Toronto: Canada’s Big Apple?

New York City. Gotham. The Capital of the Wold. The Big Apple. They say that no other city compares; although some have said that Toronto is Canada’s Big Apple.

As I write this post I wish I could give you a personal comparison of the two cities but much to my extreme dismay I have never been to New York City. I know, I know…I never expected to see Canada’s largest city before America’s but a trade show called and I answered without hesitation.

Since I was in town for work, I only had one day to explore the city so tried to make the most of it…I wasn’t about to fly across the nation without seeing anything but my hotel room and the convention center! So I rented a car and braved traffic on my own to avoid the high-priced taxis (a minimum of $50 from the airport to downtown…ouch!). My first stop was an early 1900’s gothic style mansion turned museum in midtown Toronto. This 98 room mansion, known as Casa Loma, served as a private residence, luxury hotel, night club, research center, museum and even Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hollows. Aside from the architecture, my favorite part of touring Casa Loma was climbing winding staircases to the very top of the castle for a beautiful view of the Toronto skyline and the iconic CN tower. This uniquely shaped, gigantic tower (the tallest in the Western Hemisphere) makes for a pretty unforgettable skyline.

The majority of my afternoon was spent at Yonge-Dundas Square because I read that it was comparable to Times Square. From the moment I stepped out of underground parking, I could tell it was no Times Square (in terms of overall scale and grandeur) but that didn’t take away from the experience. I have no doubt that I was pegged as a tourist because both my gaze and camera were constantly pointed up at the huge, brightly lit advertisements and tall buildings. The square itself, which hosts everything from concerts and movies to markets and computerized fountains, was disappointingly empty so I spent most of my time walking up and down the longest street in the world – Yonge St. This busy street is packed with unique shops and restaurants which means I could have spent a lot more time there than I did but I had a show to catch.

I booked myself to see a play at one of the oldest operating theatres in North America per the recommendation of an older gentlemen I met at another trade show. He said that if I enjoyed theatre then I must see a show at the Royal Alexandra Theatre – one of the oldest operating theaters in North America. The man explained that most plays do a stint at the Royal Alex before moving to Broadway and that when he goes to the theatre he closes his eyes and tries to imagine who might have sat in his seat. I was sold. I was even more sold when I found out that Kim Cattrall was in a comedy called Private Lives the weekend I was in town. I bought tickets on the spot and it was by far the best experience I had in Toronto. The show was hilarious (a perfect role for Kim) and the theatre was absolutely beautiful. The same play went on to Broadway in New York two weeks later.

So how did the two cities compare? I was able to enjoy many of the same things in Toronto that I envisioned myself doing in NYC. I admit that New York has Toronto beat on the square but it would be pretty hard to beat my experience at the Royal Alex. Hats off to you, Toronto. I hope I can come back next year to see more!

Royal Alex Theatre - Photo credit Edward Burtynsky

By Denise Schnider