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Published: March 14th 2015
CANADA: COCKTAIL CULTURE...Pt 2...Toronto.
My grandmother Edith Weekes was the first woman to graduate in medicine in Newfoundland.
Her father was the local mayor and magistrate...presided over his own trial for smuggling.
And yes...he got off!
My great uncle Cyril stowed away on a ship from Oz and on being discovered was made cabin boy. On arriving in Canada he spawned many Muirs in that pioneer land.
I heard he was responsible for burning down his nursing home in Ontario as he was smoking his pipe in bed.
Our son Simon has been in Canada for seven years.
Earning his snowboarding degree at the university of Whistler...working in bars across the country...Winter Olympics in Vancouver...even a role in a reality TV show.
Now he's in Toronto...partner in Toronto's newest top bar...recently won Canada's National cocktail comp...and a number of others.
But life is about to change for Simon.
His parents are coming from Oz to check if he's behaving himself.
They are merely a hot breath away!
****** Rush Lane & Co
Simon collected us...Airport limo to take us to our hotel. Due to time
differences it is now dark. Simon insistent we drop our gear and head down to a bar for dinner...but not his bar.
The cold Toronto air brisk and biting.
The Harbord Room was expecting us...table reserved for the visitors from Oz.
And it was pretty obvious Simon was a bit of a celebrity in this town...and the specialities of the house were being laid on for his parents.
Charcuteries including elk, faux gras and cheeses, Krug, rock hen, steak...couldn't eat another thing. No room for dessert thanks.
But our hosts had different ideas.
Three of the best desserts we have ever had...all on the house...in honour of Simon and his parents from Oz. Wow.
But the night was not over.
Taxi to the corner of Spadina and Queen...few doors down...a mural of a steam ship...signed by Beau Stanton.
A blackboard in chalk:
"WELCOME ALL THE WAY FROM AUSTRALIA
MR & MRS DAVID HOOPER"
Signed with a pic of a kangaroo.
Simon laughing. He knows how much Den insists on her own identity. Since when was she called David?
Enter the doorway.
Welcome to Rush Lane
& Co...handsome folk all embracing us with hugs.
Canadians are not only the politest folk on the planet...they also claim to be the friendliest...never had so many hugs...never felt so welcome.
Started with their famous cocktail "Beat it"...I think Simon invented that one.
And for the next seven nights...this is where we hung out.
Ice Hockey - Junior World Titles
Each day I walked out of our hotel I was met by streams of Canadians wearing the red maple leaf.
The Junior World Titles were in Toronto and Montreal...and the games were just down the road.
They must have been 8 feet tall...the Russian team was staying in our hotel...and they fancied their chances.
So did the Swedes, the last champs the Finns, the Americans, Czechs, Slovaks, Danes, Swiss, Germans...and of course the crazy Canucks.
We bought tickets for the Czech/Swiss game...4th row middle...great seats.
As it was an International there was no biff and bash which destroyed all preconceptions. We thought fighting was mandatory.
2-2 half time...5-2 to the Swiss at Fulltime...a big upset.
Sensational skill...sensational atmosphere.
We followed every game
Saw the Swedes beat the Russians from Wayne Gretskys bar...the Canadians beat the Americans...lot of heat in that one.
But later when we were in USA...couldn't see a game if we paid for it.
Simon txting us with the scores in the Canada/Russia final that went down to the wire.
Those crazy Canucks...2015 World Champs...Go you good thing...admiring my Canada jacket right now!
****** Niagara Falls from the Canadian side
We only saw Victoria Falls in Zambia from a helicopter as we were robbed just hours before by our cook which denied our entry to Zimbabwe and Botswana and meant we had to abandon the remainder of our Kenya to South Africa safari.
But that's another story I have not yet told.
So NOTHING was going to deny our visit to Niagara Falls...nothing.
And boy oh boy are we glad we took the plunge.
Couldn't hire a car at short notice so forced to take a bus tour...best move.
The town of Niagara on the Lake like an old world movie set...a winery for the obligatory hard sell as they know some tourists always
buy...Den buying two ice wines. Did we drink one with Home & Away later?
Then to the falls. Maybe low season but still busy.
A tunnel under the falls to a ramp where views of the river to the USA side on the left...and a curtain of water to the right with a vortex of water spiraling out. Sensational.
The level below full of excited people in yellow ponchos for a more expansive look.
Out above the falls a whirlpool as the falls curl and drop in a massive wall of swell...you can virtually touch it...sucking down only metres away.
Sucking all the energy out of the air...so we slept all the way back in the bus.
Still thrills me.
****** Celebration of Islamic Spirit
The guy standing next to me at breakfast wants bacon with his eggs and is told there is no bacon.
"What?" I ask. "Toronto is known as Hogtown. How come there is no bacon?"
"There is an Islamic conference in the Convention Centre and some of the delegates are staying in this hotel."
"What about the rest of us?" I ask.
"I want some bacon too!"
So the Intercontinental Hotel made sure there was bacon available after that for the non-Islamic guests.
But they kept it under the counter...yep...out of view...only provided if you asked.
Now who is discriminating who?
I chatted a few times with one of the organisers. Says this is the biggest Islamic conference in North America. Certainly a lot of veiled women and bearded men.
When he realised I was Australian he got to sympathising about the recent Lindt Cafe seige in Sydney.
"Nothing to do with Islam" he kept saying. "That guy was mentally ill."
A topic close to my heart. How would he know from the other side of the world?
Our daughter knew the guy that was killed...used to visit the cafe daily...also knew rels of the woman that was killed.
Our daughter used to work in the building until the month before...would have been in the cafe and one of the hostages if not for her new job. Her routine was to get coffees at the time the terrorist entered the cafe that day.
But for...but for...
It could have
So we had the usual discussion in Toronto...the Islamic cleric and I.
I argued the terrorist was a fanatic...not mentally ill...he was a fanatic representing Islam...sorry man you do not know...but he was not
He had lost a case in the High Court on the Friday...and on the Monday he sought revenge.
I sympathise many Islamic people want to distance their religion from fanatics.
But when they do it in the name of Islam...can they?
The cleric and I remained cordial and he did not raise it again on further meetings.
He had the look of someone who knew deep down...reluctantly maybe...but he knew what I was talking about.
****** An icy Christmas
We traveled a long way to spend Christmas with Simon...and this year he's doing the cooking.
Been to St Lawrence Markets with Den for ingredients...and he promises to cook up a storm...one of many meals we had with him.
His flatmate John the coolest dude you could meet...rivetting stories of suppression of blacks and native Canadians.
His other flatmate Doug...one of the partners in
the bar...I call him Sexy Panther after the cocktail.
Then across the hall...sharing the same entrance stairs for their flat is Simon's mate from our suburb in Sydney...Brett...the designer & another partner in the bar...and his girlfriend Mel.
They live a few doors down from their bar and Rush Lane is closed for today...so the bar and kitchen are ours tonight.
Met Jordan one of the major partners in the bar over Christmas dinner. What a delight to meet this man whose vision for the bar and team was so important in Rush Lane happening at all.
He had shared the vision with me by Skype...now in person.
Then later we met Alexis, the partner whose IT skills hold the glue together.
Rush Lane's website states: "We are bartenders, mixologists, creatives, foodies, friends and explorers. Rush Lane & Co. is a space where we bring our passions to life and create tangible experiences to share with our friends, family and city. This is an embodiment of who we are. Pull up a seat and see what we’re all about."
We followed their early successes from afar...then travelled half way across the World to
pull up a chair and share the vibe.
****** What was the best?
After this trip taking in Canada, SW USA, the Blues Trail, Blues Cruising the Caribbean, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, people ask "What are your top three places? What was the best?"
Considering where we danced...ventured...experienced...how often we hit the orbit button...can't answer such questions.
So Den likes to ask "Where were your favourite meals?"
And each time we answer "Our Christmas with Simon."
Some of Simon's friends joined us and the juices flowed.
Entre of oozing cheeses, truffle honey, nuts, berries, fruits and exotica.
Mains of sous vide rack of lamb, aged balsamic from Simon's lab with veggies.
Irrawarra panforte and muscatels.
Krug champagne, award winning Wynns Shiraz we had brought from Oz and beers, cocktails and laughter to wash it all down.
But the best thing for us was meeting the team and seeing our son has great friends that love him.
He may be a long way from Oz but he is in a good place so we are happy for him.
And let's face it. Our main wish
for our children is that they are happy.
Time to head into the USA for a couple of road trips...and word is there is a "polar vortex" coming.
A night of Blues, Blues & more Blues at Grossman's Tavern.
We are ready.
Relax & Enjoy,
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