Toronto, I Love You Blog

Playing Summer Sports in Toronto, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

I feel like I spend a lot of time lately (both in-person and on this blog) pining for other seasons. Torontonians are great at hating the season they are in. Instead of hating on winter, which is the opposite of the point of this blog, I'm going to turn my sights back to summer, and to drinks with buds, a light workout, and team spirit! Today's blog is all about my summer love affair with playing sports in Toronto! 

I'll be straight with you: generally I don't exercise beyond what getting to and from places forces me to do (and the occasional planks after too many Loads of Ketchup chips). I have to trick myself into exercise with things like dance classes and commuting on my bike. This is why I absolutely LOVE summer outdoor sports leagues! It's the perfect amount of social interaction (I'm always better at socializing when there is a task at hand) and telling myself I am exercising!

Each summer, I am on two softball leagues (the Royal Canadian Baseball Association and the Toronto Comedy Softball League) and used to do volleyball through the Toronto Sport and Social Club and as it nears May I always get that excited, giddy feeling in my tummy. 

 Swoooooooon, my very own field of dreams (and those dreams are of beers and bats and balls and bgloves)

Swoooooooon, my very own field of dreams (and those dreams are of beers and bats and balls and bgloves)

I started playing summer softball with an old boss who would shut down the restaurant we worked in early on Wednesdays so we could go play. I used to play as a kid and always liked it, despite my absolute terror of being hit in the leg with a softball (just thinking about it makes me cringe ... uuuuughbarf). Though my boss didn't last long on the team, that was 11 years ago and I'm still going!

 2013's undefeated champions (at softball and probably beer consumption)

2013's undefeated champions (at softball and probably beer consumption)

Then a couple of years ago, when I started taking classes with Bad Dog, I overheard that they had a softball team and needed players. I couldn't wait to get started - my Wednesday team is primarily men between the ages of 40-60 so the chance to play with people my own age was VERY enticing. 

 What a bunch of supreme cuties - the Bad Dog Softball team in 2013! 

What a bunch of supreme cuties - the Bad Dog Softball team in 2013! 

There's nothing quite like the feeling of hanging out at a park on a summer afternoon, or evening, and having some laughs while also participating in an activity together. You go through things together, be it injuries on the team, or filling in a weird hole in the field, or learning how to bat, and those things bring you closer together!

This past year I was the coach of the Bad Dog softball team and it was a blast getting to see players improve over the course of the summer, seeing people have fun, and believing in themselves (my coach motto is basically "Believe in yourself and follow your dreams!" which I realize isn't altogether helpful for sports but hopefully generally motivating and not just super annoying when I yell it from first base). Group sports also leads to making closer bonds with friends and also drinking more than is probably good for you (Caesars at Three Speed, I can't shake you!)

 One of Toronto's many amazing baseball/softball fields

One of Toronto's many amazing baseball/softball fields

For those who like a variety of sports (and not just softball), I can't recommend TSSC enough. They have social and more competitive leagues for all sorts of sports, and its a great way to meet people and have fun! Our team was called Spike Club and we were a 6 person coed beach volleyball team! I can't begin to tell you the joy of playing beach volleyball on a warm summer night (I can tell you the pain of beach volleyball on a hot summer day though - MY POOR FEET SO MANY BURNS OWWWW). 

 No net stands a chance against Spike Club

No net stands a chance against Spike Club

The sweet sounds of Drake blaring over the PA at the Docks as you dive into the sand is an amazing feeling, and much more physically challenging than softball. I had to stop because I just got too busy (cause of improv) and had no money (cause I spent it all on improv) but just looking at these photos has made me super nostalgic for volleyball! Maybe I will have to join a team again! Anyone want to play volleyball?

 Rain or shine, it's volleyball time!

Rain or shine, it's volleyball time!

What's your favourite sport to play? 

Sorauren Pumpkin Parade, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

I mentioned it in my previous post on Fall in Toronto, but I love Fall and especially Halloween. Living in the High Park/Roncesvalles area, Halloween is not just a night - it's an EVENT. People go all out with some of the most amazing and creative displays, ranging from radioactive band playing on the porch of a house, to a house being full-on transformed into a giant menacing face! Suffice it to say, HP/Ronces looooooove Halloween too!

One of the best parts of Halloween in this neighbourhood is the Sorauren Pumpkin Parade. The day after Halloween, everyone brings their no-longer-required Jack O'Lanterns to Sorauren Park for one last hurrah - the pumpkin parade!

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The first time I heard of it I legitimately thought it was a literal parade of pumpkins (I still kinda wish it was, but you can't have everything) but what it is is equally magical - several walking paths lined with lit pumpkins of all shapes and sizes! Sure, you've got your average pumpkin carvings, but you also are treated to so many new and wonderful takes on pumpkins that you can't help but want to slowly meander through the park for way long than you expected to! 

 Rows on rows on rows! 

Rows on rows on rows! 

Some of my favourites from the last two years include: big pumpkin chomping on little pumpkin (there were lots of these and each one is delightful!), little pumpkin in big pumpkin jail, any Game of Thrones/Ghostbusters/Jack Skellington pumpkins, and le piece de resistance:

 Probably my favourite pumpkin display EVER! 

Probably my favourite pumpkin display EVER! 

This lovely display is courtesy of my neighbours who have the best pumpkin display of all time. I don't know how they do it but it's the most damn delightful display and it always finds it's way to the pumpkin parade (so I get to see it leading up to Halloween and then one last hurrah). 

Make sure it's dark, make sure you dress warm, but MAKE SURE YOU GO! 

Toronto Waterfront, I Love You

Toronto's waterfront has a bad rap. It's talked about often in Toronto Council, and residents are often angry that it pales in comparison to the waterfronts of other great cities. It's separated from the city by the crumbling Gardiner Expressway, and doesn't have a lot of activities for tourists. 

That being said - I think it's just beautiful! I've always been attracted to water and I find it very calming so whenever I feel stressed out, the waterfront is my first stop!

 Bay and Queen's Quay - look at that stunning view. March 2012

Bay and Queen's Quay - look at that stunning view. March 2012

One of the things I love about our waterfront is the view of the Toronto Island (you can read more about how much I love that place here). If you walk just 10 minutes south of the Financial District (which I did on many many lunch hours oh god I hate that area), you are presented with this beautiful view and can forget that you work a crappy desk job surrounded by nothing but concrete! 

 Sunset by Ontario Place while biking home.

Sunset by Ontario Place while biking home.

I also am an avid cyclist (except right now cause it's cold and I'm a weiner). When I worked in the Financial District, I often wanted to unwind after work, and biking in Toronto is anything but relaxing UNLESS you can bike the Martin Goodman trail home. Luckily I live near High Park and this trail is perfect for me! During the spring months, this was often the sight I was greeted with on my way home. Sometimes I would even stop and sit on a bench for a bit to soak it all in! 

 Humber Bay Arch Bridge - aka the Turtle Bridge. You have to go to see why.

Humber Bay Arch Bridge - aka the Turtle Bridge. You have to go to see why.

So you don't work in the Financial District (lucky you!) and you don't commute by bike but you like going on leisurely weekend jaunts! LUCKY YOU! The Martin Goodman Trail extends out to Etobicoke. From there you can take a path up the Humber River, or continue on out to the Humber Bay West Park (more on that in a moment). Either way you get to go over this great bridge. It's beautiful during the day, the view is beautiful by night, and there is a fun reason I call it the Turtle Bridge (I actually had to look up the real name because I've only called it Turtle Bridge).

 Am I in Hamilton? Am I in Buffalo? NO! I'M IN TORONTO!

Am I in Hamilton? Am I in Buffalo? NO! I'M IN TORONTO!

If you chose to keep going west instead of going up the Humber River trail, you will see a lot of condos (bleh) but you will come across a park with a butterfly pond (COOL!!!) and a bridge leading you into Humber Bay West park. I really love exploring places so one day I decided to just bike into this park on my own and start taking the trails. There are several of them, but they lead out to the amazing view above! CHECK OUT THAT SEXY CITY! It's also got a little beach on it that you can hang out on (though I haven't spent any time there). There are a few benches facing the water so you can just relax, bring your sweetheart, and have a real romantic time, or just take some pictures to make everyone think you went on a trip without having to leave the city.

 Here are where the above photos were taken, if you ever want to check them out!

Here are where the above photos were taken, if you ever want to check them out!

ALSO - TORONTO, I LOVE YOU OPENED YESTERDAY! Hooray! See you at Bad Dog!

Toronto Zoo, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

As a kid in Toronto, there were a few set destinations for class trips - the Science Centre, the Toronto Islands, the CN Tower, and the Toronto Zoo. You would be asked to pick an animal and do a project about that animal (usually just consisting of some photos of that animal on a bristol board). I can only imagine what we must have been like for those poor, patient animals. 

 I'm the one who looks way too excited to be there!

I'm the one who looks way too excited to be there!

The zoo, like many Toronto attractions, really hasn't changed very much since then. Sure, they've added a cool water park (which I have often walked through fully clothed on a hot summer day), a panda exhibit (though I do miss String Ray bay!), and it's missing it's beautiful monorail, but it's every bit as fun as it used to be.

 The old monorail - image lovingly borrowed from blogTO.

The old monorail - image lovingly borrowed from blogTO.

 Touching Sting Rays - it's like petting puppies only slimier!

Touching Sting Rays - it's like petting puppies only slimier!

 Look at this cool lil family!

Look at this cool lil family!

It's become a tradition in my family to go to the zoo for father's day and have a nice family outing. Usually it ends up with me and my dad making each other laugh and lately includes my brother thinking we're idiots. It's brought us so much joy that I even decided to "adopt" a penguin for my dad so that, when we visited the next father's day, he could see his name on the board of zoo parents. It was a fun way to be able to support the zoo outside of attendance and help keep it going!

 Meet my sibling - African Penguin!

Meet my sibling - African Penguin!

Hot tip: If it's insane at the zoo when you are there, sneak down to the Canada area. It's down a HUGE hill so no one goes there, and sometimes you can catch the grizzly bears trying to court each other! 

Hot tip #2: If you go see the Capybaras, there are also parrots in there that talk. They will say hi to you, and you will laugh and no one will believe you but you will know that they said hi to you, right Michelle?

 Oh these little guys are just the best! Always playing! 

Oh these little guys are just the best! Always playing! 

Hot tip #3: Get the zoomobile pass because you will get tired, or it will get hot, and everyone needs to hear cheesy animal puns. Plus it's always neat to get a guided tour!

Hot tip #4: Pigmy hippo (clearly one of my favourite things!)

 I'm touching it's butt! Tee hee!

I'm touching it's butt! Tee hee!

Have a favourite memory from the zoo? Do you remember the red pandas too, or when you could walk through kangaroos? Leave me a comment!

Neighbourhood Watch Signs, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

Street signs are boring. Usually the only time they are of interest is when someone posts "Hammer Time" on a Stop sign. That was until "Andrew Lamb" came along.

 Parkside Drive, south of Howard Park

Parkside Drive, south of Howard Park

If you've walked around downtown neighbourhoods, you've likely seen similar signs - "Andrew" (not his real name) has been going around the city pasting retro heroes on faded Neighbourhood Watch signs. I get to pass by these on a fairly regular basis and rarely a day goes by that I don't look up and smile. Batman protects my street, while the Hardy Boys make sure I get to the streetcar stop safely. Sailor Moon and her Sailor Scouts are always looking after Brock Street, and I bike by Adventures in Babysitting when the weather is nice.

The CBC did a story on the signs back in June but we get to enjoy them all year round. 

Does your street have its own Neighbourhood Watch hero on it? Which one is your favourite? Please comment and let me know! 

Toronto Islands, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

Even when you love a place, sometimes you just need a change of pace and scenery. You need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and hide by the water, surrounded by trees and frisbee-golfers. Toronto is very lucky in that we have the unique ability to feel far away by simply taking a ferry for 20 minutes to the Toronto Islands.

When you go to High School in the big city, there isn't a lot of opportunity to disappear. Friends who grew up in the country tell stories of bonfires, and barn parties, and hiding out in the woods doing drugs. We had the Toronto Islands. With all the small, connected islands, there was always opportunity for us to disappear and hang out as a group, or go swimming in fountains, or play tag in the maze, or get caught streaking by a group of boy scouts and become a mini-legend among Toronto boy scouts for at least a few years (I wish I was joking about this).

As an adult, the islands still hold a huge amount of charm. Whether it's walking through the housing community on Ward's Island, getting naked (to your level of comfort) on Hanlan's Point Nude Beach (there are many non-nude beaches too and the water is swimmable on the far-side of the Island), or going on the Log Flume or Haunted Barrel Works in Centerville. The Island is a romantic getaway for a date, a family fun centre of activity, a beautiful place to watch fireworks, and just a lovely boat ride. 

For artists in the city, be sure to check out Artscape Gibraltar Point and their residencies - because who doesn't want to live on the Island for a bit to help inspire creativity. The centre is in the old Toronto Island School - where Toronto school kids would get shipped to the Island for a week to learn about nature, hear creepy ghost stories about the lighthouse (don't step on the thirteenth step!), and play predator-and-prey. Going back there for musical festivals always brought a twinge of nostalgia for me.
 

The city-scape from the Island can't be beat - watching the sun set from the beach on Hanlan's Point is one of the most beautiful things you can see in the city. You can also take your bike over on the ferry to be able to get the most out of your trip. 

Another favourite on the Island is the Far Away Farm in Centerville - it's free to the public and has a lot of different animals! There have been a lot of discussions about closing down the farm (which would be devastating to me) so make sure to enjoy it while you can!

Hot tip: Always bring your own food unless you really dig chicken fingers and pizza (PizzaPizza has a few kiosks on the island), or you want to pay a lot of money for a sandwich at the dining spots on Ward's Island. The Island has a million places to have a nice picnic! 

Hot top #2: Don't go during the festivals unless you have no choice, or are willing to spend some extra money on a water taxi - you don't get to enjoy the same charm of the place, and you'll have to wait hours to get there.


Do you have any favourite memories of the Toronto Islands? 

High Park, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

I grew up in the east end of the city, but my grandparents lived on Sunnyside Avenue (Roncesvalles area). We would visit quite a bit but my favourite would be going to High Park. My Aunt and I would read plays on the picnic benches, my high school friends and I filmed a weird version of Alice in Wonderland on some of the more secluded paths, I would fool around with boyfriends tucked away from view among the trees, or throw impromptu Warriors-themed birthday parties on the stage in the middle of the park.

High Park's beauty isn't just in its nature-hidden-in-the-city, but also in it's variety. Some of the amazing gems hidden among the paths:

  • A small zoo - my dad likes to tell me the story about when the Buffalo escaped and ran down the streets of the neighbourhood looking for their freedom! 
  • A historic museum, Colborne Lodge, depicting Victorian life as well as hosting numerous events and workshops (I did a wreath-making workshop once with some friends and it was delightful!) 
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  • An allotment garden where Toronto residents can rent a plot and plant to their heart's content.
  • The best dang off-leash dog area in the city -  if you ever need a cheer-up, just go to Doggy Hill
  • PWYC Shakespeare productions during Shakespeare in High Park put on by Canadian Stage
  • The coolest community-built adventure playground (after arson destroyed not one but two other playgrounds in the same spot, Mike Holmes lent a hand and funds to help create the current version of the Jamie Bell Playground)
  • A beautiful Japanese water garden in the heart of the park.
  • The stunning cherry blossoms (this will warrant it's own post at some point in the future, including the cool story of falling in love with my partner!)
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Those are just SOME of the things in this park. I am so enamoured with the park that I moved literally two doors down from one of the gates to the park so I could enjoy it as much as possible. 

If you've been, you've probably got numerous of your own stories and areas of the park that you love. If not, each season has its own magic in the park so make sure you check it out. 

What do you love about High Park? Any fun stories? What other places in Toronto do you love?