From the moment we arrived in Toronto we knew that this was going to be a special trip. Sometimes that is how it is – a good flight, pleasant weather on arrival, smooth transfer to a comfortable hotel, the excitement of a new city, the company of old friends and the promise of new ones, and on top of all this the race to look forward to. We never forget how lucky we are. But there was also something extra, harder to put your finger on – Toronto stole our hearts in a very understated way. We left with lots of fond memories.

The name Toronto comes from the  Iroquoian language and means “place where trees stand in water” – a reference to an ancient method of corralling fish. The city itself is known to be one of the most multicultural in the world but the Iroquoian people first inhabited the area over 10,000 years ago. And maybe there is something of the First Nations peoples’ philosophy of harmony and inter-connectedness that lives on in the city. We’d like to believe that this is what we felt.

We spent five days in total in Toronto and the surrounding area. Although the city itself was very accessible from our downtown hotel, we hired a car for 24 hours which made a trip to Niagara Falls and a parkrun easier. In our usual fashion, we have picked out ten highlights of our visit and have called on the ideas (and numbers) of the Canadian First Nation people to help illustrate them.

sga:d : May every sunrise bring you hope … – Toronto waterfront run

On our first morning in Toronto we decided to take advantage of our change of time-zone to get up early and go for a run along the waterfront. The Toronto waterfront stretches for 46km along the northern shore of Lake Ontario, and our run took us eastwards from the CN Tower through parklands and marinas. The temperature was cool but good for running. The run along the lake shore, with the rising sun casting a golden glow over the buildings in the city, took our breath away. One of the more memorable shake-outs.

Relaxing post-marathon

dekni:h : May the warm winds of heaven blow softly on your home – Our Tepee, or temporary home

We stayed in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel, in the downtown area a few minutes’ walk from CN tower and waterfront. Unfortunately, we’ve now been rather spoilt by this hotel.  It came as part of a very reasonable package from Expedia including a British Airways flight. The rooms were large and extremely comfortable with sofas and desks, a dressing room and luxurious bathroom with a large bath and walk-in shower. It even had even heated bathroom floors and electrically-operated curtains. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, and had no problem arranging a late check-out. There was a good bar and three hotel restaurants. Highly recommended.

sëh : Water is life. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings to the spirit of the water – Niagara Falls

There were a number of things on our to-do list whilst we were in Toronto and not much time to do them, so after our lakeshore run on the first morning we picked up a hire car and headed off on a two hour drive (via the Ontario wine country) to the magnificent Niagara Falls. The drive was through attractive rolling countryside, with trees displaying their autumnal colours, and pretty, well-kept villages. The town of Grimsby (perhaps surprisingly) stood out as an example, with the streets lined with painted gingerbread-style houses. En route we stopped at one of the many wineries in the area (the region is on the same latitude as northern Italy) and tasted some of the very good Canadian wine, which incidentally is not exported out of the country. The main reason for the trip, though, was a visit to the spectacular Niagara Falls. The area is so touristy – verging on tacky – that it would be easy to be distracted from the true magnificence of the falls themselves. Despite the conveyor-belt nature of the experience, with us as part of the pink-plastic-poncho-clad hordes, the boat trip to the bottom of the falls was truly amazing and extremely wet

ge:ih : May your footsteps only leave friends behind – Duffins trail parkrun

It was 9am Saturday morning so obviously it was parkrun time. There are currently four parkruns within a reasonable drive of Toronto centre, and we chose to visit Duffins trail who were having their third event. The run was a beautiful path out and back along part of the Trans-Canada Trail, running along and criss-crossing Duffins Creek. We turned up to find a number of other international runners, including some from Chile, alongside members of one of our party’s own running club in Glasgow! The parkrun was started by a family who had recently moved to the area from South Africa where they had come across the parkrun movement. They were hoping to use parkrun to help foster a greater sense of community in the area. After the run we went back to The Waypoint – a shared community space – where complimentary coffees and croissants were on offer. We stayed a while chatting and as always were amazed by the interconnectedness and common aims between members of the global parkrun family. A philosophy the First Nations people would have recognised.

wis : Be strong when you are weak, be brave when you are scared, be humble when you are victorious – the Toronto marathon

On race day, we woke up to very low temperatures, with even the hint of snowflakes in the air. We knew as we set off for the short walk from our hotel to the start that the throw-away jumpers would live to see another day. The event itself was very well organised, with friendly chit-chat in the start pens. The half and full marathons started together. The course itself was flat and fast, first going through different areas of the city centre before going out eastwards along the waterfront, then returning and heading further westwards along the lake. There were more stunning views of the city and lake shore. Support and entertainment along the course were good, and the aid tables were frequent and well-stocked. The volunteers and marshals did an amazing job staying cheerful and supportive in challenging conditions. Did we say it was cold? -2°C rising to +1°C. The two members of our party who were doing the half got the better part of the run.

Despite the cold, we got two good results, Cam running 3:42, and Jacquie 3:57 and getting an age-group prize – and the sub-4 needed for D pen at Comrades in June next year.

ye:iʼ: My friends, how desperately do we need to be loved and to love – Friendship.

As often on these international trips, we were not alone. A number of running friends had also made the journey out to Toronto and we met up with some of them on a couple of occasions to eat and drink. The Horseshoe Tavern was a convivial and down-to-earth meeting place. It was also good to see friendly faces out on the course – a real boost to morale, especially in the later stages of the run.

Creation story

dza:dak : What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected – Toronto zoo

We are not a fans of animals in cages or pens, but recognise the need for conservation work to protect species. On Monday morning we took a trip out to Toronto Zoo, a 30 minute ride. As might have been expected, the zoo covered a large, very leafy area with fewer animals – mainly endangered species being protected – in larger-than-usual enclosures. We spent a pleasant morning strolling and keeping our post-marathon legs moving.

degyöʼ : Teach them that rainbows appear after a storm to remind them that light begins and ends with all colours City of lights

Following our trip, for us Toronto is now associated with light and colour. Our hotel was decorated with light installations; at night the city office towers and condos were tipped with coloured lights, and the CN Tower had a constantly-changing colour;. During the day, the tall buildings – helped by the reflections from the lake – sparkled with light; and at sunset especially the Royal Bank, whose windows are coated with 24-carat gold leaf, glowed with a truly golden light.

johdö:h : … and the sunset bring you peace – CN tower

The CN tower dominates the city skyline. No trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit via the breath-taking lift ride to the 338m-high observation deck. It was built in the 1970s, and for 30 years was the tallest free-standing building in the world. We decided to take our trip up the tower just before sunset for cocktails before dining in the revolving restaurant. The views were amazing, the cocktails extravagant, and the food delicious – all in all a wonderful experience.

washë:h : Every time you wake up ask yourself what good things am I going to do today. Remember when the sun goes down at sunset it takes a part of your life with it – Wards Island

As our farewell to Toronto, we took the 15-min ferry ride from the city centre out to Wards Island. This is part of a group of interconnected islands along Lake Ontario. The islands, so close to the mainland, have a completely different feel from the City; with 300 inhabitants and the largest car-free area in North America, they move at a completely different pace. There is a small school specialising in science and nature for younger children, and the Gibraltar Point lighthouse, built in 1808 and fuelled originally by whale oil, is the oldest building in Toronto. The residents of the islands live in tiny wooden cottages surrounded by parkland. On the south shore there are sandy beaches with a boardwalk – just perfect for a final run – and the journey back on the ferry offered spectacular farewell views of the city.

Thank you, Toronto – you were awesome!