BY LINDA LUONG & CRAIG MOY
Sure, you can bundle up and try to be a cold-conquering hero, or you can be a city insider with these 25 unique-to-the-city things to do and places to explore—all to ensure your ample enjoyment during winter in Toronto.
UNIQUE FOOD & DRINK
NEIGHBOURHOOD FAVOURITE There are few more quintessentially Toronto experiences than a visit to the St. Lawrence Market, with its literal cornucopia of fresh fruit, vegetable and meat vendors, fish and cheese mongers, and bakeries and take-out counters. The Saturday farmers’ market has been a hub of activity for two centuries, while the Sunday antiques market sees more than 80 dealers hawking their vintage collectibles.
COLD COMFORT Think freezing weather is enough to prevent Torontonians from enjoying some patio time? Think again! The woodsy—and winterized—environs of backyard barbecue joint Big Crow evoke warm al fresco feelings on even the snowiest days.
TO THE CHEESE CAVE! The temperature-controlled cheese cave, smack in the middle of the dining room at Toca is the only one of its kind in the country. It houses more than 40 types of cow, sheep and goat cheese—both ready-to-eat and aging—by top Canadian and international producers.
FREEZE FRAME If it’s chilly outside, why would anyone want to go inside if it’s just as cold? The thing is, at Chill Ice House it’s cool to be cold. Everything at this nightspot is made of ice: the walls, the tables and benches, the DJ booth and more. Even the cups from which you sip your vodka on the rocks are hollowed-out hunks of ice. But don’t fret about frost: special parkas and gloves are provided to ensure all visitors can roam the space and admire the ice sculptures on display.
YOU’VE GOTTA EAT HERE Toronto’s dynamic culinary scene continues to be a significant point of pride throughout the city. You likely won’t have time to try all our hundreds of exceedingly recommendable restaurants, but book a table in these five dining rooms and you’ll be able to say you’ve sampled a cross-section of Toronto’s highly touted cooking.
• Opened at the start of the Great Recession, The Black Hoof‘s creative charcuterie-and-snacks concept heralded Hogtown’s love affair with hip-casual dining and craft cocktails.
• Dailo, chef Nick Liu’s labour of love (two years elapsed between the restaurant’s announcement and its summer 2014 opening) is a perfect distillation of Toronto’s Asian community—respectful of traditions, but striving to create something new in the 21st century.
• Chef Jamie Kennedy, one of Canada’s longest-tenured ambassadors of the slow food movement, plies his trade at Gilead. Naturally, the seasonal menu is composed entirely of local ingredients. It also boasts a superbly well-curated list of Ontario wines.
• Stalwart on Toronto’s ever-shifting culinary landscape, Scaramouche has served exquisite contemporary French fare for more than 30 years—from a midtown perch blessed with an absolutely classic view of the skyline.
• Similarly long lived is Splendido, Toronto’s standard-bearer for the special-occasion meal. Chef Victor Barry’s two nightly tasting menus may be expensive, but trust us: cooking this good is worth the splurge.
CANADIAN FIRSTS Where can you see Toronto’s famous landmarks made completely out of little plastic blocks, or get up close and personal with white spotted bamboo sharks and southern stingrays? Legoland Discovery Centre and Ripley’s Aquarium are the sole attractions of their kind in Canada, though similar venues exist internationally. The former is a destination for young fans of the iconic bricks, and features, among other things, structures like the CN Tower and Casa Loma built from more than 1.5 million Lego blocks. The latter is home to 16,000-plus aquatic creatures, including jellyfish, sea dragons and green sea turtles.
EXCEPTIONAL COLLECTIONS The AGO and ROM may get the most consistent fanfare, but the city’s specialty museums are equally worthy of your artistic attention. Footwear fetishists are invited to do some sole searching at the Bata Shoe Museum, which contextualizes the march of time and evolution of culture through boots, pumps, sneakers and more. The Textile Museum of Canada pursues a similar mandate with exhibitions featuring historical clothing and tapestries from around the world—as well as displays of contemporary textile art and fashion—while the renowned Gardiner Museum explores the functional, decorative and conceptual uses of ceramics across the ages. The autumn of 2014 also welcomed a new addition to our assemblage of one-of-a-kind institutions: in north Toronto, the beautiful Aga Khan Museum offers insight into the artistic, intellectual and scientific heritage of Islamic civilizations.
THE PEALS OF YESTERYEAR Toronto may be a relatively young city, but it’s not lacking for history. Two stacked stages form the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre complex, which is the world’s last operating double-decker theatre. Take a tour to see the original film projector as well as the world’s largest collection of vaudeville sets some of which date back to 1913. Only a few blocks away, you can hear the melodious “Bells of Old York” chiming from the Cathedral Church of St. James. They’re the only full set of 12 change-ringing bells in the country (and one of only two sets in North America).
LAUGH IT UP Well respected as a training ground for future comedy stars, The Second City outpost here is a popular Entertainment District attraction. (The original location is in Chicago.) Best known for satirizing pop culture and politics, the improv comedy troupe counts the likes of Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy among its Canadian alumni.
FUN FOR EVERYONE Head indoors for two attractions that are sure to engage the whole family. Budding scientists, botanists and geologists will love the Ontario Science Centre, which boasts many interactive exhibits plus the city’s only public planetarium—complete with Mars and moon rocks on display. Or trade science for sport by testing your puck skills against the (simulated) likes of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Bernier at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Don’t forget to celebrate your victory with the ultimate photo op—posing with the coveted Stanley Cup.
MODERN WONDER The CN Tower is undeniably Toronto’s most iconic structure, but it’s more than just a skyline statement. Did you know…?
• At 553.33 metres, the CN Tower was the world’s tallest freestanding structure until 2010, when it was surpassed by the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
• It takes about 58 seconds by elevator to reach the 346-metre-high LookOut Level.
• From the Glass Floor you can look directly down 342 metres to the street below.
• The Tower’s 360 Restaurant boasts the world’s highest wine cellar. It sits 351 metres above ground and can store as many as 9,000 bottles.
UNIQUE SHOPPING OPTIONS
WEATHER-PROOF WAYFINDING An entire subterranean network of stores, restaurants and services sits beneath the downtown core, making it an ideal way to navigate the city on rainy, snowy or cold days. The PATH is a 30-kilometre system that connects more than 1,000 businesses (many of which are open at 8 a.m. Monday to Friday) with access to public transit and attractions like the Hockey Hall of Fame, Air Canada Centre and the CN Tower. There’s no need to panic if navigating the tunnels proves a challenge; even locals get lost on occasion. Colour-coded signs can get you back on track.
TREASURE HUNT Chockablock with all manner of vintage art, furniture and knick-knacks, Toronto Antiques on King is a destination for anyone seeking a unique piece of history. In particular, the tucked-away market houses Cynthia Findlay Antiques, a highly regarded dealer in estate jewellery and engagement rings.
THE WOOD IS GOOD Locally salvaged logs and reclaimed timber—including wood excavated from historic Toronto wharves—are used by Urban Tree Salvage to produce distinctive tables, desks and more. Fancy yourself a DIYer? The company also sells unfinished lumber for your own projects.
CROSSTOWN TERRIFIC An easy but oft-overlooked way to see a vast swath of Toronto is by taking a trip on the TTC’s 501 Queen streetcar. North America’s longest streetcar route passes through myriad diverse neigbourhoods.
• The lakeside section of Etobicoke, one of Toronto’s “inner suburbs,” is shedding its rough exterior thanks to an influx of young families and trendier businesses. Take your ice skates to enjoy the skating trail at Colonel Samuel Smith Park.
• Stop by High Park for a snowy stroll, or make your way up Roncesvalles Avenue to check out all sorts of independently owned boutiques—or ogle the heritage homes lining the neighbourhood’s side streets.
• Parkdale is a vibrant community inhabited by Torontonians spanning the economic spectrum. Its eastern edge (approaching Dufferin Street) is home to a number of very notable restaurants.
• Recently named the world’s second hippest district by Vogue magazine, West Queen West is teeming with galleries, cafés, indie boutiques and eateries. The Gladstone and Drake hotels are always popular gathering places, or explore Ossington Avenue, a particularly fashionable offshoot strip.
• The downtown section of Queen Street marks the southern edge of Chinatown and offers a significant number of international brand-name retailers.
• In the Financial District, aside from the skyscrapers extending south of Queen, you’ll also spy a number of local landmarks: the Four Seasons Centre opera house, historic Osgoode Hall, City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, and Old City Hall. Disembark at Yonge Street to browse the Toronto Eaton Centre’s 200-plus stores.
• Corktown, the northern edge of the city’s historic Old Town neighbourhood, is slowly emerging from years of neglect, benefitting as it is from surging development along parallel corridors Dundas Street (to the north) and King Street (to the south).
• Once populated mainly by the employees of nearby (and now mostly dismantled) factories, Leslieville has gone increasingly upscale. Among other things you’ll note a particular concentration of bakeshops and cafés, and welcoming pubs for an evening’s libations.
• The Beach neighbourhood’s quiet stretch of small, locally owned stores and eateries gives way to side streets lined with highly valued, cottage-like residences, which in turn give way to a nearly four-kilometre stretch of public beach and boardwalk that’s (relatively) popular even in winter.