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About A Week: Toronto

Peter Hinchliffe discovers that Toronto is the one true international city.

The hottest day in the hottest August that eastern Canada has endured since records have been kept. They are grilling steaks on the bonnets of cars in Toronto.

Where to go to escape the city heat? We went to Niagara to take a cold shower beneath the famous falls. All that chilly lake water, tumbling over a 170ft drop. Nature's own air conditioning.

They issue you with a free blue plastic mac as you board the Maid of the Mist, the boat which takes you within splashing distance of the mighty spectacle.

"Don't put it on until you need to," our tour guide warned. "If you truss yourself up in plastic on a day such as this you'll come out like a grilled chicken."

Not wishing to be served up on anyone's dinner table I heeded her advice. What she failed to warn us about though was the violence of the mini-climate created by the thundering walls of water at the Horseshoe Falls. There's mist, buckets-full of spray, a mighty gale. And the boat threatens to go under the falls, not merely up to them.

When at the last moment I tried to get my arms into the mac I merely caused it to flutter like a blue flag of distress. Within seconds I was soaked to the skin. Deliciously, coolingly soaked. The day was so hot, though, that I was dry again long before boarding the bus back to Toronto

Back in the city the main temperature control had been turned up another few notches. Nothing for it but to stroll along the lake front and pretend we were breathing in bracing sea air.

Lake Ontario is big enough to pass itself off as a sea. 193 miles long, 63 miles wide. 800 ft deep... And it's one of the smaller Great Lakes!

Then a trip into the heavens, courtesy of the lifts in the CN Tower, which is almost twice the height of Emley Moor mast. The tower is 1,815 ft high, the world's tallest free-standing structure. Standing atop it is like flying without all that dreary business of waiting around at airports and fastening seat belts.

Around the 1.200 ft level you can test your nerve by standing on a glass floor and looking down on Toy Town cars as they speed by on the neighbouring freeway. The experience so exhilarated me that I yielded to the temptation to jump up and down on the glass floor.

Next door is the Sky Dome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and the Argonauts football team. The 31 storey high roof can be opened or closed in 20 minutes. The 50,000-plus seats are changed at the push of a button to different configurations to accommodate baseball and football crowds. A guided tour of the Dome is recommended for hot days. It's fully air conditioned. The roof, firmly ia place, holds up 12ft snow drifts during Toronto's harsh winters.

At the cooler end of a fierce August day, time to venture along Toronto's main drag, Yonge Street, a thoroughfare which never sleeps. There are sleazy shops selling naughty knickers and glossy shops selling Gucci. Cartier and Louis Vuitton.

There's a heavily tattooed character wearing a T-shirt which announces God's Busy Can I Help followed along the pavement by two smartly-suited city gents and a lady carrying a handbag which looks as though it cost as much as my car.

On Yonge Street there's lots to buy, eat and see. but don't expect to walk its full length. It leads north through Toronto, skirts by Lake Simcoe. Lake Timiskammg, Lake Nipigon. ending up in Rainy River a mere 1,241 miles away. The world's longest street in the world's second biggest country.

We arrived in Toronto on a weekend when the city was celebrating a lively Caribbean carnival. We left on the following weekend when another million folk had gathered to eat Greek food and enjoy Greek music.

Toronto is a liberal mixture of every race, an easy-going ark for 4,600,000 folk, many of whom travelled far in search of a better life.

The gent who drives your taxi could be from Pakistan. The person who cooks your breakfast from Mexico. And a Japanese lady will serve you lunchtime sushi.

They should move the United Nations headquarters to Toronto. It's the one true international city.



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