Ruth Brindle discovers the celebrations and yuletide magic on offer in Canada’s biggest city, with additional writing by Mattie Lacey-Davidson…
Next year Canada celebrates 150 years of confederation so it will be the ideal time to discover all the delights Toronto has to offer.
If you thought New York was your only choice for a transatlantic short break, particularly at Christmastime to soak up the festive spirit and shop ‘til you drop, think again. This major city ticks all the same boxes.
You can fly here in just over eight hours and it has a more favourable exchange rate than between the American dollar and the pound. In the past 150 years the country has established itself as friendly and multicultural with an easy going atmosphere.
Toronto is a diverse and vibrant city – there’s even an established Tibetan community – where skyscrapers jostle with hip, artsy districts and there is a food fusion culture that has everything from sushi pizzas to Chinese Jamaican.
It is growing fast and the many high-rise condo blocks create a distinctly New York feel. So much so, in fact, that it is often used as a ‘stand-in’ for the Big Apple by film makers. One of the latest superhero blockbusters Suicide Squad was filmed here and, you might have heard, Toronto is also the place where Prince Harry met his current girlfriend, Meghan Markle. This is where she lives while filming the popular TV series Suits. It is also the home of the rapper Drake, making hip-hop the most popular music in the city.
If all of this was not reason enough to visit, the abundance of special events and festivals occurring throughout 2017 in celebration of the anniversary makes it a year not to miss. My recent long weekend was a pleasant adventure from start to finish.
It started with my first sight of the city as I flew into Toronto Pearson Airport, about 30 minutes’ drive outside the city. Looking down I saw the impressive skyscraper skyline dominated by the iconic CN Tower beside Lake Ontario and so decided this would be my first stop after checking into my hotel.
Inside the colossal structure you can find shopping, the thrilling EdgeWalk – the world’s highest hands-free walk, 116 stories above ground – and three restaurants, the most renowned being the award-winning 360 revolving restaurant. It offers fresh and almost incomparable cuisine from produce local to the region, alongside an award-winning wine selection of both international and Canadian wines from its ‘cellar in the sky’.
Other favourite food spots of mine include Reds Midtown Tavern where you will find wholesome food beautifully prepared while you, should you fancy it, challenge a stranger to a shuffleboard battle. Drake One Fifty – no relation to the singer – is another great spot which lives up to its promise of a ‘Canadian take on modern Brasserie cooking,’ with an array of choices from burgers to sushi.
Another, set in a row of elegant Victorian houses in ‘Old Toronto’, is Sassafraz, which offers an incredible Canadian à la française menu making your old favourites somehow decadent. Finally, a great lunch spot is the Gardiner Bistro for fresh and creatively presented light food.
Staying Downtown in the newly-renovated Sheraton Centre was an ideal location with easy access (a two-minute walk) to the giant Eaton Centre mall and the famous Hudson’s Bay store with its gorgeous animated Christmas-themed windows, reminiscent of Selfridges.
If you want to get away from the buzz of the city centre and find a little homegrown culture then head to Parkdale. Amongst the hipster women in daring outfits and stunning hair, men with beards, thick glasses and plaid shirts, are an array of thrift stores and coffee shops well away from the beaten track of tourism.
Before the joy of choosing where to go and what to do, deciding what time of year to visit is perhaps one of the hardest decisions to make. In the winter, however, the city comes alive with seasonal festivities that are hard to beat.
The Christmas tree light switch on at Nathan Philips Square, opposite the Sheraton Centre, is a landmark event to start the season with ice skating, fireworks and music at The Cavalcade of Lights.
You can book a walking Tour of Holiday Traditions in Toronto Old and New with Bruce Bell, one of the city’s most respected historians. It’s a fun and fact-filled jaunt to St Lawrence Market where you can sample its famous Peameal Bacon sandwich; Toronto’s First Post Office – send a letter written with a quill pen; and finish at the historic Distillery District for the annual Christmas Market with music, food, drink, shops and stalls ideal for Christmas shopping, www.brucebelltours.ca
If you don’t fancy walking in the cold then you can get a great view of the city on a Toronto Double Decker City Tour, www.citysightseeingtoronto.com, or can discover how our festive traditions began in the olden days at the charming Black Creek Pioneer Village, www.blackcreek.ca.
Celebrate 150 years – Events in Toronto throughout 2017
Museum of Contemporary Arts
MOCA will be moving to a new home in May, so if you’re keen to see it’s works it is best to wait for the move.
The Toronto Wolfpack, Toronto’s Rugby team is set to play in the third tier of English rugby leagues in March this year. The new franchise will play a 22-game regular season.
North American Indigenous Games
This is expected to be the largest sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous Peoples in North America, hosting more than 5,000 participants, 2,000 volunteers and countless spectators for 14 sport categories being held within world-class venues located across the Greater Toronto Area, including the Region of Hamilton and Six Nations of the Grand River.
After the UK Invictus Games Foundation awarded the Games to Canada, the Invictus Games Toronto 2017 Organizing Committee was established to build on the success of the London 2014 and Orlando 2016 Invictus Games to put on an event that will capture the imaginations of the Canadian public, corporations and governments, as well as soldiers, veterans and their families.
The Toronto International Film Festival is offering a year-long free programme showcasing the best in Canadian cinema.
Canadian Opera Company
Louis Riel is returning to the COC stage in a new production to help mark the 150th anniversary.
Urban Expedition Tour
Three Unlock the City games for Canada’s 150th year will be open to 150 teams, the games will promote culture, heritage and an active urban lifestyle
Ruth flew to Toronto with WestJet (00800 5381 5696; westjet.com) from Gatwick from £300pp. The airline also flies from Glasgow. She stayed at the Sheraton Centre Toronto, sheratontoronto.com (from £120 per night for a standard room).
For more information on Toronto, visit SeeTorontoNow.com
Make your way easily, although reluctantly back to the airport aboard the new Union Pearson Express, which departs every 15 minutes and takes just 25 minutes to get you to your flight, upexpress.com