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nathan phillips square

15 Things To Do in Toronto This December

This festive month is filled with a mixture of holiday merriment and family-friendly activities.

New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square. Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto.

12 Trees: Let There Be Light at The Gardiner Museum
To Jan. 7
A tradition since 1990, this year’s edition is co-curated by author and visual artist Douglas Coupland and focuses on light as a symbol of hope. Evan Biddell, Vivian Wong, Julia White, Alex McLeod, Connor Crawford, Christine Dewancker and Katherine Strang are among the contributing artists who have designed themed trees. This year’s creations include an animated winter dreamscape and a disco-ball tree.
Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen’s Park

Home Alone in Concert
Dec. 1-2
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, joined by the Etobicoke School of the Arts Junior Chorus, performs John Williams score from the 1990 smash hit during a live screening of the movie. The hit comedic film sees Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister take on two bumbling burglars by himself (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) when his family accidentally leaves for a trip without him.
Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St.

St. Michael’s Choir School Annual Christmas Concert
Dec. 2-3
The angelic voices of the St. Michael’s Choir School, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, perform both secular and sacred carols to herald the Christmas season, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hallelujah,” and Handel’s “Messiah Part I.”
Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

150 Years of Canadian Christmas at Casa Loma
Dec. 2-Jan. 7
The city’s palatial castle celebrates the season with a 40-foot tree designed by Canadian icon Jeanne Beker, along with eight other trees throughout the estate. Live entertainment features illusionist Professor Wick and ice skating performers Glisse on Ice. Kids can seek out Santa Claus at his castle workshop, decorate edible treats, and partake in arts and crafts.
1 Austin Terr.

A Christmas Carol. Photo by Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

A Christmas Carol
Dec. 7-24
Bah-humbug! Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge discovers his heart and the holiday spirit after visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in this adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Peter Pan
Dec. 8-31
Escape to Neverland with J.M. Barrie’s iconic character, Peter Pan. The boy who never grows up encounters an assortment of colourful characters including pirates, fairies, crocodiles, and even ordinary children like the Darling siblings. This musical rendition by Soulpepper Theatre Company is sure to capture the imagination of the entire family.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

The Nutcracker
Dec. 9-30
A true holiday classic featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing bears, and cannon dolls, is masterfully choreographed by James Kudelka and set to music by Tchaikovsky. The National Ballet of Canada transforms E.T.A. Hoffman’s traditional tale with enchanting dance numbers, elaborate costumes, and lavish sets.
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W.

The Lorax. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax
Dec. 9-Jan. 21
The North American premiere of this Dr. Seuss fable about protecting the environment gets the stage treatment. Direct from London and adapted by David Greig, Dr. Seuss’s colourful world is reflected with bold sets and costumes, puppets, and an original score by Charlie Fink.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W.

The Illusionists
Dec. 12-Jan. 7
Marvel as seven world-class magicians perform dazzling displays of wizardy and more right before your eyes. Back by popular demand—last year’s shows sold out—new performers are part of this year’s line up, including Darcy Oake, a.k.a. The Grand Illusionist, who performs death-defying acts, while Raymond Crowe, a.k.a. The Unusualist, is a mime and ventriloquist, and An Ha Lim, a.k.a. The Manipulator, mesmerizes audiences with card tricks.
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W.

Dance Me/Music of Leonard Cohen
Dec. 15
This Toronto premiere by Ballets Jazz Montréal (BJM) pays tribute to beloved Canadian singer, songwriter, and poet Leonard Cohen. This contemporary dance company, known for its expressive style and accessibility, selects music from the span of Cohen’s lengthy career.
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E.

DJ Skate Nights on the Natrel Rink
Dec. 16-Feb. 17
Head down to the waterfront for a scenic twirl on the rink at Harbourfront Centre. DJs spin tunes every Saturday night, with hot beverage and bites available from the rinkside restaurant, Boxcar Social.
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.

Sing-Along Messiah
Dec. 17
Become part of the choir at this interactive show led by conductor “Herr Handel” as thousands of voices sing Handel’s beloved Hallelujah chorus. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, along with featured soloists Joanne Lunn, James Laing, Rufus Müller, and Brett Polegato, take part in this family-friendly concert.
Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

Disney on Ice

Disney on Ice Presents Reach for the Stars
Dec. 22-Jan. 1
Beloved friends from the Disney Kingdom, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, join a royal cast that includes Anna and Elsa (and their snowy sidekick, Olaf), Ariel, Rapunzel, and Belle for a musical skating spectacle. Sing along to such songs as “Be Our Guest,” “Let It Go,” and “Tale as Old as Time.”
Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way

Toronto Christmas Market
To Dec. 23
Inspired by traditional European Christmas markets—and named one of the world’s best by Fodor’s Travel—the magic of the season is on dazzling display at the pedestrian-friendly Distillery District. Good boys and girls can have a photo op with Santa, visit a life-sized gingerbread house, and take a spin on a carousel or a ferris wheel. Grown ups can head to one of several heated lounges and beer gardens throughout the venue and partake in craft beers, mulled wines, European cocktails, and hot toddies.
Distillery District, 55 Mill St.

New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square
Dec. 31
Bid farewell to 2017 and ring in the new year at the city’s central gathering spot, Nathan Phillips Square. Festivities begin at 8 p.m. (get there earlier to secure a good spot), featuring live performances, a DJ skating party, and an impressive fireworks display to cap off TO Canada with Love, a year-long celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.
Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.

Nathan Phillips Square Skating is a Toronto Tradition



Nathan Phillips Square skating is especially enjoyable at night, beneath the city lights

Although the recent weather hasn’t exactly been frosty, a spin on the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square remains a quintessential winter-in-Toronto activity. Located in front of City Hall, the reflecting pool is transformed into a frozen paradise for both novice and advanced skaters, and is particularly beloved by families. The rink is open daily, but is especially pretty (and romantic) at nighttime when the concrete beams overhead—known as the Freedom Arches—are lit up by a cascade of twinkling lights. Access to the rink is free if you have your own skates, but rentals are also available (adults $10, kids age 12 and under $5; helmet rentals are $5).  —Linda Luong

• Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.; nathanphillipssquareskaterentals.com
• Map and reviews

The Cavalcade of Lights Puts Toronto in a Festive Spirit


Cavalcade of Lights Toronto

The Cavalcade of Lights brightens downtown, while Winterfest on Toronto’s Waterfront brings seasonal joy to the lakeshore

Celebrate the start of the holiday season on November 28 as the annual Cavalcade of Lights illuminates City Hall and Toronto’s official Christmas tree. More than 300,000 LED bulbs adorn the massive white spruce, which shines nightly through to the end of the year. The free, family-friendly event at Nathan Phillips Square features a DJ skating party, live musical performances by the likes of Sloan and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, and a spectacular fireworks display.

Toronto’s Waterfront is similarly festive: four sites, including the spiral tree at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, the fire hall, the Tall Ship at Amsterdam Bridge and the Toronto Music Garden, sparkle along the shores of Lake Ontario. Winterfest on Toronto’s Waterfront brings more merriment to the area from December 18 to 20, with an ugly Christmas sweater cocktail cruise on Friday night, as well as brunch cruises with Santa on Saturday and Sunday; see waterfrontbia.com for details.  —Linda Luong

• Cavalcade of Lights, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.; toronto.ca
• Map and reviews

• Winterfest on Toronto’s Waterfront, along Queens Quay W.; waterfrontbia.com
Map and reviews

Your Guide to the 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival

One of the city’s biggest summer music events hands the mic to an eclectic mix of musical pioneers and modern masters.  BY CRAIG MOY

Saxophone and clarinet star Don Byron is just one of this year's Toronto Jazz Festival

Saxophone and clarinet star Don Byron is just one of this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival

The life of a jazz musician must be a somewhat humbling one. On stage, improvising, you’re living on the edge in a way that few other performers do. Professionally you’re dealing with the knowledge that your art form, however vital, now exists largely outside of the zeitgeist (jazz accounted for just two per cent of total North American album sales in 2012).

And yet the music remains all around us, though perhaps not always in its most obvious form. Thankfully, events like the TD Toronto Jazz Festival (running from June 20 to 29) do much to expose both traditional and modern jazz, as well as the genres that have been built on and continue to incorporate jazz’s signal elements—creative spontaneity, harmonic invention, a near-psychic interplay amongst its performers, and an infectious groove.


Ice Skating in Toronto Offers Frosty Fun

Nathan Phillips Square Toronto

The Nathan Phillips Square skating rink is a popular spot for cold-weather revellers.

There may not be a lot to like about sub-zero temperatures, but one positive that Torontonians all agree on is that cold weather makes for some great outdoor skating. Long a favourite winter pastime for young and old alike, heading out for a spin around the ice is easy to do in this city, especially at two popular spots: Harbourfront Centre’s Natrel Rink offers lakeside views and special DJ skate nights, while at Nathan Phillips Square you can glide beside City Hall. Both rinks offer skate rentals so there’s no excuse not to hit the ice with the whole family.  —Ana Taveira

>> Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W., 416-973-4866; harbourfrontcentre.com, map and reviews
>> Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W; toronto.ca, map and reviews

CityTV’s Dina Pugliese Shares Her Holiday Traditions


CityTV New Year's Eve Bash host Dina Pugliese

CityTV personality Dina Pugliese co-hosts the annual New Year’s Eve bash at Nathan Phillips Square (photo: CityTV)

The most festive of seasons is upon us, and though Toronto may be a little lacking in the snow department, there’s definitely no shortage of winter cheer. Arguably the city’s most popular holiday gathering is the annual CityTV New Year’s Eve Bash, where thousands of residents and visitors count down to midnight—accompanied by top Canadian musicians—at Nathan Phillips Square.

In advance of the big night, Where Toronto got in touch with one of event’s effervescent hosts, Breakfast Television’s Dina Pugliese. Below, she shares some of her favourite ways to celebrate the holiday season in this city.

What are the best ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Toronto?
There are so many great restos, club events, and halls offering something for everyone. But my fave New Year’s memories are from house parties—intimate gatherings, warm and comfy inside, watching CityTV’s New Year’s Bash (really!). It’s so surreal to be on the flip side working it for my eighth consecutive year now. It’s also the best rush—sharing the countdown with tens of thousands in the square and millions across the country!

Do you go to any after parties following the Nathan Phillips Square show?
When I do finally thaw out and change, I rush to meet up with my husband. It’s usually around 1:30 a.m. Sometimes it’s at a family gathering or friends’ house, sometimes it’s to join him at a party in full swing at a venue like Spice Route. I sit, eat and drink tea to warm up. (Clearly I’m the life of the party!)

What performer are you most looking forward to this year?
All of them! There’s a stellar lineup! Kardinal Offishall brings the energy, Shawn Desman dances up a storm, and there are plenty of surprises. I love good surprises!

Do you have any favourite designers that you like to wear to events?
I adore anything and everything by Michael Kors! Yorkdale Mall picks out amazing designer outfits for me.

CityTV New Year's Eve Bash fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square

Fireworks cap the New Year’s Eve Bash at Nathan Phillips Square (photo: Sam Javanrouh)

How do you keep warm on stage all night?
You don’t. The trick is to act like you’re toasty warm even though you can’t feel your toes. But I do dance a ton. That helps.

What are your favourite things to do in Toronto during the holiday season?
I love this time of year. Visiting The Bay’s Christmas windows is a family tradition. My niece’s and nephew’s eyes light up. It’s too cute.

Do you have any holiday traditions?
Eat. Family time. Buy stretchy pants. Eat some more. Get to Christmas mass. Eat again. Repeat.

What are some of your favourite stores for holiday shopping?
I love Yorkdale Shopping Centre. It’s a one-stop shop for everyone on your list. I always find great gifts at BCBG and Club Monaco for my sisters and girlfriends.

You work on a morning show, so you must love your coffee. Do you have a favourite place to get it?
Anywhere and everywhere. My only stipulation? It must be piping hot.

What Torontonian have you most enjoyed interviewing?
One of my favourite Torontonians is nutritional food guru Mairlyn Smith. She always leaves me with a full belly, a warm heart, and bright smile. The woman is as kind as she is witty and loving. As for her recipes? All the indulge without the bulge! Everyone’s day is brighter when Mair walks on set!

Weekend Roundup: November 16 to 18

The Gourmet Food and Wine Expo is an epicurean’s dream

Friday, November 16
Nothing warms a cold November day quite like good food and a stiff drink. With more than 1,500 wines, beers and spirits to sample, as well as a selection of gourmet food tastings from Toronto’s top chefs, the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo delivers. The weekend-long event offers access to top winemakers and craft brewers, cooking demos, tasting workshops and much more.

The Design Exchange relaunches as “Canada’s Design Museum” while celebrating the work of cultural “game changer” Douglas Coupland tonight at DX Intersection, its annual fundraiser. Multiple DJs, performers and a silent auction of artist-reimagined Ikea products provide entertainment, while the Food Dudes food truck keeps mouths and stomachs full well into the night.

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Friday Night Live event series brings you good eats, good tunes, and, tonight, a screening of the 1972 Summit Series hockey final in honour of the 40th anniversary of this legendary game. Bite into a sandwich care of Fidel Gastro’s Matt Basile or savour delicious treats by Waffle Bar’s Valerie Bain while you toast the T-Rex skeleton to your left. Don’t miss this chance to enjoy the hockey action you’ve been missing, all while exploring the ROM’s hallowed halls after hours.

The Cavalcade of Lights kicks off the holiday season with music and more

Saturday, November 17
Ring in the holiday season with Toronto’s annual Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square. Dragonette and Suzie McNeil are just two of the performers who will grace the stage as City Hall is illuminated and fireworks mark the lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree.

Festivities for the 100th Grey Cup have also taken over Nathan Phillips Square. The event’s Adrenaline Zone dares you to take a leap with North America’s tallest urban zip line while Yonge-Dundas Square’s Nissan Family Zone gives you an opportunity to teach your little one how to throw a ball. Later, gather everyone together and check out a screening of Jerry McGuire at the Rushes Football Film Festival at Scotiabank Theatre. How’s that for a touchdown celebration?

To locals, a trip on the 501 Queen streetcar can sometimes feel unbearably long. But for visitors, a trip on North America’s longest surface public transit route is a great way to see the city. Today it’s also a great way to get some grub. Sign up for Foodies On Foot’s Streetcar Food Tour, a six-neighbourhood restaurant-hopping taste-a-thon that’s will help you travel the path from Toronto-dining neophyte to expert in just one night.

Santa makes his triumphant return to downtown Toronto (photo: Gabriel Perez)

Sunday, November 18
Bundle up the kids and head on down to the Santa Claus Parade for an afternoon of elves, upside-down clowns, marching bands, floats and more. Be on the lookout for a Grey Cup float with a four-metre replica of the trophy and Mike “Pinball” Clemons at the helm, as well as a One Direction float inspired by the popular British Boy Band.

Christmas comes early for the canine in your life with Winter Woofstock at the Direct Energy Centre. Lavish your pooch with fashion, food, furnishings and accessories and get their picture taken with Santa. Dog pageants, races and a dating soirees are just some of the fun events that are sure to keep tails wagging.

Matinee and evening shows today offer one last chance to catch the pre-Broadway run of Jekyll and Hyde. The intriguing and dark story of a man fighting multiple identities stars former American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis and R&B diva Deborah Cox, who deliver performances that are not to be missed.

Hot Date: Enjoy a Bright Night in the Big City

(photo: City of Toronto)

NOVEMBER 17  As winter weather arrives, there are few better ways to keep warm outdoors than by gathering with thousands of revelers to enjoy the Cavalcade of Lights. For the 45th year in a row, Toronto’s official kick-off to the holiday season decks City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen St. W.) with thousands of festive bulbs and a massive, beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and celebrates their inaugural illumination with musical performances and a fireworks display. The lights will remain aglow through the end of December, while public skating draws crowds so long as there’s a chill in the air. Free admission; dial 311 (within Toronto) or visit here for more information.  —Ana Taveira

Kick Off Your Fun at the 100th Grey Cup Festival

The Toronto Argonauts celebrate their 1996 Grey Cup win

NOVEMBER 15 TO 25  Hailing itself an “invitation to the nation,” the 100th Grey Cup Festival promises to be a cultural extravaganza uniting football fans, cinephiles, foodies and music lovers alike. Even if you don’t know a slotback from a safety, you’ll still have a ball at this pigskin-inspired party.

The Nissan Family Zone at Yonge-Dundas Square boasts a mini football field where kids can learn to kick or throw a football.

Hit the Adrenaline Zone at Nathan Phillips Square to brave the tallest urban zip line in North America; it’s suspended 725 feet in the air between the two towers at City Hall, and runs all the way down to Queen Street. If you’d rather stay on the ground, why not test your athleticism on the obstacle course created by the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces.

Revellers can also crowd the Scotiabank Fan Zone at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, while the Telus Street Party, along King Street from John to Simcoe streets, gets everyone into high spirits with live shows, team celebrations, and food and beer tents. A tailgate party presented by Frank’s Redhot and an outdoor ribfest are sure to create a frenzy in the lead up to the big game, which takes place on November 25.

Jolly old St. Nick and his reindeer have a special item aboard their sleigh this year: the Grey Cup trophy makes a special appearance during the Santa Claus Parade (click here for the route) on November 18.

Cinephiles can catch game in all of its Hollywood glory at the Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond St. W.) during the Football Film Festival, which includes screenings of Any Given Sunday, The Longest Yard, Remember the Titans and Jerry Maguire. Toronto Argonauts alumnus Mike “Pinball” Clemons is on hand for the tragic yet endearing Brian’s Song.

A varied lineup of performers takes to stages throughout the city for ticketed and free concerts. Count on acts such as Burton Cummings, K’Naan, Sam Roberts Band, Matthew Good, Treble Charger, Kreesha Turner, Big Sugar, April Wine and Kim Mitchell to bring crowds to their feet.

Chefs and culinary students from George Brown College team up at Nathan Phillips Square’s High Octane Food Zone, where individual servings of comfort foods with a twist cost no more than $5 apiece.

Feast right on the field of the Rogers Centre during the exclusive Scotiabank 100th Grey Cup Gala on November 21. Celebrated chefs Mark McEwan of Bymark and Rob Gentile of Buca team up to offer a sophisticated menu while chart-toppers Chris Willis and Brad Mates provide the dinner music.  —Linda Luong

Hot Date: Flamboyant Caribbean Fun

JULY 17 TO AUGUST 5 Don your most colourful costume and limber up to dance to the infectious calypso and soca rhythms of the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto. The countdown to the famous parade (taking place August 4) begins on July 17 when Nathan Phillips Square hosts the festival’s official launch party, featuring island-inspired food, art displays, and live music and dance. July 21 has two events to enjoy—the junior carnival at Downsview Park and a Canada-versus-Jamaica rugby match at Lamport Stadium—while July 31 brings a calypso all-stars showcase to Harbourfront Centre. Various venues; call 416-391-5608 or click here for more information.

Hot Date: A Great Big See at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

From Where I Sit by Brett Orr

JULY 6 TO 8 What began more than 50 years ago as a modest weekend art display has become Canada’s largest outdoor emporium for everything from paintings and photography to ceramics and woodwork. The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition brings visual impact to the downtown core as over 300 emerging and established artists and craftspeople—including Brett Orr, who makes photo-based works, and sculptural ceramicist Julie Moon—offer their creative expressions for sale. Like what you see? Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the artists to gain even more insight into their pieces. Nathan Phillips Square, free admission; call 416-408-2754 or visit here for further details.

Hot Art: Visuals, Easily Viewed

Henry Moore's Two Forms sits prominently outside the Art Gallery of Ontario

Toronto’s vibrant visual art scene means that galleries are sprinkled throughout the city. But you need not buy a ticket to view some very high-quality works. Public sculptures and installations decorate many of our parks and street corners, and are equally worth your interest. Often designed by acclaimed  artists—such as Henry Moore, whose sculptures can be found in front of City Hall (100 Queen St. W.) and the Art Gallery of Ontario—these works add flair to the streetscape and can even remind us of our history, as the circa-1870 Canadian Volunteers War Memorial in Queen’s Park does. Whether you guide yourself on a full-fledged Toronto art tour or just happen to come across an installation, take a minute to strike a pose, snap a photo and take a memory of Toronto’s urban landscape home with you. For further details, click here.