Friday, November 23, 2012

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ontario Legislative Building

Some locally themed graffiti art
On our recent road trip through Canada, Ursa and I made a special point to give ourselves an extra long stop over in the provincial capitol of Ontario, the exciting and beautiful city of Toronto.
Our arrival was met with lovely autumn weather, and light city traffic. And what we found was a thriving, bustling, metropolis. A city that is beautiful and artsy, full of culture and buzzing with activity.
Toronto graffiti
Around every street corner seemed to be some new fun sculpture, fascinating architecture, and especially graffiti art. I recall being at Seattle's Bumbershoot Music and Arts festival in 2010 where they had a whole exhibit dedicated to graffiti artists. I was amazed and enthralled by the skill and vision of these talented artists; but while those were on display in a gallery setting, the graffiti art that graced the walls around Toronto were every bit as good, if not better. Only the difference was seeing these pieces of art in their natural environment, the feeling of discovery that the viewer gets by noticing a clever and skilled mural on the crumbling brick of a random alley's wall.

The Sites

Koilos, by Michael Christian
With the opening of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery in 1837 the section of town now known as the Distillery Historic District began to take shape. This distillery had remarkable success until 1914 with the onset of both World War I and Prohibition which brought production to a standstill.
Toronto's Distillery Historical District
After that the distillery saw a rebirth as well as a new owner who focused on producing their very popular brand of whiskey, Canadian Club. They continued production at the distillery until 1990, when, after 153 years of continuous production the distillery finally closes down, but the buildings take on a new life as a film studio. During the 90's, more than 1700 films use the site. In 2001 the 40 buildings of the distillery district were purchased and transformed into a pedestrian only villiage dedicated to arts and culture. It is full of quaint shops, art studios, microbreweries, and fine dining.

CN Tower
Art wasn't just to be found on the walls of the buildings, sometimes the art was the buildings. The largest and most iconic piece of Toronto architecture is the Canadian National Tower (CN Tower). Completed in 1976 the tower, which stands an impressive 1,815 feet, was named after the railway company that constructed it, Canadian National. It is the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere. From a visual perspective I would like to applaud the designers of the CN Tower who managed to build this style of tower without having it look overly phallic (I'm talking about you Las Vegas Stratosphere, and Calgary Tower). I know that sounds funny but it's true, it's hard to build something like this without having that look, Seattle's Space Needle is another good example of getting it right.

Yonge-Dundas Square
Another revitalized district of the city of Toronto was opened in 2002, Yonge-Dundas Square or, more familiarly, YD Square. The square resembles London's Piccadilly Circus, or New York's Times Square mostly because of the glowing billboards and naked commercialism. YD Square is built on a slight incline in order to more effectively play host to live events such as live music, festivals, outdoor cinema showings, and a variety of other local events.

Destination Libation

Toronto, like any number of other major cities, is full of great brewpubs and they're all worth a try. But Toronto will forever be best known for it's most iconic brew, Molson. While the original Molson brewery was first opened in Montreal in 1786, the company expanded to Toronto in 1955 and has subsequently moved it's headquarters there. Personally I like the idea that there are two types of beers: "nourishing" beers and "quenching" beers. Molson is a quenching beer like many mass produced lagers like Coors or Budwiser. While it's flavor may be pretty predictable, it remains one of the quintessential Canadian beers. This beer makes me channel my inner Bob & Doug McKenzie, eh!

One other very notable place that we visited on our trip to Toronto was their Chinatown. Many of the cities that we've visited throughout Canada have had Chinatowns, most of them featured some form of Asian themed architecture, but not here. This was just a cultural district. But it did have all of the really fascinating things that you'd expect to find in a really good cultural district. Where our hotel was strangely on the third floor of a mall in Chinatown, which, while it was a little odd to have a view out of our window being that of a shopping center, it did have the advantage of having some of the most fantastic, and authentic food downstairs. Our dinners were delicious and cheap every night. But the real treat was the boba. Ursa and I are both huge fans of bubble tea and there was this lady downstairs that made the absolute best lychee flavored bubble tea that I've ever had.

We'll be taking some time off from our travel schedule this winter, which should give me some time to get caught up on my Destinations posts, and our recent road trips should give me plenty to write about. So, depending on how well my motivation holds up, I'll be in touch soon. Bye!