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The Greatest Birthday Ever: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Have you ever had one of those days which were truly magical from start to finish and you didn’t ever want it to end?

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday as we were right in the middle of our trip across Canada. Since we had no set schedule for the trip and we were making it up as we went along we had no idea when we set off from Vancouver exactly where we would be when October 1st rolled around. As it happened, I turned a quarter of a century in one of Canada’s most diverse and exciting cities: Toronto, Ontario.

Toronto, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario

It can be challenging to celebrate a birthday on the road as a long term backpacker. Sometimes you will find yourself far from home when your day approaches, with no family to bake you a cake or friends to buy you drinks. You will find yourself breaking your usual birthday traditions of dinner at your local restaurant or pints at your favourite pub and instead taking on new traditions with people you have just met.

Sometimes you end up having a birthday which you could never have planned and which is much more spectacular than anything that would have happened at home.

On the day I turned 25 I awoke in a hostel in Toronto’s Chinatown with Lee. The day started off with an amazing breakfast at a crepe restaurant just down the street where I enjoyed a gorgeous roasted vegetable crepe with basil and olive oil and a frothy mug of latte. The day was already off to a great start.

Then we walked to the bus stop to catch the bus to Niagara Falls. As we walked past the main streets we noticed several roads were blocked off and people seemed to be setting up for an event… but that comes later. 🙂

We spent the day marvelling at the impressive geological wonder that is Niagara Falls. These thundering torrents of water have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world! As they drain Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, more than 6 million cubic feet of water plunges 165 feet every minute!

Niagara Falls, Canada
Niagara Falls, Canada

I have always heard about Niagara Falls and how beautiful and impressive they are, but seeing them in person was even more amazing. We took a ride on the Maid of the Mist, which is a boat tour that takes visitors right up to the very base of the waterfall. We were so close to the falls that we could barely hear each other over the roar of the water and our faces were soaked with the spray. It was exhilarating and as you can tell from the happy dance I am doing in the video, I was having a great time.

On the Maid of the Mist
On the Maid of the Mist

After the boat trip we decided to take a quick jaunt to another country for a couple of hours. Yes, my 25th was the only birthday when I have celebrated in two countries on the same day! We walked across the bridge which spans the river and after a bit of paperwork at customs we were in New York State, USA! We had a couple of pints at an American pub, walked around a bit and then returned home to my home and native land.

I even got to enjoy one of my favourite treats, chocolate dipped strawberries, at a Niagara-on-the-Lake sweet shop. Yum yum!

You’d think that after all of this excitement the day couldn’t possibly get better. How could you top Niagara Falls? However, remember that in the morning when we were boarding the bus we saw people setting up for an event?
Well, by the time we got back to Toronto and had some dinner at a pub, the city was just starting to come alive.
By sheer luck or cosmic coincidence, my birthday also happened to be the day that Toronto celebrated Nuit Blanche, which is an all-night art festival that is held in many cities throughout the world.

For one sleepless night from sunset until sunrise the city centre is transformed into an interactive art gallery with live performances, music, art displays in the streets, fireworks and much more.

Art galleries, museums and other cultural institutions are open from dusk until dawn and host special talks, events and workshops. The streets are jam-packed with people and the smell of sizzling ethnic foods from the many multi-cultural snack carts fills the air.

I felt like I was wandering through a dream. Around every corner was another strange and wonderful sight; a man drumming on a car which had been blown apart with its pieces suspended in the air by invisible wires, an impromptu techno rave on the steps of a historical building, groups of teenagers playing a video game which was being projected on the side of a skyscraper. We walked down an alley and suddenly were lost in a forest made of Christmas lights. We stayed up until the early morning wandering through this bewildering urban jungle of art and music. It was strange, surreal, chaotic, colourful and crazy and I loved every single minute of it.

What I love about my birthday experience was that although we had planned some fun activities such as Niagara Falls, one of the best surprises of the day was completely unexpected. We were simply in the right place at the right time to encounter something magical. I felt like the city of Toronto had sneakily thrown me a surprise birthday party in the form of an all night art festival.

Thanks for the party Toronto! You're awesome!
Thanks for the party Toronto! You're awesome!

When you turn a year older on the road, by all means go ahead and plan a great day for yourself. However, don’t forget to keep yourself open to those unexpected situations where something strange and fantastic happens that you could have never predicted. It could just be the greatest birthday present of all.

How do you celebrate your birthday while traveling? What has been your most memorable birthday on the road?

About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.


  1. hahahaha I love the maid of mist pic!!! Its actually one of the best attractions at niagra falls I find. I didnt expect to get soaking wet though, boy was I wrong!!! Toronto is also a great place to celebrate a birthday and id imagine it would be amazing for a packpacker as everyone you meet there has a story to tell. Theres never a dull moment there!

  2. You’re lucky you went on the Maid when you had the chance – they’re closing down the service after more than a century being in business because a more lucrative deal came along. It was not an overly public process, so I don’t know if the Maid corp offered to match the new company’s offer, but I know that after 166 years, it’s kind of sucky to just let go of an important part of the Niagara Region’s shared cultural heritage. Now it means there may be at least one summer without any boat tours from the Canadian side – though they say it’ll continue to run through the 2012 season. I hope the new service measures up and retains an understanding and respect for local history.

    Ah, Nuit Blanche. As a native Torontonian, I find it.. weird. I liked it okay the first time I went but now I can’t bear the crowds and the weirdness. It’s overwhelming for me.

    Did you stay at the hostel at King and Spadina? It’s a great little spot. I hope you took in some of Toronto’s amazing museums! Spadina House is one of my favourites.

  3. Loved this article and your facial expression at Nuit Blanche 🙂 I am planning my 31st birthday (in Toronto) this month and I was getting a bit stressed about how to make it special. Your article reminded me that sometimes when you trust and leave yourself in Toronto’s hands, it could all turn more special than you could have planned 🙂 Happy Travelling Kelly!

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