Toronto, I Love You Blog

Bad Dog Theatre, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

Today is the last blog post, as it is also the last show of Toronto, I Love You. Now, I'm hoping you didn't read this title and immediately write-off this blog post as being self-serving on behalf of Bad Dog. Yes, I am writing this blog on the Bad Dog website. Yes, I do a lot of work for Bad Dog. Do you know why I do so much for Bad Dog? Because it is my absolute favourite place in Toronto, and if you will permit, I would like to tell you why. 

In 2012, I had just started taking improv classes for the first time. I knew next to nothing about it and was just starting my clap-focuses. I had been going to wheel of improv at Comedy Bar after class and a class-mate had noticed there was a new show called Throne of Games by some company called Bad Dog. My Thursday post may have given you some insight,  but I am a huge nerd and I love Game of Thrones so I was very curious. 

The night came and we rounded up some class-mates and took our seats. The lights went down and suddenly, from the back of the theatre, a lone male voice (Kris Siddiqi) started singing the theme "bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum" and started walking towards the stage with a GIANT sword, followed by the rest of the cast chanting an improvised, lyriced version of the theme song - "Some shit's about to go down in Westeros ...". My whole body was COVERED in goose bumps and for the next 50 minutes I was completely awe-struck. I had no idea improv could be like this. 

Oh, little Steph - you had no idea what lay ahead of you when this photo was taken!

Oh, little Steph - you had no idea what lay ahead of you when this photo was taken!

It was one of the first times I got to see my teachers perform too. Paloma Nunez (in the GLORIOUS blonde wig) was my first improv teacher ever, and it was so neat to see some of the things she taught me being applied on stage! It was also when I developed my first improv crush - Sarah Hillier. Watching Sarah play Arya Stark is still one of my favourite improv performances of all times. I don't even remember what she did specifically, I just remember that every single time she stepped on the stage I became excited because I knew I was going to just lose my shit. I also will never forget Alice Moran doing the most amazing medieval style retelling of Baby Got Back. 

Alice Moran as Sansa, Sarah Hillier as Arya, and Kris Siddiqi as Ned ... poor poor Ned.

Alice Moran as Sansa, Sarah Hillier as Arya, and Kris Siddiqi as Ned ... poor poor Ned.

As this show was wrapping up (which was DEVASTATING), D&D Live started (which was also SO GREAT) and Bad Dog was about to launch their first Epic Narrative Studio Series class - a class designed to help students learn to tell long stories on stage, like Throne and D&D. If I could do even a tiny bit of what was being done on that stage, I wanted in. So began my time with the Bad Dog Academy. 

My first Bad Dog teacher was Rob Norman, teaching us how to do a quest. Then Colin Munch teaching us how to theatricalize (not a word) and enhance our improv. Then Etan Muskat and James Gangl for beatprov. Then Jess Bryson to help us pull it all together. WHAT A FREAKING AMAZING ROSTER OF TEACHERS. To this day, they are all performers I respect so much and love watching on stage as masters of their craft. I was learning from these people then watching them reinforce what they were telling me, night after night.

Quentin made these amazing cards for our grad show from NSS! 

Quentin made these amazing cards for our grad show from NSS! 

When I started the program, I was in a very bad personal place and was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage but having something to focus on and care about and be passionate about literally changed my life. I basically moved into Comedy Bar around October/November and never looked back. 

Early in 2013 I approached Julie (then Dumais,  now Osborne) trying to see how I could help out. I'd been getting so much joy out of Bad Dog and wanted to be more involved. Julie is an amazing supporter of improv, and of anyone wanting to get more involved, She tries so hard to match people up with things they would be passionate about and also be able to help with. I knew nothing about the company and she suggested, based on my love of nerdery, that I hook up with Etan Muskat and Alice Moran (who had produced Throne of Games!) to assist in producing Bad Dog's new Star Trek show, Final Frontier. Now, despite my love of nerdy stuff and coming from a family of Trekkies, I didn't know much about Star Trek but I wasn't going to let that stop me! I met with Etan and Alice over coffee and the show was being born! As we got closer to the date, Alice got an amazing show and was travelling and so was doing a lot of producing remotely, which meant I had to really step up. I WAS SO SCARED OF SCREWING UP, but no one would let me. Julie and Alice and Etan patiently replied to my frantic emails, and helped guide me towards opening night. Right before our first show, I took an afternoon off work to attend the last rehearsal with Etan, Jess, Liz Johnston, Alastair Forbes, and Craig Anderson (I still pinch myself that I got to be involved with this ridiculously talented cast) and someone suggested we have the voice of the ship as part of the show. In a weirdo moment of bravery, I offered and suddenly I went from being behind the scenes producer to also being on-stage. Now, I was still an absolute improv baby. Bless Etan for believing in me enough to let me on the stage, because for the entire first run of the show I spent so much time just trying not to barf or screw up or die.

Our very first show - you can't tell but I'm almost having a panic attack here!

Our very first show - you can't tell but I'm almost having a panic attack here!

Also around the time of Final Frontier kicking off, I met this neat improviser while hanging out at Bad Dog/Comedy Bar named Sean Tabares. He had been in the remount of Throne of Games, was in the Bad Dog Repertory Players, and was in the newest season of D&D Live. One night at Baltic Avenue we got to talking after one of his D&D shows about improv and its relation to different D&D classes (NEEERRRRDDDSSSSSS). We kept talking and developed a friendship and eventually decided to start dating each other (that in itself is a funny story and also partly a car2go campaign). He also appeared in an episode of Final Frontier (my best friend first met him while he was wearing a sparkly shirt and nylons on his legs and head). If it weren't for Bad Dog, we probably never would have started talking and wouldn't be living together about two years later!

The Video Game Show - with our special finale guest David Hayter!

The Video Game Show - with our special finale guest David Hayter!

Student welcome night featuring the official snack of Bad Dog - chips!

Student welcome night featuring the official snack of Bad Dog - chips!

This is where things kind of become this amazing blur of improv shows and joining the Bad Dog softball team and falling in love and living at Comedy Bar and making all these incredible friends. Final Frontier was a success and we completed our run and I was off to my next project, and then the next project, and next thing I knew I was producing a bunch of shows as well as the Bad Dog Academy Tuesdays, Bad Dog's student night!  Bad Dog also started their resident house team for their Micetro show - The Rat Pack. I wanted nothing more than to be part of this group. I longed to be able to step up not just on the back end, but on the stage two. Gavin Williams and Julie decided to give this lil' ol' weirdo a chance and put me in! Now I was performing regularly under the Bad Dog flag!

Look at this handsome group! 

Look at this handsome group! 

Bad Dog Softball Team, I could write a whole post just about how much I love you.

Bad Dog Softball Team, I could write a whole post just about how much I love you.

I felt like I belonged somewhere and I was doing what a year before I didn't even know I wanted to do. The entire community was so open and welcoming and allowed me the amazing pleasure of being taught by them, performing with them, hanging out with them, and becoming one of them! I met some of my closest friends during this time too, including many people I would partner with in future performances! I continued to perform and produce with the company, Final Frontier came back for another run and then in the summer of 2014 the BEST THING HAPPENED. Bad Dog was getting it's own theatre!!!!!!!! Things got INSANE at the theatre and I don't know if you are aware but Bad Dog runs on a part-time/volunteer basis so you can just imagine how stressful it was leading up to the move, though anyone not in the throws of it would never have known! The theatre opened, Launch Week was a HUGE success, and the Bad Dog Comedy Theatre was officially open to the public. 

Since then, the company has been trying to get the word out about its new home, and it's working. Shows are selling out, an awesome online campaign helped fund a soon-to-arrive new sign to help people find us, and it really feels like a cozy little home.

Liz Johnston and Julie Osborne

Liz Johnston and Julie Osborne

Lisa Amerongen and Jess Bryson

Lisa Amerongen and Jess Bryson

Now, look at the two photos above. Everything you see at Bad Dog, everything you read about Bad Dog, every class you have taken and every thing you know about the company as it stands right now is directly because of one, or two, or three, or all of them. I don't say this to downplay the work of previous Artistic Directors and performers and staff, but I say it because I think everyone should know.

I am constantly in awe of the hard work, the passion, the vision, the drive, and the love these incredible women share with the company, the academy, the performers, and the volunteers. I am continually proud to be associated with this company and with these women and the beautiful thing they created and work tirelessly on. They took this little company that didn't have it's own home, this little Academy that started off as 3 foundation classes, this group of incredible performers, and they turned it into a company with it's own theatre, a booming Academy that can boast 5 full adult studio programs, 3 foundational classes, a youth program, a new French program, and ongoing studio presents workshops, a solid group of world-class improvisers, tons of sold out houses, critically acclaimed Fringe shows, and a name that is recognized around the world for it's top-notch unscripted comedy. Julie was even selected as one of the heroes of 2014 for all the incredible work she's done for this community.

The astounding shows put on my this company have raised the bar for me of what improv can and should be. It doesn't need to be all blow lines and audience-winks (though that can be super fun too). It can become this beautiful, intricate, magical art form that can make you laugh and cry and ultimately can have you leaving the theatre feeling changed. That is what Bad Dog does to me (100% honestly - if you were at Toronto, I Love You on Wednesday you could have seen me straight up cry during the show!)

Liz Johnston, Jess Bryson, Lisa Amerongen, and Julie Osborne - thank you for making Bad Dog Theatre Company and Bad Dog Comedy Theatre into this incredible place that is honestly my absolute favourite thing in Toronto. 

Thank you so much everyone for reading this blog. I had so much fun writing it and sharing my love of the city with you! Feel free to reach out to me on twitter and lets keep talking about all the awesome things Toronto has to offer! I hope to see you all at the theatre soon! <3

I just really wanted to use this photo because I love it so much! Hi Jorge Mijangos!

I just really wanted to use this photo because I love it so much! Hi Jorge Mijangos!

Toronto's Nerd Communities, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

This is going to come as a huge surprise based on how cool I probably come across (hahahahaha) but I am, and always have been, a huge nerd. I also am, and always will be, not shy about showing my excitement and obsession for things. I have been blessed to be surrounded by the type of people who have always supported me and my passions, something I know can often be missing for a lot of people who grew up nerdy. I went to computer camp, I appeared on Video and Arcade Top 10, I cosplayed, I had internet friends from a Sailor Moon chat room and yet I don't remember ever being made to feel bad about it. I've always been lucky to have had mostly positive associations with being a nerd! 

My first exposure to a Toronto nerd community was probably CN Anime 2000. I had mentioned in a previous post that I used to be really into anime and Japanede culture. My friend Carly and I decided we wanted to try cosplaying as one of our favourite anime characters, Lime from Saber Marionette J (both of us wanted to be Lime so both of us were Lime). Carly has always been awesome at making costumes and has only gotten better over the years. We donned our costumes and within just a few minutes of being at the con we started talking to like-minded people who loved the same things we did. Everyone was in their element, taking tons of photos and eager to talk and share the things they were passionate about. 

Lime and Otaru and those freaking stupid moose!

Lime and Otaru and those freaking stupid moose!

Oh god I hate Evangelion - look at this little baby!

Oh god I hate Evangelion - look at this little baby!

Wouldn't you know it, we became HOOKED. We started planning our costumes for Anime North, 2001. We convinced our chat room friends to come and the anime convention community welcomed them too! We started to make friends with other cosplay groups and even worked on group costumes together. Carly and I continued to do our own cosplays as well and also recruited our chat room friends into the fold! We spoke on panels and won several awards. At this point I finally started contributing with skits for our masquerade performances, such as this award winning one! We had a good three year run with some amazing photos and memories but, like all good things, this time came to an end.

Merry and Pippin take on an orc!

Merry and Pippin take on an orc!

Who doesn't do a big group line dance in the lobby of the MTCC?

Who doesn't do a big group line dance in the lobby of the MTCC?

Final Fantasy 9!

Final Fantasy 9!

Tenshi ni Narumon!

Tenshi ni Narumon!

After our cosplay run ended, I spent a few years out of the community and focusing on other things. I didn't really have a community of any kind and just floated around doing my own things.

Fast forward to probably the late 2000's when I started getting back in touch with my nerdier side. I started watching more shows about video games, and nerd culture was coming into its own. Comic conventions were cool all of a sudden, and celebrities I loved started going to them, but I still wasn't engaged in the community of it - I was just a background observer. 

Fast forward again to the last couple of years. I ended a long term relationship and was trying to find where I fit. I started taking improv classes and started going out a lot more. One of the events I ended up going to was a Geek Trivia night at the Tranzac. Carly and I went with my friends Nug and Richard and it was so much fun to finally put years of random facts into play at something. Later I started producing shows with Bad Dog that were focused on things like Star Trek and Video Games so I tried to find out where I could engage with fans of those things. Bad Dog was sharing a booth with Illusionoid at Fan Expo, so I volunteered to work the booth and started to get that old convention excitement! I discovered things like Nerd Mafia Pub Night and started meeting a bunch of people who were all into the same things as I was and they were as eager to share their passion and love as I was to hear about it!

Fan Expo!

Fan Expo!

Fan Fiction where I got to meet the REAL TUXEDO MASK OMIGOD.

Fan Fiction where I got to meet the REAL TUXEDO MASK OMIGOD.

The Green Onions totally won all the cool swag!

The Green Onions totally won all the cool swag!

It's SOLID SNAKE/Tamahome/David Hayter

It's SOLID SNAKE/Tamahome/David Hayter

Starting to perform comedy has also been an amazing opportunity to tap into the nerd culture in the city. Shows like Fan Fiction and Bad Dog's Final Frontier/The Video Game/D&D Live shows were designed to create a space for us to laugh with nerd culture as opposed to laughing AT it, and made another place where fans could get together and celebrate the things they love! 

There are also a lot of neat people who really stand out in this community for me that I want to shout out to. One of them is actor/improviser/all around cool dude Nug Nahrgang. Nug has had this amazing life so far that is driven by his passion for nerdy things! He's one of the creators of the Sci-Fi podcast Illusionoid, he was in Evil Dead the Musical (and is currently in rehearsals for Cannibal the Musical!), and I am lucky to count him as a friend! Any time I find out about anything cool and nerdy, Nug knows about it already! Nug doesn't just consume content, he creates it which is so damn cool!

Nug!

Nug!

Sam Maggs!

Sam Maggs!

Another person that I want to specifically point out is Sam Maggs. Sam is this incredible lady who has her hands in so many different parts of the community. She's a writer who recently published her own book, The Fan Girl's Guide to the Galaxy, she appears in the Cineplex pre-show, is on 102.1 the Edge talking about nerd culture and basically is every single place I look. Now it could be easy to be hella jealous of this lady because she is basically living my dream life, but she's so likeable that it's impossible! We've never met but based on the many twitter exchanges about Dragon Age, I'm pretty sure we'd get along famously! 

One of the amazing things about living in Toronto right now is that if there is something you are passionate about, there is probably a group in the city who is also into it and will welcome you! Toronto has a reputation of being cold, but I've felt nothing but warmth from these communities and there is a fun, nerdy activity happening almost every night of the week! Places are opening up constantly, like the new archery tag place, numerous escape rooms, board game cafes, and the like. Sites like BlogTO and Geekpr0n are a good resource to find out about them, and if you do a search for your nerdy thing + Toronto, you are bound to find something! 

What are you nerdy about? Know any great groups that deserve a shout out? 

Toronto Ghosts, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

I touched on this topic very briefly in my Black Creek Pioneer Village post. I find the idea of ghosts super fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Sometimes I have felt weird energies being in places that I can't explain and then later find out some bad things have happened in those places (ask me about the house I lived in on Rolyat sometime over a drink). I learned a lot about ghosts and the paranormal from my mom, who shares the same fascination (we've often talked about hauntings and ghosts and she is way braver about it than me because I am a scaredy cat!) No matter my end feelings about ghosts, I can't stop reading about them, or hearing about them. 

Toronto has a lot of famous ghosts and a lot of people who want to tell you about them! I've done a few ghost tours (one was through the Tour Guys for Halloween and the other was a free ghost tour of Queen's Park over lunch hours during October). Both were wonderful and informative and scary and made me think about my favourite Toronto ghosts! Here is some music to set the mood as you read about some of Toronto's most famous ghosts!

University of Toronto

This ghost story starts with Ivan Reznikoff and Paul Diablos, two stone masons helping to construct buildings at the U of T campus. These two  fell madly in love with the same woman (tale as old as tiiiiiiime). While both were (unknowingly) romancing the woman, Diablos convinced the her to elope with him and when Reznikoff discovered their secret and their affair, he confronted Diablos, chasing him through University College with an axe (you can still see the axe mark on one of the doors!). There are two versions of the story from this point: in one, Reznikoff swings, misses, and plummets to his death and in the other Diablos stabs him to death.  In both cases, Diablos buried the body in the building to avoid blame. Human remains were discovered after the fire of 1890 and since then, ghostly apparitions, as well as poltergeist activity have been observed at University College.

The Keg Mansion (aka Massey mansion)

image lovingly borrowed from wikipedia

image lovingly borrowed from wikipedia

Everyone who grew up in Toronto probably knows someone who has worked at this place and has seen this ghost, or heard about this ghost, or felt this ghost, or was this ghost (there are so many stories I wouldn't be surprised if this was one). I first learned about the hauntings in grade 3 from a classmate who's cousin worked at the Keg Mansion and said she experienced some of the spooks first-hand.

Before it was known as the Keg Mansion (because it houses a Keg franchise) it was owned by the Massey family (yes, that one). Lillian was the only daughter of Hart Massey and was by far the most beloved family member who lives there. Her health declined over the course of many years (since the death of her husband in 1910) and she passed in 1915. One of the maids of the house was so distraught over the loss of Lillian (or because she may have had a secret affair with one of the Massey men and feared this death would somehow reveal her secret) that she took her own life upon learning of her death. She hung herself over the oval vestibule by the main staircase and visitors have often seen a figure hanging in this very same spot!

image lovingly borrowed from whyihearttoronto.tumblr.com and frighteningly looked at by me.

image lovingly borrowed from whyihearttoronto.tumblr.com and frighteningly looked at by me.

Some of the other ghosts of the mansion include phantom footsteps of children from the second floor, a ghostly boy looking down from the main staircase at diners, and the presence in the women's washroom. I had a birthday dinner here one year and for sure I was TERRIFIED to go to the bathroom. I didn't see a ghost but I sure as heck didn't spend a lot of time hanging out there on the off chance that some freaky angry spirit was gonna mess my shit up. People have reported locks opening on stall doors, bags being lowered down by phantom hands, and a general sense of being watched while in there. 

Mackenzie House

image was found on buzzbuzzhome.com because I can't take such a nice picture!

image was found on buzzbuzzhome.com because I can't take such a nice picture!

I've already written about the rebel mayor Mackenzie so it should be no surprise that his house contains as much unrest after his life as it did during his life!  I've done a couple of tours of this house and it's hella creeps. A lot of places try to play down their ghost stories out of fear that it might drive people out but not Mackenzie House - they are proud of their creepers. It has been reported as the most haunted house in Toronto, and possibly even Canada. While Mackenzie only lived here for a couple years, this is where he passed away (in his bedroom on the second floor). Since then, people have seen a small, bald man in a wig and frock (who looks an awful lot like the former mayor) around the home, as well as a woman with long hair (who looks like Mackenzie's wife) on the upper two floors of the house. The printing press in the basement has been known to start up on its own (despite being locked and unattended), footsteps are often heard throughout the house, and a piano can be heard playing after the house has been closed and no one is left in the house! Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it's a great place to visit though make sure to bring a camera to see if you can capture any orbs in your photos!

I could tell you about so many more haunted places and so many other ghosts but there are so many people who will tell it better! 
Torontoghosts.org provides a printable map for a DIY walking tour of downtown, as well as links to numerous accounts from around the city on their website. A quick google search of Toronto Ghosts will keep you busy for many hours on end!

Whether you believe or not, there's no denying that Toronto has some great ghost stories!

Did I miss an obvious one? Tweet at me @stephanie_malek and let's talk! I love talking about Toronto!

Also, Toronto, I Love You returns TODAY for 5 more shows! It's selling out like crazy so don't miss out and buy your tickets in advance. I'll be there Friday night and Saturday at front of house so come say hello!

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&nbsp;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!&nbsp;

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!

pumpkins 1.jpg

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!&nbsp;

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!&nbsp;

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 Arcades, I Love You

by Stephanie Malek

Back when I was growing up in the city, Yonge Street was full of arcades. There were at least 3 or 4 arcades around Yonge and Dundas and I remember going with my dad and getting handfuls of quarters and playing video games that I never could have imagined having at home.

Even in High School, when my internet friends (yes, I had lots of internet friends in 1997) would come into town, we'd pour our money into Funland's DDR machine and see who could get the top score on Butterfly or Captain Jack (just listening to those tracks brought back SO MANY MEMORIES). 

Toronto of my youth (Yonge &amp; Dundas) - image lovingly borrowed from blogTO

Toronto of my youth (Yonge & Dundas) - image lovingly borrowed from blogTO

There was even a giant Playdium at Richmond and John, right by the Scotiabank theatre - that's how popular arcades were. 

As videogames became more home-based, the downtown arcades disappeared and those of us itching to play some classic games are left hoping for the random Street Fighter machine at a bar. 

For several years, Toronto was dry of good gaming places until people like me started owning places and having cars! Bars like Get Well now have a decent offering of games, and for those of us with cars, Dave & Busters is an arcade geek's paradise. 

My boyfriend and I were trying to plan a date one night and realized that we had never been to Dave & Busters. I'd been to the one in Niagara Falls and had a great time (I'm a gambler and winning tickets is an ADDICTION), so it seemed like a super fun date night. The first time we went, I got sick on weird random Russian candy, but we had our credits and a cool new addiction to Fruit Ninja so we returned a couple weeks later in mid-November.

Hot date with a cool dude!

As you can see, we're very serious about our Fruit Ninja (and apparently not so serious about learning how to record audio and video at the same time). We saved our tickets as Sean was really into the idea of us saving up and getting D&B hats to wear for future trips.

The holidays came and went and during the taint of the season (between Christmas and New Years), I was SO BORED. After querying Facebook, some friends decided to plan an impromptu outing BACK TO DAVE & BUSTERS! 

FIELD TRIP!!! Photo courtesy of Nug Nahrgang and taken by our really sweet server!

FIELD TRIP!!!
Photo courtesy of Nug Nahrgang and taken by our really sweet server!

Now, I for sure can't speak for everyone but this place was just as fun with a group! We each found games we wanted to play, and had a really decent meal with it! 

Yes, we now have matching hats which we will wear on our next D&amp;B date.

Yes, we now have matching hats which we will wear on our next D&B date.

Toronto also has a pretty neat indie game development community, which meets regularly and occasionally opens up its doors with a pop up arcade! No date set for 2015, but I was definitely kicking myself for not buying one of the limited tickets available for the 2014 date! 

Edit 01/26: I was reminded by my awesome, hat-matching boyfriend that there was also an amazing pop-up pinball exhibit not that long ago in First Canadian Place where we got to play so many old machines FOR FREE. Man, Toronto, you are so cool. 

Where do you like to play games? 

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!&nbsp;

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!

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?