Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 6, 2013

Toronto – just the buildings

By Shera Cohen

The topic of most of my articles is theatre. I decided to be spontaneous (hmm, is that a contradiction) during my visit to Toronto. No theatre this time, just buildings. These were not row houses aligning expensive and cozy streets (well, there actually were many), box stores (either I wasn’t looking for Wal-Mart, et al, but I didn’t see any) or malls (although one of the biggest in the world was five blocks from the hotel), but libraries, museums, and castles. So, I use the word “buildings” broadly.

The Hop On & Off bus with cartoony map cost only $31 to be used for three consecutive days to view up to 24 sites. A true bargain. Needless to say, we hit several key spots, drove by others, and missed several. The tour guides, mostly college students, were a fun bunch, often veering off the script on their megaphone with their own anecdotes.

The Royal Ontario Museum, surely the largest museum in one building that I had ever seen, included everything “old” from every continent. A monstrous size dinosaur greeted us in the entry. Of course, Canadian artifacts were paramount; impressing me most were the extremely high, intricately designed totem poles. As part of the Toronto Photography Festival, then taking place, special exhibits were devoted in numerous galleries. Displayed treasures on four levels were Ming Tombs, the Bust of Cleopatra, and the Tagish Lake Meteorite; atop the museum laid an elegant dining room. Especially intriguing was the Textile Room with pieces from ancient Canadian Indian tribes to 1950’s Christian Dior. Those who know me can attest that I easily get lost – outdoors and indoors. ROM’s map was one of the most helpful for people like me. Allotting only a three hour tour did not do the museum and us justice.

I hopped off the Hop On & Off Bus when the guide pointed out the Toronto Reference Library, which happened to be near something else that didn’t interest me. I’m not sure if he said it was the largest reference library in the world, or one of the largest, but it was big, modern, state-of-the-art, quiet, and lovely with its indoor flowing waterfall and garden. The library’s architectural design, mass of computers, cushy upholstered furniture, and café provided all a book lover would want. While I didn’t ask about the stats – number of books, pictures, maps, etc. – the count must have been enormous. The tour guide’s story of the Arthur Conan Doyle Room was enough for me to voluntarily hop on over. And, I do use “hop” literally, as I was still recovering from recent foot surgery. Why would a library in Toronto mount an exhibit of Sherlock Holmes?  Well, a man who lived in the city just happened to have found dozens of first editions simply by chance. He made a grand donation.

The Bata Shoe Museum is not for shoe lovers only. I can’t resist stating that a visit is a “step” into history. From pre-historic days in Africa to turn of the last millennium Asia to high-style 18th century Europe to Prada sneakers, Bata is a four-story gem right off the main street. A special room was devoted to the all-encompassing sneaker exhibit which included videos, the progression of sneakers over 150 years, and those worn even by the famous and infamous; i.e. Michael Jordan. The museum’s pamphlet questions, “Why shoes” and answers its own question with, “Although feet are the same around the world, what people choose to wear…is incredibly diverse.” Bata, which opened in 1979, boasts a world-class collection of more than 13,000 footwear and related artifacts. I hadn’t googled Bata prior to my Toronto visit, nor did I expect much from a shoe museum when I walked in the building. It would have been a mistake to remove Bata from my tour.

The bus guide called Casa Loma “the castle just around the corner.” Indeed, doesn’t every city have one of these giant, architecturally unique, spacious, multi-floored, stone-gaited structures in their downtown? The owner was Sir Henry Mill Pellatt (the Thomas Edison of Canada), financier, industrialist, and military man. He made it rich in harnessing electric power from Niagara Falls, and in 1911 spent $3,500,000 to build a medieval castle. A decade later, Pellatt lost his fortune (it’s a sad story of business betrayal and red tape) leaving his lavish home to the country of Canada. And, Canada now has the opportunity to show off this grandeur of the three-story structure with its huge library, dainty study of Mrs. Pellatt, round rooms, garden, hidden stairways, stables, and unfinished indoor Olympic-size swimming pool.

Toronto, definitely a cosmopolitan city with a capital “C,” has many firsts. The list was recited throughout each Hop On/Off ride. I forgot most of the names, except there was a the man who decided to provide tiny bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo in hotel rooms. What a helpful guy he was.