Archived entries for Toronto

Toronto from the ferry

One of the most protracted battles in municipal politics anywhere has played out for ages on Toronto’s waterfront. With its City Centre Airport lying within steps of an ever-expanding downtown of glass and steel condos, the strife was inevitable. The City Centre Airport may be an endless source of NIMBYism and a thorn in the side of pols like Mayor David Miller and former city councilor Olivia Chow, but it sure is convenient. Just a 60-second ferry ride from the Porter Airlines terminal on one of the Toronto Islands, the airport is a traveler’s dream. The ferry ride to downtown also offers up some of the best views of Toronto anywhere. See more photos here.


Best friends forever

With my friends Julie and Joe in Toronto:




I took a quick trip up to Toronto yesterday to hang out with my BFFs Joe and Julie. We had a blast wandering around Canada’s most boring large city. I love Toronto and endlessly praise its virtues, but my god, the city can be so lame sometimes. Torontonians can seem incredibly self-conscious and that insecurity reflects itself in every interaction. But their city is massive and nuanced and perfect for exploring so those of us who love it keep coming back for more, despite our mixed emotions and occasional frustration.

In any event, some photo evidence…The Hazelton Hotel, below, recently rated by my fav columnist and condo critic Christopher Hume. I think it’s a terrific building.


Down the street in Yorkville is this cool old building:


Nearby is Toronto’s most adventurous new building, the new Crystal Building at the Royal Ontario Museum. I can’t help but stop and stare at it every time I’m in Toronto.


O Canada, where have your bargains gone?

toronto_may19From the Sunday Times: “ONCE upon a time, not all that long ago, there existed a magical country that was a lot like the United States, only less expensive. Its enchanted currency — the other dollar — allowed Americans to indulge as they could not back home. This delightful fantasyland was called Canada, and for centuries it was synonymous with frugality.

No more. With the precipitous decline of the United States dollar, Canada has slid off the budget-travel map, and nowhere is the challenge to stay frugal greater than in Toronto, a city of 2.5 million whose ascendancy is not merely attributable to fluctuating exchange rates.”

Candidates look north for votes

Bet you didn’t know that a couple Toronto voters will have a hand in whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins this year’s U.S. presidential primary. Two superdelegates are at stake in Robert Bel and Toby Condliffe, leaders of Democrats Abroad in Canada. The Toronto Star has an interesting piece on the pair, who are planning to split their votes: one for Hill, and one for Barack.

Quote of note

Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume, my fav, takes on the city’s rapid rehabbing of cultural institutions in a recent piece. Of the new Four Seasons Centre, home to the Canadian Opera Company and pictured below, he writes:

“The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts ignores its responsibility to be, if not an icon, at least a presence on the urban landscape. Here’s a structure so studiously indifferent to context, it might be described as the architectural equivalent of an extended middle finger.”

Related: Toronto Architecture Soars Skyward



Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Toronto, but the city has done too well a job at maintaining a nondescript aesthetic. It’s done so well, in fact, that it’s been able to stand in for New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Vienna, and just about every other city on Earth in film and TV. Though the average person could not imagine what Canada’s biggest city looks like, they’ve probably seen it countless times masquerading as some place else.

American Richard Florida continues his new urban affairs beat for the Globe and Mail and in yesterday’s tour of downtown with reporter Peter Scowen, he had so many spot-on points about Toronto that I was absolutely giddy: “One thing I’ve learned from my time in Toronto is everything is controversial…Its development model has changed so fundamentally in the past 20 years from a city that was mainly low-rise, for better or worse was sleepy, that was mainly an Anglo city, to this incredible kaleidoscope of people and building styles. Some of it’s great and some of it’s not so great.”


On why Dundas Square, the city’s gaudy Times Square wannabe, is an important part of the city: “Maybe when a Canadian or American thinks of a city, they think of Victorian houses and parks and so on, but maybe when an immigrant thinks of a city they think of tall buildings, neon signs and so on.”

On “‘everywhere stores”: “It’s something he says he has seen all across the city – an older storefront with the windows papered over and a sign that says, ‘Coming soon: Sunglass Hut.’ ‘That’s the real challenge,’ Florida says. ‘How does Toronto retain the mixture of uses without becoming just another everywhere?’

Being mistaken for “everywhere” has been a boon to Toronto’s film economy over the past decade or so, but has done little for residents or visitors seeking a more interesting cityscape. A flurry of development projects planned for Toronto will likely begin to define a unique look for the city once and for all. Well, so long as the endless debate and controversy over Toronto’s future ever dies down enough for construction to actually begin.

The Golden Horseshoe from space

From Richard Florida’s blog comes this neat view of Toronto (on the top, with the city’s Yonge Street spine clearly defined) and Buffalo (on the bottom).


Florida now in Ontario

richard_florida_globeRichard Florida, the urban affairs wonk famous for positing that the prosperity of cities like Boston, SF and Austin (more or less) directly correlates to the number of gay people, artists, musicians, and bohos in them (Or something like that…I still haven’t cracked the book yet!) has moved to Toronto and is now writing a blog and occasional column for the Globe and Mail.

In his column today, titled “Wake up, Toronto – You’re bigger than you think,” he describes his move Toronto and the weirdness that ensues in everyday conversations with locals. “Everywhere we go we are met by Torontonians who either seem mystified that we would move to what they imply is a second-rate city, or seem to be seeking some kind of validation in our answer…there is so much going on here that the city and its people are unaware of the scope and power of Toronto. This place is really, really big and getting bigger. It just needs to recognize it in itself.”

He brings up an interesting point in that piece — the self-conscious attitude that so many people in Toronto seem to have. Coincidentally I recently wrote a piece on my time in Vancouver and mused on the same issue Florida sees in Toronto. “My New York friends wouldn’t be caught dead in Canada, and my friends in Vancouver — a city that is perhaps Canada’s most self-conscious — can’t figure out why I’d ever want to spend my time in British Columbia when my other home is New York City.”

Height envy in Toronto

Toronto has long been a city of superlatives, but this week it lost one of its proudest claims: the city is no longer home to the world’s tallest freestanding structure. No, the syringe-shaped CN Tower has not fallen; it’s just been one-upped by the Burj Dubai. Construction on the desert skyscraper this week slipped past the CN’s height of 553 meters, on the way to its final height of 800 meters, or 165 floors. Still, the observatory on the CN will remain taller than the observatory in Dubai. No word if the emirate is going to opt for a vertigo-inducing glass floor like Toronto did.


Toronto: A metaphor for a country in decline

toronto_verticalI’ve been meaning to mention this article for weeks. Toronto Star columnist Chirstopher Hume takes on complacency in Canada’s biggest city, a place plagued by chronic government underfunding with the scathing but true commentary:

“Democracy boasts many virtues, but it also has serious weaknesses, including the fact that it allows citizens to vote thoughtlessly and without regard to reality. Indeed, look at who gets elected to see just how irrational, even moronic, the process has become.

“One of the truths the politicians would like us to forget is that you get what you pay for. Civilization costs money. If the city’s going to remove snow, pick up garbage, pay the province’s social services bill, fill potholes and so on, it must be able to cover these costs.

“Instead of voting for councillors who promise we can remain forever in dreamland, where taxes never go up and roads are free, we should think first and ask whether they are able to do the opposite, i.e., insist we return to the real world. It, of course, is not such a nice place.

“Toronto, like all of Canada, is based largely on myths that border on lies. We like to think that the city is among the greatest and the country a respected world citizen. We may be a middling power, but always sensible and responsible.

“We continue to demand European-style public services on American-level taxes. As we Torontonians are finding out, it doesn’t work that way.”

Bluma Appel, founder of CANFAR, is dead at 87

Bluma Appel, the fabulous hat-wearing founder of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the northern equivalent of amFAR, died yesterday in Toronto. The Starsays she was 87 while the Globe said she was 86! “She was somebody who was very intolerant of complacency,” the director of the Royal Ontario Museum, one of the beneficiaries of her largesse, noted. “She was famous for just tracking everybody down she thought could help her causes and just relentlessly coming over and insisting they become involved.”


Up and coming in Toronto

shangrila_torontoAs if Toronto wasn’t already overdosing on luxury hotel/condo buildings, with a new Trump Tower, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons all under construction right now, Asian chain Shagri-la is planning a massive 65-storey tower on University Avenue. The lower 17 floors will feature 220 hotel rooms and the upper levels will contain 352 condos. It will be the tallest residential tower in Toronto, and the renderings look hot, even if it will stick out on the corner its planned for.

Critics of Toronto’s bland look always say the city needs to be a little bit more daring, and this tower will be an excellent addition to the skyline.

Hogtown may be the 5th biggest city in North America, but is this just one too many in the latest string of luxury high-rise condo-hotels being built there? The developer, Ian Gillespie, doesn’t think so, according to the Globe and Mail: “The decision to come to Toronto, he said, was not about the hotel market in the next five years. It’s a call on the economy and the importance of the city over the next three decades or more given travel patterns and the rising power of the Asian market.”

YYZ (aka “What a %@#$hole!”), transformed

Of all the terminals I’ve had the experience of passing through, Toronto’s Pearson Airport (YYZ) is among the shoddiest. Landing there years ago was like landing in Soviet-era Eastern Europe. But all that’s changed. Today was the first day of operation for the new Terminal 1 International Pier, an immense new space designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that serves both U.S. and international flights (the rest of the terminal, for domestic Canadian flights, opened previously).

I’ve flown through the new terminal a few times, most recently in the fall, and there is simply no words to compare it with the old space. The old terminal was simply an awful hovel. Avec passport control. The new terminal is soaring, gleaming, light-filled and, pardon the new-ageness, hopeful–everything the old Terminal 2 was not.


Fine causes

Fine causes

Oy vey. It’s December 24 and I haven’t yet begun to deal with holiday shopping. I sent a few cards out yesterday, but the gift thing is beyond me. So as always, I’m going to go the lazy route and give donations in friends’ names instead of gifts. As I’ve done for the past few years in this space, I’m sharing my favs:

BOSTON — The Homeless Empowerment Project in Cambridge is one of my favorite causes. The organization produces Spare Change News, providing jobs, income, and experience for the poor and homeless.

BUFFALO — I love the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy! The Olmsted legacy has shaped Buffalo, and this group has done such an amazing job of preserving the landscape designer’s work that the city actually handed over stewardship of its municipal park system to the group. You can donate $50 and get 50 flower bulbs planted in someone’s name!

MONTREAL — Montreal is truly a city of contrasts: it is Canada’s poorest big city, but also home to a few of the country’s richest enclaves including Westmount, Hampstead, and Beaconsfield. The Old Brewery Mission, which provides homeless adults with meals and shelter, is a good bet.

TORONTO — Raising the Roof is an umbrella organization for Canadian homelessness organizations, especially those targeting young people. There are about 65,000 homeless youth in Canada, which is 1/3 of the country’s homeless population.

VANCOUVER — Earlier this year I had the opportunity to take part in a fundraiser in Vancouver for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, an important resource for the poor and homeless of Canada’s most impoverished urban district. One of the cooler services they provide is voicemail for people without phones. It sounds simple, but if you’re without work and/or without a home, you need a number so you can get a job.

Toronto ferry ride from hell

toronto_ferry_1012Having living on an island for ten years I’ve experienced my fair share of ferry rides from hell. Toronto politicians and business people got their own sort of hellish ride yesterday at the launch of a new ferry connecting downtown with the controversial Island Airport.

CBC reports, “Shortly after leaving the mainland docks Wednesday, the ferry spun around in the harbour several times before smashing into the shore’s breakwall after the captain had an anxiety attack.”

Father David Mulholland, the reverend who blessed the ship before its launched noted, “Blessings don’t guarantee success. But it’s a good and proper thing to say a prayer for a ship.” The Star reports that “as far as [Mulholland] knows, never has a boat crashed after his blessing. Then Mulholland, wearing a navy wool cap, got ready to board what would have to be one of the strangest maiden voyages he’s ever taken, one on which the captain would need medical attention and a four-piece old-time band would play a few bars from the Titanic movie theme song, ‘My Heart Will Go On.'”

The Toronto wrecking ball


As it grows and matures, Canada’s biggest city has a wee bit of a problem. Architecture critics claim the city is continually tearing down buildings of significance while the ugly ones are left behind. A casual stroll around downtown Toronto reveals much truth to the idea: like all big Canadian cities, T.O. is littered with architectural ugliness.

“The problem isn’t that Toronto tears down so many buildings, but that it tears down the wrong buildings. Instead of destroying the good stuff, which is in short supply, we should be ridding ourselves of architectural blight, of which there is plenty,” writes Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star.

“There’s so much the city would be better off without. Some buildings were poorly designed by architects who tried but failed; others by architects who clearly didn’t care. Their failure goes beyond questions of taste and aesthetics; these are the buildings that deaden the street, blot the skyline, and suck the life out of the city.”

Heard on Davie Street

I was walking rather briskly down Davie Street in Vancouver the other night when a homeless guy yelled at me. He said, “You’re not in Ontario! Slow down.” It was funny timing since the Calgary Herald reported that day that Toronto-hating is truly a national pastime.

“Canadians are always searching for that one thing that unites the country,” says Toronto filmmaker Albert Nerenberg. “And it seems the one thing they can all agree on is that they hate Toronto.”

“The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has a population of 5.6 million people, representing 16 per cent of Canada’s population. It is the fifth-largest city in North America. Although, as Nerenberg has discovered, many Canadians feel it carries itself with far greater stature.”

Yes, I am always right.

At least on geography.

When I was in Toronto two weeks ago, I wandered around Chinatown with a friend who was also in town for the weekend. He doesn’t know much about anything in general, so I want to be able to forgive him when he made this comment: “I didn’t know there were Asian people in Toronto.”

And today when the issue of immigration came up at a dinner discussion, I asked the table if anyone knew the cites with the the largest foreign-born populations. When I said Miami and Toronto, no one believed me. The top seven, in descending order: Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York, Singapore and Sydney. Yes, kids: this means both Toronto and Vancouver have a greater percentage of foreign born residents than even New York City!

Toronto snaps

One of the coolest buildings ever is the Sharp Centre (aka “the Tabletop”) at the Ontario College of Art and Design. It’s a classroom box sitting on multicolored knitting needle-shaped stilts, and suspended high above an existing classroom building. A few years ago, right after it was built, I was at the Tabletop, interviewing a couple passersby about their thoughts for a story I was writing. When I asked one of the guys what he thought about the new building, which was being heralded as the first in a wave of many new structures to radically transform the look and feel of the city, the man said, simply, “it’s alright.” Indeed public opinion has been mixed.

The other shot is a cool sign at MaRS, the Medical and Related Sciences Centre.


On Saturday there was a huge rally and parade in support of the Falun Gong crisis in China. The never-ending parade snaked up Spadina and across Dundas through Chinatown with a whole slew of fascinating floats, including one pictured below that reads, “Chinese Communist Party Kills Falun Gong People For Their Organs” (replete with a body on a gurney and blood splattered “doctors” surrounding the victim).


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