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Halloween happenings

Halloween is the highlight for children this time of year, and the Canadian emphasis is heavy, Thanksgiving having taken place in Toronto last weekend. Some special doings may interest families. Black Creek Pioneer Village offers a Pumpkin Party for Kids on Friday and Saturday and a Halloween Happening on Friday. Call (416) 736-1733. At the downtown Mackenzie House, there's a Ghosts of Mackenzie House event that combines spooky stuff with history. Call (416) 392-6827.

Theaters fall into line

One of the hottest theater tickets is to Wallace Shawn's "The Designated Mourner," running through next Sunday at the Tarragon Theater. Advance reservations are a must for this challenging production.

Three characters, sitting on a mostly bare stage, deliver occasionally enigmatic, densely woven monologues for over two hours. Lighting plays a major part in this drama, in which the only sound other than the actors' voices, the breaking of a glass in the first half, shatters the starkness of a tough evening of theater. The characters raise more questions than they answer about morals and the focus of human life. This is a cerebral production for viewers who don't mind giving back as much as they get at theater. Call (416) 531-1827.

"The Elvis Story" runs until Nov. 29 at the Elgin Theater. The show promises a live performance of 40 Presley hits as it retells the King's life story. Most tickets are under $50. Call (416) 872-5555.

As the weather turns cooler, theater-goers increasingly may be tempted to take rickshaw rides between their hotels and the theater or restaurant they're heading for. Some downtown hotels advise visitors not to take these vehicles. If temptation persists, customers should be sure to agree on the whole fee before taking the ride. Rickshaws don't have meters as taxis do.

Easy trip planning

Two interesting programs help visitors plan Toronto trips during the holiday season. From Nov. 1 through Dec. 30, the "Wrap Festival" offers packages featuring bargains in hotel rooms, nightly tours of the Niagara Fall Festival of Lights and tickets to the top shows. It even can arrange reserve seating for the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, Nov. 16.

Tourism Toronto's "Toronto Value Packages" run from Nov. 1 to April 30, offering preferred seating at performances and special deals on meals and merchandise. The cost of both packages depends on the options visitors choose. Call (800) 363-1990 for information about both deals.

Museum specials

Toronto museums are strutting new stuff as the 1997-98 season gets under way. The Royal Ontario Museum has an exhibit of Southeast Asian arts through March 22. Situated across from the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, this new offering will take many visitors into completely foreign territory as they see statures and paintings of unfamiliar gods and goddesses. Understanding the art, which the uninitiated can appreciate chiefly for its beautiful intricacy, requires lots of reading along the way.

"Whales," which runs until Jan. 4 at the ROM, sounds a bit more kid-friendly. Call (416) 586-8000.

Across the street at the George R. Gardner Museum of Ceramic Art, there's "White on White: An Exhibition of Contemporary Canadian Ceramics," through Feb. 8. Twenty ceramic artists responded to a call on the theme with varied creations. Consider Anne Mortimer's whimsical "Iced Tea Series," three pointy cups and saucers that would never hold more than the captive imagination. Call (416) 586-8080.

The Design Center, 234 Bay St., opens its ground-floor exhibit space free to the public Nov. 5 to 30 for "The Golden Fruit: The Spanish Citrus Industry, 1781-1995." These posters, artifacts and graphics related to the Valencian orange industry could provide a half-hour diversion. The cafe at the back of the Exchange is good, as is its small gift shop. Call (416) 363-6121.

The current star at the AGO is its updated Agora Restaurant. Located in a stunning atrium, the restaurant offers lunches and dinners planned around the season's freshest produce. Autumn lunches include a warm feta sandwich on homemade black olive bread with seasonal vegetables ($10). Call (416) 979-6612.

Musically speaking

The Canadian Opera Company opened its 1997-98 season in highly commendable style with splendid performances of "Turandot" and "Oedipus," leaving opera fans waiting for the opening of "Hansel and Gretel" and "Cunning Little Vixen" in January. Call (416) 872-2262. Jumping into this operatic gap is C.W. Gluck's "Orfeo and Eurydice," Opera Atelier's season opener, Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 at the Royal Alexandra Theater. Call (416) 872-1212.

The National Ballet of Canada points its toes into the new season with Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow" and a double bill of "Terra Firma" and "Forgotten Land" running in repertory Nov. 5 to 16. Call (416) 872-2262.

Harbourfront Center brings back its popular Cushion Concerts for children 5 to 12 and their families. "Ms. Mozart" explores the life of Wolfgang's older sister Nov. 2.

Other venues offer enticing one-nighters. At the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, it's Itzhak Perlman Oct. 30. Call (416) 872-2222. The Hummingbird Center has the Dance Theater of Harlem on Oct. 28 and 29. Call (416) 872-2262. Ray Charles plays Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 29, Michael Burgess on Nov. 14, Aretha Franklin on Nov. 21 and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra on Nov. 6. Call (416) 593-4828. Popular music fans can catch k.d. lang at the Hummingbird Centre on Nov. 1. Call (416) 872-2262.

Assorted pleasures

The 75th annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair moves into Exhibition Place from Nov. 6 to 15. It focuses on Canadian agriculture and equestrian sport, having bragging rights to more than 3,000 head of cattle, 1,300 horses, 1,600 birds, 500 sheep, 300 goats, 300 pigs and lots of human visitors. Call (416) 393-7575.

Metro Toronto Zoo offers animal viewing of another sort in the form of an albino alligator visiting from South Carolina until Nov. 2. Naga, the largest Komodo dragon in this summer's special summer attraction, has returned to his home at the Cincinnati Zoo, but the other Komodo dragons will remain as part of the Metro Zoo's permanent exhibit. The zoo is open year-round every day except Christmas. Call (416) 392-5900.