TORONTO – Streetcars, sharks, pandas and parasols.

This summer, Canada’s largest city will be vibrantly alive. Just watch out for construction.

The biggest news here is the planned opening this summer of Ripley’s Aquarium, a $130 million project that is Toronto’s first big new tourist attraction in two decades.

It will be home to 15,000 fish and other creatures. It also promises a moving walkway that passes through a tunnel in a 750,000-gallon shark lagoon.

On a windy April day, I walked to the aquarium in the shadow of the CN Tower to find dozens of workmen toiling on the unfinished glass building.

“When will it be done?” I inquired.

“Never,” said a grinning, hard-hatted workman. “The outside windows won’t keep out the rain, and the inside windows won’t keep in the fish.”

Ah, a little aquatic joke! The aquarium is supposed to start stocking fish tanks in June and open this summer, according to Ripley’s spokeswoman Erin Burcham.

But fish are not the only tourism story here. In furry mammal news, the Toronto Zoo has just welcomed two giant pandas from China, which arrived by Federal Express in March. With an exhibit opening May 18, the zoo will showcase Er Shun and Da Mao for at least five years.

The third thing tourists should know about Toronto this summer is that there will be a lot of construction in this booming city. Spindly cranes reach for the clouds as new glass skyscrapers rise. The biggest disruptions are on Front Street, which is partly closed, and at Union Station — all part of a giant five-year renovation.

This multicultural city of 2.7 million people welcomes 2 million visitors a year from the United States.

Most American visitors get the hang of riding the Toronto TTC subway with its U-shaped route. Many still shy away from the bright red streetcars, which require one to run into the street and jump onto a car packed elbow to elbow.

That is too bad, because the streetcars generally run east and west to supplement the subway, which primarily goes north and south. And the same $3 token works for both. Just elbow your way on. When you want to get off, pull the yellow cord.

This summer also will be lively at two of Toronto’s most endearing spots, St. Lawrence Market and Kensington Market, two places that tourists often mix up.

St. Lawrence Market is literally a market. One giant hall has dozens of vendors and farmers selling fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, pastries — everything from halibut heads to tulips. There is a Saturday farmers market, a Sunday antiques market and more activities that spill out onto the streets. The market is on Front Street at Jarvis, a few blocks east of Union Station.

Kensington Market is a groovy neighborhood near Chinatown, northwest of Spadina and Dundas. (Both streets have streetcars, so take a chance and ride one to the market.) During the summer, some days the area becomes a pedestrian-only zone.

One of the coolest little corners is where Kensington meets Baldwin, home of the Good Luck Shop (“the name brings good luck to the customers,” says the manager of the shop that sells games, socks, clocks, wigs and assorted low-budget merchandise).

Across the street is Global Cheese, from which the ripe smell of Stilton drifts into the street.

On the blocks nearby are wares for sale, including frilly petticoats, macrame hammocks, artisan bread, curried goat, chocolate truffles and buckets of parasols; in other words, all the necessities of life in modern Toronto.


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