October 27, 2017

Toronto: People Who Live in Glass Houses

by Steve and Rosemary

From Niagara Falls, we went further north to Toronto. We had both been there before, but only on business trips, so neither of us had really seen the city. We stayed in a high rise condo not far from the waterfront. From our window, we could see the CN Tower, one of Toronto's most notable landmarks.

Unfortunately, Rosemary's glasses had been damaged, so we went to the Eaton Centre to find a Lenscrafters. This is a huge mall, so while her new glasses were being made, we had lunch and walked around for a couple of hours. One of the highlights was seeing these life sized sculptures of Canada geese hanging from the glass ceiling of the mall, "Flight Stop" by Michael Snow.

By time we left, it was rush hour in Toronto. To travel the 7-8 miles back to our condo took over an hour, with gridlock at every intersection, the worst traffic we had encountered so far. No wonder we saw a sign like this:

To avoid the traffic, we took public transportation the next day to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which featured works by many Canadian artists. A common theme among these works was early life on the Canadian prairies, especially in winter. On our way back to the streetcar, we walked through Toronto's Chinatown, which features some interesting objects on its trafic signals.

The following day, we bought tickets for the "hop on, hop off" tour, which we have enjoyed in other cites. This gives the riders a look at many parts of the city and allows them to get off the bus where they choose to do more sightseeing, then get back on another bus. As it was a hot day, we rode on the upper level of a double decker and stayed on for the whole circuit. What struck us while going through the city was the number of new high rises under construction everywhere in town. Toronto already has many interesting buildings, but there is no more vacant land, so instead of building out, they have to build up.

These two buildings seem to be joined by an unusual bridge at a high level. We found out that this is actually an indoor pool used by tenants of both buildings.

Toronto is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its cityscape of tall glass towers. A prominent architecture site recently ranked it eighth in the world among cities with the most skyscrapers (255 at last count).

There are many neighborhoods with traditional single-family and duplex houses or small apartment buildings. But more than half the city's residents live in high-rise buildings. This number will continue to grow as more and more of these buildings are completed; when we were there, there were at least 100 skyscrapers under construction. And they keep getting taller. The building where we stayed was "only" 40 stories high. One of the tallest condos in town has 78 stories, and there are plans for buildings with 90 or more stories.

Despite their popularity, not everyone thinks these glass towers are a good idea. Tenants are attracted to them because the floor-to-ceiling glass provides exciting views. Developers like them because glass is a cheap building material. But they are seriously flawed in many significant ways. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter, these condos use a lot of energy to control the interior temperature. They are prone to water leaks and other failures as a result of constant expansion and contraction. Maintenance and repairs are extremely expensive. The glass towers have been called "throwaway buildings" because experts expect many of them to fail within 10-20 years from completion. Retrofitting one of these buildings can take years and cost many millions of dollars.

But they look pretty at night.

Included with the bus tour was a boat ride around the Toronto Islands, off the coast of the city. There are three islands that are joined by bridges, and people can take a ferry across to them. Instead, we rode around them.

A view from the bay.
From the boat, we could see the observation deck of the CN Tower, where thrillseekers were taking the "Edge Walk", harnessing themselves to the building and leaning out over the city, from a glass platform 116 stories above the ground.

Did we do this? Heck, no!

To celebrate Steve's birthday that night, we went to a restaurant called "Lee", with unique Asian-influenced dishes. One of the most famous is Susur's Signature Singaporean Style Slaw, comprised of 19 different ingredients.

Do not confuse this with cole slaw!
The hot weather was pretty unbearable, so we decided to go somewhere inside, out of the sun. We went to Casa Loma, a castle built on a hillside overlooking Toronto. But, as we should have expected, there was no air conditioning in the castle. The castle was built in 1914 by Sir Henry Pellatt.

A young Henry Pellatt.

Sir Henry Pellatt in retirement.

Pellatt was a successful Toronto businessman who made much of his fortune by winning the exclusive rights to Toronto's hydro-electric power from Niagara Falls. Casa Loma was based on the castles Pellatt had seen in his travels in Europe.

The inside of the castle was lavishly appointed, with beautiful architectural and decorating ideas. At a time when all of Toronto had about 250 telephones, Pellatt had 50 of them in the castle.

One ringy dingy, two ringy dingies.

For unknown reasons, one of the large rooms had a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth II at one end a picture of Prince (not a prince, but Prince!) at the other. Neither picture is from Sir Henry's collection.


What is he doing here?

Soon after the castle was built, the government made electricity a public utility, and Pellatt lost a fortune in other business ventures. In doing so, he was forced to give up his beloved castle to avoid a bankruptcy that would have cost him his knighthood, and the city eventually turned it into a museum.

We left for Montreal the next day, so more adventures to come!

Note: We were here near the end of September.

1 comment >>

  1. You are right about the glass towers. I lived in one for a while, in Vancouver, and it was unbearable in the summer. No AC and no ventilation, its ridiculous.


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