Tim Richards discovers a quirky street in Toronto's inner west that reminds him of parts of Melbourne.
I wish I had a Canadian dollar for every time someone has told me that Toronto reminds them of Melbourne.
When I first arrived in Canada's largest city and walked around its downtown area, I couldn't see any resemblance at all. But now that I'm sitting at Niche (626 Queen Street West), a cafe in Toronto's inner west, the idea is growing on me.
Looking out the window, I can see a long straight street full of scuffed, two-storey shopfronts with enticing displays, and trams trundling down the middle every few minutes. It doesn't take much imagination for "West Queen West" to remind me of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
After a tasty breakfast of sunny-side-up eggs on spicy chilli and tortillas, accompanied by surprisingly good coffee, I venture out to have a look at the street's famous shops.
West Queen West has a reputation for the quirky and unusual, so at Cosmos West Records (663 Queen Street West), I'm not surprised to see such gems as a record entitled The Jazz Soul of Cleopatra and a book on the history of the bossa nova.
Next door is Morba (No. 665), a cavernous place full of furniture and knick-knacks of a retro modernist design. There's new stuff up front, but at the back are cabinets full of second-hand gear: orange digital alarm clocks, curvy desk lamps and jet-plane models on stands. Cool.
Further along the street is Come as You Are (No. 701), a bright, light-green space bedecked with sex aids. It's a million miles from the seedy stereotype of such places, with the sex toys being given cute names such as "Elsie" on their price tags.
My next stop is less racy. Tibet Arts (No. 703) is crammed with colourful bags, clothing, masks, Buddha statues and bamboo flutes.
It's a neat match with the nearby Ten Thousand Villages (No. 709), dealing in fair-trade goods from around the world. By the door are bowls of smooth lacquered stones for sale, each with a shiny black surface bearing the image of a goldfish or dragonfly. Across the street it's back to the earthy with Miss Behavin' (No. 650). As the name suggests, this business sells, um, exotic clothing that may or may not involve handcuffs as accessories. A shop assistant says the red-and-black interior is visited by women of all ages.
West Queen West seems intent on shuttling me between the sacred and profane, as I now discover stalls stacked with handmade ceramic items in front of a former church. They're being sold by the members of Inspirations Studio (No. 761), whose pottery studio is in the building.
I later discover it's a venture that teaches art and business skills to women who have been affected by homelessness or poverty, giving them a source of income. I pick up a small sushi sauce bowl ($5) to slip into my backpack.
There, I've bought something! And the street theatre is free.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.