What to see

Toronto Toronto City - CN Tower (video) - Casa Loma - Henry Pellatt (video)
Niagara Niagara Falls (video) - the Maid of the Mist
Hamilton Dundurn Castle (video)
Ottawa Ottawa City - Museum of Canadian Civilization (Quebec) (video)
anecdote Upper and Lower Canada...
Other pages Ontario : overview and history | other provinces | articles

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City tour

The Toronto City Tour is conducted with a trolley, and one can get on and off all day, at any location. Via highways 401 and 407 one reaches the very long Yonge Street, that leads to downtown Toronto. Along the way there are a multitude of small and charming shops.

Downtown Toronto is extremely busy, and nowhere a parking space can be found. We bravely plowed on to Front Street, where we eventually discovered a parking, just a few blocks from the CN Tower.

The CN Tower

The CN Tower is Canada's version of the eighth wonder of the world, and with a height of 553 meters it was the world's tallest building for more than 35 years. The work was started in 1973, and it lasted until 1975. Only in 2010 an even higher building was built in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, with a staggering height of 828 meters (2,717 feet)!

The main reason for building the tall CN building was the extraordinary boom in the construction of skyscrapers at the end of 1960's. The new and ever-higher buildings in Toronto's center completely confused the reception of radio and television broadcasts. Every time a new antenna location was selected, a new skyscraper was certain to be built in the vicinity, which would immediately and thoroughly mess up the situation. Hence a plan arose to build the highest building in the world, so that the communication possibilities would at least remain satisfactory for many years!

Every year approximately two million tourists come by to admire this building. Which unfortunately also means that it is quite a chore to obtain tickets... While they were standing in line, the tourists were presented a somewhat particular information movie. It was definitely super-modern, and probably focused on a very young audience. The scenes were raggedly stitched together with stops and starts, and the text twisted and turned, but remained barely long enough onscreen to read...

The external elevators sprint upwards at a quick 22 km/h, which produces a queasy feeling in the stomach. The Look Out Level is located at 346 meters above ground, and it offers a magnificent view of the surroundings, at least if there is no fog.

Toronto : CN Tower 1 Toronto : CN Tower 2

The staircase leads you to the underlying floor, where one can do a complete exterior tour. On the Glass Floor one can stand on a 23 m2 large glass floor, with an unobstructed view of the ground, which lies 342 meters lower! Not really recommended if you happen to suffer from fear of heights...

Finally, the Sky Pod is a 360 degree rotating restaurant at 447 meters of altitude, where one can combine both the view and the taste...

Video : the CN Tower


Casa Loma

Casa Loma, a special and very touristic attraction is described as "the elegance and splendor of the Edwardian era". This castle is located on a hill, in what is apparently the chic neighborhood. It was the largest private residence in Canada with 98 rooms, and belonged to Henry Pellatt.

The exterior is already somewhat surprising, since the whole construction does not seem to have a personal style, but rather unfolds as a conglomeration of would-be medieval and recent styles. There is a baroque wealth of turrets, battlements, and all possible corners and edges. It is certainly remarkable, but not exactly what you would call an architectural wonder of the world. The French would say, "pour épater les bourgeois"...

Unfortunately the interior continues in the same vein. It is rather dark, but there are exquisite wood carvings and magnificently finished ceilings. Unfortunately there is a hodgepodge of expensive styles, but without any inspiration. Although this estate was extremely expensive to build, it compares poorly to for instance the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

Toronto : Casa Loma 1 Toronto : Casa Loma 2
Toronto : Casa Loma 3 Toronto : Casa Loma 4

Henry Pellatt

In 1859 Henry Pellatt was born as the son of a stock broker. At the age of 17 he speculated very well on Northwest shares, and when the West began to grow explosively he made a fortune with his investment. He reinvested the proceeds in the Canadian Pacific Railway, which would transport the vast grain harvests. Again he was lucky and he gained a still larger fortune. With his investments he made more than 17 million Canadian dollars!

Afterwards he invested in the first electrical grid in Toronto, and in 1905 he was knighted for his efforts. Given his impressive financial history, many large concerns asked him to sit on their boards. He also became a Patron for universities, hospitals and museums. He made another career in the army, where he expanded a battalion of the Queen's Own into a regiment, mostly at his own expense, and in 1923 he became a major-general.

In 1911, at the age of 52, he started the construction of Casa Loma, the castle on the hill. This would be his life's work, and the culmination of all the beautiful things he had seen in Canada, England and Europe.

Toronto : Casa Loma 5
Henry Pellatt

In 1914 the building was finished, and the total cost had been CAD 3.5 million, of which 1.5 million CAD had been just for decoration! For the construction he had sent for stonemasons from Scotland and wood carvers from Germany, and the estate had a private phone, an organ, a pool, and so on.

However, in the same year began a series of unfortunate events that would end up in financially strangling Sir Henry. The maintenance of the castle was atrociously expensive with a staff of 40 employees, his large-scale lifestyle cost ridiculous amounts, and the family continued to generously hand out huge donations. Furthermore they continued their wild shopping, even though the European World War had broken out.

The stock market collapsed, and in panic he tried to repeat his former lucrative land speculations. However, the general public no longer invested in land, and the value of his assets fell rapidly. With some creative accounting he managed to save the appearances for a few more years, but eventually in 1923 the bubble burst. In 1924 all his possessions were publicly auctioned, for only a fraction of what they had cost. The sale of Casa Loma brought in exactly ... 250.000 cad!

His wife died the same year. Henry Pellatt died in 1939, with a fortune that had been reduced to 35,000 cad. He certainly was a romantic and a flamboyant figure !

Video : Casa Loma and Henry Pellatt



Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is located some 80 kilometers from Toronto, right on the border with New York, USA. The town apparently consists of nothing but hotels, restaurants, casinos, and anything that could be touristic, but it is completely spotless.

Merely by driving by the falls, one can already enjoy an overwhelming spectacle! Parking is prohibited along the entire length of the two waterfalls, but as far as the eye can see there are magnificently landscaped lawns and a very wide sidewalk. The lawns never need any watering, because the millions of water droplets from the falls and the wind permanently take care of that... At that, it is usually a good idea to wash your car after a visit to the Niagara Falls, because the droplets from the falls contain quite a bit of suspended particles of clay and decayed vegetative matter. This mostly comes from the shallow eastern basin of Lake Erie.

The majestic Niagara Falls actually consist of two waterfalls. The first fall is 55 meters high, 328 m wide, and it is located on American soil. The second fall is 54 m high and 640 m wide, it is called the horseshoe, and it is located in Canadian territory.

The water flow is a gigantic 5,520 cubic meters of water per second! The force of the water crashing down is so great that it actually erodes the horseshoe by 36 centimeters per 10 years. However, this erosion is now artificially controlled, because in 1950 the waterfall still eroded nearly one meter per year.

In the American part there is a talus, a sloping pile of rock fragments, at the bottom of the fall. This talus is the result of two collapses in 1932 and 1954. In 1969 the entire American fall was temporarily dammed to completely clean up this talus.

Niagara Falls 1 Niagara Falls 2

The Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist presents a 30-minute cruise on the lake, below the falls. Apparently the overview from the Canadian side seems to be more popular than the one from the U.S., because the Canadian boats are usually packed like sardines, whereas the American boats are only half full...

This Maid of the Mist organizes boat tours since 1846, though at that time it was by steamboat. The cruise goes up to about 50 meters from the falls, and everyone needs to wear a plastic raincoat to avoid getting soaked. Also, at that point the ship's engines have to work at full power just to keep stationary and not to be pushed back by the rushing water!

The sight of the two waterfalls is simply irresistible. No wonder that millions of tourists from all over the world come to admire this grand spectacle!

Niagara : Maid of the Mist 1 Niagara : Maid of the Mist 2

Video : Niagara Falls and the Maid of the Mist


Hamilton : Dundurn Castle

Dundurn Castle, a mansion dating from 1835, is located in Hamilton. Its exterior is attractive and elegant, except perhaps the somewhat gaudy patio above the entrance, supported by no fewer than 6 huge columns. Perhaps another "pour épater les bourgeois"?...

The rear facade once offered a beautiful overview on the entire bay, but now the trees at the rear end of the estate have grown so high, that it is almost impossible to see the water. The dining room and the staircase are nicely decorated, while the rest of the interior is more functional.

The remarkable construction at the front of the castle is the dovecote of Sir Allan McNab, who was one of Canada's first prime ministers. This strange (Dutch?) word actually refers to a pigeon or dove house, because in ancient Europe the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power, and was consequently regulated by law. Only nobles had this special privilege, known as "le droit de colombier".

Hamilton : Dundurn Castle 1 Hamilton : Dundurn Castle 2

Video : Dundurn Castle



Ottawa city

Ottawa is the capital of Canada. The snugly busy commercial center looks more European than the city of Toronto, with many charming small shops. Everything is clean and well maintained, even in downtown.

A pleasant walk to Parliament Hill leads through an attractive park. It shows an amazing series of 7 locks, built to access the river. A little ahead lays the ancient but still elegant Château Laurier.

Wellington Avenue presents the majestic buildings of the National Parliament. A little further is the Canadian Mint, and the next bridge again offers a magnificent overview of the city. Well worth a visit !

Ottawa 1 Ottawa 2
Ottawa 3 chateau Laurier Ottawa 4 : Parliament buildings

Museum of Canadian Civilization (Quebec)

This interesting museum is located on the territory of the province of Quebec, as the river is the dividing line between Ontario and Quebec. The Museum of Canadian Civilizationis an architecturally well designed building, with a lot of light and artfully decorated. The first level shows a collection of life-sized totem poles, next to 6 complete houses with artifacts of the original Aboriginal residents from Canada's Western side. These have a 15,000 year history, of which unfortunately not many remnants remain. Interesting, and nicely portrayed!

Museum of Canadian Civilization 1 Museum of Canadian Civilization 2

On the second level is the Canadian Postal Museum, a museum for children, an Imax theatre, and a few special exhibitions.

In the Hall one can admire a rather particular piece of art from Gauthier, which is a beautifully sculptured hearse (le corbillard)...

On the third level, one thousand years of Canadian history is exhibited. This time line runs from the Vikings, around 1000 AC, to contemporary history.

Museum of Canadian Civilization 3

The exhibition is brilliantly exhibited, well documented, instructive and most interesting. There is extensive visual and written information about the Vikings (Leif Ericsson, who landed in Nova Scotia, via Greenland and Iceland, and that without any navigational instruments), and the history of the whalers (who earned fortunes with whale bones and oil, and managed to kill some 18,000 whales in 100 years)...

One sees the development of La Nouvelle France under the French king Louis XIV. He built an enormous empire, that went from Nova Scotia and Sault Ste Marie in the north all the way to La Nouvelle Orleans in the south. Finally, the exhibition presents scenes from the late 1800's.

A masterful exhibition, certainly not to be missed!

Video : Museum of Canadian Civilization


Upper and Lower Canada...

Canada's history runs from the French and Indian Wars over the American Revolution, and up to the Canadian Confederation. A slightly ironic anecdote is the naming of the territories.

Upper and Lower Canada...After the American Revolution all the remaining British Loyalists moved from the US to present day Ontario, and the French that remained in former New France retreated into present day Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

In 1791 the British established the (mostly English) province of Ontario as Upper Canada, and the former (mostly French) region of Quebec was renamed to Lower Canada.

Now anyone can see that Lower Canada is actually located higher on the map than Upper Canada. Then why would anyone name them so? Obviously, that would have been political nonsense. The British considered that the British part of Canada (and thus Upper) was more important than the French part (and thus Lower) Canada. Simple, n'est-ce-pas ?...

In 1867 Queen Victoria brought all the Canadian provinces, the Northwest Territory, and all the lands of the Hudson Bay Company into the Dominion of British North America. Later, Manitoba and British Columbia joined the confederation, et voilà, this is Canada. As a matter of fact, the British Queen is still Canada's Sovereign, next to being sovereign of 14 other countries!

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