Reasons to Love Toronto 2012

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2012

Reasons to Love Toronto 2012

We’ll look back at 2012 as the year Toronto became the most envied city in the world. If our banks and politicians weren’t paragons of dullness, we wouldn’t have sidestepped the economic turmoil so elegantly and, lo and behold, emerged with rows of new condos and five-star hotels, a seemingly impenetrable housing market (touch wood) and so many great places to eat. We’re worshipped by the suits at Davos and we’re the place where professionals dream of being transferred. That giddy feeling in the air is the euphoria of great expectations. We’d better get used to it.

30 REASONS

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 1, because boom times are back

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 1, Because boom times are back

Toronto is the rare city experiencing a construction frenzy (185 high-rises, to New York’s 80), a hiring spree (in the last quarter of 2011, while Bank of America and Citigroup fired almost 10,000 staff, our eight biggest banks added 2,800), and a surge in swaggering confidence. As our reputation for stability spreads, the world has begun to look at us differently. Many of the units in those 185 towers are owned by wealthy foreigners who see Toronto as a smart investment.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 2, because we’re pumped for gold

The posse of Torontonians who’ll invade this summer’s London Olympics is determined to return with more medals than ever. Here, five of our top-calibre athletes assess the sacrifices they’ve made on the climb to the podium.

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 2, Because we’re pumped for gold

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 3, because Drake had babies

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 3, Because Drake had babies

The next wave of hip-hop stars, clockwise from left: Gangis Khan, JD Era, The Weeknd, and The Airplane Boys. (Image: Weeknd by Getty Images)

As fans of the rappers Maestro, Kardinal and K-os well know, Toronto hip hop has been thriving for at least a couple of decades. But despite local success, the rest of the world was never all that interested in the T Dot’s brand of rhyme. Not, that is, until an actor from the mean streets of Fo’ Hill named Aubrey Graham packed up his Degrassi-issue wheelchair and re-emerged as Drake, rocking an auto-tuned mic beside Lil Wayne and almost single-handedly putting Toronto hip hop on the map.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 4, because principle finally trumped ideology at City Hall

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 4, Because principle finally trumped ideology at City Hall

Remember way back in 2008 when Karen Stintz took public speaking lessons in order to, in her words, not sound so “shrill”? It was at considerable expense—$4,500—and everyone assumed she was preparing for a run at the mayor’s office. But what the voice lessons really revealed was that the 41-year-old city councillor from north Toronto isn’t a natural politician—at least not of the smooth-talking, glad-handing, limelight-loving variety. Stintz is a plain-spoken and pragmatic fiscal conservative whose political MO begins and ends with acting responsibly. When Rob Ford chose her as chair of the TTC, he no doubt thought he was getting an ideologue—a fellow right-wing councillor who had sat on the sidelines during the Miller years and would faithfully toe the new party line. Silly mayor.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 5, because these 21 new businesses opened on Roncesvalles

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 5, Because 21 new businesses opened on Roncesvalles

Every weekend, the sidewalks of Roncesvalles Avenue are jammed with strollers, tethered dogs and couples in heated debate over which of the six new brunch spots is worth the lineup. It’s a frenetic scene few west-enders could have imagined a year ago, when construction cut off transit to the strip and struggling businesses seemed to close every other week. The sewer mains and streetcar tracks were finally replaced last spring, and the empty spaces left behind filled up in a whirl of openings. The new low-key restaurants and shops blend in effortlessly with the old-school produce stands and Polish butchers. And promising, papered-over windows spark constant neighbourhood speculation. Here, a tour of a street in triumphant transition.

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Shopping

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 6, because the home team is high fashion

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 6, Because the home team is high fashion

Our favourite batty blue bird suffered from a serious identity crisis in the last decade. The original understated logo was replaced by such heinous avian manipulations as steroid bird (2000) and angry bird (2004). The latter, a snarling, almost unrecognizable Ace, became symbolic of a dismal performance record (for those who have stopped keeping score, we haven’t made post-season play in almost 20 years). News that the Blue Jays brass had decided to return to an updated version of the original emblem—the one worn by Joe Carter, Mookie Wilson and George Bell—was well received by sports fans. Less foreseeable was the co-opting of the retro Blue Jays gear by the fashionable people who tend to congregate in Leslie­ville bars and on the far reaches of Queen West. Brave the three-hour lineup for tacos at the tiny restaurant Grand Electric and you’ll spot at least one or two natty lads who have taken support for the home team to new sartorial heights. If the Jays ever do make it back into the playoffs, the mob rioting on Yonge Street is going to be a lot better dressed.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 7, because kids have a playhouse

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 7, Because kids have a playhouse

How do you make Toronto’s best building even better? You put in a kids’ space. The Weston Family Learning Centre at the AGO is sort of like the city’s finished basement, if the city had artsy parents with money. It’s one of the rare spots where children can be happy and those responsible for them can lounge hiply, admiring an architecturally superb space, designed by the super-hot firm Hariri Pontarini. It’s almost too nice to have grubby little children running around in it.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 8, because we’ll traipse anywhere for conceptual art

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 8, Because we’ll traipse anywhere for conceptual art

Not too long ago, the intersection of Bloor and Lansdowne was best known for a decent Value Village, two competing strip clubs and a thriving drug trade. In the last few years, lured by cheap studio space, artists have arrived and the neighbourhood has predictably, if tentatively, gentrified. A handful of small and experimental galleries accelerated the transition: the pioneering Toronto Free Gallery, Mercer Union and the Gendai Workstation. Then, late last year, Daniel Faria, the former business partner of the gallery owner Monte Clark, left the Distillery District to open an eponymous gallery in the neighbourhood.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 9, because Patrick Chan is a winning machine

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 9, Because Patrick Chan is a winning machine

In France at the end of March, Patrick Chan, the 21-year-old figure-skating phenom, successfully defended his world championship title in spectacular fashion. Near the beginning of his long program, he executed two flawless quad jumps, only to fall toward the end on a relatively easy double Axel. That he won anyway is a testament to his supreme talent. Chan is the perfect skating package: strength and athleticism combined with artistry and grace. Kurt Browning called him the best skater he’s ever seen.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 10, because the city is safer than ever

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 10, Because the city is safer than ever

There were 45 homicides in Toronto last year. It’s a grim group: a 28-year-old man was gunned down at a family barbecue; a 21-year-old mother of a two-year-old was strangled by her estranged husband; a 35-year-old police officer died when he was struck by a stolen snowplow. But, to criminologists at least, 45 is good news. That’s 16 fewer victims than 2010, and a precipitous fall from the all-time high of 89 in 1991. Overall crime rates have dropped by almost half since 1992, despite the fact that the city keeps growing by an average of 34,000 people a year.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 11, because we get along

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 11, Because we get along

A couple of years ago, a proposal to build a mosque on a site not far from Ground Zero was met with months of protests and frothing rhetoric. The reaction proved, if nothing else, that some Americans will forever believe Osama bin Laden was the leader of all Muslims. Compare this to how the GTA greeted the announcement last year that a Muslim group was opening a 40,000-plot cemetery in Richmond Hill: a collective shrug. While it’s true that the 15 hectares near Leslie and Stouffville Road never experienced a terrorist attack, the cemetery is nevertheless a radical proposal for another reason: it’s a joint project of the rarely harmonious Shia and Sunni sects. And, even more remarkably, the group bought the land for $6.8 million from a Jewish company, the Beth Olam Cemetery Corporation, which also happily provided a sharia-compliant, interest-free mortgage. The cemetery officially opens this month, and aside from a tiny Shia site in Markham, it’s the city’s first to cater specifically to Muslim rituals—burials must be done within 24 hours of death, and with the corpse’s shrouded face turned toward Mecca.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, because fancy food is back

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, Because fancy food is back

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, Because fancy food is backIn the recession-stricken aughties, eating out in Toronto was a humble affair—chefs catered to thrifty diners by opening neighbourhood bistros that served sensible comfort food on mismatched dishes. But last year, Aria, a lavish new Italian restaurant, opened adjacent to Maple Leaf Square and reminded us how divine fine dining can be. The swanky room, decked out with shimmering chandeliers, an imposing two-storey wine cellar and 30-foot windows, is the kind of place where paying $37 for a delicately seared veal strip loin and $190 for a hand-blown glass snifter of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac seems perfectly natural. Aria’s arrival heralded a comeback for bank-breaking prices. Then, last September, the chef Bruce Woods, ex of Centro, opened Modus, an elegant new restaurant that quickly became a power broker destination. It was followed by Stock, the slick, soaring flagship restaurant on the 31st floor of the new Trump Tower—its menu is just as extravagant as the Donald himself, although much classier. Later this year, David Chang, the prodigious, famously fanatical New York chef, will bring a fine dining incarnation of his Momofuku mini-chain to the Shangri-La Hotel, while chi-chi chef Daniel Boulud is scheduled to open a luxe eponymous restaurant in Yorkville’s new Four Seasons. After such a long absence, the return of expense account restaurants is proof that Toronto, despite the global odds, is flush. Get ready for a feast.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 13, because there’s a national park in the middle of Scarborough

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 13, Because there’s a national park in the middle of Scarborough

Stories of vanishing ecosystems and endangered species are such a grimly familiar refrain, it’s a spirit-lifting relief when celebratory news arrives. Especially in your own backyard, and especially from a federal government not typically given to progressive environmental policies. In the next two years, one of the GTA’s best-kept secrets, the 47-kilometre-square Rouge Park, sandwiched between Scarborough and Pickering, will become the country’s first urban national park. Environmentalists and politicians, including Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, have battled developers for decades to protect the sensitive wetlands, 450-million-year-old shale, rare Carolinian forest and fauna (225 different bird species, and snapping turtles!) that reside in the Rouge. The new designation means the wilderness will now be protected from development in perpetuity. And it will also be in the hands of Parks Canada, which has a much larger budget for trail maintenance and wildlife preservation. Picture the majesty of Algonquin combined with the convenience of Central Park. In other words, the first national park to which you can take public transit (avoid peak times if you’re carrying your kayak).

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 14, because there’s beauty in this beast

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 14, Because there’s beauty in this beast

In a city overrun with delicate glass towers, 222 Jarvis is an oddity. The hulking, inverted ziggurat, opened in 1971 as Simpsons-Sears’ Canadian headquarters, is a prime example of Toronto’s brief affair with brutalist architecture. It oozes testosterone, and it’s hard to love: the dark brick seems to glower. Which is why it was such a surprise that the province, after buying the building from Sears in 2007, didn’t simply rip it down, like so many of the city’s 20th-century follies. Instead, Queen’s Park chose to improve what was there, undertaking an ambitious green retrofit scheduled to be completed later this year. The revamped structure includes rainwater harvesting, occupancy sensors, extensive bicycle storage and a dramatic, oversized skylight that pours light through nine storeys of open-plan offices. The price of the job—an estimated $100 million—was rationalized, in the way only bureaucrats can, as a cost-saving measure, since it will house staff from four ministries who were previously working inefficiently in 19 offices around the city. Had the scheme been proposed in the current era of belt-tightening, the city would likely have one less icon.

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