It was high above Toronto –Canada’s largest city — that an American family was wrapping up its Christmas celebration.
Peering through the CN Tower‘s glass, the two young sons searched for their hotel, which would be equal to 114 floors below them. They couldn’t find it among the forest of skyscrapers, but they quickly scanned the Toronto Islands, city hall, and the cities of Mississauga and Hamilton. It was a game of sorts.
This trip to North America’s fourth largest city– behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles– was the South Carolina family’s Christmas present to one other. They each had small gifts to unwrap, but this trip to somewhere new was the Christmas present with the big, bright bow on it. Next Christmas, they’ll visit another city or national park.
‘Unwrapping’ Toronto takes a while. They hoped to spend a highly-planned week here, and they still wouldn’t see everything.
Toronto’s 2.7 million people make up what has been called the most multi-cultural city in the world. Immigrants make up 47 percent of the city’s population, while racialized Canadians make-up a larger percentage, at 51.5 percent. South Asian, Chinese, Black and Filipino people constitute the largest communities.
Most inter-mingle, but there are also neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, Koreatown, Little India, and Little Portugal.
Toronto is about 400 miles from York or about 7-8 hours of driving. So, leave in the morning, and arrive there for dinner. Or fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport., the largest airport in Canada.
Here are a few good reasons to visit Toronto–
- Toronto was named York, for the Duke of York, until 1834. So, folks from York, Pa., can say Toronto is a ‘sister city’ of sorts. Toronto was invaded twice by Americans during the War of 1812, setting fire to the Parliament, Government House, and several other public buildings. The British burning of Washington D.C. was considered revenge. Until 1998, York, East York, and North York were still independent communities.
- Being the largest city in Canada, Toronto has plenty of museums, unique architecture, shopping areas, theaters, and other entertainment centers. The AGO, or Art Gallery of Ontario, has been called one of the “most innovative cultural destinations” in Canada. Step into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Royal Ontario Museum ( natural history, human culture, sculpture, paintings, natural exhibits), and the Ontario Science Center. City theaters are first-rate and are currently playing “Come From Away”, “Wizard of Oz”, “School of Rock”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and more.
- Casa Loma is a 180,000 square foot castle built by Sir Henry Pellatt from plans given to a builder in 1911. Three years and $3 million later, it was finished– in a fashion. Pellatt built his $17 million fortune as chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land, and electricity. It was not long, however, that some of his land investments soured, he lost the castle, and moved to his farm in 1924. Later in life, he lived in his former chauffeur’s home.
- The Christmas Market is the star of the show during the holiday season. People from all over find gifts, just browse, or dine at one of the many indoor and outdoor restaurants. Yes, outdoor restaurants in Canada, where proprietors light propane fire pits and overhead heaters to give diners an outdoor picnic atmosphere during a Canadian winter. The market is open all year, but during the holidays additional shops open outdoors. Bring a parka. And an extra pair of gloves.
- Speaking of Christmas, a surprising number of stores and attractions are open Christmas Day, so don’t think the holiday means waiting a day until everything reopens. Remember, Canada is multi-cultural and that means multi-religious as well. Many people here don’t celebrate a Christian Christmas, so much is open as usual.
- The CN Tower is the tallest building/structure in Toronto and steals the skyline. More than 1.5 million people visit the 1,800-foot high tower which was finished in 1976. In the 1960s, Toronto was transforming a skyline with low buildings into one dotted with skyscrapers. These buildings caused serious communications problems for existing transmission towers, which were simply not high enough to broadcast over the new buildings. The CN Tower solved that problem and held the record as the highest free-standing structure in the world for 34 years.
- Toronto’s outdoors activities are not to be forgotten. The 710-acre Toronto Zoo boasts 5,000 animals, is open year around. From the Tundra Trek, featuring polar bears to the Great Barrier Reef, the zoo has it all. Take a helicopter tour to see the city from above, or a harbor boat ride to see it from the water. And of course, Canadians love ice skating in general and hockey in particular. Fifty-four skating rinks– yes, 54!– including a premier rink at the city hall, are spread throughout the city.
- While we’re talking about water, a quick ferry trip to the Toronto islands gives visitors a unique view of the skyline across a bit of Lake Ontario. About 600 people live year-round on the islands. It’s a charming village of small homes and the beaches offer solitude in the shadow of more than two million people. Swimming beaches surround the islands including a clothing optional beach on Hanlan’s Point, but it’s not suggested for a Canadian winter.
- Getting around Toronto is a breeze. Stash the car in one of the hundreds of parking garages, and take the bus, trolley or subway around town on the city’s Toronto Transit Commission, the third largest system in North America. Or, wander through most of the generally flat downtown area on your two legs.
- Maybe the most satisfying part of Toronto might be the friendliness of the people. Unlike some other big metropolitan areas, people hold open doors, say hello, and look you in the eye. Although it may be a bit intimidating at times, the language barrier usually isn’t. In a crowd, multiple languages might be heard, blending into one another. But nearly everyone speaks English, if only as a second language. Communication is never a problem.