by Dirk Baumgartl
Toronto is known for excellent shopping, young fashion and an inspiring art scene. Halloween turns the Gay Village around Church Street into a beautifully eerie party event on the last day of October.
Now that the hot and humid summer days are over and even Indian Summer with its fiery colours come to an end , a cool wind is blowing through Toronto’s streets. Life in the 2.5 million metropolis on Lake Ontario will almost completely go underground in the coming weeks. A network of 16 kilometers of passages and paths called PATH runs through downtown Toronto, connecting shopping malls like the Eaton Centre with a number of sights, office buildings and subway stations, allowing pedestrians shopping and window shopping without getting cold. In this last week of October the sun is still strong enough to provide the city with pleasant temperatures. The shopping streets Yonge, Bloor and lively alternative Kensington Market are crowded. Costume and decoration shops are exceptionally busy these days. Pumpkins pile up in historic St. Lawrence Market, sweets have priority on shopping lists. Halloween, the feast of ghosts, witches, trolls and devils, is getting closer.
The night of November 1st degenerates into a huge street party in Toronto, with the Gay Village around Church and Wellesley Street traditionally at its centre. “When homosexuality was still a punishable offence, Halloween for drag queens, trannies and cross dressers was the only night of the year when they could show themselves in public the way they wanted to.” Bruce Bell is an expert on the history of Toronto and its sights. The gay city guide has rendered outstanding services to the historical heritage of the city. There is no building, nor any minor detail he does not know. A tour with Bruce through the most diverse quarters of the city, including Chinatown and West Queen West – is the most comprehensive and charming way to get to know Toronto and its gay scene hot spots.
Canada is one of the most advanced countries in gay rights at present. An anti-discrimination law protects gay people, same-sex partnerships came into effect in 2005, enjoying the same status as heterosexual marriages – including adoption rights.
As it is dark, it is time for spooky and gruesome stories. The Ghost Tour led by Bill Genova is the ideal start for a Halloween tourist. You explore 19th-century Toronto in about two and a half hours. The area around the university with its impressive neo-Romanesque college buildings emerging in pale moonlight provides the ideal background for scary ghost stories. A trip to Church Street will cure your goosepimples. Countless gay bars invite you, among them the popular Woody’s, the martini lounge Byzantium and Crews, Tango and The Zone, all housed in Victorian townhouses. You’ll quickly get into conversation with other guests after a few drinks and completely ignore plastic skeletons, pumpkins and fake spiderweb.
If you haven’t got yourself a costume or at least a mask by October 30th, you should make it your aim in the morning of the 31st. You would not want to stick out in the the Halloween craze on Church Street. It’s would still be better to have done all your shopping early. The morning of the 31st is the ideal day for sightseeing: the 553.3 metre high CN Tower, the gigantic Royal Ontario Museum or the Art Gallery of Ontario, designed by Frank Gehry, with an excellent collection of modern and Canadian art. You could also go to Toronto Islands where ferries take you from the terminal on Bay Street. The beach of Hanlan’s Point in the very west of Centre Island is Canada’s most famous gay beach. The traditional nudist beach (operating as such from 1894 to 1930 and again from 1999) is the gay scene’s favourite meeting point. It is an ideal place for lonely beach walks along the lake shore in autumn.
In the evening on Halloween, Church Street gets busier by the hour. There is entertainment on a stage before a DJ takes over, but the real attraction are the imaginatively costumed gays, some showing a lot of bare skin depsite the cold. You come across classic angels, little devils to zombies, mummies, vampires and other monsters that are supposed to scare the hell out of you. Late celebrities mingle as well (Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger crossed my path in 2009). My favourites are an almost naked faun covered in gold paint, a silver Christmas tree (with its lights on) as well as a heterosexual couple dressed as chefs. Thir one year old in a lobster costume, the pram substituted by a cooking pot. Since the ban on alcohol in Canada also applies on Halloween in public streets and squares, the crowd pushes into the surrounding bars before midnight to warm from the inside. The curfew at 2 a.m. even closes these watering holes. Midnight is good time to move on to the Fly Night Club without queuing. The discotheque known as Babylon from “Queer As Folk” is decorated appropriately and gets really crowded from 1 o’clock. It is one of the best in the country. Hot beats and a lot of pretty guys can only mean one thing on November 1st: sleeping in.
(Published in SPARTACUS TRAVELER 03/10)
Official homepage of the tourism board with plenty of information and events as well as a large area dedicated to gay tourists.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air Canada offers daily flights to Toronto from Frankfurt (feeder flights are available from Star Alliance partner Lufthansa from various German airports). Return tickets cost between 624 and 984 Euros in Economy Class and 2724 Euros in Business Class. Frequent special offers can be found on the airlines homepage – especially off season, September until May.
Sutton Place Hotel (955 Bay Street) The gay-friendly hotel in European style with its 230 rooms and 64 suites used to be the partner hotel for Toronto Film Festival for many years. Gay Village around Church Street is just one block away,
Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West) Very stylish boutique hotel in trendy West Queen West, www.thedrakehotel.ca
Canoe Restaurant (66 Wellington West) Located on the 54th floor of Dominion Bank Tower that was designed by Mies van der Rohe, this restaurant is considered one of the best in Canada and still moderately priced. Modern Canadian cuisine (i.a. caribou, lamb, seafood), www.oliverbonacini.com
Sassafraz (100 Cumberland Street) Restaurant located in a Victorian villa in exquisite neighbourhood Yorkville is a celeb hotspot mostly during film festival. Franco-Canadian cuisine, www.sassafraz.ca
Fuzion Resto Lounge & Garden (580 Church Street) Gay-friendly restaurant (soulfood) and bar, www.fuzionexperience.com
Fire on the East Side (6 Gloucester Street) The dishes of this gay restaurant, just next to Fly Nightclub are inspired by the southern US states – and hot, www.fireontheeastside.ca
Byzantium (499 Church Street) Chic martini bar and ideal starting point for an excursion through Gay Village, www.byz.ca
Crews/Tango/The Zone (508 Church Street) Three gay bars in one building. Ideal for barhopping, www.crews-tango.com
Woody’s (465-467 Church Street) Very popular gay bar, sometimes shows on stage, www.woodystoronto.com
Fly Nightclub (8 Gloucester Street) One of the best known and best clubs in Canada. The „Babylon“- scenes for „Queer As Folk“ were shot here, www.flynightclub.com