Toronto is an eclectic and cosmopolitan city with a vibrant culture. If you’re into the arts, theatre or special events, there's always something new to discover!
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.
Toronto is the capital city of the province of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.
Centrally located between New York City, Chicago and Montreal, Toronto’s within a 90 minute flight for over half the U.S. and Canadian population.
Toronto sits on the northern shore of Lake Ontario (the easternmost of the Great Lakes) and has a shoreline stretching 43 kilometres featuring sandy beaches, marinas and working ports.
Two major rivers flow through Toronto into Lake Ontario: The Humber River on the west side of the city and the Don River on the east side.
The population of the City of Toronto is 2.9 million, ranking fourth in North America, behind Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles, and just slightly ahead of Chicago.
Famous for its diversity, Toronto may be the world’s most global city, with 50 per cent of the population born outside of Canada
More than 200 languages and dialects are spoken in Toronto.
First settled more than 11,000 years ago, the area that now makes up Toronto was home to a wide array of Aboriginal groups for centuries.
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 shores of Lake Ontario reached much further north.
In 1834 the city wasnamed Toronto.
Toronto is a city rich with a cultural heritage. And nowhere can you see that heritage than on display in the many Toronto art galleries and museums.
Royal Ontario Museum The largest museum in Canada and one of the top cultural museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum is one place you positively cannot skip when in Toronto. Reaching through the ages, the Royal Ontario Museum showcases art and nature from around the globe with over 13 million objects.
Gardiner Museum While not top of mind for everyone, the Gardiner Museum deserves your time just as much. A quick two-minute walk from the ROM, the museum specializes in historic and contemporary ceramics tackling both social and artistic points of view.
Art Gallery of Ontario With over 90,000 pieces in its collection, you will always find something of interest during your visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Ryerson Image Centre Dedicated to the art of photography, the Ryerson Image Centre is housed in a repurposed warehouse building on the campus of Ryerson College. Expect to find some of the most creative photographs.
Bata Shoe Museum If you love shoes, you cannot miss the Bata Shoe Museum. It examines the 4,000-year-old tradition of the shoe from around the world.
Aga Khan Museum While you may know the Aga Khan Museum’s, the magic is on the inside as it showcases Islamic art, Iranian art and Muslim culture through an intellectual and artistic lens.
The Museum of Inuit Art The Museum of Inuit Art on Toronto’s waterfront showcases art from Canada’s northern communities, including a wide range of paintings and sculptures.
Casa Loma Toronto’s mesmerizing Gothic Revival mansion was once home to financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Overlooking the Toronto skyline, the opulence and majesty of this historic home transport you to another time.
Ontario Science Centre One of the top attractions in Toronto, the Ontario Science Centre is not just for school trips. Ontario Science Centre gets visitors excited and engaged in science through fascinating and interactive exhibits.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) The centre of innovative art, (MOCA) has featured the works of over 1,000 Canadian Artists and is one of the best contemporary art galleries in Toronto.
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Nestled in 100 acres of forested land about 30 minutes outside Toronto, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is dedicated to featuring and collecting the art of Canada.
Gibson House Museum Gibson House was built in 1851 and became a heritage museum in 1971, interpreting 19th-century domestic arts and rural life skills that include culinary and textile arts, gardening and farming. This elegant farmhouse reveals the evolution of North York.
Spadina Museum Spadina offers a glimpse of Toronto during the 1900-1930 period through the lens of one family.
DISCOVERING Indigenous Art in Toronto
Canadian Indigenous art is a major part of the nation’s contemporary art scene. Here’s a primer on this dynamic and evolving milieu. By Clayton Windatt.
Created from descendants of the original inhabitants of this land, Indigenous art occupies a vital position within Canadian art. Indigenous people do not form one homogenous cultural group and there are strong regional identities among First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, bands and tribes. When viewing Indigenous art, understanding the cultural context it was produced within will provide you with a deeper appreciation of the artist and their work. Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, just north of the city, showcase many of Canada’s leading modern and contemporary Indigenous artists. Here is an overview of the most influential Indigenous art movements:
The Woodland School & Beyond Ojibway painter Norval Morrisseau was one of the first Indigenous artists to achieve mainstream success during the 1960s. Considered the leader of the Woodland School of art, Morrisseau is known for a visual aesthetic of bright colours and what came to be known as “Indian” stylization, with thick lines connecting people, places and creatures together. Morrisseau’s works depict—among other messages—transformation, capturing the power coming from within the land, water and animals. Morrisseau was a residential school survivor who lived through the suppression of native culture and language during the early half of the 1900s, and his stylized paintings are as political as they are symbolic: they declare ownership over territory and claim agency for his culture.
Today, the Woodland School and its iconic imagery retain their cultural significance, reimagined by younger artists. Contemporary visual artist Christian Chapman’s work Elvis Changing into a ’77 Ford Thunderbird (2014) is a pop-culture-tinged riff on Norval Morrisseau’s Man Changing into Thunderbird (1977). Chapman’s works often explore the intersection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous society. They also tell a story of heritage and identity, preserving the evolving Anishinabe culture he is a part of.
Many Indigenous artists have engaged their practice as a platform for socio-political change, a strategy that artists around the world have employed. Ojibway artist Carl Beam frequently explores themes of identity and the impact of colonization on Indigenous Peoples. His 1985 painting The North American Iceberg (whose title ironically references an Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition of that same year, The European Iceberg) was the first work by an Aboriginal artist purchased by the National Gallery of Canada for its contemporary art collection. In Beam’s striking 1990 The Columbus Suite, a series of 12 monumental etchings that are part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection, he examines and reclaims colonialist ideas of discovery and identity, using appropriated photo-reproductions as well as images of himself at various life stages.
In Canada, as elsewhere, conversations about Indigenous rights remain ongoing. This context is a persistent concern for Indigenous artists, as many issues between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous society remain unresolved. Yet as Canadians, we share collective history and geography. That is a perspective explored prominently in the work of Kent Monkman, a Toronto-based, contemporary artist of Cree ancestry whose queer alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle is depicted in painting, film and video works as a counter narrative to conventional colonial history.
Monkman’s paintings, in sweeping 19th-century Romantic style, depict a wide range of historical narratives, deconstructing existing notions of “Indians” that have been portrayed in historical textbooks and art over the past few hundred years. Monkman reimagines these works in his own fashion, painting scenes of love and war, appropriating and subverting the conventional. It’s an approach that’s confrontational—and effective. Monkman is one of Canada’s most renowned contemporary artists, with work featured in Australia’s 2010 Biennale of Sydney festival, Toronto International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (now called Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada) (MOCA) and the National Gallery of Canada. His work is also in the permanent collection of Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario.
Subversion & Reconciliation While some artists choose to confront the world with images that challenge head-on, others aim for the same impact through subversion. Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook is known for her ink and coloured pencil drawings. Pootoogook portrayed life in her community, Northern Canada’s Cape Dorset (known as Kinngait in Inuktitut). Her representations explore everyday occurrences, including personal experiences. These include representations of typical, day-to-day life, such as children watching television—or a woman experiencing domestic violence. Pootoogook’s work mixes humour and blunt representations of the disparities found in Indigenous life, making these scenes of “normal” life a point of confrontation.
Métis painter Jim Logan works in a similar way, often discussing the church’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, he depicts his experiences as a lay minister in the Kwanlin Dün Village, in the outskirts of Whitehorse, Yukon. Logan employs humour and tragedy to raise awareness of the conditions within Indigenous communities and in Canada’s former residential schools. Pootoogook’s work has been included in prestigious international group exhibitions, like Germany’s Documenta, and in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Dozens of her pieces can be viewed at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (which staged an exhibition of her work in 2019). Logan has had a solo exhibition at the McMichael and was a featured artist at Vancouver’s Expo 86. Rebecca Belmore is a multi-disciplinary Anishinabe artist whose politically charged work has brought considerable international acclaim. Belmore was Canada’s official representative (and the first Indigenous woman to represent Canada) at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and won the 2016 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario (the AGO also has three of her works in its collection). Known for pushing boundaries, Belmore’s performance art functions as both protest form and coping mechanism. Belmore’s work has raised awareness of violence toward Indigenous people (especially women) and Indigenous rights. Belmore’s work looks at how politics relate to the construction of identity and representation.
A New Era Although all these artists are unified under the identifying term Indigenous, each retains individual identity coming from different places, cultures and backgrounds. What they share is a connection to the struggle that Indigenous Peoples have faced in Canada, as elsewhere. Indigenous art and Indigenous rights will forever be intertwined. That context is the first step in appreciating the ground breaking work from creators as varied as Morrisseau to Belmore.
Here’s where to findmore Indigenous art in Toronto:
Four totem poles carved by members of the Nisga’a and Haida communities of the Pacific Northwest tower at the ROM’s Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples.
The Inukshuk is a sculptural figure that serves as a multifaceted guide to the Inuit, both practically and symbolically. West of the Harbourfront, Toronto Inukshuk Park features a 50-tonne mountain rose granite version created by Kellypalik Qimirpik of Nunavut.
The oldest professional Indigenous theatre company in Canada, Native Earth Performing Arts has a full slate of theatre, dance and multidisciplinary art dedicated to creating and developing artistic expressions of the Indigenous experience in Canada.
The imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival is the world’s biggest presenter of Indigenous screen content.
The Bata Shoe Museum and Gardiner Museum collections both house handcrafted works of historical and cultural significance.
The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto’s gift store sells pieces designed by Indigenous artists.
Kleinburg’s McMichael Canadian Art Collection is home to one of the country’s foremost collections of contemporary Indigenous art. The art collection includes photography, mixed media, installations, performance art and assemblage. The McMichael’s Inuit collection features contemporary work, and is the long-term home to over 100,000 drawings, prints and sculptures.
Street Art in Toronto
Toronto’s thriving street art scene showcases artwork from artists in Toronto and around the world, and touches not just on trends but social awareness of the times. Here are 15 spots with street art that’s sure to leave you feeling inspired.
Graffiti Alley(160 RUSH LANE) It is hands down home to some of the city’s most iconic street art and easily the most photographed. It’s also always changing, encompassing the artsy Queen West vibe and reflecting political and social activism, like most recently when a group of 40 artists painted the city black in support of Black Lives Matter. Be sure to check out the Black Lives Matter tributes by various Toronto artists like @sumartist’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ tribute to George Floyd and more. You’ll quickly find that making more than one visit is definitely a must. Start at the corner of Rush Lane and Portland Street and head east.
Thinking of You Wall(161 SPADINA AVENUE) Toronto-based female artist Christina Mazzulla worked on this piece that is the perfect Instagram spot to show someone that you care (especially during these times!). Not to mention it’s pretty beautiful to look at as well.
Toronto Wall(101 SPADINA AVENUE) Anything that depicts Toronto’s name is a sure bet to be Instagram-worthy and this slightly trippy variation might have you do a double take before you can fully read out the name. It also happens to be right next to a hot coffee spot in the city, Strange Love, so grab a latte to have on hand for that photo in front of the sign (on the south side of Strange Love Coffee).
The Kawhi Mural(50 PEMBROKE STREET) Who could forget the electricity that took over Toronto during the 2019 NBA championship run by the Toronto Raptors? The entire city, country and world were captivated by Raptors, the underdog team that took the championship title. During the playoffs, Raptors and basketball star Kawhi Leonard murals started popping up throughout the city. This one took centre stage, dubbing Leonard at the King of the North. A must for Raptors fan wanting to relive the glory.
Sunglasses Mural(768 QUEEN STREET WEST) Keep walking along Queen Street West and near Tecumseth on the west side facing Bellwoods Avenue, you’ll find this mural that will have you dreaming of warm sunny days. Bring along your own shades and pose it up in front of this pastel-hued wall dotted with rows of sunnies.
Make Good Mural (835 BLOOR STREET WEST) At the corner of Bloor and Shaw Streets is the Make Good Mural on the wall of Studio 835. Crafted by 416Gallery Owner and artist Jimmy Chiale, this mural has become a city favourite for the bold lines, bright colours and vibrancy it brings to the neighbourhood. If you’re digging the vibe of this mural, be sure to check out Chiale’s other work at Tequila Bookworm.
Calii Wings (367 KING STREET WEST) These angel wings are not just a Toronto phenomenon. Street artist Colette Miller has painted her heavenly designs on walls in LA, Washington, DC, Kenya, Taiwan, Australia and more, making her a globally-known artist with her Global Angel Wings Project. The fact that Toronto has its own set of legit wings (that are also the first ones in Canada) puts it rightfully in the ranks of other cool-vibes spots.
Deer Park Mural(St. Clair West Subway station) This massive mural brightens up the busy intersection and has been dubbed Deer Park by its creator birdO (aka @jerryrugg). Proving that street art can be in any part of the city, this graphic mural takes up the sidewall of a multi-story building. The best pic is to kitty-corner yourself and hopefully capture a St. Clair streetcar passing by for a full-on Toronto vibe.
This Is Paradise(408 QUEEN STREET WEST) If you think you’re seeing a Queen West street art trend here, you’re right. The art hub of the city makes it the prime spot for some of the coolest murals. Enter the This Is Paradise mural on the side of Cameron House, which has been on the mural must-see list for a few years now and is still going strong. Nab this photo without cars parked in front of it by arriving super early, before 8:00 a.m. ideally. Get that unobstructed view from across the street to capture the full sign.
Kensington Market(283 AUGUSTA AVENUE) While walking through Kensington Market, you can’t escape the free spirit of this part of the city. From black and white graphics to full houses decked out in incredible art, to murals you need to stand and look at for a while to truly appreciate the intricate details, the street art of Kensington Market emulates its spirit to a T. There’s also a graffiti car in the midst of it all at the corner of Oxford Street and Augusta Avenue. Yes, the infamous Kensington Market Garden Car is colourfully painted AND has some greenery growing out of it too. Perfect spot to perch for a quick photo.
Toronto Tribute(169 RUSH LANE) If any mural summed up the city of Toronto, it has to be this one by Uber5000. The huge mural has so many elements in it that just capture the essence of the city—from The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie in his infamous Jaws t-shirt to landmarks like the CN Tower, those pesky city racoons, and yes, even our once notorious mayor Rob Ford. You can find this mural between Rush Lane and Richmond Street, just east of Portland.
Good Vibes Mural(828 RICHMOND STREET WEST) Good vibes all around with this recent mural by Toronto artist @ben_johnston. Known for his play on fonts and words, Johnston’s murals will always make you do a double take. This one also happens to be steps from one of Toronto’s most famous downtown green spaces, Trinity Bellwoods Park.
The Drake Mural(695 THE QUEENSWAY) Your chances of snagging a selfie with the man himself might be slim so here’s the next best thing that’s a guarantee. Find this Toronto gem on the side of Bamboo Tattoo on the Queensway in Etobicoke. It may be a bit of trek to get there, but worth it if you’re a fan.
Junction Mural(372 PACIFIC AVENUE) The zigs and the zags in this bold, geometric mural add a bit of life to the parking lot next to No Frills. Plus, with the Junction quickly becoming a hip hotspot, it only makes sense. An added bonus to this is that the posters on the right-hand side rotate. One week you might have a movie poster with Tom Cruise on it, the next week Channing Tatum.
The Keele-Dundas Wall Commuters from the west end heading to the downtown core along the Bloor Line have long had moments with the Keele-Dundas wall during a quick outdoor stretch on the subway. Lined with impressive murals, the back walls of the businesses along Bloor Street West from Keele Street to Dundas Street West are amazing to see through a subway car window. They’re even better if you hop off at Keele station, walk a bit east on Bloor and poke around the back of the buildings for a photo.
Meet SOME TORONTO Makers
Toronto may be a resolutely modern metropolis, but it’s also home to artisans and designers who work the old-fashioned way. Here are five local makers who prove the secret to quality rests in mantras like one-of-a-kind, small batch and custom. - By Christy Wright and Jennifer Krissilas
Manzer Guitars A former folk singer, Linda Manzer is renowned for her one-of-a-kind guitars, the preferred choice of Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny and Bruce Cockburn. Manzer hand-constructs each instrument using the finest materials, including aged rosewood, curly maple and ebony. “After seeing Joni Mitchell play a dulcimer at the Mariposa folk festival on the Toronto Islands in 1968, I became interested in making musical instruments. When I first strummed a dulcimer I’d assembled myself, I was shocked at the sublime joy I felt—it was like I’d given life to something inanimate.” –Linda Manzer
Abel Muñoz The darling of Vogue Italia, Muñoz’s shoe collections are designed here and handmade in Italy. His style footprint? Impeccable workmanship and attention to detail. “What I love about designing shoes is the combination of both the creative and the technical. Turning a concept into a wearable, finished product is amazing.” –Abel Muñoz
Rekindle Rekindle uses high-quality local materials— wood, like walnut and maple—to produce heirlooms in the making. “We’re passionate about wood—each is so different and comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. We love that it supports the local economy and is harvested sustainably.” – Devin Schaffner, co-founder
GUILD Eyewear At GUILD, handcrafted comes with serious sartorial cred. Frames are designed by local artists, and are milled,tumbled, polished and assembled by hand. Result: Fierce looks like the femme fatale Bardots or the Iris Apfel–worthy Royals, “Being a small, local manufacturer enables us to have an undiluted design vision. It’s just the designer and the person they are designing for.”– Rod Fitzsimmons Frey, founder.
Brothers Dressler Furniture makers (and twin brothers) Lars and Jason Dressler create sustainably bespoke pieces, including wooden chandeliers. Crafted with discarded extras from local mills and salvaged city trees, they are simultaneously rustic and upscale. Maker’s remark: “Crafting by hand allows us to explore the creative potential of the wood, to take the time to bring out its beauty and usefulness.” – Lars Dressler, co-founder.