We The North Toronto
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
I thought I liked Toronto the most during the summer. I was wrong. Toronto is gorgeous during the fall.
You see, I grew up in rainy Belgium. When I moved to England, people warned me of the notorious bad English weather. I barely noticed it. It was pretty much the same at home. Belgium is grey, particularly between October and April. It doesn’t get really cold, but it rains. And when it doesn’t rain, the sky is still grey.
Southern Ontario is on a whole other level. Indeed, summers can be boiling hot and winters can be rough. Some days, you try to go outside and start to sweat instantly. It then becomes a game of how much errands you can tackle without leaving air conditioned spaces. Other days, you wake up, check the weather app and your heart starts to beat a little faster when you spot the “Feel like -30°C” line. You put on layers over layers of clothes, wrap your head and hands until the only thing left exposed are your eyes, and then hurry to whatever place you need to go.
The sky though, the sky is almost always blue. So fall is the perfect time, because it is neither too hot, nor too cold. The sun peaks through high rises, touches leaves so red it looks like trees are bleeding. The air seems fresh thanks to a constant breeze coming from Lake Ontario. Fall is when I would suggest anyone to come and visit Toronto, and Ontario in general. You just cannot beat those colors. There’s no other place like here.
Toronto is a proper metropolitan city, the biggest in Canada and fourth most populous city in North America after New Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles. Foreign-born people account for nearly half of the population of Toronto. This makes Toronto home to the second-highest percentage of foreign-born residents of ALL world cities after Miami. However, unlike Miami, Toronto has no dominant culture or nationality, which makes it one of the most diverse cities.
If you have been reading my previous post about standing out in a crowd, you will know that I have struggled with feeling anonymous in a predominantly white country. Toronto is one of those cities where I don’t feel like I stand out. My skin tone and even my Afro hair is just one of many types and styles you will encounter here. I love it. I feel like I can breathe by just being me.
If you’re getting curious or already planning a weekend trip up North, the recommendations below will help you make the most of your trip.
Everyone that has met me knows I like to complain about the lack of proper infrastructure in Canada. North America is the only continent without high-speed trains. I mean… Really? Public transport in Toronto is… hmm… alright for North America. You should be able to reach most places by combining subway and bus/street cars riding.
If you stay downtown though, you might not even need to use public transport. The city is spread out, but walking is manageable. Put on comfortable shoes and you will get by. If the weather allows it, you should rent one of the bikes from Bike Share Toronto. Biking is popular in the city, and you will find cycle paths to follow in most of downtown.
There are so many restaurants in Toronto, it seems almost pointless to try and recommend a few. The funny thing is I don’t think I have ever eaten at a restaurant that serves ‘Canadian food’ - I am not even sure what Canadian food actually is… I guess bagels and donuts? For those types of craving, many Canadians will go to Tim Hortons, the national coffee chain. I have heard many people complain about the declining quality of their food and coffee since they got bought by another big chain, but I still see lines of people queuing to get their breakfast sandwich and coffee every morning, so it mustn’t be all bad eh? It could also be because no chain can beat them on price.
Thinking about it, there is one Canadian restaurant I loved and I would recommend: Antler Kitchen & Bar. My partner and I celebrated my permanent residency there, and oh my was it good. They serve sophisticated food made with regional ingredients, including meat.
For cheaper, but still delicious eats, my partner is a remarkable source of great options. Juicy Dumplings might not look like much from the outside, but the fact that there is always a line is a teller. Honestly one of the best dumplings I have had outside of East Asia! For one of the best burgers you will ever taste, check out Rudy on Duncan Street. We brought my picky brothers to Beach Hill SmokeHouse - not only was the meat perfectly cooked, juicy and tender, but the staff was incredibly friendly.
St. Lawrence Market is a great spot to grab lunch on-the-go. That’s where you will find European delicacies as I like to call them: fresh charcuterie and cheese, as well as your regular market produce. A final breakfast recommendation, again thanks to my partner, is the George Street Diner. We went there last Sunday and it was the most perfect North American breakfast I have had in awhile.
Bars can be fairly expensive, so Canadians tend to drink at home more than their European counterparts. I have to say, I really miss being able to sit on a terrace and enjoy a few drinks outside. You can do it of course, and if that’s what you are looking for, rooftop patios are fairly popular in the summer. Ontario has some great local breweries, so I would recommend trying those out before paying a premium for export beers.
Again, there are so many things you can do in Toronto, this post won’t be able to do it justice. But I can tell you what I enjoyed and some of those activities might strike your fancy.
The first must-see and iconic landmark is the CN Tower. I think everyone should go up the elevator and walk over the glass floor at least once in their lifetime. If the CN Tower does not scream Toronto, I don’t know what does.
Another proper Canadian experience is to go and watch a Blue Jays baseball game. Baseball is not the most engaging sports to watch, but you get to drink beer and eat hot dogs for a somewhat reasonable price. Expect the Jays to lose - I don’t think they have been very good since the early 1990s.
Take the ferry to go and discover Toronto Island Park for those sunny days. It is a great way to enjoy a bit of nature while still being close to downtown. There are loads of fun activities for kids too, so definitely something to worth checking if you’re visiting as a family. You will also get the chance to have an amazing view of Toronto skyline.
Walk around Yorkville to enjoy the city’s best museums, such as the Royal Ontario Museum. Keep walking west to reach Kensington Market, then grab a bite in Little Italy. Come back through Chinatown and stop for a bubble tea. Yonge-Dundas Square, considered the Time Square of Toronto, will give you access to the Eaton Centre for those ready to shop ‘til you drop.
If you have the time and the possibility to rent a car, take a couple of days to drive down to Niagara Falls. Without traffic, the drive is about one hour and a half. I do not think I need to give you any incentive here - who wasn’t heard of Niagara Falls?!
Anecdotes and Last Tips
We The North refers to a campaign for the Toronto Raptors, the only Canadian team part of the NBA. Early this year, the Raptors won their first title, and the city celebrated profusely. Two (2!) million people gathered for the now historic Victory Parade.
Finally, if the weather does get nasty, as it sometimes happens, and you wonder where the heck is everyone because the streets are suddenly empty, that’s because you are on the wrong level. Toronto is indeed known to have the largest underground shopping complex with 30 km, also known as the Path. You can access it through most subway stations in the downtown area and is usually clearly indicated. Once down there though, good luck finding your way out!