One of the most difficult aspects of writing about travel is not being able to travel anywhere for nearly two years. It did, however, give me a chance to reflect on some great destinations I have visited, as well as some wonderful and sometimes humorous experiences I have faced.
I have always wanted to do an in-depth overview of the huge metropolis southeast of us, and decided this was the time to do it. I even pitched the idea of doing a show on Toronto for my PhotosNtravel television show, and the producers loved it. So, camera in hand, help from a few friends, off I went, all the way to Cherry Beach at the Port of Toronto.
A walk along Cherry Beach and the Port of Toronto, where you can almost reach out and touch the Toronto Islands, is a great place to reflect. In fact, just around the corner, at the end of Polson Street, is an amazing place to see the skyline of the city.
One thing North America’s fourth largest city has, is a number of quaint, hidden neighbourhoods and gems. We all know what the CN tower looks like, and many have been to the Rogers Centre and High Park, but how many of you have actually walked past the Wellesley Cottages.
Located in the north end of upscale Cabbagetown, the Wellesley Cottages were built on a small, well-hidden lane in 1886. By the way, the area of Cabbagetown got its name from produce wagons that used to park there on Saturdays and Sundays. They found that cabbage were the biggest sellers, and the name stuck.
Also located in Cabbagetown is the Riverdale Farm, a working farm with a craft market that attracts locals, tourists and schoolchildren. This area was the Toronto Zoo from 1894 until 1974.
Have you ever wondered where Rick Mercer does his rants, when he walks along endless buildings covered in graffiti? The place is called graffiti alley, and is also known as Rush Lane. This area has long attracted the work of graffiti artists. When a group called Style In Progress began hosting its legal 24-hour graffiti sessions along the nearly one-kilometre stretch, the area took on a life of its own.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods is Kensington Market. It is a distinctive, older multicultural neighbourhood in Downtown Toronto, and one of the city's most well-known. In November 2006, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
The area was once known as ‘the Jewish Market’, and most of the shops were owned by Eastern European immigrants. After the Second World War, most of the Jewish population moved to neighbourhoods north, opening the area to immigrants from other countries.
If you head downtown into the financial district, you will come across an underground network of tunnels, known as the path. These 30 kilometres of pedestrian walkways, are all joined and filled with shops and restaurants. For the hockey lovers there is the Hockey Hall of Fame, located in the old Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets (accessible through Brookfield Place).
Many people, who visit Toronto regularly, are familiar with the triangular building where Front Street splits into Front and Wellington Streets. Most people refer to the structure as the Flatiron building, but it is officially known as the Gooderham building. It is an historic Office Building completed in 1892, which served as the home office for the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Built at a cost of $18,000, it was the most expensive office building in Toronto at the time. Ten years ago, it sold for $15 million.
The fountain behind the Flatiron Building in Burczy Park features 27 cast iron dogs and 1 cat, and was featured in the 2020 film ‘My Spy’.
Before leaving downtown, a stop at the St. Lawrence Market is a must. A public market had been held on the north building site of the market since 1803. Up until 2015, there were two buildings in the complex, but the north building was closed to allow for redevelopment.
The south building dates from 1845, and has been rebuilt twice. It still incorporates a section of its original building that was used as Toronto City Hall from 1845.
The original market was known as Market Square, and people gathered there on Saturdays. It was the centre of the city's social life, where auctions took place and public punishments were carried out.
Driving along beautiful University Avenue, which leads to the legislative buildings at Queen’s Park, was once two streets. In the 1940s the houses were demolished, fences torn down, and a boulevard was built in the centre. Today the street is lined mostly with insurance companies and hospitals.
As we move uptown, we stop at the magnificent Manulife Financial headquarters, on Boor Street, east of Yonge Street. The amazing sculpture in front is called Community by Kirk Newman. The building has the best lawn in the city, because it is the same creeping bentgrass, usually reserved for golf greens.
I found some of the hidden spots of the city amazing , and a visit to Toronto the Good will not disappoint. (The reason for the nickname dates back to the city's Victorian propensity for moral stiffness. The term was coined by former Mayor William Howland who, in the words of the Toronto Star, was "an anti-vice, anti-gambling, anti-liquor, Bible-thumper."
To watch the entire television episode of ‘Toronto the Good’, visit Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel on YouTube or check local listings on RogersTV.