Tag Archives: Toronto

♥ Love Letter To Canada ♥

Happy Canada Day, all!  It’s our nation’s 146th birthday, and my 46th blog post (I’d like to claim I’d planned that).

When I was an elementary school student, one of my favourite assignments was geographic research.  I recall penning (penciling?) compositions on San Salvador, Florida and Rome, however the ones that gently squeezed my little Canuck heart were inevitably about Timmins, British Columbia and Toronto, among others.  I remember happily flipping through encyclopedias in the school library, eager to gaze upon grainy 1970s photographs like this one:


Ontario Place, Toronto

or this…

St. John, New Brunswick

St. John, New Brunswick

or this…

Swartz Bay, Britisih Columbia

Swartz Bay, British Columbia

In the years since, I have travelled to the West Coast numerous times, and have spent time in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  Six out of ten ain’t bad, but I do palpably feel the absence of the midwestern provinces, and what I wouldn’t do to get to Nunavut, NWT and the Yukon.
One day, I whisper to myself, one day.

I have fundamentally Canadian images burned forever into my brain, that give me a little tingle every time they rise, unbidden.   A photograph of a grain elevator in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.  Nighttime pub crawling in Montreal with my friend Andy.  Sprinting down an eastern provincial park beach, tearing off my clothes (bathing suit conveniently underneath), and jumping into the salty Atlantic for the first time.  Strolling through Stanley Park in Vancouver, on a warm yet soggy March day, almost having the place to myself, and spotting an immature eagle, perched majestically in a tree, watching me.  Just missing my PEI friends as I arrived in Kensington, yet because of that, having the most beautiful night camping by the water.  Listening in awe as my cousin in Moore’s Mills, New Brunswich spoke fluent French and English to her children.  And, of course, years of memories from hometown Ontario, like watching the CN Tower being built (on my first visit I bought a pen, which had a picture of the tower and a little elevator that moved up and down as you tilted it).

Other memories from my Book Of Canadian Recollections include:

  • Getting all excited about traversing the then 5-year-old Confederation Bridge spanning NB and PEI, almost 13 kilometers long (that’s 8 miles for Americans, y’all).  Realizing immediately that they’ve built the barriers so that drivers can’t see over them and get distracted.
    Experience rating: meh.
  • Ordering a ‘Relic’ burger at Molly’s Reach restaurant in Gibson’s, British Columbia.  Bruno Gerussi, FTW.
  • Hearing Stan Rogers for the first time.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Buying a beautiful print of A.Y. Jackson’s Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from a woman who had originally purchased it because it brought to mind her days there as camp cook for a group of geologists. I sat contentedly for the next hour as she regaled me with stories.
  • Heading to the Canadian National Exhibition every year with my father, whose commitment to procuring a Shopsy’s corned beef sandwich each and every visit bordered on the religious.
  • Breaking down en route from Montreal to Lac-des-Seize-Îles in a torrential rainstorm, and proceeding to travel with the French CAA guy and his girlfriend, windows rolled up, them smoking cigarette after cigarette, as we communicated directions in Franglaise.  Good times.
  • Canada Vignettes.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Stepping into the narthex of Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal for the first time.  Words cannot express.
  • Living through ten (count ’em, ten) London, Ontario winters.
    Snow.  Oh God, the snow.
  • Meeting fascinating people:
    Gordie Tapp of Hee Haw fame in the waiting room of my optometrist’s office (circa 1978).
    Bill Lawrence, former host of Tiny Talent Time, who became the perpetually cheery weather guy at CBC.
    Guy Paul Morin (acquitted of murder in 1995), in a CBC elevator, where it took me about 30 seconds to connect the face to the name.  Suddenly overcome with the enormity of what he must have gone through, feeling  I had to say something, I turned and offered a simple ‘Congratulations,’ to which he humbly replied a quiet ‘Thank you.’
    Ken Bell, WWII photographer, at his home in Gibson’s Landing.  What an honour.
    There are more, but I don’t want to make you jealous.
  • Dating a Francophone separatist in the early 90s and realizing in my Ontarioan ignorance that we still have a long way to go in that department.
  • Each and every summer from time immemorial, having at least one opportunity to float on my back in one of our beautiful fresh water lakes, my heart filled to overflowing with gratitude.
  • Richard Condie.  ‘Nuff said.
  • 1992: The Tragically Hip releasing Looking For A Place To Happen, because any band that can somehow fit Jacques Cartier into a  tune is well, the coolest ever.
  • Having it slowly dawn on me that every other white clapboard Catholic church on the East Coast is named St. Peter’s.
  • Standing under two-hundred-foot trees in Capilano, British Columbia, and being reminded of my smallness in the world.

20080706123845_single red maple leaf

The ties I have to this place are not the silken, tenuous kind; no, these are most surely comprised of diamond-encrusted titanium links. And though enormously strong, they are neither awkward nor heavy, and provide a centering and stability I can’t imagine getting from anything (or anywhere) else.

And with that, I will leave you with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s The Log Driver’s Waltz, 1979, Canada Vignettes.

Happy Birthday, Canada.  I love you.



Filed under Music, Nostalgia, Uncategorized, Wanderings

My Grandfather’s Pencils

Side door, 70 Thursfield Crescent, Leaside

Toronto, Ontario

My grandparents had lived at 70 Thursfield Crescent for most of my father’s life (he was born in 1933) and virtually all of my own.  Their immaculate little semi-detached was nestled in the heart of Leaside, a suburb in East York, Toronto.  I spent a lot of my summer time there.  You could get to Serena Gundy Park by walking around the block until you found it (good for us little ones, as yet without permission to cross the street alone).  It was peaceful and calm, full of warm days and a complete lack of concern or responsibility.

An integral part of summer vacation was my attendance at East York Day Camp.  Each morning I’d get up and sit my grandparents’ sunny kitchen eating my peanut butter and honey on toast, dressed in my uniform of shorts and t-shirt, socks and Adidas runners.  Just before I left with my bag lunch, Gran would have me stand in the kitchen near the side door.  My job was to completely cover my face as I turned slowly in a circle, and she would proceed to spray me generously stem to stern with Off! to protect against the mosquitoes at the park.  DEET?  Don’t talk to me about DEET.  This was 1977.  After my spray down, and just before we walked out the door to go to the community centre where I’d catch the camp bus, she did one thing that will forever be burned into my memory.  Without fail, she’d take my face in both her hands and give me about ten kisses in a row on the cheek, smack-smack-smack-smack-smacks of true love and affection.  My Grandpa used to call me Precious.  It was my Gran who made me believe it.

Summer weekends were spent running along sidewalks, climbing the tree in the backyard, going for bike rides, taking trips to Ontario Place or Edwards Gardens to feed the chipmunks, and once, digging up the entire front corner sod searching for pill bugs.  My grandparents were patient and kind people, however I have to posit that seeing their hitherto unspoiled sea of emerald green in raggedy shreds very much challenged their forgiving natures.  I don’t recall ever doing it again.  Anyway, I had about 40 pill bugs in a jar.  Who needed more?

In most things, such as keeping an exceptional lawn, my grandparents were of the same mind.  They always had a kind word for each other, called each other (as did many of their generation) Mother and Father.  Granny made the meals, and Grandpa, unconventional for his time, did the dishes.  He’d always whistle as he washed.  He was a beautiful whistler, everyone agreed. They admired each other and supported each other, it appeared, in every way except one, or so I initially thought.

My Granny was  an avid fan of  the soap opera Search For Tomorrow.  Every afternoon after lunch, she’d sit in her chair and watch.  My grandfather  (in as mean-spirited a way as his gentle self could muster), would tease her, calling such shows absurd and frivolous.  Granny ignored him.  Then, one week, Granny was called away for a couple of days.  Grandpa and I had recently finished washing up from lunch.  I’d been playing in the back yard and had come in for a drink.  Wandering into the living room, I stopped short.  There, comfortably installed in my Grandmother’s chair, his long legs out in front of him, was my Grandfather, watching Search For Tomorrow!  He was completely engrossed.  After my initial shock wore off, mischief crept in.  Sauntering up beside him, I pointed at him and exclaimed triumphantly, “YOU watch Granny’s program!”  Without so much as a pause, or a glance away from the floor-model television, he replied, “When she gets back, I have to tell her what happened!”

Years went by.  My grandfather developed Alzheimer’s, and sadly forgot people and things piece by piece, until his beloved Mildred was all that was left.  After he died, Granny went on, terribly saddened yet indomitable, until a nasty fall convinced her that living alone was no longer the safest option.  She began to pack up fifty years of memories.

One day she called to ask if I’d come over and go through the basement inventory with her.  I readily agreed, not because I was eager to pick through their things, but because as a child, treasures were kept down there.  (Plus, about a month before, she’d insisted I take the second set of silverware, twenty-five pounds clanging and bashing against my leg all the way from the subway.  It couldn’t get worse than that, I figured).  We set about the task of going through every steamer trunk, every box, examining every shelf.  On one, there was a smallish tin; opening it, I was surprised to find about a hundred pencils.  It turned out that my pragmatic grandfather would just add any superfluous pencils that entered the house to the tin.  He’d never kept more than one upstairs, used for his daily crossword and word-find puzzles, however he wasn’t about to throw out something useful.  Admiring that trait, and being a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 20-something, I took it.

Years later, I am a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 40-something.  But I have realized that what I hold in my hands goes far beyond the practical.  I have my grandfather’s pencils, most of them imprinted.  Vote for Don MacGregor, Beaches (I can’t find the year as yet).  York Salted Nuts.  A 2B from the Toronto Board of Education. Milnes Fuel Oil Limited, 1815 Yonge Street.  Elias Rogers Company Limited, 2221 Yonge Street, phone HU 1-2221.  National Trust Company Limited.  Ossie Maughan, Painting Contractors, 47 Princess, Kingston Ontario, phone 4755. Lake Simcoe Fuel Oil, dial RU 2-1128 days, WA 2-2178 evenings.  Dominion Building Supplies, 2296 Gerrard Street East and 1453 Dupont.  A Venus Velvet with V-5 lead, medium soft HB.

He held these in his hands sometime between 1940-1989.  The hands that held Mildred’s during their courtship.  The hands that played with my dad, my uncle and aunt as children.  Hands that slipped around Gran’s waist, that did the dishes every night, that worked the garden, that touched my head when he called me Precious.  I have my grandfather’s pencils.

Dedicated with love and gratitude to the memory of my grandparents,

Eva Mildred (Dale) Lee and Arthur Leslie Lee


Filed under Nostalgia

My Granny: Kin of Gandalf?

Before anyone has the nerve to suggest that this is disrespectful, I just want to say that I loved my Granny more than anything.  She was the first adult I became taller than.  She sprayed me religiously with Off! every summer day camp morning in Leaside.  She adored my Grandpa.  She made a formal Sunday dinner each week.  She was proper and good.  She had classic fashion sense.  She raised three good children who became great adults.  She was caring and kind throughout her entire life.  It just so happens that I came across a picture and discovered she also looked a bit like a certain, beloved Tolkien wizard.

Doesn’t surprise me.  She was magical.

Sir Ian McKellan

My Granny (Mildred Dale Lee ) in the Shire

Gandalf the White

“You know, there’s more than a passing resemblance!”

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Filed under Nostalgia, Uncategorized

Book Review: F U Penguin

Went to Toronto last weekend to hang out.  As usual, saw and ate at some awesome places.  Might I suggest a visit to the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 350 King Street West if you haven’t been yet, and try the mushroom soup at The Town Crier pub at 115 John Street.

I never tend to visit book giant Chapters here at home, however the one at 142 John Street is pretty impressive.  While I was there I happened across a book that originated with a blog, à la Stuff White People Like.  The book is called F U Penguin.  I’ll let y’all extrapolate the name of the blog from that.

Without realizing it, I think I was waiting for this book to come out, and I’d wager that applies to a few of you, too.  This book rails against Cute Animals Everywhere.  E-mails, movies, websites – Matthew Gasteier has left no stone unturned, and nothing adorable is exempt from his wrath and derision.

A few excerpts:

Snow leopards:  rare, majestic, dickish

Did you know…?  Unlike many other large cats, snow leopards cannot roar.  This explains why instead of getting upset when you don’t do something they want you to do, they say something passive aggressive like “Oh, no, don’t worry about it, I’m sure it will just magically take care of itself.”

Thanks for ‘gracing’ us with your presence.

I get it, Whale, you’re busy.  I’ve only been on this FUCKING BOAT for three and a half hours waiting for you, and the only thing I’ve seen so far is my lunch from earlier.

Did you know…?  Orcas are commonly referred to as “killer whales,” a name they spread themselves so no one would find out that they cried at the end of Titanic.

Rare animals can be a real drag.

I was living my life long before I knew what you were, Long-Eared Jerboa, and I will go on living my life long after I have set you as my desktop picture.

Did you know…?  The long-eared jerboa is different from the regular jerboa in one major way, though researchers have yet to determine precisely what that is.

Happy reading!  Spread the word!

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Filed under Books, Wanderings

Kristin Peterson: The Lost Tapes

Kristin Peterson, Toronto Bloggess Extraordinaire, Queen of LOL and author of mytorontoeh, acquiesced to play Twenty Questions with me – yay!  For the great unwashed, mytorontoeh is an hilarious and irreverent blog that celebrates all that is Toronto’s diverse and wonderful, with a healthy dose of blue humour and current events.Without any undue further ado, here’s Kristin:

What’s your inspiration for mytorontoeh?  What drives it?

KP: mytorontoeh was started as a real estate blog, to bring humanity into the service and to focus on the East end…but then it got personal and about other stuff.  I think a lot, and so it is a way to vent and let stuff seep out in a humourous way.

Walk me through your day.

KP: Wake up at 7:00, take dog out, make lunches, then go to gym…sometimes do open houses midday, do a chore, come home, do interwebz, pour wine, blog, make dinner, eat, drink wine, watch TV!

Tell me a bit about your first smooch (if you will).

KP: I dragged Bobby Pennefather to a dark spot in the backyard of a house party after having my first drunky time, we made out and my knees shook! Never saw him again because he went to a Catholic school.

Funniest drink-came-out-my-nose moment:

KP:  Drink out of nose moment: a train ride to Montreal where my friend and I were making fun of the French Canadian couple behind us…we were 45.

Joan Harris (née Holloway) or Peggy Olson?

KP: Duh, Joan Harris. I think about her all the time.

Favourite Toronto ‘hood and why?

KP: The beach; it’s where I live, I like the vibe.

What’s the most intriguing object in your home?

KP: My two curio cabinets that are filled with tchotchkes and were made by a cute Dutch man in the beach.

Best…TV show…ever:

KP: That’s a Sophie’s Choice question! “Take my little girl!”  I’m picking Sex and the City over Gilmore Girls because it came first.

Best self-absorbed, crazy celebrity religion:  Scientology or Kabbalah?

KP: Anything a celebrity does is crazy and self absorbed, it seems, but I’ll pick Kabbalah because Madonna and Demi Moore are into it.

Most memorable celebrity meet/sighting:

KP: Nick Nolte drunk in Yorkville at high noon.

Favourite cuss word or expression:

KP: Feck and shite – I like the way the Brits say it.

Past fad that should make a comeback:

KP: 1960s makeup with false lashes in the day and lots of eyeliner, bouffant hair, too, while we’re at it.

Past fad that should never again see the light of day:

KP: Women should never wear bra tops as tops in public – even at the gym – I don’t want to see your fat roll (or your spleen if you’re skinny).

What’s in the fridge?

KP: Lots of meat, duh, wild boar bacon and spicy salami. I have massive butcher crush. (Ed. note:  She really does.)

Fave vacuuming-naked-because-life-is-just-grand song:

KP: I like 70s soul, R&B: the Wedding Bell Blues is a good one to vacuum to.

Fave openly-weep-into-your-wine-coz-life-sucks-so-bad song:

KP: Major Tom – I’m scared of getting lost in space, and that song is just saaaaad.

Indie-chick cool factor nonpareil: Zoe Deschanel or Ellen Page?

KP: Can’t choose! (Ed. note:  I couldn’t either, I just wanted to know what Kristin thought.)

Words of wisdom for other single chicks in the city?

KP: Stop looking for Mr. Right, if you want a baby, have a baby, but don’t get married because you think a baby needs a father, or because all your friends are doing it.

I really just wanna say….:

KP: “Take care of each other.”

When are we gonna spend the day in our jammies again?

KP: We’re going to have to do it in November! (Ed. note:  It won’t come soon enough!)


Git yourselves over to mytorontoeh dot com!

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Filed under Film, The Mama Goddess

Obsession: Torontopalooza

This August, I visited Toronto for an extended visit (two days and nights), something I haven’t done since moving away in 1998.  It’s not that I haven’t been back at all, just that my standard sojourns tend to entail seeing one friend, for one night, visiting one nightspot, and ba-dum-dum, the weekend is done.

This time, though, I went tourist class.  And now I can’t stop thinking about it.

A quick history lesson for those who don’t know me…I moved to Toronto from Burlington, Ontario, in 1987.  I was a teenager, gasp, choke.  Never intended to stay for long, never mind over a decade.  But life happens (young people, take note!), and before I knew it I was aiming straight for 30 (gasp, choke) and leaving the city I now called home.

Fourteen years and many addresses later, I’m back within manageable visiting distance, and decided to head eastbound for a summer-mama-pick-me-up.  In the words of the immortal Richard Condie, “Well, blow my lips off!”  What a city!  What a nightlife!  Why’d I move again?

Started the weekend in the Beaches, one of the best neighborhoods in town.  The beach area has everything you need, plus a decades-long funky vibe, to boot.  I never lived there during my years in the Big Smoke, but I sure wanted to, ever since reading Atwood’s The Robber Bride (in which one character lives on Toronto Island, close enough that counts, if you’re looking for a place you can raise chickens).  Anyways, porch sitting in the Beaches is lovely, and I heartily suggest it to anyone who scores a local friend with a veranda.

Traveled slightly northwest from there to the Danforth.  I resided in this area for the final year I was in town, and it is by far my favourite out of all the places I’d lived. The Danforth has a great community sense to it, many little mom-and-pop operations still thrive, and the main street itself is teeming with people, day and night.  It’s big breeder territory, but also very popular with the baby singles, never-marrieds and divorced-and-loving-its.

The Danforth takes food, coffee, alcohol, and market produce very seriously.  On this particular evening, we dined at the Globe Bistro, a lovely place with a rooftop patio and spiffy gin & tonics.  Had a gorgeous lobster app with stinging nettle pesto.  Seriously?!  It’s been so long since I’ve lived anywhere that could offer anything fancier than frites au jus on the menu, I felt like a total poseur.  After dinner, strolled down the street, visiting shop after shop (including Book City, one of the only bookstores these days where the over-20 staffers know way more than you).  Just before heading back, my friend and I picked up some Ontario grapes at a market stand (because at 11:00 p.m. on the Danforth, you can) and ate them as we walked.  Also found out about a new café down the street from my old digs, called The Rooster Coffee House, which I’ll have to check out next time I’m in town.  I would have wrapped the statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen in toilet paper in front of the daily tai chi class to have a place like that when I lived there!

Next morning was breakfast at Whistler’s; not what you’d call avant-garde, but they’ve remodeled since 1998, which is a good thing, trust me.  A nice, neighborhood place to grab a meal.  It holds nostalgic significance for me, ’cause that’s where my mama and I would have dinner together back when we both called the city home.

Saturday dinner took place at The Pilot on the “Flight Deck,” corny, yes, however lack of imagination aside, another great rooftop patio, and in Yorkville, no less.  A lovely grilled veggie sandwich with lentil soup, plus another spiffy gin & tonic.  Finished the night off with drinks at C5, the restaurant/bar on top of the Royal Ontario Museum.  This is the place for all of us rednecks to go when we want to feel special.  While the bar menu features $12 specialty cocktails, you can still enjoy all the place has to offer and only spend $6 on a perfectly delectable Tankhouse Ale, surrounded by an awe-inspiring, 180-degree view of the city.

Sadly, Sunday had to come eventually, but not before a trip to the distillery district.  This place is exactly the thing all cities wanting to make it to the big time should have.  I mean, you can stroll the brick lanes through artisan’s alley, hit a gallery, enjoy a lovely repast at any number of pubs/bars/restaurants, buy one-of-a-kind clothing, doodads and gifts, see live music, or attend a magical event and, if you squint, you can imagine having somehow stepped back in time to the turn of the (20th) century, when Gooderham and Worts was up and running.

Yeah, I got it bad, all right.  When’s that next free weekend, again?


Filed under Wanderings