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A Long Weekend in Toronto

Beautiful Constructivism in Toronto

Mix together equal parts East Germany and the United States, and you might arrive at something that resembles Canada. The main reason I keep crossing the border is that Canada reminds me of back home. Many Canadians share the pale colors and fine hair of Nordic people. Canadians also get really excited about winter sports, hunting, spending time at black-fly infested cabins, and other perverse but familiar leisure activities.

Just like home, Canada is semi-empty; the weather can be pretty forbidding, and there are stark seasonal extremes in lightness and darkness. Even the drab concrete buildings in Canada look much more like Northern Europe than anything you will find in the US. Canadians and Nordic people love to tell anecdotes about their malfunctioning safety network, yet people still tolerate high tax rates and vaguely believe in ideals like universal health coverage and social democracy.

Little Portugal

Perhaps my sample is biased but all the Canadians I”?ve ever come across have been well-spoken, witty, and deliciously understated in a way that is hard to find south of the border. It”?s very difficult not to be touched by how friendly everyone is “? visiting there, I always feel like a long-lost relative. I”?ve also been very impressed by the progressive immigration policy and the resulting exuberant ethnic mix. We happened to be in Vancouver for the Canada Day last summer, observing friendly throngs from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds painting red maple leaves on each others cheeks in the light drizzle of rain. In fact, most Canadians I know are either first or second generation immigrants.

Because of all this, I found myself in Toronto for the third time in slightly more than a year. In Canada, fusion food is not just a gimmicky restaurant concept: on an earlier trip to Ottawa, my husband”?s elderly relatives laid out a memorable family meal that involved sushi, hernekeitto, and hummus on ruisleip?. This time our Finnish friends welcomed us with a supper of Thai food, supplemented by Greek bread, olives, tzatziki, and Finnish chocolates: cultural mosaic in practice. The only question nobody could answer was what typical Canadian food is like “? surely people there don”?t solely subsist on poutine and beavertails alone.


On my last visit to Toronto last fall, I was stuck in my hotel room, frantically trying to meet work deadlines: the only respite was when my Dutch colleague (who used to supplement his student income by piloting yachts on the Caribbean and Mediterranean) managed to persuade us to rent a sailboat and spend a marvellous, unforgettable September Sunday on Lake Ontario.

This time, I had the leisure to stroll through the ethnic neighborhoods of Toronto, enjoying bubble tea and Korean barbeque. We loved Danforth Avenue, its Greek bakeries and well-stocked kitchen stores. A bit later, we watched people hoard fresh blue crabs in the Chinatown section of East Gerrard street, tried to decipher Vietnamese signs, and took in the pungent smells of a Chinese pharmacies. Regretting that we could not have lunch at a dozen different places, including a Cambodian restaurant, we finally settled for a delicious Portuguese meal of octopus, bacalhau, and gorgeous crusty bread. We then celebrated the end of rain with a cup of espresso at the sidewalk terrace of Caffe Diplomatico. Finally, we picked up an Easter Colomba for the next morning’s breakfast.

Entry-level Korean BBQ on W Queen - nice ambience, passable food

It love to explore the ethnic neighborhoods of any city I happen to visit, but hardly ever will I come across one where my own heritage is represented. I’ve heard about the Finnish settlements of Thunder Bay and Sudbury in Canada, but have never visited those places. However, last summer we were pleasantly surprised by tiny Astoria in Oregon. Closer to home, Little Finland in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, has nearly lost its Finnish flavor over time. Toronto, on the other hand, still teems with Finns – there is a Finnish grocery store, bakery, retirement home, and church. Over the weekend, I learned to know the Finnish immigrant community a bit better: the Finnish-Canadian ladies at the Agricola Lutheran church prepared homemade lihasoppaa, pullaa, karjalanpiirakoita, m?mmi? to follow the Palm Sunday service”? I was in Finnish food heaven.

W Queen St

(Olisi ihanaa jos jossakin t??ll? l?hell? olisi kaupunginosa josta voisi joskus k?yd? ostamassa tuoretta pullaa, vastaleivottua ruisleip??, HK:n lenkki? ja maksamakkaraa, karjalanpiirakoita, ruishiutaleita, Fazerin sinist?, ja viikon naistenlehdet – k?yn aika tiuhaan Suomessa ja meill? k?y jatkuvasti vieraita kotimaasta, joten kaikkea tuota periaatteessa saa, mutta se ei est? minua hetkellisesti kaipaamasta paria korttelia vaiteliaitten haaleasilm?isten ja pystynen?isten tuulipukuihin, k?velysauvoihin ja salihousuihin sonnustautuneiden ihmisten ihan omaa kaupunginosaa. Torontossa itse asiassa n?inkin supermarketin kassalla naisen jolla oli vaaleat hiukset ja kirkkaansininen Suomi-pipo.)

Before leaving for the airport, I picked up some wickedly delicious fudge from Quebec and some sauvignon blanc from British Columbia. I wish I could have stayed longer, to explore wineries in Ontario and to catch Canada’s Worst Handyman on TV (I’m still heartbroken because I missed Canada’s Worst Driver last year).

Canada's Worst Handyman

6 Responses to “A Long Weekend in Toronto”  

  1. Ivonne

    Oh, Anna!

    I did miss you! I’m so upset … I hope the next time that you come when we can get together!

    Cafe Diplomatico is actually just around the corner from what was, up until about two years ago, my grandmother’s house. For almost 45 years it was the centre of my family’s universe and we had many many espressos and Cafe Diplomatico!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip. The Danforth is definitely a treasure … and as a Canadian I’m proud that we have made such a good impression.

  2. MM

    Wicked fudge … ooohhhh … sorry, I got stuck there for a while. Never been to Canada but if I ever went, I want them fudge!

    Speaking of Worst Handyman, I met the Singaporean version. My uncle’s best friend has his own contruction company (I keep wondering how) and he did the renovation of my uncle’s house. I was sitting in the kitchen with my aunt and heard a loud crash fro mthe bathroom. He’d stood on the loo to fix up the bathroom cabinets – and broke it the look right down the middle. He probably had 50 lbs on his Canadian counterpart above.

    Two days later, I am at the house again. Again the crash. This time he’d perched his almost 200 lb bulk on the delicate antique porcelain sink in another bathroom to put up the mirror. And broke it.

    I really do not know why my uncle is still on talking terms with him. I had to hold back my 5 ft 0 and 98 lb aunt from killing him! Yes, she’s the one related to me by blood. Yes, the women in my family are scary and have a temper. LOL.

  3. Alanna

    Hi Anna – Toronto is also home to The Finnish Place, way up Yonge Street across the 405. I always come home stocked with Finnish mustard, sugar, and some times there’ll be Karelian pirakka. Plus there’s jewelry and iitala glass and Hakeman pots (do you know El-Rod???) and last summer my friend Hilary (who also lived in Finland) and I had more fun trying on clothes too, a few Marimekko pieces but others too. We both came home feeling very Finn-ed! Alu

  4. Anna

    Hi Ivonne, next time we’ll meet up and I’ll definitely want to taste what you learned in pastry school! I loved the Little Italy / Portugal area, and so did my friends…

    MM, are you sure your uncle’s little helper isn’t really Finland’s Worst Handyman – the guy who dropped a toilet partially through the floor to the apartment of the downstairs neighbor (don’t ask) while renovating an elderly relative’s home in Helsinki? OK, it’s a well-known fact that homes are hazardous places, but being injured in a freak accident involving an airborne plumbing fixture?

    Alu, thanks for the great tip: the Finnish Place even has a website – yet more reasons to return to Toronto…

  5. Jennifer

    Hi there – I happened upon your blog looking for a link to one of the Finnish stores in Toronto. My husband is a Fin and I have developped a fondness and interest in his culture. I am an oddling in Canada – 5th generation Canadian on my dad’s side and at least that on my mom’s side. I just wanted to let you know that there is more then one Finnish church in Toronto (the one you mentioned as well as the Finnish Pennecostal Church on Bayview Ave). There is a lovely Finnish Bakery in Sudbury – and a whole lot of Finnish people in Chapleau Ontario which is 3 hours north of Sudbury (the landscape and climate is very similar to Finland up there!)

    Happy Travels.

  6. Anna

    Hi Jennifer
    Thanks for visiting. I’m currently in Finland, but can’t wait to get back to Canada (next year, most likely). I haven’t been to Sudbury, but did visit an amazing lakeside cottage about one hour north of Toronto – evan that place very Finnish, lots of trees and lakes.


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