Toronto Pride 2012: Out, Loud, and Proud

by Mark Thompson

EDGE Style & Travel Editor

Monday July 9, 2012

"We call this a loonie," she said, holding the coin to the sunlight. It was brand new, freshly minted, which was what had caught our attention. "See the loon? Most of the our coins have animals on them."

A loonie for the Canadian dollar coin - and a toonie for the two-dollar coin - and such happiness in explaining a shiny disc of metal to a Toronto newbie.

They're all like that, those Torontonians: so friendly and amiable and always willing to share a little tidbit or insight about their city. Torontonians wear civic pride the way New Yorkers wear armor. They want to show you a good time in the town they call home - and especially during Toronto Pride.

One of the world's largest Pride celebrations with an estimated attendance of 1.2 million people, Toronto Pride is a two-time winner of "Best Festival in Canada" and one of the "Top 50 Festivals" in Ontario, as well as one of Toronto's eight city-designated signature events. The ten-day Pride Week includes a three-day street festival during which Church Street, the backbone of Toronto's Gay Village, is closed to all but pedestrians and subsequently becomes a utopian amalgam of Mardi Gras, Halloween, and the LGBT home planet.

Nearly 300 entertainers, including such world-class DJs and performers as Larry Tee, Tom Stephan (Superchumbo), Lady Miss Kier, Corey Hart, Naked Boys Singing, Mickey Friedmann, Stephan Grondin, Javier Medina, and dozens of others perform on seven stages spread out across 24 city blocks, making the entire neighborhood an ongoing spectacle of non-stop, live entertainment.

A city of 2.4 million residents (with a metropolitan population of over 6 million), Toronto's greater LGBT population numbers about 650,000 - but during Toronto Pride, the more appropriate acronym is LGBTTIQQ2SA, which means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited, and Allies, which basically includes the entire population of Toronto, which might be one good reason why nearly everyone within vicinity turns out for Toronto Pride to party all day and night and howl at the moon.

While most other cities around the world celebrate Pride with a march or a parade, Toronto has three: the Dyke March, the Trans March, and the Pride Parade. With more than 150 floats and marching (or dancing) contingents, this year's Pride Parade included sponsors such as Trojan, Viagra, Bud Light, and Google - or, in other words, sex, alcohol, and technology, the holy trinity of modern gay life.

Early on Sunday morning, Torontonians and tourists start lining up behind the barricades along Bloor and Yonge Street (which is, incidentally, the longest street in the world at nearly 1,200 miles) and remain there, five-deep, for the duration of the cacophonous celebration.

Toronto's finest wear rainbow boas and share hugs and photographs with resplendent drag queens. Children wave rainbow flags and grandparents cheer their gay grandchildren and spectators line the rooftops as confetti bombs explode in the streets. Nearly everyone is smiling, evoking that sense of "collective joy" that historian Barbara Ehrenreich chronicled in "Dancing in the Streets," her study of communal celebrations.

A non-profit organization, with over 1,300 volunteers, Toronto Pride maintains an environmentally friendly footprint throughout the ten-day street fair and festival, with no Styrofoam, numerous recycling stations, and high-efficiency LED stage lights.

Over at Green Space on Church, the four-day festival in Cawthra Square Park is "celebrating difference" for the benefit of the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Brilliantly programmed by Ian Abinakle with a roster of all-star DJs including Frankie Knuckles, Ana Paula, Abel, Isaac Escalante, and hosts including Eliad Cohen and performers such as Sofonda Cox, all of the proceeds from the all-day parties (more than $250,000) support the 519's community programs. With a disco ball spinning in the night sky amidst an illuminated forest of rainbow-colored trees, thousands of people dance in joyful exultation alongside Toronto's AIDS Memorial. And so it is that the spirits of those who came before, paving the paths of protest and activism, join with us in "collective joy."

This year's Grand Marshal Goran Miletic, an LGBT civil rights advocate for Western Balkan and Southern European countries, is also the organizer for "Equality for Sexual Minorities" conferences, a poignant reminder that Toronto Pride's freedoms and joys provide a beacon of hope for LGBT Pride events around the world.

One of the most diverse populations in the world, the citizenry of Toronto includes over 200 ethnic groups, speaking more than 130 languages and dialects. More than fifty percent of Toronto's populace was born outside Canada - and only Miami, Florida in the US has a higher percentage of foreign-born citizens. The point being, Toronto exists as a city and population showing the rest of the world how it's done: how to celebrate difference in the name of diversity and pride.

Nearly thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States, Upper Canada banned slavery in 1834, enabling escaped African-Americans to settle in Toronto. More than 175 years later, Toronto's spirit of inclusion serves as a bellwether of pride for LGBT people the world over.

Small wonder then that the next World Pride will be held in Toronto in 2014. Mark your calendars - and celebrate Pride with the world.



Hilton Toronto Hotel: First of all, this is not your grandmother's Hilton. Oh, no, far from it - although if your grandmother is as sophisticated, urban, and stylish as Carmen Dell'Orefice, she'll have a wonderful time in residence at this cosmopolitan urban retreat.

Located between the financial and entertainment districts of downtown Toronto, the Hilton Toronto Hotel is right next door to the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Canadian Opera Company) and a few short blocks from Hudson Bay Company's flagship store and Toronto's largest downtown mall, Toronto Eaton Centre.

Built in 1980 and renovated in 2000, the Hilton Toronto Hotel recently put the finishing touches on a new renovation of the main lobby and restaurant, which has resulted in an open floor plan and a buzzing night scene at Tundra, the Hilton Toronto Hotel's celebrated cocktail bar, lounge, and restaurant, helmed by Chef Kevin Prendergast.

Rooms on the Executive floors are contemporary and elegant, with jaw-dropping views of the Toronto skyline. Amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet, nightly turndown service, and ergonomic desk chairs. Guests on the Executive floors have access to the Executive Lounge on the 32nd floor, where a breakfast buffet is served alongside panoramic views of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower. Evening cocktails and an honor bar are supplemented by hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, making the Executive Lounge a lovely perch from which to witness the segue from day into evening.

In clement weather, the hotel's heated indoor/outdoor pool is framed by a lushly landscaped terrace (and herb garden) with lounge chairs and bird's eye views of neighboring office towers. There are few things so indulgent as enjoying the perquisites of an urban resort - while all around you, people scribble at their desks.

One of the joys of a respite at the Hilton Toronto Hotel is the well-managed and courteous staff, all of whom are as professional as they are friendly. Your grandmother would be impressed - and you'll be happy hosting a cocktail party in her honor in your Hilton Toronto Executive suite.

LINK: Hilton Toronto Hotel

(Travel feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Eat, Getting There...)

Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel: Imagine stepping out of your hotel into the thick of the Toronto Pride Parade. That's what happens when you're a guest at the Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel, located at the intersection of Church and Bloor Streets, exactly where the Parade kicks off. On Pride Sunday, the crowds are five-deep behind the barricades - and you step out of the Marriott Bloor Yorkville into the delirious mayhem of it all.

Apart from the Parade, the Marriott Bloor Yorkville is also perfectly located for shopping along "Mink Mile" (aka Bloor Street). All the usual suspects - including Cartier, Vuitton, and Hermes - are a quick walk from your hotel room. Refresh yourself with a glass of Champagne at La Société - and if you've maxed out your credit cards, there's a well-stocked grocery store next door to the Marriott.

In other words, the Marriott Bloor Yorkville is all about location. Rooms are cozy and clean, with beds that are deliciously comfortable. Pillows are either feather, down, or foam - or all three - and the breakfast buffet includes a nice assortment of fresh fruit and local produce. The hotel's limo service offers a reasonable fare to Pearson Airport.

Situated at the crossroads between the Gay Village and Bloor Yorkville, the Marriott Bloor Yorkville enables you to satisfy multiple fetishes and cravings - within easy walking distance.

LINK: Marriott Bloor Yorkville



Rainbow High Walking Tour: Ever since the 1981 bathhouse raids, which served as a wake-up call for Toronto's LGBT population, Church Wellesley has been an ever-evolving neighborhood, increasingly filled with bars, shops, boutiques, theatres, and restaurants.

One of the best ways to discover the roots behind this vibrant community is to take a tour with Liz Devine. A long-term resident of Church Wellesley, Devine's love for her neighborhood is matched by her commitment to LGBT equality.

To walk Church Wellesley with someone so well known is to witness firsthand the intense connection that Torontonians have to their city and their gay village - and to hear Devine speak about the neighborhood's evolution is a lesson in gay history.

We didn't just arrive here, kids: there were pioneers who fought for us.

LINK: Rainbow High Walking Tour

Art + Design Walking Tour: She's nothing less than the Mayor of West Queen Street West - and every bit as fascinating as the neighborhood of art and design through which she'll lead you on a walking tour. She's Betty Ann Jordan, a Toronto art writer, educator, and columnist who specializes in the Toronto gallery and museum scene.

Tours depart from the lobby of the Gladstone Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto, now one of the city's more innovative art hotels.

Nearly every block in this Art+ Design District contains under-the-radar boutiques, resto-lounges, bakeries, cafes, and tearooms - and an afternoon spent walking through West Queen Street West is a scavenger hunt of Toronto treasures.

LINK: Art + Design Walking Tour

Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives: Currently the second-largest LGBT archive in the world, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives was founded in 1973 with a mission dedicated to "keeping our stories alive."

A recent move into an extensively renovated 1858 house on Isabella Street has enabled the CLGA to expand its outreach and programming. Collections at the CLGA include the National Portrait Collection of notable LGBT Canadians, as well as posters; photographs; artifacts such as t-shirts, banners, and buttons; periodicals; and recordings.

An afternoon spent at the CLGA will remind you that you are not alone - and never have been.

Learn your history - and honor those who came before us.

LINK: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

EdgeWalk @ CN Tower: While you might have been one of the more than two million annual visitors who take the 15 mph elevator to the top of the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, you can't say you've touched the sky until you've walked the EdgeWalk.

Opened on May 1, 2012, EdgeWalk is the world's highest full-circle, hands-free walk on a five-foot ledge encircling the Tower's main pod. Awarded "Highest External Walk on a Building" by Guinness World Records, EdgeWalk isn't for the faint of heart - and requires a breathalyzer before stepping into the clouds.

Stash your vertigo with your jewelry and fly like Spider-Man.

LINK: EdgeWalk @ CN Tower


(Travel feature continues on next pages: Where to Eat, Getting There...)


La Société: A blast of belle époque Paris along Toronto's Bloor Street, La Société is an opulent brasserie outfitted with a stunning stained-glass ceiling, leather banquettes, mahogany furnishings, and a zinc bar.

Opened in June of 2011 by Toronto entertainment mogul (and owner of the Guvernment nightclub) Charles Khabouth, the expansive 7,000-square foot restaurant also includes a street-level patio, perfect for sipping Champagne and slurping oysters while watching the fashionable parade along Toronto's "Mink Mile."

As perfect for a morning-after brunch as it is for a seductive midnight rendez-vous, La Société hits all the sweet spots.

LINK: La Société

Nota Bene Restaurant: One of the city's most acclaimed restaurants, Nota Bene was named Canada's best new restaurant by both "Toronto Life" and "enRoute" magazines.

Chef/owner David Lee's latest eatery opened in July 2008 on Queen Street West in a location that draws artists from West Queen Street West as well as the suits from nearby University Avenue. Lee is also the principal behind Toronto's beloved Splendido restaurant and he defines his menu at Nota Bene as "Canadian bistro moderne," which means locally sourced, seasonal ingredients in the service of contemporary Canadian cuisine.

The stylish dining room, a few steps up from a sleek cocktail bar, is a vision of dark wood accented with abstract urban landscape paintings. Cocktails are as potent as they are creative, while a plate of local white asparagus dotted with shaved summer truffle was a luxuriant nod to Canadian summer.

Desserts include an intoxicating Sticky Toffee Pudding with Pecan Praline and Spotted Dick Ice Cream. Order a second one for the table - so you can enjoy yours all by yourself.

LINK: Nota Bene Restaurant

The Drake: Before the Drake opened on Valentine's Day 2004, it's unlikely that you would have considered the neighborhood for fine dining - or even for a stroll, and definitely not after certain hours. The gritty West Queen Street West neighborhood has changed significantly in the past decade, thanks in large part to the Drake, which has bestowed a fashionable, artistic cachet on the area. Housed in a building that dates to the 1890s, the Drake was once known as the Stardust Inn, which befits the numerous art stars who currently congregate at the hotel-cum-gallery.

Eating at the Drake offers numerous options at a half dozen venues scattered throughout the Drake's labyrinthine premises. Take breakfast in the Cafe or lunch in the Dining Room; head to the Lounge for an aperitif and to the Sky Yard for a pre-dinner cocktail. Seasonal art installations create completely new environments. For summer, the entire hotel becomes Drakeland, the hotel's homage to amusement parks, complete with watermelon-eating contests and tarot card readers - and a miniature roller coaster in the lobby.

A playhouse of contemporary art, the Drake is an integral part of the neighborhood and a hotbed of community culture. Dive into the Drake and see what's cool about Toronto.

LINK: The Drake Hotel

The Vic Public House: Home of the largest patio on Church Street, the Vic Public House affords prime seating for the endless zoological parade during Toronto Pride.

Located in the (reputedly haunted) Victorian mansion that once housed Fuzion, the restaurant serves gastro-pub fare that works equally well before a bar crawl as it does after a beer binge. Mac-n-cheese, cubed and crusted in panko, and served with a homemade cheese sauce is particularly decadent - and certain to provide you with a second wind.

On pleasant evenings, with the boys catwalking by your table, you'll be tempted to linger and create your own party.

LINK: The Vic Public House


(Travel feature continues on next pages: Getting There, Additional Info...)


Toronto Pearson International Airport is Canada's busiest airport, with more daily flights into the USA than any other airport in the world. More than 350 flights arrive daily from the States - and more than 50% of the US population is within a 90-minute flight to Toronto.

Air Canada: For years, Air Canada has been a proud and faithful sponsor for Divers/Cité and numerous other LGBT events and festivals in Canada. As their tagline commands, "Let yourself go," which is an admonition easy to adhere to when the flight from New York to Toronto is less than an hour.

With hourly flights to/from LGA and three daily non-stop flights to/from JFK, Air Canada makes it easy to wing off to Toronto for a weekend.

Fifty-nine minutes flight time to Toronto: it doesn't get better than that.

LINK: Air Canada

Porter Airlines: "Flying refined" is the tagline for Porter Airlines, which is rapidly becoming the airline of choice for the discerning short-haul traveler. Now serving six US destinations, Porter Airlines is Canada's favorite boutique airlines, celebrated for its exceptional customer service - and for being the only four-star Canadian airline, as ranked by Skytrax.

Founded in 2006 and based in Toronto, Porter Airlines' headquarters is Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, the island airport terminal in Toronto Harbor that was originally opened in 1939 - and which is connected to the mainland by the world's shortest scheduled ferry run.

As soon as you enter one of Porter's Canadian-built Bombardier turboprop aircraft, you're greeted by uniformed staff that look as comely as the fabled Pan Am staff from yesteryear. The two-by-two seating configuration (no middle seats!) allows more legroom than typical economy class seating - and the leather seating is downright deluxe. Snack and beverage service is included, with complimentary soft drinks, wine, and beer. The aircraft also features a noise suppression system, which makes the flight one of the most relaxing that you're likely to take.

Imagine arriving at your destination completely relaxed and happy. It doesn't sound like flying in the 21st-century, does it? Not unless you're flying Porter Airlines. "Flying refined" - at long last.

LINK: Porter Airlines

WestJet: With eight daily non-stop flights throughout the business week between Toronto and New York, WestJet enables business travelers flexibility and convenience - and especially when you consider that WestJet allows travelers to change plans on travel day at no cost.

With that kind of flexibility, you can succumb to Toronto's temptations - and stay another day.

LINK: WestJet

Amtrak: Travel to Toronto on the Maple Leaf, a twelve-hour pictorial train ride through the Hudson River Valley, New York's wine country, the Finger Lakes region - and on to the spectacular vistas of Niagara Falls. The perfect journey for reading the latest novel by Toronto favorite son Michael Ondaatje.

LINK: Amtrak



Toronto Pride 2012 Photo Album

Pride Toronto

Tourism Toronto

The 519 Church Street Community Centre

WorldPride Toronto 2014


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.