Being in a foreign country has its particular challenges -- and, yes, for all its similarities to America, Canada is still a foreign country.
Before You Go. Make sure you call your bank and tell them you're going. After all, Canada may be an English-speaking country, and a democracy (if a parliamentary one), and a country with a Major League Baseball team, but it is still a foreign country. If your bank gets a record of your ATM card making a withdrawal from any country other than the U.S., it may freeze the card, and any other accounts you may have with them. So be sure to let them know that you will, in fact, be in Canada for a little while.
And, since June 1, 2009, you need a passport to cross the border in either direction. Even if you have a valid driver's license (or other State-issued ID) and your birth certificate, they ain't lettin' you across into the True North Strong and Free. Not even if you're a Blue Jays season-ticket holder living in Buffalo or if you sing hosannas of praise to Wayne Gretzky. You don't have a passport? Get one. You do have one? Make sure it's valid and up to date. This is not something you want to mess with. Canadian Customs officials do not fuck around: They care about their national security, too.
Do yourself another big favor: Change your money before you go. There are plenty of currency exchanges in New York City, including one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue.
Leave yourself $50 in U.S. cash, especially if you're going other than by plane, so you'll have usable cash when you get back to your side of the border. At last check, on the morning of November 3, 2015, US$1.00 = C$1.30 – or, C$1.00 = US 77 cents. However, since the currency exchanges need to make a profit, the current rate may come close to actually favoring Canada. (I was actually in Canada on the day when it most favored the U.S.: January 18, 2002, $1.60 to $1.00 in our favor.)
The multi-colored bill were confusing on my first visit, although we have those now, too. The $5 is blue, and features Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister 1896-1911). The $10 is purple, and features John A. Macdonald (the 1st Prime Minister, 1867-1873 and again 1878-1891, essentially he's their George Washington without having fought a war for independence). The $20 is green, and features the nation's head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The $50 is red, and features William Lyon Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Prime Minister, 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948, including World War II). And the $100 is yellow, and features Robert Borden (Prime Minister 1911-1920, including World War I).
The tricky part is going to be the coins – and you’ll thank me for telling you this, but keep your U.S. coins and your Canadian coins separate, for the simple reason that their penny, nickel, dime and quarter are all the same colors and just about the same size as our respective coins. (To make matters more confusing, as we recently did with our States, they had a Provincial quarter series.)
All coins have Queen Elizabeth's portrait on the front, but she’s been Queen since 1952, and depending on how old the coin is, you might get a young woman, or her current 89-year-old self, or anything in between. You might even get a penny or a nickel old enough to feature her father, King George VI. Such a coin is still legal tender, however.
They have a $1 coin, copper-colored, bigger than a quarter, and 11-sided, with a bird on the back. This bird is a loon – not to be confused with the people lunatic enough to buy Maple Leafs season tickets. The coin is thus called the "loonie," although they don't say "ten loonies": They use "buck" for "dollar" the way we would. In fact, the term is connected to Canada: Their first English settlers were the Hudson's Bay Company, and they set the value of a dollar to the price of the pelt of a male beaver, the male of the species being called, as are those of a deer and a rabbit, a buck. (And the female, a doe.) The nation's French-speakers (Francophones) use the French word for loon, and call it a "huard," but since the Montreal Expos are gone, you probably won't hear that term unless you’re a hockey fan and go to see the Rangers, Devils or Islanders in Montreal – or maybe Ottawa, which is on the Ontario-Quebec border and has a lot of French-first-speakers.
Then there's the $2 coin, or "toonie." It's not just two dollars, it's two-toned, and even two-piece. It's got a copper center, with the Queen on the front and a polar bear on the back, and a nickel ring around it. This coin is about the size of the Eisenhower silver dollars we used to have. This is the coin that drives me bonkers when I'm up there.
My suggestion is that, when you first get your money changed before you begin your trip, ask for $1 coins but no $2 coins. It's just simpler. I like Canada a lot, but their money, yikes, eh?
This is Canada, the Great White North, so, being November, it may still feel like winter, especially if the wind is blasting off Lake Ontario. Or maybe not: According to the Toronto Star website, there's going to be rain next Tuesday. The temperature will be in the mid-50s in the afternoon and the low 40s at night, so you might need a winter coat.
Toronto is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to reset your watch or fiddle with your smartphone's clock.
Tickets. The Raptors averaged 19,751 fans per game last season, nearly a sellout every game, and a figure topped in the NBA only by Chicago, Cleveland and Dallas. This, despite not having any big names on their roster. Okay, they have Anthony Bennett, that's a big name, but it's not that Tony Bennett. (Too bad, that Tony Bennett can remember when the Maple Leafs regularly won the Stanley Cup.) They did, however, win a franchise record number of games last season... but that's 49, not an especially high number, and they did flop in the 1st round of the Playoffs.
This attendance is also at odds with a particular fact: Raptors tickets are freakin' expensive! Even with the exchange rate and the accompanying taxes, lower level seats should not go for C$265 between the baskets and C$116 behind them. In the upper level, however, they're much cheaper: C$45 between the baskets and C$30 behind them.
Getting There. The best way is by plane. (Note that these prices, unlike the preceding, will be in U.S. dollars.) Air Canada runs flights out of Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia International Airport, and the flight to Toronto's Lester Pearson International Airport takes about an hour and a half. (Pearson was Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.) Book on Air Canada today, while they're having a sale, and you can get a round-trip flight for under $300, making this one of the cheapest roadtrips-by-plane in North America.
Greyhound runs 8 buses a day from Port Authority Bus Terminal to the Toronto Coach Terminal, at 610 Bay Street. (Countries in the British Commonwealth, including Canada, call a local bus a bus and an inter-city bus a "coach.") The ride averages about 11 hours, and is $166 round-trip -- although an advance purchase can drop it to $90.
The TCT is big and clean, although a little confusing, as it seems to be two separate buildings. You shouldn’t have any difficulties with it. It's one block down Bay to Dundas Street, and turn left to get to the Dundas subway station.
Amtrak, however, runs just 1 train, the Maple Leaf, in each direction each day between New York and Toronto, in cooperation with Canada's equivalent, VIA Rail. This train leaves Pennsylvania Station at 7:15 AM and arrives at Union Station at 7:42 PM, a trip of 12 hours and 22 minutes – 9:10 of it in America, 32 minutes of it at Customs (4:25 to 4:57 PM) and 2:45 of it in Canada. The return trip leaves Toronto at 8:20 AM, reaches the border at 10:22, and gets back to Penn Station at 9:50 PM. Round-trip fare is $248. Be advised, though, that this is one of Amtrak's most popular routes, and it could sell out.
Toronto's Union Station, at 65 Front Street West, is one of the world’s great rail terminals, and is the heart of the city. It's the centerpoint of the city's subway system, so it's not just in the heart of the city.
If you're driving, it's 500 miles – well, 492 miles from Times Square to downtown Toronto. It's 79 miles from downtown to the closest border crossing, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Niagara Falls. (It's 458 miles from Times Square, and 45 miles from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, to downtown Hamilton, home of the CFL's Tiger-Cats.)
Get into New Jersey to Interstate 80, and take it all the way across the State. Shortly after crossing the Delaware River and entering Pennsylvania, take I-380, following the signs for Scranton, until reaching I-81. (If you've driven to a game of the Yankees' Triple-A farm team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, you already know this part.) Take I-81 north into New York State. (If you've driven to a game of the Mets' Double-A farm team, the Binghamton Mets, you already know this part.) Continue on I-81 past Binghamton and to Syracuse, where you'll get on the New York State Thruway, which, at this point, is I-90. Continue on the Thruway west, past Rochester, to Buffalo.
What happens next depends on where you cross the border. But first, let's discuss what you should do when you're actually at the border. Because you need to take this seriously. Because Canadian Customs will.
You'll be asked your citizenship, and you'll have to show your passport and your photo ID. You'll be asked why you're visiting Canada. Seeing a Yankees vs. Blue Jays game probably won't (but might) get you a smart-aleck remark about how the Jays are going to win, but they won't keep you out of their country based on that alone.
If you're bringing a computer with you (counting a laptop, but probably not counting a smartphone), you don't have to mention it, but you probably should. Chances are, you won't be carrying a large amount of food or plants; if you were, depending on how much, you might have to declare them.
Chances are, you won't be bringing alcohol into the country, but you can bring in one of the following items duty-free, and anything above or in addition to this must have duty paid on it: 1.5 litres (53 ounces) of wine, or 8.5 litres (300 ounces or 9.375 quarts) of beer or ale, or 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of hard liquor. If you have the slightest suspicion that I'm getting any of these numbers wrong, check the Canada Customs website. Better yet, don't bring booze in. Or out.
As for tobacco, well, you shouldn't use it. But, either way over the border, you can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, and 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco. As for the embargo against Cuban cigars, this past January, President Obama loosened it, so that $100 worth of Cuban tobacco can be brought into the U.S. for the first time since 1962.
If you've got anything in your car (or, if going by bus or train) that could be considered a weapon, even if it's a disposable razor or nail clippers, tell them. And while Canada does have laws that allow you to bring in firearms if you're a licensed hunter (you'd have to apply for a license to the Province where you plan to hunt), the country has the proper attitude concerning guns: They hate them. They go absolutely batshit insane if you try to bring a firearm into their country. Which, if you're sane, is actually the sane way to treat the issue.
You think I'm being ridiculous? How about this: Seven of the 44 U.S. Presidents -- 9 counting the Roosevelts, Theodore after he was President and Franklin right before -- have faced assassins with guns, 6 got hit and 4 died; but none of the 23 people (including 1 woman) to serve as Prime Minister of Canada has ever faced an assassination attempt. John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in Montreal and gave his first "solo concert" in Toronto, but he got shot and killed in New York. In fact, the next time I visit, I half-expect to see a bumper sticker that says, "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, AMERICANS WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE."
(Another note about weapons: I’m a fan of the TV show NCIS, which airs in Canada on Global Network TV. If you are also a fan of this show, and you usually observe Gibbs Rule Number 9, "Never go anywhere without a knife," you need to remember that these are rules for members of Gibbs' team, not for civilians. So, this time, forget the knife, and leave it at home. If you really think you're going to need it -- as a tool -- mention the knife to the border guard, and show it to him, and tell him you have it to use as a tool in case of emergency, and that you do not plan to use it as a weapon. Do not mention the words "Rule Number 9" or quote said rule, or else he'll observe his Rule Number 1: "Do not let this jackass into your country, eh?" And another thing: Border guards, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, most likely will observe a variation on Gibbs Rule Number 23: "Never mess with a Mountie's Tim Hortons coffee if you want to live.")
And if you can speak French, don't try to impress the Customs officials with it. Or the locals, for that matter. You're going into Ontario, not Quebec. (And even if you were going into Quebec, they're not going to be impressed by your ability to speak their first language.) A, People of French descent are a minority west of Quebec (although singers Alanis Morrissette and Avril Lavigne are both Franco-Ontarians); and, B, They can probably speak English, let alone French, and possibly another language or two, better than you can. If you try to speak French in Toronto, you won't sound like you're from Montreal, and you certainly won't sound like you're from Paris. You'll sound like a smartass. That's if you speak French well. If you don't, you'll sound like a damn fool.
When crossing back into the U.S., in addition to what you would have to declare on the way in (if you still have any of it), you would have to declare items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return, items you bought in duty-free shops or (if you flew) on the plane, and items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the United States on your trip. There are other things, but, since you're just going for baseball, they probably won't apply to you. Just in case, check the Canadian Customs website I linked to above.
Precisely where will you be crossing the border? It could be at the Peace Bridge, built to commemorate the U.S. and Canada having "the world’s longest undefended border," from Buffalo into the Ontario city of Fort Erie.
The Peace Bridge
After going through Customs, this would take you right onto the Queen Elizabeth Way (the QEW). After the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this was North America's 2nd superhighway, and was named not for the current Queen but for her mother, the wife of King George VI, the woman most people now under the age of 65 called the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum. (You know: Helena Bonham-Carter in The King's Speech.) This road will hug Lake Ontario and go through the Ontario cities of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Hamilton before turning north and then east toward Toronto. Toronto's CN Tower is so tall that you may actually see it, across the lake, before you get to Hamilton.
The most common route from Buffalo to Toronto, however, is to go north on I-190, the Thruway's Niagara Extension, to Niagara Falls. After you go through Customs, the road will become Ontario Provincial Highway 405, which eventually flows into the Queen Elizabeth Way.
The Rainbow Bridge
At the edge of the "megacity" of Toronto (Montreal is also now a "megacity"), the QEW becomes the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway. ("Big Daddy" Gardiner was a major Toronto politician, and was responsible for getting it built.) The Gardiner does not have numbers on its exits. If you're only going for the game, and are leaving Toronto right afterward (I don't recommend this this: Spend a day in the city), you'll take the York/Yonge/Bay Street exit to get to the Air Canada Centre.
If you make 3 rest stops – I would recommend at or near Scranton and Syracuse, and count Customs, where they will have a restroom and vending machines – and if you don’t do anything stupid at Customs, such as fail to produce your passport, or flash a weapon, or say you watch South Park (a show with a vendetta against Canada for some reason), or call Sidney Crosby a cheating, diving pansy (even though he is one) – the trip should take about 11 hours.
Though that could become 12, because Toronto traffic is every bit as bad as traffic in New York, Boston and Washington. As Canada native (Regina, Saskatchewan) Leslie Nielsen would have said, I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley: Toronto traffic is awful.
Once In the City. Founded as York in 1793, it became the City of Toronto in 1834, the name coming from Taronto, a Native American name for the channel of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching. There are 2.6 million people in the city, and 5.6 million in the metro area; in each case, making it larger than any in North America except New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- unless you count Mexico to be part of "North America" instead of "Central America," in which case add Mexico City to those that are larger.
Since Canada is in the British Commonwealth, there are certain subtle differences from the U.S. Every measurement will be in the metric system. Dates are written not as Month/Day/Year, as we do it, but as Day/Month/Year as in Britain and in Europe. So, for us, this game will be played on "November 10, 2015," but for them on "10 November 2015." We would write the date as 11/10/15, but they will do so as 10/11/15 -- the 10th of the 11th, not October 11.
They also follow British custom in writing time: A game starting at 7:00 PM would be listed as 1900. Those of you who have served in the military, you will recognize this as, in the words of M*A*S*H's Lt. Col. Henry Blake, "all that hundred-hours stuff." And every word we would end with -or, they will end with -our; and some (but not all) words that we would end with -er, they end with -re, as in "Air Canada Centre."
Another thing to keep in mind: Don't ask anyone where the "bathroom" is -- ask for the "washroom." This difference was a particular pet peeve of mine the first time I arrived at the Toronto Coach Terminal, although it wasn't a problem in Montreal's Gare Centrale as I knew the signs would be in French.
Every measurement will be in the metric system: Temperatures will be in Celsius, not Fahrenheit; distances will be in "kilometres," not miles (including speed limits, so don't drive 100 thinking it's miles); and gas prices will be per "litre," not per gallon (so don't think you're getting cheap gas, because a liter is a little more than a quart, so multiply the price by 4, and you'll get roughly the price per gallon, and it will be more expensive than at home, not less).
When you arrive, I would recommend buying the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. The former newspaper is local, the latter is national, and both are liberal enough to suit my sensibilities (or, should I say, sensible enough to suit my liberalism). And The Star has a very good sports section, and should do a good job covering the Jays, although, being a hockey city in a hockey Province in a hockey country, you’ll see a lot of stuff about the Maple Leafs and nearby minor-league, collegiate and “junior” hockey teams no matter what time of year it is.
I would advise against buying the Toronto Sun, because it’s a right-wing sensationalist tabloid, and every bit the journalistically sloppy rag that the New York Post is. (It also has conservative “sister papers” called the Sun in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary, although the Vancouver Sun is not connected.) The National Post, while also politically conservative (and thus a national competitor for The Globe and Mail), is a broadsheet and thus conservative in the sense that it is calmer and more sensible with its journalism.
If you can get to Union Station after leaving your hotel, you may also be able to get out-of-town papers, including the New York ones, as well as Canadian papers such as the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen.
Toronto's sales tax is 13 percent -- in 2010, this replaced the former Provincial sales tax of 5 percent and the federal GST (Goods & Services Tax) of 8 percent. In other words, the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted Canadians to think he'd killed the hated GST, when, in fact, Ontarians (who only make up 36 percent of the country) are paying pretty much the same taxes that they did before. See how stupid it is to vote for conservative candidates? It doesn't work in any country. (And now, Harper is out, and Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau is in, making him and his late father Pierre Trudeau the only father & son PMs in Canadian history.)
Union Station is at the intersection of Bay & Front Streets. Bay runs north-south, and divides Toronto's east and west sides, and the street numberings thereof; the lake serves as the "zero point" for streets running north and south, and thus there's no North and South on street names. Bay Street is also Canada's "Wall Street," the center of Toronto's financial district, and is not particularly well-liked by, well, anybody who isn't conservative in Canada. Unlike the New York Stock Exchange at Wall & Broad, however, the Toronto Stock Exchange is at King & York, not on Bay.
Toronto has a subway, Canada’s oldest, opened in 1954 and known locally as “the Rocket.” (I’ll bet Montrealers hated that, since it was the nickname of their beloved hockey star Maurice Richard, well before future Blue Jay and Yankee Roger Clemens was even born.) Along with Philadelphia, it's one of the last 2 subway systems in North America that still uses tokens rather than a farecard system such as New York's MetroCard.
A Daypass is a much better value, at C$11.50, or US$8.86.
Toronto also runs a light rail system, calling the vehicles "streetcars" as they always have. The same fare system applies.
The drinking age in Ontario is 19.
Going In. The Air Canada Centre (ACC), a.k.a. "The Hangar," is at 40 Bay Street. Opening in 1999, it has been the home of the Raptors and the Maple Leafs ever since. This makes it 1 of the 10 arenas currently home to both an NBA team and an NHL team.
The east entrance, with the CN Tower behind it
From the arena website:
The Galleria is a public walkway running east to west at the north end of Air Canada Centre. It is a covered, climate-controlled walkway that houses the Ticket Office and public entrances to CentreSports and Union Market. The east end Galleria entrance features a display of historical artifacts from the original Canada Post Delivery Building.
Maple Leaf Square is a vibrant global entertainment destination located just outside Gate 6 of Air Canada Centre. Connected to the city's transit system and underground PATH network, Maple Leaf Square is a touchstone linking visitors and residents to Toronto's vast cultural tapestry. Maple Leaf Square includes: Real Sports Bar & Grill, E11even Restaurant, Hôtel Le Germain and much more.
Both teams, and the arena, are owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. The company knows on which side its bread is buttered: The board named the company after Canada's most popular, and yet most underachieving, sports team. It is the successor company to Maple Leaf Gardens, Ltd., founded by Leafs boss Conn Smythe in 1931.
The company also owns the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (named for the Ontario Hockey League's old Toronto Marlboros, a longtime Leafs farm team), Raptors 905 of the NBA Development League (based in adjoining Mississauga and named for their Area Code), and Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.
Having already hosted the NHL All-Star Game in its 1st season, 1999-2000, the ACC will host the NBA All-Star Game in 2016. The World Cup of Hockey will be played from September 17 to October 1, 2016, and the ACC will host all the games. Participating will be the national teams of Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, a team featuring the rest of Europe's nations under the name of Team Europe, and a Team North America comprised of U.S. and Canadian players under age 23. NHL players will be eligible.
Most likely, you will be entering from the north, through Union Station -- especially if you took the subway, to Union Station subway stop. Hopefully, if you drove into Toronto, you will have left your car in a hotel's parking deck. You could get a space nearby for as little as C$6.00 (US$4.62), but it's more likely to be at least C$10.00 (US$7.70). The court is laid out east-to-west.
Food. According to the ACC website:
Forty concessions are featured on the two public concourses, including a food market adjacent to the Galleria that is open to the public on non-event days.
Concessions at Air Canada Centre offer interesting food choices under the banner of the "Union Market Food Co." The market theme presented at Air Canada Centre is inspired by Toronto's local St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets, and is evident throughout our selection of fresh, quality foods displayed at our Grill, Deli, Café, Trattoria and Food Co. concepts.
Local vendors such as Pizza Pizza, Mr. Sub, and Tim Hortons are featured in these locations to provide fans with premium fare and highlight the "crowd pleasing" brands Toronto has to offer. In addition to the normal arena fare of pizza, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, pretzels and candies, we also offer a wide selection of hot carved sandwiches, sushi and kosher foods.
Crown Corner is a vibrant, modern bar with a view of the arena bowl as well as a western view of the Toronto skyline. Open to the ticketed public at all sports events and many other arena events, Crown Corner features a full concession service of premium menu items and provides a large socializing environment with seating before and during the game.
• Location: West side of Level 300; accessed via Level 300 concourse and Gate 5 elevators and escalators
Molson Brew House is located on the south side of the main concourse and has an attached brewery by Molson, under the careful eye of brew master Paul Swindle. The brewery provides the Rickard's Red beer served at Air Canada Centre. In addition, various grilled and prepared foods from The Carvery complement the energized atmosphere under the copper hooded open kitchen.
• Location: South side of Level 100 concourse
Team History Displays. The Raptors don't have much of a history, including (as yet) no retired numbers. But they have won Division titles in 2007, 2014 and 2015. By far, most of the banners in the ACC are for the Maple Leafs. Indeed, the Raptors have so few, they still hang a banner for their 1995-96 inaugural season -- 20 years ago.
Whose number could they retire? Only 1 player already in the Basketball Hall of Fame has ever played for them, and then only in the final season of his career: Hakeem Olajuwon in 2001-02. (No, I didn't remember him playing for them, either.) Only 2 players have been All-Stars more than once in a Raptor uniform: Vince Carter, whose career has had a lot of sizzle but little steak; and Chris Bosh, who, like "Vinsanity," was an All-Star 5 times while with the Raps, but is now better remembered with another team (the Miami Heat). Carter remains the face of the franchise, even though he's been gone for 11 years.
Stuff. There is a team store, or rather a teams store, at ACC. From the arena website:
Located at Gate 1, Air Canada Centre, Real Sports Apparel is 3,000 square-feet of the most authentic sports retail experience outside of the locker room. Located just steps from the ice and from the court, Real Sports Apparel brings fans closer to the action in a 360-degree mecca to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Toronto Marlies. Specializing in on-site jersey personalization, exclusive merchandise collections and game-worn gear, Real Sports Apparel is as a must-stop shop for Toronto's most passionate fans.
Not surprising, given their short and lackluster history, the Raptors are not well represented in print and on video. Sara Gilbert (not the Roseanne actress, now a panelist on CBS' The Talk) wrote the Raptors' edition in The NBA: A History of Hoops series, but that was published in 2006. J.M. Skogen wrote the Raptors' edition in the On the Hardwood series, which is more recent, having come out last year.
As for DVDs, forget it: Amazon.com doesn't have any on the Raptors, and the Real Sports store might not have any, either.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Raptors' fans at 21st, in the bottom 1/3rd of the league: "Their fan base does love this team, generally for the first half of the season... Their fan base can be loud and proud, but once they start doing bad, these fair weather fans will bash this team."
But their "We the North" campaign has made the Raptors the 3rd-most popular team in town, still behind the Blue Jays and way behind the Maple Leafs, but ahead of the Argonauts. Hell, for a while, they were behind the University of Toronto and even the Marlies. No longer: This franchise and its fan base have grown up.
You do not need to fear wearing your Knick or Net gear to the Air Canada Centre. Although quite a few U.S.-based crime dramas (and other shows, and films, particularly those that supposedly take place in Chicago) have been filmed in and around Toronto, it’s not a particularly crime-ridden city.
Since you’re in Canada, there will be two National Anthems sung. “The Star-Spangled Banner” will probably be sung by about half of the few dozen Knick or Net fans who show up, but “O Canada” will be sung by the home fans with considerable gusto. The Raptors hold auditions for Anthem singers, rather than having a regular singer.
The Raptors' mascot is a dinosaur, Stripes the Raptor. He wears Number 95, because the Raptors came into the NBA in 1995.
TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN, has a theme song written for Raptors broadcasts. That's is okay: Like the Blue Jays, but unlike the Maple Leafs, they are the only team in the country in their league. Toronto-based rapper Kardinal Offishall has written "Raptors Playoff Anthem." As for fan chants, don't expect anything more than, "Let's go, Raptors!"
Fans are frequently given white T-shirts to have a "whiteout" in the stands. They also have a large "WE THE NORTH" banner that gets passed around, similar to soccer "ultras."
After the Game. Toronto is an international city, every bit as much as New York is, and some of these people may have cut their teeth as sports fans in European soccer. But we're not talking about hooligans here. Canadians are stereotypically polite, and you're not rooting for Montreal or Ottawa. Almost certainly, they will leave you alone.
To the south, if you walk under the Gardiner Expressway, you'll find a pub named The Fox at 35 Bay Street. The Miller Tavern is at 31 Bay Street. And Harbour Sixty Steakhouse is at 60 Harbour Street. To the west, Real Sports Bar & Grill is at 15 York Street, across Bremner Blvd. from the ACC. Hoops Sports Bar & Grill is at 125 Bremner Blvd., 2 blocks west of the ACC.
I would also advise avoiding Jack Astor's, a smart-alecky-named chain of Canadian restaurants that includes one at 144 Front Street West, a block west of Union Station. I ate there the last time I was in Toronto, and the food and service would be mediocre at half the price. They have only one location in the U.S. -- not surprisingly, in nearby Buffalo, at the Walden Galleria east of downtown.
Next-door to Jack Astor's is the Loose Moose Tap & Grill, at 146 Front Street West. There, as they say, you'll "eat like a king then party like a rock star!" You'll be dining like a typical Torontonian, rather than with guys likely to jump into the Monty Python "Lumberjack Song." (If you've never seen that sketch, let me put it this way: Don't ask, and I won't tell.) And the Lone Star Texas Grill, a block away at 200 Front Street West, is jointly owned by several former CFL players, and is a fair takeoff on the U.S. chain Lone Star Steakhouse.
Actually, your best bet may be, as Vancouver native Cobie Smulders of the TV series How I Met Your Mother would put it, "the most Canadian place there is": Tim Hortons. (Note that there is no apostrophe: It'’s "Hortons," not "Horton's," because Quebec's ridiculous protect-the-French-language law prohibits apostrophes, and the company wanted to keep the same national identity in all Provinces.) They have a 62 percent share of the Canadian coffee market (Starbucks has just 7 percent) and 76 percent of the Canadian baked goods market. They also sell sandwiches, soup, chili, and even (some of you will perk up faster than if you’d drunk their coffee) New York-style cheesecake. It's fast food, but good food. I rate them behind Dunkin Donuts, but ahead of Starbucks.
Tim Horton, a defenceman (that’s how they spell it up there) for the Maple Leafs, and businessman Ron Joyce started the doughnut/coffee shop chain in 1964, while in the middle of the Maple Leafs' 1960s dynasty. He played a couple of years for the Rangers, then went to the Buffalo Sabres and opened a few outlets in the Buffalo area. He was still playing at age 44, and the only thing that stopped him was death. Specifically, a 100-MPH, not-wearing-a-seat-belt crash on the Queen Elizabeth Way over Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines, Ontario. (In other words, if you're driving or taking the bus from New York to Toronto, you'll pass the location.)
Joyce, whose son Ron Jr. married Horton's daughter Jeri-Lyn, joined with Dave Thomas of Wendy's and merged the two companies in 1995, becoming its largest shareholder, with even more shares than Thomas. Although the companies have since split again, it was mutually beneficial, as Wendy's gained in Canada and Timmy's poked their heads in the U.S. door.
There are now over 3,000 Tim Hortons locations in Canada, including inside the Air Canada Centre, one at Toronto's Union Station, and several on Canadian Forces Bases around the world. There's now over 500 in the U.S., and they’re heavily expanding in New York, including 3 in the Penn Station complex alone (despite Horton himself only briefly having played for the Rangers upstairs at the "new" Madison Square Garden). They are also partnered with Cold Stone Creamery, with an outlet on 42nd Street, a 2-minute walk from Port Authority. These Hosers know what they're doing.
The only reference I can find to a bar or restaurant in Toronto where New Yorkers are known to gather, and I'm not very sure of this, is Sports Centre Cafe, at 49 St. Clair Avenue W., just off Yonge Street. It's got multiple screens, it shows NFL games, and I've heard that Giants fans like to watch games there. St. Clair station on the subway.
If your visit to Toronto is during the European soccer season, as we currently are, and you want to see your favorite club play, the city's original soccer pub, the Duke of Gloucester, is at 649 Yonge Street, at St. Mary Street. Line 1 to either Wellesley or Bloor-Yonge.
Sidelights. Being the largest and most influential city in Canada, Toronto is loaded with tourist traps. This has been spoofed in "The Toronto Song," a bit by the Edmonton-based comedy trio Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. (It's not obvious that 3DTB are from Edmonton until the end of the song, by which point they've said everything in Ontario sucks, as do all the other Provinces, except "Alberta doesn't suck – but Calgary does.")
They're not far off. Toronto is much cleaner than most American cities: U.S. film crews, trying to save money by filming there, have had to throw garbage onto the streets so it would look more like New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles, and then they have to do it again between takes, because the street-sweepers clean it up that quickly. But the city does have slums, a serious homeless problem, ridiculous rents, never-ending lakefront high-rise construction (mirroring recent New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's similar projects), and their share of metalheads, punks, Goths and chavs.
I wouldn't call then-Mayor David Miller a dork, as 3DTB did, although his predecessor, Mel Lastman, was often a Canadian version of Rudy Giuliani. With better hair. You may have heard about recent Mayor Rob Ford: He's a crook, an alcoholic and a crackhead, who was just barely able, through legal action, to keep his office, before losing his bid for re-election last year. I don't know much about the current Mayor, John Tory, but if he votes like his name suggests (Conservative Party or "Tories"), the city is in trouble.
Torontonians can't quite decide whether they want to be Canada’s New York (national media, culture and finance capital, home of the CBC and CTV, and Bay Street is their "Wall Street"), Canada"s Chicago (a gritty blue-collar "drinking town with a sports problem"), or Canada's L.A. (movie-filming center.) Actually, Montreal is Canada's New York (international city, city of islands, great food city, great neighborhood city), Hamilton its Chicago, and Vancouver its L.A.
Toronto is... Toronto is something else. Scientists have yet to figure out what. But check out these locations:
* Hockey Hall of Fame. If you go to Toronto and you don't go to the Hockey Hall of Fame, they should deport you from Canada and never let you back in. This place is great, and the actual Stanley Cup is there. Well, 2 of them are, the original bowl that was so damaged that they replaced it in 1970, plus some of the bands with old-time winners on it, and a display copy. The one that gets awarded every year is also stored there in preparation for its annual awarding, then gets to go wherever the winning team's players want to take it for almost a year.
You'll also see why Canadians call hockey jerseys "sweaters": They used to be sweaters, as you'll see in the display cases. You'll also see why they're not sweaters anymore: Holes where they were eaten by moths. Hockey eventually got that right.
They also got the location for their Hall of Fame right: While it's not clear where hockey was invented, and the NHL was founded in Montreal, they put their Hall of Fame in an easily accessible city, unlike baseball (hard-to-reach Cooperstown, New York is not where baseball was invented), basketball (Springfield, Massachusetts is where it was invented, but it’s a depressing town), and pro football (Canton, Ohio is where the NFL was founded, but it's so drab and bleak it makes Springfield look like Disney World… Sorry, Thurman).
30 Yonge Street, blocked by Yonge, Front, Bay and Wellington. Union Station stop on the TTC subway.
* Rogers Centre. Opening in 1989 as the SkyDome and as the 1st retractable-roof stadium in the world, the Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts have played here ever since.
The Jays won back-to-back World Series while playing here in 1992 and 1993, while the Argos have won 5 Grey Cups since moving in: 1991, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2012. The last was won at Rogers Centre. (Like its American counterpart, the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup Final is held at a preselected site, but with only 9 teams in the CFL, it has a far lesser chance of turning out to be a neutral site than the Super Bowl does.) It hosted the Vanier Cup, the National Championship of Canadian college football, from 1989 to 2003, and again in 2007 and 2012.
The official address is 1 Blue Jays Way, and it's bordered by Front Street and the railroad on the north, a walkway separating it from the CN Tower complex on the east, Bremner Blvd. and the Gardiner Expressway on the south, and a walkway leading into Blue Jays Way leading into Peter Street on the west. Public transportation access isn't very good, so your best bet is to walk in from Union Station, nearly a mile away.
* Exhibition Place. The Canadian National Exhibition is kind of a nationwide "State Fair." It was on the grounds, off Princes Boulevard, that Exhibition Stadium, or the Big X, stood from 1948 to 1999. It was home to the Blue Jays from 1977 to 1989 and the Argonauts from 1959 to 1988. It hosted only one MLB postseason series, the 1985 ALCS, which the Jays lost to the Kansas City Royals.
It hosted 12 Grey Cups (Canadian Super Bowls), although only one featured the Argos, and that was the 1982 game, won by the Edmonton Eskimos in a freezing rain, with fans chanting, "We want a dome!" The SkyDome/Rogers Centre project soon began, and Exhibition Stadium never hosted another Grey Cup. Rogers Centre has now hosted 4, including the 100th, in November 2012, which the Argos won over the Calgary Stampeders. Exhibition Stadium hosted the Vanier Cup from 1973 to 1975.
BMO Field (pronounced "BEE-moh"), home of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and Major League Soccer’s rather unimaginatively-named Toronto FC, was built on the site of Exhibition Stadium. The parking lot immediately south of BMO Field has plaques embedded in the pavement where home plate and the other three bases were once located at "The Bix X." BMO hostedthe 2010 MLS Cup Final, in which the Colorado Rapids beat FC Dallas.
UPDATE: On March 9, 2016, the NHL announced that on the following New Year's Day, in connection with the 100th Anniversary of both the League and the Maple Leafs, BMO Field would host the NHL Centennial Classic, an outdoor game between the Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
* Varsity Stadium. The home of the athletic complex of the University of Toronto, this is the 3rd stadium on the site, replacing one that stood from 1911 to 2002 and the one before that from 1898 to 1911. It only seats 5,000, but its predecessor could hold 21,739, and hosted more Grey Cups than any other facility, 29, from 1911 to 1957.
Unlike Exhibition Stadium, the Argos won 9 of their 16 Grey Cups at home at Varsity Stadium: 1914, 1921, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950 and 1952. (They also won at Sarnia in 1933, Vancouver in 1983, Winnipeg in 1991, Hamilton in 1996, Edmonton in 1997 and Ottawa in 2004.) It Stadium hosted the Vanier Cup from its inaugural game in 1965 to 1972, and again from 1976 to 1988.
Varsity Stadium was home to the various Toronto teams in the North American Soccer League, and was the location of the one and only visit to Canada thus far by North London soccer giants Arsenal, a 1-0 over a team called Toronto Select on May 23, 1973.
It hosted the 1969 Rock 'n Roll Revival Concert, as shown in the film Sweet Toronto, featuring John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band (of course, with Yoko Ono, but also with Eric Clapton), the Doors, Alice Cooper, and founding fathers of rock Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. This was the concert where a live chicken was thrown at Cooper from the seats, and he threw it back, thinking it could fly, but it died.
Museum stop on the Yonge-University Line, or St. George stop on the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth Lines.
* Rosedale Park. This is where the first Grey Cup game was held, on December 4, 1909. The University of Toronto defeated the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club, 26-6. There's now a soccer field on the site of the original stadium.
Scholfield and Highland Avenues. Unfortunately, the closest subway stop is Summerhill, on the Yonge-University Line, and you'll have to walk a roundabout path to get there. If you really want to see it, you may want to take a cab. In fact, if your time is limited, and you have to cross some of these off your list, I'd say cross this one off first.
* Maple Leaf Gardens. Home of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs from 1931 to 1999, this was arguably the most famous building in Canada. The Leafs won 11 Stanley Cups while playing here: 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967 – and they haven’t been back to the Finals since.
The Gardens (always plural, never "The Garden" like in New York and Boston) also hosted the 1st NHL All-Star Game, a benefit for injured Leafs star Ace Bailey in 1934, one of the Canadian-Soviet "Summit Series" games in 1972, and the 1st Canada Cup in 1976, where Leafs star Darryl Sittler stole the show.
On November 1, 1946, the first NBA game was held at the Gardens, with the Knicks winning 68-66 over the Toronto Huskies, who folded after that first season of 1946-47. It hosted the Beatles on all 3 of their North American tours (1964, '65 and '66), and Elvis Presley in 1957 – oddly, in his early period, not in his Vegas-spectacle era.
But somebody who doesn't give a damn about history, only money, decided the Gardens was obsolete, and the Leafs moved into the Air Canada Centre in 1999. A plan to turn the arena into a shopping mall and movie multiplex, as was done with the Montreal Forum, was dropped because of the way the building was built: Unlike the Forum, if the Gardens' upper deck of seats is removed, the walls will collapse.
Fortunately, it has been renovated, and is now part of the athletic complex of Ryerson University, including its hockey team, with its seating capacity reduced to 2,796 seats, down from its classic capacity which ranged from 12,473 in the beginning to 15,726 at the end, with a peak of 16,316 in the 1970s.
So, while the old Madison Square Garden, the old Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, and the Olympia are gone, and the Montreal Forum has been converted into a mall, one of the "Original Six" arenas is still standing and being used for hockey. It also has a Loblaws supermarket.
60 Carlton Street, at Church Street. College stop, on the Yonge-University Line.
* Site of Mutual Street Arena. This arena stood at this location from 1912 until 1989, when condos were built there, and was the home of the Toronto Blueshirts, National Hockey Association Champions and Stanley Cup winners 1914, and the Maple Leafs from 1917 to 1931.
They were known as the Toronto Arenas when they won the 1st NHL Championship and their 1st Stanley Cup in 1918, and the Toronto St. Patricks when the won the Cup in 1922. Conn Smythe renamed them the Maple Leafs, after the city’s minor-league baseball team, when he bought them in 1927.
Bounded by Mutual, Shuter, Dundas and Dalhousie Streets. Queen or Dundas stops on the Yonge-University Line.
* Hanlan's Point. This was the home of Toronto baseball teams from 1897 to 1925, and was the site of Babe Ruth's 1st professional game, on April 22, 1914, for the Providence Grays, then affiliated with the Red Sox, much as their modern counterparts the Pawtucket Red Sox are. The Grays played the baseball version of the Maple Leafs, and the Babe pitched a one-hitter and hit a home run in a 9-0 Providence win.
Unfortunately, Hanlan'’s Point is on one of the Toronto Islands, in Lake Ontario off downtown. The stadium is long gone, and the location is only reachable by Ferry.
* Site of Maple Leaf Stadium, at Home to the baseball Maple Leafs from 1926 to 1967, it was demolished a year later, with apartments built on the site. The Leafs won 5 International League Pennants here, and it was the 1st sports team owned by Jack Kent Cooke, who would later own the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats and, most notably, the NFL's Washington Redskins.
Stadium Road (formerly an extension of Bathurst Street) and Queens Quay West (that’s pronounced "Queen’s Key"). Fleet St at Bathurst St station on the city's streetcar system.
* Fort York, Bathurst Street and Front Street West. You should see at least one place that doesn't have anything to do with sports, and with the bicentennial of the War of 1812 having recently concluded, this place has become more interesting. In that war, the 2nd and last time the U.S. seriously tried to take Canada away from the British Empire, the U.S. Army, led by Zebulon Pike (for whom the Colorado Peak was named), burned the fort and what was then the city of York, now Toronto, on April 27, 1813. However, Pike was killed in the battle. In revenge, the British burned Washington, D.C.
Essentially, Fort York is Canada's Alamo. But not their Gettysburg: That would be Lundy's Lane, in Niagara Falls, and I recommend that you make time for that as well.
* Royal Ontario Museum and Gardiner Museum. "The ROM" is at the northern edge of Queen's Park, which includes the Ontario provincial Parliament complex and the University of Toronto, and is, essentially, next-door to Varsity Stadium. It is Canada's answer to New York's Museum of Natural History. 100 Queens Park at Bloor Street West.
The Gardiner Museum, housing the Gardiner family's large collection of ceramic art, is across Queen's Park street. Museum stop on the Yonge-University Line, or St. George stop on the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth Lines.
* CN Tower, 301 Front Street West at John Street. It rises 1,815 feet above the ground, but with only its central elevator shaft and its 1,136-foot-high observation deck habitable, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) ruled that it was never a candidate for the title of "the world's tallest building." From 1975 until Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai in 2007, it was officially listed as "the world's tallest freestanding structure." The CN stood for Canadian National railways, but with their bankruptcy and takeover by VIA Rail, the CN now stands for Canada's National Tower.
Like New York's Empire State Building, at night it is lit in colors (or "colours") for special occasions, with its usual colors being the national colors, red and white. Admission is C$35.00 -- US$26.95, making it pretty expensive, but still cheaper than the Empire State Building, $32.00. It's next-door to the Rogers Centre and accessible via a skywalk from Union Station.
Note that the Rogers Centre is still lit in blue,
the color of both the Jays and the Argos.
Toronto has quite a few very tall actual "buildings." First Canadian Place has been the nation's tallest building since it opened in 1976, 978 feet high, northwest corner of King & Bay Streets. There are 9 other buildings in excess of 700 feet, including, sadly, one built by Donald Trump and named for himself. Commerce Court North, built in the Art Deco style in 1930, was the tallest building in Canada until 1962, at 476 feet, but is now dwarfed by the 784-foot Commerce Court West, a far less interesting structure that went up in 1972.
Being outside the U.S., there are no Presidential Libraries in Canada. The nation's Prime Ministers usually don't have that kind of equivalent building. Of Canada's 23 Prime Ministers, 15 are dead, but only one is buried in Toronto: William Lyon Mackenzie King, who led the government on and off from 1926 to 1950, longer than anyone, and is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. 375 Mount Pleasant Road, Yonge Street Line to St. Clair, then 74 Bus.
There have been plenty of TV shows set in Toronto, but most Americans wouldn't know them, so I won't list their filming locations. Probably the most familiar, due to its being shown on PBS, is Degrassi Junior High and its related series. Recently, ABC ran the Toronto-based cop series Rookie Blue.
Because Toronto has a lot of surviving Art Deco structures from the 1920s and '30s, it's frequently used as a filming location for period-piece movies, including the movie version of Chicago (despite Chicago also having many such buildings survive). There were also several scenes from the U.S. version of Fever Pitch that were shot in Toronto. One is the scene of the barbecue in the park: In the background, a statue can be seen. It's a statue of Queen Victoria. I seriously doubt that there are any statues of British monarchs left in Boston.
The Raptors are the least accomplished of Canada's 4 major league sports teams, but, especially now that the Blue Jays are a Playoff team again, they are probably the easiest for which to get tickets.
Good luck, and remember: You are a guest in their country, so try to match their legendary politeness. If you can't do that, just don't go overboard with your New Yorkiness.