Thankfully, the usual fan nastiness of the "Atlantic Cup" rivalry was put aside on this occasion.
Next Sunday, September 18, the New York Red Bulls travel across the border to play away to Toronto Football Club, a.k.a. Toronto FC, a.k.a. TFC, a.k.a. The Reds. Hopefully, those fans visiting will remember how much Canada helped us on 9/11, including taking our planes and their passengers in when we had to shut down the airports, and putting those passengers up in their hotels for free.
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 afternoon of April 7, 2016, US$1.00 = C$1.29 – or, C$1.00 = US 78 cents. However, since the currency exchanges need to make a profit, the current rate may actually favor 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 90-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, but, being mid-September, it can be hot. According to the Toronto Star website, temperatures will be in the high 80s in the afternoon and the high 60s at night.
Toronto is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to reset your watch or fiddle with your smartphone's clock.
Tickets. Since their establishment in 2007, Toronto FC have, despite not being very successful on the field, been very successful at the box office. They averaged 23,451 fans per home game last season -- a sellout. Capacity has been expanded to 30,228, and they're still selling it out. Part of this is due to Toronto's status as an "international city." Large French, Italian, Russian and African communities love to watch soccer, both in the stadium and on TV from around the world at pubs. And, with Ontario still being part of the British Commonwealth, the English pub culture is strong.
Fortunately, this being soccer, sections are set aside for visiting fans. Specific to this stadium, it's Sections 104 and 105, in the northeastern corner. According to the source I have, tickets for those sections are $36 -- but already sold out. You may have to find an alternate means of getting them, or sit among home fans (which are still available, at prices running from $36 to $77 -- in each case, those are in U.S. dollars, as they're quoted by Ticketmaster, a U.S. company).
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 to Toronto's Lester Pearson International Airport (he was Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and won the Nobel Peace Prize), and the flight takes about an hour and a half. Book on Air Canada today, and you can get a round-trip flight for under $500. On an American carrier (including, but not necessarily, American Airlines), it will be more expensive, and it won't be nonstop.
Greyhound runs 9 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 $84. 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 one 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.
So if you want to see, for example, this entire upcoming series), you would have to leave New York on a Monday morning and leave on a Friday morning, and spend 4 nights in a hotel.
So, while 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), taking Amtrak/VIA to Toronto is not particularly convenient. Especially since the Maple Leaf is one of Amtrak’s most popular routes, and it could sell out. If you still want to try it, it's US$246 round-trip. That's a lot more than Greyhound.
If you're driving, it's 500 miles – well, 492 miles from Times Square to downtown Toronto, and 479 miles from Red Bull Arena to BMO Field. 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 Cuban cigars, last year, President Obama relaxed the embargo: Now, travelers may return to the United States with up to US$100 worth of alcohol or tobacco or a combination of both. Products acquired in Cuba may be in accompanied baggage, for personal use only.
(UPDATE: On October 14, 2016, President Obama finally ended the ban on bringing Cuban cigars into America. This also applies to rum, for which Cuba is also renowned. It is still considerably easier to buy these items in Canada than in America, but, now, you can bring them back over the border.)
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 in 1927 to commemorate the U.S. and Canada having "the world's longest undefended border," from Buffalo into the Ontario city of Fort Erie.
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, and over the Rainbow Bridge, past the Horseshoe Falls. After you go through Customs, the road will become Ontario Provincial Highway 405, which eventually flows into the Queen Elizabeth Way.
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 going for only the game, and are leaving Toronto right afterward (I don't recommend this this: Spend a day in the city), you'll take the Spadina Avenue exit to get to Rogers 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 say, 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. 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 the series begins for us on "April 12, 2016" but for them on "12 April 2016."
They also follow British custom in writing time: A game starting at 7:07 PM would be listed as 1907. (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 "Rogers 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.
As if being Canada's national media, culture and finance capital wasn't enough, there's another reason why people outside it, and particularly inside the Province of Ontario, hate Toronto: It's the Provincial capital, its Legislative Building located at Queen's Park, just north of downtown. "Queen's Park" has become slang for the government, or for perceived government corruption.
The Ontario Legislative Building.
It looks more collegiate than political.
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.
The drinking age in Ontario is 19. 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.
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.
Toronto has a subway, Canada's oldest, opened in 1954 and known 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$12.00 (US$9.16).
The drinking age in Ontario is 19. Postal Codes in Toronto begin with the letter M, and those in the suburbs with L. The Area Codes are 416 for the city and 905 in the suburbs, with 437 as an overlay.
Going In. 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 in 2007 on the site of Exhibition Stadium.
Despite the stadium being in Toronto, BMO is short for Bank of Montreal, which, perhaps awkwardly, is also the jersey sponsor for TFC's arch-rivals, the Montreal Impact. This would be like if the Red Sox had replaced Fenway Park, and named the new facility BNY Mellon Stadium, as the Mellon Financial Corporation bought out the Bank of New York.
It's a little more than 2 miles west of Union Station. If you're driving in, the official address is 170 Princes' Blvd. Exhibition Stadium was across Prince's Blvd. from BMO Field. Parking is C$14. If you're taking public transportation, use GO, Toronto's commuter-rail service out of Union Station, the Lakeshore West line, to Exhibition stop.
Regardless, you'll likely be entering from the north. The stadium is a horseshoe, open at the north end. Gate 1 is at the northeast corner, Gate 2 is on the east side, Gate 3 at the southeast corner, Gate 3B at the south end (it may have been added later, messing up the sequence, like the New Jersey Turnpike's Exits 6A, 7A, 8A and 15X), Gate 4 on he west side, and Gate 5 at the northwest corner.
The field is aligned (roughly) north-to-south, and is real grass. The arrival of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts for this year has resulted in an expansion to 30,228 seats.
Be advised that construction is ongoing.
BMO Field hosted the 2008 MLS All-Star Game, between MLS All-Stars and London club West Ham United, and the 2010 MLS Cup Final, a neutral-site game in which the Colorado Rapids defeated FC Dallas. Toronto FC has hosted England's Liverpool FC, and Italy's AC Milan and Greece's Olympiacos have opposed each other there.
On November 27 (Thanksgiving Sunday to us, although Canada's Thanksgiving is in October), BMO Field will host the Grey Cup, the CFL championship game. This coming New Year's Day, in connection with the 100th Anniversary of both the NHL and the Maple Leafs, it will host the NHL Centennial Classic, an outdoor game between the Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
Interior photo taken before construction began.
The east stand has Taste of Italy and Footy's Footlongs (hot dogs). The south end has another RealSports Barbecue Pit, another Sal's Poutinerie, and an El Jimador bar. The west stand has another Sal's Poutinerie and a Taco FC stand. The west stand also has an upper deck, which has a Pizza Pizza stand.
Team History Displays. It took TFC from their founding in 2007 until 2015 before they first made the MLS Cup Playoffs. They have won the Canadian Championship -- effectively, Canada's version of England's FA Cup -- 5 times: In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2016 (this season); and finished runners-up in 2008 and 2014.
But that achievement becomes less impressive when you remember that there's only 5 teams competing: TFC, the Montreal Impact, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and 2 sub-MLS teams, the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton. And that it's only been running since 2008, and, except for Vancouver in 2015, either Toronto or Montreal has won it every time. (All of Toronto's Final wins have been over Vancouver, while both of their Final defeats have been to Montreal.)
Just as the Red Bulls and DC United compete for the Atlantic Cup, TFC compete for the Trillium Cup with the Columbus Crew, as the trillium is the official flower of the Province of Ontario and the official wildflower of the State of Ohio. TFC have already clinched it this season for their 3rd such cup, while the Crew have won it 6 times. There is no display in the fan-viewable areas for either the Canadian Championships or Trillium Cups won.
There is also no mention of the honors won by the team in the old North American Soccer League, known as the Toronto Metros from 1971 to 1975, the Toronto Metros-Croatia (having merged with the club named Toronto Croatia) from 1976 to 1978, and the Toronto Blizzard from 1979 to 1984. Despite winning the Soccer Bowl, the NASL title, in 1976 (beating the Minnesota Kicks in the Final), and reaching the Final again in 1983 (losing to the Tulsa Roughnecks) and 1984 (losing to the Chicago Sting); and despite such talents as British stars Peter Lorimer, Phil Parkes, Jimmy Greenhoff and Brian Talbot, they went out of business after the 1984 season, as did the entire League the following year.
A reborn Blizzard won Canada's National Soccer League title in 1986, then jumped to the new Canadian Soccer League. They lost the 1991 Final to the Vancouver 86ers, and the League folded in 1992. Other local teams winning the NSL title included Toronto Ulster United (an Irish club) in 1941; Toronto Italia in 1957, 1960, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1996 (the last title before the league folded); Toronto Ukrainians in 1961, 1963 and 1964; Toronto Hakoah (a Jewish club) in 1965; the aforementioned Toronto Croatia in 1971 and 1974; Toronto Hungaria in 1973; Toronto Panhellenic (a Greek club) in 1977 and 1980; Toronto Falcons (a Polish club) in 1978; and Toronto First Portuguese in 1979 and 1990.
Before the Canadian Championship, from 1998 to 2007, there was the Open Canada Cup. It was won by the Toronto Olympians in 1998, 1999 and 2000; the Ottawa Wizards in 2001 and 2002, London City (Ontario) in 2003, the Windsor Border Stars in 2004 and 2005, Ottawa St. Anthony Italia in 2006, and Trois-Rivieres Attak -- the only team outside Ontario to win it -- in 2007.
Stuff. There is no TFC club shop at BMO Field -- although, with the arrival of the Argonauts, that may change for both teams. There are 7 souvenir stands located in the stadium.
Being a relatively new and unsuccessful team, there are, as yet, no books or videos about TFC. Perhaps next year, the club's 10th Anniversary, will change that.
During the Game. You will find fans from around the world at TFC home games. They may have brought their "ultra" traditions with them. But Canada prides itself on the politeness of its people. Which of these prevails on a given day is a crapshoot.
The best advice I can give you is to be on your best behavior. So don't sing, "You can shove your CN Tower up your ass!" And don't make any remarks about Queen Elizabeth: Many won't care, a few might. Saying something about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might not have an effect, as he's from Montreal; but why take the chance? If you want to boo their players, that's fine. But keep the "You suck, asshole!" chants to a minimum.
Since you're in Canada, there will be two National Anthems sung, and the club holds auditions rather than having a regular singer. "The Star-Spangled Banner" will probably be sung by about half of the few hundred Metro Fans who show up, but "O Canada" will be sung by the home fans with considerable gusto, which is part of BMO Field having one of the most-mentioned atmospheres in the league.
When I'm at a sporting event where the opposing team is Canadian, I like to sing "O Canada" in French. Montreal Canadiens fans like this when I do it at the Prudential Center. Fans of the other Canadian NHL teams just think it's weird. When I did it in the 2 games I've been to at Rogers Centre, the Jays fans simply thought I was a twat. But then, they root for the Jays, and I root for the Yanks, so I’d rather have their opinion of me than my opinion of them.
Since 2013, TFC's mascot has been -- I swear, I am not making this up -- a live bird of prey named Bitchy the Hawk. Unlike Challenger the Eagle, Bitchy is not trained to fly around the stadium. Rather, she was chosen as, effectively, a scarecrow, to scare off the seagulls that flew off Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands, plagued the area when Exhibition Stadium stood, by scavenging for food and... doing other things. The seagulls don't know that she's spent all her 16 years in captivity: They think she's a wild bird of prey. (She is kept indoors at night, as Toronto's skyscrapers are known to have nests of great horned owls, who would be a threat to a tamed hawk.)
I told you I wasn't making it up.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which owns TFC, the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, their respective development clubs (Toronto FC II, the Toronto Marlies and Raptors 905), and their respective arenas and practice facilities (BMO Field, the Air Canada Centre, Ricoh Coliseum, the MasterCard Centre, the BioSteel Centre and KIA Training Ground) -- but has since sold Maple Leaf Gardens to Ryerson Arena -- acknowledged the international nature of their city, and has actively encouraged "fan culture" at TFC. The result is perhaps the most intense fan base in Major League Soccer, despite a lack of tangible success.
The oldest active group is U-Sector, named for their old section, Section U at Varsity Stadium, where they supported the Toronto Lynx from their establishment in 1997 until TFC came along in 2007. They now sit in Section 113, in the southeast corner.
The Red Patch Boys, named for the nickname of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division of World War II, sit in Section 112, which they call The Bunker, next to U-Sector in 113. They are both a supporters' group for both TFC and the Canadian national team, a counterpart to our American Outlaws.
Red Patch Boys in 112, U-Sector in 113
Original 109 sit in Section 109, on the east stand, and are noted for being TFC's traveling support. Formerly known as SG111 and SG114 after their seating sections, the Inebriatti -- Italian for "The Drunks" -- are in Section 114 behind the south goal. Their motto is, "We are not a fan club." Like Italian ultras, they wave flags and launch smoke. The Tribal Rhythm Nation unites local fans from the African, Latin American and Caribbean communities, and are noted for their drumming. They sit in Section 118, in the southwest corner.
Since TFC are known as the Reds, like Liverpool FC (whom they hosted in Summer 2014), and apparently chose the simply "FC" name in honor of LFC, they have borrowed Liverpool's "Oh When the Reds" chant to "When the Saints Go Marching In." They sing a version of Depeche Mode's "I Just Can't Get Enough" and a classic footie chant to become "Toronto 'Til I Die." Despite their Canadian pride, they sing a song titled "Yankee General" for their Captain, U.S. star Michael Bradley.
After the Game. As I said, some of these people may have cut their teeth as sports fans in English or European soccer. But we're not talking about hooligans here. If you behave yourself on the way out, most likely, they will, too.
There's a Medieval Times a 5-minute walk west of BMO Field, but I wouldn't recommend that as a place to go for a postgame meal -- even if it's open. Most likely, you'll have to go back downtown, unless you're driving in and right back out after the game, in which case you'll get something on the road.
The only reference I can find to a bar or restaurant in Toronto where New Yorkers are known to gather is the Sports Centre Café, at 49 St. Clair Avenue West, off Yonge Street. It has lots of screens, and, supposedly, local Giants fans watch NFL games there. I know, that's a bit vague, but it may be your best shot. St. Clair stop on the subway.
At 99 Blue Jays Way, 3 blocks north of Rogers Centre, is Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant. But since he betrayed his former fellow players and sided with his current fellow owners in the 2004-05 NHL lockout, I consider him a traitor to the game of hockey, and I will not set foot in his establishment, and I would advise you to avoid it as well.
I would also advise avoiding Jack Astor's, a smart-alecky-named chain of Canadian restaurants that includes one at 144 Front Street West, about halfway between Union Station and the Rogers Centre. 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 1 location in the U.S. -- not surprisingly, in nearby Buffalo, at the Walden Galleria east of downtown.
There's the Canadian Bar & Grill, at the Hyatt Regency at 370 King Street West, 4 blocks from Rogers Centre. It features what it calls "traditional Canadian cuisine." This includes wild game, as well as regional items like poutine and Newfoundland clam chowder. (Apparently, the word "chowder" came from the Newfies, and theirs is closer to New England's than to the tomato-based abomination known as Manhattan clam chowder. Clam chowder is one of the few things New England does better, a lot better, than New York.)
If rabbit stew isn't your cup of tea, try the Loose Moose Tap & Grill, at 146 Front Street West, 2 blocks from the stadium. 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.) 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 one at Toronto's Union Station and several on Canadian Forces Bases around the world) and 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.
If your visit to Toronto is in the European soccer season (as we now are), you can cheer on your club of choice in one of these places:
* Arsenal: Midtown Gastro Hub, 1535 Yonge Street, at Heath Street. Line 1 to St. Clair.
* Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Atletico Madrid: Scallywags, 11 St. Clair Avenue West, at Yonge Street.
* Manchester City: Opera Bob's, 1112 Dundas Street West, at Ossington Avenue. Line 505 to Ossington.
* Manchester United: O'Grady's Tap & Grill, 171 College Street, at McCaul Street. Line 1 to Queen's Park.
* West Ham United: The Dog & Bear, 1100 Queen Street West, at Dovercourt Road. Line 505 to Dundas.
* Newcastle United: The Office Pub, 117 John Street, at Adelaide Street. Line 301 or 501 to Queen Street West, or Line 304, 504 or 514 to King Street West. (Yeah, I know they were relegated, but I still have a listing for them.)
* Aston Villa: The Oxley Public House, 121 Yorkville Avenue, at Hazelton Avenue. Line 2 to Bay. (Yeah, I know they were relegated, but I still have a listing for them.)
* Barcelona: Elephant & Castle, 212 King Street West, at Simcoe Street. Line 1 to St. Andrew.
* Bayern Munich: The Musket, 40 Advance Road, at Shawbridge Avenue. Line 2 to Kipling.
* Juventus: Toronto Azzurri Village, 4995 Keele Street, at Chimneystack Road. GO Transit Barrie Line to York University.
* If you don't see your club listed, your best best is Toronto's original soccer pub, the Duke of Gloucester, 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 often cited incorrectly including by myself in previous editions of this piece, as being by the Arrogant Worms. 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 Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s similar projects in New York), and their share of metalheads, punks, Goths and chavs.
I wouldn't call now-long-parted 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 was a crook, an alcoholic and a crackhead, who was just barely able, through legal action, to keep his office. Alas, cancer prevented him from running for re-election, and he recently died. The current Mayor is John Tory, and his conservatism makes him aptly-named.
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, 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, 30 Yonge Street, blocked by Yonge, Front, Bay and Wellington. 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 Munson). Union Station stop on the TTC subway.
* Rogers Centre. Originally known as the SkyDome, for its retractable roof, and opening in June 1989, the building was renamed the Rogers Centre in 2005, for the new corporate owner of the Jays, Rogers Communications, founded by the late Ted Rogers and featuring several cable-TV networks, most notably Rogers Sportsnet (although TSN, The Sports Network, ESPN's Canada version, is the more popular).
The official address is 1 Blue Jays Way. The subway doesn't go to the dome. The closest stop is the one for Union Station. And the city's famed streetcars are no help, either. It's a great city for public transportation, unless you're going to Rogers Centre or the CN Tower, which are only the 2 biggest tourist attractions in the city, and right next-door to each other. (When SkyDome opened in 1989, somebody called them a sperm-and-egg pairing.) I'd say they're the 2 biggest tourist attractions in the Province of Ontario, or even the entire country, but, as I said, you'll have to pass Niagara Falls.
The stadium is, theoretically, just 3 blocks away from Union Station, down Front Street West: York, Simcoe, John. But it’s going to seem like a long walk. (Trust me, I've done it.) And Front Street West is perhaps the most touristy street in the entire country, much as Broadway in Midtown Manhattan is. Most likely, you'll be walking from Union Station along Front Street, or the Skywalk that connects the station to the CN Tower.
The Rogers Centre hosted the Vanier Cup from 1989 to 2003, and again in 2007 and 2012. It also hosted a few Buffalo Bills "home games," and the International Bowl, once won by Rutgers. With the new grass field coming in, the stands will be fixed in place, so, no more football. The NBA's Raptors played there from their 1995 debut until the 1999 opening of the Air Canada Centre.
* 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 CFL's 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. It hosted the Vanier Cup, the National Championship of Canadian college football, from 1973 to 1975.
* Varsity Stadium and Varsity Arena. The home of the athletic complex of the University of Toronto, it includes the 3rd Varsity 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.
The Varsity Blues have won the Yates Cup, emblematic of supremacy in Ontario college football, 25 times from 1898 to 1993; the Vanier Cup, Canada's National Championship, in 1965 and 1993; and, as with their hockey team, they were once much bigger, or perhaps the competition was much smaller, they won the 1st 3 Grey Cups, in 1909, 1910 and 1911, and a 4th in 1920.
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 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, thus beginning his legend.
Next-door is Varsity Arena, built in 1926 and seating 4,116 people. The Varsity Blues have won 10 National Championships in hockey: 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1984. They used to be much bigger, including serving as the Canadian team at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, winning the Gold Medal. The Arena was also the home of the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association in the 1973-74 season.
The current Varsity Stadium, with its blue running track,
and Varsity Arena behind the press box
* Rosedale Park, Scholfield and Highland Avenues. 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.
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.
* Maple Leaf Gardens, 60 Carlton Street, at Church Street. 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 Canada-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 -- we're coming up on the 70th Anniversary -- the 1st NBA game was held at the Gardens, with the New York Knicks beating 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 was removed, the walls would collapse.
Fortunately, it has been renovated, and is now the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, 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.
A recent interior photo, set up for curling
The Ryerson Rams have never won a significant hockey title. They had a football program, but it was canceled in 1964, and has never been revived.
* Mutual Street Arena, bounded by Mutual, Shuter, Dundas and Dalhousie Streets. 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.
The Leafs were known as the Toronto Arenas when they won the first NHL Championship and their first 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. Queen or Dundas stops on the Yonge-University Line.
* Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay Street. "The Hangar," the home of the Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors since 1999 (the Raptors played at the SkyDome 1995 to 1999, with a few games at Maple Leaf Gardens), it is a modern, 18,800-seat facility with all the amenities, built between Union Station and the Gardiner Expressway. Union Station stops on the Yonge-University Line and the GO and VIA Rail systems.
* 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 homered 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.
* Maple Leaf Stadium, at Stadium Road (formerly an extension of Bathurst Street) and Queens Quay West (that's pronounced "Queen’s Key"). 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 first sports team owned by Jack Kent Cooke, who would later own the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, and the NFL's Washington Redskins. Take the 509 Streetcar from Union Station to Queens Quay West at Dan Leckie Way.
The Raptors' D-League team, named Raptors 905 for the Area Code of Toronto's suburbs, plays at the Hershey Centre. 5500 Rose Cherry Place (named for the late wife of hockey coach-turned-broadcaster Don Cherry), in Mississauga, 16 miles west of downtown. It takes 3 buses to get there. The Orangeville A's of the National Basketball League of Canada play at the Orangeville Athlete Institute. 207321 Ontario Provincial Route 9, in Mono, about 50 miles northwest of downtown.
509 Streetcar to Fleet Street at Bastion Street. 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, 100 Queens Park at Bloor Street West. "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. Museum stop on the Yonge-University Line, or St. George stop on the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth Lines.
* Canada's Walk of Fame. This consists of stars embedded in sidewalks, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, except the honorees – 163, including 149 individuals and 14 duos or groups, since the most recent induction in 2014 – are from all walks of life. It is centered on the sidewalk in front of Roy Thomson Hall. 60 Simcoe Street at King Street. St. Andrew station.
* 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 1,122-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 the Empire State Building, at night it is lit in colors (or "colours") for special occasions, with its standard colors being the national colors, red and white. Admission is C$44.00 -- US$33.59, making it even more expensive than the Empire State Building's $27.00. It's next-door to the Rogers Centre and accessible via a skywalk from Union Station.
Toronto has quite a few very tall actual "buildings." First Canadian Place has been the nation's tallest building since it opened in 1975, 978 feet high, northwest corner of King & Bay Streets. There are 7 other buildings in excess of 700 feet, including, sadly, one built by Donald Trump and named for himself.
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 off and on 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 aired 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 (which, being Yankee Fans, we consider to be a horror film) 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 Queen Victoria. I seriously doubt that there are any statues of British monarchs left in Boston.
Toronto is an international city, and they love their soccer. But it's also in Canada, and the famed politeness will, hopefully, balance out the passion. Have fun, but be respectful, and they will be as well.