Toronto for Beginners

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The approach of our annual meeting and friendly suggestion leads me to a few words on Metropolitan Toronto, pronounced “To-rawn-to”, also, T’rawna, and “T.O.”

A minor point regarding our telephone system: in Toronto you have to dial ten numbers, that is, include the area code. For example: 416-555-5555, not just 555-5555.

First, the essence. What we have is a Scots-English-Irish core, formerly relying on mixed industry and a Great Lakes port, now a finance and tourism centre, over which has been laid, since the sixties, a massive influx of third world immigration. Toronto used to be the second city of the Canada—our New York was Montreal— but it is now the centre ring.

The streets, generally, are a grid.

North and south, Yonge Street runs through the centre of the city and The Don Valley Express runs parallel to Yonge on the East Side.

East and west, the 401 highway runs across the top of the city, Bloor Street bisects the city itself. South of Bloor is Queen Street, and south of Queen, another expressway, the Gardner, along the fringe of the lake.

The 401, the Don Valley, and the Gardner were all built in the late fifties, when we followed the law of Moses, Robert Moses, that is.

There is no megasuperhighway north and south on the West Side.

For that we can thank Jane Jacobs, and we do, believe me.

Within this grid, that is, in the city itself, traffic is slow, at best. Be prepared, if you’re coming by car. Parking is not easy, or cheap, and Toronto drivers, although not exuberant psychopaths like drivers in Paris, are advocates of social Darwinism.

Luckily there is an alternative: the Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC.

We have a pretty good subway–two lines north and south, and one east and west–a lot of buses, and a rather elaborate system of streetcars, and I do mean streetcars, not trolleys.

The TTC is often a little slow–no, it’s often slow, but it’s generally reliable, clean and safe. Daily and weekly passes are sold that allow unlimited transportation for their term, as opposed to a graduated fare, such as operates on BART.

From Pearson International Airport, there are taxis, buses and highways into the city.

We recommend a bus called the Airport Rocket which takes you by a twenty minute ride to Kipling Subway station. Once you are on the subway all is simplicity. The Airport Rocket costs around $2.50 and the subway comes with the same fare. If you switch to a bus or streetcar get a transfer slip.

If you take the Rocket, ask the driver if it is going to Kipling. There is a second Airport Rocket bus, but it goes far, far away. Be careful.

Also, transit drivers Do. Not. Make. Change. Nor do they sell tickets on board. Have Canadian change ready.

By the way, the one dollar denomination in Canada is a brownish coin known as a Loony. Two dollars comes as a slightly larger silver coin with an inset. It’s known as a Twooney. Don’t mix these up. My sister-in-law always mixes these up.

So now we’re downtown in a medium sized core of skyscrapers and offices. To the north, east, and west stretch suburbs, new and old.

The downtown core is relatively clean and safe. There is not much litter and almost no street crime. The citizens, wildly polyglot and polyracial, are hustling about on business politely ignoring each other and you.

No, they are not hostile. Canadians, and especially Torontonians, socialize mostly at home. They go out to be by themselves. We acknowledge each other just enough to avoid bumping and be courteous. Otherwise, we act as if everyone was invisible. This goes double on the transit….

Some major attractions in the City Core

The Royal Ontario Museum. World class museum, recently disfigured by architectural excess. Greek and Roman galleries not to be missed, and tons of dinosaurs. Major Chinese collection. Exhausting place, in good sort of way.

Rogers Centre. huge sports stadium with retractable roof. Those who like this sort of thing will like this.

Art Gallery of Ontario. The premier art gallery in Canada, despite what the National Gallery in Ottawa thinks. Recent remodeling by Frank Gehry.

CN tower. Very, very high space-needle affair, with . . . wait for it . . . revolving restaurant.

St. Lawrence Market: excellent Saturday Farmer Market. Small restaurants in the north and south building. A wonderful place for Saturday morning breakfast.

Looking for Books

As far as new books, Toronto is average. The big retail chain is Chapters-Indigo. There is a smaller local operation called Book City, with a three outlets, and a more eclectic selection. The Book City outlet on Bloor street (at 501 Bloor Street West). has a complete selection of Loeb Classical Texts. You can never have enough Loeb Classical Texts.

We are, however, well supplied with good second hand bookstores (although not as plentifully as ten years ago before the Internet, Amazon, and Advanced Book Exchange).

First off, our favourite spot in Toronto, Atticus Books, is at 84 Harbord Street (416-922-6045). This is perhaps the best second hand scholarly bookstore between New York and Chicago. The store is particularly good on mathematics and philosophy. Manager is a nice fellow, too.

Around the corner and a block north is Ten Editions, at 698 Spadina (416-964-3803). This is a large, old, and somewhat messy place that does not look impressive until you begin to notice how many of the items are worth looking at. The gold to dross percentage is way better than average.

Balfour Books is at 601 College St. (416-531-9911). Like Ten Editions, it offers a better than average general selection, but is noted for being preternaturally tidy.

The Monkey’s Paw Bookstore, at 1229 Dundas West (415-531-2123) is a little out of the way. It is not large, but it has the weirdest selection in Toronto. Recommended for those who want to walk out with something they never thought they would buy. A little out of the way, but well worth it.

Finally, for bibliophiles, that is bibliophiles with lots of money, we can recommend:

Contact Editions. 491 Davenport Road (416-322-0777),

Arcadia Art & Rare Books 232 Queen St West  (416-364-7638), and

Steven Temple Books, 489 Queen Street West (416-703-9908) (by appointment only).

A Variety of Bars

Ontario has the usual major breweries, such as Molson’s and Labatt’s. No surprises there. We have, heck, we boast of, our local microbreweries, especially Steamwhistle, Amsterdam, and Mill Street. Canadian beer is not all that much stronger than American beer, as far as getting a buzz, but the taste is often a little more emphatic.

Please note: there’s no smoking in Toronto bars anymore. Really.

Another point. In Toronto, the tip is calculated on the tab plus the tax. Is this just? No. Is it custom? Yes. On the other hand, you can get away with 15%–it hasn’t been jacked up to a fifth of the whole. Yet.

Your correspondent tends to drink at home, but the following have been recommended by a reliable source.

The Pilot Tavern, 22 Cumberland Street. This is a  long-time Toronto venue with a good selection of beer, a nice rooftop patio, and jazz. A pleasant easy-going place.

The Wheat Sheaf, 667 King Street West. Over a century old and very much a tavern’s tavern. Former hangout for Toronto’s literary crowd, now takes most of its trade from the nearby Roger’s Sports Centre. On the macho side of things.

Rof Lounge, 18th Floor, Park Hyatt Toronto, 4 Avenue Road. A more sophisticated hang-out with more sophisticated prices. According to our source, it is very quiet and the view is terrific. Good place for martini drinkers.

Smokeless Joes, 125 John St. Famous in Toronto for a selection of over 200 kinds of beer. Also recommended for the mussels.  Casual. Very small and popular. Good place for a prolonged discussion of the Timaeus.

Fieramosca Restaurant, 36a Prince Arthur Avenue  (416-323-0636). A good Italian place downtown in the Yorkville Area just north of Bloor Street.

We welcome comments and questions. We can’t always answer the questions, but we’ll give it a shot.

Max Arnott

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Max Arnott is an independent scholar living in Toronto and has been a reader of Voegelin for many years.