As the metropolitan hub of the Great White North, Toronto has often been referred to as Canada's New York but "without the culture". While it's true that Hogtown is known for skyscrapers and the CN Tower instead of museums, if you think there's no significant art scene to discover here, you are sorely mistaken. Let us take you beyond Drake, TIFF, and Frank Gehry to explore the local creative hubs you probably haven't heard of yet.
Only One Gallery
A great one to start off the list, Only One Gallery is probably the leading example of how Toronto does contemporary-cool. A large open space that accommodates solo shows, group exhibitions, parties and concerts (Beach House played here on their last tour), their move from Harbord Street to the Parkdale district two years ago played a key role in cementing the hip reputation of the latter. It's also got the whole converted-brick-warehouse-with-cool-graffiti look down to a tee. Their most recent exhibit was called 'Green: The Rise of Modern Marijuana'. Curiosity piqued yet? It should be.
Address: 830 West Dundas Street
Neighborhood: Dundas West
Where next: A slow-roast pork sandwich with crackling from Porchetta & Co across the street
Hashtag Gallery can be summarized in three words: young, fresh, clean. That applies to the under-40 directors, the up-and-coming artists they feature, and the bright, illustration-heavy pieces they curate. Opened in 2012 in the inceasingly hip West Dundas area, their mandate to bring connectivity and interaction to the Toronto creative community (hence the name) is injecting some welcome energy into the local art scene. From collages to graffiti, their aesthetically-pleasing collections make for a great browse if your eyes are in the mood for some pretty, pretty things.
Address: 250 Emerson Ave
Neighbourhood: Junction Triangle
Where next: Boo Radley's craft-brew-filled patio is just a short walk away
With bigger names and better funding than most others on this list, Neubacher Shor curates buzz-worthy pieces that aren't easily forgotten once you've experienced them. Also located in what used to be a windowless warehouse, the gallery-turned-event space is anything but gritty on the inside. Manny Neubacher and Anya Shor are established gallery directors and stylists respectively, and their backgrounds have converged into one of the most intriguing curatorial projects found in TO. Extravagant weddings are often held under these roofs, along with fashion shows and large-scale installations.
Address: 129 Tecumseth St
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Where next: Sud Forno for mind-blowing pastries and pizzas
Like conceptual pieces that make you do some guessing work? Birch Contemporary is hidden in a nondescript corrugated steel building, indicated by nothing but a giant arrow sign pointing to the door – making a visit feel as exclusively VIP as a White House dinner. Beautiful sweeping abstracts, textural photography and sensual portraits dominate the curation here. Oh, did we also mention they have a resident Shiba Inu who loves greeting gallery visitors?
Address: 906 Queen St W
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Where next: A fried chicken thigh sandwich at The County General
With more of an arts-and-crafts bent, half-studio half-gallery Graven Feather is a perfect blend of the decorative and the innovative. Co-founder trio Pam, Erin and Jessica don't discriminate when it comes to mediums: prints, installation, photography and sculpture all have a place on their walls. Community inclusion is also a big one on their list: holiday markets and open calls for group exhibitions are a common and popular occurrence. Plus, if you're in the mood to do more than pace around a gallery floor, feel free to jump in and get your hands dirty with some letterpress and bookbinding workshops.
Address: 1082 Queen St West
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Where next: Craft cocktails at The Good Son
Katharine Mulherin has been a gallery director since 1998, starting out in T-dot's very own Parkdale with BUSgallery. While she's since branched out into Manhattan's Lower East Side, she's always kept one foot planted in her hometown with the project No Foundation. Bringing in mostly mid-career artists from both sides of the border, her selection of North American contemporary pieces are often whimsical and dreamy. Be prepared to be transported into a different plane.
Another West Dundas gem, Zalucky sits on the more on the sculptural side of curation. Dedicated to promoting the work of four critically-engaged artists from the Toronto area, expect to see pieces with intriguing backstories that will make you ask lots of questions, like why are there piles of Windows 98 monitors carved out of limestone lying on the gallery floor? For the answer, we suggest popping into the gallery and meeting the artist herself.