Been owing y'all a vacation report for a while...
Discerning readers may have guessed that we were not at home in Maryland at the beginning of August when our anniversary rolled around. Those who know our engagement story may have even guessed we were in Toronto. You would have been correct.
Having decided not to go to Worldcon or NASFIC, I was looking for vacation ideas when a copy of AAA World
reminded me this year was Canada’s 150th birthday. I’ve been wanting to get to Ottawa ever since I heard James Keelaghan’s ”Stonecutter”
, and I’ll never turn down an excuse to visit our filk friends in Ontario. Plus I had piles of hotel rewards points saved up from years of cons and business trips.
So we took off the week leading into Confluence
, drove up to Ottawa, spent a couple of days sightseeing and hanging out with people, drove over to Toronto, rinsed, lathered, repeated, then drove down to Pittsburgh for Confluence, and finally home. Hence the “Ontario Loop tour” moniker, given the vaguely obloid path we traversed.
The trip was good, though at times best described as “barely controlled chaos” due to the antics of a certain toddler. Especially when visiting un-childproofed homes, or after too much time strapped into a car seat, or on the first night when the hotel we stayed in northeast of Harrisburg didn’t have a crib available, or most of the other nights when we couldn’t get him to go to sleep until we turned off all the lights in the hotel room. (Thankfully we both had tablets to read or surf the ‘Net with.)
We saw a good number of filkers along the way. We dropped in on Joel and Inge twice during our stay in Ottawa; first on the way in just long enough to order pizza, then the next night for a potluck dinner and singing, which Ingrid and two friends of Joel and Inge’s from the Ottawa folk community showed up for. Tanya and Fiona drove up to meet us for lunch at a Montana’s in Belleville as we passed by on our way to Toronto. (It went much better than this year’s post-FKO run!) Phil and Jane hosted another potluck and sing for us in Toronto which Judith and Dave, Peggi and Ken, Sally and Howard came to. And we met Judith and Dave again for brunch at a Cora’s in on our way out of Canada. The only bummer is that Team Jeffers had to bow out of hosting the Toronto housefilk after Sue fell ill. Thankfully Phil and Jane were able to step in on short notice.
Our plan for our first full day in Ottawa was to start with Parliament Hill, which I have been wanting to visit ever since I first heard James Keelaghan’s song “Stonecutter” about the rebuilding of Centre Block after a 1916 fire and christening of the Peace Tower. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the front of the line for free tickets, the only tour available that included any part of Centre Block was an afternoon tour of the Library. On the other hand, besides the Peace Tower the Library was the part I most wanted to see, because it was hosting Foundations: The Words That Shaped Canada
, a display of six important documents in Canadian history, including the 1867 British North America Act, the 1869 Northwest Territories Proclamation, the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, and the 1982 Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
To fill time until our tour we browsed Byward Market, including the Inspiration Village, an area of York Street in the core of the Market where a series of booths were set up highlighting each of Canada’s ten provinces, plus an RCMP booth, a stage for musical performances, big climbable letters spelling out “Ottawa”, and another big sign saying “Stand for Canada” on which one could pose. Sam discovered a large wood box full of Mega Blocks from which we had trouble pulling him away. Mind you, he barely plays with the bag of Mega Blocks we have at home, mostly he dumps the contents of the bag on the floor if I’ve bothered to put the blocks back in the bag. Go figure. Somewhere in the middle of the browsing we ate lunch at a pub called The Brig Pub.
We made it back to Parliament Hill with an hour to kill before the tour. We walked around the grounds for a bit, then camped out in the shade provided by the east side of Centre Block until it was time for the tour. Things got a bit backed up with security and waiting for other tours to go through, but finally we were led through the Hall of Honour and into the Library. Which was impressive; three stories of ornately carved and painted wood, decorative metal railings, massive desks and tables, shelves full of books curving along the walls, all under a soaring dome. To borrow a word from my toddler, “MINE!” (That’s Sam-speak for “WANT.”)
Our second full day in Ottawa we crossed the river to Gatineau (and border into Quebec) for stops at Parc Jacques Cartier and the Canadian Museum of History. The park was hosting MosaiCanada150, a display of 32 works of horticultural art (topiaries, essentially) representing various animals (red foxes, polar bears, puffins), people (a lobster fisherman, a prospector, a Voyageur), and symbols, icons or items associated with Canada and Canadian history (Glenn Gould’s piano, Anne of Green Gables, a CP train), plus two pieces (Blessing of the Good Omen Dragons and Joyful Celebration of the Nine Lions) donated by China for the occasion.
We got sandwiches from a small grocery store across from the Museum, then dove in. The main attraction for us was the Canadian History Hall, but first we let Sam run off some energy in the Canadian Children’s Museum. It was hard to drag him out of there, but finally we went upstairs to the Hall, which, as the name implies, traces Canadian history from ancient times through Confederation up to recent history. I will confess we goofed; we did the first part of the hall (covering ancient times up to about 1800), rested, then went upstairs to the modern part (covering World War I to the present), forgetting about the part that actually covers the founding of Canada. Oops! Well, I am sure I can find a good book or two to fill in the rest. In our defense, we were pretty tired by then and it was getting on towards the dinner hour.
Our anniversary dinner was at The Keg Mansion
, in the Church and Wellesley neighborhood just east of Queen's Park and the University of Toronto. The food was good and the ambience (a 19th century mansion built by Arthur McMaster; later owned by Hart Massey) nice. Unfortunately, Mr. Toddler was in a state, probably from being cooped up in a car for several hours (not helped by Dad stressing out over Toronto-bound traffic on the 401), so we had to beat a fast retreat as soon as we'd finished our main courses. They did give us a free slice of cheesecake to take back to the hotel with us. Points for excellent service! (They also honored our reservation even though we ended up being an hour late. A call from our hotel helped.)
Our first full day in Toronto was spent at the Toronto Zoo, which at 710 acres is one of the largest zoos in the world. We started with the giant pandas, where we waited an hour in line to see Er Shun and Da Mao and their 18-month old cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue. Three of the four pandas were napping in one of their rooms, the other was next door chowing down on bamboo. As pandas do. Lunch. After lunch we hit the Australaisan pavilion, thinking we’d see a few animals we don’t get to see at the National Zoo or elsewhere in our North American travels. One Matschie's tree kangaroo, several sugar gliders, and a kookaburra or two proved us right. Then we moseyed over to the African Rainforest Pavilion to check out their group of Western lowland gorillas, including 3-year old Nneka (who was clinging to her mom at the back of the gorilla enclosure). Other animals on display included slender-tailed meerkats, spotted river otters, and ring-tailed lemurs. (Lemurs, Johnny! Lemurs!) By then it was time to head for Jane and Phil’s house, with a stop at the gift shop so I could buy Sam a small stuffed penguin. Because of course he has to have a penguin!
(Subsequently, I found out one of Sandra Boynton’s books is Your Personal Penguin
. There’s even a song that goes with it. This could be a dangerous thing.)
On our second full day in Toronto we headed for the Ontario Science Centre. Having been there several years ago when I accompanied Sheryl on a visit for Bouchercon, I remembered that it is largely targeted at younger folk, so I knew Sam would have an opportunity to run around. We spent most of our time in the KidSpark area and the AstraZeneca Human Edge exhibit, with a break for lunch in the Valley Restaurant. We also caught a Science HotSpot presentation on basic rocketry, where I discovered Sam knows the word “rocket”. Good to know there is at least one area where we are raising our child right!
After the Science Centre we drove over to Bakka Books, where the fact we’d be seeing Sally Kobee at Confluence did not stop me from buying five books. Granted, two of them were for Sam; Sea Monkey and Bob
, illustrated by Debbie Ohi, and Goodnight Lab
, a parody of Goodnight Moon
. The other books were things on my to-read/to-buy list (e.g. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae
) that I haven’t seen so far at any con booksellers’ tables.
We finished the trip off with Confluence, which was good even if I ended up watching any concerts from the prefunction area. Thankfully I could see and hear reasonably well through the door. Especially during the Consortium of Genius’ headlining concert, which for the sake of both my ears and Sam’s was probably best enjoyed from the hallway anyway! Other concerts we saw included Cheshire Moon, Harold Feld, Lauren Cox, and Wreck the System. The latter is a Silver Spring-based nerdcore group Randy Hoffman discovered. They were pretty decent, and even came down to – and quite enjoyed – the open filk. Since they are local, I plan to invite them to Balticon.