Toronto: The City of Neighborhoods

Dave O. Dodge heads north to check out the LGBTQ scene in one of Canada's largest cities

Story and photos by Dave O. Dodge, Jun 5, 2014.

Toronto’s diversity includes a gay area that will be host to World Pride. The spotlight will be on Toronto this month as Canada’s largest city hosts this year’s World Pride event for the LGBTQ community.

Beginning on June 20, there will be 10 days of celebrations Torontoand general mayhem throughout the city, with most of the reveling centered in the Church and Wellesley neighborhood.

It’s just one of 140 officially recognized neighborhoods in a diversified metropolitan area of 2.5 million residents on the western shore of Lake Ontario that’s been nicknamed “the city of neighborhoods.”

Church Street, also know as The Village, located in the heart of this urban sprawl, remains quaint, friendly and very gay. It’s one of the last holdouts in North America as a “gay ghetto.”

Church Street will seem familiar to fans of gay genre TV. This iconic gayborhood was home to the filming of Showtime’s Queer as Folk for more than five years.

Stroll Church Street during the day for some interesting gay shops, then visit again after dark for a totally difference vibe. There are numerous watering holes, restaurants and cafes that can be exclusively gay.

The area was once known as “Molly Wood’s Bush” — Molly being a slang from the early 1800s for homosexual, and Wood after a local gay merchant Alexander Wood, who was ordered to leave after a sex scandal in 1810.

Wood returned in 1827 and purchased much of the land in this area of town, lining it with quaint Victorian homes and shops, some of which still exist today. In 2005, the area business association erected a statue of Wood, honoring him as the forefather of Toronto’s modern gay community.

Here are a few other neighborhoods worth checking out:

  • Cabbage Town is next to The Village and is home to many from the LGBT community. The name is derived from the poor Irish immigrants of the 1840s who moved in and took to growing cabbage in their front yards. It has the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian homes in all of North Aerica, part of a gay gentrification that began in the 1970s that’s made it one of the most desirable places in the city in which to live.
  • The Financial District is located downtown and makes it the perfect spot for your stay. The recently opened Shangri-La Hotel is a shiny beacon of luxury, with its silver gleaming tower of glass. Check out the ultra-modern façade that has one of the largest public art sculptures in the city, Rising, a multi-story high stainless steel sculpture that was created by China’s most influential contemporary artist, Zhang Huan.
  • Chinatowns — there are six of them — are enclaves of culture from the Far East recognized by the language spoken and food served. The largest of the Chinatowns along Spadina Avenue represents families from Hong Kong and Southern China. The restaurants and grocery stores keep a local feel to the neighborhood.
  • Yorkville, which is also called The Annex, is a shopper’s paradise. The former village that was annexed into the city claims to have the most expensive retail space in all of Canada. Top name designers, like Hermes and Chanel, are side by side with other luxury businesses, like Hoyt Renfrew and The Four Seasons.

After a day of window shopping along Bloor Street that rivals Chicago’s Miracle Mile, there are the museums to see. The Royal Ontario Museum is the country’s largest and offers visitors a glimpse of world culture and natural history with interactive exhibits.

YYZ2If you go:
Toronto has to be one of the most accepting and appealing destinations for gay travelers. It is only a short distance by plane from Phoenix, but a world apart.This is a city on the move with a surge in its economy that has created a building boom that is transforming the skyline into a land of skyscrapers and modern luxury hotels, making it a tourist destination and the country’s capital.Toronto can be a year round destination, with the benefit of having four seasons. June can be a hot month with temperatures close to 100 and high humidity. Autumn and spring are favorite times to visit, when days are warm and nights cool.

Getting there:
Air Canada and US Airways offers nonstop service from Phoenix.

Getting around:
The mass transit system works great to get around the city, with multiple day passes available that can be combined with their subway system, bus lines and street cars.

BIXI is a pay-as-you-go bike rental with kiosks throughout the city.

Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives is the largest independent LGBT archives in the world, with a collection of materials from artwork to T-shirts.

Casa Loma is Toronto’s majestic castle, with 98 rooms, some with secret passages, and beautiful formal gardens to explore. Perched high above the city with a panoramic view, this once private home offers visitors a peek into the past of the ultra-rich of Canadian society.

The CN Tower was the highest structure in the world from 1976 to 2007, and is an iconic symbol on the skyline in Toronto. It only takes 58 seconds to get to the observation deck.

Dave O. Dodge is a freelance travel writer based in Phoenix.