Toronto: The Kind City
Toronto: The Kind City
I arrived in Toronto at night and, after checking in at the financial district-based hotel, I went out for a drink. Perhaps I was influenced by the long trip and tiredness, but I thought I was walking in a city that had been devastated by a catastrophe. Surrounded by billboards and emergency lights, the high CN tower, a symbol of the city, seemed to be a science-fiction guardian tower. I didn’t know where to go, so I returned to the hotel. The next morning I understood what was going on. Near the hotel where I was staying, groups of workers are finishing off the Harbourfront Centre, an ambitious project aimed at taking an area of Ontario Lake’s shore with buildings related to leisure and culture activities. Canada’s economic atmosphere is living a boom that makes it rank first among North American in terms of construction. There are cranes and structures of new skyscrapers everywhere and its landscape, which is mostly horizontal, is quickly changing.
Anyway, Toronto —capital city of Ontario State and cradle of such remarkable writers as Alice Munro and Robertson Davies—, is a regular city on the lists of the healthiest and nicest places of the world to live. If we avoid visiting it in winter, when the citizens escape from the low temperatures in the vast underground city, enjoying this place is an easy task. Multiculturalism is one of its characteristics: half of its inhabitants were born away from Canada and there are numerous neighborhoods with communities from different origins, where walking and eating entail a small trip within the trip. For example, the wide Spadina Avenue, between Queen St. West and College St., is the heart of Chinatown. Looking around their grocery stores, with boxes containing different products, fruits, vegetables, roots and dehydrated food, is a great experience. Smelling them gives you a clue, but you can be surprised.
We find the Korean neighborhood to the northwest and Little Italy comes next. There are reasonably Italian restaurants —like Vivoli—, and a second-hand bookstore, Balfour Books, where you can admire elegant editions from the other side of the ocean. If you keep on walking, you’ll cross an invisible frontier and start listening to people that speaks Portuguese.
If we take a section of a street, instead of a neighborhood, we can actually understand strength of this city. Queen St. West features some stores where clothes of conventional brands are sold —Fred Perry, Marni—, but most of them are locals, with taste. There are art galleries and different restaurants, such as The Goodman, where magnificent cocktails are served. Colorful graffiti liven up the party walls of brick houses. There are red and white streetcars. There are two boutique hotels, The Gladstone and The Drake, which attract hipsters. We find Currys, a huge space with products for artists. You can go on a picnic in Trinity Bellwoods, a vast park. There is a theater center and you could visit the Museum of Modern Art, but it’s closed for refurbishment. There are two pubs: The Bristol, with black wood and very British, and The Bear, where groups of friends gather to drink beer and watch games. There are stores to do your nails and a tattoo hall. There are people dressed in black, workers, beggars, very-Canadian Asians, elegant jackets and people walking with dogs.
Frank Gehry’s Hallmark
The cultural offer is interesting. Prestigious international movie and literature festivals are held there. AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) is a key museum. The renovation carried out by Frank Gehry (who was born in Toronto) had an outstanding element: the “Italian gallery”, on Dundas Street. It’s a rest area with a café and a wooden structure that recalls the ribs of a whale. It’s also important to mention the hall dedicated to Henry Moore, the African collection or the work of the so-called “group of seven”, landscape painters that traveled to Europe in the early 20th century and renovated the stammering Canadian art when they returned. I also discovered —because of my ignorance— a Canadian artist that passed away in 2013, Alex Colville. His elegant paintings, apparently serene —but actually very uneasy—, are magnificent.
If we talk about Canada, we can’t forget about nature. Toronto’s parks and ravines are characterized by the presence of rivers and streams that break the orthogonal design of the street. If you want more, just board a ferry in Queens Quay and, in 10 minutes, you’ll step on the small islands that make up Toronto Island Park. It’s an inhabited park with beaches, promenades, gardens and attractions for children, where you can walk, ride on bike or canoes. If you’re driving a car, in less than two hours from the city you’ll find the famous Niagara Falls, which even impress the people that are allergic to crowded tourism places.