The Best of Art and Culture in Toronto

Culture lovers won’t have time to sleep once they hit the Toronto pavement. Not only are institutes like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) filled with major works of art, street art is everywhere—take a guided tour of Toronto’s colorful back alleys. Toronto is known, too, for its arts, music, dance, and film festivals. For an authentic taste of a city so rich in culture, check the calendar and catch whatever’s playing in town.

234 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5K 1B2, Canada
This three-legged dining chair designed in 1958 by Stefan Siwinski Designs and Korina Designs is one of 950 items in the collection of the Design Exchange. This innovative museum devoted to Canadian industrial ingenuity is housed in the old Toronto stock exchange. —Charlene Rooke 234 Bay St., (416) 363-6121, dx.org. This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue.
60 Simcoe Street
Home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, this curved glass building is also a premiere venue for the Toronto International Film Festival. During the year, this iconic building in Toronto serves as concert showcase and special event venue. National Geographic’s Live Series, for example, is great for travel buffs. Tours are available by appointment.
327 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1W7, Canada
The Bata Shoe Museum is dedicated to the history of footwear through the ages. And what a spectacular history! After one visit, you’ll be able to distinguish Rajasthani mojaris from chopines, the platform shoes worn by 16th-century Spanish and Italian society ladies. Consider this training for trivia competitions. The museum’s impressive collection of more than 13,000 shoes and footwear-related objects is leveraged across four exhibits: fashion, practicality, shoemaking, and finally the footwear of Arctic dwellers. The museum also offers design workshops, family activities, movie nights, and more.
145 Queen St W
Opened in 2006, the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts right in the crux of downtown at Queen and University is a gorgeous forum for performances from the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company (COC). For those looking for a frugal experience, the COC holds free concerts most Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, and some Wednesdays at noon or 5:30 p.m. in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Though the National Ballet’s most famous performance is The Nutcracker, performed, of course, during the holiday season, the company also performs other family-pleasing ballets including Sleeping Beauty and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from time to time.
720 Bathurst St
The “fringe movement” is a worldwide network of indie theatre festivals. As the name suggests, the movement is about celebrating under-represented voices and those on the margins of the performing arts world. As a result, the shows are a result of a lottery system of producers and writers who submitted their plays. It’s a festival where anyone can put on any show, without having to pass through a jury – where theatre students can mount their first production outside of school, where emerging artists can get their big break, and where established artists can test out new work. Popular shows like da Kink in my Hair and The Drowsy Chaperone got their start at Fringe. Whether you’re watching a show (or number of shows) in the back alley behind the famed Honest Ed’s, or smaller theatres in Toronto like the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, you’ll be in for a cheap treat.
100 Queens Park
From the outside, the Royal Ontario Museum appears to have been struck by a mineral formation from outer space. When the original building was overhauled by starchitect Daniel Libeskind, many locals were dismayed by the new addition, called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, but most have come around to its angular charms. Visitors to this museum of world cultures and natural history can work their way through galleries showcasing Chinese sculptures, Canada’s First Nations artifacts and crafts, dinosaur skeletons, and Byzantine artwork. Special exhibits have included everything from the intricate textiles of Mexico to an in-depth look at the culture of tattoos.
317 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T 1G4, Canada
Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, but his dramatic 2008 renovation and expansion of this Beaux-Arts museum was his first Canadian commission. He first discovered art on childhood visits to its vast collection, which spans the world. Now the museum features a restaurant, Frank, in his honor. —Charlene Rooke Art Gallery of Ontario. 317 Dundas St. W., (416) 979- 6648.
115 Danforth Ave #302, Toronto, ON M4K 1N2, Canada
June is one of the best months to be in Toronto and for more incentive to visit, check out one of the best music festivals in North America. Toronto’s version of SXSW, NXNE or North by Northeast, is an interactive festival of music, film, and digital media. In little bars all across the city as well as bigger and free venues like Dundas Square you can catch a number of live acts with your wristband. The fun part? You get to bar hop and catch some amazing music from all over the world. It’s one of the most buzzed about events in the city and in my opinion, much more fun than the film fest!
77 Wynford Dr, North York, ON M3C 1K1, Canada
The Aga Khan himself suggested to award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki that an appropriate inspiration for the design of his museum would be the element of light. The result is a building in which light, both direct and diffuse, pours in all day long. Fittingly, the museum’s mission is to shed light on Muslim civilization and art though exhibitions, music, dance, and more. Permanent collections focus on everything from calligraphy to Korans; rotating displays have explored topics such as what it means to be a modern-day Persian. There’s also an on-site restaurant, Diwan, which serves stellar food from around the Muslim world.
243 X Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada
List this under “very cool installations.” The best part about the “wavedeck” is that you can slide on it (because you know you want to). It’s a great, interactive gathering place at water’s edge, and it plays on that theme in a whimsical way.
550 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4W 3X8, Canada
The Evergreen Brick Works, a reclaimed quarry in the lush Don Valley, is a showcase for sustainable and green living, as well as for urban design. A community has been established in this once-derelict industrial site and former landfill. Toronto’s largest farmers’ market sets up shop on Saturdays, and spotlights food from all over the province. On Sunday, the market shifts its attention to crafts. A full schedule of activities and diversions make this a perfect weekend escape: There’s a children’s garden (with weekly programming), bike trails and rentals, and a hike that leads to a rewarding view of the city’s skyline.
189 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M5B 1M4, Canada
It’s not often that one comes across a double-decker theater. In fact, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre is the only still-active stacked theater, and has been designated a National Historic Site. Built in 1913 by American architect Thomas W. Lamb for the Loews theater group, the two venues were meant to serve two separate markets. Today, they frequently host live performances, musicals, and films. The Winter Garden is especially unique, featuring a decorative ceiling hung with dried leaves, a touch that transforms the room into a magical land.
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