Flying from Toronto to Ottawa this morning, the route and the light were just right to get this shot. This is downtown Toronto, looking southwards. From North York in the foreground, you can follow the line of Yonge Street to the downtown core, then to the Harbour, the Island, Lake Ontario, and you can even make out the New York State shore on the horizon. Canadians refer to Toronto as the “Centre of the Universe” — those of us from outside Toronto mean it sarcastically, but Torontonians are quite unselfconscious about it. For me, Toronto has always been “the City” because I grew up near here, went to the University of Toronto for a graduate degree, had a cool summer job here, and come back regularly now on work assignments. In some ways it still is a provincial Ontario town that has grown too big to be liveable, but in other ways it truly is a global metropolis. It certainly is light-years away from the “Muddy York” of Bishop Strachan and the Family Compact, 200 years ago when the city got its start.
Last night, I tried something I have heard about and meant to do for a while: I had a “dining in the dark” experience, here in Toronto. O.Noir restaurant on Church Street features a dining room which is in profound darkness, and the patrons are guided through this unusual eating experience by servers who are themselves blind. I found that the reversal of trust, from the suddenly uncomfortable sighted person to the accustomed unsighted person, was the most affecting part of this experience. Spoken instructions about the position of plates and glasses, and a careful hand-off of every object, quickly had me mapping my surroundings in a structured and orderly way, and I found that this is the way to navigate in a world without light.
Contrary to my expectations, my sense of taste and smell were not magically enhanced by the taking away of all visual cues. I was relying on texture, more than anything else, to tell the difference between the root vegetables in my starter salad. The food was very good, and I ordered the chef’s choice surprise menu to keep me guessing about what I was eating. I would like to thank Chelsea, who I met on the train journey coming down to Toronto, and who is a server at O.Noir, for recommending the amazing experience of dining in the dark.
As much of my working life is taken up with travel, I thought you should see a bit of my habitual milieu. This is the Panorama Lounge at Union Station in Toronto. Union Station is undergoing revitalization, and the Panorama Lounge is the first completed element. Located on the ground level, to the west of the main hall and facing Front Street, the Panorama Lounge is an amenity of VIA Rail, offered to passengers travelling in VIA 1 class in “the Corridor” (Windsor to Quebec City, including the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle) and travelling in Sleeper class on “The Canadian” that goes across Canada.
Union Station — a veritable cathedral in the Beaux-Arts style — opened in 1927. The space now occupied by the Panorama Lounge was originally a lunch counter. Many of the original style elements have been recreated, and this genuine remnant of the past has been preserved intact on one of the marble-clad pillars. This ghost sign reaches out from the last century, from a time when this city was called — without irony — Toronto the Good.
One more quick stop; this is the very last shop.
Add the gift to the stack; it’s time to head back.
The stockings are hung; the festivities have begun.
The carollers are singing; what a wonderful evening!
When I was a boy, a November tradition was watching the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, and afterwards looking at the Christmas windows at the big department stores. Facing each other across Queen Street at the intersection with Yonge, Simpson’s and Eaton’s competed to see who could put on the most elaborate and colourful displays in their store windows. The old Eaton’s store was torn down, and now that once iconic name is gone. Simpson’s went out of business too, but the old building remains and is still a department store, owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company. While working in my company’s Toronto offices this week, I strolled down Yonge Street one evening to snap some pictures and to see if one can ever “go back again.” One cannot, but the Bay is keeping the spirit of old Toronto alive, with lively displays like this one of a newsboy, a shopping couple, and a lamplighter. Good for them, and compliments of the season!