Canadians have always been explorers, from the First Nations peoples who crossed the Ice Age land bridge from Asia, to Jacques Cartier, to the Canadian astronauts who tag along on the Space Shuttle missions. It was in this spirit of discovery that I undertook a holiday exploration of that which makes Toronto more than just another blob of concrete, people and cockroaches – our miles and miles of indoor shopping. What follows in an account of a trip across the length and breadth of the Toronto downtown PATH system on foot.
Time 1:11pm – Toronto Coach Terminal
Armed with iPod, camera phone, and a cheap pedometer, but lacking Sherpa guide or GPS, I embark on my journey. I am giddy with excitement as I depart from the Toronto Coach Terminal. The time is propitious: 1:11pm. I keep a wary eye out for aspiring pimps preying on innocent farm-fresh kids, but there are no takers for this mature piece of man-meat.
Time 1:14 Distance .3 miles
Entering the Eaton Centre, I remove my earbuds to more fully enjoy the experience. I am rewarded with sounds of the season all around me. In Sears, Johnny Depp cavorts on a big screen HD TV. Another day I might have stopped to watch, but today I am on a mission.
The Eaton Centre, of course, has many levels. I descend to the basement level; I am as Frodo traversing the dark tunnels of Mordor, only he had no food court.
Time 1:21 Distance .4 miles
Successful arrival at my first milestone – the fountain at the heart of the Eaton Centre. Someone told me recently that prostitutes can be found here, but none are in evidence. Too bad, I think, it would add a festive touch.
Time 1:25 Distance: .6 miles
I enter the Bay. Everywhere, shoppers are rushing home with their treasures.
Time 1:31 Distance .83 miles
I come upon a 2nd food court. It is oddly unlike the food courts near my home – Subway has become Mr. Sub, instead of Teriyaki Experience there is Edo Japan, and Manchu Wok has morphed into something called Star Wok. How can people live this way?
Time 1:33 Distance .92 miles
Underground, I cross Richmond Street into the financial district. There is a distinct culture change here – in the great malls of the Northern PATH, the natives are a hardy breed who have come from the outside and wear heavy winter clothing. Here in the South, pasty skinned office workers who rarely venture beyond their balmy cocoon are shopping in light dresses and shirtsleeves.
Time 1:36 Distance .95 miles
A 3rd food court. Once again the brands are unfamiliar. What the hell is Taste of the Orient?
Time 1:37 Distance . 99 miles
Unexpectedly, I arrive at what will prove to be the climax of this heroic journey. Next to a stairway, there is a tiny elevator of the type sometimes found in lieu of a ramp. A woman has taken her strollered baby in there, and now the elevator door refuses to open. I fear that the two will plunge the remaining inch to the floor. A number of people are milling around looking concerned. Anxious to help, I stand nearby and furrow my brow. My intervention is successful; the door comes unstuck and the pair are freed.
Time 1:44 Distance 1. 3 miles
Following an uneventful passage through First Canadian Place, I enter Scotia Plaza. The complex is guarded by a large, heavily muscled man loitering in front of GNC – he is either protecting or selling nutritional supplements, or maybe he doesn’t work there at all. I disguise my fear by nodding politely. He allows me to pass without incident.
Time 1:45 Distance 1.5 miles
Food court number 4, just before King subway station. Although most stalls have little activity, at a place called Thai Express there is a rope to contain the lineup. I vow to return and find out what they are selling there.
Time 1:51 Distance 1.61 miles
I make my triumphant arrival at 1 Financial Place, the easternmost point of my journey.
Time 1:55 Distance 1.78 miles
Entering Commerce Court, I discover my 5th food court of the afternoon. Tucked away among the fried foods and Asian delights is a place called the Cereal Bar, which sells only cereal. The idea may be ahead of its time, as the stand has apparently been abandoned by both customers and staff.
Time 2:00 Distance 2.0 miles
At 2 o’clock and 2 miles in, I enter BCE Place, home of the Spirit of Hockey store. The Spirit of Hockey is all about selling overpriced jerseys and other paraphernalia to lost tourists. I have never been so proud to be Canadian. BCE Place also has a food court; it’s number 6 but who’s counting anymore.
Time 2:05 Distance 2.25 miles
I arrive at Union station, the southernmost tip of the PATH. This is the end of the Earth – below me, only the Gardiner Expressway, Harbourfront, the United States, South America, and Antarctica.
Time 2:08 Distance 2.32 miles
There used to be a food court here in the Royal Bank plaza, but it’s under construction. They are building a bigger and better food court. I make a note to return in the spring.
Time 2:11 Distance 2.43 miles
Standard life Tower has a tiny, 3 franchise food court. There is a Korean place here that used to be called Ho Shim, then Ho Su, and now Ho Ga. I wonder what Ho means in Korean. It must have something to do with food.
Time 2:17 Distance 2.57 miles
Trekking through 145 King West into the HSBC building, I pass food courts 8 and 9. The latter has been named “Choices”, which is a nice personal touch.
Time 2:23 Distance 2.67 miles
As I walk down the long corridor from St. Andrew subway station, I pass the sole panhandler I will see on my journey. He is in a celebratory mood, possibly because of the holiday season but more likely because he is drunk. I smile, because I know that by the time I return, security will have reintroduced him to his natural outdoor environment.
Time 2:26 Distance 2.81 miles
I take a detour to Metro Hall. This area of the PATH is much quieter, from which I infer that politicians and bureaucrats do not work in December. There is a sign advising that Metro Hall is equipped with a defibrillator, which is a good idea with all those food courts around.
Time 2:35 Distance 3.09 miles
Behind my final food court of the day (number 10) I discover a hidden walkway. Eureka! This should lead me to the CBC building and the end of my journey.
Time 2:39 Distance 3.16 miles
My quest reaches an anticlimactic end, still on the north side of Wellington St. The tunnel to the CBC building is closed for construction. Outside, a solitary policeman keeps a lonely vigil while talking on his cell phone.
I have been on the road for almost an hour and a half, and covered more than three miles underground. My expedition is over, but I have learned much about food courts, and much about myself along the way. Perhaps my journey of inner discovery has only begun.