Like all major cities
Toronto prizes its image. "Clean, safe and civilized," said my guide,
Judy Hammond, who moved from a small town in Ontario to the provincial capital.
"At first I was reluctant about the change, but now that I live here, I have
fallen in love with the place," she added. While beamingly escorting me from
one neighborhood to another, Hammond further championed her adoptive home, describing
it as "dynamic, growing, ethnically diverse and friendly."
It was my first day
ever in Toronto, a city that only recently seemed to have piqued my interest.
The big metropolis of English-speaking Canada is the southernmost of the three
great cities in the countrys northeast region and the only one with which
I was unfamiliar. I knew the other two famous cities fairly well. Quebec, with
its Old World French culture and cuisine, has always been a delicious retreat
from the overly frantic pace of urban life. Montreal offers a more modern
French identity, but mixed with broader European cultural influences.
From my friends who
spoke positively of Torontoin fact, two of them relocated from ManhattanI
learned that the city had developed into a great financial and industrial center,
as well as an important player in the arts and culture. I was glad that I postponed
a visit for as long as I had to the time when the transformation from a sleepy,
dullish center to a more cosmopolitan looking one was well underway.
As the taxi brought
me in from the airport, I was struck by the concentration of large ultra-modern
office buildings in the downtown area. Like an artists rendering of tomorrow,
a new skyline of futuristic high rises glitters near Lake Ontario and
the ferry docks servicing the Toronto Islands. The abundance of glass
and aluminum and the urgency to build reminded me very much of Singapore. Large
abstract steel sculptures are placed in the spaces beside the towering buildings,
just as they sometimes are in New York City. As I emerged from the cab in front
of my hotel, The Royal York with its sprawling 19th-century castle-like appearance,
I saw that it faced Union Station, one of the terminals for VIA Rail,
Canadas national passenger train service.
help, I soon found that it was easy to get around. The subway system is efficient and user-friendly. Above ground I discovered streetcars on some avenues
and found that taxis are cheap and plentiful. For the pedestrian, Toronto has
numerous prime shopping avenues and a huge Underground Walkway called
PATH, which links 1,100 stores, six hotels, five subway stops, the bus
and railroad terminals and just about everything else in the downtown.
Also prized in Toronto
are its multiculturalism and its range of ethnic neighborhoods. Along with my
guide, I hopscotched around town on foot and by cab to sample the wonderful
mosaic of distinctive enclaves. I did not find Toronto as British as I had expected,
but discovered that it is, above all, a genuine melting pot of which the residents
are quite proud. Because of the countrys easy immigration policies, Toronto
has become a mecca for ambitious people from all over the world.
A walk in a northerly
direction from the harbor area along Spadina Avenue brings you past several
blocks lined with furriers, through the entertainment section and to the expansive
Chinatown, which is larger than the one in New York City and home to
Chinese from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and the mainland. At Kings
Noodles you can look through the window to see noodles being made. In the
produce shops, jackfruit, mangosteen and durian, as well as other exotic fruits
and vegetables that are staples of Asian cuisine, are sold.
as "The Danforth" because of the name of the major road that crosses
the neighborhood not only features Greek cuisine, but is also the site of a
lively mix of specialty shops, clubs and cafes. In 1907, only 20 Greek names
appeared in the telephone directory. Today, the number has risen to more than
On summer weekends
the sidewalks of Little Italy (now inhabited by Portuguese, too) are
crowded with tourists. The neighborhoods oldest Italian restaurant and
outdoor patio, Cafe Diplomatico ("The Dip" to locals) attracts a nightly
crowd of people watchers.
Other major ethnic
enclaves include Little Poland, Portugal Village, Little India
and Koreatown, each with traditional restaurants, foods stores and shops
specializing in goods imported from the merchants native countries.
|Metro International Caravan
(credit: Tourism Toronto)
Toronto, like Montreal,
hosts many festivals and special happenings. Considered the citys signature
event, the International Festival Caravan now in its 32nd year and billed as
a "Millennium Celebration" will take place from June 23 through July 1, 2000.
To honor the citys diversity, international pavilions, as well as theme
pavilions, showcasing dance, art, music, crafts and cuisine will spread across
Greater Toronto. Along with the pageantry recalling the achievements of each
ethnic community during the past century, the more than 40 "international cities"
pavilions will house replicas of castles, chalets, marketplaces and village
squares. About 200 shows are scheduled during this mini-Expo.
museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, boasts a particularly extensive collection
of early Chinese and Korean art. The Art Gallery of Toronto, perhaps
the oldest gallery in the city, shows the works of Canadian and American artists,
including that of the native peoples. It houses the worlds largest assemblage
of sculptures by Henry Moore.
Toronto is known for
theater, music, dance and other performing arts that fill its auditoriums. Home
to over 200 professional companies, it is one of the largest entertainment centers
in the English-speaking world.
|Casa Loma (credit:
Casa Loma is
at the top of every tourist attraction must-see list. This 98-room mansion,
built in 1914 by financier and soldier Sir Henry Pellat, resembles a medieval
castle. You can climb the turreted towers for a view of the city. The great
hall with its 60-foot ceilings holds a pipe organ and is festooned with old
Canadian flags hanging from the rafters. The living room, bedrooms, library,
dining room and suites, furnished with period antiques, have a lived-in look.
The military equipment used by Sir Henrys Home Guard regiment, the Queens
Own Rifles, is on display. The castle cost over three million dollars to build,
but was lost to the taxman just 10 years later, when Sir Henry suffered financial
Everything from brand
names to boutiques can be found in Toronto. The centerpiece to the downtown
shopping experience is the Toronto Eaton Centre. For the top of the line
in fashion, stroll the Bloor-Yorkville section. Internationally known
upscale chains have outposts here, as do individual shops selling the creations
of local designers.
Best for browsing is
the Harborside Antique Centre, not too far from the ferry docks. An entire
floor is covered with booths that stock quality antiques. Each one specializes
in a specific type of collectable, such as old luggage, photos, Toby mugs, Art
Deco furniture, majolica, cut glass, silver and Japanese kimonos. Skip the second
floor to which the junk has been relegated.
When it opened in 1929,
the Royal York was the largest and tallest building in the British Empire.
A 19th-century edifice of grand and stylish demeanor, the hotel is part of the
Canadian Pacific chain, the luxury hostelries scattered across Canada. Last
year 27 properties from the Canadian Pacific portfolio merged with seven Fairmont
hotels to form a new management company, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. A five-year
renovation completed in 1993 restored the premises to its former elegance. Guestrooms
were refurbished, all public spaces were redone and a health club and skylit
lap pool were added. The Executive Floor is particularly comfortable and has
its own lounge where complimentary breakfast and snacks are served and concierge
service is available. The hotel provides direct access to the Underground Walkway
and its shopping arcade, as well as the subway system.
The Royal York, 100
Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5J IE3. Tel. 800-866-5577, 416-368-2511.
Rates begin at $105. www.fairmont.com