3 FREE off-the-beaten-path attractions in Toronto
By: Jim Bamboulis
We all love free, don’t we?
In Toronto, there’s no shortage of free fun stuff to see and do. Guide books usually have a large list of popular attractions that you ‘must do’ when you’re anywhere. Toronto is no exception.
But if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, off-the-beaten-path sites that are still downtown, near the subway lines and still tell you an awesome story, then you want to check out the following 3 sites because each of them has a unique history waiting to be re-discovered.
1 – Allan Gardens Conservatory
This is the type of attraction that many Torontonians know exists because they have either walked or driven by it…but rarely feel it’s worth the look.
But it is. Because it’s a GEM!
This colourful piece of Toronto history dates back to the mid-late 19th century and is probably one of the best smelling buildings anywhere. And the fine aroma comes from natural sources.
A large park surrounds an indoor botanical garden featuring 6 greenhouses and measuring over 16,000 square feet. Here, you’ll find colourful plants and flowers from around the world, while in the “Palm House”, you’ll find several variations of palms meticulously maintained. This is an oasis, away from the horn honking, people pushing business from the street. Great place to stroll, breathe, stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter and if you really want to reach zen, it’s a great place to meditate.
It’s open every single day of the year between 10am-5pm.
2 – Maple Leaf Gardens
Any hockey fan knows that Maple Leaf Gardens was and may always be the greatest, most illustrious cathedral of hockey the World has ever seen.
But if ever went to a hockey game at MLG, you knew damn well that there was absolutely NO leg room, not even enough leg room for a 10-year-old boy.
But it was a great place to see a good old hockey game.
Maple Leaf Gardens is steps away from Allan Gardens, about a 5-10 minute walk west along Carlton Street.
Between 1931 and 1999, it was the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Elvis also played here in ’57, making MLG one of the few stadiums outside of the US where the King performed.
It has also been given the special distinction, named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007 because it was:
…one of the most renowned “shrines” in the history of hockey… the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country’s foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera… the Gardens holds a special place in the country’s popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.
—Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2006.
Today, it’s many things. The lower floors contain a massive supermarket, liquor store, clothing store and a cooking school. On the upper levels, there is an athletic centre and an NHL-sized hockey rink which is now home ice for the Ryerson University Rams hockey team.
3 – St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church
Heading south from Maple Leaf Gardens, about a 10 minute walk along Church Street, inside the Ryerson University campus, you find another piece of Toronto history that can’t be overlooked.
St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church is simply a beautiful place where old world craftsmanship is illustrated beautifully.
I must say that I don’t believe that churches should be considered a place to gingerly stroll into and take pictures. Sometimes it can be disrespectful. So do everyone a favour and wait until the appropriate time to take a few photos. After all, places of worship, no matter what the religion, should be treated with respect and rules must be followed.
This church isn’t open everyday. However, there is a chance to see this church at an event called Doors Open Toronto.
Considered to be the “mother church” of the Greeks in Canada, it was founded in 1909 by Toronto’s early Greek immigrants. It’s the oldest Greek Orthodox church in Toronto and up until 1961, the only one in the city.
Byzantine inspired, the church’s interior is unique in that it’s the only church outside of Greece to have been painted by Pachomaioi monks and master iconographers, Theophilos and Chrysostomos from famed Mount Athos, Greece. I made it a priority to see it this year and what I saw was truly breathtaking.
Have other free sites to see in Toronto? Share the love.