FLYING FROM HOME: A SHORT JAUNT INTO THE BIG SMOKE

BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘I think I see Toronto already,’ TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis exclaims from across the aisle of the twin-engined Piper Panther we boarded only minutes before. I can just make out what Cai is saying above the friendly drone of the small plane’s propellers – tucked beneath the wings just outside our windows. ‘That’s incredible,’ I remark, checking my phone for the time. 7:55am. Which means that it’s been only ten minutes since we took off from the Region of Waterloo International Airport. And that we will be on the ground again – at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport – in about another ten. On this – our inaugural FlyGTA flight into the big city.
Time to get shooting, I think to myself.

 

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I reach into my camera bag for something wider than the 85mm lens I’ve been using for the past few minutes. My hand fumbles around until it finds what it’s feeling for – a much wider 14mm. Perfect for skyline shots.

Pulling the ultra wide-angle lens from my bag, I manage somehow to drop my 85 onto the floor. As our pilots bank the Piper slightly to the left, the lens rolls across the aisle – all the way to the other side of the plane. Which, fortunately, is not far. Cai, sitting to my left in this cozy four-seater, deftly catches the lens and hands it over. I stuff it into my bag and spot what Cai’s already seen – the Toronto skyline.

Out her window, unfortunately. ‘I’m sitting on the wrong side of the plane,’ I complain, exasperated. ‘I’ll never get a good shot of the city from here.’ I shoot a few frames of Cai and Michael, the businessman sharing this commute with us, and pray that our flight path will take us past Billy Bishop and back around so that I can get at least a few clear shots of the skyline outside my window.

Which is just the path we take.

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Over Lake Ontario, we bank hard left before leveling out. And for the next four incredible minutes I am trans fixed – gazing intently through my viewfinder as the cityscape unfolds before me. ‘This is so awesome,’ I announce – albeit into my window. ‘I can’t believe how awesome this is.’ I snap a few dozen more frames. And then we touch down. And the whole thing is over. It’s taken us just twenty minutes to fly from Waterloo Region to Toronto. During rush hour. Which is actually a couple minutes longer than our return flight will be later in the afternoon. During rush hour.

And so our Monday in the city begins.

Cai and I say goodbye to Michael and our pilots Ryan and Weylin (all of whom we will see again for our return trip at 5:30pm) and walk briskly towards the main terminal building at Billy Bishop, where we access the tunnel that connects the island airport to the mainland. Emerging on the other side of this ‘wonder tunnel’ (which takes you down ten stories under Lake Ontario and connects you to the mainland in a mere seven minutes), we jump on the free shuttle that takes us to the Royal York at Union Station, and grab a subway to Spadina for the day’s first destinations: Americanos at Darkhorse Espresso Bar and morning meetings at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation. Americanos polished off and meetings completed, we head across the street and into the seemingly endless possibilities of Kensington Market. I check my phone: 10:47am.

‘We’ve still got time before lunch,’ Cai says on our trek up Spadina – to make a quick stop at Gwartzman’s Art Supplies just south of College, where Cai picks up a lino block (for a client) and some good pens (because, really, who’s ever got enough good pens?). Turning into the neighbourhood, we head for Kid Icarus to scour the poster section – which has in the past featured several of Cai’s own. And then on to lunch at the Pow Wow Café: a small one-room restaurant with open kitchen where the distinctive aromas of chef- owner Shawn Adler’s Indian tacos – a perfect mixture of ground beef, cilantro and Ojibway- style frybread – fill our senses.

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‘Smells like Hillside in here,’ I whisper to Cai, as I find myself flooded with nostalgic memories of Guelph’s annual music festival where Shawn’s catering business, Flying Chestnut, sets up stakes each year. ‘And,’ I add, a grin breaking open on my face, ‘like summertime.’ We polish off our mains (a traditional beef Indian Taco for Cai and a Chicken Curry Taco with mango chutney for me) and head back out into the sunshine. It’s 12:42pm. Time to keep moving.

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The next few hours are a bit of a whirlwind. More stops in Kensington. A bus across to Ossington. Post-lunch snacks at Bobbie Sue’s Mac + Cheese – the newest eatery conceived by Ottawa Valley scion and great friend Nick Laliberté. (All of Nick’s places – Bobbie Sue’s, Hawker Bar and the venerable Poutini’s House of Poutine – are must-stops for fabulous eats in the city.) And then to the Bellwoods Brewery bottle shop, where I grab a Cat Lady IPA and an iteration of the brewery’s Monogamy series for later. And then, finally, a brisk walk to WVRST on King West for sausages, duck fat fries, pints and scheming – a great side to any meal. It’s barely 3:18pm, but I can’t wait to dig in.

 

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An hour and a bit later, we settle up at WVRST. A short streetcar ride later and we’re back at the waterfront, where we grab the free ferry to the island for our flight home. At the FlyGTA waiting room we’re greeted by Michael (who is getting end-of-day work done) and our pilots. 5:21pm. ‘You want to leave a bit early,’ asks Ryan, ‘since we’re all here?’ The benefits of FlyGTA, I think to myself as the five of us head out onto the runway, hop into the plane, and head back to Waterloo Region. We’re in the air by 5:30pm.

On our flight home we pass over Glen Eden, where skiers and snowboarders eek out one of the last few days on the hill. And then the 401, where cars are already backed up as far as the eye can see. A bit further along, I can make out Guelph’s Church of Our Lady in the distance. And just minutes later, I spot the runway at Waterloo Airport.

I check the time – 5:48pm – and squeeze out a few more shots before we land.