Visiting Toronto With a Small Dog
I can’t believe it has taken me this long to make my way to Toronto – Canada’s most populated city and the provincial capital of Ontario.
This expansive city is located in a warmer area of the country, on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. We noticed the warmer climate right away; Toronto was a good 4-5 degrees warmer than Ottawa during our visit.
Toronto has been around since the 18th century … well, sort of. Back then, it was known as York. It was really more of a village until the “Battle of York” in 1812 when it was totally ransacked. By 1834, however, the village had not only been rebuilt, but had also grown into a city that was then renamed Toronto.
Today it’s an expanding city that keeps on growing through amalgamation, evolving more and more into vibrant metropolis.
The city is too big to see in a few days. You have to pick-and-choose what to see. Luckily, because Toronto is really a collection of smaller districts, it’s pretty easy to cover the areas you’ve chosen. We visited three areas during our stay: Yorkville, The Distillery and the Waterfront.
Yorkville and The Annex
Our hotel was located in Yorkville, so we had lots of time to walk around and enjoy this neighbourhood. Once home to the elite of the 1870s and then the hippies of the 1960s, yorkville is now one of the swankiest areas of Toronto. It blends into the Annex on the West – an affluent neighbourhood that cradles the University of Toronto and is home to students, faculty, and academic elite.
Yorkville is probably best known for it’s “Mink Mile” – the stretch of Bloor Street between Avenue Road and Yonge Street packed with high-end luxury shopping. Yorkville is where you will find power shoppers, flashy cars, visiting celebs, and exclusive restaurants, pubs, and stores. Next door in the tree-lined Annex, you’ll find academics, writers (Margaret Atwood lives in the Annex), musicians (Jane Siberry), and activists (Jane Jacobs called the Annex home). Together, Yorkville and The Annex offer a lovely mix of museums, the Royal Conservatory of Music, Varsity Stadium, Victorian homes, and heritage buildings converted to individual stores and restaurants, all cheek to jowl with large commercial buildings, luxury hotels, and high-end-condos.
For us, it was the Yorkville area specifically that we enjoyed the most. Especially the Village of Yorkville Park. This collection of small spaces represents different ecosystems found in Canada, and is dominated by “The Rock” a billion-year-old, 650-tonne monolith that was transported in pieces from the Canadian Shield (@115 Cumberland Street). Dad really enjoyed his stop at La Casa Del Habano (@11 Yorkville Ave). It’s a walk-in humidor with a grand selection of fine smokes. It even has an espresso bar and patio.
We ate at a lovely Italian restaurant with a pet friendly patio called Dimmi Bar & Trattoria. We knew it was pet friendly because there were two other dogs already there. It’s not large, but the service and food are great and the small pedestrian side street makes it wonderfully quiet. We also stopped and enjoyed a coffee or two at a Starbucks next door to the small, 19th century Church of the Redeemer. I must admit this was a favorite spot. Even if at the busy intersection of Bloor and Avenue Road, the patio is a quiet oasis thanks to its palce tucked in between the Church and the V-shapped Renaissance Centre, which houses, among many offices and stores, Louis Vuitton’s flag ship store. The patio allows you to be in the middle of it all without being right on a busy street. Win win.
One of the most visually interesting sites in the area is, hands down, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I was not allowed inside and had to stay at the hotel when the bipeds went to see the “China’s Forbidden City” exhibit, but I did get to walk around the msueum and see the fascinating architecture. The main entrance is meant to look like a crystal growing out of the old building. And it does. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the deconstructivist beauty juts dramatically above street-level. The best way to photograph this spot is actually across the street; otherwise you don’t capture the full effect.
In complete contrast to the ROM is Queen’s Park, just south of the museum. The parkland and grounds surround Ontario’s Legislative Buildings and house more than a dozen historical statues and monuments. The Legislative Buildings are absolutely stunning and reflect the strong English and Victorian influence of the cities past. It is well worth a stroll.
The Distillery Historic District
You might not realize it, but you have likely seen the Distillery district. Why? Because it is an oft-used movie set! The historic buildings are still intact and make it ideal for certain period sets. We didn’t have nearly enough time here to fully enjoy everything the District has to offer. We missed out on the St. Lawrence Market (named the world’s best food market by National Geographic with more than 100 food vendors!), The Esplanade and Union Station was under major renovation. So … next time! BUT we DID get to enjoy a good stroll through The Distillery Historic District.
The area caters to lovers of food and culture. The stores carry condo-sized furniture and artistic, one-of-a-kind furnishings and antiques. If you want to shop for your home, then I recommend you stick between King and Sherbourne. The Distillery has art galleries, restaurants, chocolate (Soma!), clothes and more. Dad was pleased to see a large Fluvog shoe store!
Although there is one in Ottawa now, we ate at the Mill Street Brew Pub because it is the first and original one! The patio was pet friendly (although I was snuck inside … shhhh!). It’s a fun spot, where you can dine and even tour the microbrewery before downing a pint!
We took a rest on an open shared courtyard while Dad enjoyed an espresso from a really nice coffee shop (Balzac’s). And we knew then and there that we just HAD to return. We were missing too much (Woofstock was calling!), including the Gooderham’s Flatiron building and the Allan Lambert Galleria. So return we shall! Next time we will follow the advice of the walking tour guides and begin at St. Lawrence Market (Front street East at Jarvis Street), then stroll eastward to Parliament before turning south towards Mill Street and The Distillery Historic District.
Of all the three districts we visited in Toronto, The Waterfront is where we could imagine living. Once an industrial Great Lakes port, Toronto’s waterfront has evolved into a vibrant mixed-use community with condos, recreational attractions and dining. Here we found mostly young singles, couples and empty-nesters. The best part is that from here, you can easily take a ferry over to Toronto Island and Sugar Beach to escape the confines of the city known as “The Big Smoke” in the summer months. We didn’t have time to go to the Island, but it’s a reason to return for sure!
Although not one continuous boardwalk (there are long sections), the entire waterfront is a long, green and pleasant walk. We saw many locals and their canines enjoying the first real hot spring day.
Along the Waterfront you will find art (The Power Plant features contemporary visual art by leading-edge Canadian and international artists), restaurants, tall ships and smaller sailboats and motor boats in the marina’s. One of the best discoveries for us was The Toronto Music Garden at 245 Queens Quay West. Designed by internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, the garden is a landscape reflection of Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major. I want to go back and see it when the leaves have filled things out a bit more. In the summer, musicians offer free outdoor concerts!
Another awesome discovery was PawsWay! This unique free-admission recreation space is for people and their pets. It offers classes, contests, an indoor pet park, and animal-friendly exhibits like the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, which honors hero pets and service animals. There is also a little coffee shop if you want a quick bite and a refreshment.
There are many places you could eat on the Waterfront. We did not have time to do so , but noticed that most of the patios seemed to tolerate a canine or two.
Even with the noise of the small Toronto island airport, the Waterfront spoke to us – the parks, the marina’s, the big water … we may just end up there some day!
In review: As any seasoned traveller knows, great cities demand more from their visitors. To delve deeply, you need to tour micro – sussing out the neighbourhoods that form the whole – by eating, drinking, shopping, relaxing and taking in the city one streetscape at a time. We know we will return to see more of what we barely covered. Our first visit only wet the appetite. We want to discover other districts, such as Chinatown and Kensington Market, or The East Side and the Beaches. One thing is certain, with pet friendly hotels, patios and a canine friendly subway system, Toronto is a great “with dog” travel destination.