4 Things for History Lovers to See and Do in Toronto
When I plan a trip, I usually like at least a year to plan. I’m a very meticulous trip planner too. I make a list of what I want to see, mark all those items on a map, find accommodations as close to the middle of that cluster of dots as possible and then put together an itinerary for each day. I put a lot of thought and time into the process.
And then there’s the trip I took to Toronto.
I’d never been to Toronto before. My mom and I had always wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera musical and on a whim, we decided to go. This only gave me a two-month window for planning and scheduling so the pressure was on. Maybe that seems like a lot of time for some people, but not me. We only had three days to cram a lot of sightseeing into but I think we did pretty good, considering Toronto’s massive size and the fact that not many touristy things are handy to one another like, say, Montreal.
Toronto isn’t especially known for its tourism but there were several history nerd-friendly attractions that I looooved.
1. Casa Loma
Casa Loma looks older than it is. The outside looks like a medieval storybook castle while the inside is a collection of themed rooms, each one paying homage to different styles from different time periods. Built between 1911 and 1914, its creator just had more money than he knew what to do with and built a castle in one of Toronto’s most upper-class neighborhoods. (The houses in the immediate area of the castle are gorgeous, especially some of the Tudor-style homes.) Casa Loma was only inhabited by its creator for a few years before debt overtook the couple—debt that was brought on by the building of the castle in the first place. Casa Loma was eventually turned into a hotel and then made a tourist attraction.
I’m not even sure how much of Casa Loma we made it to. The place is massive and there’s a lot of rooms and floors to investigate. I was surprised to learn that Casa Loma was used as a filming location for two of my favorite movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. There’s an underground tunnel that takes you a few streets away to the gatehouse, there’s countless bedrooms and offices decorated with period furnishings, there’s a stunning conservatory, several war exhibits, a Girl Guide exhibit, a wine cellar, a greenhouse and more.
2. Royal Ontario Museum
I wish we’d given ourselves a bit more time at the Royal Ontario Museum (more commonly known as the ROM) since there is so much to see. We were pretty disappointed by the tiny, tiny little display on the Franklin Expedition, even though they featured the exhibit on the front page of their website. (Sorry, but a single panel with text and pictures on it does not warrant that much attention.) I was also pretty bummed that the Textiles and Costume section was completely closed while we were there. Womp, womp. One more thing that bugged me about the ROM: it’s so confusing to navigate and could really use a few more arrow signs throughout. But I digress.
With that being said, we were still there almost until closing because there is so much to see, especially if your interests include both history and biology. Their collection of dinosaur skeletons is truly fantastic. They have incredible collections from Rome, Greece, China, Japan, Byzantium, Canada’s First Nations, Egypt and more. I’m disappointed we missed out on the Egypt exhibit but, like I said, we ran out of time and the place is hard to navigate. My favorite exhibit was Europe: Evolution of Style which walks you down a chronological set of Western European rooms in a house with the interiors switched out, showing the differences a century makes. That was wonderful.
3. Medieval Times
Okay, I know, not specifically historical, but gosh darn it, we both loved it. The trick to enjoying and appreciating Medieval Times is just embracing the cheese factor. If you embrace the bad jokes and the inaccurate historical details and just let the corny flow over you, it’s a lot of fun and I would go back in a hot second. The jousting was awesome, the stunts were sick and the food was good. I kiiiind of regret not buying a sword when I had the chance.
[EDIT] My mom bought me a sword for Christmas. 🙂 [/EDIT]
Also, the Yellow Knight rules. Deal with it.
4. Allan Gardens Conservatory
We definitely got lost walking around the city trying to find this place hahaha. Oh well. The Allan Gardens Conservatory was built in the mid-19th century and really looks like a Victorian-style conservatory too. The architecture of the multi-dome structure is stunning, as are the plants within it. Free of charge, the six-room conservatory features tropical flowers, cacti, jasmine, orchids and more.
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Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.