Farewell Toronto

Our time in Toronto has been a collage of fun, warmth and laughter. The faces you see here are just a few of the many who have welcomed us into the heart of the city and made us feel right at home. I was a little intimidated by taking on Canada’s largest city but the locals have taken us into their homes and made sure we were well looked after.

Toronto is a city of many personalities, it is cosmopolitan with a fast paced nightlife, but has a softer side in the small suburban areas of The Beaches, Little Italy and Greektown. From the grungy colour and art of Kensington to the history of Corktown and Yorkville, each of them have had an impact on us over the last four months and we shall miss reveling in them on the street car ride into town or during Saturdays whiling away the hours.

But alas, there is a whole wide world out there to explore and we have plans to see a little of it before we head home to our own big city of Sydney. We will not forget the friends we have made no matter what other wonderful places we see and we look forward to welcoming them to our home if they ever visit Australia.


CN Tower

Canada may only ever receive a participation award in the Cricket World Cup but they can be proud to have held the record of being home to the tallest free standing structure in the world for over 30 years. Following our last day of work we went to check it out.

Similar in design to Sydney’s Centre Point Tower, CN Tower is far more impressive, measuring 553m, while Centre Point is a measley 309m (external view here)  . Suprisingly, construction finished on the Canadian tower in 1976, 6 years earlier than Centre Point. I would have thought Sydney could have gone the 200 odd extra metres to beat their Canadian counterparts.

While a very touristy place to visit we are glad we went, especially since it gave us a different perspective of the neighbourhoods we have become familar with. It gives a great vantage point to see Yonge St, the longest street in the world, stretching into the distance towards Lake Simcoe, and also allows you to really appreciate the size of Lake Ontario.

There is a resturant at the top (although it doesn’t revolve), a small section of glass flooring and plenty of windows. Unfortunately the windows were either very grubby or have lights behind them causing bad reflections for the camera. I’ve had a quick attempt at cleaning a few photos up but they’ll never be masterpeices.

Patience is a virtue

Over the past few months Gemma and I have been counting down a number of things.  Number of days left in Toronto, how many days of Work left, time before we arrive in Europe, number of days remaining on our trip.  But none have more agonising for me then awaiting the purchase of my new camera.

To be able to reclaim the Federal and Provincial taxes, purchases must be made within 30 days of leaving Canada.  That time arrived this past Tuesday so after work I did my best to rid our bank account of some hard earned Canadian dollars and I am now the owner of a Nikon D80.

So here are a few quick impressions after my first outing with it to the old Distillery district of Toronto.  Once again my dad and Derek are probably the main ones that will enjoy this, if you’re not into cameras maybe just check out the photos on flickr.

The handling of the camera is pretty much identical to the D200 I used in Calgary so I knew already I would like that. Having access to all the controls at your finger-tips rather than having to scroll through menus makes things so much easier.  It is a little lighter having a plastic body rather than magnesium but still got a bit of heft.  The bright viewfinder is great, and large screen with true RGB histogram makes checking exposure and focus a breeze.

My old FZ10 (currently for sale on ebay) while competent at most things, lacked a little in the Mega pixels department.  Having more than double the resolution, the D80 will definitely improve some of the large prints I intend to make, although is testing the power of this laptop during Post Processing. 

I picked up a used Nikon 50mm F1.8 AFD lens and have bought the much talked about Nikon 18-200mm VR for my dad (thanks for letting me use it on the rest of the trip!).

I have put 3 photos up so far from our day.  Click the ‘All Sizes’ magnifying glass button above the photos to see them large, the entire 10MP file are there.  The first, as seen above, and this one are of a Doge truck at the old distillery which may have actually been a truck from one of the breweries there many years ago.  Both were taken with the 50mm.  This is of one of the distillery buildings.  They are now all filled with art galleries, resturants and other stores.

I’ve never worked with raw files before so I still have a bit to learn.  I think I oversaturated the building shot a little but it was very vivid in person.

So now I’m all kitted up and ready for Eastern Canada, New York and Europe.  Plenty of more things to anticipate still.  Hopefully you will see some improvements as I get the hang of an SLR again.  I haven’t used one regularly since 1998 when I did Photography in year 11.  I’d love to get some feedback from those in the know (or anyone with an opinion for that matter) on these shots and any future ones.


Ice Skating at Nathan Philips Square

Following the International Womens Day march we took a long walk through High Park which is just shy of 400 acres in size.  A short subway ride west of the city, the park has everything from a swimming pool to a small zoo.  During winter the many trails within are used for cross country skiing.

Charlene, who we had given travel advice on visiting Australia a few months ago, returned from her journey earlier this week.  We meet with her over a dinner at a Korean BBQ resturant to catch up.  The tables house a small gas BBQ in the middle on which you cook your own food (pork, beef, chicken, ribs, salmon).  Being all you can eat we of course ate far too much leaving a little rounder than we had arrived.

Which brings us to the title of this post.  One of the ‘must do’ things on my list of Canadian tourist activities was ice skating on an open-air rink.  I had hoped to do this on a natural lake but none have frozen enough due to the late starting winter.  The next best thing is the ice rink right infront of Town Hall at Nathan Philips Square.  Being about 8:30pm when we started it was quite dark with only half the rink really illuminated by lights on the three ‘Freedom Arches’ (one of which has a chunk of the Berlin wall at its base).  I’m not sure if the lack of light was a hinderance or a help though.

Many Canadians are surprised to know that I have actually ice skated before, albeit probably about 12 years ago.  Either skating gets harder as you age or I wasn’t quite as graceful back then as I remember.  My first thought as I stepped onto the ice was ‘great, I just paid $9 to cling to a fence for 2 hours’.  It didn’t take too long for me to get my head around it though and wobble my way around the rink.  Gemma on the other hand was left clutching the fence at times.  Actually she did quite well for a first go and managed a few laps of the rink while holding my hand (truth be known she was holding me up as much as I was holding her!). 

Apart from a blister on my heel there were no injuries, which by our standards means a good night out.


International Women's Day

Saturday morning hundreds of women and men met on Bloor Street to rally for various causes affecting women around the world. The official campaign issue of the march was the raising of Ontario’s minimum wage to $10 per hour.

The current minimum wages in Ontario is $8 and the majority of workers covered by this minimum are women. Given the cost of living, many people have two jobs so as to make ends meet (I worked with someone in Calgary who had three). A bill is now before the Ontario Government and a number of organisiations have banded together to lobby the government to adopt the bill ( www.amillionreasons.ca ).

In comparison, the minimum wage in Australia is $12.75 per hour and despite the Howard Government’s objections it has increased regularly over the last ten years. For increases to the minimum wage to take place under the new ‘WorkChoices’ legislation,  a review is undertaken by the ‘Fairpay Commision’ at its leisure. This commission is appointed by the Government of the day and has the power to determine wages in whatever way it sees fit (see 2006 Australian Government Submission). Therefore wage increases are not debated and voted upon as they are in Ontario, and they are not determined by an independent arbitrator as they used to be prior to Workchoices.

I only hope we prevent things going to far down the US track, where the mininimum wage is $5.15 per hour and has not increased in the last 8 years.

Something to keep in mind for the upcoming elections…

reference: www.rightsatwork.com.au

Royal Canadian Air Farce

Imagine Full Frontal or Fast Forward with Canadian accents and you have Royal Canadian Air Farce. Not having seen the show, Simon and I grabbed ourselves a couple of free tickets and went along to watch the filming of the second last episode in the show’s 13th series.

Like most skits shows, one or two of the pieces produced hearty laughter but the rest earnt a mere chuckle. Admittedly, a few of the jokes went completely over my head, a result of not having been fully immersed in Canadian history and culture I guess, but we got most of the political jokes.

What I really enjoyed was watching all the behind the scenes action. Sets interchanging, cameras gliding past, teleprompters scrolling and a grumpy stage manager stalking up and down. The CBC building was also quite interesting, there were props all over the place and the walls were lined with some very famous faces, John Candy, Jim Carey, Mike Myers, Martin Short… and the list goes on.

An intersting night and a bit of a laugh as well


HIKE! The Husky Adventure

Its not long now till Gemma and I head off and leave Toronto and then Canada altogether and we wanted a unique Canadian experience to remember from our time here.  We had contemplated a wine tour in the Niagara region  but we could do that in the Hunter Valley anytime, driving a dogteam through a forest might be a little more challenging to do anywhere at home.

We have created another movie for your enjoyment but please keep reading as there is more below surounding our adventure.

As you can see, quite a hands on experience.

Our day started at 7:30am when we left to pick up our hire car.  We drove quickly to Haliburton, which is aproximately 230kms North of Toronto and stopped to have a late breakfast.  From there we continued another 30kms North along an un-plowed, snow and ice covered rural road past Fort Irwin (military training ground) to arrive right on time at 1:30pm.

You might remember the last time I was able to play with a toy for a day I wrote how much I wanted to have one of my own.  I’m very much a dog person but now a Siberian Husky tops my list of dogs to own.  The dogs are just beautiful with such intense blue eyes.  They are working dogs and can be a bit agressive with each other, but they just loved a good pat or scratch around the ears and were very friendly and approachable. 

While commands may vary depending on where the dogs are trained, there are 3 main things to remember.  To get things rolling (perhaps sliding?) a shove on the sled and a firm ‘Hike’ will have the team of 5 dogs charging forwards.   Occassionally a member of the team can get a little distracted (54 other dogs on the trail, doing their business can leave for an interesting smell at times) a sharp yell of ‘On by’ will normaly regain there attention.  Finally, when coming to a halt, ‘Whoa’ and liberal use of the brake does the job better than any ABS.

The film you watched is a 5 minute snapshot of what was a 4 hour tour.  We drove the dogs for a 7kms round trip with a short break for hot chocolate and scooby snacks.  There was a light snow fall for most of the trip which made it all the more picturesque. 

What you might not have gathered from the movie is that there is some effort required from the driver, especially going up hills.  To give the dogs a break the driver jumps off the back and runs up the hills lightening the load.  Considering Gemma spent most of the time in the sled and the 4.5 hour return car trip through heavy snow and zero visibility, I am pretty much spent.

We really enjoyed this experience and recommend that everyone do this if you can (you know, if you’re in the neighbourhood).


Ice Carving

We went an saw some ice carving in Yorkville as part of Toronto’s Icefest. Some quite large sculptures were being made, there was a lifesize fireman and even a horsedrawn cart that you could sit in.

I would have thought electrical equipment and melting ice weren’t a good mix but they use just about every kind of powertool (chainsaws, angle grinders, drills etc) you can think of creating these. It looks like a lot of fun, but I don’t know if its ever going to take off at home.

Theres a few more photos on flickr if you’d like to see more. -Simon

G'day Toronto

Daniel Johns

Originally uploaded by simmogem.

For four days Dundas Square became a portal to Australia with the G’day Toronto Tourism Expo. In a huge tent, temperature controlled to a balmy 27 degrees, a series of events promoting Australian Tourism were held and Simon and I voluteered to help out (tickets to all the events where sold out by the time we got wind of the expo so this was the only way to get in).

Our first event was the Silverchair and Living End concert on Thursday night. Despite being at the entrance checking in coats we got to listen to both bands and the volunteers took turns at sneaking in for a few songs. Unfortunately Simon got reassigned to the building across the street for the last couple of hours and so didn’t really enjoy the night.

I also volunteerd at the Expo on Saturday, where Canadian’s had the opportunity to handle a baby croc, pat a red cattle dog, try some Penfold’s and bowl a cricket ball. To my dismay no one was selling Vegemite.

Whilst there were a few highlights, we were a little disappointed with the organisation of the volunteers. We were given late notice of our shifts, breaks weren’t organised, and at times we felt like our presence was not really appreciated. I don’t think that the events company was use to managing volunteers and they had little regard for the fact that we were donating our time. Having said that we met some really nice people and were able to enjoy a little bit of home away.




Originally uploaded by simmogem.

This morning we woke up to find that Toronto had got its first real snow storm of winter. Waiting for the bus (and streetcar) is a very different experience here in Toronto when you are 15cm deep in snow!

It was cold too, minus 14 degrees, brrrr.

p.s. there are some pictures on Flickr.