Toronto Christmas Tour
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A pre-Christmas tour touches on the diverse activities Toronto offers. Journalists and publicists from the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers throw their toques into a minibus for one busy day. Food's part of it? Count me in.
We time travel back to the beginning at Black Creek Pioneer Village, a recreated 1800's community within the city. Wooden houses, muddy paths and handmade decorations recall a subdued, simpler yuletide from not so long ago.
A temporary exhibit highlighting contributions of Chinese-Canadian women includes one of our own members! Ruth Malloy was a young journalist based in Saigon in the 1960's. In pre-computer days, she lugged around this typewriter. Nothing sissy about Ruth.
Historical interpreter Caitlyn Paxson greets us at the former stagecoach stop known as Half Way House. Too bad we couldn't stay; she was baking fresh bread.
Christmas as a celebration took several twists and turns before establishing itself in Canada during the Victorian era. Black Creek displays simple gifts and precious foods that were the norm in those back-breaking times.
Tables might be laden with food over Christmas and New Year's, but exotic goods such as pineapples were more likely rented for the occasion, then returned to the General Store. Try that with a supermarket.
Our guide and font of pioneer knowledge, Ansley Newland, flames a traditional plum pudding for us. No worries, we left some crumbs for Santa.
Lured back into the 21st century with cranberry apple cider and sparkling wine (and more), we lunch at Auberge du Pommier, one of Toronto's premier restaurants.
C'est Français, non?
My choices...ummm...yes, please.
I - Terrine - pâté of Champagne, caper berries, violet mustard, picallili, grilled baguette
II - Boeuf - petit tenderloin, short rib pithivier, leek fondue, buttermilk parsnip, smoked butter barley
III - Tarte - lemon curd, lime meringue, wintergreen streusel, elderflower sherbet
Continuing with the city's fantastical reality show, next stop is Casa Loma, North America's only castle. (Top Museum/Historic Site - 2017 Ontario’s Choice Awards). It also has a connection to James Bond. More about that in a min...The place is hopping with a work crew setting up for a corporate event while families, friends and school groups wander through it intently exploring every room and staircase. The full story of owner Sir Henry Pelatt is a fascinating heart-break of riches to rags.
About that Bond connection...you wouldn't know it among the designer Christmas trees throughout the castle, but the basement and stables housed secret labs for sonar research during the Second World War. Senior guide Rick Jarden tells us these were guarded by a few cheap locks on the doors...and behind them 20 heavily armed men. These events and settings are said to have helped inspire Ian Fleming to create James Bond.
Omar Ho specializes in tours and promotion of locally owned businesses like Muttonhead Apparel where he joins in the shopping. The store's decor and much of the clothing is in a contemporary palette of black, white and shades of gray.
I wondered if this mural was Omar, but forgot to ask.
Eccentric Parkdale and trendy Roncy (Roncesvalle) neighbourhoods are chosen ground for young entrepreneurs in Toronto. We continue on to Toronto Designers Market where owner Marcus Kan provides space for independent designers to sell their work without going broke on rent.
At Made you Look enterprising owner Sarah Dougall has for several years been providing space for jewellers in an emporium offering one-stop design, manufacture and purchase.
Sheryl Luz runs the pop up shop Artisella which carries sustainable, ethical clothing and accessories. Over cookies and tea she jokes about the challenges of running a business. My winter hat's off to Sheryl and the other people we meet because it takes guts, skill and resilience to run your own business. These people are re-making the city.
The Gooderham and Worts Distillery has been a success in various forms (whiskey, films, beer, condos) since1837. Now wildly successful as the Distillery Entertainment District, it's packed out when we arrive at the European-style Christmas Market.
We sample a variety of foods: beers, sausages, breads and perogies before retreating to the tank room for a historical recap by Mill Street Brewery rep David Timpano. We're now realizing, he says with a practised air, that the ingredients looked at as the foundation of modern civilization weren't just for bread, but also beer. I think you can see where this is going...
Suffice to say, the area's explosive development is part of a recurring Toronto scene and eons more lively than when I cycled around the vacant complex on Sunday mornings in the 90's. I miss those rides, but the city is on a tear as it races forward.