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A guide to the arts, bars, cafés, and festivals of Toronto

Where to find good coffee, cheap drinks, and live shows across campus

A guide to the arts, bars, cafés, and festivals of Toronto

The opportunity cost of “staying in” — watching Netflix, studying, sobbing — is higher in Toronto than any other city in Canada. From great bars to quiet cafés and leafy parks, there are tons of fun, cheeky opportunities hiding mere blocks from your pillow.

Even though the city is hot, big, and overwhelming, the best thing you can do is surrender to it, lean into its swaying, sweaty crowds, and follow the wave. 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)  

Thanks to a new initiative by the AGO, one of Canada’s best art galleries is now free for under-25s. Head in for an hour or two and poke around the huge collection of Canadian and international art, including the absurdly expensive “The Massacre of the Innocents.  The piece was sold in 2002 for 109.2 million USD, adjusted to inflation, and then donated to the gallery. 

The Royal Ontario Museum 

A huge, informative museum that you should visit at least once. It’s right next to Victoria College and it’s free on the third Monday of every month from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, and every Tuesday with a valid postsecondary ID. 

Nuit Blanche 

Nuit Blanche is a city-wide art festival that usually takes place around early October. There are some really cool exhibits to look at and take part in, unfortunately, the evening is often hijacked by brandy-sipping high-schoolers. With that in mind, plan out what you want to see beforehand, stay the hell away from Dundas Square — Toronto’s gritty, glitzy Times Square — and you should be fine. 

Jimmy’s Coffee 

Jimmy’s has a few locations across Toronto, but the best one is on McCaul Street, right on the university’s periphery. The drinks are cheap — around $2 for good, strong coffee — and it’s a great spot to study or bring a date. 

Boxcar Social 

A chill, hipstery outpost in uptown. Based next to the Summerhill subway stop, this cafe has a chic upstairs study space fitted with outlets, decent Wi-Fi, and great coffee. The pizza place next door is great too. 

Quantum 

If you need a break from campus, take the Spadina streetcar down to King, hop off, and dive into this clean, pricey slice of Silicon Valley. Quantum’s coffee is fantastic and it’s the best study café in Toronto, hands-down. Get there early to beat the New Balance-wearing ‘influencers’ who slip in around noon. 

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 

TIFF is taking place September 5–15, so you’ll be walking right into it. Lucky for you, TIFF is an amazing time, with the big, busy streets downtown blocked off for pedestrians, film screenings galore ­— some of them quite cheap — and celebrities descending on the city. Last year, Lady Gaga, Michael Moore, and Nicole Kidman showed up, with dozens more making cameos. 

Einstein

This bar is infamous on campus. It sells some of the cheapest pitchers of beer in the city and some decent bar food too. There are always fellow Varsity Blues — usually pale, tired engineers from the nearby Bahen building — lurking around, and the staff is no-nonsense, efficient, and accommodating. 

Sneaky Dee’s 

A College Street staple serving up Toronto’s best nachos. Get the most expensive option and split it between five-plus people. Sneaky’s is also just a great place to meet up with friends, or to use as an outpost to start a Long Trek West. 

St. Lawrence Market

This market is near the lake, and serves as a gateway into the up-and-coming Distillery District. Try the famous peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery and grab some fresh fruit and veggies at the produce stalls. 

Kensington Market 

Kensington is Toronto’s most unique, dizzying neighbourhood. A carousel of art, people, fashion, and food, Kensington has been around for ages and its atmosphere is like no other. If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink, Cold Tea is lowkey and fun. Mare Pizzeria is the best — and cheapest — pizza in the area, and the market’s thrift shops are good and cheap.

Horseshoe Tavern

A legendary music venue, The Rolling Stones, The Tragically Hip, and The Police have all graced the Tavern’s stage, with live shows still raging every week. The area around the venue is great too, with places like Little Nicky’s, Alo, and The Black Bull, forming a fun and diverse ring around the Tavern. 

Trinity Bellwoods 

Bellwoods is fun in September, October, and April, and is popular with pretty much everyone. The cherry blossoms are one of the park’s biggest attractions, as are the baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. Keep an eye out for the volatile, swaying day-drinkers though.

One of the most underrated things you can do here is grab a book from Robarts and hit Bellwoods early. Reading some André Alexis under a big, old tree at Bellwoods was one of the highlights of my Frosh Week — and made me look super smart. 

The Varsity is launching an events calendar

Your go-to resource for interesting events, on- and off-campus

<i>The Varsity</i> is launching an events calendar

Today, The Varsity is launching an events calendar, with the aim of providing students, staff, and faculty at the University of Toronto with a comprehensive resource of interesting events, both on- and off-campus.

You can find the calendar at thevarsity.ca/events or through our home page.

Some examples of upcoming events include a career expo at the University of Toronto, Scarborough on July 10, a Games Night for graduate students on July 18, and a beer festival at Hart House next month.

Starting in September, events featured on page two of our print issue will also be featured online on the events calendar.

If you have an event you would like to see featured on the calendar, you can contact us at events@thevarsity.ca.

In Photos: A Raptors retrospective

From celebration to disarray

In Photos: A Raptors retrospective

As the final buzzer sounded in the Oracle Arena, signalling the first NBA championship of a Canadian team, waves of people flooded the streets of Toronto. Despite the scattered shattered glass and even the police horse excrement, the crowds continued to celebrate the historic night throughout the city. People danced, cheered, and climbed anything that they could just to show their enthusiasm for the Toronto team.

ON THE WAY TO UNION (KING STREET)

UNION STATION (FRONT STREET)


DUNDAS SQUARE (YONGE STREET)

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The Parade

The Raptors’ parade seemed to mirror the night of their victory: the streets, scaffolds, signs, bus stops, and monuments were once again covered with people. Under the glaring sun, the crowd grew restless as the parade continued to delay. Families had been waiting since early morning and others camped out the night before. However, the spirit was still strong and Toronto was ready to welcome their team back home.

NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE (BAY AND QUEEN)


The celebrations were cut short after multiple shots were fired during the victory speeches. The crowds in the south half of Nathan Phillips Square dissipated and people were in disarray as they struggled to put distance between themselves and the shooters. Lost belongings, mismatched shoes, sprained ankles, and people in shock — the parade was over for those who were stampeded in the back. Almost three hours behind schedule, the crowds at the front continued the celebration as those in the rear tried to recollect their belongings and call their friends and families who they lost in the scramble.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

U of T not targeted in bomb threats to Ontario colleges, universities

OCAD University, Ryerson University, George Brown College, Humber College are being investigated by Toronto Police.

U of T not targeted in bomb threats to Ontario colleges, universities

Multiple Ontario postsecondary institutions are being investigated by Toronto Police after receiving bomb threats this morning, though U of T was not among the schools. Convocation is continuing as scheduled.

After the first call was made at 8:54 am, OCAD University, Ryerson University, George Brown College, and Humber College all received threats similar in nature, Toronto Police Services report.

The Chang School at Ryerson University, George Brown College, and Humber College all received an all-clear from Toronto Police and have since resumed regular operation. OCAD will remain closed for the day.

Editor’s Note (June 18, 3:40 pm): Article has been updated to reflect the campus statuses of Ryerson University, George Brown College, and Humber College 

Book Club: Ben Ghan’s upcoming novel, What We See in the Smoke

A new novel by a U of T alum on Torontonian apocalypses at the intersection of Bradbury and Bloor

Book Club: Ben Ghan’s upcoming novel, <i>What We See in the Smoke</i>

You would be hard-pressed to find a U of T student who is not painfully aware of the catalogue of accomplishments that the Office of the President shills for the now-retired Boundless campaign: our nine Nobel Prize laureates, our four Prime Ministers, and our engineering and medical marvels.

But our less marketable assets conveniently slip through the cracks of campaigns, newsletters, and student awareness. Not as many students can list the accomplishments of Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, and the other name-droppable contributors to Canadian culture as easily as they can recite the now-trite laundry list of accomplishments from the campaign.

This familiar cultural issue forms the core of one motifs explored by the hand-stitched literary debut of Ben Berman Ghan: What We See in the Smoke. The book, a self-described “patchwork” of interrelated, but ultimately not codependent, stories, leads the reader through increasingly fictional and farfetched plots with the city of Toronto at its center. It is a Bradbury-esque adventure that takes its reader across time and space at the intersection of science fiction and the yearning for a better home.

The vector for each of these Torontonian escapades? Apocalypses. Big and small; banal and fundamental; at times familiar yet oftentimes not.  

The destruction of a standard becomes Ghan’s mandate. True to form, each of the seventeen ‘patches’ that form his quilted narrative eventually destroys themselves. The earlier stories, ones both chronologically and thematically closer to our present time, destruct in forms that are quite familiar to denizens of a city built upon seemingly-constant renewal and construction.

It is upon this concept of familiarity that Ghan seems to base his most successful heel-turns in character development and plot. He wields What We See’s dramatic irony so aptly that the reader rarely expects the destruction wrought in his stories. The later, more futuristic, and certainly more science-fiction-like stories, transition slowly from the familiar bounds of the city we all know, yet remain consistent in motif, providing the reader with a sense of recognizability, despite constant content shifts.

Truly, the whole novel feels like Toronto — all of its tragic and painful moments, which happen more often than expected — are caught up in cherry blossoms, major intersections, and, of course, the unassailable CN Tower.

When the reader begins the novel, Ghan seems to sell his stories short, making them almost too recognizable, too familiar. Certainly, in my first read-through of the novel, I questioned what interest I had in reading realistic stories of Toronto’s grittiness when I was faced with them in one way or another almost every day. I live here.

But that familiarity deceives. Ghan allows you to become comfortable in a surrounding you feel like you know, before making you believe that you never knew it in the first place. This happens to the point of uncanniness, where the feeling of Toronto, despite all the changes each story makes in plot and content, begin to signal something uneasy. For Ghan, there are only two certainties in Toronto: a mild-yet-still-somehow-debilitating winter and similarly enduring business development.

Despite its unique motley demeanour, What We See ends up being a novel rich in motifs that the average Torontonian can recognize and understand. A mixture of the heinous and the righteous, and a spark of constant renewal that keeps it all in flux, Ben Ghan’s debut is a solid underscoring of the Torontonian ethos.

Ghan seems to ask each of his stories, and the reader as well, what Toronto they would like to see. How would you give Toronto the identity it so desperately aches to discover?  

The only way for you to know is to pick up the book yourself.

What We See in the Smoke is set to release on June 6, 2019.

You can pre-order the novel on amazon.

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Using Ka Wei, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Caffiends to your advantage

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Toronto is a city of opportunity, and with opportunity comes temptation. A 15-minute walk anywhere south of Bloor will lead you past fine dining and food trucks, cafes and bars, book stores and record shops — all of which will tax your willpower, strain your attention, and ultimately drain your wallet.

It’s a battle I know all too well; after popping off in the early days of September like some sort of pudgy, pretentious Drake, my lifestyle caught up with me, and I was forced to reform. I sought out the advice of my smarter, thriftier friends, and scraped by for the next five months on eggs, sriracha, cheap coffee, and handouts.  

That episode let me in on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: with some luck and resourcefulness, the city can be liveable — you just have to know the right spots.

For food, fifth-year Clara Rutherford recommends Chinatown’s big-time produce vendors: Ka Wei, Hua Sheng, and Lucky Moose. Stocking up on cheap, nutritious grub like kale, beans, and rice will keep you full throughout the day, while dashing into a hole-in-the-wall bakery, like Mashion Bakery on Baldwin and Spadina, is great for loading up on banana bread or pork buns, says Rutherford.

However, flying around these crazy, mosh-pit produce markets can be stressful. The employees blur past you, prefer cash, and have no time to chit-chat. But when you can find a kilogram of quick oats for $3, it’s a trip worth taking.  

On your way back from Hua Sheng, scoop these up and throw ‘em in the freezer: meats, bread, produce, sriracha, whatever. Each are savoury, cheap, and will let you save up some money for your nights out.  

Another food tip: after 3:00 pm, the CityMarkets across town sell ‘enjoy tonight’ products; food that they’re forced to sell because it will ‘expire tomorrow.’

If you’re planning on hitting the town, fourth-year architecture student David Suskin recommends pre-gaming with some cheap alcohol. Pabst Blue Ribbon is always in vogue, while some of the grimier Ontarian wines are sold for around $7. After loosening up, Suskin and I recommend storming into Wide Open, Sneaky Dee’s, the Madison Pub, or Ein-Stein — of meme page fame. All boast cheap beer, and the latter has free cover on Friday and Saturday.

If you’re feeling some cheap coffee after your night out, avoid hitting the more bougie Toronto areas, like Yorkville, Queen West, and King Street. Instead, slip into Caffiends. This tiny, student-run cafe, based out of a shoe closet in Old Vic, sells coffee at a dollar per mug, and offers up one of the best atmospheres in Toronto.

There are other great, inexpensive dives on campus, too. Recent graduate Arielle Mantes recommends Trinity’s The Buttery or Victoria’s Ned’s, but with a few caveats. The drinks there can be pricey, Mantes says, so make sure to bring a reusable mug and tea bag with you to skip the line and cut costs.

If you’re really down and out —think early April, trapped at Robarts, snow on the ground — you can always go to Starbucks. If you’re a Starbucks Gold member, you get a free drink on your birthday. The good news is all it takes to become a member is an email and a few spare minutes to sign up, so make sure to pop by on your birthday for that free drink.

Everyone has their own strategies on how to get by in Toronto. Maybe you sniff out free food on campus: college societies and Frosh week are especially known for this. Perhaps you budget, prep meals, and fast through breakfast. Safe to say, there are hundreds of things you can do, and even more waiting to be discovered.

Theatre Review: Hart House’s Hair

As their 2018–2019 season comes to a close, Hair graces the stage

Theatre Review: Hart House’s <i>Hair</i>

In 1968, the musical Hair took the Broadway stage by storm with its representation of the counter-cultural, anti-war, hippie movement. Featuring powerful rock anthems, crude language, fluid sexuality, and of course, the infamous nude scene at the end of “Where Do I Go?”, it seemed to be almost as controversial as it was likeable. Now, on its 50th anniversary, Julie Tomaino’s directorial take on the show is as moving today as it was back then.

Hair, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermont, takes the audience into the “Age of Aquarius,” following a group of long-haired, love-loving, drug-consuming teenagers in their fight against the rising political conservatism of their time. As high-school dropouts, these teens fight against conscription into the Vietnam War — joining the resistance through the anti-war peace movement of the 1960s. The central conflict of the show follows Claude (Christian Hodge) as he wrestles with the decision of whether or not to resist the draft as his fellow hippie friends have.

Though tentative at first, Hodge’s depiction of Claude was breathtaking; Claude transformed from a young, selfish boy to a complex man before our very eyes. His goofy movements in “Manchester England” vastly differ from the contemplative young man questioning “Where Do I Go?” by the end of the first act.

There truly was not a weak member of this cast. Berger (Andrew Perry) hilariously kicked us off with “Donna” removing his pants and breaking the fourth wall, making the audience feel strangely comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable scenario of being seen in a crowd full of people. Marisa Dashney’s portrayal of Sheila, a political activist and lover to Berger, was beautiful and heartbreaking. Her moving performance of “Easy to Be Hard” resonated with the audience on a whole other level in the shadow of the #metoo movement.

But what makes this show stand apart were the smaller pieces of the puzzle; the ensemble. This “tribe” brought the energy of the room up with their colourful costuming, hilarious depiction of drug use, and their nailing of intricate harmonies in songs like “Aquarius” and “Hair”—  I have to take a moment to mention Kevin James Doe’s show-stealing depiction of old woman, Margaret Mead in one of the most memorable scenes of the show — the audience will be thinking about his long note in “My Conviction” until the end of time. Although the content of this show is inherently political, it is also jam-packed with comedic moments thanks to the supporting characters’ high energy, literally.

Thinking about the message of the show, it’s strange how a show about hippies and the Vietnam war can speak to a contemporary audience. Hair stripped all of the modern fear of offensiveness away — again literally — to say something unfiltered. With songs like “Coloured Spade,” “I’m Black/Ain’t Got No,” and “Three-Five-Zero-Zero,” this show speaks to the realities of its time period in the most authentic way it can – proclaiming “I’m black,” “I’m pink,” and “I’m rinso white” in an entirely unapologetic manner.

The audience literally jumped when Claude made his pivotal entrance in full army getup and short hair, and when he is repeatedly shot by a gun on stage. Hair is striking in the risks that it takes, but I think those risks paid off. I know they did.

This short escape into the “Age of Aquarius” may be just what we all were looking for: a little more peace and some good old fashioned legal marijuana.

Housing in Toronto: report shows grim rental market

Rent continues to rise, building of expensive condos favoured over cheaper rental units

Housing in Toronto: report shows grim rental market

The rental market in Toronto remains dismal, with a recent report from Rentals.ca showing that Toronto rents are the highest in the country, especially in the heavily student populated areas around UTSG.

As of October 24, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom was $2,166, and a two-bedroom was $2,589.

Rentals.ca, a popular website for apartment hunters across the country, also reported that the Ontario average asking rent per square foot was $2.76. Vacancy rates in the city are below two per cent, creating a competitive housing climate among Torontonians.

Being in the centre of downtown, UTSG is surrounded by some of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Toronto, such as Yorkville and the Entertainment District. Average rent in Yorkville, which surrounds most of the northeast corner of campus, was $3,468 a month.

However, escaping downtown isn’t a solution to the rising rents, as the top eight most expensive cities in the country are all part of the GTA, including Richmond Hill, Mississauga, and North York.

Rental prices are being pushed up by the unwillingness to buy, according to the website’s report. Toronto has experienced a housing bubble in the past year or so, therefore making people more hesitant to buy.

In addition, high mortgage credit requirements — along with the recently increased interest rate — is “reducing the credits available, reducing the ability for people to buy. So they’re choosing to rent for longer, so that’s certainly increasing demands in the rental market, which would have gone into the ownership market,” according to Ben Myers, who runs the consulting firm that analyzes the data for Rentals.ca’s housing report.

The problem of rising housing costs is compounded with the issue of minimal options for on-campus housing at UTSG. During the 2017–2018 school year, only 6,616 students were able to live on campus, spread out over 11 residences. U of T boasts a total enrolment of 90,077 students.

Most of the students living on campus are in first year, leaving a vast majority of St. George’s 43,820 undergraduate students to find housing elsewhere. However, it is difficult to pinpoint how many students are renters, since U of T does not release statistics on the number of commuters.

A plan to build a new residence at Sussex Avenue and Spadina Avenue was recently approved by the city, but it will not be completed until 2021.

A new residence is also in the works at Trinity College, tentatively located next to the Gerald Larkin Building. However, it is only in the earliest stages of planning and there is no set timeline yet.

Outside of U of T, the willingness of developers to build condominiums, which create more revenue, is not being met by the same demand. According to Rentals.ca, there simply isn’t enough rental housing being built.

Rentals.ca found that while condos comprised nearly 20 per cent of the listings on the site, they made up only six per cent of page views. Due in part to the prevalence of condos, Toronto is comprised of half owners and half renters, as opposed to the national average of two-thirds owners and one-third renters, said Professor David Hulchanski of the Department of Urban Studies.

Hulchanski also commented on the aging of Toronto’s rental buildings, noting that “existing rental stock is about 40 or 50 years old and getting older. In Toronto, almost half of rental stock is in the form of those clusters of 20-storey high rises that were built in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.”

The most recent complication to the housing situation is the provincial government’s plan to end rent control for new buildings. Current rent-controlled apartments are safe, but there will be no new supply of them. This could cause rents to rise even further, as proprietors of new housing will have no obligation to provide rent-controlled housing.

The myriad of factors that contribute to Toronto’s rising rents, such as immigration and low unemployment, are not likely to dissipate while the city continues to prosper. Toronto is currently experiencing low unemployment at 5.6 per cent. “We’ve really grown dynamically and we are a very successful, desirable city to live in, but we haven’t maintained a fair housing system,” said Hulchanski.