Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Buses)

by Marah Searle-Kovacevic

I live in Buffalo, but have spent nearly every weekend/holiday/ day off in Toronto since 1990 (not counting weekends away at cons). 

My 1991 car has over 200,000 miles on it. I worked on the Torcon3 bid there. I met, dated, and married my husband there. So it seemed natural that I would be the one to write an article on driving to Toronto. 

Toronto is less than a day's drive from most of the northeastern and many Midwest US cities. 

The main difference in going to Toronto is crossing the border into Canada. Crossing the border is easy if you follow a few simple rules: treat the border crossing the same as you would an airline security checkpoint: it's not scary, but it should be taken seriously. Jokes of any kind are inappropriate. Answer their questions simply and honestly (I have occasionally gone into detail regarding the convention I was planning to attend; I watched the agent's eyes glaze over as he decided that I was eccentric but harmless). 

US citizens can be required to show photo ID and proof of citizenship, although on the rare occasions when I have been asked to show ID, my driver's license has sufficed. Also, since 9/11, at some bridges US customs agents stop each car and check the occupants. I have always been waved right through. 

Plants and meat cannot be brought into Canada. Ditto weapons of any kind, including pepper spray. Visitors of legal drinking age (19) are each allowed 24 cans/bottles of beer OR 40 ounces of hard liquor, OR 1.5 liters of wine without paying duty. Visitors can import up to one case of cigarettes, but there will be a $10 charge for bringing in Canadian cigarettes (Canadian cigarettes can be purchased at the duty free shop; this charge doesn't apply to non-Canadian cigarettes). Be sure to declare any of the above, even if you're within those limits. They can search your car, and you really don't want them to find anything they've asked you about that you denied having. Declare anything you plan to leave in Canada, including gifts. If you plan to sell anything, contact us about getting in touch with our customs broker. 

If you are out of the country for more than 48 hours, you can bring back up to $400 US worth of goods without paying duty. But again, declare everything, whether or not you are within that limit. 

Once you're admitted into the country, the QEW and the 401 are both good, well-maintained highways. The speed limit is 100 km, or roughly 62.5 m.p.h. Cars going that speed usually drive in the right lane; most cars go around 70-75 m.p.h., and cars going 80 m.p.h. are not unusual. Note that speed limit signs are in kilometers. 

Try to arrive in the city between 9:00 am and 3:30 pm, or after 7:00 pm. The highways will be slow during rush hour. Driving in rush hour traffic is big-city driving, although it's not as challenging as New York, Chicago, or Boston. One unusual hazard of driving in Toronto is frequent film location shoots on downtown streets. 

As it turns out, I like Toronto enough that I decided to move there, and I will be commuting within Toronto instead of to it.

Toronto being in another country, the main difference in this trip will be crossing the border into Canada. I think it's worthwhile to recap my Rules For Crossing the Border, which appeared in PR 2: treat the border crossing the same as you would an airline security checkpoint: it's not scary, but it should be taken seriously. 

Jokes of any kind are inappropriate. 

Answer their questions simply and honestly. 

Usually they ask a couple of questions about where you're going and what you're bringing in; if they keep asking more questions, I start going into more and more detail about the convention I plan to attend. I have watched the agent's eyes glaze over as s/he decided that I was eccentric but harmless. That's the point where s/he lets me go, most likely so I'll stop talking. And the phrase “OK, go ahead” ends the conversation. If you suddenly realize that you don't have your ID with you, this is not the time to mention it. 

Everyone must have government issued photo ID. 

US citizens don't need to have a passport. If you live in a country where they may want proof that you are going to the con, a progress report listing you as a member or the envelope with your member number would be handy to bring. 

Unlike crossing by car, all buses are pulled over and everyone has to get off with all their luggage. They may search your luggage. If you are the sort of person who reacts negatively to authority figures, this is NOT the place to express that. 

Crossing to Canada is generally less intense than crossing to the US (which is understandable, considering recent events), but should still be taken seriously. 

It takes about half an hour for a bus to get through the border crossing. Once in Toronto, the bus stops right at the Royal York. For those not going directly to the con, there is a stop at Queen and University, which is a subway stop, as well as at the bus station at Bay and University.

 --Marah Searle 

The [Progress Report] editor recommends... 


Last updated: 14 July 2003

Send comments or suggestions to