Taking My Visitors on a Driving Tour
Then Jordan took us to our next stop: Osgoode Hall, a landmark building just west of New City Hall that houses the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Justice as well as the headquarters of the Law Society of Upper Canada. The original building was constructed between 1829 and 1832 and was named after William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Further expansions happened in the second half of the 19th century. The cast iron gates surrounding the property feature so-called “cow gates” which were intended to keep out grazing cows which were still a frequent sight in the young City of Toronto.
The Canada Life Building
Just southwest of Osgoode Hall is the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, a 2000+ seat theatre that opened in June of 2006. We turned right and headed north on University Avenue, a six-lane divided principal arterial road and Toronto’s widest avenue. One of the main landmarks on University Avenue, the fifteen-storey Canada Life Building, built in Beaux Arts style, was completed in 1929 and was one of the tallest buildings in Toronto at the time. This building is famous for its weather beacon which has been announcing the weather in the city since 1951. Steady green indicates fair weather, red means rain, white means snow, and lights moving up or down indicate a temperature change. Jordan also pointed out the American Consulate which is occasionally a location of protests when various groups voice their opinions against US policy. Further north, University Avenue is dominated by a series of hospitals. The street then splits into the eastern and western half of Queen’s Park Circle, whose centre is dominated by Queen’s Park, another imposing Richardsonian Romanesque Revival structure and the seat of the Ontario legislature.
Hart House with the Soldier’s Tower
Our next stop was the University of Toronto Campus, headquarters of Canada’s largest university (with close to 60,000 students) and one of its oldest, chartered in 1827. U of T is consistently ranked as one of the top 30 university in global rankings. We admired historic buildings such as the Soldier’s Tower completed in 1924 to commemorate members of the U of T community who fell during the war; University College with its mix of architectural styles – a National Historic Site which was built between 1856 and 1859; Knox College built in Collegiate Gothic style and opened in 1915; as well as Convocation Hall, a round building modeled after the Sorbonne theatre in Paris and opened in 1907.
University College – a national historic site
Jordan’s tour then took us west on College Street to the Kensington Market area, one of Toronto’s most colourful and diverse neighbourhoods. Traditionally home to successive waves of immigrants, the Kensington Market area is a hustling and bustling area full of edgy clothing retailers, bakeries, ethnic grocery shops, funky stores and restaurants.
Creative community art in Kensington: “Do not tow – community art project”
Jordan took us to the “Urban Herbivore”, a restaurant that serves fabulous soups and other vegetarian delights. I enjoyed a scrumptious sweet potato soup and a sweet potato muffin. After our short break Jordan led us onto Spadina Avenue, the centre of Toronto’s largest and oldest Chinatown (Toronto has three different Chinatowns within its city limits).
Funky stores in Kensington Market
Both today’s Chinatown and Kensington Market area were originally settled by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Later waves of immigration and the northward migration of Jewish residents have made Kensington a very diverse and ethnically mixed neighbourhood that today features many Latin American and various Asian stores and residents. Toronto’s Chinese area was originally located near Queen and Bay Streets, but with the construction of New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square the Chinese community moved westwards to Spadina. Lower Spadina is also the heart of Toronto’s Fashion District, which even today features many garment factories.
Roasted ducks in Chinatown
After the hustle and bustle on busy Spadina Avenue, Jordan led us east towards Peter Street which turns into Blue Jays Way and took us right past the Rogers Centre, the former Skydome, Toronto’s multipurpose stadium with the retractable roof. Right at the intersection of Blue Jays Way and Navy Wharf Court there is an imposing monument, the Memorial to commemorate the Chinese Railway Workers in Canada. Jordan stopped to explain the history behind this impressive monument. A wooden railroad trestle with two precariously perched railroad workers illustrates the hard and dangerous work of Chinese workers who built the Canadian Pacific Railroad through the Rocky Mountains in the 19th century. More than 4000 workers were killed in construction-related accidents between 1880 and 1885.
The Memorial to the Chinese Railroad Workers
We then cycled past the Rogers Centre on Bremner Boulevard to Roundhouse Park, the green space right next to the CN Tower that features one of the most impressive views of downtown Toronto’s skyscrapers. The former John Street Roundhouse was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1929 to service and repair locomotives; today it features the popular Steam Whistle Brewery.
View of downtown skyscrapers from Roundhouse Park