Toronto – Black Squirrels​ and Baseball

CN Tower Toronto, Ontario Canada

Have you ever been to Toronto? It is the capital city of the province of Ontario and the largest city in Canada by population, with 2,731,571 residents in 2016. The diverse population of Toronto reflects its current and historical role as an important destination for immigrants to Canada, with over 50 percent of residents belonging to a visible minority population group, and over 200 distinct ethnic origins represented among its inhabitants. While the majority of Torontonians speak English as their primary language, over 160 languages are spoken in the city.*

And the squirrels are black, not brown, not grey, but jet black. They are sneaky little buggers so I was unable to capture a photo of them – you’ll just have to take my word for it!

Having never been to Toronto before I was not certain what to expect. All in all, it felt like most US major metropolitan cities. Although, the people are very friendly and for some reason seem to say sorry a lot even when there is nothing for which to apologize.

My client was kind enough to book my stay at the Toronto Marriott City Centre since it was close to their offices. (see that Anglicized spelling? Did you know that Canada is still part of the British Commonwealth? What the hell? Can someone explain that to me?)  Little did I know that this whacky but otherwise nice hotel is essentially built as the outfield section of Rogers Centre (again), home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rogers Centre. View of a Toronto Blue Jays vs. the New York Mets game from the Marriott bar.

If you are a hardcore baseball fan this must be nirvana. You can reserve a seat at the bar and get this view of the field while also seeing the game on several large screen TVs. There are also suites for super fans that have balconies that open directly onto the field.

For the rest of us guests it is sheer frickin’ madness in the lobby (not that I don’t like baseball, mind you…).  So the second ballgame night I ventured out to historic King Street. Now a happening hipster place with bars and restaurants.

I ended up at Loma – definitely a hip young place. The combined age of any two of the other patrons would have equaled less than mine. Ah, but this is why we travel, c’est bon, n’est-ce pas?

I had the escargot and bone marrow appetizer covered with melted Gruyere cheese with slices of baguette. Why didn’t I take a photo? Hell, I don’t know – it was too delish!

Me, being me, I had to seek out something historic to explore. And having booked one extra day on my business trip I was able to spend an entire afternoon at Casa Loma. This home was the fantasy of Sir Henry Pellat, a famous Toronto financier, and philanthropist who died penniless at age 89. The interior of the edifice was never completely finished.

Front Facade at Casa Loma, Toronto, Ontario Canada.

I am not sure if Canadians don’t teach history in school or if this particular location is simply challenged. Don’t get me wrong, the place is gorgeous (parts remind me of Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, NY) and has beautiful public and private rooms to tour – including two secret passageways and modern bathrooms with bidets specified by Sir Henery and said to be the first modern such rooms in the city. The main hall is particularly impressive with its Tudor-style design complete with beams flying coats of arms, an enormous hearth, and Wurlitzer organ.

However, the map guide refers to this place as “the only castle in North America”. First of all – it’s not a castle in the strict sense of the word. A castle is meant first and foremost as a fortification, usually walled, against marauding hordes. While Sir Henry certainly had his detractors I doubt any of them would be caught storming the walls of Castle Loma…

Now, if one uses the term castle very loosely, then there are certainly more “castles” in North America than Casa Loma – Hearst Castle comes immediately to mind. In fact, a quick Google search for castles in North America yielded more than 200 listings. Humm.

Last, but not least, no one could explain the Spanish name for a mansion in Canada – what the hell? There has to be some explanation for what appears to be a very strange anomaly. The staff claim that it means “castle on the hill”. Although my Spanish is rudimentary at best I believe that translates more accurately to the house on the knoll (feel free to correct me if I am wrong – I am a life-long learner). Contrast that to the name for Hearst Castle which is La Cuesta Encantada, meaning “the enchanted hill” according to the website.

Enough griping – here are the goodies!

Facade of the stables at Casa Loma

Maybe because I am a horse person or maybe because this was unique to this site out of many  I have visited (or both!) the stables was my favorite part of the self-guided tour. To reach the stables one must proceed to the basement and then take an 800-foot (feet or meters? – I am not sure since I am only able to think in Imperial measurements…) stroll through a dark and damp underground passageway. I wonder what that feels like in the cold Toronto winters?

Detail from the Casa Loma stables

The architectural detail for something as seemly humble as a stable is quite extraordinary. Although the menservants lived on the upper floors.

Stalls in the stable at Casa Loma

Each stall, walls made of mahogany, subway and multicolored tiles, is emblazoned with each horse’s name in a center plaque. The counter you see houses a porcelain sink with a tap for water and a copper bin for grain. Puts my own home to shame!

History has it that the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V), on a visit to Toronto, had an opportunity to ride Sir Henry’s prized white stallion, Prince. The Duke offered a handsome sum to buy the magnificent animal but Pellat refused.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as Eau de Cheval or if this place just naturally still smells of horses. Nostalgia and longing flooded my brain.

So, let’s end on a totally creepy note. The Uber driver that picked me up at the hotel to travel to the Toronto airport got out of his car with his belt unbuckled and his pants undone. Uber was great when I reported the incident and even refunded both of my fares from that day. But let’s just say – there is some shit that just can’t be unseen!!!

What to Drink While in Toronto: the local brews are very good. I’m not a very “hoppy” person so I tried the local lager on tap and it was cold and tasty!

Where to Stay While in Toronto:

What to Read: If you are dying to learn more about the history of Casa Loma try this book (warning: it is very dry and only for the die-hard history reader):

If you are a history nut like I am you will enjoy this book with more detail on Casa Loma and Sir Henry Pellat. If not it is quite a slog…

If you are a baseball fan this book is a must read!

*Source: Wikipedia

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