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2009 ACA Meeting, July 25 - 30, 2009, Sheraton City Centre Hotel, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : http://www.cins.ca/aca2009/

Toronto ACA 2009 Local Info

Click for a Adobe Acrobat PDF of Visiting Toronto for families by Tina Rose : a visitor guide to sites for both attendees and families.

Click for a Adobe Acrobat PDF of Dave Smith's Toronto: a personal guide to restaurants and pubs in the area

Note: Above and below content provided for information only and is not an endorsement. Hours and other details subject to change. Please ask the local committee in Toronto for more details.


1. Coffee:

Most important things first: Don't panic, we do have Starbucks! There are (at least) 3 Starbucks within a short walk from the Sheraton.

  • Exit on the North side (Queen Street) and walk one block East (right) to Bay St.
  • Exit on the West side (York St) and walk one block south (left) on York to Adelaide.
  • If the weather is bad, exit underground on the concourse level and take the PATH one block south (right) (The Lanes, past Richmond Street).

    Note: The coffee shop in the Sheraton also serves Starbucks products. It is operated by the hotel so does not accept pre-paid cards. Also, Starbucks coffee is served at the coffee breaks. Not sure about Starbucks specifically, but in general, anything bought in the hotel will be charged at a premium - you are better off financially to buy off-site.

    There are also 2 more in the Eaton Centre.

    Once you've had your fix, you might consider trying one of the local options: Second Cup or Timothy's (both Starbucks-like coffee shops), or even the Canadian institution, Tim Horton's (Queen St. east of the Sheraton, or in the Eaton Centre).


    Weather:

    The climate is definitely changing. In past years, you could pretty much count on hot, humid days (with the odd thundershower) and warm, pleasant evenings. In the past couple of years, both summers and winters have had record precipitation levels (2007 record dry and 2008 record wet). So, while it's hard to predict, it is most likely to be warm or hot (25-30C or 80's F) with some rain showers likely. It's usually warm in the evenings (15-18C) but a light jacket might be a good idea. Sorry - there won't be any snow (though I guess you can't be 100% sure, these days)!


    2. Getting oriented:

    The Sheraton takes up one block on the east side of York St. between Queen and Richmond. Most streets in downtown Toronto run North/South (like York St) or East/West (Queen St). There are several exits from the Sheraton. Most people arriving by vehicles will come in through the West entrance.

    Straight across York St. to the West is the new Four Seasons Centre - home of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet. If there is an event going on, it is worth going to experience the exceptional acoustics. There are sometime lectures or chamber concerts in the glass-fronted atrium on the West side (University Ave).

    If you go out of the Sheraton on the North side, you will be looking straight across Queen St to Nathan Philips Square and the distinctive curved towers of Toronto City Hall. Just East of Nathan Phillips Square on Bay St is the old City Hall building with its distinctive clock tower, still occupied by government offices. Further East is the main shopping mall, the Eaton Centre, spanning the area from Bay to Yonge Sts and Queen to Dundas Sts. Although Eaton's Department store no longer exists (it is now Sears), the historic name was retained. South of the Eaton Centre is the huge flagship store of the Bay (Hudson Bay Company), spanning the block on the south side of Queen from Yonge to Bay. The Bay and Eaton Centre are accessible underground from the Sheraton through the PATH.

    On the West side of Nathan Phillips Square is the impressive Osgoode Hall, home of the Law School of York University and the Upper Canada Law Society (and the backdrop for many Hollywood movies). The West side of Osgoode Hall borders University Ave. About 10min walk northbound on University will bring you to the Hospital corridor, with Sick Children's and Toronto General on the East side, and Mt. Sinai and Princess Margaret on the West. One block further North is Queen's Park (the Ontario legislature building) and the University of Toronto campus, extending to the West.


    3. Public Transit

    The closest subway (TTC) stops are Osgoode to the West (University Ave and Queen St.) and Queen to the East (Yonge and Queen). You can walk from Queen station to the Sheraton underground (through the Bay). Follow (or try) the PATH signs.

    There are streetcars along Queen St that pass right in front of the Sheraton. The TTC system operates on a flat fare, no matter what distance you go, and transfers are available from one mode to another (ie subway to streetcar and vice versa). You pick up a transfer where you pay your fare. There are daily and weekly passes available.


    4. PATH

    The PATH is a maze of underground walkways connecting all the main office buildings from Union Station in the South to City Hall in the North, including the Sheraton, the Eaton Centre, and the Toronto Stock Exchange on Bay St. There are shops, restaurants and food courts spaced throughout the PATH system, as well as access to the subway at Queen St. Many shops and food outlets in the PATH are closed on weekends and evenings, though, as they mostly serve the business crowd.


    5. Breakfast

    In addition to the Sheraton, there are some options close by. On street level, just East of the Sheraton on Queen St. is Tim Horton's, which is open 6am-midnight. The east exit of the Sheraton is right at Tim's (from the check-in area, signed to Queen and Bay Streets).

    On the Concourse level, just outside the Sheraton entrance is a bagel place and further along is a small food court. Many places in the PATH are not open on weekends, however.


    6. Where to eat?

    There is an inexhaustible supply and variety of restaurants within walking distance. Most immediate are The Keg (just south on York) and Steak (attached to the Sheraton on the East side) steakhouses, both good quality but moderately expensive. There are a number of places in and around the Eaton Centre, including Baton Rouge (excellent ribs). For less expensive options, walk West on Queen St. to the trendy Queen West neighbourhood, about 2 blocks after you cross University Ave. There are some excellent Indian, Thai, Korean barbeque, and Crepe places (among many others) within 10-15 mins from the Sheraton.

    Slightly further afield, keep going West on Queen St. to Spadina and you'll be in the middle of Chinatown. Most of the restaurants (Vietnamese and others in addition to Chinese) are North (right) on Spadina between Queen and College.

    In the summer, many restaurants have outdoor patios, which can be very pleasant on a warm July night.


    7. Museums

    A fairly short walk from the Sheraton is the newly-renovated Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Walk West to University Ave, 2 blocks North to Gerrard, and then 1 block West, past the Grange. There are permanent exhibits of major art works as well as special exhibits.

    The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had a wide assortment of historical and anthropological exhibits, including a world-class dinosaur display. It is at the Museum subway stop at Bloor and Avenue Rd/University Ave. It is walkable for the hardy - probably about 30 mins up University past Queen's Park.

    There are a number of other smaller museums, including the Bata Shoe museum on Bloor west of the University, and the Gardner Ceramic museum on the east side of University at Bloor across from the ROM.

    Toronto Science Centre was one of the first of the hands-on science museums. It is located in Don Mills, northeast of downtown and is accessible by TTC bus.

    Toronto Zoo is excellent but located quite a way to the East of downtown, though it is accessible by TTC bus.


    8. Other attractions:

    Theatres: The Toronto region is one of the top English language theatre areas in the world. Frequently, there are touring Broadway shows or previews at the major theatres on King St. or Yonge St. There are also many local professional companies. One of the best is Soulpepper, which plays out of the Distillery District (not walking distance). There are outdoor theatres, the best known of which is the CanStage Dream in High Park, accessible by subway to High Park station.

    Further afield are the internationally known Stratford Shakesperian Festival and the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, both about 1.5h from Toronto. Both offer some of the best stage productions anywhere.

    A trip to Stratford can be combined with a visit to the agricultural tourist centre of St. Jacob's, and the towns of Guelph and Kitchener/Waterloo (home of RIM, makers of the Blackberry). Niagara-on-the-Lake is in the core of the Niagara Wine district. Many wineries offer on-site tours, tastings and restaurants.

    Downtown stuff:

    The most distinctive site is the CN Tower, until recently the world's highest free-standing structure. It is not cheap and fairly touristy, but the views on a clear day are spectacular. You can eat at the restaurant, which, while perhaps a bit expensive for a restaurant, would also include the trip up the elevator and access to the observation deck. Reservations are probably a good idea.

    Toronto's lakefront stretches along the north shore of Lake Ontario from, roughly, the foot of Bay Street to the West past Exhibition Place, and beyond. Walk south on Bay or York past Union Station and under the rail tracks and the Gardner Expressway. Walking and biking trails stretch along the lakeshore, and the central area, Bay to York (Queen's Quay) has restaurants, shops and boat cruises.

    Toronto Islands are accessible by ferry from the dock behind the Westin at the foot of Bay St. There are miles (or km, actually) of walking and biking trails, beaches, nice views back to the Toronto skyline, restaurants and amusement parks. Centre Island is the most popular area, Ward's Island ferry goes to the residential area, which is quite interesting to walk around. The ferry crossing is 15-20 mins and schedules are available on the Web.

    There are two main downtown market areas. St. Lawrence market is probably the most accessible, south on York or Bay to Front St, then east on Front. Past the SONY Centre (formerly the Hummingbird, formerly the Okeefe for the old-timers), the whole St. Lawrence area along Front and the Esplanade is a nice destination, with shops, pubs and restaurants. The second market area, Kensington market, is west of Spadina and south of College.

    Sports: The Toronto Blue Jays and Argonauts (CFL) play at the Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) on Front St. at the base of the CN Tower (20mins walk from the Sheraton). Starting in 2009, the Buffalo Bills will play one game each season at the Rogers Centre. The Maple Leafs and Raptors will be out of season in July, but they play at the Air Canada Centre just south of Union Station (Front and York-Bay).

    There is an outdoors farmer market in Nathan Phillips Square, across from the Sheraton, on Wednesday mornings. Fresh produce from the Toronto and Niagara areas is available.

    The Hockey Hall of Fame is on Front and Yonge Streets. The Stanley Cup is on display, along with historical displays and hands-on activities. Great for kids.


    9. Tours:

    Many companies offer bus or trolley tours of Toronto. There is even one that drives straight from the street into the lake in an amphibious bus/boat (http://www.torontohippotours.com/). There are also organized tours to Niagara Falls and the wine district. The concierge desk in the Sheraton will have information. There is a Toronto Tourist Information kiosk next to the fountain in Nathan Phillips Square, right across Queen St. from the Sheraton.

    Walking tours are available through Muddy York Tours: http://www.muddyyorktours.com/. (Toronto was originally called York).


    10. Emergency Information

    The closest hospital to the Sheraton is St. Michael's, on Queen St, East of Yonge. Note that, while a visitor is very unlikely to be refused treatment, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) does not cover visitors, so you would have to pay. If applicable, you are advised to check that your health insurance plan covers out-of-country expenses and, if not, to seriously consider a travel insurance policy.

    The US Consulate is located on the West side of University Ave, one block North of Queen St. Many other countries have consulates in the same area. (Note, the capital of Canada is Ottawa so that's where the embassies are located).


    11. Language/Culture

    While on the surface, Toronto looks pretty like any large American city, if you are there for any length of time, the cultural differences become more obvious. The most obvious characteristic is the huge diversity of languages and backgrounds. English-native Caucasians are now in the minority in Toronto. While French is the second official language (and you will probably hear some), walking down the street, you are more likely to hear (among many others) Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Indian, etc. There are neighbourhoods (and restaurants) of pretty much any national background. Toronto is more of a "mosaic" than the traditional US "melting pot", and many people tend to keep their "home" cultures for many generations.

    You may be surprised by the number of people sleeping on the streets. Canada is generally a more socialist society than the US, and there are shelters available. However, Toronto is generally tolerant of individuals who do not take advantage of shelters and prefer to stay outside (many even through the winter). Street people are usually polite and not aggressive (in fact there is a law against aggressive panhandling). Most people ignore them or acknowledge them with a nod, but any spare change is always appreciated, if you want to get rid of your coins.


    12. Currency:

    The smallest paper denomination in Canadian dollars is the $5.00 bill. In addition to the normal coins available in US currency, there are dollar coins (loonies) and two-dollar coins (twonies or toonies).


    13. Street safety:

    Toronto is a big city - probably in the top ten in North America - and so has many of the same issues as other big cities. However, it is generally safe to walk around even at night, at least in the downtown core. Handguns are illegal except in certain circumstances, but there are a fair number around (mostly smuggled from the US). Almost all the (comparatively little) violent crime is closely tied to drugs and gangs. Random incidents are extremely rare (but not unheard of).

    The usual petty crimes, like pick-pocketing and minor theft do occur so take the normal precautions expected in a large city. Bicycle theft is very common.


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