Begin your day with a visit to Estonia — by way of the Museum of Estonians Abroad (VEMU). VEMU’s slogan, “where our history lives on,” is no exaggeration, with VEMU hosting everything from Estonian fashion shows to exhibitions spotlighting Estonian contributions to Toronto’s modernist cityscape. The VEMU archival collection is the largest outside of Estonia itself, making it the destination for all things Estonian — and for Estonians themselves, with an opportunity to meet other Estonian-speakers at the Estonian language book club. But no language required to appreciate the photos and artwork on display at VEMU.
Wander east towards Avenue Rd. and one of the few museums in the world to focus on that most elemental of creative materials: clay. The Gardiner Museum opened in 1984 and is world-famous for its collection of ancient American artifacts, European pottery and porcelain, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese porcelain, and contemporary Canadian ceramics. (It’s also a destination for high-profile visiting exhibitions, for instance Yoko Ono’s The Riverbed.) Want to get your hands delightfully dirty? Clay is a medium for creativity and meditation at the Gardiner, with a full range of arts classes for kids and adults. To cap off your morning, browse the Gardiner Shop’s handcrafted ceramics, jewelry, and textiles, or, come July 2018, have lunch at the Gardiner’s much anticipated new restaurant presented by The Food Dudes.
Then take a serene stroll down Philosopher’s Walk, perhaps to the faint sounds of music students at play as you get closer to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. U of T Music is synonymous with excellence for each generation of young musicians, but anyone can experience its bar-setting musical heights through one of the 150 public concerts a season. Discover new talent or be awed by world-renowned ensembles at the MacMillan Theatre and Walter Hall. Take time to indulge your music-curious soul at U of T’s Music Library, Canada’s largest music research collection. (Recordings from wax cylinder to Blu-ray, over 300,000 scores, books, periodicals, and literally millions of electronic resources.)
You’re just around the corner from one of the largest museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum, which opened its graceful brick and terracotta west wing in 1914. One of Canada’s most storied museums, (literally, the museum figures large in several novels including one by Margaret Atwood), the ROM is home to more than 12 million objects and specimens and 40 galleries and exhibitions spaces. To put it in the words of one young reviewer online: “This is a cool museum...This is a great place for ages.” So true — ROMKids’ programs are all about museum-inspired fun, not to mention that kids can bunk down overnight with ROMKids sleepovers. Grownups, don’t feel left out, you can enjoy the nightlife of Friday Night Live at the ROM, with DJs, drinks and gallery hopping.
From nightlife in museums to a night at the theatre: make sure to check out the performance schedule at the Randolph Centre for the Arts. At a glance you might mistake the theatre for a church and you’d be partly right — in 1888 the gothic revivalist building was home to the congregation of the Bathurst Street Wesleyan Methodist Church. (With Sir John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada, laying the cornerstone.) By the 1950s the building was a performance space, over the years showcasing the likes of Oscar Peterson and Joni Mitchell and making its mark in original Canadian theatre as the Bathurst Street Theatre. These days the Randolph has two theatres, and studio space for music, acting and dance classes courtesy of the Randolph College for the Performing arts, a professional performer training program. If you’re in town during the annual Fringe Festival the Randolph is the place to be.
Back on Bloor (and just a few minutes away) you’ll find another historic landmark, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. It started life in 1913 as the Madison Theatre, one of the city’s earliest “picture palaces.” It’s a classic movie house and a beloved part of the community, celebrating the best in Canadian and international documentaries and hosting independent film fests. Cinephiles will want to go to Doc Soup, where audiences can chat about documentaries with guest experts, and the Curious Minds series, which presents lively conversations connected to urgent issues of our times. The cinema’s also home to the world’s newest (wildly popular) form of digital storytelling, with the Hot Docs Podcast Festival. But it always comes back to celebrating movies. So, if you can, catch a flick at This Film Should Be Played Out Loud, a series where concert films and music docs come with a side of pre-show DJ and drink specials, making it a perfect end to a night in the Bloor St. Culture Corridor.