Archive | Ontario RSS for this section

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.

Robarts

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.

Acadia

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.

Beer

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

Fort McHenry and Fort York

This year being the bicentennial of the War of 1812, we Canadians have been bombarded with what strikes me as an odd media campaign celebrating our nationhood. Odd, because we Canadians don’t typically yell and shout out our patriotism. Odd, because videos like this one

seem to be doing a pretty good job at celebrating our nationhood at the expensive of the other guys. You know, the ones who are suppose to be Canada’s Best Friend. Longest undefended border and all that.

Truth is, I don’t remember ever being taught anything in school about the War of 1812. That might be because I was (mostly) educated in Alberta, and the war took place in Upper Canada (what we now call Ontario), Lower Canada (what we now call Quebec), and the United States. Or maybe it’s because we Canadians don’t really give that war much thought.

What little I know about the War of 1812 is that it had something to do with the British boarding American merchant ships and drafting American sailors into the British Navy. (Britain was busy fighting Napoleon at the time and needed all the sailors it could get its hands on.) The Americans didn’t like that much (who would?) and they declared war on the British.

What little I have read about the War of 1812 says that nobody actually won. It more or less came to a stalemate, and sometime in 1814 the powers that be worked out an agreement called the Treaty of Ghent that more or less left everything pre-war as the status quo. And ― oh yeah ― we burned the White House. That was in retaliation for the Yanks burning our Parliament Buildings in York (what we now call Toronto), which was then the capital of Upper Canada.

(As an aside: burning government houses was considered bad form back then, and trashing non-military targets simply wasn’t done in the age of the Gentlemen’s War. Which is why the Brits got a tad upset and why they turned around and burned the White House. I find it ironic that everybody remembers the Brits burned the White House, but nobody seems to remember that the Americans burned York.)

(And, just one more aside: I found out during my visit to Washington DC last summer that the White House came to be called that because, after said burning, it was painted white to cover up all the soot marks. President Theodore Roosevelt made it official almost a hundred years later by having stationery printed with the words “The White House” at the top.)

Back to the war: a more accurate assessment of the War of 1812 might be that we both won. The Americans call it their “second war of independence,” and after it was over we Canadians began to think of ourselves as a nation, and not just some fur trading post for the British.

And so (finally!), to the main topic of this blog post. On my visits last summer to Baltimore and Toronto, with the War of 1812 being foremost in my mind due to our tax dollars hard at work, I decided to visit Fort McHenry and Fort York.

Fort McHenry, I discovered, is not just a National Historic Monument, but a National Monument and Historic Shrine. That was pretty much evident during the video presentation I watched at the Visitors’ Center. The last image of the video, with the American anthem playing after the voice-over ends, is of the American flag. At the same time, the screen rises so that you are looking outdoors at the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. I tried not to snicker, but it was a bit hokey.

The end of the video presentation at the Fort McHenry Visitor's Center. The statue is of Francis Scott Key, and he's watching the Star Spangled Banner, still waving strong after the British bombarded the fort with rockets and guns for 25 hours.

The end of the video presentation at the Fort McHenry Visitor’s Center. The statue is of Francis Scott Key, and he’s watching the Star Spangled Banner, still waving strong after the British bombarded the fort with rockets and guns for 25 hours.

Back to the War of 1812: the British knew they needed to capture Fort McHenry if their campaign against Baltimore was to succeed. They attacked the fort at dawn on September 13, 1814, bombarding the fort for a day and a night, but eventually they gave up and stopped the bombardment. The problem was, the American guns had a range of 1.5 miles, and the British guns had a range of two miles. The British navy parked itself just out of range of Fort McHenry’s guns, but that meant the shells from their guns couldn’t reach Fort McHenry accurately. Only two shells out of over 1500 fired actually hit the fort. Talk about a waste of ammunition.

Battery of guns overlooking the Patapsco River, with Francis Scott Key Bridge in the distance. During the Battle of Fort McHenry, the British fleet parked itself well past where that bridge now spans the river.

Another gun overlooking the Patapsco River

And yet another gun pointed at the Patapsco River

After the bombardment stopped, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer who was being held by the British on a ship out in the Patapsco River, looked towards the fort and saw the large flag still flying. That told him the Americans were still in control of the fort. That same flag ― which measures an incredible 42 by 30 feet ― is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

When weather permits, an American flag the same dimensions of the original Star Spangled Banner is flown over Fort McHenry.

Francis Scott Key wrote the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” after the British released him and while he was on his way back to Baltimore. The “bombs bursting in air” line in the anthem refers to the British shells that were fired at Fort McHenry.

The national park ranger gives us a history lesson. I liked her model ships.

There isn’t much to see in Fort McHenry itself as it’s fairly small and there aren’t many buildings still standing. But you certainly get a feel for why its location was so important: it sits at the end of a narrow peninsula right at the entrance to Baltimore’s harbour, and is in a perfect position to defend the city. I took a water taxi out to the fort from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and it was a lovely, breezy way to see the harbour.

The barracks at Fort McHenry

Another view of the barracks. The barn-shaped building is the powder magazine.

The junior officers’ quarters. Note the plates of oysters. Clearly the junior officers ate well.

Fort York, on the other hand, is located in the midst of a bustling, growing city, right beside Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway. This made for some intriguing photos as I looked for interesting angles.

Fort York Barracks

Barracks and Bank Towers

Cannon and Gardiner Expressway

Cannon and Street Car

The museum displays at Fort York could use some updating, but it had many more rooms furnished in period pieces than did Fort McHenry, which makes a visit much more interesting. (Click on any of the photos below to open a slide show.)

The Americans attacked Fort York on April 27, 1813. The British were vastly outnumbered (750 British troops, 50 Mississauga and Ojibway warriors, and 12 guns vs. 2550 Americans, 15 naval vessels, and 85 cannon), and lost the battle, but the Americans suffered almost double the casualties of the British when the British blew up their own gunpowder magazine. The battle lasted six hours and cost 157 British lives and 320 American lives, including the American field commander. Afterwards, the Americans burned and looted the city of York, including the Government House and the Parliament Buildings (see above), and occupied the town for six days.

Barracks

The Blue Barracks were built in 1814 to house the junior officers. These are a reconstruction.

Brick Barracks and Mess

The Brick Barracks and Mess, built in 1815, housed the unmarried officers and served as the mess for all of the garrison’s officers.

Stone Magazine

The Stone Magazine was built in 1815 and had room for 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are two metres thick.

The Battle of York was a clear victory for the Americans, and marked their first invasion of British territory since the start of the war. But the battle itself wasn’t considered crucial to the outcome of the war and the Americans saw taking York merely as a stepping stone to the real prize: the Niagara Peninsula and, eventually, Kingston.

The Battle of Fort McHenry, on the other hand, was considered a turning point in the war, saved Baltimore from British invasion, and contributed to the early mythology of a nation still trying to forge its identity.

As for me, a gap in my Canadian history education has been filled, and my knowledge about the War of 1812 is now more complete. My government would be proud of me.

TIFF

By happenstance, I was in Toronto this year during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Which led to me taking the above photo.

I was walking up Yonge Street one afternoon on my way to meet a friend. I liked the look of the lights underneath the canopy at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, so I stopped to take a photo. Within seconds, several people stopped to see who I was taking a photo of (and by “who,” I mean which celebrity) and they began pulling out their own cameras and phones. At which point I smirked to myself, put my camera in my pocket, and continued on my way. Only during TIFF would pointing your camera at a movie theatre cause a traffic jam!

That night my friend and I saw a French film set in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a beautiful park in Paris I have yet to see for myself. I tried to get tickets to a few more films, but no luck there ― the ones I wanted to see were selling out as fast as I was trying to buy them online. No matter, though. Two of the films I was able to see a few weeks later at VIFF.

TIFF is a smaller festival than VIFF ― it shows fewer films and is five days shorter ― but it’s an industry event, so to speak, and therefore gets a lot of attention because Hollywood and the world’s media comes to town. I could feel the buzz in the air the entire time I was there, which makes September an exciting time to visit Toronto.