T.O. Sizzles in the Summer

Both Riverdale Farm and the Toronto Necropolis are surrounded by Cabbagetown, a historic neighbourhood with a very interesting history. The name “Cabbagetown” dates back to the mid 19th century, when Irish immigrants decided to plant unusually large cabbage patches on their front lawn. Cabbagetown has one of the largest and most impressive concentrations of Victorian architecture in all of North America. Local residents take great pride in their properties and embellish their homes with well-tended front and back gardens and the area is a magnificent location for a relaxing stroll.

Victorian beauty in Cabbagetown

So many other neighbourhoods beckon to be explored: I have spent some time at Harbourfront and recently took a walk through Toronto’s main Chinatown and the adjoining Kensington Market where exotic fruits and unusual foods can be purchased at reasonable prices. The sheer variety of Toronto’s neighbourhoods is mind-boggling and it feels like you are doing a virtual trip around the world by just walking a few blocks or hopping on the subway. I have made several forays into the Victorian serenity of Riverdale and the adjoining hustle and bustle of the Danforth, one of my favourite neighbourhood hangouts.

Chinatown at its vibrant best

These past few days have been busy too. On Friday, my entire crew at the office and I went to a local Pakistani restaurant in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park Neighbourhood. The entire neighbourhood is perched on a hill overlooking the Don Valley and was developed with numerous high-rise buildings in the 1950s and 1960s. Today Thorncliffe Park is one of the most densely populated and most multicultural neighbourhoods of Toronto with a large proportion of recent immigrants from Muslim countries. We had an absolutely delicious dinner with a selection of Pakistani dishes at Iqbal Restaurant. Several of my co-workers are from Pakistan and we have had a great introduction to Muslim foods and traditions. Toronto offers so many great opportunities for cross-cultural connections. We shared six different delicacies including chicken, lamb, beef and chick pea dishes and had a wonderful time sampling this varied cuisine.

An imposing church on the Danforth

After our truly delicious dinner all of us headed down to Queen Street East where the Beaches International Jazz Festival was being held. This festival is now in its 18th year, and has become a crowd favourite since its 1989 inception. We started at Woodbine and right away ran into our favourite: Dr. Draw, a highly energetic Moscow-born electric violinist surrounded by a team of dedicated musicians. This band produced a highly eclectic, unusual type of music with a diverse mixture of beats with modern and classical elements thrown in. In addition, Dr. Draw has a highly physical performance style and it makes you wonder how he plays the violin so well while jumping up and down. We saw several other rock and reggae bands, and a 3-person group named Johannes Linstead entertained us with virtuoso flamenco rhythms. Incidentally, this group won the Best World Album in 2004 and has top ten charting albums. In total the Beaches Jazz Festival featured over 30 performers in its StreetFest and ten headliners on the Main Stage.

Dr. Draw draws us in with his infectious music

I dropped by at the Beaches Jazz Festival again with two friends yesterday, and at the north end of Kew Gardens we saw Toronto’s Mayor David Miller being photographed with members of the crowd. Mayor Miller makes appearances at many community events and is very approachable. So we decided that we too would get our picture taken with Toronto’s mayor.

Mayor Miller with the 3 of us.

We then strolled over to the Main Stage and checked out some of the ecclectic clothing, jewellery and art on sale in the various booths that were located throughout Kew Gardens. People were getting henna tattoos, others were getting readings by psychics, and the majority of people were relaxing on the grass, enjoying the music. Some folks were also getting their surprisingly accurate portraits done…

Amazingly realistic

On the Boardwalk we enjoyed the hot Spanish rhythms of Puente del Diablo before we checked out the action at the beach volleyball courts. One of my friends is a visitor from Austria, so this was her first introduction to Toronto while my other friend is a fairly recent immigrant who doesn’t yet know the city very well either. I quite enjoy taking new arrivals around the city, introducing them to all my favourite spots. As a city on a lake that looks like an ocean, the waterfront is a great attraction, and it’s a really cool place to hang out.

The Boardwalk is where it’s at…

To explore more we then hopped into the car and decided to pay a visit to the Distillery District, a former distillery dating back to 1832. This complex encompasses more than 40 historic buildings that make up the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in all of North America. The Distillery District has been restored recently and has become one of Toronto’s hottest entertainment areas with its restaurants, cafes, galleries and artists’ studios, a brewery, theatres and retail outlets. Every Sunday the Distillery features a farmers market and numerous festivals draw huge crowds throughout the year.

The Distillery District

Our “Introduction to Toronto” driving tour continued and I took my friends downtown on Front Street and showed them the Gooderham Building – Toronto’s own triangular Flatiron Building. Then we admired Old and New City Hall, the classical splendour of Osgoode Hall, the imposing Richardson Romanesque structure of Queens Park – seat of Ontario’s provincial government, and the Neo-Gothic splendour of the University of Toronto campus. After a brief tour through Chinatown we had a sneak peak at Little Italy and ended up for dinner in the picturesque Annex neighbourhood on Bloor Street West, just west of Spadina. Along the way we drove through Portuguese, Ethiopian and Korean neighbourhoods.

The Flatiron Building

Finally we had a lovely dinner at the Country Style Hungarian Restaurant, a neighbourhood institution for decades, which impresses with its tasty authentic European meals, reasonable prices and huge portion sizes. All three of us enjoyed a Wiener Schnitzel and to top off a delicious meal we enjoyed “Palatschinken”, a mouth-watering dessert featuring a crepe filled with apricot jam.

Can a Schnitzel get any bigger than this?

Each one of these experiences deserves its own article, but there are just so many things to see and do in Toronto, I just can’t keep up with the stories. But I am hoping this little medley of stories will give you an idea of Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods, culinary offerings, exciting festivals and things to do during a great long hot summer.

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