Destinations

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Story by Melanie Votaw
Photos by Melanie Votaw and Tourism Toronto

 

Toronto skyline

THE CULTURE AND PULSE OF TORONTO

There is an exciting energy about Toronto that is uniquely its own. The residents sincerely appreciate the culture and arts that their city offers them – theater, music, dance, film, visual art, architecture, and food. And it’s a town that does not disappoint on any of those fronts.

U.S. television production companies often choose to shoot in Toronto – like NBC’s “Hannibal” and Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove.” The Broadway revival production of “Les Miserables” had its “out of town tryout” in Toronto, and world class residential companies keep the arts thriving year-round. These include the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the National Ballet of Canada.

I visited the city in February. Granted, the dead of winter is not the best time of year to see Toronto, especially during the particularly snowy winter of 2014, but my timing allowed me to experience the Toronto Symphony’s Chinese New Year celebration of the Year of the Horse. It was a treat to hear Chinese orchestral music live, such as Li Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival Overture” and film composer Tan Dun’s “The Triple Resurrection” with the baton in the hand of guest conductor Long Yu.

The orchestra followed those pieces with Eastern European composers, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak, played by soloists from China – Yuja Wang, Cho-Liang Lin, and Jian Wang. The audience went wild when Chinese singer Song Zuying took the stage and sang several encores. The venue, Roy Thomson Hall, is also beautiful and right in the center of the city on Simcoe Street.

Toronto Royal Ontario Museum

Toronto’s museums are, for me, one of the main draws of this multicultural city, especially in winter when outdoor time is at a minimum. The Royal Ontario Museum, lovingly called “The ROM,” will even enchant the kids and is the perfect place to spend a day when the weather is less than hospitable. It is located at Queens Park and Bloor Street West in a particularly pretty part of the city.

Royal Ontario Museum Mumified Cat

The extensive dinosaur collection alone is worth the visit. I also don’t recall seeing mummified animals in any other museum around the world, but ROM has a small collection, including a mummified cat. The permanent galleries are diverse, with other unusual items like ancient suits of armor, Korean and Middle Eastern art and artifacts, and Ancient Cyprus and Bronze Age artifacts, alongside Greek, Roman, African, and Chinese artifacts and architecture.

Besides the permanent galleries, temporary exhibits pass through the museum, including the fantastic Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit that was there during my time in the city. It originated at the National History Museum in London.

If you’re an aficionado of African art, head to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Chinatown, which has its own impressive collection, as well as Pacific Oceanic art. There is a collection of Canadian artist David Milne, including letters and videos, and there are works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Degas, Matisse, Renoir, Rodin, Van Dyck, and Rubens, to name a few.

One of the gallery’s unique treats is its collection of ship models. There are some from the 17th and 18th centuries that were made to scale for the Royal Navy, and there are models made by prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars in which the riggings consist of silk and human hair. If you’re interested in nautical history, you won’t want to miss it.

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum

For those with an entirely different passion, there is the Bata Shoe Museum, which is just a few steps from ROM. You’ll get a cultural history of footwear from Inuit boots to the emergence of the stiletto heel. The permanent collection is extensive and varied, representing many of the world’s cultures. Some of the more exciting pieces include a rare shoe from 16th century Venice, Medieval footwear, and celebrity shoes like Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers, Elvis Presley’s blue patent loafers, and boots worn by Elton John and John Lennon. There are shoe-shaped artifacts from various periods in history as well.

Toronto is also home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, The Gardiner Museum, which focuses on ceramics, The Textile Museum of Canada, the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library devoted to the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and the Canadian Air & Space Museum. You could spend a week just walking through museum galleries.

When you can’t take in another moment of learning, there are plenty of shopping opportunities, dining, night life, and cozy luxury hotels where you can curl up at the end of the day. For the top designer stores, take a walk on Bloor Street West. You can load up on the latest clothes, bags, and shoes.

When it came time to sleep, I stayed at the Windsor Arms Hotel, which is arguably Toronto’s best. An upcoming review will provide more details, but this 28-suite property with butler service is as fine as any hotel I’ve experienced in the world. I also sampled a steak in The Living Room restaurant, which is filled with funky cushioned furnishings that are true to its name.

The cuisine options in Toronto are practically endless, so whatever you like, you can find. My trip was much too short to sample all the city has to offer, so I look forward to visiting in spring or summer when I can take in some of the many green spaces. When I passed the harbourfront in February, the lake was covered in snow and didn’t look like water at all. The harbourfront is one of the many areas I will check out when I have the opportunity to visit Toronto again, but in warmer weather next time.

 

 

 

© April 2014 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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