10 secret things you might not know existed in Toronto

10 secret things you might not know existed in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / SEPTEMBER 16, 2014


secret torontoThere are few truly secret places in a city the size of Toronto, but we nevertheless remain fascinated by that which is under the radar, under appreciated or just out of plain sight. Such is the case with this list. Toronotophiles might not find many surprises here, but those whose interest in the city’s history and streetscape is more passive, will likely discover a host of intriguing new things to explore. Even as we have published similar lists in the past, the city is continually revealing itself, and it remains impossible to exhaust its various hidden pleasures in but a few posts.

Here are 10 “secret” things that you might not know existed in Toronto.

See also: 10 quirky things you might not know about Toronto

North Etobicoke is home to a stunning Hindu temple
Quite possibly one of the most stunning buildings in Toronto, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto is constructed out of an unthinkable amount of Italian carrara marble (apparently some 24,000 pieces) and stands as a gleaming white beacon when lit up at night. The temple was constructed using traditional methods and took 18 months to complete.

Air India Memorial
Hidden just to the west of the mouth of the Humber River, the austere Air India Memorial can be one of the most tranquil places in the city. I first happened upon it on a rainy bike ride. When I arrived, the rain had just subsided and a peculiar silence fell around me. It was both completely fitting and emotionally profound. The memorial features a sundial pointed at Ahakista, Ireland, where the plane went down as well as the names of the 329 victims on board.

don valleyThe Redway Road staircase
I once wondered if this was the strangest staircase in Toronto, as it seemingly goes from nowhere to nowhere. I’ve later discovered that, in fact, this meandering set of wood steps offers passage for employees of the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plan who take the TTC, sparing them the walk down the super steep Redway Road. Take a trip down these steps in the fall, and you’ll be treated to spectacular displays of colour.

Toronto has an abandoned psychiatric hospital that’s now a college campus
Opened in 1890, most of the Kivas Tully-designed buildings from the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital remain standing at the edge of Mimico where the institution operated until 1979. Ghost stories abound on account of their Gothic Revival architecture and the fact that many of the were uninhabited for so many years before being taken over by Humber College. Note: An earlier version of this post implied that most of these buildings were still abandoned, when they are in fact part of the Humber’s Lakeshore campus.

chester hill lookoutThere’s a secret lookout near Broadview and Danforth
More than a few Torontophiles know about the Chester Hill lookout, but it makes this list for the degree that it still feels so random. You’d probably never come across it unless someone told you exactly what it is. But once you get there, it starts to make sense. This is one of the most beautiful views of the city, stretching across the lush Don Valley before the skyline rises atop the Bloor Viaduct. Bring someone to kiss.

Enwave deep water cooling tunnels
Few people know that there’s an extensive series of underground tunnels that pump water deep from Lake Ontario to be used to cool major office buildings. The system draws near freezing water from the depths of the lake, which is then pumped as far north as Queen’s Park. Notable buildings that derive cooling from the system include the TD Centre, the Air Canada Centre and the Royal Bank Plaza.

melbourne streetToronto is home to many private streets
Most people are vaguely aware that Toronto has private streets or have heard of Wychwood Park, the best known of these types of enclaves. What fewer people know is that there are actually lots of private streets in Toronto. From the insular Percy St. in Corktown to the oh-so English-looking Melbourne Place (one of my personal favourites) to the mansions of Elmsley Place.

Centennial Park has a 12,000 square foot conservatory
One of those places that likely gets a little less attention than it deserves because it’s not located downtown, the Centennial Park Conservatory is a sprawling 12,000 foot greenhouse that feels like a natural paradise when you step inside. Featuring both a tropical house and an arid house, it’s simply a stunning place to escape to on a cold winter day when icy cold urban Toronto is getting you down.

20 Jerome StThere’s a terracotta house in the Junction
Located at 20 Jerome St. at the eastern edge of the Junction (sometimes referred to as West Bend), this house is covered in mismatched terracotta tiles. Built by businessman J. Turner Sr. in 1905, the story is that the tiles were used as a sort of advertisement for his building company, which was sitting on a surplus of terracotta after the material went out of fashion.

There’s a hidden cemetery at Yonge and St. Clair
Five years ago it was a bit easier to spot St. Michael’s Cemetery, but thanks to condo construction, it’s now completely obscured from the street. Yet at 10 acres, it’s not exactly small. Dating back to 1855, it’s the city’s oldest Catholic cemetery, and a remarkably serene place to quietly explore. Alas, these days the gates are almost always locked on account of misuse and vandalism.

Lead photo by Ian Mutto