Toronto is so new as an emerging world capital that it's hard to keep up with the city's ever-increasing number of attractions. Everybody goes to the CN Tower, Casa Loma and the SkyDome, but there are lots of other possibilities. Here are five places to visit that are quite interesting, but not on the usual tourist itinerary.
Afternoon tea at the King Edward Hotel
A good way to capture a sense of old, British-influenced (and quickly vanishing) Toronto is to have afternoon tea at the King Edward.
There is no such thing as a bad tea-time -- any place that is knowledgeable enough to serve tea and refreshments will do the old English tradition justice. Usually served from 3 to 5 p.m., afternoon tea is a great way to while away an hour or two in a luxurious setting.
You can have afternoon tea (which is different from "high tea," incidentally) at the Royal York or the Four Seasons Hotel, among others, but for the local folk, the "King Eddie" (as it is affectionately known) is the best of the best.
For $13.50 you have a choice of 16 teas that range from Russian Caravan to Earl Grey to China Oolong, along with little crustless sandwiches of chicken and mango, dilled smoked salmon or cucumber and cream cheese. They are complemented by scones and Devonshire cream, or preserves imported from Scotland. And of course there are desserts: madeleines, fruit cake, shortbreads and tea biscuits.
You will notice that the unhurried, genteel ambience of afternoon tea prompts better than usual conversation. From the fresh-cut flowers to the subdued lighting to the violin music in the background, all seem to compel a person to slow down and savor the moment.
Dragon City Mall
For a complete change of pace, take a shopping tour of Dragon City, a mall in the heart of a Chinatown that is bigger than San Francisco's. Located at the intersection of Spadina and Dundas, this all-Asian mall has been around for more than 20 years, although it's not that widely known outside the local community.
One of the biggest differences in Dragon City, from say, the Eaton Centre, is the kinds of shops. There are high-tech electronics stores that specialize in Japanese products that are very pricey, and Tacky-with-a-capital-T stores selling goods with, shall we say, "quaint English": "helicopter shape alarm clock"; "good lucky antique," and case after case of novelties that are so cute they'll make you stop and stare at them.
For those on New Age or special diets, there are shops specializing in herbs and ginseng and exotic remedies for just about every ailment under the moon.
There is also a funky food court in the basement level of the mall where the servings are big, the prices are low, and the quality is -- well, the prices are low. Throughout the mall there are ubiquitous loudspeakers blaring a boy-girl duet singing chirpy songs that sound like -- honest! -- very bad Carpenters.
Bata Shoe Museum
Have you ever wondered who "invented" the first pair of shoes? Neither have I, but thanks to the Bata Shoe Museum, I learned that nobody knows anyway -- although Spanish cave drawings from 15,000 years ago show humans with animal skins wrapped around their feet.
The Bata Shoe Museum, which opened two years ago, is home to the most comprehensive collection of shoes in the world. There are 10,000 shoes and related objects in the museum, and they span 4,500 years from every corner of the earth.
The first display case in the permanent exhibit, "All About Shoes," points out that the earliest footprints on record (hardened depressions in the ground) are from 3.7 million years ago. The exhibit then moves on to dozens of displays of shoes that depict the subtitle of the show: "Footwear Through the Ages."
Among the shoes exhibited are Egyptian wooden sandals that are 4,500 years old and Teflon-coated moon boots worn by American astronaut Alan Lovell during his training for the Apollo program.
There is a famous portrait of King Louis XIV of France that is a prototype of the rationale behind the fashion-oriented shoe. The long-haired, permed "sun king" is raising his robe to show his legs -- and, more important, the red shoes that only aristocrats were allowed to wear.
Many people would call platform shoes a fairly recent fashion, but the Bata Shoe Museum shows elevated foot wear has been around for a long time, indeed for thousands of years.
Platform shoes called cothurni were first worn by actors in classical Greek theater for the dramatic effect they had on an audience. The rage of Venetian fashion in the 16th century was the velvet-covered, open-toed chopine that had platforms 5 inches to 2 1/2 feet high. Chopines were so high that the aristocratic women who wore them needed the help of servants in order to walk -- a real status symbol!
There's also a rhinestone-studded silver and black pair that added five inches to pop star Elton John's height.
Visitors also can look at John Lennon's black, elastic-sided "Beatle boot," one of Pablo Picasso's imitation zebra-skin boots with a sheepskin leg, Liz Taylor's high-heeled silver kid evening sandals, David Bowie's Nikes, Pierre Trudeau's hiking sandals, Robert Redford's cowboy boots from "Out of Africa" and -- every true museum must have a spiritual relic or two -- a pair of Elvis' blue and white patent leather loafers.
The other major category of shoes at the BSM has to do with function. One of the best examples of shoes designed to help workers are the 19th century, French, chestnut-crushing clogs. These wooden shoes have nine-inch serrated iron spikes sprouting from their bottoms that make them look almost sinister.
Other work shoes at the BSM are almost as weird-looking: shoes made for pruning trees, simple Japanese sandals with skatelike bottoms made so farmers could chop rice stubble in their paddies after harvest, and deep sea diving boots with lead and brass soles that act as ballast for the diver.
By paying homage to the lowly shoe, the BSM has succeeded nicely and is destined to be one of the unique museums in the world.
The Sherlock Holmes Room
For a quieter intellectual experience, head to the Metropolitan Library and investigate one of Toronto's most charming hidden gems, the Sherlock Holmes Room, home of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes says the Metro Library has "the best collection of Sherlockiana available to the public anywhere."
The room is both a library within the library and a special Victorian room that is a reflection of Holmes' living quarters on Baker Street in London. The library has a comprehensive collection of Holmes material highlighted by nine rare editions that make up the "Sherlock Holmes Canon," including an 1887 edition of "A Study in Scarlet."
The Sherlock Holmes collection ranges from the obscure (translations in Arabic, Gaelic and Hebrew) to the exhaustive (20 different editions of "The Sign of the Four"), to the downright peculiar: weird pamphlets in Portuguese of a plagiarized Sherlock Holmes battling lions bare-handed and fighting enemies underwater in full diving gear.
Aside from the attraction of the collection (and all of Sir Arthur's work is available and accessible, along with a vast collection of scholarly works on Holmes), there is the allure of the room itself.
The tops of the bookshelves are filled with busts, plaques, mugs and pictures -- just about every replication of Sherlock Holmes short of a death mask that one could imagine. On entering the room, a person's attention is drawn to a hat rack topped by the detective's deerstalker, the odd hat with matching bills front and back.
Probably the only way the room has changed over the years has been the removal of the hypodermic needle that used to lie beside a set of Holmes' pipes. Holmes, of course, was a cocaine user, and teachers complained that if students learned about the great detective's questionable pleasures, he would be a bad role model for today's youth. So the syringe was removed from sight.
Still, everything else is there, including a violin on the mantel, a tin of Twining's Green Gunpowder tea and a handsome pair of slippers near an easy chair that faces Dr. Watson's chair.
Visiting the Sherlock Holmes room is like dropping in on the great detective himself, and what a treat that would have been.
Canadian Broadcasting Co.
The CBC is as much an institution in Canada as the BBC is in England. Canada is the second biggest country in the world, geographically, and the CBC binds more than 99 percent of its diverse, far-flung populace together.
Up until four years ago, if you wanted to visit the CBC, you could be sent to any one of 26 buildings scattered across Toronto -- but not anymore. In 1992 the CBC became an entity when its new 10-story building opened at 256 Front St. West, across from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
There are two ways to explore the CBC up close: by guided tour or on your own. Remember to visit the CBC on a weekday, though, because it is closed weekends.
If you go on your own, there are two studios that you can look in on (don't hesitate to wave at the people behind the mike) as radio shows are being broadcast live. The first (740 AM) is on the left side of the lobby just inside the Front Street entrance. The second is farther in, also on the left, in the Barbara Frum Atrium.
While you are in the massive (it's 165 feet high) atrium, you can get a bite to eat at the Ooh-La-La cafe, or buy a memento or souvenir from the CBC Boutique. But the real high point of a self-guided tour is a stop in the small but fascinating CBC Museum.
The museum is a series of interactive exhibits that focus on memorable or historic moments from the past 60 years of radio and television history. From a film of Lorne Greene delivering the CBC's first newscast in 1952 to the Montreal Massacre of 1989, Canada's history of broadcasting is brought back to life.
A poignant exhibit involves a Madame Tussaud-like replica of two newsmen broadcasting from the front lines during World War II -- it's museum lore at its best.
The free guided tour takes about 45 minutes and usually leaves from the receptionist's desk at 11 a.m., but call first to be sure. Whereas the self-guided tour focuses on radio, the guided tour is almost entirely devoted to television.
Besides seeing a couple of news rooms, the tour goes to the mammoth 10th floor, where there are standing sets that range from the single but elaborate background used for the "Rita & Friends" show, to the seemingly endless series of locales used for the medical series "Side Effects."
These sets look so authentic that it is easy to feel as if you are walking around a medical office instead of a small part of a television studio. There is also a stop in the 350-seat studio, where there are live tapings of "Royal Canadian Air Farce," one of the country's most popular and enduring comedy programs.
The beauty of the guided tour is that the focus is on the here-and-now as opposed to the past. There is something to be said for being able to watch an anchor prepare his or her script live, looking intently into a monitor, primping. It is moments like these that make being a pilgrim-tourist worth it.
King Edward Hotel, 37 King St. East, (416) 863-9700. Afternoon tea is served seven days a week from 3 to 5 p.m.; $13.50 per person.
Dragon City Mall, 280 Spadina Ave. (Dundas Street trolley to Spadina from St. Patrick subway stop) Open seven days a week.
The Bata Shoe Museum, 327 Bloor St. West, south of the St. George subway stop. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; to 8 p.m. Thursdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays; call for holiday hours. Admission is $6 Canadian for adults, $2 for children 5 to 14, $12 for families, $4 for students and senior citizens. Free the first Tuesday of each month. Wheelchair-accessible.
Sherlock Holmes Room, Metro Toronto Central Library -- Literature Section, 214 College St. (at St. George); Bloor-Yonge subway stop. Open from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and any time with prior appointment; call (416) 393-7153.
The Canadian Broadcasting Co., 250 Front St. West (near Union or St. Andrew's subway stations); (416) 205-8605 for tours; (416) 205-3700 for audience relations and live taping information; (416) 205-5574 for the museum.