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Mackenzie House

Staff Picks: 10 Superb Specialist Museums

Specialty museums often operate on a smaller scale than their more comprehensive counterparts, but make up for their size with history and dedication to their subjects. Both informative and entertaining, these Toronto museums welcome visitors for a unique cultural experience.

The Gardiner Museum specializes in historical and contemporary ceramic art (photo by Tom Arban)

Bata Shoe Museum
This one-of-a-kind institution showcases over 4,500 years of footwear history. It features a celebrity collection and changing exhibitions that explore the function and style of shoes, and what they tell us about historical and contemporary culture. 327 Bloor St. W., 416-979-7799.

Casa Loma and Spadina Museum: Historic House and Gardens
Overlooking the city from midtown is financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt’s famed turn-of-the-century residence, which boasts dozens of finely decorated rooms and a general air of European splendour. Next door sits Spadina Museum—formerly home to three generations of the prominent Austin family, it’s been restored to demonstrate Toronto life in the 1920s. 1 Austin Terrace, 416-923-1171; 285 Spadina Rd., 416-392-6910.

CBC Museum
The history of the Canadian Broadcasting Company unfolds with the help of over 4,000 artifacts. This well-respected radio and television network has been integral in presenting Canadian news, entertainment and sports coverage for 75 years. 250 Front St. W., 416-205-5574.

Design Exchange
Internationally recognized for its dedication to promoting the value of design. The museum hosts curated exhibitions throughout the year, and offers frequent lectures and workshops as a part of its community outreach efforts. 234 Bay St., 416-363-6121.

Gardiner Museum
In its KPMB-designed building on the edge of Yorkville, this museum is dedicated to displaying and conserving one of the world’s oldest artistic media—ceramics, in all its varied functional and artistic forms. Grab a quick lunch at the airy Gardiner Café, featuring a menu created by chef Jamie Kennedy, or sign up for one of the museum’s many events and workshops. 111 Queen’s Park, 416-586-8080.

Hockey Hall of Fame
Home of the Stanley Cup and located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame celebrates Canada’s sport year-round. The museum is suitable for all ages and features interactive exhibits and the world’s largest collection of hockey memorabilia. 30 Yonge St., 416-360-7765.

Mackenzie House
The historic home of William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s first mayor, is a city-run museum and fine example of Georgian architecture. Historical exhibitions are offered, and there’s also a re-created 1850s print shop and a modern gallery. 82 Bond St., 416-392-6915.

Museum of Inuit Art
Located in the Queen’s Quay Terminal, this lakeside museum is devoted to presenting the history of the Inuit people through their distinctive art forms. Its collection spans hundreds of artifacts and artworks, and includes a number of showcase sculptures by major Inuit artists of the modern era. An adjoining gallery shop offers authentic stone carvings, prints and more for purchase. 207 Queens Quay W., 416-640-1571.

Redpath Sugar Museum
Canada’s oldest sugar refining company opened its museum to the public in 1979.
A self-guided tour is also included, and reservations are recommended for your visit. 95 Queens Quay E., 416-366-3561.

Textile Museum of Canada
This museum boasts a permanent collection of more than 12,000 historical and contemporary objects from around the world. The garments and fabrics displayed in themed exhibitions tell the stories of different cultures, while contemporary showcases place textile art in a modern context. A hands-on gallery teaches visitors about the ways in which textiles influence our lives. 55 Centre Ave., 416-599-5321.

Holiday Happenings: New Year’s Eve Celebrations

New Year's at Nathan Phillips SquareWhether you’re looking to take in a stage show, indulge in a culinary celebration, or dance into the wee hours—we’ve got plenty of party ideas to help you ring in 2010.

Scottish Traditions
Step back in time on December 28 for an evening of Scottish food and music during Hogmanay (the Scots word for “new year”) celebrations at Mackenzie House . The decorated 19th-century row house will be illuminated with gaslight while traditional musical group Gin Lane performs popular tunes, including a musical rendition of Auld Lang Syne, the famed verse by Scottish poet Robbie Burns. 82 Bond St., 7 to 9 p.m. $20 per person; call 416-392-6915 to reserve.

On December 29, bring the family to Gibson House for a candlelit evening celebrating the Scottish New Year at the Hogmanay Party for Families. Visitors are greeted at the door by the legendary “First Footer” and are soon immersed in Hogmanay customs through hands-on crafts, stories and sing-alongs. On December 30, enjoy a scrumptious meal at a traditional Hogmanay dinner party.  Wine and dine by the fireside while watching a dramatic re-creation of a New Year from a bygone time. 5172 Yonge St. Hogmanay family party 7 to 9 p.m. Adults $20, children $12.50. Hogmanay Dinner 7:30 to 10 p.m. $50; call 416-395-7432 to pre-register for either event.

Stage Performances
Stand up and cheer for some of the most passionate operatic music ever written as Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits returns to Toronto for a spectacular New Year’s Eve concert at Roy Thomson Hall. Delight in dazzling performances of beloved arias, duets and more from Carmen, Madama Butterfly, La bohème and other classics from opera’s golden age. 60 Simcoe St. 7 p.m., $75 to $155; call 416-872-4255 or click here to buy.

Laugh, cry, and kiss the New Year goodbye as Yuk Yuk’s founder Mark Breslin presents the annual New Year’s Eve Comedy Extravaganza at Massey Hall. Hilarious host Gerry Dee is joined on stage by the city’s funniest stand up and improv artists. Special guest performers include Nikki Payne and “That Canadian Guy” Glen Foster. 178 Victoria St.
7:30 p.m. $39.50 to $59.50; call 416-872-4255 or visit here to purchase tickets.

The Toronto Operetta Theatre‘s New Year’s Eve Gala features dinner, dancing and a rousing performance of Countess Maritza, an operetta known the world over for its combination of Viennese elegance and Hungarian passion. This fundraising event, which has sold out for 12 years in a row, includes a pre-performance sit-down dinner and a late-night reception and dance party to benefit the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. 27 Front St. E.
5:30 p.m., $145 and up; call 416-366-7723 or click here to buy.

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Holiday Happenings: Heritage Traditions

Festive family fun abounds this month at the city’s heritage sites and historic museums. Step back in time and experience old-fashioned Toronto traditions that will delight both young and old. Events occur during daily museum hours except where noted.

Casa Loma

Casa Loma

Casa Loma
Experience holiday magic as classic storybook tales are brought to life at this enchanting hilltop castle. The attraction also offers a variety of registration-only special events: on December 13 and 20 families can feast on scrumptious pancakes at a breakfast with Santa Claus; or help your little elf decorate a miniature gingerbread house on December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20. And on December 22 and 30, get physical with a holiday-themed family archery lesson and learn the history and techniques behind this ancient sport.

1 Austin Terrace. Admission and special event prices vary; call 416-923-1171 for more information and to register.


Mackenzie House

Eschew the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping for the charm of a traditional Christmas in the 1859 row-house of Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. Sample mulled cider and warm biscuits in an authentic 19th-century kitchen while little ones write letters to Santa Claus the old-fashioned way—using a pen and ink pot, plus stationery made with a circa-1845 printing press. And on December 13 and 20, gather in Mackenzie House’s cozy family room for an afternoon storytelling session featuring Christmas tales from the Victorian era.

82 Bond St. Adults $5.71, children $3.33; call 416-392-6915 for details.


Todmorden Mills Museum

Discover the simple pleasures of a Regency-era Christmas at Todmorden Mills—the site’s early 19th-century homes are adorned for the season with a lovely array of evergreen garlands and festive decorations. You can even create your own tree ornaments using a traditional felting technique. Register for the Cast Iron Chef cooking series on December 5 and prepare tasty holiday treats on an open hearth. On December 12, creative visitors can use wires, pliers and natural materials to make custom holiday decor at the wreath-making workshop.

67 Pottery Rd. Adults $5.24, children $2, workshop prices vary; call 416-396-2819 for details and to reserve.

Black Creek Pioneer Village

Black Creek Pioneer Village

Black Creek Pioneer Village
Step back in time to a Victorian country Christmas and enjoy festive performances, hands-on activities and festive treats at this living history museum. On December 5, 12, and 19 the historic village is bathed in the flickering glow of candlelight and oil lamps for Christmas by Lamplight, an annual celebration with costumed carollers, games and storytellers. Then return December 6, 13, and 20 for a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings served in the Village’s historic brewery restaurant.

1000 Murray Ross Pkwy. Admission prices vary; to purchase tickets for Christmas by Lamplight, call 416-736-1733, ext. 5331. For Sunday Christmas Dinner reservations, call 416-667-6295.


Colborne Lodge

Celebrate the holidays in winter-wonderland surroundings in a restored 1837 regency villa. Tour the picturesque home of High Park’s founders, John and Jemima Howard, while nibbling on delectable holiday snacks and toast the season with mulled cider warmed by an authentic wood stove. Sign up to make a festive seasonal wreath to take home on December 5, 6 and 10; on December 12, 13, 16, 17 and 19, craft custom adornments for your dinner table at the two-hour Christmas centrepiece workshop.

Colborne Lodge Drive. Adults $5.71, children $3.33, workshop prices vary; call 416-392-6916 for details.


Gibson House

Holiday traditions of yore come to life at this north Toronto family farmhouse built in 1851. The Georgian-style exterior is resplendent with seasonal finery; costumed staff lead capture the spirit with tours of this historic rural landmark. On December 19 and 20 the museum hosts Mincemeat, Pomanders and Paperchains—a weekend event with festive crafting for kids in the Discovery Gallery and traditional holiday fare from the open-hearth kitchen.

5172 Yonge St. Adults $5.48, children $2.62; call 416-395-7432 for more information.


Montgomery’s Inn

Enjoy plentiful seasonal entertainment throughout the month at this early-1800s Etobicoke landmark. Ring in the holidays on December 4 by singing 19th-century carols while sipping period-relevant drinks in the tavern at this historic inn. On December 4 and 5 the Humber River Shakespeare Company performs an original production of Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol. Also on December 5, master baker Monika Paradis presents a delightfully decadent Gingerbread House workshop. And on December 12, cozy up by the fire and enjoy readings of The Ghost of Christmas Present and many more seasonal stories.

4709 Dundas St. W. Admission prices vary; call 416-394-8113 for registration information.

Weekend Roundup, August 14 to 16

Friday, August 14
You might have to wait for a table, but once you’ve tried the margherita pie at super-popular  Pizzeria Libretto, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. (221 Ossington Ave., 416-532-8000)

Dance into the wee hours of the morning at multi-level mega-club Circa.

Slip on your sneakers, sunglasses and whitest polo shirt, the Rogers Cup women’s tennis tournament‘s opening rounds start today.

Saturday, August 15
Get a dose of local history without breaking the bank. Fort York, Mackenzie House and Todmorden Mills are free to visit all weekend long.

Learn about the Canadian Aboriginal art scene at the Planet Indigenus festival at Harbourfront Centre.

Take a road trip to Markham’s massive Chinese-centric shopping centre, Market Village, one of the few malls where noodles are made right before your eyes.

Sunday, August 16
Grab a blanket, find a spot to sit in Trinity Bellwoods Park and enjoy a sunny day of people watching. (Queen Street, west of Bathurst Street)

Discover Sidecar’s boozy ginger- and lemongrass-infused lemonade, also known as your new favourite summer drink.

Escape the heat and catch a matinee performance of theatrical blockbuster The Sound of Music at the The Princess of Wales Theatre.