I had several preconceptions about Canada and the Canadians before I went, and while some were confirmed by experience others proved to be wrong.
I had Canada down as a vast, rangey land with a friendly — if a little naive — population. Images of Mounties, lumberjacks and French fur trappers filled my thoughts as I settled into my seat for the flight to Toronto and stayed with me, until the little seatback telly came on.
I liked Toronto a lot. The older buildings reminded me of New England, and in the centre of town there’s a square with skyscrapers all around, each one bearing a number of large illuminated advertising screens. Imagine a smaller, less hectic version of Times Square in New York. The streets were clean and the people friendly. The younger women walking through the Eaton Center shopping mall didn’t seem to need to follow any mass fashion trend, instead preferring to express themselves in their own way. consequently they all looked different and unique, which I found refreshing. But the overall feeling I got walking around in Toronto was that of safety and security in a friendly place.
Kevin and I paid a visit to the CN Tower one evening. The World’s tallest building (pending the Burj Dubai’s completion) has a glass floor on its observation deck (the bulbous bit 2/3 of the way up), and it was an unnerving experience standing and looking down at the ground dozens of storeys below.
I knew that the floor was thick enough to hold an elephant, but I still felt uneasy as I stood on the glass and looked down. We then went up a second lift to the world’s highest observation deck (the even smaller but still bulbous bit nearer the top), and that’s from where I took these city shots.
Once we were back on ground level we made our way to the ferry station to get a boat over to Toronto Island, the theory being that was the best place to take some city skyline shots at sunset. However the ticket agent at the station told us that the island was still closed. It turns out that Toronto Island is a holiday attraction, with a theme park, and so it was all shut down. The ferry was still operating several times per day though, to transport residents and walkers to and fro. Rather than abandon our plans we took the ferry anyway and just stayed on board for the round trip. The overcast weather was far from perfect for photography, but we didn’t let that stop us, and we got a few good shots in spite of the poor light.
As we had the weekend between business meetings we decided to drive down to Niagara Falls before flying on to Montreal. Again my preconceived notion about Niagara was challenged. I had imagined a sophisticated, rather quiet town nestling on a mountainside below the majestic falls, which towered above townsfolk and tourists alike.
Instead the falls aren’t all that towering, the town is at the top instead of the bottom, which means when you stand at the rail to look at the falls you’re looking down rather than up, and the town is anything but sophisticated, looking more like a mini Blackpool. The main street is full of amusement arcades, waxworks museums (Rock Stars, Criminals etc.), Guinness World of Records, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! The falls themselves were only half as high and wide as I had imagined. Not their fault but disappointing nevertheless.
The view from my hotel room
From Niagara it was on to Montreal in Quebec. This is the French part of Canada. Well, the signs in Toronto were in both French and English too, but there it was English first and in Montreal French comes first, and is the native language for most residents. There is a distinctly European atmosphere in the city, both from its architecture and from the shops, bars and restaurants. I don’t know how Torontans (?) feel about Montrealers, but I can tell you that Montrealers hate Toronto and anyone who lives there. Whenever we told people that we’d just come from Toronto we got comments about it being “the armpit of Canada”. People in Montreal seem to think that those in Toronto are stuck up and think they’re “it”. I have to say we didn’t see any evidence of this. On the contrary if I were to return to visit one city or the other again I’d choose Toronto: it just felt nicer to me. Also I got food poisoning in Montreal, so that didn’t score it any points.