AN ELOQUENT TALE OF COLOURFUL HISTORY AND MODERN CULTURAL RENAISSANCE
Canada’s largest city, and the fourth-largest in North America, Toronto is a global business, entertainment and tourism hub, famous for its progressiveness and diversity.
The word “Toronto” comes from the Mohawk phrase “tkaronto” meaning “where trees grow in the water” and refers to a time centuries ago when the swampy shores of Lake Ontario reached much further north. Eventually variations of “Lac Taronto” (now Lake Simcoe) showed up on many French maps from the 1680s to the 1760s. In the 1720s a French fort was identified as Fort Toronto, where the City of Toronto stands today.
A unique blend of historical and contemporary design defines Toronto. From the Victorian grandeur of the Industrial Age to the sleek, minimalist designs of the twentieth century, Toronto’s skyline tells an eloquent tale of its colourful history and modern cultural Renaissance. HERITAGE Remnants of the classical architecture of Old Toronto are well preserved in many of the city’s historic neighbourhoods. Cabbagetown, a Heritage District known for its collection of Victorian structures, holds a number of architecturally significant homes from a variety of periods including the Georgian period, Queen Anne and the Second Empire. The industrial, red brick Distillery Historic District was once the largest whisky producer in the world. Carefully refurbished, it’s now home to a charming combination of art galleries, shops, restaurants and performance venues.
In the heart of the city, Old Town Toronto is a popular tourist destination. Purchased for the first mayor of Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie, Mackenzie House is a Greek Revival row-house and museum that includes a recreated print shop, gallery and many changing exhibitions. Also in Old Town and open to the public since 1803, is the St. Lawrence Market. As one of Canada’s oldest continuously operating markets, it’s home over one hundred and twenty vendors offering everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to antiques and artisanal crafts.
With its distinctive, wedge or “flat-iron” shape, the iconic Gooderham Flatiron Building exhibits a combination of the modern Gothic Revival and the Romanesque Revival styles. Just down the street lies an iconic piece of Toronto’s skyline, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. In 1929, when the hotel officially opened as The Royal York, the twenty-eight-story structure was the tallest building in the British Empire.
THE MOVE TO MODERN The sixties introduced modern facades to the cityscape, including the new Toronto City Hall – a much talked about structure with an unusual spaceship-like exterior, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell. The structure’s distinctive curving and asymmetrical towers that surround the saucer-like council chambers, gave rise to the building’s original nickname “The Eye of Government” – from the air, the building looks like an enormous, unblinking eye.
In the seventies, Toronto’s skyline began to change dramatically. Designed by German-born architect Eberhard H. Zeidler, Ontario Place added the futuristic, golfball-shaped Cinesphere (the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre) to the city’s waterfront. The CN Tower welcomed its first visitors in 1976 and remains the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere at 553.33 metres high. Classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the tower’s 360 degree views offer visitors breathtaking vistas of the city, Lake Ontario and the surrounding area.
Featuring the world’s first retractable roof, making it the ideal sports venue in rain or shine, Rogers Centre, formerly known as SkyDome, opened in 1989. It houses two of Toronto’s professional sports franchises: the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts.
Toronto’s Financial District is home to the works of world-renowned architects like Edward Durell Stone who designed the First Canadian Place. The Toronto Dominion Bank Centre, a cluster of gleaming black steel and tinted glass skyscrapers, a Mies van der Rohe signature, is highly coveted for its minimalism. Santiago Calatrava’s herring bone glass structure of the Allen Lambert Galleria elegantly stands next to the heritage buildings surrounding it. The RBC Plaza’s two towers refract and reflect light differently than other buildings in the city because of its unusual exterior: 24-carat gold leaf.
NEW-CENTURY RENAISSANCE Other internationally celebrated architects have left an indelible mark on Toronto. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the annex to the Royal Ontario Museum, an enormous glass addition called the Michael Lee- Chin Crystal, was the talk of the town when completed. The geological artifacts in the museum’s collection were the inspiration behind the angular extension, which serves as a dynamic meeting spot for locals and visitors alike.
Toronto-born Frank Gehry’s renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario includes a billowing façade of glass and wood, as well as the dramatic sculptural staircase and 40-foot glass ceilings of historic Walker Court. It’s the first building the prominent architect has designed in Canada.
Architect Bruce Kuwabara, the visionary behind high profile local architectural firm KPMB, continues to lead the collection of Cultural Renaissance projects in the city. His work includes the new home of the Toronto International Film Festival, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the National Ballet School (with Goldsmith Borgal & Company), the Gardiner Museum, and the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall.
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Architect Jack Diamond, of the Toronto firm Diamond and Schmitt Architects, envisioned the project as a way to tie together music and dance in an ensemble of glass and steel balanced with light woods against a minimalist backdrop. The structure is Canada’s first purpose-built opera house.
A focal point for art and creativity in Toronto is the Ontario College of Art and Design. Nicknamed by locals as the “floating table top” or “checkerboard on stilts”, the campus’s latest addition is the Sharp Centre for Design. Created by British architect Will Alsop, the Sharp Centre’s striking design was honoured with a Royal Institute of British Architects Worldwide Award. Another iconic British architect, Norman Foster, designed the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan School of Pharmacy building, known for its luminescent “pill” floating in the main atrium and visible at night from the surrounding streets.
ONLY IN TORONTO For that only-in-Toronto experience, here are some famous places to find the essence of Toronto’s past and present.
Taste a peameal bacon sandwich (with honey mustard) and a butter tart at the 200-year-old St. Lawrence Market.
Take the ferry to the Toronto Islands for a day in the parks and on the beaches – a piece of calm outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Refreshing signs read “Please walk on the grass.”
Catch live music at one of Toronto’s legendary music venues such as the Horseshoe Tavern (where the Rolling Stones have played many surprise concerts), The Rex (for live jazz) or the iconic Massey Hall.
Wander the eclectic and bohemian Kensington Market for vintage finds, organic coffee, tacos, Jamaican patties, gourmet cheese shops, green grocers and Indian spices.
Experience the highs and lows of Toronto – from the CN Tower’s Skypod observation deck at 447 meters (135 stories) up, down to the underground PATH system connecting downtown’s office towers with a 27-km network and over 1,200 shops and restaurants.
Stroll along the highest sidewalk at the CN Tower’s Edgewalk.