Goin' Down the Road
August 3, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Moving from Ottawa to Toronto. I want to know more about the city I'm about to live in. Bonus question: How do I move my cat?

I've wanted to live in Toronto for basically forever, and I'm finally taking the plunge. It's my first time moving cities, and while I've visited Toronto a few times I could use some help navigating the city. I have tons of questions for you torontonian mefites. Last question is for cat-owners who have moved cities.

I'm moving with my fiance and our cat to a nice condo in the Entertainment District (not my first choice for neighbourhoods, but the rental market is extremely tough right now). We live virtually next door to the Skydome. We're both transferring our jobs to Toronto. We are huge cinephiles and part-time film critics.


1. What are the best places to do groceries in the ED? I'm a big fan of cheap and affordable, which I know is probably nil in a yuppie-dense location. I've heard mixed things about the quality I can find in Kensington (and I know it's a bit of a trek to walk there and back) so I'm looking for specific grocery recommendations here (and what kind of stuff I can find). I am picky about produce, I'd like to know where to buy affordable vegetarian products, the best places for fresh meat, and the cheapest prices for Ritter's Sport Chocolate. ;) If you're going to recommend something outside my immediate zone, please tell me the best transportation options. We got no car.

2. Film -- yeah yeah, we're all set for TIFF and Lightbox memberships. But I know there is a great film culture outside of the TIFF Lightbox, and I'm looking to tap into it. I'm only vaguely familiar with the programming at the new Hot Docs cinema. I know there are other rep theatres but I don't really know their personality and programming so I'm looking for some opinions here. Bonus points if you can direct me to any cool film clubs and places for cinephiles.

3. I know parts of ED are sometimes called club land, and people are always complaining about the douchey nightlife in this area. Where should the fiance and I go when we want a drink and perhaps some delicious (though not necessarily fine) dining? We like cozy, hipstery, upscale, gastropub. If you're familiar with Ottawa, comparable spots would be Town, Oz Cafe, and the Manx (cc Jairus :)).

4. Related to #3: Good brunch places that are reasonably close to me?

5. I actually haven't been to most of Toronto's tourist traps. Never even been inside the CN Tower. There's a lot to visit, but given my interests (I'm more into fine arts, less into sports) what are the absolute must-see sites in my first few months?

6. What amazing place/thing/phenomenon did you discover in Toronto only recently, that you wish you'd known about when you first moved here?

7. Publications: Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, OpenFile Toronto, Toronto Life, The Grid, NOW, blog.to, Torontoist... Am I missing anything?

8. CAT ALERT. We're transporting my cat with us in the U-Haul. It's a five-hour drive. He's got a carrier, but I'd like to occasionally let him out in the truck. What's the best strategy to ensure his comfort? Should I set up a make-shift litterbox outside the carrier and perhaps line his carrier with towels, just in case? Is it safe to let him out of his carrier? He's very adventurous. He's never been inside a car for more than 45 minutes, so I'm a little nervous how he will handle it. Suggestions and tips for our mutual sanity are greatly appreciated.
posted by Menomena to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do not let your cat out. It's just five hours. He'll be fine.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:38 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Bonus question: How do I move my cat?

Very carefully.
posted by zamboni at 11:45 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've taken cats that were otherwise not travellers both directions from Texas to New Jersey/NYC. Five hours will be fine. Just make sure he has water in the carrier and access to a litter box immediately on the other end. He'll be fine.
posted by immlass at 11:55 AM on August 3, 2012

Do not let him out in the truck. Keep him in the carrier until you are safely in your new place. Definitely line the carrier with absorbent material and have the litter box ready to go when you get to your new place.
posted by crankylex at 11:58 AM on August 3, 2012

Welcome! Explore and find your niche. The cool thing about Toronto is that as soon as you turn over a few rocks, you'll find tons of cheap, fun stuff to do.

I wish I'd joined the AGO years earlier. Being able to drop in casually for free means that I don't feel the pressure to squeeze the most value out of a general admission ticket. A contributing membership for $190 will allow you to give free special exhibit passes to your friends.

I alway recommend Allan Gardens as a great way to take a break from a bleak Toronto winter.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:04 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do not let your cat out. It's just five hours. He'll be fine.

Seconding this advice, as well as the wise words of ImproviseOrDie: Unless he's very, very comfortable being in the car, it's very, very unlikely that he will want to use the litter box during the trip.

IOD goes on to give more good advice: Take a roll of paper towels, because sometimes cats traveling in carriers get upset and pee or poop in their crate. This does not necessarily mean, however, that he'd gladly get out of that protected space and into a litter box to do his thing.

(I myself can testify to the effectiveness of puppy pee pads -- $10.99 for a 32-pack at Canadian Tire, by the way -- for making it easier to clean up after a cat who's had an accident in his carrier.)

Cats generally feel safe and secure in small, enclosed spaces such as their carriers. It's nearly impossible to get mine out of his carrier when we're at the vet.

Anecdata here: I took my kitty to the vet for his exam/shots Tuesday. I meant to put the carrier away as soon as we got home but got distracted by other chores. Then I saw Marty snoozing away in the carrier and realized that he likes to hang out in there. Go figure cats.
posted by virago at 12:10 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. There isn't really anywhere to get groceries in the entertainment district. There are a bunch of little corner stores and drugstores with a few shelves of groceries, but you won't find produce. There is a Sobey's on Fort York Blvd which will be walkable for you, and overpriced. For fancy meats and cheeses, St. Lawrence Market is probably the best in the city and it's a straight shot east on the King streetcar. There's also a farmer's market in Nathan Phillips Square (which is walkable for you) every Wednesday.

2. The rep theatres are mostly all owned by the same people, and they're all pretty great. For a more intimate experience, The Cineforum is unlike anything else.

3. The club district is mostly north of King. There is a really nice strip of upscale restaurants on King itself between John and Spadina, though they are often full around dinner time with the same people who will terrorize the club district later, only in their more sober state. As for "cozy, hipstery, upscale, gastropubs," Toronto is a mecca. You can find them anywhere in the city. My current favourites are Bar Volo on Yonge (where the focus is more on beer and whiskey than on the food) and neighbourhood secret The Roxton.

4. There is only one brunch in Toronto and it is at Sneaky Dee's. You'll have to take the Bathurst streetcar.

5. I'm a philistine, so I can't really advise you about the arts, but even I love the ROM.

6. This happens all the time. For me the most recent are the running paths in Downsview Park, but that's pretty damn far from you.

7. Well, you missed the Toronto Sun and Xtra, but I'd skip those as well as most of the ones you listed. NOW has some really good writers and some really bad ones, but I generally at least flip through it. The Star is probably the best for news, but I can't remember the last time I picked up a copy. I just set up a google news feed for Toronto and read whatever stories it feeds me. Oh and Toronto Life is a glossy newsstand magazine with surprisingly good content from time to time.

8. The rest of the commenters seem to have you covered on this one.

Welcome to Toronto.
posted by 256 at 12:19 PM on August 3, 2012

Yes, definitely leave the cat in the box, so to speak. It will feel more secure.

Shopping: very rough in your area. No Frill's is good to stock up on basics (there's one just off the subway line at the Dufferin Mall - there's also a Wal-Mart there if you need to stock up on "new apt basics"). You might like to trek to Fiesta Farms for your other more high-falutin' needs. (Fairly accessible from Bloor Subway at Christie stop).

For nightlife/foodlife, Dundas St. W. (around Ossington and beyond) has some nice places. If you are adventurous, head out to Roncesvalles (The Westerly and Barque are nice and Hopgood's Foodliner, if you're a bit more flush).

Generally, you'll want to head out of the downtown area. I am biased, and all of my recommendations are in the west end, but no doubt east will treat you well too.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 12:21 PM on August 3, 2012

Don't forget the NFB memberships, as the Mediathèque is but a short walk away, and annual membership for unlimited viewing for the two of you is something like $20.
posted by scruss at 12:23 PM on August 3, 2012

Kensington will be your friend - it's about a 10 minute walk up spadina from where you'll be, or just a few streetcar stops. Essence of life is a great health food shop there with lots of yummy vegetarian stuff. Sangan's meat locker in kensington is a great little butcher - all local and organic. it's not cheap but it is quality.

kensington has a bunch of fruit/vegetanble vendors of varying quality - just wander around a bit until you see fruit that you like. my market bakery for lovely bread, and cheese magic next door for your cheezy commestibles. Get yourselves some big fabric shopping bags with shoulder straps, and you will have no problem doing your grocery shopping there and walking home with it. A lot of people are also using these things to schlep their stuff around town. Toronto is an easy city to not drive in.

An amazing vegetarian restaurant is Fressen try the grilled black bean seitan!

There is a nice big theatre close to you - lots of theatres, and even the smaller ones have the same sized (big!) screen. also imax! late night showing are often really empty, so you almost have the whole theatre to yourself. Right around that intersection, and down king street to the west, however, is the big-club-drunk-jerk area, so friday and saturday nights are a bit crazy. it's easy to avoid that, though.

Camera is a film-oriented bar, but the city is absolutely crammed with cozy hipstery upscale gastropubs - really the best way to find one you like is to walk around and nip into places that you like the look of. Queen street or College will be good places to try this. Ossington also is becoming very hip - I keep meaning to check it out myself.

some friends of mine are organizing a series of talks about budget filmmaking that should be fun - I don't know if you'll be in town soon enough to go, but they are also doing a film challenge that even if you don't participate, will be a great way to meet some of the indy filmmakers in the city.

welcome to the city - you're going to love it here!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:07 PM on August 3, 2012

For cheap groceries, its hard to beat china town (spadina and dundas). The variety of produce of quite wide and you don't have to speak Chinese.

One of the things I wished I knew about earlier were the beaches of Centre Island. Take your bike down to Queen's Quay and take the ferry over to Hanlan's Point Beach (not the main Centre Island dock). There are some really beautiful and quiet beaches there. Its a short trip for a nice escape on a hot summer day.
posted by drug_dealer73 at 1:49 PM on August 3, 2012

If you have bikes, you can easily cycle to Kensington/Spadina/Chinatown for fresh produce. If you want fresh produce for a decent price from a supermarket, No Frills and FreshCo generally have excellent choices (for supermarkets).
posted by maudlin at 2:52 PM on August 3, 2012

So much great advice above. Here's mine: Explore neighbourhoods. Tourist attractions can wait, especially stuff like the CN Tower which is kind of tourist bait.

Toronto is a city of lots and lots and lots of tiny neighbourhoods, and there's no better way to make the city feel like your home than to explore them. Kensington, the Annex, West Queen West and Parkdale, the Danforth, the Beaches, Leslieville, Yorkville, Cabbagetown, the gay village around Church St, the Distillery District (slightly touristy), Roncesvalles and High Park, the Junction (which we now call home).

A lot of people stay in their neighbourhood or the nearby ones once they've settled in. (We do that now too, to some extent), but when you're new here, checking out neighbourhoods is awesome. Especially if you think you might move to a different place here in the first few years.

(My wife and I moved here from Ottawa in 2007, with two cats in their carriers for the whole drive, one sedated and the other just checking out the view. We're here for good now!)
posted by mendel at 5:39 PM on August 3, 2012

1. There's a Loblaws at the foot of Jarvis, which might be closest to you. There's also a new (and unfortunately kind of sparse) Loblaws at roughly Queen and Bathurst. There's also a great Chinese grocery in the Cherry St. spit area.
2. Toronto Underground Cinema is fun. The Projection Booth on Gerrard shows some interesting things. Festival Theatres are generally good. Harbourfront shows free films. There are some free shows in Yonge-Dundas Square.
3. Restaurants between Ossington to the east and Roncesvalles to the west, and bordered by College and Queen, are a good place to start. There are also some great less high-end hangouts on Bloor, like the 3 Speed. You might also check out Leslieville.
4. Must vehemently disagree with "the only brunch" being Sneaky Dee's (it used to be nicknamed "sneaky disease"...maybe that's changed, and the King's Crown nachos are really good drunk food, but you need a strong gut to eat there, in general). This is a brunch city. Best thing to do is look up brunch reviews in Torontoist and Blog TO and pick your poison.
5. The AGO's building just got a beautiful new redesign, and they have a Picasso show on until the end of the month.
6. This is a food discovery, but this new burger joint The Burger's Priest is explode-your-head delicious. If you eat burgers. They have secret menu items you need to check out on their website (?)
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:02 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good weekend brunch at insomnia - ex-Internet cafe at Bathurst & Bloor.
posted by jb at 9:49 PM on August 3, 2012

I'd like to jump in late and offer some advice. And maybe make a correction or two.

First of all, welcome to Toronto.

1. If you're by the ol' SkyDome, you might be closer to the shopping along Queen's Quay than anything else in the area. There is a Sobey's just south of the Rogers Centre and, if you're got a car or MetroPass, a nice big Loblaws further east down Queen's Quay. Going up Spadina, you can get to Kensington pretty easily and shop there.

2. You're within walking distance of not only the TIFF Lightbox but also the Scotiabank Theatre for first run stuff. My favourite rep cinemas are the Hot Docs Cinema on Bloor, the Royal on College and the Revue on Roncesvalles. All are easily accessible by subway or streetcar. And as far as I know not a one is owned by the same people. You're also close to where the NFB Mediathèque is but the feds cut their budget are they are shuttering (if not closed already). The Underground cinema is also close to you if you want more of a grindhouse vibe but currently under renos and closed for the time being. And keep an eye out for the various film festivals, not just TIFF. I catch so many good movies throughout the year thanks to them.

3. If you want cosy, hipster, upscale, you want Ossington between Queen and Dundas (taking a detour onto Dundas to hit the Black Hoof and Porchetta and Co. by Trinity-Bellwoods). Bloor/Landsdowne, Roncesvalles and The Junction are heading in the same direction, but a bit further from you. Queen West has it's ups and downs but you'll find what you're looking for anywhere up and down that street, but especially around the Drake and Gladstone Hotels or further down into Parkdale with the bars and restaurants on the north side of the blocks just east of Roncesvalles.

4. Toronto is brunch crazy right now. Judging by your cosy, hipster, upscale request the best brunches close to your are The Beast further down King West (Bourdain was filming there last week) and maybe The Gaberdine in the financial district. Awesome brunches can be found in every neighbourhood mentioned in #3 and then some. Sneaky Dee's and Insomnia have been recommended above, but fall more into the crusty, hipster, cheap category.

5. Must see museum is the AGO, then the ROM, then the zoo/CN Tower/Science Centre based on your interest levels. As said above, you're right by the ferry docks to the islands, which make a great getaway (and can be stunningly cool compared to the city core in the summer). The Canadian Opera Company is great and in a brand new building in your neighbourhood. TIFF has exhibits and a lounge that you can take advantage of for free if you end up getting a membership. If you're into theatre, you're within walking distance of both travelling Broadway shows and more eclectic venues. Again, keep an eye out for theatre festivals in town.

6. I've spent this summer exploring uptown - places like St Clair West and Yonge north of Eglington. Also, this is the first year I went to the Beaches Jazz Fest and the street festival is so much longer and bigger than I expected - I was thinking 2-3 blocks, not 2-3 km. If you pedal, or like long walks, check out the Martin Goodman trail along the lake shore, and the paths up the banks of the Humber and Don rivers.

7. You've pretty much got it covered.

8. Good luck with the cat!
posted by thecjm at 12:14 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did the exact same move several years ago, down to the cat – he was fine in his carrier the whole way.

Also used to live in your neighborhood and for groceries we usually walked over to the St. Lawrence Market on Saturdays (it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays), for produce, meat, bread and cheese and sometimes went to the big Metro across the street if we needed stuff like paper towels or dish detergent. We often took a taxi back – Wellington St. is one way heading west and it made for a quick, cheap cab ride. We also hit the Sobeys that has already been mentioned (just south of the Rogers Centre) and walked to Kensington market too. If we ran out of something mid-week, we’d stop at the Rabba Fine Foods at the corner of Front and Blue Jays Way, but it is a glorified convenience store, with prices to match. Whenever we rented a car we’d hit a No Frills.

You’ve already received great answers for the rest of your questions and I like the suggestions to just go out and explore different neighbourhoods. We still do that - although we like where we live, the commercial strip is not amazing, so sometimes we’ll look at blogTO’s neighborhood guide, pick one and spend a day exploring. We usually realize when we’re considering a particular neighborhood that we’ve also read about a restaurant, café or shop that we’ve been meaning to check out, and voila, fun day in the city is planned.

When we first moved to Toronto we didn’t know anyone and were on a super tight budget. We relied heavily on various “best of” Toronto roundups – if we were going to eat out, we wanted to be sure our money was well spent. Once we met more people we started to gravitate towards places our friends recommended.

And like others have said, you’re going to really enjoy how close you are to the island ferry docks and Harbourfront is great for shorter walks. I agree clubland is something to avoid – I was never much of a clubber even in my 20’s, but your new digs are in a central location with good transit access to every other part of the city. Often we’d be coming home from somewhere else in the wee hours just as the police were getting their horses ready for crowd control, but we were far enough south (sounds like you’re even a bit further south) to ever really experience much douchebaggery. And our condo’s double glazed windows did a good job of reducing the sound level of errant noisy passerby loudmouths. Not sure what it’s like down there now, but we lived there before Councillor Adam Vaughan started speaking out against clubland.

Welcome to Toronto - you're going to love it here!
posted by champagneminimalist at 5:24 AM on August 4, 2012

1. There is a Longo's grocery store at York and Bremner which may be closer than to Sobeys. It's oriented towards condo dwelling singleton's and office employees, so it's not cheap.

Kensington Market has the best natural foods store... Essence of Life and lots of other pretenders to the throne. Kensington Market is great for cheap food, especially produce, but it's not always excellent quality. St Lawrence Market has excellent food, inconvenient hours Tues-Sat, closing at 6pm every day but is more expensive. As a downtown resident, I love them both; you will have to decide what will work for you.

There are also many farmers markets across the city now.

In addition to the TTC, Bixi bicycles, car2go fortwo cars and/or a Zipcar or autoshare membership can really make getting around the city easy as pie.

And you'll walk lots, and it will be easy and good for you.

Consider getting your own commuter bike... Urbane cyclist is well prepared to help you with this, and then you won't worry about getting around as much.

2. There are likely still some tickets to the filmfest available, so if you'll be in down by the second week of September, you should check that out online. They've been trying, with some success, to make the purchasing process easier over the last few years,so you shouldn't have to be intimidated by it.

Underground Cinema is worth checking out.

Hotdocs runs a monthly subscription program you might want to do.

There are also themed film festivals throughout the year, and if you stay connected to torontoist and blogto you won't miss them.

Word on the Street - the festival of reading is also an excellent intro to all sorts of literary culture in the city. My friends bought cheap theater subscriptions there last year which were great.

3. Cosy, delicious & close Restaurants: C'est What, The Queen Mother, La Palette (now on Queen W). More expensive: Origin, Gilead cafe. Further away: Zocalo, Allen's

4. Brunch: you will be living outside my easy wander for brunch zone, so I can only make one medium distance suggestions here: HotHouse, Swan, Shanghai Cowgirl.

There are so many to choose from. Yelp's search feature might help with this in the beginning. I also use the Toronto Life restaurant guide online.

5. I've lived here most of my teenage to adult life, so it's hard to know what to tell you. There is great love theater and dance, but you will have to pay for it unless you can get organized for Sunday pwyc shows. It's definitely worth it to go to different neighbourhood shopping districts and into the residential neighbourhoods they serve as well.

You should check out Grange Park on the south side of the AGO and the Queen W art crawl in September.

Heritage Toronto and the ROM run walking tours (separately) that are great free intros to the city and it's history.

The Brickworks, Distillery District, and Little India Gerrard St E are all great. Outside of downtown condo land, there are lots of great tree lined residential streets and a whole ravine systems walking and cycling trails.

For getting out of the city, there is a bus service to the big camping locations called ParkBus and another one for winter ski outings.

Welcome & enjoy.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:55 PM on August 4, 2012

Thanks to everyone for their answers! This has been extremely handy, and I now have a list of artsy/eatery/grocery places to hit up in September (and I won't look like a total idiot to our critic house guests who arrive less than a week after we do... agh!)

As for the kitty, thanks to the folks who pointed out that Marshall McLuhan will likely not use his litter box during the trip. Looks like we'll be staying in Belleville the night we move so that breaks up the trip into half. I'm still a little concerned about when we're moving into the condo but I think we should be OK keeping him temporarily in the bedroom or bathroom of our new place with his litterbox and food and water bowls until we're done moving furniture.
posted by Menomena at 8:00 AM on August 5, 2012

... be sure check out a Saturday night swing dance at the Dovercourt House. It's cheap, low key and the typical off-the-street-and-through-a-door sort of thing that makes living in Toronto so cool.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:37 AM on August 14, 2012

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