Toronto: ROM and AGO

Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

We visited both the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), spending several hours in each (not on the same day – that would be too much!) Coming from a country where state and municipal museums are free, our first impression was that they were expensive. We paid $25 per person (including the special exhibition on tattoos) at ROM and $19.50 at AGO. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably pay to be a member which gives unlimited access – I could then go in and concentrate on one gallery whenever I pleased. As it was, we walked through every gallery determined to get our money’s worth, stopping at a few artefacts in each to get a flavour of the collection.

Royal Ontario Museum

ROM opened in 1914 and was extended in 2007 with Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal which bursts out of the original walls (see above). I rather like it. Below are some highlights of what we saw inside – as you can see, the dinosaurs were a particular hit.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO has also been extended, this time by Frank Gehry. The interiors were pretty smart too. Inside the glass frontage, above, was the Galleria Italia where we enjoyed a post-lunch coffee in the Espresso Bar. (In both places, we used the self-service café for lunch. Neither was a memorable culinary experience, but AGO was better than ROM.) Walker Court has a beautiful spiral staircase.

Here are some of the exhibitions we particularly enjoyed.

Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard

One hundred vintage Chinese wardrobe doors transform the gallery into a series of walkways and small rooms reminiscent of Beijing’s densely populated hutongs. Seems we both had the same selfie idea!

Manasie Akpaliapik

Sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik is originally from Baffin Island and his work reflects a concern for the vulnerability of his Arctic homeland. Beautiful or scary? I can’t decide.

Norval Morriseau

Norval Morrisseau was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario, in 1932 and died in Toronto in 2007. These six panels are collectively called Man changing into Thunderbird. I loved them.

Benjamin Cheverton

In the 1820s, Benjamin Cheverton perfected a sculpture-copying machine which produced exact, miniaturised copies of full-sized busts by other sculptors. There were numerous examples on display as well as a case showing how it was done based on a bust of James Watt – one of John’s heroes, so how could he not love that?

We were very impressed with both ROM and AGO, but each day we retired punch-drunk. Culture can be so tiring!



34 thoughts on “Toronto: ROM and AGO

  1. Brett May 12, 2016 / 10:41

    These are both terrific museums!


  2. nomad, interrupted May 12, 2016 / 12:43

    What wonderful museums, Anabel! I would enjoy exploring them, although I would have to agree that the entrance fee is quite expensive! I live outside of Washington, D.C. and all the Smithsonian Museums and the National Art Galleries are free, so I too think those prices are quite high. I love The Man Changing into Thunderbird and the sculpture-copying machine. So many great things to see in museums, and most are so well done these days. 🙂


  3. dormousetidings May 12, 2016 / 13:56

    I found myself stuck on your photos of ‘Man changing into Thunderbird’ for some time. They are just divine!


    • Anabel Marsh May 12, 2016 / 15:16

      I loved that! Unfortunately, the man with the camera had moved on by the time I got there, so those are just phone photos. He could have done a lovely panorama


  4. Suzanne et Pierre May 12, 2016 / 14:02

    Nice collection of images of both museums. You are right that museums are expensive in Canada. It is the same in Montreal. I think it is because they don’t receive as much funding from governments as they do in Europe but I personally find that the high cost doesn’t encourage everyone to visit these beautiful institutions. We did have memberships to both museums while we lived in Toronto as it was the only way we would consider going regularly…we couldn’t afford to pay every time. We have done the same in Montreal…(Suzanne)


    • Anabel Marsh May 12, 2016 / 15:17

      Maybe. They did try charging for museums here many years ago but it was abandoned as counter-productive.


  5. Heyjude May 12, 2016 / 14:43

    I am amazed you found time to visit not one but two museums! I hardly ever manage that, with the exception of one in Vancouver and a couple on Vancouver Island, all of which were extremely good. I love the Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal ‘extension’ and I always like Frank Gehry’s work. And I really like the photos of ‘Man changing into Thunderbird’ as I became very interested in native American art and folklore when over on the Island. As you mentioned, a lot different from the museums we visited as children!


  6. Lynne Rickards May 12, 2016 / 18:10

    I managed to get to the ROM with my son last summer but when we tried on 28 December there was a queue round the block in an icy wind with a half-hour wait. As a result, the rest of my family missed out during our Christmas visit. I was amazed at the devotion of some gallery-goers! We didn’t manage the AGO, but rolled past it on the Dundas streetcar. Next trip!


  7. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor May 12, 2016 / 20:24

    I’ve always thought museums should be free so that everyone can enjoy them and broaden their minds. But, I guess different areas have to make different choices given funding availability. Looks like these were worth the visit.


    • Anabel Marsh May 12, 2016 / 22:40

      They were worth it – but I wonder how many families with a couple or more children miss out because of the cost.


  8. tots2travel May 12, 2016 / 20:36

    The architecture of the art gallery is appealing in itself. Really quite different.


    • Anabel Marsh May 12, 2016 / 22:41

      Yes, I like that they have gone in both cases for something strikingly different.


  9. anotherday2paradise May 13, 2016 / 21:49

    I love natural history museums, but it can be very tiring indeed. The cost is quite expensive especially for families. If I could use one word for the Manasie Akpaliapik sculptures, it would be ‘tortured’. 🙂


  10. Silvia Writes May 13, 2016 / 23:01

    I love visiting museums — natural history and/or art. Drives my family crazy every time we go places. Here in L.A. we have quite a few that have free admission during certain times. Both of these are very nice.


    • Anabel Marsh May 14, 2016 / 07:47

      Thanks, Silvia. Fortunately for me, John loves visiting museums too.


  11. Liesbet May 14, 2016 / 11:31

    Man changing into Thunderbird is spectacular, the colors as well as the idea, expression and realization. I’ll write both museums on my Toronto list! For that price, they should include lunch. 🙂 Culture can be expensive and exhausting at the same time, but worth both.

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary


  12. hilarymb May 14, 2016 / 13:47

    Hi Anabel – they look to be two interesting sites, with lots of fascinating galleries to look at – let alone the architecture … I get exhausted visiting museums … but I’ve got hooked at a few galleries or special exhibitions at the British Museum .. I still need to write them up …

    I’d visit both if I ever got to Toronto – but would be museumed out – yet intellectually stimulated .. cheers Hilary


    • Anabel Marsh May 14, 2016 / 16:47

      Yes, we tried to pace ourselves and make sure we had good breaks for lunch. Tiring on the feet as well as the brain!


  13. findingnyc May 14, 2016 / 22:22

    These look like great museums, both in terms of architecture and the collections! It’s too bad that they cost so much to enter. New York has the same problem with many museums (for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History each cost about $25), but many of the museums are free for at least one day or evening per week. The museums are definitely much more crowded on free days, but at least it’s an option.


    • Anabel Marsh May 14, 2016 / 23:47

      I don’t remember any cheap days,though there could have been. Both very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. RuthsArc May 15, 2016 / 02:02

    There is some funky architecture here to hold the exhibits. Thanks for sharing.


  15. Ketty May 15, 2016 / 23:25

    I’ve never been to Canada, but like what the current government is up to very much. I love the Royal Ontario Museum exterior, Libeskind is still at the top of his game. This is similar to his Museum of Military in Dresden.


    • Anabel Marsh May 16, 2016 / 07:40

      Yes, Canada’s election was a welcome alternative to the rightward drift elsewhere.


  16. Birgit May 16, 2016 / 17:22

    I thought for sure I commented here:) I have mixed feelings about the new addition to the ROM. Love the AGO and yes…it is costly to go which is a shame. I think they should be free like in Europe


    • Anabel Marsh May 16, 2016 / 17:40

      Yes, I’m sure it would encourage more local people to go. There were a lot of school groups but most other visitors seemed to be tourists like us.


  17. jazzfeathers May 23, 2016 / 08:24

    Hey, I love the building of the ROM. That’s an example of how old and new can merge together and enhance each other.
    I have to say, I’d probably be taken with the dinosaurs too 😉

    Love Norval Morrisseau’s art.


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