“The cool thing about being famous is traveling. I have always wanted to travel across seas, like to Canada and stuff.”
— Britney Spears
Not everyone in Toronto is 20 years old and just stepped out of an iPhone ad.
It just seems that way.
My wife and I have taken vacations north of the border twice now, and I expect we’ll go back.
The first time we visited Toronto was in December. It was unseasonably warm, or so they said. But we enjoyed it anyway. So we decided to return. In the summer.
Toronto is a sprawling metropolis of gleaming towers that often impersonates New York in TV shows and movies. It’s the largest city in Canada and the fastest-growing city in North America.
Still, it’s surprisingly cozy and easy to walk. There’s a gorgeous bike and running trail that stretches forever along the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s safe to stroll downtown virtually around the clock. It’s diverse. There’s hardly any litter (what is it with these people?) There’s even a decadent local dish that would fit right in at the State Fair: poutine, which consists of french fries and cheese curds smothered in brown gravy. Oh, and did I mention that the people are nice?
We just happened to arrive in town just as the whole country was celebrating the Toronto Raptors’ NBA title. We arrived on a Saturday. The victory parade was that Monday and ended a block from our hotel. They say 2 million turned out. I say it was an undercount. (And although I pulled for the Warriors, I wasn’t telling.)
As you may know, the Raptors’ rallying cry was “We the North.” It was concocted by a marketing agency and emblazoned on banners, posters and the façades of businesses. I had mixed feelings about its appropriation of Black English (sort of like I feel when white people say “baby mama” — I don’t even like when black people say it).
As the NBA’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, pondered whether to remain with the team, a hopeful new slogan emerged on signs and posters: “He Stay.” Don’t wear it out, guys.
Then again, since this is the nation’s first NBA championship, I’ll cut the Canadians some slack. We cool.
Five days later it was Pride Weekend in Toronto. Saturday’s festival extended along Church Street for at least 15 city blocks (picture a packed Elm Street during the Festival of Lights and multiply it 20 times).
Everyone was friendly and welcoming. We did, however, pass a man who looked like someone’s genial older uncle. Except that he was stark naked. We saw at least five more people (one of them a woman) casually strolling along in their birthday suits. And I suspect neither one of us fooled anybody with our attempts to look unfazed.
Moving right long ... we also managed to take a five-hour train trip to Montreal in French-speaking Quebec. Montreal feels European. And we’d been warned that French Canadians can be touchy if you don’t parlez en francais. And they did seem to revel in their French, which they spoke loudly and sensuously.
But nearly everyone we encountered smoothly shifted to English when they realized where we were from.
Incidentally, no offense to Amtrak, but the train ride to Montreal was perfect. They served actual meals, including complimentary wine — with refills. And they were on time. In fact, on the return trip to Toronto. a steward took to the intercom to apologize that we were running six minutes late. As it turned out, we arrived ahead of schedule.
To be sure, Canada has its issues. A shooting at the Raptors parade that injured four people. And although Canadians are preternaturally polite, and prone to say, “Sorry,” if they bump you on the sidewalk, they are impatient drivers. And can be just as profane as we Americans at baseball games. So take my sweeping generalizations with a grain of salt.
Which reminds me of the parking ticket our tour driver got when we were visiting the charming village of Niagara on the Lake.
“I was only here for a minute,” the driver said to the officer, a woman with a ponytail.
“I warned you and you didn’t listen,” she said. “So I have to write you up. I warned you and you came right back to this same spot.”
She handed him a ticket and walked away in a huff, but not without a parting word.
“Sorry,” she said.