Fort York, Toronto’s birthplace

Did you know that American troops invaded Canada once?

Yes – well done, you history buff you!
No – don’t feel bad, I didn’t know it either.

In 1812, the United States and Great Britain went to war. In April 1813, the US Army and Navy attacked York, as Toronto was called then. The outnumbered defenders retreated to Fort York from the beachhead on Lake Ontario. The Battle of York lasted six hours. The Americans occupied the town of York for six days, looting homes, destroying supplies and burning public buildings.

The Canadians retaliated in 1814 by burning the Capitol and the White House, among other buildings, in Washington.

War ended in December 1814 but news reached the Dominion in February 1815. Both sides claim victory to this day.

Fort York’s history

Fort York started as a garrison built by Lieutenant-Governor John S. Simcoe in 1793 to enable the British to control Lake Ontario.

As is usually the case, civilians settled nearby and gave the community the name of York. Years later, in 1834, the town was renamed Toronto.

The original log buildings deteriorated and were replaced by new barracks by Simcoe’s successors. The British Army continued to sue the fort until 1870, when the Canadian government took on the responsibility for the country’s defense. The army used Fort York until the 1930s.

The city of Toronto restores the fort in the early 1930s and opened it as a museum.

Fort York today –  a visit in pictures

Fort York is located near downtown Toronto on 100 Garrison Road. I took the Red Rocket (TTC’s trolley) to the fort. I had to leg it for a bit to the entrance.

The Red Rocket
The Red Rocket
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto's skyline
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto’s skyline. What would the soldiers say about the view and the city today?
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
I came across a handful of groups of students. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
I came across a handful of groups of schoolchildren. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
Officer's uniform and stove.
Officer’s bedroom.
Officers' mess. Nice and cozy.
Officers’ mess. Nice and cozy.
The 1815 Officers' brick barracks and mess
The 1815 Officers’ brick barracks and mess
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes  the contrast between historic and modern.
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes the contrast between historic and modern.
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Casa Loma, a medieval castle in… Toronto!

“What do you mean a medieval castle in Toronto?”- You’re entitled to think someone’s pulling your leg. But no, they are not. In fact, there is such a thing in the Annex North neighbourhood: Casa Loma, a medieval inspired castle built in 1911.

9 Casa Loma

The owner, industrialist and financier Sir Henry Pellatt, had his dream home built on a hill overlooking Toronto. It took 300 men almost three years to complete. The house has fantastic views of Toronto skyline. If you go down Spadina (which I recommend so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the Annex North), you’ll walk into the Baldwin steps surrounded by a beautiful garden. Go up to find Casa Loma.

Toronto skyline
Toronto skyline

I loved the idea of visiting such a lovely house; however, it didn’t feel like a home. To make matters worse, it was rather warm that day and there were lots of school children visiting. As there is no air conditioning, they placed huge fans everywhere, which recirculated the warm air. Despite all that, I did enjoy the visit.

3 Casa Loma

Sir Henry and Lady Mary, his wife, lived in Casa Loma for about ten years until financial troubles caused by ill-advised investments and the First World War caused them to give it up and move to their farm. The City of Toronto owns the property.

Lady Mary's suite
Lady Mary’s suite

The main floor comprises the medieval-looking Great Hall, the library, the dining room, the conservatory, Sir Henry’s study and the billiards and smoking rooms. The second floor contains guest rooms; and Sir Henry’s and Lady Mary’s suites (hers was my favourite). The servants’ quarters (for 40 people!) are on the third floor.

Lovely sitting room
Lovely sitting room
Garden feature
Garden feature

 

Address: One Austin Terrace, Toronto M5R 1X8

Directions (from Casa Loma website)

Go to Dupont station (located two stops north of St. George station on the Spadina- University line) and walk north two blocks on Spadina Ave. At this point, visitors have the option of climbing the Baldwin Steps (110 steps) at Spadina Ave. and Davenport Road or walking up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to Spadina station and take the Davenport 127 bus to Davenport & Spadina. Get off the bus and climb the Baldwin steps (110 steps ), or take the bus one stop further to Davenport and Walmer and walk up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to St. Clair West station on the Spadina-University line, walk east on St. Clair to Spadina, turn right (south) and keep walking (approximately 15 minutes) to the castle.

Go to St. Clair station on the Yonge line. Take the St. Clair streetcar (going West) to Spadina Road, get off and walk south on Spadina Road (approximate 10 minute walk) to Casa Loma.

I visited Casa Loma when we were still living in Toronto back in 20101 (when I had short hair!). I didn’t have a blog then so I’m making up for it now!

I love these powder blue sofas
I love these powder blue sofas

Canada’s Parliament Hill

Canada’s Parliament is an iconic set of buildings located on top of Parliament Hill. This limestone cliff slopes gently towards Ottawa River in the country’s capital, Ottawa.
Parliament Hill overlooking the frozen Ottawa River
Parliament Hill overlooking the frozen Ottawa River

When Ottawa was declared the new capital of the United Province of Canada in 1858, a parliament building was needed to house the legislature. Thus, architects were hired, plans were approved, ground was broken in 1859 and Albert Edward, prince of Wales, laid the cornerstone in the summer of 1860. The Gothic Revival building was completed in 1876. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Centre Block when we visited Ottawa in January 2011. I have to say this: I’d never been so cold in my life! But I managed to go out and roam the city anyway, of which I’m proud.

Let me show you what I saw and learned.

The tour started at 11.30. They advised us to go there a few minutes earlier to go through a security scanning like that of airports. Thankfully, there was no need to take shoes off. The group was comprised of a very nice lady guide, a middle-aged couple and I. I suppose that groups are larger during the summer (for enquiries, email info@parl.gc.ca).

This is the Centre Block and Peace Tower. The Library of Parliament is at the back. I was walking towards the entrance when a Mountie politely stopped me and asked me questions like why I was there, where I was from and the like. When I said I'm from Argentina, he said "that's along waya away!" and gave a lapel pin with the Canadian flag. I think Canadians are among the nicest and politest people on Earth!
This is the Centre Block and Peace Tower. The Library of Parliament is at the back. I was walking towards the entrance when a Mountie politely stopped me and asked me questions like why I was there, where I was from and the like. When I said I’m from Argentina, he said “that’s along way away!” and gave me a lapel pin with the Canadian flag. I think Canadians are among the nicest and politest people on Earth!

The party met at the Hall of Honour, which divides the Centre Block into east and west sections and separates the House of Commons and the Senate. It also serves as ceremonial space.

Ceremonial entrance of the sovereign and his or her representative from the Senate foyer.
Ceremonial entrance of the sovereign and his or her representative from the Senate foyer.

The Senators debate and revise bills passed by the House of Commons. The Queen’s representative, the Governor General, addresses the Parliament and gives assent to bills.

The Speaker presides over Senate sessions. The Leader of the Government sits to his right and the Leader of the Opposition sit sto his left.  The thrones behind the Speaker are for the Governor General and his/her spouse
The Speaker presides over Senate sessions. The Leader of the Government sits to his right and the Leader of the Opposition sit sto his left. The thrones behind the Speaker are for the Governor General and his/her spouse
The gilt coffered ceiling of the Senate and massive chandelier
The gilt coffered ceiling of the Senate chamber and a massive chandelier
Parliament Hill Ottawa5
The House of Commons has green benches like the British House of Commons
 House of Commons The House of Commons wasn’t in session so we were able to see it.

Th Rorund or Federation Hall is the formal entrance to the Centre Block. Carved symbols of every province decorate the walls and columns.  The central column bears a dedication to those who fought in World War I. The swrils at its base represent Canada's motto: From Sea to Sea.

The Rotunda or Federation Hall is the formal entrance to the Centre Block. Carved symbols of every province decorate the walls and columns.
The central column bears a dedication to those who fought in World War I. The swirls at its base represent Canada’s motto: From Sea to Sea.

The Peace Tower replaces the Victoria Tower that burned down in the 1916 fire and it honours the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in World War I. The clock was a present of the British government to mark the 60th anniversary of the Confederation in 1927. The Memorial Chamber has altars that hold the Books of Remembrance inscribed with the names of Canadian soldiers fallen in battle.

View from the Peace Tower
View from the Peace Tower
Ottawa as seen from the Peace Tower
Ottawa as seen from the Peace Tower
Snow angels!
Snow angels!

The beautiful Library of Parliament (1859-1876) was the only part of the building to survive the fire of 1916. Even though its interior is made of pine, it didn’t burn down thanks to the presence of mind of an employee who closed to fireproof doors. Its exterior design was inspired by the Reading Room of the British Museum. Inside, it’s flooded in natural light and has a wonderful smell of books and pinewood. Unfortunately for me, photography is prohibited inside.

Attention cat lovers! There’s a cat refuge behind the Parliament buildings overlooking the river, called Stray Cats of the Hill. It’s been there since the late 1970s. Cats have been neutered and inoculated against disease. A pensioner that goes by the mysterious name of The Catman of the Hill volunteers to feed the cats and other animals, like raccoons, groundhogs or birdies daily.

Home tweet home
Home tweet home

And it was cold!

Brrrrrr!
Brrrrrr!

Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake: a day trip from Toronto

An overcast summer morning in Toronto. We decided to go even though the weather forecast called for intermittent rain during the day. I assumed we were going to get wet anyway. So we drove along the QEW, Queen Elizabeth Way, which circles Lake Ontario, to Niagara Falls.

I had great expectations for these world-famous falls. And I was curious as well. I had been to Iguazu Falls between Argentina and Brazil and I wanted to compare them with Niagara. I secretly wanted Iguazu to win. Naughty, I know.

The falls seen from the Canadian side. The American city of Niagara Falls is in the background
The falls seen from the Canadian side. The American city of Niagara Falls is in the background

We stayed on the Canadian side. We drove into a beautiful public park, with carefully maintained flower beds. We could see the mist rising behind the trees. The Niagara River and the falls are right there! There’s a paved path and railings along the river where visitors can walk without fear of falling into the water.

Niagara1

We walked to the railing to watch nature in all its magnificence. The Horseshoe fall is the biggest and most powerful. Water falls with a deafening roar; I could feel its power reverberating in my chest. The American and Bride Veil falls are on the American side. They are smaller and less powerful but nice to look at.

We walked up and down the path, taking photos and enjoying the view. We decided to forgo the pleasures of sailing on the Maid of the Mist and the trek behind the falls. The fact that this natural wonder is flanked by two cities and surrounded by concrete struck me as incongruent. To me, it is a clear example of man taming nature. I would have liked to see the area in its natural, original state.

The American and Bride Veil's falls
The American and Bride Veil’s falls

I enjoyed the experience but wasn’t awestruck. Sorry.

We moved on, driving through fruit groves and vineyards, to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a Victorian fairytale town. The streets are strewn with colourful flowers and plants in neat planters and beds, not a blade of grass is out of place. Horse-drawn carriages ferry tourists back and forth. I absolutely loved it at first, but then the hordes of day-trippers swarming about made me feel claustrophobic.

Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake

A cenotaph on the main street honours the fallen at both world wars. I like this about Canada, that her heroes are remembered and honoured in every town.

Cenotaph at the end of the street
Cenotaph at the end of the street

I took this visit as a learning experience. I discovered that it is best to travel without expectations and to allow yourself to be surprised by a new place. And, most importantly, that comparisons can ruin your experience.

Niagara3

CBBH Photo challenge: same subject, different time

Here’s my interpretation of this month’s challenge posed by East of Malaga blog. I chose to show how two urban landscapes, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa, look in different seasons.

A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
ottawa
National War Memorial in Ottawa (late spring and in the dead of winter)