Yesterday, I made my long-awaited inaugural visit to the Center of the Universe. It was also my first time using GO as I took the bus from Fairview Mall in St. Catharines to the Burlington GO station, then transferred to the Lakeshore West train that goes to Union Station in Toronto. It seemed odd having to use public transit to go there, as I remain surprised that the vortex generated by the Center of the Universe doesn’t just suck all of us in St. Catharines right across the lake, but there’s probably an explanation that only people with a more detailed knowledge of physics and gravity would understand.
Along with many others, I boarded the #12 GO bus that begins in Niagara Falls and makes stops in St. Catharines, Grimsby, Stoney Creek and finally the Burlington GO station. I noted with interest that the bus had a bike rack, as do all GO buses and trains, and I expect to be making use of those facilities in the near future.
There is no GO outlet in St. Catharines, so you have to buy your ticket from the driver. You can purchase a one-way or return ticket, or alternatively, you can use the Presto card. It is a simple system to use, just tap your card on the reader when boarding and again when you exit. At the train station, tap your card on the many readers before you get on and tap it again when you get to your destination. Coming from Winnipeg, I feel like I advanced about three decades worth of technology.
Following the crowd out to the platform, the eastbound train that began at the Aldershot station soon arrived and I went up to the upper level.
After finding an empty seat, I noticed the absence of garbage, condom wrappers, vomit and graffiti, all too common sightings on Winnipeg Transit’s buses. Everything looked reasonably clean and as I’ve said before, I could get used to this.
Not unexpectedly, there was no one there to take tickets as we boarded. Like they do in the Twin Cities and in Calgary, they rely on an honor system called Proof of Payment (POP). As one loyal reader laughs hysterically at the acronym, this is clearly not a system that would ever work in Winnipeg. In order to use an honor system, there has to be honor and precious little of it exists in the capital of the SPRM.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the upper level on each car is designated as a quiet zone on weekdays. Even more surprising was that it seemed to be respected. On Winnipeg Transit, it is unusual to not have a bus full of people yakking on their cell phones and/or with the volume on their music players turned up to jet-engine levels.
Another nice feature was the emergency alarm, although the clientele was considerably less seedy than the usual collection of bums, hooligans and indigents that patronize Winnipeg Transit. In Winnipeg, such an alarm would be useful in notifying the driver in the rare occasion when there isn’t a problem.
As the train sped off towards the Center of the Universe, I couldn’t help but think of Rapid Transit, Winnipeg’s laughable attempt to get out of the dark ages. For those not aware, Winnipeg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars they don’t have, not for a fantastic service like GO, but for a short, dedicated transitway for their buses that saves three or four minutes for those commuting to the south end of the city. I recommend they rebrand this service as Winnipeg Area Interurban Transit and prominently use its acronym, WAIT.
After an enjoyable ride, it was time to disembark at Union Station and begin my day exploring the universe’s center, or at least a small portion of it.
Apparently, they were expecting me.
On the way to the Eaton Center, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many streetcars like this one. It would have been nice if Winnipeg had these when I lived there. Oh right, they did. And got rid of them. Another in a series of foolish moves made by the less than stellar leadership in that part of the world. Pardon me while I shake my head. As my Twitter profile says, I’m still a recovering ex-Winnipegger. Having spent so long in the SPRM’s degenerate capital, as a friend recently suggested, it’s kind of like PTSD.
I also noticed many subway stations, though I didn’t use it on this trip. Perhaps in a future trip I will.
Though I didn’t spend long there, the Eaton Center sparkles for its upscale clientele. For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, this is not Portage Place, not by a long shot.
I even found this recharging station for tablets and phones. Even more amazing was that it had not been vandalized or used as a toilet. Once again, I could get used to this.
Moving on, I stopped for this shot outside City Hall.
People enjoying themselves at this outdoor skating rink.
Given the astounding number of bikes I saw throughout the downtown area, I wasn’t surprised when I saw this, one of many Bike Share Toronto locations, similar to the Nice Ride MN I saw so often throughout the Twin Cities.
At automated machines like this, for $7, you can rent a bike for 24 hours or for $15, you can have it for three days. Winnipeg also has a bike share program, but it works a little differently. There, you take your bike downtown, lock it up, and a scumbag will cut the lock and share your bike with you. Unfortunately, one of the program’s drawbacks is that you never see your bike again.
My next destination was Queen’s Park, Ontario’s legislative building. I was surprised that it was so much smaller than its counterpart in the SPRM. When designing the building, no doubt the SPRM’s early pioneers had visions of grandeur for their new province, visions that have obviously never been realized.
On the grounds and nearby were markers honoring past prime ministers of Ontario. Yes, you read that right, prime ministers, not premiers. Not only do many Ontarians think of their own province as a self-contained country, but in some cases, even Torontonians think of their own city as a nation. Overheard in one store in Eaton Center was a clerk who, when a customer mentioned St. Catharines, said, “St. Catharines, that’s still in Canada, right?”
Last I heard, St. Catharines was indeed still in Canada unless I missed the news item where the Regional Municipality of Niagara had declared independence. We are, after all, a distinct society.
At the north end of the building is an actual park, filled with, gasp, regular people.
Not that I would ever want to live there, but for those who do, it does not come cheaply. Consider this three-bedroom condo that will set you back a cool $2.2 million. As they say in Texas, El Paso.
Needing to refuel, I stopped at this Subway on Bay Street, apparently in the newly renamed city of “Tronto.”
After eating, I went to the washroom, where the seat was missing. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to sit down.
Continuing down Bay Street, my curiosity was piqued when I saw a mass of humanity congregating on the sidewalk.
As I got closer, I saw that it was a line waiting to get into Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake, which I later learned is part of a chain that has outlets in eight different Asian countries. I happened to be going by less than an hour after the grand opening of their only Canadian location, or should I say their only Toronto location. Their “soft and fluffy” cheesecakes in flavors such as green tea, honey and chocolate are evidently quite popular.
Having escaped the cheesecake rush, I noticed the belongings of a homeless person lying unattended on the street. The fact that they had not yet been stolen was yet another indicator that I was no longer in Winnipeg, where thieves will nab anything, regardless of value.
Later on, I stumbled on this guy who had just checked into the Bay Street Hilton. Perhaps he was the proud owner of those items.
South of the Gardiner Expressway, I stumbled upon these three bottles filled with an unidentifiable red beverage. Even though I was getting a little thirsty, I decided to pass on this complimentary offering.
By accident, I passed by the site of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even with more time, I’m not sure I would want to visit because of its affiliation with that other major league and because of its decision to induct members on the basis of political correctness instead of merit.
For a veteran of downtown Winnipeg, this was again an unusual sighting, not because of the statue itself, but because of the lack of vandalism. It wasn’t even bolted down.
Returning to Union Station for the trip home, I first went to the GO ticket counter, then out to the platform to catch the train.
I had a bit of a wait at the Burlington GO station for the #12 bus, but I got back safe and sound. I was just as overwhelmed by the great public transit system we have here in southern Ontario as I was by Toronto, but it was well worth the trip and one I will likely be repeating.