Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Margaret Atwood’s Toronto

Author Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards for her fiction. Her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, is published by Bloomsbury.

March 07 2010
Victoria Woodcock

“Weekends in Toronto need to factor in the weather, which is unpredictable. In January people are still feeling quite cheerful about it, but around the end of February you feel it has gone on too long. The fall is a busy, out-of-town time, and in the winter I am in Toronto more, but still busy. So what I like to do on the weekend is laundry, especially the ironing. While I iron, I daydream about things that I would never actually do – a grand work on the socio-biology of book reviewing, for instance. Then on to towel-folding: a soothing occupation.

Usually the snow passes over Toronto and then falls about 60 miles north, so sometimes we drive here, to Horseshoe Valley, and go snow-tubing. You get into a big inner tube and at the top of the hill there are some young people, with big muscles, called pusher-offers. You go whizzing down the hill, very fast, with your legs sticking out. It’s a winter scene, with lots of screaming.

Or we might do some winter birding. The city is cut through with a number of creeks and there are wonderful ravine forest walks [one pictured near Sir Winston Churchill Park], where you find cardinals and blue jays. Or you can go to the Leslie Street Spit. It’s a long peninsula out onto Lake Ontario made of “fill” from torn-down houses, but now nature has completely grown over it and there are beavers living there, coyotes, birds, and ducks swimming. At the very end they are still building it and you might find a pile of toilets sparkling in the sun.

If my daughter, Eleanor, is visiting, we’d probably go for lunch at Live, which does very good vegetarian food. For an excellent bowl of soup, we’d pop in to Cantine or, for a leisurely weekend lunch, to Le Sélect, which does French bistro food – duck confit or a really nicely done steak – and they have a very good wine cellar. In the afternoon, my two grandchildren, aged eight and six, might come over. The latest bright thing they said to me was, “How did you get so very old?” We make “Cheese Dreams” – grilled cheese sandwiches – or apple and peanut butter sandwiches.

For dinner we might have friends over, or all go out to a restaurant. Toronto has every possible kind of food; it’s a foodie city for foodie people. Take Sushi is a very good Japanese restaurant, and 93 Harbord, which is Middle Eastern, has lovely people and a fantastic menu. Saturday night we might well go to our very wonderful new opera house. It’s situated right on a subway line and, in order to cut the noise and vibration, the auditorium rests like an egg inside the building on huge, rubber elephant legs. The sound is excellent.

On Sunday, the sad truth is that my partner, Graeme Gibson, and I tend to do some kind of work, but I don’t want to dispirit people by saying that. Sometimes we do something called “cleaning up”: going through your stuff and throwing out, I mean recycling, as much of it as you can. The other thing I like to do is recreational reading. This involves murder mysteries and pop science in magazines such as Discover and New Scientist. I do this at home, usually in a prone position.

I might walk to one of my coffee places, L’Espresso Bar Mecurio, and right across from that is the shoe museum. It has Chinese foot-binding shoes, chestnut-crushing shoes, Elvis Presley’s shoes; they’ve even got some of my shoes.

Sunday is a likely time to watch a DVD – something with Humphrey Bogart in maybe, Edward G Robinson or Alec Guinness; he’s always good. I also catch up on my journal. I glue things into it such as theatre tickets and notes from people. It’s a good Sunday thing to do, especially if the snow is pitter-pattering down outside.”

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