I can think of a few places more historic or exotic to spend my first ever night in a hostel, but here I am in Buffalo, New York, fresh off of six days in Canada. This post will be anything but brief; our cell service and lack of internet access has made updating this site and our social media outlets more difficult than normal. We’ve become professional coffee shop wi-fi thieves, and with no shortage of Tim Horton’s stores in the Great White North we were able to skate by. Still, there’s a lot to update our readers on. We left Toronto yesterday and I’m already longing to visit there again. I’d been anticipating the trip to Toronto for a while: I’ve had it circled in my mental calendar for weeks now as a city to get excited about, along with Boston, Seattle and Vancouver. Three days and two nights in the T.O. were enough to affirm my hypothesis that Toronto is one of the coolest cities in North America. Our experiences with CrossFit, CouchSurfing and our own sightseeing allowed us a unique perspective during our first visit and while our time there was short-lived, I believe we got the most out it.
A Labour of Love
The first location we set our feet upon in the city was outside the doors of CrossFit Canuck, a box co-owned by Tavia Ferreira in the Scarborough section of Toronto. Tavia was our coach for this Labo(u)r Day workout and I knew during the warm-up session that she was special. A high school physical education teacher with a master’s in kinesiology by day, Tavia’s passion for fitness inspired her to help open CrossFit Canuck a few years ago. Not only were her coaching skills spectacular, but her personable nature and knack for positive encouragement at just the right moment made this one of our favorite stops so far. We needed it during the thirty-five minute, multifaceted grind of a WOD that she put together for the holiday. She left us on our backs and nearly nauseous, precisely what we were looking for after three days of park workouts, mobility WODs and open gyms.
On par with Tavia’s expertise was the facility itself. CrossFit Canuck embodies exactly what CrossFit is supposed to stand for. In its’ purest form, the sport isn’t about what brand of bumper plates you use or if you wear knee sleeves or if your gym has the shiniest new rig in town. It’s about being tough no matter one’s skill level, about setting goals and achieving them, and about training for the unknown and unknowable. Canuck was just that: a small industrial space occupied by bad-ass people doing bad-ass things. Our other stops in Toronto (Brampton CrossFit and Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village*) were phenomenal as well, but we felt that Tavia and her box in Scarborough deserved recognition for being exactly what CrossFit should be.
*Nic Martin, head coach at RCFLV, was extremely knowledgeable. He ran a smooth, tightly scheduled class and we packed in efficient strength, skill and metcon sessions all in an hour. Listening to Nic coach, it was easy to tell that he is a disciplined and effective teacher and I’d recommend Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village to anyone visiting Downtown Toronto. Just check out his resume on the RCFLV website. Also, special thank you to Brampton CrossFit owner Paul Rudzik for taking a few moments to chat with us, and to Kirsten Dunne for coaching a great class…100 toes-to-bar are no joke!
Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village, where we took on some clean & jerks and double unders
Home of Drake and Mike Myers
Toronto is a melting pot in the truest sense of the word, reflected by the number of diverse cultural neighborhoods throughout the city. We were able to navigate through several of them, including what turned out to be our favorite, Chinatown. It was here that Lexi’s bargaining skills once again came into play, scoring deals at local street markets like two for $1 packs of strawberries and six apples for $1 the next day. We actually did all of our grocery shopping in Chinatown, sans a supermarket run for our ‘family dinner’ on our last night (read below). The area was impressive to me because of the cultural one-eighty from the nearby downtown area. Dialects of Chinese could be heard in every direction and every storefront sign in sight was written in the language.
Can anyone around here read this for me?
Little Italy, while a bit underwhelming, was still a pleasant neighborhood. I suppose I expected it to look like New York’s Little Italy, a smale-scale throwback to the tight-knit community atmosphere that must have existed in that city at the turn of the 20th century. The Toronto incarnation extended several more blocks than New York, but with much less visible history. We did splurge a bit here, as you can only walk by so many gelato joints before you have to stop in and purchase a cone.
Perhaps the most curious section of town we walked through was Kensington Market. When we were still in Barrie before we entered Toronto, we ran into an interesting fellow named Matt (again, read below) who pointed to Kensington as the “bohemian epicenter” of the city. Naturually, we were curious and the district was conveniently located next to Chinatown, which made our visit inevitable. It was definitely one of the more eclectic areas I’ve been in and reminded me of a larger version of Ohio’s Yellow Springs. We actually saw a guy there wearing an Homage Columbus Clippers shirt and stopped to talk to him about his ever-evolving road trip to visit different professional ballparks. He was just one of the many people we met while in Canada that upheld our belief that there still are amazing people out there and if you open yourself up for a moment, even just to say hi, deep connections can be made.
Lexi meeting a new friend and asking for directions in Kensington Market
“You win with people.” -Woody Hayes
While disappointed that I couldn’t find Mayor Rob Ford, Lexi and I met a number of outstanding people from different backgrounds while we were in the city, and even a few before that in the charming town of Barrie. They were locals and travelers, bikers and urban farmers, professors and students. Here were a few that stood out to us:
-Michael was our host in Toronto. He allowed us to stay two nights in his home and we had the distinction of being the first couchsurfers he’d ever hosted. Michael has surfed all over the world himself but recently decided to see things from the other side and become a host. We were grateful for his hospitality and our favorite moment during our stay was our second night, when the three of us and his two other surfers (students from Brazil and France) enjoyed a meal at his table. Aside from being a fun dinner, it was the first realization I had that I was actually doing what I had set out to do: meeting new people from various backgrounds and learning as much about them as I could.
-We ran into ‘Bicycle Matt’, mentioned above, as he was passing through Barrie on his bike. He was on what he described as a short ride from Toronto to Sudbury- it’s a four and a half hour drive by car- and stopped to say hi and eat pizza with us. He told us of his first adventure, an epic tour from Toronto to Miami and back a few years ago. We got to spend a couple hours with Matt and his advice on what to do in Toronto and on travel in general has certainly come in handy.
-Rich hosted us for one night on late notice in Barrie, which we were thankful for. We had an enjoyable night without ever leaving his house. The three of us cooked dinner and spoke by the fire for hours. He was a big baseball fan, so the two of us obviously got along. I must admit- I was jealous when he told me that he’d been to more ballparks than I have. A Toronto native, he also provided helpful insight about what to do and where to go once we got to the city.
We closed out our first trip to Canada by going to the famed Niagara Falls. The natural beauty captured our attention for a few hours before we reluctantly retrieved our passports and headed back into the USA. It is onward through upstate New York before we head back up into Canada, this time to visit Montreal. In the meantime, we’re considering picking up a French-English dictionary to brush up on our skills- or develop non-existant ones- as we hit Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
Standard Niagara Falls selfie…we weren’t the only ones