Critics, writers, directors, movies stars, and film buffs are flocking to Toronto this week as the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF – the world’s largest public film festival – brings an end to the summer of blockbusters and heralds the start of awards season. With a reputation for embracing the unconventional, there’s never a shortage of things to do, and whether you’re a local or a visitor, the air in Toronto at this time of year is thick with anticipation.
“It’s great because the city is amplified with excitement,” says Jamie Angell, owner of Angell Gallery, itself with a reputation for taking a chance on lesser-known artists. In 1996, his gallery was the first to open in a rundown area of the city that was to become Toronto’s gallery district. Gentrification may have pushed the arts community further west to Dupont Street – unofficially the city’s new arts district – but Angell still resides just off “the most achingly hip street” in the city, Ossington Avenue, and after 20 years in the neighborhood, he's the perfect guide to Toronto’s art scene, past and present.
First up is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which on a Wednesday night is open until 9pm. A visit to its FRANK restaurant comes highly recommended. It's the latest addition to the gallery building and named after its architect, Frank Gehry. Since its doors opened at the dawn of the 20th century, the building has been subject to any number of expansions and renovations, and today houses more than 90,000 works of art. Over the course of TIFF, the AGO will be hosting the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize Exhibition, where visitors are invited to meet this year’s four international finalists, see an exhibition of their work, and vote for their favorite.
Cinemas and theatres
The venue for the film festival, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, sits at the center of Toronto’s entertainment district, and while the building numbers among the city’s most impressive picture houses, it’s by no means the only one in the area to choose from.
The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is located just a few blocks away, and while the sign and ownership has changed many times over its more than 100-year history, its distinctive charm has remained. The venue plays documentary films year-round and has shown The Rocky Horror Picture Show every month for over 20 years.
While the Hot Docs sign and ownership has changed many times, its distinctive charm has remained
The crown for the longest-running cinema, however, goes to the Fox Theatre, although the historic venue is located a way out east and mostly shows independent and second-run films.
For something different, CAMERA in West Queen West is the city’s premier private screening room and gallery venue. Housed within the Stephen Bulger Gallery, it is some distance from the hustle and bustle of TIFF Bell Lightbox and its screening room, for more exclusive viewings, can seat up to 50 people.
For food, The Chase on Temperance Street comes highly recommended by Angell, where “the rooftop patio is my favorite in the city.” Here, fine ingredients coupled with simple and uncomplicated flavors form the basis of its culinary philosophy and dishes include palm heart carpaccio with watermelon, cucumber, and a feta and mint dressing. Paris-inspired Union is another first choice, and serves “the best steak tartar.” Located on Ossington Avenue, the restaurant uses only organic, farm fresh, locally grown fare, and takes care to emphasize seasonal fruits and vegetables across the menu.
Another one of Toronto’s rising stars is Campagnolo, which is known for treading the fine line between traditional and modern Italian cuisine and offers a welcome retreat away from the hustle and bustle of TIFF.
Angolino on Dupont is a much more local affair and one of Angell’s personal recommendations. Meaning ‘nook’ or ‘little corner’ in Italian, co-owners Rozi Bali and Tyson Liebrecht fell head over heels for Italian cuisine while completing their culinary training in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, and they have done their best to recreate what they loved in Toronto.
George C on Hazelton Avenue is well worth a visit. The boutique-style department store, with its ebony-stained floors and white-walled open-plan design, remains the go-to destination for those seeking the latest and most exclusive clothes, shoes, and accessories from designers.
119 Corbo, in the heart of the Yorkville District, is known in fashion circles as the country’s definitive women’s specialty boutique. The historic townhouse was overhauled recently by Johnson Chou Inc., and the store itself continues to set the standard for luxury shopping in Toronto.
North 42 is another designer boutique that has succeeded time and again in setting trends in Canada and across the continent. Its avant-garde style is unmistakable, and its reputation for bringing the latest in exclusive new designs unmatched.
Escape from it all
For those looking to escape it all, Trinity Bellwoods Park, while a hive of activity in the summer, manages to remain tranquil. Quieter still is Crothers Woods, a 52-hectare haven in the middle of Toronto.
One of Angell’s personal recommendations is the Toronto Music Garden, and certainly the Bach-inspired waterfront garden is a big favorite with the locals.
Thinking of moving?
If you’re visiting with a view to a more permanent stay in Toronto, there are a number of notable districts to consider.
The Distillery district is heavily populated by art galleries, restaurants, and beer gardens, and while the brick streets hark back to Victorian times, the area has a distinctly modern feel. Located just east of downtown Toronto, the area is a perfect choice for those with a taste for a rich heritage.
The Yorkville district is a no brainer for keen shoppers, and the area is home to the famed “mink mile.” It numbers among the most expensive shopping districts in the world, and the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Harry Rosen, and others call it home. Chestnut Park, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, has a stunning penthouse on the market. At the top of a boutique building, 88 Davenport Road has incredible views, soaring ceilings, and a private pool.
Meanwhile, at just over 100 years old, Lawrence Park is the wealthiest neighborhood not just in Toronto, but the entirety of Canada. The city’s first garden suburb only really started on its reputation in the latter half of the 20th century, and the area is the perfect place to call home.