Exploring Toronto with Sights on Bikes

Continuing past Yonge Street, Toronto’s main north-south artery that was formerly listed as the longest street in the world in the Guinness Book of Records, I continued towards Queen’s Park, site of the Ontario Legislature. The park surrounding the Legislative Assembly of Ontario was opened by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1860 and named after Queen Victoria.

Statue in Queen’s Park

One of the architectural crown jewels of Toronto, the Ontario Legislative Building was designed by Buffalo-based architect Richard A. Waite, and completed in a Richardsonian Romanesque style in 1893. The northwest corner also features the apartment of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the Queen’s representative in this province, since 1937. Various statues of famous politicians grace the grounds and the area on the south side of the building facing University Avenue is often used for ceremonial occasions.

Jewelry on sale at Afrofest

Today, the park area on the north side of the Legislature was full of merchants, getting ready for Afrofest. Various Caribbean and African entrepreneurs were getting ready to sell all sorts of food, clothing, music, jewelry and other ethnic products. I would have loved to sample some of delicacies, but when I arrived around noon time the food stands were still getting set up and none of the food was ready yet.

Heading west from Queens Park I entered the campus of the University of Toronto, with about 60,000 students Canada’s largest university which was founded as King’s College in 1827. According to a 2006 Newsweek International Ranking, U of T is the first-ranked university in Canada, and comes in as number 18 world-wide and number 5 outside the United States. Researchers at the University of Toronto have been responsible for such discoveries and achievements as the extraction of insulin, the first practical electron microscope, and the world’s first electronic heart pacemaker.

Hart House, part of the University of Toronto

The central part of the downtown campus of U of T features some stunning architectural heritage buildings in the Romanesque and Gothic revival style, particularly on King’s College Circle. Hart House, a multi-purpose student centre was financed by donations by the Massey Foundation and named after Hart Massey (1823-1896), the Canadian industrialist who founded a successful farm equipment empire.

Convocation Hall, part of U of T

By now my appetite had been triggered and I was ready to have a nice lunch, so I cycled south on McCaul Street to Baldwin Street which features two blocks of eclectic and diverse eateries, most of whom have outdoor patios on the street side. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian and Thai restaurants are represented on this quaint neighbourhood street, offering a wide range of eclectic tastes. I plunked myself down at the Kuni Sushi Ya Restaurant and satiated my hunger with a miso soup and a very satisfying vegetable tempura while contemplating the remainder of my route. The great thing is that Baldwin Street is a rather relaxed, Bohemian Street, so even in my biking outfit with messy hair I did not attract any uncomfortable attention.

University of Toronto campus

After strengthening myself I continued my ride south on Beverley towards the Rogers Centre, the former Skydome, Toronto’s multi-purpose stadium with the unique retractable roof and home to the Toronto Blue Jays (Major League Baseball) and the Toronto Argonauts (Canadian Football). I was particularly fascinated by the outdoor sculptures on the northwest side of the stadium: “The Audience” portrays a variety of sports fans who are celebrating their favourite team’s achievements.

“The Audience”, sculpture on the Rogers Centre

A couple of minutes west on Blue Jays Way I stopped at a memorial to Chinese railway workers, who helped build Canada’s railways in the second half of the 19th century. Many of these Chinese labourers made up the main labour force in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. 5000 railway workers were recruited from China and an additional 7000 Chinese labourers were brought in from California. Many of these workers either became ill during construction or died while planting explosives or perished in various construction-related accidents. Living conditions were squalid and the workers generally lived in tents. The monument to the Chinese railway workers pays a moving tribute to the contribution and fate of the Chinese railway workers.

Chinese Railway Workers Memorial

Curving around the southern façade of the Rogers Centre I arrived at Roundhouse Park, a large public space immediately to the south of the CN Tower, named after the John Street Roundhouse, a facility for the inspection, service and repair of locomotives, built in 1929. The facility, today a designated National Historic Site, was closed a long time ago, and today is home to Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery Company which produces a popular premium pilsner beer.

Downtown skyline viewed from Roundhouse Park

Continuing on I cycled underneath the Gardiner Expressway, an elevated highway that connects downtown Toronto to its western suburbs, and I finally arrived at Toronto’s waterfront in an area called Harbourfront. Surrounded by a multitude of high-rise condominiums, Harbourfront is one of Toronto’s premier entertainment districts and features restaurants, a shopping centre for high-end retailers, galleries and a theatre. An international market offers merchandise and food from all over the world. A multitude of sightseeing boats of all kinds docks at the foot of Harbourfront and free concerts delight the plentiful crowd.

Harbourfront

From here I took the bicycle trail on Queens Quay to continue into Toronto’s East end and to finally arrive at home after a solid four or five hours of riding and discovering some of Toronto’s exciting neighbourhoods.

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