Toronto: Where Art is For Everyone

A bright, crisp climate, bustling city streets, quirky neighbourhoods and a critically acclaimed cultural scene, Toronto may just be the perfect place for your Winter break. Sixty9’s Jonathan Fraser got the lowdown on one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.

With a flight time from London that’s equivalent to New York, I had to ask myself why I’d never made the trip across the pond to Toronto before so when we were invited to visit the Toronto Biennial of Art I jumped at the chance to not only immerse myself in the city but also explore its cultural identity.

Built around Lake Ontario, Toronto is Canada’s most populated city with a downtown district filled with glass and steel hi res developments. Property is at a real premium and there are new developments all across the city. The bustle of city living, it’s stunning skyline and proximity to the water’s edge gives downtown Toronto a distinctly Manhattan feel – it even has its own Flat Iron building!

Just like Manhattan it’s the city’s cosmopolitan districts that show its true character. Since its founding in 1793 under the name ‘York’ by the British (which explains the very British feeling tree lined streets that are home to beautiful Victorian villas and townhouses), Toronto has been an important destination for immigrants to Canada and despite each district historically being inhabited by its own distinct community groups there is no ghettoisation; Toronto is a truly multicultural city with more than 50 percent of the city’s residents belonging to a visible minority population group, and over 200 distinct ethnic origins are represented among its inhabitants. It gives the city a unique and welcoming vibe .

DISTRICTS TO EXPLORE

 

Distillery District

 

Kensington Market
Toronto’s Camden and perfect for those that like a walk on the wild side, Kensington Market is full of boho, hippy chic stores, cafés, bakeries and boutiques. Perfect for vintage fans, the area’s Victorian buildings are also home to hipster bars and eateries. Distillery District: Located close to downtown, the Distillery District was home to the city’s burgeoning whiskey trade but has now been converted into a slick retail and relaxation zone with designer stores, chocolatiers, craft breweries and restaurants located within it’s vintage industrial architecture. Its also a popular place for wedding photos so expect to see a bride or ten…

Church and Wellesley
Right in the heart of downtown and perhaps the best location for a fun night out, the LGBTQ village is home to inclusive bars, clubs and boutiques. We loved the Glad Day Bookstore – by day an LGBQT bookshop and café and at night an event space and sometime nightclub!

Harbourfront
With an epic view of the lake, The Harbourfront is a tranquil escape from the city within its very heart. Walk the promenade, take a boat trip, visit a gallery or grab some lunch. In fact, why not do it all?

Queen Street
Vintage and vinyl stores make up this hipster paradise which goes from punk to preppy depending on your direction – but hey, this is Canada so everyone is still super chill and friendly. Tons of independent bars, breweries, restaurants, bakehouses and unique stores make it a great place to explore or stay- we stayed at The Broadview Hotel, an uber cool ex strip club on the corner of Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue. Rooms come equipped with their own record player, there’s a vinyl library on each floor to select from and a hip rooftop fusion restaurant to enjoy with a killer cocktail menu. Try the Peary Godmother; bourbon, pear juice, honey and sage syrup.

Dundas West
Home to a huge collection of Street Art, so much so that it’s classed as an open-air museum (dundaswest.museum), Dundas West is home to independent bars, barbers, restaurants and stores that have retained their vintage shop fronts giving the area a mini Shoreditch feel. Make sure you visit MOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art and order the Pesto Falafel at La Palma.

ART IN TORONTO

We visited during the city’s Biennial of Art; a new international contemporary visual arts event that takes place for ten weeks across the city meaning that for every district you visit, you are sure to find some art to experience on your journey. This year’s festival, offering 72 days of free art, took its theme from Toronto’s evolving relationship with its Shoreline with wide ranging exhibitions examining the region’s indigenous routes, Canadian identity, immigration and cultural appropriation as well as traditional crafts explored using contemporary techniques. The centre point of the festival is Toronto’s infamous Nuit Blanche where, for one sleepless night, Toronto is transformed by hundreds of artists and nearly 90 art projects. It’s a night of art and revelry across the city, exploring installations and popping into a bar or two along the way. The crowds are huge, the atmosphere electric and with a programme of art that is for everyone.What’s not to love.

This year’s program responds to one event-wide curatorial theme of Continuum. The theme follows many paths during the event – set against a backdrop of the ever-present renewal of night into day, a continuum of experience and ideas is brought to light by the participating artists.
Find out more at www.torontobiennial.org

VISITING TORONTO

Getting there
Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline. From London Heathrow this winter, the airline operates up to 4 daily flights per week to Toronto, with Economy fares starting from £448.82 inclusive of taxes and 1 x checked bag (subject to change).
Find out more at www.aircanada.com or call Reservations on 00 800 6699 2222

When To Visit
Canadian Winter’s are a thing of legend but Toronto experiences very little snowfall compared to the rest of the country. Instead the Winter weather is dry and crisp – Torontonians are not fans of wet weather – so it’s a great climate in which to explore all year round. My visit coincided with a sunny Autumn with temperatures in the mid to late teens. Expect Summer highs of 28 degrees and Winter lows of -7.

Hotel
Double Rooms at the Broadview Hotel Toronto start at $289CAD Book your room at www.thebroadviewhotel.ca

Toronto City Pass
A Toronto CityPass (www.citypass.com/toronto) provides access to key attractions across the city including the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. The passes are £52 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes). Getting around Toronto costs just £7 per day with a TTC day pass (www.ttc.ca).

For further information about Toronto, visit Tourism Toronto at www.seetorontonow.com.
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