Being a professional tour guide helps when your mates come to town and you need to show them what Toronto’s all about. In May Ross passed through Toronto on his way to Vancouver, and starting his working holiday! He was deciding which city to spend the bulk of his time in, and despite wanting to remain impartial, it was hard not to be loyal to Toronto and want him to come back here! Conveniently he’d had picked an AirBnB that was a short walk away from me, so we were able to meet up close by and do a lot of walking around the city. I was keen to show Ross the more cultured parts of the city, so we set out first for Kensington Market, and then after a wander around there we weaved down through the city to the tall building of the Financial District. Despite Toronto’s rich tapestry of culture, they’re still a big part of how the city works, so you can’t really ignore them when you’re showing people around. We finished with some Mexican in the distillery district, which also had a market on, with loads of trinkets to see and buy!
You can’t come to Toronto without going down to Niagara Falls, so me and Ross took a day to go down there as well. On the way we stopped at Forty Creek’s distillery. I like distillery tours, and this one was attractive to me as I’ve never seen a large distillery that churns out thousands of bottles of bottles a year. The tour itself was interesting, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. First the tour guide went meticulously though Forty Creek’s entire product range pretentiously saying how every single one was definitely best in class, and how their whiskys were all not liquors when compared to their rivals like honey Jack Daniels, despite saying their maple “whisky” was basically a 1-1 mix of whisky and maple syrup. We’re were unconvinced. After that we were taken into the distillery itself which as I expected was on a scale unlike anything I’d seen before. We were shown a continuous still 3 floors high, and tanks for various things that were 20,000 litres plus! The original smaller stills were there and I believe the largest is used to make some of Forty Creek’s flagship whiskies. I picked up a bottle of the Confederation Oak in the shop for Joe.
Our conversation with the tour guide in the shop after was the most interesting part of tour however. I was interested to know the mash bill (what grains they use) for the whisky, but I was told this was a secret. Fair enough if you’re making secret sauce, but every other decent distillery I’ve ever encountered makes a big thing of what grains they use, holding them up as a reason for the flavor they’re so proud of. A lack of transparency with spirits is never a good thing, and set off alarm bells that only made us probe further. Despite feigning knowledge in the conversation, our tour guide didn’t seem to actually know that much about the product she was saying was the best in the world. She was pretty ambiguous on what Canadian whisky even was, giving us generalizations scotch is from Scotland and bourbon is from America, rye is from Canada, there’s more to it than that. We did glean one thing though. After slagging off our beloved scotch whisky saying that “loads of scotch has artificial flavoring”, our tour guide told us that the distillery sometimes adds a “small” block of marzipan to their whisky! We came away from the conversation slightly shocked, it highlighted a major problem with Canada’s whisky industry. Producers are not required to declare exactly what’s in their products and this allows them to cut corners. Scotch and bourbon are held to exact standards about how their made, and in Canada those standards are not as high, which is a shame. We came away feeling a bit weird, like we’d watched some kind of shocking Louis Theroux documentary. Entertained, but deep down, shocked. It made me think about how I’ve been as a tour guide, people pay attention you, and listen to the facts you say, so it should be a point of pride to know that they’ll go away any perhaps find out that what you say is indeed true. We hadn’t seen much pride on show here, just prepared spiel and a bit of an urge to get us through as quickly as possible, but we did get some free tasters!
Anyway, rant over, after that we headed on to Niagara, in increasingly bad weather. When we arrived in Niagara the viability was zero and we couldn’t even see the falls!! I began to feel like the worlds worst tour guide, we’d already been to a rubbish distillery, and now the falls which I had sold as one of the worlds natural wonders was covered in fog! Nevertheless in pouring rain we soldiered on and ventured behind the falls. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do here as its filled with nerdy geological facts about the falls, and you can get really close to them, feeling the roar in your chest!
Luckily as the day went on the weather cleared up nicely and we walked along talking in the view and marveling over the tremendous amount of water being moved in front of us. We got back to TO quite late, and it took 2 days to dry my shoes off!
It was great to show Ross around Toronto, and hear him express how he liked it more than he expected. It was an important face to face catch up for me as well as I’m not sure when I’ll see him next. The experience at Forty Creek had also made me appreciate how integral my knowledge is to a good tour at Edgewalk, I hope that the care I take over my facts pays off long after my guests have finished their tour.