Torontonians love their organised fun. When they’re not playing cult board games in hipster cafes, it seems they’re doing the seventh-inning stretch at a ball game, wearing fancy-dress, going to a festival (see below) or taking part in charity fundraisers.
Last week, in the name of charity, my husband was persuaded to don a fat suit for a sponsored sumo-wrestling contest in the office, before channelling Simon Cowell (with a Cumbrian twang) as a judge at his company’s karaoke talent show. And this blog’s already dealt with the extreme lengths people go to when it comes to Thanksgiving costumes and zombie get-ups.
It’s all very different from the British spirit of: “Sod the silly outfits, can’t we just get pissed and/or donate a few quid?” When the publishing company I worked for in London turned our annual Christmas party into a talent contest one year (in a nightclub, with booze), the backlash could’ve been seen from space.
Large amounts of enforced jollity can be a bore. But the upside of Toronto’s propensity for good wholesome fun is the number of huge family festivals that are bigger and just, well, more amicable than you’d expect in Blighty.
Take the annual Santa Claus Parade last Sunday. It’s a Toronto tradition that’s been going since 1905 and this year around a million people pitched up with fold-up chairs, blankets, hats and scarves, lining up along the main downtown route, which was entirely closed to traffic.
Onlookers passed round tubs of home-made cookies and flasks of hot chocolate, kids chanted a premature “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas”, clowns handed out sweets and everyone waved, hi-fived and shook hands with the characters parading past.
This was slap bang in the middle of town. Where were the squealing brats, the pushy crowds, the scowling, shivering teens? It couldn’t have been any more heart-warmingly festive if Clarence Odbody had flown down from the sky, scattering mince pies and booming “ho ho ho.”
We were able to track Santa’s progress on a cool iphone ap created especially for the day, which contributed to a build up so immense that by the time the main man arrived, the children around us were practically levitating with excitement.
There isn’t an easy transition to be made from Santa to skipping dogs. But I had to highlight altogether different – but equally family friendly – festival happening across town that day: Winter Woof-Stock.
It featured mutts that skip, play basketball and calculate sums. There was an event I was dismayed to miss called “running of the pugs”, a doggie fashion show and a dog clairvoyant. Yep, really.
Here are some pics.
The canine attendees seemed to love all the attention – have you ever seen a sheepish Shih Tzu? But possibly even more entertaining than the star performers were the Dog Moms pushing their “babies” around in prams. One spent 10 minutes trying to convince us that pugs are “highly intelligent”. Er…whatever you say, crazy woman.