My first excursion into the land of our northern neighbor was a trip to Toronto to see a concert. Being a naïve twenty-something at the time, I had unusual expectations for what I would encounter. When I drove into the country (pre-9/11 times here), the only hassle I got was for not having my dog’s papers. After assuring the border guards she was a good pup, my friend and I made our way on towards the city. At first we were a little confused by the speed limit signs posted in kilometers, and then, when we stopped for gas and paid in cash, we had a little trouble understanding the exchange rate – and the method of exchange. You see, we paid in American dollars and got back our change in Canadian dollars. Like I said, we were naïve twenty-somethings.
One of the more exhilarating parts of our trip was the drive through downtown Toronto. Having grown up in the farm country of the Midwest, I had been to larger cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, but for whatever reason I was mesmerized as if I had stepped into another world. And in a way I had. Toronto has the second largest population of foreign born inhabitants behind Miami, Florida; and unlike Miami, its mix spans all the corners of the globe – Miami’s diversity is primarily Cuban or Latin American. We finally made our way to the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre (actually located on Lake Shore Drive, so quite fitting given last month’s Small World Chicago), a multi-use venue that had been resurrected after the demolition of the original venue, The Forum, which was built in the early 1970s. The venue sits at Ontario Place, a multi-use site that includes the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports, as well as a now defunct theme park that many hope reopens sometime in the near future.
Toronto is dotted with beautiful architecture throughout its urban melting pot boundaries. Of particular note is the Canadian National Tower, or CN Tower, which was completed in 1976, and at the time was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. It is still the tallest tower in North America at over 1,800 feet. In 1995, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World. Also appearing on this list are the Channel Tunnel which links France and England, the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge. The CN Tower was originally designed to be a tripod consisting of three cylindrical pillars. Had this idea come to fruition, it would have been considerably shorter, rising to where the space deck (called the SkyPod) sits today at just under 1,500 feet. However, the biggest attraction on the CN Tower may be its Edge Walk, which at nearly 1,200 feet is the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free walking platform.
Toronto was first incorporated as York in the late 18th Century, but reverted to its present-day name in 1834 as a nod to its original native name of “tkaranto,” an Iroquois word that means, “place where trees stand in water.” The original “settlers” thought the ravine system in the area would make a great sewer (ah, history), and as a result, most of the waterways were covered over and exist only in the storm drains. Today, these bodies of water are included in a project called “The Lost River Walks,” whose aim is to educate participants about Toronto’s past. The walk consists of eleven brooks, streams and rivers that once provided natives of the area with abundant water.
Today, Toronto is considered by many to be one of the most progressive cities in the world. It has a very low crime rate compared to other cities of its size in North America, take for example its homicide rate is 3.3 per 100,000 as compared to Atlanta’s at 19.7 per 100,000. Toronto also boasts health and education systems that are highly sought after global models (well, depending where you fall on those issues that is, we won’t say any more than that!). Toronto is also blessed with 300 sunny days a year (though not all warm, of course) which tends to make for happier citizens who can enjoy their daily commutes and activities. And while that much sun should be reason enough to get outside, in those colder months, the inhabitants are surely glad to have PATH, the world’s largest underground pedestrian system servicing some 1,200 stores and restaurants. It’s nice to have options!