Capture the essence of Toronto with these movies, books, and songs to get you in the mood for travel
Toronto has posed as New York or Chicago in countless Hollywood productions, but has seldom played itself. Here’s a shortlist of productions that sees the city out of costume:
A campy, color-soaked romp from local Indo-Canadian (and Oscar-nominated) director Deepa Mehta. Set in Toronto, the film pokes fun at traditional Indian stereotypes and is livened with a silly series of song-and-dance Bollywood numbers.
A dark, seamy tale set in and around a strip club in the outskirts of Toronto, from Oscar-nominated Toronto director Atom Egoyan. Follows the disparate lives of people interconnected through Exotica strip club. Stacked Canadian cast includes Sarah Polley, Mia Kirshner, Victor Garber, and Arsinée Khanjian.
Set in the fictional town of Melonville, this sketch comedy show, an offshoot from Toronto’s Second City improv comedy troupe, featured a dream team of mostly Canadian (and then unknown) comedians: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, and Catherine O’Hara.
The popular Canadian teen drama currently airing on CTV and rebroadcast on The N in the U.S.—Degrassi: The Next Generation—is the latest incarnation of a program that began as a miniseries in 1987. Now claiming a cultish international following, Degrassi is set in the city’s east end and tracks the tumultuous lives of students attending the eponymous school.
The Rebel Angels, by Robertson Davies (1981)
“[Robertson] Davies put Toronto on the international literary map, churning out readable, psychologically intricate tales of the city from the 1950s to his death in 1995. The Rebel Angels, is his best Toronto novel, dramatizing the white bread city’s own engagement with more colorful immigrants in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Headhunter, by Timothy Findlay (1993)
“Conveys the corruption and glamour of the city’s wealthiest (and most beautiful) inner district, Rosedale. Based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the novel is set in Toronto’s future, where Asian bird-flu–like plagues and a serial killer stalks the city.”
The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood (1993)
“Set in the neighborhood [Margaret] Atwood still lives in, the Annex, an enclave of self-righteous intellectuals. The novel features a predatory woman (said to be inspired by Barbara Amiel, the beleaguered press lord Conrad Black’s wife) who steals husbands (hence the title), and also pricks the smugness of the Annex inhabitants whose lives she ruins.”
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje (1987)
“Probably the single best Toronto novel. As the Brooklyn Bridge is to New York, the King Edward viaduct, spanning the Don River, is to Toronto: the book dramatizes its construction. R.C. Harris, the city planner responsible for the shape and look of Toronto, is an outsize character in the book.”
Consolation, by Michael Redhill (2006)
“Nominated for this year’s  Booker prize, it gives a sense of the urbanites’ longstanding love affair with the Toronto Islands. The book draws a contrast between the city’s teeming, eventful present and its relatively dour and somber Victorian past.”
You Forgot It in People, Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene’s classic album. If Toronto is to indie-rock what Seattle was to grunge, then this album is its anthem.
Quest for Fire: Fire Starter Vol. 1, Kardinal Offishall
Kardinal Offishall Collection from an artist considered the best-kept secret in Canadian hip-hop; features underground favorite “Husslin’.”
A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould
“This legendary 1955 album revolutionized recorded music.”
Neil Young: Live in Massey Hall, 1971
“For the audience, it was the first time these songs were heard. And the version of ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ is awesome.”
“This is a quintessential Toronto recording from one of the great Toronto bands. And this music can be appreciated by people in rural British Columbia or people in downtown Toronto.”
Stroumboulopoulos shares his list of top ten Toronto classics:
1. “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois
2. “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young
3. “Queer” by Rheostatics
4. “Combat Baby” by Metric
5. “The Hockey Theme” (Hockey Night in Canada) by Dolores Claman
6. “The Seekwill” by K-Os
7. “Cause Equals Time” by Broken Social Scene
8. “YYZ” by Rush
9. “Let Your Back Bone Slide” by Maestro Fresh Wes
10. “Red” by Treble Charger
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