Category Archives: Toronto

11 Aug

Ode to a Return to the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, for the second time I had occasion to enter
Ontario’s capital, otherwise known as the universe’s center

While waiting for the GO bus, there was a sight I wish I did miss
A fellow passenger gave his dog a big, wet sloppy good-bye kiss

As we sped our way around the lake, no ex-Winnipegger can resist taking a poke
At the Rapid Transit system, Winnipeg’s longest running joke


Curiosity must have been in the air when I was out past Brown’s Line.
Who was this guy standing in the median taking pictures of a highway sign

On Kipling Avenue, a jolly fellow on the sidewalk I did see
What is a bear that has no teeth, he asked of me

He clearly wanted to catch me off guard
As he tried to get me to apply for a credit card

I heard a weirdo near the end of my lengthy stroll
Ranting and raving at some poor, unsuspecting soul

It’s Toronto, what else can I say
It’s still a whole lot better than the one I left more than a year ago today

19 Mar

Planet Toronto

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.

06 Apr

Pity for Leafs Fans

During this past summer, it must have seemed like a dream
When the schedule makers gave you a late-season date with the league’s worst-run team

Down the stretch, your team would surely need a win
With the easy two points, maybe the Leafs would get in

It did not take the Amazing Kreskin for foresee
That in early April, your woe begotten opponents would be ready to take to the first tee

All they had to do was give it a halfway decent showing
Instead, fans were left crying and moaning

Because there can be nothing more emasculating to a player or a fan
Than to lose to a team run by Mark Chipman

The playoffs are something Chipman’s team will never see
For this year, neither will the Leafs, since misery loves company

29 Sep

Visit to St. Catharines

This past week, I spent four days in St. Catharines, Ontario. Some of you who know me will know the reason why, but for public consumption, let’s just call it a business trip.

Bright and early on Monday morning, I arrived at the Winnipeg airport ready to board a WestJet flight to the Center of the Universe in the first leg of the journey. The irony of flying WestJet to go east, while using QuebAir to fly west in June was not lost on me.

I had a little trouble at the self-serve kiosk, but a friendly WestJet staffer was there to help and got me on my way quickly. The friendliness of the WestJet staff would be a recurring theme both on the flight to C.U. and on the way back to Winnipeg. I can see why friends have told me that they far prefer WestJet to QuebAir.

Having just gone through the airport security experience recently, I was perhaps a little too cavalier and forgot to remove my necklace and watch. As a result, I got the full body swipe in the circular scanner. It turned up something near my stomach, but after a brief pat-down, they found that it was just some partially-digested food making its way through my system.

Past security with plenty of time to spare, I used the time to unload my bladder and tour the airport.

Airport Hilton?

I was not alone. You may understand. You may not. If you’re getting puzzled by these references, I encourage you to read my second book.

Is it wise to be plying passengers with liquor before boarding an aircraft?

Gate 6 with service to Toronto.

While waiting at Gate 6, one fellow traveller seated across from me lifted himself off his seat to blow off a little exhaust. For the benefit of one reader, yes, I did think of our former colleague and his connection to the postal service. Strangely enough, Mr. Fartman would later accompany me on the same Niagara Airbus shuttle bound for St. Catharines.

Leaving YWG.

The plane was much larger than the dinky contraption that QuebAir had used to take me to Calgary. There were three seats on each side of the aisle and I was thrilled to see the on-board, real-time display showing where we were. I could roughly tell where we were even without the visual aid, but it was nice added touch.

A paper vomitorium.

I was fortunate enough to have a window seat and got some good shots along the way to C.U.

Once we reached our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet and with the plane pointed in the direction of Toronto, I was surprised that they didn’t just turn the engines off and allow the vortex generated by the Center of the Universe to pull the plane into Pearson Airport. Perhaps they did and piped in engine noise just to give the passengers a more natural flight experience. It was another indication as to how far WestJet will go for their customers.

Approaching the Center of the Universe.

Almost immediately after touching down at Pearson Airport, I could definitely tell that I wasn’t on the prairies anymore. The enormity of the GTA is hard to digest for someone like me who has thus far spent his entire life in little old Winnipeg. Welcome to the world.

This really is the Center of the Universe.

During my brief time in the airport, I had hoped to find a place where first-time visitors to Toronto could change a light bulb. Like many of you, I’ve heard the stories about how Torontonians simply reach up, grasp onto a bulb and wait for the world to turn around them. Sadly, I couldn’t find one. Should I end up flying to C.U. again, I’ll have to inquire at an information desk.

I’ll spare you further Toronto jokes for the time being.

I did take note that the baggage claim area at Pearson Airport was in the secured area, unlike Winnipeg, where the carousels are accessible by anyone who walks in off the street. This was yet another grave oversight by the WAA in the design of the new terminal.

The second leg of the journey involved a Niagara Airbus shuttle to St. Catharines.

I quickly found the ground transportation desk next to Door C and within minutes, I was heading out into the labyrinth of concrete that is Southern Ontario’s sophisticated freeway system. If you’re a resident of the GTA and chortle at the term “sophisticated,” I invite you to visit the SPRM and make the comparison for yourself.

The driver was nice enough to let me sit in the front seat and I took full advantage. Many more pictures will soon be appearing on a Web site near you.

Westbound 403 past Hurontario Street.

Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the Dorval Drive/Kerr Street exit. The alert reader may notice the “ER” initials atop the light standards, which means Elizabeth Regina, Latin for Queen Elizabeth.

Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the split with 403 in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the North Shore Boulevard/Eastport Drive exit in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW crossing the Burlington Skyway.

The first sign for St. Catharines.

Entering the Regional Municipality of Niagara. At right is the Niagara Escarpment that protects the region from much of the winter snow. The clerk at the front desk of the hotel would later tell me that she had to take her children to Buffalo to go tobogganing last winter because there was so little snow in St. Catharines. During the trip, I would also learn that they have year-round golf courses in the area as well as green grass in the middle of January. My envy was as green as their January grass.

Crossing 40 Mile Creek. I’m surprised that it remains legal in Canada to name anything in Imperial measurements.

This sign certainly got my attention. Then again, every sign gets my attention. Indeed, it is a stiff, but deserved penalty for such reckless driving. I hope that it is enforced, unlike the SPRM, where governments spend their time enacting laws that police choose to ignore.

An encouraging sign.

Passing Jordan Harbor in Lincoln. Despite the fact that the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, it is one of the few views of the lake that motorists get on the route.

Interestingly, Lincoln’s population of approximately 22,000 only qualifies as a town in Ontario. In the SPRM, an urban center of 7,500 or more can be granted city status.

Welcome to St. Catharines.

After checking in at the Capri Inn, I set off on a tour towards the downtown area.

This qualifies as a bus stop in St. Catharines. Most bus stops don’t even have this much. There is a stop down the hill to the right that has only a pole with a sign from St. Catharines Transit where riders must stand off the curb on a piece of unmowed grass.

They have ratmobiles there, too. Oh right, they’re called “food trucks,” or, in this case, a “food trailer.”

This is the sign outside the General Parking lot at the General Motors plant. I took note of the sign saying that all vehicles not made by GM would be towed. I wonder if they would tow my bike away.

Despite the presence of a GM plant in St. Catharines, I would be shocked by the number of Beemers that I spotted during my stay. GM is a major employer in the community and it would almost seem disloyal to drive a foreign-made product.

There was even a “Beamer Avenue” off Niagara Street.

Perhaps there would be the same number of Beemers on Winnipeg streets if Winnipeggers could buy from a dealership that was not owned by the Chipman family. Just saying.

The offices of the Standard, the local paper. Strangely, I would not spot a single paper box anywhere in the city during my extensive travels on foot. Even in little Gimli, I’ve always noticed many boxes for the free Interlake Enterprise. Perhaps there’s a local ordinance against putting out those paper boxes.

Marker on St. Paul Street.

The Meridian Center, future home of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

Paul on St. Paul.

As they say in Texas, El Paso.

I stopped to take this shot on St. Paul Street. It is the familiar scene that the Standard uses as the cover image on their Web site.

I tend to agree.

 The public library. It’s not open on Monday.


City Hall.

Returning north, I visited the Fairview Mall.

While there and throughout my stay, I noticed that the majority of St. Cathariners seem to fall into one of two categories: student at Brock University or senior citizen. I was told the next day that St. Catharines recently tied with Vancouver for the highest percentage of seniors per capita in the country.

The sight of anything Snoopy-related is always going to catch my attention.

North Dakota plates are more common in the SPRM than in Southern Ontario.

Um, it’s “St. Catharines.” It would be only one of two misspelled signs that I would spot on the trip. As many of you know, I spot such signs in Winnipeg with frightening regularity.

No, I have no connection to this facility.

The GO bus that runs between Burlington and Niagara Falls.

Tuesday was mainly spent in meetings, but I still had time to explore Port Dalhousie and the areas north of the QEW east of Martindale Pond.

Locally, it’s pronounced da-LOO-zee, not dal-HOW-zee.

Martindale Pond. The seats in the background are to watch the rowing events.

Scenes in Jaycee Park.

An afternoon meeting involved a welcome side trip to nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake.

No, I was not horsing around.

A break at the Little Red Rooster.

Little could my gracious host have known how appropriate the motif was. Then again, maybe she did.

Wednesday was my day to explore the northern part of the city between Port Dalhousie and Port Weller.

The C.U. skyline from across Lake Ontario. I’m surprised that I wasn’t dragged across the lake into that swirling vortex. Before coming, I had half-expected to find a big seawall to protect St. Cathariners from a similar fate.

A ship headed for the Welland Canal.

Scenes along the Waterfront Trail.

This staircase had less stability than a swinging suspension bridge.

I reached Municipal Beach near Port Weller before returning to Lakeshore Road and Lock 1 of the Welland Canal.

Pear trees, I believe.

Goose crossing.

Highway H2O.

The start of the Welland Canals Trail. And yes, it is plural, as this is the fourth Welland Canal. The City of St. Catharines’ logo has four blue stripes to represent the four canals.

Welcome to St. Catharines.

Heading south on Niagara Street, I spotted house number “666.” Message sent. Message received.


Badly needing a lunch break, I finally found a Subway. I could have used a break much earlier, but the problem with spending your time in residential neighborhoods is the lack of washrooms and restaurants.

A Starbucks location was also conveniently located next door. Those of you who know me know that I will never patronize a Starbucks as long as I walk the face of the Earth, but I have no problem mooching off their Wi-Fi. My Twitter followers can guess pretty easily which tweet I sent while eating there.

After a much-needed rest and infusion of sustenance, I followed Scott Street east. On the way, a couple stopped and asked me for directions. Naturally, despite only having been in the city for three days, I was able to help them.

After reaching the canal, I headed south on the trail.


 Lock 2.

More than one reader may notice the lack of a trademark acknowledgement on the term “Staging Area”™. That’s an inside joke that most of you will not understand.

Approaching the Garden City Skyway.

Feet aching, I made it to the Welland Canals Center and the St. Catharines Museum.

I wanted to tour the museum, but a ship was headed in, so I instead headed out to watch its arrival at Lock 3.

I also captured video of the ship’s arrival.

This is the time-lapse edit, three times normal speed.

While watching the ship, I was talking with someone behind me who was from Windsor. He said that Winnipeg was a “friendly town.” He obviously has a rich sense of humor.

After the ship entered the lock, using reserves of energy that I’m not sure I had, I headed west back towards the Capri Inn.

I wondered about the tastefulness of placing the St. Catharines and District Retirees Association office next to a cemetery.

The surname “Duffus” rang a bell as I harkened back to my years following the IHL. Minnesota hockey “fan” Fiona Quick’s legendary infatuation with former Moose goaltender Parris Duffus will earn a full page in my next book that covers my experiences with the Manitoba Moose, pro hockey’s most unwanted team.

As I said, everything Snoopy-related catches my eye.

They’ve got construction there, too.

A New Brunswick plate. Message sent. Message received. The first three letters are also significant in my household, but I didn’t catch it at the time.

The next day was a travel day, though the prospect of returning to the SPRM was not exactly warming the cockles of my heart. I would be miserable and depressed the whole day and that feeling would persist long after touching down in Winnipeg.

Having received a call from Niagara Airbus on Wednesday saying that the pickup would be an hour earlier than previously arranged, I got up bright and early and waited for their arrival. And waited. And waited. After calling to find out where they were, they said that Wednesday’s call was for a different passenger and that I wasn’t scheduled for pickup for another half hour.

So I waited. And waited.

Growing increasingly nervous, I breathed a sigh of relief when the shuttle finally arrived. After getting in, the driver then told us that there had been an accident on the QEW near Stoney Creek that had closed the highway to all C.U.-bound traffic. He said that we were about to get and adventure and we got one.

He exited the QEW at Vineland, then navigated at high speeds through back roads atop the Niagara Escarpment to get us around the accident. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea and we ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic soon after reaching Hamilton.

Westbound on the “Linc” in Hamilton near the 403 interchange.

Fortunately, traffic moved much more swiftly after getting on the 403 and back to the QEW. The driver’s best efforts, however, weren’t enough for one passenger, who kept complaining the entire way to C.U.

“Of course there’s going to be a letter out.”

No doubt, she was talking about a letter of complaint, but given how well the driver had done under the circumstances, she should have instead been talking about a letter of commendation. The only thing that he could be faulted for was driving too fast.

All the while, I was having a friendly chat with the driver as I was taking pictures. It turned out that he lives in St. Catharines and used to write for the Standard. He spoke with pride about once having the opportunity to interview Pierre Berton, author of many outstanding works including the authoritative history of the War of 1812. The Niagara region was a major theater of that conflict and history abounds throughout the area.

There was one scary moment on the drive when someone used the emergency lane next to the median to pass us on the left, but we got to Pearson Airport safely and in plenty of time for the flight back to the SPRM. There was a long wait at security, however, since I was behind the women’s volleyball team from the U.C.U. Varsity Blues. Or would that be the Bluettes? No matter, they were annoying, but, fortunately, they were perfectly well behaved on the plane.

I didn’t have a window seat on the return trip, but since I was so depressed, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it much anyways. Even the fact that we spent much of the flight over U.S. airspace couldn’t cheer me up.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely productive trip and it was well worth going. No one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this particular excursion was no exception. It is my hope to return at some point in the future.