Toronto's Charming Outskirts
Photos by J. Kevin Foltz
The green of the leaves gives way to yellow and red, while hints of golden and brown begin to peek through—making the arrival of fall in Canada hard to miss. The best way to enjoy this annual treat from Mother Nature is to slow down, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The suburbs outside Toronto are great places to enjoy the fantastic show of autumn. The capital of the Province of Ontario is North America's fifth largest city, a dynamic metropolis surrounded by small villages that encircle a lake, maintaining their small town charm.
The Edge of the Port
Port Credit is about 11 miles southwest of Toronto, on the mouth of the Credit River in Mississauga. The picturesque town's fishing season, which runs from April to September, is now coming to an end. Even if you're not a fishing aficionado, consider sportfishing on the pristine Lake Ontario—which like a mirror lets you see downtown Toronto in the distance, with its imposing CN Tower standing guard over the horizon. The Salmon Express is one of many charter boats offering sportfishing trips, and even the most amateur fishermen can reel in something. Besides the fact that boat crews know the best places for catching fish, the local government stocks the lake with salmon, trout and rainbow trout. Fishing excursions usually last a full day, with most outfitters offering lunch or a barbecue.
From the water, the landscape of this village founded in 1798 is the quintessential definition of tranquility. Colonial buildings intermingle with modern condo towers and the area's only hotel, the Waterside Inn. The main thoroughfare, Lakeshore Road, boasts most of Port Credit's business activity, including bridal and arts and crafts stores. Collectors of antique books and vintage records will be delighted with shops like Nostalgia Books and Ric's Recollections.
On terra firma but not far from the water is Waterfront Trail, a road that's 560 miles long and links several neighborhoods around Lake Ontario. In Port Credit, this trail connects 22 parks, the Bradley Museum and Rattray Marsh. Across from the new St. Lawrence Park, there's an exhibit featuring industrial starch artifacts from Port Credit's past. Although the pace here is slower, there are events year-round, like a boat show, art festivals and a Blues & Jazz Festival in September.
When it comes to cuisine, Port Credit offers a sampling of the variety that reigns in the neighboring metropolis. There's something for everyone, ranging from Romanian restaurant Napoca to Irish pub The Harp and the delightful local oysters and seafood at Snug Harbor. Roc'n Doc's and Shore 71 are the places for nightlife.
A Spectacular Town
The best way to continue a tour of the towns is along rural roads bordered by flora that at this time of the year dresses up in fall shades—and far from the wide, busy highways. Unionville, a scenic village that looks like a postcard, is a few miles north of Toronto. A stroll around Main Street takes us back to the mid-19th century, with a trading post and fire station (which today houses a confectionery). If when visiting, you feel like you're on a television set, you're not that far off: Ads, movies and the pilot episode of Gilmore Girls were filmed here on location.
In the 1980s, Unionville was restored to its current look. This turned it into an instant tourist attraction that has the unique feature of not having a hotel downtown, since the high property prices make it unpractical to offer lodgings.
Unionville is a treat for photography buffs. Buildings like the old Stiver Mill, the former Unionville Congregational Church and the McKay Art Centre, located in a Neo-Gothic house, have been preserved and repainted in their original colors. The natural charm of the Toogood Pond offers great photo opportunities around its elevated path, from where you can see birds and different types of trees. Those interested in history can take guided tours on double-decker buses or walking tours.
The village also delights art lovers with its many art galleries. Among them is Varley Art Gallery, featuring a collection of works by Frederick Horsman Varley of the Group of Seven, a group of renowned Canadian landscape painters from the 1920s.
When the sun sets, Unionville lights up with happy hours at restaurants like The Arms and Jake's On Main, where locals conclude their day with friends and live music. The restaurant offerings are impressive, with standouts like Blacksmith's Bistro and La Grotta, featuring Italian food.
So Close and Yet So Far from the City
The captivating Old Mill Inn & Spa is about 30 minutes from downtown Toronto. This is a reinterpretation of the charming British cottages that fill the area of Old Mill Road, surrounded by the thick vegetation of the riverbanks and the Humber Valley. The hotel is a featured stop in Discovery Walks, a program of self-guided tours of parks, botanic gardens and beaches.
The mill was originally built in 1793 and although it suffered several fires, there are ruins dating from 1881 on the premises. The elegant hotel opened its doors as a tearoom and restaurant in 1914 and is now a favorite location for weddings, especially on weekends, when carriages and tulles are everywhere. Here, you can ditch the rental car and use the reliable public transportation, since the Old Mill Subway Station is close to the hotel.
Two subway stops to the east is Bloor West Village, which is like rejoining the modern world after being in the fairytale world of the Old Mill Inn. This shopping area combines interesting bookstores, independent restaurants and boutiques. The buildings show the neighborhood's British influence and its unmistakable European air. On weekends, the streets fill with people having lunch or coffee, walking their dog or jogging.
Autumn afternoons are ideal for enjoying nature and these neighborhoods far from Greater Toronto's most traveled roads. But if you feel like visiting the city, all you need to do is get on the subway.
TACA flies directly to Toronto from San Salvador.