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72 Hours: Toronto

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I’m Alive is a series about traveling to 14 cities to film a two-and-a-half minute YouTube video. We spent 72 hours in each city. Toronto was our fifth stop, and we took a day long detour to check out Niagara Falls by air and by water.

Prior to this trip, I had only been to Toronto for an afternoon during a layover. My short experience wasn’t really enough to tell what the place might be like — just a quick lunch and then off I went. When we arrived in Toronto with a few days to spare, we learned the basic facts: Toronto is blazing hot in the summer (which we experienced) and unbelievably cold in the winter. As one local explained, “Sometimes starting your car in -20C temperatures is like asking a homeless man for money — it’s just not going to happen.” Oh no. Our experience going from the airport to our AirBnB was just as oh-noish. Traffic was a disaster the entire way. What should have been a twenty minute jaunt took well over an hour. Where are all these people going?? Filing cabinet buildings.

My friend Jacquelyn was nice enough to meet us for dinner. Other than not being able to find a parking spot because the city has limited Car2Go designated lots (all between sketchy buildings by the way), the dinner was great. Jacquelyn clearly had a magnet that connected well with the city, but when we inquired about what draws people to live in the city, she didn’t really have a solid answer. I’m not suggesting there isn’t a reason to live in Toronto on your own freewill; I’m just saying that if there is one, we didn’t get it. The neighborhoods were indistinguishable from each other, people weren’t exactly friendly, and there weren’t many noteworthy attractions. Even a cab driver told us that the closest attraction (Niagara Falls) was two hours away. He noted that he had been living there for fifteen years and wasn’t really sure why.

Throughout our time in the city, I continually asked Nic, “Would you ever want to live here?” The answer to the forty times I asked this question was always a stern,”No.” He did give a hesitant, “Umm… no,” once, if that counts for anything. We just made b-roll of traffic and construction. To be honest, the entire city was under construction — sometimes 10×10 city blocks. We were even once diverted through a grocery store parking lot as an actual detour from a road.

The biggest redeeming locations to escape were:

  • Beaches Park
  • Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (You actually have to take an entire ferry across a gap of water about 75ft. across to get there. Why take a bridge when you can take a boat?)
  • A small diner in the upper beaches neighborhood near a Catholic school where classic American breakfast was $6 and served by the nicest Asians I’ve ever met.

We heard the CN Tower Edgewalk was the coolest adventure attraction in the city, but despite our several attempts to setup a film shoot, they wouldn’t trade any PR/film opportunities for an edge walk. So, we took the advice of our former cabbie and headed to Niagara Falls the next day.

It took about two and a half hours to drive there, 45 minutes of which was leaving Toronto. The surrounding country is beautiful farmland, small towns, and just genuinely awesome people. Given our previous success of helicopter adventures, we decided to call up Niagara Helicopters to see if we could capture the sight from the sky. They were more than excited to take us up and let us capture the experience for the film. Thanks guys! As seen in the final video, our entire Toronto scene was that of Niagara Falls. I had never been there before, and seeing it from the sky was truly remarkable.

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Whilst in the sky, we saw some boats down below exploring the falls from the water. Obviously, we had to check that out. It took about 25 minutes to drive from the heliport over to the Falls’ park where the boat tours and the photos happen. It only took a couple of minutes to chat with the managers on staff to get a couple of boat passes comped for the film. Thanks to Niagara Hornblowers, we were on a boat in no time and managed to get some incredible footage. We got wet. We took pictures and danced with tourists. We looked at America from across the way. Unfortunately, it costs fifty cents to cross the border (see photo), and due to a lack of change, couldn’t make it over. Really? Fifty cents? Where does that money even go?

Though Toronto wasn’t the greatest experience, we were able to make some magic happen. It was a great place to put our trip into perspective and reflect on the trip as a whole. We did find out, however, that Montreal was pretty sweet.

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