Toronto in the summer is a totally different city to the one we found in January. Trees and flowers suddenly burst into life. Patios spring up outside bars and restaurants. And Toronto’s inhabitants, freed from underground walkways and down jackets, reclaim their city with a string of celebrations: parades along Yonge Street marking Pride and Indian independence, festivals by the waterfront for vegetarian food or Canadian literature, and parties in honour of Canada Day, the country’s birthday, with indigenous dance and fireworks.
The Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, has just come to an end – a ten-day cinematic extravaganza that’s taken over the Entertainment District and seen the arrival of the big screen’s biggest stars. (It’s not every day that you bump into Keira Knightley on the way home from work.) With theatres as well as cinemas overcome by film fans, we headed to the Princess of Wales for one of the first showings of Can you ever forgive me?, featuring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Both are superb in this captivating tale about the writer Lee Israel and the letters she forged; the elegant setting and our black-tie-clad ushers made for a special viewing experience.
Meanwhile, Stratford (Ontario) – about two hours’ drive from Toronto – capitalises on its association with a somewhat older English town by hosting an annual festival of Shakespearean theatre. (The Victorian Stratford also sits on a River Avon, offers charming country gardens, and hosts a herd of swans. Briefly the home of Thomas Edison, today it’s most famous as the birthplace of one of Canada’s cultural heroes: Justin Bieber.) We visited for an extraordinary performance of Coriolanus: director Robert Lepage brings ancient Rome to the modern day, with social media, the press corps, and cinematic flourishes from the projected opening credits to live films. It was Shakespeare as we’d never heard or seen it before, and just one of the wonderful memories from our first Canadian summer.