Gehry makes Toronto shine

Although I am a country girl and truly relish in the pleasures of places off the beaten path, I do appreciate the world class amenities and attractions found only in larger cities. I visit Toronto on a fairly regular basis, so in this post, I share with you my increasing appreciation for Canada’s largest city. (And no, it’s not just because Toronto is home to some amazing chocolate personalities!)

I’d read a terrific post last week on the architectural achievements of Canadian architect, Frank Gehry, who was born in Toronto and has contributed to the list of the some of the world’s most stunning modern architectural achievements. I’ve previously written about several of them, including the amazing Marques de Riscal in Elciego, Spain.

the Marques de Riscal property in Elciego, Spain

The Gehry-designed Marques de Riscal property in Elciego, Spain.

But Gehry’s Canadian achievements are high on my mind these days, as not only has he designed a space-age ice shack at The Forks in Winnipeg, he oversaw a major redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario several years ago.

Having visited some of the finest galleries of the world including the Guggenheim in Bilbao (also designed by Gehry), the Louvre in Paris, the Prado Museum of Fine Art in Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and Canada’s own National Gallery in Ottawa, I was amazed that it took Frank Gehry to finally get me through the doors of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

I’ve been coming to Toronto several times a year for meetings since 1999 and had visited many of the city’s fine cultural offerings. But for some reason, it had not occurred to me to venture forth and spend time at the AGO. That is, until legendary Canadian-born architect, Frank O. Gehry put his mark on the facility with a major $276 million expansion unveiled in 2008.

The Gehry-infused transformation of the AGO was six years in the making and multi-faceted in scope. In my opinion, it has been a successful effort to interconnect the worlds of art and architecture in a fashion that is respectful of the community it is serving.

Like most other world class facilities of this nature, The AGO is massive. The addition of 97,000 square feet of newly constructed exhibit space and 190,000 square feet of renovated space, enables visitors to view selections from more than 73,000 works of art housed in the gallery’s permanent collection.

At any given time, you can be inspired by more than 4,000 works on display in any of the 110 galleries within a gallery. The extent of the collection is in itself, reason enough to visit. But for me, it is the Gehry factor that has put the AGO over the top.

I am a huge fan of Gehry, most recently admiring his work on the famous boardwalk in Barcelona, Spain. His architectural designs are awe-inspiring and unquestionably unique. They have won the man and his Los Angeles-based company, Gehry International, Architects, Inc., more than 100 awards from the American Institute of Architects.

the spiral staircase at the AGM

The Gehry-designed spiral staircase at the AGO.

The spiral staircase that greets you upon entering the AGO is in itself, a work of art. Clad with blonde-coloured Douglas fir, the sculptured staircase boasts 138 meandering steps beginning in Walker Court on the second floor of the gallery and reaching to the thought-provoking galleries on the fifth floor.

Galleria Italia at the AGO

Galleria Italia at the AGO

Strolling through the Galleria Italia, a magnificent 450-long space created from the marriage of glass and Douglas fir, you will have terrific views of old Dundas Street on one side and a fabulous collection of larger-than-life European sculptures on the other.

As well, if you are a connoisseur of great food, take time to drop in and visit Frank, the Gehry-designed casual yet chic restaurant adorned with comfortable, contemporary Danish furnishings. The Danish-designed cutlery and tableware in the restaurant are apropos to the chic ambience that Gehry’s design brings to the dining space that bears his name. Frank offers a good selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees. But save room for dessert. The baked bittersweet chocolate pudding I had on my last visit is to die for!


With each visit to Toronto, I learn to appreciate the city more. It has great architecture, a multitude of city parks and beaches, fantastic cuisine, and of course, great chocolate, with SOMA being one of my favourite chocolate makers–not just in Toronto, but in all the world.

What about you? Have you been to the AGO? Were you impressed with Gehry’s transformation of the gallery? Have you explored Toronto’s downtown and some of its neighbourhoods?  

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

19 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    I like your point with regards on your post, It seems to be interesting and great to hang out with friends.

  2. Pauline says:

    I never been to the place, yet I have read a lot about its transformation. Gehry is definitely a genius in creating bizarre yet jaw-dropping designs.
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    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for dropping into the blog, Pauline.

      Yes, there’s something very unique (and as you say, bizarre!) about a Gehry design. But from what I’ve seen … they do indeed work. Hats off to his creativity and courage to shock and inspire us.

  3. I have never actually visited the AGO! Your post has inspired me though and when I am back in May I will make sure to schedule a visit (with some SOMA chocolate in my handbag of course!)

    • Doreen says:

      I’ll just miss you, Judith! My next visit to TO is early June. (probably June 4-10.)
      Wish we could connect here again (I’m in TO right now until Monday.) And yes, I have a bag full of SOMA in my possession. Finally had a chance to make a quick visit to their new location. AWESOME!

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    • Doreen says:

      Thanks, Miranda. And thanks for linking us to your site on Toronto. Lots of resources there for anyone planning a trip to Toronto. Including me!

  5. Alexa says:

    What a great article. Love reading about something I’ve never experienced! Now on to the chocolate blogs you’ve written.
    Alexa recently posted…Oahu Fish Auction, Sub Ride and High Speed SailMy Profile

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for dropping in, Alexa! Yes, we have lots of chocolate-focused articles to whet your appetite here. Do take a look around and find your favourite or pick a destination to add to your Bucket List.

  6. I’ve only lived in Toronto for a couple of years now, and I never got to the AGO in its earlier incarnation(s) so I can’t make a comparison, but I love the sweep and openness of Gehry’s building and get over there whenever I can just for the ambiance. I’ve seen so many wonderful exhibits there — most recently Chagall and the Russian Avant Garde, but also memorable were a Julian Schnabel exhibit, one by Frank Moore, King Tut, and several, several others. I’m looking forward to the Rivera/Kahlo show that is coming in the autumn. The permanent exhibits are outstanding too. The building is magnificent.

    When you’re here, take in the Mayan exhibit at the ROM. I haven’t seen it yet, but hear it’s fabulous.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Mary, and for joining us here on the blog.

      It is indeed time for me to revisit the ROM, (for those who don’t know, that stands for Royal Ontario Museum – another great facility) and am certainly interested in the Mayans, so will try and get there. I find that when I go to Toronto (which is generally about 3x/yr) there are so many things I want to take in … and so little time!

  7. Doreen — Frank Gehry has done so much work in the U.S. that we sometimes think of him as our own. He’s a wonderful architect, designer and visionary. I love his work. Thanks for showcasing him.

  8. Doreen says:

    Hi Gin and thanks for your comment.

    Trust you mean the ROM doesn’t hold a candle to the AGO …

    We are so fortunate to be able to get to these facilities and appreciate the art firsthand. I remember when Kathe and I stood in the Louvre and were quite dumbfounded at how small and unassuming the Mona Lisa is in real life. You hear about it over and over and in your mind we (I in any event) pictured it to be much larger and more elaborate. And there she was. Small, delicate and subdued. Yet beautiful nonetheless.

  9. Ah yes, Kathe, all those robust women in various states of undress, seemingly oblivious to the sword fights, sacrifice and other forms of violence going on about them: the Louvre is full of them! But as you say, the AGO hosts some amazing travelling exhibits, perhaps because their permanent exhibit is not exactly world class (with the exception of the Henry Moores and Group of Sevens!). Chagall has just passed through, and the American Expressionists in the summer made for a wonderful outing. As Doreen says, there is something about the Gehry reconstruction that draws you there and then even if the art doesn’t make you sing, the environment does. The ROM doesn’t hold a candle to the ROM architecturally, in my opinion, but the minerals gallery there must be one of the world’s best (that’s the geologist in me speaking). Great photos of the AGO, Doreen. You really captured it.

  10. Kathe Lieber says:

    I spend a lot of time in Toronto, and I can never decide whether I prefer the AGO or the ROM. But no one’s forcing me to choose, so…

    My memorable moments at the AGO include seeing the famous Sanderson portrait of Shakespeare, which shows my favourite author as a youngish man – quite a heart-throb, actually. My father, who is mainly responsible for making me a lifelong Shakespeare lover, took me straight there from the train station, knowing I’d want to spend a little time looking at Will.

    Another highlight was the Catherine the Great show a few years ago. Russian history is another of my abiding interests. There was also the Maharajas exhibit – or was that at the ROM? No matter. Another extraordinary show.

    Somehow this all makes me think of our day at the Louvre, Doreen. We barely scratched the surface, but seeing those glorious works (remember the paintings by Tintoretto and Rubens that made us feel quite svelte despite our recent chocolate consumption?) was a highlight of that amazing trip.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kath.

      Yes, I think it’s time for a return visit to the ROM. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been there as well. How lucky TO is to have 2 worldclass facilities for those of us who appreciate art and historic culture.

      Yes, that trip to the Louvre was a most memorable one. I’ve been disappointed that the Louvre they were supposed to build in Abu Dhabi has been postponed due to the failing global economy. It was designed by no-other-than … Frank Gehry! I saw the prototype of the design when I was in Abu Dhabi and it looked amazing. Here’s hoping they make it a reality.

  11. Doreen says:

    You’re welcome, Liz! I probably should have devoted a post exclusively to Gehry. This post started out as a post about TO in general, but as soon as I got thinking about the genius of Gehry, it took over what I was writing. Bow to the muse.

  12. Liz Palmer says:

    Hi Doreen,

    Thank you for taking me on a tour of some stunning, extraordinary architectural works of Frank Gehry! Liz

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