If you are a sci-fi/fantasy fan, Toronto is a destination that should definitely be on your long-range sensors. Why? For almost as long as I’ve known that Toronto is a city in Canada, I have known that Toronto is a city that embraces science fiction and fantasy–perhaps more so than any other city on Earth.
The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) began producing science fiction as early as the 1950s. Many sci-fi TV shows used to film here (until financial reasons drove filming to Vancouver). Genre movies like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Total Recall and Pacific Rim have filmed here. Toronto has played host to numerous science fiction and fantasy conventions over the years (Fan Expo, Torcon, SFContario, Ad Astra, and Polaris/Toronto Trek, among others).
Obviously, the best time to visit Toronto as a sci-fi/fantasy fan is during a genre convention. But sci-fi fans can find much to enjoy about Toronto any time they visit. I recently had the opportunity to visit the city for the first time in conjunction with a travel blogger’s conference, TBEX. Naturally, as a card-carrying sci-fi geek, I decided to focus much of my brief sightseeing time there exploring the science fiction-friendly side of the city. And believe me, there is a lot here to help you “get your geek on”. To prove it, I have pulled together a little Sci Fi Tour of Toronto for you below.
1 Austin Terrace at Spadina Ave, Toronto, Ontario.
Hours: Daily 9:30am-5pm.
This castle-like estate is for anyone who loves history, architecture, and beautiful grounds, as well as film buffs. It has been used in the filming of many movies, but sci-fi fans will probably recognize it best as The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning from the X-Men movies. It’s definitely worth paying the admission price to tour the building and grounds of the estate.
100 Queen Street West across from the Sheraton Centre
With its unique, saucer-shaped architecture, it should be no surprise that this building was chosen to stand in for an alien destination in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Contagion”, where it is glimpsed through an Iconian gateway.
The Ontario Science Centre
770 Don Mills Road (at the corner of Eglinton Ave. East)
Hours: M-F 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5pm
Admission: Science Centre only: $22 IMAX only: $13 Both: $28
Naturally, a science museum is a must for science lovers visiting Toronto. This science centre has a domed IMAX theater and a Space Hall Exhibit which includes a state-of-the-art fully digital planetarium with a live show, a space telescope, moon rocks, a scale model of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia, and a rocket chair. It sounds like great fun and I’m bummed that I didn’t have time to go there during my trip. Next time!
Bakka Phoenix Books
84 Harbord Street, available just off the 510 light rail, near China Town and Kensington Market
Hours: M-F 11am-7pm, Sat 11am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm
Bakka is Canada’s oldest science fiction and fantasy bookstore, established in 1972. The name of the store, Bakka, comes from Dune, by Frank Herbert; it means “the weeper who mourns for all mankind.” If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be hosting a book launch, panel, or author appearance while you’re in town!
Silver Snail Comics
329 Yonge Street, just off Dundas Square
Mere words cannot convey how much I loved this place. It was my fantasy store come to life. As I walked up the narrow stairs, the first person to greet me was a life-size Spider Man, hanging by a thread (heh!) overhead. Inside, I found more than I expected of a comic book store.
There were comics and collectibles, toys and games, busts and full-size figures of sci-fi and fantasy characters. Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, Hellboy, Battlestar Galactica–all my sci-fi favorites were represented here. If there had been a store like this in my home town when I was growing up, every penny of birthday and allowance money would have been plowed into it.
Even today, if I lived in Toronto, the cafe at the Silver Snail would be my permanent hangout. I rather like the idea of having a coffee at a corner table by the window while Batman watches over me.
The Scotiabank Theatre
259 Richmond St West, corner of John and Richmond Streets
I had the great fortune of seeing the new Star Trek: Into Darkness movie here (which I loved). But even if there are no sci-fi movies playing, this theater is still well worth a visit for sci-fi fans. Hanging from the ceiling over the entrance are a huge replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise and a Klingon Bird of Prey (both from Star Trek, of course). At night, the theater feels especially futuristic in design and lighting. I loved it. It instantly became my all-time favorite movie theater.
Canada’s Walk of Fame
Located on King Street West between John St. and Simcoe Street, and on Simcoe St. between King Street West and Wellington St. (near Roy Thomson Hall).
Like our Hollywood Walk of Fame here in the U.S., Canada also has its own stars commemorated in the sidewalks of its city. In keeping with our sci-fi theme, be sure to look for the stars of William Shatner (the original Captain Kirk from Star Trek) and Christopher Plummer (General Chang, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country). Shatner’s is almost on the corner of King and Simcoe, while Plummer’s is on the corner of King and Duncan Streets.
The Meril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy
3rd Floor of the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, 239 College St.
Hours: M-F 10am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun Closed
The Meril Collection is an extensive research collection of 72,000+ books and art work focusing on science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, speculative fiction, pulp magazines, and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction works related to these areas of writing. You can’t sign books out, but if you’ve ever been interested in doing some research on the topic, or just think it would be cool to see some older works in the genre, this is the place to do it.
Finally, I can’t discuss a sci-fi tour of Toronto without mentioning the very landscape of this city. Toronto has so much architecture that feels forward-looking, as though you’ve traveled through time to the year 3000. That’s not to say the city doesn’t also embrace its history with older architecture (like Casa Loma), but you’ll often see old historic buildings side-by-side with buildings whose architecture is so futuristic it really challenges the imagination.
So as you’re wandering around Toronto, look closely at the architecture. Some very well-known tourist sites here feel like they could be picked up and placed in Caprica City (Battlestar Galactica) with great ease. The CN Tower, for instance, which dominates the Toronto skyline, looks like something out of the Jetsons.
The Royal Ontario Museum (in the photo above) created this futuristic–and controversial–addition to its building that is worth seeing in person. Even Roy Thomson Hall looks like a set design from Star Trek:
My only disappointment in my research of sci-fi sites in Toronto was when I tried to find a bar or restaurant where the local sci-fi and fantasy fans hang out. In a city that embraces the genre as much as Toronto does, I expected to find a version of Page’s Bar (a former Star Trek-themed bar in London) here where I could meet other like-minded sci-fi fans to chat with over a beer and burger. But I couldn’t identify any such place in my online research. If any of you know of one, I’d love to hear about it before my next trip to the city.