TORONTO - Noah stares in bewilderment as I pack his dolphin bathing suit next to his snow pants. I explain several times to my 7-year-old that we are going on a fun “staycation” in our own city. He keeps asking if I’m sure I didn’t make a mistake and we’re in fact going back to the Bahamas.
Poor kid. He’s lived in Toronto his entire life, but there is so much of the city he hasn’t seen, so my goal is to visit parts of Toronto we don’t normally see.
This year Toronto celebrates its 180th anniversary and is proudly the most multicultural city in the world with more than 130 languages and dialects spoken. I want to introduce Noah to the many neighbourhoods that reflect our city’s amazing diversity.
So, we hop on the subway and head downtown to check into the kid-friendly Eaton Chelsea Hotel — Canada’s largest with 1,590 guest rooms and a favourite with its smallest guests because of its indoor corkscrew water slide.
As the sleek silver subway car rumbles under the city, Noah decides it will take eight stops before we reach our “staycation” destination. Noah asks with a twinkle in his eyes: “I wonder what Toronto is like?”
When we enter the recently renovated lobby, Noah is instantly fascinated by what appears to be a jungle growing out of a wall. Tracy Ford, the hotel’s public relations director explains the hotel’s ‘Nedlaw Living Wall’ has been scientifically proven to clean air because it breaks down pollutants and returns clean fresh air to the occupied space, in this case, the hotel lobby.
Left: A visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a chance to sit in a Montreal dressing room in his Toronto jersey made Noah. Right: Noah gets to get close to the hockey heroes of yesterday.
Tracy tells us about the hotel’s five restaurants and lounges, the Family Fun Zone, where Noah falls in love with two rabbits — Marble and Dash — and a Teen Lounge.
Toronto has an awesome waterfront and in summer we visit Queen’s Quay, Harbourfront and the Toronto Islands frequently. But it’s winter now, so our first stop is the CN Tower where it’s warm and we get amazing views of the frozen city.
Toronto’s iconic landmark was built in 1976 and for a long time was the world’s tallest freestanding structure. In 1995, the CN Tower was even classified as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
It’s actually a telecommunications hub but also has three restaurants, an outdoor lookout, a glass floor, the insanely scary Edgewalk and a Skypod level, 33 stories higher than where we’re standing.
My heart stops momentarily when Noah shouts, “I’m jumping on the glass floor!” The view from the Skypod is spectacular and it’s hard to get Noah to leave the glass enclosed pod but there are other wonders our city has to offer, so let’s go!
We, like true Canadians, love hockey and because Toronto is home of the Hockey Hall of Fame (Front and Yonge Sts.) we head over to see the hockey shrine — Noah is rocking his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
Before reaching the lovely old bank building where the Hall is located, though, I treat Noah to some of Toronto’s famed street food. A food truck serves up some of the tastiest French fries we’ve ever devoured.
Once inside the great Hall, I wonder if I’ll ever get Noah to leave. He’s mesmerized by the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world and delights in sitting in an authentic dressing room (his blue Leafs’ jersey stands out against the tricolour Canadiens uniforms in the replica Montreal room), takes shots at a net, searches for photos of his favourite players and is bewildered by the glistening Stanley Cup, which is encased like a crown jewel.
I’ve scored big by including the Hall in our staycation tour.
The next day after enjoying a delicious vegan breakfast at the Eaton Chelsea, I inform Noah we are taking the City Sightseeing bus tour, which we join at Yonge-Dundas Square, the city’s new ultra-modern gathering spot across form the iconic Eaton Centre (the world-famous enclosed shopping mall is actually the most visited tourist attraction in the city).
We board our yellow trolley and meet tourists from London, Germany and Florida. We hear many different languages being spoken and meet some fellow Torontonians who, like us, are using this tour to get to know their city better.
Left: The stay-cation is capped off with a celebration with fellow Torontonians when Canada wins the Winter Olympic Gold Medal in Russia. Right: At the Royal Ontario Museum, Noah sees some fascinating things.
Our friendly guide, Thomas, is a wealth of information. Toronto’s motto is “Diversity is our Strength,” Thomas booms over the microphone. I had no idea. This this is going to be an educational tour for me. Noah is wide-eyed as the trolley passes through Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods: Little Italy, Chinatown, Queen St. West, the Distillery District, the Beach and the Church St. district, where Canada’s largest LGBQT community lives.
My personal favourite is Kensington Market, where you can find everything from vintage clothing stores (NHL jerseys are super cheap), organic produce, alternative shops and delicious ethnic restaurants — the sweet potato date muffin at Urban Herbivore was amazing.
Toronto’s diversity really comes through in its restaurants —there are Greek restaurants on Danforth Ave., Japanese sushi in Yorkville at Sushi Inn, and authentic Italian pizza and pasta in Little Italy (Terroni is amazing). Our favourite is Fresh (with multiple locations) which specializes in healthy modern veggie food. Noah’s preferred meal at Fresh is the blueberry pancakes for weekend brunch and I would never turn down the tempeh Florentine.
When the trolley rumbles to a stop at the Royal Ontario Museum, Noah and I rush to the dinosaur section where we stare in wonderment at the skeletons of these creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago.
The museum’s exhibitions on the prehistoric worlds of Greece, China and Egypt (Noah is especially fascinated with the “mommies”) and bravely enters the bat cave, a realistic depiction of a cave in Jamaica with 800 realistic bats.
Our trolley passes Casa Loma, where days earlier we toured the gothic revival-styled castle that is now a popular museum. We were greeted by European elegance and learn that this was the former home of financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Construction began in 1911 and was completed three years later. There are 98 rooms, secret passages, towers, gardens, stables and, Noah’s favourite, a 300-metre-long underground tunnel. Weeks later, Noah still talks about the haunted ghost stories that were whispered to us during our tour.
Halfway through our bus tour, I become Noah’s private guide and talk about my life in Toronto.
In Yorkville (Toronto’s Rodeo Drive) I point out the clothing store that hired me at 16; the academy where I learned sign language; the street where our stray cat was found; and Mt. Sinai Hospital, where Noah was born.
We wake early on the last day of our staycation and the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey game is about to begin. Noah begs me to watch the game from the lobby where dozens are gathered. I cover up my pajamas with a sweatshirt and order a Starbucks coffee from the hotel’s Market Garden. We watch the game surrounded by energetic and patriotic guests. I’m wide awake by the end of the third period when Canada claims the gold medal.
Everyone cheers wildly and we hear cars honking outside the hotel.
We race onto Yonge St. and walk to Dundas Square where hundreds of happy fans are celebrating. Maple Leafs jerseys are worn by every ethnicity imaginable and the square is a sea of Canadian flags. I realize that diversity truly is Toronto’s strength.
After an awesome weekend, Sunday night creeps up too soon. I tell Noah it’s time to go home. He looks at me and says, “but Mommy we are home, this is our city. We never left.”