Toronto, Part One

Arts & Crafts picture, Royal Ontario MuseumI got to Toronto almost a week before World Fantasy because, well, travel from Adelaide to the east coast of North America can be pretty hellish — it’s about 34 hours door to door, if you have a “fast” route — and the jetlag is often worse than the trip itself. Your system is all screwed up, you don’t know what time it is, where you are, what you’re doing or thinking… Not ideal when you’re about to meet a whole bunch of new people. And when you’re expected to, you know, talk and make at least a little bit of sense.

So, I came early so that I could sleep (which I did, the first night/day, for 17 hours straight!) and get acclimatised before having a blast at the con.

But I didn’t realise that Richmond Hill, where the convention is being held, is so far from the city centre — I mean, it is to Toronto what New Jersey is to NYC — so it’s not like con-goers will be taking a stroll from the hotel to the CN Tower or anything. My grand plans to spend the getting-over-jetlag days exploring downtown Toronto quickly and easily weren’t dashed — merely dented — when I saw how far away from the city we were.

Enter, my little sister.

She drove down from Ottawa the day after I arrived, which was absolutely fantastic! Instead of hanging out in rocking Richmond Hill for days (or negotiating Toronto’s public transport), Terri and I had so much fun exploring the city, visiting some touristy sites, and eating, eating, eating! Hurricane Sandy put the kibosh on any outdoor plans we had, but there was plenty for us to do anyway (once we’d bundled up, and also bought umbrellas!)

Although I was born and grew up in Canada, and lived in Ottawa for most of my life (only 4hrs away from Toronto), I had never heard of the first place we went to visit: Casa Loma. I have no idea how this grand, wonderful, ridiculous castle in the heart of Toronto has never come up on my radar before. Built between 1911-1914, it embodies everything over-the-top about the Victorians and Edwardians, and I just loved it. With 98 rooms, secret passageways, gorgeous mahogany and walnut panelling, stunning conservatory and gardens, two towers and too many other features to gush about in one post, this mansion is Gothic Revival at its glorious best. The weather was fierce (read: miserable) so we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the gardens for too long, but I loved wandering the halls, climbing the grandiose staircases (as well as the creaky, narrow, secret ones), and learning more about Sir Henry Pellatt, the jack-of-all-trades tycoon of early 20thC Toronto. Most of the ten bajillion pictures I took while at Casa Loma are on my camera — and I conveniently forgot to bring a cord to download them onto my computer. Sigh. But, I snapped a few with my phone:

Casa Loma, looming in the gloom
Conservatory’s stained glass dome ceiling *swoon*
Sir Henry’s indoor-plumbed, STEAM-POWERED SHOWER.

I took way too many pictures of Sir Henry’s bathroom, btw. But the whole house was steam-powered! It had steam-powered indoor plumbing! All of the household, including the servants, took advantage of Sir Henry’s eye for modern technologies; instead of using outdoor facilities, the Pellatts’ staff, down to the lowliest scullery maid, bathed inside. Very civilised indeed. If you are interested in historical houses and fancy spending an afternoon daydreaming about what it must’ve been like to live in this period and this place — built for $3.5million in the 1910s! — then I highly recommend Casa Loma.

On a different day, we headed to the Royal Ontario Museum because (a) I love museums, (b) this one is currently showing a dinosaur exhibit, and (c) I can’t resist dinosaur exhibits, even if they’re crap. Which this one wasn’t. Well, not entirely. There were some awesome elements. The projections and interactive features were spectacular: videos showing millions of years of continental drift, outlining the rise and fall of the dinosaurs and where they ended up over the years, and predicting the eventual return of Pangaea (in a mere several hundred million years from now…) And the variety of “fossils” was great as well. But I put “fossils” in quotes here because 99% of them were plaster, and though I can understand why using plaster casts of the fossils is a necessity, the nerd in me wanted to see some more really old bones. (Minor quibble, really. I had a great time in the exhibit).

Big-arsed-o-saurus. I have no idea what this one is called. Also, I have no idea who the people are in front of it, but they give a good sense of perspective. Impressive, even nameless.
Not-a-T-rex. Something like a Carnesaurus. Or something. Big and nasty and cool.

Afterwards, we spend a few hours roaming the seemingly-endless rooms at the ROM. From the Stair of Wonders to the stunning Byzantine-styled mosaic ceiling in the rotunda, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day Ghana, from medieval England to Ming dynasty China, from an Argentinian bat cave to dwindling Ontario forests, we saw it all.

Ancient Cthulhu on pottery
Rotunda ceiling, a la Byzantine mosaic
Strolling the halls
Bones (red) and cartilage (blue), jarred

Chinoiserie I
Chinoiserie II
More hair! (Ancient Roman this time)
More jars…
Goat with vampire bat

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