Toronto Memories part 1


Today I revisited three of the four places I lived in Toronto, rode the subway a bit, (delightful!)  walked through the Underground, revisited one of my college campuses and met up with some relatives I’ve not seen in ages (and some I’ve not met before).

First stop: 11 Newton Drive.  This was actually the third place we occupied in Toronto between our two stints at the farm in Manitoba.

I don’t have a “before” picture handy for this one.  It was a small two-bedroom house with a decent-sized yard.  We had a garden beside the house and the back yard was all surrounded by tall hedge which gave decent privacy and some quiet.

We adopted our most recent cat (Dude) here.  He was a feral kitten who kept coming into our yard looking for food.  My father started feeding him and since there was no sign of anyone considering him missing, we soon adopted and attempted to tame him.  He was a surprising find for a stray – a Burmese Blue. Silvery dark grey fur, with sky-blue skin underneath.  He adapted well to the house overlord lifestyle and stayed with us until his death of pneumonia sometime around 1998.

Anyway, this place has since been torn down, along with the neighboring house, and reincarnated as this:


Is that a house or a storefront? I can’t tell.

Here’s some nearby rephotography though.  Yonge Street looking south from the end of Newton Drive then:


And now:


Not much difference is immediately evident from the photo, but there are a lot more high-rise buildings in the distance down between Finch and Sheppard, and most of the businesses in this area have some Arabic language on the signs now.

And looking north then:


And now:


Very little change there. Even the mall just up the street from here is the same as it was 19+ years ago, when last we were here.

I walked south on Yonge for a while, passing this strip mall on the way:


If you notice right near the middle of the photo, there is a bowling alley sign.  I often used to stop off there to play games, as they had an arcade.  It was actually mostly pinball – they had an impressive row of pinball machines, and since the best video game they had was the fairly crappy Simpsons side-scroller, I played pinball more than video games.

The North York town hall area has been built up, but the library where I did most of my research when I was taking electronics at George Brown is still there, in the back of this building:


And the fourth and final house we occupied, 93 Hillcrest Avenue, has also been razed and replaced.


With this:


This is where we lived when I completed my training at GBC, and when we bought our first Intel-based PC, a ‘386 with a whole 4MB of memory and a 128MB hard drive – and Super VGA graphics, all for under $2,000!

I had a huge upper-floor bedroom that I really liked, and I was sad when we had to pack up and leave this place to return to Manitoba.


Moving on, our second residence in Toronto was in this crappy little apartment building:


It was noisy, we paid a ridiculous sum per week rent, rode the elevator with drug dealers, and they didn’t allow pets so we had to keep our dogs cooped up in the truck in the parking lot – that really sucked because we could easily have got into trouble with animal control authorities for that, and it was awful for the dogs too.  Thankfully we weren’t there very long.

Here’s me on the balcony, from when I was starting to look for work. This was before I started at GBC, and I felt the need to earn some money. You’re not likely to see me in duds like this again.


This area is still a slum despite the shiny new buildings going up.

Also still present is the sub shop across the street:


I used to hang out here for hours at a time.  This is where I learned to master Shinobi, getting every possible point and finishing the game without dying once.  There were a crowd of kids about my age who also hung out and took turns at the game.  One of them wore a felt trenchcoat and had a pet rat living on his person – the coat was easy for the rat to climb around in and on. He smelled.  The proprietors yelled at me once for having a persistent cough that was annoying the paying customers – and they had a point. I had a particularly bad cold that year and I had a frequent dry cough that didn’t go away for two months.

Next I went downtown to walk around a bit.  First stop, Union Station. very nice train station, and this somewhat obscure spot in the lower level:


used to be home to a pretty decent arcade.  Great place to stash kids between connecting trains.  This is where I played most of my Moon Patrol, and where I mastered Wardner.

Obligatory shot of the gold building:


Interesting bit of trivia: Management of some other office buildings nearby sued when this thing was built, on the grounds that the reflected sunlight was raising their air conditioning costs in summer.  They lost, on the grounds that there is a complementary season.

I then walked north through the Underground, which is a series of connected below-ground mini-malls that together comprise one giant mall.  You can walk all the way from Union Station to the Eaton Center without going outside, with shopping all the way.  I found that my favorite Underground cookie store, Treats, is still in business but their cookies are no longer as good as I remember.

City Hall:


And looking in the other direction, First Canadian Place (the white building at center):


My mother worked there as an office temp for a while.  Remember I mentioned earlier that I was looking for work at the time?  I also signed on with the same temp agency, and my first assignment was in another office building down here.  Sorting paper files.  It didn’t work out well – I was paired with another teenage temp, and all he wanted to do was loaf around in the file storage room playing cards.  My first professional dilemma.  I turned him in, and then also quit myself because I didn’t like the office environment.

Interesting digital display I encountered on Bay Street.  Dynamic wall displays are coming closer to reality:


Oh, and I’m sure that five gigadollars will totally solve all the banking problems.

Moseyed over to the St. James campus of George Brown College, where I started my electronics training. Then:




This building had a cavernous enclosed courtyard inside it, with games.  I mastered Black Tiger here, and also played a lot of Cyclone – the machine that taught me to appreciate pinball.  That courtyard is now filled in by hallways and classrooms.  The rest of the maze-like interior is roughly the same as before though.  Too many stories associated with this place to go into now.

This monster nearby:


sits mostly in the parking lot of what used to be a Goodwill store – a notable one because they had a huge basement department for electronics, and had a weekly computer auction.  I got my first Apple II kit here, as well as an Osborne portable and an Apple III (which I foolishly stripped for parts instead of waiting for eBay to be invented).

And just around the corner from that:


The basement of that red brick building used to house an Active Components store, which was a very convenient source of parts for those of us in the electronics program at GBC. Now empty.

After all that, I took a spin through the St. Lawrence Market and then went to the new Distillery district for dinner.  I met up with my aunt Winnie and cousin Tanya, whom I haven’t seen for about 22 years, as well as Tanya’s husband Ralph and my second cousin Ayla (daughter of Tanya’s sister Angela Rose). I had never met Ralph or Ayla before, both having come on the scene long after I last saw anyone from this branch of my family.  It was a good evening of much conversation.


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Sudbury and onward to Toronto


Didn’t get enough sleep last night. Good room, but the jerks next door kept going in and out with much knocking and slamming of doors, starting at 5am. Grr.

Sudbury is an interesting patchwork of town.  Neighborhoods, as defined by areas of similar building style and degree of upkeep, are small and jumbled together randomly.  You can have nice modern homes next to ancient slums next to middling high-rise apartments.  As for commercial zoning you can really tell the old city from the new city – the older commercial zones are rotting badly, with decaying buildings and bumpy streets, whereas the new shopping areas on the edges of town seem to be doing really well – instead of replacing the old, they’re just growing outward.

First stop was the Dynamic Earth tourist trap (where the big nickel is) as I wanted to take in the mine tour. I arrived just in time to join a tour.


It was disappointingly short and shallow.  I mean, it was interesting – they talked about the formation of the rich ore deposits, and showed examples of mine drift working conditions from the 1900s, 1950s and modern times.  But we didn’t go very deep underground – I wanted to see huge underground vistas with big machines, dammit.  These mines go down 2.2km – there must be some interesting things to see down there!

Breakfasted and hit the road.  Stopped for a break at the French River crossing, which almost looks like a canal at this point:


Major important canoe route in the pre-railway, pre-Trans-Canada days, yadda yadda.

Stopped in Parry Sound to get some lunch.  Nice town.  No pictures because I couldn’t find the particular sites, but I have two important memories of this town.  One is that this is the home of Tim Horton’s, or something like that, and we once made a point of stopping here for supplemental bread torii.  The other was that near the Timmy’s there was a basement arcade where I first played Roc’n’Rope, a game I had scrutinized screenshots of in video game magazines but never dreamed of actually finding in Canada.  I really liked that game and wish it was more common.

Continued on, but had to leave the highway at Barrie because the traffic suddenly became way too intense for me.  The 400-series highways here should have a sign saying, “You must be at least Mario Andretti to ride this road.”  I was afraid to use my brakes for fear of causing a pileup.  So I switched over to Yonge Street – in my mind, Toronto’s spine – which runs all the way to Barrie where it has addresses in the 20,000 range.  Much slower road – cost me an extra hour – but better to arrive late than late.

My route down Yonge toward my hotel took me past two of my previous residences.  North York at least has changed in that there are lots of new high-rise buildings, but there was also much that was still familiar.  North of Steeles was way more developed than I remember – it’s pretty much city all the way to Aurora now.

This hotel (the Westin Prince) is probably the fanciest place I’ve ever stayed at.  It seems really nice – I picked it because it looked like it might have a quiet location, and it does.  First place I’ve ever had to contend with a bellhop insisting on helping me with my luggage – I had no idea how much to tip him, but Google tells me I wasn’t far off the mark with my guess.

Was treated to another nice lightning storm from the balcony windows of my room.  Today was hot and humid, and as I was entering the city some dark clouds started brewing.  Shortly after I checked in the lightning started.  The concierge tells me there are tornado warnings for the area tonight (first time I’ve ever heard of that in this area) and that one actually touched down somewhere near Sudbury after I left.

I’ll be at this hotel for three nights, but probably in Toronto longer than that – starting Saturday I’m supposed to stay with my cousin Tanya for a while.  I have much more than three days worth of stuff to do here anyway.

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To Sudbury


Another short day, but it’s amazing what a difference a good sleep makes. I felt really good today and the trip seemed much shorter. Must remember to sleep more.

The only significant stop was in the town of Bruce Mines, where they had a small copper mine tour I wanted to take in.  Unfortunately it was closed due to vandalism, so I settled for the museum.  Decent collection for a small town museum, and this unexpected highlight: they played a working wax cylinder record for me!


I never expected to see one of these beasts in working order.  Sound quality was much better than I expected.

In Sudbury, I hoped to take in the local mine tour as well, but I arrived too late. Will have to do in the morning.  But I got a photo of Canada’s least convenient bit of pocket change:


I had also hoped to visit the slag heap tonight:


When I was a kid my father took me out here after dark once to watch them pour molten slag down the side of the heap – it was neat, like watching mini-volcanoes.  But I’m told they are currently dumping on the hidden far side, so that show’s not on tonight.

Little-known fact: Sudbury sits in the second-largest known impact crater on earth.  Nothing really visible from the ground though.

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Lake Superior shoreline


I didn’t get enough sleep last night.  The lodge is nice and all, and I almost would have liked to spend another day there…


… but the bed was a bit hard, the floors noisy and there was no protection from the noise of the other guests, so when they all got up at the ludicrous hour of 7am to have a communal breakfast, it became impossible for me to sleep.

So I decided to make it a short day. Instead of driving to Sudbury as planned, and likely repeating yesterday’s mistake, I would instead stop at Sault Ste Marie.  This works out better anyway, because it gives me time to do some tourist stops between Wawa and SSM, and also between SSM and Sudbury, and pushes my Toronto arrival back a day which I think may sync up better with other peoples’ plans.

I stopped at a few nice picnic spots at various Lake Superior beaches.  The first notable location was the Agawa Petroglyphs park.  You have to climb down a steep cliff to get to them, and they’re on a dangerous rock ledge, but I got pictures of a few of them:


If you go here, this is the ledge you have to go out on to see them:


Take your shoes and socks off to get a better grip on the rock, and even then do not go out if the rocks are wet – these rocks are slippery even dry.  A boat might be a better way to see them; there is a boat launch nearby.

Just a ways down the road is a scenic lookout.  I stopped briefly to rephotograph it versus the 1992 trip:



Then on to Sault Ste Marie, where I went downtown to rephotograph the bridge to the US and A, and the historic canal locks:



I’m really glad I decided to make this a short day; I got to do a lot more interesting stuff.

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Thunder Bay to Wawa


Today started out really well.  I was on the road earlier than usual: 11am.

Made a brief stop at the old Terry Fox memorial. This is just outside Thunder Bay, where Terry Fox had to give up his marathon because his cancer returned.  There’s a nice statue and monument here, plus a great view of the Sleeping Giant:


Next stop, the nearby amethyst mine – I’ve always been partial to amethyst even though it’s just colored quartz.  The mine isn’t much to see – just a big pit:


But they give a 15-minute talk about the origins of the stone and this particular vein.  Apparently this is the largest known amethyst vein in North America, and they’ve mined less than one quarter of it so far.  The gift shop is good – they have various nice stones and carvings, but the real bonus is tables and tables of raw amethyst rocks at $3 per pound.  I bought several pieces totalling eight pounds.  They had pieces large enough to make fireplaces or lawn ornaments out of – running into the thousands of dollars.  When I have a place of my own to decorate, I just might come back for a large piece.

Next stop, not far down the road, Eagle Canyon and Quimet Canyon.

Eagle Canyon is a commercial tourist trap. For $20 (a bit excessive) you go on a 20-minute hike that takes you across the canyon twice on suspension bridges – one of which they claim is the longest in Canada at 600 feet. Here’s that bridge as seen from the shorter one:


And here’s what the long one looks like from one end:


They also have what they claim is Canada’s longest zipline, starting at the opposite end of this bridge and running down the length of the canyon to the lake at the end. It’s another $60 if you want to do that – I didn’t.

Quimet Canyon is a provincial park and admission is by donation.  It’s a bit more spectacular:



Note the rock pillar at the lower left of the first picture – local legends about that, obviously.  The canyon floor is a protected area, as its peculiar climate makes it home to plants normally found only a thousand kilometers north of here.


The remainder of the day went not so well.  I didn’t spend especially long at any of these places, but somehow when I got back on the road it was 4pm, and I still had an estimated four hours of driving ahead to reach the Rock Island Lodge, which I had made a reservation at because it looked like the only quiet place to stay in Wawa.

So I drove and drove and drove, and finally arrived just after sunset, around 9pm.  That really sucked.  I was very tired and frazzled from the long drive and I don’t like driving in the dark.  I got my room, offloaded the day’s data and went to sleep.

It is actually a pretty nice lodge – I could hear the Lake Superior surf crashing on the shore, which was really nice – it’s like an ocean away from home.  And it was pitch black until the moon came up. I just wish I had arrived in time to photograph the sunset.

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