When you are a parent and you get the opportunity to go on a “childfree” date with your partner, you jump at the chance. Dinner, babysitters, transportation and more has to be figured out. It can be cumbersome to get all of these plans in order. But what if the date night lacks luster? What if you’re sick of the same “dinner and a movie” dates or that the new idea you chose just was not that fun? All of those plans to make the date great does not ensure that your actual date will be one to remember. How can you pick a fun new place to try to ensure it’s worth all of the work? The Baby Spot has you covered to ensure that you and your partner go on fun, unique and engaging dates so when you do get that free time, you’re having fun!
Toronto is our city of the year and Canada is our country of the year for 2017. It is Canada’s 150th birthday this year and we plan on showing all of you some of the great spots and hidden gems across Toronto all year round! Whether you are visiting from abroad or just coming from out of town we have you covered for all of those special events that are going to make your year that more special.
We took our partner out for a very unique and engaging date evening and we know that all of you are going to love this. Tour Guys had us covered with the perfect date evening. We took a Free Graffiti Walking Tour along Queen Street West and Graffiti Alley. Canadians will know Graffiti Alley from the Rick Mercer Report, where host Rick Mercer gets candid about events and walks up and down Graffiti Alley sharing his ‘rant’, thoughts about recent news. These tours run from April to September and the end of April was a perfect time for us to see what Toronto Graffiti had in store for us.
We arrived at the famous “Hug Tree” at the corner of Queen Street and Soho Street at 300 Queen Street West for our 5pm 90 minute walking tour. With over a dozen people waiting, we were impressed that the group was all ages. We like different opinions and perspectives and we could tell that our group was going to do just that. Our tour guide Jackie engaged the group asking what graffiti is to them. People’s opinions varied, from graffiti being an artistic expression all the way to downright vandalism. Though the opinions of each individual differed, everyone was open minded and positive which made for a great tour.
Jackie made sure to challenge people’s perceptions of graffiti. A film maker herself, she brought an artistic flair and a keen eye for detail that you don’t see in other tours. She gave us the history of modern graffiti. From people writing in ancient Rome to companies putting hidden advertising in graffiti, our eyes began to open to the beauty of this art forum.
We learned about some of Toronto’s graffiti greats, like Uber5000 who can be identified by the signature bird among other styles. Uber 5000’s style, colour/color choices, texture and creativity soared and became one of our favorite artists to recognize throughout the journey. We will definitely be following Uber 5000’s site from now on. We also think that Uber 5000’s art was the pivotal changing point for many of the haters into graffiti appreciators on our tour.
Jackie shared with us an interesting point, former mayor Rob Ford tried to crack down on graffiti but would allow some graffiti that was approved by the city. We saw approved murals and pieces alongside of their “illegal” neighbors and we had a hard time telling the difference. Should graffiti be illegal? Are some pieces more equal than others depending on who says “this is art” and this is “vandalism?” We learned to see outright sponsorships and got to know what topics, events and news that was inspiring these artists share with the area.
Jackie explained the four types of Graffiti to us, which really helped us learn a tiny bit of this big artistic movement. We learned that graffiti is finite and fluid and must be touched up constantly so you keep that vibrancy. We learned the underlying rules and regulations of a graffiti artist and when they paint over a certain piece, what street credentials they must have. You can’t paint over a piece if you just began as a graffiti artist!
The day was absolutely beautiful with a cool breeze to keep us comfortable and we were always engaged, snaking the small streets along Queen Street West. For those visiting Toronto for the first time, this can be such an exciting tour to learn all of the hidden spots and how real Torontonians live. It challenges visitors to see beyond the CN Tower and go to some of the coolest and trendiest bars, restaurants and spots the city has to offer. This tour serves as a great place to learn the area and scope out potential places to eat later.
We learned a lot about hidden advertising in graffiti. Take a look at this piece. What company is advertising in it?
Yes, some major companies and corporations either sponsor a well-known talented artist to draw a piece or they do their own advertisements on the sides of restaurants to blend in with the eclectic area.
Is their graffiti acceptable? Is an up and coming non artists not acceptable?
We saw the other side of graffiti and the effects of sandblasting unwanted graffiti off of walls. Usually the bill is footed by the public restaurants if the artist decided to spray a private building. There are fines for graffiti but it would involve catching the artist, who can work quickly. Secondly, the brick from a building begins to erode with every spray. It can be a challenge for building owners and those that represent a historical society if the building is older.
We saw some artists take great lengths to tag buildings in positions that seem to be impossible. They take risks to reap the rewards of saying, “I tagged that.” Or that they got their message across on a high building or in a cramped place.
The question remained posed… should Toronto crack down on graffiti?
We arrived at Toronto’s famous Graffiti Alley which many television shows, movies and advertisements use as a backdrop. When we arrived we saw a skate boarder modeling for a photo shoot as well as a few other professional and amateur photographers. It was fun to see them try to get the perfect light, the perfect shot for their magazine, show or personal use.
We have seen Graffiti Alley many times on television but in person it is even more vibrant and beautiful. It is a definite must see in Toronto and if you love photography, a perfect photo op.
There are so many places and nooks to take that perfect picture and some of Toronto’s greats have sprayed their way through Graffiti Alley, making it a staple tourist attraction for those both near and far.
Photographers, Instagrammers and more will find their perfect shot with so many different places for you to perch, set your camera and more. Graffiti artists are there, sometimes leaving their brushes as a reminder that the art in this place is always being cared for and maintained. Continuous creation takes place here which is both an artist’s dream and an appreciator’s delight. You can spend a lot of time just people watching and even more time still observing each tag and piece.
Jackie decided to put our newfound knowledge to the test to identify artists and also to read some of the more complicated tags of some of the graffiti on the walls. After this tour, it became much easier to read graffiti, identify some of the local artist’s work and appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each piece and mural. The group, both haters and lovers alike, loved the tour and as we walked back it was evident that Jackie changed minds of those who thought that graffiti was only vandalism and nothing more. The conversation was continuous amongst the group but we just enjoyed the fact that we got to explore a piece of Toronto and as art lovers, really appreciate art that is known as graffiti.
We ended our tour where we started, at the Hug Me Tree. A famous landmark itself, we learned the true history of Hug Me and how it was accidently knocked over years ago but now bolted down on Queen Street. The Hug Me Tree was not created for Hugs but as an acronym of a crew who created this piece. It is painted at least once a year and so therefore, changes its look. Locals should make an annual trip to the Hug Me Tree to see what it will look like next. Currently protected by a box, this is what it currently looks like.
The Graffiti tour is free but donations are accepted. The group eagerly gave donations as they had learned so much. This tour is popular and really helped us work up an appetite. Starting at 5pm, we ended at 6:30 end we were ready to go for supper. But where? There are so many choices.
We decided on walking down Queen to a great French Restaurant, La Palette, where we were seated immediately. The ambiance is a great experience of French Canadian culture and has some great pieces that just speaks to Canadian history in the last 90 years. But the real treat was eating. It is no secret that service is exceptional as you will see that as soon as you walk into the restaurant. Located on 492 Queen Street West, it is a short walk from the end of our tour.
I decided on a prix fixe meal which included my appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Mr. Baby Spot chose to go his own route, ordering the Fromage Fondant (breaded friend triple cream camembert, fig, dried fruit and dukka). This sweet cheese is a delight and perfect for a spring evening. My soup du jour was delicious and I personally love anything that is hinted with dill so it was nice to just relax.
I had the pan roasted poulet which was accented with some delicious kale and shiitake mushrooms. Mr. Baby Spot spoiled himself with a steak and frites which he was happy about. My Prix Fixe included dessert so I had Crème broulet which was a nice way to end a delicious meal. We walked back to our parking spot, we chose municipal parking so it was not very pricey and we were off to end our date night, to rush back to our loving parents who were gracious enough to baby sit that evening.
Though this is the perfect date night, the tour is suitable for children and adults alike, is an easy walk with many pauses for those who cannot walk very well and is leisurely. You don’t have to run after your group and keep up. There are times to take pictures, ask questions and engage with your guide. The tour is laid back, allowing you to get the experience that you want from the tour but packed with information so you walk away learning so much. Queen West is a perfect place to get the experience that you are looking for and a wonderful place to look for dinner later. There are so many choices, but if you are looking for a Canadian experience, check out La Palette. This tour would also be stroller friendly as you do not go up any stairs or are on any complicated terrains. If you choose to take a baby, you have opportunities to step away at any time.
We recommend the Graffiti tour for the perfect date night to do something new and fun with your partner, a nice time with your friends who love art or want to try something new in the city or to do as a family with a great place to look for the perfect dinner later. The tour is free but we recommend tipping your guide as they are excellent and passionate about your questions and making sure you walk away from the tour learning a lot.
Special thank you to Tour Guys for having this exceptional tour! Another thank you goes out to Tourism Toronto who introduced us to Tour Guys. Whether you are visiting from the city or out of town or coming from a different province or country, take this tour, you will have a great time, a plethora of information, memories and some of the coolest shots of Toronto!