Tag Archives: Ontario

Going Underground

Thursday 15 September 2022 – In my last post I said I would tell you about our exploration of something that I’d vaguely heard about Toronto. And I will. I promise.

First, however, we had to attempt a photo of the building next to our hotel – the Royal Bank Plaza, which has gold-plated windows.  No, really. Unsurprisingly, there are many photos of this building online, such as this one, But no; we had to have our own.  So, it being a lovely sunny day, and after consultation with the Photographers Ephemeris to check sunshine angles, we hastened out to Bay Street.  This was the result (after a lot of processing to correct converging verticals):

Once again, this (which I think is not bad) was achieved with my mobile phone, as my Nikon’s lens couldn’t capture the whole building in one gestalt.  I could have gone back to the hotel room to fetch my wide-angle lens but (a) the sun would have been wrong by the time I got back and (b) we had urgent business – the day’s project – to attend to.

So, what do you do when walking about Toronto on a beautiful sunny day?  Of course – you go underground.  This is what I’ve been mysteriously referring to heretofore.


As you walk around Toronto, you see a lot of grilles in the sidewalks pavements: some small;

and some much larger.

Occasionally, you catch warm air coming out of them, or spot lights of various colours underneath.  This all started to make sense when Sandro, our guide from yesterday, mentioned “the Underground City” – a way of getting between buildings comfortably despite the -30 or -40°C temperatures regularly experienced here in winter.  It’s called PATH, a series of underground tunnels linking building basements and, as we discovered, it’s A Thing – really, Quite. A. Thing – the largest underground shopping complex in the world.  29 kilometres of underground walkways connecting over 70 buildings and incorporating everything that citizens need without them having to go above ground – shops, eateries, medical facilities – as well as the basic businesses it connects (each of whom – banks, department stores etc, is responsible for their own basements, as it were).

It started in 1900, when the Eaton’s department store constructed a tunnel underneath James Street, allowing shoppers to walk between the Eaton’s main store at Yonge and Queen streets and the Eaton’s Annex located behind the (then) City Hall.  It expanded under city planner Matthew Lawson – clearly a man of vision – in the 1960s. Toronto’s downtown sidewalks were overcrowded, and new office towers were removing the much-needed small businesses from the streets. Lawson convinced several important developers to construct underground malls, pledging that they would eventually be linked. What a salesman he must have been.

Anyway, this was something we simply had to explore.

You can get to PATH from our hotel, which we did (actualy the second tunnel ever created as part of what then became PATH); and then immediately got lost, since we had no clues as to compass or street directions.  We (Jane) eventually sorted it out, with some assistance from a nice young man wearing a Security uniform and ad hoc access to the internet courtesy of passing WiFi  hotspots.

It’s extraordinary.

Having got underground to Union Station’s Great Hall

we plunged into the underworld

and blundered about whilst we sorted ourselves out.  From there, we wandered this network of shops,


and hallways.

(this last, showing a host of ATMs in a pretty much deserted hallway, reminds me that this was quiet because the sun was shining; during the winter, I bet it’s much busier.)

It’s quite interesting to note, as you move from the domain of one building to the next, that the colours and other look-and-feel cues change at the “border”.

There are massive food halls,

dental and medical facilities, including this pop-up Covid vaccination centre,

special messages among the digital advertising billboards,

fleeting glimpses of the outside world,

and occasional insights into the phenomenal amount of work that went into creating PATH and which needs to go into maintaining it.

After covering a couple of miles of this, we eventually emerged, blinking, into


the upper domain of street level.

We were near the Old City Hall

and its modern replacement,

the setting of which gave plenty of scope for more photographic angles.

We were on Bay Street, which effectively leads back to our hotel, so we walked towards it, and, on the left, spotted another Architectural Thing – Brookfield Place, which is a sufficiently massive building that you can hardly comprehend it from the street, but which houses a lovely atrium, the Allen Lambert Galleria.

The Overground part of the day finished with a visit to one of Toronto’s defining landmarks, the CN Tower, for dinner. It’s about a 10-minute walk from our hotel, and we used our (Jane’s) new-found confidence in navigating PATH to get there without going outdoors – via the Skyway.

As we arrived, we had to pause for the obligatory ridiculous picture up this 553-metre tower, once the tallest free-standing building in the world until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai sprang up.

There’s a security check and an efficient queuing system, which favours People Like Us (i.e. with restaurant reservations – you can just pay to go up to gawk if you want) and then you’re whisked up to the revolving restaurant in just about a minute, in an elevator with a glass door and a (rather scuffed) glass floor.

We had a nice dinner, with courteous service from our waiter, Juan, and (because they didn’t give us window seats) I made a bit of a nuisance of myself squeezing past tables to take photos of the views of the city and the islands as we slowly revolved past them.

(The Rogers Arena had its roof open today)

Whilst we were eating, the sun set and, after dinner, we went down a level to the observation deck, where hoi polloi had been gawping at the view and taking selfies, to look at the city by night,

and also to mark the forty three years since Jane’s last visit.  This is her original photo.

Note that the landmark in her photo, the white Bank of Montreal building, has rather more surrounding masonry now than it used to. (We do have a night time shot, but it hardly makes any sense, hence not included here.)

We then joined the 10-minute queue for the elevators back down to ground level and headed back to the hotel for a final drink in the…

….Wobbling Free

Library Bar, which is a very classy place in which to have a martini.

And that was it for the day. And for Toronto, really, since tomorrow we leave for Ottawa after an absorbing, varied and enjoyable three days here.  If all goes well, we’ll take the train and have an entirely unremarkable day, in which case I’ll be back to report on Ottawa in a couple of days’ time.  I hope you’ll join me then as we continue our eastward journey.

Falls Guys

Wednesday 14 September 2022 – Although it was interesting to wander around Toronto yesterday (and tomorrow promises to be even more interesting, but you’ll have to come back and find out, won’t you?) I suppose that a visit to Niagara Falls was the principal reason for coming here. Our itinerary was a full day; not just the Falls, but some other items as well. It was a long day and a good one.

(By the way, there is more than just the Falls in this post, in case you were feeling blasé about the Falls themselves.)

Our instructions were to meet “at the York Street entrance” to the hotel. Our attempt to find this from inside the hotel met with failure, so we exited by a different door and walked round to York Street, to find that the hotel entrance was not accessible, being behind boards advertising the wonders within. We wondered whether perhaps we should wait elsewhere, but there were a couple of other people standing there looking worried and clutching bits of paper and we established that they were on the same excursion as we were; and gradually a small mob of people gathered, each new arrival checking that, yes, this was the Niagara Falls trip before joining the increasing numbers on the pavement.

Eventually a coach turned up and we all surged towards it to be met by our guide, Sandro,

who checked people off as they got on. Initially, it seemed he was not quite in control, but as the day wore on it became quite clear that he was very experienced, to the point where (within limits) he felt able to make things up as he went along. It took a while for the last stragglers to find the bus, but soon we were off on the 90-minute drive to Niagara.

The Niagara River is well-known as running between two of the Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie, you’ll remember); but it’s not the only way that water gets from the one to the other, as there is a canal enabling ships to get between the lakes via a series of 7 locks (to address the drop of around 90m between Erie and Ontario). As we approached the falls, we passed the canal and Sandro pointed it out as we went by.

And then we were at the Falls. We didn’t immediately stop there, as Sandro got the driver to take us a bit upriver, past the old Hydro Electric Power Station building

(the Falls drives the largest production of hydroelectric power in North America) to what Sandro called the locks

but which were actually sluices, controlling the flow between the American and Canadian sides of the Falls in a mutually-agreed fashion. You can see, for example, that some of the sluice gates are open in the photo above. The sluices also reduce the overall volume of water going over the Falls as a way of controlling erosion. This erosion already means that the site of the Falls has moved 11km upstream over thousands of years; left unchecked, the falls would move one metre per year, but with the sluices this is reduced to just 3 centimetres.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the area around the falls. My original mental image had them as being fairly isolated from civilisation, but a blog post from my brother, Chris, who had visited earlier and stayed at the Falls, gave me the impression that huge buildings loomed over everything, leaving barely room for the water to squeeze through. In the end, neither is the case. It’s not isolated, but neither did I feel overpowered by looming buildings.

There is a walkway beside the Falls, from which you get an increasing idea of the power and volume of them.

(This is the Horseshoe Falls – the Canadian side; there are other Falls on the US side also visible from the walkway –

the American Falls to the left and the Bridal Veil Falls to the right.)

Simply seeing the Falls is pretty dramatic, but one can join boats to go closer to them – Maid of the Mist from the US side (people in blue ponchos) and Hornblower from the Canadian side (people in red).

I made a video, which might help convey some of this, also.

The boat trip was to be our afternoon’s entertainment, but first we had lunch (with a view

and a desultory attempt to practise my Swedish with the other people on our table) in the welcome centre there, which is called Table Rock.

Then it was time for the boat. The organisation is pretty slick, getting crowds of people into an elevator down towards the river level, equipping them with the very important ponchos to protect from the worst of the forthcoming drenching, and into queues for the next boat.

The boats are, of course, pretty crowded

and it can be difficult to get a clear view of the Falls. At times that doesn’t matter, as approaching the Horseshoe Falls results in getting sprayed with a considerable amount of water

(it’s not a mist; more of a monsoon – I was very glad I hadn’t bothered to take my big camera with me, as it would probably not have withstood the treatment). However, one can get some decent shots.

(You can just make out people at the top of the Falls, to give an idea of scale.)

It’s quite a bracing experience!

After all of that excitement, we got (damply) back on the coach, exited past the other retail opportunities which have sprung up around the Falls

and headed towards the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Away from the commercialism of the Falls, the area of Niagara is a very pleasant place – a nice residential area, a golf course, other green spaces. Sandro took us via what he built up as “the largest church in the world”

(which is also the site of a fruit farm with a very distinguished name),

and a locally well-known floral clock

with flowers grown and provided by the students of the nearby botanical gardens. Behind the clock you can see a hint of the huge electricity generation and supply infrastructure which, powered by the Falls, supplies both Canada (2GW peak power) and the US (2.4GW).

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very pretty town – also a National Historical site – with a remarkable Heritage District because of its remarkable, erm, heritage. It served as the first capital of the province of Upper Canada, the predecessor of Ontario; was razed during battles between America and Canada in 1812; and was then rebuilt. It is so pretty and so well-maintained that it’s almost too perfect, really; but it’s very photogenic.

It’s not devoid of modern influences

and has the oldest pharmacy in Canada.

The place even has a dedicated Christmas shop – Canada’s oldest year-round Christmas emporium, we learn. Nowhere’s perfect, I suppose.

The streets are laden with beautiful flowers

which are also maintained by the botanical garden students.

The town is at the heart of a wine district. Ontario wine region is actually the most productive of Canada’s wine regions, thanks to the Niagara Peninsula province. This was news to me; I was sufficiently ignorant that I didn’t realise that Canada produced any wine at all until today. So our next and final stop was at Niagara College Wine Visitor and Education Centre

where we were treated to a brief wine tasting session

with – gosh! – the opportunity to buy some of the produce.

(Jane was so impressed with the eiswein produced here that she bought a couple of bottles.)

And so ended a very full, varied and enjoyable day of relentless tourism. Tomorrow will be our last day in Toronto and we hope to set out to discover something about it that I had vaguely heard about but hadn’t realised was A Thing. To find out more, please join us again after tomorrow when (I hope) All Will Be Revealed.