We say goodbye to all the Braunds who are heading homeward as we have to get to the Chelsea Hotel to meet up with our package tour co-travellers. From now on, the days have two numbers to help me keep organised; one is the day of our holiday the other is the day of our tour – hope you can keep up. We investigate various ways of getting ourselves and our possessions to the new hotel. As we don’t want to walk for twenty five minutes with six weeks’ worth of luggage or change several times on public transport, it seems a taxi is our logical option. This will, we are told, cost us a serious amount of money (they are not wrong) but we bite the bullet. It seems all taxi drivers in Canada drive without any hands on the wheel – we manage to survive. We had the option to meet the rest of the tourists at the airport, to which we could have had free travel but we clearly didn’t think this through and when asked to state where we would join the others we stupidly opted for the hotel.
Once at the hotel, I am relieved to find, after some confusion during which I am mistaken for the tour guide (do I look like a tour guide?), that our names are recognised, so we must be in the right place. This is Canada’s largest hotel with 1590 rooms. To save time, certain lifts stop at particular floors only, we need blue lifts and can resume the ‘guess which lift will arrive first’ game that we played on the cruise. In fact the hotel is about the same size as the Celebrity Eclipse and the corridors are as confusing. We are on the eighteenth floor, with an accessible balcony from which to view the town. Did I mention that I like heights about as much as I like the 401? I am excited to realise that this might be the Chelsea Hotel – as in Leonard Cohen – although Google suggests that that was one in New York instead – oh well. We haven’t been through central Toronto before and I am in awe of all the sky scrapers. We venture out for a quick walk round the block and then meet up with the tour guide and eleven other people with whom we are to spend the next fortnight.
I will have some issues if I want to leave things in the safe. The code is made up of the first four letters of my surname – good luck with that one. The hotel has the ultimate in low maintenance fish tanks, a large screen showing a film of an aquarium. We manage to acquire a good value ‘build your own’ salad for our meal. You pay per plate so it is a challenge to see just how much you can pile on.
The next day and we go down for our breakfast. Our friends from Buckland Brewer are also holidaying somewhere in Canada. That somewhere would be right here, in this hotel, on this day – what a coincidence. This morning we have a coach tour of the sights of Toronto. We set out on Yonge Street, which was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as being the longest street in the world at 1178 miles; it is however only 56km long but was mistakenly measured along with another street. We are taken through Brookfield Place, where an old office façade hides a modern covered shopping centre. This method of combining old and new is not uncommon in Toronto. Toronto has 11 miles of underground shops and restaurants, ideal for winter weather, which isn’t yet here. We look at the shiny golden towers of the Royal Bank of Canada towers, whose windows were impregnated with gold dust.
Toronto has a ‘tossed salad’ population; with 120 nations represented, yet retaining their own cultures. Apart from those of British, French and First Nation (the current politically correct term for native Americans) backgrounds, the Italians are the most numerous community. There is also a significant Chinese presence, due mainly to nineteenth century railway workers and those who came during the gold rush. We drive through the vibrant Chinatown.
Toronto itself is 222 years old so pre-dates confederation in 1867. There were about 200 First Nation villages along the northern shores of Lake Ontario and in 1615, Frenchman Etienne Brulé, a fur trader came to the area. In 1760 the British ousted the French in this region. In 1793, when American invasion was feared, Fort York was built to protect the harbour entrance and initially the new settlement was called York. Colonel Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers manned the garrison here. Simcoe also relocated the capital of what was then Upper Canada, to York from the more vulnerable Niagara. The name became Toronto in 1834, which is a First Nation (Algonquin) word meaning ‘gathering place’; ‘Ontario’ translates as ‘shimmering waters’.
We spend some time in St Lawrence Market, with its glorious smells and many meat, cheese and other food stalls. Then it is off to the CN tower so some of us can climb up and stand on the glass ceiling, like I’m going to do that. Even the fact that said floor can support forty hippos (must have been tricky getting them in the elevator) won’t persuade me. We admire the 1800 foot tall tower with feet firmly on the ground. It was built as a telecommunications tower in 1976 at a cost of $65 million and was the tallest building in the world for many years. Next door is the Bluejays’ Skydome stadium. There are some needle games going on at the moment apparently. The pitch is large enough to land seven jumbo jets on – rather like the hippos thing – would you want to try? The playing surface is seven stories down.
We have decided to try to find Fort York. Not realising that we would have the chance to be dropped off at the CN tower, which is much nearer to the fort than the hotel, we are not wearing the best shoes for walking but it seems daft to go back to the hotel (nearly three miles away), change our shoes and walk all the way back again, so we head off in the vague direction of the fort. After a slight detour, we have to go under a fairly dodgy looking underpass and arrive at the fort. They are probably not best pleased that construction is playing havoc with the approach to the museum/historic site. We decided to come here as we’d heard that they were currently displaying one of the copies of the Magna Carta, dating from 1300, that is normally in Durham Cathedral. It does seem a bit incongruous to come across the Atlantic to view a British treasure but it is an interesting display and also on view is the lesser known ‘Forest Charter’.
Then on to the fort itself and an opportunity to get more good value artefacts that we can use in the world of Swords and Spindles, as long as we can fit them in our baggage. Although, after the fort’s initial establishment in 1793, fortifications were then concentrated on Kingston, further tensions led to the strengthening of Fort York in 1811. The fort played a significant part in the war of 1812, when, in 1813, the American troops tried to move into what is now Canada, greatly outnumbering those defending the fort. In an attempt to distract the Americans, the British, together with a few Canadian and First Nation soldiers, ignited the ammunition store, which also prevented the Americans getting their hands on the ammunition – some parallels here with the Battle of Torrington. In fact, one of Simcoe’s weapons was an outdated Cromwellian culverin There was a moving list of those who perished in the battle of Fort York in 1813, including a William Toogood, a drummer with the American troops, who must surely have Isle of Wight connections. The Americans were victorious and occupied the fort for six days, later burning it down. The fortifications were rebuilt by the British in 1814.
A long, uphill walk north and east back to the hotel, by which time we were really regretting not having more suitable footwear but still glad we chose to visit the fort. Food in the hotel again and Chris has elevated the ‘how much salad can you fit on a plate?’ game to the level of an Olympic sport and is probably heading for a world record.