Monday, March 7, 2011


Front doors
The first time we walked through the front doors of this beautiful old building, Tomee was 2 years old and we were starting a Music with your Baby class. Twelve years later,  after a huge renovation and temporary relocation, we continue to come to this newly transformed house of music every week for violin lessons. 
In those early years, we would watch the 'big kids' with their instruments pass us in the hall and would hear their music emanate from the classrooms as we passed and Tomee would say that she wanted to be like be a violinist.
 The RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) has been inspiring students and teaching them to create beautiful sounds for over 100 years.  It was first founded in 1886 as the Toronto Conservatory of Music and has undergone many changes since then but its' mission has always remained the same, "to develop leadership potential through music and arts education." 
This building, at 273 Bloor W, the original McMaster University, has been home to the Conservatory since 1962.  
How did the name change from Toronto Conservatory to Royal Conservatory? Well, in 1947, King George VI awarded the Conservatory its Royal Charter, "in recognition of its status as one of the Commonwealth's greatest music schools." 
The RCM has recently undergone one of its most major changes. The original heritage building has been restored and a new performance and learning centre has been built and tastefully attached to it. I love the open space that connects the two buildings with a glass ceiling, where the original outer stone wall of the heritage building is now an inside wall.  This is also where you find a wonderful little cafe...great for an espresso and a biscotti. It is open to the public, not just RCM students/families, so if you're out for a stroll along Philosopher's Walk, or just finished visiting the ROM next door, it's a great place to stop for a coffee, a small snack and if you're lucky, some beautiful sounds.   
Part of the new building also includes Koerner Hall, a warm, inviting, and acoustically amazing 1135 seat concert hall where we had the pleasure of hearing world famous violinist Hilary Hahn last Tuesday. It was the perfect space to hear someone of that calibre play--just her and the piano accompanist. Truly inspiring.    What was also inspiring though, was seeing children and young people there absorbing the beauty of Hilary's playing. 
For me, the RCM is a true Toronto treasure, as it continues to produce talented, inspired musicians and I cherish my weekly visits there with my daughter. Now I sit and wait for her at the cafe, and cannot help but smile as I watch parents with their toddlers scurrying to or from a music class, or when I see a little one with her teeny quarter size violin in hand. Will she be the next Hilary Hahn? I wonder.  Probably not. But will she be inspired enough to continue playing well into adulthood and learn to appreciate music other than Top 40?  I hope so. 

For more information on the Royal Conservatory of Music and its programs, visit :   
For more information on Hilary Hahn, visit:
Inside Koerner Hall
At the cafe between old and new
Entrance from Philosopher's Walk

Monday, January 24, 2011

Raise a finger-numbing ice cold glass!

Okay, so this is not exactly a Toronto event, however I'm sure if I had polled the bundled up visitors at Niagara's annual Ice Wine Festival this weekend, many of them would have been fellow Torontonians so I figured it was fair to include it here.
I actually left the warmth of my parents' home, along with my mom, sister and daughter for a frosty afternoon in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake (-28 with wind chill), to sample some of the region's pride and wine. For $30.00, I got a commemorative glass and nine tokens to use for either ice wine samples (2 tokens) or food samples (1 token) from a few of the participating restaurants. I sampled a Cabernet Franc ice wine from Cattail Creek which was nice and an Ice cherry (similar to ice wine but made with cherries instead of grapes) which was delicious. We also tried some of the food samples, like pulled pork infused with ice wine, hot chocolate with ice wine whipped cream, and a little chocolate dessert cup with nuts and ice wine.
The Niagara region is one of the few places in the world where ice wine can be produced because of the fact that it's so cold. The grapes are left on the vine until temperatures drop to below -21 when they are picked and pressed. The sugars and other dissolved solids don't freeze, allowing for a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grape. The result is a more concentrated, very sweet dessert wine. Because the process is very labour intensive and produces small amounts of wine, ice wines tend to be quite expensive.
Historically speaking, the first ice wine was actually produced in Germany in 1794, by accident. "Eiswein" is still produced in there, but currently Ontario produces 75 percent of the ice wine on the market and many of its wineries have won international awards for their products.

We also got to see Guiness Book of World Records newest entry for "the largest wine flute". Thirty-eight Ontario wineries poured 27 litres of their best ice wine into a specially made four foot tall wine glass. I wonder how that tasted...and who got to drink it?

In less than an hour, all my tokens were done and I could no longer feel my fingers so we left those hardier than us to enjoy themselves and headed back for the warmth of the indoors. What can I say, -21 might be great for ice wine grapes, but not for this ice wine drinker!

For more information about the Niagara Ice Wine Festival visit their website:

Deep Freeze

Anyone who knows me knows that I HATE WINTER, so the fact that January has been an extremely cold and snowy month has been the biggest obstacle for me to overcome in my quest to being a local tourist. The mere thought of venturing out into the streets when the temperature is in the minus teens (or more with the wind chill factor) makes my teeth chatter and my body shiver while still inside the house!
I am trying really hard to keep an open mind though, so as I walk my kids to school each day, I try and take notice of what nature has to offer during this season of deep freeze in Toronto. On days when the sun is shining bright, the sparkle of the crisp white snow makes me smile and when new snow has fallen, I love the way it looks like icing sugar has been sprinkled onto every branch of every tree.
Last week, I was awed by a hawk taking a break in the tree in my backyard and just the other day, a cardinal caught my eye, his red plumes strikingly bold against the stark white backdrop of my snow-covered garage. And of course there are the squirrels who scurry about in search of their summer stashes. How funny they are when they lift up their furry little noses sporting snow moustaches!
So, as much as I grumble and fuss about the greyness and the cold and the snow and the slush, I will admit that beauty can be found as long as one bundles up and opens one's eyes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New eyes

Our six month frolic through Europe has come to an end yet continues to shine bright in my memory. We've eaten our way through the holidays and visited with family and friends who were sorely missed during our absence and have settled back into the routine of school and big city life. At least, the kids have. My return to a hectic routine waits patiently for me at the end of August, beckoning me towards its stifling embrace.
I am in serious post-Uzès withdrawal. Don't get me wrong, I'm so happy to be back to my husband and the familiarity of home but I miss my charmed life where everything was less than a five minute walk from my front door; the Saturday market, the baguettes next door, the café's outdoor patios. I loved taking different routes through town and discovering new shops/doorways/courtyards I hadn't seen before.

Since my return, I have made a couple of important realizations. One, that what I really miss is the thrill of experiencing something new--awakening my senses with new sights, sounds, smells, and two, that I miss blogging.

So, I have decided to be a local tourist. In other words, to see Toronto with fresh eyes and try and experience it as a short-term tourist would, the way I experienced Uzès, and then blog about it. If you're a potential tourist, hopefully I'll be able to show you what a great city Toronto is, and if you're a local, maybe I'll be able to open your eyes to something new.

"The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes."
Marcel Proust