|People often ask: What makes a city great?
What defines it, both for those who live there and for those who visit
Toronto could easily set itself apart by any number of things:
The spectacular ride up the CN Tower, the world's highest free-standing structure, with its rotating restaurant giving diners a breath-taking view of the city, day or night.
The ferry trip from the Harbourfront across the waters of Lake Ontario to the serene and peaceful Toronto Islands, created by a freak storm.
The more than 7,000 fine dining establishments, bars, cafes, bistros, clubs and dance halls to suit every taste from bohemian to business.
The top-of-the-line professional sports teams - Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Argos - playing at stadiums that are the envy of other cities.
The world-class museums, art galleries, theatres, dance companies, festivals and parades that add creativity and culture to an already vibrant city.
Any of these could serve to define Toronto. But what the city is really all about is the people. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the name "Toronto" comes from a Huron word meaning "Meeting Place." That's exactly what it is: a multicultural meeting place for more than 4.5 million, home to people of more than 70 different nationalities speaking some 100 languages. That multi-ethnic gathering has given the city an exciting and awesome energy. It has also created a place of wonderful neighbourhoods, each with its defining character and local colour: from Rosedale to Little Italy, from Greektown to Cabbagetown, from one Chinatown to the next.
The automobile, steel and iron industries also play a vital role in the city's economy with manufacturing plants concentrated along Lake Ontario from Oshawa in the east to Hamilton in the west, an area known as the Golden Horseshoe because of its prime location and easy access to the St Lawrence Seaway, extensive railway networks and multi-lane expressways.
Architecturally speaking, Toronto is an amalgam of different styles. In the early 19th century, it took much of its architectural inspiration from the Georgian style, used for churches as well as public and commercial buildings. One of the only remaining structures from this era is Historic Campbell House, located on the northwest corner of Queen Street West and University in the downtown area.
By the end of the 19th century, the city opted for the heavier, bulkier lines of Richardsonian Romanesque. Architect EJ Lennox used this style on many of the city's most famous buildings, including the Ontario Legislature and Old City Hall. At the turn of the 20th century, the Toronto City Council opted not to put a height restriction on downtown construction as many other cities had, thus giving rise to some of the tallest buildings in the British Commonwealth, including the 34-storey Canadian Bank of Commerce. Of course, these buildings have been surpassed in recent years by the silhouettes that give Toronto its unique skyline: the CN Tower, SkyDome, Royal Bank Plaza, and the TD Centre, to name a few.
While the city may once have had a reputation as Toronto The Good, a nondescript place which shut down and rolled up the sidewalks at sundown, nothing could be further from the truth today. The city is alive with some of the best theatres, museums and galleries anywhere. For example, Toronto is the third largest centre of English-speaking theatre productions in the world (next to London and New York), with more than 200 professional theatre companies and 10,000 performances a year.
One of the oldest theatre spaces in the city, the Royal Alexandra dates back to the early 20th century. Saved from demolition by bargain store king and impresario "Honest" Ed Mirvish, the theatre was renovated at great expense and brought back to its original splendour, and is now home to some of Broadway's finest productions from Phantom to Cats. The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario present spectacular exhibits for the entire family while the National Ballet is a world-class dance troupe offering both classical and new works.
City Of Stars
Eating out in Toronto is an experience unto itself. With a plethora of different cultures and neighbourhoods bumping into one another like pieces of tectonic plates, the cuisine is as diverse as the population and matching any taste and affordability, from the unlimited expense account to those counting their pennies. In fact, while there are plenty of upscale haute cuisineries where price is of no concern, some of the best food Toronto has to offer is tucked away in the small eateries of the city's original Chinatown. Here you will find Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese dishes to satisfy both the timid and the adventurous. Or check out The Beaches with its lively, pedestrian-filled sidewalks and laid-back neighbourhood character. Greektown and Little India restaurants serve up authentic cuisine whose aromas waft gently out onto the streets.
This Sporting Life
Looking to do a little shopping? How about a lot of shopping? You've come to the right place be it under one roof, such as the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale, or in the more intimate, chic boutiques of Yorkville and along Bloor West. Antique-hunters won't know where to turn next between Bathurst and Ossington on West Queen West. And Yonge Street offers a potpourri of storefronts with everything from discount clothing to discount electronics. Finally, if the sun's too hot or the wind too cold, check out the underground malls, located from Dundas to King between Yonge and University. Don't worry about getting lost. The area is well covered with PATH signs and connected to both Union Station and Toronto's subway system.
While there is so much to see and do, to experience and taste, it's the residents of Toronto who give the city its special cachet. More often than not, people are glad to stop and give you directions. And don't be surprised if they tarry and chat a while, recommending places to go or filling you in on pieces of their city's history. This is what Toronto is all about. Not just a vast, sprawling metropolis. Not just a collection of concrete and cars. But a meeting place. The Hurons gave them the name. They try to do it proud.