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nathan phillips square

Staff Picks: 5 Spots to Spot Public Art

Canoe Landing Park (photo by Ian Muttoo)

It’s true that Toronto can’t compete with, say, Paris when it comes to decorating our parks and public spaces with art, but more intriguing sculptures, murals and installations are popping up all the time. In particular, these five locations offer visuals that are equally worth photographing and contemplating. (more…)

Where in Toronto: Bright Lights, Big Reindeer

The Swarovski tree and giant reindeer at the Toronto Eaton Centre (photo by Rasheed Clarke)

Each week, our intrepid interns reflect on life and times in the big city.

It’s amazing how Toronto residents go nuts at the first sight of snow. All it took was a few flakes falling yesterday morning for #snow to become a local trending topic on Twitter. That dusting didn’t really stick around, but the imminent arrival of the white stuff (along with the much-maligned early sunset) means it’s the time of year to test the power grid with millions of twinkling lights at the city’s festive displays. (more…)

Hot Date: Holiday Beacon at City Hall

NOVEMBER 26 Even after 44 years, the lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree never gets old. The bulbs on the tree have evolved since the first shining spectacle in 1967—it now features thousands of energy-efficient LEDs—but the reason for the illumination remains the same: to mark the beginning of the holiday season. This festive event known as the Cavalcade of Lights also features a live concert and a dazzling fireworks display. And don’t forget to bring your skates and glide around the ice rink. Nathan Phillips Square, 7 p.m., free admission; call 311 (within the city) or visit here for more information.

Hot Art: Outside Art

Crash by Mark Stebbins

JULY 8 TO 10 Canada’s largest juried, open-air art show celebrates 50 years of presenting contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics and more. Over 20,000 artists have offered their works at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition since it’s inception five decades ago; the golden anniversary edition features hundreds more established and emerging creators. Last year, local artist Mark Stebbins drew “Best in Show” and “Best in Drawing” accolades from the exhibition’s judges. His innovate combination of traditional textile-based practice and modern electronic media can be seen anew at the 2011 show in pieces such as Crash.

You Are Here: Queen Street West

The downtown segment of what is arguably Toronto’s coolest street becomes an even cooler destination as winter arrives.
View You Are Here: Queen Street West in a larger map

Kids can learn about animation in the NFB's winter wonderland workshop

HOLIDAY MOVIEHOUSE Edging into the Entertainment District you’ll find the National Film Board’s Toronto Mediatheque, an education centre and library of Canadian flicks that can be watched for free at one of many digital viewing stations. Like what you see? Sign up for a Winter Wonderland workshop, where kids (ages 6 to 13) can create animated films of their own.

DESIGN DEN Just north of Queen West is the distinctive facade of the Umbra Concept Store, the design company’s only standalone location in the world. Not only does this retail space feature the firm’s entire line of modern, affordable home products, it also showcases designers at work. For the holidays, nearly 100 brand-new items are on offer—perfect for stocking stuffers.

Chef David Lee oversees the action at Nota Bene (photo by Nikki Leigh McKean)

BOUNTIFUL BITE Nota Bene stands out on a section of Queen Street otherwise stocked with bars and Indian buffets. The stylish yet casual restaurant provides the perfect atmosphere for both intimate dinners and larger, more boisterous celebrations. For a winter warm-up, be sure to try chef David Lee’s Yucatan hot and sour soup, or pasta with hearty rabbit ragu.

MUSICAL GEM Home to some of the city’s top operatic and dance productions—including the National Ballet’s The Nutcracker, opening December 11—the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is a local landmark. From street level it strikes a staid stance, but inside it’s a marvel of design. Take a docent-led tour on most Saturdays to learn more about the building’s architecture and incredible acoustics.

Marvel at The Bay's detailed holiday window displays

WINDOW SHOPPING Massive department store The Bay has eight floors of fashion, furniture, fragrances and more—something for everyone on your holiday gift list. As Canada’s oldest corporation, this store is an iconic part of our national history. The flagship location continues a Toronto tradition, too: each year its Queen Street frontage features intricate window displays with seasonal scenes.

GATHERING PLACE City Hall’s two curving towers overlook Nathan Phillips Square, an outdoor hub for concerts and cultural events. The multipurpose site offers something to look forward to when temperatures drop, as its reflecting pool turns into a public skating rink. Even in winter the square is bustling—the annual Citytv New Year’s Eve bash is just one can’t-miss activity.

Hot Date: The Cavalcade of Lights’ Dazzling Display

NOVEMBER 27 Witness the heart of downtown Toronto illuminate the night sky at the 44th annual Cavalcade of Lights. This jump-start to the holiday season sees City Hall and its surrounding area shine with a colourful display of luminescence that includes a mesmerizing fireworks show and the lighting of the city’s official Christmas tree. For more dynamic entertainment, check out the jaw-dropping aerial stunts performed by trampoline acrobats, plus live concerts by such artists as Divine Brown. End your evening at the public skating party while a DJ spins upbeat tunes. Nathan Phillips Square, 7 p.m., free; call 416-492-2489 or visit here for more information.

Hot Art: Outsider Art

A ceramic sculpture by Michelle Mendlowitz

JULY 9 TO 11 Fresh air and fine art make the perfect match as nearly 400 emerging and established artists and craftspeople—plus an expected 100,000 visitors—converge on Nathan Phillips Square for the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Now in its 49th year, this open-air juried art fair has become the largest show of its kind in North America, offering a bazaar-like atmosphere where all manner of art creators and art lovers can mingle amidst contemporary paintings, photographs, sculptures—such as ceramic works by award-winning artist Michelle Mendlowitz—and much more.

Hot Date: Jazz Fest Still Jamming

Roy Hargrove

JUNE 25 TO JULY 4 A few groovy days remain for music fans to crowd the stage for swing and bebop by day and night. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival continues its presentation of 350 concerts by emerging and established performers at 40-plus venues—among them, esteemed trumpeter Roy Hargrove and his big band grace the Koerner Hall stage on July 1, while guitar aficionados are sure to gather the next evening at Nathan Phillips Square to check out John Scofield. Or, catch a variety of local gigs at clubs across the city. Call 416-928-2033 or click here for further details.

Hot Date: All That Jazz

Harry Connick Jr. is among this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival headliners

JUNE 25 TO JULY 4 Some of the world’s top contemporary musicians arrive in Toronto for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. With 350 concerts at more than 40 venues, there’s a show to suit anyone’s style: traditional swing and bebop, vocal jazz, avant-jazz, blues and more. Popular crooner Harry Connick Jr. performs on June 27 at the Canon Theatre. Piano enthusiasts will want to check out Herbie Hancock and his all-star band on June 26, as well as the Keith Jarrett Trio on June 30. The genre’s adventurous spirit is also well represented by boundary shattering Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, freewheeling guitarist Mike Stern, the multifaceted Dave Douglas and Keystone, and talented band James Farm featuring Joshua Redman. Call 416-928-2033 or click here for a full schedule and ticketing information.

This Weekend: Stroll the City

photo by TorontoCityLife

Spring has officially sprung in Toronto (though if recent, relatively balmy weather is any indication, the season snuck in unannounced at least a week ago). In this city and any other, there are few better ways to celebrate the temperature’s rise than by getting outside for a nice long walk.

Tomorrow—Sunday, March 21—the Canadian Tour Guide Association of Toronto offers an extra reason to partake in a reinvigorating amble. From 10 a.m. until noon, the organization’s learned and friendly members will be leading free walking tours of Toronto’s downtown core. Starting from Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen St. W.) and departing every 15 minutes, these hour-long excursions are sure to give you a new perspective on Toronto’s history, architecture and unique urban fabric.

Hot Date: WinterCity Festival

The Flaming Lotus Girls' <em>Angel of the Apocalypse</em> installation (photo by Caroline Miller)

The Flaming Lotus Girls' Angel of the Apocalypse installation (photo by Caroline Miller)

JANUARY 29 TO FEBRUARY 11 Welcome chilly weather with WinterCity and the WOW! Series of free outdoor performances at Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen St. W.). French theatrical troupe Compagnie Les Passagers stages visually compelling shows with dancing and acrobatics high above the audience’s heads. Steel yourself for the Flaming Lotus Girls, who will set alight a giant metal sculpture of a bird in Angel of the Apocalypse, an interactive fire installation that invites crowds to move between the flaming feathers. Stick around for skating parties celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival and Paris Carnival, too. Call 416-338-0338 or visit here for more information.

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.