Sixteen things to see, do, read and hear in Toronto this December

Sixteen things to see, do, read and hear in Toronto this December

Including a sea-shanty-slinging musical, the expansive artistic canon of Leonard Cohen, a nostalgia-filled art crawl and a BNL holiday extravaganza

Photo by Kaylee Smoke
An Indigenous rap duo’s contribution to truth and reconciliation

1The Snotty Nose Rez Kids duo, Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce, who hail from the Haisla Nation reserve in Kitamaat Village, BC, channel the brash swagger and club-thumping beats of trap music into loud and proud proclamations of their heritage. Their Polaris Prize–­shortlisted 2021 release, Life After, presents a contemporary Indigenous experience defined by marginalization, addiction and the burying of friends who died way too young. December 10, Velvet Underground

A groundbreaking play about being Caribbean in Toronto

2Actor-playwright Trey Anthony and director Weyni Mengesha have reunited to stage a 20th-anniversary production of Anthony’s landmark play. ’Da Kink in My Hair, a comedy-drama set in a salon in Toronto’s Caribbean community, was one of the first shows by a Black Can­adian writer to achieve mainstream success. The story of hairdresser Novelette and the tangled lives of her clientele made its debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001. It went on to the Princess of Wales Theatre—with direction and a musical score by Mengesha—and spawned a Global TV series. December 6 to 23, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts

Courtesy of the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, © The Estate of Michael Putland
A rare look into a troubadour’s family trust

3Leonard Cohen became famous for his wry lyrics and spiritual vocals, but at the AGO’s new exhibition, his musical talent is only one piece of an expansive artistic canon. Everybody Knows reveals new depths to Cohen’s iconic, candid meditations on the human heart, displaying rarely seen photographs, letters, drawings, watercolours, digital art, poetry and prose. It also includes two large-scale multimedia installations. Guests will get an intimate view of one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, from his youth in mid-century Montreal through to his bona fide stardom in the early 2000s. December 13, AGO

A pirate’s final bow to a chorus of boos

4Peter Pan producer Ross Petty’s beloved holiday panto, complete with repurposed pop songs, men in drag and boo-worthy villains, is back at the Elgin Theatre for its 25th—and final—year. Petty is retiring the annual tradition, but he’s going out in suitably silly style. His latest “fractured fairy tale,” Peter’s Final Flight, is a sequel in which the never-aging hero clashes with Captain Hook’s wily widow, Helga. December 2 to January 7, Elgin Theatre

Photo by Nadia Lloyd
An all-day Christmas art bazaar

5Is this the year Torontonians finally get Christmas shopping out of the way in early December? Toronto Art Crawl offers a fighting chance. The annual Christmas pop-up features more than 80 local artisans selling beautifully crafted jewellery, art, fashion, home decor and more. A one-of-a-kind necklace for Mom? A cheeky framed needlepoint for your bestie? Hand-sewn display pillows for yourself? Check, check and check. December 4, The Great Hall

A vitriol-free comedy show straight from Nashville

6Dubbed “the nicest man in stand-up,” comedian and podcaster Nate Bargatze has performed at a slew of comedy festivals and has two hit Netflix specials—The Greatest Average American and The Tennessee Kid—under his belt. His clean-cut brand of humour makes him a rarity in an industry rife with controversy. And a flair for performance runs in his blood: his father was literally a clown (before going on to become a world-class magician). Bargatze’s Raincheck Tour stops in Toronto at the end of this month. December 30 and 31, Meridian Hall

Photo by Eleanor Petry
An indie-pop band’s comeback tour

7The Rankins have reigned as Nova Scotia’s leading emissaries of Celtic-folk revelry since the late ’80s, and Molly Rankin—daughter of late fiddler and pianist John Morris Rankin—joined the family business. But, since relocating to Toronto, she’s built another musical legacy as the singer-guitarist of Alvvays. With their 2014 self-titled debut and 2017 follow-up, Antisocialites, Alvvays swiftly became a leading indie export before their momentum was stymied by a combination of obstacles including a pandemic. The band’s highly anticipated third album, Blue Rev, is proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. December 15 and 16, History

A play about breaking the colour barrier

8Until the early 1800s, no Black actor in England had ever played Othello. That changed when African American expat Ira Aldridge took the stage as the jealous Moor. His groundbreaking performance prompted both praise and outrage. In Red Velvet, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti recreates Aldridge’s legendary debut and the controversy it ignited. Until December 18, Streetcar Crowsnest

Photo by Yalin Kaya
An icy lake plunge for youth mental health

9In 2018,, a charity that trains young leaders in the mental health sector, and Surf the Greats, a Toronto surf shop, launched an initiative to help raise funds to tackle the youth mental health crisis. They called it Brainfreeze. And what began as 165 participants running into freezing waters has grown to include many more in various locations across the country. It’s for a great cause, but it’s also a daring, mood-lifting and highly Instagrammable way to spend an otherwise dreary December day. December 3, Woodbine Beach

A legendary Canadian band’s holiday concert

10 Barenaked Ladies, the scrappy buskers who used to cram into Citytv’s Speakers Corner booth, stand today as Canadian rock royalty. One thing that hasn’t changed is their penchant for participatory performances, and this pre-Christmas date promises a stocking full of seasonal standards and classic BNL singalongs. December 22, Massey Hall

Photo by David Ohashi
A drum-filled Japanese celebration

11For 25 years, Toronto-based musical group Nagata Shachu has brought Japanese drumming (taiko) to concert halls across the city and around the world. In performances that demand impeccable musicianship and discipline, the ensemble incorporates trad­itional drums, bamboo flutes, three-stringed shamisen and an array of percussive instruments. Since their 1998 debut, they have composed more than 120 original works. This month, the venerable percussionists will be celebrating a quarter-century of taiko in Toronto. December 3, Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC

A one-stop shop for the nostalgic

12 Attention kids of all ages: the Toronto Toy and Nostalgia Show: Christmas Edition features 120 vendors dedicated to games, toys and pop culture. Offerings include action figures, video games, comics, vinyl, sports cards, movie memorabilia and other collectible treasures. This event is for anyone who’d forsake a new iPad for a vintage Barbie under their tree. December 4, Montecassino Hotel and Event Centre

Photo by Pamela Raith
An unlikely band of singing seamen

13In 2009, a BBC radio host stumbled upon an amateur singing group composed of fishermen from England’s Cornish coast. The group, which sang traditional sea shanties, went on to sign with Universal Music, become a gold-record-selling folk act and play the mainstage of the legendary Glastonbury Festival. Their nets-to-riches tale was told in a 2019 film that now comes to the stage as a foot-stomping, feel-good musical. Fisherman’s Friends, which opened in the UK last year, has dropped anchor at the Royal Alexandra for its North American premiere. Until January 15, Royal Alexandra Theatre

A queer love story between chefs

14In A Dash of Salt and Pepper, a new romantic comedy from the author of I’m So (Not) Over You, Kosoko Jackson explores Black queer love by subverting traditional tropes. Broken-hearted Xavier Reynolds returns home to Harper’s Cove, Maine, and goes looking for work. Logan O’Hare, a single father, is the owner and chef of a trendy up-and-coming restaurant that’s in need of staff. And, while Logan doesn’t understand Xavier or his excessive sarcasm, he hires him in desperation as his new prep cook. Things, of course, quickly heat up—in the best way possible. Out December 6

Courtesy of the AGO
An illuminating moment of silence

15The AGO’s spectacular Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room will get a break from powering Instagram stories and will instead host Deaf artist, entrepreneur and writer Sage Lovell for a talk tailored to the Deaf community. Lovell will provide a tour of the exhibition and share their response to the artwork in ASL along with closed captioning—one event in the AGO’s ongoing Deaf Culture Moments series. December 20, AGO via Facebook Live

A collection of poetry to heal the past

16In The House You Were Born In, the candid debut poetry collection from Tanya Standish McIntyre, she writes about the loss of ancestral farmlands and intergenerational relationships, all while bringing to light the broken pieces of a forgotten past. With vivid imagery, McIntyre takes readers to Way’s Mills, Quebec, and offers a glimpse into the conditions of the working-class community where she grew up. Out December 14

Recommended reading and watching

Photo by George Pimentel
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

Recommended by Elke Rubach, principal of Rubach Wealth

“Sinek’s books are always a treat. I like how this one reminds you of the importance of being clear and steadfast—but not stubborn—about who you are as a leader. He argues that having an abundance mindset makes organizations work more smoothly.”

Photo by Darius Bashar
The Sex Lives of College Girls

Recommended by Annahid Dashtgard, writer and CEO of Anima Leadership

“This Mindy Kaling project displays her signature flair for taking white narratives and refreshing them with diverse actors. My inner college girl cheers when I see the representation of different racial identities without race being their primary character trait.”

Photo by Eric Moniz

Recommended by Patrick Hakeem, comedian

“This series is about a suburban man who is convinced that he is destined to be one of the best rappers of all time. While it’s a comedy, the drama makes it heartfelt, especially in the episode that deals with bipolar disorder. Expect to laugh and be moved.”