When you visit the United States, you quickly become aware that while English is the dominant language Spanish is also widely spoken. You can hear Spanish spoken on the streets everywhere from Florida to Las Vegas, New York to California.
There is no doubt that Spanish is the second language of the United States, and yes, just as in Canada, you will find many other languages spoken too from immigrants from all over the world, including some of their descendants.
In Canada, the two official languages that you will hear spoken are English and French, with English the dominant language spoken from Vancouver to Toronto and then French the dominant language when you get to Montreal and Quebec.
The two languages all relate back to Canada's history and development – and you can read about some of this history on the 'History of Canada' pages on this website.
The most dramatic period of time in Canada's history was no doubt the years around 1759, the year that British General Wolfe defeated the French led by French General Montcalm on the 'Plains of Abraham' just outside Quebec City.
While the battle may have been won and there was a subsequent agreement between the two sides to allow both English and French languages and cultures to co-exist, there has always been a degree of tension (although tension is maybe too strong a word) between the two language groups.
There have even been moves by Quebec Separatists in recent years to leave Canada and form their own country - such is the passion that is felt by some of the people in Quebec. Even number plates on cars in Quebec bear the words "Je me souviens" – with the implied meaning "I remember the fact that I am French!"
In some ways some Quebecois are more French than the French, and some English more English than the English, with the situation somewhat akin to the tensions between Scotland and England, where there was also a referendum in Scotland on 'separation from the United Kingdom' held in 2014. In some ways this amounts more to a sense of not losing a culture, pride and a friendly rivalry as much as it does to language or economics.
As a tourist traveller to Canada – the dual languages and 'British-ness' and 'French-ness' of Canada, makes Canada a more interesting and exciting country to visit, with the two biggest cities, Toronto being predominately British and Montreal being predominantly French.
Both cities are great cities to visit, and also quite different too -
Toronto is the biggest city in Canada with around 2.5 million people on the edge of Lake Ontario, and it is now the 5th biggest city in North America.
The City has a history going back to the time when it was the home of Seneca First Nations people, prior to the first Frenchman, Étienne Brûlé coming here in 1615. It was then over 100 years later that the French established a Fur Trading Post here in 1720 and not until 1793 that the British came here, renaming the settlement as York, after the town of the same name in Yorkshire, England.
In 1813 the town came under siege by American Troops, in the American War of Independence, who set fire to the City as they retreated south. The town of York was renamed Toronto in 1834, and this year is considered the official birth date of the City. The name 'York' however is still used as a name of a suburb in the City.
If you want to get a feel for this time in Canadian history, you can visit Fort York – a National Historic Site at 250 Fort York Boulevard, where there is more information and some of the buildings from this time. See www.fortyork.ca Also head to 'Old Town' York, which is the most historic part of Toronto, where the St Lawrence market ( see www.stlawrencemarket.com )is located and the 'Distillery Historic area' and there also other areas of the city which relate to different time periods in the City's development.
Toronto is loosely divided into districts and each has its own identity within the overall city. There is the high rise city centre, what they call the "Financial District", but also the "Entertainment District', south of Queen Street, the "Gay District" the area around Church and Wellesley Streets – and then areas defined by their immigrant history – including Chinatown, Little India, Little Poland, Korea Town, Little Italy and Greektown, a reflection on the multi-cultural aspect of the city. Each area has its own character and of course Ethnic restaurants with good food always easy to find.
There is almost another city underground too in what is called "The PATH" - the series of underground walkways that are lined with more than 1200 shops along the 30 Kilometres (19 miles) of walkways that connect the city above ground - the hotels, high rise and subway stations with the PATH. These tunnels have been built over many years as a way of protecting shoppers and workers from the cold snows in winter above ground and summer or winter it is a good place to window shop or just wander.
As with other big cities, there is lots to see and do in Toronto, from Theatre shows, to beaches, bars, galleries, museums, shopping, sporting activities, exhibitions, attending conventions and of course eating and finding great places to stay, and then there is Niagara Falls, around 130 kilometres ( 80 miles) from Toronto, which you can get to by bus, train, car or tour companies.
The main Tourist Information Office is located at 20 Dundas Street West downtown (See www.ontariotravel.net ) and another is at 207 Queens Quay West (See www.seetorontonow.com )
Weather will play a big part in what you do and see in Toronto. The middle of winter – December to February will see many days where the temperature falls just above or below freezing, but the summer months, June to September will have temperatures between 15⁰C and 25⁰C, making this the best time to see the city if you want to spend time outdoors. There are of course reasons to come here in winter, with all the delights of seeing ice-hockey, ice skating and other sports activities.
Getting around –
The main airport is Pearson International Airport, which is connected to downtown by the UP Express trains that leave every 15 minutes or so from the airport for the 25 minute journey. There are also Taxis, hire cars, buses, limos and some Shuttle services too. Buy a Presto card at one of the self -service ticket and top-up as you go to pay for the UP Express.
Downtown is quite a walkable city, and there is also a subway that connects main locations, and TTC trains, buses and streetcars and of course taxis to get around too. There are also Ferries to get you the short distance to the islands in Lake Ontario. There is also a Bike Sharing scheme called BIXI in the downtown area – see www.bixi.com
If you can get a map of downtown to make it easier to find streets that you are looking for.
If you are arriving in Toronto by train, you will arrive at Grand Union Station in the City Centre on Bay Street. This station is used by Amtrak, GO Transit trains and VIA Rail.
Where to stay –
The best place to stay is closest to the things you want to see – be that near the Convention Centre, the Financial, Distillery or Entertainment Districts, near beaches, CN Tower or a Sporting Stadium, in downtown or away from the City centre. Besides price, the other consideration is transport, so when you check out the different hotel options, also look at how close the hotel or B&B is to the subway or streetcars. I always think that the best places to stay if you are a Tourist and don't have a car is walking distance to the main city attractions. If you have a car – the choice is finding a hotel on the same criteria, but with free parking. Also check to see that the hotel or other accommodation has Free Wi-Fi . In our communication world it can be pretty frustrating if they don't have it.
Welcome to Toronto!
These are some of the places and things to see in Toronto –
- CN Tower – 301 Front Street. See www.cntower.ca You may or may not want to go to the top but this 553 Metre high tower is pretty much the best landmark in Toronto, and you can go up the tower to viewing areas, revolving restaurant or if you dare do the 'Edgewalk' hanging off the side. At night they also run a light show that you can see from Queen Street and other streets nearby.
- PATH SYSTEM – This underground path/walkway is a means of transit for Office workers to walk from one building to another and also a place to shop and/or window shop, grab a coffee or head up to street level. You could start at Union Station and head in one way to the Metro Convention Centre or head all the way past City Hall and other landmarks to Trinity Square, stopping at various points along the way.
- Distillery District – 9 Trinity Street. The centrepiece of this area is the old Whisky Distillery buildings that date back to 1832 when James Worts and his partner Gooderham built their whisky business. The business closed down in the early 1900's but have now become one of the trend setting Districts in Toronto, with cafes, micro-breweries, sake making, and quirky and interesting shops and events happening throughout the year. They even have a European style Christmas Market, and on weekends there could well be music, artisan, wine or tempting foods being offered. There are none of the big name retailers or franchise stores here, so it is very much a place with local flavour.
- St Lawrence South and North Markets – Front Street – This has been a marketplace since the 1800's so has lots of character with stall holders and shops selling all sorts of fresh food – meats, breads, cheese and other goodies. There is a Farmers Market on the south market on Saturdays and Sundays brings out the antique and second hand goods market sellers. On the second floor of the South Market, you will also find the Market Art Gallery.
- 401 Richmond Street Artist Warehouse - 401 Richmond Street. Here you will find over 100 Artist Galleries run by artists – paintings, sculptures, ceramics and more. There is a café and also roof garden here too.
- Kensington Market – is located on Kensington Avenue that runs off Dundas Street West. Augusta Street also runs off Dundas Street parallel to Kensington Avenue and both are walking distance from Downtown, or you could take a Streetcar down Bathurst Street or Spadina Avenue to get there. This area has lots of small cafes, vintage clothing places, and you can pretty much buy everything from Thai and Mexican food to arty gifts or get a haircut. The area called Little Italy is close by too on College Street. There is also a great park called Trinity Bellwoods Park that is at 1053 Dundas Street West (at Gore Vale Avenue). If you are looking for great little Patisserie shops head to Queen Street.
- Nathan Phillips Square – This Square at the corner of Bay and Queen Street next to City Hall becomes an open air ice-skating rink in the winter.
- Tommy Thompson Park – Lake Ontario is the most northern of the Great Lakes and Tommy Thompson Park is located on a Peninsula at the tip of Leslie Street. This manmade peninsula runs a distance of about 5 kilometres out into the Lake, but access is only on weekends and public holidays. It is essentially a wilderness area in the middle of the City with Owls and other birds nesting here in and amongst the Cottonwood Forests that grow here. You can hike, roller-blade or walk here to just enjoy the park and in spring see the wild flowers and birdlife.
- East Bayfront and The Beaches - Queens Quay runs from West to East along the waterfront dock areas and at Queens Quay (between Bay Street and Yonge Street) you will find the Ferry Terminal to take you the short distance out to the Toronto Islands. Further eastwards you will find Lower Jarvis Street and just opposite Redpath Sugar Factory there is Sugar Beach, with white sandy beach area and in summer lots of umbrellas for sun bathers. The water is pretty cold and most people don't swim in the Lake, preferring to swim in one of the many free swimming pools in Toronto. The beaches in summer do have Lifeguards and also a 'Blue Flag' indicates that the water in the Lake and beach are safe. Further eastwards you also have Kew Beach, Woodbine Beach Park, Kew Gardens, Balmy Beach and Rouge Beach. There are 11 beaches in Toronto (some on Toronto Islands) mostly along Lakeshore Boulevard but one of the most interesting is in Scarborough at Bluffer's Park – where there are high cliffs (Bluffs) beside the lake, the most spectacular being Scarborough Bluffs, the Bluffs formed by the Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago stretching out along the coastline for about 14 kilometres.
- Hiking Trails in Toronto – there are many hiking trails in the Valleys in and around Toronto – just some of them being the Cedar Trail and Mast Trail near Rouge River and Little Rouge Creek; Humber River Trails, Taylor Creek and Don River Trails. Right in the City centre at 1873 Bloor Street there is High Park which covers some 160 hectares of forest with 7 kilometres of walking trails. Morningside Park (390 Morningside Avenue) is the biggest park in Toronto covering an area of around 240 hectares (600 acres) with Highland Creek running through it.
- Martin Goodman Trail – this Trail runs from Humber Bay Arch Bridge in the west to Rouge River in the east along the coastline of Lake Ontario. It is 56 kilometres long and is part of the 750 kilometre long Waterfront Trail that runs around Lake Ontario.
- Toronto Islands – there are a number of islands here just off the coastline that are connected one to another by small bridges and to get to them you travel by Ferry or Water Taxi from the mainland. The Toronto City Airport is here too. The Ferries leave from the Queens Quay Terminal (between Bay and Yonge Streets) and there is a Toronto Islands Information Booth at Pier 6. On the island there are beaches and volleyball beach courts on the southern side of the biggest island, a clothing optional Hanlon's Point Beach but also the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, yacht club, cafes, Island canoe Club, a maze, golf course, long pier, lagoon theatre, island Tram Tour, Centreville Amusement Park and other attractions. You also get great views from the islands looking back to the Toronto skyline.
- Creative Energy – As you travel around Toronto you will see some bold new architecture, street sculpture, galleries, bars, theatres, restaurants and shops that reflect Toronto's creative energy. Toronto is the location for a number of major film and TV productions – it is the third biggest Film Production centre in North America; there's the National Ballet School; three big Universities; Arts and Music festivals throughout the year, including the Queer Arts and Culture Festival, reflecting the large Gay and Lesbian community that live in Toronto (See www.queerwest.org ). There is even a place they call "Graffiti Alley" just south of Queen Street, and if you want to see an amazing architecture, take a look at the 170 metre and 150 metre high Absolute Towers (50 Absolute Avenue) that are dubbed "Marilyn Monroe Towers" due to their curvaceous shapes. There is always something happening in Toronto from music, fashion, live theatre, arthouse, dance, sport and more, so it is worth checking out what's on when you are here. In November there is also the 10 day long Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (See www.royalfair.org ) held at Exhibition Place, when farmers and ranchers come to town.
- Architecture – Toronto has a myriad of high rise buildings downtown, but being a historic city it also has managed to preserve some of its heritage. If you like to see some of the Victorian houses – head to Wychwood Park – corner of Davenport Road and Bathurst Street. Also head to Cabbagetown – named after the Irish immigrants in the 1840's whose favourite food was potatoes and cabbage. Head to streets around Sackville and Sumach Streets. Another interesting sight is the 'Palace of Purification' a water filtration plant at 2701 Queen Street. Also look for the Mirvish Village on Markham Street between Bloor and Lennox Streets. This will give you a feel for some of Toronto's heritage areas. Like many big cities, Toronto has experienced a transition from its early days through the Industrialisation period to the post industry era and todays focus on high tech, healthcare and education. There is some great new architecture to be seen too in the downtown area. Just a couple of places to see are Brookfield Place – 181 Bay Street, the Galleria at the Art Gallery of Ontario and hotels like the Shangri-La Hotel at 188 University Street.
- Black Creek Pioneer Village – 1000 Murray Ross Parkway. See www.blackcreek.ca This is a whole village of houses and activities. There is the 1850 Cooperage, Tinsmith, Grain Barn, Brewery and Tavern, 1862 Roblin's Mill, Apple Orchard, Weaver's Shop, Doctor's Medicinal Garden and a whole lot more to see. It is great way to get a feel for the 1800's in Canada.
- Casa Loma – 1 Austin Terrace. See www.casaloma.org If you go to Black Creek you can see the way that 'ordinary folks' spent their life working and living. Casa Loma was built pre-World War I between 1911 to 1914 for Sir Henry Pellat, who made his fortune in Electricity but then lost his fortune too. The mansion has some 98 rooms and is a great contrast to the Black Creek houses complete with over 5 acres of gardens. A number of films have also used the Mansion as a location.
- Spadina House Mansion – 285 Spadina Road. See www.toronto.ca/culture/spadina This Mansion and its gardens were built in 1866 and the mansion is a showpiece for the roaring twenties and the opulent life style of that era. Tel: 416 392 6910 to see when it is open.
- Royal Ontario Museum – 100 Queen's Park, near Bloor Street. See www.rom.on.ca This is a huge museum, one of the biggest in North America with Exhibitions and Galleries with everything from Chinese Architecture and ceramics to Dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies to textiles, costumes, paintings, African, European and early Canada artefacts. There are also new changing exhibitions throughout the year too, and you will be inspired by what you see.
- Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art – (opposite the Royal Ontario Museum) 111 Queen's Park. See www.gardinermuseum.on.ca Every single day people the world over use plates, cups, bowls and saucers to serve and enjoy food and drinks, and ceramic artists and artisans have created all of this porcelain and china. Here you will find 3 floors of space dedicated to ceramic art. An amazing collection.
- Bata Shoe Museum - 327 Bloor Street West. See www.batashoemuseum.ca Again an amazing collection, this time of shoes – over 10,000 pairs – fashionable, functional, famous, bizarre, they're all here to see.
- Textile Museum of Canada – 55 Centre Avenue. See www.textilemuseum.ca It's amazing to see the diversity of cloth that has been produced around the world. Here you can see clothing and cloth from all over the world – over 10,000 different items to see.
- Ontario Science Centre – 770 Don Mills Road, about 11 kilometres from downtown. See www.ontariosciencecentre.ca A MUST SEE. This Science Centre is amazing and will be a highly memorable experience. While lots of school groups come here, it is equally enthralling for adults too. If you have ever dreamed of climbing Mt Everest or travelling to the moon this is the place to experience all the wonders of the world of science.
- Art Gallery of Ontario – 317 Dundas Street West - See www.ago.net This is the best place to view Canadian artist's work, from Inuit, First Nations, early European settlers to current day artists.
- Bay of Spirits Gallery – 156 Front Street. See www.bayofspirits.com If you are looking to see First Nation people's art or Inuit, then this is the place to see and find out more about the artists.
- Roy Thompson Hall – 60 Simcoe Street. See www.tso.ca This is where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play.
- George Weston Recital Hall – 5040 Yonge Street. This is where the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra can he heard. See www.torontophil.on.ca
- Four Seasons Centre for the performing arts – 145 Queen Street West. This is where the Canadian Opera Company performs. See www.coc.ca
- Opera House – 735 Queen Street. This is where big name singers perform (not Opera). It is a great old building and stage from the early 1900's. See www.theoperahousetoronto.com
- Berkeley Street Theatre – 26 Berkeley Street. This theatre is where the Canadian Stage Company stage plays. See www.canstage.com
- Ed Mirvish Theatre – 244 Victoria Street. A great 1920's Vaudeville Music Hall where musicals are performed. See www.mirvish.com
- The 'Alex' Alexandra Theatre – 260 King Street. There are big name Broadway shows that are all staged here. See www.mirvish.com
- Princess of Wales Theatre – almost next door at 300 King Street. This is a very big theatre and stages big theatre productions. Also see www.mirvish.com
- Young Centre – 55 Mill Street. See www.youngcentre.ca with four different stages set up.
- Sony Centre for the Performing Arts – 1 Front Street. See www.sonycentre.com Many individual artists perform here as well as musician groups.
- Sound Academy – 11 Polson Street. See www.sound-academy.com where there are live performances by different visiting artists.
As you can see there is no shortage of venues or shows to see, and then of course there are also pubs and street activities too that come and go as the year progresses.
SPORT – Toronto loves its sports and there are a number of professional teams that play here too, and of course Golf Clubs, tennis courts, yacht clubs, swimming pools, bike tracks and all of these type of facilities.
There are also a number of big stadiums where matches can be seen –
- Rogers Centre – 1 Blue Jays Way (near CN Tower) Tel: +1 416 341 1000. See www.rogerscentre.com This stadium can hold up to 54,000 spectators and is the home ground of the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team and Toronto Argonauts Canadian Football League.
- Air Canada Centre – 40 Bay Street. Tel: 416 815 5500. See www.theaircanadacentre.com Capacity 19800. This is where the Toronto Maple Leafs National Hockey League play and also the Toronto Raptors National Basketball Association and Toronto Rock National Lacrosse play.
- Ricoh Coliseum – 45 Manitoba Drive. Capacity 7779 seats. See www.ricohcoliseum.com This is where the Toronto Marlies American Hockey League play. There are other events held here too.
- BMO Field – 170 Princes' Boulevard. Capacity 30,991 seats. See wwwbmofield.com This is where the Major League Soccer is played.
- Snow Valley – 2632 Vespra Valley Road, Minesing. Go tubing, ski or snow board here. See www.skisnowvalley.com
- Horseshoe Resort – 1101 Horseshoe Valley Road West, Barrie. Both day and night skiing and snow-shoeing available. See www.horseshoeresort.com
- Mount St Louis Moonstone – at Coldwater, just north of Barrie
- Collingwood's Blue Mountain – 156 Jozo Weider Boulevard. See www.bluemountainvillage.ca
- Calabogie Peaks – this is about 4 hours from Toronto, closer to Ottawa. There are black diamond runs here.
If you are looking to stay close to the snowfields or enjoy the summer outdoors, the city of Barrie, is about 90 kilometres (56 Miles) and a good place to base yourself, as it is right next to Lake Simcoe and close to the ski slopes and resorts . See www. tourismbarrie.com
The biggest thing to see when coming to Toronto is of course Niagara Falls.