Toronto Arts & Culture

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The Canadian National Exhibition remains a focal point of Toronto’s culture

Toronto is the largest city of Canada and one of its most ethnically diverse; many immigrant cultures have brought their traditions and music. It is a city of many museums, theatres, festival events and sports activities.

Art and exhibits

Recently opened Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, an addition to the Royal Ontario Museum.

Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (“the ROM”) is world-renowned, as well as the Art Gallery of Ontario (the “AGO”) which is one of North America’s largest.

Toronto holds many other major museums and galleries, such as the Gardiner Museum, Bata Shoe Museum, Design Exchange, Museum of Inuit Art, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Fort York, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Canadian Air and Space Museum, CBC Museum, Hockey Hall of Fame, John Street Roundhouse, Institute for Contemporary Culture,TD Gallery of Inuit Art, Textile Museum of Canada, Harbourfront Centre, Allen Lambert Galleria, Ontario Science Centre and the future Aga Khan Museum. There are also museums, such as the Parliament Interpretive Centre, operated by Ontario Heritage Trust, purposed for education about the War of 1812 and the history and anthropology of the province and city.

Prominent art scenes and collections are also found in the city’s major institutions, like the Ontario College of Art and Design University, the University of Toronto Art Centre, Ryerson Image Centre, and the Art Gallery of York University.The city also runs its own historic museums which include Casa Loma and Spadina House. Lastly, there is also a place called Graffiti Alley, a network of alleyways around Queen St and Spadina Ave that features kilometres of graffiti art.

The governments of Toronto and Ontario also each have collections of important archives, historic artifacts and documents, as well as artworks of significance. TheCity of Toronto Archives and Archives of Ontario house these in separate buildings, but may be available for public viewing. The Toronto Reference Library also holds historic documents from the world and hosts exhibitions. Toronto also has the largest public library system in the world.

Some prominent artists who have called Toronto home are Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven members, Douglas Coupland, Shary Boyle, General Idea’s members, and Frank Gehry.

Gallery devotees to contemporary art include the Power Plant, Design Exchange, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, First Canadian Place gallery and many private galleries in Yorkville, the Distillery District, Queen Street West, The Junction, and elsewhere. Nuit Blanche Toronto is a free celebration of contemporary art which features public art commissions, all-night exhibitions, live performances and programs throughout the city. Luminato is a comparable annual event that runs for ten days at the beginning of June.

During Doors Open Toronto, which takes place annually in May, over 140 buildings of architectural, historic or cultural significance are open to the public for a city-wide celebration. The annual Toronto International Art Fair showcases modern, multi-disciplined art with a focus on the latest international developments. TheQueen West Art Crawl is an annual weekend-long festival celebrating the arts on Queen Street West. The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition is another annual weekend event at Nathan Phillips Square, gathering more than 500 visual artists and craftspeople mainly from Ontario and Quebec. Works including Native art, contemporary sculpture, and architectural models can be seen within the rotunda of Toronto’s City Hall. Art is also showcased within the Toronto subway system,most notably on the Sheppard line and stations north of Bloor St, as well as Pearson Airport, featuring international and Canadian art.

Public art and sculpture in the city are abundant, and have representations of many artists like Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, Menashe Kadishman,Douglas Coupland, Bernard Schottlander, Jaume Plensa, Rowan Gillespie, William McElcheran, Joe Fafard, and traditional Inuit art, among others. Public art also finds a home at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, with its temporary outdoor exhibitions. The Princess of Wales Theatre also has the largest work of American painterFrank Stella, with 10 000 sq. ft of his works found inside the structure, as well as a large mural at the sides of it.

Exhibition Place is the home of both the Canadian National Exhibition, a large annual outdoor fair, and the Canadian International Air Show. Nearby Ontario Place is a popular amusement park on the waterfront.

A vibrant visual arts scene includes several artist-run cooperatives regularly presenting contemporary art exhibitions.

ArtsScene, a group hosted by Business for the Arts, an alliance of banks and insurance companies, aims to encourage more young business professionals to engage with the arts. ArtsScene holds monthly events at different arts organizations, organizes events to arrange volunteer board and committee memberships in Canadian arts and heritage organizations, and maintains a website to connect potential volunteers on-line with arts organizations.

Toronto’s fashion scene is primarily focused in Queen West, King West, and Yorkville. The city has LG Fashion Week, and also recently has had “Rogue Fashion Week” for designers who choose not to show with the official festival. There is also a Fashion Film Festival.

Toronto has one of the highest count of film festivals in the world, most famously the Toronto International Film Festival, which opened a new headquarters in 2010 called the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which houses film screenings (mostly Canadian, art-house, international, etc. films), restaurants, and exhibition and gallery spaces. The city also has Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, ReelHeART International Film Festival, Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and WILDsound Film Festival. Toronto also has the National Film Board of Canada.

Performing arts

Home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Toronto is home to Canada’s most active English language theatre scene; indeed, the Canadian actor, playwright and theatre critic David Gardner has claimed: “With over 168 nonprofit companies and a host of independent commercial enterprises, Toronto has emerged as the world’s third-largest centre for English-language theatre, behind only London and New York.”

Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company regularly stages classic works by Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare, while theCanadian Stage Company has mounted performances of Shirley Valentine, Frankenstein and It’s a Wonderful Life.Harold Green Jewish Theatre has staged such pieces as Kindertransport and Tuesdays with Morrie. Tarragon Theatrenot only has performed pieces by Strindberg, Chekhov, etc., but has helped playwrights to develop and stage new works.

Several Broadway theatrical hits originated in Toronto, such as the 1993 revival of Show Boat and Ragtime. Venues for theatre include the historic Canon Theatre(formerly the “Pantages”), the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Poor Alex Theatre, and theHarbourfront Centre. Theatres such as The Factory Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille aim to produce distinctly Canadian theatre and have nurtured local artists including George F. Walker, Michael Healey and Ann-Marie MacDonald.

Other prominent venues include St Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Young People’s Theatre, Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, and the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Musical venues in Toronto include Roy Thomson Hall, home to Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO); the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York; Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, (previously the Hummingbird Centre) and Massey Hall. The Canadian Opera Company built Canada’s first purpose-built opera house, the Four Seasons Centre, which opened in 2006. The National Ballet of Canada, which had previously appeared at the Sony Centre with the COC, also moved into the Four Seasons Centre at the same time. The city is also home to the renowned Toronto Children’s Chorus.

As Canada’s recording industry centre, Toronto is also home to many Canadian pop, rock, and hip hop musicians. Live music is centred primarily in the so-called Entertainment District on Queen Street West, though many music venues exist in other neighbourhoods. Established acts play at venues such as Lee’s Palace, The Opera House, The Horseshoe Tavern, The Mod Club, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, The Guvernment and Kool Haus. Major concert tours usually book into larger venues such as Air Canada Centre, Sony Centre for the Arts, Rogers Centre and Molson Amphitheatre at Ontario Place.

The Toronto Music Garden, designed with Yo-Yo Ma as a consultant, also hosts free outdoor orchestras in the summer.

Toronto hosts the annual Toronto Student Film Festival. TSFF is a free submission film festival, that screens short films created by students 12-18 years old. This festival attracts submissions from across the world.


The Greater Toronto Area is the centre of English Canadian literature, and a list of fiction set in Toronto reveals many titles by writers such as Margaret Atwood,Michael Ondaatje, Robertson Davies, M. G. Vassanji and Timothy Findley. Other prominent Toronto-based writers include Marshall McLuhan, Rohinton Mistry,Morley Callaghan, Michael Ignatieff, George Elliott Clarke and the late George Faludy and Jane Jacobs. Canada’s mostly Toronto-based English-languagepublishing industry includes McClelland and Stewart and smaller firms like House of Anansi Press, Key Porter Books and Coach House Books. Since 1974 theToronto Book Awards have honoured authors of books evocative of Toronto. PEN Canada is an activist group working since 1926 in defence of freedom of expression throughout the world. North America’s largest literary festival, the annual International Festival of Authors, takes place each fall in Toronto.

Canada’s main English-language national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, as well as the National Post and Canada’s largest-circulating daily newspaper (Toronto Star) are based in Toronto, as are many other major magazines and periodicals.

Tourism events

Caribana parade participants, 2006.

Toronto’s most iconic landmark is the CN Tower. The tourism industry has not fully recovered from a 2003 SARS outbreak, while the strong Canadian dollar and tighter Canadian customs controls influenced by U.S. homeland security paranoia have resulted in fewer US visitors, while tourists from overseas continue to increase.

Toronto plays host to a variety of different events year-round. In September, Hollywood actors, writers, directors and producers descend on the city for the Toronto International Film Festival, which competes with other major film festivals at Cannes, Venice and the Sundance Festival in four Utah locations.

Luminato is a 10-day festival in June featuring over a thousand local and international artists for theatre, dance, music, visual arts, books and film events. In July, Caribana, the largest Caribbean festival in North America, attracts more than a million celebrants for the concerts, the food, the King and Queen of the Bands competition, and the popular Caribana parade. The Ontario civic holiday — called Colonel By Day in Ottawa, Peter Robinson Day in Peterborough and Simcoe Day in Toronto and in most of Ontario — is named after the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe.

The last week of June is Pride Week, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people gather to celebrate diversity of sexualities and gender identities. The week is celebrated with a Pride Parade and a Dyke March, along with various other pro-LGBT events, and rivals similar Gay pride celebrations in Montreal, San Francisco, Sydney and São Paulo. Gay Pride Week is organized by Pride Toronto, a non-profit volunteer organization.


The annual Taste of Danforth festival held in Toronto. Further information: Cuisine of Toronto

 Toronto’s cosmopolitan atmosphere is reflected in its cuisine, with many world cooking styles represented. The city celebrates its ethnic diversity through numerous food festivals:
  • Summerlicious and Winterlicious – city-wide festivals celebrating culinary diversity
  • Taste of Danforth – Greek
  • Corso Italia – Italian
  • Toronto Chinatown Festival – Chinese
  • Rib Fest – Etobicoke, Scarborough
  • Taste of Lawrence – Caribbean, Lebanese
  • Toronto Beer Festival
  • Sante Wine Festival
  • Salsa on St. Clair – Latin American
  • Festival of South Asia – Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan


Toronto bills itself “the city of neighbourhoods” because of their continuing strength and vitality within the metropolis. The city has over 240 distinct neighbourhoods within its boundaries; residential communities express a character distinct from commercial skyscrapers, and Victorian- and Edwardian-era residential buildings can be found in enclaves such as Rosedale, Forest Hill, Cabbagetown, The Annex, the Bridle Path and Moore Park.

Before 1998, Toronto proper was a much smaller municipality and formed part of the regional district of Metropolitan Toronto. When the city amalgamated that year, Toronto absorbed the former municipalities of York, East York, North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. Each of these former municipalities still maintains a certain distinctness, and residents still use the names of these municipalities. The area known as Toronto before the amalgamation is sometimes called the Central District or simply “Downtown”.

The “old” City of Toronto is the business centre and is, by far, the most populous and dense part of the city. The “inner ring” suburbs of York and East York are older, middle-income and ethnically diverse areas. Much of the housing stock in these areas consists of old pre-war single-family houses, such as the uniquely Torontonian bay-and-gable housing style, and post-war high-rises. Many of the neighbourhoods in these areas were built up as streetcar suburbs and contain many dense and mixed-use streets. They share many characteristics with sections of the “old” city that are outside of the downtown core. The “outer ring” suburbs of Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York are much more suburban but are developing urban centres of their own, such as North York Centre around Mel Lastman Square.

Parks and ravines

Rosedale Ravine and its associated valley.

Ravine System

The ravine system, a distinctive feature of the geography of Toronto, is a network of deep ravines forming an urban forest that runs throughout much of the city. For the most part designated as parkland, the ravines are largely undeveloped. Toronto’s ravines have been presented as central to Toronto’s character. Architect Larry Richards describes Toronto as topographically being “San Francisco turned upside down.” They appear in the works of major Toronto writers such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Michaels, Morley Callaghan and Ann-Marie MacDonald. Robert Fulfordhas declared: The ravines are the chief characteristic of the local terrain, its topographical signature. Canadian journalist Robert Fulford had described the ravine system as “both a tangible (though often hidden) part of our surroundings and a persistent force in our civic imagination. They are the shared subconscious of the municipality, the places where much of the city’s literature is born.



Toronto parks

Main article: List of Toronto parks

Numerous parks and gardens add to the livability of the city

  • Edwards Gardens
  • Riverdale Farm
  • Guildwood Park
  • High Park
  • Allan Gardens
  • James Gardens
  • Toronto Music Garden
  • Toronto Island Gardens
  • Toronto Zoo
  • Don Valley Brick Works


The El Mocambo marquee on Spadina Ave.

The city’s art community attracts and has top theatre groups, galleries, and other high culture attractions.

The bar scene is housed in many different sections of the city, each with its own flavour and type of patrons. The “Entertainment District,” however, has the highest concentration of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in the city. There are approximately 90 nightclubs located in this one square kilometre area.

With recent condominium developments in the Entertainment District, many condo tenants have made noise complaints against nightclubs and their rowdy patrons. Condo tenants are pressing for nightclub owners to move away from the newly established residential areas. However, the Entertainment district is still a nightlife destination, and there are many other areas in the city that are becoming increasingly popular at night.

Other neighbourhoods that come alive at night include “The Annex” (serving the university student population), “Little Italy” on College Street, “Yonge and Eglinton”, “Church and Wellesley”, “Queen West” (between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street), “Greektown,” and the “St. Lawrence Market” neighbourhood (the numerous bars and restaurants on Front Street East and The Esplanade). Ossington Avenue and Dundas Street West has become a new and vibrant nightlife destination that attracts mainly hipsters and other bohemian-type patrons. Parkdale, which is in the city’s west end, is another area that is starting to become very popular at night with notable venues such as The Beaver, The Drake Hotel, The Gladstone Hotel and The Cadillac Lounge.

The city’s many dance and live music venues host a plethora of international and Canadian performers, and its comedy clubs have served as training grounds for stars such as Jim Carrey, Russell Peters, The Kids in the Hall and SCTV.


Toronto is home to three professional orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Esprit Orchestra, and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Choir, in addition to several small chamber ensembles specializing in Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern and World music. As is common in many cities in North America, choral ensembles that perform with professional instrumental ensembles are amateur. The largest of these is the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, which performs large works for choir and orchestra. The professional core of this choir is the Elmer Iseler Singers. The Amadeus Choir is also a high-caliber ensemble. Canada’s largest professional opera company, the Canadian Opera Company makes its home in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the first trueopera house in Toronto and in Canada. There are a number of smaller professional opera ensembles, some of which specialize in new music, such as Tapestry New Opera. Other professional ensembles based in Toronto include the Hannaford Street Silver Band and Canadian Sinfonietta.

Three-piece rock band Rush has been active in Toronto since 1968; band members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson grew up in the city. An instrumental named “YYZ” after the Toronto Pearson International Airport’s IATA airport code was featured on the band’s 1981 album Moving Pictures, and has been a mainstay of their subsequent live shows. Dance-punk duo Death from Above 1979 began in Toronto and recorded one studio album (You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine) before breaking up in 2006.

In 1971 the Canadian Electronic Ensemble was formed Toronto. It is the oldest continuously active live-electronic performing group in the world.

Despite a hip-hop music scene active since the 1980s, Toronto’s hip-hop artists are usually considered underground, having had little success outside of Canada. Artists who have achieved moderate mainstream success include Kardinal Offishall, k-os, Choclair, Maestro Fresh-Wes, Saukrates, Dream Warriors, K’naan andDrake.

R&B and soul music have been prominent in Toronto since the 1990s. Artists such as Deborah Cox, Glenn Lewis, Melanie Fiona and The Weeknd have achieved mainstream success outside of Canada.

Toronto’s goth scene emerged from the punk and new romantic alternative music scene in the early 1980s. Originally called “freaks”, the subculture became significant in Toronto’s night club and fashion culture in the late 1990s. After the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, the goth scene experienced an understandable decline. The goth-industrial scene is largely situated in the neighbourhood of West Queen West, and a few signed and independent goth andindustrial bands are based in Toronto.


Inside the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors and Rock.

Regular sporting events, such as home games of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Marlies, Toronto Rock, and the Argonauts, bring tourists to the city every year, while the Honda Indy, held every July, attracts fans of auto racing.

Hockey stirs much passion and interest, giving Toronto the sobriquet “Hockey capital”. A championship by a major pro sports team is often marked by celebrations including a parade for the victorious team.

Toronto nurtures sports rivalries with other Great Lakes cities such as Hamilton (begun in 1873) as well as an intense historicalrivalry with Montreal; the cities were two of the Original Six teams to contest the Stanley Cup. There is also a growing rivalry with the Ottawa Senators (dubbed the “Battle of Ontario”) and the Buffalo Sabres.

Professional franchises

Club League Venue Established Championships
Toronto Argonauts CFL Rogers Centre 1873 15
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Air Canada Centre 1917 13
Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball Rogers Centre 1977 2
Toronto Raptors NBA Air Canada Centre 1995 0
Toronto Lynx USL First Division Centennial Park Stadium 1997 0
Toronto Rock National Lacrosse League Air Canada Centre 1999 6
Toronto Marlies AHL Ricoh Coliseum 2005 0
Toronto FC Major League Soccer BMO Field 2006 0

Semi-professional franchises

Club League Venue Established Championships
Toronto Maple Leafs (baseball) Intercounty Baseball League Christie Pits 1969 7
Toronto Eagles Ontario Australian Football League Humber College Park 1989 9
Toronto Downtown Dingos Ontario Australian Football League Humber College Park 1996 3
Toronto Rush American Ultimate Disc League Varsity Stadium 2013 1

Major sporting venues

  • Air Canada Centre – home of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA Toronto Raptors and the NLL Toronto Rock.
  • Allan Lamport Stadium – named after Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport, City-owned facility
  • Beatrice Ice Gardens – York University
  • Birchmount Stadium – City-owned facility
  • BMO Field – home of the Toronto FC of the MLS, on the grounds of Exhibition Place
  • Christie Pits – home to the Toronto Maple Leafs (semi-pro baseball), City-owned facility
  • Rexall Centre – home to National Tennis Centre at York University
  • Ricoh Coliseum – home of the AHL Marlies. On City land.
  • Rogers Centre – Owned and used by MLB Toronto Blue Jays and also home to the CFL Toronto Argonauts
  • Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University
  • Varsity Arena – University of Toronto Varsity Blues Hockey
  • Woodbine Race Track – owned by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, site of the annual Breeders Cup for thoroughbreds
  • Varsity Stadium – home of the Toronto Rush (disc ultimate)