Comstock: My Bucket trip

By Michael Comstock – 

2.1002288.comstockI want to show people my travel photos from this summer. It was the best trip ever; the trip of a lifetime, my wife and I say. But she also says most people don’t want to see all of your travel photos any more than you want to sit down for an hour and look at theirs.Two things worth sharing about this summer’s vacation: Our trip was a “life fulfilment purchase” like a Bucket List item, and out of eight cities we visited, all have something to teach Toronto about tourism and being a comfortable city.

First is the Bucket List, things to do before you kick the bucket—become deceased—pass on. I recommend the Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson film of that name. They had a list, most people just have a craving to see something, go someplace they have always wanted to be, or buy something really big and fun. Buying something big could be a cruise, a Harley-Davidson, an R-V or a new Downtown condo. These purchases don’t have to be practical or sensible. When you gain the perspective of age, the fulfilment of these long-held goals has a window of opportunity; a best before date. This perplexes economists during our current financial bust, with bus-size RVs continuing to sell in the face of financing and fuel challenges.

Now about tourism: There are smaller recreational vehicles in Europe where gasoline is about $4 per litre. And smaller gas stations. The biggest difference in downtown land use is their gas stations. Just a space for gas pumps and a bit of a pullover lane, maybe 500 sq. ft., is all the space needed. The space we give to automobiles is in general just too large. The European example is to share that space with bike lanes and trains, for a more diverse transportation system. There are plenty of cars, just half the size, space and speed.

We did ride the big double-decker tour busses in several cities. We have two companies here in our Downtown, offering the same type of hop on, hop off service. When you are entertaining out-of-town visitors, I would recommend putting them on the tour bus for a narrated drive though our city. It is a great orientation and hopping on and off allows you to experience the different neighbourhoods. Wouldn’t it be civilized if the TTC transfer allowed you to hop off hop and back on as you travelled?

I returned to Toronto just in time to hear toy-train master Adam Gaimbrone’s newest diversionary tale. The success of the Metro Pass, which only has value for daily commuters, has created a loss! Now that just proves that the wrong people are running the transit business. The TTC fails in price, value, quality, cleanliness and civic pride when compared to most other major cities. There are public toilets all over Europe that are cleaner than the TTC stations.

When you are a visitor and don’t speak the language, dropping into a restaurant to use their toilets can be awkward. We don’t have even one public toilet any more. Of course, the real poop is that Toronto doesn’t even have a Visitor Centre. Doesn’t that seem like a significant oversight in the tourism plan?

I will save the tourist maps and guides I collected for a few months. They remind me of how Toronto can improve tourism. It is a very important economic driver of small business and supplies a huge number of jobs. And, there is also the pride in your city. Who is working on that anyway?

We have saved little of our history, accepting a few historic homes, Fort York and the St. Lawrence Market. The federal government has funded Old Montreal over $590 million, but zip for Toronto preservation. We probably will never have a Museum of the City of Toronto, cheap TTC or a popular city motto, but you can learn and love our history at St. Lawrence Hall the evening of Nov. 6 and 7. Here is a treat for townie or tourist:

The Old Town Toronto Alliance is producing a play to re-introduce the meaning and characters of the War of 1812. This quintessential battle between the Revolutionary Americans and British Loyalists created our Canada of today. You may remember schoolbook tales of General Brock or the great Tecumseh, and that Laura Secord is not just a public school or box of chocolates.

Old Town is staging a theatre presentation with style banquet seating, where you will be attending the Victory Party and hear from the heroes of the War of 1812. Heritage recipe bread will be baked for the audience and served along with local cheese and fruit. Ontario wine will be available. Music and theatre in the 1850s gas-lit Great Hall for only $25 a ticket!  This is the first year for the show, which will be an annual fete building to the 2012 anniversary of the War of 1812.