April 2001 Archive
April 30th 2001
I suppose the measure of civilization (whatever that really means) is the standard of governance that local cities have in place to ensure that the great unwashed stay in their place.
Actually it seems that it isn't so much the laws that measure this, as the by-laws that seem to spring up whenever cities get too big for their own importance. I've noticed that the amount of ridiculous by-laws seems to increase at the same rate as the size of the place putting them in to force.
Hogtown has thousands of these bylaws floating around. At the moment they are reviewing over 150,000 of them. That's right! One hundred and fifty thousand that they are reviewing. In other words these are only the ones that are considered necessary to be looked at. Frightening!
I mention this as a result of an action taken by one of Toronto's finest the other day. One of the bylaws states that in order to sell a car you must buy a package with all the necessary forms needed to do this. One of the contents is a specified poster that must be put up in a side window to state price and contact details. Fair enough. There is however another bylaw that states that you may not park a car on the street in order to advertise it for sale. Unless you are a second hand car dealer in which case a new set of laws appears to be ignored. Anyhow one of the lesser beings, trying to sell his car, put up the notice as required and then had to do some shopping. Finding a parking spot in town he dutifully parked, fed the meter and toddled off to finish his business. At which stage Toronto's finest fined him for advertising the car for sale on a public street. Catch 22! The most amazing part of this story being that he found parking at all.
So with all the fuss about that action some hardy souls have been looking up some of those hundred and fifty thousand bylaws to see just how many ridiculous traps await the unwary as they go about their daily business. The following are some of the more interesting ones.
Section 6(3) of bylaw 438-86 states that no one is allowed to park a vehicle continuously in their driveway. Except on occasions. Which occasions is not stated. What is meant by occasions? Who knows? But technically anyone who parks in their driveway is liable to be fined. This must be hell for the normal Two Garage- three-car family that seems to make up most of Toronto. Seeing as most street bylaws don't allow you to park on the street this has interesting possibilities. What worries me though is that no one seems to have picked up on the intrusion inherent in making a bylaw that has control over what you do in your own residence.
Even better than that, and still on cars, there is a bylaw that I do have some sympathy with, but which is phrased in a way that completely baffles me. Motorists may not idle in a car for longer than it takes to boil an egg. Um…hard-boiled or soft boiled? How do you as the driver measure this? Are the car manufacturers now going to add ovens to compliment the obligatory coffee cup holders? What if you are a vegetarian? What other foods can replace the egg?
“Scuse me Officer my egg is not ready yet. You may as well put away that ticket!”
Don't think that it is only motorists that suffer though. Anyone riding a horse must do so on the street and may not use the sidewalk. During the last riot at Queens Park I am sure that I saw many of the Mounted Police doing just that as they pursued the really unwashed. That must have been a real crisis of conscience for any of the Parking Gestapo in the area.
Interestingly you may not drag a dead horse down the street on a Sunday. Which I presume only leaves the sidewalk to do this. Technically you are not riding the animal are you? I guess this shows just how many years have passed since these bylaws were put into the books. Probably at about the same time as the local councilors began trying to flog their own dead horses. But not on the street on a Sunday.
I like the one that states that swine are prohibited from wandering south of Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough. Aside from looking for reading pigs, I wonder whether anyone has noted that in certain bigoted areas of the city they are sure that it is only swine that inhabit parts of Scarborough. There is currently a move to extend that to cover the rest of Toronto but the legal district would then be affected and as some wag noted, “we tend to have all our swine located downtown where we know they are. Let's keep it that way!”
Etobicoke has a bylaw that prohibits bathwater levels above 3.5 inches. Once again intrusion on your own turf. And this time we really are referring to the great unwashed aren't we? I wonder how they intend to police that though. Do they have Bath Police? Peeping through the windows when running water is heard. Scientific instruments at the ready to measure the instance the water runs to 3.6 inches? Breaking down doors, guns drawn, to drag off the offending half washed body to court. Would a peeping Tom be able to use this bylaw as a defence plea? So many questions. So many Monty Python answers!
Two of the bylaws that have popped up as being under review are ones that I support wholeheartedly, but which sadly are ignored totally even though I wish they were rigorously enforced. One prohibits swearing in public and the other states that “no person shall spit upon any public sidewalk, passageway, stairway or entrance..” Given the preponderance of both I would like to see these bylaws stay and even be tightened to the point of full enforcement by all of Toronto's finest. I am tired of hearing students whose sole aim in life appears to be win the Eddie Murphy award for gratuitous use of banal swearing. I am also tired of seeing people spitting everywhere I go. In fact maybe they have driven the swine out of Scarborough and they currently inhabit other parts of Toronto.
Ah well at least I can happily shower before I take the train into town.
April 23rd 2001
For some time now a sense of doom has been permeating the Ontario psyche. They know it is coming. They fear it's coming, and yet wait for it with anticipation as well. The forces of good here are preparing their counter attack. Thousands of column inches have been churned out in the newspapers. Nothing can be done to stop it. It is too late.
Krispy Kreme will open their first Donut shop in Ontario shortly.
Given the Canadian love affair with both coffee and doughnuts this is akin to heresy. Of course, as in any war, there are always those traitors that are assiduously asserting that once you have tasted a Krispy Kreme doughnut you will never look at another. Yea right! The rising divorce laws show how well that comment has translated. But…there might be something in this. There are reported sightings of a steady stream of Canadians popping off across the border to buy their supply on a regular basis. There is even talk of visitors to the States being asked to bring back a box. Or two.
As I understand it part of the charm of the whole Krispy Kreme franchise is that you get to watch the doughnut being made. Fresh. Right in front of your disbelieving eyeballs. At the very moment that a new, fresh, piping hot batch is delivered to the front shop, a sign outside announces the arrival, and half of the local populace drives through the pick up to place an order. The other half, being health conscious, park their car outside and walk in to place their order. This includes the local police who, having been told to cut the weight a bit, are busy trying to restore crowd control at what is probably the only riot in town at this time. Which was probably caused by the Police trying to restore crowd control by pushing to the front of the queue in the first place.
Which, I might add, makes the story of the idiot teenage car thief in Toronto all the more bizarre. Seems said thief decided that it was easier to drive home than walk home and so he decided to “liberate” a car from a coffee shop along the way. Just as the local constabulary was pulling in for their obligatory hourly check of the premises. I think they were more put out at having to delay their food and drink than at the sheer stupidity of trying to steal a car right where everyone knows there is likely to be at least one cop.
At this stage I must admit to a small amount of bias when it comes to coffee and, I suppose, doughnuts. A friend of mine in South Africa actually makes the best damn doughnut pre-mix that makes the best damn doughnuts that I have ever tasted so I have this inbred bias when it comes to tasting the local offerings. But more on that later.
When it comes to coffee though I am in heaven. Canadians drink more coffee per capita than Americans. I believe they also munch their way through more doughnuts as well but I haven't been able to find concrete fact to that comment. Still when it comes to coffee then Canadians can be said to love their coffee. I mean looooove their coffee. Not as much as some of the European countries where being dark and brooding over a double espresso and poetry has become a practiced art. Even still as a country that doesn't grow it's own crop Canada places 12th on the list of the worlds top coffee drinkers. Far above the States. With less law enforcement officers as well.
This means that it is almost impossible to walk more than five hundred metres without falling over a coffee shop. In Toronto alone there are 80 Tim Horton's, 150 Coffee Time and 55 Country Style outlets alone. This of course doesn't take into account all the Starbucks, Timothy's World Coffee and other outlets that exist. Nor for that matter does it allow for the small “Mom and Pop” shops or the masses of Donut shops either. Consider that there are shops such as the following: Donut Castle, Donut Cave, Donut Factory, Donut Gallery, DonutHouse, Donut Shack, Donut Street, Donut Town and Donut World. Most of these are franchises. All of them sell coffee. And doughnuts. And muffins. A muffin being what I suppose the health conscious kid themselves is better for their physique. As I said earlier, it is almost impossible to have to search for a coffee for longer than five seconds around here.
In order to ensure that on the way out of Toronto you will not have to suffer bear in mind that virtually every single gas station has a coffee shop attached as well. I have come across a Tim Hortons outlet in the strangest backwaters while doing my good sightseeing attempts around Ontario as well.
All the vehicles now come fitted with coffee cup holders as standard equipment. A roaring trade is done with those funny looking mugs that fit these holders. In winter it is normal to see long lines of cars waiting in a queue at whichever drive though is nearest. Each with one person sitting inside clutching a mug that needs to be filled.
Strangest of all I suppose is the language that has sprung up around such a simple thing as asking for a cup. When I first heard some of them I was stunned at the ease with which the attendant fulfilled the request. DoubleDouble, SingleDouble, Triple. All of these seemed to make sense. When I asked for a black with sugar that seemed to totally baffle the attendant though. I thought it was simple. He thought I was weird. We came to a compromise. He gave me what he thought I wanted. It wasn't, but have you ever stood at the front of a queue of angry caffeine deprived Canadians? Especially the Police? So we have learned the language and can now order a DoubleDouble with the best of them when needed.
So let's get down to the nitty-gritty that you really want to hear. When it comes to coffee the best plain coffee can be had at Tim Hortons. If you want to have your Espresso and Latte and other fancy stuff then Timothy's beats Starbucks hands down. But at a price! Both of these charge the earth for what is after all a simple cup of steamed ground bean. You do get a large variety of different beans to try though. Last count at Timothy's I had it at 25 varieties. This makes for the most amazing aromas.
Best Doughnut? Well it is hard to say actually. As I said earlier my friend makes a better doughnut than any I have ever tasted over here. I find them to sweet and stodgy for my liking. If I had to plump (pun intended) for one I would say that my favourite is the Maple Plain. I really like Maple syrup. Although this is only a type of Maple frosting on top of a cream filled doughnut. Still, it is the one doughnut that I generally buy when pushed.
In most cases I get a muffin (yes I know. Insert your own joke here!) Here I recommend the Coffee Time version of a Lemon Cranberry muffin. BIG and really tasty it is worth the price. Even Tim Hortons new Berry explosion doesn't cut it for me. And as for all the “Low Fat” and “healthy” versions? If you are going to indulge the least you can do is make it worthwhile.
So while we all wait here for the first Krispy Kreme outlet to encroach I will state that, in the interests of research, I must at least try some of the enemies fare. I will report back to you all on my findings. Meanwhile I need to refill the coffee machine.
April 18th 2001
Last time I alluded to a part of Toronto that I called “Ant Town”. Perhaps it is time to clarify what I mean by this.
To start off you need to realise that there is this little problem that Canadians have for about six or more months of the year. It's called snow and, with the snow, the cold that permeates every tiny opening where it can. This tends to make commuting a hazardous task. Arduous too.
At some stage in the design of many of the cities in Canada someone came up with the brilliant idea to actually use all those cold, drafty underground areas of the buildings that weren't taken up with the need for parking space. If you link different buildings to each other and sell the space to shops then you have a captive audience each day as they wend their way in relative comfort through to their chosen cubicle in the sky.
When you get off the GO train at Union Station with the millions of other travelers you can walk underground to your destination to most of the core business centre of downtown Toronto. During the winter months it amuses me to see this bustling hive of activity that takes place under the city. This is why I refer to it as “Ant Town”. Lots of little ants running around with plenty of enthusiasm and little direction. Popping up every so often to see whether the weather has changed enough to allow them to forage above ground at the nearest coffee shop. It is a steady flow of people rushing back and forth all day.
Actually the concept has been around since the early 1900's when Eaton's built the first pedestrian tunnel from it's main store to link to its bargain basement annex. As Eaton's could be likened to Stuttafords I am not sure whether this was to help the clientele or to keep the lower classes in their proper place.
In 1924 Union Station was completed downtown and a tunnel linking the Royal York Hotel was built. This was in the days when travel by train was still regarded as “proper” by the upper class. Which I suppose is why a link to the rather posh Royal York was set up. Too short a walk to require a taxi, the need to keep the furs dry necessitated an underground trip instead.
Some time later, and much to Toronto's horror, those pesky French in Montreal opened up Canada's first underground shopping concourse. In 1961 the Place de Ville was opened in Montreal and set off a degree of envy in Hogtown that was unrivalled elsewhere either east or west. This was a bad thing! How could Toronto let Montreal show them up like this? Bad enough that the Canadiennes were beating the heck out of the Maple Leafs at ice hockey. Even worse that Montreal has prettier, and older buildings.
So because there was a stable economy and much downtown investment in building much activity was spent on linking the downtown area. The major areas being the Royal Bank Plaza, TD Centre and other banking or financial areas. Actually the first of these complexes's that started the linking process was the Richmond-Adelaide complex, which was linked to Nathan Phillips Square and then the Sheraton Centre.
Nathan Phillips Square being where a lot of activity takes place during the winter month. Ice sculpting, Santa parades and the odd homeless demonstration.
Most of this activity took place from 1973 to 1983 and it was in 1992 that the official PATH name was thought up and instituted. It appears to have been an undertaking that both the City Officials and the business owners worked on together. At this time they discovered that the PATH system is the largest in Canada. Unfortunately it is only comparable in size to the West Edmonton Mall, which if memory serves me right is still the largest Mall in the World. No doubt Hogtown is working on that one. Mind you Square One out in Mississauga may beat them there if the new additions are anything to go by. Although the Edmonton mall has an indoor Roller Coaster! Beat that one eh!
At the moment the PATH system covers 12 city blocks. From the Union Station in the south all the way up to the Atrium on The Bay at Dundas Street. From the Sky Dome and CBC building in the west to One Financial Place in the east. And all stops in between. That is 52 office towers two shopping centres and five subway stations!
The one nice part about the PATH is that it allows you to get to the entertainment district warmly and comfortably during those winter months. As it is always colder at night this is a Godsend. Especially when the wind is being funneled down the streets. Now the problem with this is that despite having a large amount of shops doing a thriving business during the daylight hours at night about 1800 everything closes. Well not everything but almost all anyway. Even the obligatory coffee shops seem to close. Which means a long walk back to Union where the shops are open until the wee hours. Well until the last train leaves anyway.
Interestingly there are over a thousand shops along the walkways underground. Not all of them to do with food either and we aren't counting the Bay and Eaton's basements, which also form part of the PATH system. All in all a pleasant way to wander around Toronto for a while.
Unless you are one of the sixty million people who use it every year as part of their way to work. In which case scurrying to and fro makes you look ever so much like a bunch of ants intent on going nowhere fast.
Which is where I came in I suppose.
April 9th 2001
Oh! Oh! All is not well in the halls of Academe here in Hogtown. Seems that a high percentage of Grade 10 students are functionally illiterate according to the results of some testing that was done recently.
So, as is the way lately, all sorts of players in this sorry saga are thrashing around trying to find someone to blame for this state of affairs. Of course the persons most intimately involved in the whole process are generally ignored. I am of course talking about the students whose whole future hinges on whether “wassup” can be classified as literature or not.
In Ontario students go to school for 13 grades at the end of which they are awarded the OAC or Ontario Academic Certificate. This is the course that allows them to gain University entrance. They can of course leave school in Grade 12 but most students do Grade 13. Last year the Ontario Government decided to do away with the 13th grade and fast track the students to an OAC during 12 grades instead. This of course has created some problems, not the least of which is what happens when in a few years time the last Grade 13's and the new Grade 12's with OAC decide to go to University. Together.
Toward the end of last year, and bowing down to pressure, the Provincial authorities decided to institute a series of testing to ensure that the students were in fact able to face the future. This took place with a series of tests designed to see how literate the new Grade 10's were.
This is where the first problems arose. Students were informed that this testing was merely to assess their potential and would not be held against them. Bad mistake. Guess how many students decided that a day at the mall was a good idea? Almost 10% actually!
Of the remainder the results have seemingly not come as a shock to anyone except the Teachers Union and those left-wing politicians with social engineering and an axe to grind.
In Ontario overall, in addition to the 10% who didn't take the test, 61% passed and 29% failed. This means that overall 68% of Ontario students passed the test. Here in Hogtown however only 65% passed and 34% failed.
This means that roughly a third of the students in Ontario are functionally illiterate. Considering that they are the future it is rather frightening. What is even more frightening is how the authorities are thrashing around blaming everyone and totally ignoring the need to rectify the situation. Of course it is all the Harris Governments fault, or the teachers, or TV, or the lack of libraries, or the Internet. I have still to hear a rational explanation of how this situation is going to be rectified. From any of the parties involved!
The papers are full of pontificating people pointing fingers. Depending on the papers political slant the guilty party varies widely. I even found a few letters from students as well. At first I thought that they may be from the few that had passed but some of the content soon disabused me of that notion.
One of the most telling comments from a student though, was “ personally I didn't try my best because I didn't see the point.” Obviously students are becoming so used to getting their own way it doesn't matter unless it counts. Mind you judging by how easy it appears to be to pass here I wonder whether they ever bother to “ do their best”!
No wonder the Universities have been complaining.
I have come into contact with quite a few people since landing here and this was one of the more eyebrow raising factors that I picked up earlier on. Co-workers with degrees seemed unable to string together a simple sentence. If the spell check on the computer wasn't turned on, or wasn't used, then the most appalling words became the norm. I have received letters from recruitment agencies that had simple spelling errors in them. This from the people who write articles extolling the virtues of good grammar when applying for a position.
Of all the spelling mistakes that stand out the most glaring here is that of not being able to tell the difference between “their and there” and “your and you're”. It appears that “their” and you're” don't exist anymore. I have seen editorial in newspapers and advertising in magazines that quite blatantly mixes these up. I have even seen a billboard alongside the train track that had “ your in for the time of your life”. How often I have seen “there” being used in place of “their” now no longer matters. I am almost used to seeing it now.
The disturbing aspect of that being the blank look I would get when I gently pointed out the difference. One of my more enjoyable moments being when a Manager of mine sent back a report with corrections on it, including a change with regard to “their”. I guess the string of qualifications she insisted on telling all and sundry about didn't include basic English communication.
I believe that much of the problem stems from the insistence that basic skills are no longer appropriate for children. Instead, training for a computer based or technological future, has allowed most children to forego the pleasure of learning grammar. When you look at how they talk on the chat forums online, it doesn't surprise me that spelling is so rotten. In addition, nowadays every computer has a spell checker. Some of them even have a so-called grammar checker as well. Given that this is based on American speech some of the suggestions given are horrifying. What it does do is take away any need to learn.
I would suggest that during their formative years children are once again taught the basics of spelling and grammar. It is as simple as that. Now if only the rest of the people involved in educating our youth would stop their posturing and get on with it.
April 2nd 2001
When I was a youngster, which was a few years back I admit, my parents bought me a train set. I think that it had more to do with my Father than my Mother actually as it was one of the better Fleischmann sets around. In those days SAR stock was not available and so most of my knowledge of the different systems was based on European or American companies. This was probably the start of my love affair with railways.
Over the last few years my friends and I have spent many well lubricated hours playing board games that have the North American railway system as it's basis. True Robber Barons of the Wild West frontier. And just as drunk sometimes!
So whenever I need to go to Hogtown I usually use the GO train and underground as my standard method of transport. Both are fast, comfortable and, most important of all, clean. In fact the underground system in Toronto is the cleanest I have been on in the world so far. To be fair they do tell me that the underground in Montreal is even cleaner. I can't comment until I get to Montreal though!
The GO train runs on different tracks through to Toronto. At hourly intervals during the day, except of course for the rush hour when it runs at irregular times. What I like most about the GO train is that it is a double-decker train. Actually it is triple-decker if you take the mezzanine floor into account. I like to get a seat on the upper deck and watch the world go by as we travel into Toronto.
As you leave Oakville there is a huge marshalling yard. This is because one of the biggest Ford factories in the world is situated in Oakville. Interestingly they also use double-decker cars to carry the merchandise from Oakville to wherever it is that the cars are going to.
At this stage of the journey I start getting nostalgic. All of the cars sitting in the yard carry the logo of railway companies that are so well known to me from all the years of setting up models and playing board games. Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific, Great Northern, Canadian National, Burlington and Northern, Sante Fe and a host of others that slide past ever faster as we pick up speed on the way east. Having had all these names as part of my history it is fascinating to realise that they are alive and living right under my nose. Well all right some of them are still alive. Like all businesses there have been many mergers and takeovers so a lot of the old Railway companies are no longer, but there are enough of the old logo's to make me want to drag out the anorak and start looking for a hobby shop to begin laying down a model railway again. At the very least I bring out the board games and try to convince my children to play another round of Robber Barons. Laying track from the East to the West coast of either Canada or America. Now it all makes sense at last. Even the part where I manage to bankrupt my lovingly nurtured company, because I really, really need that new super fast engine to stay ahead.
As you travel ever closer to Toronto there are a few observations that come to mind. The first is the composition of the travelers as they climb aboard at the stations along the route. From Burlington most of the people on the train are Canadian and as we go ever closer the amount of immigrants getting on climbs higher and higher. At Mississauga, a large city to the immediate west of Toronto, almost all the passengers are immigrants. Mississauga has been an immigrant staging area for many years now and probably has more immigrants than Canadians at the moment.
I let the various languages wash over me as they carry on conversations all around. Luckily, because most of them are not in the “middle class” range, there are very few cell phones being annoying. I must admit that given the volume of some of the conversations this could be because they wouldn't be able to monopolise the conversation to show how important they are. I also find it astonishing how many people find it easy to fall asleep during the trip. Even more astonishing is their ability to wake up in time to get off at their stop.
The other observation is about graffiti. Like the change in physical composition of the travelers, as you get nearer to Toronto, so too does the amount of graffiti increase. This seems to be a trend of all railway systems. Wherever I have been, the closer you get to a city, the more graffiti along the tracks. I think this may be indicative of the rail systems being built through areas that mainly serve the less affluent. The major problem that I have though, is that it is so unattractive. There is only one place where the daubs could be called pleasing to the eye. Elsewhere it seems to be a need to spray paint gang names in lurid colour. As these have little form, or point, it only looks like a kindergarten-painting attempt. I suppose that there is some point to writing your moniker on walls but I haven't come up with anything other than the need to annoy people. Except, as I said before, the one set of paintings just outside Union Station. Someone has used the concrete blocks to paint different parts of a face. It is an ear here. An eye there. Mouth up above. The thing is they are very well executed and provide a good montage to brighten up the day. Now that is one person who has the right to call him/herself an artist.
Considering that the whole trip from Oakville costs $5 and the almost 30kms is covered in about twenty minutes catching a train is becoming an anticipated occurrence. Even getting off at Union Station with the other million passengers is quick and easy and this leads into that part of Toronto that I like to call “Ant Town”. This is a whole new topic on it's own, which I will keep for another article. In the mean time I need to look up the times for tomorrows trip.