Category Archives: Toronto

18 May

Voyage Under the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, I made another trip to Toronto, spending the bulk of the day in the universe’s center.

I left the house bright and early and walked to Fairview Mall to catch the #12 GO bus. Waiting nearby at the bus stop was a scruffy character madly gorging himself on a large box of Sugar Crisp as if someone was about to take it away from him.


Just can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp!

Just after St. Catharines’ answer to the Sugar Bear got to the bottom of the box, the bus pulled up and I joined about 15-20 others in getting on board.

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Traffic was moving slowly as we got past Burlington Street in Hamilton, but we eventually made it to the Burlington GO station, where I joined most of the others in heading to the platform to wait for the train.

While waiting, I spotted someone standing close by who had her eyes closed and was gently nodding her head up and down. No, she was not wearing headphones.

Watching her reminded me of a scene in Slap Shot, when “Killer” Carlson was recanting “One with the universe,” a line from the recordings of the Swami Baha, while his teammates were getting the tar beat out of them by Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken’s Syracuse Bulldogs. If you recall, McCracken was the head coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team, known for his ability to carve out a man’s eye with the flick of a wrist. But I digress.

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The train came shortly enough and we soon began making our way east toward Union Station. As the seats began filling up, I noticed what looked to be a small, semi-permanent gathering place for the homeless right by the tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw three of them seated on plastic chairs tapping away on their cell phones. I’ve heard about texting and driving, but texting and homeless? And again, I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. I’ve worked hard to pay my own way through life and I’ve never had a cell phone.

Closer to Union Station, I spotted a billboard for Krave Gourmet Jerky. How anyone could categorize ground-up testicles and hooves as “gourmet” is beyond me.

Just before pulling into the station, we got another introduction from our “customer service ambassador.” GO runs a fantastic service, but these self-serving introductions that are now coming a rate of twice per trip are growing increasingly annoying.

Following a bathroom break, I then followed the signs for the subway for what would be my first underground rail experience. Having just paid for my GO train ride, I kept my Presto card at hand and used it at the subway entrance to get through the turnstile. TTC is in the process of rolling out Presto throughout their system and not every station is Presto-enabled as yet, but luckily, Union is one of them.

As I would discover later, for those paying cash, you can either purchase a magnetic-striped ticket at the counter or put $3.25 into a machine and get a token smaller than a penny. To get through the non-Presto turnstiles, you swipe your ticket or deposit the pin-size token, assuming you didn’t drop it on your way from the vending machine.

When I got through the turnstile, I was glad I prepared ahead, since the #1 line serving Union Station runs northbound, but in two different directions. You need to know if you’re going north via University Avenue or Yonge Street, but I knew I was going via Yonge, so I quickly hopped aboard the waiting train headed that way. Even if I had missed it, however, they run about every three to four minutes.

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Seconds after I sat down, the doors closed and we began heading north underneath Yonge Street. Once again, just like on the GO train and buses, the subway cars were clean and the vomit, graffiti, condom wrappers and beer bottles frequently found aboard Winnipeg Transit buses were conspicuously absent.

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A handy feature was the subway system map above the doors where it not only shows the routes, but an amber light flashes at the next stop, while stops already covered are in green and those to come are in red. When approaching a connecting line, the entire line flashes on the map and a special announcement is made to that effect.

As you would expect, verbal announcements are also made at each stop, telling passengers not only the name of the station, but whether the doors will open on the left or right.

Near every seat is a yellow strip to press in the event of an emergency, and according to the posted signs, misusing it is a $500 fine. I can’t imagine the fun the hoodlums and bums would have it if they put such a thing aboard Winnipeg Transit buses. There, it would be more fitting to put in a yellow strip to press if there wasn’t an emergency.

When passing the College station, I couldn’t help but notice the mural depicting Montreal Canadiens players. Maybe one of these days, Toronto will get its own NHL team.

I got off at the Sheppard-Yonge station, where I had to go up an escalator to transfer to the eastbound #4 line. It was then I realized there are two levels of this underground rail system. All this, while Winnipeg is still farting around with Rapid Transit. But again, I digress.

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My subway ride came to an end at the Don Mills station, where I followed the crowd up to street level right by, oddly enough, Fairview Mall. I then proceeded east on Sheppard, stopping for pictures of 404, before turning south on Victoria Park Avenue.

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This is a shot I couldn’t resist. NBCUniversal just had to have a presence in the Center of the Universe.

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Crossing the 401, the world’s busiest highway, I continued south to Lawrence, west across the DVP to Don Mills Road, then south to Eglinton, where I again proceeded west.

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There are a lot of people in Toronto, but also a lot of raccoons, giving rise to new entrepreneurial opportunities.

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On Eglinton, there were times when I was getting farther on foot than the cars were on account of the multiple lane closures as GO puts in the Eglinton Crosstown line. More superior transit service, while, again, Winnipeg still farts around with Rapid Transit at great expense with nothing but ridicule to show for it.

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Farther down Eglinton, I ran into our esteemed premier’s constituency office.

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Across the street, not by coincidence, is a nice, big “in your face” billboard from The Rebel aimed squarely at Canada’s most unpopular premier. Of course, that distinction used to belong to Greasy Greg Selinger until he and his gang were unceremoniously thrown out of office. I posted this picture on Twitter today and it is quickly making the rounds in Twitterverse.

I was hoping to cover more ground, but growing tired and weary after putting on so many miles on foot, I decided instead to continue west to the Eglinton-Yonge subway station and return to Union. Oddly, one of the more popular stations on the route was not well-signed on street level, but I eventually found it and went below to catch a train.

Sadly, this was not a Presto-enabled station, so I had fork over the cash for a token. It also cost me a little extra, since the fare when paying with Presto is 40 cents cheaper. For those who are not aware, not only is paying with Presto more convenient, but cheaper. Each round trip to Toronto saves approximately $3.00, the TTC and OC Transpo fares are also cheaper with Presto, and the Hamilton Street Railway fare is only 50 cents when transferring from the GO bus. The card itself costs $6.00, but it more than pays for itself, even in the short term.

On board, the southbound train was packed, and I was lucky to get a seat after someone got off at the next stop. As in the northbound direction, the train moved swiftly, and I was soon back at Union.

Before getting on a Lakeshore West train, I wanted to make one last stop at the gift shop of the nearby NHL Hall of Political Correctness, known to most of you as the so-called Hockey Hall of Fame. Just for the heck of it, I wanted to browse around and to see if they had any small trinkets from the late Atlanta Thrashers, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t find anything. On my way in, however, I could have sworn that I spotted Craig Ramsay, the last coach of the Thrashers, talking on his cell phone. Now that would have been an interesting encounter.

Following that diversionary trip, I returned to Union, where a Lakeshore West train was minutes from departing, so I went right up to the platform and found an empty seat. The train soon took off and I watched the familiar sights go by while recovering from a long day.

Everything seemed to be going normally until we got to the Oakville station. There, passengers who were disembarking got off, then the rest of us waited for the train to continue on.

But it didn’t.

Minutes later, our customer service ambassador, who again needlessly introduced himself as we were leaving Union, got on the intercom and told us this train was no longer in service because of “an emergency farther west.” He then instructed us to disembark and proceed to the bus loop, where buses would be waiting to take us farther west.

Great. GO suddenly turns into Rapid Transit.

I followed the rest of the crowd to the one waiting bus and was lucky to get on board. With no more room left, the bus took off, leaving countless numbers left to wait for another bus. We then proceeded through stop-and-go rush-hour traffic from station to station along the QEW. It was only on board that I heard from other passengers that there was a fire near the tracks, which forced the temporary closure of the Lakeshore West line.

When we got to Appleby, rather than take us one more stop to the Burlington station, we were told to get off the bus and wait for the next westbound train. No signs were posted as to which track it would be on or when it would be coming, so I just followed the crowd and asked a few people who I recognized from the bus.

Seemingly almost by accident, I ended up in the right place and ended up as part of an interesting conversation with three 20-somethings named Abby, Maria and Constantine.

Though soft-spoken, Maria was by far the most talkative of the three, and we listened as she espoused her theories on government conspiracies. According to her, the government wants to legalize marijuana to keep the people from thinking for themselves, briefly touching on how smoking weed opens up some part of the brain that normally doesn’t get used. I didn’t quite follow her thought process, but then she went on to talk about how the government might have started the fires in Fort McMurray because of the oil.

As Maria was treating us to her pseudoscientific thoughts, Abby grabbed onto the guard rail behind us and started doing some stretching exercises. I was again reminded of a former colleague who used to get up during meetings and go through all sorts of weird gyrations and contorting himself into varied and unimaginable positions. One loyal reader and former colleague will remember and no doubt laugh heartily at this reference.

After claiming to be able to read people’s minds and proudly stating “I am everything,” Maria then started talking about how to save money by peeing in the shower. I listened patiently as she and Abby exchanged their thoughts on this riveting topic. I just know I can use this stuff somewhere in a future writing project and conveniently left the fact that I was a writer with an off-beat sense of humor out of the conversation.

With so much writing fodder in the air, I was almost disappointed when the train showed up. We all got on and, minutes later, we pulled up to the Burlington station. After saying our goodbyes, I got in line for the #12 bus to St. Catharines and an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall, again having squeezed full value from my travel dollars.

It ended up as a much different kind of adventure than I had planned, but no less interesting and one I won’t soon forget.

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

Yesterday, with camera in hand, I spent the day touring the Center of the Universe for the third time.

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After catching the bus in St. Catharines, I got to Burlington in good time and waited for the Lakeshore West train. Before pulling into Burlington, the bus driver made sure to thank us for traveling with GO Transit and to wish us a happy new year. It sure beats the F-you greetings more common in my former home city.

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There were a number of people on the train, but being so early in the morning, I was able to get a seat off to myself. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice once again how clean the train was. There were no condom wrappers, vomit, graffiti, or any indigents passed out after another night of ingesting near-lethal quantities of solvents mixed with beverages sold only at LCBO stores. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this. In fact, I think I have.

Moving on, my early morning peace was disturbed by a family of four who got on headed for the C.U. aquarium. Just in case anyone on the train was asleep, their six-year-old daughter gave us several wake-up calls by screaming at the top of her lungs intermittently while her mother was bundling her up in a snowsuit as if they were about to march across frozen tundra to the nearest igloo a hundred miles away. Though there was a little bit of a wind on this day, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. These people just don’t know what real cold is, and I can’t imagine what they would do if they had to experience a typical January in the SPRM.

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My ears were relieved when we pulled into Union Station, which is undergoing many renovations. This shot shows what much of the station will look like in time, but for now, it’s a real mess. Navigating around the place, even for someone like me who is good with directions, was a challenge.

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I eventually got to Front Street, where I began my tour by walking through the largely deserted Financial District.

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The RBC Center. Other banks have equally gaudy towers, and TD even has two of them. For the benefit of one loyal reader, TD stands for Toronto Dominion, not Town Drunk, in reference to a former colleague.

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Continuing east, I ended up in the Old Town district passing St. Lawrence Market.

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It may not look like much from the street, but after checking into it the next day, St. Lawrence Market is probably worth a trip in itself. They even offer 90-minute guided walking tours of the market and surrounding area.

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On the way, I couldn’t help but be struck by all the white stuff. No, this isn’t snow, it’s salt. One thing I’ve noticed here in Southern Ontario is that as soon as the temperature hits zero and snow is forecasted, they apply salt by the truckload.

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Another trademark feature of Southern Ontario is the much-improved cycling infrastructure compared with the SPRM. Here, there is a special bike lane on top of the curb on one of many numbered bike routes in Toronto.

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Later, I would find many indoor racks like this one along the Bay Street entrance at Union Station. There were bike racks everywhere and many cyclists were out and about despite what they would call extreme cold.

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My first destination was the Don Valley Parkway as I made my way east on Queen Street.

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Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

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I couldn’t help but notice this sign. One loyal reader will understand the reference as it relates to a late colleague who used to brag about the number of computer languages he claimed to know.

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This sign certainly got my “attenion.”

After getting some shots of the DVP for my road photos site at the Queen Street and Dundas Street overpasses, I proceeded north through the Regent Park neighborhood.

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From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

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There, I found the grave of the late Jack Chow.

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I may want to use a character based on Mr. Chow, Canada’s answer to Lenin, in a future book, so I got some pictures of the monument. Though I know someone who would have wanted me to spit on his grave, I resisted the temptation. As someone who has suffered under the policies of the NDP in the SPRM, however, I admit the temptation was strong. Very strong.

While at Mr. Chow’s grave, I could hear the sounds of poultry across the street at Riverdale Farm. Apparently it is open year-round and it will likely be a place I will be touring in a future visit.

Moving on, I made way through Cabbagetown, where there are two and a half dogs for every human. It reminded me very much of Wolseley in the SPRM’s capital, where I swear there must be a neighborhood bylaw that requires each resident to have at least one dog. Leashes optional, of course.

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I ended up at Carlton Street, where I continued west until I reached Maple Leaf Gardens.

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Inside the former home of the Leafs is now a full-service Loblaws grocery store, where I wandered about before taking a break at their little café inside.

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Perhaps not coincidentally, I spotted this vanity plate right outside the historic former arena.

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After that much-needed break, I continued down Carlton to Yonge Street and the arts district.

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From there I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square, where many were taking advantage of the outdoor skating rink.

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Nearby, I was struck by this scene where people were lined up for opera tickets.

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I stopped for this shot of Roy Thomson Hall before continuing back toward Union Station.

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On the way, I passed by the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, otherwise known as the evil CBC.

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I was particularly galled by this sign claiming that this was “private property,” conveniently ignoring the billions that Canadians have been forced to part with to prop up this propaganda-manufacturing empire.

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They have some nerve passing their lies off as “news.”

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My last destination was the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, where I browsed through their shop.

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Outside, they had a jersey from Jets legend Phil Housley.

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Back at Union Station, I couldn’t help but notice this beggar across the street, but one of many wandering the streets of Toronto.

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I noted with interest that he has a much better backpack than mine. Maybe I should have been begging him for money. Or I could simply call my MP, tell him I’m a refugee and hand him a forged Syrian passport.

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With my adventure in C.U. complete, I went up to the platform to wait for the Lakeshore West train to take me back to Burlington and the connection to the bus.

As we pulled out of Union Station, someone got on the intercom said, “Hello, my name is Ken and I’ll be your customer service ambassador this afternoon.” Well, good afternoon, Ken, my name is Curtis and I’ll be your passenger this afternoon.

As we got past Long Branch, an artificially cheery female voice replaced Ken, yet she failed to introduce herself. No doubt this is a major breach of GO protocol and if there was a supervisor on board, she’d be in some serious trouble.

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With a little bit of time in Burlington before the connecting bus, I made my way to the washroom. As you can see on the ramp, salt was again spread very generously.

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Again, more salt on the sidewalk.

Just as I was finishing up doing my business and getting ready to head to the sink, someone who was standing behind me, evidently eager for a conversation, said “Hi, how’s it going.” While I was washing my hands, he remarked about the “freezing cold” outside. I didn’t want to get into it with him, but trust me, +1 is not “freezing cold.” Try a 25-mile bike ride when it’s -20 outside, then come back and tell me about this “freezing cold.”

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Soon, our bus came, and about an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall. I was surprised it took that long, since our driver was passing cars as if they were standing still. I have become convinced that the 100 km/h posted speed limit on the QEW is, in fact, a minimum, and not a maximum speed.

In any event, it was certainly an interesting day and one I won’t soon forget.

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

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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 city 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Apparently, they were expecting me.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Moving on, I stopped for this shot outside City Hall.

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People enjoying themselves at this outdoor skating rink.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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At the north end of the building is an actual park, filled with, gasp, regular people.

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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.

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Needing to refuel, I stopped at this Subway on Bay Street, apparently in the newly renamed city of “Tronto.”

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After eating, I went to the washroom, where the seat was missing. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to sit down.

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Continuing down Bay Street, my curiosity was piqued when I saw a mass of humanity congregating on the sidewalk.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.