Must-See Special Exhibits at Toronto Museums this Fall

From mummies to a one-of-a-kind 17th-century Iranian masterpiece, you won’t want to miss these.

by Marissa Anwar

Toronto is a city rich with a cultural heritage. And nowhere can you see that heritage than on display in the many Toronto art galleries and museums.

The good news is that many of our museums also have special exhibits in Toronto so there’s always something new to explore. Just in time to have somewhere to go during fall and winter. 

But for those of you uncertain of going out and visiting museums during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can be sure that the museums are working hard to keep guests and staff safe. 

Egyptian Mummies exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

The largest museum in Canada and one of the top cultural museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum is one place you positively cannot skip when in Toronto. Reaching through the ages, the Royal Ontario Museum showcases art and nature from around the globe with over 13 million objects in its collection. 

Special Exhibits

Egyptian Mummies: Ancient Lives. New Discoveries. (through March 21, 2021) 

Every mummy has a story to tell. And the six mummies in this exhibit have their lives on display through the use of CT scans and digital visualizations. Find out what it was like to live in ancient Egypt. This is extremely engaging and educational, and worth a visit if you’re interested in science or history. 

Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic (through January 17, 2021) 

Journey into the Hundred Acre Woods and visit Pooh and friends in this immersive exhibit that will captivate and delight both kids and adults. Also, you don’t actually have to be a kid to enjoy this exhibit. 

The Cloth That Changed The World (and its sister exhibit, Florals: Desire and Design) also deserves a special mention even though they are part of the permanent collection. I spent hours admiring the intricate processes behind some of the most fascinating garments in history. 

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Currently entry into the Royal Ontario Museum is limited using timed-entry tickets that must be purchased online in advance. 

Inside, visitors must wear a face mask (some exceptions allowed) and practice physical distancing by staying 2 m apart. Sanitizer stations are available throughout the museum.  The café, coat check, water fountains and some interactive features in exhibits and galleries are temporarily closed.

entrance of Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario

With over 90,000 pieces in its collection, you will always find something of interest during your visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Special Exhibits

Illusions: The Art of Magic (through November 8, 2020) 

Be transported back to the golden age of magic, to the time of Harry Houdini and be amazed at the collection of 55 colourful and stylish posters advertising tours and death-defying acts. Includes videos, photographs, and documents.

Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956 – 1971 (through November 8, 2020) 

A collection of striking black and white photos from famed American photographer Diane Arbus presented chronologically.

Haegue Yang: Emergence (through January 31, 2021) 

The first North American retrospective survey of Korean artist Haegue Yang’s work to date featuring many sculptures and installations.

Insider Tip: Visitors who are 25 and under get free admission. Consider getting a membership (starting at $45) if you’re a regular visitor.

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Visitors are asked to book their timed-entry tickets in advance online and to wear a mask at all times while keeping 2 m apart. This just makes it easy for everyone and at times, you get an entire room to yourself!

The AGO has also increased their cleaning schedule and disinfects high traffic areas multiple times a day.

Outside Toronto's Gardiner Museum
Gardiner Museum

Gardiner Museum

While not top of mind for everyone, the Gardiner Museum deserves your time just as much. A quick two-minute walk from the ROM, the museum specializes in historic and contemporary ceramics tackling both social and artistic points of view. 

Special Exhibits

Nurielle Stern: Fable (through March 31, 2021) 

This commissioned work by artist Nurielle Stern pulls inspiration from Medieval European manuscripts with a menagerie of mythical creatures. 

Insider Tip: Visit on Saturdays and Sundays to enjoy free admission for everyone. Students are always free.

Physical Distancing Guidelines: The Gardiner Museum is limiting the number of visitors inside the museum to allow for physical distancing of 2 m. Guests are asked to wear face masks and disinfecting protocols are in place for high traffic areas.

Ryerson Image Centre (Temporarily closed)

Dedicated to the art of photography and related media, the Ryerson Image Centre is housed in a repurposed warehouse building on the campus of Ryerson College in Toronto. Don’t be surprised if you find some of the most creative photographs here. 

Special Exhibits

Scotiabank Photography Award: Stephen Waddell (through November 28, 2020) 

An exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Mohamed Bourouissa: Horse Day (through November 28, 2020) 

An examination of the American cowboy culture as seen through the eyes of black horsemen as they prepare for a riding competition in Philadelphia.

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Entry into the Ryerson Image Centre is limited so you may be asked to wait in line outside until you are allowed into the museum as you cannot book tickets in advance. 

Visitors must wear a face mask inside the museum and practice physical distancing guidelines. And, you will be asked to voluntarily provide contact information for contact tracing purposes only. 

The museum has instituted rigorous cleaning protocols to keep visitors safe.

Inside an exhibit at Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum
Bata Shoe Museum

Bata Shoe Museum

If you love shoes, you cannot miss the Bata Shoe Museum. It examines the 4,000-year-old tradition of the shoe from around the world with lots of fabulous pairs to admire. 

Special Exhibits

The Gold Standard: Glittering Footwear from Around the Globe (through 2020) 

This exhibit explores the meaning and cultural meaning behind golden footwear from around the world through the ages. 

Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection (through 2020) 

Features a stunning collection of shoes, garments and tools used to survive in the harsh conditions of the Arctic (or what we like to call, winter in Feb).

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Capacity inside the Bata Shoe Museum has been reduced and it’s best to purchase timed-entry tickets in advance online. If you purchase at the museum, contactless payment is preferred (though cash is still accepted).

Visitors must wear a mask and increased cleaning and disinfecting protocols have been implemented throughout the museum.

Aga Khan Museum

While you may know the Aga Khan Museum’s exterior via photos on Instagram, the magic is on the inside as it showcases Islamic art, Iranian art and Muslim culture through an intellectual and artistic lens. 

Special Exhibits

Paradise Garden: The Wagner Garden Carpet from the Burrell Collection (through December 31, 2020)

On display in Canada for the first time, this 17th century Iranian carpet is one of the few remaining garden carpets and it is a masterpiece.  

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Visitors are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance as capacity inside the museum is limited. 

While inside the museum, visitors must wear a face mask and are encouraged to use the many sanitizer stations throughout. And, as the coat check station is closed, visitors should leave bulky items at home.

Casa Loma

Toronto’s mesmerizing Gothic Revival mansion was once home to financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Overlooking the Toronto skyline, the opulence and majesty of this historic home transport you to another time. 

Special Exhibits

The Dark Side Tunnel Exhibit

Using the underground tunnel connecting the stables to the main house, a series of archival photos detail the darker side of Toronto’s past including the Plague, Great Fire and the city’s first plane crash.

Physical Distancing Guidelines: The number of visitors inside Casa Loma has been reduced to allow for distancing. And, guests must wear a face mask while on the castle grounds. Cleaning schedules have been increased to ensure the safety of guests.

Ontario Science Centre

One of the top attractions in Toronto, the Ontario Science Centre is not just for school trips. Ontario Science Centre gets visitors excited and engaged in science through fascinating and interactive exhibits. Fair warning, it can bring your inner kid out!

Special Exhibits

Note: the Ontario Science Centre is currently closed but working to reopen its doors soon to visitors.

Dinosaurs in Motion

Using recycled metal, dinosaur skeletons have been replicated and placed on pulleys to show how dinosaurs may have moved combining art and science. 

Physical Distancing Guidelines: As the Ontario Science Centre works to get the museum ready for visitors again, it will be closing some exhibits as well as using timed-entry tickets to limit the number of guests.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

The centre of innovative art, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has featured the works of over 1,000 Canadian Artists and is one of the best contemporary art galleries in Toronto. 

Special Exhibits

Acts of Erasure: Perceptions of Heritage, Indigeneity, and Political Identity (through January 3, 2021) 

This moving exhibit brings together the interesting pairing of the works of Fatma Bucak and Krista Belle Stewart and is a must-visit. 

Medusa (through November 15, 2020) 

A fascinating exhibit by Yazan Khalili that contemplates the rise of facial recognition in technology and digital archiving.

Physical Distancing Guidelines: The MOCA is limiting capacity inside the museum using timed tickets. Visitors need to wear a face mask and practice distancing. Sanitizer stations are available throughout the museum.  From 11 a.m. to noon every day, entry to the museum will be reserved for those guests who are at a greater health risk including senior citizens.

McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Nestled in 100 acres of forested land about 30 minutes outside Toronto, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is dedicated to featuring and collecting the art of Canada. 

Special Exhibits

“A Like Vision”: The Group of Seven at 100 (through spring 2021)

A centenary celebration of the Group of Seven showcasing the finest works from each of the members. 

Tom Thomson (through March 2021) 

A showcase of the work of a Canadian icon.

John Hartman: Many Lives Mark This Place (through November 1, 2020)  

Features 30 large scale portraits of Canadian authors paired with paintings of nature. 

Physical Distancing Guidelines: Timed-entry tickets are required to limit the number of guests inside the gallery. Movement through the gallery is unidirectional and guided tours of the museum are suspended at this time. 

Guests over the age of 5 are required to wear a face mask. Hand sanitizing stations are available throughout the museum. Water fountains are not operational and all payments are contactless. 

Toronto is full of flavour and our art scene is a part of that beautiful tapestry. Our museums and art galleries are expertly curated to offer us not only a glimpse of the art but also of what makes it the city it is—diverse and full of charm.

About the Author

Marissa Anwar is a scientist, a travel and lifestyle content creator at Darling Escapes, and Destination Toronto’s arts and culture correspondent. You can also find her on @marissa.anwar where she shares her favourite finds and hidden gems from Canada and across the globe, ​as well as​ her love for cheesecake. 

See it. Snap it. Share it. In every neighbourhood, around every corner, through every door there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.


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