Sample Toronto’s B-list attractions
The CN Tower, the AGO, the ROM, Casa Loma — been there, done that, right? Toronto boasts a respectable list of first-rate attractions, but after a certain number of visits, the A-list loses its lustre and you might want to try something new. Herewith, what to expect if you spurn a major attraction for one of the city’s also-rans. By Philip Alves and Adam Mc Dowell
INSTEAD OF CASA LOMA … MACKENZIE HOUSE
Any Torontonian with a basic appreciation for history will experience a wee frisson at treading the same creaky floorboards as Toronto’s original muckraker and first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. The journalist, publisher and politician’s Greek Revival rowhouse still stands at its Bond Street location, across a stark parking lot from the Canon Theatre. It’s furnished much as it would have been before the great Scot’s death in 1861; a reproduction of a 19th- century print shop was added in 1967, and is the source of birthday party fun ($85 for up to 12 children) and gift shop goods such as 75-cent replicas of the front page of Mackenzie’s famous (but financially unsuccessful) newspaper, the Colonial Advocate. Worth a brief but enlightening visit before another trip to the Eaton Centre.
– 82 Bond St.; Admission, $4; youth and seniors, $2.75; children, $2.50; 416- 392-6915; firstname.lastname@example.org.
From January to April, the museum is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. only.
MONTGOMERY’S INN MUSEUM
Stand at the corner of Dundas Street West and Islington Avenue and try to imagine narrow, muddy roads surrounded by fields, farmers, horses and oxen, and a stuccoclad inn to the southeast of you. It’s almost impossible to do, except that the inn is still standing. Built about 1830 in the Loyalist or late Georgian style, T. Montgomery’s Inn was a popular stop for travellers before the days of rail. The barroom at the Inn also held a certain allure, as the well- worn floorboards leading from the entrance to the bar make plain. While the bar doesn’t serve anymore, the tea room is just as welcoming.
– 4709 Dundas St. W. Admission, $4; seniors and youths, $2; children 12 and under, $1. A family pass for two adults and four children, $10. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 416-394-6027 or visit toronto.ca/ culture/montgomerys_inn.htm.
INSTEAD OF THE ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE … THE OSBORNE COLLECTION OF EARLY CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Browsing a collection of old children’s books seems like a nice way to spend a pokey afternoon with the kids — in theory. In practice, if children are young enough to fully appreciate the holdings, they’ll be hard to keep quiet (the collection is housed in a public library) and they’ll be heartbroken to learn that many of the best volumes are kept behind glass. Older kids will get bored quickly. And visitors of any age will be horrified by the dilapidated washrooms. The reproduction postcards of the Owl and the Pussycat (and such) are attractive, but all in all, the Osborne Collection is best left to school groups and researchers.
– Lillian H. Smith Public Library, 239 College St.; free; 416-393-7753; tpl.toronto.on.ca. Open Monday to
Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
INSTEAD OF THE ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO … THE TORONTO DOMINION GALLERY OF INUIT ART
It’s surprising and frustrating that the glass cases that hold this collection’s Inuit sculptures don’t contain cards to tell the visitor more about what they’re seeing. As one wanders among the owls, polar bears and mythological figures carved from stone, ivory, bone and other materials, it’s natural to wonder who made them, when and why. Whatever the answers may be, one can be sure the world that produced these artworks is utterly alien to the bustling TD Centre office tower in which they are housed. (There is, however, a subtle harmony between the sculptures in their glass towers and the austere architecture of Mies van der Rohe.) The gallery is far too small to be worth a dedicated visit, but if you’re in the neighbourhood — or work downtown — you might find a trip to this oasis calming.
– 79 Wellington St. W., ground and mezzanine levels; free admission; 416-982- 8473. Open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN ART
Don’t let the grandiose name fool you — MOCCA is no MOMA North. But the gallery near Queen and Ossington, which opened in 1999 and moved to its present location in 2005, is doing its best to make the most of its limited space and history. Its well-chosen permanent collection, which includes works by Canadian artists from Paterson Ewen to Edward Burtynsky, is expanding. The next main- space exhibition, to open Feb. 2, offers visitors a chance to bend their heads around the sculpture of Walter Redinger. This fledgling institution (motto: “Founded in the Present, Poised for the Future”) deserves support to help it grow — why not stop in for a break during a shopping visit to West Queen West?
– 952 Queen St. W., pay what you can; 416-395-7490; mocca.toronto.on.ca. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Sundays.
INSTEAD OF ST. MICHAEL’S CATHEDRAL … THE DESIGN EXCHANGE
You can’t take a tour through the Toronto Stock Exchange because, as a security guard pointed out, “there’s nothing to see” — the trading floor having given way to an all-electronic system in 1997. While there’s no longer a cathedral for capitalism in Toronto, one can visit a shrine to design that moved into the shell of the stock exchange’s old building. The Design Exchange turns out to be a museum and exhibition hall of limited interest to the casual visitor not fascinated by design. Your correspondent got the impression, judging from the flustered greeting of the very young desk staff, that walk-in traffic is rare — by design, it seems. While the Web site of the “DX” boasts of its collection of nifty post-1945 artfiacts, little of it is on display. Even more disappointing is the fact that the beautiful old trading floor can only be seen — “when available” –on guided tours.
– 234 Bay St.; $5 admission to exhibition level; students and seniors, $4; 416- 216-2160; dx.org. Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
INSTEAD OF THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME … STEAM WHISTLE BREWING
Visit Steam Whistle because, unlike the hallowed Hall, the cups at Steam Whistle are always full. Tucked away in a seldom-travelled area of downtown, the Roundhouse is a gorgeous relic of Toronto’s locomotive- going past. Step inside and the little brewery that could melds the new with the old. Sign up for a tour and you’ll hear tell of this National Historic Site’s past glory before being ushered into the brewery proper. The tour guides are knowledgeable and full of guffaw-out-loud anecdotes, like the story of the message in the returned bottle from a loving father to his son that read: “Son, you drink too much. Get a job.”
– 255 Bremner Blvd. A tour with no take-home beer runs $8; $13 with a six pack; $23 with 12. Open Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. with hourly tours from 1 to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. with hourly tours from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 416-362-2337 or visit steamwhistle.ca.
INSTEAD OF THE ROM … THE TORONTO POLICE SERVICE MUSEUM AND DISCOVERY CENTRE
The average law-abiding citizen tries to avoid visits to police stations. This museum, though, is as good a reason as there is for dropping by the home of Toronto’s finest. Located on the ground floor of police headquarters, this attraction packs a lot into a small space. When you cross from the lobby into the museum, be sure to look up; the keystone of the arch above once hung above the door to Toronto’s first police station. From there you’ll pass uniforms on display and may find yourself wondering why our cops don’t wear Bobby hats anymore. Linger a little among the photographs and displays of old handcuffs and motorcycles, and the city’s policing past will come to life — you’ll even learn that the city’s first automatic traffic light went up at Yonge and Bloor streets in 1925. Who knew?
– 40 College St. Free admission; a donation is requested. Open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 416-808-7020 or visit torontopolice.on.ca/museum.
INSTEAD OF STARING AT THE CARCASS OF THE LONG-DEAD MCLAUGHLIN PLANETARIUM … THE YORK UNIVERSITY OBSERVATORY
Anyone who has ever looked up at night has marvelled at the majesty of the universe. But in a megalopolis like ours, the night sky is washed out by light pollution, leaving us only the brightest points of light to look at — barring any massive power outages, that is. There is hope, though. Atop the fourth floor of the Petrie Science and Engineering Building in northwestern Toronto sit two domes with telescopes aimed at the cosmos. On a clear Wednesday night, visitors can ascend and look through one of the two scopes that are used the rest of the week by students and faculty on various research projects. Even under cover of clouds, the star-gazing public is welcome to try the 40- and 60-centimetre telescopes, learn about the goings-on at a working observatory and see a slide show of the solar system we call home. If the forecast is favourable and the stars are shining, the trek to Toronto’s hinterland, not to mention the confusion of York’s campus, is well worth it. Otherwise, pop Star Wars into the ol’ DVD player.
– 4700 Keele St. Admission is free, though donations are welcome. Open Wednesday, November to March from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; April from 8 to 10 p.m.; for more information, call 416-736-2100 ext. 77773 or visit yorku.ca/observe.
INSTEAD OF ST. LAWRENCE MARKET … T & T SUPERMARKET
Hit by sudden inspiration to make an authentic Asianmeal, but missing an ingredient — maybe some geoduck or chu hou paste? With over 15,000 Asian food items, this is the best place to find everything you need outside of Chinatown, all in one spot and with ample parking to boot. This supermarket’s four suburban locations feature everything you’d expect from any other supermarket, plus ingredients to transport the hungry gourmet to the Orient. If a ready-to-eat meal is more what you’re looking for, there’s an abundance of choice here for you, too. Just don’t name any of the live seafood before you buy. Eating anonymous Dungeness crab is infinitely more guilt free than eating Mr. Clawington.
– 1 Promenade Circle, Thornhill, in the Promenade Shopping Centre; open daily 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 905-763- 8113. For other locations, visit tntsupermarket.com.
National Post Saturday, January 27, 2007 Page: TO22 Section: Toronto Byline: Philip Alves and Adam McDowell Link