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Toronto Unlimited" & Sampling Toronto's Street Festival

I recently went to my first press conference in Toronto's hip, recently renovated Distillery District, where the new "brand" of Toronto was unveiled. Toronto's Brading Project was the culmination of a 13-month process with over 4,500 local survey responses and more than 230 in-depth interviews and roundtable discussions with leaders in the leisure and customer travel and convention business and other experts. 

The outcome of all these consultations is Toronto's new brand: Toronto Unlimited, which is intended to express Toronto's unlimited opportunities, whether they be in film, biotechnology, meetings, conventions or tourism. Our mayor, David Miller, announced that "Toronto is a financial and cultural leader" and competes with such international renowned cities as Chicago, Milan and Barcelona. I learned that upcoming major investments in arts and culture include a new home for the Toronto International Film Festival; renovations and additions to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario; and construction of the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre, the new home of the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company.

The creation of the new brand of Toronto went hand in hand with the development of a new set of logos, that also encompass stylized images of musical notes, a camera, balloons, a knife and fork, and a paintbrush, images that symbolize the great diversity of entertainment and culture Toronto has to offer.

The echo in the press, on talk radio and other interactive media has been mixed, I have heard comments that Toronto Unlimited is "too bland", "too corporate", and the logos are not everybody's cup of tea. But when I think about it, my own personal experience has been that Toronto is a city that provides a great deal of opportunity, both as far as entertainment and leisure is concerned, as well as business opportunities, and the opportunity to truly become oneself, given Toronto's open-minded, tolerant environment.

toronto festival
Toronto Festival (Keepcalmandwander.com)
Taking myself as an example, I came from a small rural town in Europe, barely at the age of 20, was able to complete 2 university degrees part-time in Toronto, build a full-time business with several employees that has now been in existence for 15 years, and as of last year, I have also ventured forth into the sphere of Internet publishing. 

So I would say, this Toronto environment has been very successful for me, and the implication of "unlimited opportunity" is really not that far-fetched. From my own experience, Toronto provides a great mix of entrepreneurial spirit combined with a strong social conscience, which in my opinion is a tough combination to achieve, particularly when you throw in the hundreds of ethnic groups and thousands of new immigrants that come to Toronto every year. Overall I'd say the city has managed these challenges fairly well and I am proud to be part of this multicultural mix in my new home town.

Of course Toronto is not only a good place for entrepreneurs and immigrants, it's also a pretty fun place. Take this weekend for example. This past weekend alone there were 9 major entertainment events going on:
  • The Celebrate Toronto Street Festival - Toronto's outdoor festival with music, food, performing arts and audience participation that takes place on 4 major intersections along Yonge Street
  • Afrofest, a festival of African music and dance
  • Beats, Breaks & Culture: Toronto's Electronic Music Festival
  • The Corso Italia Toronto Fiesta - Italian food and culture on St. Clair Avenue
  • The Molson Indy, one of the most popular races with the Champ Car World Series
  • The Ontario Place Canada Dry Festival of Fireworks - the Grand Finale
  • The Taste of Lawrence Festival - food and entertainment for the whole family
  • The Fringe of Toronto Theatre Festival - hosting over 750 artists from Canada and the world in 134 productions, and
  • The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition - featuring established artists, undiscovered talents and innovative students in traditional and experimental art forms.
When I read the line-up of events this weekend I was astounded at the breadth of events offered on one weekend, and time is simply too short to sample them all. But my husband and I decided to hop on the bike and check out the Celebrate Toronto Street Festival. We got going around noon yesterday and checked out the Yonge and Eglinton location first. The festival had just started and the crowd was still a little thin. A band was playing on the Midtown Stage, there were a number of food stands, Mr. Bunk was entertaining the crowd with his clowning, marionettes and juggling and there was a midway with a number of rides, entertaining the crowd.

We then headed south to the St. Clair location of the Street Festival. Riding our bikes south on Yonge Street was great fun. There was very little traffic, people had seemed to heed the traffic warnings and refrained from bringing their cars into the downtown core. Since the terrain slopes noticeable downwards as you approach the lake, the ride was a breeze and with very little traffic we didn't have to worry about getting cut off by motorists. At St. Clair we stopped to watch the tango lessons that pulled in some keen participants from the crowd. 

On Dundas Square, at Yonge and Dundas, across from the Eaton Centre, there was another big stage and an African band Fojeba was playing hot African rhythms. Further south Professor Olaf Stevenson was using his chest of drawers, using everyday objects and even vegetables, to entertain the crowd. We headed further south, in search of some comfortable outdoor seating and some food and we ended up at Harbourfront, Toronto's waterfront entertainment district. We plunked ourselves down on an outside bench where we had a beautiful view of downtown Toronto's skyscrapers.

Once refreshed we started our trip home and headed eastwards. After the hustble and bustle of downtown I stopped off at one of my favourite places: Toronto's Eastern Beaches. A major beach volleyball tournament was going on and thousands of people were sunbathing, pick-nicking, swimming (the water quality of our beaches has improved substantially so people can swim in the water again), rollerblading, biking, walking their dogs. The Beaches are just a zoo on a beautiful Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and it's a perfect spot for people watching. One of the areas that often draws a crowd is a place where there are numerous large loose stones that people assemble into stone sculptures, or "inukshuks" as these sculptures are called by Native People. A young couple was going at it and they were balancing large odd-shaped stones precariously on top of one another, drawing an admiring crowd. 

The 2 young people later pulled out a sign saying that they were making a living from building the stone sculptures, and indeed a few appreciating members of the crowd made some monetary contributions. While I was watching them, people sat down beside me on the bench, and it's just a normal every-day occurrence in Toronto to hear French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi or Russian right around you. After a snooze on the bench by the water I headed further eastwards to a much quieter area of the Beaches and I strengthened myself before having to ride up the steep hill from the Beaches to our neighbourhood. I briefly sat on another bench and admired all the activities on the beach and then got on my bike to go home. 

Although I sometimes still miss the mountains, (not surprising, coming from someone who's grown up in the Alps), I do love Toronto's waterfront, and it's fabulous being located on one of the Great Lakes. When I get to the Beaches, it's almost like being on an ocean, since you can't see the shoreline on the New York State side. It's such a relaxing, leisure-oriented place and it's perfect for people-watching. The whole neighbourhood has such a relaxed atmosphere to it, with the ecclectic shops and restaurants on Queen Street, that I call it "my little California". 

By the waterfront itself, on any given day you could be watching beach volleyball players, kite-flyers, tennis players at the Kew Gardens Tennis Club, Lacrosse or occasionally even championship rowers, practicing their strokes. Recently I did a 50 km ride on my bike and I went all the way west past Harbourfront, to the CNE grounds, admiring the sailboat harbours, going as far west as the Sunnyside Beach Pavillon on Toronto's Western Beaches. I find the waterfront is the perfect place to restore inner balance after a hectic work week. Although I was unable to catch all the entertainment events going over the past few days in Toronto, overall it was a great weekend.

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