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Canada: Toronto's Icewine Festival: Perfect for an Icy Winter Day

“Ice Falling in Downtown Toronto Adds to Storm Woes”

Several years ago we saw this headline in a Toronto newspaper and as a result, limited our visits to Toronto from the spring through the autumn. However, when my wife and I were invited to the famous Icewine Festival held in the Niagara region every January, we decided to tackle the possibility of falling ice.

With this in mind, we began to gather our essential gear for this icy winter journey: crampons to help walk on the slippery sidewalks, down jackets for additional warmth, and hard hats in case the ice really was falling. We were ready for wintry blasts. That is, until we looked at the weather forecasts for the days we were going to be in the Greater Toronto area. The weather was predicted to be milder, thus allowing us to leave our winter gear at home.

Our home base for the trip was the Sheridan Centre Hotel. This was the perfect place to call home. If the weather did change, we didn’t need to go outside. The hotel has several restaurants and right underneath it is an underground city. If the icy weather came, we would have no need to go outside. As it was, we spent most of our time outdoors and only a few hours at the hotel.

“The Path” is the name of this underground city. It has even made the Guinness World Records as the “largest underground shopping complex” with 27 km (16 miles) of shopping arcades. In The Path, when you have had enough shopping and eating, you have direct access to more than 50 office buildings, Union Station (central hub for all inter-city transit), and various entertainment attractions. This includes the Hockey Hall of Fame, which I was looking forward to seeing.

Was it safe to go outside during our stay? Yes, it was. Our visit to the Path was short since we had only one full day in the city. In an effort to maximize our time, we kept our sights on just three locations: Chinatown, Kensington Market, and the Air Canada Centre.

On our way to Chinatown, we passed the “Weather Beacon”. It sits on top of the Canada Life Building and is a great barometer that lets us know how fast we would need to be walking to keep warm and dry. We noticed a flashing green light at the top of the building that means clear weather. Other lights pointing up would mean warming temperatures. After seeing this real time weather update, we knew we had to proceed at a slow pace to enjoy this pleasant winter day!

Only 10 minutes away from Chinatown and fifteen minutes from our hotel, we arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The King Tut exhibit was showing but time didn’t permit us to attend on this visit. We did take a few minutes to admire the building next to the AGO, called “The Grange.” The Art Gallery was originally housed in The Grange. It was then called the Art Museum of Toronto. The Grange is now refurnished and is built to replicate its original 1835 era structure.

On our way to Chinatown, my wife and I discussed a brief recent history of the Chinese. Although they came to North America in 1788, it was not until 1878 that the first official Chinese resident was recorded in Toronto. The migration was slow to begin, but by the early 1900’s, Chinatown was a thriving community. In the mid-1950’s, it was displaced by City Hall. Chinatown was moved to the west where it is currently located.

Our visit was just prior to the Chinese New Year and many of the stores and shops were preparing for this celebration. We enjoyed shopping and nibbling on fresh foods from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as from China. We remained outside to enjoy the sunshine on this beautiful day. In the event of inclement weather, there are two major indoor shopping malls to choose from to keep warm and dry.

Our second major stop was the Kensington Market, a National Historic site. Adjacent to Chinatown, this unique market has an interesting history. It is a collection of many international cultures. As such, it reflects the many changes in the face of the city.

The wealthy British arrived in the late 1770’s, and remained for much of the 1800’s. By about 1910, there was a strong migration of Jews to the region with many of them being merchants operating shops there. This explains why it was called “The Jewish Market” with over 60,000 Jews living in the area. During this time, there were over 30 synagogues. Two synagogues still remain there today. In the 1950’s, people from the Azores moved to the area to avoid political unrest. This was followed by an influx from the Caribbean and finally in the 1980’s, this became the home to people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran and Vietnam. The net impact is that this is indeed a melting pot of different ethnicities. For a shopper, it enables one to feast on a vast and unique array of food. In my opinion, this area has the best local fruit and vegetable stands as well as meat and seafood shops.

Our visit ended with some ginger beer at Patty King, where the Jamaican owner serves this refreshing drink, made from ginger and sugars. It was interesting to hear that this is sometimes brewed by others at home as an alcoholic beverage. We enjoyed the Caribbean treats, such as beef and veggie patties. Finally, to recharge ourselves, we had fresh coffee from Moonbeam Coffee. In keeping with the eclectic nature of the Kensington Market, the owner is from Israel.

After a full day of walking, eating and taking in the local culture, we were now ready for our last stop, The Air Canada Centre. This is the venue for what many call the local religion—hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team is a rich tradition. We counted thirteen Stanley Cup Championship banners hanging from the ceiling! Most of the locals are quick to tell you all about the last Stanley Cup won in 1967. It was ironic that most of the people who discussed this win with us were born well after 1967. Vivid memories of the events are obviously part of the culture to be passed on to friends, family and visitors alike.

When the horn sounded at the end of the hockey name, it also signaled the end of our very full day. To savor the Leaf victory we walked to the hotel in a slight drizzle. The only ice we saw was the big sheet of ice at the hockey rink. If we were writing the headline for our day, it would read: “Enjoying a Beautiful Mild January Day in Toronto!”

Next stop, the Icewine Festival.

Author: Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.

Other Articles:

Toronto’s Icewine Festival: Perfect for any Icy Winter Day
Pelee Island Part 4: Burning off the post-wine calories
Pelee Island Part 3: Pacing Yourself for a Busy Day
Summer fun in the wine country of Ontario, Canada
Pelee Islands – Island Hopping

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Michael FaginMichael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mr. Fagin is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking the region. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.

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