The Toronto most tourists miss

This is a quirky front lawn near Glencairn station. Not an "attraction" per say, but oddities like these make this city great.


I’ve just finished my month-long stint at CBC Toronto. It was a fantastic department, with more than its fair share of nice people.

I’ll have to blog about the experience in more detail soon. In the meantime, I’ll give you a sneak peek into my notebook.

So, one thing I did was compile a list of our city’s lesser known attractions for a possible summer series. Some of my suggestions may end up being spotlighted on the supper-hour news show, but I figure this list with links would be useful for you online and out-of-town types.

These attractions aren’t as well known as the CN tower and the ROM, but many are well loved by savvy residents. They range from truly hidden gems  to central but often overlooked spots.

Rooftop Oasis in the heart of the city
401 Richmond Street West

By Flickr user latigi. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

This green roof and patio is located near Queen St. W and Spadina Ave. It’s open to the public at no cost, and features an on-site cafe, free wireless Internet, and a fantastic view of Toronto.

Points of interest:

  • Great place to have lunch or watch the sun set
  • 6,500 square foot cedar deck with flowers, vines, bushes, planters, perennial shrubs and blanket of sedum that goes beyond the roof
  • Skyline includes a view of the CN Tower
  • New “bee condo” this year, maintained by York University researchers
  • Plants/flowers selected for beauty, aroma & ability to attract bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and birds.
  • The organic veggies grown on site are used in the building’s cafe
  • Free wireless internet on the rooftop
  • Garden started in 1995 by Mike Moody (property manager and gardener). The 40 ft. greenhouse was erected in 2000.
  • Eco-benefits include easing air pollution and trapping stormwater runoff

A Stellar view from Richmond Hill

123 Hillsview Drive

Have an out-of-this-world experience at the The David Dunlap Observatory, home of the largest telescope in Canada. Incredible photos here.

Points of Interest:

  • Main feature is the 74-inch reflecting telescope, biggest in the country
  • On a clear night, visitors might see everything from craters on the moon and the rings of Saturn, to galaxies, nebula and comets
  • Public events are held most Saturday nights from early summer through the fall months. Other public viewing nights are listed on their website.
  • They offer two types of programs:
    (1) casual “Observing Nights” every Saturday when the sky is clear (pay at the door – $5 for adults and $2 for children)
    (2)“Star Talk nights” that begin in July. These evenings begin with an all-ages 30-minute illustrated talk given by a Canadian astronomer or space expert in the main lecture hall. They end with a viewing if the sky is clear (Reserve online – $10 for adults, $2 – $5 for kids, youth, and seniors)
  • The observatory has a long history – it has been open since 1935!

Outdoor Museum of Misfits Sculptures
191 Guildwood Parkway

Image by Flickr user frankteney. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Stroll through the Guild in Scarborough: a collection of rescued structures and sculptures from demolished Toronto buildings.

Points of Interest:

  • Bits and pieces of several historic buildings inside a public park (over 70 architectural fragments and sculptures within the gardens)
  • Sometimes host theatre and concert events
  • The nearby Guild Inn is an abandoned, possibly haunted (definitely creepy!) historic building
  • The collection started as a private project by art preservationists Rosa and Spencer Clark
  • The space is in a unique setting atop the Scarborough Bluffs.
  • Indoor and outdoor displays feature contemporary work amid the reclaimed ruins

Cinematic Treasure Chest at the NFB
150 John St.

Tired of sky-high movie prices? Get your fill of free films at the National Film Board mediatheque, where you can watch old classics and discover new favourites – like the anti-epic above.

Points of Interest:

  • digital viewing stations give people access to more then 5,500 free films from the NFB media library (day pass is $2 last I checked)
  • Located in the Entertainment District, right across the street from the Scotiabank theatre – a convenient alternative to Hollywood and high prices
  • Public access point for groundbreaking NFB films and a centre for media literacy for children and adults alike
  • Regular low-cost or free screenings of award-winning films and film festivals (often followed by provocative Q & A)
  • Several workshops, summer camps, and other programming for the kids, families, students (these are usually for a price)

I have lots more, but it’s getting late and this post is getting pretty long. Stay tuned for my next blog entry, when I tell you about:

  • the inconspicuous Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
  • the simulated rainforest in the Cloud Forest Conservatory
  • the architetural wonder of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir complex
  • the rich history and tranquility of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery
  • the rustic charm of the Don Valley Trail Network
  • the best place to picnic if you prefer butterflies to seagulls

Already been there, done that? Okay, smarty pants. Outdo my suggestions in the comments section 😉


An intern’s-eye-view of CBC headquarters

2011 Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients. From left to right: Adam Avrashi, Najat Abdalhadi, Giselle Dookhie, Sol Israel, Alana Bergstrom, Lily Boisson, Fabiola Carletti, Sachin Seth

Okay, we’re not technically interns. We’re Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients on contract for the summer – but who has time to say all that?

Either way: I’m freshly-graduated, and I have a lot riding on this summer stint. Who knows – maybe I’ll find my own nook in this cross-country, bilingual, multimedia institution.

For now, I’m routinely getting lost in the CBC’s Toronto headquarters – a 10 story, 160,000 square metre behemoth.

If you’re curious about what it’s actually like in Willy Wonka’s media factory, I’ll start you off with a fun list of observations in no particular order.

(Disclaimer: I’m not saying these are the most important things about the inner-workings of the Ceeb, but they are things that rookies write home about)

1) You have to become an expert at the elevator colour scheme

Staff orient themselves by referring to elevator colours. (Ex: “Visual Resources is now on the 8th floor, blue elevators.”) Seems simple enough, right?

Well, sometimes they’re talking about the colour of the elevator doors and sometimes the walls by the elevator. Some elevators don’t go to certain floors, and they’re not all primary colours. God help you if you confuse the red and burgundy elevators. There’s also a gigantic lift affectionately known as “the big green monster.” The largest elevators can hold entire movie sets and enormous animals. (I’m going somewhere with that last one …)

2) When reporters share a building with entertainment media, things can get a little wild. 

Our internship coordinator told us some pretty unbelievable stories while showing us around. He pointed out the heavy-duty red elevators and explained that they’ve lifted, among other things, a lion on its way up to the 10th floor television studios. (Or was it a tiger?)

Anyway, the doors opened prematurely on the 4th floor (which is where the news team works) and the lion/tiger escaped from its handler. Story goes that the beast jumped on top of an unlucky journalist’s desk and proceeded to urinate all over everything.

How’s that for a piss off?

3) You may bump into a mail delivery robot 

Okay, the robot doesn’t have a face or an endearing personality, but it does make its own way through the labyrinthine corridors of the building – which is more than I can do. The droid makes a soft beeping sound and apparently knows where to go because of an invisible path sprayed on the carpets. I heard it stops if you get in its way, but I won’t risk my neck testing that theory.

Here’s video evidence from someone as easily excited:

4) The jokers have made  their mark  

Pay attention and you’ll see evidence of the staff’s sense of humour. Sure, there are the goofy blog posts, funny signs (“No Coffee, No Workee”) and random stickers (the Smoke’s Poutinerie face is everywhere!) … but there are also some craftier jesters among the masses.

On the fourth floor blue elevators, you may notice a shot of Peter Mansbridge looking out into the crowd (See picture below, left side).

Upon closer inspection, you’ll see my favourite guy ever.

Left: wideshot of the Mansbridge elevator. Right: not just another face in the crowd

Whoever inserted this into the crowd took the time to figure out the proportions and go black and white to blend in. I don’t even know how I spotted him!

Some other interns and I were guessing who this guy might be. Perhaps he’s a former employee who vowed to keep an eye on the news team? A CTV reporter who snuck into the building? Peter’s estranged son?

(If you recognize this man, seriously, help me out here.)

We also joked about adding Mansbridge himself into the audience. How meta would that be?

5) Radio people seldom look like they sound, and television personalities are often shorter than they seem. 

These are generalizations I can get behind. Take for instance “the voice” that introduces The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti. He’s an extremely tall Gothic guy with long hair. (He sounded like a stubby older man in suspenders to me!)

“The talent” (on-air radio and television personalities) are everywhere, and they’re easier to spot thanks to flashy in-house marketing. You know you’ve made it at the CBC when they’ve blown you up and put you on the walls, pillars, and — of course — the elevators.

It’s always slightly bewildering to see larger-than-life figures in, well, real life.

So far David Suzuki has walked by me in a huff; I almost collided with Jian Ghomeshi as he powered past me on his cell phone; and I’ve directly experienced Strombo’s “your boyfriend George” smile. I’ve also been in the bathroom with Spark’s Nora Young and in the coffee lineup behind Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway.

It may be lame, but I always get a little giddy about these encounters.

One intern described seeing Peter Mansbridge’s image on an elevator, which then split to reveal the real Peter Mansbridge.

Just another day at the CBC, I suppose!