A Weekend Dash Northward: Toronto, Canada

by Sarah Birdsong

We drove from Chicago all the way to Toronto for maple tea and poutine. Well, maybe that’s why I was there.

However, Sean and our friend Alan had far more concrete and manageable plans: to have an interview with Todd from Real Synthetic Audio to commemorate his podcast’s 20th anniversary!

In truth, I invited myself. But the boys were not going that far north without me, I could promise them that.

After renewing my passport which hadn’t seen use in a decade, I was ready. I hadn’t been to Canada since I was quite young—I was twelve when my family left Minnesota. I was also a bit further west at that point in my life; my family often made the trek into Thunder Bay to harvest Saskatoons along the Saskatchewan province for canning.

I still recall vivid landscapes painted in a golden wash from the canola crop as we drove to our destination, their perfume heavy in the air: densely honeyed and oily, deep with musk. I remember standing atop a crest in the Bay, hands full of that bittersweet bounty, eating myself to bursting.

This time, however, I would be in Toronto. And I wouldn’t be in the countryside. No, this was going to be a quick in and out trip, with scarcely enough time to enjoy the scenery.

Toronto, Canada: a Brief History

The Anishinaabe-speaking Mississaugas tribe called what we know as Toronto home before the Toronto Purchase. The British Crown established the area as the town of York in 1793. In 1834, York was renamed as the city of Toronto and became the capital of Ontario during the 1867 Canadian Confederacy. Diverse with a population of over five million, Toronto is a hub for the arts, culture, and finance, making it a popular immigration destination. Indeed, I was immediately impressed with the incredible diversity and access to such a vibrant and thriving community.

In fact, the age-old adage of Canadian decorum is no facetious facade. Even though we were in such a densely populated city, the people were pleasant and welcoming to the point of my wondering where the punchline was. In the South, we often hear of Southern Hospitality. But let me tell you, that often is a facade. They might say “bless your heart” down here, but the implications are quite different.

From actually caring (though this care is borne more from pity) to wishing that person on the quickest route to hell, it’s a diverse phrase often meaning anything other than what it appears.

Traveling to Toronto from Chicaco—by Car

We arrived in Chicago the night before we were to make our eight-hour journey north. Picking us up from O’Hare International Airport, Alan whisked us to his home in Joliet, Illinois, where we spent the evening deep frying jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks. Certainly, it wasn’t the healthiest way to spend our time. But given that I had it out to sample Canada’s finest poutine available—a food not widely known for its health benefits—I’d already decided to let any dietary reservations slide for the weekend.

We rose with the sun and loaded into our rental—the backseat of which I had claimed as a car-nest for myself, piled high with pillows and blankets. While the boys played loud music and reminisced about days past, I read, napped, and snacked my way to the Canadian border in style. When we finally arrived in Toronto, it was late afternoon.

Todd had begun his podcast, but his camera-man was ready to interview Sean and Alan on their long-time commitment to tuning into Todd’s show and why. Additionally, Alan had rented a fairly sizeable vehicle with the singular goal of purchasing Todd’s digitized CD collection. I spent this time getting to know Melanie, Todd’s lovely wife, and their menagerie of cats. It should come as no surprise that my favorite was their orange tabby, Ginger Ale.

Places to Eat in Toronto

When I said we didn’t have time to spare, I meant it. We were due to leave for the States the very next day. However, our guests were determined to show us a little bit of their town’s hospitality. After some debate on where to eat in Toronto that could accommodate all our tastes, Todd took us to a local sushi spot, NAMI. You see, Todd is something of a sushi conesuer. And we couldn’t leave until we’d sampled some unique Canadian fusion: sushi pizza.

I know what you’re thinking. But hear me out. It’s a fried rice patty with sashimi on top. And friends, it was nothing short of delicious! Truly, if you fry something and it doesn’t taste good, something is horrifyingly amiss.

Things to See in Toronto

We planned to leave for the States fairly early, but no plans survive contact with the enemy. We wanted to find some fun activities and things to do in Toronto. First, we decided to tour the CN Tower. I have a longstanding and well-established fear of heights, but I decided to test my mettle.  Tickets to the Tower Experience will set you back $36, but I wasn’t about to tempt fate with the Sky Walk. No, just walking across the glass floor at 1,122.0ft was more than enough for me. I did manage a brisk walk about the observation deck before I’d had enough of vertigo and biting winds.

As morning slowly gave way to afternoon, we decided to find a poutine shop. We were warned that Toronto didn’t tend to regard poutine favorably, being more of a west coast food. Not dissuaded in the least, we managed to uncover Poutini’s House of Poutine, which had a vegetarian gravy for Sean and me to enjoy. What can I say about our lunch that wouldn’t wax poetic? First of all, even though we ordered the vegan gravy, we did order traditional cheese curds with all the toppings we could handle. It was definitely everything I wanted or expected it to be—right down to the cheesy, potato and gravy soup that formed at the bottom. We’ve since made this food for ourselves at home, but the cheese curds down here don’t really compare. I’m coming back for you, Canadian poutine. Someday.

On our way out, we stopped by Toronto’s famed 3D sign. It was one of the required stops I’d imposed on the boys for this trip. I wanted to snag a photo of something uniquely Toronto and Todd advised us to stop off there. And luckily for us, we did manage to snag a decent photo!

With every item on my checklist complete, I was finally content to return to the States in my beloved car-nest.

ADDITIONAL READING

I have compiled a list of additional resources regarding this entry and its contents for researching the topics therein:

NAMI: seriously, try the sushi pizza.

The CN Tower: as a signature of Toronto’s skyline, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, and the third tallest tower in the world, it’s definitely worth a look!

Poutini’s House of Poutine: from the traditional fare to vegan, to gluten-free, anyone can stop by here and get something they’ll enjoy!

Toronto’s 3D Sign: it may be a tad over the top in terms of tourist attractions, but I enjoyed our visit to this location!

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