up to Toronto.  We did encounter some crazy driving, most notably a tour bus that kept tailgating people.  The Queen Elizabeth Way between Niagara and Toronto apparently passes dozens of vineyards, as we passed many, many signs for wineries.  E and I plan to stop at one on the way home on Thursday.  Upon arriving at our hotel (thanks to E navigating an alternate route when we discovered a major road was closed), we checked in and made the odd discovery of three pairs of jeans, in assorted men’s sizes, in one of the drawers.  We were both pretty exhausted, so we found this hilarious and have been referring to unexpected pants ever since.

Yesterday, E was free of conference activities until late afternoon, so we headed to the Toronto Islands.  The islands are a park area just offshore from Toronto in Lake Ontario.  The ferry ride was just 7.5 minutes and afforded us gorgeous views of the Toronto Skyline.  After disembarking at Centre Island, we walked around a bit and managed to find our way through the hedge maze.  We walked along the lake side beach, dipping our toes in the water and admiring the smooth stones mixed in with the sand, then grabbed lunch from the snack bar.  There are pretty garden plots and fountains near the beach, and we sat on a bench near these watching people walk by or pedal past on surrey bikes.  Before heading back to the ferry, we meandered through Far Enough Farm, seeing goats, emus, peacocks, horses, donkeys, sheep, etc.,  Centreville Amusement Park, and the quiet Olympia Island, where we watched black squirrels frolicking.It was a lovely way to spend most of the day.

After E headed off to the start of her conference, I relaxed in our room a bit before taking a long walk through a couple of different Toronto neighborhoods to see the architecture and start to get a feel for the city.  I took more photos, but I will save those for another post.  It was a very enjoyable day, as was today, but you’ll just have to wait to hear about those adventures.  In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of the Niagara visit and Toronto Islands outing.  I hope you enjoy!

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