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Toronto Museums Have the Best Views in the City


Toronto Museums Royal Ontario Museum

The Gallery of Chinese Temple Art, Gallery of the Age of Mammals, and Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures are among the Royal Ontario Museum’s many unique permanent exhibits (photos: Royal Ontario Museum)

It can be easy to take the Royal Ontario Museum for granted. If you’ve visited Toronto for any length of time, you’ve probably wandered through the museum’s halls and examined its vast holdings at least once. After all, the ROM has now stood for 101 years. No matter, though—if this is your first visit or, well, your one hundred and first, there’s always something to discover. Most patrons (especially those with children) make a beeline to the Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs on the second floor of the stark Michael Lee Chin Crystal, but we think you’ll find equal enjoyment examining the museum’s stunning assemblage of minerals and gems, and its vast holdings of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and South Asian art. Unique among Toronto museums, the ROM’s purview includes both natural and human history. Feel a bout of museum fatigue coming on? The fourth-floor contemporary gallery is usually a little quieter (though right now it’s hosting a big Douglas Coupland show), or just take a minute to stand in the ROM’s historic rotunda: its domed ceiling is composed of more than one million Venetian glass tiles, arranged in pictographs representing the world’s natural and cultural histories.

NOW YOU KNOW The ROM’s lower-level Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall is the perfect venue for staging large-scale narratives about the most important events and eras in world and natural history. It’s here that museum visitors have discovered the minutiae of Darwin’s theory of evolution, entered China’s Forbidden City and come face to face with newly dug-up dinosaurs. As of June 13, the space will sit in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, transporting guests back nearly 2,000 years to the doomed city of Pompeii.

• Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park, 416-586-8000; rom.on.ca

Toronto Museums Art Gallery of Ontario

Frank Gehry’s architecture in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court (photo: Craig Moy); the AGO’s Kids Gallery (photo: Art Gallery of Ontario)

What do David Bowie, Ai Weiwei, Art Spiegelman and Frida Kahlo have in common? They’ve all been the subjects of major exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario within the last two years. Canada’s largest public art museum has been on a roll of late: it seems as though every few months brings a significant new show (or shows) to its Frank Gehry–designed spaces. At this very moment you can see the pop-expressionistic canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most important American artists of the past 30 years. But you needn’t time your visit to coincide with a specific display. The AGO’s permanent collection is big enough to maintain your interest all day, with everything from European masterworks to intricately carved medieval ivories to the iconic landscapes of the Group of Seven, not to mention an ever-growing crop of modern art that’s unbounded by genre and encompassing all manner of media.

NOW YOU KNOW The gallery-going experience can be fun for children, too! The AGO has a dedicated Kids’ Gallery where families can discover art in a barrier-free interactive environment. Currently on display is Pets and Me, an exhibition of works featuring furry friends, all hung at low heights to ensure little ones have a perfect view.

• Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6648; ago.net

Toronto Museums Aga Khan Museum

The Aga Khan Museum features striking architecture by Fumihiko Maki (exterior photo: Gary Otte; detail photo: Tom Arban) and a collection of beautiful Islamic artifacts (ablution bowl photo: Aga Khan Museum)

It might take a little extra effort to visit the Aga Khan Museum; rest assured your trip to the 17-acre site northeast of downtown will be fully worth it. Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Fumihiko Maki, Toronto’s newest attraction is a lovely, light-filled space that melds modern style and Islam’s age-old visual motifs. Within its galleries you’ll find not only a permanent display of art and artifacts representing more than 1,000 years of Muslim civilization, but also special exhibitions that speak to a history of fruitful exchange between cultures and peoples throughout the world. Currently, a pair of shows fulfills that mandate: The Lost Dhow presents artifacts recovered from a ninth-century Maritime Silk Route shipwreck, while another multifaceted display examines how India has inspired the work of British painter Howard Hodgkin.

NOW YOU KNOW Visitors can also get a literal taste of Islamic culture at Diwan, the museum’s intimate dining room. Open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday, the stylish restaurant serves meticulously crafted dishes reflecting the cuisines of Turkey, Iran, North Africa and elsewhere.

• Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr., 416-646-4677; agakhanmuseum.org

Toronto Museums Gardiner Museum

The clay studio at the Gardiner Museum is a popular refuge where young and old alike can make their own versions of ancient Meso-American figures and more (photos: Gardiner Museum)

The Gardiner Museum holds an interesting position in Toronto’s cultural landscape. One of the world’s largest institutions dedicated exclusively to the appreciation of ceramic art, it’s big enough to host an eminently explorable permanent collection—alongside a slate of major special exhibitions—but it’s also niche enough to remain somewhat under the radar for many gallery-goers: you’re unlikely to be rushed along or jostled by huge crowds during a visit here. And that’s a good thing, because you’ll want to take your time to gaze at the Gardiner’s diverse assemblage of historical and contemporary ceramics from around the world. The distinctive clay works of the ancient Meso-Americans are a must-see, while beautifully painted functional and decorative items from Asia, Europe and elsewhere show that pottery can be so much more than whatever’s crowding your grandmother’s dining room hutch.

NOW YOU KNOW The Gardiner’s clay studio is open to the public and hosts drop-in classes on Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. A professional ceramist is on hand to answer your clay-making questions.

• Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen’s Park, 416-586-8080; gardinermuseum.com

Toronto Museums Bata Shoe Museum

Among the Bata Shoe Museum’s current offerings is its “Fashion Victims” exhibition; Roger Federer’s match worn Nikes are featured in the museum’s celebrity-shoe collection; men’s heels will be exhibited beginning in May (photos: Bata Shoe Museum)

Not far from what is arguably Canada’s most fashion-conscious retail strip rests a collection tailored specifically to an important element of our everyday apparel: footwear. The Bata Shoe Museum counts among its unique holdings more than 13,000 pumps, sneakers, boots and brogues. All of them tell a story—of their maker, their owner, or of a particular time and place in history. An ongoing exhibition details how the most fashionable footwear in the 19th century often exacted a painful price from its wearer, while a display upcoming in May, kicking off the museum’s 20th anniversary, details the highs and lows of men’s heels.

NOW YOU KNOW The Bata is particularly well known for its stock of celebrity shoes, which boasts everything from Justin Bieber’s burgundy high-tops and Roger Federer’s match-worn Nikes to Marilyn Monroe’s red leather stilettos.

• Bata Shoe Museum, 327 Bloor St. W., 416-979-7799; batashoemuseum.com

Toronto Museums Textile Museum of Canada

A children’s collar displayed as part of the Textile Museum’s “Good Beginnings” exhibition; textiles designed by Pablo Picasso and other renowned artists are to be shown starting in May (photos: Textile Museum of Canada)

Like the Bata Shoe Museum, the Textile Museum of Canada has long looked at what we wear and what it says about us as people and as cultures. Ponchos from South America, loincloths from Southeast Asia, aprons from Eastern Europe, children’s hats from China—they’re all embroidered with narratives about how humans have lived throughout history. That said, clothes aren’t the only items collected by this specialty museum. It also features decorative pieces like carpets and bedding, and often hosts exhibitions that explore fabric’s place in contemporary art. In May, for example, the museum traces the use of textiles by some of the 20th century’s most renowned artists, including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

NOW YOU KNOW The Textile Museum’s shop is small but stuffed to the rafters with new and traditional textile pieces from around the world, including original works by 50-plus Canadian artisans. It’s an excellent place to look for one-of-a-kind scarves, pillows, quilts and more.

• Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Ave., 416-599-5321; textilemuseum.ca

—Craig Moy

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