It fascinates me how many British Columbians have never visited Toronto, the largest city in Canada and the capital of the province of Ontario. In theory then, planning a trip to Toronto in anticipation of this travel feature was a good idea. As it happened, I landed in Toronto amid the Mayor Rob Ford scandals. He was the star of every television newscast, the subject of every subway conversation, and the entire city seemed to be humming anxiously with palpable displeasure at how their beloved city was being viewed by the rest of the world. I was concerned that the mood of the city would have an adverse effect on my trip, and my overall impression of Toronto. I needn’t have worried. Political noise aside, there was a calm confidence that Torontonians are famous for; a firm understanding that their stunning urban metropolis would remain in its magnificent and perpetual state of controlled chaos.
Cultured and cosmopolitan, Toronto achieves the impossible — a highly livable city with an apparent relaxed vibe. This is Canada’s arts and media hub, but interspersed with the modern technology, are the charming tree lined lanes of exclusive Yorkville, the eccentric streets of Kensington, and a host of unique galleries and desirable consignment fashion boutiques in West Queen West. Toronto boasts an exciting food scene too, with residents and tourists alike in search of the newest culinary delights. The non-stop neon hum of the city is what attracts visitors, but it is the artistic offerings, cool neighbourhoods and welcoming locals that make you want to come back.
A RESTFUL BOUTIQUE EXPERIENCE
I chose to stay with an up and coming chain on the Toronto hotel scene – Hotel Le Germain. I am so glad that I did! I stayed for two nights at each of their two Toronto properties; one in the heart of downtown and the other at Maple Leaf Square. I really enjoyed the local artwork in the hotel rooms; the fresh flowers in the room and the whimsical décor in the public spaces that made me want to spend time instead of walking through the lobby and reception areas. This hotel feels different from the moment you walk in. The staff were uber friendly, efficient, respectful and always discreet – the staff of Le Germain seem to take pleasure in being your perfect holiday host. My room, at both Hotel Le Germain properties, was spacious and enveloped me in a sense of peace and quiet. I needed that. The decor, at once understated and inviting created a unique experience for the senses. The clever use of rich woods, sleek glass, and modern ceramics is the result of an inspired and inspiring design, centred on relaxation and wellbeing.
WHERE ART AND FASHION COLLIDE
(IN A REALLY GOOD WAY)
In a city of 2.6 million people (the most populated city in Canada), it is not surprising that a visitor would be spoiled for choice when it comes to arts, culture and fashion. Aside from Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario (both worthy of a day in your travel planner), I chose to showcase three different experiences, each that meet at the intersection of high fashion and incomparable art.
1. BATA SHOE MUSEUM —
One of my favourite days in Toronto was spent exploring the Bata Shoe Museum, where Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator, was kind enough to give me a rare glimpse into the storage galleries, which houses an international collection of more than 13,000 shoes and related artefacts. Celebrating 4,500 years of footwear history in four distinctive rotating galleries, the Museum is a cultural gem in the heart of the city, where every shoe has a story. A new exhibit, Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, explores the dangers of fashion and features more than ninety artifacts from the Bata Shoe Museum’s extensive holdings plus private collection loans. Fashion Victims is on view until June 2016.
2. DESIGN EXCHANGE MUSEUM —
If you crave the arts, but seek a non-museum experience, this is a must see! I spent an afternoon with HGTV designers and NICHE design columnists Colin and Justin and Shauna Levy, President of Design Exchange. Together, we experienced This Is Not A Toy exhibit (guest curated by Pharrell Williams) and relived bits of our childhood through the playful eyes of the artists. In an upcoming exhibit, Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics will be on view from September 2014 to January 2015. Jeanne Beker makes her curatorial debut spanning six decades of fashion and presenting more than 200 important pieces. It explores the numerous ways fashion has helped ignite political awareness, and at the same time, how politics have dictated style through the decades.
3. TORONTO FASHION INCUBATOR —
There is something exceptional about taking a peek at the future of the fashion industry in Canada, and that is exactly what happened when I visited TFI. Executive Director Susan Langdon talked with me proudly about this unique, vibrant organization. The first official “fashion incubator” in the world, the TFI is dedicated to supporting and nurturing Canadian fashion designers. It was an honour to meet talented designers Sid Neigum (right), Laura Siegel, and Christopher Paunil, each in residence at TFI, all in a frenzy preparing for Toronto Fashion Week. Remember their names; they are rising fashion stars.
THREE DEGREES OF RETAIL THERAPY
The city of Toronto is a diverse shopping mecca, and no matter what you seek, you can find it here. There are so many distinct fashion personalities; here are three of the most popular:
1. WEST QUEEN WEST —
Wendy from TheRefinery.com took me on a whirlwind (and snowy) tour of the best shops on the WQW shopping circuit. West Queen West offers up a unique blend of boutiques with different price points. The Cat’s Meow, shown right and my hands- down favourite, was brimming with high end designer fashion finds. Others faves along the way included Magwood, Vintage 69, and Public Butter.
2. KENSINGTON MARKET —
Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006, Kensington Market is a charming enclave of independent shops, cafes and unique food stands. There is a large concentration of excellent used and vintage clothing stores that are worth a leisurely browse. My favourites were Bungalow and Courage My Love, where I scored a vintage train case and a 1950’s Holt Renfew butter yellow swing coat, both for less than $50!
3. YORKVILLE —
When you want to shop designer and do a little celebrity sightseeing, Yorkville is the place. Visiting the original locations of Pink Tartan and Free People were highlights for me, and once your shopped out, be sure to stop for coffee and macarons at MoRoCo Chocolat Boutique Salon & Cocoa Bar. Tres Chic!
FAVOURITE EATS AROUND T.O.
1. VICTOR RESTAURANT & LOUNGE —
Tucked inside Hotel Le Germain Toronto, and with Chef David Chrystian (of Top Chef Canada fame) running the kitchen, Victor is without question a culinary adventure worthy of the most particular foodie. The menu is imaginative and exceptional. I recommend the Toronto Tasting Menu.
2. THE GABARDINE —
Located in the heart of the financial district, this little diner is a true hidden gem that is quickly gaining notoriety. Recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here, the menu is brimming with homemade goodness. Don’t leave without trying the bubbling mac and cheese with smoked ham.
3. BALZAC’S COFFEE ROASTERS —
Nestled in the heart of the charming Distillery District (Toronto’s only pedestrian village), you’ll be lured through Balzac’s front doors by the intoxicating aroma of really good coffee, but you’ll stay to enjoy the rustic décor and engaging ambiance.
By Tracey Drake inside the 2014 summer issue of NICHE