Shoe Museums and Music Gardens: Five Highlights of Cultural Ontario

Canada — By on August 3, 2011 at 11:16 am

By Edd Morris

Feeling prejudiced? Well, judge your reaction to these next two facts. Are you surprised that Ontario has the third biggest theatre market in the world; or that Toronto is the second biggest exporter of TV programs in North America? If either of these statements had you taken aback, it’s a good demonstration of the snobbery leveled against Canada. So often, Canada’s depicted as being a poor neighbor to the USA: perhaps all the naysayers are jealous, because this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The heart of Canada’s thriving cultural scene is Ontario, and Ontario culture includes more than 125 museums and archives, a number of world class galleries, and 150 monuments and pieces of public art. As well as this, Ontario has the most diverse population of all of Canada, with more than quarter of its residents born overseas, making it a truly cosmopolitan place to visit. As a result, it’s time to brush the prejudice aside and discover the cultural activities that Ontario has to offer. Here are five highlights.

Take a stroll around the history of shoes

Surprisingly, one of the best museums in Ontario is also one of the quirkiest. The Bata Museum of Shoes – and, yes, it really is a shoe museum – is an unexpectedly interesting way to spend an afternoon. It’s not really about fashion, and instead uses shoes to understand more about human anthropology, culture and society. The collection has everything from dainty princesses’ plimsolls, to bizarre spiky clogs used to crush chestnuts. Highly recommended.

Marvel at Old Masters – and Frank Gehry’s architecture – in the Art Gallery of Ontario

The mighty Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, is home to more than 80,000 pieces of art, housing works as diverse as European Old Masters and modern Canadian sculpture under one roof. The building itself is equally jaw-dropping: redesigned by Gehry, one face of the gallery is covered by a vast, airy sail of wood and glass; and, inside, a billowing spiral staircase sweeps through the Walker Court.

Encounter a T-Rex and run to a mummy in the Royal Ontario Museum

Again, rather like the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum errs on the side of inclusivity, cramming everything possible under one roof. It houses exhibits as diverse as dinosaur bones, ancient Egyptian artifacts, modern photography and even contemporary Japanese art. The museum prides itself on being brilliant for children – there’s a bat cave to explore, many exhibitions are equipped with kid-friendly touch screen panels, and educational scavenger hunts take place most weekends.

Waltz through Toronto’s Music Garden

If Bach’s Suite No1 in G Major was a garden, this would be it. You’ll find the Toronto Music Garden along the harbor-front of the city, and the gentle sweeps and curves of the landscaping have been designed to reflect different segments of Bach’s composition. For $6, you can hire an audio guide which will play you the music you need to accompany your visit, along with interesting audio titbits of how the garden was designed.

Sleep in an indie gig venue

Drake Hotel in Toronto is a unique place to sleep. Grandly proclaiming itself not to be a hotel but an entire ‘cultural experience’, the complex includes an indie venue, a sushi bar, and even a rooftop vegetable garden. The rooms – or ‘crashpads’, in their words – are decorated with global style icons and knowing pop culture references. For the best rates for hotels like Drake, a tip is that mydestination.com/ontario has an intelligent search tool which finds the best prices from a variety of websites.
Edd Morris has been a Londoner since 2005. That hasn’t cured his itchy feet – he still loves traveling the world in search of spicy food and someone to practice Spanish with.

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