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Fall

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The temperatures have dropped, the patios have disappeared, and the down jackets are beginning to re-emerge. Autumn brings a resplendence of colours in Toronto, from the fiery trees on Sugar Beach to the pumpkins outside every supermarket. We’d eagerly awaited our first taste of pumpkin pie – but now we’re not so fussed about the second. Halloween is quite the celebration on this side of the pond, with offices adorned in Halloween tinsel (yes, you read that correctly) and whole streets closed for trick or treating. Even the lobby to our building became a temporary home for ghouls and zombies.

Fireworks Night hasn’t traversed the Atlantic, but commemorations for Remembrance Day have a familiar feel, with parades through the streets of Toronto, and poppies and wreaths at memorials from the Anglican Cathedral to Old City Hall. Canada played a significant role in World War I – committing 620,000 troops (compared to Britain’s six million) – and the author of “In Flanders Fields”, John McCra…

Plymouth by the Pacific

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Victoria – a bastion of English charm some 4,700 miles from home. Named in honour of the famous Queen, today the capital of Canada’s westernmost province boasts a temperate climate, multiple universities and a famously laid-back attitude that attract tourists, students and retirees from across Canada. With Vancouver so close, we had to visit. Although, when we said in the last post that Victoria is only a ferry-ride away, that wasn’t strictly true. The ferry ports are at the tips of their respective islands, so the journey involves two buses and light rail as well as a boat. But the scenery is so beautiful that the challenges of public transport were entirely forgotten as we motored around tiny islands in the Georgia Strait.


In downtown Victoria, with seaplanes taking off beside us, we found British Columbia’s legislative assembly and a statue of Vicky herself. Unlike the hipster cafes and micro-breweries that have sprung up in Vancouver, Victoria’s culinary highlights are more traditi…

Weymouth in the west

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Vancouver – Canada’s gateway to the Pacific. Its site, nestled in the Rocky Mountains and sheltered from the ocean by Vancouver Island, has seen human activity for over 8,000 years. In the 1860s a new settlement emerged – called Gastown after ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton, the proprietor of the local tavern – but with the arrival of the first transcontinental train twenty years later came a new name, one inspired by the Royal Navy Officer George Vancouver who had charted North America’s western coast a century earlier. Since then it’s attracted inhabitants from across the country and around the world with its consistently high quality of life and reputation for progressive thinking – becoming not only Canada’s most densely populated city but also one of its most diverse.


While Canadians were taking October’s second Monday to eat turkey and celebrate Thanksgiving (a holiday of uncertain origins that now seems associated with the harvest), we flew from the country’s busiest airport to its second…

Festivals

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Toronto in the summer is a totally different city to the one we found in January. Trees and flowers suddenly burst into life. Patios spring up outside bars and restaurants. And Toronto’s inhabitants, freed from underground walkways and down jackets, reclaim their city with a string of celebrations: parades along Yonge Street marking Pride and Indian independence, festivals by the waterfront for vegetarian food or Canadian literature, and parties in honour of Canada Day, the country’s birthday, with indigenous dance and fireworks.

The Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, has just come to an end – a ten-day cinematic extravaganza that’s taken over the Entertainment District and seen the arrival of the big screen’s biggest stars. (It’s not every day that you bump into Keira Knightley on the way home from work.) With theatres as well as cinemas overcome by film fans, we headed to the Princess of Wales for one of the first showings of Can you ever forgive me?, featuring Melissa McC…

Lyon on the Lawrence

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Montreal – home to European style, American scale and Canadian charm. Famed for fashion, jazz and bagels, it takes its name from its local landmark, Mont Royal – christened by the explorer Jacques Cartier who sailed here up the Saint Lawrence River in 1535. Despite being surrendered to the English in 1760, Montreal is the second largest French-speaking settlement in the world (a mere 3,419 miles from Paris) – and, although it’s no longer Canada’s most populous city (having lost that crown to Toronto in the 1970s), it remains a thriving hub of commerce and culture.


Another month brings another statutory holiday – this time for Labour Day – so we hopped in a tiny plane at Toronto City Airport and within an hour were gazing down at the skyscrapers of Montreal. The first stop for tourists is the old town, including the imposing Notre-Dame Basilica, the industrial Old Port, and bustling Bonsecours Market, all in the shadow of the city’s financial district and Mont Royal. Wandering the cobbl…

Dublin in the dominions

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St. John’s – Canada’s oldest city, the capital of its newest province, and North America’s most eastern settlement. Named when John Cabot first sailed into its harbour on the Feast of St John the Baptist in 1497, today St. John’s is associated with ‘jellybean row’, the brightly coloured hillside houses that can be seen for miles around. It’s the principal city of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has a rich history, its own time zone (three and a half hours behind GMT), and a unique reputation. Visitors know to expect a broad Cornish-Irish accent, rum-based initiation rituals, and a feeling that there is nowhere on earth quite like it.


Early August brings a Civic Holiday in most of Canada, so we flew almost halfway back to London to the country’s eastern tip. (It’s sea from there to Ireland.) Our only experience of Newfoundland previously had been the hit musical Come From Away, which recounts how plane-loads of travellers were stranded and accommodated in Gander immediately after 9/11.…

High dining

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We’ve talked about the food, and we’ve talked about the views, but how about food with a view? My family’s visit gave us the perfect excuse to visit the tourist sites of Toronto, with the city’s most famous landmark, the CN Tower, at the top of the list. And friends (visiting a few days earlier on their honeymoon) had highly recommended the Tower’s 360 Restaurant – not least because you can avoid the entrance fee by booking dinner there. So as the evening rush hour slowly dissipated 351 metres below us, we enjoyed breath-taking views of Toronto’s islands, skyscrapers, parks and thoroughfares all bathed in brilliant sunlight. The food was excellent too, with an all-Canadian menu from Newfoundland cod to Alberta beef, and local wines taken from the world’s highest cellar. This is the way to see the city!

A week later, as a belated birthday treat from my parents, we headed to floor 54 of the TD Bank Tower on Wellington Street, home of the restaurant Canoe. A favourite among Toronto’s fina…

Niagara Falls

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For its early settlers, the sheer size of the New World was daunting. Its lakes were wider, its mountains taller, its valleys deeper than anything they had seen at home. Few images conveyed this more powerfully than the awesome vista of Niagara Falls. One seventeenth-century explorer described it as “a vast and prodigious Cadence of Water which falls down after a surprizing and astonishing manner, insomuch that the Universe does not afford it's parallel”. Today it remains one of Ontario’s must-see sites, so with my family visiting Toronto and assisted by a hapless tour company, we made our way to one of Canada’s most famous spectacles.



First, a stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is situated exactly where Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. A picturesque town with a cultivated charm and colonial style buildings, it was briefly the capital of Upper Canada (Ontario’s predecessor) at the end of the eighteenth century, before witnessing multiple battles in 1812 when the Americans raz…

Paris in the provinces

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Québec is, in a word, charmant. One of the oldest cities in North America and the capital of Canada’s francophone province, it effortlessly embodies grace, elegance and Parisian style. Founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 on a promontory overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, the city is named from the Algonquin ‘Kebec’, meaning ‘where the river narrows’. As one walks on the cobbled streets up from the waterfront, past the bistros and boutiques of the Rue Sainte-Anne, with the Fleurdelisé flying alongside the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, it’s not hard to imagine that one has crossed the Atlantic, travelled back in time, and retreated to a European idyll.


Canada, rather touchingly, offers a national holiday to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday on the Monday nearest 24 May, so with cheap flights from Air Canada there seemed no better place than Québec for our second foray out of Toronto. But even this offers an insight into the city’s complex history: Victoria Day is considered too roya…

Church

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Going to church in Canada is challenging not just because the sermons are far too long (though often they make English homilies seem pithy). It’s because nowhere better exemplifies the tension at the heart of our Canadian experience: how we’ve travelled thousands of miles to be here and find it – almost – an exact replica of home. The buildings are very familiar: except for the ferocious central heating, they could have been taken from the Victorian streets of London. The liturgy too is recognisable, and has been faithfully handed down from the Book of Common Prayer. Even the quintessentially Anglican atmosphere – a genial befuddlement that largely avoids controversy – has somehow made its way across the Atlantic.


Take, for instance, a recent Evensong at Trinity, the Anglican College at the University of Toronto, where canticles by Herbert Howells and organ voluntaries by Marcel Dupré were performed confidently by the college choir. The music was originally written for King’s College C…