Many Canadian place names are named after places in England, which makes watching the local TV weather forecast a bit confusing. London, for instance, is around 110 miles west of Toronto, sits along the River Thames and has a population of a third of a million people. Brighton, Peterborough and Cambridge all get a mention. And in Toronto itself, the neighbourhood of Kensington Market is about as far as you can get from its British namesake.
Home to some of the city’s many migrant communities since the 1840s, Kensington Market has variously been the Jewish neighbourhood, the Portoguese district and the Caribbean area. It’s a melting pot which has resulted in dozens of thriving shops and small cafes offering some of the best value in the whole of Toronto. And on every corner, something a little more surprising in the form of street art – some of it more poignant and reflective, some less so.
The whole area was given special status, protecting it from the high rise development which has happened across much of Toronto. In the downtown district, it seems yet another skyscraper is being built on ever spare street corner, with the exception of the Queen Street corridor, where the buildings remain authentic. The best way to view such progress, if course, is from above. So that means a trip to the top of yet another tower. I appear to be getting something of a reputation for this.
At just over 1,800 feet (550 metres) high, the CN Tower was completed in 1976 and built by the Canadian National Railway company, holding the record for the world’s tallest building until 2007. Over a million people visit it annually, though thankfully today I’m here before the crowds arrive – which means a relaxing stroll around the viewing platform. It’s a morning of contasts and high winds – meaning spectacular vistas one moment, and the arrival of a snow storm the next.
“What a great opportunity – seeing a weather system move in like that!” The guide attempts to enthuse, though the Danish couple I’m with seem a little disappointed – everyone well knowing that “opportunity” was thinly disguised code for “no refunds”. Thankfully, the snow clears within just a few minutes. We then find out why, descending to the outdoor viewing platform a few floors down. Only a handful of the visitors manage to make it all the way around, the wind so strong it’s difficult to stand upright.
The Canadian Rail company sold the tower to a private developer, but rail remains an important feature around the city. Below ground, the Toronto subway connects key locations, though has been criticised for an expansion that didn’t quite go as far as the politicians had hoped. And above ground, tams crisis cross the city, usually merging with the traffic, which can create its own congestion problem at times. Nevertheless, public transport is well used, if to overcrowded – an ongoing challenge for any growing city.
Less than two miles across town from Kensington Market is the CF Toronton Eaton Centre, an enormous shopping mall with just about every retail name under the sun. In the basement is a huge food court, attracting thousands of visitors and office workers each day. It’s all topped off by a glass atrium, which seems to stretch for miles.
The Eaton Centre doesn’t quite stretch as far as the Distillery District, a 13 acre site once operated by Gooderham and Worts – one of the world’s biggest distilleries. There’s a nod to that history in much of the original architecture, along with a mixture of art galleries, craft shops and restaurants. It’s a bit early in the season to appreciate the full scale of this area – which in the summer becomes an busy and attractive outdoor dining area, fee from traffic.
Like any large city, Toronto is best treated as a series of individual, smaller neighbourhoods. Each has its own personality – and in the short time I’ve been here I’ve only managed to scratch the surface. (I also have no idea how this last bit of text ended. Up in blue!)