Last Christmas, Tom gave me a gift of a long weekend in Toronto, Ontario, and last weekend, we made the trip.
On Friday, we hopped on our flight out of Newark, NJ at 10:30 a.m. and touched down in Toronto before noon. A quick drop off of the luggage at our hotel, and we were walking toward Little Italy in no time, the perfect place to be on Good Friday. As we ate our lunch, we watched the crowds gather for the annual Easter Parade, while the parade’s Grand Marshall enjoyed his pasta across the room.
The audience is gathering on College Avenue.
On Saturday, we jumped onto a streetcar for a ride downtown from our hotel on West Queen Street West. The route we took, the 501, is almost 25 km of track from start to finish. The streetcars, nicknamed Red Rockets, are gorgeous! I like the complicated wires they create overhead. (This was shot on Sunday, on Spadina Avenue looking south.)
We were headed toward the Distillery District. As we entered the District, we were greeted by these two sculptures. They remind me of the creatures that came to life in Guillermo del Toro’s movie “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I wouldn’t want to meet either in a dark alley.
The Distillery District is a group of 47 Victorian industrial buildings, once known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. The buildings were carefully restored a decade ago using 19th century materials merged with modern materials and green technologies. Today, the District is a wildly popular cultural center, housing theaters, design shops, art galleries, and restaurants. It’s beautiful!
Did you notice that the buildings are made of brick?
Because Toronto is built on a former lake bed (it’s perched on the edge of Lake Ontario), brick has always been cheap and plentiful. Don Valley Brick Works, which is now closed, provided bricks for thousands of commercial, industrial and residential structures in the city. Today, brick is still the most popular choice for residential construction.
We noticed the brickwork right away. On the street, these two beauties caught my eye.
Although brick is a simple, humble material, masons use it with great skill to create architectural interest with clever use of pattern, direction, texture and color.
Look at this! Bricks in a circle, bricks stepping down, arching over a door, playing horizontal movement against vertical, you name it.
The same techniques used on simple houses are used on fancy ones. An equal opportunity material! On this modest home, notice the way the teeth of the pattern wrap around the side of the house, how altering the brick’s direction creates architectural interest over the windows and how base of the house lifts up by using lighter bricks below.
On this grand house, some of the same methods are used but with more detail, along with horizontal bands and playful patterns below the edge of the roof.
It looks like these neighbors couldn’t agree on the preferred design.
We stayed in the Art and Design District, formerly a derelict part of the city, resuscitated by artists 25 years ago. Today, it houses the largest concentration of art galleries in the city, along with a slew of little shops, bar, clubs, restaurants, and the Musuem of Contemporary Canadian Art.
I liked the murals that were scattered along the streets and alleyways.
One of the things that we noticed about Toronto is that much of its original architecture is in place. Although there are plenty of shiny new high rises, many of its industrial buildings have been restored for commercial and residential use, while the hundreds of three-story mixed use buildings that line the avenues have been neglected instead of replaced. It makes for a dynamic combination of old and new.
This former industrial buildings is now full of residential lofts.
The warmth and history of the neighborhoods are preserved with the survival of these quietly worn little store fronts (notice the brick!)
On Sunday, we enjoyed a tasty brunch before heading over to Kensington Market. Kensington Market is a living history of Toronto’s reputation as one of the most multicultural cities in the world. The market is a dynamic mish mash of spice stores, fruit and vegetable stands, clothing and vintage shops, restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, on Easter Sunday morning, it was quiet as a mouse, so back on the streetcar we went, making our way toward the CN Tower, which looms over the downtown core.
At 1,814 feet, the Tower is the fifth largest freestanding structures in the world. Originally conceived as a telecommunications tower, somebody woke up and smelled the money and realized it would be a great tourist destination. Thus modified, it now attracts millions of visitors a year. No big surprise, since the views are incredible.
Looking to the northeast, straight into the downtown center.
Looking west, that’s Lake Ontario.
Then it was time to head back home. Even though we saw only small slices of this city, the biggest in Canada, we loved its warmth, friendliness, diversity, great transit system and good food. We’ll be back.