Stylist’s editorial assistant Moya Lothian-McLean uncovers the joys of true diversity in Toronto
It’s 3am in Toronto and I’m about to leave legendary drag bar Crews & Tangos. But then the next queen struts on stage, miming to Sweet Dreams by Beyoncé and jumping into splits. The crowd goes wild, a riot of glitter and beads. “They tried to get her on RuPaul’s Drag Race,” whispers Andrew, the new friend I made strolling on Church and Wellesley, Toronto’s main strip for LGBTQ+ venues. “But the visa didn’t work out. That’s happened to most of the queens here.”
The crème de la crème of Canadian queens, all my favourite songs and an audience so welcoming they’d probably provide references for my visa application if I asked, mean it’s not until 5am that I finally break away, back to my art deco king deluxe room at the newly opened Kimpton Saint George Hotel. Right in the centre of town, it’s luckily only a short walk (or wobble) away.
I find myself in Toronto on the eve of Pride, a festival I’ve somehow managed to miss in London every year it’s been on. But I’m excited that the Ontario capital will take my Pride virginity; I’ve heard it outdoes everywhere else when it comes to inclusion. But now it’s got more than just open arms to offer to visitors – with arrivals over the past few years including Soho House Toronto and the aforementioned Kimpton (which opened in June this year), the city is undergoing a reinvention of cool. Last year Toronto was voted the most multicultural city in the world, and the proof is everywhere, from the arts to the eats.
To try out the latter, I head to Toronto’s York district – the city is split into 140 neighbourhoods, each with a distinct personality – to take the Culinary Adventure Co’s food tour of Chinatown and Kensington Market (culinaryadventureco.com), dubbed one of the “best in the world” by Forbes. I soon find out why, as our stellar guide John, a chef raised in the area, leads us around streets that make up a zone so steeped in history it became a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006.
From artisan bakeries like the kitsch Wanda’s Pie In The Sky (pie to try: the Ontario sour cherry) to learning the story of how Jewish rag carts evolved into the street market stalls we see today, every anecdote (and bite – you get to taste the history on this tour) brings one of the city’s oldest districts to vivid life. My favourite stop is Golden Patty, a Toronto institution serving traditional Jamaican food run by a Chinese family who learned their trade after migrating to Jamaica – it’s the diversity of Toronto embodied in one delicious curry shrimp patty.
If you’re seeking liquid refreshment after filling your boots, Drink Toronto’s cocktail tour of the Queen Street West district is an equally worthy way of whiling away an hour or three. In every city I visit, there’s always a Northern Quarter-esque area like the one in Manchester, and this is the role Queen Street West fulfils (it has been labelled one of the world’s trendiest neighbourhoods). But the area still bears that unvarnished, untapped charm that makes you feel as if you’re discovering it for the first time. Every bar is different, from the tiki-themed vivacity of Miss Thing’s to the achingly hip experience offered by The Drake Hotel’s Sky Yard rooftop bar.
For those who are tackling their meals one at a time, the delightful mish-mash of cultures in Toronto means there’s something for every preference. I dabbled in delicious fresh Japanese fare from sleek restaurant Kasa Moto, ate an updated spin on classic Canadian salmon (miso glaze is the key) at Nota Bene and wolfed down some incredibly seasoned lamb at the super fun, superhero-themed Figures, hidden behind a wall of comic book scenes.
In between all the gluttony, of course, lies Toronto’s rich cultural offerings. I did the obligatory run up the CN Tower, but for those looking to do something less like a Drake album cover and more intellectually nourishing, there’s plenty to explore. With a film festival almost every week, from the Canadian International Documentary Festival in the spring to the Toronto International Film Festival (“second only to Cannes”), it’s a city for cinephiles to flock to, especially as beloved films from American Psycho to Mean Girls have used it as a backdrop.
In winter, Toronto lights up, literally, kicking off with the Nuit Blanche light installations in October and continuing with the Winter Light Exhibition from 8 December and the Toronto Light Fest in January. For traditionalists, there’s an array of museums and galleries to choose from. Offbeat favourites include the Casa Loma, a medieval-style castle built in 1911 by a man with too much money (architecture in Toronto borders on the comical, it’s one area where the tendency to mix and match perhaps goes too far), and the Bata Shoe Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of footwear – aka Carrie Bradshaw Mecca.
I finish off by stopping by the Pride parade and spend the next three hours in a glorious haze of dancing, singing and screaming “YAAAS” with the group next to me (we’ve become fast friends). I head straight to the airport afterwards, attracting strange looks from my cabbie: I’m soaked to the skin (blame the water guns) and refracting light from all the glitter. But the smile on my face is as big as it’s ever been. Pride has been a perfect end to my weekend in a city that has shown me what it truly means to make space for everyone.
British Airways World Traveller flights from London Gatwick to Toronto start from £402; ba.com. Rooms at the Kimpton Saint George Hotel start from £205 per night; kimptonsaintgeorge.com. For more information on visiting Toronto go to seetorontonow.com
Images: Kimpton Saint George/Drake Hotel