10 Must-Visit Historic Sites In Toronto

Photo of Patrick Godin
3 October 2016

Who says a visit to Toronto can’t be teeming with history? While the historical sites found within Canada’s biggest metropolitan centre may not be considered *old* to some, there is plenty to discover and experience – with an emphasis on experience. For a comparatively new city and country, Hogtown is full of culture. Discover 10 of Toronto’s must-visit sites for a blast from the past.

Fort York | © City of Toronto Historic Sites/Flickr

Fort York

Building, Distillery
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The wooden buildings within Fort York, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
History buffs will want to put the Fort York National Historic Site on their list of Toronto must-sees | © M&N / Alamy Stock Photo
A man by the name of John Graves Simcoe ordered the construction of a British military garrison in 1783 on the shores of Lake Ontario. This building went through quite the tumultuous history; it would go on to be conquered by the American invasion of 1812, get blown up, rebuilt, repurposed for other army uses during the First and Second World War, and eventually become a hot tourist destination for a glimpse of Toronto’s military history.

The Distillery District

Distillery, Historical Landmark, Brewery
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Believe it or not, Toronto has a hazy, booze-filled past so rich it’s still potent today. Come down to the Distillery District, which is currently among the most well-preserved assortments of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. There is a vast network of grist mills, breweries, and cobblestone pathways that showcase beautiful boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and craft breweries such as Mill Street and the Ontario Springwater Sake Company. There are always cultural events on the calendar involving live music, the performing arts, and food markets.

In order to get a really good sense of Toronto’s bootlegging past, taking a historic tour will provide all the insights on famous gangsters inculding Al Capone, the Great Fire of Toronto, and much more.

Steam Whistle Brewery

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Black Creek Pioneer Village
Black Creek Pioneer Village | © JohnanToni/Flickr
It all started with three fired guys on a canoe trip. Their mutual appreciation for crafting beer grew into the Steam Whistle Brewery, one of Toronto’s largest independent craft breweries, located right in front of the Rogers Centre. They flipped the St. John Roundhouse, a locomotive repair facility for the Canadian Pacific Rail dating back to 1929, to now produce delicious European-style Pilsner popular among Torontonians.

With a beer in hand, embark on one of their guided tours through the guts of the plant. Tastings and events vary, and you can book your tour now.

Black Creek Pioneer Village

Brewery, Market, Museum, Historical Landmark
Map View

This village offers a fun and immersive glimpse into the day in the life of people in 19th century rural Ontario. Actors play the parts of workers, families, and professionals as if it were still 1860, with period furniture, restored buildings, and costumes that will transport you back in time.

Special exhibits highlight historical moments, people, and movements in Canadian history that have impact and meaning today.

Be sure to visit the Black Creek Historic Brewery to try beer the way it was done in the early 19th century.

St. Lawrence Market

Building, Market
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Maple Leaf Gardens
Maple Leaf Gardens | © Anton Frolick/WikiCommons
Originally known as the Market Block in 1803, St. Lawrence Market has been a communal space for neighbors, politicians, and vendors. The first city council was built and held on that land and is preserved within the building today.

Enjoy the vast aisles of stalls occupied by merchants, and navigate your way using indoor street signs to peruse all the lunch options.

The market stays vibrant as ever with special events such as cooking classes from disciplines around the world and more.

Maple Leaf Gardens

It’s impossible to come to Toronto and not feel the passion the locals have for hockey. It isn’t called the hockey capital of the world for nothing. A lot of the greatest stories from Canadian sporting history hail from the good old times at Maple Leaf Gardens, the original home of the Maple Leafs.

Hockey greats such as Johnny Bower and Tim Horton played on that ice. It was also where the boys in blue won their last Stanley Cup in 1967. We’re still waiting on the next one.

The gardens also hosted the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra.

It has recently been converted into a supermarket and sports facility, but it holds true to its famous past with commemorative plaques and antiques that keep the story of the Leafs alive and well.

Maple Leaf Gardens, 50 Carlton Street, Toronto, ON, Canada

The Black Bull

Bar, American, Pub Grub, $$$
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Spadina Museum
Spadina Museum | © City of Toronto Historic Sites/Flickr
Take a break from all that shopping on the trendy Queen Street West at one of the oldest bars in Toronto. Hosting all sorts of patrons since 1833, the tavern survived the test of time and a few fires that burned the city to the ground.

It’s a perfect place to grab a bite to eat under the sun on a warm afternoon.

Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens

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This historic museum is for furniture and décor connoisseurs and enthusiasts. Spadina House, as the locals call it, is the estate of the late James Austin, the founder of the Toronto Dominion Bank. Back in the days of the mid-19th century, the Austin’s were one of the most wealthy and influential families in the city. Spadina House spans four generations beginning in the Victorian era to Edwardian architecture, all frozen in time within its walls and beautiful gardens.

Tours and events, such as the Gatsby Garden Party (it’s exactly what it sounds like), are available on select occasions.

Honest Ed’s

Dazzling lights, enormous signage, and brazen print loudly begging the question, ‘How cheap can a guy get? Come in and find out!’ is just one of the many tricks this landmark discount has had up its sleeve since 1948.

Ed Mirvish moved from Washington D.C. to Toronto at a young age with barely any money to his name. He and his wife opened their store in 1948. Ed’s passion for showmanship led to countless publicity stunts that endeared him in the hearts of the locals. Every Christmas, in a tradition that holds up to present day, Honest Ed’s gives away 10,000 pounds worth of turkey.

Come down to Honest Ed’s for bargains before they close their doors for the final time. Unfortunately, this landmark will be shutting down on December 31, 2016.

Last call for a free turkey.

Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 537 2111

The Rogers Centre

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Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball stadium Rogers Centre
Catch a Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre | © Robert Quinlan / Alamy Stock Photo
Buildings don’t have to be old to make it in the annals of history. Opened for business in 1989, what is now known as the Rogers Centre (it will forever be the Skydome for some) gained international notice for having a retractable dome, providing patrons with the experience of a closed dome and an open field.

The Blue Jays won two back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, which was big news for a Canadian team in Major League Baseball. The wins created a loyal fan base that is still passionate and loud as ever.

The Rogers Centre hosts concerts, sporting events, conventions, trade shows, and more. There’s always something going on. Nestled under the CN Tower, it’s integral to the body and spirit of the city of Toronto.

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