Exploring the Art at Toronto’s Waterfront


I was pleased to be invited to contribute to a magazine article, especially after discovering my topic would be the interesting things to see and do at Toronto’s waterfront.

Aside from enjoying the beautiful water and boats in the harbour, the waterfront is home to a variety of galleries, museums, design shops and more, that are certain to leave visitors artistically inspired.

Here is a look at some of those excellent places.

The Design Exchange – 234 Bay Street (on the south-west corner at Queen Street West.)
Admission: Free

It makes sense that the Design Exchange is located within a beautifully designed space. Erected in the heart of the Financial District in 1937 to house The Toronto Stock Exchange, the building features a combination of streamlined moderne, art deco and classicism styles, and is revered as an architectural marvel. The same can be said for the wide range of items on display there today, each selected for its innovative or unique design. The extensive permanent collection includes fascinating furniture, housewares, electronics and lighting, created over the past five decades in Canada and internationally.

There are two ways to enter this museum, one via the original art deco doors located on Bay Street, and another through the high-rise office tower directly west of the building. I went in that way.








↑ DisplayPhones were made in 1982 and were meant to combine a telephone with a computer. ↑




Down by the water’s edge, between Bay Street and Bathurst, are 10 acres of land dedicated to fun and entertainment, called Harbourfront Centre, managed by a not-for-profit cultural organization and partially funded by the government.

Here you’ll find many things to do, year-round, including lots of festivals, concerts, artisan markets, summer evening dances on the pier and ice-skating on an outdoor rink in the winter. (Click the link above for details on all the goings on.)


↑ This quaint structure happens to be the oldest building still standing in this whole downtown waterfront area. Pier 6 was built in 1907 as a storage shed. It’s been moved a couple of times over the years, but its status as a protected historic structure has saved it from being demolished. ↑



↑ Built in 1926, this former power plant houses two popular attractions today. ↑

The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
231 Queens Quay West
Admission: Free

You’ll know the The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery when you see it, as the tall smokestack gives it away. What once held the equipment to generate power for over 50 years, now contains a regularly changing installation of contemporary art from around the world. You might find it challenging to keep your eyes on the art though, and not on the soaring two-storey wall of windows that look directly onto the shimmering blue waters of Lake Ontario – but try to concentrate on the art as it is incredibly interesting stuff!

I won’t go into detail about the show that was on display when I went, as they are in the process of changing it now, however you can trust that when you visit you will see something thought provoking.





↑ Out the back windows ↑


↑ A covered outdoor space where they host parties and events. ↑


↑ This pond is turned into an ice-rink in the winter, with some of the skating sessions accompanied by a live dj. ↑

Harbourfront Theatre
231 Queens Quay West (east side of the Power Plant Building)
Admission: Ticketed price

Also found within the former power plant building is The Harbourfront Centre Theatre, a multi-use venue for theatre, dance and music. A ticket to a Harbourfront show includes the opportunity to see a remarkable permanent large-scale artwork by Canadian artist Sarah Hall, called “Waterglass”. This 1,736 square foot wall, visible only from inside the theatre lobby, is made of glass panels that are hand-painted with over 360 images depicting the history of Lake Ontario. Being the first in the world to employ the technology, the piece generates solar energy that is used to light the lobby.


There’s a nice amphitheatre at the waterfront too, for open-air concerts throughout the summer …


I mentioned boats earlier … There are many ways to get out on the water in Toronto, including the ability to rent a variety of small crafts with lessons on how to use them. Or, if you’d prefer to be a passenger, there are plenty of options to choose from.



Toronto is home to the headquarters of Canada’s public broadcaster’s English language radio and television services. They have a building at Front Street West and John, where you’ll find a museum that shares their history.

The CBC Museum UPDATE : This museum closed permanently in December, 2017
250 Front Street West – Ground Floor
Admission: Free

Do you remember Mr. Dressup? If so, you’ll surely enjoy seeing his Tickle Trunk and Casey and Finnegan’s tree-house at the CBC Museum. There you’ll find the actual items from the show, along with many other props and equipment used to create the programs aired by Canada’s public broadcaster, including a microphone that dates back to 1910. Once you’ve had your fill of the artifacts and interactive displays, take a seat in the tiny theatre, with a screen that looks like a giant television set, and catch a selection of classic CBC programs.





↑ It’s the trolley from Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood! ↑






Live music might be your pleasure and, if so, here’s a venue with a fascinating past. While the building may be old, the music performed within it is not — this is a place to hear new music by emerging artists.

The Opera House
735 Queen Street East
Admission: Ticketed price

Built over a century ago as a place for vaudeville shows and silent movies, The Opera House certainly has a long history. While thousands have entertained from its gilded stage, there is no record of there ever having been an opera held there, making its name a bit of a mystery. Regardless, lovers of live music will agree that it’s a great place to see a concert, hosting acts from all over the world including some bigger local names too. Grab a casual meal in their restaurant, where the burger is said to be one of Toronto’s best.



↑ They still have the original doors ↑


I hope this has given you some ideas for fun things you’d like to do near Toronto’s waterfront.

Thanks for reading,
xo loulou