FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Toronto: Self Expression

Apr 1, 2011
2011 / April 2011

There’s nothing the least bit harmonious about Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the block-long stone and brick Royal Ontario Museum. Shards of aluminum and ribbons of glass jut onto the sidewalk with knife-like precision, without care or need for right angles. Approach the building from a distance and it looks as if the original 1914 structure has been attacked by some killer prism in a B movie. Yet judging from the crowd of people on the sidewalk snapping photographs, the result is a success. Libeskind’s bravura has taken the wrecking ball to the staid and the old and led the city of Toronto on a 21st-century architectural renaissance.

Libeskind joins a slate of other “starchitects” who have reshaped Toronto over the past five years, earning it the moniker “Design City.” The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal building with its soaring glass exterior made its debut in 2007. Diamond & Schmitt’s Four Seasons Centre, home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, opened to the public a year prior. Will Alsop’s “tabletop” building, housing the Ontario College of Art and Design, appears to be standing on multicolored crayon legs. Nearby, the Art Gallery of Ontario reopened in November 2008 with a new building designed by Frank Gehry. Gehry grew up in Toronto, and this is his first commission in the country.

Other architects, such as Eb Zeidler, best known for his work on Ontario Place in the early 1970s, have turned their attention to restoration projects helping to gentrify long-overlooked neighborhoods. With the help of his two daughters, Margie and Christina Zeidler, the family purchased the circa-1889 Gladstone Hotel in the down-on-its-luck West Queen West neighborhood. Christina, a graduate of Ontario College of Art and Design, took the lead, ensuring that the only remaining hand-operated elevator in the city would continue to run. The Gladstone, with its restaurant and bar, has since become a cornerstone of an enthusiastic, youthful community.

Other restoration projects in Toronto have led to completely new neighborhoods. The city took an abandoned 19th-century distillery near the shores of Lake Ontario and converted the red brick buildings into shops, galleries and restaurants that are now part of the burgeoning Distillery District. Grab freshly made chocolate at Soma and stroll over to the new home of the Corkin Gallery. Owner Jane Corkin opened her first gallery in Toronto in 1979, showcasing 20th-century photography as she forged friendships with masters in the field like Andre Kertesz. In her striking new space, she now exhibits a wide range of media from emerging artists.

The recent additions to the Toronto landscape by Gehry and Libeskind, combined with gentrifying downtrodden or abandoned neighborhoods, have helped create a sense of excitement in Toronto for both locals and out-of-towners. If you haven’t been back to the city since the Blue Jays won a World Series (that would be 1993), it’s time to take a fresh look.

Info to Go
Pearson International Airport (YYZ) is the busiest in the country, serving more than 50 airlines. Located in the northwest part of the city, it’s a 30-minute taxi ride ($55) to downtown. The Airport Express Bus runs every 20 minutes ($22 one way). Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) on Toronto Island is minutes by ferry to the docks at Bathurst Street. For more information, visit www.seetorontonow.com.

Frank Gehry’s new addition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas St. W., tel 416 979 6648) includes Galleria Italia on the second floor, a large lounge where ribs of soft Douglas fir curve upward like the inverted hull of a ship, and a stairwell that extends outside the blue titanium back wall to reward guests with tantalizing vistas over Grange Park. A large room is devoted to the sculptures of Henry Moore and landscapes by the Group of Seven, highly regarded Canadian painters of the 1920s — a small sampling of the impressive works found at the AGO.

Libeskind’s whimsy lends itself well to the mind-boggling collection of wares at the Royal Ontario Museum (Bloor Street W., tel 416 586 8000). More than a mere natural history museum with the requisite brontosaurus skeleton, the ROM has a vast collection of gems and treasures from ancient Egypt, Greece and China.

By all means, rest your weary legs in one of the pews inside St. James’ Cathedral (65 Church St., tel 416 364 7865) and peer up at the tallest steeple in Canada. The current structure, which took close to 25 years to build in the mid- to late-19th-century, is blessed with a stunning display of stained-glass windows.

Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt wasn’t content simply reading about Rapunzel — he had to create his own castle to let down his hair. So from 1911 to 1914, he built Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace, tel 416 923 1171), complete with underground tunnel, oversized suites fit for a queen, secret passages, stables and, of course, two towers. You’d be remiss not to wander the gardens outside during spring and summer.

Once the world’s tallest free-standing structure (it has since been surpassed by towers in Dubai and Guangzhou, China), the CN Tower (301 Front St. W., tel 416 868 6937) is still the tallest edifice in the Americas at 1,815 feet. Take the glass-floored elevator to the top and try not to tremble as you look down. The highest observation deck, the Sky Pod, offers views up to 100 miles away — all the way to Niagara Falls — with incredible shots of the city and Lake Ontario below.

Enter one of Toronto’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods and you’re immediately transported to that particular region of the world. Best known for its sprawling Chinatown near the AGO, there’s also Korea-town, Greektown, Little Italy, Little India and Little Poland. For more insight, especially in Chinatown, sign up for a walking tour with historian Bruce Bell.

Toronto-based architect Jack Diamond created a space far more subtle than Libeskind’s or Gehry’s additions to the city, but the result is just as dazzling. See a performance at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W., tel 416 363 6671). Every one of the 2,000 seats feels intimate, but it’s the acoustics that shine in this horseshoe-shaped opera house — the main auditorium is surrounded by a foot of concrete to shield it from outside noise.


The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto
Unveiled in February just steps from the entertainment district, the 53-story hotel is the first Ritz to open in Canada. 181 Wellington St. W., tel 416 585 2500 $$$$

Thompson Toronto
Located in the vibrant arts district, the hotel features a rooftop pool, bar and cabanas with great skyline and shoreline views. 550 Wellington St. W., tel 416 640 7778 $$$

Trump International Hotel & Tower
Making its debut this spring in the heart of the financial district is Donald Trump’s first foray into 325 Bay St., tel 416 306 5800 $$$$


Located near St. James’ Cathedral in the St. Lawrence neighborhood, Origin serves innovative fare from cultures around the world. 107–109 King St. E., tel 416 603 8009 $$$

Pearl Harbourfront Restaurant
Also known as “The Pink Pearl,” this is the spot in Chinatown to grab dim sum with friends. 207 Queens Quay W., tel 416 203 1233 $

Pure Spirits
If you’re headed to the Distillery District, here’s a high-energy restaurant known for its seafood dishes; try the sesame-encrusted ahi tuna. 55 Mill St., tel 416 361 5859 $$


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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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