As the recent completion of the Ontario College of Art & Design‘s Sharpe Centre for Design attests, the Toronto cityscape is changing. Innovative renovations and designs from internationally renowned architects are cropping up all over the city. Architect Daniel Libeskind’s prismatic crystal addition to The Royal Ontario Museum is currently under construction, to be complete in December 2006. Other works in progress include Frank Gehry’s redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario (to be complete in 2007), construction of The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Fall 2006) and renovation of The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (Fall 2005).
(Built 1987-1992.) Steel and glass structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The beautiful Allen Lambert Galleria is a six-storey, glass-covered thoroughfare that is 380 feet long and 85 feet high. Bounded by Bay, Wellington, Yonge and Front streets, the 2.6 million square-foot commercial centre is home to a bevvy of shops and connects to Union Station, the Air Canada Centre and PATH.
A dynamic performing arts hub that is home to some of Canada’s most prestigious institutions. The National Ballet of Canada is the country’s premier dance company, with more than 50 dancers performing classic and contemporary repertoires. The Canadian Opera Company stages seven operas each season, and is one of the largest producers of opera in North America; performances take place at the intimate Hummingbird Centre as well as at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. Presenting a contemporary mix of Canadian and international shows, CanStage theatre company also offers the popular summer tradition Dream in High Park, which mounts Shakespeare in High Park. For over 80 years, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has offered the finest Canadian and international classical music, from seasonal renditions of Handel’s Messiah to select performances by soprano star Renée Fleming. Nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario, Harbourfront Centre is a thriving cultural centre of its own, hosting art exhibits and series such as the annual International Festival of Authors.
Some of the world’s most successful and accomplished filmmakers make their home in Toronto, including Academy Award-winning director Norman Jewison (The Hurricane), Atom Egoyan (Felicia’s Journey, The Sweet Hereafter), David Cronenberg (Crash, Existenz) and Don McKellar (Childstar).
This bustling commercial district is home to the city’s big name attractions, including the CN Tower, Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. The marquees of area theatres—the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Canon Theatre and Elgin Winter Garden Theatre Centres—are lit up with a rotating lineup of feel good Broadway imports and theatrical spectacles like Mamma Mia! and Wicked, The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, year round. The Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) host sporting events—the NBA, NHL and lacrosse at the ACC, and Major League baseball at the Rogers Centre—as well as concerts.
Keep a close eye on the next Hollywood flick you happen to see. The characters may say they live in Chicago or Philadelphia but don’t be surprised to learn that the action really takes place in Toronto, which frequently stands in for American cities. The Distillery District has been the backdrop for a number of blockbusters including Chicago, the yet-to-be released Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe, and X-Men. The University of Toronto stood in for Harvard in Good Will Hunting. Other box-office hits filmed in Toronto: Moonstruck, Cocktail, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, John Q., and Serendipity.GALLERIES.
Art in Toronto is as extensive as it is versatile. The Art Gallery of Ontario is among the largest art museums in North America with a 36,000-piece collection that spans over 1,000 years of art, and features works by European masters such as Auguste Renoir and Canadian icon Tom Thomson. More than five million objects make up the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, which ranges from exhibits that examine the history of mammals and reptiles to treasures of ancient Egypt. Find an extensive selection of works by the Group of Seven, contemporary Canadian artists and First Nations and Inuit art at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Go shoe crazy at the Bata Shoe Museum, which has over 10,000 shoes dating back 4,500 years, including shoes worn by Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. More than 10,000 garments from around the world make up the collection at the Textile Museum of Canada, from embroidered African skirts to Indonesian cloth. The Design Exchange pays homage to revolutionary concepts in design. MZTV Museum of Television features 250 television sets from the medium’s inception and related memorabilia.
The University of Toronto is Canada’s premier post secondary institution with more than 50,000 of the best and brightest descending upon the central St. George Campus. Grads include authors Margaret Atwood and Malcolm Gladwell and Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels. U of T also boasts its share of influential academics. Cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan and literary critic Northrop Frye taught there; currently Margaret MacMillan, Mark Kingwell and Linda Hutcheon maintain the school’s cultural profile.
Just a 10-minute ferry ride from the hustle and bustle of the city lies a network of man-made islands including the clothing optional Hanlan’s Point, Olympic Island and Ward’s Island. The most popular, however, is Centre Island, which features Centreville Amusement Park, a petting zoo and a maze.
The award-winning film Chicago starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones was filmed here for good reason. Toronto is a jumping jazz joint to be sure and venues like the Top O’ The Senator, the Rex Hotel, Healey’s and Montreal Jazz Bistro host a variety of international acts throughout the year. The sultry summer sees a number of jazz festivals taking the stage throughout the city: May 14 to 15: Distillery District Jazz Festival. June 24 to July 3: TD Canada Trust Downtown Jazz Festival. July 14 to 24: Beaches International Jazz Festival.
The entire city is a kid’s paradise with numerous events and attractions to keep little ones occupied and entertained. Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament takes kids and parents back to a time when eating with your hands was an acceptable custom. The Old Spaghetti Factory and The Pickle Barrel are both kid-friendly dining options—with forks and knives. Many top attractions, while kid-friendly on the whole, also have activities specifically tailored for little hands and feet with big imaginations. Check out the Ontario Science Centre, Ontario Place, Paramount Canada’s Wonderland, the Toronto Zoo and Harbourfront Centre.
LOVE OF THE GAME.
Sports fans can root for Toronto’s major league teams in a variety of locales. Home runs are always expected (though, admittedly scarce) when MLB team The Toronto Blue Jays play at the Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome). Cause for hope among loyal fans is the fact that the team won back-to-back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. Basketball fans cheer on the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Rock, the city’s lacrosse team, are three-time champions and bring out the crowds to their home games at the ACC. Centennial Park Stadium in Etobicoke is the home field for soccer fans who rally on the Lynx. And what would a mention of sports be without a nod to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Fans go wild for the boys in blue and white, and when the puck drops, nothing else matters except what’s happening on the ice. During the off season (or if the players are locked out, as is the case this year), hockey junkies looking for a fix can reminisce about the good old days at the Hockey Hall of Fame.MOLSON INDY.
Every July Toronto revs its engines in anticipation of the Molson Indy, which has seen the likes of Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve in the winner’s circle. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the world-class racing event.
Toronto is a city comprised of distinctive, culturally diverse districts. Get to know the city by familiarizing yourself with one, two, three or all of these unique pockets.
The Annex—Students, professors and young families populate this funky laidback community along Bloor Street from Spadina Avenue. Ethnic restaurants and cafés buzz with local chat and side streets are lined with historic Victorian, Georgian and Tudor homes in various states of repair. Honest Ed’s bargain emporium at Bloor and Bathurst streets, owned by theatre mogul Ed Mirvish, is a neighbourhood landmark.
The Beaches—A chilled out lakeside neighbourhood that acts as tonic to stressed out urbanites. On and around the boardwalk, some parts of which were constructed in the 1800s, there’s constant activity. All year long, Kew Beach and Ashbridges Bay are popular with strolling families and joggers. A proliferation of open-air patios in summer offer perfect sipping spots.
Bloor West Village/High Park—An influx of Eastern European immigrants to this area in the early part of the century has left its mark in the presence of Polish pastry shops and delis, Russian restaurants and cafés. Modern gentrification, however, has resulted in an increased number of specialty boutiques, cafés, restaurants, and bookshops. High Park, with 398 acres of beautiful parkland, a small zoo, the historic Colborne Lodge and Grenadier Pond, lies just east of the Bloor Street strip.
Bloor-Yorkville—Glittering commercial district is the preserve of Toronto’s high-end shoppers and sightings of visiting celebs sequestered in one of the area’s luxury hotels are common. Find Holt Renfrew Centre (a complex of high-end shops), Andrew’s women’s department store, designer stores such as Prada and Chanel, shops and galleries, and a kaleidoscope of upscale restaurants, salons and bars in renovated 19th-century houses.
Cabbagetown—The area gained its nickname from the hardy garden vegetable that dominated the gardens of the Irish immigrants that first made their homes here. A treasure trove of early Toronto architecture, a walk through the tree-lined streets, populated by members of the arts community and people of various cultural backgrounds, gives some idea of the city’s rich past.
Chinatown—The intersection of Dundas and Spadina is the downtown centre of Chinese-Canadian culture. Vibrant and chaotic, the streets are packed with people and making your way through the crowd is always a challenge. A wealth of Asian gift and clothing stores and authentic, if visually unexciting, restaurants share the streets with open-air food markets.
Church and Wellesley—This pre-dominantly gay and lesbian neighbourhood lies in the east end of downtown. The heart of the city’s gay community—during the annual Pride Parade, which attracts more than 250,000 people to the city—the area buzzes with special events and celebratory feeling. Veteran resident, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is a haven for provocative contemporary theatre productions.
Greektown—Toronto’s Greektown is the largest of its kind in North America. The neighbourhood is a night owl’s haven with restaurants, clubs and cafés staying open until the wee hours of the morning. The area is becoming a hot spot for home decor retailers, and is also home to Carrot Common, a mall with environmentally conscious stores that sell health food, clothing, healing stones and more.
Indian Bazaar—Find a concentration of Indian restaurants, small family-run grocers and a variety of shops selling traditional saris and scarves on this small strip along Gerrard Street East.
Little Italy—The trendy restaurants, cafés and bars lining College Street make the area a busy nighttime spot for the city’s young professionals and aging hipsters on the prowl. Little Italy is a bit of a misnomer, however—though ample Mediterranean joie de vivre defines the spirit of Little Italy—the multicultural neighbourhood also features businesses, shops and residents representing Vietnam, Portugal, Spain and China.
Queen Street West—Queen West is all about attitude. And if you haven’t got it before you hit the street, you will once you’ve strolled along the well-worn sidewalks. Funky apparel shops, cafés, restaurants, bars and live independent-music venues draw the young and fashion conscious. At the epicentre is the ChumCity building, home to the Toronto-based TV networks MuchMusic and Citytv. While the bustle is between University and Spadina, heading west past Bathurst is worth the trip. This stretch dubbed West Queen West is home to boho dens the Drake Hotel and the Gladstone, as well as fashion boutiques, retro shops, home decor stores, eclectic cafés and nightclubs.
Riverdale—The area encompasses eclectic pockets and plenty of ethnic flavours: Greektown on Danforth, Chinatown East at Broadview and the India Bazaar at Leslie. Gentrification continues to spread from the north section’s heart, Withrow Park. The artistic community populates loft studios and film production houses around Queen and Carlaw where retro shops and cosy restaurants reign.
Rosedale—Wealthy enclave defined by its winding streets and large beautiful homes. Yonge Street, the western side, is lined with upscale antique stores, trendy restaurants, food shops and florists.
Yonge and Eglinton—In the heart of midtown Toronto, the area (nicknamed Young and Eligible) is home to clothing boutiques carrying designer labels, sidewalk cafés, specialty food shops and one of the city’s top restaurants, Mark McEwan’s North 44°.OLYMPIC SPIRIT.
A five-storey, 50,000 square-foot tribute to the Olympic games past and present is the city’s newest attraction. Run the first 10m of the 100m sprint on an official Mondo track; test your slapshot skills against a computer-generated goalie or ride the virtual bobsled, wind—icy spray and roaring crowd included. Equipped with multimedia theatres, watch The Calling, a gooseflesh-creating montage of the Olympics’ most triumphant victories and heartbreaking defeats.
Stroll through the verdant climes of High Park or Edwards Gardens; walk, run, bike or roller blade the Martin Goodman Trail. When the weather is nasty, take a detour through the PATH, a 10 km-long underground walkway bursting with shops, restaurants and services. Community events and free concerts take place at Yonge-Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of downtown. The Distillery District is an architecturally appealing arts and culture community featuring art galleries, studios and unique shops and restaurants housed in the former Gooderham & Worts Distillery complex.
Originally the centre of official life in Toronto, where all major public offices and prominent citizens worked or lived, today, Queen Street is the centre of hip youth culture. Dotted along the street are boutiques selling funky and eclectic original jewellery, accessories and clothing, alongside name brand stores such as Mod Robes and Caban. Gallery-going is the MO along Queen West, with some of the city’s top galleries on exhibit here, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Stephen Bulger Gallery. Two of the city’s popular television networks, Citytv and Much Music call the area home, as does the by turns scrappy and tranquil Trinity-Bellwoods Park.
ROCK ‘N ROLL.
The Rolling Stones have run amok here, making Toronto their tour rehearsal locale of choice more than once, so it’s no surprise that some of rock and pop music’s personalities— Prince, Sloan, The Tragically Hip, Geddy Lee of Rush, Nelly Furtado and Steven Page of The Barenaked Ladies—make T.O. their permanent abode.
Venues to see live rock and alternative music: The Horseshoe Tavern, Lee’s Palace, Opera House, Drake Under-ground, Club Rockit, Club 279, Cameron House, Orbit Room, Club 360 and the El Mocambo.
Shopaholics rejoice at the magnitude of choices in the city, from designer boutiques to one-of-a-kind shops. Prestigious Bloor-Yorkville is where to find the likes of Cartier, Prada, Chanel and Gucci. Designer labels can also be found at the exalted Holt Renfrew. Those in the market for fur will find a pelt or two to their liking, with some of the country’s top fur retailers such as Bazina Furs and Four Seasons Furs calling the city home. There are nearly 300 stores in the Toronto Eaton Centre—ensuring that there is something for everyone. Tour the predominantly Canadian-themed wares of Queen’s Quay Terminal.TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF).
Second only to Cannes, TIFF is the much-anticipated 10-day festival lauding and honouring film’s finest. Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jaime Foxx, Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey are among the A-list stars who debuted their works at last year’s fest, while films such as American Beauty, Lost In Translation, Boys Don’t Cry and Almost Famous premiered here before going onto Oscar-glory.
The city’s busiest transportation hub sees more than 60 million visitors pass through its doors annually. A designated National Historic Site, the station was designed in the Beaux-Arts style and was the largest and most opulent station built in Canada in the 1920s. Carved along the north and south walls are the names of all the cities serviced by the rail stations at the time, CPR and CNR. The first ticket was ceremoniously sold to Edward, Prince of Wales on August 6, 1927—a ticket to Alberta which cost $71.20.
The Canadian dollar goes a long way for some and travellers fortunate enough to be returning to a country with a strong international dollar can pick up a few guilt-free souvenirs. So why not splurge on that Roots bag you’ve had your eye on? Or maybe a pair of yoga pants from Lululemon?
$50 USD= $ 80.49 CAD
$50 Euro= $62.67 CAD
$50 GBP= $117.09 CAD
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO EAT?
That all depends on what you feel like. Looking to sample the goods of some of the city’s most celebrated chefs? Tuck in at Susur Lee’s Susur, Jamie Kennedy’s Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Marc Thuet’s new Thuet and Mark McEwan’s Bymark (naming a restaurant after oneself is apparently the mark of a first-class chef). Oliver Bonacini’s Canoe is a favourite lunch spot of the city’s powerbrokers, while media types pack Brad Moore’s swanky College Street spot Xacutti. Dim Sum aficionados ought to sample chef Terrence Chan’s innovative offerings at Lai Wah Heen. (Chan’s artistry has made the pages of Gourmet magazine.)
The Canadian National Exhibition—or The Ex as locals know it—is a Canadian tradition. Marking the end of the summer and the beginning of fall and school, the 126-year old agricultural fair/cultural extravaganza/carnival is a rite of passage for students and parents. Eighteen days of end-of-summer celebrations (this year, the fair runs from August 19 to September 5) include horse, cat and garden shows, the always-popular food building, farmyard animals in the agricultural building, live performances, fireworks and a 65-ride midway.
The world’s longest street (almost 1,900 km) stretches from the shores of Lake Ontario to Rainy River, Ontario, bordering Manitoba and the United States. Canada’s most famous street is also Toronto’s central hub of activity since the 18th century, with many businesses, attractions and historical buildings located along or near this busy street. Government buildings, the Toronto Eaton Centre, Massey Hall, the Canon Theatre, Hard Rock Café and Mackenzie House are among the residents. Yonge-Dundas Square is a popular gathering place in the city for public festivities and concerts—pop and country star Shania Twain performed here last fall.
One of the largest zoos in the world, over 5,000 animals from 460 species call the Toronto Zoo home. Six geographic regions shape the zoo: Indo-Malaya, African, the Americas, Australasia, Eurasia and the Canadian Domain, whose inhabitants include a white rhinoceros, a wallaby, an arctic wolf and a spider monkey. The Gorilla Rainforest and the award-winning African Savanna are among the highlights.—Linda Luong and Flannery Dean