Toronto Walk: the Nordheimer Ravine

The interconnected parks that wind around the Nordheimer Ravine are where we’re headed today. From Roycroft Park to Sir Winston Churchill Park, the area which lies just just south of St. Clair between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street becomes a woodsy forest that one can get lost in.

As part of the original grounds associated with Casa Loma, these areas haven’t had the exposure of the great castle, but were a key part of my personal Friday bike rides home from work.

The great history of the area can be found on the wonderful Lost Rivers series, and some things to note about our travels today, include:

Toronto Walk: Cherry Blossoms in High Park

A clear sign that the polar vortex pushed back our seasons are the Cherry Blossoms in High Park. We’ve been keeping tabs on “Cherry Blossom Watch” and hoping that the recent rains haven’t rid the trees of their blossoms, and today, we’re going on the hunt for cherry blossoms. While there are cherry trees across Toronto, High Park’s Sakura cherry trees (located around Hillside Gardens and the Duck Pond) are usually the biggest draws often attracting hundreds of visitors from around the city. 

The first Japanese Somei-Yoshino Cherry Tree was planted here in 1959 and it was present from the citizens of Tokyo. These trees are the earliest to bloom and are much loved for their fluffy pink and white flowers. Another 34 cherry trees were donated to High Park in 2001 from the Sakura project. Other cherry trees were also donated to other locations around the city, for example Exhibition Place and various universities such as McMaster University, York Uni and the U of T.

I’ve just found out, however, there’s an alternate location for cherry blossom spotting: 30 Japanese Cherry trees were planted in 2011 on Toronto Islands, at Centre Island located at the south end of the bridge near the fountain. There are also cherry trees at Exhibition PlaceMcMaster UniversityYork University (near Calumet College and on Ottawa Road near McLaughlin College) and the University of Toronto‘s main (next to Robarts Library) and Scarborough campuses.

My favourite thing about the cherry blossoms season, apart from the history, cultural significance, and reams of instagram pictures, is High Park’s website instructions: 

Some tips for your visit and a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t break off branches from the trees! Not even small ones.
  • Parking will be horrible inside the park – too many cars, long traffic jams, honking, frustrated drivers. Take transit! Or park outside the park.
  • If you park illegally and you get a ticket do not complain about it.
  • If you can, plan your visit for a weekday.
  • There aren’t enough washrooms for the amount of people that are in the park when the trees are blooming.
  • You don’t have to bring your crying two year old child and two dogs when the crowd is the biggest. (And I say this as a father of a crying two year old and two dogs). It’ll be so much easier for everybody if you go during off-peak hours.

For information on the history, cultural significance, and symbolism, check out these links.

Toronto Walk: Santa Claus Parade

It’s amazing when, as a route planner and city walker, something like the Santa Claus Parade comes around. Not that I’m any good with kids, or crowds, and I’ve been on Santa’s naughty list more than once, but the idea of a 100+ year old tradition that covers a massive chunk of this city is lovely. Plus, it’s a great time for hot chocolate.

I grew up in Scarborough, and my parents used to fight the traffic to the core and take myself and my two sisters to the parade nearly every year when we were kids. Now, as an adult, I see more value in today’s parade than handing my letter off to Santa; instead, it’s the history of the city, and ability for a place where people come together from so many backgrounds to unite over silly things like their kids enjoying clowns and sparkles.

So: on with the history.

The Parade is 109 years old this year, and was first put on by the T. Eaton Co. (Eaton’s)  on December 2, 1905 (apparently, the weather was cold and windy).  The year before (1904) Eaton’s had installed the first escalator around the same time, and after learning how to move the people in one way, this early act of Corporate Social Responsibility was set to move them another way. The parade was more of a one-man show back then, just Santa. 

The route, as describe by,

Santa arrived by train at the city’s old Union Station, constructed in 1884 (since demolished)… Laughing loudly and waving to the assembled crowds, he stepped aboard a horse-drawn cart and journeyed from Union Station to the Eaton Store.

Eaton’s upped the ante in 1906 where Santa arrived in a coach drawn by four white horses and traveled from Union to Massey Hall, where they held a massive pageant. The official website of the Santa Claus Parade mentions a few landmarks over the years, where Santa’s parade grew. In 1913,

Eaton’s arranged for Santa to be pulled by [eight] live reindeer, which had been imported from Labrador specifically for the Parade. The reindeer had a dedicated veterinarian who looked after them and supplied their special diet of moss. Following the Parade, the reindeer retired to the property of an Eaton’s Executive outside Toronto. That year, children along the route started to march through the city along with Santa, stopping to dance and sing as they went.

Santa from the 1900s, from the official Flickr feed

Santa from the 1900s, from the official Flickr feed

This first foray into joining Santa through marching has massive results: the concept of a Parade “float” – of only for Santa at first – became more and more elaborate: Santa traveled in a chariot, a silver fish, a real airplane ( in 1919  by the old Aerodrome on Eglinton Avenue), the caboose of a train, while over the next five years, 7 floats joined the Parade. By 1917 the Parade had a theme: initially, Nursery Rhyme Characters, a theme that has often been repeated with Mother Goose becoming a Parade tradition, taking newer more elaborate forms each year.

The parade grew and by only 1944, it was the largest in North America. Even through the war years, where elaborate costumes became paper mache heads and dresses due to limited resources,  the parade swelled.

As the parade has grown from 7 floats to peaking in 1976 with 33 floats to this year’s 22 floats, many things have stayed the same and many new traditions have started. The 30 year tradition of Celebrity Clowns tradition (which began in 1983 after 60 executives donated $1,000 each to hand out balloons) still goes on today, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars now as a force 200+ strong.

In 1985, the traditional Queen’s Park Circle lighting ceremony, now in it’s 28th year, began.  Eaton’s “Punkinhead, the Sad Little Bear”, a teddy bear who wanted to be in the Santa Claus Parade which was first debuted in 1948, lead a float carrying children from 24 countries to honour the International Year of the Child in the 1980s.

It was only in 2011 that Mrs. Claus to make her first appearance in the parade, and has since become a regular installation to the largest, and longest running Parade in the world.

For more information, check out this video:

Sources: Tourism Toronto, Archives of Ontario; Santa Claus Parade website

Toronto Walk: TIFF


TIFF began in 1976 as the “Festival of Festivals,” where 35,000 Toronto Film enthusiasts watched 127 films from 30 countries. Since then, the festival has grown, last year to 372 films from 72 countries, enjoyed by over 400,000 people. Today, we’re talking a walk in the area, visiting Roy Thomson Hall and checking out St. Andrew’s Church, Canada’s Walk of Fame, The Royal Alex, the CEEB building and Simcoe Park.

I’m sure there are buildings we’ll investigate more of,  especially in this area of the city. If you didn’t know already, this area is part of the original ten blocks of the city and as a part of the oldest area of Toronto, I’m expecting to see quite a number of blue placards talkin’bout history.

Some history I found out today: Roy Thomson Hall opened in 1982,  with a circular architectural design and sloping and curvilinear glass exterior that was designed to resemble a container which people were to fill up with their own decorations.  Though the original design was supposed to have some pretty awful acoustics it was also designed with absolute accessibility in mind, and after a 22-week long remodeling of the interior, the acoustics have become worthy of the Orchestra Roy Thomson supports.

Sunshine glare off Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ...

Sunshine glare off Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This area was once known as part of the Four Nations, in fact, this was the “Legislation” piece of the pie in the 19th century, as Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was located in the block where Roy Thomson Hall and Metro Hall now stand. One of my favourite research sources, the Lost Rivers state that “The four corners were known as “The Four Nations: Legislation, Education, Damnation and Salvation.” (The other pieces were Upper Canada College (to the Northwest),  the Parliament Buildings (to the South), A popular tavern (in the Northeast),  and St. Andrews Church, opened in 1876 (Southeast).  For more information on these buildings, check out Lost Rivers Points Post which contains my favourite piece of historical information,

Then it was decided that the seat of government would alternate every four years between Toronto and Quebec. While parliament was in Quebec, the Toronto buildings were used as law courts, a barracks and an asylum for the insane. It was also an early site of the University of Toronto. In 1859, the alternating-capital system was dropped and the government remained at Quebec until in 1865 when Ottawa became the capital of Canada.

Another historical point of note: what do Carly Rae Jepsen, Alan Thicke, and Terry Fox have in common? They’re all being honored by the Canada’s Walk of Fame people. No joke,

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