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First-time visitors to Toronto, especially if they have children in hand, have few decisions to make. The Metro Toronto Zoo, the Ontario Science Centre and Ontario Place are the "big three" for an initial visit -- and about as much as can be managed in a weekend.

But what's to be done on that second, or third, trip?


We've scouted out a few next-round attractions.

Hockey Hall of Fame

This is billed as an educational, resource and entertainment destination. But visiting the Bell Great Hall (formerly the head office of the Bank of Montreal), where the Stanley Cup is enshrined under a dome of stained glass, feels more akin to a religious experience.

Don't let that stop you from asking questions, though. The guest services representatives will point out name misspellings on this revered trophy, and they are happy to chat about its history.

Hockey buffs should seek out Dale Collins (on weekends), who can tell tales about the game and the lore associated with the Stanley Cup, once used as a flowerpot and once drop-kicked into the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, he says.

Buffalo Sabres fans will find Scotty Bowman, Punch Imlach, Gilbert Perreault and Seymour H. Knox III in the Hall of Fame. And they can check a computer that shows Dominic Hasek winning the Vezina trophy last year.

There are theaters showing films, a broadcast setup where fans can call their own play-by-play, and a re-creation of the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room, complete with a pair of wooden crutches.

Pat LaFontaine wanna-bes should head immediately for the popular Rink Zone to get in line for a chance to take shots against a goalie or to snag pucks that come whizzing by -- all done electronically, of course. Another busy place is a trivia game, where visitors pit their hockey knowledge against one another.

Young People's Theater

Everyone knows that Toronto is a hot spot for adult theater, but the Young People's Theater was on the scene long before the adult explosion.

It's in its 29th season and attracts groups of well-behaved youngsters, who seem to enjoy the show as much as their parents and grandparents do. Judging from the performance of "Whale," it's a theater that pays a good amount of attention to its young audiences with professional performances, scenery and costuming.

The theater is near the St. Lawrence Market, where children could be easily fed "on foot" as they walk from stand to stand, collecting a heap of fries here and some yummy sandwich fixings there.

CN Tower

Time the visit for sunset to see a rosy glow as the sun goes down and a sparkling panorama as city lights come on.

If your timing isn't perfect, there's plenty to keep you occupied at the top of this aerie. There's the interactive EcoDeck, which has displays that deal with air, water, land and city issues.

And there's a chance to gaze at the impressive skyline and pick out familiar landmarks. The best fun, though, is to watch people as they bravely, or tentatively, step onto the newly installed glass floor, 1,136 feet above ground.

"Not today," said one visitor, speaking for many. "It doesn't appeal to my sensibilities."

At the base of the deck is the new Cosmic Pinball Ride (similar to some at Disney World's Epcot Center). It's a thrilling experience that lasts only three minutes once you are strapped in. Those with any tendency to motion sickness will be pleased it's not any longer. Children love it.

Tour of Chinatown

If you try to follow Shirley Lum of "A Taste of the World," heed this warning: Bring comfortable walking shoes and the desire to clip along at a lively pace.

Ms. Lum starts this tour at the base of old city hall, where she points out the eccentricities of this Richardson Romanesque style, said to mimic a jail in Pittsburgh.

Architect E.J. Lennox seemed to get the last laugh on the City Council, with whom he was feuding, in a row of carved heads that trim the ornate structure. There is a handsome portrayal of the mustached Lennox surrounded by grotesque caricatures of council members.

Ms. Lum, whose background is in sociology, really shines when it comes to the history of the area, pointing out sections where shacks were erected for the early immigrants, and the six-block-square area that once held 300 laundries.

Just as fascinating are seeing traditions that still live: eight-sided framed mirrors that hang near doorways and windows to ward off spirits. "Chinese ghostbusters," she calls them.

And oranges and incense on a shop's steps as offerings to the gods. "It's a sign of how superstitious we are," said the enthusiastic guide.

As she walks the streets, Ms. Lum points out churches, the earliest restaurants, and a new senior citizens home, a departure from traditional practice. And we stop for samples at the Yet Sing Co., a shoe box-size tofu factory, and the Kim Moon Bakery for samples of moon cakes.

Ms. Lum gives a history lesson on immigration policy, how marriages took place, what working conditions were like, the Chinese opera as well as offering an intimate look at one of Toronto's most visible population groups by talking about herself and her family.


The hourlong tour starts with displays of the bottles, crockery and other artifacts that were unearthed on the site. Next, the film "The Inside Story" re-enacts discussions between engineers and architects on how to design the first fully retractable roof.

You'll learn that it costs $10 for the power to open the roof. That it takes eight miles of zippers to fasten the Astroturf together. And that no workmen died on the job, though the construction work added up to 12,000 years of labor.

Also, you walk through a skybox, tour a locker room and sit in the press box to see the spot where Jose Canseco hit the SkyDome's longest home run.

The Who's "Tommy"

Once the red velvet curtain parts at the Elgin Theater, hold on for a full-tilt, rock-solid production that starts with a jolt and takes you on a whirling ride.

A typical Broadway show is said to include 15 changes. In "Tommy" there are seven during the overture alone. It's carried along with spectacle and special effects. Dancers use pinball machines as their floor. Computers shoot sky-high images onto screens. Paratroopers hang from the sky.

Is it suitable for children? My grandmotherly genes thought some scenes -- a "funny" uncle, a woman shooting up, a murder -- too graphic for pre-teens.

But the 9-year-old in front of me said she was scared only when shots went off.

"We didn't know what to expect," her mother said. "The parts that may be difficult went over her head, I think."

If you want, dress up for "Tommy." But jeans, pressed or not, were nearly as common as evening clothes.

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