Toronto is trendy, relaxed and very tolerant. Our author Harald Braun had the most casual corners of the metropolis on Lake Ontario shown by an insider.
A city that makes you happy
The meeting point is “Doc’s Leather Shop” in West Queen West. Betty Ann Jordan is too early. She waves me over with a casual gesture of her arm as she continues talking, not losing sight of the young man behind the cash register. It looks a little bit like blessed Heath Ledger – pretty good, to put it off discreetly. He’s about 40 years younger than Betty Ann, but it still looks like the two were running a flirt.
“Tobi is an artist,” says Betty Ann after greeting me briefly. And: “Show me!” Tobi turns his laptop so that I too can see his work. Aha, Tobi is a wild painter – also very embarrassed: “I’m still looking for a good gallery owner.” – “You are talented, Tobi”, praises Betty Ann and pulls on my sleeve, “right, right?” I nod vaguely and mumble something like “Jooaahh, the man has potential”. Then Betty Ann beams at me: “You see, you noticed it too!” Already Betty Ann Jordan has voted three people happy: the young savage at the cash register, because he senses that their enthusiasm is meant to be honest. Me, because I suspect that this day could be quite amusing with Betty Ann Jordan. And of course, too, because Betty Ann Jordan loves to meet people. If they also do something creative – Bingo! She notes Tobi’s phone number before we go, then she looks at me from the side: “And now to us.”
Kensington Market is a symbol of the tolerant climate of the city, of Toronto’s openness and love of freedom. Anyone can hoist his freak flag here, as high as he wants.
BETTY ANN JORDAN WAS RECOMMENDED TO ME; No one, it said, knew better in the trendy neighborhoods of Toronto than they: “If you want to know something about the city, which is not in all the guides, you have to call them.” Betty Ann does not talk about her age, she may be around 60, but that’s not what comes to mind when she sees it. No, rather something like: Is not this the younger sister of Ruth Gordon, the lead actress from “Harold and Maude”? Plus a gentle, warm pinch of Audrey Hepburn? Betty Ann Jordan surrounds the timeless, elegant aura of a fine lady. She is dressed in nuances, daring splashes of color, without being overly intrusive styled. You see a person who combines style with alert intelligence. She once ran an art magazine. And she knows, it will turn out in the next few hours, in the living corners of the megacity almost every man.
The plan was for Betty Ann Jordan to show me the Kensington Market and West Queen West neighborhoods that day and otherwise share a few stories about Toronto. “Let’s start with Kensington Market,” she says, immediately dispelling the obvious misconception that it really is a real market. It is no coincidence that the American writer John Irving, who lives in Toronto, just strolled through this district to promote his latest novel “Road of Miracles” on Youtube. “Kensington Market is a clear symbol of the city’s tolerant climate, of Toronto’s openness and love of freedom, where anyone can raise their freak flag as high as they want,” she says.
IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY, IT IS A BITTER ARMES JEWISH QUARTER, until after the end of World War II immigrants from the Azores, the Caribbean, East Asia and Vietnam settled there. Later, refugees from Latin America and Africa joined. Today, the colorful neighborhood in Downtown Toronto is a vital playground for creatives and life piercers. Full of small pubs, quirky boutiques and great restaurants that also serve fancy fusion cuisine, from Jamaican-Italian to Hungarian-Thai.
Very important for the self-understanding of its inhabitants: In Kensington Market global companies like Walmart or Starbucks have no chance, although they try it again and again. It is one of the few trendy districts in the world that have not yet been defeated in the fight against gentrification, says Betty Ann Jordan. “There’s even a civic association here – the ‘Friends of Kensington Market’ – who keep watch over the colorful character.”
To gain a glimpse of the proportions of Toronto – with around 6.4 million inhabitants around – Betty Ann advises me to take a ride on the CN Tower in the next few days, the 553 meter high TV tower. The CN Tower is Torontos unofficial landmark: Here you are proud of the second-highest freestanding structure in the world, which was surpassed in 2010 by the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. Okay, a ride on the TV tower is usually not exactly an insider tip: Almost two million visitors cavort every year on the observation decks and in the revolving restaurant at an altitude of 351 meters. Still, Betty Ann Jordan is right – the view of Lake Ontario and the view of the Toronto skyline is pretty impressive! It also becomes clearer from up here why the Hollywood movie industry has often moved to Toronto in recent years to simulate New York impressions: Toronto’s skyline looks no less glamorous from a distance than the Big Apple. If you zoom closer, you will still notice subtle differences. First, life in Toronto is more relaxed than in New York. “The Canadian is a laid back contemporary,” says my companion as we stroll over the time-honored St. Lawrence Farmers Market.
The people are not just relaxed, they are very friendly
The market is one of the most famous of its kind in the world. Those who offer their fresh produce here have passed stringent quality controls. Even difference number two is noticeable here between fresh fish counter and coffee shops: the people are not only relaxed, they are also extremely friendly. That’s the American, too, but not always quite as authentic in its formulaic exuberance. Toronters are nice in a rather unagitated way. From the taxi driver to the supermarket cashier, everyone has a friendly word, a smile ready. “Why do people look so friendly in your eyes here, unlike most major cities, when you meet them on the street?” I ask Betty Ann. She shrugs: “My guess: Toronto is a safe city – no-one has to be constantly on guard here.” As we approach a zebra crossing in the fashionable Yorkville shopping district and a big car slows down a little too late, the driver cranks down the window and contritely lets us know, “Sorry, folks, I was out of focus for a moment.”
“TYPICAL TORONTO” confirms Betty Ann, who is constantly on the look out for cultural and culinary news even without clients like me in her hometown. In the elaborately restored former industrial park Distillery District we eat in the “El Catrin”, a refined styled Edelmexikaner. The store is full, the audience has its roots in the whole world. Like everywhere in Toronto. Tourists? “No,” contradicts Betty Ann. “Although the Distillery District is considered a nightlife district, it’s mostly locals – there’s not that typical long-established resident – almost half of them have no Canadian roots – Toronto is the most multi-cultural city I know.”
The coexistence of all these groups is not a problem, even if you deliberately do not want to be a “melting pot” crucible. From Chinatown to Little Portugal, there are a lot of neighborhoods where immigrants of the same background have settled separately. But that does not mean that the Toronters are mentally adjusting themselves in their niches. They are proud of their city, the long tower, the many museums that have made Toronto a magnet for culturally ambitious visitors. And even the “Maple Leafs”, the local ice hockey team – even if that rarely wins. Courage for the aesthetical border area is also noticeable: the construction of the famous Art Gallery of Ontario, reminiscent of a glass zeppelins, would certainly not be loved in many cities of the world with the same fervor as here. And the outside of the Sydney Opera House somewhat reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House’s Royal Ontario Museum proves that the Canadians are not afraid of kauzig-edged architecture in public space.
Betty likes to roam through the trendy West Queen West district
BUT WE ASK IT JUST THE PROFESSIONAL. BETTY ANN JORDAN NEEDS to choose a district, then she would make the choice easily: She prefers to roam through the trendy West Queen West district. The Queen Street West is quite long, but only the western part of it is considered the hip, lively part, in which a vital scene of art and gastronomy has settled. “This is especially true of the ‘Drake’ Hotel,” says Betty Ann. “It has become a meeting place for the creative community in Downtown over the past few years.” In fact, in Toronto, the name Jeff Stober and his “Drake” hotel, acquired by the hotelier in 2001 and opened in 2004, are frequently encountered. The 19 rooms, charming and casual urban furnishings, are often fully booked. But as a place for readings and concerts, as well as a communications hub that vibrates in the rooftop bar and café, the “Drake” probably has a much greater significance for the local scene than for its hotel guests from all over the world.
In West Queen West, Betty Ann Jordan meets friends and acquaintances every minute. For example, in the small library “Type Books”, where the assortment is strictly curated, bookseller Derek McCormack has just published a volume of short stories himself. In the “Atomic Design”, a through-composed furniture gallery a few blocks away, good pieces pile up from Eames to Jacobsen. A young man welcomes Betty Ann warmly. “This is Lawrence Blair,” Betty Ann introduces him, “you probably will not find anyone who is more familiar with interior design in Toronto.” And so it goes on on our long, colorful tour …
The Niagara Falls are virtually around the corner
Once the otherwise deep relaxed Betty Ann is stunned, yes, almost shocked on our common discovery day. When did I intend to go to Niagara Falls, she asked. I answer with a little enthusiastic shrug: “Not at all, I probably have no time for that anymore.” It was followed by a look that is incredulous, embarrassed and contemptible at the same time. “The Niagara Falls are an absolutely great spectacle!”, Excited Betty Ann. “Unique, really fantastic and in less than two hours to reach from here!” There is always time for that – what do I have to do, if not so important? Well, maybe fly home? That’s what Betty Ann just let me go through. However, as always, she has the last word: “Then you come back next summer and experience how the whole city romps on the shores of Lake Ontario.” Good plan.
Our travel tips for Torono
BEST TRAVEL TIME
From May to September it rains the least, in summer it can get up to 30 degrees. The lake of Ontario then provides cooling
Intercontinental Yorkville At first glance a nondescript chain hotel, but perfectly located in the chic Yorkville shopping district with friendly staff. Opposite: the Royal Ontario Museum. Double room from about 155 Euro, toronto.intercontinental.com
Gladstone Hotel Art boutique hotel with similar hipper clientele as the neighboring “Drake”. It has 37 idiosyncratic rooms – the design was designed by artists and therefore is anything but discreet. Double room from about 145 Euro, gladstonehotel.ca
British-born and Toronto-based mystery writer Maureen Jennings created her serial hero Detective William Murdoch, who plows through the Toronto at the end of the 19th century. Four volumes have been published in German by Heyne, but only available in antiquarian.
Not everywhere, where New York, Chicago or LA on it, the city is also in it. Often, filmed in Toronto instead because the skyline is similar, the costs manageable and the shooting permits are easier to have. Toronto to watch in “Blues Brothers 2000”, “Chicago”, “The Comeback” or “X-Men”.
ART & DESIGN
Toronto is open for something new and different: the Art Gallery of Ontario is reminiscent of a glass zeppelins. Frank Gehry’s spectacular construction houses one of North America’s premier contemporary art museums. The design of the Royal Ontario Museum in Yorkville proves that the Canadian metropolis is not afraid of modern architecture in public spaces. The extension is by star architect Daniel Libeskind, and the focus of the house is a comprehensive ethnographic collection on the cultures of the continents. Info: ago.ca , rom.on.ca
An article from BRIGITTE woman
KREISCHIG BUNT This is the style of the thrift store “Courage my Love” in the Kensington Market district
MULTICULTURAL The hands on the graffiti have different skin colors. Just like the Toronters – almost half of the inhabitants have no Canadian roots
GREAT The CN Tower is the second tallest building in the world – and not just the star of the city
OLD AND NEW There is plenty of cultural and natural history in the Royal Ontario Museum – in a building by Daniel Libeskind
MODERNIZED Like a 3-D puzzle of square particles, Toronto looks bird’s-eye-view