FX Excursions

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

Toronto Weaves Business, Nature and Indigenous Culture into its Urban Landscape

by Daliah Singer

Mar 16, 2024

PHOTO: © DESTINATION TORONTO

March 2024

There’s no need to travel the globe when you can simply walk down the street in Toronto. The capital of Ontario is considered one of the most diverse cities in the world, evident not only in the nearly 200 languages spoken here and the fact more than half of the population is foreign-born, but in the staggering diversity of the city’s restaurants. Often found in cultural enclaves, they stretch from Chinatown to Little Jamaica and Greektown.

That multifaceted populace is also particularly brainy: With more than 70 percent of the city’s adult residents holding a post-secondary degree, it’s no surprise finance and innovation rank among Toronto’s top industries. The city ranks as the second-largest financial services center in North America and the continent’s third-largest technology hub.

“Toronto is not the capital of Canada, but it is a business center of the country,” said Ashley Rochefort, media relations manager, leisure, Destination Toronto.

With a population of around 6.5 million (projected to grow to 10 million by 2051) and more than 27.5 million annual visitors, careers aren’t the only things the city provides.

PHOTO: © DESTINATION TORONTO

Here you can attend Broadway and West End productions at Mirvish theaters and thought-provoking shows at Soulpepper Theatre; take in live music at the historic Massey Hall; attend one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals (Toronto International Film Festival) or the country’s largest Pride parade; and visit Aga Kahn Museum, the first of its kind in North America to focus on the arts of Muslim civilizations.

Once known as Hogtown for its extensive meatpacking stockyards, Toronto leans into its industrious, grub-focused history. The St. Lawrence Market has stood for more than two centuries, while the Distillery District’s overhaul of Victorian-era industrial buildings into a walkable mini neighborhood exemplifies the city’s commitment to adaptive reuse. More recent additions, such as The Well — a seven-building, mixed-use development in King West with views of CN Tower, opened in November — breathe new life into downtown.

“This is a city that is very, very vibrant,” said Marguerite Pigott, film commissioner and director of entertainment industries, City of Toronto. “Our cultural strength is one of the reasons why people come to Toronto and stay here. And why it’s a great place to travel to.”

PHOTO: © KIKKI GUERARD @FASHIONCAMERA

CHECKING IN WITH LESLEY HAMPTON
Anishinaabe artist and fashion designer

Describe Toronto’s fashion scene for our readers.
What I love about the Toronto fashion scene is there are different fashion weeks for each thing that might interest you, such as Indigenous Fashion Arts for people wanting to connect with indigenous fashion and educate themselves on how they can wear it appropriately. But then there’s also African Fashion Week Toronto, celebrating great BIPOC designers and individuals. Or Fashion Art Toronto, which celebrates the alternative fashion scene where people can be more creative or about a wearable art piece or trending design work.

What do you think of Torontonians’ style?
When there is an event happening, Toronto’s people are great at showing up and showing off. On a daily basis, it depends on the weather. I applaud Toronto for putting comfort first when it comes to staying warm. But there are incredible brands, like Manitobah Mukluks and Canada Goose, that promote being warm while still being fashionable.

How can visitors connect with Toronto’s Indigenous past and present?
Checking out Native Canadian Centre of Toronto offers a great way to start because there’s so much education around Indigenous people available at no cost. If you’re coming in June, Indigenous Fashion Arts is a great festival that happens biannually. Also, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival hosts a weeklong showing of Indigenous-made films.

You focus on slow fashion. How does Toronto embrace sustainability?
Specifically for fashion design, quite a number of small businesses like mine are dedicated to locally produced garments, as well as initiatives such as Inland, which supports Canadian designers who manufacture locally — Canadian-made, Canadian-designed. We’re seeing an uptick in local manufacturing facilities connecting with a lot of local designers. Definitely a transition is happening for buyers wanting locally made work as well as designers themselves trying to create locally.

What’s one thing people don’t know about Toronto but should?
How much Indigenous culture is woven throughout the city. Even “Toronto” itself comes from a Mohawk word Tkaronto [which means “the place in the water where the trees are standing”]. I think just learning how much Indigenous people are woven within the Canadian landscape is something visitors can appreciate.

DIVERSIONS
Toronto rises like a steel giant from the banks of Lake Ontario and its 30 miles of shoreline. Ferries (about $7) run from the downtown terminal to the Toronto Islands, a string of 15 interconnected islands just 13 minutes from the Harbourfront. (For a more active adventure, canoe rentals are available.)

PHOTO: © MARC BRUXELLE

Centre Island is the most popular. Rent a bike to pedal around in summer or cross- country skis when the snow arrives, making sure to stop at Centerville Amusement Park. Hanlan’s Point is known for its beach — an ideal sunset spot — and Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest of its kind on the Great Lakes.

Back on land, Toronto boasts one of the largest ravine systems in the world, covering approximately 17 percent of the city. Ravine Days is an annual celebration of this unique landscape held every October. A planned, 50-mile loop trail will connect many of these forests — and their critical wildlife habitats — in coming years. Until then, explore them with stops at some of the many area green spaces.

With its own trail network, High Park proves especially popular in the spring when the cherry trees bloom. In 2012 the 291-acre Downsview Park opened on the former Canadian Forces Base Toronto. As a birding hot spot in the city, more than 215 species flock to the area, including blue jays and owls. Free nature-based tours are available.

East of the city, Rouge National Urban Park — the largest urban park in North America — is home to apple orchards, a collection of historic buildings, ample wildlife and more than a dozen trails.

“Toronto is this fascinating place,” film commissioner Pigott said, “because it is a big city with a big city vibe and big city energy, but it is so close to nature and to an immediate feeling of getting away from it all.

LODGING
1 Hotel Toronto
Escape downtown’s bustle at this urban oasis, where the city’s natural surroundings come to life through biophilic design, serene rooms, a rooftop pool and a farm-to-table restaurant.
550 Wellington St. W.
$$$$

The Drake Hotel
A boutique, 51-room hotel in downtown’s energetic Queen West neighborhood, The Drake entertains its guests with a curated art collection, courtyard lounge bar and attached performance venue.
1150 Queen St. W.
$$$$

Omni King Edward Hotel
Established in 1903, this 301-room hotel in the Financial District offers old- world comforts, including afternoon tea service, in a luxurious, 4-star setting — spa included.
37 King St. E.
$$$$

DINING
Aera
Located on the 38th floor of The Well, Aera serves classic steak house fare paired with one of the best skyline views in the city.
8 Spadina Ave.
$$$$

Pasaj
The aroma of coffee and fresh-baked pastries invites diners into this sunlit space, just east of city center in Leslieville, for Turkish-style brunch. Dinner service launched this year.
1100 Queen St. E.
$$

Restaurant 20 Victoria
Chef Julie Hyde serves her seasonal, seafood- focused tasting menu in a tucked-away restaurant downtown that feels like a delicious discovery, even with its first Michelin star nod last year.
20 Victoria St.
$$$$$

JUST THE FACTS
Time zone: GMT-5
Phone code: Country code: 1 City code: 416 or 647
Currency: Canadian dollar
Key industries: Finance, professional services, innovation and technology, education, tourism and hospitality

COMING AND GOING
U.S. citizens must carry proof of citizenship and identity, such as a valid U.S. passport, passport card or NEXUS card. Visas are not required for stays less than 180 days.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
English and French

INFO TO GO
Toronto Pearson International Airport sits about 17 miles from downtown. UP Express trains run every 15 minutes from Terminal 1 to Union Station in city center for around $9 (children younger than 12 ride free); the ride takes 25 minutes. There are various bus options, including Toronto Transit Commission routes that connect to the subway and other lines that connect to the suburbs. Taxis, car rentals and rideshares are available at both terminals.

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