Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (3)When Amy’s parents came over for a visit recently, we took the opportunity to do something relatively touristy and drove a few hours north to Midland and the historic sites of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons and the Martyr’s Shrine. Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was established in 1639 by French Jesuits, making it the first permanent European settlement in what is now Ontario. It would last about ten years before increasing warfare with the First Peoples forced its abandonment, and the retreating inhabitants burned it down rather than see it fall into enemy hands. The site was then forgotten about for a few hundred years, excavated in the mid-nineteenth- and mid-twentieth centuries, and reconstructed in the 1960s as a historical site and living museum.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons workshopSainte-Marie among the Hurons corn

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (1)

We rolled up in the late morning, having paused somewhere north of Toronto for the audaciously-named “World’s Best Butter Tarts” at a combination bakery/estate agent/souvenir store. The site was quite a lot larger than I’d pictured it, a grassy enclosure dotted with large buildings and exuding a air of general industriousness. Wandering around, we came across a settler (unsuccessfully) demonstrating how to make fire the local way with a fire bow, a smith using a wood-fired forge to make iron nails and a baker in a stupendously hot house finishing off some corn bread (wheat would have been paddled in from Québec, and hence would have been in very short supply). The whole enterprise spoke of self-sufficiency, community and hardship in what at the time would have been a near-wilderness.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons fire bowSainte-Marie among the Hurons blacksmith

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons frogSainte-Marie among the Hurons groundhog

Martyr's Shrine

The Martyr’s Shrine next door was constructed in 1926 to commemorate the Jesuits who died at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and enjoys spectacular views over Georgian Bay. The interior of the church is constructed to look like a birch-bark canoe, which, as the principal means of transport in the region, would have held immense significance to the settlers and native peoples alike. Statues of various saints, holy people and significant events in the life of Jesus are scattered around the grounds, including a representation of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American to be beatified in the Roman Catholic Church. We shared the site with hordes of tourists/pilgrims from all over the world; remarkable for a relatively small site.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (2)Georgian Bay from the Martyr's Shrine

CN reflectionOne advantage to living in the largest city in Canada (with a population of about 2.5 million, Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America, but doesn’t even make the top 100 worldwide) is that most bands coming to the country will stop here. Amy and I took advantage of this recently when we got to see They Might Be Giants at the Luminato Festival, a multi-disciplinary celebration of the arts. TMBG have been releasing music aimed at kids over the past few years, and they described this concert as an experiment in family-accessible shows (with a mixture of songs and the set list in alphabetical order). I was too busy enjoying things to concentrate on getting spectacular shots, but there is a comprehensive list on

TMBG at Luminato (1)TMBG at Luminato (2)

David Dunlap telescopeBy a remarkable coincidence, Amy and I had moved to a city with its very own open-to-the-public telescope: the David Dunlap Observatory. Most weekends while the weather isn’t too cold, the observatory opens its doors to the general public and allows them access to the 74-inch reflecting telescope, the largest in Canada and responsible in part for the first direct evidence of black holes. Amy and I queued up for a while, took a look at the Moon very close up and then went out onto the Observatory lawn to take a look at Jupiter and its moons through the local astronomers’ hobby scopes.

Tourist-3We also got the chance to test out my awesome birthday present from Amy – a hand-held 20×50 Soviet telescope in fetching party-approved colours. The stamp reads TУPИCT-3 (sometimes Romanised as TYPNCT-3), which translates to “Tourist-3”, and the manufacturer stamp indicates that it was made at the Lytkarino Optical Glass Factory (ЛЗОС/LZOS) just outside of Moscow. With a tripod (which I have, thanks to standardised thread sizes), it’s easily capable of resolving the nearer and larger heavenly bodies when the light pollution permits. I now have to figure out some way of attaching it to my camera.

King Campus (2)With autumn upon us already and the myriad maple trees turning red around us, Amy and I took a quick trip up to nearby Lake Seneca (not to be confused with Seneca Lake, which is in New York) to check out some colours. The lake area is owned by Seneca College, and houses their King Campus (mostly health sciences and arts), but public trail-walking is allowed. We took a quick walk along the south side of the lake, saw an abandoned boathouse and a very young and unafraid chipmunk, and left the other trails for cross-country skiing in the winter.

King Campus (1)King Campus (3)

Lake Superior (1)My and Amy’s master plan for the rest of our lives took a step forward recently when we moved to Ontario, principally for Amy to attend graduate school. Rather than shell out $2000 to hire a moving van, we entrusted out possessions to Canada Post for a quarter of the price and drove Amy’s car the 2200 km to Toronto. We found a small motel right on Lake Superior for the overnight stay (the Coach House Motel, near Terrace Bay), and had just enough time to drive/walk down to the shore before sunset. The following day was more of the same, and we rolled into Toronto just in time for a late dinner.

Lake Superior (2)The next few weeks were a frantic flurry of apartment hunting, job finding (Amy: 2, John: 0), kitchen stocking, furniture buying and assembling, paperwork filing and local community investigating. We are currently ensconced in the small town of Richmond Hill (motto: A little north, a little nicer), which is pleasant but principally a bedroom community for the looming presence that is Toronto. After one month’s residency, here is my evaluation:

Pros Cons
Excellent library services Not really on Toronto’s mass transit system
Good fibre-optic coverage Lack of jobs
Lots of parks and trees Expensive car insurance
Cycling supported Major lack of entertainment options
Relatively cheap food shopping Staggeringly high house prices
Used furniture often left on the street for salvaging Far away from Toronto, which is where everything interesting happens
Good thrift store options Lack of volunteering opportunities
Recycling encouraged Forced reliance on cars for transportation