Toronto day 6


Today I returned to the Toronto Zoo to finish off the part I didn’t have time for the other day, and also visited the Ontario Science Centre, a favorite hangout when I was a kid.

In between I attempted to locate one of the last vestiges of Toby’s Good Eats, home of the second-best dessert ever, but I couldn’t find it.  To make up, I went to the Mandarin again for supper. How I wish restaurants like this existed on the west coast!

More Zoo pictures

Spectacled owls:


Groundhog – we had these at the farm in Manitoba but I never saw one this close before. They’re cute.



Gila monster, just chillin’:


Burrowing owl, watching the antics of the groundhogs with apparent consternation:




Capybara, the largest living rodent species – and most self-possessed:


Bored panther is bored:


Alert leopard is alert: (I think it liked my bright red shirt)



It was very hot today. The poor polar bears did what they could to cope:


But it was evidently too much for this bowhead whale:


Red panda – cute!


Snow leopard – also chillin’:


Sleepy tree kangaroo:



This tiger was pacing furiously back and forth along a short section of fence. I thought it was because there were tasty yardapes on the other side…


… but it turned out there was another tiger on the other side – perhaps it’s sexy time, yes?


The Ontario Science Center

I was shocked to discover that they close at 6pm – logically they should be open to at least 8pm so families can come after work, right?  So I didn’t quite have enough time to see everything, but I got to the important part – the Science Arcade – full of interactive physics demonstrations.  This was my favorite part as a kid.



I recognized a lot of the old installations still in use, and there were plenty of new ones as well.  Sadly, some of my favorites were gone.  There was a mechanically remote-controlled robot arm that you could use to stack foam blocks in a sealed room – that was my favorite of all.  There was an Eliza installation, and a machine that said “coffee” in a great variety of intonations.  A pendulum-driven spirograph, a Van de Graaff generator and a forest fire fighting computer game. All gone.

I also like how you ride escalators through a forest to get to and from the bulk of the exhibits:


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Toronto day 5


Today I revisited George Brown College again, both campuses.  Starting around 1988 and ending around 1991 I took a couple of certificate courses and a diploma program in electronics at GBC.  During that period the electronics program moved campuses from the St. James campus, downtown on King Street, to the Casa Loma campus.  That was a perfect time for a packrat like me to be there, as they simply gave away a ton of old electronic equipment rather than bother moving it.  I took a lot of it, and had some fun lugging it all home on the subway in shopping carts and hockey bags.

St. James campus



This is on the west end of the 5th floor, looking north.  The door on the right used to lead to Mr. Sarker’s office – I don’t recall what his title was, but he was the one I had to get past in order to be admitted to the program.  I found him a bit intimidating and it wasn’t easy to get in since I had been homeschooled up until then and had no official Ontario grade 12 or 13 standing, but Mr. Sarker agreed to let me write the same entrance exam that they gave foreign students and I passed it easily.


This is now at the northwest corner, looking east.

The room on the left that has the windows in the “before” picture was the open computer lab for the electronics department students.  It had a few IBM XTs and a bunch of teletypes in it – the latter being used to take computer-scored math tests administered by a minicomputer at the other campus.  (I had the distinction of finding errors in one of the math tests, and getting points for it once I made the instructor work through the problem himself.)

For about half of my time at GBC I was in charge of maintaining the PCs in this lab and in the CAD lab further down the hall. I did the same after we moved to the other campus.  That was a blast – I learned a lot about PCs and snagged a lot of “evaluation copy” software for myself.  Plus I got to keep the lab open for students to use during the teachers’ strike, and pulled in a large TV set to hook up and play games on.  Ahh, abuse of privilege.

Casa Loma campus

The Casa Loma campus has also had extensive renovations.  Then:


Now (slightly different perspective):


The building and stairs on the left are all new, and the campus has expanded into several nearby buildings (as has the St. James campus).


This lonely, difficult to find room at the back of the fourth floor is where we did some of our most difficult courses, and where we worked on our “thesis” projects to complete our electronics diploma program.  Those were fun times and we (meaning our class, as we all went through as a cohort) were a really close unit by then.

Towards the end we had a class picnic over on Center Island, which is an awesome picnic spot – often cool in the summer because it’s surrounded by water. I went there today to relocate the picnic site and redo a couple of other old photos.

These three are from the class picnic outing:



Waiting for the return ferry:


Too many stories to tell from that class.

On another occasion, me with my paternal grandma, Cecile:


Miscellaneous Center Island then and now:





If nothing else this demonstrates an improvement in photographic technology.

While I was in the Casa Loma area, I also returned to check out our first Toronto residence, 42 Dupont Street:



It hasn’t changed much. When we saw my mother off at the train station in Brandon that one winter, she got a room in this house – actually two very small rooms at the front.  Once she found work, my father and I came out to join her.  It was very cramped, and though we weren’t supposed to have the dogs inside, we sometimes did bring them in rather than leave them sitting in the truck for all to see.

Shared kitchen and bathroom.  Very thinly blocked off door to the rear apartment where we could hear a clearly disturbed man making noises for himself.  Freight trains in the back yard at all hours. It wasn’t a great experience.  But the landlady was very nice, and she let us house-sit her condo down at Harbourfront for a while when she was on one of her frequent tropical vacations.

And my third major destination for today was:


The CN Tower, Canada’s greatest phallic symbol.  Interestingly, the blurbs inside still refer to it as the world’s tallest tower, though it isn’t anymore.

I’ve been in it once or twice before, but I barely remember it. I took this panorama on the previous occasion: 

And here’s my do-over from today: 

I’m a bit annoyed that the main observation deck is one-third occupied by the restaurant – the lower deck where you can walk all the way around has its view obscured by safety fencing, though I did put some effort into defeating that using narrow depth of field – a couple hundred photos worth, which will have to wait until I find some gigapixel stitching software.

I could have gone up to the even higher observation dome, which I would hope has an unobstructed view all around, but there was an 80-minute wait for that, so I passed on it.  Instead I went into the restaurant and coughed up $17 for “Canada’s Best Burger” (false advertising) and finished the panorama there. Also here’s another shot of the gold building from that perspective:


Also had a mind to check whether or not photography is permitted on TTC property and it is, for non-commercial purposes, so here’s a shot of Union Station:


And Bloor Station:


I know Toronto’s subway system isn’t unique in this respect, but I think it’s a nice touch that every station has a slightly different combination of color scheme, tile shape and tile pattern – each station has its own unique look and feel, and once you get familiar with them you know what  station you’re at just by the blur out the window.

I love the subway. I could see myself living in Toronto again if I could ride the subway every day.

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Toronto day 4


Had occasion to stop by the St. George subway station today.  Another memorable building razed:


This building, or rather the one that used to be here, across Bloor from the varsity stadium and across the other street from the subway station, was significant for three things.

First, this was the location of what I thought of as the primal Swiss Chalet location – they always seemed to have the best chicken soup here.

Second, my mother lived above that Swiss Chalet with her first husband for a while.

Third, around the corner from that Swiss Chalet was a copy shop that had self-serve photocopiers for the obscenely cheap price of 5 cents per copy, back when I was a student at GBC.  When I was at the nearby Casa Loma campus I always came here to do my photocopying, and even copied an entire book once.


Today I went to the CNE. The only photo of note is of these cute miniature horses:


The rest of is is the same as any other fair like the Calgary Stampede or the PNE, just much larger.  I had those miniature cinnamon donuts, looked at the housewares and arts & crafts, played some midway games, etc.

Like those other fairs, the CNE used to have a pretty good temporary arcade on the midway. I played a lot of Crude Buster last time I was there. This time I found two tents identified as arcades, but one only had UFO catchers and the other one only had a handful of crap games.  What a waste, but not unexpected.

I also found a really good dessert place in the food building – had a nice, dense chocolate cake and there were several others I wanted to try.  Unfortunately the proprietor only operates at the CNE and doesn’t have a regular storefront I can go to another time.

I walked over to Ontario Place to repro these two photos:



The first is the distinctive Ontario Place buildings of the future.  The only thing I remember about them is that last time I was inside, in one area there was a video loop playing various early CG animation shorts to some catchy proto-techno music, and I was mesmerized by it.  I spent most of an afternoon there watching that loop over and over again.

the second picture is me in front of the Cinesphere, home of the Ford Film Festival. We used to attend the festival occasionally to watch the year’s best films on the IMAX screen.  I always wonder why other cities’ IMAX theaters don’t do that – it’s a great idea.

Anyway, I couldn’t get a clear picture of whether or not I could go on the Ontario Place grounds without paying admission, so I settled for taking this picture of both buildings instead:


After concluding my bidness at the CNE and Ontario Place, I got back on the streetcar and headed to Queen Street, home of a few of my favorite places in Toronto.

Spotted this interesting storefront.  If it says anything let me know:


Also thought this was cute (look closely at the second floor of the corner building):


Also, WTF? This might work for Apple, but it’s not going to work for you:


Favorite spot #1: The Silver Snail.  A fancy upscale comic store. The storefront has changed, but it’s still there:


Favorite spot #2 (this is all within a single block of Queet Streen BTW), Bakka books – specializing in science fiction and fantasy. It appears they have relocated. They used to be here:d20110828_0108

Favorite spot #3: Active Surplus.  They used to have a double storefront and basement, but are now reduced to this little loft:


Active was an electronic nerd’s dream store back in the day.  They had mass quantities of all the usual electronics supplies at great prices, but they also had lots of really random stuff that would come and go – ie actual surplus.  Things like laserdisc players (cannibalized one for the laser, back when lasers were expensive), photocopier control panels, assorted LCD displays, servo systems, etc.  Even sometimes had non-electronic surplus like comics – a large chunk of my comic collection came from here because it was super cheap and they had some really oddball stuff, some of which, like Mars and E-Man, turned out to be pretty good.

Favorite spot #4: Just around the corner from Bakka…


… I think in that garage door at the end of the building, there was another electronics surplus store.  They tended to have even more obscure stuff that Active, and Nav and I used to go into both regularly just to see what they had.  I bought some pretty nice LCD displays at this place for steal prices.

No tour of Queen Street would be complete without the CityTV building:


I liked CityTV a lot back when it was young, back when Moses Znaimer was in control. They ran great movies every night (the bulk of my VHS tape collection was recorded off CityTV) and had some good original programming too.

I saw John Candy getting out of a limo in front of this building once.

CityTV also had the best program announcer ever. I don’t know who he is though!

And the famous CityTV parking lot:


Where many, many news reports and interviews were filmed.  There were often creative gimmicks visible here too – it’s CTV now, but still note the truck crashing out of the billboard below the logo. Its front wheel spins too.

Continued on to the Eaton Centre, with its iconic flock of geese:


There is a two-floor McDonald’s here where Nav and I sometimes ate. One time we were sitting on the second level when I accidentally spilled my water on the table.  We thought nothing of it, until a few minutes later a staff member came up to ask about it – apparently the water had landed on a businessman on the first level, and he was pissed.  Poor architectural design there!

Just north of the mall, I’m glad to see the World’s Biggest Bookstore (no longer a guarantee) still present:


This was my favorite new bookstore back in the day, because it was the world’s biggest bookstore!  Also Nav’s friend Todd worked here. Hi, Todd!

Around the corner from the bookstore on Yonge Street:


There used to be two really grungy arcades on this block.  They were narrow but very deep – the back end was a ways from the street.  My parents were leery about me going in here, always concerned that I would get framed on drug charges because someone would slip something in my back pocket when the OPP came in on their regular patrols.

Played a lot of Hammerin’ Harry here, and Nav and I ogled that cheesy “holographic” game when it came out, but we never wasted any money on it because it was clearly a gimmick, not really holographic, and not much of a game either – following in the Dragon’s Lair footsteps of trying to pass off visuals as a game.

And that’s it for today’s trip down memory lane.

BTW, if you’re bothering to look at the GPS tracks on my posts you’ll find them a little glitchy while I’m in Toronto, because my logger loses signal while I’m in the subway. I should tweak my processing software to insert breaks in the path in those cases, but I don’t have time at present.

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Toronto day 3


Spent the day with Navtej today. It has been 19 years since we last saw each other, not counting a trip he made to Vancouver last year where he was too busy to really visit.  It was good to catch up.  I got to see his new house, and we did a little shoreline touring.

First stop was the Scarborough Bluffs, but it was too foggy to see much. I ended up getting more of a jungle style picture:


We then got snacks and walked around the Leslie Spit a bit.  My father used to take me fishing out on the spit, and I wanted to try and repro this picture from that era:


Back then the spit was a bit of an industrial wasteland, though I believe part of it was defined as parkland even back then. Now it’s mostly parkland and preserved historic industrial buildings.  I didn’t have time to go far enough out to reach the same spot as that picture, so this will have to do:


Found a crab apple tree near here and ate one.  Too sweet, but it was still a nice touch – I loved crab apples as a kid and haven’t had any in that long either.

Then we attended:


Cirque du Soleil.  I’ve never done this before, nor had Nav.  It was pretty steep – cheapest tickets were $65, but we sprung $95 for slightly better seats.

It was a pretty good show – I’d say it is definitely worth seeing once.

I moved out of the Westin hotel today and am now staying with my cousin Tanya and her husband Ralph, in their spare room.  Very generous of them, and it gives me a bit more freedom to do take my time and do my stuff here.

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Toronto day 2


Spent the afternoon at the Metro Toronto Zoo today.  It’s even more huger than I remember – I didn’t have time to do everything, and will have to return another day.

In the evening I met up with my best buddy from GBC, Navtej, and we went out for dinner at the Mandarin, which is the best Chinese buffet restaurant I’ve ever been to and was on my must-do list for Toronto. It was a very satisfying meal.

Turns out Nav works just three blocks from where I was staying. What a coincidence, in a city this size.

Assorted zoo pics follow.


Pygmy hippo:


Non-pygmy hippo:


I happened to be there at the right time to watch the hippos get out of their water hole and walk around.  They have a really weird way of walking that I can’t quite describe.  Almost like they’re trying to be dainty.



There is a cheetah in this picture:


African penguins (!):



Neatly arranged skyrats waiting for their chance near a food stand:


This lynx was pacing furiously, obviously wanting a piece of the juicy kids jabbering at it:


There are two B.C. natives I live in fear of meeting on my hikes. One is the cougar (non-nightclub variety, though the other is also scary):


And the other is the bear. Specific example given here, the grizzly:


Zebra chaser:


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