Proudly wearing brand-new Toronto Raptors gear, we thought our boy Kasper looked
completely at home among the fans queuing for the game at the Scotiabank Arena.
But whether it was the box-fresh gleam of his hat, tracksuit and vest or our distinctly British accents that gave it away, we were quickly singled out as newbies as we waited to watch our first ever NBA game.
And how lucky that we were because it meant that a special bag of free Raptors goodies was delivered right to our seats half-way through the match, complete with personalised certificate for Kasper to mark the occasion.
This is a team that not only knows how to play (they are top of their standings as I write) but how to show people a welcome and no wonder, since their home city is also one of the friendliest we’ve ever visited, too.
Hospitality seems to be second nature in this Canadian city on the shores of Lake Ontario.
We were warmly greeted at our base for the week, The Westin Harbour Castle, after a
smooth seven-hour flight. It is a busy but welcoming hotel, with a pool that feels like you are swimming between skyscrapers and rooftop basketball and tennis courts that could be straight from the set of a music video.
Our room had views of both the water and the city, including the offices of the Toronto Star where the creator of Superman once worked – the city’s gleaming skyline apparently the inspiration for Metropolis.
The hotel was warm and comfortable and we enjoyed a perfect night’s sleep in the Westin’s aptly named ‘Heavenly’ beds, ready to tackle our first day of exploring.
The Westin is perfectly located for getting the most out of the city. It’s close to the Canada’s busiest transport facility – Union Station – and within easy walking distance of bars and restaurants and key attractions, such as the CN Tower.
The tower was firmly on our to do list but as the weather was misty, we instead chose to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada close to the structure, making use of superb visitor passes available from SeeTorontoNow.
We enjoyed learning much about life in Canadian waters, including interactive exhibits such as one where you could feel just how cold some temperatures are. The incredible jellyfish gallery was another highlight, with Insta-worthy tanks of colourful and strange creatures you could watch for hours.
We had to tear ourselves away to head to another gallery – The Art Gallery of Ontario
(AGO), which has an extensive collection of Canadian art and works by artists from across the globe.
As Yorkshire folk, we were delighted to find a space dedicated to our county’s own sculptor, Henry Moore, which must compete in terms of impact with the gallery’s iconic Frank Gehry-designed staircase.
This impressive structure rises through the floors and even a glass ceiling in gorgeous curved wood and the city view from the top is well worth the 138-steps.
Steeped in sport
On our second day, we chose to get more familiar with the Toronto vista we had viewed from AGO’s roof by taking a bus tour.
This was a great way to get our bearings as once you know the location of a few key destinations, it’s easy to navigate using the grid system the streets work on.
It was also packed with great stories about the city, such as the sorry tale of the American football varsity team whose home we passed. They lost 49 games straight over a period of seven years, finally winning the 50th by just one point.
We hopped off the bus at another sporting destination, The Hockey Hall of Fame. This is a true treasure trove of everything hockey, including the coveted Stanley Cup which gleams under a stunning stained glass roof.
It was the ideal introduction to the sport and it even offered the chance to take a penalty, face flying pucks as a goalie and present coverage and analysis of all-time great games.
After a trip here, we felt well-equipped for that evening’s Toronto Maple Leafs game where Kasper’s ninth birthday was marked with an on-screen shout out that made his day.
Unfortunately, the Leafs couldn’t manage a win but it would be hard not to enjoy the spectacle.
The atmosphere was fantastic and, with around 20,000 fans cheering the team on, it felt as much the home of ice hockey as the Hall of Fame.
We wondered, therefore, how the same venue could possibly accommodate the Toronto Raptors basketball game the next night.
It did, of course, with the care and attention to detail we had come to expect in Canada.
There were fireworks and bright red flames, Halloween-themed entertainment worthy of a show in itself and a sheer determination to engage fans in a positive and experience- enhancing way that puts English football to shame.
Feast in the city
After such an energy-pumped outing, a serene boat ride on Lake Ontario the following morning was a great way to relax and take in Toronto’s stunning skyline from a different vantage point.
A trip the harbour area wouldn’t be complete without a trip to BeaverTails Pastry where you can get a slice of fried dough in the shape of – you guessed it – a beaver’s tail.
You can choose your own toppings and Kasper and I devoured one ‘tail’ to share.
It was delicious and it’s a tough call to say whether we enjoyed this or another Canadian delicacy – poutine – more.
Poutine is an indulgent mix of chips, gravy and cheese and a taste combination that works surprisingly well.
The special curd cheese used in dish featured on a food tour we took of the city, where we sampled some in the incredible St Lawrence Market, where you can buy everything from ice wine to giant crabs legs.
The market is also where we ate amazing peameal bacon sandwiches – so named after the practice of rolling the meat in peas to preserve it These were simply the best bacon sandwiches we had ever tasted and, since returning home, I have tried to find a UK supplier of peameal with no luck.
The tour also took in fish and chips – an export from us Brits – smoked duck pizza, pastries and coffee during a three-hour walk.
Having worn out plenty of shoe leather during our strolls around the city it was only right that we find out more about the history of footwear from around the world at the Bata Shoe Museum.
There was also a touring Manolo Blahnik exhibition on which demonstrated the artistry and inspiration that goes into the famous designer’s pieces.
Having stuck to places we could get to on foot, our last two days in Toronto saw us take a couple of trips further out.
Science and nature
First, we took the 20-minute journey out to Ontario Science Museum, which is vast in scale, covering everything from quantum physics to the method behind Maple syrup collection.
It has its own rainforest, a space centre and numerous quirky activities such as touching a ‘tornado’ or experiencing a world record free dive.
Don’t worry, you stay entirely dry during the ‘dive’ but getting soaked is all part of the fun at Niagara Falls – around 90 minutes by car from Toronto.
It’s really worth the trip, especially if, like us, you visit in the quieter autumn season. We took the boat ride to get close to the falls and were practically the only ones on there.
Our senses were overloaded with the sight, sound and feel of the water as it roared past, clouding us in misty droplets that made us grateful for our ponchos.
We’d seen so much and never did find the time to go up the CN Tower. Neither did we get chance to dine at the Westin’s restaurant, which also boasts panoramic views of Toronto.
It didn’t matter because after being so well-looked after by the Westin, becoming fans for life of the Raptors and the Leafs and enjoying every minute of city living, we hope to return to where we really felt so at home on holiday.