When I lived on the left coast, most holier-than-thou Vancouverites scoffed at my “concrete-jungle” hometown of Toronto, claiming it was ugly and lacked nature, greenery, and overall beauty. In reality, they were suffering from a Jane Austen complex, in that their pride in their gorgeous mountain-meets-ocean city had yielded an unflattering prejudice against any other city, and on none so heavily as Toronto.
In actuality, Toronto is a pretty green city, especially for travelers. Not only is the city eco-friendly, yielding a variety of ecotourism options, it is also chockablock full of greenery, with trees, parks, and parkettes galore. In fact, the city has over seven million trees within its borders – that’s more trees than people, which is a good thing! In addition to the leafy canopy over the city, Toronto offers a number of great green accommodations, transportation, and tours – you just have to know where to find them.
Stay Green – Planet Traveler
Newly opened Planet Traveler is the latest in the green hostel trend. Located steps from trendy Kensington Market, Chinatown, and my personal fave – Little Italy, Planet Traveler has some crazy cool green technologies going on inside, up top, and underneath its refurbished heritage building. They use a geothermal heat transfer system to provide carbon-free warmth and cooling to their rooms year-round, and photovoltaic electricity to contribute to their electricity consumption, which is greatly decreased with the use of LED lightbulbs. They’ve also got solar panels on the roof that heat the water for faucets and showers throughout the hostel, and a wastewater heat reclamation system that is also used for heating shower water.
Okay, so the hostel is uber-green, but is it uber-cool? Of course! Not only is its location totally fantastic and slightly away from the super touristy areas of the city, but Planet Traveler has some sweet amenities you won’t want to miss. Firstly, the hostel has all stuff you’d expect, but nicer – a lounge, kitchen, laundry (coin-operated, but with free detergent!), and freeeeee wi-fi and computer terminals! Holla! But, the best thing going at Planet Traveler is that they have this sick rooftop bar with incredible views of the city and a wicked social setting for those epic summer nights. From up there, you’ll be able to see everything in Toronto – including some of the seven million trees!
Get Around Green – EcoCabs and Eco Taxi
You may have seen EcoCabs trolling around Toronto over the last few summers, particularly last year during 2010’s TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). Good news – these pedal powered, three-wheeled mini-cabs will be back this summer, traveling the streets at speeds of 6 – 12 km/h. They’ll only take you within the downtown core, but if your feet are swollen from walking and dancing through the summer streets, EcoCabs are a great option if you’re just too damn tired to make it a few more blocks. EcoCabs used to operate for free – don’t know if they’ll be doing that again this summer, but fingers crossed!
Eco Taxi is a fleet of Toyota Prius and Camry Hybrids that are actually licensed as taxis for the city of Toronto. What’s really cool about Eco Taxi is that they specialise in transfers from Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), which, for any of you who are familiar with the city, is really far from downtown (and has no good public transit link…major point of personal contention…but I digress). Eco Taxi offers tourists a low-emission way of getting into the city, and has recently partnered with Green Path Transfers, an awesome network of global green airport and inter-city transfer services (cool, eh?!). Eco Taxi also operates on a sustainable business model (hiring independent, veteran taxi drivers who are also senior managers in the company), only adding to their awesome factor. If you want to hit up Eco Taxi for a ride, be sure to book in advance.
See the City Green – Urban Adventures
My favourite way to see a city is by walking it; I feel like you get the best impression of a place when you see it and feel it up close, as opposed to behind the windows of a tour bus. Some cities, like New York, you can just walk and walk and walk, and pretty much see everything you want to see. Toronto is a little more subtle, and really benefits from an actual guided tour. One of the best walking tour companies in the city is Urban Adventures, who offer three excellent (and totally affordable!) walking tours of Toronto’s different niches.
Perhaps their most popular tour is “Beer Makes History Better“, a sentiment I think many of us would agree with. This tour takes you through all the crazy history of the city, while sampling some locally crafted example of Canadian beer. You get to visit some of my fave spots in the city, including the delicious St. Lawrence Market, and the wildly cool Distillery District, home to some of my fave cafes and pubs.
But, if beer isn’t your thing, the “Multicultural Kensington Market & Chinatown Tour” offers a great experience in one of Toronto’s most multicultural and eclectic neighbourhoods. The plethora of sights and smells will not disappoint.
Lastly, the guys just launched a cool new tour (which I had the pleasure of trying out) called Toronto Highs & Lows. My post on that pretty much tells all, but this tour is a great way to learn all about Toronto’s physical and emotional highs and lows, as well as discovering some things most locals don’t even know about.
Regardless of which tour you pick, the guys at Urban Adventures will guarantee you have a totally amazing time, all the while being a responsible traveler and engaging in a totally emission-free tour.
Bonus! – Drink Green!
It doesn’t have to be St. Patrick’s Day for you to drink green. Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing, in the roundhouse building near the base of the CN Tower is completely dedicated to its green initiatives. In accordance with the 1516 law, they use only four (non-GMO and all-natural) ingredients in making their signature pilsner, and all of the packaging is totally recyclable, including their 30% thicker green glass bottles, which can be reused up to about 35 times, twice the rate for standard brown bottles. Their cool high-power washer can get just about anything out of reused bottles, except for bottle caps – so be green and stop shoving bottle caps into your empties!
Their building and equipment is also super green, so much so that I can’t really list it all here. They’re energy-efficient, they divert water, they use bio fuel for their trucks, and have implemented some really neat solar/wind/deep-water cooling systems to power their facility. My personal fave? They use a 100% biodegradable cup for outdoor events and parties. Bye-bye trademark red plastic cup, hello compostable green Steamwhistle cup! They help you consider the environment at times when you can barely consider anything. Kudos!
The Steamwhistle Brewery is a really cool venue, and hosts parties and events and weddings all the time. They have a rotating art exhibition (which has yielded some pretty cool permanent donated artwork in the corridors), and some fantastic staff available for tours and general revelry. If you can get Francis as your tour guide, you’ll have a wickedly beery time (just make sure you’re not driving, like I was last time. Sadface.).
From your Eco Taxi ride from YYZ, to your lovely Planet Traveler hostel room, and on to your foot-powered walking tour of this totally cool city (and then the beer!), Toronto is a green city that is just waiting for you to come and have fun, without the eco-guilt! (Other guilt is totally acceptable, if not completely expected).