Skeletons, Ghosts, and Gallows: A Haunted Tour of Kingston, Ontario

This past week, my boyfriend and I went on a trip to one of Canada’s oldest cities, Kingston. Known as “Limestone City” from its old, 19th-century buildings, Kingston was Canada’s first capital and a significant military outpost, likely due to its location on the St. Lawrence River, which connects Toronto and Montreal.

Here is a haunted self-guided tour that we did throughout our trip as we visited some of the spookiest and most haunted spots in Canada.

Kingston Penitentiary

Perhaps one of Canada’s most notorious historic sites, Kingston Pen is known as the “Alcatraz of the North” for a good reason. The prison opened in 1835 and operated as a penitentiary until it closed in 2013. We did a guided tour of the prison to learn all about its architecture and history, including some tragic stories of murder, riots, and perhaps the craftiest escape story you’ll ever hear (there were only two successful escapes from the Pen). We even got to hear stories told by retired prison guards about the work halls and the prison riots.

The main dome pictured above was the site of the third and biggest riot in the Penitentiary. In April 1971, this riot involved the taking of staff hostages which resulted in several inmates’ deaths and some structural damage.

Frontenac County Courthouse

The city’s old courthouse was once a cellblock and the public gallows. Although the building is still a courthouse today, the jail was demolished in 1973. Over 80 years, seven inmates were hanged outside of this courthouse, and it’s possible that some remains are still buried underneath the site.1

Prince George Hotel

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, we enjoyed a pint at Tir An Og, situated below the hotel. Although the restaurant is new, the bar itself remains quite historic. I could imagine still hearing the loud chatter of voices, smelling the cigar smoke, and seeing buggies outside the windows from the 1800s. But the hotel has a sinister and ghoulish history.

The Prince George Hotel dates back to 1809, built for the Herchimer family. One daughter, Lily, was in love with a sailor of whom her parents disapproved. Certain nights when he was in the harbour, Lily would light a lamp in her window to signal to him that he could secretly visit. One night, she fell asleep with the lantern alit. A gust of wind blew the flame back into her room and set the room on fire. Sadly, Lily died in the fire, and since then people have reported seeing a shadowy figure of a woman on the third floor. The cleaning staff has often reported seeing and hearing things on that same floor, like lights turning on and off and doors slamming shut behind them.2

Skeleton Park

Every place and person has skeletons hiding inside their closet. Well, Kingston has real skeletons hiding underground…

McBurney Park is its official name, but everyone calls it Skeleton Park. Located about 10 minutes north of downtown by foot, the park was once a garrison burial ground in 1816 and then turned into an Anglican and Catholic cemetery in 1825. By the 1850s, the cemetery was at capacity, eventually closing in 1864. The grounds became neglected until it was eventually converted into a city park. Several of the remains were moved to other cemeteries, but the monument pictured below still remains. The park is still in use today, but perhaps unbeknownst to some passersby, they may be treading on dusty, old skeletons. The park is so famous throughout Kingston, that there’s a brewery named after it.3

Hochelaga Inn

We passed by this eerie-looking building while on our way to the waterfront. While it may resemble the Bates’ mansion, this is now a BNB called the Hochelaga Inn.

The house was built by John McIntyre and his wife in 1879, who were relatives of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. Guests have reported feeling auras while staying at the inn and also seeing a ghostly older woman in black. Other reports indicated being woken up in the night to the wails of a young boy with blonde hair, hearing a woman singing a lullaby, and seeing objects thrown across the room.4

The Toucan Alley

Situated between Kingston’s major streets – Princess and King Street East – this alley is a beautiful limestone walkway where visitors can eat at Chez Piggy for dinner and grab a pint at The Toucan pub.

Kingston’s Haunted Walk tells the story of Teresa Beam, a woman who was murdered while pregnant in the alley by her husband John Napier in 1868. A store owner in the 1970s wondered why he was always hearing sounds of scraping on the walls and pounding on the door to his shop. It’s rumoured that Teresa never had a proper Christian burial after her death. People have also said they spotted a woman approaching them in a black dress, saying “Help me find my bones.”4

References:

1 https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2012-10-12/features/prison-past/

2 https://globalnews.ca/news/6102235/spooky-kingston-ghosts-stories/

3 Information from the city plaque

4 https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2005-10-28/features/kingstons-most-haunted/

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A Day as a Local Torontonian: A Photo Story

It’s definitely been ages since I posted here. A combination of lockdown brain fog and life changes made me push things to the back burner. But now, I’m happy to finally share something! Thanks to my Humber College Media Communications program, I’ll be developing my professional photography, writing, and design skills. I’d like to show my very first photo assignment that I finished this week called A Day as a Local.

Because I’m a story teller through this blog, this is a new way of telling a story. Called digital storytelling, it presents a particular narrative through digital images only. So, here is my digital story of post-COVID life in Toronto as a local, from morning to night. You’ll likely recognize some things (the garden car for instance) and others are unique in my own neighbourhood.

Many photoshoots didn’t actually go quite as planned to make this assignment. For instance, I tried taking shots inside of Folly Brewpub and their taps, but I struggled with their low lighting. The same goes for a cafe, when I tried to capture the inside. However, I had to adjust and try something else in better lighting conditions. While it doesn’t show as many businesses as I hoped, this story evolved into a feel-good project depicting scenes of adventure, uniqueness, curiosity and relaxation. And despite the noisy traffic of the city, relaxation can still be achieved!

Here are the photos in the slideshow below!

No Lifeguards on Duty: Life’s A Beach At Bloordale Beach

In January, I went on a trip to the beach. Except this beach had no sparkling ocean and no coastline at all. The closest body of water was Lake Ontario, which is located one hour by foot. As I scavenged through the shoreless terrain, I was stomping through rough gravel with my Blundstones rather than soft sand, expelling faint clouds of dust. There were faded yellow lines from old parking spaces, aligned from left to right. I had no umbrella, no blanket, sunglasses nor a swimsuit in my bag, but just my phone, wallet and keys. Such is the life at Bloordale Beach.

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This way to Bloordale Beach
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Swim at your own risk

The Beach was enclosed by a tall fence decorated with decrepit signs that once read, “Danger, trespassing”, but someone covered the letters with duct tape and changed it to, “Linger, so yespassing” in black Sharpie. There were green Danger signs along the fence, defaced with yellow spray paint that read “SHARKS” below it. But obviously, the city of Toronto was hundreds of kilometres away from real sharks. The only wildlife I saw were flocks of pigeons scrounging for scraps and plastic bags. The Beach had a designated “sea turtle nesting area”, or simply a pitiful ecosystem surrounded by wooden boards and populated by lifeless, toy turtles.

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No disturbing the sea turtles in their natural habitat
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Seems pretty legitimate

Situated beside Bloor Collegiate Institute, Bloordale Beach was once the location of Brockton High School. It was torn down in 2019, and now a vacant lots rests in its place, with a few openings cut from the fence for people to trespass. In May 2020, artist Shari Kasman came up with the idea of making beach signs after seeing someone using the empty space for suntanning. And hence comical signs, from “Beach Water Quality Hotline” to a convincing “UNESCO World Heritage Site” designation.1

Since moving into the neighbourhood, my boyfriend and I have periodically encountered the Beach during our afternoon strolls and Dufferin Mall errands. While technically off-limits to the public, a lack of enforcement allows Torontonians to wander through, perhaps out of necessity for physical distancing.

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A barren Bloordale Beach, facing Bloor Collegiate

It’s only fitting that the need for space had a significant part to play in creating Bloordale Beach. Kasman said that before the school was demolished, the area was a public shortcut to Dufferin Mall and a place where she would hang out and collect interesting artifacts. In fact, several schools throughout the city, such as Brockton High, were demolished and sold to developers, who kept architectural remnants for commercial and residential properties.

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Bloordale Beach facing north

So why such a bleak spot to explore and photograph in the first place? For one, its unusual nature full of dry humour and sombre undertones makes a good candidate for Atlas Obscura (I’d be surprised to not see it listed). Most importantly, it’s a quirky way to elevate spirits and highlight important conversations about urban planning and public opinion.

At first, I found that Bloordale Beach emanated sadness over the past year’s losses, despite its peculiarity. Rather than a far-away tropical paradise, I’m reserved to a cold, fenced-in dusty demolition site, bundled in a hat and face mask. During lockdown, the Beach seemed to be Toronto’s only accessible “tourist attraction”, although sometimes I forget that even this place is off-limits to the public. But when I saw the signs and understood their deadpan humour and the colourful toy turtles, I saw an artwork that brought light out of sadness. The Beach is also about everyday people reclaiming a space to share their imagination, humour and creativity with their community. What makes it funnier is how deprived Canada is of tropical beaches, even in normal times. Therefore, I’d argue that Bloordale Beach is indeed a tourist attraction in its own unconventional way.

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Looking back southwest, towards Brock Street

Shawn Micallef, in his August 9, 2020 article about Bloordale Beach writes that repurposing this Beach represents a dialogue between the people and Toronto’s city council. Perhaps it’s a call for more green spaces, as the city continues to build upwards on every street corner. Micallef also presents an interesting artistic take, drawing a parallel between the Beach and Situationist International, an avant-garde art movement from 1960s France. But it’s also symbolic of how public space and resources are utilized in Toronto. He argues for increased preservation of Toronto’s architectural heritage and that razing heritage buildings just to rebuild does not send a proper sustainability message to the public.1

The architectural remnants of Brockton High School

After reading more about the Beach, I harkened back to my Master’s program in History. A primary facet of Public History in particular is the concept of space and its relationship to historical narratives and the people who used this space. As seen with Bloordale Beach, the multitude of uses and physical transformations of space notably exposes power structures as well as forms of public protest. This is an example of both using and reclaiming space for meaningful purposes.

The idea of a space’s physical transformations resonates with me the most. Toronto is a city that forever moves through a never-ending cycle of construction, destruction and re-construction. That sadness resurfaces when I think of places that once existed. I lament the loss of pre-pandemic living (albeit temporary) but also losses of local businesses from COVID or condos and losses of affordable housing due to high rents and evictions. But on the optimistic side, the selective few who took this space and made it their own embraced humour, reclaimed a space and built a community.

At some point, a new Bloor Collegiate Institute will be rebuilt on this site, erasing Bloordale Beach from physical existence. But it’ll never cease to be erased from memory.

1 Information about Kalman as well as the story behind Bloordale Beach was from Shawn Micallef’s article “Watch for sharks: Toronto’s newest beach at Bloor and Dufferin has everything — except water,” published in the Toronto Star, Aug. 9, 2020. See article here.

A Simple Christmas: Capping Off 2020 with Songs and Snowstorms

There will always be that year where Christmas and New Years look a little bit different. Safe to say it’s been so for everyone.

With an impending Boxing Day lockdown, I was fortunate to be happily holed up with my boyfriend, opening gifts on Christmas morning in front of our 2-foot tree. Fast-forward to today, we’ll be quietly but excitedly ringing out the year we’re aching to put behind us.

I’m typically not a winter snowbird, so the absence of travel during the Holidays has had little impact. Regardless, I’ve prepared for a rough winter ahead with my full supply of Vitamin D and my yoga and boxing routines planned out. Despite my love for travel, I have a reverse tendency for sedentariness while home-bound, exacerbated by COVID restrictions. Therefore, it’s only fitting that I’ve kept my New Years resolution quite simple – go outside and explore my city.

Before I knew it, December approached, bringing scattered flurries over Toronto. While work was winding down, I had my last vacation days to use up. So, the morning after our first snowfall, I traveled 500 metres by foot to Dufferin Grove, snapped pictures and grabbed a coffee and a hot lunch.

Dufferin Grove – Where dogs can freely roam

Situated along the street of the same name, Dufferin Grove is a scenic respite from the busy mall across the street with a playground, ice rink and a soccer field. An abundance of green space covers the park, where we spent warm summer afternoons with cans of cider and a smorgasbord of snacks. It’s a new favourite spot of mine, mostly because of the beautiful, tall trees lined perfectly along the winding pathways, shielding me from the sun. After the first rain or snowfall, droplets and flakes would shower down from the branches, blown away by gusts of wind. I could feel the raindrops splattering the top of my head.

A cloudy morning brings out the lights even better

The pictures that I took were later edited with VSCO and Lightroom on my iPhone. I framed my best compositions by simply moving my feet, maintaining balance between my subjects which were the trees and lampposts. My eyes were constantly tracing the zigzagging lines of footprints in the snow as I walked. I particularly liked this one below, amplifying that 1-point perspective akin to a winding road. I envisioned that light at the end as a metaphor for things to come next year.

2021: A light at the end of the road/tunnel

When I got home, I did some research about the history of my new neighbourhood. I learned that Dufferin Grove was originally settled by the Denisons, a family who emigrated to Canada from England in 1792. The area was rich in soil and agriculture, and the crops they cultivated gave them great wealth. The neighbourhood’s most notable streets, such as Kyle’s old street of Rusholme, and our current street Dovercourt, derive from their county villas, “Rush” “Holme” and “Dover” “Court.” By the 1880s, row houses gradually replaced fields as the city urbanized, and today it’s notable for its local shops, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also worth mentioning that although we couldn’t see Portugal this year, we moved instead to Toronto’s own Little Portugal. It’s a comfort knowing that we’re now blocks away from grabbing a bottle of port or some pastel de natas.

A strange little building that looks like an outdoor fireplace?

By Christmas Eve, our plans were scrapped due to the impending Boxing Day lockdown. Instead, Christmas was filled with Zoom gift-openings and soothing holiday music crooning through our apartment speakers. After braving the storm of crowds Christmas Eve morning, I returned from the grocery store with fresh salmon and remaining sheltered from the misty rain. But once the temperature dipped, the mist had turned into snow, falling fast and lining our trees and rooftops with sheets of white. The storm continued throughout the evening and into Christmas morning, the first white Christmas in Toronto in years.

What lies beyond the lights?

Around 9:30 p.m on Christmas Eve, Kyle and I embarked on a trek into the storm, returning to Dufferin Grove with beers in hand. Along the way, we saw passersby in small groups, some taking their dogs for a nighttime stroll. I took out my phone and snapped more pictures from the same spot as before, with the lights illuminating the snow in soft blue.

By shuffling our feet, we started drawing words and faces in the snow, taking full advantage of our unlimited space. I cracked open my can of beer, tracing my name in capital letters with my boots. Suddenly, we heard loud yipping echoing through the air as a tiny white dog escaped from its owner’s clutches to see us, dragging its leash through the ground. The dog blended so well with the snow that I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. It barked and barked at everyone in sight, until the owner whisked it away, while wishing us Merry Christmas.

Drawing “Ho Ho Ho”!

Upon walking home, we took a detour down Rusholme Road to see more lights. Before turning the corner, I watched a door swing open and two young kids in Superman pajamas jumping out ecstatically at the sight of falling snow. “It’s going to be a white Christmas!” one of them exclaimed repeatedly, as the father stood in the doorway. I laughed quietly and felt a warm tingling inside (and it wasn’t the beer). I thought you only saw those moments in classic holiday movies.

Despite missing our family, Christmas 2020 delivered some meaningful moments. They were the same kind of moments I experienced while traveling but even more special this time. Not only did Kyle and I treat ourselves to a hygge Christmas, but we made a conscious effort to slow down time amidst the stresses of remote working. I missed the opportunity to travel, and admittedly, I struggled this year to refine my creativity and find and stories to tell. From this quiet Christmas holiday, I realized that you don’t need to search far and wide for these stories, as they live all around me, even at home! This is why the word Sonder is so powerful.

Hope everyone’s 2021 will be safe and full of stories from special places, whether from home or hopefully a little further away!

My Campsgiving Weekend at Algonquin Park: Thankful for Family, Nature, Good Food and Wine Openers

When I was three years old, my parents took my brother and I to Tobermory for our first camping trip by the beautiful shores of Georgian Bay. Immediately upon arrival, my Mom tried to coax me out of the van for hours without success. Tear-stained, stubborn and scared of the throes of wilderness, I sat in the backseat all day, clutching my stuffed Barney while my family pitched the tent. We left the next morning.

Twenty-five years later, I decided that it was time to give camping a second shot. I figured that roughing it in twelve-person dorms on firm beds with bed bugs and a symphony of snorers during my solo travels, I’d be well-suited to ditch comfy city living for one night. And this time, I found myself hiking, without hesitation, more than six kilometres away from the car, and I loved it.

My second trip was with my boyfriend, Kyle, my Mom and my Stepdad. Due to overwhelming popularity from the pandemic, we aimed for early autumn when the crowds have mostly dissipated. We had to rebook our site about four times as a result of unsuspecting weather, from two nights starting Oct. 4 to three nights from the 7th to the 10th, eventually settling for one night on the 9th. Even while burritoed inside two sleeping bags, coats, and thermal wear, our tents wouldn’t withstand temperatures colder than four degrees.

With two separate vehicles, our drive was three hours from Whitby to Algonquin Park, located roughly between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in sub-northern Ontario. I rode with my Mom in her Mustang while Kyle and my Stepdad trailed behind us. Meanwhile, I watched the early stages of colour changes getting brighter the further north we drove. My Mom explained that the trees had already peaked a week prior, resulting in a five-kilometre long vehicle lineup at the park’s entrance.

Once we passed Gravenhurst, twenty-foot high rocky walls lined the highway revealing the Canadian Shield’s southern tip. It was perfect timing that my Mom’s playlist landed on the Tragically Hip’s Ahead by a Century, as the wind scattered yellow leaves like a twister, bouncing off the windshield. And as she pointed out, a chunk of the forest was laid bare and several branches were completely exposed. Despite the mild disappointment, the absence of heavy traffic at the entrance certainly made up for it.

Our campground was on the shores of Mew Lake, almost halfway through the Park’s interior. The moment I stepped out of the car, I instantly tuned into the sounds, sights and smells of the outdoors. Conifer trees towered over us, giving us ample privacy from our neighbours. I could smell the damp, cool air, the pines and consequently, the pungent fumes of the facilities when nature called. My nostrils hadn’t experienced such a smell in so long, that I nearly regurgitated my Tim Hortons.

I observed the surrounding wildlife which was, as my three-year-old self would be comforted to see, completely harmless. The forest floor was littered with scavenging chipmunks. Kyle saw one with an entire half of a Nature Valley bar sticking out of its mouth. A Blue Jay swooped above our heads and landed on our tent, staring at our roasted hot dogs before flying away. I could also hear the birds chiming up high in the trees, the rustling branches, the shrill chattering of squirrels and…the sounds of traffic? The disadvantage of a last-minute booking meant taking the last available booking and least desired spot, which was 500 metres away from Highway 60, separated by shallow water. City noise never fails to follow me, no matter how far I escape.

After successfully pitching our tent (minus a few hiccups with the fly), our afternoon hike was a five-minute drive from our site. My Stepdad convinced us to skip the easy trails and go straight for the hardest, Centennial Trail. It makes sense, of course. The “Difficult” ones yielded the best views and the smallest crowds.

Lookout from Centennial Trail

Although six hours and 10.4 kilometres in total, we opted to hike for two hours, until we reached the third lookout. The trail’s difficulty lay mostly in its steep inclines, where we hopped across twisted tree roots that were entwined along the ground, like giants’ hands. Except for the first stretch, where it was easy to physically distance from fellow hikers, it was just the four of us climbing uphill. There wasn’t a faint sound of unfamiliar voices, but only our footsteps and Kyle and my Stepdad’s laughter and jokes. I could see for longer distances through the forest, as the leaves yellowed and fell off the branches, rustled and crushed by our boots. Occasionally, I would stop and crane my neck upwards, trailing my gaze towards the treetops, a welcome change from glass and concrete buildings.

When we reached the top, we could see for kilometres ahead, with spots of green, orange and gold everywhere, surrounding Whitefish Lake and the Lake of Two Rivers. The four of us were 500 feet up above a steep cliff, and I could hear nothing but the wind’s constant whooshing. The trees below me looked so tiny compared to downhill, like I was on a plane, taking off into the clouds.

We descended shortly afterwards and drove back to camp, ready to open our snacks and beer cans. Of all the jackets, tents, air mattresses, flashlights and bulky camp gear that was sprawled out on the living room floor, we still forgot some essentials. Not the sleeping bags, nor the tents (although Kyle and I used coats in lieu of pillows), but sadly, a wine opener. After scrounging for alternatives and finger-pointing as to who would ask the neighbours, my Stepdad resolved to using a hot dog skewer. Needless to say, digging a skewer into an expensive bottle of Niagara’s Ferox Red made us feel a little guilty. Kyle, who knows the winemaker personally through a family connection, vowed to never tell him what we did. Luckily, we practiced with a Beaujolais first and sampled a cork-infused Cabernet Sauvignon. I learned that going camping is when you can really improvise better than you think.

Kyle and I caught a perfect sunset at 6 o’clock. We watched the rays burst through the trees, shining a bright beam of light over Mew Lake. I locked my eyes to it for a rather dangerous amount of time, taking one last gulp of my can of Lake of Bays Brewing. After sunset, I’d later catch myself staring at the blanket of stars, a rare sight for city dwellers like me. I could feel the temperature dropping and the cold seeping through my Blundstones. I’ve experienced enough icy toes and fingertips from my time in Ottawa and traveling through Europe to appreciate warm socks and mittens. Once the sun set around 7 pm, I crawled into our tent in pitch-black to “winterize” – putting on thermal pants, extra shirts, a second layer of socks, and three layers of sweaters overtop covered by my Mom’s ski coat.

Time flew by that evening, as we roasted hot dogs, potatoes and Beyond Sausages for dinner and S’mores for dessert, sipped cork-flavoured wine and sat spaced apart with a weak campfire in the middle. The fire pit was slightly damp, and we depleted our firewood rather quickly. My Stepdad’s bold attempt to burn an oversized, wet log had succeeded after drying and sizzling for eight hours. By midnight, we burned the very last tinder. The temperature started to warm up from 5 to 10 degrees, and the wind began to pick up with clouds covering the celestial sky above us.

It wasn’t until bedtime when we unrolled our sleeping bags in complete darkness, as doing so earlier would make them cold. After laughing and scrambling in the dark, Kyle and I were nestled below four sleeping bags, thermal socks, toques and coats for pillows. Being a light sleeper, I knew instantly that the scattered roaring of campers and 18-wheelers would keep me up all night. Thankfully, I brought my handy head-band with built-in Bluetooth earbuds to drown out the sounds of civilization. But not before catching an owl’s low crooning from a tree branch, the same owl that awakened my Mom from her slumber.

The next morning we fried up some leftover sausages and scrambled eggs on a portable grill for breakfast and drank some french press coffee. Noticing the darkening clouds, we quickly gathered our belongings and folded our tents in anticipation of rain. My Stepdad’s suggestion for our hike of the day was Hemlock Bluff, an easier trail that guides you through Jack Lake and its busy beaver dams. I was sure to grab my umbrella and borrowed my Mom’s waterproof jacket to prepare for a wet forecast.

Approaching Jack Lake

Only 3.5 kilometres, the trail at Hemlock Bluff was a little busier and muddier this time around. It felt like a game of “floor is lava”, but instead it was mud, and we were jumping from rock to rock. My attention focused on the tall Yellow Birches that populated the forest, still covered with leaves. Their narrow white trunks guided us through the muddy path, and I could feel the rough peeling bark with my fingers. According to my guidebook, some of these birches were as old as 300 years.

More than halfway through, we crossed a wooden boardwalk across the marshes on Jack Lake. I spotted the first beaver dam made of neatly arranged branches spanning almost twenty feet from one end of the lake to the other. Although April was the best time to see beavers due to the melting ice, I was hopeful that October was also ideal to spot these ingenious animals. I kept a close eye, but unfortunately didn’t see any. Guess that means I’ll have to return in Spring.

Searching for beavers

After the hike, we briefly stopped at the Park’s gift shop before heading home. On our way, we ended up in Gravenhurst for a quick patio beer and early dinner at Sawdust City Brewery. If you’ve ever noticed that Canada is infamous for its odd oversized objects for tourists, then Gravenhurst has a giant Muskoka chair, eponymous for its region.

Needless to say, the second time around was a huge success compared to the first. After seven months into the pandemic, the absence of international travel was really wearing on me. But perhaps there’s an important reason behind people like me dusting off their old tents and flocking to nature. Although I long for the day when Kyle and I can stroll through the cobblestoned streets of Alfama, my experience at Algonquin Park was just as valuable. The myriad of sights, sounds, senses – whether it’s fresh pines or outhouses, owls or 18-wheelers – creates nuance and brings places to life. Travel is about making connections, but this time I strengthened close ones through shared experience. Travel is also about learning more about myself. I was conscious about reducing my impact on our valuable ecosystems and appreciating the environment around us. Finally, I learned that I can definitely rough it for at least one night.

It was a Campsgiving to remember.

Here’s a bonus picture of my three-year-old timid self and my Barney, taken post-meltdown as I squeezed out an apprehensive smile.

A Bone-Chilling Birthday: My Pilgrimage to Sedlec Ossuary

In the spirit of Halloween, what better time than to reminisce on one of the spookiest places I’ve visited? I’ve made frequent mention of my day trip to Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czechia, and even wrote a blog post last year. I decided to give it a re-write for my Travel Writing Course that I took this past winter. After careful editing and valuable feedback from my instructor and peers, I’m excited to finally share this with you. Happy Halloween at Home! (P.S. it’s not my birthday!)

I approach the altar and gaze upwards at the chandelier hanging over my head, ornately decorated with human skulls. Lit candles illuminate their gaping eye sockets and the contours of femurs and hip bones. Mild bursts of sunlight trickle through the back window, contrasting with the underground darkness. 

In the 13th century, thousands of people desired to be buried at Sedlec Ossuary. They attributed its sacredness to Holy Soil from Golgotha – where Jesus was crucified – brought back by a Cistercian abbot and scattered across the cemetery. There are at most 70,000 bones laid to rest here, hence its nickname, “The Bone Church.” I first learned of this macabre place from Atlas Obscura. I got the chance to see it for myself during my stay in Prague.

I listen to the low chattering of my fellow tourists, catching their camera flashes from the corner of my eye. I’m obsessively staring at every skeletal garnish or decoration surrounding me. I’m reminded of those creepy urban legends like the catacombs of Paris that fuel travellers’ curiosities. At Sedlec, I expected to feel a chill behind my shoulders, a thrilling uneasiness of being watched.

Being watched, Sedlec Ossuary

But as hundreds of skulls stare down at me, I find myself peacefully ruminating over life and mortality. I think of my journey here, taking two trains with three Australians and a confused tour guide to this place. To walk beneath a skull garland above my head, like crepe birthday party paper.

It also happens to be my 26th birthday.

We depart our hostel in Prague at 9:30 am for the train station, aiming to reach the town of Kutná Hora and Sedlec Ossuary by 11. I feel my throat drying amidst a hot, mid-September sun during our short walk to the train station. What we hoped was a smooth process turns into aimlessly following our confused guide like cattle. We miss the direct route, and subsequently huddle inside a café, waiting for the noon train. Throughout the journey, my fellow travellers question our guide’s sense of direction as she wistfully sits three rows behind, plugged into her music.

We make our transfer from Kolin and arrive in Kutná Hora at 1 pm. Our own use of Google Maps prevents our guide from leading us astray. I catch a pungent tobacco stench in the air as we cross the bridge into town, undoubtedly from a Phillip Morris factory across the street.

A short distance away lies The Bone Church. Unlike what we expected, its modest exterior bears no skeletal touches. It rests atop a platform accentuated by three round spires and narrow window arches, some boarded up entirely. I notice just how crowded its cemetery is. Once word had spread about Sedlec’s sacredness, the cemetery quickly filled to capacity. Eventually, the remains were moved underground to make room for more.

Entering Sedlec and looking up at the Schwarzenberg crest

We enter through the doors down a flight of stairs into the crypt below. After handing over some Czech korunas, I slowly tread down the steps and through a wide archway towards the nave.  On either sides of the archway, a bone column runs vertically up the corners, in skull-and-cross bone fashion, stacked one-by-one. A bone coat-of-arms sits above the archway’s tip with a skull Crucifix in the centre. It represents the crest of the House of Schwarzenberg, an aristocratic German-Czech family.

My group disperses in all directions, as though our minds couldn’t fathom where to focus. As I walk through the nave, my head swivels and my mouth hangs agape. On both sides lie caged exhibits filled with skull mounds, all facing me. Each mound has a small hole burrowing through the middle like a tunnel, revealing the other side. As I stand in front holding my phone, I feel like Indiana Jones, searching for a Crystal Skull.

A hidden Crystal Skull

The nave opens into the transept, with two smaller corridors on either side. Four skull pyramids arranged in a square occupy the altar space. Visitors can stand right in the middle, directly below the great chandelier that forms a skeletal canopy. With my eyes and camera, I trace every bony decoration aligning the ceiling, all grossly entwined with each other.

For hundreds of years, the skeletal remains at Sedlec Ossuary were hidden underground until 1870 when a local woodcarver and artist named František Rint was appointed by the Schwarzenbergs to artistically rearrange each and every bone. Rint’s own signature also rests on the wall near the entrance.

Sedlec Ossuary, skeletal canopy
Bony chandelier

In this moment, I realize what sets The Bone Church apart from other places that I’ve visited. It’s not the grisly décor but the meaning behind it that makes Sedlec distinct. I entered a giant art exhibit that manifests morbidity in a creative way that both laughs at and peacefully accepts inevitable death. This, ironically, brings life to a seemingly morbid place.

Every skull and bone laid to rest is a physical sign of an individual seeking salvation. A final fulfillment, even in death. Through my own chaotic journey, I can attune to fulfillment in my own sense – a reminder to embrace life and approach its difficulties through light-hearted humour. I even Googled if couples could marry at Sedlec. Someone posted this response: “No, you can’t.”

We depart Kutná Hora at mid-afternoon for the long return journey. Our sun-fatigued selves sit silently throughout the entire train ride. Most of us fall asleep, feeling like Sedlec’s decayed dwellers.

This whole time, I had never told anyone about my birthday. Upon returning to Prague, I decline my group’s invite to join them for dinner.

Instead, I sit alone inside a café, staring eagerly at my slice of chocolate cake. I picture the candles from the bony chandelier, and blowing them out, one-by-one before taking my first bite. Time to celebrate another year gone and many more to come.

Beginner Photography: An Autumn-Themed Exhibition of my Photo Stories

After launching Finding Sonder on Instagram last year, I’ve connected with fellow travellers who are also talented photographers. It’s true that viewing a photo on Instagram doesn’t convey the same atmospheric effect as it would for the photographer. But, if beautifully composed and edited, it generates a strong emotional response that resonates with me. The photos I see emulate feelings of wonder and curiosity and inspire me to try it myself. And now, I’m taking up the craft as a means to complement my writing. My goal is to explore a new artistic medium that tells a story and demonstrates my creative strengths.

Some of these photos are undoubtedly a bit pixelated and over-exposed, taken by an old Samsung Galaxy that I used while traveling. I still embrace them, because I think that the learning process is an adventure in itself. I have to start somewhere, so why not here?

And what better way to start than to show some autumn photography and get us into the spirit of the season?

Spiritual Solitude, Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds – Taken by my Samsung Galaxy phone.

In 2014, I lived in Leeds for six months, but I only just visited Kirkstall Abbey three years ago. It was typical wet British weather, and I was wandering the ruins alone, sheltered by an umbrella. The photo on the left is one of my favourites from that trip. The path in the middle directs the viewer straight towards the focus point which is the doorway. The black and white adds further mystery and represents the Abbey’s distant past.

Five Sisters of Kintail, Scotland – Taken by my Samsung Galaxy Phone

In my post, Day Three in Scotland: Journey’s End with Whiskey and High Spirits, I talk about the ill-fated Five Sisters and how they transformed into these tall, rugged peaks. Located in Scotland’s Northwest Highlands, the mountains were perfectly illuminated by a ray of sunlight that shined bright spots onto the water. This is an example of how crucial light is for composing a great shot. Here, it trains the eye to focus on the centre of the photograph.

The Witch’s Hat, Iceland: Taken by my Sony Alpha DSLR

Kirkjufell was a highlight from my 2019 Iceland road trip. I shared this photo multiple times and tried different filters and editing programs – my favourite was edited through VSCO. Known as Church Mountain (although it really resembles a witch’s hat), Kirkjufell rests on the narrow peninsula of Snæfellsnes, northwest of Reykjavik. Iceland was a great location to play with shapes and textures through the mountains and volcanic formations.

Alternative Austerity, Berlin – Taken with my Samsung Galaxy phone

Berlin was one of my most memorable destinations. As an avid historian and music lover, Germany’s capital had everything I hoped for – an alternative music scene unmatched by other cities and a history that was both difficult and compelling. Berlin still bears its scars in brutally honest and artistic ways. I initially never expected this photo to stand out (an aspect of photography that I love), and I was later impressed by its composition. Through the use of lines, the tracks guide the viewer’s eye towards the TV Tower, the photo’s primary subject. My intention with the black and white was to emphasize Berlin’s urbanity and grittiness.

Colours and Cuckoo Clocks, Munich – Taken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

The sounds of Cuckoo clocks and playful chimes filled my ears while taking this photo. After climbing hundreds of steps, I reached the viewing platform of St. Peter’s Church overlooking the main square. It was 5 pm, just in time for the puppets of Rathaus-Glockenspiel to sing and dance. The whimsical music set the tone nicely for me to capture the Frauenkirche, Munich’s red-tinned roofs and the evening sky.

The Tower Bridge, London – Taken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

Photographers may consider the Tower Bridge an “over-used” subject. But through creative, personal choices, photography enables us to view familiar places through different lenses (literally and figuratively). Regardless of where in Europe I end up, I’m always in London at some point. It’s my hub city and gateway to other European cities via cheap EasyJet or Ryanair flights. I managed to capture the Bridge before strong winds and rain blanketed the city, in classic London fashion. During editing, I created a balance between light and dark, bringing more colour to a cloudy city.

Skeletal Subjects, Kutná Hora, Czechia – Taken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

This was hands-down, my spookiest birthday. I spent my 26th in small-town Czechia, exploring a church filled with skeletal ornaments. Introducing, Sedlec Ossuary. Despite this rather ghoulish black and white photo, Sedlec was surprisingly, an peaceful place. You’ll find out why in an upcoming post! But my aim here was to amplify the contrast and to focus on a mysterious black “void” in the centre, not knowing where it goes. The subjects (the skulls) were already meticulously placed to emphasize this void. Hey, Halloween is approaching!

Beaming Bryggen, Bergen – Taken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

This was another one of my favourites. I wanted to accentuate the vibrant colours of Bergen’s harbour, matching the mountain in the background. Even with my phone, this photo turned out beautifully due to perfect lighting conditions at sunset as I returned from a boat tour. Through editing, I contrasted the shadows on the roofs with the natural sunlight at the forefront.

Cycling Through CopenhagenTaken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

To me, Copenhagen was a city of movement. As one of the world’s bicycle capitals, it’s no surprise that many of my subjects were bikes and streets. I was always moving too, both on wheels and on foot. Again, I opted for the black and white to convey a cosmopolitan feel, although colour would also work well. The natural sun rays from the photo on the right was a lucky accident!

My Bridge of Sighs, Nynäshamn, Sweden –Taken with my Samsung Galaxy Phone

After one glance at this photo, I just can’t stop sighing. Luckily no one is around to cast strange looks at me. I can’t get enough of the autumn colours and really cranked up the saturation a notch. The big yellow barn was perfectly positioned in the middle, and the bridge’s opening reveals a beautiful mirage of the surrounding trees. Sweden was one of my favourite countries, and while it may be off-season, this photo is hopefully enough evidence that autumn is the best time to visit.

Meech Lake, Quebec – Taken by my Sony Alpha DSLR

It was exactly one year ago since my Dad and I visited Gatineau Park and I snapped this photo. More scenic shots of the Park can also be seen here. While we had difficulty accessing the trails due to full capacity, we managed to sneak into Meech Lake shortly before sunset. Of course, I couldn’t ignore the reflections, which were essential elements to this photo. It reminds me of summer vacations at my friend’s cottage when I’d sit by the dock and watch the sunset.

History and Hallowed Halls, WhitbyTaken by my Sony Alpha DSLR

Between fall, 2017 and summer, 2018, I lived in Whitby, located roughly 40 minutes east of Toronto. Although I spent much of my childhood in a neighbouring town, I never truly appreciated downtown Whitby’s culture and heritage until now. The court house is where my Mom and Stepdad got married and it’s one of my favourite buildings. As one of my early photos with this camera, I positioned the building’s entrance directly in the middle to give the appearance of it being slowly “hugged” by tree branches. The black and white creates a spooky effect, considering that the court house may be haunted!

Niagara Falls – Taken by my Sony Alpha DSLR

After canceling my Portugal trip and being cooped up for over 6 months, a 2-hour road trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake was a welcome retreat. It may not be Europe, but it felt like I was far away from home. I wanted to emphasize the Falls’ blue colours and the same hypnotizing feeling that I had when seeing it in person. I also made sure to avoid over-exposing the cloud of mist in order to create texture. This is the closest I got to international travel without crossing the border!

Autumn in Philosopher’s Walk, TorontoTaken with my Sony Alpha DSLR

When it comes to finding green space for autumn strolls, Toronto certainly doesn’t fall short (haha). As part of my seasonal photo series, Philosopher’s Walk is a notable secret spot in the city. Wedged between U of T and the Royal Ontario Museum, it’s a quiet respite from the heavy traffic between Bloor and College Streets. Similar to my photo of Nynäshamn, I wanted more saturation to focus on colour, an element of composition that I like most.

***

My aim through photography is to not only support my writing but to also strike an emotive response using colour, light, textures, lines and shapes. From my study abroad travels in 2014 to my 2020 backyard adventures, these were taken by my DSLR and phone camera and enhanced through my computer editing software. I hope to take the next step soon and use Lightroom and most importantly, get a new camera and lens!

Uncovering Bishop’s Block: How Artifacts Reveal Rich Histories

I took a walk this past Monday to Adelaide Street, west of University Ave. to find a stylish red-bricked building, relatively buried within the surrounding high-rises. With thousands of artifacts excavated from its original location, Bishop’s Block demonstrates the value in how objects reveal the dynamic histories of a particular place.

Exterior of Bishop’s Block, taken with my Sony Alpha DSLR

As one of the city’s oldest buildings, Bishop’s Block dates back to 1830 consisting of five Georgian-style townhouses constructed for landlord and butcher John Bishop. Its original location was on University Avenue where the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel now rests in its place. According to ASI’s website, some of the first tenants in Bishop’s Block were prominent members of the community. The building pictured above is a 2012 reconstruction from the two remaining townhouses, with some of the original red brick used. A plaque designated by Heritage Toronto is mounted on the side facing north of Adelaide Street.

In 2007, ASI Heritage excavated this site, revealed the foundations of about four townhouses and recovered almost 70,000 artifacts, including hygiene products, children’s toys (specifically dolls’ heads), kitchenware and even a leather shoe. ASI’s archaeological evidence and written documents show “a changing landscape on Adelaide Street from a semi rural, upper middle class range of single family homes to a fully urban, working class enclave of boarding houses and commercial businesses by the early twentieth century.”*

Material history is fundamental for studying heritage conservation and museum practices. It’s always fascinating to hold and study a physical remnant of a distant time and place. But material history also presents some interesting questions. Who was the object’s owner? Was it passed on to someone else, or perhaps lost? Used by different people at the same time? There could be signs of wear or damage, beyond the usual aging process. Understanding historical objects and seeking for answers reveal meaningful new stories. With storytelling as my unifying theme for Finding Sonder, it’s no surprise that the stories behind objects are personally significant to me.

I’m reminded of my experience as a volunteer at the Canadian Museum of History, when I used objects as my primary method of historical interpretation. By demonstrating a pair of Viking horns, I educated kids about how they were actually used for drinking mead instead of helmets! When learning about the Gold Rush, visitors held a 4 lb gold nugget and a heavy 8 lb bar (all fake, of course) to get an idea of how heavy pure gold was. I used a real scale from the 1800s to teach them how gold was properly weighed. An object can do wonders, even create a moment of enlightenment, an ephemeral but meaningful exchange between others.

I share that same enlightened feeling by the excellent work ASI does to uncover these amazing artifacts.

For more information about ASI’s excavation work and their other projects, check out their website here.

* ASI Heritage, “Bishop’s Block.” Accessed Aug. 14, 2020. https://asiheritage.ca/portfolio-items/bishops-block/

More resources:

  • Historical images of Bishop’s Block, courtesy of Toronto Archives. See ASI Heritage’s website on Bishop’s Block to view an original photo of the building.
  • For more images and info about the building’s reconstruction: http://www.eraarch.ca/project/bishops-block/.
  • The Shangri-La Hotel, the site of the original structure, hosted an exhibit about Bishop’s Block. See here view some of the artifacts displayed.

Imagining Portugal: Porto

Word has it that a popular new travel trend is on the rise: The Second City. What exactly does this mean? Although like fellow explorers I’ve always appreciated the Romes and Parises, but I’ve also yearned for the low-key, less crowded alternatives. But rather than the other extreme – going off the grid – my interest in Second Cities is founded upon the experience of localhood, finding reflective moments of daily life unique to their capital counterparts.

Porto is the Second City that visitors to Portugal have been raving about. Resting on the banks of the River Douro, the settlement dates back centuries as an original outpost of the Roman Empire. Medieval walls trail through the city adorned with modern street art, overshadowed by buildings of contemporary architecture. Modest white cottages with reddish-orange rooftops span uphill on both sides of the river. With trendy rooftop bars, a walkable grid and an innovative cuisine, it’s easy to feel that “Second City” vibe in one of Europe’s oldest cities.

Here is part two of my imaginary reflections of an adventure that we should have had in March, 2020 (and will have in 2021).

The moment we stepped off the train, I could taste sweet notes of Port wine and the saltiness of bacalhau.

Day 1:

Arriving early for check-in, we dropped off our bags behind the front desk of the Selina Porto – a similar kind of modern hybrid hostel/hotel to Lisbon. Except this emitted had a more rustic and maritime atmosphere. Their cafe on the left is entombed with beige stone walls, the planters propped up by palm trees. They also had a lush outdoor common space with zigzagging pathways entwined with trees and gardens with a stage in the middle for live music. Once again, we snatched a private room with twin beds, which welcomed us once we checked in with baby blue walls and a large window overlooking Das Oliveiras.

One of the best ways to see Porto on a budget is a free walking tour. Normally, I favour the hostel-led ones, except this time Kyle found a different tour, strongly recommended by TripAdvisor. This 3-hour trek covers both the must-sees and the more secretive spots of Porto. And so, by 1 pm, we met everyone at Fonte dos Leones (Fountain of the Lions). I was admittedly distracted by the sounds of spouting water from the lions’ mouths while our tour guide stood in front, effortlessly narrating the city’s expansive history.

Avenida dos Aliados. From goPorto

With just 10 of us in total, we followed our guide through Porto’s narrow streets, weaving by antiquated five-storey buildings splashed with yellow, green, red and beige which shaded us from the sun. The tour’s itinerary included the following:

  • A block west of the fountain lay the monumental twin Baroque churches, Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitos. Our guide pointed out a unique facet on one side, a tiled ceramic wall that depicted scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order.
  • North from the Igrejas is Liberdade Square, a wide and busy intersection with an platform for pedestrians to gather in the middle and crowd the red swarms of hop-on-hop-off buses. We were directly facing a 15-foot high monument to King Peter IV resting on the north side of the main street of Avenido dos Aliados.
  • After scouting much of the city, we concluded the tour at the brooding tower of Igreja de Sao Francisco (Church of St Francis), one of the most astounding Gothic monuments in Porto. I was entranced by the intricate rose window occupying the main facade above the doors. After the tour, we briefly entered the church and were met with darkness hushed voices. Pod lighting illuminated a faint orange glow on the golden archways and ceilings. There wasn’t a single crevice or spot on the wall bereft of gold garnishing.

After 4 pm we we approached the outside of Combi Coffee, following a 20 minute walk northeast. Combi happened to be a top-of-our-list recipient for a fresh cup of coffee. Kyle ordered our afternoon brews to go and a croissant while I browsed for my second bag of beans, blissfully unaware of my increasingly limited backpack space.

Interior of Igreja do Carmo. Via visitportugal

We took our coffees with us to Jardim do Marques, a small park with a fountain across the street. The afternoon sun shifted behind us, and shaded itself just right behind the trees. Although just 15 degrees, the breeze billowing from the Atlantic made my hair soft and form goosebumps on my arm. This was ultimately more pleasant than even the crispiest autumn day at home near the Philosopher’s Walk.

Dinnertime was what I was eager for most. Kyle and I got dressed and walked down to the river banks. After snapping a few pictures (and asking other tourists to take them for us), we both agreed on ODE Porto Wine House to indulge in Porto’s most famous specialties. The hostess led us to an intimate room just below ground, with stone walls and accentuated by crates and barrels on the floor. Again, we were perhaps the first diners here, ready for dinner hours before the locals would even pop open their first glass of wine.

ODE Porto Wine House. From Natalia Mylova/Shutterstock

The first and only time we drank Port wine was in my apartment one January evening, where we emptied half the bottle and filled the glasses by 6 ounces. After one hour we downed one glass, our faces contorting from the sweetness after our fifth gulp. Had I researched beforehand regarding the proper etiquette of Port consumption, we’d be sipping lightly instead to complement our dessert. Fortunately, that lesson was learned prior to our very first steps in Porto, ready for the real experience. This Port was lighter on the palate from each tiny sip I made, warming my belly and reddening my cheeks. We both laughed in that moment, knowing we still had much to learn.

Day 2:

Originally, we had considered a Douro Valley tour, a stunning place outside Porto that my friend highly suggested. But the overall consensus from others who had visited Porto was to use our valuable time seeing the best of Portugal’s Second City.

This time, we passed on the arduous physical activity – save for the hills – and opted to follow our own curiosities by detouring through narrow alleyways and finding odd the shops and favourite local bars.

A spot on Kyle’s list was the Livraria de Baixa, a place he described as “a Portuguese version of [Ottawa’s] Black Squirrel Books.” A hybrid bar, cafe and bookshop, the bookshop, with its dark oak exterior and bright green lettering, stood out amongst the other storefronts. Going inside was like an invitation to an elderly scholar’s study – red carpets, a sole gramophone emulating old crackling jazz music and shelves neatly arranged with 19th century volumes, atlases, poems and other trinkets (I could swear I saw a small, porcelain doll on the top shelf and wondered if it was for sale). We found the English section in the corner. Coincidentally, Kyle managed to find after much digging, a small, 100-page dusted paperback about Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, for only 5 Euros.

Rather than eating here, we walked up the corner to Noshi Coffee instead for brunch, another spot on my list. I chose the outdoor seating area, despite a down draft coming from the cool weather. We sat below an array of hanging succulents attached by long strings from the rafters, looking like floating extraterrestrial organisms, floating above us. Upon browsing their Instagram page, I was already craving a salmon focaccia sandwich while drinking a Dalgona for the first time.

Salmon focaccia at Noshi. From @noshicoffee

After lunch we wandered back to Avenia dos Aliados for some quality window-shopping time, looking at overpriced hats and handbags. One activity that I used to love doing, especially when I visited New York, was what I’d call hotel lobby-hopping. For a short while, I would step inside the lobbies of 5-star hotels, often to just use their bathroom, but mostly to pretend for one moment, that I could afford a penthouse hotel suite. Here on the Avenia does Aliados, was the InterContinental Porto where the street ends and intersects with Praça de Liberdade. No one was really watching us, determining if we resembled their sort of clientele as we stood on their shiny floors gaping at the white, marble ceilings. Perhaps we made it quite obvious. We took laps down the hallways, peeking into their dining quarters with a heightened awareness of our limited budgets. We disappeared from the hotel before the money from our wallets would for an overpriced glass of Port.

Before dinnertime, Kyle and I wanted to see one more place, called Largo da Pena Vontosa. Although it was really a district comprising of the neighbourhoods Sé and Ribeira and well-known for its bright, colourful houses. In the meantime, I suggested a slight detour and cross the metallic Dom Luis bridge – the main bridge that links the two small cities into one. I stopped to snap pictures as we stood high above the Douro, capturing the green hills and the Atlantic upon the horizon. Although Sé and Ribeira were on the north side (we ventured to the south), I wanted to cross the Dom Luis just once before departing Porto.

Crossing Dom Luis. From Travel in Portugal

Thankful that I wore running shoes, we carefully tread over uneven cobblestones, admiring the pastel colours of blue, baby blue, yellow, red and white. Small shadowed alcoves led us to open street squares, where residents sat underneath flower pots and umbrellas, sipping their evening coffee. I hadn’t noticed until now, as the sun barely set, a string of lights connecting each building. They were dimly lit, as though we were waiting to access a secretive night festival.

Largo da Pena Vontosa. From Alex Casanovas.

Luckily we had packed earlier that day for our morning train to Lisbon, before flying home in two days’ time. Our final evening led us to the grooviest bar in all of Porto – found, not surprisingly, by Kyle. Introducing BOP – it’s got tap beer, bookshelves covered in records, delicious late-night food and the best playlist we heard since frequenting our favourite bar back home. But should you feel like going by your own beat, you can borrow headphones and choose an album yourself. So there we were, eating burgers with a pint in one hand, listening to Cocteau Twins over headphones in unison.

During my time in Porto, I was subconsciously guilty of feeling right at home when I was so far from it. But I supposed that was the charm of the Second City. With Lisbon, I felt a charming and otherworldly spirit. The sounds of fado transported me to a different level, like being in a classic 1930s film. But Porto to me, emulated a comforting familiarity. Maybe it was because we chose to slow our pace, exploring the alleyways like we would in Toronto, looking for those places with character, but didn’t take themselves too seriously. Now that felt like home.

A beautiful picture taken by my friend @jennleahko while enjoying a glass of wine by the river. Also go and check our her blog Jenn Leah Ko!

The Story of Canada’s Black Railway Porters

As white people including myself who are privileged in a society that’s a direct product of racist and colonialist practices and biases, must hold ourselves accountable and recognize oppression faced by Canada’s Black community. This means listening to and elevating narratives told by Black storytellers about how racialized Canadians withstood and fought back against racist policies

Myseum of Toronto presents an excellent history of Canada’s Black Railway Porters. It accounts for the harsh conditions that they faced and their committed activism for equal opportunity. Although Canada’s Transcontinental Railway has often been hailed as a feat of human achievement, it overshadows the deserved appreciation for Black porters who served white passengers in railway cars.

Please check out the whole story on Myseum of Toronto’s virtual exhibit here. The exhibit also includes a panel discussion and reading by author Cecil Foster, playwright Meghan Swaby and performed by Peter Bailey.

We must also remember that even the world of travel isn’t immune to systemic racism. Financial accessibility to travel is a privilege in itself. The Black community continues to experience forms of racial prejudice whether both abroad and at home by other travellers. Even the very modes of transportation, as seen from Canada’s Black porters, have always functioned in ways that benefit a particular class and race.

We need to do better – start the conversations and elevate Black narratives.

*For more resources:

They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and The Birth of Modern Canada by Cecil Foster
North of the Colour Line: Sleeping Car Porters and the Battle against Jim Crow on Canadian Rails, 1880-1920 by Sarah-Jane (Saje) Mathieu

Photo source: Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library & Library and Archives Canada/National Film Board

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