The Church Street area in Toronto, Ontario, is a gay hotspot on any given day, but things turned up a notch for WorldPride this year. Over three days in June, the city was overrun with not only a massive parade but separate Dyke and Trans marches plus a street festival complete with eight stages of live entertainment welcoming more than 1.2 million people.
Being such a close neighbor to Chicago, it's a breeze to fly to this neck of the woods in fewer than two hours. Air Canada brings Chicagoans right to Toronto's front door with a quick flight that's comfortable yet speedy.
A suggested place to stay is Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. It's artistic, sleek, and quiet with a modern gym and excellent cuisine. For more local bites, try Richmond Station complete with a menu created by Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich or Wish Restaurant on Charles Street with huge portions of tequila battered fish and chips.
Take a day trip to the Toronto Zoo, which has more than 5,000 animals, or head into the tunnels beneath Niagara Falls, the Hornblower Cruise will take tourists right up close and personal to the water so don a plastic poncho they provide.
On the drive back, stop at Peller Estates Winery for lunch and samples. The staff is knowledgeable and very attentive plus the break in Toronto traffic will be a relief.
There are numerous places to shop in unique stores in the gaybourhood while the Queer West Village offers even more options. The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in this area contains collections exploring identity and art combined.
The Ryerson Image Centre is a new cultural destination displaying multi media and photos.
Look for international food at Crown Princess Fine Dining for dim sum and decorations of gold bling, or grab meat on a stick at the new Copacabana, which not only offer loads of protein but entertainment as well, in the form of acrobats and Brazilian dancers. La Societe packs a mean brunch so don't miss this the morning after partying at clubs like Woody's and Buddies.
Following all of this adventure, the real festivities begin with the annual Pride celebration. The Trans March began in 2009 and has grown into a safe place for trans identified people to make a statement while banding together. The Dyke March is a political demonstration taking parades back to the original roots of fighting for equality. The overall parade lands on the last Sunday in June an just completed its 34th year. It kicks off from the corner of Church Street and marches down to Yonge Street celebrating for hours. The closing ceremony for WorldPride on June 29 featured music acts like Tegan and Sara; fireworks; and a real rainbow, thanks to a downpour.
Attendees finish off the weekend annually at a huge market with vendor booths full of street cuisine, games and novelties located in the Church-Wellesley Village. Music artists play in the area and drag queens lip-synch for their lives onstage while the streets and bars are filled to capacity.
The day after, board Porter Airlines with boutique flight accommodations connecting Toronto to Ottawa, the nation's capital.
Celebrate Canada Day every July 1 where locals wear red and white while shooting fireworks. The historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier is the perfect spot to spend the night with a nearby changing of the ceremonial guard in the park. For local grub, sample Fatboys Southern Smokehouse ( with barbeque sandwiches titled "The Hangover" ) and wash them down with Marilyn Monroe-inspired bourbon specialty drinks with a cotton-candy garnish. Stumble down the block for a cinnamon BeaverTails pastry for dessert.
It's a bit of a hike but the Canadian Museum of History contains some important artifacts and fossils or hit the Canadian War Museum containing a "fruit machine" that supposedly detected gays and lesbians in the Cold War. These days locals just use Grindr. Detect your own community at The Lookout Bar or Swizzles Bar and Grill. Skip over to the Rainbow Bistro where ears hear the Blues and even celebrities such as Ottawa native Dan Aykroyd will pop in for a spell.
While Chicagoans can't be in two places at once and will miss their Pride in June ( since Toronto's falls on the exact same day ) this makes a quick, easy and affordable getaway, plus it's a nice change of pace to a gay holiday. Combining Canada Day and Gay Pride for one gaycation really gets the full treatment of what it means to be a Canadian, eh?
For more information of these excursions and others visit www.seetorontonow.com . There's even a "See Toronto" app!