Story by Adrian Brijbassi
TORONTO, ONTARIO — “Toronto,” the old joke goes, “is the place you stop for gas and a donut while driving from Montreal to Niagara Falls.”
What’s Happening in Toronto in 2015
- Pan Am Games (July 10-26)
- TIFF 40th Edition (September 10-20)
- New Union Pearson Express train (expected in July)
- Canadian Music Week (May 1-10)
- Pride Week (June 19-28)
[/pullquote_right]Unlike New York City, which is ridiculed by other Americans but still respected, Toronto has long been mocked and scorned by Canadians from St. John’s to Vancouver Island. Cold and windy in winter, smoggy and unpleasantly humid in summer. Non-stop traffic nightmares, ugly architecture from the ’70s, a lake overflowing with pollution, slimy rich guys in suits in one part of town, far too many hipsters in another. Oh, and the Leafs suck.
Why on earth would you want to go there?
Every now and then, the punchline doesn’t work. It sounds out of touch and hollow, as insults do when they no longer fit their target. This year is such a time.
In 2015, Toronto is the No. 1 Place to Visit in Canada, according to travel journalists at Vacay.ca, the online magazine focused on Canadian culture and destinations. [Here’s the full 20 Best Places in 2015 Guide.] The city is preparing to serve up the kind of excitement and mega-scale event that will make even a Vancouverite admit to envy.
In the Year of Sport in Canada, the Pan Am Games come to town and it will be the largest multi-sport event to be hosted in the country ever — yes, even larger than the 2010 Winter Olympics. How much larger? The 6,000 athletes who will compete in Toronto roughly doubles the total number during the Vancouver Olympics.
That’s not to say the Pan Am Games can compare to the Olympics in terms of global awareness or media fascination. What these games do promise, however, is the appearance of some of the world’s greatest athletes — including potentially US swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human — and the attention they bring. Come July, Toronto will have the opportunity to finally realize an ambition it has chased for decades: Recognition as a world-class city.
What’s happening in Toronto now reminds me of the excitement of 23 years ago, when the city was going after the Summer Olympics — an attempt that in retrospect seems ridiculously overreaching given the lack of infrastructure and first-rate hotels back then — and was finally receiving fawning national attention in the United States thanks to the Blue Jays’ World Series appearance.
Like much of Canada, Toronto relentlessly measures itself to the US. It’s doing less and less navel-gazing these days as it carves out an identity that is not only divergent from New York and Chicago but is in many ways more interesting. Toronto’s cultural mix is creating diverse art and cuisine, as well as interconnected communities that would be the embodiment of many social activists’ dream.
Harmony is cool. Having lived about 10 years of my life on and off in Toronto it is that neighbourliness which I most cherish. There’s a place for everyone here. The social conflicts that harangue so many other metropolises mostly do not exist in Canada’s largest municipality, which is remarkable given that the population is larger than Chicago but police records show about 400 less annual homicides than that Illinois city.
For a visitor, it is liberating to know you can travel to an urban capital and enjoy all the great things of such a place without feeling wary about what might happen if you make a wrong turn. In Toronto, you’re more likely to walk into a curious space than an uninviting one.
It’s an atmosphere that is conducive to building culture. In September 2014, Vogue Magazine named Toronto’s Queen Street West the second-best neighbourhood in the world for street style (trailing only the Shimokitazawa district in Tokyo).
In September 2015, the city will host the 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and the celebration figures to be effusive for an event that has become a tourism blockbuster. The festival’s economic impact in 2013 was $189 million, according a research study by TNS Canada.
TIFF is an incredible experience, with fans having the opportunity to not only see the year’s best films the first time they’re shown to the public but to also listen to attending actors and directors speak about the movies and their production.
If you want culture from the past, the new Aga Khan Museum is an opulent space that features artifacts and educational material from the Islamic world. It is a 113,000-square-foot facility that cost $300 million to build.
The other big news for the city in 2015 will be the long-awaited opening of an express train from Pearson International Airport to downtown Union Station. The $500-million project is expected to be completed before the start of the Pan Am Games, which run from July 10-26. It will take 25 minutes to get from the airport to the train station and a single ride will cost $27.50.
Besides TIFF, annual festivals include: Canadian Music Week (May 1-10) and NXNE (June 17-21). If you want to be spoiled for choice, visit during June 17-28 when three significant festivals — Luminato, Pride Week and the TD Toronto Jazz Festival — all coincide and overlap.
And, no, I didn’t forget — the city also has a new (clean and sober) mayor. Indeed, the joke no longer seems to be on Toronto.