Top Ten Museums to visit in Toronto

Toronto – Toronto has some amazing museums spread out across the city. This past summer I made it my mission to try and visit every single one! Throughout my travels I ended up visiting 16 in total throughout the downtown core. For the most part they were all very interesting. Here is the Top Ten museums you should visit in Toronto.

10. Scadding Cabin

Scadding Cabin was built in 1794 by John Scadding. The cabin was originally located where Queen Street passes over the Don Valley Parkway. Scadding was an assistant to Lieutenant Governor John Grave Simcoe who granted Scadding 250-Acres for his service to the Crown. The building was moved by the York Pioneer Society in 1879. The cabin was opened in 1879 which was the same year that the Canadian Industrial exhibition was held. To learn more about the history of the CNE be sure to check out “Lets Go to The Ex: The History of the Canadian National Exibition.” The museum entry is by donation is still run by the York Pioneer Society. The building is very interesting however being only a one room cabin you should also plan to do other things well your down at the CNE to make it worth your while.

9. Scarbourgh Museum

The Scarbourgh museum is located in Thompson Memorial Park park and comprises of four buildings. Two homes and two out buildings. The main house is known as Cornell house and was originally owned by Charles Cornell, His wife Matilda and their eight children.the house was built in 1858 and is an excellent example of typical rural architecture of the time period. One downside to this museum is its location. The museum is located a long ways away from the main parking lot and is only accessible via a large network of winding paths. The best time to visit the museum is during the Scarbourgh Ribfest.

8. Fort York National Historic Site

Fort York is located across the street from the CNE grounds and houses the largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings. The fort was mainly used during the battle of York of 1813 .the battle of York was the only time that the US has ever attacked Canada for no real reason. The story goes that one day in 1813 American War Ships where spotted of the coast of Lake Ontario coming in the direction of York(Toronto). The Americans stormed ashore on what was known as the spit just west of Fort York. The Americans advanced into the lovely town of York. They Pillaged the homes and shops, burned various buildings including the Parliament buildings and then fled back to the USA. The Americans would return a few days later to burn the remaining buildings but this time the Canadians where ready. In an act of diversion a decision was made to blow up the Fort York Gun Powder Magazine. After the explosion the surviving Americans retreated back to the US and America never attacked Canada again. Today Fort York continues to educate the public about the battle of York and is a true piece of Canadian history. One downside to this museum is that the forts buildings do not have many artifacts on display and it is prominently plaques and replicas however the historical site just opened a brand new state of the art visitor center where they plan to showcase artifacts never before seen by the public. Despite that lack of objects on display Fort York is still an amazing museum.

7. Don Jail

The Don jail though not a legitimate museum is still a very interesting building the Don Jail was built in 1864 with a new wing being added in the 1950’s.The Don Jail is one of the few pre-confederation structures that remains in Toronto. The Don Jail had originally been constructed to be used as a reform prison and was used as a role model and set the standard for what all other prison’s should be however this glory did not last long. One of the biggest problems of the prison was occupancy. The east wing was constructed originally to hold 276 prisoners but by the end of its service the wing held a total of 550.consiquently this drastically affected the living conditions for the prisoners. With the over-population prisoners were forced to share the already crammed cells with up to about five prisoners in some cases. Because of this and numerous other problems the prison closed in 1977 and the east wing closed in 2013. Today it is part of the Bridge Point Health Centre and is open during Doors Open Toronto for self-guided timed restricted tours. I attended a tour here for doors open this past year and though you only have about twenty minutes to see the facility, It is plenty of time and definitely worth a visit.

6. Casa Loma

Casa Loma was the former home of Sir Henry Pallet. Mr. Pallet was a extremely wealthy banker in the downtown core and wanted to construct a home that was like no other so in 1911 construction began on the estate. The end result was amazing the castle was complete with sprawling gardens, a set of “Secret” passageways throughout the castle and even a large horse stable. The castle however was never entirely finished as during the great depression that followed WWII the city of Toronto increased Casa Lomas Property tax from $600.00 to $1.000.00 a month. Consequently, Henry pallet was unable to keep up with the tax hike and Casa Loma was seized by the city in 1933 for $27 ,303.00 in back taxes and the city was left to “Scratch their heads” over what to do with a full sized castle. A decision was made to slate it for demolition but the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto negotiated a deal with the city to lease the castle and operate it as a tourist attraction the Kiwanis Club operated Casa Loma for Seventy-Seven years. Today the castle is operated by the Liberty Entertainment Group. Today Casa Loma is one of Toronto’s top tourist attractions. However, this museum is extremely expensive and often has long wait times furthermore there are only a few pieces in the collection that are original to the estate as most of the furniture was sold in an auction when the city seized the castle. Despite this the museum is still very good and you should plan to spend the day there as it is huge. If you go to the castle in the summer months you should also check out the sprawling gardens that surround the estate. It is truly a site to see.

5. Spadina House

Sitting right next door from Casa Loma is the former home of the Austin Family. James Austin was a wealthy business man and the found of the Dominion Bank (Toronto Dominion Bank) (TD Canada Trust) and was the president of Consumers Gas. The area the house is located in became known as “Millionaires Row” and Casa Loma and Spadina house dominated the landscape. The house became a museum owned and operated by the City of Toronto in 1978 and after a recent restoration now displays an excellent display of furniture depicting life in a 20’s-30’s Toronto. The house has many of the family’s original furniture. You are lead through the house by very knowledgeable tour guides and like most Toronto owned museums it is an excellent tour and very informative.

4. Cambell House

This museum prides itself on having the oldest house the house was built in 1822 the house was built by and for Judge William Cambell and is the oldest building that survives from the Town of York. The Campbell’s wanted their home to be very good for entertaining in and the house was completed with a ballroom. The house was constructed at a time when the family had a very high Social status in the city. The house was saved from demolition by the Advocates Society in 1972 and was moved to its present location across the street from Osgoode Hall. Unfortunately, they were unable to move the basement of the house due to the structures condition so a decision was made to just take the brick floor and so with much care each brick in the floor was carefully dug up catalogued and moved and placed into the sites new basement. Today the museum continues to offer tours of the house and is a very good and informative tour. I would however recommend that you call ahead before attending a tour as the hours are very unpredictable.

3. Mackenzie House

Mackenzie house was the former home of Toronto’s “Rebel” Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie. Apart from being Mayor of Toronto William was also a very successful Newspaper and tabloid writer for his paper called the Colonial Advocate writing some very questionable and startling negative propaganda about the government of Upper Canada. Mackenzie would later go on to fight in the Upper Canada rebellion. Throughout his mayoral term in office he was kicked out of office on several occasions but quickly re-elected by the people of Toronto. For all of his hard work, his friends and co-workers got together and bought him a Rowe house. Today the house has been saved by the city of Toronto and though very small is still an amazing museum. Despite its small size the tour still took three hours to go through the entire house. The stories you will here a extremely interesting and the best part is that like most Toronto museums it is a great admission price.

2. CBC Museum

One thing that mot many people know about Toronto is that their a several musuems that are either free or by donation. This is exactly the case with the CBC Museum. Located in the lobby of the CBC television studios this free museum explores the history of sound and film and the impact the CBC(Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has had on the world. They mainly only advertise the main floor of the museum but they also have a very impressive display on the lower level as well. The top floor mainly focuses on television well the lower floor focuses on the history of radio and music. The museum has many different famous props from several of the CBC’s shows including-Mr.Rogers trolly,Mr.Dressups “Tickle Trunk” and the friendly giants castle. If you are ever in the downtown core I definitely recommend a visit to the CBC Museum.

1. Toronto Railway Museum

The Toronto Railway Musuem (Toronto Railway Heritage Centre) is Located in the former CPR John St. Roundhouse. This was where the railway would prepare its trains for the next days work. The CPR(Canadian Pacific Railway) closed the facility in the early eighty’s and it sat abandoned for several years after being torn down and then re-built to make way for the convention Centre parking lot. In 1998 Steam Whistle Brewery took over part of the building and began restoration on it. In about 2004 the TRHA(Toronto Railway Historical Association) was given the mandate to fulfill the need of a railway museum in the downtown core and construction began on the museum in 2007. The Upper Canada Railway Society had essentially abandoned much of its Rolling Stock(train Cars) from a failed railway museum in the roundhouse at this point now owned by the city and so this building was found to be a prime candidate for restoration, After all the building had lots to offer, a vast collection of rolling stock, antique equipment and tools and lots of parkland to allow for future expansion should need be. The building itself having been demolished and then completely rebuilt was relatively structurally sound and with the acceptation of a few pieces of wood was in original condition .  After a major restoration, the museum officially opened in May of 2010 with former Toronto mayor David Miller Proclaiming “it is the most unique adaptive reuse of a heritage building probably in Canada” the museum now houses a vast collection of artifacts that tell the story of Toronto’s railway past. These artifacts include- a fully restored railway village consisting of Cabin D, Cabin D Tool Shed, Watchman’s Shanty, the Don Station, a water tower and a coal sanding tower. The museum also continues to showcase an ever growing collection of rolling stock as well as a simulator simulating what it was like to work in the Toronto rail land’s in the late 1950’s. the price is extremely reasonable and you should definitely set aside an entire day or even two to check out this amazing museum.

I hope you found this Top Ten list helpful in choosing the next museum you should visit in Toronto. Keep in mind these are just some of the many amazing museum’s Toronto has to offer and just because a museum did not make the Top Ten list does not mean it is bad so definitely check out all the museum’s Toronto has to offer.