Hailed as Canada's cosmopolitan centre, Toronto is a city steeped in the history of early pioneer settlement but pulsing with the contemporary vibe of the country's largest multicultural population.
Its status as a financial capital and central immigration destination put Toronto on the global map, but its thriving arts and culture scene — a continual cycle of niche festivals and world-class cultural events — draws patrons from all over the world. From street theatre, to opera, to food festivals and major league sports, Toronto is a place with something for culture-vultures of every taste and price range.
The city's celebration of diversity is reflected in the architecture, cuisine, and cultural activities that define it. Toronto's easy-to-navigate grid system is a composite of heritage buildings and skyscrapers, inflected with new design contributions by figures like Frank Gehry. These buildings frame the network of neighbourhoods that characterize Toronto's landscape and ensure that long, meandering walks through the city are rich in distractions. The city's public transit system also helps visitors to sojourn to every end of the city — above and below ground. Guests can explore the bustling street culture in Kensington Market and Chinatown on foot, then bus, streetcar or subway to the next hot spot and start again.
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. By the end of the 19th Century, the city opted for the heavier, bulkier lines of Richardsonian Romanesque. 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, most of which are found Downtown, including the 34-story Canadian Bank of Commerce, the Rogers Centre, the Royal Bank Plaza, and the TD Centre, to name a few. Of course, these buildings have been surpassed in recent years by the silhouettes that give Toronto its unique skyline: the CN Tower, the world's highest free-standing structure, with its rotating restaurant, gives diners a breath-taking view of the city, day or night.
The more than 7000 fine dining establishments, bars, cafes, bistros, clubs and dance halls (a large number of which can be found Downtown) suit every taste from bohemian to business.
The downtown area of the city also houses a number of stadiums and arenas where some of Canada's top-of-the-line professional sports teams—the Maple Leafs, the Raptors,the Blue Jays and the Argos—play. And race car fanatics will have no trouble picking up the roar of Molson Indy engines come summer.
Running into Downtown is Yonge Street, the longest thoroughfare in the world and the main north-south route. After all, Toronto is the biggest city in Canada and the fifth largest in North America. It is located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and laid out in a rectangular grid, the city stretches for more than 100 square kilometers (38.5 square miles). Toronto is an important center of international commerce, and in the heart of Downtown houses the Toronto Stock Exchange, second only in North America to the New York Stock Exchange.
The Entertainment District
Overlapping Downtown, the entertainment districts is home to numerous world-class museums, art galleries, theaters, dance companies, festivals and parades that add creativity and culture to an already vibrant city. Any of these could serve to define Toronto. 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 theaters, museums and galleries anywhere. For example, Toronto is the third largest center of English-speaking theater productions in the world (next to London and New York), with more than 200 professional theater companies and 10,000 performances a year.
One of the oldest theater 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 theater was renovated at great expense and brought back to its original splendor, and is now home to some of Broadway and the West End's finest productions from Phantom of the Opera 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.
There's even a thriving film industry in the city. Often called "Hollywood North," Toronto is sought after for its diversity, locations, excellent production centers and local talent. The Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place annually in September, draws countless filmgoers.
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 neighborhoods, each with its defining character and local color. With a plethora of different cultures and neighborhoods 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-cuisine restaurants 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. You can also spend a day shopping at the Dragon City Shopping Mall at Dundas and along Spadina Avenue where East meets West.
Aside from the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre housing the city's pro sports teams, Toronto is also known for its Woodbine horse track, the largest racing property in North America and home to the Queen's Plate thoroughbred race held each August. This racetrack in located in the West Suburbs, an area not often visited by tourists, but charming nonetheless.
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.
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