When I first thought of Canada, I imagined forests, lakes and Maple syrup. To a certain degree this may be true, but not within the shadows of its thriving, established cities. During August, I had the pleasure of visiting Toronto (or T´rono as the locals call it) as part of the celebrations for the vibrant cities emerging fashion scene, namely Toronto Men´s Fashion Week or TOM*.
According to some tourism sources, Toronto is said to be the ´most multicultural diverse city on the planet with over 140 languages are spoken´ (and I was reminded more than once on the vacation that more than 40% of its inhabitants are not from the city, nor the country). Having just celebrated hosting the Pan-Am Games in July 2015, this international multi-sport games event brought an estimated $1.2 billion price boost to the city as well as attracting 250,000 visitors into the town.
It’s very easy to spot the diversity of cultures when you’re in Toronto. In 2016, 47% of the population was comprised of people from other countries, including China, India, Italy, and the United Kingdom. People around the world are naturally drawn to the city, and many even choose to stay. In fact, condos and townhomes located in Toronto fill up easily because people find the urban amenities and natural attractions very desirable.
Walking through ´downtown´ I could feel the validity for this claim of unison. The smells, sights, colours and sounds of multi-cultural integrity greet you at every corner. I was fortunate enough to be staying at the Intercontinental Hotel Yorkville (Bloor Street West) with its imposing frontages, granite walkways and high-end shopping experiences. Then, I was transported into a different world a ten minute walk away (for the TOM* events) to Yong Street which is a complete mix of retro vs modern, alternative vs classic and historic vs current in the nicest possible manner.
Toronto has many neighbourhoods, from Old East York to Cabbagetown and Roncesvalles; a nuclei of culture thriving within the somewhat opaque ‘bigger picture’ that proud internationally adopted residents defend militantly. Even in the main centre of the city, incidents of racism and intolerance are very infrequent making it a safe option for any solo traveller, male or female.
My Stay And My Five Favourite Things to See
Being Scottish, wind, rain and three feet of snow normally don´t phase me, and I had been prepared for the Torontonian climate to be harsh and cold ( Canada is famous for its ´extreme´ winters). However the weather was pleasantly in the high 20´s. ´Don’t go making any bets on the weather here´ I was told by my guide, ´You can have all four seasons here in a morning´ which thankfully didn´t happen during my stay.
During my free time, I took the opportunity to get to know this city as a resident, a tourist and a friend. Thankfully I was not disappointed as the hospitality continued to run parallel with the innumerable experiences it had to offer. Over two days, I hut the sidewalks and for me, these were my ´famous five´ things to see and do.
Kensington Market is a picture-perfect advertisement for the life of artisans gone by. A diverse mix of anything and everything. Home to vintage shops, record stores, cafes and craft beer bars. This sector was historically an artist’s hub and still is, with the occasional performance space and art gallery seamlessly integrated.
Royal Ontario Museum
Opposite the Intercontinental hotel on Bloor Street West, the Royal Ontario Museum is host to a massive archive of cultural and historical items, as well as guest exhibitions. I had the pleasure to experience the rich heritage of the Korean Dynasties legacies before going to the basement exhibition archiving the ´Last Days of Pompeii.´ On the same street, but not on the same trend, the Bata Show Museum is a must for any shoe addict with over 13,000 footwear items on display in its multi-level space.
Every city needs a historical landmark and Casa Loma does just this. Designed for city father Sir Henry Pellat in 1914, this extravagant masterpiece includes marble floors and a series of lavish rooms and sits majestically on top of a woodland hill not too far from the main stretch.
I had to experience Toronto´s world famous CN Tower, dominating the city at 553.33 metres high and once the world’s tallest tower. A panoramic lift allowed me to soar upwards like an eagle (but to the dismay of my colleague) to experience the Look Out level, glass floor and an excellent restaurant which very slowly rotates, allowing diners breath-taking views of the city 1300 feet up and far beyond).
Chinatown, Little India and Little Italy
Due to the diverse population demographic of Toronto, it is easy to go on around the world food extravaganza without leaving the main city boundaries. Look out for the areas of Chinatown, Little India and Little Italy that offer traditional staples as well as their modern fusion cuisine counterparts. Don´t forget to stop off at some traditional Canadian diners though to sample Poutine and pancakes and bacon with Maple Syrup.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Toronto´s (relatively) newest tourist attraction is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. This public aquarium in located downtown is just a few moments’ walk South East of the CN Tower. Several aquatic exhibits including a walk through tank and separate installations (totalling 1.5 million gallons of water) are home to marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species live together here in harmony, making for a rather spectacular way to spend a few hours one day.
Even away from the runways, Toronto for me was a triumph. A vigorous, prime-time city ablaze with activity. Some of the world’s finest (and tallest) restaurants, eclectic bars, clubs, festivals and fashion experiences are located here. During summer time, the balmy downtown neighbourhoods, bars and restaurants spill out onto the street lined terraces as locals take advantage of the good weather and exceptional hospitality.
I left Canada with two notions; not knowing which designer I favoured the most, but knowing which city I would most certainly be returning to again in the near future (depending on the weather…)
With special thanks to the following people and organisations who afforded me a truly excellent experience;
- Michele Simpson at Tourism Toronto
- Jeff Rustia Founder of Toronto Men´s Fashion Week (TOM*)
- Rebeca Ramirez at TOM* (A hidden treasure of Toronto herself)
- Danyl Geneciran at TOM* Magazine
- Emma MacArthur at TOM* Magazine
- Olga Dobrowolska at TOM* Magazine
- Jason Culala / Tash L at Original Grooming