In summer, I love to immerse myself in nature as much as I can, even in the city. I’ve discovered a wonderful way to slow down, listen to the birds, enjoy the sunshine and get a bit of exercise. Toronto Adventures offers two-hour kayak rentals on the Humber River, a far quieter route than battling it out with ferries and powerboats in Toronto Harbour. For a two-hour rental, a single person kayak costs $30 on weekdays and $35 on weekends. You can also get two people kayaks for roughly double that price.
Here’s some info on the area that I got from the Ontario Trails website:
THE OLD MILL & THE OLD MILL BRIDGE Mills have existed at this site since 1793 when King’s Mill, Toronto’s first industrial building, supplied wood for the construction of Fort York (1793) and early Toronto. Today, you will pass by the ruins of the “Old Mill”, the third mill on that site. A bridge has stood over the Humber River at this location since 1837. The present arched stone bridge was built in 1916. Both the mill and the bridge are historically significant to Toronto and have been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
TORONTO CARRYING PLACE TRAIL Riverside Drive, on the high east bank of the river, traces the path of the ancient Toronto Carrying Place Trail. This trail was used by First Nations people for millennia as a trade route between Lake Ontario and the Upper Great Lakes to the north. Large oak trees, remnants from the time of the Carrying Place, still stand along the drive. One hundred and fifty of these trees were inventoried and municipally proclaimed as the “Tuhbenahneequay Ancient Grove”. They were named after the daughter of a chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations.
THE HUMBER RIVER,VALLEY & MARSHES The Humber River watershed is the largest in Toronto. It is a significant corridor for migratory song birds and monarch butterflies. More than 60 species of fish live in the river including such sport fish as trout, pike and salmon. Spring and fall, fish migration may be observed from the Old Mill Bridge During winter, impressive ice jams often occur at this same location. The Humber Marshes are one of the few remaining river mouth marshes in Toronto. These extensive marshes provide a breeding habitat for ducks, turtles and fish. Humber River’s significance is being recognized by its designation in 1999 as a Canadian Heritage River.
EARLY SETTLEMENT SITE A sand dune marks the approximate location of the original Lake Ontario shoreline, prior to land filling. Near here was the site of a French trading fort (1749)and a French merchant’s cabin (1790).
It is easy to walk by the black iron fence on the north side of Queen Street, just east of University Avenue, without a thought to what lays beyond. And yet, this is a very historic and important place…where the scales of justice are balanced. Osgoode Hall is a heritage building and the hub of Ontario’s legal activity. The six acres it sits on were acquired by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1829. Named after William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of the province, the building has undergone more than 10 major restorations, but the front facade still reflects the 1860 design.
Originally, Osgoode Hall housed the regulatory body for lawyers in Ontario along with its law school (formally established as Osgoode Hall Law School in 1889). This was the only recognized professional law school in the province at the time.
Osgoode Hall currently houses the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Justice, the offices of the Law Society of Ontario and the Great Law Library.
In addition, it has a wonderful restaurant that is open to the public from September to June. In summer, tours of the entire site are offered. A true gem, in our own backyard!
Toronto’s latest luxe property, Hotel X, has some of the best views in the city. Invited to a mini, soft opening “staycation,” I was finally able to see inside the building on the Lakeshore that has taken seven years to complete. Part of the Library Hotel Collection, it sits on 12 acres, has 404 guest rooms and cost $300 million.
What was the hold up with construction? A few things. What we were told was there’s a tricky lease with the city. The hotel’s planned height of 32 stories had to be shrunk because of the location. It’s on land that has an agreement with Billy Bishop Airport, Exhibition Place and the Port Authority. “We were in the way of emergency landings,” explained Henry Kellen, president of the Library Hotel Collection.
Throughout the hotel are unique photos by landscape photographer Neil Dankoff. “I was asked to do 800 photos in four months. When the building was delayed, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was an impossible task and a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I took it,” he told a small group of media and influencers. On the ground floor, the Kandy Gallery featured his oversized, vibrant shots.
In the lobby, the check-in counter wall was covered with live plants. “There are 2,400 leaves,” the clerk told me. That was just the beginning of the Wow factor.
The sports facilities were crazy – 90,000 square feet. Four indoor tennis courts, nine squash courts, pilates studio, yoga studio, spin room, spa, workout room with cutting edge Techno Gym machines, golf simulator and two year-round heated swimming pools (one was on the roof).
At the Falcon Skybar, the mixologist concocted delicious signature cocktails while we watched the sun set.
Dinner was Cornish hen and a delicious vanilla cheesecake for dessert.
Our late night movie was Strictly Ballroom, shown in the hotel’s 250-seat theatre. But of course…I think they are hoping to attract the TIFF screening crowd eventually.
The property’s tag line? “It’s about you. It’s about the view.” So true. Word has it that the hotel should be officially open to the public by September.
Want to celebrate Meghan and Harry’s nuptials in style this weekend? If you are in Toronto, check out the Omni King Edward Hotel on May 18, 19th and 20th. This is a most fitting place to celebrate since it’s where Megan’s character got married in one of the last episodes of Suits. A nice rehearsal space for the real thing!
Here’s what’s on the menu for the special Royal Tea…coordinated by Sous Chef Elaine Wong. And it’s delicious. I know because I was lucky enough to be invited to the hotel’s preview unveiling.
Lemon and Elderflower Cordial Wedding Cake (Just like the real one!)
HRH’s Banana and Caramel Yoghurt Slice (HRH’s fave flavour combo)
Apple Pie inspired Macaron with white Peony steeped Buttercream (Peonies are M’s fave)
Citrus Posset with Blushing Spring Rhubarb
Lavender and Rose Infused Shortbread with Raspberry Preserve
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Roast Chicken (the dinner Harry proposed during)
Scottish Smoked Salmon with English Mustard
California Veggie with Avocado, Sprouts & Goat Cheese
Sunday Roast Rare Sirloin with Peppered Stilton Cream
Egg Salad with Watercress
Classic cream Scone and Maple Oat Scone served with Devonshire Cream, Ontario Strawberry Jam & Cinnamon Banana Butter (YUM!)
And the Tea!
Sloane Fine Tea Merchants…
Darjeeling 2nd Flush – champagne of tea with muscatel profile and refined finish.
Heavenly Cream – Long-leaf Ceyone and Assam black tea blended with bergamot and creamy vanilla.
Queen of the Hill – Assam golden leaves, robust and regal.
Rouge Provence – Caffeine-free tisane, South African red rooibos blended with berries and French florals.
King Edward Blend – Floral jasmine and Ceylon, finished with rose petals.
English Breakfast – Unblended Chinese Keemun, true to the origin of EB.
Mountain Berry – Saskatoon berries, currants, raisins and blueberries.
Floral Jasmine – Golden jasmine blossoms, mellow, fresh and astringent.
Royal Crown Derby, the tea set used the last time the royal family visited the King Edward Hotel.
Cost is $54 and $5 from each sale will be donated to World Vision Canada
On a recent, bright fall day I joined fellow members of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) on an invigorating and enlightening day tour of Toronto’s Junction district in the west end where I got lots of gift ideas including the above checkers set. Humm. Dogs vs. cats. Who would like that?
At Post + Beam Reclamation co-owner Megan Webster gave us the run down on her wonderful location in one of Toronto’s original “arcade” buildings. “It was originally The May Brothers Hardware store in 1920 and there was a barber shop downstairs,” she explained. Recent movies that have been shot there include City of Bones and an episode of Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain.
The shops we explored were a wonderful mixture of new and repurposed old. At M+Co. co-owner Yadder Madrigal explained the shop’s esthetic. “We like to source one-of-a-kind Canadian vintage pieces. And we hand mix our own chalk paint.” Yadder’s partner and wife Stacey is also behind the shop’s home fragrance line, a marriage of lemongrass, lavender and sweet lime. The store’s motto? “From dated to today.”
Another shop of interest was Latitude 44 with a gallery, framing and décor objects. “We started as a framing business and now we sell art and gifts from Canadian creators, east to west,” explained the store’s Mary Ann DiBernardo.
The Junction was dry until 2000, a holdout from times gone by. “In 1910, the residents voted to start prohibition here because there were a lot of factory workers who would get quite rowdy,” explained Junction BIA rep Christine Sweeton. Bars and licensed restaurants are everywhere now. “We are a proud 17 years drunk,” Sweeton joked.
One of the oldest continuously running restaurants is Vesuvio, opened in 1957. The popular family run pizza parlor attracts newcomers and old. “We often get people coming in who had their first date here and are now grandparents,” explains Piera Pugliese, who helms the operation with her husband Ettore.
The Junction is a fabulous place to find one-of-a-king items. At Snug as a Bug, Liz Heyland has carved out a niche for onesies, in adult and children’s sizes (from 10 lb-350 lb). Leopard print? Lumberjack plaid? You name it, she has a onesie for you. The business is thriving. She started out selling the cuddly wear online in 2005 then opened the shop in 2007. Now she supplies 150 stores across Canada and all over the world. “Make your Christmas all the more magical with onesies for the whole family and pets,” she says merrily.
Want to create something yourself? Check out Pinot’s Palette where groups can drink wine (or beer) and paint – colours, canvas and aprons are all supplied.
If you’d rather contemplate someone else’s creativity, Zalucky Contemporary art gallery showcases works from artists in the neighbourhood. While I was there owner Juliana Zalucky was exhibiting works by Lee Henderson who had won a Glenfiddich Distillery Artist residency program. “The words he uses in the art reflect whiskey tasting notes. He takes it a step further using spirits metaphorically,” explained Juliana.
Lunch was on Sterling Road at the Drake Commissary. “The Drake has been 14 years on Queen Street and we thought it was time to grow,” said Sarah Lyons, director of the operation’s food and beverage. Homemade bread, pasta and charcuterie are all created at the commissary, which does a booming take-out business (the duck pate is a favourite). Housed in a former warehouse, the commissary has become a neighbourhood hang out and handily sits next to Henderson Brewing.
After all this food and shopping, how was my throwing arm? Not so good, as witnessed at Batl Axe Throwing, located in the Galleria Mall. Starting out in a backyard in Little Italy, the axe throwing grew into a beloved league organization and the location also services groups and private parties. There is a real trick to throwing the axe and getting it into the dart-board style targets hanging on hunks of plywood. At least I hit the wood (after about 10 tries). It was oddball and exhilarating at the same time. Who would have thunk?
Last stop on the tour before heading downtown was the Cider House, where owner Sasha Steinberg offered up delicious flights of Ontario-produced cider. Two of my favourites were the Local Press from Hamilton and the 401 Cranberry, from the Big Apple near Colborne, Ont.
What better after an action-packed day than to snuggle with Carlton Bear at the glitzy, over-the-top new Bisha Hotel. Go Leafs!
Thank you Tourism Toronto (Karly Melo and Rebecca Gleringer) and Christine Sweeton of the Junction BIA for arranging such a great day!
One of the most beautiful museums in Toronto is the Aga Khan Museum, which opened in 2014. It’s a place I had longed to go and finally I did a few weeks ago.
I was not sure exactly who the Aga Khan is, so this visit cleared up my questions. The Aga Khan is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and is the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. He is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland and holds a degree in Islamic history from Harvard University. He ascended to the hereditary position of the Imam of the Ismaili community in 1957 at age 20 and is dedicated to culture, peace and philanthropy.There are between 12 and 15 million Ismailis and they are ethnically and linguistically diverse, living all over the world.
Interestingly the AKDN is one of the largest development organizations in the world, serving beneficiaries in 30 countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, irrespective of their faith.
My guide, Nasreen, gave me lots of information about the museum and the 17-acre property including a prayer hall, garden and restaurant. “His Highness wanted there to be a lot of light. The building faces 45 degrees solar south so the external walls are lit during the day.” Every I looked there were geometric embellishments. “That encourages contemplation. It’s common in Islamic architecture,” Nasreen explained.
In among the exhibits was a map. “Do you notice something? There are no borders. We are all in this world together,” explained Nasreen.
There were more than 1,000 artifacts in the permanent collection, spanning 1000 years of history. Ancient manuscripts, medical books, robes and a stunning Syrian fountain from the Mamluk Dynasty. “It was shipped here in 22 crates. I think it will stay here,” commented Nasreen.
The garden was stunning. In the formal garden were dawn redwood and honey locust trees, a serviceberry orchard, emerald cedar hedges, thyme plants and a bed of Russian sage.
I learned that the landscape architect, Vladimir Djurovic wanted to re-create the sounds, scents, textures and colour that he experienced while visiting traditional Islamic gardens in the Alhambra, Spain, as well as Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, India. The result? An ephemeral and timeless space that changes with the seasons and offers a lovely calmness to soothe the soul.