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Friday, July 31, 2020

You can now go camping overnight at the Toronto Zoo

Camping at the Toronto Zoo is officially a thing. If you've ever wanted to watch an African lion prowling in the night, here's your chance.

It's almost too epic to be true, but yes, the largest zoo in Canada has just introduced a new sleepover experience called the Wild Tails Campsite that lets you explore the zoo at night. 

Described as a "self-guided camping adventure", visitors are granted after-hours access to areas like African Savanna (think cheetahs, hippos, hyenas, and rhinos) and Canadian Domain (spot lynxes, bison, maybe a moose). 

There are a total of 19 campsites at the Toronto Zoo, which can accommodate group sizes between 1 to 3 people ($185) or 4 to 6 people ($250). It's tents only; no trailers or RVs allowed. 

That camping fee will grant you admission to the zoo after 4:30 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning. 

It also comes with dinner at the Simba Safari Lodge Restaurant and a light breakfast snack. 

If you want to take your night-vision to the next level, the zoo is renting out bat detectors: handheld devices that let you hear the ultrasonic calls of bats that would typically be inaudible to the human ear. 

Starting Aug. 13, visitors will also be able to tack on admission to the  Toronto Zoo's light show, Terra Lumina, for an additional fee. 

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

This hiking trail near Toronto comes with 99 steps

One of the best parts of summer is that you can exercise outdoors even if gyms recently opened as part of Stage 3.

After all, experts say that just 20 minutes of working out outside is the equivalent of downing one cup of coffee due to its energy-boosting effects 

Luckily, one of the best hidden gems for workout fanatics is the 99-Step Trail in Newmarket - just 40 minutes north of Toronto. This trail, which marks the head of the Thornton Bales Conservation Area, is famous for its rugged hiking trails and steep natural staircase. 

Until a couple years ago, these stairs were assembled with uneven natural logs, making it a challenging and slightly dangerous trail to enjoy.

The stairs have now been replaced with better-constructed lumber, and widened considerably, so that you can safely jog the steps with a partner or furry friend.

A post shared by Jenna-Lea Patey (@pateyjay) on

This trail though, is no easy feat. Good footwear is pretty much mandatory, and be prepared to sweat. The change in vertical elevation from the top of 99-steps to the bottom is greater than the drop over Niagara Falls!

The 99-step climb is owned and managed by Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. The area surrounding it occupies several hundred acres of wetlands, lush forests, and open fields on the western portion of the Oak Ridges Moraine

This stunning conservation area is called "an island in a sea of development" as mass subdivisions take over nearby land, which makes the quiet, untouched nature of Thornton Bales seem like a hidden paradise.

The 99-Step Trail is open year-round and the small parking lot at the top of the trail's head is located off Mulock Sideroad, 3 km west of Yonge Street. 

by Katherine Palumbo via blogTO

Toronto photo radar has issued nearly 8,000 tickets so far including one car 8 times

The City of Toronto's long fight to get an automated speed enforcement program in place appears to have been worth it: A total of 7,645 tickets have been issued in the just two weeks after traffic cameras started busting bad drivers.

Fifty Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) cameras were activated around the city on July 6 after years of regulatory back-and-forth amid skyrocketing pedestrian fatalities and a marked increase in stunt driving.

Otherwise known as photo radar cameras, the machines are equipped with multiple image capturing devices and a speed detector. They automatically send pictures of all vehicles caught travelling in excess of the posed speed limit to Provincial Offence Officers, who can then issue fines to the registered owners of speeding vehicles.

The city has publicized the sites of all speed cameras and signs are posted clearly in areas where they are present to advise motorists that they're in a community safety zone.

Still, nearly 8,000 people sreeched right on by the warning signs without a second thought between July 6 and July 20 — until a ticket showed up in the mail, likely.

The City of Toronto announced on Friday that the highest speed detected during the first two weeks of the new program was 89 km/h on Renforth Drive near Lafferty Street, where the posted speed limit is 40 km/h.

"The ASE camera on Renforth Drive issued the highest fine at $718. It also issued the most tickets at 890, representing 12 per cent of all tickets," wrote the city in a press release.

"According to the data, which takes approximately 10 days to process and report, the number of repeat offenders during the first two weeks following the start of issuing tickets was 591."

The most frequent repeat offender received eight tickets over just two weeks for speeding at Trehorne Drive near Duffield Road.

While effective when it comes to catching speeders and, hopefully, eventually altering driver behaviour to increase road safety, the ASE program isn't exactly flawless.

Just under 300 fines were issued in error during the first two weeks of photo radar ticketing, according to city officials.

"On Thursday, July 23, the City learned that two cameras issued a total of 299 erroneous tickets between Monday, July 6 and Wednesday, July 15 due to errors in programming on the side of the City’s ASE vendor (the erroneous tickets are not part of the total 7,645 tickets issued during the first two weeks of ticketing)."

"Recipients of the 299 erroneous tickets will receive a notice in the mail advising them that the City will be cancelling these tickets as they were issued in error and that no action will be required on their part."

There's also been some highly destructive backlash to the idea of using cameras to monitor and punish members of the public.

Toronto Police reported in June that one of the 800-pound photo radar units had actually been stolen from an intersection in Parkdale. Additional cameras have been spray painted over, set on fire and otherwise vandalized.

by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO

Parents are threatening to pull their kids from school after Ontario reveals plan

On Thursday, the provincial government finally released the details of its plan for getting kids back into classrooms this fall, and — though it includes measures like face coverings and on-the-ground public health nurses — some parents, teachers and students are still feeling wary about school resuming full-time and in-person in just five weeks' time.

The hashtag #UnsafeSeptember has popped up on social media, with people taking issue with everything from proposed class sizes (which will remain unchanged, save for some "at-risk" high schools) to social distancing protocols (one metre between students, plus masks for those in Grades 4 through 12).

Though Ontario's COVID-19 stats have been trending downward and dwindled to fewer than 1,400 active cases with 89.5 per cent of all documented cases in the province now resolved, given the close-contact nature of both school settings and kids themselves, many are worried about schools serving as a prime ground for future outbreaks.

Some parents are simply vowing not to send their children back to schools when they reopen, as the province has maintained that remote-only learning will remain an option for whoever chooses it and many simply don't feel comfortable with the risk.

But, Ford and his team have also reiterated the importance of in-person learning to student success and mental health.

"COVID-19 has had a profound mental health impact on our kids, and now more than ever, reopening schools is crucial to the social and emotional development of Ontario's students," Lecce said at a press conference on Thursday, adding that "it is also crucial to allowing parents to return to work and supporting Ontario's economic recovery."

Children have represented a significantly lower number of cases of the communicable disease worldwide than any other age group, in part because their lungs have a lower amount of a specific enzyme called ACE2, which scientists call "the doors that allow SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, to enter the body's cells."

Youth are also less likely to have the pre-existing conditions that contribute to a more severe presentation of and potential fatality from the virus.

As the province wades into Stage 3 of reopening, many residents are holding out for a vaccine, an effective treatment or simply lower COVID-19 numbers before they jump at the opportunity to dine at their local restaurant or put their kids back in a classroom.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

Condos sales are way down in Toronto but prices are up

Realtors continue to report dwindling condo sales in Toronto amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even as life begins returning to (some sort of) normal and the market as a whole rebounds.

Only 3,459 condominium apartments were sold throughout the entire GTA during the second quarter of 2020, according to figures released Friday by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB).

This amounts to a whopping 50.8 per cent decline compared to the same period of time last year.

Still, as we've seen in other housing market segments (most pronouncedly the detached home market), prices just keep on going up.

The average selling price for condo apartments in the Greater Toronto Area shot up 5.1 per cent, year over year, to reach $619,707 in the second quarter of 2020. Within the City of Toronto specifically, the average price of a condo is now $661,458.

"The condominium apartment market experienced a dip in sales and new listings in the second quarter of 2020, as many potential buyers moved to the sidelines as a result of public health measures taken to combat COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn," said TRREB President Lisa Patel in a release accompanying the board's Q2 2020 Condo Market Statistics report.

Based on overall housing market trends, Patel predicts that condo sales will improve over the third quarter of this year.

"If economic recovery is sustained, the demand for condo apartments will improve," said TRREB Chief Market Analyst Jason Mercer of the market. 

"However, the prospect of stricter regulations on short-term rentals and softer rental market conditions could fuel increased listings of investor-held units. If we see more balanced market conditions, condo price growth could be more moderate compared to low-rise home types."

Yes, listings for condos to buy may be down, but listings for condo apartment rentals actually shot up by quite a bit over the past year: 42 per cent.

"COVID-19 clearly impacted the demand for rental condominium apartments, due to restrictions on showing units and job losses across many sectors of the economy," said Patel, noting that the growth in listings has moderated the once unsustainable pace of rent growth in Toronto. 

The average one-bedroom GTA condominium apartment rent was $2,083 during Q2, according to TRREB, marking a five per cent decline year over year. Two-bedroom rents dipped by roughly 5.6 per cent over the same period, reaching a new average price of $2,713.

by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO

The real life Mario Kart racetrack in Niagara Falls closed after COVID-19 case

The epic multi-storey go kart track in Niagara Falls that is reminiscent of something out of Mario Kart has had to suddenly shut down after only a month of being open for the season due to a COVID-19 case in a staff member.

After being told by the Niagara Regional Health Department that an employee had indeed tested positive for the virus earlier this month, the Niagara Speedway made the decision to suspend operations in the interest of public safety.

According to the establishment, the affected staffer "had adhered to all safety protocols in place, including the wearing of a mask, during each shift that was worked," and the decision to shutter is only out of an abundance of caution while the proper contact tracing and self-isolation of other team members is underway.

All workers will also be tested for the communicable disease, and anyone who was there between July 12 and 14 is being advised to do the same.

Being a travel destination that relies largely on tourist dollars means that Niagara Falls has been hit particularly hard by the months of pandemic closures, and was eager to open up again as soon as possible, inviting visitors back to the majority of its attractions in mid-June when it proceeded into Stage 2.

The two-year-old Speedway is just one of the amenities that people have flocked to since they have been allowed to return — and flock they have, with locals noting how overcrowded the Falls and the city's streets have been lately, with little physical distancing (including at the go kart track in particular).

Like many Ontario locales, Clifton Hill made mask wearing mandatory in all indoor public spaces earlier this month, though notably later than others.

As much of the province adjusts to Stage 3 of reopening — which includes the return of indoor dining, movie theatres, gyms and more — health officials are keeping a close eye on whether case numbers and outbreaks will increase, and worry that the Niagara region is becoming a new hotspot for the virus.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

DriveTest centres in Ontario to resume G2 and motorcycle tests

DriveTest centres across Ontario have been slowly resuming services since June, and the provincial government announced today that the centres are moving into their second phase of reopening next week.

Starting on Tuesday, Aug. 4, road testing for class G2 and all motorcycle licences will resume, and the number of locations offering commercial driver road tests will also expand.

And while all full-time DriveTest centres reopened to the public on June 22, part-time Travel Point locations will also resume driver examination services next Tuesday.

Commercial driver road tests availability will also expand to 42 DriveTest locations across Ontario beginning on that day.

"As we continue to reopen our economy, resuming driver testing is another way our government is helping people get back to work," said Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney in a statement.

"We are phasing-in these services to ensure important health and safety measures are in place at all DriveTest centres and our staff and customers are fully protected."

Driver licensing services, which were included under the first phase of reopening, such as knowledge tests and driver's licence exchanges and upgrades, have been and will continue to be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. 

DriveTest centres have been serving customers based on their date of birth in order to reduce crowding and lineups, meaning people with birthdays between January to June are allowed to visit a centre one week, and people with birthdays between July to December will have access to DriveTest services the following week. 

Still, some Torontonians have reported lengthy lineups with little social distancing and mask usage in place, so be sure to check online to see which customers are being served each week before heading over in person.

"We have temporarily extended the expiration date of all driver's licences, so we would ask that everyone hold off on visiting a DriveTest centre unless absolutely necessary," said Mulroney in the statement.

"For those going to a centre please exercise caution and follow all of the public health guidelines."

Anyone entering a DriveTest in Ontario is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival and undergo temperature checks before road tests, and face masks or coverings are also required while in the building and during road tests.

by Mira Miller via blogTO

Pizza Pizza customer in Toronto loses it over man not wearing face mask

Businesses across Toronto have been constantly dealing with outbursts from stubborn customers who refuse to wear face masks despite the city's policy. 

But, in one recent incident, it seems the trouble was actually caused by another shopper who simply couldn't contain his anger about the fact that the man next to him in line was maskless.

A video posted to Reddit Thursday morning shows a customer throwing a literal tantrum and destroying property in the Pizza Pizza location on Queens Quay after starting an altercation with a man who wasn't wearing a mask. 

Oddly enough, the man throwing the tantrum appears to have been wearing his mask on his chin, which is arguably just as useless as wearing no mask at all, if not more.

The Reddit video, which has now garnered more than 300 comments, shows the angry customer filming the man ahead of him in line because his face is uncovered.

The unmasked man then puts his hood on and turns away, at which point the abrasive customer moves closer into his personal space. 

The video then shows the man without a mask pushing the other customer away, at which point he proceeds to go absolutely bonkers — screaming that he's been assaulted and pushing over the glass pizza display case.

The man without a mask then proceeds to (wisely) leave the store with his food, and the tantrum-thrower follows him right to the exit.

So whether it's temper tantrums being thrown by those who refuse to don a face covering or by those who are overly angered by others who won't, it's clear the service industry and retail workers in Toronto have their hands full with difficult customers amid already challenging times.

by Mira Miller via blogTO

Toronto neighbourhood bands together to protect against random attacker

Women in the Roncesvalles area are living in fear within their own usually quiet, safe and family-friendly neighbourhood after a number of attacks and attempted abductions in the area have allegedly taken place in recent days.

Toronto social media has been abuzz with those sharing their terrifying encounters and the stories of others, as well as tips on how to stay safe and other resources as the local community comes together to protect one another.

At least six incidents involving what police believe may be the same man have taken place between May 13 and July 28 in the city's west end near Howard Park and Roncesvalles Avenue, with varying reports that include attempted abduction with a car and multiple random, unprovoked physical assaults ranging from spitting and throwing drinks to punching. 

A suspect has been vaguely described as 25 to 40 years old, around 5'9" with a thin-to-medium build and black hair, but has been hard to identify due to his face mask. A gold-coloured SUV has also been linked to at least two of the alleged attempted abductions.

Toronto Police have since released security camera footage of the perpetrator of at least one of the assaults, but there have also been reports where multiple attackers were involved.

Residents have reached out to Mayor John Tory and Ward 4 Parkdale High Park Councillor Gord Perks to ask for a stronger response to the spate of incidents — which some are noting that media has seemed oddly slow to report on — but Perks said in a statement that he believes Division 11 police and the local Community Police Liaison Committee have a handle on the situation. 

Officers this week finally vowed to increase patrols and presence in the area, and are also now seeking the help of the public for any witnesses or further information.

But pending police action, local residents and community groups (such as the Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market) have already begun taking it upon themselves to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and alert one another of the threat, sharing PSAs and accounts across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Multiple individuals have even offered their services to escort women home if they are out walking alone, while others are organizing their own patrols of the area at night.

A group of volunteers has also organized under the banner "Westwatch" to provide transportation assistance and de-escalation if needed, while a community safety meeting was held in Sorauren Park on Wednesday for neighbours to share resources and discuss next steps.

The first woman who reported her attack has posted on social media about her appreciation of the community's support, saying that she is "incredibly touched" by the thousands of shares, responses and offers to help that she's received.

"It has occurred to me that in sharing my story (hoping to warn other women), now the assault doesn’t belong just to me. It belongs to all of us who care — for better and for worse," she wrote last Friday.

"Many of us will be more cautious individually, but we’ll also be more aware and supportive of each other. We’re sharing our stories and voicing things that need to be said and heard. And that’s power a community can harness."

I was assaulted by a male stranger Tuesday night. He ran up behind me, tried to jump me (but failed to surprise me), then attempted to punch me twice. I’m fine, physically. . What I’ve been thinking about the last 48 hours is all the women who’ve responded to my story. As of now, 1200+ people retweeted my post about this attack and I’ve heard from well over 100 people, mostly women. They’ve shared their support, their concern for me and the neighbourhood, asked how they can help, reviewed porch camera footage and most powerfully, shared their experiences of gender-based harassment and assault. Most of it local to Toronto, my home city and current location. I’m incredibly touched by the genuine concern and incredibly angry that it’s necessary. Talking about my experience brings up/enhances the fear (or at least caution) that *all* women carry around with us—an invisible backpack of past and potential trauma. Proven true, yet again. . It has occurred to me that in sharing my story (hoping to warn other women), now the assault doesn’t belong just to me. It belongs to all of us who care—for better and for worse. Many of us will be more cautious individually, but we’ll also be more aware and supportive of each other. We’re sharing our stories and voicing things that need to be said and heard. And that’s power a community can harness.

A post shared by Abigail Gamble (@abigailgamble) on

Unfortunately, though the recent events are certainly horrifying, for many they serve as just another example of the looming threat of harassment and violence that women in particular face on a daily basis for simply existing in public, as well as the hypervigilance they need to maintain to keep themselves safe.

The TPS investigation into what's going on in and around Roncey Village is still ongoing.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

The top 40 rooftop patios in Toronto

Rooftop patios in Toronto will have you drinking and dining in the clouds. From hotel hangouts to pub favourites, there's still plenty of places to taking in the cityscape while maintaining social distancing and being safe.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO