First Impressions of Toronto


On paper, I’m nothing you’d expect from an Arizonan. I have an instinctive grasp of hockey. I’m a member of the local curling club. Really, I should be from Canada.

But I haven’t even been to Canada in more than five years. That changed with my first trip away from the Southwest since this spring. I’m here to attend Mindcamp, a conference for creative professionals.

I got here the day before the conference starts just to allow a cushion for things to go wrong. So far, the trip has been a mixed bag on that end. My first flight on WestJet (which will get a blog post of its own) was a great success. Unfortunately, my allegedly unlocked phone and international calling plan are hardly living up to the name – yet another time when T-Mobile has disappointed me. I also goofed up my check-in for the Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Center; that was my fault, though I was able to change my reservation in less than 10 minutes.

My room at the Holiday Inn.

I spent my first evening roaming Toronto. Being a craft beer fan, I had my radar pinging for a likely hangout. I wound up walking down Church Street, which lives up to its name with a series of elegant mini-cathedrals. They are just the tip of what makes Toronto’s architecture interesting; there’s a lot of classic gothic-inspired architecture right alongside some swoopy, modern lines that would be right at home from Sydney to Tokyo. Speaking of which, I can see the CN Tower from my room on the 22nd floor.

toronto c'est what
Testing craft beer at C’est What

Walking Around Toronto

Here’s a quick summary of what I saw during my first day of walking around Toronto. And yes, I tend to cover a lot of ground!

  • C’est What – A terrific beer bar that offers a mix of its own recipes, along with craft brews from around the region. I saw lots of interesting adjuncts from hemp to cacao nibs to ginger. And one of their guest taps, the Dereliction, was rated at more than 200 IBUs! (It was delicious.) They also take their food seriously and aim for locally sourced ingredients. My poutine was pretty terrific, and the service was very personable and knowledgeable.
  • Loblaw’s – This appears to be a grocery chain, and it’s probably something locals take for granted. But I could’ve disappeared in the seafood section alone. It’s where I’m planning to have my first breakfast, for sure.
  • Toronto Railway Museum – I wish this had been open when I found it. But it was way too late, I guess. It’s built into an old wheelhouse which it shares with Steamwhistle Brewing and some retail stores. There’s also a tiny mini-railway out front along with some locomotives. Beautiful use of existing structures.
  • Daily Sushi Japanese Restaurant– It’s a few doors down from my hotel. I had a nice sampler plate of that chef’s recommendations. The waiter was also kind enough to bring me some tempura squash on the house.
An old locomotive silhouetted against the Toronto skyline

Final Thoughts — First Impressions of Toronto

My snap judgment on Toronto is that it has an upwardly mobile, confident, prosperous feel. I don’t find it quite as friendly as Vancouver. The Starbucks outnumber the Tim Horton’s, and damn if I can find anything resembling a for-real coffeehouse on par with Stumptown, Intelligentsia or anything of that ilk.

If you put me down somewhere random in Toronto and didn’t tell me where I was, it would remind me of a power-washed Chicago — even though the drivers and cyclists are far more courteous here. It just has that big Midwestern city flavor to it. I do love its cosmopolitan diversity, though. It’s the melting pot that the U.S. claims to be.

Next up, I take the bus to Orillia for Mindcamp!


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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.

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