Tag Archives: Toronto

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.

Onto Toronto

Tuesday 13 September 2022 – First things first: I haven’t written anything about yesterday. That’s because there’s not much to write. The satnav got us to the airport in the rental car; Avis took it back without demur, despite the bug splatter on the windscreen, we stood in the check-in queue for a WestJet flight to Toronto which took off and arrived approximately on time, we were wafted to our hotel – the Royal York, another city-block-size Fairmont slab of masonry – we had drinks and dinner before bed. (By the way, Toronto was originally called York because the settlers didn’t want to use the native, Mohawk, name Tkaronto.)

The only thing worthy of mention was the arrival at Toronto airport. Our instructions said that someone would meet us “in the lobby”. When we got to what passes for a lobby after you leave the baggage carousels, it was quiet – too quiet. Not only was there no-one there to meet us, there was no-one there to meet anyone, which, you must agree, is odd, There was a desk there labelled “pre-arranged transfers”, with a lady sitting behind it. After a couple of minutes I decided to ask her if she knew anything about our expected transfer, expecting a blank look and a shrug. However, she consulted her computer and told us that our driver would be there in five or six minutes. So we went and stood outside the door, where there were chaotic scenes of punters trying to find drivers and vice versa; after a couple of minutes a chap bustled pass muttering “Dr. Jane?” so we flagged him down and he whisked us to the hotel. I don’t know how that system works, but I was quite impressed.

That was yesterday; today was a day with no formal programme. Jane had had a chat with the concierge, which meant, though, that There Was Now A Plan. For once, this did not involve going for a wander. Yet.

Instead, we opted for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour (in part, at least, because the weather was looking a bit doubtful). The bus we’d intended to catch was (a) a little bit early and (b) wasn’t quite following the route that the bus company’s map described and so wasn’t stopping where we had expected. But we stood in the middle of the road and waved, and the nice driver let us on anyway and we stayed with the bus until it reached the harbour so that we could join the cruise that comes as part of the ticket price. The cruise basically goes out to the Islands in the lake (Ontario – one of the five Great Lakes you remember from your geography lessons, because you were paying attention, weren’t you?) that the city lies beside. I hadn’t realised until that point that Toronto’s harbour featured any islands, but there they are – 14 of ’em.

Obviously, going out on the water gives many chances to take photos of Toronto’s skyline.

The central island even has a small airport on it – Billy Bishop airport, named after a Canadian WWII flying ace. Other islands feature marinas, parks, residential areas and all sorts of other entertainment possibilities too diverse to go into here.

At least one of the smaller islands features more cormorants than I have ever seen in any one place before in my life.

There were thousands of ’em! Fortunately it was not a hot day, so the smell, which is apparently legendary, was not too oppressive. They’re not the most popular of wildlife around these parts, we understand; partly because of the smell, and partly because the guano appears to be killing the trees.

After the cruise we walked back towards the bus stop, past a very cute wavy boardwalk

which is one of many curiosities that the city has to offer. Once back on the bus, in occasional showers of rain which were thankfully only intermittent, we started to get to grips with mainland Toronto.

Which is messy.

It’s an inevitable consequence of the climate. The guide on the bus explained that Toronto has only two seasons – Winter and Construction. During Winter, it’s too cold to do any building work, so once the weather is warmer, the city is afflicted by a plague of road and construction works.

Toronto strikes me as being similar in many ways to London. There are some lovely older buildings, squashed in and towered over by modern ones.

Above is our hotel. There is some lovely brickwork

and some streets have got attractive older properties in them.

There are some great artistic flourishes on some buildings

and plenty of standalone artworks around.

(what, you may ask, is the reason for the expression on the cat’s face? The answer….

….a fountain of 27 dogs, all aiming at the golden bone!).

Other things we noted as we passed: striking modern architecture;

the huge indoor St. Lawrence market

(where, incidentally, against all my expectations and in the very first boutique we looked at, we found a supply of Twinings Earl Grey teabags sufficient to last us for the rest of the holiday);

an Ice Hockey Hall of Fame;

a central square (Yonge and Dundas) with a blaze of huge digital advertising hoardings;

incredibly confusing traffic instructions;

a heritage railway museum

(including this tiny train which ran on compressed air to reduce the risk of causing a fire in the rope factory where it was used);

and the historic Distillery District, now a place of eateries and shopperies.

Some of these photos were taken from the bus (mainly by Jane) and others on a subsequent walkabout (see, we couldn’t resist going for a walk, after all – we were lone rangers in Toronto).

Because we leave Toronto by train in a few days’ time, we also looked in on Union Station

and noted, outside a side entrance to our hotel, cars parked on double yellow lions.

All this was from covering a mere fraction of Toronto – there are more lovely brick buildings, churches, University premises and all sort of other interesting things to see, all mixed in with the paraphernalia of a bustling, modern, big city – monstrous high-rise apartment and office blocks, tedious traffic queues, noise, homelessness and pollution – many things to like and many that are less attractive. But all in all it was a good day, and we felt that the walking we did justified a few cocktails in the hotel bar once we got back there.

Tomorrow is Niagara Falls Day. We hope that the weather will be kind to us and I hope to be able to bring you some photos of the experience (though I expect everyone’s seen masses of photos of the falls before now). Tune in tomorrow to see how we got on, won’t you?