Canada’s most diverse city takes the whole family into consideration, offering a long list of things to see and do.
By Kathryn Lemmon
Toronto celebrates diversity. In fact, it is considered to be one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. A visit to Toronto makes it possible to experience many different parts of the world, in a place where everyone seems to live in harmony. What a concept! Too bad we can’t make that happen on a larger scale.
Make a family trip this summer to Toronto, and bring the entire crew. Here’s a glimpse of attractions to please everyone from 8 to 80.
When visiting any large city, getting from place to place is a valid concern. In addition to walking, residents and out-of-towners can take advantage of Toronto’s extensive public transportation system. Streetcars are a fun and breezy way to cover some distance, but that’s only one option. Pick up a Ride Guide to plan your routes.
Toronto’s extensive PATH system lies underground, oblivious to the whims of weather. It connects five subway stations and more than 1,000 shops and services in a network of walkways.
For a general overview of the city, leave your towed car in the campground and take one of the many multistop city tours. Toronto Tours Ltd. offers two-hour bus tours that familiarize you with the Harbourfront area, Rogers Centre, shopping areas, and more. Another operator, Shop-Dine-Tour Toronto, enables you to experience a hop-on, hop-off-style tour. You’ll cruise along on a double-decker bus, a treat in itself. The central pickup point is near the Hard Rock Cafe on Dundas Square.
Women and shoes go together like high fashion and high heels. Toronto is home to a fascinating look at footwear, called the Bata Shoe Museum. Sonja Bata, a name synonymous with a giant shoe empire, began collecting footwear in the 1940s while traveling with her spouse on business. At the beginning she never expected her quest for shoes to be transformed into an award-winning museum.
At the Bata, shoemaking and footwear are seen as a window on human history. The collection contains such diverse treasures as Veronica Tennant’s well-used ballet shoe and a ceremonial shoe of Pope Leo XIII. You can see 15th-century German foot armor and Elton John’s rhinestone-studded platforms. The oldest artifact in the Bata collection is ancient Egyptian, and the shoe samples continue through the decades to the present day. In all, more than 12,500 artifacts are housed in the museum (not all on display at once, of course).
In addition to its semi-permanent exhibit, “All About Shoes,” the museum has three galleries for changing displays. Whether you’re seriously into shoes or not, two hours pass quickly at the Bata. For an introductory look, visit www.batashoemuseum.ca.
Is some quality shopping time on your agenda? Eager shoppers come from all over the region to sample the wares available in Toronto. Ethnic neighborhoods such as Greektown and Little India add another far-flung dimension to the shopping scene. Eaton Centre is a 3 million-square-foot building dedicated to the glory of shopping, and it is easily accessible from the subway line. You can even pick up a free city map at the information desk in this beautiful mall.
For shopping of a different sort, check out the St. Lawrence Market. Located downtown in historic Old Town Toronto, this urban market opens to the public on Saturdays and is a great place to get all kinds of food and an array of exotic ingredients. In fact, in 2004, Food & Wine magazine (experts in edibles) ranked this market as one of the top 25 in the world. If you can name it, they probably have it.
For boys and girls of all ages
Set aside at least two hours for the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM, as it is known, opened its doors to the public in 1914 and has a diverse collection of 6 million objects of natural history and world culture. Canada’s largest museum houses fabulous Roman, Greek, and Egyptian artifacts and so much more. The kids immediately will be drawn to the massive totem poles and the medieval armor display.
Special exhibits going on now include gemstones in a variety of forms (through November 15), but the museum will be most popular this summer for its display of the Dead Sea Scrolls. That exhibit runs from June 27, 2009, to January 3, 2010.
As you enter the museum’s rotunda, look to the heavens. The golden ceiling was made from more than 4,000 sheets of imported Venetian glass, cut into a million tiny squares. The pieces cover the entire surface of the ceiling in a glittering display that’s apt to put a temporary crick in your neck.
The CN (Canada’s National) Tower is a recognized symbol of the city, and you can take a ride up to the top for a spectacular view. Glass-fronted elevators whisk visitors to the main observation deck in just seconds. On a yearly basis Toronto hosts 16 million visitors, and more than half of them go to the CN Tower. Test your nerve on the world-famous glass floor, if you dare. The view is straight down, well more than 1,000 feet to the ground.
Keep in mind that whether you are going up or down in the tower, the wait can be lengthy. But you’ll soon forget all about it, once you experience the view. On a clear day you can see across Lake Ontario to the mists of Niagara Falls.
Speaking of the falls, a trip to Toronto provides the perfect opportunity for a day excursion to this natural wonder. If you’d like to let someone else do the driving, several tour companies offer escorted day and evening bus tours.
After you’ve had your quota of big-city views, visit Casa Loma, built by a very wealthy Canadian between 1911 and 1914. The name means “house on the hill.”
With a love of old world European architecture, Sir Henry Pellatt created his wonderful masterpiece for $3.5 million, a princely sum during those early days. Yet in the end, Sir Henry’s fortunes collapsed and he had to sell his beautiful home to pay debts. Ah, the twists and turns of fate!
The city took over the property in the 1930s, and thus began the castle’s life as a tourist attraction. Its 98 rooms are patterned after those in Spanish, Austrian, and Scottish castles. The style evokes a sense of grandeur lost in modern times. Artisans labored long to produce the carved wood interiors. Even the horse stalls in the stable are lined in mahogany. Clearly, nothing but the best would do for Sir Henry.
Here’s an interesting tidbit “” Casa Loma’s stables played a top-secret role in World War II. Hidden behind a padlock and a sign that read “Construction in progress, sorry for the inconvenience” was where the Allies developed their Anti-Submarine Sonar Detection devices (also called ASDIC). These proved crucial in Atlantic battles. It seems their hiding place was well chosen.
The Rogers Centre, formerly called the Skydome, offers popular tours. This architectural wonder is renowned as having the world’s first fully retractable roof. Considered a mechanical marvel, the roof can open or close in just 20 minutes and covers eight acres. This multipurpose complex is home to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and other professional sports teams, and plays host to concerts, conventions, and numerous other events. The tour of Rogers Centre takes you to a museum area, a team dressing room, the playing field, Blue Jays Hall of Fame, and more. Guests can see the multi-screen video wall featuring some of the countless sporting events held at the facility. The Rogers Centre Tour Experience is one hour in length.
Continuing with our sports theme, hockey fans should skate on over to the Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum. The city is home to six professional sport teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Canadians have a love affair with hockey, as this attraction proves.
Inside this shrine is the much-coveted Stanley Cup. It rests in a place of honor, like a shiny silver monument to the god of sticks and pucks.
The exhibit areas are called zones, in keeping with the sport, and each is filled with hockey memorabilia, some dating back to 1892. This is where guys speak in reverent tones about playing like the great ones, such as Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and, Wayne Gretzky.
For kids (and adults, too)
At 710 acres, the Toronto zoo is one of the largest in the world. The exhibits are divided into six geographic regions of the world.
Talk about a great place for the under-10 set. In the zoo’s Zellers Discovery Zone, kids can have an interactive wildlife experience or get thoroughly wet at Splash Island, an exciting two-acre water play area. The 750-seat Waterside Theatre hosts the Amazing Animal Show, along with other special events.
Kids will also want to ride a hippo! But not at the zoo. Like many other cities, Toronto has amphibious tour vehicles, and here they’re called Hippos. The Hippo is a brightly painted, 40-passenger vessel capable of traversing both land and water. The kids will love to splash into Lake Ontario on their bus that floats. Everyone will like the narrated ride, which provides tidbits about the history of Toronto and points out historic landmarks. In case you wondered, the Hippos are driven by marine licensed captains to ensure safety. Hippo tours operate May 1 through October 31.
And that’s a wrap…As the third-largest film and television production city in North America, it’s not surprising that Toronto is known as Hollywood North. On any given day, dozens of film and TV productions are shooting in the city streets and studios. As you go about your sight-seeing, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter some of the action. Big-screen films such as X-Men, Chicago, and Good Will Hunting all used Toronto locations to double as other cities.
Toronto is much too large to cover in a single visit, but even a quick snapshot of three or four days will whet your appetite for more exploration.
You can learn about border crossing, attractions, and city transportation from:
P.O. Box 126
207 Queens Quay W.
Canada M5J 1A7
The “Go Toronto Card” is an access pass that encompasses 19 attractions in town. Call (866) 629-4335 for details.
Glen Rouge Campground
7450 Kingston Road
Canada M3H 6A7
Indian Line Tourist Campground
7625 Finch Ave. W.
Canada L6T 0B2
Milton Heights Campground, C2972
(FMCA commercial member)
8690 Tremaine Road
Canada L9T 2X7
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park & Camp Resort
3666 Simcoe Road 88, R.R. 1
Canada L3Z 2A4
Ponderosa Campground & Trailer Park
19332 Highway 48
Mount Albert, ON
Canada L0G 1M0
Toronto West KOA
9301 Second Line, R.R. 1
Canada L0P 1B0
(800) 562-1523 (reservations)