Toronto is Canada's Number One tourist destination, with 21 million visitors a year. Many Canadian companies have their head offices in Toronto. The country's premier stock exchange, the Toronto Stock Exchange, is here. After New York and London, Toronto has the largest English-language theatre centre in the world.
(Source: Government of Ontario)
From cosmopolitan chic to country charm, Toronto's neighbourhoods offer an eclectic mix of architecture, food and shopping. This vast cultural diversity creates a worldly experience for visitors.
(Source: Toronto Tourism)
Two hundred years ago, cannons fired over the Niagara peninsula. Today, life by the lake is a little more leisurely.
Tucked between the rush of Niagara Falls and the crush of Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake was once at the centre of the
War of 1812, which shaped North America. Today, the town, which encompasses a cluster of small villages along the
southern shore of Lake Ontario, about a 90-minute drive from Toronto, is a pastoral paradise – a patch of grape-growing
farmland where everything revolves around wine, wars and words. The former battleground has transformed decisively
into a tourist hub; the fortresses are (mostly) gone, but cozy boutique hotels abound.
Among the finest hotels is the Riverbend Inn, which sits at the edge of town, where the region’s vineyards begin. At this stunning white manor, which has a vineyard out back, you can retreat to a Muskoka chair and read by the vines, linger in the gazebo or take in a wine-tasting at the canopied bar. (One is never far from a wine-tasting around here.) The 21 character-filled guest rooms offer floor-to-ceiling windows, fireplaces, discreetly hidden televisions and more pillows than you’d ever possibly need.
Queen Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s main drag, is well worth an amble even if the town’s real gems are hidden away from the crowds. There, you’ll find the three venues of the Shaw Festival, a season of plays by, about and relating to George Bernard Shaw, which runs through October. The renowned theatre festival is at the heart of Niagara’s emergence as a tourist destination.
For a quiet bit of lunch on the stretch, look for a gift shop called Irish Design and head straight to the back, where you’ll find the Irish Tea Room, home to authentic meat pies and expertly poured pints of Guinness. If you’re feeling formal, pop across the road to the Prince of Wales Hotel for its afternoon tea. That’s “tea” in the British sense of the word: a full afternoon meal. In the most decorous of sitting-rooms, you’ll be served a selection of sandwiches, pastries, scones… and tea.
There is no shortage of restaurants on Queen Street, but one of the town’s most beloved spots – the Stone Road Grille – is off the main drag, in the unlikeliest spot – virtually unsigned, in a strip mall. “My family said, ‘You’re crazy. You can’t open a restaurant in that ugly plaza,’” says Heidi Johnson, the Grille’s co-owner, laughing. But the outside world disappears as you step through the door and into an attractively lit room, appointed in warm, dark tones. Eight years on, the place is still humming.
The Stone Road Grille has won plaudits from everyone from Fodor’s to New York magazine for its fresh-baked breads, charcuterie and mains. The steak frites is served, intriguingly, with “bacon and egg sauce” – hollandaise, made with tarragon and bacon, which arrives in an eggshell. Like at many places here, locally sourced, prepared-in-house food is the name of the game.
After dinner, pop by the Olde Angel Inn, a lively public house that’s tucked into a side street just behind the shops and theatres of Queen Street. Established in 1789, destroyed in 1812 and then rebuilt, the inn offers fireplace-lit surroundings and, often, live music. According to local lore, it’s also the haunt of at least one soldier’s ghost.
Ditching the car for a day is a great way to see the countryside. A network of bike lanes leads through town and the green country beyond, wending alongside the Niagara Parkway, above the Niagara River and on the edge of wine country.
Rent wheels at Zoom Leisure Bikes, where you can choose between laid-back cruiser-style bikes or more aggressive hybrids. Then, head west along a well-tended bike route to one of Niagara’s most prominent sites: Fort George. Obliterated in a two-day cannon battle in 1813, it was rebuilt as a museum during the Great Depression.
The time when the British and Americans warred against each other – and its coming bicentennial – looms larger in Niagara than perhaps anywhere else. Had the battles fought here gone differently, Ontario might well have been annexed by the US.
People remember. At the fort’s gates on a sunny day this summer, a pair of elderly American tourists were speaking earnestly with a short teenage guide who was dressed in the full regalia of the old British army: red shirt, buckles and tall black hat. “Now, you burned down our White House,” said the man. “Well,” said the teenager, with a sniff, “you burned down our village!”
It’s true. Both the president’s mansion in Washington and Niagara-on-the-Lake itself were burned and rebuilt after the war. As a result, many of Niagara’s buildings date to around 1814. The fort makes a great outing; try to catch a live, loud demonstration of the notoriously fickle muskets that both armies used.
The bike ride along the parkway is stunning. On one side, wine country spreads off to the east. On the other, the Niagara River heads swiftly downhill toward the Falls, at the bottom of a gorge. After about 40 minutes of rolling ups and downs, you’ll arrive at Queenston, a tiny colonial-era village perched between cliffs. All but forgotten to modern Canada, the village looms large in history, having been the home of one Laura Secord, a wartime heroine before she was a chocolate brand, and the death-place of General Isaac Brock.
Queenston is also home to one of the country’s most unusual museums: the Mackenzie Printery, where the history of newspaper typesetting is brought to blotchy, smudgy life. Located in the restored house of William Lyon Mackenzie, the newspaperman who became Toronto’s rebellious first mayor, the museum has centuries-old presses, which can be inked up and pressed into service for a hands-on lesson in 19th-century typesetting.
Back in town for dinner, The Old Winery Restaurant serves lively takes on Mediterranean and Tuscan staples in a dignified brick warehouse. Mussels and pasta in a dill sauce is delicate on the palate; pizza from wood-fired ovens is a perennial favourite.
Today, Niagara is fine-wine country. This wasn’t always the case; a few decades ago, you might have called the local offerings plonky. But the arrival of wineries like Inniskillin, starting in the mid-1970s, has put Niagara on the global map.
Today, some of the most buzzed-about winemaking is happening at new boutique wineries that welcome visitors with open arms. A few minutes’ drive southeast of downtown, Stratus Wines inhabits an eye-popping, ultramodern building that does triple duty as a state-of-the-art winery, store and tasting room. Enjoy a flight-tasting here at the long granite counter inside, or on the patio, overlooking the vineyard.
The winery generating the most buzz this year is a young upstart heavy on the old-world charm. Next to the picturesque village of St. Davids, the Ravine Vineyard holds such an unusually varied mix of soil types, the original consultants’ reports were met with disbelief. The unique conditions mean disparate grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Riesling can all flourish.
“This gives us a lot more flexibility for blending,” notes Ravine’s winemaker, Shauna White. Its wines – especially the flagship Merlot – are making waves, even though Ravine’s only been at it for three seasons. The vineyard’s adjacent bistro, housed in a faithful re-creation of an old-time fruit-packing shed, serves an unfussy lunch and dinner.
On your way back to Toronto, in the village of Virgil, you’ll find the Pie Plate, founded six years ago by Ruth Anne Schriefer. Years ago, Schriefer bussed tables at a local establishment (it shall remain nameless) that was making “homemade” desserts the wrong way. “They were heating up Sara Lee cakes,” recounts Kirk Schriefer, her husband. “She was appalled.”
The Pie Plate, which has thrived on word-ofmouth, has picked up the local habit of creative dishes – try the strawberry spinach pizza – but also shines with classic comforts like coffee and, well, pie, from rhubarb to apple to (of course) grape. Staunchly local, slightly eccentric and bent on gastronomy: it’s the new Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The War of 1812 is two centuries behind us – and a world away. Now that’s worth raising a glass to.
It’s the place in Toronto where all routes meet, but it’s lain derelict for years. Now The Junction has traded in urban decay for urbanity.
The clue is in the name: The Junction has always been one of Toronto’s major hubs, situated at the spot where four railway lines come together. Until recently, however, it was a place to avoid rather than converge, as it declined to a shabby strip of outdated stores and restaurants. Now (inter)change has come, and it’s been transformed into a destination full of unique shopping, indie flair, and an infectious sense of community. The area was farmland until the arrival of the railway in the 1880s, when it became a centre of industry; mills and factories moved in, and after-work drinking became such a menace (and embarrassment – drunks could be seen on the street from passing trains) that the area went dry in 1904. This move, according to resident and business owner Rodrigo Gudino, turned it from “boozetown” to “cracktown.” Dereliction and drugs ensured that no one willingly went “up The Junction.” In 2000, a huge regeneration program got under way, and Dundas West, the main drag, is now packed with bars and restaurants where good food and wine are de rigueur. The Junction has finally become a hub to head for.
Ontarians seeking rural tranquility with big-city-style haute cuisine and high fashion have long beaten a path to Muskoka’s picturesque cottage doors. Now the word is out.
Muskoka – Canada’s cottage country hovering around Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph, all memories of glacial meltwaters – combines a pine- scented Canadiana with a Hollywoodesque chic. A summertime playground for the well-heeled, Muskoka is Toronto’s answer to the Hamptons. (It’s fitting that such A-listers as Steven Spielberg, Cindy Crawford, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell all claim summer manses on Muskokan shores.) No longer northern wilds dressed only with wigwams and forests, this luxe colony for the summering city dweller has both a Dirty Dancing vibe and an urban glamour. During the summertime you’re as likely to run into a capering deer as you are well-aerobicized ladies cocktailing in chic cruisewear: “Muskoka attracts people who aren’t typically cottagers,” says Greg Mannion, owner of Muskoka Classics Cottage Emporium. “They want fine restaurants, massages and steam showers. It’s not about having a log cabin in the woods, here. This place is about country-club living.”
Mastering Muskoka’s posh-pastoral balance is Taboo Resort and Spa in Gravenhurst. A two-and- a-half-hour drive from Toronto, Taboo combines a log-fire coziness with the mod aesthetic of a big- city boutique hotel. (If the Gansevoort Hotel opened an Ontarian outpost, it would look like Taboo.) The resort’s Platinum Suites are dressed in animal skin rugs and washed in shades of green tea, boast- ing both plasma-screen TVs and hunter green slatted-wood decks overlooking Lake Muskoka. Meanwhile, Taboo’s spacious two-, three- or four- bedroom Cottage Chalets – fashioned by the Toronto design heavyweight Brian Gluckstein – are equipped with full kitchens, barbecues and decks. Taboo’s restaurant, Elements, is a far cry from the classic Muskokan lager-and-shepherd’s-pie pub of yore. The pièce de résistance in the walnut-and- window-panelled dining room (which features panoramic views of Lake Muskoka) is the Culi- nary Theatre: an 18-seat ‘theatre’ where patrons perch at an ochre-hued marble bar and behold chef Ivan Loubier and sushi chef Dan Morasawa preparing East-meets-West feasts in five acts. The chefs not only make the food, they also give it a colourful introduction, while a sommelier pairs the dishes with flights of beer, wine or sake.
The format encourages the intrepid to feed their curiosity as well as their bellies: they’re advised that they are welcome to ask anything except “What’s next?”
Ontario’s lake district abounds in all manner of up- country gluttony. Cottagers legging it out of Dodge may feel like they’re bidding adieu to the bad (big- city stress, smog) as well as the good (restaurants). But Muskokan docksiders needn’t be confined to a diet of ’cue-and-brew. Among the tastiest and most charming dining rooms is Gravenhurst’s North. Formerly a grease-slicked wing joint, North is now a snug resto, brunch and coffee spot slinging such seasonal, imaginative plates as pan-seared scal- lops sided with black pudding, Madeira cream, baby spinach and red amaranth cress. Smoked salmon from Nova Scotian smokers J. Willy Krauch comes with apple celeriac, fennel crème fraiche and onion jam. If the food tends toward the highbrow, the design tends toward cabin-chic, with wide-plank barnwood flooring and clapboard panelling painted the consoling shades of butterscotch and custard. “We wanted people to feel cuddled here,” says Robbie Irvine, “and people in Muskoka don’t want to settle for something less than what they’d find in Toronto. They want the best.”
Also among the finest reservations in Muskoka is chef-owner David Friesen’s restaurant Riverwalk in Bracebridge. On the banks of the Muskoka River, Riverwalk is located in the old Bird’s Woollen Mill (the whitewashed Mediterranean-style dining room was once the Mill’s storage house). Friesen – who worked with celebrity chef Mark McEwen at Toronto’s North 44, and started the catering business for the Toronto gourmet grocery empire Pusateri’s – puts the spot- light on local farmers. “It’s about all of us working together. The farmers come to my back door and deliver produce. For example, Gerry Hopkins, who is 76, comes and drops off his parsnips and aspara- gus and Jerusalem artichokes. I use Muskoka-raised corn-fed beef; I also have my own chickens and Berkshire pork at a local farm and I cure my own pro- sciutto. My food is simple.” His field-to-fork menus competing for best-baked-goods status is Don’s Bakery in Bala: packed with lemon-meringue tartlets, éclairs, scones, and, yes, butter tarts, Don’s opened in 1947 and still feels like the sort of place you might have found in Mayberry. (While you half-expect to run into 50s housewives in poodle-skirts, you’re more likely to find couples in Lululemon Pilates gear.) If Don’s is the caloric institution in Bala – a darling vil- lage where Lake Muskoka and the Moon River meet, complete with clapboard houses painted shades of buttermilk, thundercloud grey, and pool blue – then the Kee is the town’s entertainment capital. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington both took to the foot- lights at the legendary Kee. “Muskoka has long been a playground for the Canadian elite,” says Curtis, “The Eaton family used to have their summer homes here. The difference now is that the whole world is coming to Muskoka – and you can see why.”
Your table awaits...your table-tennis table, that is, at this Ping-Pong club and lounge that’s giving the trendy King West area even more bounce.
Backhand smashes and forehand slices can be finessed at the 12 Ping-Pong tables, and burned-off calories can be re-stoked courtesy of the comfortfood menu (sloppy joes, fish tacos, Guinness ice cream) and the championship cocktails.
461 King Street West, (416) 599-7746
Offering 18 sausage options, including kangaroo with herbs, bison with blueberry and guinea fowl with cheddar and asparagus, as well as french fries double-fried in duck fat and a selection of more than 30 ales, this Munich-style bangers-and-beer hall is far from the wurst thing that could happen to King Street West’s restaurant row.
609 King Street West, (416) 703-7775
The focus is on Canadian artisanal cheese, bought and sold in tiny quantities to ensure freshness.
Owner Jeff Brown opened the shop in 2010 when demand for his blue cheese ice cream (sold next door at Delight by his wife, Jennifer Rashleigh) skyrocketed: why not open a shop devoted solely to cheese? he wondered. Now he spends his time sourcing cheese with fascinating backstories, like a 1608 Québec cheese made from the milk of the descendants of cows that Champlain brought over from Normandy and Brittany in 1608. L’accent estmis sur la production canadienne locale, avec des produits achetés et vendus en petites quantités pouruneplusgrandefraîcheur.JeffBrown, le propriétaire a ouvert boutique en 2010 lorsque la demande pour sa glace au bleu (vendue à côté chez Delight, tenue par sa femme Jennifer Rashleigh) a atteint des sommets. Désormais, il s’approvisionne en fromages qui ont des histories fascinantes, telle cette variété québécoise faite avec du lait de vaches descendant du cheptel importé parChamplain en 1608.
3042 Dundas St. West, (647) 344-8663
If Marben’s cozy carnivorous menu – all pork belly, braised lamb and roast beef – doesn’t insulate you from the Toronto winter blues, then its hip design makeover – mural of Wuthering Heights era Kate Bush, complete with character leotard, bewitching the woodland creatures with her squeaky voice and “expressionistic” dance moves – surely will.
In her own immortal words: wow, wow, wow – unbelievable!
488 Wellington Street West, (416) 979-1990
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) is 2.5 km/1.5 miles from downtown.
Location of Porter check-in desk: departures.