Summer in Toronto presents a unique challenge for anyone who wants to enjoy the city’s best cultural entertainment: how do you choose what to do from the wide array of festivals, events and cultural attractions happening in the next couple of months?
One way to narrow things down is to zero in on a venue whose programming you love. Harbourfront Centre is one of Toronto’s busiest arts and culture spaces and partners with hundreds of organizations to present memorable events all year long. We’ve curated a list of our favourites happening this summer – from the Brave Festival to outdoor dancing to fun on the water.
Top 10 summer activities at Harbourfront Centre
1. Set sail on a 20th-century schooner
The tall ship Kajama is a 165-foot, three-masted schooner. It sets sail six times each day during peak summer. A $31 cruise will get you two hours on board, where you can grab a beer and a snack while taking in the sights of Lake Ontario. Listen for sea shanties from the crew or cannon fire (for effect only, of course). The ship has been sailing since 1930, so it’s a great way to take in some history while cooling off on the water.
2. Dance under the stars
Every Thursday from July 12 to August 30, you can bring your dancing partner – or go in search of one – for a night of outdoor excitement at Dancing on the Pier. The music genres change up often, so either check Harbourfront Centre’s events page or just arrive with an open mind to whatever’s playing. Those who love salsa and swing will find plenty of opportunities to show their skills and maybe even pick up a few new ones from the on-scene instructors leading the way.
3. Watch a King of Filth marathon
This month’s Brave Festival celebrates artists and thinkers who have pushed the envelope beyond all expectations. Filmmaker John Waters, lovingly dubbed the King of Filth by his fans and critics, will be in attendance. See him live in conversation or catch a marathon of his work – from delightfully strange films like Desperate Living or Polyester to sing-along favourites like Hairspray and Cry-Baby.
4. Laugh it up at a comedy show
Whether you love punchy one-liners or funny yarns from great storytellers, you can find something to make you laugh in the Brave Festival’s comedy programming. Ali Hassan and Dave Merheje will riff on cultural stereotypes, Cathy Jones and Gina Yashere headline a funny female lineup and British comedy troupe The Young’Uns will discuss the art of making audiences laugh through song.
5. Check out free contemporary art exhibitions
The Power Plant is a waterfront gallery space that exclusively features contemporary art. This month, visitors can experience Ellen Gallagher’s Nu-Nile exhibit that challenges preconceptions of Black people in culture. There’s also an installation by Abbas Akhavan’s called variations on a landscape, and Grada Kilomba’s Secrets to Tell, which tackles issues like gender, race and trauma.
6. Sip summer drinks on a lakeside patio
Before or after you take in some entertainment at Harbourfront Centre, grab one of the 350 seats on the patio at The Slip and enjoy the sunny weather while it’s here. The menu features Mexican-inspired drinks and cuisine, which you can enjoy with a great view of the waterfront. It’s only open five months of the year (weather dependent), so visit when you can.
7. Keep kids active with circus camps
Anyone looking to occupy their children over the summer months will appreciate Harbourfront Centre’s circus camps, where kids ages six to 14 can have fun learning talents like juggling, stilt walking, acrobatics, high wire, trapeze, mini trampoline and clowning. Each camp ends with a performance that includes music and costumes.
8. Paddle your way around Lake Ontario
There’s no better way to enjoy the lake than getting out on the waves with a paddle and lots of sunscreen. Rentals from Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre start at $40 and you get to choose where you want to go. The nearby Toronto Islands offer some hidden beaches and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. Bring snacks and a camera to get the most out of a few hours on the water.
9. Celebrate a world of music, art and dance
Toronto’s culturally diverse music scene is full of incredible talent and draws many international performers. From August 17 to 19, the 17th annual Small World Music Festival will reinvent itself in the model of Peter Gabriel’s World of Music Art and Dance Festival (WOMAD), which was held at Harbourfront Centre 30 years ago. Expect to hear Malian guitar from Vieux Farka Touré, Las Cafeteras’ Latin music, Cuban singer/rapper La Dame Blanche and more.
10. Dive into a week-long festival of Jewish culture
The 2018 Ashkenaz Festival will celebrate the culture and creativity of all Jewish people from August 28 to September 3. Featured artists will arrive from across Canada and countries like Israel, Russia, Poland, Italy, Australia, Brazil and the US. Ashkenaz will also devote much of the spotlight to the role of women in Jewish music and culture.
BONUS: Party after hours with the brave and bold
Still up for more? Don’t miss the Brave Festival’s after-hours party, Exiled at Night, where over 20,000 square feet of the Bill Boyle Artport will turn into a multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary, late-night cultural romp. The party starts at 10:30pm and will go all the way to 3:30am for those nighthawks who love a good scene. There will be live music, art installations, performances, DJs and more.
Learn more about the Brave Festival at Harbourfront Centre this summer.