Diverse, photogenic and charmingly unpretentious—in Old Town Toronto, past and present merge effortlessly. Stretching from Lakeshore Boulevard north to Queen Street and bound on either side by Yonge Street and the Don River, Old Town contains the original 10 blocks that made up 19th-century Toronto.
Now an assemblage of neighbourhoods, Old Town began as a small colonial outpost and, as such, it is the site of many firsts. Toronto’s first post office (260 Adelaide St. E., 416-865-1833) still operates after 173 years, complete with an exhibit of early postal artifacts, and the city’s first luxury hotel, the King Edward (37 King St. E., 416-863-3131), remains a popular tourist destination. The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse (106 Trinity St., 416-863-0010), Toronto’s first free school, is also here.
Today, modern office towers stand next to century-old buildings, and shops and restaurants offering the newest tastes reside in heritage warehouses. This fusion of the best of old and new gives the area its unique cachet that draws residents and visitors alike, if even simply to mingle at the famous St. Lawrence Market or relax at St. James or Berczy Parks.SHOP
THE DESIGN DISTRICT: King Street East between Jarvis and Parliament streets is home to more than a dozen stores with the latest in upscale decor. Take a tour of shops like Klaus (300 King St. E., 416-362-3434) for contemporary European design and EQ3 (222 King St. E., 416-815-2002) for chic, condo-ready items for the budget-conscious.
FRONT STREET: The converted warehouse strip east of Yonge has unique clothing and handicrafts from Timbuktu, plus outdoor goods from Europe Bound and Wilson’s Sporting Tradition. Nicholas Hoare, Toronto’s classiest independent bookstore, is right by Flatiron’s Christmas Market, where you can get a head start on shopping for the holiday season.HANG
WANDER THE LANES: Once the largest distillery in the British Empire, the 174-year-old Gooderham & Worts Distillery Historic District is now a burgeoning arts and cultural area. Well-preserved Victorian-era buildings house galleries, gourmet restaurants, specialty-design boutiques and more than a dozen performing arts groups, such as the well-known Soulpepper Theatre Company. The Distillery Visitor Centre offers guided tours (1-866-405-8687, $15 to $59).
GO TO MARKET: Established in 1803, the St. Lawrence Market is another tradition that remains central to modern Toronto. The barn-like South Market contains more than 50 eclectic food vendors, as well as the Market Gallery, the official exhibition space of the City of Toronto Archives. The North Market is renowned for its farmers’ market every Saturday and hosts a Sunday antiques bazaar.
TAKE A TOUR: Much has been written about Old Town’s storied past, but local historian Bruce Bell brings it to life. His walking tours of the area are packed with insight into Toronto’s architectural, industrial and social history, and his friends at the St. Lawrence Market provide samples of some of the city’s finest foods (Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m., $25; call 647-393-8687).
SEE A SHOW: The Hummingbird Centre remains one of Toronto’s most popular performance venues. October’s schedule includes shows by Ten Drum Art Percussion (October 7 and 8, $45 to $85) and Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku (October 17, $55 to $95). The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E., 416-366-7723) is home to the Music Toronto chamber music series, including Gryphon Trio‘s performance on October 10 ($41 to $45), and CanStage theatre company, which opens its production Of Mice and Men on October 16 (416-368-3110, $36 to $80).
APPRECIATE THE ARCHITECTURE: Many original buildings (including those of Ontario’s first Parliament) have been lost to fire or bulldozed in the name of urban renewal, but some fine examples of 19th- and early 20th-century architecture remain. Among these are three churches: St. Paul’s Basilica (83 Power St.), St. James Cathedral (65 Church St.) and Little Trinity Anglican Church (425 King St. E., 416-367-0272). The Dixon Building (45-49 Front St. E.) is Toronto’s only remaining structure with a completely cast-iron facade. The 1892 Gooderham Flatiron Building (49 Wellington St. E.), the former head office of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, predates New York City’s famous flatiron building by 10 years.EAT
COFFEE TIME: Early risers will appreciate the ebullient atmo-sphere and piping-hot Italian espresso at b Espresso Bar.
LUNCH BUNCH: Torontonians and tourists flock to the St. Lawrence Market’s Carousel Bakery (91 Front St. E., 416-363-4247), where the peameal bacon sandwich ($5.50) is an enduring favourite.
CLASSIC CUPPA: Afternoon tea at Le Royal Meridien King Edward (37 King St. E., 416-863-9700) offers an elegant break with sandwiches, sweets and a fine pot (Friday to Sunday, 2:30 to 5 p.m., $28).
GASTRONOMIC GROUP: An encyclopedic selection of vintages at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (tapas-style entrées $5 to $14) match superbly with a grazing menu. Trendy but inviting Izakaya (entrées $9.75 to $21.45) fills with patrons nibbling on some of the city’s best pot stickers. In the Distillery Historic District, true gourmands head to Perigee (55 Mill St., 416-364-1397), where diners entrust their palates to executive chef Pat Riley’s improvised and customized tasting menus ($95 to $125 per person for five to seven courses).
PRE-THEATRE FARE: Plenty of eateries close to two theatres here, the Hummingbird Centre and St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, offer a variety of fare, from crèpes at Le Papillon and steaks at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, to Mexican at Hernando’s Hideaway and internationally inspired dishes at Hot House Café, to family fare at The Old Spaghetti Factory.7 WAYS TO ENJOY
DRINK UP: Choose from more than 100 beers at the Esplanade Bier Markt, a European-style brasserie or sip a Guinness at the upmarket Irish Embassy Pub & Grill .
ENERGIZE: The vaulted ceilings, brick interior and chandelier at Balzac’s Coffee make sipping the café’s rich house blend all the more pleasurable.
TASTE: Buy a blood-orange or Andean-blackberry sorbetto at Solferino Café (38 Wellington St. E., 416-364-8478) and savour it on a bench across the street at Berczy Park.
LOOK: Belly dancers perform nightly at The Sultan’s Tent, a sumptuous restaurant evoking the best traditions of North African hospitality.
LISTEN: Step into the cozy confines of the Reservoir Lounge, for live swing, jazz and blues. The adjoining space to pub C’est What, music bar Next features live indie acts.
LOUNGE: Order a cocktail and take in the hip Moroccan-themed decor at Foundation Room (19 Church St., 416-364-8368), one of Old Town’s most seductive nightspots.
REFLECT: Part gallery, part green space, the Toronto Sculpture Garden is perfect for quiet contemplation.
TIP! For more ideas on things to see and do in Old Town Toronto, head to the Visitor Centre (159 King St. W., at Jarvis Street).—Craig Moy