“Toronto is what many American cities wish they could be”
Even if you’ve lived here all your life, there’s always something to learn about Toronto’s cultural landmarks. Like the fact that after the Second City’s final performance every Saturday, you can watch the cast rehearse future shows. Or that the walls and ceilings of the Princess of Wales Theatre feature the world’s largest collection of mural art by US abstract expressionist Frank Stella. They’re worth a peek at any hour.
At Bloor Street, there are two major attractions – the Bata Shoe Museum, exhibiting international footwear, and the Royal Ontario Museum. This courted controversy in 2007 with its Michael LeeChin Crystal addition, a vision of jagged aluminum and glass by Daniel Libeskind that burst through the original structure. Not everyone warmed to it, but I find Libeskind’s architecture as engaging as the museum’s collections, which are reminiscent of those in the British Museum.
Midway between the Lightbox and the museum is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has its own “starchitect” addition. Frank Gehry, creator of Bilbao’s Guggenheim and Seattle’s EMP Museum, grew up on Beverly Street, close to the gallery, where he took art classes in the 1930s. In 2008, he delivered an undulating series of gallery spaces pulled together by a main spiral staircase in blond wood.
Some of the classes Gehry attended were taught by Lawren Harris. One of Canada’s Group of Seven, a depression-era collective of iconic landscape painters, his works are well represented in the gallery’s Canadian Collection.You could easily spend an afternoon here, but it’s gorgeous outside, so I stroll to the waterfront.
Get Up and Get Out
Toronto has 20,000 acres of parkland, beaches, bicycle and hiking trails, and rivers that bend and twist towards Lake Ontario. It’s an expansive, natural-feeling city, a realization that hits as you reach the water’s edge. This is the smallest of the five Great Lakes that form a freshwater boundary between Canada and the eastern US, though at over 7,700 square miles, it’s just a little smaller than the state of New Jersey.
At Queen’s Quay Terminal – a refurbished port building housing craft stalls, boutiques and art space – I pause at the Museum of Inuit Art to browse antique carvings and sculptures. On a day like this, from the top of the CN Tower, you can sometimes make out the fuzzy outline of Buffalo, NY, in the distance. But my view through the gallery’s sunlit window is of seemingly endless water, and wide-open possibility. BT
Above: Yonge-Dundas Square Left: Toronto’s Film Festival Complex, Nathan Phillips Square