Toronto Tailor-made for Shoestring Budgets

Having lived in London and spent time in many of the World’s largest cities, I can honestly say that I have found nowhere as accessible as Toronto for quality cheap or next to nothing entertainment.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I will add as I learn more.
Knock yourself Out!

Theatre & Comedy
National Theatre of the World – look out for NTOW’s Baram and Sniekus who practice their particular brand of improvised comedy all over Toronto but can often be found on Friday evenings at the John Candy Theatre (Second City training theatre) on Peter Street – Pwyc
http://www.thenationaltheatreoftheworld.com

Shakespeare in the Ruff puts on amazing Shakespeare adaptations every summer in Withrow Park
Pwyc
http://www.shakespeareintheruff.com

Same goes for Canadian Stage’s High Park Shakespeare Productions running June 26 through to September 1.
http://www.canadianstage.com

Jazz & Blues
The following primarily operate on a tip- jar payment system so essentially pwyc
Gate 403
http://www.gate403.com

The Rex Hotel
http://www.therex.ca

The Winchester Kitchen
http://www.winchesterkitchen.com

The Monarch Pub at the Eaton Chelsea pub has music – jazz and blues every night. No cover
See website for details
http://www.monarchspub.ca

Play
Want to play a board game, do a jigsaw, play pinball on a vintage machine, draw something?
Unlike many of other “Board Game cafes” 3030 does not charge a cover for you to exercise your creativity – help yourself on first-come first-serve basis. Just buy a drink or two and your evening’s entertainment is sorted for the price of that drink
http://www.3030dundaswest.com

For $7 return take a Ferry over to Toronto Islands.
Ward and Algonquin Island for boardwalk cute cottage community and gardens, Hanlan’s Point for beaches and shady dappled trails. Centre Island for Amusement Park/Bike hire, pier, busy kid friendly beaches etc.
TIP: The best way to avoid the enormous queues in the summer and if there are a few of you likely to be visiting the Islands a couple of times a year. Buy a string of 10 tickets for $63 and march straight through the lines and onto the ferry.

Food
Summerlicious and Winterlicious foodie events ensure that the most cash strapped amongst us can enjoy a slap-up meal in a host of Toronto’s more high-end restaurant.
lunch is best value with a fixed price
menu for generally $25 for 2/3 courses and dinner more expensive at $35/$40.

Art/Museums
Visit the AGO for free on Wednesday evenings after 5pm
http://www.ago.net

Visit the ROM at a reduced price on Friday nights after 4pm
http://www.rom.on.ca

Ripleys Aquarium
If you live in town and you love Aquariums then the most cost effective way of visiting again and again is to buy an annual membership for $100
Whilst this is hardly “shoestring ” speak; when you consider that the cost of an individual ticket is almost $40 – you do the math…..
Subscribe to their newsletter too as they frequently have deals for students…

Hart House offers free tours of their eclectic art collection – check website
http://www.harthouse.ca

Go for an Art Gallery crawl along Tecumseth Street or Queen Street West – many gallery owners are happy to show interested parties around the work they are profiling in their spaces.

Last but not least sign up for Groupon, Buytopia, Yipit and Travel zoo to get huge discounts and deals on local restaurants , museums and experiences ( and of course products)

Over and Out

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Cottage Country in The City – Toronto Islands

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Knocking on the front door of the downtown city core is Toronto’s secret garden – a small cluster of islands, just over a kilometer across the harbour.

Bring your visitors…

Bring your kids, your bikes, your dog, a picnic, your bathing suit or just yourself.

No Bike? – hire one at the pier on Centre Island

No picnic? – a couple of places you can buy decent nosh on the islands: see below

No swimming togs? – go visit the “clothing optional” beach on Hanlan Island!!

Whatever your “preference” this is a cliched “something for everybody” affair and large enough to swallow boatloads of visitors and residents that arrive by way of three ferry entry points – Hanlans Point (far West of Island near Airport); Centre Island (all aboard for Centreville and central beaches); and my favourites Ward and Algonquin Islands (the two easternmost communities)

Brief island genealogy:
To the east
Ward’s Island, actually the east section of the old peninsula, was named after the Ward family who first settled here about 1830. David Ward, a local fisherman, raised seven children. His son, William, built the iconic Ward’s Hotel in 1882, just south of the ferry docks at Channel Avenue. Sadly this was demolished in 1966.
By the 1880s the Ward’s Island community began as a settlement of tents which by 1913, had increased to the point where the city organized the community into street; tents gave way to small cottages which eventually evolved into a cottage community.

To the the west:
Amongst the first year-round inhabitants, were the Hanlan family who settled at Gibraltar Point in 1862. This area became a summer cottage community with John Hanlan building another hotel at what is still called Hanlan’s point on the north west tip of the island. Ned Hanlan, (John’s son) earned international repute as a world class rowing champion.

Cue Centre Island which became THE place to have your Grand Country Mansion following the relocation of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to the north shore.
Now that this is one if the only structures visible on the Islands from Toronto Lakeshore, it’s impossible to imagine that during the late 19 century the north shore of the Islands (Both on Centre and Hanlan’s) resembled Blackpool in its heyday with these grand mansions, an amusement park and a Ball Park made famous by Babe Ruth.
Centre Island is now home to “Centreparc”and “Far Enough Farm” and is the relatively “crowded” part of the Island archipelago. Also home to a guided tram tour; formal Gardens and Waterfalls; bike, tandem and buggy hire and beaches plus a small pier. All sorts of sporting events take place off this Island plus you can hire canoes and kayaks here.

In 1915 the “rot” started when a small hanger was built at the beach by the Curtiss Flying School. This float plane aerodrome was used for flight training for World War I. In 1937 the stadium and amusement park made way for a new larger airport which also led to the displacement of the Hanlan’s Point Cottage Community, many of whom physically barged their homes round to the newly reclaimed Algonquin Island adjacent to Ward’s.

During the 1950’s the Island residential community extended from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point, and was made up of some 630 cottages and homes, many of which extended along the then unprotected boardwalk (the sea wall was added later). Now only a whisper of evidence of habitation along this walkway exists (apart from a couple of existing buildings: The Rectory Hotel and the Sunrise Senior’s Home). Now you have to look really hard amongst the lush, wild vegetation for a few ragged openings and the skeletons of bygone concrete paths. At the time though this thriving community had a movie theatre, a bowling alley, stores, hotels, and dance halls which were razed to the ground around 1955 by Metropolitan Toronto Council to make way for Parkland. Since that time right up to 1993, the Islander’s have fought many battles for the survival of their communities. Now Islanders own 99 year land leases from a Land Trust. For anyone wanting to live the idyll (beware the winter season though!), be warned: these houses are not for sale on the open market and only available through the Trust. If you are interested, you will sign up to be placed at the bottom of a long line up (literally a list) of potential purchasers. When a property comes up for sale it will be offered to around 100 folk on the list with the person at the top taking priority. Islanders may only bequeath their properties to a spouse or offspring.

Favourite Places.
The Ferry Ride itself
Whether its the Hanlan’s Point, Ward Island or Centre Isle Ferry – here is a chance to view the magnificent skyline for a mere $7.00 return. The best value Ferry ride is a late ferry back from Ward’s Island as this car ferry often sails west along the shore to pick up folk from the far west of the Islands at Hanlan’s Point, so you get a 30 minute scenic ride.

The Boardwalk end of the Beach on Ward’s Island – in essence this end of a long sandy beach is like a little sheltered cove snugged up to the boardwalk with tree and rock fringed sand and an almost constant northerly breeze.

The Island Cafe – Open till 8pm in the summer months but closed during the winter; this is a family run entity opening off the Community Centre (think Bowling alley. tennis court and cute Community Hall. Serves amazing lemonade, delectable home-made deserts, and great espresso. Add to that a varied bistro-styled dining menu including house-smoked fish and an excellent selection of ice cream served either in the tiny bar area, on the patio, alfresco under a raised pergola affair or in the shady nook of the covered porch. This is the closest I’ve gotten to Cornish paint-washed casual barefoot beach- chic. Just gorgeous and worth the Ferry ride just to sit out here of an evening.

The Rectory Cafe
The shady loveliness of this “open all year round” Restaurant/Cafe (check website for details –  http://www.therectorycafe.com  is what attracts visitors to Ward and Algonquin Island. Accessible both from the road leading west from the Ward Island Ferry terminal and from the boardwalk, this has to be one of the nicest patios in Toronto

The Island Marina Cafe
A bit off the tourist route – as it is part of the workaday Island Marina just to the west of the Centre Island Ferry Point. With great views of the Lakeshore, a private tender will ferry you to and from York Quay. Beer, coffees and snacks available here for those who want to get away from Centre Island Madness.

Far Enough Farm
Love visiting the horses and animals here – you can toddle through here on the 2 km walk to Ward Island (if you feel so inclined). Unfortunately you have to run the gamut of CentreParc – and all the excited kids – to visit this but get there first thing in the morning and even that is bearable. In fairness some of the Centreparc rides are country cute and swaddled in trees and gardens so not your average amusement park

Walking around Algonquin and Ward Island’s cottage communities; exploring the tiny lane way maze that winds in and around these cottages. If you like cottage gardens, tangled foliage, quirky garden ornaments and house decor layered with spectacular glimpses of the Toronto skyline, then this is for you.

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Tailor-Made Toronto – Girl’s Day Out

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Read this in conjunction with posts on Girls Morning Out and Girls Afternoon out (Eating!)

VISIT ONE OF TORONTO’S WORLD-CLASS MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Look out
for the “always significant” temporary exhibitions – currently “Revealing the Renaissance” exhibit with priceless 700 year ol works of art – some never before seen outside of Florence!. Go up to the Cedar Lounge on floor 2 for a delicious espresso and house-made pastries. If you are a member then there is the gracious relaxing “Grange” – the member’s lounge strewn with sofas and armchairs and looking over the park.


Royal
Ontario Museum (ROM); great static exhibition of home decor through the ages.
Gardiner Museum; (do a spot of pottery creation in the Pottery studio in the basement).
The Textile Museum and Bata shoe Museum.
The Tiff Bell Lightbox always has some amazing movie related exhibitions, plus a host of unusual film screenings. You can also ask for a guided tour as the architectural nature of the building itself vis a vis it’s purpose is interesting. It also houses an “Oliver and Bonacini” cafe.

Walk along far Queen Street West to look in all the smaller lesser -known galleries, the best being Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art . See http://www.mocca.ca/about-us/visit-mocca/ and href=”http://www.showmetoronto.com/tour_queen_art.htm”>http://www.showmetoronto.com/tour_queen_art.htm for a list of all the galleries in this area.
Also some cute galleries on Dundas Street West opposite the AGO and in the Distillery District, and on Tecumseth street north of King Street West.
You can have a tour of the University of Toronto’s art collection at Hart House – check http://www.harthouse.ca for tour dates and times.

At the AGO, create some life drawing masterpieces in one of the galleries in the museum – be prepared for onlooking museum visitors who will stop to admire ( or sneer at ) your work or book to do a spot of yoga amongst the Henry Moore sculptures.

Spadina House and Gardens – if you are a “Downton Abbey” fan this 120 yr. heritage home of “The Austins” definitely worth a visit right now as “Downton Abbey” days are being programmed into the visiting schedule,
It is also right next to Casa Loma so you can make a whole day of it.

Casa Loma
Torontos Victorian Gothic Castle – great for an afternoon’s tour / sit on the raised stone patio and view the Toronto skyline below whilst sipping tea/coffee from the basement restaurant. Subscribe to their website – they always have cool events befitting a castle ( Ghost Hunting/Dracula plays/ music/feasts etcetera.

ACTIVITIES
Take a Ferry from Queens Quay over to Toronto Islands; the largest car free community in North America; less than a 10 minute ferry ride but a whole world away from the bustle of the city. Stroll around the maze of cutesy cottages and gardens set out amidst the dense thicket of trees that makes up the corner of Ward Island; have a snack at the cheerful outdoor “Island Cafe” opposite the Ward Island Ferry point; have lunch on the tree shrouded patio just off the boardwalk at “The Rectory”.
Take your swimsuit and visit one of the many beaches. Hire a bike or canopied 4-wheeler and ride around all three islands, play frisbee golf, canoe, or kayak.
Or just stroll the boardwalk or lush island paths.

Visit the aforementioned “Distillery District” for cobbled meanderings amongst artsy shops/cafes/galleries and restaurants

Explore the tiny zoo at Riverdale, amongst all the cute Victorian houses and the stunning Victorian gothic Neocropolis building.
Walk the trails of Toronto’s Ravines or its largest park – High Park with the tiny zoo, fishing lake, picnic spots, historic Colborne House, allotments, ornamental gardens and waterfalls – best pie in the city at “The Grenadier Cafe” – sit on the tree shaded deck outside in the summer.

SPAS
Spoil yourselves by having a day/half day by the pool on one of the upper levels of the Fours Seasons Hotel!
The Shangri-La’s Caudalie Miraj Hammam Spa is a treat but you have to have a treatment in order to use the Hammam and lounging room.
The Aveda spa in the Intercontinental on Front street gives you unlimited use of the gym, pool and steam room/sauna
Spend a day/ afternoon at the custom made Elmwood day spa.

THEATRE/SHAKESPEARE/COMEDY
Check out Mirvish.com and subscribe to email updates for great deals on the many shows hitting Toronto; the third largest theatre city in the world!
If you are planning your day out in the summer look out for the following outdoor performances.

“Dream in HighPark” – Canadian Stage

“The Withrow Players”.
“The Humber River Shakespeare company” who perform in heritage properties like Casa Loma or Montgomerys Inn.

Look out for “Cirque de Soleil” listings as one of the troupes has a permanent home in Toronto

Comedy
Anywhere the “National Theatre of the World” (aka comedians Sniekus & Baram) are playing.
“The Comedy Club” (Eglinton.
“The Second City” on Mercer street downtown always puts on a pithy and hilarious show which they change around 3 times a year.

MUSIC
“The Rex Hotel” downtown Queen Street west for great music anytime (around 4 acts a day)
“Gate 403” in Roncevailles in the west end

The stone walled cavern that is “the “Reservoir Lounge” with jazz every night of the week
“Hugh’s Room” for something a little more formal (we’re talking tablecloths)
“The Monarch Pub” at the Delta Chelsea Hotel downtown which benefits from having a dance floor for the uninhibited amongst us
“Orbit Room” on College – teeny tiny but good vibe, nosh and oh yeah music.

More classic:
“The Royal Conservatory” – Koerner hall.
The Ballet or Opera at the “Four Seasons for the Performing Arts”,
Look out for Toronto Symphony Orchestra performances at “The Roy Thompson Hall”.

Want to finish the day in style? Look out for the soon to be written “Tailor-made Toronto – Get Dressed Up” blog.

Over and Out