Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

The Rex Hotel and Jazz Bar

I needed a place to stay last minute in Toronto, quick look online and the Rex fit two main categories. It was inexpensive and well located for where I needed to be the next morning. Plus there was the bonus of live entertainment and food onsite which made for an appealing one night stay.

The Rex Jazz Bar (Hotel Entrance is around the corner to the left)
I arrived at night after a long day of surface travel

Check in at the hotel was pretty straightforward once you located the entrance, then I headed straight to the bar where a live band was setting up to play (fun note: staying at the hotel meant you get to skip the cover charge at the bar!)

Live Twelve Piece Jazz Band – You Like Jazz right?

The band was exceptional and played a variety of musical pieces, several of which were composed by various member of the band. Overall a solid performance!

After a long day of Travel, Familiar Comfort Food are the best… wait is that avocado?

At this point in the day is when I remember to eat, I ordered the Rex Burger and a cider from the menu. Wait staff were kind and managed the patrons during the breaks between songs. While it did slow the ordering process a tad, better than then trying to yell over the music.

Mason Jar Cider – Yum!

The Hotel… right… so the hotel is above the Jazz Bar, and the entrance is at the back. The receptionist is kind and originally from Ireland with a thick Irish accent (I’m heading to Ireland in three days… what a coincidence!) and the Rooms are quite spacious considering the cost.

The Room!

The bed has much to be desired (its basically a metal spring bed, good for a night but I’d be hard press to sleep comfortably on it for a week). Also of note while there is a functional sink in the room, the bathroom is down the hall and shared.

It should be pointed out that in order to stay at the Rex you really need to enjoy Jazz music until 10-11pm at night. Because the hotel is directly above the bar you will hear the jazz music until closing. Its not ear shattering, but you can’t turn it off.

Wake up to a Beautiful Toronto Morning

So I enjoyed my one night stay at the Rex, but then I love good Jazz music lulling me to sleep 🙂

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

What the eye sees – Illusions

What the eye sees – Just illusions, or is is time to upgrade to a new camera body?the Nikon D4 has been announced.

When we look at an image, our minds are filling in the blanks. We connect lines where lines might not exist. We smooth colours across a series of dots at some level of measurable resolution. We imagine what might be around the corner. All of these factors contribute to what each person sees in an image that is captured by that magical box, the camera. Sometimes, one individual will look at an image and appear to see something completely different than what someone else standing beside them might have seen.

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

A Quick Visit to the Guild, Scarborough, Ontario

A Quick Visit to the Guild, Scarborough, Ontario

We were leaving Toronto at about 4PM and the roads were a mess with a bit of rain, a bit of snow and a bit of freezing rain snarling traffic so I decided to avoid the 401 and take a more leisurely route along the lake shore with the intention of getting to Scarborough in time to get a few shots before darkness settle in.  Traffic was even slower than I had anticipated that it would be so, when I finally got to the Guild, I only had about 15 -20 minutes of available light to take a few shots (using timer and tripod) before it was time to hop back into the vehicle and fight traffic and weather conditions on the route back to Ottawa.

Behind the former Guild Inn there is a garden in which previous owner of the property collected a number of architectural facades and selected bits from Toronto buildings as they were being torn down.  These now are part of the parkland maintained by the Toronto parks and are open for public viewing.  Very interesting to see these structures scattered around the gardens and in the surrounding woodlands.

Alan and Erica agreed to pose between the columns and then it was back in the vehicle and continuing our trip back to Ottawa again.

A few day later Graeme and I were getting ready to photograph the Polar Bear Swim in Ottawa.  This bear statue at the Guild seemed a fitting way to remind myself of the upcoming event.

Worth a visit but needs more than 15 or 20 minutes to truly appreciate the site :-).

For those who might want to visit this wonderful place on the eastern edge of Toronto, the snow covered bear statue and the many other statues and architectural facades are located in the gardens behind the Guild Inn in Scarborough, Ontario. (Location)

Images from a previous visit to the Guild.

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Casa Loma, Toronto, Ontario

Casa Loma, Toronto, Ontario (Location)

Casa Loma is a major tourist attraction in Toronto. The present day attraction is in two sections. The main living area of Casa Loma was constructed between 1911 and 1913 and is connected to the Hunting Lodge/Potting She/Greenhouse/Garage/Stables complex via an underground tunnel. The owner, Sir Henry Pellatt, and his wife lived in the Hunting Lodge complex while the main house was being constructed. The Hunting Lodge and stables were constructed in 1905.

The day that we were visiting, the temperature outside was hovering just around the freezing mark and a combination of fog and freezing drizzle combined to give an eery feeling to the visit. Inside was warm and cozy. We began our visit in the basement restaurant facility which offers a good choice of tasty foods. Tourist-style pricing applies but the food was tastier than one finds in many tourist-type locations.

After a quick snack we headed through the tunnel to look at the stables, garage and potting sheds.

The Carriage Room and the Stable area was used in the filming of the 1996 production of “Maximum Risk” and in 2000 the carriage room and stables, as well as the Oak Room, Dining Room, Great Hall, Peacock Alley, Library and Conservatory were used in the filming of X-MEN.

Mahogany stalls and Spanish tile flooring are two of the distinctive features of the carriage area and stable area.


Once we had a look around this area of the complex of buildings, we had to return to the tunnel to get back to the main Casa Loma building since there are only emergency exits from the stable and garage area.

Before heading up out of the basement, we stopped to take a look at the indoor pool and the wine cellar. In 2004, Casa Loma’s pool area was used in the filming of the movie “Pacifier”.

A number of other areas of Casa Loma have been used by the film industry, including Lady Mary’s Suite in the filming of “Cocktail”; the Oak Room and Library in the 2000 filming of “Caveman’s Valentine”; the 2nd floor hallway and the billiard room in the filming of the 1999 production of “Skulls”.

Compared to the last time that I visited Casa Loma, it appears that there is more restoration that has been completed and there appear to be more rooms than before that are open for public viewing.

Although the plumbing would have been very modern for its time in history, it is certainly different than what we would consider modern in today’s age of plastics.

The Grand Hall was completely decked out for the Holiday Season with a large Christmas tree occupying a prominent spot.

During our visit, some of the larger rooms on the main floor were being used for children’s programs such as a magic show and a puppet show. On a previous visit some of the upper floor rooms were being similarly used for other programs. This is somewhat unfortunate if you can only visit once and would like to see those rooms but, the children’s programs bring many adults and children in to see the Casa Loma, so do have their benefits. 

Other films that have been shot in part in Casa Loma include the Jackie Chan thriller “Tuxedo” which used the Oak Room, Garden Room, Library and Upper Terrace; the 1996 film “Extreme Measures” which used the main floor Conservatory; and the 2002 production of “Chicago” which used the Oak Room, the Library and the Conservatory.

As mentioned at the outset, the weather outside on the day of our visit was rather overcast and foggy and this was pretty easy to see when I got to the top of the tower and gazed out over the roof structure.

Climbing up to the top was a challenge but getting back down was even more of a challenge since there were people coming up the stairs and only one way back down.

For my next visit, I hope that it is summer and the weather is better so that I can spend some time exploring the gardens that surround Casa Loma.

One section of the upper floor of Casa Loma houses a museum exhibit for The Queen’s Own Rifles and also provides insight into the role that Casa Loma played in the war years and the secret operations surrounding the manufacture of ASDIC sonar devices in the stables.

The Museum comprises five rooms with separate themes: The Formation Room 1860-1900; The Pellatt Room 1910 Trip & Pellatt items; The World War One Room 1914-1918; The World War II Room 1939-1945; the Post WWII – Korea to The Present Day. Artifacts and display items are arranged to reflect the period and the room.

Military Cross – Officer’s Bravery Decoration
WW1 War Medal
WW1 Victory Medal
Colonial Auxiliary Long Service Decoration (Officers)

Queen’s South Africa
King’s South Africa
14 – 15 War Medal
WW1 War Medal
WW1 Victory Medal

Overall, a visit to Casa Loma is an interesting way to spend a few hours or more and each time that I visit, there are other interesting things to see that I might have missed on previous visits.

Next stop: The Guild, Scarborough, Ontario



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Toronto, Ontario – Random images along THE PATH

Toronto, Ontario – Random images along THE PATH

Toronto City Hall

Visiting Toronto in the winter months can be a bit of a hit & miss affair. Some days the weather will be great and other days it will be just miserable. During our visit to Toronto during the Boxing Week period (December 2011), we had a bit of rain, a bit of snow, a bit of cold and a bit of sunshine all in the same day. Toronto’s underground PATH and their excellent subway system allowed us to get from out hotel (Sheraton Centre Toronto) to anywhere that we wanted to go without getting our car out of its parking spot. This blog contains a few random images of the view from our hotel, views along THE PATH, views in a subway station and views at the Eaton Center.

Looking out our hotel windows offered a different view each day as sometimes the sky was blue and other times we couldn’t see the sky at all. To get to the PATH from our hotel room at the Sheraton Centre Toronto was rather easy. From the main lobby, we just took the escalator down one floor and followed the signs and we were on our way over to the Eaton Center, so named because the anchor store was once the venerable T. Eaton Company flagship retail outlet.

THE PATH provides a well marked route beneath most of the retail outlets and office towers of downtown Toronto. On this particular day, our destination was the Eaton Center, which now has The Bay as an anchor store at one end and Sears as the anchor store at the other end. There are many smaller retailers and food outlets located along THE PATH. There are plenty of signs but if you are having trouble finding the signs, you can also stop and have your eyes checked along the way 🙂 .

In Canada, Boxing Day is the first retail shopping day after Christmas and is a day when stores are crowded with shoppers looking for great post-Christmas sale items such as half-price wrapping paper or that special sweater that they had hoped Santa might bring. Retailers have now extended that ‘sale’ period through the entire week and Boxing Week is now a great time for those shopping for bargains but shopping activity is a lot more subdued than on Boxing Day. The portion of the PATH that passed through the Bay was lined with plenty of boxed chocolates and tins of shortbread at appealing prices but I managed to resist the temptation.

The Eaton Center itself is a very large enclosed space and is a mecca for shoppers and tourists alike.

At this time of the year, the pedestrian areas are well decorated and a large Christmas tree nicely decorated with balls and bows occupies a central spot. For those who might get hungry from all of the shopping and walking, there is plenty of choice in the new Eatery area.

For those who get tired of shopping and want to head over to other Toronto locations such as the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the PATH is connected to Toronto’s subway system at a number of stations. Toronto’s subway system is generally well maintained and safe and provides a good alternative to driving.

For those who would prefer to be outside, even if the weather isn’t the greatest, the skating rink located at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall is just the place to go to finish off a day of wandering along the PATH.


For more PATH facts, visit the City of Toronto website here.

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto, Ontario

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto, Ontario

Our primary reason for visiting the Royal Ontario Museum on this occasion was to view the Mayan exhibit since we had visited the site of two of the Mayan ruins (Chichen-Itza and Coba) during a winter vacation in the Yucatan Peninsula. Photography was not permitted at the Mayan Exhibit so I’ve broken the ROM blog into two parts. The first part comments on the Mayan exhibit and this second part shows a few images of the main areas of the Museum.

I enjoy looking at masks and carvings from all over the world and have posted a number of mask images in previous blog entries, most notably in the blog entries for the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, B.C. It should come as no surprise then that I spent a bit of time in the ROM section that highlighted masks and carvings from Polynesia and Micronesia.

I find the beadwork on First Nation’s moccasins and mukluks fascinating so always stop and take a look at the different pattern choices. I have a couple of pairs of moccasins that were made for me by a member of the Swamp Cree of Northern Ontario. They made the interesting observation that, for themselves, they only use enough beads to make the outline while ones made for tourists get the filled-in designs. Not sure how true that is or whether or not it is just part of modern-day economizing but it is interesting to think about in terms of how the designs might change depending on the scarcity of beads or the perceived importance or wealth of the recipient.

Leaving the masks of Micronesia and the beadwork of Canada’s First Nations peoples, my next stop was in front of the costumes of European battle such as this Italian Barbut weighing in at 2.5 kg. People complaining about carrying around the weight of a DSLR should consider what it would be like to wear one of these in the field of battle.

There are lots of other interesting items on display at the Museum but I certainly didn’t have the time to photograph everything, but I did try :-).

For more information on what might be happening at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) click here to access their website directly: Royal Ontario Museum website

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

Maya at ROM, Toronto, Ontario

Mayan Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario

When we were in Toronto over the Boxing Week period, we noticed that the Royal Ontario Museum had a Mayan exhibit featured. Bot my wife and I have an interest in Mayan culture so we hopped on the convenient Toronto subway and were at the Museum in only a few minutes. There were large flakes of snow falling when we left from the subway station and walked the short walk to the front entrance of the Museum. The bike posts around the Museum are each unique but this particular day there were not too many bicyclists out and about.

There is plenty of interesting architecture to look at in the area of the Royal Ontario Museum (location) and may of the buildings are affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Lilian Massey Building, Centre For Medieval Studies

Our interest, was inside the Museum so we dutifully lined up for our tickets and joined the throngs of people heading for the Mayan exhibit. With camera in hand, I was hopeful but those hopes were dashed as soon as I saw the sign by the entrance to the exhibit – NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED.

Oh well, had a good time looking at the exhibits anyway 🙂

For those who have an interest in Mayan ruins, consider taking a peek at two of our blog entries – one focused on Chichen-Itza and the other focused on Coba. Both of these sites became prominent towards the end of the Mayan period, so, as it turns out, there was very little overlap between the Mayan sites that were the focus of the ROM exhibit and the Mayan sites that I had visited.

El Castillo at Chichen-Itza

The Ballcourt at Coba

After visiting the Mayan exhibit, we enjoyed a bit of music in the foyer of the Museum before heading off to see some other exhibits of interest to us.

For more information on what might be happening at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) click here to access their website directly: Royal Ontario Museum website

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

Medieval Times, Toronto, Ontario

Medieval Times, Toronto, Ontario

Our original plans for the evening had to be changed when we found out that the evening’s performance of Cirque du Soleil had been sold out. A bit of phoning around and we found that we could still get tickets for the evening meal at the Medieval Times, so off we went for a meal and a bit of jousting action at the Toronto castle location of the Medieval Times chain. Whenever I am purchasing tickets, I tend to like to speak to a human (I’m rather old-fashioned that way). The conversation usually starts with something like, “I would like your best price.” Of, course, I know that in the tourism industry, in particular, the ‘best price’ is a moving target what with a variety of coupon offers, association affiliations such as CAA/AAA pricing, ‘deal of the week’, seniors discounts and, of course, all of the various on-line discounters. However, more often than not, I find that the human I’m speaking to is much better at wading through the options than I am, and, in the end, once they know that I have no interest in paying the full sticker price, they usually can find some obscure discounted price that I would likely have overlooked if I had been relying solely on the on-line search approach. Such is not always the case, but on this occasion, the woman at the Medieval Times central ticket sales office was very patient and very helpful and, before long, we had a ticket confirmation number and were heading out to our dinner and a jousting tournament.

The Toronto location, referred to as a ‘castle’ in keeping with the medieval times theme, is located in a building on the Toronto exhibition grounds. Inside, there is a general hall or gathering area which is surrounded by a number of booths offering almost anything that you might imagine every good medieval lord or lady might desire; from swords to mugs to just about anything. Everyone gets to wear their own personal paper crown to get you in the mood.  Since they are color-coded, the crowns also serve as an easy way to later identify who sits in which section in the arena when it comes time to head into the arena area for meal and the tournament events.

There is one area in the hall set aside for a staff photographer to take photos, if you so desire. Looked like a pretty simple job, sort of like the Santa Claus picture process without Santa. Fun to observe though, as the photographer faced the last minute challenge of getting a large group into place just in time to get finished with photos before announcement time.

With the photography process completed, it was time for last minute instructions, a bit of friendly banter about behaving or ending up in the dungeon, and off we all headed into the arena area.

With the color-coded crowns still sitting atop our heads, the whole process of moving a large crowd of people to their proper places around the area worked out really well. As far as I know, the dungeon keeper was not required to detain anyone unduly :-).

Every good bit of entertainment requires a hero and a heroine or some such thing, so for this night’s entertainment, we began with a hero tied tight at the center of the ring and, as smoke enveloped him, he disappeared from the area, not to be heard from until much later in the show.

Tech: Light was rather dim so I upped the ISO to the 1250 – 2500 range and shot most images wide open or close to it. I was primarily using my vintage Nikon 105mm f2.5 manual focus lens. Although I have other auto focus lenses in this range, I find that this lens’ smaller size and weight works well for me in somewhat crowded environments and doesn’t draw as much attention. Because it was a fairly common lens in it’s time, it is another one of those high quality Nikon lenses from the manual focus days that is readily available at a reasonable price on auction sites such as EBay.

Our MC was now on horseback and proceeding to give advice to the audience as we were served our meal of soup and chicken and potatoes – copious quantities of everything.

Our seats at the end of the arena were not the best place from which to photograph some of the entertainment, so I often just put down the camera and sat back with my piece of chicken in hand and watched the show. The costumes of both the horses and the riders were certainly colorful and the overall choreography flowed along nicely with the pace of the meal.

I personally lost track who was doing what to whom, but, in the end, after a show of various displays of skill at horseback riding and swordsmanship and jousting, the hero returned to be victorious, the desert was served, and we all headed back out into the cool Toronto air and the world of modern lights and tall buildings.


If you like images of jousting and medieval events, take a peek at our postings for the Kingdom of Osgoode events  held in Osgoode, Ontario each summer.

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

Another trip to Toronto, Ontario

Another trip to Toronto, Ontario

We had decided on spending a couple of days in Toronto between Christmas and New Year’s.  Weather is always a consideration at this time of the year so, right on schedule, we had a night of snow, a bit of freezing rain and some rain and all types of winter weather all rolled into one night of interesting occurrences. Our backyard was now looking like a winter postcard and out in front of the house a creature arose sometime after midnight.

Canada Explorer Ontario Toronto

Toronto Christmas Lights 2011 – Little Italy and elsewhere

Toronto Christmas Lights 2011 – Little Italy and elsewhere
After photographing the lights at the DeSario home at 165 Benjamin Boake Trail in North York, I headed off in the direction of my hotel room. I had in mind a couple of spots that I wanted to visit along the way but, at some point, I missed a turn and ended up on a completely different route that included stops at Downsview Park, St. Clair Gardens and Toronto’s Little Italy community.

Downsview Park at the corner of Keele St. and Sheppard Ave W was the first to attract my attention. (Location)

The decorated trees were simple but effective and parking in the strip mall lot across the street made stopping for a few minutes for photographs quick and easy.