search

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open for Toronto's Top Sightseeing



Toronto is a thriving, modern city. Look around Toronto and you’d be forgiven for thinking that much of the city has only been built over the past 50 years. Glass skyscrapers and condo buildings have become an integral part of the city's zeitgeist, and even world-renowned architectural landmarks like the CN Tower and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum are newer constructions (built in 1972 and 2007 respectively).

But while Toronto’s best historical sights don’t immediately show themselves to tourists who aren’t looking for them, the city is full of fascinating glimpses into its past. Visit the Cathedral Church of St. James, which stands out as the oldest congregation in the city and was one of the largest buildings back in 1850. With Toronto's preference for vertical construction, that sure has changed. St. James is now designated under the Ontario Heritage Act to preserve its historical beauty. Conveniently, it is located steps from the award winning Saint Lawrence Market. History sure can build up an appetite.

Or visit Guildwood Park, on the eastern reaches of Toronto, where relics from buildings that have disappeared from the city skyline are preserved in a sculpture garden.

The sights on our list are located all over the expansive city. Wherever you are, you can find a piece of Toronto’s history worth admiring.


Advertisement

10
Downtown


The CN Tower is the ubiquitous symbol of Toronto. Yet it is much more than the world's tallest towering building. It provides a terrific perspective of the city, with a glass floor that can bring out acrophobia in anyone by being 1/3 of a kilometre above ground. The CN Tower's range of attractions and exhibits includes a digital animation program (Thrill Zone, which allows visitors a virtual bungee jump), a laser tag game, nightclub, 300-seat cafe, award-winning 360 restaurant (with the world's highest wine cellar!), shops, and a Simulator Theatre, which mimics air flight. Pay an extra $12 to go up in the Skypod, which will give you a more private experience of the incredible view.




You don't have to be Anglican to appreciate this church. St. James Cathedral was originally erected in wood and was used during the War of 1812 as a hospital. It was rebuilt in stone in 1833 but burned down by 1839 and after being rebuilt again, burned again in 1849. Persistence paid off and an international architectural competition was held with the winner choosing a Gothic Revival design. In the later 1800s, details such as the pinnacles and finials were added. It took until 1980 before further renovations kept this structure standing. Inside everything is linked proportionally and rationally, like a math equation come to life. A carved organ with 5000 pipes sits underneath a royal coat of arms. Stepping inside feels like stepping inside a piece of history.




The Art Gallery of Ontario, with its high ceilings, light spaces and spiral staircases would be enough art even without the paintings on the walls. However, the art is indeed amazing, from the exhibitions to the galleries. The Group of Seven are a must see. The gallery also impresses with its wide range of programming, from free tango lessons to weekly art classes of all styles. If you are a Toronto resident, pick up the Sun Life Museum + Arts pass using your library card at your local library. Check the library website for availability, but scoring one could let 2 adults and 5 children in for free.


Advertisement
7
Midtown


Toronto is not exactly the first place you go when you get the craving for a castle. However, in the middle of an upscale neighbourhood right near downtown Toronto, there is a majestic castle which was built in 1911 by a Canadian industrialist. It was meant to be a home for him and his wife. Unfortunately, by the time it was completed, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt's financial situation was not quite as favourable due to misguided investment decisions and the post-war recession. Enter Toronto city, who seized control of Casa Loma in 1933. In the years since, Casa Loma has been open to the public and offers tours of the castle's 98 rooms, 1,800-bottle wine cellar and 800-foot underground passage leading to the home's stables.




You may be thinking: once you have seen one dinosaur, you have seen them all. Think again: The Royal Ontario Museum is not to be missed. You also literally cannot miss it. The main entrance reopened in 2007; a stunning piece of architecture resembling a crystal by David Libeskind. Inside, the spacious grounds include featured exhibitions of world-renowned art, dinosaur bones that will dwarf your tallest friend and even a Ming tomb. In fact, there are over six million Canadian and international artifacts. The ROM's massive quarters are divided into three gallery spaces: World Culture, Natural History and Hands-on. The ROM has world culture, natural history and hands-on galleries from the prehistoric to the present.




Founded in 1827, this public institution has consistently been viewed as one of Toronto's strongest Universities. In addition to the University of Toronto's place as a leader in post-secondary education, the sprawling downtown campus is a remarkable display of different architectural styles (contemporary, Gothic, Victorian), sculptures and green spaces. It looks well suited for ghost sightings, of which there are many, including a roaming 19th centure stonemason. Stroll through the campus along the Philosopher's Walk pathway, admire the stained glass windows in the Gothic Revival-style Soldiers' Tower or explore the bookshelves at Robarts Library, one of the leading examples of Brutalist architecture in North America. Be sure to pop into the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library, with 700,000 volumes of exciting original materials.


4
West Toronto
High Park


High Park is Toronto's version of Central Park in New York. Toronto's largest 400 acre public park has been the jewel in Toronto's park system with historical buildings, amazing hiking trails, a free zoo and playgrounds. A park highlight is Colborne Lodge, which is one of 10 historic sites operated by the city of Toronto. Colborne Lodge is a monument to John and Jemima Howard, the couple who founded High Park. This house, built in 1837 still has some original paintings of early Toronto. High Park is a walker's or runner's delight with pathways connecting the park's various natural habitats, picnic areas, ponds and landscaped gardens. From spring to fall, a "trackless train" (a tractor that pulls several wagons designed to resemble a train) takes visitors around the park, stopping at various points of interest.




Toronto is home to the world's best food market, according to National Geographic (a pretty reputable source, if you ask us). Even if you don't subscribe, you will certainly rank The St. Lawrence Market highly due to the fantastic collection of vendors selling all manners of food in the southeast end of the downtown core. The indoor marketplace has been in operation since 1803 on what was then "Market Block." It was the first permanent farmer's market, with insightful tours to keep you abreast of this important part of Toronto history. In 1834 it even became a temporary office for the local civic government. It was rebuilt after the great Fire of Toronto but continues to be a hub of Toronto activity and history.


2
Scarborough


Guildwood Park's 90 acres of picturesque gardens and walking trails serves as a sort of graveyard for Toronto's historic buildings. The park features approximately 70 pieces of buildings that stood in the city's downtown core until being torn down in the post-World War II boom. The facades, archways and other pieces were transported here, and today form a sculpture garden popular with wedding photographers and history buffs. You can see everything from the remains of the Temple Building, Toronto's first skyscraper and once the tallest in the British Empire, to the fireplace mantle salvaged from the home of Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin.The grounds were once home to the Guild Inn, established as an artists' colony where more than 100 craftsmen and their families lived rent-free. Many of these artists were affiliated with the famous Group of Seven.




Toronto's Distillery Historic District began in 1859 as the site of the Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery. 100 years later, the distillery was producing nearly half of the total volume of spirits in the province of Ontario, making it one of the country's most important manufacturing facilities (people like their spirits!). As war, prohibition and outsourcing changed the face of Toronto, it did its number on the distillery which closed in 1990. However, 13 years later this historic district got its second chance and became a charming pedestrian-only village. This area of Toronto today is like no other, with cobblestone pathways and Victorian-era buildings housing restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.


Map

Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney

×