Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's Not About Montreal

I meant to write about Toronto, but despite having lived just west of the city for twenty-four years, I'm still nowhere near as familiar with this metropolis as I was with my own home town - Montreal.

When I lived in Montreal, I spent a great deal of my time downtown. On most Friday or Saturday nights, I could be found at the Irish Lancer Pub listening as live Irish-style bands alternated between touching ballads and rowdy drinking songs. I miss that ease of stepping out with friends to spend the evening nursing a couple of drinks and singing along with familiar tunes.

The shopping there was tops. Their main drag is St. Catherine Street, and there were non-stop boutiques, department stores and restaurants for several blocks in the downtown core. Day or night, the unusual characters were out in full, and people-watching was a must.

Montreal also had the best food. In Ontario, bagels are just donut-shaped bread. Boring! Montreal bagels are a feast in themselves and you'll notice the difference as soon as you see them. They're usually smaller, and shaped rather unevenly. Bite into one and you find that they're moist, dense, doughy and slightly sweet. They are my only true bagels. and most any Montreal bakery, deli or snack bar offered them. In Ontario, not even the gourmet bagel shops can bake up anything like them.

And don't be fooled by other cities that offer "Montreal smoked meat." They're lying. Nobody makes smoked meat remotely close to the Montreal delicatessens.

I've not been back home in almost a decade, and no doubt, parts of Montreal have changed beyond recognition. I'd like to get back there for a few days and reacquaint myself with the city of my youth. Downtown life still draws me much like country life does - it must be the Gemini in me. I miss Montreal, and every now and then I feel the need for a city "fix," and so I settle for the next best thing - a trip into Toronto, complete with its own eateries, unique shops and interesting individuals that are also very observation-worthy.

On a recent day excursion into Toronto, we wandered into markets, ate lunch, window-shopped and stopped for coffee. It was a beautifully warm and sunny October afternoon and we walked for hours, snapping photos as we went along, some of which are below.

The St. Lawrence market which is situated on the north and south sides of Front Street contains over 60 produce vendors, both indoors and out.

Handmade articles, fresh and prepared meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, jams and other sweets fill up stall after stall for two city blocks. Some offer free samples such as sausage served with a dozen different mustard options, or you may get to taste a small chunk of fudge. Colourful booths boast knitwear, paintings, jewelry and crafts. We visited on a Saturday, and the place was bustling with activity. We hope to go back on a weekday when we can take more time to stroll through the area without getting caught up in the crowd.

Everyday supermarkets can not compare with the tables of produce, freshly-picked that day.

Colourful pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn will brighten up homes this autumn.



and tote bags in vivid hues are displayed outdoors.

Leaving the market behind, we decided to heed our hunger, and found an old-fashioned little diner on King Street. The Patrician Grill is a family-run business and there was no doubt that the older gentleman that spoke to us with such pride in his eyes, was the original owner. All-day breakfast and burgers seemed to be the popular choices of their regular patrons. The food wasn't spectacular, but it was decent. The atmosphere was nostalgic, but without any of the decorative gimmicks to fool you into believing that the place appeared older than it actually was. The setting and fixtures were genuinely original.

A small gem from the past.

After lunch, we headed north and walked along Queen Street.

Perched atop Toronto's Old City Hall, a gargoyle watched as we explored the town.

Much of the city's charm is tucked away along this stretch of colourful shops and caf├ęs.

All along Queen Street, we found the kinds of shops that aren't usually seen in most small towns. In addition to the typical book stores and antique shops, crowds wandered in and around a number of pothead shops that sell an amazing array of related paraphernalia. We noticed a few sex shops proudly promoting their toys and books...

and this safety-promoting Condom Shack.

Brightly-painted graffiti adorns the brick walls in the alleyways between the shops.

A common site in most cities are pan handlers and musicians, each trying to take home some cash at the end of the day. Some of the street performers can be quite talented.

And some are just amusing.

Heading back east along Queen St., we encountered this painted tree in need of some affection.

By the time we got back to the train station, our feet were groaning from the six hours they spent striking the pavement. It was a great day though, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Maybe next time we'll hit Montreal!

What's your favourite city?


Frank Baron said...

Bowmanville!! Now THERE'S a town!!!


Nice pics. Keep 'em coming. :)

Hilary said...

Thanks Frank,

Bowmanville!! I almost got to see that town once.. but I blinked. ;)

Tink said...

Those pictures are awesome! The closest city to me is Jacksonville. Which is an absolute joke. There's nothing cool about it. When we had the Super Bowl here, their slogan for us was, "What's that smell? Jacksonville!"

Hilary said...

Oh my, Tink... you weren't kidding. I Googled "what's that smell?", and Jacksonville did indeed make it onto the first page.

Thanks for stopping by.. and for the laugh. :)

Anonymous said...

So what did you yell at that guy and how much change did you give him?


Hilary said...

Mother Smuckers,

I actually took that pic from a distance. Perhaps I should have directed him to the Hug Me tree...

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Reb said...

I love the gargoyle picture! There just are not enough gargoyles in the west, so I enjoy seeing pictures of them.

I don't think I have a favorite city. I really enjoy living here in Edmonton, which is probably a good thing as it will probably be home forever. I if had all the world to live in...I would have to do some more exploring before deciding I guess.

Hilary said...


I'd like to see the west sometime. The farthest I've been in that direction is Windor in Canada, and Wisconsin in the U.S. I've always heard that Edmonton is a great city. Maybe I'll see it one day.

Kappa no He said...

I was just discussing with my husband where we should live and Canada was very high on the list. You have bumped it up even more. Beautiful pictures! Bagles and smoked meat too. Yum!

Hilary said...

Kappa no he,

Canada would be a bit of a cultural change for you after Japan, but I'm sure you would love it here. Thanks for stopping by. :)

awannabe said...

What a colorful town with its own special shaped bagels. Unique!

I love your photos. Sometimes I just want to run around and take pictures of buildings here in South Bend and start a scrapbook or something. Its neat.

Hah Hah... my eyes did a double take on that Condom pic. I can't believe they are allowed to have such a sign there. I don't think they'd have something like that here in the states.

If you ask me, my favorite city is San Antonio, its just as colorful with its Mexican influence.

Anonymous said...

(mutter, mutter, damned dial-up... I really want to see the pictures of the tote bags 'cause I'm in that order to leave a comment, I have to stop the photos from down-loading...mutter, mutter and I was only at the baskets...)
Oh, Hi, Hilary - just stopped by to say I love your photos (mutter, mutter) and someday hope to see the tote bags. I suppose I could go wash windows while I wait for them to download!! (could probably do the entire house, and the neighbour's, too...mutter, mutter) You really should come out west - and don't forget your camera!! You'd go crazy in the mountains, girl!

photowannabe said...

Hi Hilary, Great series on your City. I like the eclectic feel to all of them, even the scowling man with the sign.
Thanks for dropping by my blog and your very kind comments about it. Blogging is addictive and I do love sharing my pictures with others that have an appreciation for life's beauty. Please come again anytime.
My favorite city? What a hard choice...I can't choose just one....San Francisco, Chicago and New York would be my top 3 but there are so many others for many different reasons.
Sue of Photowannabe

Hilary said...


There are some very picture-worthy parts of South Bend. I spent some time there a few years back and saw some lovely sites and historical buildings. The river makes for some lovely settings too. San Antonio also sounds like it would be a fun place to see.

Thanks for stopping by as you do. I'm enjoying your blog too. It's a real page-turner.. or link-clicker. :)

Bag Lady,

Now that your house is all clean you should be able to see ALL of my pics. No, eh? Those windows are still smudgy, aren't they? ;)

I just emailed the tote bag photos to you. I know you have a particular interest in them.

And yes, the mountains would no doubt be amazing.. maybe one day. :) Thanks so much for visiting regularly, even though you can't see the pics.


Thank you. I'm so glad that I found your blog. Your photos are wonderful. I couldn't stop clicking to see the previous pages. Just beautiful! Thanks so much for stopping by, and please come back soon.

Anonymous said...

Hilary - Thanks for the special treatment!! Love the photos of the bags.
Thanks, also, for the link to the article Leah did about my bags!
You are great!

Jim Melvin said...

I wonder if the gargoyle ever needs to visit the condom shack? Are there a lot of gargoyles around or just a few? Ha! What wonderful photos and text to go with them.

Hilary said...

Bag Lady,

I'm glad you enjoyed receiving the pics. Anytime there's one you think you'd like to see, please don't hesitate to ask. :)


I didn't see too many gargoyles, but the few I did see were whooping it up and eyeing that condom shack. You know what they're like...

Gargoyles just wanna have fu-un (Apologies to Cyndi Lauper). ;)

Thanks for stopping by with your kind words.