Oh Canada!

Baseball, hockey, creepy castles, maple tasting, and a pagan wedding… all part of my first trip to Canada!

I met my Canadian flatmate when I first moved to Wellington in 2016. We kept in touch once she moved back, and in 2019 she announced her engagement! Delayed one year due to Covid-19, I attended their wedding in October 2022 – in a little town in Ontario called Shakespeare.

This would be my first trip to Canada. There was so much I wanted to do – I looked at options for the northern lights, Vancouver, cross-country trains… But ultimately, I decided to go straight to Toronto and spend 10 days getting to know the city – only heading getting out of town for the wedding.

I’ll be honest: I love to travel, but I was exhausted on arrival. I’d been in Melbourne only a week prior, and my trip started with a stopover in Auckland for All Blacks and All Whites matches before a 22-hour journey to Toronto.

Day 1 included a wander around the city, purchasing a Presto card (a must for public transport) and a City Pass which provides access to the key tourist areas; my first stop was the CN Tower.

From the tower you can see into the Rogers Centre next door if the roof is open, so time a visit when there’s a baseball game on. I went at sunset and so had beautiful views of the city lights from above.

Day 2 was more wandering plus a visit to my next City Pass location: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada; followed by a baseball game at the Rogers Centre between the Toronto Blue Jays vs New York Yankees.

The aquarium is great, much larger than I expected. I spent a couple of hours here, taking so many photos and videos!

I bought a cool Marvel-themed aquarian hoodie then headed to my first ever baseball game. I’d watched a little of the sport on TV and didn’t really get an interest, but… it was amazing live! I met some great people at the gates waiting to go in, and more friendly people once in my seat. While the Bluejays didn’t win the game, they gained a fan and I bought a baseball cap to celebrate.

Following on from my first baseball game, the next day I went to my first ice hockey game! The Maple Leafs v Canadiens had a pre-season match while I was in town, and since I’d introduced the bride-to-be to rugby, she was adamant she would take me to my first hockey match.

We enjoyed ordering drinks and snacks to our seats, and learned about the Summit Series from 50 years earlier – it happened to be the anniversary of this infamous series between Canada and then Soviet Union – and I left with a new Leafs scarf to add to my sporting memorabilia.

Next was a trip to the Toronto Zoo! I had to take the subway, followed by a bus to get there, and it was well worth the journey. I recommend spending a full day because there is so much to see. It’s really beautifully laid out and you’ll want your walking shoes because it’s a huge area. It was one of the options for the City Pass and I would definitely go again.

Initially I was disappointed with my ill-timed visit to the red pandas, so when the zoo announced it was closing I made a rushed walk to see if they were now out and about and was in luck. I spoke to some regulars who told me we wouldn’t be kicked out, and encouraged me to take my time and enjoy seeing one of the red panda’s last days in Toronto.

I feel like this is where I say “I can’t believe how much walking I did” but actually I can believe it because whenever I travel I end up walking way too much. So what did I do after the zoo? Walked some more so I could see the Toronto sign.

Next up, another City Pass stop (I swear this isn’t an ad, it was just a good opportunity to get around the city): the Royal Ontario Museum, simply known by locals as the ROM.

They had so many dinosaur displays, Egyptian and Chinese artifacts, and much more. They also had an exhibition on Fantastic Beasts, comparing magical creatures from the Harry Potter world and those that inspired them. I even spotted some kiwi connections!

September 30 – time to head to Shakespeare. I bought a train ticket to head to Stratford, which takes just over 2-hours. I travelled with ViaRail which was really nice and comfortable. From here I was planning to get an uber to Shakespear, around 10-15 minutes drive away, however as luck would have it, a fellow wedding guest was on the same train as me and we travelled to the sleepy town together. And I seriously mean sleepy, everything was closed when we arrived, except the gas station which was closing, and very kindly gave us free donuts!

October 1 – wedding day! My friend and I bonded over geekdom and I was advised to wear sneakers and a cocktail dress. It was hard to judge what the weather would be like; it can be really cold in the mornings and at night, but the days were often pretty hot. So my outfit for the wedding included a Doctor Who jacket and my red hightop chucks!

It was so good to catch up with my amazing friend, meet her family and friends, and celebrate her wedding. I’ve never been to a Pagan wedding before so that was an experience in itself, certainly one of the more interactive and fun weddings I’ve been to! We danced, we ate, we offered swords!

The next day I headed back to Toronto, sharing the train with a lot of Bluejays fans headed to another game at the Rogers Centre. While they cheered for their team, I made my way to my next accommodation. My first week I was staying near Sherbourne and Gerrard St East, this time I was staying on the other side of town near Beverley and Queen Street West. I definitely preferred this side of town, and quickly explored the surrounding areas, including Graffiti Alley, Kensington Markets, and some of the delicious food offerings.

I’d been told by a friend that I had to visit the AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario, and with funds starting to get low, I discovered they had free nights on Wednesdays, with tickets available from 10am on Monday. Yes I nabbed one while journeying to next destination: Casa Loma.

One thing I had learned from my few days in Canada was how much they love Halloween. Probably more than Americans. And Casa Loma is the place to go. It’s a stunning mansion in the north of Toronto which is worth a visit simply for how beautiful it is, but at Halloween they turn on the spooky! If you’re in Toronto, you have to go, and definitely with the audio guide (yes it was also part of the City Pass package).

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CjVyONlAd1W/

Almost time to head home, and there’s no way I could come this far and not go to Niagara Falls. So, on my second to last full day in Toronto I jumped on a bus and headed south. We stopped on the way for maple syrup tasting (yum!) and tried some maple fudge. Everyone on the bus had booked the package for the cruise which takes you up close to the horseshoe falls… and drenched. I was keen to do the river walk which was unfortunately closed, so did Journey Behind the Falls instead, which was great!

And because I tried to pack in as much as possible, once I got back to Toronto I caught the ferry over to the Toronto Islands. While definitely a place to visit during the day, a trip at nightfall will get you shots like this:

On my final day in Toronto I did some important shopping (the massive five-storey mall is a must, plus you can do The PASS walk no matter the weather!) and enjoyed a few hours at the AGO. Turns out the free evenings include live performances! Very cool, and lots of beautiful works to see.

On my final day I farewelled Toronto with an early morning subway ride then train to the airport (much cheaper than an uber, but the train isn’t all hours). We passed into “American territory” before flying to LAX, where I am so thankful I was able to get access to a lounge for my 7-8 hour wait, before my 12-hour flight back to Auckland, and another long wait before my final flight home.

Was it love at first sight in Toronto? Not quite, but it grew on me and I would love to return soon. After all, I now have plenty of Ontario friends!

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