Toronto: It puts a spell on you (Part 1)

By Sonia Holiad March 19, 2018

Toronto is like a well-organized spice shop, revealing its rich flavours at every turn. Memorable experiences in the world’s most multicultural city are found by crossing a street, wandering a laneway, or hopping into a handy taxi or streetcar.

If you have only an hour or two to explore during ONLINE LEARNING 2018 in October, Toronto’s 10-acre HARBOURFRONT CENTRE is an 8-minute stroll from the Westin Harbour Castle. Exit the hotel on Queen’s Quay West, turn left and follow the street west to an invigorating dose of greenspace, art, restaurants and pubs, all set against the backdrop of Lake Ontario. Wander the boardwalk while admiring yachts in the marina.

Follow the Waterfront Trail along the lake side of Harbourfront Centre. Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

Drop by the Amsterdam BrewHouse for a bite on their upper or lower patio at water’s edge, or check out their brewing operation inside.

An interior wall at the Amsterdam BrewHouse. Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

And don’t miss the Craft & Design Studio in the Bill Boyle Artport. Admission is free and you can watch artists in residence hone their glass-blowing, pottery-throwing, textile-weaving and jewellery-making skills.

Artists heat glass for a new sculpture inside the Bill Boyle Artport Craft & Design Studio. Photo credit: Sonia Holiad

On your way back to the Westin, stop at the little red BeaverTails Pastry shop at 145 Queen’s Quay West for a popular Canadian treat called the “beavertail” – a long, flat, deep-fried pastry with toppings as simple as cinnamon and sugar (for traditionalists like me) or as decadent as hazelnut spread, fudge sauce and an array of sweets from the candy bar.

To reach Harbourfront Centre from the Westin Harbour Castle:

On foot: 8-10 minutes.

TTC: 6 minutes via the 509/510 streetcars from the Queen’s Quay Ferry Docks Terminal stop on Bay St. to the Queen’s Quay West stop at Harbour Centre. Timing includes a few minutes of walking to and from the TTC stops. Single fare: $3.25. Unlimited day pass: $12.50. Visit TTC Trip Planner to plan your trip.

Taxi: 4 minutes. Fare: $7 (Time and fare vary depending on traffic and weather conditions and are subject to change without notice).

UberX: 4 minutes. Fare: $6-7 (Time and fare vary depending on traffic and weather conditions and are subject to change without notice. Higher surge pricing may apply during peak periods.)


If your interests lie in breathtaking architecture or legal history, you’ll find both at one of my favourite downtown intersections, QUEEN STREET WEST AND UNIVERSITY AVENUE. A 10- to 15-minute taxi/Uber/TTC ride north from the Westin Harbour Castle gets you there. On the northwest corner, at 160 Queen Street West, you’ll see something unexpected behind imposing wrought iron fencing: CAMPBELL HOUSE is one of the few remaining examples of Georgian architecture in Toronto, dating back to a time before 1834 when Toronto was known as the Town of York.

Campbell House Museum welcomes you to step into the past. Photo credit: Campbell House

Now a museum, art gallery and event venue, Campbell House was built in 1822 for Sir William Campbell, the sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada (now Ontario), and Lady Hannah Campbell. When you take a tour, Curator Liz or her knowledgeable staff tell you the story of how the house was saved from demolition by The Advocates’ Society, moved through the city from its original location many blocks away, then restored with period furnishings and artifacts. If you ask nicely, they may share a ghost story or two with you.

A corner of the restored kitchen in the basement of Campbell House. Photo credit: Sonia Holiad

When you leave Campbell House, cross University Avenue, staying on the same side of Queen Street West. Within an even-more impressive wrought iron fence is OSGOODE HALL, on six acres of manicured grounds. Don’t miss the multi-directional entrances through the iron fencing, which legend holds were designed to keep wandering cows off the property. Constructed between 1829 and 1832 by the Law Society of Upper Canada and named for William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada, the building was expanded in later decades but retained its Palladian style. Inside, you find a marvel of architectural details, intricate tiling, massive portraits, gargoyles, statuary and fine finishings.

This ornate salon in Osgoode Hall leads to Courtrooms 8, 9 and 10. Photo credit: Sonia Holiad

The public is welcome to enter at no cost during the day, but Osgoode Hall houses the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court of Ontario, the Law Society of Ontario and the Great Library, so prepare for a security check. Scanning of your belongings and your person is mandatory, but once inside, photographs are allowed, although never in a courtroom. You can explore Osgoode Hall for days, but if you see only the rotunda, memorial sculpture and balconies beyond the main entrance, the visit is worthwhile.

After Osgoode Hall, continue walking in the same direction (east) on Queen Street. The first building you encounter is Toronto’s CITY HALL, with NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE in its forefront. Take a moment to appreciate the exterior of our iconic city hall, once featured in a “Star Trek” episode. It’s as striking an example of modern architecture today as when it was designed in 1958 by a group of Finnish architects led by Viljo Revell, whose vision won over the judges of an international design competition.

Nathan Phillips Square, in the foreground of Toronto’s iconic City Hall, is a popular gathering place throughout the year. Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

Looking east from Nathan Phillips Square, you see a prominent clock tower and its gargoyles rising from one of Toronto’s architectural treasures, OLD CITY HALL. This landmark of Romanesque Revival by prolific architect E.J. Lennox was completed in 1899, over budget and over schedule, but so very worth it. Besides Lennox, the stonemasons are the stars of this project. Don’t miss the faces they carved near the front entrance. Lennox’s likeness – he’s the one with the bushy moustache – is included among them.

Master stonemasons left their calling cards on every part of Old City Hall. Photo credit: Sonia Holiad

Old City Hall has an interior worthy of its facade, but because it now serves as a courthouse for the Ontario Court of Justice, visitors are subject to security and screening. Once inside, don’t even think about taking a photograph, just marvel at the beauty.

To reach Queen Street West and University Avenue from the Westin Harbour Castle:

On foot: 23-25 minutes.

TTC: 9-13 minutes via the subway from Union Station to Osgoode Station (which exits onto Queen and University), including walk time to and from the stations. Or 16-28 minutes via the Bay 6 bus from the Queen’s Quay Ferry Docks Terminal stop on Bay St. to Bay Station, followed by a subway ride to Osgoode Station, including a few minutes of walking to and from the TTC stops. Single fare: $3.25. Unlimited day pass: $12.50. Visit TTC Trip Planner to plan your trip.

Taxi: 8-10 minutes. Fare: $9 (Time and fare vary depending on traffic and weather conditions and are subject to change without notice).

UberX: 8-10 minutes. Fare: $8-10 (Time and fare vary depending on traffic and weather conditions and are subject to change without notice. Higher surge pricing may apply during peak periods.)


Next week: University College, Hart House and the St. Lawrence Market

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