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ATMOSPHERE: Toronto's All-Season Zocalo

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

A friend of mine described the delight of sipping coffee at a cafe by a Spanish square (zocalo) and people-watching as wedding parties went in and out of a municipal building and other locals went about their everyday lives nearby.

I like to imagine the grand entrance hall of OCH becoming something like a year-round square where people cross paths on their ways to many different pleasant goals.

Groups of students, seniors and tourists will cross the main floor enroute to the Museum of Toronto or the starting point for a tour. Others will be heading for refreshments or shopping.

If an early TTC trolley (or its replica) is parked in the hall, everyone will stop for selfies or group photos.

The trolley's old-fashioned colour combination of cream and maroon will tie in with retro TTC gift wares in the OCH / MoT Shop. Travel writers will note that the shop has an unusually large collection of appealing souvenirs and gift wares which are of Toronto but don't scream "Toronto", so tourists will make sure to come. Locals picking up books in the Toronto Public Library's OCH branch will also nip into the Gift Shop to check out new products and snag a sweet treat from its Toronto-made candy section.

Particularly popular with international tourists is the Indigenous-run gallery/shop(s) specializing in art and artifacts made by Ontario Native artists. They will also visit the commercial gallery(s) selling Indigenous art and artifacts from other parts of Canada, such as West Coast silver jewelry, prints and carved masks and Inuit prints and sculpture.

In winter, skaters coming from Nathan Phillips Square will sip hot chocolate (dairy or vegan versions) in a south-facing cafe off the main hall, looking across to the Hudson's Bay store. In warm weather, the same cafe will offer ice cream sundaes along with iced caffeine.

A long, west-facing restaurant/bar off the hall -- made resplendent with restored, soaring, 19th century ceilings -- will be so busy that reservations are recommended.

Meanwhile, formally dressed people will raise the tone of the hall as they rush to weddings and/or to receptions with catering provided by one or more in-building restaurants. Some guests buy last-minute boxes of chocolates "for the honeymoon" from the quality chocolate shops on the ground or first floor. Every once in a while, spontaneous clapping will erupt in the entry hall as a beaming, joyous, newly married couple descends the grand staircase and strangers show their approval. It's a future tradition! (Shyer couples can take other stairs.) Tourists snap pictures. And one day, a perfect stranger catches a flying bouquet!!!

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