The fourth and final stop on my vacation earlier this month may have provided the worst of the four ballparks, but it was the most exciting city of the group.
It’s hard to compare Toronto to an American city. In terms of population, I suppose it would most closely resemble Chicago. Myself and two friends from high school arrived in Toronto (via Pittsburgh) on Aug. 9 before leaving two days later.
Toronto really was awesome. Among the cities I’ve visited, I’d rank it with Boston and Seattle as my favorites. I’ve heard multiple people refer to Toronto as the “New York of Canada.” I’ve never been to New York, so I can’t say whether that nickname is justified or not.
But Toronto certainly was a lively city. The downtown area was bustling. It just seemed like there was an awful lot of young people in their 20s and 30s. And there was quite a bit of construction going on downtown for a major city. I got the feeling that it could be much larger – and more congested, I suppose – five years from now than it is today. Lot of big buildings going up.
Aside from a Yankees-Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre, we tried to do as much as we could during our two days in Canada. Before reaching Toronto, we checked out Niagara Falls on the Ontario side of the border. Quite a sight! I had never seen the Falls on either side before. Very impressive.
I was pretty stunned by the tourism mecca that is Niagara Falls too. We were there on a Thursday afternoon, and it was absolutely packed. The city is full of little shops and restaurants. We made the obligatory Tim Horton’s stop, and that place was an absolute zoo. But it lived up to the billing. How have donut combos not taken off in most of the States?
From there it was off to Toronto. My Forum Communications cohort Dom Izzomade a couple of great restaurant suggestions. We ate at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant on that Thursday night, then went to East Side Mario’s (Italian food, obviously) on Friday afternoon before the Jays game. I give thumbs-up to both.
Aside from East Side Mario’s, much of Friday was spent within hockey’s hold on Toronto. We checked out the Hockey Hall of Fame in the morning. Had my photo taken with the Stanley Cup. A must.
During a dull moment that afternoon we walked to the site of the Maple Leaf Gardens, which has been converted into a shopping center. Not much to look at inside, but the exterior probably looks much as it did when the Leafs played in the historic ice arena.
I even stopped into the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of you who didn’t grow up within an hour of Canada) to see if I could find any Don Cherry memorabilia. Had to settle for a “Hockey Night in Canada” T-shirt.
That night we saw the Yankees take care of business against a pretty depleted Jays squad. Having grown up going to games in the Metrodome, there was a sort of nostalgic feel to Rogers Centre. After all, I probably haven’t seen an indoor baseball game since the Twins’ final game at the Metrodome.
And the Blue Jays were so good when I was growing up, I just naturally have a lot of memories watching Jays games on Canadian channels or when they were playing in the postseason.
But ultimately, Rogers Centre just doesn’t stack up with the modern ballparks of today. It’s enormous and doesn’t have a lot of frills to it. The team store was very large and had all kinds of Jays merchandise. I managed to avoid spending any loonies there, which was difficult since I really like the Jays retro-style logo this year.
The Jays game did mark the end of the trip. The next morning, we hopped into the car and headed back, stopping that night in Madison, Wis., before arriving in the Twin Cities the next day.
But before I end this four-part blog series, I should point out two more things about our visit to Toronto.
First off, I had an easier time finding Labatt’s in the States than I did in Canada.
Secondly, Canadians have NOT forgotten about the Montreal Expos. I opted to wear an Expos jersey and hat in Toronto on that Friday both to the Hockey Hall and to the Jays game. And I must have gotten at least a half-dozen comments (all but one positive) from people on the streets. I even had someone say something in French to me. I should have said “merci” back.
And I was hardly alone. A few people were wearing Expos stuff at the Blue Jays game. And they’d look at you as if you were one of their own. Just hilarious! I went up the aisle in our section at one point to go to the bathroom, and another guy sitting in an aisle seat wearing an Expos T-shirt and hat gave me a head nod and lifted his beer bottle into the air.
Long live Les Expos!