Let’s go dancing
From music venues to a shoe museum, you’ll be kept on your toes
JJUNK THAT DIET
If you’ve never heard of a peameal bacon sandwich (I hadn’t) the opportunity to experience one (ideally with maple mustard, as local custom dictates) shouldn’t be missed when you visit St Lawrence Market, a bustling 200-year-old food emporium in the funky part of town, west of the CBD, on the corner of Front Street East and Lower Jarvis Street. Housed in an imposing 19th-century brick building, it operates most days, with 120 stalls selling everything from exotic cheeses to fish, poultry and, in the Carousel Bakery, the aforementioned bacon-based delicacy. On Saturdays there is also a farmers’ market across the road from the main venue. More: stlawrencemarket.com.
BACK TO BASES
If you’re in Toronto during the baseball season ( (April-October) it’s worth checking out the Toronto Blue Jays, once a powerhouse of the North American sport and back-to-back World Series champions in the early 1990s. The Jays play in the American League and attract a passionate support to Rogers Centre, a comfortable, modern stadium with a capacity of 49,000 spectators in the heart of downtown (I walk from my hotel, the Sheraton Centre Toronto, in about 10 minutes). Even if you’re not a baseball fan, the spectacle and the atmosphere is addictive, with no shortage of fans eager to express their opinions in a frank and meaningful manner. Buy tickets online for as little as $C14.95 ($15.85) if you’re prepared to sit in the nosebleeds or up to $C70.25 around home base. More: toronto.bluejays.mlb.com.
Dominating the city and adjacent to Rogers Stad dium is the CN Tower, for 34 years the tallest structure in the world, until it was overtaken in 2010 by the Canton Tower in Guangzhou and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Still, at 555.33m, the observation and communications structure is high enough to afford great views and offers the standard tower fare of glass floors, souvenirs and option-to-buy official photo opportunities. There’s also a revolving restaurant, 360, with set and a la carte lunch and dinner menus and an extensive wine list. Those of a daring disposition can take the Edgewalk, a hands-free stroll around the roof of the main pod just above the restaurant, about 350m up. Participants are strapped to a rail system above their heads that escorts them around (not available in winter or during extreme weather). The tower is open 9am-10.30pm. Go just before nightfall to get the best of both panoramas. More: cntower.ca.
WWALK IN THE PARK
The downtown area of Toronto is a none-too-attractive sprawl of concrete with the occasional glimmer of sandstone, but a complete change of pace and scenery is only a boat ride away. The Toronto Islands sit in Lake Ontario, just a short hop from the mainland. Access, including to the biggest, Centre Island, is by ferry, from the Jack Clayton Ferry Terminal in downtown Toronto. A $C7.25 round-trip ($C3.50 children) gives you the freedom of one of the city’s most tranquil environments, with quiet beaches, luscious parkland and ample recreational activities, including boating, tennis and an amusement park. Cycling is one of the most popular things to do on the island; hire bikes at the ferry terminal on the mainland. Kayaks and canoes are also available for hire on the island, although they tend to get booked out early in the day during the summer months. More: toronto.com/things-to-do/centre-island.
While the melange of skyscrapers, flyovers and concrete malls in the CBD is less than attractive, go beneath the surface, quite literally, and the scene becomes a little more appealing. The Underground City, as it is known, houses hundreds of shops, restaurants and bars, all connected by walkways and with access to the main Union Station and bus terminal.
LET THERE BE ROCK
During early May the cognoscenti of the global music business descends on Toronto for Canadian Music Week, one of the biggest industry showcase and conference events in the world. During this period every venue in the city is put to use with talent from across the world, but there is plenty to enjoy, no matter your tastes, all year round in a variety of venues, from tiny cafes to theatres and arenas hosting international acts. A number of the smaller gigs are dotted about the funky neighbourhoods around West Queen Street West and Dundas Street, about 20 minutes’ walk west from the CBD. Horseshoe Tavern (Queen Street West) is a perennial of the local music scene, an old-style pub with a fine selection of tap and bottled beers, friendly atmosphere and music on the bill most nights. Also worth the trip is The Garrison (venue out the back of the pub) on Dundas Street. More: horseshoetavern.com.
Dundas and Queen are the two main thoroughf fares that run east and west of the city, but it’s to the latter where the abundance of night-life is concentrated. Stretching for kilometres along those streets, taking in Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal and the entertainment and fashion districts, are myriad bars, res- taurants and gigs, some under the same roof. A few of the best examples are on or around Ossington Street, which runs between the two main drags. The Communist’s Daughter is the size of a shoebox but has a great vibe and a jukebox. The owner is happy to let you pay just before you leave and doesn’t mind getting up to play smokin’ trumpet. Also hot is the Grand Electric, a taco and bourbon bar that plays rap music, and Bellwoods, a boutique brewery with an attractive patio for people-watching (be prepared to queue). More: bellwoodsbrewery.com.
WORLD AT YOUR FEET
If you’ve ever wondered what Egyptian sandals l looked like hundreds of years ago and can’t decide what flatties to wear at your funeral, then it’s worth a visit to one of Toronto’s left-field cultural diversions, the Bata Shoe Museum. This hall of footwear, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, is the brainchild of Sonja Bata, an 88-year-old Toronto resident who has been collecting shoes from almost everywhere for the past 60 years. The museum is the world’s largest devoted purely to shoes and there’s everything from the most expensive catwalk heels to the most primitive peasant clogs, some dating back thousands of years. Most exhibits have a backstory, some on video, so it’s an unusual and entertaining way of learning the cultures, customs and history of footwear. More: batashoemuseum.com.
SEA AND TELL
J Just next door to the CN Tower (I actually mistake the entrance for the tower) is the Ripley Aquarium of Canada, believe it or not, a new development originally intended for Niagara Falls that instead opened in Toronto in 2013. As such it’s a state-of-the-art, child-friendly escape into the world of exotic sea life, with a few unusual diversions, such as The Touch, where, with the assistance of aquarium staff, one can stroke a bamboo shark or shake hands, after a fashion, with a stingray. More: ripleyaquariums.com/Canada.
PEACE, MAN, PEACE
The 1377-room Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel in the CBD is very large, modern, comfortable and quiet with an outdoor heated pool and gymnasium. The main hall is often bustling with delegates from numerous conferences taking place on the floors below. There’s also a choice of dining in-house, from the exclusive Club Level, which offers great views of the city, to the meaty fare of the Quinn’s Steakhouse & Irish Bar and BNB (Burgers and Bistro). The hotel is connected to financial and entertainment districts by the PATH, a 25km underground link. More: sheratontoronto.com.
Iain Shedden was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission.
A display at the Bata Shoe Museum, left
Toronto skyline, top; diners on Queen Street West, middle; baseball at Rogers Centre, above