Toronto, Canada’s largest city in population, lies on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. It is an urban area of interesting neighbourhoods. With a population of some 2.4 million and another 2 million in the surrounding suburbs, it has been declared by the United Nations as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.
This is a bonus for tourists as well as for locals as ethnic groups share their festivals, foods, music and customs from their lands of origin on six continents (I don’t think there’s an Antarctican community yet!)
Toronto is the commercial, transportation and entertainment hub of the country and in the latter field rivals New York for variety in live theatre and musical venues of all sorts. It is actually the capital of the Province of Ontario (we have nine other Provinces and three Territories) and was nicknamed “Toronto the Good” for its straight-laced image which has long-since disappeared.
However, it is still a civilized, clean city for its size with a downtown core, which is also residential. Neighbourhoods range from the ‘ritzy’ (Yorkville) to fun (College Street and Little Italy: The Danforth and Greek Town; The Beaches with its own long boardwalk on Lake Ontario ); to funky Queen Street West – to name just a few accessible by subway or electric streetcar.
Museum lovers as well as nature lovers can be kept very busy. The Royal Ontario Museum complex, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario Science Centre are just a few of the world-class museums. There are also specialty museums, which will be covered in a future article.
High Park is an enormous park west of downtown, and the city has a network of linked parklands, ravines and green spaces. As well, reachable with a short ferry ride are the Toronto Islands – in Lake Ontario across from downtown – for hiking, biking, and strolling. From the islands, you have magnificent views of the CN Tower (Toronto’s ‘symbol’), The Skydome sports stadium and Roy Thompson Hall (the largest of three concert halls). There are private yacht clubs and a small airport as well.
Toronto is directly reachable by air from many cities in The United States, Europe, Asia and now has the fourth busiest airport in North America. As well, the city can be reached by car via the U.S. border cities of Buffalo (90 minutes) and Detroit (about 4 hours). From the Bus Terminal and Union Station (railway) both downtown, one can travel within Ontario – Canada’s second largest province in area.
Toronto has things happening all year round, with June-September concentrating on outdoor festivals and performances in the Harbourfront area, City Hall Square and other venues.
Events in May
1-31st – Contact 2000 Photography Festival (various locations).
5-7th – Good Food Festival and Market: annual vegetarian food fair.
May 22nd – Victoria Day: A Canadian holiday in honour of Queen Victoria with great fireworks displays on the waterfront of Lake Ontario and other locations.
“Toronto” is a Huron (Native Canadian) word meaning “meeting place”. In 1793, the city was renamed York by the British but it reverted back to Toronto in 1834 and was, for a short period of time, the capital of Canada.
To get you started, here are a few links:
TorontoTourism.com – very comprehensive site which will lead you to city maps, transportation maps and even the underground PATH – 10 kilometres of underground walkways, and numerous other comprehensive sites. This site also has a toll-free number good from all over North America: (800)363-1990, with live travel helpers and recorded information.
Toronto.com – a different site and more commercially oriented by appearance, lists of theatres and restaurants.
This bustling, friendly metropolis is a place for all reasons and all seasons. For smaller crowds, May-June and September-October are quieter, temperate months but the summer months of July-August are not oppressive. While the city can be expensive in many ways, there are places to stay and eat and visit which are good value and will not “break the bank” – more in later installments. I look forward to sharing these with all potential visitors.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.