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10 Undeniably Awesome Reasons to Visit Toronto in 2016

AN ARTS FESTIVAL’S ANNIVERSARY, AN INFLUX OF PRO SPORTS STARS AND THE OPENING OF TWO LUXURY RETAILERS ARE AMONG THE MANY EXCELLENT REASONS TO VISIT TORONTO IN 2016

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Jet (or drive, or take the train) into Toronto in 2016. There are a great many reasons we’re excited for the year ahead (photo: Phillip Grondin)

This past year was one of the most exciting Toronto has seen in a long time. The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games brought thousands of international athletes to the city for a summer of widely praised competition. The Aga Khan Museum gave us a beautiful, compelling look at one of the world’s most vibrant cultures. The revitalization of the downtown waterfront finally came to (admittedly, somewhat confusing at first) fruition. And, of course, the Blue Jays’ playoff run helped renew our sense of civic pride and gave the rest of Canada a reason to love Toronto once more.

It’ll be hard to top all that as we head into a new year, but there’s still much afoot to justify our high expectations. From hotly anticipated performances to major retail openings to a few useful urban improvements, these are some of the best reasons to visit Toronto in 2016.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #1
We’re hosting the NBA’s biggest party—and its most exciting stars

Let’s face it: Toronto isn’t necessarily at its best in the dead of winter. But for one weekend at least, it’ll be the hottest destination in North America, as the 2016 NBA All-Star Game and its associated festivities play out at the Air Canada Centre and other venues across the city. Although the game’s stars won’t be confirmed until late January, it’s a fairly safe bet to expect the likes of Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry (not to mention celebrity fans including Drake and Justin Bieber) to be in town from February 12 to 14—taking in the city’s nightlife, enjoying our top restaurants, rubbing shoulders with fans and, naturally, showcasing their skills on the basketball court.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #2
Luxury retailers promise to bring the bling

There’s hardly a dearth of places at which to spend your money in Toronto—just try not reaching for your wallet while walking along Bloor Street, or through Yorkdale Shopping Centre—but the scheduled late-February opening of Saks Fifth Avenue has even the most seasoned shoppers buzzing in anticipation. The 163,000-square-foot space at the south end of the Eaton Centre will feature the full complement of Saks’ renowned selection of luxury apparel and accessories, as well as a John Barrett hair and beauty salon, upscale Pusateri’s food emporium, and a restaurant by Oliver & Bonacini (the company behind Canoe, Luma and more). And the fashion conscious will have even more to fete later in the year, when Nordstrom opens its Toronto flagship at the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas, the city’s busiest intersection.

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The Hearn Generating Station is set to be transformed into a Luminato Festival hub for 2016 (photo: George Pimentel)

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #3
Luminato’s 10th edition promises to generate artistic electricity

For the better part of a decade, the Luminato Festival has encouraged Toronto to think differently about culture and the arts through unique installations by visual artists and designers, grand-scale, multidisciplinary theatre and music productions, challenging modern dance works, stimulating discussions and much, much more. Last year, one of the event’s big successes was Unsound, a two-day experimental-music and –technology takeover of the Port Lands’ derelict Hearn Generating Station. In June of 2016, the massive former power plant will be spotlighted anew—and for the festival’s duration—with Luminato (alongside local design firm Partisans and theatre consultancy Charcoalblue) transforming it into a variety of performance spaces, restaurants and bars, among other possibilities. Union Station’s refurbished Front Street plaza is also set to become a Luminato hub with food vendors and free artistic happenings. And while a complete schedule won’t be available until the spring, we’ve been told to expect big things for the festival’s 10th anniversary.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #4
The National Ballet premieres a princely new production

The debut of a new work in the “classical” performing arts is always cause for celebration. The skills and resources required to create and then mount a contemporary opera, ballet or symphony are astronomical, and the organizations willing or able to finance such efforts are few and far between. Fortunately, a much-anticipated world premiere from the National Ballet of Canada has the makings of both an artistic and commercial success. From June 4 to 12, the company presents Le Petit Prince, a full-length ballet based on the beloved book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Choreographed by one of the National Ballet’s own, principal dancer Guillaume Côté, and featuring a score by acclaimed Canadian composer Kevin Lau, it promises to be a unique interpretation of a story that has captivated readers for generations.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #5
The CN Tower celebrates 40 years

It’s true, North America’s tallest free-standing structure has now defined the Toronto skyline for four decades. Serving primarily as a communications needle, the CN Tower is also, obviously, a major attraction for both visitors and locals, what with its astounding 360-degree view of the Greater Toronto Area, its well-liked fine-dining restaurant, its daring outdoor EdgeWalk and more. There’s never been a better time to discover all the iconic landmark has to offer. And though no specifics were available at press time, we think it’s safe to expect special events on or around June 26, to mark the ruby anniversary of the tower’s official opening.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #6
A Hollywood star shows his love for Canadian Art

Though he’s no longer in many movies, there are few entertainers who can claim the cultural and intellectual cachet of Steve Martin. When the 70-year-old actor, comedian, writer, bluegrass musician and art collector announces a new project, the cognoscenti listen. Martin’s latest endeavour sees him co-curating an exhibition about Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. The show, “The Idea of North,” is already on display in Los Angeles, and will travel to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts before landing at the Art Gallery of Ontario on July 2, 2016. Intended as an introduction to Harris for American audiences, the exhibition nevertheless promises a new perspective on the Canadian icon, positioning him as a leading modernist painter, on par with contemporaries like Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper.

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Matilda the Musical comes to Toronto in July 2016 (photo: Joan Marcus)

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #7
The arrival of Britain’s (and Broadway’s) biggest musical

Roald Dahl’s most precocious protagonist, Matilda Wormwood, has for years inspired young readers with her love of learning—and also her mischievous spirit. Since 2011 she’s engaged an even larger audience with Matilda the Musical, an inventive stage adaptation about the character’s rebellion against cruel headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Critically acclaimed (and still playing to packed houses) in London and New York, the Olivier- and Tony Award–winning production will make its Canadian premiere in July at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #8
The World Cup of Hockey hits the ice at the ACC

It can be argued that Toronto hasn’t been home to high-quality hockey for many years—and the current Leafs’ roster isn’t about to buck that trend. For two weeks in September, however, local and visiting puckheads can be reminded of what it’s like to cheer for the best of the best, courtesy of the World Cup of Hockey. The NHL-sanctioned tournament, taking place for the first time since 2004, sees a unique group of eight (mostly) national teams face off for ice-bound supremacy. Team Canada leads the list of title contenders (it’s a safe bet the squad will dress the superstar likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares), but it’ll be in tough against all comers: the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic are all hockey powerhouses in the own right, and a pair of wild-cards—Team Europe (players from outside the states already named) and Team North America (Canadian and U.S. players age 23 and under)—could certainly make things interesting.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #9
It’s easier than ever to get around town

We’ve all seen the maps comparing the vast subway networks of New York, London and Paris with Toronto’s paltry 2.5 lines of underground transit. They’re damning visual evidence that this city has long dragged its feet when it comes to forward-thinking transit planning. But the subway picture only tells part of the story. In 2015 Toronto took delivery of the first of what will eventually be a new fleet of modern, increased-capacity streetcars (though a certain company seems determined to make the change as difficult as possible). The city also inaugurated a dedicated train running between Pearson International Airport and downtown’s Union Station, while a pedestrian tunnel passing beneath the Toronto harbour finally opened to connect the island-bound Billy Bishop Airport to shore. The recent installation of separated bike lanes along Queens Quay, Richmond and Adelaide streets has also made given us more commuting options during the warmer months. The city’s still got a long way to go when it comes to easing congestion, but you have to admit: travelling to, from and within Toronto will be more convenient in 2016 than it has ever been before.

REASON TO VISIT TORONTO #10
There’s much ado out of town, too!

A trip to Toronto doesn’t mean you have to be chained to the CN Tower, AGO and Eaton Centre. We’re more than happy to share the spotlight with the rest of southern Ontario. If you have automotive access, do take some time to plan a day trip or two to the Golden Horseshoe’s many unique cities, towns and attractions. Both the Stratford and Shaw festivals, for example, should draw our collective gaze come springtime: the former’s 2016 season puts Macbeth, As You Like It, A Chorus Line and the North American premiere of Shakespeare in Love on the marquee, while the latter brings the likes of Sweeney Todd, Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance and a new production of Alice in Wonderland to picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you’re not one for the theatre, the Niagara region of course is also home to many exceptional wineries—as is Prince Edward County; the pastoral Lake Ontario headland a few hours east of Toronto caters to visitors seeking a decidedly slower pace. Closer to the Hogtown, sports fans can see if there are any future hockey or basketball stars honing their skills in Mississauga, home of the OHL’s Steelheads franchise as well as Raptors 905, the Toronto ballers’ development league squad, while foodies are encouraged to discover the burgeoning restaurant and bar scene in downtown Hamilton.

—Craig Moy

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