Toronto is one of my favourite cities, with its beautiful lake, vibrant music scene, laid-back attitude (for a big city) and ultra-friendly people. I visited four or five times around 2010, but the notes of those trips are lost in pen and ink somewhere, so this markontour guide is based on memory and fun quick visit this weekend.
Bars and music venues
A Mexican cantina that loves to put on live music. We were lucky enough to visit for a special night to celebrate the birthday of a local jazz impresario and so enjoyed performances by a revolving door or Toronto music celebrities. Best of all was Gigi performing an incredible cover of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, complete with jazz-jam and clarinet solo.
The Gladstone, Queen Street West
An art gallery, hotel and music venue. Each guest room has been individually designed by a local artist. Mostly this is a good thing, although I was mildly freaked out when allocated the 1980s teenage girl’s room on my first visit, complete with Wham posters and old Jackie and Seventeen covers plastered over the walls. Also beware that art events may be taking place right outside your bedroom door!
The Drake, Queen Street West
The place to stay if you want to be able to crawl to bed after the party. Markontour has seen some great live music here, including The Dears, although it wasn’t the best place for getting a good night’s sleep.
Sonic Boom, 215 Spadina
A huge music shop with a large basement vinyl collection, conveniently near to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Galleries and attractions
A large gallery with fantastic and extensive collections of national artists, including the ‘Group of Seven’, formed in Toronto in the 1920s to create a distinctive form of Canadian art based on nature. They definitively succeeded and it is striking how much of the art in the gallery as a whole takes a great outdoors theme. It makes the visitor want to get out of the city themselves. I also enjoyed Bonnie Devine’s ‘Objects to Clothe the Warriors’ – three brightly First Nation coloured leather jackets “hung to be easily accessible should these warriors return to join the ongoing battle for the Woodlands”.
Once the tallest man-made structure in the world, the views from the 141st floor are unsurprisingly magnificent. Markontour took the stairs, courtesy of the annual WWF tower-climb, but there is an elevator too.
A short ferry ride across from the CN Tower, the island is a mostly tranquil and very beautiful park, with hardly any motor vehicles and plenty of room to roam. There are stunning views of Toronto city centre throughout. It’s a shame that a busy little city airport has been crammed into one end of the island, although it is still worth exploring even this extremity in order to see the statue to Ned Hanlan – “Canada’s greatest oarsman”.