Toronto: Canada's true cultural melting pot?

A New musical opened in Toronto this month. Called I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. Its title could be a motto for how Torontonians feel about their city. It is a city in flux, a new city that preserves little of its past, with only a scattering of 19th-century buildings amongst the elegant skyscrapers of its down-town.

Founded as an outpost of the British Empire, following the loss of the American colonies in the 1776 revolution, Toronto has become a multi-cultural melange. Greek town, Chinatown, an Indian Bazaar and Little Italy are established quarters of a city that is also home to communities of Portuguese, Polish and Korean immigrants. Their legacy is a variety of restaurants, which visitors can combine with trips to Toronto's thriving theatreland and the many festivals that are staged in the city's surprisingly warm summer. They make Toronto attractive as the base for a city break for Britons, who can take advantage of charter flights that undercut scheduled services.

Like its Canadian sister city Montreal, Toronto and its environs are not an obvious choice for tourists seeking guaranteed summer sun. Canada, after all, is supposed to be cold, northern and noted more for its freezing snowy winters than hazy lazy days in June, July and August. But Toronto and its province Ontario are in the middle of north America and so have a continental climate of predictable extremes: cold and hot. The switch is less violent than in other parts of Canada, partly because Toronto is actually further south than many parts of the USA, its latitude matching that of northern California. The summer average is 23C and the winter average is -6C. There is also the benign influence of Lake Ontario, which provides Toronto with a waterfront and milder weather, but which can also stoke up its humidity in high summer. This can be oppressive sometimes and uncomfortable. One visitor from Quebec told me: "You think that you can get used to the climate here, but you don't." The lakeshore also has a sandy beach, where sunbathers can strip to deal with the humidity, fanned by a gentle lakeshore breeze. Its strand is a summer promenade for young Torontonians, in-line skating in shorts, vests and crop-tops, that sometimes expose more skin and flab than is decent. The beach district, named the Beaches, has a Miami Beach feel of solid early 20th-century houses, built to ward off the summer heat, with verandas, balconies and porches. Its main street has a string of small shops and restaurants and a freebooting Brighton-like atmosphere, of city dwellers unwinding by the sea. Back in town, the cosmopolitan strengths of Toronto's restaurants are not only based on the eating houses of its various ethnic quarters.

The city prides itself on having avoided the excesses of American ghettoes. It promotes itself as a true cultural melting pot, and this is borne out by much of its cuisine. Restaurants like the Mercer Street Grill, in the downtown, have thrived on Epicurean ecleticism, fusing South-East Asian traditions with adventurous North American gastronomy. Starters like a hot nori roll of grilled jumbo quail are inventive and delicious as are main courses like steamed swordfish, with lobster rice and its chocolate sushi dessert: hand-rolled Belgian, with raspberry centres. Outside Toronto, there is southern Ontario, a peninsular between the great lakes of rolling green countryside that recalls Hertfordshire or East Anglia.

Car hire in Canada is reasonably priced, and the area is well served by highways, this being one of the most densely populated areas in this mostly sparsely peopled country. Off the main drags are prosperous dairy farms, woodlands and small lakes, as well as neat small towns, mostly named after communities in the UK. Southern Ontario has its London, Windsor, Cambridge and Exeter. One of the prettiest towns also has a familiar name: Paris. But unlike its country cousin made famous by the film Paris, Texas this is no fly-blown hicktown about to be closed down. Paris is the epitome of neat respectability.

But any holiday in the region is likely to be focused on Toronto. Maybe it is most famous for being the home of one of the world's tallest buildings: the CN Tower, 1,815 ft tall - the equivalent of 187 storeys. Essentially a communications tower, statistical purists have stressed that it is not really a true building, but a "free-standing structure". But whatever the architectural correctness, the views from the observation decks are dramatic and can only be rivalled by those from the window seat of the aeroplanes that fly into the city.

Keith Nuthall

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