TRAVEL Divine Provinces

Toronto is a paradise for cosmopolites; Quebec City is a paradise for gourmets.

Toronto is a reminder that “urban” and “pleasure” need not be contradictory terms. Although it’s one of the fastest growing cities in North America – more than a million have moved in since World War II – Toronto has maintained the quality of its public transportation and other services, its low crime rate, and its lively, diverse central core. That’s how the city planners would put it; the visitor from Dallas will get a feeling for the special quality of Toronto mainly from the number and variety of people he sees on downtown streets, regardless of the hour. It’s hard not to respect a city whose women feel safe going to inner city restaurants and theaters alone at night, and taking the subway home.

Perhaps the main reason for visiting Toronto is its exceptionally large and varied immigrant population. Slightly fewer than half of Toronto’s three million people are of British descent. The city publishes 30 ethnic newspapers, with titles like Corriere Canadese and Ludove Zvesti; its streets are lined with little buildings like the Chinese Benevolent Association and the Rumanian Translation and Interpreting Services. The post-war immigrants – African, Korean, Hungarian, Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Armenian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Sicilian, Czechoslovakian, Ukrainian, Russian, Yugoslavian, and Greek – have made Toronto one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

The city doesn’t hide its variety in far-flung neighborhoods, either. If you want to land right in the melting pot, walk just west of downtown to Kensington Market, which runs parallel to Spadina between Dundas and College. The market is an agreeably crowded, loud, and confusing mix of fish vendors, butchers, creameries, produce and cheese shops, foreign language news agencies, clothiers, and discount furniture stores; you won’t under stand one person in 10 in the crowd around you, but you’ll be able to buy everything from fresh salmon to Yugoslavian hit records, and you can poke in and out of the stores and stalls for hours. The main thing is the street fair, though – it grows naturally out of the marketplace, and is what our staged ethnic festivals would like to be.

Then there is Second City, which features some of the best live comedy anywhere. An offshoot of the older and better-known Chicago company, Toronto’s Second City performs nightly in a restored firehouse on Lombard Street. Its specialty is comedy in the style of “Saturday Night Live” and “Second City Television” – it was a training ground for a good part of the casts of both shows – with titles like Once More With Fooling and Saturday Night Beaver. A two-hour show costs $6.50 per person; for reservations (they’re recommended) write The Old Firehall, 110 Lombard Street, Toronto, Ontario M5C 1M3, or call 416/363-0461.

With a planetarium, a zoo, a castle, and several McDonald’s franchises, Toronto has done very well by its children. If you take your kids along, you’ll want to start at the top, which means visits to two facilities run by the province, the Ontario Science Centre and Ontario Place. The Science Centre is one of the best games in town for adults, too – a huge year-round museum of science and technology, with a few dull sciencethrough-the-ages exhibits and lots more exciting ones, like the one that lets you try your dexterity with “waldoes,” the remote mechanical hands used by scientists to manipulate radioactive materials. In the Communications wing, against a background of clicks, hums, and bells, you can type your name into a machine that beeps it back out in Morse Code; in the Science Arcade, you can pedal a bike and generate enough power to light up a TV screen. Not a new kind of museum, but probably the best of its kind, with a minimum of pedantry and plenty of participation. Admission: $1.50 for adults, 25¢ for children.

Nearly as good is Ontario Place, a 96-acre permanent exposition on the shores of Lake Ontario at the north edge of the city. Ontario Place has attempted to provide something for everybody – concert halls, gift shops, pedal boats, a permanently docked Canadian destroyer, “gourmet” restaurants – but kids pro-bably like it the most, since it features what is possibly the world’s neatest playground, the Children’s Village, and the world’s largest movie screen (six stories, in the Cinesphere). The Cinesphere shows a variety of beautifully made Canadian films, but the main point is super-Cinerama, with lots of sickening swoops and dives in the footage, and lots of moans from the audience.

There’s money in Toronto, and most of it seems to be on parade in Yorkville, a chic, tourist-oriented shopping district just north of Bloor Street between Avenue Road and Yonge Street. Originally a separate village, Yorkville became part of the city of Toronto in the late 1800’s, and its solid brick buildings have seen several transformations since: It was a coffeehouse district in the Fifties and a head-shop and panhandler’s strip in the Sixties, but it became a beautifully restored, glass and brick shopping district in the Sev-enties. Yorkville’s four streets are filled with antique shops, boutiques, galleries, very good bookshops, outdoor cafes, and impeccably renovated town-houses. Shoppers will find a little bit of everything elegant here: You might try the Guild Shoppe, which sells jewelry and pottery by Canadian craftsmen, and Georg Jensen is nearby, at Bloor Street West and St. Thomas. But half the fun is to set up an observation post in one of the central cafes and ogle the fashionable couples who find a proper backdrop in Yorkville’s four blocks; it’s the place to see and be seen in Toronto.

Elegance deteriorates rapidly as you approach Yonge Street, Toronto’s main north-south thoroughfare and, until recently, its Times Square. Though the blatantly seedy establishments – the strip joints and massage parlors – have been closed down, Yonge is still pleasantly seedy, a street where locals and tourists show up at night expecting action. You’ll find Wendy’s and Burger King, sub and spaghetti shops, jeans and record stores, bars and lots of neon; if you’re a woman, you’ll notice that the discreet appraisals of Yorkville become open leers on Yonge. Yonge has its own beauty – it’s probably the most wide-open street in town, with a little bit of everything and some indefinable electricity in the air.

As for night life, Toronto has about 4000 restaurants and 160 nightclubs – we can recommend Masa, a casual Japanese restaurant where the waiters serve wonderful sushi and garlic beef and respond to customer inquiries with “Thank you, please,” and Café les Copains, a little French-Canadian bistro with wonderful cold plates and wine. After that, you’re on your own.

For more information write the Tourist and Convention Bureau of Metropolitan Toronto, Ealon Centre, Box 510, Suite 110, 220 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 2H1. Or call 416/979-3133.

For the traveler, Quebec City means an

extra hour or so in the air beyond Toronto and another $50 to $90 in air fare, but the reward is the privilege of entering another culture, as complex and intriguing as any in the world. It would take serious study to understand French Canada and its people, but one immediately grasps the beauty of their 300-year-old capital city, the St. Lawrence River, and the Lauren-tian Mountains, the oldest in the world.

Although a recent spurt of hotel building has produced a Loew’s Concorde and a highly rated Hilton, you’ll probably prefer the Chateau Frontenac, a huge mock castle built in 1893 with green copper roofs and a 17-story turret. Flanked by the St. Lawrence and the Place d’Armes, a central square and terminus for the horsedrawn carriages used for sightseeing in the older quarter, the Frontenac is the focal point of Quebec’s old walled city. It’s charming, it’s in walking distance of nearly everything you’ll want to see, and it features excellent service. It’s not cheap: Doubles start at about $50, singles at about $40.

While nearly every building inside the walled fortifications is of historical interest, you may find that you mainly want to eat, for Quebec City offers the visitor a life based on fine food.

For a tine sampling of French cooking, try La Main d’Argent (the Silver Hand), at 50, Cote de Palais, near the Latin Quarter. Owner Marc Courrieu, a native of Carcassonne, has made entering his 12-table restaurant an act of faith; from the street it looks as if the place went out of business 10 years ago. But if you enter, you’ll have remarkable service and a meal that’s extraordinarily well-prepared. Guests over the years have signed M. Courrieu’s hand-lettered menu as if it were a guestbook. Ask him for his suggestions – he’s buyer, chef, and waiter, and he knows what’s good. We tried the escargots, so hot their garlic butter had turned to a light yellow foam; veal kidneys in a rich meat sauce; a bottle of Chateau la Garde 1975; Boston lettuce salad with vinaigrette; fresh strawberries from the nearby Isle d’Orléans, topped with heavy cream; espresso; and an excellent Cognac made by Delamain Co. All first-rate, and expensive: $42 per person plus tip.

In a different class altogether is the Auberge Baker, an unpretentious, family-run inn specializing in Québecoise cuisine, on Highway 360 north of the city, at Chateau Richer. The Auberge Baker’s plain, airy dining room overlooks the family garden, a pasture full of sheep, the St. Lawrence, and the Isle d’Orléans. Start with the homemade “caribou,” an alcohol-and-wine concoction that keeps the Québecois warm during their famous annual blowout, the Winter Carnival. Then comes an assortment of homemade condiments – sweet pickled cucumber, tomato and onion, and beets, with slices of bread baked daily by the family, and pumpkin preserves so good that Gourmet once tried to get the recipe, without success. We tried the pea soup, made from pale yellow peas, carrots, salt pork, onion, and fresh herbs; the Assiette Québecoise, a sampling of meat and potato pies and a traditional- stew made with pig’s knuckles; and a dessert called trempette au sirop d’érable, made with a slice of bread soaked in maple syrup and heavy fresh cream. Solid stuff – the fuel that kept them out chopping wood at 30 below – and worth a try.

We also recommend La Ripaille, at 9, Rue Buade (try the turnip soup) and l’Eperlan, a seafood restaurant in the Place Royale. Wherever you eat, though, try the smoked salmon if it’s available. We had it sliced very thin, topped with chopped onions., capers, lemon, parsley, and a touch of oil.

While you’re digesting, shop for prints and sculpture by the Inuit Indians on the Rue Saint Louis, or drop in at the Maison des Vins on the Place Royale, a government-run wine cellar that features a terrific selection of French wines, some of which are exclusives on the continent. Or rent a car and head up the misleadingly named Highway 360 (it’s barely two lanes, with houses set nearly on top of it in many places) toward Sainte-Anne-ae-Beaupre, a religious shrine whose first chapel was built in 1638. It’s a beautiful trip through the oldest part of rural French Canada, with a view of the St. Lawrence all the way. Or drive around the Isle d’Orléans, in the St. Lawrence just north of the city; you can buy freshly picked apples there in the fall, strawberries in the summer.

If you have the time, plan a longer trip out into the country – Quebec City has access to skiing and winter sports at Mont-Sainte-Anne, and to Saguenay/ Lac-Saint-Jean, a wilderness area with top-quality hunting and fishing. Quebec’s main tourist seasons are summer and fall (through mid-October) and the dead of winter, centering on the Winter Carnival, to be held between February 1 and February 11 next year. Quebec is rich in things to do, so it’s wise to write for information before you plan your trip: Office of Tourism, Canadian Consulate, Suite 1600, 2001 Bryan Tower, Dallas, Texas 75201.

Getting there: Trips to Canada are cheaper and more convenient than ever. Hotel and sales taxes that used to fall on tourists have been reduced or suspended, and the money market provides another incentive: In early August, the U.S. dollar brought about $1.12 Canadian. Toronto: Air Canada recently began its second daily non-stop flight between DFW and Toronto International, with round-trip coach fares between $171.36 and $273.12; a reduced excursion fare is expected after September 15. With those prices and about three hours’ flying time, Toronto is a possibility even for a long weekend. Quebec: No direct flights – you’ll have to catch a connection to Quebec at Toronto; total traveling time is about seven hours. Round-trip coach fares on Air Canada run between $219.12 and $359.52. Call Air Canada toll free, 800/621-6464 for more information.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.