TORONTO POLISHES BIG-LEAGUE IMAGE
By Dan Schlossberg
Don't let anyone suggest Toronto isn't in the big leagues.
Even when winter grips most of the Canadian continent, fans keep warm by screaming their
lungs out for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, burning the hot stove league for the baseball
Blue Jays, and wondering whether unwitting hotel guests will provide another X-rated show for
SkyDome baseball fans.
When local pro teams hit the road, fans flock to The Hockey Hall of Fame and Canada Sports
Hall of Fame, which share a building at the Canadian National Exhibition.
Canadians are conditioned to be good sports: who else could smile even when their teeth are
chattering? Maybe their sparkling environment has something to do with it.
Toronto's streets are clean. The natives are friendly. The mass transit system offers service
instead of graffiti.
The city is the capital of Canada in every way but one: the seat of government is located
Peter Ustinov describes Toronto as "New York run by the Swiss." Fortune magazine calls it
"New York without crime, corruption, or pollution." And tourism thrives to the tune of $3 billion
Moonstruck was filmed here. So were The Fly, Three Men and a Baby, and dozens of other
Toronto has also given the world insulin, Standard Time, and Superman (creator Joe Schuster
based The Daily Planet on The Toronto Daily Star when creating the Clark Kent character in
1938). By that time, The Star's list of distinguished alumni already included the name of Ernest
Hemingway. Silent film star Mary Pickford and Fiddler on the Roof producer Norman Jewison
also came from Toronto.
The city is a stage: the third largest on-location film town in North America (behind Hollywood
and New York) as well as the third largest theater town in the world (behind New York and
London). Its 3.5 million residents enjoy 130 theater companies on 45 stages.
Ethnic diversification is staggering: there's a Little Italy, a Greek quarter, three different
Chinatowns, and more than 70 ethnic groups -- statistics that support the 1989 UN designation
of Toronto as "the world's most ethnically-diverse city."
International enclaves are everywhere. Beyond the fruits and fish of the Kensington Market are
fresh-baked Mexican tortillas. Not far away are Greek bakeries and Far Eastern kitchens.
Many of the city's 4,000 restaurants purchase fresh produce at St. Lawrence Market, a large
farmer's market on bustling Front Street.
Queen Street West is the place to go for hip clothes, coffee houses, nightspots, and used
book and records. Creations from the world's top fashion designers are in the Bloor/Yorkville
area. And Spadina Avenue, between Adelaide and College, is the heart of the city's fashion
Toronto meant "place of meeting" to the Huron Indians and maintains that reputation today.
Canada's business center, cultural capital, and entertainment mecca sits in a prime location on
the north shore of Lake Ontario -- 90 air minutes from 60 per cent of the United States and 90
minutes by automobile from the New York State border.
Shops and restaurants line Yonge Street, stretching 1,100 miles from Toronto harbor to James
Bay, and the Underground City, where three miles of tunnels link 1,000 retail stores. Much of
the local population hangs out there during the cold-weather months.
While Yonge is the longest street in the world, the underground is the world's largest
subterranean complex. Shops, restaurants, banks, services, theaters, and clubs stretch six
blocks north and south -- half of it under the financial district.
On cold winter days, when less hearty people would be hibernating, half the city packs the
Even without a car, getting around is easy: the Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) brags that it
runs the safest, cleanest, most efficient system in North America.
It certainly has the largest streetcar network -- so extensive, in fact, that the Gray Line offers a
vintage trolley tour that covers many of the city's historical sights in 90 minutes.
Unlike other cities, which have tried to cultivate tourist favor by painting buses in trolley regalia,
Toronto has the real thing. Its trolleys are streetcars, running on rails imbedded in the streets
and powered by overhead electric lines. At rush hour, motormen jump out with crowbars to
move rails manually and reroute their cars.
There's no talk of ripping out the rails here: the trolleys -- especially the old-time red ones --
are far too popular. Free transfers between streetcar and subway lines helps.
No wonder the SkyDome has only 350 parking places: fans leave their cars home.
Since its opening in 1989, the ballpark has challenged the adjacent CN Tower as Toronto's top
It took three years to build the $550 million structure, topped by a retractable roof 31 stories
high. A 32-home subdivision could be contained in the eight acres inside.
The stadium holds 53,000 seats -- most of which are occupied when the Toronto Blue Jays are
home. The Rolling Stones also packed the place, which converts to a football configuration for
the Toronto Argonauts.
The SkyDome has gained some unwanted notoriety as the world's only X-rated ballpark: fans
with binoculars have been known to spot amorous adventures through the windows of the
SkyDome Hotel, high above center field.
Seventy of the hotel's 348 suites have stadium views -- exposing unwary occupants to
thousands of potential Peeping Toms. If they keep their clothes on, hotel guests can enjoy a
luxurious private vantage point -- with or without crowd noise (windows on the ballpark side are
remarkably sound-proof when closed).
As much a tourist attraction as the ballpark, the hotel has a lobby with a 16-screen video wall
that captures the on-the-field action, while its split-level suites have TVs on both levels. Live
views are available from Windows on the SkyDome Restaurant, Sightlines Lounge, and Cafe
on the Green, four SkyBoxes that hold 25 people each, and the rooms that face the field.
Guests who stay there find there's no stranger feeling than waking up in the morning, drawing
the curtains, and coming face-to-face with an empty ballpark.
While many hotel guests come for the novelty, many come for the convenience: proximity to
the tower, convention center, and theater district as well as the ballpark.
The convenience is so good that several players actually live at the hotel.
Also in the SkyDome complex are the largest McDonald's in North America, a
health-and-fitness club, meeting facilities, and SkyPlace, a maze of offices and retail outlets.
Right next door is the CN Tower, the corporate symbol of Canadian National Railways. The
tallest freestanding structure in the world (1,815'5"), it was built to improve communications
systems blocked by existing skyscrapers. The $57 million tower, constructed over a period of
40 months, opened in 1976.
The tower still draws 1.6 million visitors per year. They come for the view -- 100 miles in all
directions from the Space Deck -- as well as the revolving restaurant and the world's highest
Though the tower's four elevators move 1,200 people per hour, waiting lines are often long.
Many guests simply sample the construction film "To the Top" and move on.
Once a year, climbing the stairs is an option: the first 1,760 steps of the 2,570-step staircase
are opened as a special United Way fund-raiser. Getting down is faster -- especially for
stuntman Dar Robinson, who has jumped off the tower several times.
Conditions are hardly conducive to such feats. Windows are armor-plated to protect against
turbulence and the tower has an intentional sway to compensate for days when extreme winds
whistle off Lake Ontario. Lightning hits the tower 75 times a year but three copper strips
running down the sides provide adequate grounding.
The tower is both a source of radio-TV signals and a beacon for visitors heading for
downtown. Visible even from distant points across the lake, it stands in marked contrast to
such historic structures as St. Lawrence Hall (1851), where P.T. Barnum first introduced Tom
Thumb; the Gooderham Building (1892), the local version of New York's Flatiron Building; and
Union Station (1927), where 22 pillars of Bedford limestone support a soaring Italian tiled
ceiling that looks like a hangar for the Goodyear blimp.
Casa Loma, a 98-room, $3.5 million mansion built from 1911-14 by industrialist Sir Henry Mill
Pellatt, is probably the most unusual structure in the city. Built because its owner had a
fascination with European castles, it contains 25 fireplaces, 30 bathrooms, 5,000 lightbulbs, a
shooting gallery, and three bowling alleys.
The only castle in the world with an electric elevator and indoor pool, it also has fountains,
gardens, and an 800-foot tunnel leading from the main house to the stables. Its days as a
private residence ended in 1923 when Sir Henry couldn't keep up with rising costs: $12,000 for
taxes, $15,000 for fuel, and $22,000 for the staff of 40 servants.
Ferries docked at the foot of York Street give hour-long harbor tours and connect the
mainland with nearby islands. One of them has a marker indicating that Babe Ruth hit his only
minor-leame run there in 1914 while playing for Providence of the International League.
Harbourfront, sandwiched between the lake and SkyDome complex, is a prime place to walk. A
fine example of waterfront restoration, it combines the shoreline with open parkland,
office/retail space, and enough room to stage 4,200 shows, events, and activities per year.
When winter's winds whip the waterfront, try Bloor/Yorkville district; the one-time hippie haven
is now the home of the city's most exclusive shops and restaurants -- definitely the place where
one might spot a visiting celebrity (like Toronto native Dan Aykroyd). Pedestrians will also see
why Toronto is sometimes called the City of Steeples.
History comes to life at the University of Toronto, founded in 1827 -- seven years before the
city was incorporated.
Seven of the original structures still stand at Fort York, where American forces attacked the
entrenched British during the War of 1812. In retribution, the British invaded Washington, D.C.
and set fire to the President's residence. The building survived but the scorched walls had to
be whitewashed so many times that the structure became known as the White House.
Locals like to say the city is worth more than New York: the Mississauga Indians set its value at
$1,700 and sold it to the British in 1787 for flannel, food, and axes.
The Royal York Hotel, a Front Street landmark, reflects the city's British heritage. Visitors
wishing to rub shoulders with celebrities, however, may have better luck at the Four Seasons,
the home-away-from-home for presidents, politicos, and dignitaries from around the world.
It's even tougher to choose a restaurant.
Toronto is certainly a city to be savored and not gulped. It is diverse, dynamic, and endearing
-- and sometimes a bit mysterious.
No one, for example, has figured out why the architect of the Ontario Science Centre painted
his signature in Japanese on the roof. It is visible only to those who fly over it.