When it comes to sources of inspiration, I don't believe too many people would call Toronto itself "inspirational" on a daily basis. At least not in the same way that cities with fantastic histories are inspirational, such as London, Paris, Moscow and New York. Those are cities where simply walking the streets and soaking up the history, architecture and people alone can be endlessly inspiring. Unfortunately, Toronto is not one of these places. The history is still young, the architecture is only just beginning to establish itself with some great buildings, and the people...we'll get back to that.
While many might seem undistinguishable from New Yorkers (maybe a touch less pushy), Torontonians all share a secret that not many other cities of the world have: easy access to boundless nature. Head three hours in any direction from Toronto and you will be able to find lakes the size of small seas (perfect for sailing and even occasionally surfing) , hills the size of mountains (great for skiing, mountain biking etc.). However, a day is not enough to see why Toronto and its surrounding countryside is a source of inspiration. One long weekend will have to do.
I roll out of bed early and stumble across the street to my local cafe, R2. The owners are Persian and know how to make coffee the way I like it. Once the coffee has kicked in I load up all the gear needed for a weekend in the country: cameras, bathing suits, shorts, and beef bought at the local butcher. Then I get in the car and roll north. I almost always carry my trusty Pentax 67 film camera with me, as the drive outside the city is full of fields of dilapidated and abandoned barns that I have been shooting for years as part of my "Abandoned" photographic series. The drive north to cottage country passes through rolling farmers' fields, Mennonite communities, and ideally for me, quite a few antique stores with a flea market feel to them where I am constantly amazed at the old items I find. Quite often these finds will be turned into unique art, furniture and lighting pieces for my studio, Atelier 688.
Once we get to the cottage the first thing I do is crack open a bottle of wine and look out at the lake. My favourite wine is produced by my friend Alejandra, of Vintage One wines. From an Argentine family of master vintners, Alejandra produces locally made and aged wines from prime grapes worldwide, making for a unique blend of 'international' wines. After a sip of wine I often like to get out on the lake for a quiet paddle in the canoe. My life-long love of paddling brought about the idea to bring a touch of city style and flair to the country via a small start-up company, Contact Voyaging Co., where funky designs are painted onto beautiful cherry paddles. Many who buy these think they are strictly for wall display, as they can be a bit pricier than your average paddle. However, as someone once said to me: "You don't buy a Porsche to leave it in the garage." That being said, my cottage and the countryside in general is a great testing ground for many of the paddles and other products in development at Contact Voyaging Co.
While up north I often enjoy as many different country pursuits as possible. From skeet shooting to photography, or from canoeing to fireside reading, I'm always busy. But one of the beautiful things about Toronto is that you can head north, to cottage country, or head south, to Lake Ontario.
As a child, I was brought up sailing and have sailed everything from windsurfers to yachts. My father used to take us sailing around the Thousand Islands every summer. Being able to sail the Great Lakes is the next best thing to getting out on the open Ocean and it is this love of sailing that helped my develop the rope lights that have become quite popular recently. If it weren't for my experience with knots, splicing and whipping, the ropes lights likely would have never come to be. One great thing about Toronto is the abundance of water sports immediately available at the lakefront. Yacht and sailing clubs, canoe clubs, dragon boat and rowing clubs are all within walking distance of downtown. I often see guys riding down to dragon boat practice on their bikes with their paddles tucked into their knapsacks.
Ultimately, whilst Toronto isn't great in the way that cities like London, New York, Paris and Moscow are, it is great in its own way. At the foot of the city lies one of the largest freshwater lakes in North America where sailing, canoeing and even surfing can happen on any given day and in any given direction after that lakes, ski hills, mountain bike trails and all kinds of other country pursuits can be found within a short drive. It is, ultimately, this mix of city and country that makes Toronto great, and inspirational, to me!