Joe and I had a fine adventure the last two weeks of September, exploring Toronto and Montreal. Here’s how it all happened.
Our fiftieth wedding anniversary, celebrated in June, represented a Giant milestone. And to honor it our families went all out. Joe’s sister, Mary, and her husband Vince, lifelong dog people, offered to move into Sunnybank House to mind Bryn, who really likes them. (We’ve always included Bryn in our car adventures: she’s a marvelous traveler. But tackling Customs? Finding a Canadian hotel that took doggies? Trying to explore by bike, with Bryn sometimes left at the hotel? It got complicated. So this wonderful gift swept those worries away.)
Our two daughters decided to introduce us to Ontario’s major city, Toronto, and French Canada’s Montreal, especially the historical area of town, which dates from the 16th century.
Two days before leaving I told Bryn that Joe and I’d be away, but that Vince and Mary would come to stay with her. Bryn understands an amazing amount of spoken information. I know this because I constantly witness her comprehension.
Bryn’s sense of time is different from mine. ‘Soon’ to her means within hours. ‘In a bit’ or ‘later’ signifies a day or so, maybe more.
Unruffled, she greeted Vince and Mary a day later and I formally handed her over. (They knew all about her unusual food requirements.)
“Stay with Vince and Mary. We’ll be back later.”
She accepted our departure with no fuss.
First, we drove to Toronto. Jenny and Lisa had purchased a year’s membership to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the second largest museum in North America, and only three blocks from our comfortable, spacious turn-of-the-century bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Located on the second floor, our bedroom and generous bath were spacious. A nice kitchenette, equipped with a round table, 4 chairs, a fridge, toaster and coffeemaker, looked out onto a huge, roofed, open porch with its own comfy couch and more round, white iron tables with pretty place settings for continental breakfasts. It was lovely to relax out there for our three evenings with a glass of wine.
We were the only guests right then.
The museum, just 6 minutes away by bike, was chock full of fascinating exhibits. Our membership card made entering fast and easy.
Spiders: Fear And Fascination - immediately caught our attention. The creatures were, via holograms, dashing about the exhibit floor. Intrigued children tried to pounce on them, or follow them as they zipped around. (The spectacle was a reminder, too, that spiders are nearly everywhere...)
We noticed some fist-sized ones behind glass, moving through their specially constructed homes and environments- in deserts, or in more familiar areas. Intricate webs were spun to snare insects that we humans find irritating.) Wolf spiders, trapdoor spiders, amazing peacock spiders (who have vivid, multi-colored abdomens as bright as their namesake’s) and a myriad of other odd ones, are exhibited, along with short videos that explain their habits and habitats. With a single button press, visitors learn how they’ve evolved (a few, perfectly preserved in amber, date from hundreds of millions of years ago), their reproduction and growth, which ones are venomous, and how to tell, and how they sense their world. Spider Man’s fantasy talents further demonstrate some of the creature’s major assets. It is a splendid, well-thought-out presentation.
Understanding these creatures helps to curb irrational fears. I noticed that children who’d initially avoided the larger arachnoids were soon caught up in the adventure. Curiosity is a powerful draw.
We moved on to China, whose history spans six millennia. The earthen Ming Tomb, large and domed, contains the remains of a revered sixteenth century general, Zu Dashou, and three of his wives. The gate and carvings that announce it are splendidly regal.
Moving on, Daoist and Buddhist paintings, jewelry and china from as far back as 1300 BC are delicately rendered, and gorgeously detailed.
The helmets of Chinese soldiers, though, really caught my attention. These small, beautifully fashioned metal caps and/or facemasks were tailored to fit each owner’s head precisely. The details added to their ancient war garb are exquisite!
Today these helmets would fit only preteen children.
(A memory popped to the front of my mind. It’s astonishing how small interior cathedral doors are. Hobbit-sized. People were pint-sized in Europe, too, when compared with the much taller, better nourished humans alive today.)
We finally moved on to the ROM’s dinosaur collection.
Ah- all the usual adjectives fail to express what’s there.
One GIGANTIC grazer, Barosaurous, a recent (re)find with an amusing, true story I’ll tell in a bit, dominates the area’s vast, high ceilinged floor. The thing is INCREDIBLY long. The neck goes on and on and on, until Nature finally added a teeny, teeny tiny head. You’d have to look hard for a brain. How would it have the wit to put one foot in front of another?? Or chew?? Or poo? Or reproduce? How could anybody cogent ‘be home’ up there?
Its massive body also supports a mile-long tail that fades into the distance before finally ending in the tiniest of tips. I fancy it was used to decapitate threats- if its thinker could remember how to do such a thing.
One needs to walk along under it to grasp the length.
I’ve never seen the like, though I’ve visited many stunning dinosaur displays in The U.S. and Europe.
This. One. Takes. The. Prize.
Here’s an amazing, true story of how it was (re)discovered.
David Evans, the man in charge of the dinosaur section, looked far and wide for a sauropod to display. It would be a triumph to feature such a rare creature.
After a long, frustrating search around the world he found himself browsing through other museum publications one day. A few words jumped out at him. Someone, decades ago, had mentioned ‘ lots of sauropod bones lying around in the Royal Ontario Museum’s basement.’
WHAT? They'd had one all along??? He rushed back to paw through its underground vaults and sure enough, there were piles of giant and tiny sauropod bones sitting in closets, in drawers and on shelves. It turned out all the bones were from the same beast!
(The big museums have vast underbellies. I’ve often wondered what other rare treasures might be stored down their bowels, forgotten for decades. OMG.)
Finally assembled, this AWESOME Barosaurus skeleton includes four massive neck vertebrae, a complete set of vertebrae from back to pelvis, fourteen tail vertebrae, both upper arm bones, both thigh bones (each of which is nearly five feet in length), a lower leg, and various other vital pieces. (Experts, who had enough bones in their museums to know how to do the job correctly, created the missing bones from plaster.)
The entire thing, approximately 90 feet long, stops viewers cold. Total mass: probably more than 15 tons. The skeleton nearly defies gravity! (Surely it had used deep water to support that much bulk. Surely!)
It must have eaten 24 hours a day to stay viable. I decided it could have made no sounds- No room in that teeny throat for such a luxury...
The trip down to its stomach had to be an extremely long, continuous one.
But here was proof that Barosaurus had lived.
One simply must see it to believe.
By 2:30, we realized a break was necessary. Our stomachs growled. Our feet hurt. Our brains ached. My eye ached. Our mid-morning apple snacks had worn off and we longed for lunch. The Prince of Wales Pub, set into our residential area just off the huge Bloor Street shopping corridor, was quiet and popular. We’d found and noted it the evening before when biking around the area to get our bearings.
Meals, served in a pretty atrium, were delicious. Afterward, we pedaled home to nap, think and plan.
Tomorrow we’d explore more: The Bronze Age, a Bat Cave, Greece and Egypt. Not to mention the building’s waaay out there architecture.
Clearly, it’s going to take more than one trip to Toronto to do this museum justice.
Tune in next week for more fascinating stuff!