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Canada 150: Ottawa

So, here’s a thing. In putting together my Canada 150 series for this blog, I realized that I actually remember the last time Canada threw a big party for its birthday.

That would be Canada’s Centennial, way back in 1967. (I know, I know. I’m dating myself.)

I was in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, with my family, and I remember watching the Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill while sitting on my dad’s shoulders. I remember crying, because I was frustrated that I could not see over other people’s heads.

(I don’t know what it says about me that my earliest memory is of being frustrated, but there it is.)

I took this photo of the Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill many years later. Fully grown, at almost 5 feet 10 inches tall, I’m happy to say I no longer have any trouble seeing over other people’s heads.


Don Valley Brick Works

And … I’m back.

Back in Canada, that is.

After 10 days on walkabout in southern Germany and Belgium, I have my feet firmly planted once again on Canadian soil. It’s good to be here.

My week in Toronto is mostly about work, and I have to remind myself I’m still allowed to play tourist in a city I know so well.

Which is why I’m posting this photo. The friend whose home is my home when I’m in Toronto has been telling me about her new favourite place for months now, and she showed it to me last Saturday afternoon. The Don Valley Brick Works is an old quarry and brick factory that provided most of the bricks for Toronto’s oldest and finest buildings for over a hundred years. It ceased production in the 1980s and has been converted into a park and cultural centre since my last visit to Toronto.

I love city parks, and this one’s a gem.

Canada 150: Prince Edward County

As a follow-up to my previous post, heres a thought: one thing that makes living in Toronto so much more pleasant is having access to a cottage during the summer. The entire city (it seems) exits Toronto on Friday afternoons and doesn’t return until Sunday evening.

Many employers cater to this lifestyle by implementing summer hours, where you come in a half hour early every morning, but get to leave early on Fridays. It’s a great perk if you are lucky enough to work for such an employer.

I was.

And, as it happened, I also had access to a “cottage” — my parents’ home, who along with my much younger brother lived in Ontario for five years of the decade I lived in Toronto. Like the rest of the city, I would throw an overnight bag into my car on Friday mornings and leave the office at 1 p.m. sharp, heading east along the 401. It was always heavy traffic, but not as heavy as what you’d encounter at 5 p.m. (If for some reason I couldn’t get away early, I waited until 8 p.m. to start the trek.)

The minute I exited the 401, I literally felt the weight of the week lift from my shoulders. (I write “literally” quite deliberately as it was a profound feeling.) My turn-off was Highway 33, also known as the Loyalist Parkway. I would drive around the Bay of Quinte through villages with names like Carrying Place and Consecon and Wellington. If it was May, I’d roll down my window and breathe in the heady scent of lilacs in full bloom.

Finally, about three hours or so after leaving the office, I would pull into my parents’ driveway for a weekend of garage-saling and antiquing with my mother and afternoons on the beach with my little brother.

Loyalist Parkway is called that because it runs through the middle of the area where people loyal to the British Crown (the United Empire Loyalists) were encouraged to settle in the years following the American Revolution. The British gave the Loyalists land grants, and the peninsula that juts out into Lake Ontario was created a county in 1792 by the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. It was named Prince Edward County after one of George III’s sons, but those who live there call it, simply, “The County.”

In my mind, it’s one of the prettiest corners of Ontario.

I look this photo in the old Quaker Cemetery across the road from where my parents used to live. The cemetery epitomizes for me the history of the area. How could it not, with headstones that date back 200 years?

If only they could talk.

Canada 150: Toronto

I think it would be terribly irresponsible of me not to acknowledge in my Canada 150 series the city that Canadians love to hate.

And that would be because I gave ten years of my life to that city. They were a great ten years and I have a lot of affection for Canada’s largest city.

To celebrate Toronto, here is a photo of the Gooderham Building, also known as Toronto’s Flatiron Building, which is located in the St. Lawrence area of downtown Toronto. Completed in 1892, it was built for the distiller George Gooderham and served as the headquarters of the Gooderham and Worts distillery until 1952.

Canada 150: Thunder Bay

After Neepawa, the next bit of excitement for my sister and me while on leg one of my cross-Canada road trip was reaching the Manitoba–Ontario border. Our destination was Toronto and so, after passing the “Welcome to Ontario” sign, I turned to my sister and said, “Almost there!”

Ha. Not so much. I had no idea. Turns out it takes just as long to drive across the province of Ontario as it does to drive across the three Prairie provinces. (Funny how it takes actual travel to make distances seem real.)

The first major centre you come to in Ontario is Thunder Bay. And on the other side of Thunder Bay is the Terry Fox Monument. The bronze statue commemorates where Terry Fox had to stop his cross-Canada run after 143 days and 5373 kilometres due to the recurrence of his cancer. That was on September 1, 1980.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981. He was 22.

World Cup Fever

World Cup Fever has hit Canada bigtime. The last (and only) time Canada had a team qualify for the FIFA World Cup was way back in 1986. Without a national team to cheer for, Canadians as a rule become hyphenated Canadians during the World Cup tournament and cheer for their country of origin.

It can get a little crazy if you live in Toronto’s Little Italy (and not only because it’s right next door to Little Portugal). I watched the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy with my Italian-Canadian friends (and 50,000 other hyphenated Canadians) at what was then called the Sky Dome where it was broadcast live on the jumbotron. What we didn’t realize until it was too late to move was that we chose to sit smack in the middle of the Portuguese-Canadians ― all of whom were cheering for the team we were not cheering for.

To celebrate the Netherlands’ glorious 5–1 victory over Spain today ― a rematch of the World Cup 2010 final ― this Dutch-Canadian is posting a photo of FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, where that 2010 final was played. During World Cup 2010, the stadium was called Soccer City.

Soccer City

University of Toronto

Next up on my tour of schools I’ve photographed: the University of Toronto. I was a student here myself a long time ago, just for a year, and to this day I consider it the prettiest of all the schools I’ve attended (and there’ve been a few).

When I commented to my sister on the architectural style of the buildings at Johns Hopkins, she asked me what the buildings at U of T looked like.

“They’re neo-Gothic,” I said. Also called Gothic Revival, you see neo-Gothic buildings all over Canada ― our Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are probably the best-known example.

The University of Toronto has been around since 1827, has a dozen colleges on three campuses, and is the largest university in Canada with an enrollment of 75,000 students. I took these photos of the St. George campus when I was in Toronto exactly a year ago this week.

Not all of the buildings on the St. George campus are neo-Gothic. The main building of Victoria University, shown below, is called Richardsonian Romanesque, after its architect, Henry Hobson Richardson.

Old Vic

Trinity College is in the Jacobethan style.

Trinity College

And this monstrosity, Robarts Library, was built in the 1970s in what is known as Brutalist Architecture. Appropriate name for the look, I should think. It’s not-so-affectionately known as “the Turkey” by the students of U of T; I’m sure you can figure out why.


Queen’s Day

Today is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. The Dutch call it Koninginnedag. It’s their country’s equivalent of Canada Day or the Fourth of July ― the day when the Dutch celebrate their nation. They celebrate Queen’s Day on April 30 because that was the birthday of Queen Juliana, who was the mother of Queen Beatrix, who is the mother of King Willem-Alexander, who became king today.

The Dutch monarchs have a tradition of abdicating the throne to their children, and that’s what happened today. Queen Beatrix will now be known as Princess Beatrix, and her oldest son, Willem-Alexander, is, as of today, king of this tiny nation of 17 million people.

So why am I posting a photo of Canada’s Parliament Buildings on the Dutch national holiday? I’m glad you asked.

I posted this photo because the Dutch Royal Family has a Canadian connection. Queen Beatrix spent part of her childhood in Ottawa, when Canada gave shelter to the Dutch Royals during World War II. After the war was over, the Dutch Royals sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa as a sign of gratitude for the hospitality shown to then-Princess Juliana and her children during the war, and also as a thank you to the Canadian soldiers who played a key role in the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis in 1945.

Juliana sent more tulip bulbs the next year, and every year of her reign, which lasted from 1948 until 1980. Today, more than a million tulips bloom in Ottawa each spring, and its tulip festival, said to be one of the largest in the world, is celebrated every May.

Parliament Buildings

Dishing: Pizzeria Libretto

Pizzeria Libretto

Here’s one last post on food, and then I’ll let you all go back to your New Year’s resolutions. (Which I know you’re following religiously.)

This post is about how I discovered Naples on the Danforth. The Danforth, for those of my readers unfamiliar with Toronto’s Greektown, is Souvlaki Central. A decade ago, there wasn’t much variety in the way of restaurants on the Danforth ― it was all Greek all the time. Every time I went back to Toronto for a visit, I made sure to get my fill of the best souvlaki in the country (in my humble opinion).

But during my most recent visit to the Centre of the Universe, I realized the Danforth is undergoing a transformation. There is still a heavy Greek influence, to be sure, but there’s a whole lot more as well.

Including Italian.

My friend insisted while I was in town that we eat at least one night at Pizzeria Libretto, a neighbourhood pizzeria that serves Real Neapolitan Pizza certified by VPN. (Verace Pizza Napoletana is a non-profit association that protects and promotes real Neapolitan pizza around the world.) She promised me I wouldn’t regret it.

I didn’t.

Pizzeria Libretto is about the closest I’ve been to Italian pizza outside of Italy. Libretto is Italian for “booklet.” You fold the pizza at Pizzeria Libretto like a booklet ― that’s the only way you’ll get it in your mouth, unless you deign to eat your pizza with a knife and fork. Pizza crust that soft and that thin ― that’s a true Neapolitan pizza. Our pizza Margherita had a super thin, soft crust, the thinnest layer of tomato sauce, the freshest basil, dollops of fresh mozzarella cheese … and it was baked in a wood-fired oven. Heaven on earth, truly, for pizza lovers.

Margherita pizza

There was no room upstairs when we arrived (we didn’t have a reservation), but lots of room downstairs and the attentive service was excellent. Pizzeria Libretto has a stylish but down-to-earth décor ― I went dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, and Birkenstocks. I really liked the water bottles they used, with the name Pizzeria Libretto stamped on the side, and asked to buy one to take home with me. Our server said he was sure it wouldn’t be a problem, but then someone with a higher pay grade vetoed his decision. To help me get over my disappointment (I’m thinking), our server brought us complimentary after-dinner digestifs.

Before my evening at Pizzeria Libretto, I would tell people that the best souvlaki outside of Greece is made on the Danforth. Now I will tell everyone that the Danforth also has the best pizza outside of Italy. It was so good, in fact, I went back the next week with another friend for lunch. I never did get my souvlaki fix.

Wine and Water

Dishing: Acadia

Update: Acadia closed in December 2013.


My friend was so impressed with our experience at Jean-Georges in New York City last summer that she decided we should check out some fine dining options in Toronto as long as I was in town. We decided on Acadia, which features the “flavors and techniques of Acadian and Lowcountry cuisine” and was rated by enRoute magazine as Canada’s fourth-best new restaurant of 2012. My friend (“C”) spends part of every summer in modern-day Acadia (aka Nova Scotia), she and I had travelled together many years ago to Louisiana, and I once spent a month in South Carolina, so we were both rather curious to see what Acadia had to offer on its menu.

Plus, a friend of C’s (“J”) ― also from Nova Scotia and in town for TIFF ― would be joining us. There was no debate. Acadia was our #1 choice.

(And we pause here momentarily for a brief history and geography lesson: Acadia, as I’m sure you all know, is that part of North America (present-day Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) settled by the French in the early seventeenth century. Its connection to Louisiana is that, when the British deported most of the Acadians between 1755 and 1763, many of them ended up in Louisiana, which at that time was still a colony of New France. Their descendents are known as Cajuns.

Not so well known (OK, yes, I admit it: I looked this up on Wikipedia) is the Lowcountry region. It’s the South Carolinian coast, and food typical to the area is known as Lowcountry cuisine.

That’s it for today’s lesson ― we now return to our regular programming.)

C and I arrived early, so we each ordered a bourbon-based cocktail to start. As we waited for J to arrive, we devoured an order of chicken cracklin’ with hot sauce and blue cheese. The cracklin’ are like thin, smooth potato chips, but they’re made from stretched chicken skin, not potatoes. I know, I know … it sounds disgusting, but trust me ― these are addictive. The blue cheese was foamy and light, and we scooped it up with each cracklin’ like dip.

Chicken cracklin’ with hot sauce and blue cheese

Chicken cracklin’ with hot sauce and blue cheese

When J arrived, appropriately famished as well, he ordered a beer and we ordered another round of the chicken cracklin’, as well as the spiced beer nuts, flavoured with brown butter and paprika, and Acadia’s cornbread, which is served with whipped pork butter and mesquite.


Acadia’s cornbread, with whipped pork butter and mesquite

Acadia’s cornbread, with whipped pork butter and mesquite

After the nibblies and drinks were gone, we were ready for the serious stuff. We each ordered a different starter. C choose Anson Mills grits with Gulf prawn, oyster mushroom, pimento cheese, and ham hock consommé. Anson Mills is located in South Carolina, so these were the authentic southern grits I remember. I came to like grits mixed with scrambled eggs during my month of South Carolinian breakfasts. I like grits with eggs; I like grits for breakfast. But as a starter? With prawns? Never mind — C was happy. She gave me a taste, but I’ll be honest: not my favourite and I found it a curious dish.

J ordered the charred octopus served with crispy pork belly, tomatillo, new potato, spicy collards, and a black vinaigrette. He summed it up as simply the best octopus he’d ever eaten. I’ll admit I had some regrets on not ordering it when I saw his plate.

I had chilled corn soup with andouille, yellow plum, smoked cream, and tarragon. All the texture was in the andouille and plum that lay at the bottom of the bowl because the soup was as smooth as consommé. I soon got over my octopus-regret; my soup was delicious.

Chilled corn soup with andouille, yellow plum, smoked cream, and tarragon

Chilled corn soup with andouille, yellow plum, smoked cream, and tarragon

Before the arrival of our main courses, our server came by with the most sincerest of warnings. We needed to prepare ourselves. More accurately, I needed to prepare myself, because, in her words, I was about to experience “some serious food envy.”

She wasn’t kidding. C and J had ordered the special of the night: an entire braised veal shank to share. It left all three of us speechless. It was encircled by chanterelle mushrooms and tomatoes of a variety of colours.

The magnificent veal shank

The magnificent veal shank

So magnificent it deserves a second photo

So magnificent it deserves a second photo

I had scallops (miniscule, our server teased me, compared to the veal shank), with shaved foie gras, celery purée, pecan, Concord grape, and scuppernong mustard. Scallop is one of my favourite types of sea food, so I can be quite forgiving, but no need this time. They were excellent. But I also had a few bites of the veal shank, and had to admit that it too was delicious.

Scallops with shaved foie gras, celery purée, pecan, Concord grape, and scuppernong mustard

Scallops with shaved foie gras, celery purée, pecan, Concord grape, and scuppernong mustard

It didn’t take long before J and C admitted they were defeated. Truthfully, that hunk of meat was enough for four people. Our server grinned. “Oh, so it’s going to be lunch tomorrow?” she asked.

C piped up that she would appreciate some suggestions on what to do with the veal in the way of leftovers. “I don’t want to ruin it,” she said. We were surprised and delighted to see Acadia’s chef, Patrick Kriss, come to our table after we had been served our desserts, speaking most earnestly, and advising C to braise the leftover meat in chicken stock to retain the moisture. “Don’t put it in the microwave,” he warned. “That will dry the meat out.” We were all impressed by the attention he gave us ― although, if I think about it, it was probably the veal shank he was most concerned about.

For dessert, I had wild blueberry sorbet with peaches, lavender, and ricotta, while J and C shared a dark chocolate cremeaux with milk sorbet, pistachio, and cherries. Espresso to finish, and we were sated. My Toronto readers: if you’re interested in a medley of cuisines and a lesson in geography, check out Acadia. I highly recommend it.

Wild blueberry sorbet with peaches, lavender, and ricotta,

Wild blueberry sorbet with peaches, lavender, and ricotta