Toronto has always been a popular destination for filming commercials, movies and TV productions. While the city has often appeared on screen as a set for other locations, there has been an influx of shows changing that. You can check out these binge-worthy shows filmed in Toronto (and based here) to make you want to visit! Or lets you escape to Toronto through the lens of movies and TV.
For most Torontonians, it’s easy to spot their home on the screen. With productions being commonly seen around the city, it’s almost like a game. Toronto has been a stand-in for New York City, Washington DC and many other real and fictional locations. You can see it in movies like Shazam, Suicide Squad, The Shape of Water as well as shows like Designated Survivor, Suits and The Boys, to name a few.
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What makes Toronto and Canada such an attractive place for filming? It’s a combination of the variety of landscapes, tax incentives and cheaper Canadian dollar. Big Hollywood film and TV productions have been filming here for decades and are now followed by the explosion of content productions by streaming services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. It’s no wonder Toronto has been called Hollywood of the North!
It’s one thing to see Toronto on screen. It’s another to see shows filmed in Toronto that are also based here. It’s fun when the characters on-screen refer to places by their actual names, not some street/neighbourhood in a different city. Sometimes, you can even learn something new about Toronto, especially if the show is based in the past.
FRANKIE DRAKE MYSTERIES
The Franke Drake Mysteries is one of my fave new (to me) shows filmed in Toronto. Set during the 1920s, it follows the adventures of the city’s first female private detective. Frankie, a spunky private eye who did some espionage work during the war, investigates crimes and mysteries of the day. She has a crime-solving partner Trudy Clarke and an ensemble of other female characters that often assist with cases.
I like this show because it has strong female characters that seem to defy odds and break stereotypes. It also gives you an insight into life in the city during the 1920s. Based on the show, I also learned a couple of historical facts about Toronto that I didn’t know.
One of the characters, Mary, is a morality officer in the Toronto police’s morality department. She is not a “real” police officer, as she often seems to remind everyone somewhat disappointedly. It turns out, the morality department was a real thing. It was formed in 1886 by then-mayor, William Holmes Howland, and lasted till the 1930s. Morality officers dealt with vice, sin and crimes of the day that heavily impacted women and children. The morality department eventually led to the development of many social assistance programs, such as the Children’s Aid Society.
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Another thing I learned is that Toronto had its own Women’s Home Guard that started in 1915. Fearing a German invasion while the men were fighting in the war was a real thing back then. Instead of waiting for that to happen, a group of local women decided to take the protection of the city into their own hands. Under the leadership of Jessie McNab, who was a daughter of a prominent Toronto lawyer, the women precited drills and marching while learning how to shoot. How is that for a history lesson!
As Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, it was a matter of time before there was a show that portrayed that. Kim’s Convenience follows members of a Korean-Canadian family as they run a convenience store in Toronto. It started as a play and was then adapted for the screen.
The show does a great job of capturing the family dynamics of immigrant parents and their children. You don’t have to be Korean to relate to the characters. The parents’ more traditional approaches often contrast with their children’s dreams and struggles in a way that alternates between funny and serious.
I enjoy watching Kim’s Convenience for a few reasons. One, I can totally relate to Janet and Jung as they deal with their set-in-their-ways parents that grew up in a different culture. Two, it’s nice to see a show with strong, well-developed characters. The fact that they are Asian immigrants just adds another level of familiarity of living in Toronto. They could totally be a family that lives down the street or kids I went to school with.
As with the rest of the shows filmed in Toronto, you get snapshots of the city. In the opening sequence, I spotted a street by my house and many other familiar shots. As the convenience store, the show is based on is in my neighbourhood, I occasionally pass it by, making me smile.
Murdoch Mysteries is another detective show, set during the late 1880s and early 1900s, and filmed in Toronto. It follows detective William Murdoch as he solves crimes with innovative forensic techniques and unconventional approaches. Murdoch is a man ahead of his time and doesn’t shy away from tackling issues that often resemble our current ones.
The show also features strong female characters in medical professions. At that time, women doctors were not common, so it’s interesting to see them portrayed on the show. Sometimes the show seems like it’s based in an alternate timeline as you wonder how progressive the people of that time could’ve been. Women’s roles are a great way of understanding how women were treated in those days.
As Murdoch and his friends navigate Victorian society’s mores, we learn a lot about life in Toronto, including things that would not fly today. Women’s suffrage movement, residential schools and the treatment of Indigenous peoples are just some of the issues featured in the show. We also meet a number of famous characters of the day like Nikola Tesla, Winston Churchill and Mark Twain.
Unlike Frankie Drake Mysteries, this show is set before Toronto’s great fire that destroyed most of the city. This means that many of the scenes were shot in nearby towns with similar architecture from that time and didn’t perish in the fire. It’s a great insight into what the city looked like in those days and how it has changed since.
It might seem that many of the shows filmed in Toronto follow a similar pattern when it comes to career options for savvy women. Private Eyes is a detective dramedy series that follows a private investigator Angie Everett, who partners with former professional hockey player-turned detective Matt Shade.
The duo solves crimes all over the city as they navigate personal and family issues. Angie is a second-generation private eye with an extensive network of resources to tap into, while Matt’s former celebrity status often opens doors in their investigations. As the show progresses, so does their relationship, which adds some interesting vibes between the characters.
Private Eyes is entertaining and fun to watch as it takes us all over Toronto. From high-stake crimes to local mysteries, we see the city and learn small tidbits as we go along. Many of the filming locations are easily recognizable and can make for a fun treasure hunt of Toronto.
Workin’ Moms is a bit like Sex and the City, but with kids and set in Toronto. The show follows four 30-something urban moms as they deal with motherhood, careers and relationships. Whether you have kids or not, this show will make you laugh as you watch the characters deal with the often-unrealistic expectations placed upon working moms.
While it might not accurately reflect every mom’s experience, I think it does a great job of putting humour into real issues that women face in modern society. Parenthood, unplanned pregnancies, relationship challenges, and home/life challenges are some of the women’s topics in each episode.
It’s nice to see that shows filmed in Toronto can also show the city as a normal place to raise kids, have careers and juggle relationships. The moms on the show easily can be someone you know or can easily relate to. You can also use the show as an inspiration for places to hang out in Toronto.
TV shows filmed in Toronto but set elsewhere
While the number of shows filmed in Toronto and set elsewhere easily outnumber the shows filmed and set here, those shows are still great for some Toronto love. Once you know where they show is filmed, it’s easier to spot them on the screen. You might even come across a production while visiting. Everything is possible.
This science-fiction show Orphan Black was filmed in Toronto, but it wasn’t clearly stated where it was supposed to occur. The deliberately ambiguous location left it up to the audiences’ imaginations; however, the producers finally admitted that it was based in Canada by the sixth season.
However, iconic Toronto locations, signage and currency used in the show quickly gave it away from the start. As production took place all over the city, fans quickly picked up on the location. In this case, the setting isn’t relevant to the storyline.
Orphan Black starts with street smart grifter names Sarah who witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. Sarah decides to assume the woman’s identity and help herself to her savings. Instead, she discovers an illegal cloning operation and that she is a clone. As she searches for answers, Sarah discovers other clones just like her. They work together to unravel the mystery and uncover the truth, while someone is set on killing them all.
Suits is a show about a high-stakes legal firm in New York City. It follows one of Manhattan’s top corporate lawyers Harvey Specter and his law associate Mike Ross. The two navigate high profile cases while hiding the fact that Mike never went to law school. You might also know it as the show Meghan Markle was on before her marriage to Prince Harry.
I have really enjoyed watching Suits and its fast-paced, often convoluted cases as the characters deal with personal drama. You can’t help but wonder when the charade will come out and what consequences the characters will face when the truth about Mike comes out.
While the show mainly focuses on Harvey and Mike, it also has strong female roles (hello Jessica!) that play an important part in the show. There is also an interesting assortment of characters that add layers to the storyline.
Suits was mainly filmed in Toronto’s Financial District, with various locations around the city. The Bay Adelaide Centre at 333 Bay Street served as the location of the fictional law firm of Pearson Specter Litt. When the show was filming, it was quite common to come across the production if you were downtown Toronto. I even managed to spot Louis Litt and his assistant’s character once while they were filming a scene. Sadly, I have never managed to spot Harvey, Meghan or Jessica.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
The Handmaid’s Tale is a series based on a book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Set in dystopian Gilead, a totalitarian society that was once the USA, the story follows a group of women forced into sexual servitude, named the Handmaids. As the women navigate their forced existence, they must deal with the system that put them here to survive.
It’s not a show for everyone, but those that turn in will spot several iconic Toronto locations. It wasn’t uncommon to see the handmaids, dressed in their red capes all over the city during production.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
Out of all the shows filmed in Toronto, The Umbrella Academy might prove challenging for those unfamiliar with the city for spotting anything familiar. However, the series was filmed on multiple locations in Toronto, including the University of Toronto’s downtown campus.
The show filmed inside numerous venues, so unless you’ve been inside, it might be hard to spot. The production made use of several locations outside Toronto, so it will be easy to spot them if you’re familiar with those.
The show centres around the seven Hargreeves children who were adopted at birth by their eccentric billionaire father. The children, each with their own special powers, formed The Umbrella Academy, a superhero group with a mission to save the world. As always, things don’t go as planned and chaos ensues. This is probably one of my fave shows of the year that I binge-watched in a couple of days.
Popular locations for shows filmed in Toronto
With so many movies and shows filmed in Toronto, there are plenty of places to accommodate any production. From professional sets at the numerous film studios to iconic locations in the city, Toronto has been in more movies than you can imagine.
You might also enjoy reading about the Distillery District, a popular location for many movies and shows filming in Toronto!
From the Historic Distillery District, Kensington Market, Bridgepoint Healthcare and the Don Jail to Union Station, Casa Loma, Fairmont Royal York Hotel and Ripley’s Aquarium. Toronto’s parks, streets and neighbourhoods seamlessly stand in as other cities.
Looking for an urban vibe? Check out the Graffiti Alley or Underpass Park. Head over to the Bridal Path for shots of a tawny neighbourhood or head to the Scarborough Bluffs for jagged hills and colourful water. If you can imagine it, you’ll find it in Toronto.
Shows filmed in Toronto, in summary
While there are many other shows filmed in Toronto that can be added to this list, I’ve tried to include more recent ones that can be found online and on popular streaming services. Also, Toronto has changed over the years, which means that the city you’ll see in those shows will not always look the way it does today.
If you’re enjoying reading about Toronto, you might want to check out 9 Amazing Parks in Toronto!
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the shows’ availability might stop you from enjoying them. You can always start the “is this Toronto” game when you watch shows and movies to see how good you are at spotting the city. It’s a great way to get your Toronto fix and check out shows filmed in Toronto.