Article Photography: Christopher George
With a huge student population bringing a youthful energy to the city of Toronto, there is a vibrant and active coffee culture, a myriad of multicultural restaurants, edgy music and art scene; Fashion is also a major past-time with high street and high end shops located around Queen Street West, and secondhand/ vintage stores in the West Queen West area.
The West Queen West district has been tipped as one of the coolest hoods on the planet by Vogue magazine, meaning by now many artists have been priced out of the area and are creating that new cool hub yet to be exposed. However, Toronto is a city of diversity, creativity and modernity that has ensured it as a destination, not only for the global traveller, but for settlers looking to broaden their life ambition and cultural development.
Architectural fans will have some footwork to cover the city, which showcases excellent examples of brutalist architecture, alongside more traditional early 20c urban streets, and a clash of a modern skyline towering above in glimmering steel and glass. This is an impressive city to explore!
Renting a bike on a sunny day is an excellent way to really see the main central part of Toronto, with the roads being flat, and relatively free of heavy traffic compared to many cities. It is an easy and practical way for any level of cyclist to get around. There is much to soak up, from City Hall during the day, to the CN Tower, taking in some lunch or visiting some of the many museums and galleries.
A short cycle to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) where you can spend hours checking out a small section of the museums exhibitions, which includes many familiar names such as Warhol and Picasso to name a couple.
The current show is one of the most important contemporary artists working within the field of art and politics. Rebecca Belmore’s show Facing the Monumental, is a diverse yet cohesive body of work, built over the last thirty years. Celebrating the forgotten, listening to the marginal, speaking to the silenced, and facing the monumental, with passion, beauty, intuition, this is an exhibition which should not be missed.
Just over the road from the AGO are some great independent galleries that have taken over some of the original 19th century houses providing unusual gallery spaces. While in this area there is a great noodle house Touhenboku Ramen that is a low key but a very hip spot to eat.
I managed to get a window seat at lunch just before a huge queue appeared. The vegetarian ramose dishes were delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and the service easy, friendly and chilled.
Torontos art scene is vast- from the numerous museums across the city to smaller independent galleries, along with the thriving graffiti scene. One of the biggest art events in Toronto is the Nuit Blanche, Less Sleep More Art, which takes place during the month of October.
During this time, the city is taken over as the event spreads across the city and encompass the Scarborough Town Centre area. Many iconic buildings become gallery spaces for the evening between the hours of 7pm and 7am, hence the Less Sleep More Art!
One of the prominent show spaces is City Hall and its surroundings. Visiting during the day and then at night is really captivating. City Hall is designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell and was opened in 1965. Standing on what was the old China Town, the first incarnation for the new City Hall was abandoned due to its bland and design lack vision. At that point an international design competition was held with over 500 applicants. Viljo Revell, the winning architect and his associates transformed Toronto’s City Hall into one of the most iconic and important buildings of the mid century. For any fan of modern architecture, City Hall is a mecca to visit. I found myself spending two hours just wandering around the area, absolutely inspired and transfixed by by the architecture and its surroundings.
As if this area is not iconic enough as a architectural landmark, this vision of utopia is transformed into what is almost a dystopian setting during the evening. After dark, the central corporate power seemingly collapses during the night events, and a festival carnival atmosphere replaces the general corporate way of life. Activities from an installation video projected within City Hall almost criticising capitalism and government, to the 12 hour long performance art and poetry within a church, narrating the struggles of the ethnic minorities, are representative of contemporary art. While in the basement carpark of City Hall a DJ is playing dance music, while an installations reporting the progression and trauma of the LGBT community over the past 50 years, has been pasted on the walls.
The art itself throughout the city during Nuit Blance, however impressive becomes the side show, and the actual city of Toronto is the major attraction as an art piece in itself.
Wondering through its busy streets and around the open buildings late at night is quite bizarre, and seems totally alien. Throughout the night, the city is full of activity with thousands of people bustling around as if at a huge festival set amongst this concrete electric jungle.
Many of the art events are interactive, such as Inversion by Simoni + Kilty held in the foyer of the Drake One Fifty tower block. This multimedia interactive installation captures on large screen the movement of your feet, however you want to do the self performance is it to you, but I did get a few claps from spectators watching me hopping back and forth across the 20ft projection. Always one to entertain! The installation is questioning the differences we have as humans, but at the same time referencing the similarities we all share.
One of my favourite items was a video work shown at the Laurier Tower titled ‘From Toronto with Love’. 24 vintage suite case, each one uniquely transformation by individual artists. Ashley Bowes creation involved a film camera strapped to her case and wheeling it around the streets of Asia. Its a griping, fun, brilliantly edited and really engaging short video. All the artists involved in these works reflecting on the idea of journeys and destinations, with the privilege and limitations of health care at home and abroad.
With over 70 art installation throughout the city of Toronto during the Nuit Blance, it is about doing your research to see a selection of artists works, and take a cross section to move around the city. Part of the fun is just being in the crowds of people late at night and mulling around.
A huge part of the event and fun for me was getting lost in the city and discovering items without the conservative guide and map system, however this is really useful as a starting point and information guide.
At one point I turned my back to see something catching my eye, and in that 2 seconds I had lost everyone… This is however where the fun began for me. I then spent the next 2 hours just wondering amongst the thousands of strangers late at night discovering a small section of the city, this being City Hall and its square.
My absolute favourite piece of work was a sound and video installation by artists Tal Rosner and Christopher Mayo titled Lament. The huge installation was placed in the darkened City Hall itself, where bodies were scattered around the floor watching a double sided screen. The piece was inspired form a 1969 poem by renowned Toronto artist bpNichol.
Incorporating music, spoken word and video projections, the project illuminates and animates a style of writing know as concrete poetry, which celebrates visual images created in written text.
Consisting of a basic “you are city hall my people” the sounds and vision investigate civic politics and the responsibility of each citizen for the actions of their government. An item and statement we should all be extremely responsible and aware of in the present times that we live!!
This project placed in the vast City Hall of Toronto and over a loud speaker system, with the only light from the video piece its self was just incredible. The atmosphere was hypnotic and dystopian within the chambers of this iconic government building. It was hard for me to leave not only for the sound and video installation, but also being in the City Hall late at night was a real trip!!
During the day and running throughout the year you can take a free graffiti tour with the ‘Tour Guys’ from 3pm for an hour or so (donations recommended please!) If you’re lucky you’ll get Jason who is an expert on graffiti art and extremely informative and energetic. He will guide you through the graffiti scene of the Toronto’s Queen Street area, and provide the historic narrative around the whole graffiti movement form its early days in New York of the late 1960s.
It's a very enjoyable few hours walking around the streets.
Around the Queen Street area you can grab some lunch at the many diners or just meander around the easily accessible shops. With low level buildings in the Queens Street area, on a good day, the view is spectacular of the surrounding high-rise buildings towering above.
Away from central Toronto, the district of Scarborough and Lawrence Avenue is a mix of diversity where you can explore global cuisine. The closet tube station to Lawrence St is Lawrence East and around 30 minutes from St. George station in Toronto. Here you can find a vast choice of cultures and historic recipes preserved by the immigrant population laying roots in this area.
This community is extremely supportive of all nationalities, and you really feel the love and independence in the food shops. A very relaxed environment worth the excursion for a few hours. I would recommend GHADIR serving Lebanese and Middle Eastern food which you can find in a market area. And for deserts, take a 5 minute walk to Crown Pastries serving traditional Syrian baklava deserts from the 100 year old recipes passed down by the owner's grandfather who was killed during conflict in Syria. Crown Pastries is potentially the best place for deserts on the planet, let alone Toronto. And this is coming from a non sweet eater. I couldn't fill my mouth or pockets enough!
Although a train journey away, it is worth a visit to get out the city and buy some deserts- the sweets really are that good. This whole area is preserving the history of culture via foods, and lessons should be learned across the globe how Toronto’s diversity and respect for all cultures is a proven method of success.
With Scarborough’s huge immigrant population and explosion of housing, downtown Toronto has begun to span its arts scene to involve this diverse community and interact further with them.
This season during the annual Nuit Blanche Toronto, Scarborough has been opened for the first time with its own arts installations around the town centre. This area is a version of the planet, having every nationality happily working, shopping and eating together. The exhibition is asking questions on the emerging immigrant population and neighbourhood, and the positive effects it has on Toronto's culture and art scene.
However, may we never forget, Canada is a country who’s population is generally immigrants, with the indigenous people paying a huge price during the colonisation of the country from the 15th century. Canada is at this time making positive steps to embrace the new immigrant population and should be extremely proud of its diversity, especially in Toronto.
NUIT BLANCHE TORONTO
Art Gallery of Ontario AGO GALLERY
Tour Guys TOURGUYS
Pastries CROWN PASTRIES
Travel and transport yourself and experience more of what's not been discovered by the masses.