Toronto

Elvis Hi, my name is Elvis Nevison and I’m a Norwich Terrier. My Mom, Dale, is writing stuff about Canada for the Cane & Able website!  Woo-hoo!!! I’ll tell you a bit about her…

Dale is a former Art teacher, and she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2000. Bummer, eh?  She has spent much of her life living and working in and around Toronto area, and presently we live in a suburb just north of the city that has a nice backyard for me to play in. My best friend is a squirrel.

Dale has a hubby and an almost house-trained 16yo son at home and because the 22yo daughter moved to downtown Toronto for university, Dale has been checking out the downtown restaurants, shopping districts and parks. She was saying that Toronto has changed a lot in the past few decades but my yard hasn’t changed much at all. Just squirrel or no squirrel and snow or no snow.  No snow is better for peeing.

Dale walks with a cane, but sometimes she uses a rollator or a scooter. She also has friends with wheelchairs, so she is always checking out access and stuff. She also goes cottaging and camping in the Muskoka and Kawartha cottage regions, a few hours north. She loves to travel, and recently went to London, the south of England and Paris.  While I stayed in the back jardin avec le squirrel.

Dale finds that with a bit of planning, travelling with a disability does not have to cause anxiety or exhaustion. It just means sometimes taking a slower pace and noticing the things that others don’t in their frantic attempts to see too much in too few days.  “Sniffing the roses” she calls it. Roses are too tall for me, so I sniff other dogs.  And the squirrel.

Oh. And Mom is looking forward to sharing her travel adventures with you.

Kensington Market

Kensington Market 1Tourist guidebooks about Toronto often focus on major historical sites, the upscale shopping and the usual mandatory trips up the CN tower and to Centre Island. However, some of the most interesting things to experience here are the city’s many distinct and diverse neighbourhoods. The feel of the city can totally change and a whole new world emerges within a few blocks. These neighbourhoods reflect Toronto’s history, with its beginnings as a spiritual and cultural meeting point for several Aboriginal groups, and later as a magnet for immigrants arriving from every corner of the globe. Toronto is not a melting pot. Cultural traditions and languages are preserved , encouraged and allowed to flourish. Getting to know Toronto takes some time. Try to leave enough room in your itinerary to spend some time visiting and exploring a few different neighbourhoods, and then you will better understand what makes this city tick.

Kensington Markets 2It is an incredibly hard task to choose which neighbourhood to introduce first.  One of the most colourful, fun and definitely quirky areas to explore is the Kensington Market District. The cool thing about Kensington market is that it hasn’t lost its identity as a real living community despite the commercial activity. Diverse groups of immigrants, artists, students, eccentric personalities and merchants have managed to avoid the gentrification that comes with the opening of bland Starbucks and chain stores. It is far from upscale, actually rather gritty, and I hope it stays that way. In the early 20th century it was known as the “Jewish Market”, a place where many immigrants first settled when arriving to Canada. In the 1960’s it became home to many hippies, American draft dodgers and immigrants from Asia , Latin America and the Caribbean. It was spared demolition in the 1960’s after an outcry from its residents, and achieved wider fame in the television series, King of Kensington, which is sort of a cult classic in Canada now. Kensington Market is now a National Historic site.

The opening clip from King of Kensington http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrP8mjsmy8U&feature=related

Kensington Market is located just to the west of Toronto’s downtown core, and is easily reached  by any of the four streetcars-Toronto’s Red Rockets-that run along College, Spadina, Bathurst and Dundas. I don’t recommend driving into the area, since it is heavily congested, full of confusing one way streets and very limited parking. Residents are also a bit hostile towards drivers–pedestrians rule here. Note the car parked on Augusta Avenue that has been converted into a garden.

You will see a fair number of bicycles in the market district. There are now Bixi Rental Bike stands all over the downtown, but unless you are a very strong cyclist, with urban cycling experience I would exercise caution. Cyclists and drivers in the downtown core can be aggressive and cycling on streets that don’t have cycling lanes is not for the faint of heart..

Kensington Market BikeThe area is condensed into a few blocks, making it very manageable to navigate on foot. Due to its narrow streets, and wide sidewalks spilling over with outdoor cafes, clothing racks and produce stands this area is best experienced as a pedestrian . Getting around with a wheelchair or scooter might be more challenging. This is another good reason to go on a Sunday when the market is converted into a pedestrian mall, and you can ride on the street , avoiding  the delicate task of steering  around stands of vegetables and shoppers. Many of the smaller shops will not be wheelchair accessible-they are old buildings jammed to the brim with goods. Fortunately, in the warmer months especially, the market extends out of the shops and onto the sidewalks and streets, making the experience more accessible to everyone.

Kensington Market produceOf course, Kensington is famous for its wide variety of small grocery shops, selling everything from fresh seafood, to imported Asian and South American produce and fruit to European cheeses and spices from every corner of the globe. Sure, you can find these items in some other neighbourhoods, but the overall variety and pricing here is unrivalled anywhere else. Besides, it is crazy fun to shop here. Now the squeamish might find the sights and sounds a bit overwhelming. There are smoked ducks, chickens and whole pigs hanging in some shop windows, and the smells can definitely replicate the experience of being in market in China, Laos or Peru. Give yourself some time, and your senses will adjust. Don’t be alarmed if the aroma of marijuana is wafting through the air. There are several pot friendly cafes in the market, which are tolerated by police. Selling and buying it is illegal however. Confusing I know. I told you the neighbourhood is quirky.

For those trying to stay on a travel budget, nothing in the city beats the market. Personally, I like to go to Kensington for the food-there are things here that just can’t be found anywhere else in the city. A foodies paradise. Not to be missed are the empanadas. I spent much of my youth living in Peru, and I was thrilled to find authentic Chilean style empanadas ( sort of like smaller, spicier Cornish Pasties) at Jumbo Empanada at 245 Augusta Ave. For 5$ CAN, you can get a Beef Empanada filled with a delicious mix of beef, olives, raisins, and a hardboiled egg inside a crust that is baked. The place is not wheelchair accessible. It also has limited seating. But you can grab a few for takeout and find a bench or sit on their patio in the warm months, and watch the locals and entertainment.

Courage My Love TorontoKensington market  is also  known for discounted, vintage, global and retro  clothing . Many young designers have set up shop in the market, offering unique one of a kind fashion and accessories in price ranges that even students find irresistible. An absolute must-stop is Courage My Love, a hold-back from the hippy era. I can spend hours going through their collection of buttons, beads and vintage clothing.

The Market is open 7 days a week excluding Christmas and New Years. The best time shopping is between the hours of 11:00am and 7:00pm. Bars, restaurants and entertainment remain open well into the evening.

Chinatown is close by, and could easily be experienced all in one half-day.

http://www.kensington-market.ca/vid/marketdoc.htm

Yorkville

Yorkville 1Yorkville is a tantalizing, albeit pricey neighbourhood full of hotels, restaurants and shopping, and close to just about everything a visitor to Toronto might want to visit. It also intersects two main subway lines, so its location makes it a convenient spot to set up base to explore Toronto’s downtown.  Hotels in this area tend to be geared towards those with bigger budgets, or in some cases endless budgets, but during off peak times there may be some deals.

The University of Toronto sits on the south edge  of Yorkville, and offers accommodation during the summer in the student residences, and in pretty nice digs at Victoria College all year round.  The prices at their Bed and Breakfast are very reasonable:

http://www.vicu.utoronto.ca/hospitality/guesthouse.htm

Yorkville 2The student residences are much more spartan than the B and B offerings, but there won’t be too many students around from May-August, and any summer students are housed in a different residence.  A few of the residences may have stairs and shared washrooms. I have been inside the Burwash residences and they are full of character. No a/c in the Lower Burwash residences however. Gate House was home to Donald Sutherland during his university days, and was the inspiration behind the film Animal House.

http://www.vicu.utoronto.ca/hospitality/SummerAccommodations.htm

Both accommodations offer a decent breakfast at Burwash Hall, which is worth a visit for its Neo-Gothic architecture and to see the flag that draped Queen Victoria’s coffin.

Yorkville 3The U of T campus is huge, and has some really wonderful architecture and a great restaurant at Hart House called Gallery Grill.  Best to make a reservation and note that the prices are not for student budgets.  Here is a sample of a recent menu and a phone number. You will have to get a bit dressed up for this one.

http://www.dine.to/profile_features.php?feature=menu&id=2817

Yorkville is apparently the 22nd most expensive shopping district in the world, comparable to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive. Restaurants also tend to be upscale, but there are also many more affordable bistros and tucked in here and there.

Yorkville 4There are also shopping bargains to be had, and a few mid priced stores such as Winners, Roots, Nike, Guess, Sephora and Lululemon have moved in over the past few years. However, the upscale boutiques such as Holt Renfrew’s, Harry Rosen, Tiffany &  Co., Burberry, Prada, Gucci, MAC Cosmetics, Hugo Boss, Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Escada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Cartier, Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, Vera Wang, Lacoste, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars,  Bang and Olufsen,Williams and Sonoma ,Max Mara, Montblanc, Bulgari, Birks and Swarovski.  

Even if the accommodations and shopping are outside your budget, a day spent in Yorkville is worthwhile because it still retains some of its old neighbourhood feel, off in the quieter back streets.  It’s also a good spot to run into celebrities, especially during the Toronto Film Festival, most of which takes places in September.

Yorkville 5In the height of the 1960’s, this was Toronto’s Haight-Ashbury, the centre of Toronto’s bohemian and hippie life, full of coffee houses; it’s old colourful Victorian houses providing a backdrop for the folk music scene. Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Gordon Lightfoot all started their careers here, as did such literary figures as Margaret Atwood. However, as the rents increased, the hippies moved on.

Several years ago, they city decided to widen the sidewalks along the main shopping area along Bloor Street. They have now mostly completed the project, complete with planters and benches.

Though it still needs to mature after the construction, it is now a very pedestrian and w/c friendly area.  Most of the stores located on this strip will be fully accessible with sidewalk-level entrances.

One of the big draws to Yorkville happens every September with the Toronto Film Festival.

Yorkville 7

The festival, which takes place over a two week period, draws huge crowds and numerous celebrities.  The films show at several venues throughout the area.  If you decide to visit Toronto during this time, make sure to book accommodations in advance, and if you want to stay in Yorkville, quite far in advance. Various venues will have different policies regarding accessible seating. Should you require companion or accessible seating, please contact the box office at 416-599-8433. This site will have updated information of which films will be showing, which celebrities and directors will be at which openings and how to purchase ticket packages.

http://tiff.net/thefestival

Other attractions in the area:

Royal Ontario Museum:

http://www.rom.on.ca/index.php

The Museum has recently undergone massive renovations and the addition of the Michael Chin-Lee crystal to the facade.  According to the ROM’s accessibility policy, disabled patrons pay full price, but they can take an attendant for free.  I take one of my children in free as an attendant-the use of a cane or wheelchair will qualify you for this discount. There are audio tours available, but a free iphone app is available for download.

http://www.rom.on.ca/romapp/

Yorkville 6Speaking of discounts. Whenever I travel, I try to determine if it is worth getting the passes offered by a city for its main attractions.

The Toronto CityPASS offers a 42% discount to the following attractions: Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma, CN Tower, Ontario Science Centre and Toronto Zoo. However, in some cases using a free attendant may work out cheaper than getting the pass.

The Ontario Science Centre is only worth going to if you have children.

The Zoo is worth a visit in good weather, but there is an extreme amount of walking, and if you have mobility challenges you will need to make arrangements to rent a scooter from an outside company or use the free wheelchairs. It would be fairly hard work for an attendant to push a manual wheelchair over those distances.

You can get the CityPASS at the ROM or online: http://www.citypass.com/toronto?mv_source=rom

The Gardiner Museum:

Yorkville 9

Located across from the ROM and on the edge of the Victoria College campus is this small, but wonderful collection of ceramics. Fridays offer half price admission from 4-9 pm.  Free guided tours are offered every day at 2 pm. A wheelchair is available for use. The building is wheelchair accessible. Two parking spaces are designated on a first come first serve basis.  They also offer drop -in hands on clay classes. http://www.gardinermuseum.on.ca/collection

Yorkville 10

The Bata Shoe Museum:

http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/

Shoes collected across the world;  everyone from John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe to famous designers and important historical examples. Quirky and surprising! The museum is wheelchair accessible.

In May, Toronto Taste, a foodies dream come true, brings Toronto’s top chef’s together in an outdoor food fair offering samples of their creations in order to raise money for the charity Second Harvest. Here is a glimpse at this very wonderful event, and a link for purchasing tickets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBMXtDGs36E&feature=player_embedded

http://www.torontotaste.ca/