Downtown Yonge is much more than just a great place to shop; it's one of the city's most remarkable areas for its history as well as architecture and culture.

Out-of-town guests as well as Torontonians alike can learn even more about the unique aspects of the city's bustling core during twice-daily guided walking tours offered by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (BIA)

The wheelchair-accessible tours, which began June 9 and run until September 5, are offered this summer in nine languages (English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi and Cantonese) by the BIA's five-member Discovery Team.

English/German-speaking guide Andrew Harvey, the Discovery Team's supervisor, recently gave Toronto Community News reporter Joanna Lavoie a tailored walking tour of the Downtown Yonge BIA area.

The first stop was at Yonge-Dundas Square, which he called "the heart of the city, an urban oasis featuring 20 fountains and a major event space in Toronto." Harvey said the eight-year-old public event space is home to countless events and festivals throughout the year, including Just for Laughs and Luminato among others.

"On the tour we try to point out each and every detail we can think of," he said as we strolled south on Victoria Street passing the new City TV/OMNI headquarters, adding that participants are always encouraged to ask lots of questions.

"I'm a huge advocate of being a tourist in your own city and getting to know it."

Next stop: Mackenzie House at 82 Bond St.

"It's a museum today but it was once the home of Toronto's first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie," Harvey said, mentioning the Greek Revival rowhouse was built by the outspoken journalist's supporters just two years before his passing.

The tour carried on with a visit to the circa-1848 St. Michael's Catholic Cathedral, one of the area's oldest structures.

"It's the largest cathedral in the City of Toronto," Harvey piped in as we made our way a little west toward the campus of the neighbouring St. Michael's Hospital - dubbed the Urban Angel - founded at the turn of the century by Catholic nuns to take care of the area's poor, elderly and sick.

"It went from fairly humble beginnings to being a leading hospital in Toronto."

From there we headed over to Massey Hall, one of Toronto's first major entertainment halls built in 1894 by industrialist and philanthropist Hart Massey.

"It was his cultural contribution to Toronto, which still felt like a bit of a frontier town," Harvey said.

The walking tour also included brief stops at Yonge Street's Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, the last operating double-decker theatre in the world.

"It's an engineering feat," he said.

Next we passed the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, which is "200 years older than Canada itself" as well as Old City Hall, a fascinating structure built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which Harvey hopes will one day be transformed from a provincial courts building into a unique museum dedicated to the history of Toronto.

For a little respite we headed to Trinity Square, "one of the best public spaces downtown," according to Harvey, and home of the charming and historically significant Church of the Holy Trinity (circa 1847).

Lastly, we visited Elm Street - home of St. George's Hall, the site of the famous Arts and Letters Club as well as several charming patios.

"We recommend a lot of people to come have dinner here after a busy day in the area," added the Waterloo, ON native, noting he's thrilled to be able to share the interesting and dynamic parts of downtown Toronto he enjoyed as a kid with others.

"It's a shopping district but there's so much more to do," Harvey smiled.

People can learn more about the tours as well as various other activities in the area by visiting a booth set up on the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas streets or across the street inside the Atrium On Bay, in the event of inclement or extreme weather conditions. The booth is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The walks themselves take place at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily and last about 90 minutes but can also be tailored to meet the needs of participants. They all happen within the boundaries of the Downtown Yonge BIA, which are roughly Church, Bay, College, and Queen streets.

For more information, visit

or call 416-597-0255, ext. 3.

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  • Jul 27, 2010