Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Toronto: My 10 Favorite Things

 Today's Featured Mittens
 Black Gold
(These mittens now live in Toronto, on the hands of Megan, the Pilates Instructor)

Since I am in Toronto for a few weeks, I thought I would devote this week's blog to my 10 Favorite Things about Toronto. 

1.  Honest Ed's
This might be the biggest bargain store in the world covering a city block in the Annex, a desirable and central neighborhood in downtown Toronto at Bathurst and Bloor.  This business was established by Ed Mirvish in 1948.  You will recognize the Mirvish name as Ed and his son David have been key in building the theatre culture in Toronto.


Everything in Honest Ed's is a bargain.  For example, I have a lovely red and black checked "Albert County Plaid" jacket from Honest Ed's that cost $8.00.  Tom has a matching one in blue and black.  What a fetching fashion duo we make.

It can be a challenge to find everything you are looking for in Ed's.  It is probably there but you might have to hunt.  Just recognize that the hunt is part of the Honest Ed experience.  On my last visit to Toronto, I spent a great deal of time searching for a darning needle.  You guessed looking for a needle in a haystack.  I did eventually find one.
You will not find a number of store personnel rushing to help you.  One of the store mottoes is "We don't offer service.  We have a slogan---serve yourself and save money." Another store motto speaks to the gritty decor, crooked stairways and crowded space...."Don't faint at our low prices.  There's no place to lie down."

Literary Aside:
One of my favorite books by Carol Shields, Unless, is partially set on the sidewalk outside Honest Ed's.  I recommend both the book and Honest Ed's.

2.  The TTC:
I will admit I have a love/hate relationship with the Toronto Transit Commission. I love how it gets me around the city relatively easily but I hate the stairs, the rushing, the standing on packed subway cars.  Sometimes I love the crowds and sometimes I hate the crowds.  Sometimes I hate waiting and sometimes I don't mind that.  I do love not having a car in Toronto because driving and parking here is more than just a little challenging.
The TTC really does fall under " a good bargain" too.  Regular fare is $3.00 a ride but on Monday I bought a weekly pass for $40.00.and it has been most liberating.  It is a swipe card and I have unlimited travel for that week so I am running around the city more than ever.  And one interesting fact---1.6 million people use the TTC on a typical weekday. 

Good TTC Story:
Last year one evening I boarded the Bathurst bus at about 10 pm to return to my aunt's home for the night.  I was engrossed in knitting a sock as the bus drove north through the night.  When I heard the recording announce the next stop as Lawrence, I realized I had made some progress on the socks, but missed my stop.  Damn.  It was about 10:30 by now and the sidewalks were rather barren at this point in time and geography.  I moved up to the front of the bus to confirm with the driver that I had indeed missed my stop.  I had.  "How far back would I have to walk?" I asked the young driver.
She looked at me and replied sternly,"Oh, you are not walking back."
"I'm not?" I questioned.
"No Ma'am," she stated firmly.  "We'll get you on a bus going south.  As soon as we see the blue lights coming, I'll let you off and you can cross the street and get on that bus.  I'll give you a transfer so you won't have to pay. You are not walking at this time of night."
"Okay, thank you," I replied as we continued north.  Soon enough we saw the blue lights of the south-bound bus. 
"Here she comes," stated my guardian angel.  When I stop the bus, you cross the street and get on."
I thanked her and descended the steps of the bus.  When I crossed the street and, and out of pure stupidity,  turned the wrong direction away from the bus stand, my angel from the northbound bus blew the horn and waving her arms, directed me to the correct spot.  I got on the bus and arrived safely at my destination within a half hour.

And Not So Good TTC Story:
The other day in a Toronto snowstorm, I boarded the Bathurst streetcar en route to Bathurst Station.  I dropped my TTC token in the receptacle and reached out my freshly-manicured Maritime hand for a transfer which sits in pad-like stance beside the coin collector.  As my hand closed in on the perforated slip of paper, the driver all but yelled at me, saying, "Don't do that!  That's my job.  It is not self-serve." He did not quite slap my hand but I felt like he wanted to.
"I am sorry," I said.  "I did not know." But before my apology was completely out, I know my eyebrows shot up and I had decided his rude attitude was totally unwarranted.  I glanced at the sign on the back of his and every drivers' seat that states there is at least one instance per day of abuse toward a driver  in this system.  Hmmm.  Was his attitude a result of abuse....or .....or ??  I moved toward a seat thinking I just might be embarrassed over my public admonishment but the other passengers sat expressionless, used to such interactions, or whipped by yet another snowstorm, or totally engaged with their phones.  So I traded my Maritime sensitivity for the Toronto body armor and took my seat, crumpled transfer in hand.

3.  Harbourfront
Many of my previous visits to Toronto have been to attend the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront.  No, I am not an author; I am an author groupie.  The IOFA runs for about 10 days in late October.  I have seen many greats such as Jane Urquhart, Margaret Atwood, David Adams Richards, Miriam Toews, Linden McIntyre, Farley Mowat, Yann Martel,Chris Cleaves, Emma Donaghue, etc, etc.  My last pilgrimage to the IOFA in 2012 was to see my hero, Alice Munro.  She did not make it due to health issues.

There is always a a CBC day during the IOFA which I am sure to attend so I can see my good friends Jian Ghomeshi, Eleanor Wachtel, Shelagh Rogers, Bob MacDonald, Norah Young, Soo Kin Lee, Jonathan Goldstein, etc, conduct live interviews and/or participate in a panel discussion. I know, some people like going to concerts; I like watching Eleanor Wachtel interview ANYBODY.


The IOFA is held at Harbourfront which is an arts/cultural centre on the lakefront.  Formerly warehouses for the shipping industry, they have been converted to provide space for cultural events, a gallery, an outdoor skating rink, restaurants and craft workshops.  For example, there is a glass-blowing studio open to public gaze. Harbourfront has become a familiar place to me.  When I am in Toronto, outside of IOFA, there are usually events to attend at Harbourfront  The other night I attended a group interview with contenders for the RBC Taylor Prize for Canadian non-fiction.  Panelists were Charlotte Gray, Thomas King, JB MacKinnon, Graeme Smith and David Stouck.  It was excellent. And, by the way, Thomas King has since won for his book The Inconvenient Indian.

4.  Bargain Manicures:
There seems to be about 4 nail spas on every block in Toronto.  Consequently, manicures are a deal--about $25.00 for shellac. I do realize this probably means unfair labor practices and poverty wages, but..... I got my nails done on day 2 of this visit so I could enjoy looking at my "Baroness Red" for the 3 weeks of my vacation. 

As most of you know, I am not the manicured type BUT I occasionally indulge so I have something visually appealing to watch while knitting.  I did get my nails done at Christmastime in Fredericton and the nail artist there said I had strong, healthy nails....shaped like Kate Middleton's.  By the time I got home from that appointment I had re-worked the story to say that the nail artist said I resembled Kate Middleton.  Well, after all, we are related; my paternal great-grandmother was a Middleton.  Do you see the resemblance?

5.  Romni Wools:
This is a huge wool shop on Queen Street West, one of the trendiest areas in downtown Toronto.  I always like to pay a visit and although I always vow to not buy anything, guess what??  I rarely walk out empty-handed.  And there is a discount section in almost every kind of store and my bargain radar always takes me there.

Last year I got the cutest children's knitting books for ONE dollar each!  This week they are having a sale on Canadian yarns.  The first one mentioned in their ad is Briggs and Little, our top-notch New Brunswick product.

 I have 2 houses full of yarn and an open-door policy for Rescue Yarn...I will take anyone's leftovers they want to get rid of.  So I will try and practice restraint when I visit Romni Wools in the next few days.
Have you any wool?
Yes Sir, yes Sir,
Two houses full.

6.  Second-hand Bookstores:
I do have a Kobo full of books I have yet to read. I also have too many books in my 2 houses.  The piles almost cause me stress as I feel pressured to get them read. However, I seem unable to walk by a second-hand bookstore without a quick look and a probable purchase.  Unfortunately there is one near Julia's apartment where I am staying.

There is a bargain table on the sidewalk and the books are only $1.  I have bought 4 so far, 2 of which I have already read but I think my friend Mary would like them.  Yesterday there was a hardcover copy of David Adams Richards book, Mercy Among the Children, one of my favorite novels of all time.  I pushed on. Left it.  Taking a different route from now on.

7. Restaurants:
There are so many eating adventures to choose from in Toronto and I make a real effort to feed my gastronomic curiosity. Brunch seems to be a favored social activity here and I have been to a few.  Last Saturday I went to the bluegrass brunch at the Dakota Tavern where my daughter is a server.  There, on the weekends, you get to listen to a live bluegrass band while digging into a plate of food that should keep you sated until the following Wednesday.  I sat close to the door hoping to catch a glimpse of Canadian filmmaker, Sarah Polley, who frequents the Dakota on weekends.  She did not arrive.

On Sunday I went for brunch with Julia and  my niece Anne at The Starving Artist.  After waiting in a line-up for a few minutes, we were led to our seats at the bar.  Walking through the restaurant I saw a young woman I know from Fredericton!  On Monday I went for brunch with my daughter Emma, who happened to be passing through Toronto, with some of her friends at the Easy on College.   And my next brunch date is at Sneaky Dees with my generous Toronto cousins, Chris and Joanne.  And then there are the lunch and dinner dates. I've done Chinese with my Aunt Audrey, sushi with Julia, pub fare with Camino friends, Mitch and Mary Lou, Fran's Diner with Julia and my cousin, Betsy.  I have a Greek lunch lined up with my niece Hayley, and a coffee/lunch date with cousin Leah at The Black Canary.  My university room-mate Diane and I have a tentative Italian lunch date.  My last scheduled lunch date is with Wilma, another Camino connection.  Then it must be time to go home to Fredericton and canned sardines.


8. Toronto Neighborhoods
Although we tend to think of Toronto as a huge city with a population of 5.5 million people and a very colorful mayor, it is actually divided into neighborhoods or villages each with its unique character.  There is the well-known Chinatown and Kensington Market....

The Annex is where you will find Honest Ed's, not far from Koreatown which has scads of fresh fruit and vegetable stands on the sidewalks.....

Julia lives in Little Italy....

and works one job in Little Portugal....

and another job in Greektown.

Somehow for me, these neighborhoods make Toronto a little more manageable and a little bit cozy. I think if I lived here, I would be able to find a Victory Meat Market and an Aura Foods within walking distance of each other.  There would probably be a nail spa and a second-hand bookstore between them.

9.  Treasures on the Sidewalks:
As you may have figured out by now, I love a bargain.  Free things are even better.  Walking along the streets of Toronto, you often encounter irresistible treasures.  My father was a junk collector of sorts and he used to say that people would "throw away a livin'!"  There was a fairly good dresser in front of Julia's apartment for 3 days which I tried to convince her to rescue.  She would have nothing to do with it.  It would not fit in my suitcase so I had to leave it.  However, a few days later, while strolling the street near one of her workplaces, we came upon a box of goods with a FREE sign on it.  I got myself 2 brandy snifters...

and a brand-new book I should have read 26 years ago.  Julia says it's too late for this book.  What do you think, Emma?  There is actually a section on the "firm handshake" which I advocate in lieu of the hug. 

10.  The Globe and Mail and the CBC:
I am mashing these 2 items together as I have not really been true to them this trip.
I confess, I have only bought The Globe and Mail once, mostly for the crossword.  I sometimes buy the Saturday Globe and Mail in Fredericton and spend the following week reading it bit by bit.  So it is not just a Toronto treat but it is OF Toronto so it sort of belongs in this blog. 
And although my Toronto schedule causes me to neglect the radio somewhat, I do feel closer to Jian Ghomesi and Mary Hynes and Eleanor Wachtel because I know we are in the same town, breathing the same frigid air.  I love the CBC all the time, not just when I am in Toronto.  But when I am here, there is the chance that I might run into one of my "CBC friends" at a Nail Spa, or a bookstore, or on the TTC., or picking up treasures from the sidewalk.  Imagine the possibility of that!

That's my Toronto story....

Until Next Time....


  1. Wow I feel I have missed something in my trips to TO and it is the eateries! I can't not buy stuff either but have noticed if we fly I come home with much less!

  2. Yes, too many eateries, Mary. I did manage to get a little something for you on the Bargain Book Table!

  3. Finally "got" the Pilates instructor mitten reference! A little slow these days.

  4. A few thoughts.... I don't think that I have EVER been to Honest Eds. Mom says I have as a child but what child likes Honest Eds. I don't like nail polish on the fingers or toes of women or men... just looks so un natural. just like my spelling.... I'd like to go to Julia's places of work to see if she spills anything on me. She's right about it being too late for "How to Raise a Lady" I've met your girls. Nothing about Maple Leaf Gardens in your post... that is a fond childhood memory of mine about Toronto.

    Any thoughts yet about how you will mash this all into a book?