Expand your horizons by exploring nature, history, politics and art in midtown’s cultural corridor.
Smack dab in midtown’s museum, Discovery District and University of Toronto corridor, Queen’s Park is one of Toronto’s most curious neighbourhoods. Rich in historic architecture, scenic streets and storybook parks, the area contains marquee attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Gardiner Museum, Ontario legislature and other cultural institutions that offer unique experiences to inspire, illuminate and edify. Here are five ways to exercise your mind in this intriguing neighbourhood.
Immerse yourself in natural history and anthropology at the ROM
The ROM is Canada’s largest museum of world cultures and natural history, the prototypical big-city museum with awe-inspiring dinosaurs and an immersive bat cave. It is home to galleries of global culture, including First Peoples (staffed with an Indigenous Knowledge Resource Teacher during peak hours), Byzantium, ancient Greece, China and Korea. But it also boasts specialized galleries that will appeal to those with slightly more esoteric interests.
Fans of religious iconography should visit the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art for its breathtaking 13th- and 14th-century murals, plus Buddhist and Daoist sculptures from Shanxi, China. Bird nerds should head to the Gallery of Birds for 100+ specimens dating from the 19th to 21st century, representing all the present-day taxonomic orders, from tiny songbirds to a massive albatross.
The best museums look to the future as well as the past, and the ROM is no exception. Its ongoing Curator Conversations series covers issues like today’s activist photojournalism, and winter’s big-ticket exhibitions include the conservation-focused Great Whales: Up Close and Personal and #MyPandemicStory, youth-created art about the… well, you know. 100 Queen’s Park
Express yourself through clay at the Gardiner Museum
Across the street from the ROM, the Gardiner Museum is as much a creative hub as it is a gallery dedicated to ceramic arts. Feast your eyes on its permanent collection, which ranges from 16th-century Asian porcelain to 19th-century European ceramics to contemporary Canadian multimedia work. But don’t stop there.
If you’ve frequently thought “I’d like to take a ceramics class, buuuut I don’t have the time,” now’s the time! Craft your own clay creation using hand-building, wheel-throwing and decorating techniques at the Gardiner’s pottery studio. Drop-in classes take place Wednesdays and Saturdays, with registration opening the morning of. 111 Queen’s Park
Take a deeper dive into the legislative assembly of Ontario
When people hear the words Queen’s Park, they usually picture this: the stately pink sandstone legislative assembly of Ontario building that has been the seat of the provincial government since 1893. (The park itself is tucked behind the legislature.)
The legislature is where Ontario’s 124 members of provincial parliament — elected to represent their constituents and communities — convene to propose bills and amendments, vote, present petitions and discuss issues related to their ridings. As recent global events have shown, democracy isn’t something that should be taken for granted, and a trip to the legislative assembly can be illuminating — and trigger some great conversations — for young and old alike. (Check out these online resources to learn more about the Ontario legislature.)
While indoor building tours are currently paused, free guided tours of the historic grounds continue, weather permitting. 111 Wellesley St. W
Stroll above a hidden stream at Philosopher’s Walk
This short pavestone footpath leads through the University of Toronto’s St. George campus and past the Royal Ontario Museum and The Royal Conservatory of Music buildings. In winter, Philosopher’s Walk feels aptly meta, with its romantic, rolling landscape of snow and tall, barren trees carved out next to towering halls of culture and knowledge.
Beneath the ravine trail where countless scholars (and Instagrammers) have paced flows Taddle Creek, one of the city’s historic lost streams. Dammed in 1859 to create a pond and botanical garden, it was turned into a sewer in 1884. Since the 1960s, landscape architecture initiatives have returned the path to something resembling its natural beauty, with steep grassy banks and now-mature trees. It’s a peaceful spot where the city sounds recede for a few moments as you take a restorative walk and consider the hidden history beneath the modern city. Lose yourself in your thoughts if you’re sufficiently bundled up — there are plenty of benches to sit and daydream. 2 Hoskin Ave. (South entrance)
Feed your soul at Koerner Hall
Those who crave a collective listening experience will be delighted by the return of live music. The Royal Conservatory of Music’s 1,135-seat performance venue, the acoustically stunning Koerner Hall, has a winter lineup that will hit every melophile’s high notes, including orchestral and chamber music, piano, jazz, roots, world and more.
Hot winter tickets include Canada’s Queen of R&B, Jully Black, accompanying celebrated Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac (December 10, 2021); a program of Mozart and his contemporaries performed by “Iceland’s Glenn Gould,” pianist Víkingur Ólafsson (January 13, 2022); and an evening with legendary violinist Joshua Bell (February 6, 2022).
Music lovers lingering in the city for the longer term (workcation, anyone?) should consider The Royal Conservatory’s courses, which include beginner-friendly options like adult percussion samba and children’s choir. 273 Bloor. St. W.
Getting to Queen’s Park:
Take the Line 1 Yonge-University subway to Queen’s Park or Museum station.