Toronto is a rich and colorful quilt, each square representing a different ethnicity, culture, type of art, or piece of history. Since the turn of the century, renovation projects have embellished the diverse fabric of the city, turning it into a multi-faceted destination that offers something for everybody.
The Huron tribe originally inhabited the area now known as Toronto. A steady trickle of British settlers descended upon the city, and in 1793 York was established as a military post and civilian town. The city grew slowly and faced countless hardships, particularly from American attacks. The 20th century brought industrialization, and Toronto’s boom began. By the 1940s, the city had a population of more than 600,000 and was finally beginning to hold its own against Montréal. But even then, it was predominantly British and Protestant.
It is difficult to believe that the diverse Toronto of today — heralded as one of the most multicultural cities in the world — is the same city of just 60 years ago. A huge immigration wave in the late 1940s changed the face of Toronto; and today the city, with a population of approximately 4 million, is ethnically and culturally diverse. More than 152 languages are spoken here, and more than half of the current population was born outside of Canada. Within the city, 200 distinct ethnic origins exist and are celebrated in cultural districts throughout the city. And you will not just find a variety of cultures and races but a diversity of religions and lifestyles peacefully coexisting.
Toronto has also realized a rebirth in its arts and cultural scene. Previously known for its annual film festival, the city is positioning itself as one of the premier international destinations for culture. In 2003, the city council launched the Culture Plan for the Creative City, a strategy designed to grow the city into a global cultural capital. The 10-year plan will see the transformation and development of 11 major arts and cultural institutions. This unprecedented renovation is coming to fruition with the recent grand opening of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and the reopening of the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Not only did the city embark on a major undertaking, but it also brought along world-famous architects — Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Will Alsop — to dramatically reinvent the layout and look of the city. Part of that redesign included making art accessible. Frank Gehry’s design at the Art Gallery of Ontario includes a distinctive Douglas fir-clad sculptural staircase that rises from the second floor through the glass ceiling and extends to the fifth floor: a utiltarian building component turned work of art.
Toronto is a hodgepodge of different elements right down to its style. The financial center is all business with skyscrapers and modern buildings. Nicknamed the “City of Neighborhoods,” it’s a place where all the different styles — classic, old world, trendy and funky — blend seamlessly.
In addition to its cultural fabric, Toronto is the largest city in Canada and is the capital of Ontario. As one of the top financial cities in the world, it thrives in a variety of industries such as telecommunications, film and education. Toronto is home to Canada’s largest university, the University of Toronto, which is nestled within the city near the fashionable Yorkville shopping district. It is also considered one of the most livable cities because of its low crime rates, cleanliness, higher standard of living and general attitude of acceptance. Situated on Lake Ontario, Toronto is ideally poised to take its place as an international destination for the arts, business, culture and technology.
FAIRMONT ROYAL YORK
This large, historic downtown property is intrinsically linked with Toronto’s history. The Fairmont has been around since 1862, when Capt. Thomas Dick remodeled it and dubbed it Queen’s Hotel. In 1929, the property became the Royal York and, with its 28 floors, 1,048 guestrooms and countless other facilities, was quite impressive for its time. After undergoing a $100 million renovation from 1988 to 1993, the current property is home to 1,365 guestrooms. Explore the photo gallery on the mezzanine level for great prints from Toronto’s early history and shots of the Royal York’s famous guests.
With five restaurants and four bars, there are plenty of dining options.$$$
FAIRMONT ROYAL YORK
100 Front St. W.
tel 416 368 2511
This 5-star boutique hotel is located in the heart of Toronto’s shopping district in Yorkville. Renowned designers Yabu Pushelburg designed the dramatic interiors, and the hotel features a large art collection and a private screening room. Its 62 guestrooms and 15 suites are inspired by 1940s glamour and are handsomely decorated with custom furniture. For an exclusive hideaway, reserve Suite 502, complete with three bedrooms and four bathrooms. ONE Restaurant, by Marc McEwan, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by Executive Chef Andrew Ellerby.$$$$
118 Yorkville Ave.
tel 416 963 6300
LE ROYAL MÉRIDIEN KING EDWARD
For more than 100 years, the King Edward Hotel (locally referred to as the ‘‘King Eddie’’) has been accommodating guests in style. Conveniently located in the financial district, the hotel is a perfect choice for business travelers. It was granted its name by King Edward VI and was restored in the 1980s. Today it boasts 298 guestrooms and suites, including a Royal Club Floor. The Consort Bar overlooks King Street and offers guests a chance to mingle and do business. Victoria’s is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a wildly popular brunch.$$$
LE ROYAL MÉRIDIEN KING EDWARD
37 King St. E.
tel 416 863 3131
C5 RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE
The sleek interior of c5, modernly decorated with shades of black and white, is an extension of Daniel Libeskind’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum. Inspired by the museum’s gem and mineral collection, Libeskind created five interlocking, self-supporting prism-like structures attached to the original building façade. Tucked at the top of the fifth crystal is c5, where Executive Chef Ted Corrado creates dishes inspired by the ethnicity of Toronto, made with local ingredients. The restaurant, which boasts an incredible view of the city, hosts a popular Afternoon Tea Thursday–Saturday and is open for lunch and dinner.$$$$
C5 RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE
Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park
tel 416 586 7928
This is not your typical Indian experience, but it is certainly an experience worth pursuing. Opened in 1998, Dhaba is the result of years of hard work by owner and Executive Chef P. K. Ahluwalia. The second-floor restaurant, featured on Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover, offers venison, crab, lobster, halibut and other ingredients not typically found on a standard Indian menu. Between fixed-price and tasting menus, the Dhaba experience includes customized tastes for customers. The tandoor clay ovens bring true Indian authenticity to the dining experience. The readers of Where Toronto have awarded the restaurant the Most Memorable Meal Award every year since 2004.$$
309 King St. W.
tel 416 740 6622
THE FIFTH GRILL & TERRACE
Situated on the rooftop of an old warehouse, The Fifth Grill & Terrace is accessible only by an old-fashioned private elevator. Once upstairs, guests are welcomed into a warm loft space with a log-burning fireplace, zinc bar and soft music. In the summer and early fall, the restaurant is known for its rooftop terrace, hailed as the best in the city. The menu offers everything from steak and seafood to Cornish hen and lobster ma shed potatoes. A traditional entrée of filet, potatoes and vegetables at The Fifth Grill is prepared perfectly.$$$
THE FIFTH GRIL & TERRACE
205 Richmond St. W.
tel 416 979 3005
It is difficult to visit Toronto and not be swept up in the arts scene. A must-see stop on the cultural tour is the Art Gallery of Ontario (tel 416 979 6648, http://www.ago.net), which reopened in November 2008. Famed architect Frank Gehry redesigned the building as part of Transformation AGO, a $276 million renovation project. Check out the AGO’s extensive collection of Canadian art. After leaving the AGO, make a quick detour past the nearby Ontario College of Art & Design. The building — it stands on multi-colored stilts resembling crayons — is certainly worth a glance. The Royal Ontario Museum (tel 416 586 8000, http://www.rom.on.ca), another of the city’s recently redesigned cultural centers, features the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal building. The Crystal, built during Renaissance ROM, added 56,000 square feet of exhibition space to the museum. The museum is the largest of its kind in Canada and is focused on world cultures, history, arts, archaeology and sciences.
If museums aren’t your thing, the city offers many performing arts options. Stop by the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (tel 416 363 6671, http://www.fourseasonscentre.ca), home to the Canadian Opera Company and the ballet. The building features world-class acoustics and the world’s longest free-spanning glass staircase. Toronto is also known as the third-largest theater center (behind New York and London). Many first-run performances hit Toronto.
The Distillery District (tel 416 364 1171, http://www.thedistillerydistrict.com), touted as the city’s hippest address, is the first pedestrian-only village and only historic district in Toronto. Dating back to 1831, the area was originally a gristmill and whiskey distillery. It was closed in 1990 and reopened as a high-end shopping area in 2003. The district is home to a number of eateries, galleries and stores. Another shopping stop is St. Lawrence Market, where you will find the finest meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and great seafood. The market is built off Toronto’s original City Hall. Stop by here to try an authentic Canadian pea meal bacon sandwich.
True art lovers will be drawn to West Queen West, 20-plus blocks of art galleries and boutique shops. As gentrification begins to creep in, some artists are heading out, but the area is still heavily populated and dominated by the arts scene.
The rich ethnic blend of Toronto offers visitors a wide range of nightlife options. Try the Black Hoof Charcuterie (tel 416 551 8554) for a latenight snack. Open late, it is popular with employees from the Toronto restaurant scene.
Checking in with Matthew Teitelbaum
Director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario
Global Traveler: Toronto is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. How do you think this will translate for the city in terms of tourism and art appreciation?
Matthew Teitelbaum: Over the last six years, 11 Toronto cultural institutions have embarked upon or completed expansions. This remarkable cultural critical mass is undoubtedly going to elevate the city’s visibility as a key international destination. A recent U.S. study rated Toronto one of the top five international cities for culture. I expect that positioning will improve over time, despite the current economic challenges. Through Frank Gehry’s design and our programming, the new AGO is welcoming and inclusive, and we are actively reaching out to new audiences to connect them with art, creativity and imagination.
>GT: The AGO has instituted a number of programs, including free memberships for new Canadians. How will the AGO contribute to the community?
MT: As one of the leading art museums in North America, the AGO must set standards for accessibility, particularly given our location in Canada’s most ethnically diverse city. Our focus is on reducing social and economic barriers to art and the AGO, and helping people feel welcomed, not intimidated. The AGO allows people to make their own personal connections to art and is enriched by the diversity of this city and province.
GT: Explain the significance of working with Frank Gehry on the building redesign.
MT: This was Frank’s first Canadian project, in his hometown of Toronto. The AGO is perhaps his most personal project. He made his first connections between art and architecture at the AGO, and he shared our passion to create an extraordinary home for extraordinary art. With expanses of glass and natural light, the AGO connects to the city, the city connects to the AGO, and people can literally imagine themselves here because they can see people inside engaging with the art.
GT: How did you get started working in the arts? How do you feel being a part of all the changes in the Toronto cultural scene?
MT: I have been surrounded by art throughout my life. My late father was a painter, and we came to the AGO often. I began my career as a curator at the London Regional Art Gallery, later joining the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, before being named chief curator of the AGO in 1993. I became director in 1998. Like Frank Gehry and our late benefactor, Ken Thomson, I have a powerful and personal connection to this great city and the AGO. It is deeply gratifying to be a part of the AGO during this unprecedented chapter in its 108-year history.
Just the Facts
Time Zone: GMT +5
Phone Code: 1 for Canada, 416 or 647 for Toronto
Currency: Canadian dollar
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. visitors must have a valid passport upon arrival in Canada. A visa is not required for stays lasting less than 180 days. For more information, visit the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Toronto (http://toronto.usconsulate.gov).
Official Language: Both English and French are the official languages of Toronto, but English is the predominant language.
Key Industries: Tourism, television and film production, design, aerospace, technology
INFO TO GO
Two airports service the Toronto area. For travelers flying from Newark (EWR) or Chicago (MDW), fly direct to Toronto on Porter Airlines. Porter is the only airline that flies into Toronto City Centre Airport (YTZ), a unique, convenient urban airport. After a quick ferry ride (less than one minute) on the Toronto Port Authority Ferry, which runs every 15 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, you are minutes away from various destinations within the city. Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), located 16 miles northwest of the city, is serviced by a large number of airlines, including Air Canada. VIA Rail System connects Toronto to the rest of Canada and to the United States via Niagara Falls, N.Y. Within the city, travelers can easily navigate the extensive subway system. There are a variety of cab companies within the city. For reliable service, try Diamond Taxicab (http://www.diamondtaxi.ca).
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