Get set for the Toronto winter

Heather Mallick is a Canadian author and lecturer and Toronto Star columnist

I came to Toronto as a teenager from Kapuskasing, in Canada’s extreme north, and never left. In some peculiar way Toronto and I are now married.

Visiting this beautiful multicultural city in the peak of winter means that Toronto can do what it does best – sell you a winter coat. (Good luck finding one in Oslo. I have tried.) The coat is a Toronto Badge of Courage and we wear it proudly. It might snow heavily or it might not but there will be a wind chill and you will be cold. Head to Holt Renfrew and buy a Canada Goose coat, the only attractive parka ever sewn. A little further west, you’ll find the main Roots store with seriously good boots – I own the short, the mid, the long, all with a warm hold on icy sidewalks – and many warmth-themed accessories, knitted log cosies and such.

The Royal Ontario Museum is a little farther west. We used to visit there when I was a child and I have a crush on the place, which is packed with weirdness. Margaret Atwood wrote a novel, Life Before Man, about this museum and the romantic disasters of its staff. Atwood, who along with Alice Munro is among our greatest writers, captured the place brilliantly, with its dinosaurs, soapstone sculpture, bug displays, gowns and wild twisted jewellery. If you want funkiness, go south (which strikes me as true of the entire planet) to Queen Street and King Street. You’ll find a very good department store, Hudson’s Bay (more coats), and streets of restaurants and shops heading out in every direction, Little India to the northeast and Chinatown to the west, international rich to the south.

I’m saving the best for last – the Art Gallery of Ontario, a huge building near Chinatown that’s full of Canadian art from the 19th century snowbound paintings of Cornelius Krieghoff to the bleak Group of Seven. The building, recently redone by Frank Gehry, is fronted by what is basically a giant wooden fish. I spent my childhood fishing from a motorboat. I know from fish. Canada has long been a hewer of wood and drawer of water, and the AGO doesn’t shy from this.

Toronto is a city from the Canadian south with intense northern longings. I may only be plumbing my own soul here, but I do love a good winter.

Photo courtesy of The Royal Ontario Museum

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