Who would have imagined that Canada’s second-largest city, Toronto, could be considered as a popular, sought-after Christmas destination? The city, with being the country’s largest financial centre and home to the most diverse population in the country, rolls out its red carpet to celebrate Christmas as early as November every year.
Residents and tourists alike flock to mark an early start of the festival, lining the parade route and other festival event sites hours before they begin. From November till Christmas, Toronto becomes the Xmas capital of Canada.
Visitors to Toronto are fired up with the spirit of the festive season right away by visiting the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District. Held every year, this event captures the tradition, heritage and charm of a European Christmas market, showcasing local artists, artisans, craftsmen and international roster of world class vendors.
Spearheading the festive season is Black Creek Pioneer Village, a sort of educational institution which teaches visitors about how Christmas tradition started in Canada, brilliantly performed episodes by history actors. Black Creek’s history actors bring to life real people who lived in the region 150 years ago and perform plays inspired by those popular in the Confederation era. Our party was invited to decorate a Christmas tree and briefed on the various traditions of different decorations, ornaments and trinkets.
Apart from learning Christmas traditions, the village — a re-creation of life in the 19th century — gives a vivid insight on how rural Ontario might have looked in the early-to-19th century. It has become a popular and regular destination for field trips by school children.
Visits by Santa and Christmas dinners are scheduled in the village as one gets closer to Christmas.
No visit to Toronto is complete without visiting the city’s famed St. Lawrence Market. Described as the world’s best food market by National Geographic, the St. Lawrence Market features over 100 food producers and vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, seafood and prepared foods.
Under the able leadership of our guide, Bruce Bell, we toured the Market and walked around Old Town Toronto, learning the fascinating 200- year history.
The tour included Toronto’s first post office, located on 260 Adelaide Street east, which was established in 1834, and it still functions as a full-service post office and a museum.
Another historical site in Toronto is the historic St. James Cathedral, home of the oldest congregation in the city, established in 1797. Following a fire in 1839, the church burnt down and was reconstructed. Today, it ranks as a historical site and an active church for downtown residents.
There are numerous other sites and activities for visitors to enjoy in downtown Toronto, walking distance from most hotels. Toronto is one place where you find year-round events and festivities. There is always something for everyone to enjoy and possibly return.
For the past 10 years, Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area has been organizing a magical evening of dance, music and spectacle in Yonge-Dundas square.
Although it was raining during this year’s performance, it didn’t dampen the spirit of partygoers who stood in pouring rain with raincoats and umbrellas to enjoy the performances of pop-rock quartet, Jane’s Party and watch tree-lighting show, dazzling dancers and magnificent aerialists.
Even the stores and malls in the city are decorated with cloured lights, some in the shape of different animals to celebrate the season. Needless to say, there are scores of sales enticing shoppers to buy their presents before the big rush.
For your shopping experience, one should definitely visit Bloor-Yorkville’s Bloor Street, home to some of the top luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Tiffany and Cartier, including Canadian flagship stores of Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew. Appropriately, the area between Yonge and Avenue Road has been branded as the Mink Mile due to the concentration of luxury designers.
The Bloor-Yorkville BIA kicked off the holiday season with their show, Holiday Magic, the spectacular annual community concert event, the official “Flick the Switch” lighting ceremony and exciting live musical performances. Throughout December, the Village of Yorkville Park remains illuminated.
Toronto had its Santa Claus parade — considered to be the largest in North America — this year on November 19.
The weather didn’t co-operate much but hundreds of residents, mostly parents with children, lined the parade tour hours before the start, most of them clothed in winter attire while some even shielded themselves from the foul weather with blankets. Various organizations entered the parade with floats, marching bands, acrobats and clowns.
One of the unique features of Toronto Santa Claus Parade is that since 1982 it has initiated the Celebrity Clown system whereby corporate executives are invited to become clowns and march in the parade. With a membership of over 150 participants, Celebrity Clowns get a $1,200 tax receipt, a custom-made clown costume and four VIP passes for family and friends to a special viewing area — a reward for “all those smiles” that bring Celebrity Clowns back year after year.
To get a spectacular view of Toronto and a mind-blowing new perspective of the city one should definitely visit the iconic CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere. Opened to the public from 1976, it took 40 months to build, symbolizing Toronto’s role as the cultural and financial powerhouse of the country.
Unfortunately, the Edge Walk of CN Tower was closed the evening of our visit due to weather conditions but the tower’s revolving 360 Restaurant made it up by providing breathtaking views while sipping award-winning Ontario wines and feasting on delicious cuisine. The waiter assured us that the food at the restaurant is made from market-fresh regional ingredients and the “cellar in the sky” is stocked with 550 international and Canadian wines.
For most immigrants, Toronto has been the Gateway to Canada, where they first entered the country, majority of whom stayed there permanently, giving rise to ethnic enclaves. Toronto is blessed with areas such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek town, Gerrard India Bazaar and so on, resulting in various cultural dances, typical ethnic cuisine and authentic restaurants from any country in the world.
As cultures mingle across one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities, traditional homeland dishes become multicultural mash-ups, true palate mysteries that delight and astound diners.
It’s a paradise for food lovers and a heaven for museums, sports and culture enthusiasts.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of “Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West” and “Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.”