Talk Description to Me

Episode 83 - Victorian Christmas Part 1

December 25, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 3 Episode 83
Talk Description to Me
Episode 83 - Victorian Christmas Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

Merry Christmas everyone! To celebrate the season, Christine and JJ head to Toronto's Distillery District Christmas Market. Wandering the cobblestone streets of the Victorian neighbourhood, they describe the decorations and delicious treats,  share a few stories, and some good laughs, too.  All the best to you and yours!

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Christine Malec:

This is the first of two holiday episodes JJ and I recorded for Christmas 2021. We took our microphones on the road and went down to Toronto's distillery district where they host a winter holiday market. What you're about to hear is a collection of stories and descriptions and some of the visuals of a Christmas market in our home city, done by JJ and myself. Happy holidays.

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me. With Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

It's Christmas time. And for a second year in a row. JJ and I are out in the real world, checking out the Christmas auction in Toronto, which is our beloved home city. And we are standing in the distillery district, which is a touristy part of the city different from where we were last year. So many things are different this year. And this year, we are at the Winter market, formerly the Christmas market. And we're going to have a walk around. And we're going to do lots of talking about many things. So JJ, do you want to give us some background of where we actually are?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so we're, we're in the distillery district, which is a really interesting industrial site from the Victorian era that was turned into this charming boutique neighborhood. It's got cobblestone streets and brick pads and all the buildings are old and glorious and restored. You know, it's it's delightfully authentic. But it can be a little hazardous underfoot. So you know, watch the cobblestone streets. So the reason that this market is one of the city's most popular Christmas attractions is because because of this Victorian architecture, the Victorian-ness of this neighborhood. So let's, why don't we just go back? By the way, of course, Chris, this is a, this is a lot of this stuff, the material that we'll be talking about today is from a tour like I've done walking tours here and Christmas in this neighborhood. I think you were actually on one of the earlier tours.

Christine Malec:

I was I was, and I gotta say that, what if most of you, of course, will not have been on one of these walks with JJ. But you'll know from our episodes that one of JJ strengths is research. And so when we did the walking tour with a group of people from the blind community in Toronto, we got so much background as well as the visuals. And so both of these Christmas episodes are going to include not just the visuals, but some amazing historical background and context that are just fun and full of great stuff. So this episode will be a little different in that sense that you're going to get some really fun history about Toronto and where we are but also just about the idea of Christmas and how it evolves. And so let's start walking and see what we find.

JJ Hunt:

So the distillery district is a unique Toronto neighborhood, close to the port lands and you know, a bit of background on how it came to be what it is today. So Toronto is the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga is of the credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenashone and the Wendat peoples. And for a time in the 1700's, this land was in territory that was claimed by the French in 1763. The rule passed from French to British, and then the British settlers started to come and they more or less brought industrialization with them. In 1832, the Gooderham and worts distillery was founded here on the site, and at its peak, this distillery was the largest distillery in the entire British Empire. It pumped something like 2 million gallons of whiskey into the world. And back then the Portland's of Toronto, which was York was a growing industrial center and a shipping hub. But all of that changed with D industrialization. By the 1990s the distillery was shut down and the original buildings were left as is. And they were mainly used for film shoots because they were old and crumbling. And you know, it still looked like a like an, you know, an old Victorian village so or an old Victorian industrial site. So a lot of this area was used for film shoots. But of course that wasn't gonna last for too long. With North America's largest collection of Victorian era industrial buildings in one spot. Developers swooped in with a plan at the 2003 they had turned this entire area into what it is today, the distillery district. It's a recognized historic site with over 40 Victorian buildings from the 1830s to the 1880s. Like I said, cobblestone streets, stone buildings, old infrastructure and no cars. So this is all pedestrians around I'm here. And being here in this preserved and restored neighborhood is like stepping back in time to Canada's Victorian past. And that is what makes it a perfect place to set up a Christmas market. Because when you think about it, Christmas as we celebrate it today is at its core, a Victorian holiday. So these by the way, the rumbling is restaurants wheeling carts back and forth. So every once in a while, someone from a restaurant comes by with a cart full of like, plates and chafing dishes covered in tin foil, and they raffle along the cobblestone streets with their cart, going from like restaurants to to artists studios, and you know, whoever setting up a little, a little place for, you know, for shoppers to come in and have a bite to eat. Or maybe there are there are a couple of condo buildings nearby and they're probably, you know, little Christmas parties and whatnot. So the restaurants these these little carts, these little dollies get pushed from restaurants all around because there are no cars in here. So that's what all those clackety clack, clack clackety clacks are.

Christine Malec:

Oh! Well it's making very authentic feel with a cobble regular cobblestones under foot. And we should mention we're here strategically at a 1030 in the morning so that we can actually get audio that does not include lots of partying. So for the party version, you know, maybe check us later. Come back later, later tonight. So we I believe we are in front of the tree. So can we talk about the tree?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so I mean, if this little neighborhood has a public square, this is it. So it's just a it's just an opening between a bunch of buildings. And and so here we are in front of a very, very big tree. So this is a c this is a 55 foot tall, silver fir from Milton, Ontario, and they install it with a crane so a big giant, you know flatbed truck with a crane attached to it. backs into this space, they clear out all the people they back the truck in and then they they get the crane to tilt the tree upward and install it. So it's decorated with 600 ornaments and these are balls the size of like really the size of soccer balls gold and silver and red and there is like a silver garlin that goes or pardon me there's a there's a gold garlin that goes all the way around, it's like tufted LeMay fabric that's it's all bundled together and twisted together and it wraps all the way around the tree all the way up to the top. And then there are 60,000 twinkling lights, tiny little lights. So these are the smallest kinds of LEDs you can get some are gold, and are solid, and some are like a blue white and they twinkle. So between the giant soccer ball sized ornaments, the gold LeMay kind of bunting that goes all the way around, and the twinkling lights 55 feet tall, I'm just looking around at the other buildings. It's about the tree is just about as tall as any of the buildings that are in this little neighborhood. There are larger condos that are outside but the old Victorian buildings, this tree is just about as tall as any of them. And it's right here in the middle. And of course the Christmas tree comes from this era, this Victorian era right in 1848. The Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family trimming a Christmas tree with candles and sweets and homemade decorations. And of course, it was a sensation. As soon as this picture of the royal family decorating a tree was put in the newspaper. Everyone wanted to have a Christmas tree. So that's why we all have Christmas trees that comes from this original etching in an 1848 Illustrated London newspaper. That's why the Christmas trees are part of our Victorian Christmas.

Christine Malec:

When we were walking up, JJ you were remarking on how it almost from year to year it looks radically different around here because the buildings are going up so fast. And some old some new but can you say something about the buildings of the the visual landscape around us?

JJ Hunt:

Totally. So the actual distillery district itself this kind of boutique II neighborhood is largely unchanged. This is the part with cobblestone streets in that red brick buildings and all of the trim within the the distillery district is painted like a dark forest green this is year round, not just for Christmas. So all the double hung windows in the window panes are all the trim work is painted in green and arched windows and wrought iron. All of that has been restored and remains the same, but surrounding this area, the rest of the Portland's are growing modern neighborhoods and kind of popular and fancy. So new condos are going in all the time. And I think we counted as we walked in something like eight mid rise condo buildings that were either under construction or newly built in a too big block area, like I mean, just concept. And there are four additional construction cranes that are also, you know, rising up into the sky. So the greater area is, is lots of new activity, lots of new neighborhoods, and hopefully that's going to be where there are places for people to shop, not just for Christmas decorations and for you know, Christmas treats and Christmas market stuff but you know, grocery stores, and you know, all those kind of bakeries and things that everyone needs to live. And in here, this is going to continue to be, I think, the entertainment district the the place to go for a fancy meal, the place to go to the theater, because there are theaters in here, the place to visit artisans. That's what the boutique Distillery District is going to be all about.

Christine Malec:

So in the Christmas theme, so what does a place like this do in the holiday season to define itself as festive and decorated.

JJ Hunt:

So we've got the tree We've got the music, which I'm sure you'll be able to hear kind of wherever we are the Christmas music is being pumped in. And then it's all about the smaller decorations. So on a lot of the lamp posts again, the lamp posts that are here year round are gas flame lamp posts, so black poles with glass cases at top of them and in burning gas flame in each one of them. And those lamp posts have a Christmas wreathes on them --

Christine Malec:

Wait, I have to pause. Street lights don't normally look like that right? Steampunk exactly. Okay, that's it. That's a distinctive thing about the district, right? Is that gas immitation? Is it real gas or just --

JJ Hunt:

Oh no it's real gas. These are actual old fashioned style pumped in gas lanterns that are ours that are streetlights. And they're not as tall as you know, a modern street light is, you know, almost as tall as a two storey building. These ones are only maybe 12 feet off the ground and and flickering flames real flames. So that's just part of the regular charm of this neighborhood for Christmas, they put the reeds on them with the with gold bows that match the Christmas tree. And then there are additional lights that are strung all across the street. So we're kind of near the main drag right now or on the main drag. And there are strings of golden lights that criss cross the street, and they get pulled up into a into a ring atop the street. So it's kind of like being under under a tent of lights. So when you hear at night, that's what's lighting up the whole environment of these golden lights, and then garlands, so garlands that are again criss crossing streets, garlands that are running down buildings, and there's a lot of industrial like Victorian infrastructure, like bridges that go all the way across main streets where pipes would have gone or where grain would have been ferried from one building to another, and a lot of those are painted green as they normally are. And they're also decked out in in strings of lights, some twinkle so it's this kind of thing. They're also some of the individual restaurants have done things to decorate themselves does a coffee shop here and they put like a candy cane Barber's pole outside in the front of their place. There's a restaurant just down the way I can see that Scott these fake white while they made a bit originally been live white trees that got cut down, just you know, maybe five feet tall with bare branches and the whole tree is painted white, and they've got you know, golden lights, you know, strung up in those trees beside, you know, plastic reindeer ornaments. So it's this kind of mostly traditional Style, Victorian style trying to be in the theme of the place, but a few of the few of the individual establishments you know, they do their own thing as well with the candy cane business and all that jazz. This is lovely. Okay, so we got some someone taking a selfie nearby. Pardon me, not a selfie. So there's a group, a group of folks taking pictures together. And And one young woman is getting another couple of older women to do a little Christmas dance as they as they wave and take selfies and

Christine Malec:

It's in front of the tree, I think?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, right in front of the tree. And they're all posing together and the young the youngest member of this crew is getting the oldest members of the crew to kind of do a little Christmas dance as they take pictures. You know what I don't think they came here together. I think they just met under this tree and they decided to take some pictures together and sharing a little dance.

Christine Malec:

It's a little Christmas miracle

JJ Hunt:

So a lot of the vendors they're closed right now but they're these little they look like we'll do what they look like now is tiny homes like this tiny home movement where people are a little houses. That's what these look like. So a little peek grooves, wood, wood siding and and a big open window at the front right now most of them are closed because it's early and I'm a little bit surprised by that they were supposed to be open but I won't complain. So they the they've got the you know the big open front with a counter on it and a lot of them have lights along the along the eaves of the peaked roof and in Garland real or fake garland you know all around the frame and whatnot. And, and then from inside there, people are selling everything from food to to gift knickknacks. There's the sock lady and there's you know someone who's doing little tin ornaments so that those kinds of decorations and little Christmas Oh Okay, a couple who were taken photos in front now so the tree is way down the end of this this road so we're on the main street cobblestone street all along our right are the vendors boots, little cabins would cabins with white trim and lights all along the trimmed eaves of the peak grooves garlands around the the windows and that the end of the street is Is this the 55 foot tall Christmas trees sparkling lights the bunting and because the ornaments on the tree are so large like you know the size of soccer balls they're clear even from this distance which is about a block away and then there's an industrial bridge and green industrial bridge that crosses this the street that goes from you know an old you know, red brick building on our left to a red brick building on our right and it's got the the original sign Goodrem and warts limited right on that bridge that goes across this here this view is what a lot of people will be taking pictures of and having as their Christmas cards and their Christmas emails and this is a certainly a shot that is on the distillery district Christmas website. This is you know, this is the premier shot.

Christine Malec:

The shot. Got it. Okay,

JJ Hunt:

So one of the little vendor shops here there's like a container market, which is a little bit separate from the other booths so these ones are they look like shipping containers with one glass walled side. Oh no, that glass wall opens up and becomes you know open doors. Oh, and one of them this one here. Comb K O M O Combi, K O M B I.

Christine Malec:

Okay.

JJ Hunt:

Sells mittens and gloves. Ah, and inside the store they have a tiny tiny tiny little TV screen that's made like honestly the smaller than an iPad but on a big boxy. So it's an old school TV with VCR. And they've got a video of a fireplace. And outside they've got an old school looks like nineteen's. Oh, it's a it's dated in 1961 Arctic Snowmobile. Oh, in in red, painted red, orange and yellow. So it's like this vintage snowmobile otherwise sleek inside with a neon sign Combi and this little tiny fire inside a shipping container store.

Christine Malec:

I love that like the fireplace channel, the aquarium channel. Oh yeah,

JJ Hunt:

We've put that on on occasion the fireplace or giant pretzels in wool hats and with giant pom poms. And some folks are wearing masks but because we're outside a lot aren't. A lot of folks are just walking around.

Christine Malec:

Help me out on a pom pom thing. We have a tooth with a pom pom on and Jason's like what I actually wear that like two people were so my partner is willing to and we have these discussions like pom poms on a tooth. Who does that? Like? No, I don't mean sarcastically who does that? I mean, realistically, who wears touques with a pom pom on top?

JJ Hunt:

Anyone.

Christine Malec:

Anyone?

JJ Hunt:

Anyone! So looking around right now, lots and lots and lots of touques Some people have flat top tubes so like they're almost square tops. Yeah. And people have little tiny pom poms on top, which are knit balls. So we just passed a woman who has A black tube with the, you know, a black MIT ball on top. The there's another woman up ahead I can see it's got more of a Baray style hat in green. And the top of this hat is a huge ball of blonde firm like it looks like fake fur. And it's almost as big as her head like, oh pom pom on top. Yeah, men women doesn't matter. As long as you're not putting it under hockey helmet. You can you can wear a pom pom on any hand it's all good.

Christine Malec:

I just see need to ask once more, so a guy, a masculine presenting guy can wear a toque -- now a toque for our American listeners is a winter hat. A woolie keep-warm hat.

JJ Hunt:

What is it, a beanie? Here's another one. This is so this woman's wearing brown too with a faux fur. Huge faux fur pom pom pom? Yeah, I mean so there's a guy up there who's got us It looks like a sports team to I think is he's wearing one from the Hamilton Tiger cats football team.

Christine Malec:

This the validation I needed. Yeah, football team to the pom pom. Got it. Okay. It's totally okay. I've accepted it now. Yeah, yeah, you're all good. It look a bit feminine. He's safe. He's safe to wear something with a pom pom.

JJ Hunt:

Whatever your bag is, well. Ohhh... so here's the donut shop. Cinnamon sugar gingersnap molasses glaze. Yeah, also just setting up so right now they've just got their heat lamps going. And, and they are they are masked anyone who's in a slug who's serving in a store. They're wearing masks, but customers outside? Not necessarily there are these boxes. I'm not sure if they're covering anything up. But yeah, they're solid enough. So they're big, yellow boxes with fake plastic ribbons. All around the top bows and ribbons. Oh, and they're just dotting this laneway to see four or five of them giant and they're like, you know, you can easily seat two people inside one of these boxes.

Christine Malec:

They're big. And it looks like a big wrapped present?

JJ Hunt:

Looks like a big gift wrapped up and down in yellow and black.

Christine Malec:

Oh, wow.

JJ Hunt:

Interesting choice.

Christine Malec:

You never see black and Christmas decorations. Right? That's a no no.

JJ Hunt:

It's very unusual. So I'm not sure what the what they're about, you know, yellow and black is not traditional Christmas is certainly doesn't go with the rest of the theme. But it's got ribbon and a bow ribbon and bow on top of these black ribbon black bow on top of big yellow boxes. So I went and I do wonder if they're covering something if there's some kind of infrastructure like generators or something gotcha. Oh, there's a farm fresh Christmas tree stand. So there's no actual trees here. But I wonder if you can buy Christmas trees. At some point. There's a shortage. Yeah, Christmas tree shortage in Ontario. I'm not sure if it's all across. So we've got an old wagon here. That's a it's a red and black wooden wagon with old iron axles and everything underneath. And it's decked out in green garland with silver and gold balls. And five beer barrels wouldn't be our barrels lying on the top of the stops are very popular.

Christine Malec:

How do you know it's a selfie stock? What? That's a good question. It's a con. It's just an algorithm your mind goes selfie?

JJ Hunt:

Well, there's no...

Christine Malec:

A purposeless ornamental...?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, exactly. would have been an art piece. But it's not an art piece because it's got more of a commercial kind of, you know, like, no one's putting that thing together. Because that's an artist's vision.

Christine Malec:

A piece of art. Okay. Yeah.

JJ Hunt:

And they just photograph so well. And so I think probably started quite naturally, where people did have art pieces, or there would be a beautiful corner are a beautiful part of a building or a piece of ornamentation that everyone was taking their pictures at. So then all well, we should put our logo beside that or we should put our business name beside that. So when people are taking their pictures, our businesses, okay, okay. And then people just started making them very, very intentionally. But they're all over. It's like the Toronto sign. Yeah, it's like they're all over the world. We traveled all through Mexico and everywhere. Every city we went to in Mexico had a version of the same sign, which is a lit up individual letters that spell out the name of the city that you're in.

Christine Malec:

Okay.

JJ Hunt:

They're every. Oh, they're global. They're all over the world so that when you arrive in that city, you go to the sign you take your picture in front of the sign and you post it on Instagram Oh Here I am!