The Making Of A Great City
People often ask: What makes a city great? What defines it, both for those who live there and for those who visit? Toronto could easily set itself apart by any number of things:
The spectacular ride up the CN Tower
, the world's highest free-standing structure, with its rotating restaurant giving diners a breath-taking view of the city, day or night.
The ferry trip from the Harbourfront
across the waters of Lake Ontario to the serene and peaceful Toronto Islands
, created by a freak storm.
The more than 7,000 fine dining establishments, bars, cafes, bistros, clubs and dance halls to suit every taste from bohemian to business.
The top-of-the-line professional sports teams—Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Argos—playing at stadiums that are the envy of other cities.
The world-class museums, art galleries, theatres, dance companies, festivals and parades that add creativity and culture to an already vibrant city.
Any of these could serve to define Toronto. But what the city is really all about is the people. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the name "Toronto" comes from a Huron word meaning "Meeting Place." That's exactly what it is: a multicultural meeting place for more than 4.5 million, home to people of more than 70 different nationalities speaking some 100 languages. That multi-ethnic gathering has given the city an exciting and awesome energy. It has also created a place of wonderful neighbourhoods, each with its defining character and local colour: from Rosedale to Little Italy, from Greektown to Cabbagetown, from one Chinatown to the next.
The biggest city in Canada and the fifth largest in North America, Toronto is located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Laid out in a rectangular grid, the city stretches for more than 100 square kilometres. Yonge Street
, known as the longest thoroughfare in the world, is the main north-south route. Toronto is an important centre of international commerce, and houses the Toronto Stock Exchange, second only in North America to the New York Stock Exchange.
Architecturally speaking, Toronto is an amalgam of different styles. In the early 19th century, it took much of its architectural inspiration from the Georgian style. By the end of the 19th century, the city opted for the heavier, bulkier lines of Richardsonian Romanesque. At the turn of the 20th century, the Toronto City Council opted not to put a height restriction on downtown construction as many other cities had, thus giving rise to some of the tallest buildings in the British Commonwealth, including the 34-storey Canadian Bank of Commerce. Of course, these buildings have been surpassed in recent years by the silhouettes that give Toronto its unique skyline: the CN Tower
, Rogers Centre
, Royal Bank Plaza, and the TD Centre, to name a few.
Getting around Toronto is easier than 1-2-3. Aside from the numerous cabs that swarm the city, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) runs a world-class subway system, streetcars and buses. Wherever you end up, there's sure to be an easy way to get to your next destination.
While the city may once have had a reputation as Toronto The Good, a nondescript place which shut down and rolled up the pavements at sundown, nothing could be further from the truth today. The city is alive with some of the best theatres, museums and galleries anywhere. For example, Toronto is the third largest centre of English-speaking theatre productions in the world (next to London and New York), with more than 200 professional theatre companies and 10,000 performances a year.
One of the oldest theatre spaces in the city, the Royal Alexandra dates back to the early 20th century. Saved from demolition by bargain store king and impresario "Honest" Ed Mirvish, the theatre was renovated at great expense and brought back to its original splendour, and is now home to some of Broadway's finest productions from "Phantom" to "Cats." The Royal Ontario Museum
and the Art Gallery of Ontario
present spectacular exhibits for the entire family, while the National Ballet
is a world-class dance troupe.
City Of Stars
Similarly, there's a thriving film industry in the city. Often called "Hollywood North," Toronto is sought after for its diversity, locations, excellent production centres and local talent. The Toronto International Film Festival
, which takes place annually in September, draws countless filmgoers.
Eating out in Toronto is an experience unto itself. With a plethora of different cultures and neighbourhoods bumping into one another like pieces of tectonic plates, the cuisine is as diverse as the population—and matching any taste and affordability, from the unlimited expense account to those counting their pennies. In fact, while there are plenty of upscale haute cuisineries where price is of no concern, some of the best food Toronto has to offer is tucked away in the small eateries of the city's original Chinatown. Here you will find Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese dishes to satisfy both the timid and the adventurous. Or check out the Beaches
with its lively, pedestrian-filled pavements and laid-back neighbourhood character. Greektown and Little India restaurants serve up authentic cuisine, whose aromas waft gently out onto the streets.
This Sporting Life
Aside from the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre
housing the city's pro sports teams, Toronto is also known for its Woodbine horse track, the largest racing property in North America and home to the Queen's Plate thoroughbred race held each August. And race car fanatics will have no trouble picking up the roar of Molson Indy
engines come summer.
While there is so much to see and do, to experience and taste, it's the residents of Toronto who give the city its special cachet. More often than not, people are glad to stop and give you directions. And don't be surprised if they tarry and chat a while, recommending places to go or filling you in on pieces of their city's history. This is what Toronto is all about. Not just a vast, sprawling metropolis. Not just a collection of concrete and cars. But a meeting place. The Hurons gave them the name. They try to do it proud.