Lion February 2014 : Page 18

Toronto Hosts 2014 Convention in July Cosmopolitan City is ‘The Complete Package’ by Jay Copp

O Canada

Jay Copp

Toronto Hosts 2014 Convention in July

Cosmopolitan City is ‘The Complete Package’

O, Canada.

Lions can’t stay away from the country for long. Toronto hosted the first international convention outside the United States in 1931. Eleven years later, as war raged in Europe, Lions worldwide returned to Toronto, as they did in 1964. Montreal hosted in 1979 and 1996, and Windsor shared the spotlight with Detroit in 2004. Toronto becomes the center of Lionism again July 4-8 as it hosts the 97th International Convention.

Toronto may not have the glitz and sizzle of other cities. But residents and tourists alike adore its vitality, its cosmopolitan makeup and its innumerable cultural attractions, restaurants and shopping venues. It's attractive but entirely accessible. It’s the girl next door who has grown into a beauty. It’s MaryAnn, not Ginger. Toronto is exciting and eye-opening yet also is eminently livable and likeable.

The ’64 convention was notable for its overall pleasantness. The gathering was “the most friendly” convention in Lions’ history, LION Magazine asserted then. The city has not changed.

“Toronto is the complete package,” writes Torontonian Shannon Kelly in Fodor’s. “Toronto is clean, safe and nice. Torontonians say ‘sorry’ when they jostle you. They recycle and compost. They obey traffic laws. They’re like the boy next door you eventually marry after fooling around with New York or Los Angeles. Why not cut the charade and start the love affair now?”

Toronto has a bustling urban core, incredible ethnic diversity, a dazzling array of cultural riches, an everythingunder- the-sun food scene, a patchwork of neighborhoods, ranging from hip and trendy to ethnic and scruffy, and an eye-popping setting, located on grand Lake Ontario. Toronto is not some sleepy outpost, some pale imitation of a world-class city but the real thing, the fourth-largest city in North America, recently overtaking Chicago. “We’re a clean, vibrant city–very modern with skyscrapers. You can get an eyeful of them. Lions, especially from America, will have their eyes opened,” says Past International Director Carl Young, chair of the Host Committee.

The iconic CN Tower, until recently the world’s tallest freestanding structure, is the city’s most well-known landmark. Visitors also flock to the Royal Ontario Museum and its stunning Chinese and aboriginal peoples collections, the splendid Art Gallery of Ontario, the first-rate theaters and the pulsating club scene. Befitting a city where winter can be long and brutish, subterranean Toronto offers a dazzling network of shops and restaurants. The world’s largest underground shopping complex, PATH is 29 kilometers of pedestrian tunnels running beneath the downtown office towers. For a quieter, peaceful day, marvel at the skyline while taking a short ferry ride to Toronto Islands, where cars are prohibited and beaches are popular.

Canada often is stereotyped as the home of hockey, lumberjacks and caribou, a cold frontier populated by tough, modest, plain-speaking people. Toronto is anything but monolithic. Half its residents are immigrants. The city is home to 120 cultures. Toronto almost out-Lions Lions Clubs. Lions who descend on the city from all points of the globe will bump into Torontonians who speak their language and eat the same foods. Each hotel reserved for Lions will include a welcoming Lion who speaks the language of guest Lions. The convention’s steering committee had no problems finding Lions fluent in a range of languages: Lions from Canada speak 62 languages.

Part of the charm of visiting Toronto is meeting Canadians, not “Americans-lite” at all but possessing their own culture and predispositions. In the Toronto Trilogy book series, Doug Taylor includes a scene where a young boy recalls his father’s rant on the characteristics of Canadians. They are possessed with the seasons and never stop talking about them. In a crowd, they want to be invisible. They insist they are the only people in the world who speak English without an accent. They are passive by nature, loathe of making a fuss and prefer to keep their opinions private. They strive to see both sides of an argument. However, if a Canadian’s favorite hockey team fails to make the playoffs, don’t dare to disagree with him when he declares, “Well, there’s always next year.”

Yes, hockey. Lacrosse is officially the national sport, and Canadians claim to have invented football. But hockey remains an all-consuming passion among Canadians–their equivalence of mother and apple pie. Lions won’t be able to skate outdoors in July (the weather likely will be warm and sunny). But they can visit the interactive Hockey Hall of Fame and call a playoff game, pretend to be a goalie and pose with the Stanley Cup. Another appeal to this hockey mecca is that its focus is international including exhibits on the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic squad, national teams like the Finns and even women’s hockey.

Toronto is both cosmopolitan and distinctly Canadian and yet, at least for Americans, reassuringly familiar, too. “We drive on the same side of the road. It’s the same telephones, the same TV, the same theater. And it’s not football here either–we call it soccer,” says Young.

There won’t be any culture shock, either, in encountering Canadian Lions. “What you do in America we do here,” says Young, mentioning pancake breakfasts (though their maple syrup typically is genuine), walkathons and sight activities. “We’re all about service. It’s often hands-on.”

The close relationship between U.S. and Canadian Lions is reflected in the seven joint multiple districts. Lions from border states in the United States traditionally traveled across the border for district enclaves and Canadians often returned the favor. Many Canadian clubs are located in a narrow belt along the 4,000-mile boundary with the United States.

One difference between U.S and Canadian Lions is that the latter is more democratic. “We have more elections for officers. We tend to use the ballot box more,” says Young. Because of the nation’s robust national health insurance, Canadian Lions also differ from their U.S. counterparts in raising funds for eye-related procedures. While encouraging tissue donations, Canadian Lions, for example, generally don’t need to solicit financial support for surgeries at eye banks.

Unlike before Sept. 11, Americans now need passports to enter Canada. Canadians, on the other hand, typically already have passports. Torontonians often use theirs to shoot down to Buffalo, a short jaunt away. The Argonauts are the hometown football team, but the Bills are beloved as well. “We bleed for the Bills,” says Young.

Canadian Lions are hard at work preparing for the influx of their yellow-vested comrades. “They’re rolling out the red carpet. The dedication and energy level is a real eye-opener,” says Kathryn Wakefield of the Toronto Convention & Visitors Association.

Future issues of the LION, particularly the April issue, will detail the speakers and entertainers at the convention. Or check LCI’s website soon. The parade in particular promises to be celebratory and memorable. Its downtown route includes The Hospital for Sick Children (Canadians pull no punches in naming things.) In a nice touch, Tim Hortons, the iconic coffee and doughnut shop, will be on hand at the parade with a food truck. Even better, Canadian Lions are asking hospital officials to allow their patients to see the festivities. Everyone loves a parade, especially sick kids.

Digital LION

Toronto has always been a great venue for conventions. Learn more at

• Toronto was different and yet the same in 1964 (June 1964 LION)
• 1964 convention was the “most friendly” (July/August 1964)
• 1931 convention displayed pomp and circumstance (June 1931)

Read the full article at

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