Monday 25 September 2017


Hamilton in the distance. 

Until two weeks ago my views about North America were formed at a distance. I had thoughts along the lines of; a disproportionate presence in our world news coverage, the megaphone inanities of a president intent on getting American coalminers back to work, blockbuster action films of an improbable machismo, Royal visits to Canada, a distant memory of school geography lessons and a visit, some thirty and more years ago, before children, when Marilyn and I made a trip to San Francisco and then New York. Memories of then are rather vague. A few highlights and impressions remain
I flew to Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Monday the 4th September, an Air Transit flight from Gatwick. It took eight hours. When I arrived I was feeling tired but excited. Clive and Barbara met me and then drove me to their home at Dorset Place, Westdale, a district of Hamilton.

On the first day, Clive and I went for a bicycle ride along the waterfront trail beside Cootes Paradise. We stopped now and then to take in the views and to observe, cormorants and the occasional heron poised on rocks in the water, waiting for fish to appear. A couple of joggers glided past. Other cyclists swept along the path in both directions. I could see the steal works on the other side of the bay, steam emanating from one of its furnaces. Steal is the main industry of Hamilton.

We did a lot of cycling around Westdale.

During my stay in Westdale with Clive and Barbara we visited a number of nature reserves and environments , many of national scientific importance. We not only visited Cootes Paradise, but also Crawford Lake, walked along part of the limestone Niagara Escarpment and visited the Royal Botanic Gardens at Hamilton. Clive and Barbara are interested in the flora and fauna around The Great Lakes area of Ontario and often take trips to observe and photograph the various birds that inhabit these areas. In accompaniment with Clive and Barbara I met and came across many other Canadians taking advantage of their natural environment. I formed the opinion that this is an aspect of being Canadian, a strong respect and love for the natural world.
Cootes Paradise.

Crawford Lake was interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a conservation area. Woodland art punctuates the pathways. The lake is a rare meromictic lake and there is a reconstructed Iroquoian village  on the site of an original, archaeologically excavated and researched village. A First Nations leader, Chief Top Leaf, was visiting and giving talks on Iroquoian culture while we were there.
Iroquoian long house at Crawford Lake.

Westdale is a pleasant leafy suburb of Hamilton. It has wide quiet streets. The houses are of varying architectural design, some of brick, some stone built but most are timber clad. Front lawns, shrubbery beds and a variety of trees front every residence. The weather was warm, most days being in the mid twenty degrees, this contributed to the feeling of a tranquil pleasant place. Westdale village  has a variety of restaurants including The Saigon Restaurant, The Snooty Fox pub, a good second hand book shop, run by a friendly English lady,  a number of coffee shops and a dilapidated cinema that is in the process of being renovated. Locals want it back in use. I should have asked who, and how it is going to be managed. Will it be a local community facility run by a cooperative? I imagine arthouse type movies being shown there. Perhaps even an outlet for local film makers. I am running ahead of things here. Mere speculation. 

Westdale Cinema being renovated.

On the outskirts of Westdale is McMaster University set in a campus comprising of buildings built in the late 1920’s when its main campus moved from Toronto to Hamilton and modern buildings constructed right up to the present day. 

The building where Clive did his teacher training.

We went on a cycle tour of the campus one lunchtime and hundreds of students were milling about, folders and laptops in hand. Clive showed me the building where he had done his teacher training courses.


Clive and I got the train from Hamilton into Toronto one day. We walked the streets looking at various sights. We went into The Royal Ontario Museum with its modernist glass rubics cube of an extension at one side. I came across The Hudson’s Bay Company shop. It’s an upmarket store these days. We walked into a side street being used as a film set, a winter scene, the setting was the streets of New York. The temperature was 25 degrees centigrade that day. We had a pub lunch in a bar at the heart of ,TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival with fans walking about trying to see the ,"stars."

The Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Detroit Tigers.

 Later we had tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Detroit Tigers in the magnificent Rogers Stadium overlooked by the CN Tower. I have never been to a baseball game before. Any sport where watching the statistics on the score board is more exciting than watching the occasional burst of activity on the field has to be up there with having a hangover. Large computer screens told us when to make a ,"NOISE."The game lasted three hours! Cricket is so much more exciting. Toronto, the city, is fantastic though. 

Clive obtained tickets for the three of us to see a production of HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan at the theater in Stratford one night. Stratford is a very nice town. It was amusing to see the opening scene set in the naval port of Portsmouth, Hampshire. They did try to get their English accents correct.

Stratford Ontario.

A visit to the Canadian Warplanes Museum, at Monro Airport near Hamilton, provided an opportunity to see one of only two, still flying, Lancaster bombers from the second world war on display. The day we went  veteran cars were on display too.

A Lancaster Bomber.

Barbara, Clive and I drove to Niagara Falls on another day. We took a boat called The Hornblower which powered itself to the base of the Horse Shoe Falls, sailing past the smaller American Falls on the way. That was some experience. We got soaked through even for the fact we were wearing  pink plastic ponchos. I challenged one of the crew. “Do I have to wear pink?” She replied curtly, “Its Canadian Red.”

Wearing, "Canadian Red."

After the falls we visited Fort George, a reconstructed British fort built in the early 1800’s on the Niagara River to defend Canada from the Americans. We learned all about the 1812 War against America which the British won and Canada, eventually,became, Canada.

Barbara and Clive at Niagara Falls.

Afterwards we drove to Niagara on the Lake, a picturesque town from the time of Fort George, with many English features including a great pub that sold Old Speckled Hen and provided fish and chips that were not bad. It is world famous for holding one of the main arts festivals in North America, The Shaw Festival. There is an imposing life size statue of George Bernard Shaw in the High Street.

George Bernard Shaw at Niagara on the Lake.
On the 11th September we flew from Pearson Airport to La Guardia, north of Brooklyn, in New York. Barbara had booked us an Airbnb in Little Italy near Greenwich Village.

New York, New York.

 Arriving at La Guardia we first got a Metrocard from a machine just outside of the airport terminal. This gave us subway and bus travel for three days. We got the bus to, Jackson Heights, where the subway system begins.  The bus had deposited us right next to the infamous, elevated railway that features in the Film French Connection with Gene Hackman. It is the scene of one of the most exciting road chases in film. We couldn’t have had a better start to New York. 

Jackson Heights. The French Connection film location.

We got the M line to Bleecker Street in south Manhatten, not far from the apartment we were to stay at. Little Italy is a run down, poor area, vagrants living on the streets, social housing, black bin liners filled with rubbish piled on the pavements and grimy corner shops. We were getting the full flavour of New York from the very start. We found a great artisan coffee shop just round the corner from the apartment where we had coffee and croissants every morning for breakfast.

The coffee shop we used in Little Italy, for breakfast.

On our first afternoon we walked from the apartment in Eldridge Street, through Greenwich Village. Clive had done his research. We found Jones Street where the album cover for, The "Freewheelin’" Bob Dylan album was photographed. Clive and I took turns to pose in a,” Dylanesque,” fashion in the street and took our own photographs. We saw where Dylan had lived in Mc Dougal Street at various periods and saw the,”Wha Club,” where Dylan and other artists had performed.

Bob Dylan lived here in McDougal Street,Greenwich Village.

That first afternoon and evening of the 11th was the time to visit, “Ground Zero.” Commemorative marches and remembrance services had taken place that day. We stood and looked into the abyss of each of the Twin Tower’s footprints where cascades of water tumble down seemingly into a bottomless void. There were thousands of people still around in the evening. Police officers and members of the New York Fire brigade, wearing ceremonial uniforms were  drinking in the bars after the memorial services.

A New York fireman on duty  at Ground Zero.

During our three days in New York we each had our own  particular highlights. We sat in a coffee shop near Battery Park just south of Wall Street and discussed this. To be honest, everything I saw and experienced affected me and will remain with me always. One of my highlights was Greenwich Village and Washington Square and The White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

 On Wall Street, I overheard a woman explaining to a friend about her hysterectomy and successful cancer operation. New Yorkers are very loud. They are also incredibly friendly. A few New Yorkers approached us to offer help when they obviously saw we were looking lost on occasion.

The little girl in Wall Street facing out the charging bull.

We accidently ( yes, truly) walked into Trump Tower on 5th Avenue and wondered why the Secret Service agents wore jackets with ,Secret Service, in large letters across their backs. Later that day we walked through the foyer of the Rockefeller Center and were awed by every glittering and polished surface of art deco magnificence. The Trump Tower has nothing on the Rockefeller Center. John D.Rockefeller was a humanitarian. He was a philosopher and philanthropist. Donald Trump is just….. 

The Rockefeller Center. Much much better than Trump Tower.

We had a very pleasant walk through Central Park on a warm sunny day. We went from The Dakota Building, where John Lennon once lived to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other side of the park. 

The city from Central Park.
We spent an evening at the Iguana Club on 54th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway. We had a meal there and listened to the Grammy Award winning Vince Giorodano’s Nighthawks Orchestra. They played jazz music from the 1930’s. People sitting at various tables got up and danced . They were incredible. I asked one of the waiters how come they were so good? He told me they were people who came to the club two nights a week to take dance lessons. It was like a 1930’s flash mob. The club, master of ceremonies and entrance usher was a lovely, smiling elderly lady dressed for the period who stumbled around with an arthritic hip. The waiters were fast and efficient. They all looked middle aged, Latinos mostly. I sat there in the dark shadow of our table and wondered whether they had pensions and health care.  There are things you read and hear about America. Vince , the bandleader, was a large ebullient man who talked to the audience introducing every number with a wry sense of humour. The whole evening was wonderful. I can’t think of a better superlative to describe it.

Vince and The Nighthawks giving it their all.

We walked past the UN building on the east side next to the East River. There is a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the front of the UN building that she created in her studio in St Ives. It is  based on her ideas about form and line.  She was a friend of Dag Hammarskj√∂ld,  the secretary general of the UN in the 1950s.

"Form and line," by Barbara Hepworth infront of the UN building.

One thing I had intended to do in  New York was to find a small restaurant on E44th Street  called ,John’s Restaurant. It is situated near the UN Building so after we walked passed  the UN   we walked along E44th Street and there was John’s Restaurant on the corner of 2nd Avenue. It is a seedy run down place. The reason I was there is because of my mother. In 1941 during the second world war, my mother had a New York pen friend, arranged for her by the nuns at St Anne’s Convent in Southampton. Her pen friend was called , Alda Steffanacci. One of the photographs Alda  sent my mother, taken in 1941, showed herself with her father and mother standing outside of John’s Restaurant on E44th Street.

Alda, with her mother and father in 1941 outside of John's Restaurant on E44th Street and 2nd Avenue.

  I went in to inquire whether the same family owned the restaurant but over the years it had changed hands a number of times. The waitress very kindly let me take photographs of the inside. Clive also took a photograph of me standing on the  same spot Alda and her family had stood all those years ago.

The same spot today.

We did not go skywards to the top of any high buildings while we were in New York, such as The Empire State building, but we got some incredible views of New York from the river and the harbour.  We took the subway from Bowery to Fulton Street and changed to get the subway to Dumbo across the East River on the Brooklyn side. From there we walked back into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge.  New York rose before us. 

New York from Brooklyn Bridge.
Another eye popping experience was riding the cable car across to Roosevelt Island beside the 59th Street Bridge. 

On the cable car next to 59th Street Bridge.

We also took the Staten Island Ferry across to Staten Island and got a great view of New York harbour including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where immigrants were processed at the turn of the last century.

The Staten Island Ferry with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Barbara wanted to see and walk along the High Line, which runs parallel with the piers on the west side of Manhattan where many ships dock. It is close to Greenwich Village. The High Line used to be a railway line above ground that serviced the port and also the meat packing district. It became derelict but has now been turned into an urban garden with pathways. Some of the old railway tracks remain as part of the garden features.

The High Line, which has been turned into a very pleasant urban walkway and garden.

While in New York we also visited The New York Public Library and St Patrick’s Cathedral, both on 5th Avenue.

From the steps pf the New York Public Library.

We stood in awe inside Grand Central Station. It is like a cathedral. We also stood outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway where the Beatles had their famous first televised performance in America.

The Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway.

Time Square is the beating heart of New York. It is brash and bright, the temple to modern consumerism. A symbol of one of the powerful driving forces of our modern culture. Enormous computerised screens flicker with giant sized advertisements. It even has a sloping bank of seats, like a sports stadium, so people can sit and watch the never ending display.My Dad ,who visited New York on a number of occasions  in the late 1940s, asked me if they still had the continuous tickertape band displaying the latest news, moving around Time Square. I had to disappoint him and tell him that was ancient technology.

Time Square.
We flew back to Toronto on the 14th September. On the 15th I had an evening flight back to Gatwick so we spent the day cycling around Westdale, getting a pub lunch at the Snooty Fox and just generally chilling out.

It is difficult to describe how amazing the time I had with Clive and Barbara was. I shall remember it always. They were wonderful hosts. We filled our time with so many experiences over the twelve days.


  1. Tony, I'm glad you had such a grand time in North America. It's been far too long since I was last in Ontario. We've been to Stratford a few times and saw Maggie Smith in a play there. Not sure, but I think we were given yellow slickers on the Maid of the Mist tour at Niagara. You'll have to try that one next time if you want to avoid having to wear those pink ones! :D

    1. I'd go back again to Toronto and New York.

  2. Good descriptions. It felt like I was there again.

    1. I had a brilliant time, Michael. I have have now formed a new list of things I want to see when I go back next time.