Part II of our downtown Toronto holiday diary

Toronto’s theatre scene is regularly compared favourably with London’s West End and Now York City’s Broadway. As the weather cools, a trip to see some musicals and live theatre could be a good idea to complement a business trip or simply to get away and enjoy suspended reality for a few hours.

In this second part of our Toronto experience last summer, we’ll visit one of the city’s top tourist attractions Casa Loma. We’ll also tell you about some restaurants that we visited; and a return trip to The Royal Ontario Museum, always a good bet to take in a new exhibit and perhaps re-visit a part of the permanent collection. It’s obviously a popular destination for families, university students, and couples of all ages.

Toronto Casa Loma

Stained glass dome in the Casa Loma conservatory

One of the biggest attractions is the immense Casa Loma, built by financier Sir Henry Pellat from 1911 to 1914, costing 3.5 million which was a tremendous amount of money at that time. Three hundred workers were required to construct the 98 room ‘house’ that had approximately 65,000 square feet of living space. Now functioning as a museum, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Sir Henry only was able to live in his dream home for ten years, before business difficulties and high property taxes forced him to sell the property. Perhaps he had settled for a more modest fifty room mansion he might have saved enough of his capital to sustain himself through the lean times.

You can easily spend a half day or more exploring the castle, it’s underground passage to the stables, the immense coal furnace that could have powered a locomotive and the lovely gardens. It’s a popular location for wedding receptions and photos, theme parties and social events. Casa Loma has continues to be a popular film set for movie producers. After a period of neglect, the castle is now well maintained and a pleasure to visit. For more information:

Toronto ROM

The immense jaws of the Blue Whale at the ROM are an
indication of the mammal’s huge dimensions

We had some free time before catching our VIA train back to Montreal, and we decided to visit our reliable standby – The Royal Ontario Museum, better known as The ROM. In addition to special exhibits, the vast permanent collection is too much to absorb in a single visit, making a visit to The ROM a good bet.

We visited the Blue Whale exhibit that began when nine dead blue whales washed up on a beach in Newfoundland in 2014. A team of scientists from The ROM travelled to Newfoundland to salvage one of the massive creatures for science. As you might expect, the most impressive part was the skeleton. The ROM is the largest museum in Canada, and well worth repeat visits when travelling to Toronto. IN the past year we’ve enjoyed a Chihuly Exhibition, Blue (the whale exhibition) and each time we have made an additional foray into the ROM’s permanent collection.


Drake Commissary dining room with artwork from Alex McLeod, Adrian Esparza
Photo: Kayla Rocca

We tried a several restaurants during our visit, and one of the most interesting was Drake’s Commissary. The Drake is one of Toronto’s leading bars that also includes a popular hotel. The Drake Commissary is a bit of a hike out to 128 Sterling Road at the Junction Triangle (Queen Street West), but its lots of fun and worth the trip, especially if you’re travelling with teenagers, or visiting your adult children in Toronto and you want to do something different. The Commissary is a large 8,000 square foot warehouse-like space that is divided into sections with an eclectic collection of furniture, tables and chairs. On the evening we were there, a Universal Music recording artist was performing outside to launch a recording. The Commissary has clearly been accepted, as it was packed on the night we visited. The mission is to provide healthy dining and made-from-scratch food. The menu is mixture of various comfort foods, such as the Spicy Brisket that I tried to the sharing platters that the twenty-somethings at the next table were enjoying. We noticed that living room-style arrangements were popular with families with children. The youngsters could roam around in their space as opposed to sitting for an extended period at a restaurant table. All this without disturbing other dining parties.


Drake Commissary bakery and
take-out counter
Photo: Kayla Rocca

The Commissary also has a large bakery and sells baked goods from breads to pastries. You can also purchase salads, select meats from a deli-counter and effectively enjoy a mini-market. The Drake Commissary is a lot of fun; be prepared for an energetic crowd.

Back in the downtown area, we visited Ricarda’s at 134 Peter Street. The restaurant is located on the main floor of an office building, with glass wall providing a view of passers-by. Ricarda’s has seating for 170 diners, with an additional 100 seats in the indoor patio in the office building’s lobby. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an open kitchen in the restaurant’s centre. The menu has a Mediterranean theme, and we watched as one of the chefs made fresh pasta, passed it through a slicer and then a few minutes later was serving it to a customer. Doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Ricarda’s hosts a smooth jazz brunch on Sundays from 11 – 3pm, and interestingly, they offer a day care service for couples with young children. They also offer a children’s menu at reduced prices.

Home-made pasta is a house specialty; there are several lamb dishes and a good selection of fish menu items. The menu also offers sharing platters that include a rack of lamb, a grilled porterhouse steak, a whole red snapper, and a sirloin steak. The substantial desserts are appealing, but none more so that the signature Ricarda’s Dessert Selection. For more information about Ricarda’s and its online menu:

Travel Planner

Tourism Toronto:

VIA Rail:

Casa Loma:

Royal Ontario Museum:

Mirvish Theatres:

Omni King Edward Hotel:

The Broadview Hotel:


The Rec Room:

The Drake Commissary:

Ricarda’s Restaurant:

Jazz Bistro:

Read Part 1 of this Toronto feature: Toronto – home to a burgeoning theatre scene, innovative restaurants, museums and art galleries