Things We Learned on a Toronto Hippo Tour
Photo by Jonathan Goldsbie.
You would assume that headline to be ironic and for some of the items listed herein to begin with “That Americans think that…” And indeed that’s the post we hoped to write when we decided to take a Hippo Tour. But this being the end of the season (tours run from May 1 to October 31 each year), our Hippo was empty, save for ourselves, the driver, the guide, two Montrealers, and a Scot. And our guide was competent and knowledgeable, ably rhyming off Toronto trivia, including much that was new to us.
But there were more than a few statements made that prompted us to think, hm, we’ll have to look that up when we get home. And so we did. Nothing fancy, just Wikipedia and Google.
We get all Snopes-y after the jump.
• Yonge Street is the longest street in the world and runs 1900 km, ending in Rainy River, Ontario. False. Although recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as late as 1998 (and perhaps a little while after), this myth has since been debunked. Yonge Street, James Bow discovered, is only 56 km long and ends not far from Lake Simcoe. Of course, it’s a forgivable misconception, considering that there’s even a piece of official public art at the foot of Yonge proclaiming it “the longest street in the world.”
• The PATH is the world’s largest underground shopping complex. True. Although not among the records listed on the Guinness website (which only has a small fraction of their collection), so we can’t say for sure if it’s current, the City of Toronto, Wikipedia, and a number of other sites list it as such.
• All the stage scenes in Chicago were shot at the Elgin Theatre. Not quite. The finale was shot there, but there were other locations, including soundstages and the Danforth Music Hall.
• The Hard Rock Café in Dundas Square was the first one in North America. True. The place was completely redone in 2001, at which time a press release quoted the CEO saying, “The Toronto location was the first Hard Rock Cafe in North America and just the second worldwide.” Wikipedia adds that the location, “originally developed by an unaffiliated group and later purchased by Hard Rock International, opened in downtown Toronto in 1978,” which, oddly, appears to be a year prior to when the original began decking itself in rock memorabilia.
• Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got engaged (the first time) at Barberian’s Steak House on Elm Street. True. Burton was here playing Hamlet in 1964, and his and Taylor’s respectives divorces were finalized around that time. They married in Montreal a few days later.
• Baby formula was invented at the Hospital for Sick Children. Close. It was Pablum, “the first baby food to come precooked and thoroughly dried,” that was created at Sick Kids in the early 1930s. Infant formulas, under most definitions, predate that.
• Queen’s Park used to be an asylum for the mentally insane. More or less. The Ontario Legislature was built for its current purpose, but the building it replaced was indeed a mental institution.
• The main Trinity College building is a residence. True. Somehow, despite being uninterested in the world outside U of T, we never realized this.
• The Black Bull is Toronto’s oldest tavern. Undetermined. We actually asked the guide about this one, because the accepted wisdom is that the Wheat Sheaf at King and Bathurst is the oldest. He explained that it’s really a toss-up, because although the Wheat Sheaf has been in continual operation for longer, the Black Bull opened first but was closed for several decades at one point. What we’ve been able to establish is that the Black Bull (the full current name of which is the Black Bull Hotel & Tavern) dates to 1838 (though some sources say 1833), at which time it seems to have opened as a hotel. The question, then, is whether it served alcohol in the decade or so prior to the Wheat Sheaf opening in 1849.
• Baseball fans once glimpsed Skydome Hotel guests having sex in a room overlooking the outfield. True. Several times, actually.
• Someone once climbed the CN Tower’s stairs on a pogo stick, and a stuntman once fell down them all. True. Ashrita Furman scaled the steps on a pogo stick in 1999, and Roger Brown took a very deliberate series of tumbles in 1984.
• Rogers wanted to take away the lifetime tickets of the person who came up with the name “SkyDome” but changed its mind after a public outcry. False. There was certainly a public outcry about the name change, but there wasn’t any move to revoke Kellie Watson’s ticket privileges.
And, yes, it is fun to ride a bus that becomes a boat.
Photo of the Eiffel Tower at the northwest tip of Ontario Place, left over from the Chinese Lantern Festival, by Jonathan Goldsbie.