After their long, grueling winters, it's hard to keep Canadians housebound come spring and summer. Once spring is in full swing in Toronto -- our northern neighbor's largest metropolis -- cafés buzz and parks teem with the city's 4.7 million residents. Most notably, outdoor festivals abound. And we mean abound, with numerous public events and gatherings that draw more than a million or more visitors each year, from Canada and abroad. Here's a roster of the biggest outdoor happenings, in chronological order, from May through August.
Sample fares for travel June 23 to June 30 -- in time for Toronto's excellent jazz festival (see below) -- are as follows: $273 from New York, on US Airways, with one stop in Pittsburgh ($291 nonstop, on American); from Boston, it's $285 nonstop on American; from Chicago, it's $287 nonstop on United; from Washington, D.C., it's $267, with a stop in Boston, on American ($287 nonstop on United); and from Los Angeles, it's $247 on America West, with one stop in Las Vegas ($420 nonstop on Delta and American). These fares come from Orbitz (tel. 888/656-4546; www.orbitz.com.)
Santé, the Bloor-Yorkville Wine Festival (May 11 to 15; tel. 416/928-3553, x27; www.santewinefestival.net). In Toronto's historic Bloor-Yorkville district, the city's top chefs team up with more than 70 of the world's best winemakers, for a four-day gastronomaganza. For a range of budgets, in a variety of settings, the festival features a panoply of events -- from seminars and rare wine buying opportunities, to tastings and food-and-wine-pairing dinners. Culinary events range from food samplings with wines from Chile's Concha y Toro vineyards, for $16 a person, to a dinner paired with wines from Italy's esteemed Bertani vineyards, for $125 a person. For the basic wine-tasting events, "passports" are $15. The highest priced wine-and-dining event is $130 a person.
Doors Open Toronto (May 28 and 29; www.doorsopen.org). For two days, one hundred structures of historic, cultural, or architectural significance open their doors to the public for free. This year's itinerary isn't available yet, but the route typically includes everything from private architects' offices to banking halls, museums and theaters, historic transportation hubs, and national historic sites -- many of which aren't usually accessible to the general public. Check the website in the coming weeks for a list of this year's featured venues.
Molson Indy Toronto (June 8 to 10; tel. 866/670-INDY; www.molsonindy.com). Once a year, in late spring, Toronto closes down Lakeshore Boulevard and six other public streets and turns them into a winding, 1.755-mile Indy racetrack. Indy greats like Paul Tracy, Michael Andretti, and Dario Franchitti, along with hordes of fans will descend on Toronto for the 20th edition of the city's only official auto racing competition. Tickets run from $20 to $199.
Toronto Gay Pride (June 20 to 26; www.pridetoronto.com). Outrageous sexpert columnist Dan Savage will serve as one of the judges of the 25th annual Toronto Gay Pride Parade -- which touts itself as Canada's largest. Headline artists are yet to be announced, but each year sixteen stages fill with performances by local and international celebrities, and the streets of Toronto's Gay and Lesbian Village fill with gaily clad and unclad revelers. Events include the annual Pride Awards, the fair and marketplace for activists and nonprofit groups, Family Pride (with fun stuff for kids), and the Dyke March -- culminating in the Pride Parade on the 26th, which runs from Church and Bloor East, to Yunge, to Dundas, and back to Church Streets. Savage and his fellow judges will bestow awards for the most fabulous choreography, hat, float, costume, and at least a half dozen other categories.
Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival (June 24 to July 3; www.torontojazz.com). If you need one reason to visit Toronto in summer, it's this: for ten days, in the heart of downtown, thirty-plus stages graced by more than 1,500 of the world's top jazz, fusion, blues, and bebop performers. Some events are free; some are ticketed. This year's most sensational headline acts are saxophone legend Sonny Rollins, on June 24 at Massey Hall, and Canadian-born singer-songwriter-pianist-superstar Diana Krall, on June 27 and 28 at the Hummingbird Centre. For advance-purchase tickets, contact Ticketmaster (tel. 416/872-2262; www.ticketmaster.ca).
Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival (June 25 and 26; tel. 416/595-1739; www.dragonboats.com). The annual Chinese Dragon Boat Race is the second most important Chinese tradition, after Chinese New Year; Toronto's version of this event, on Centre Island, is the largest outside Asia. In the 4th century BC, poet philosopher Qu Yuan protested governmental corruption, during the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history, by flinging himself into the Mei Lo River. Villagers took to their boats to save him, and the modern-day race commemorates their efforts. Like a water parade, the spectacle of this flotilla of colorful vessels -- with dragon heads where the wooden ladies would be -- in itself is worth the trip here, if you've never seen the event in Asia proper.
Celebrate Toronto (July 8 to 10; www.city.toronto.on.ca/special_events). This is your typical summer city festival, with food tasting and local music performers -- with more than a million participants, crowding along Yonge Street, which Toronto claims is the world's longest.
Caribana West Indian Carnival (July 29 to August 1; www.caribana.com). Based on the Fat Tuesday carnival in Trinidad, Toronto Caribana draws more than a million participants for four days of Caribbean music, pageantry, West Indian food tastings, and other events along Lakeshore Boulevard, Harborfront Centre, and the grounds of City Hall. Now the event embraces emigrés and customs from Jamaica, Guyana, the Bahamas, Brazil, and other cultures as well. Caribana's pinnacle is a parade of flamboyant, scantily dressed masqueraders, and trucks carrying live soca, calypso, steel pan, reggae and salsa musicians through the street. Toronto Caribana is the largest Caribbean festival in North America,
Taste of the Danforth (August 5 to 7; tel. 416/469-5634; www.tasteofthedanforth.com). Toronto has the world's second largest Greek population outside Greece (second only to Astoria, Queens). For three days in early August, Greektown's restaurants bring their best, most festive food onto Danforth Street, the neighborhood's main drag, for a huge celebration of Hellenic food and culture. The food and drink are plentiful and cheap, and the music is free. This event, only in its eleventh year, draws more than a million visitors. O-pah!
For more information on these events or other Toronto attractions, contact Tourism Toronto (tel. 800/499-2514; www.torontotourism.com).
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