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Toronto the good time – who knew? Add to ...

Torontonians depressed by the Ford follies should take heart. In Montreal, some people envy Toronto’s cultural vitality – a situation that would have been inconceivable just 10 years ago.

Montreal lost its status as Canada’s economic metropolis a long time ago (or so went the conventional wisdom), but it remained the country’s most exciting city, the one with the best restaurants, the liveliest cultural life, the je ne sais quoi that our anglophone friends like to call la joie de vivre. Toronto? It had money, sure, and what money can buy – but why go there when New York is just an hour’s flight away?

Nowadays, though, a distinctly unconventional idea is slowly making its way among Montreal’s cognoscenti. Could it be that Toronto is becoming cooler than Montreal?

This is the provocative question raised by Marie-Claude Lortie, a food critic at La Presse who’s also an expert at tracking fashionable trends. She’s been a Toronto aficionado for years. She first discovered the city when she was 5, when her mother spent a year in Toronto with her children in tow, to work on her doctoral thesis in musicology. Ms. Lortie later returned many times to the city, where she now has a large circle of friends and family.

She just published a traveller’s guide to Toronto that will likely be used by the many Quebeckers who go to Toronto for business or pleasure. Titled Carnet D’Une Urbaine à Toronto, it is written in French, but Torontonians might enjoy seeing how a friendly visitor views their city.

She lists 140 places of interest – hotels, restaurants, shops, sights, art galleries, walks and so on, and suggests activities for businesspeople, families with children or couples out for a romantic weekend. She also asked knowledgeable Torontonians, such as writer Jacob Richler and TV host Jian Ghomeshi, for their tips and favorite haunts.

In a recent column in La Presse, Ms. Lortie pointed out that Toronto’s cultural industries, which have become nearly as important to Ontario’s economy as the automobile industry, are transforming the city into a hotbed of creativity in every field, from film to design to architecture to video games. The influx of artists, high-level technicians and innovators of all stripes who settle in Toronto (including many coming from Quebec) has created an urban environment that is “both ‘avant-garde’ and ecological,” she wrote.

Referring to the most common prejudices against Toronto, she says that no, Toronto is not prudish (free condoms in public places!), Toronto is not straight (vibrant gay life!), Toronto is not flat (skyscrapers, Frank Gehry’s AGO redesign and the Will Asop “table top” at OCAD!), Toronto is not bland (tapas at Bar Isabel, tacos at Seven Lives, and don’t forget Canoe!).

Her enthusiasm knows no bound. “Does Montreal have a hotel as original as the Drake? A center of durable development like the Evergreen Brickworks?” She marvels at the sophisticated boutiques and provocative art galleries that have mushroomed in former industrial districts.

However, she believes that on the whole, Montreal’s food scene is better. Yes, she says, Toronto has many more good places for dim sums and curries, but Montreal has a stronger and more ancient gastronomical culture.

Any other reservations? Not many. As an avid jogger, she doesn’t like the forest of residential highrises in the southern core, and would like more functional public transit. And she’s not a fan of Rob Ford.

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