Think outside the box, just north of Toronto’s city limits is a smart-growth urban community, a high-tech hub, North America’s largest LEED development, with opportunities for artists, a veritable playground for all ages and Toronto’s newest culinary enclave: Markham. Surprised?
We begin our day at Canada’s first official School of Rock, where my son spins sticks between drum fills, and learns the ABC’s of rock from AC/DC to Zeppelin. Who needs training wheels? At the adjacent Joyride 150, the largest indoor bike park in Canada, he’s free-wheelin’ across 100,000 square feet of tracks and jump lines for all the adrenaline rush a toddler needs. Next stop, Old Firehall Confectionary, to stare wide-eyed at the heavenly display of signature square cupcakes, caramel-apples, old-fashioned handmade fudge, sponge toffee and decorative artisanal chocolates. His new favourites are all my old ones. Nearby we access a quiet hike through the rugged wild beauty of the Rouge River, Canada’s only national park within a municipality. We enter the Creative Genius Art Academy to harness his imagination and experiment with clay and paint. Through art, award-winning Canadian artist Sylvia Chan encourages self-expression, creativity, critical thinking, innovation and complex problem-solving skills. She even offers digital art classes, including virtual reality.
There is a proliferation of Chinese restaurants in Markham. We sample hot pots and fresh, in-house-made pop-in-your-mouth dumplings at Goubuli. The ocean bounty at Yu Seafood is unparalleled and this restaurant actually serves as fishmonger for several other restaurants. Dining on lobster here is an uncommon feast. We order Hong Kong Style with crispy fried garlic, chilies and fried anchovies and, donning plastic gloves we share colossal chunks from a seafood tower that slowly revolves on an automated Lazy Susan. For the quintessential Peking Duck experience, we head to Quon Ju De. Having trademarked this renowned cooking method in 1864, they know what they’re doing. This is the first QJD location in North America. They chose Markham for a reason. Discerning palates gravitate here, where Ontario duck meets Chinese roasting. We love the tender meat enveloped in crispy skin, served artfully in the shape of a chrysanthemum. This is totally unique in Toronto.
In downtown Markham, we lounge at Draco in the lobby of the Marriott Markham and share tempura brie, beetroot carpaccio and lobster grilled cheese. The bar is mixing bourbon cocktails and pouring barrel-aged flights served alongside a Flaming S’mores Martini. It’s a campfire in a cocktail. Across the street, Kiu Restaurant offers customized whole fish sashimi ordered upon request from Japan. In the meantime, we indulge in the ramen for which they are so popular. It’s a rich confluence of seafood and pork broth with bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, nori, green onions and white sesame seeds. Noodles are served hot or cold in a separate stone bowl and are more al dente than traditional with a clean snap. The broth is full of umami and infused with the flavours of all the fresh ingredients tossed in.
Downtown Markham revolves around a solar-generated carousel. It’s called the Pride of Canada. Sculpted by Patrick Amiot and painted by his wife Brigitte Laurent, each carriage is built from recycled and repurposed materials into shapes that embody iconic Canadian characters. My son wants to ride each sculpture: the Astro Spaceship, the Farming Tractor, the Red Caboose and The Honey Bee, to name a few. Adjacent to the carousel is Terre Rouge, where chef Forrest Liu prepares tender roasted duck leg with sublime crunchy-crisped skin, smartly seasoned with five-spice, complemented with a tableside serving of beer foam. Poutine of truffle fries lavished in oxtail jus and fontina cheese, with a generous portion of foie gras, is the height of decadence. Perhaps the finest example of American wagyu in Toronto is chef Liu’s striploin from Snake River Farms. His delicate touch renders the perfect balance of marbled texture and juicy flavour.
Developed, built and wholly financed by The Remington Group Inc., the whole downtown core is a living art gallery. Public art is a focal point of this community. The Remington Contemporary Art Gallery houses a unique and diverse collection of multi-dimensional pieces of fine art, including a security guard who I was convinced was staring at me, until I asked him if there was a problem, only to find he was a lifelike statue! Outdoor exhibits are freestanding celebrations of street art. Even the underground parking garage has been ingeniously transformed into an art gallery. Walls and pillars feature photographs from Hank O’Neal’s XCIA Street Art Project.
Markham is not as far as it used to be, and has become our go-to dining and entertainment destination.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.