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Travel Diary: The 7 Virtues Founder Barb Stegemann's Guide to Toronto

The entrepreneur, perfumer, human rights activist, and author guides us through her favorite Canadian city.


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A fragrance can be used to perfume a space, a body, or even an entire city. But can it also change the world? That's what The 7 Virtues founder, entrepreneur, human rights activist and author Barb Stegemann is hoping. Her fragrance brand has used its resources to help stem the heroin trade in Afghanistan, create economic opportunities for farmers in formerly war-torn nations, and, last month, launched a new Peace Perfume collection at Sephora as part of its new Clean beauty initiative.

Founded after her best friend was critically wounded serving in Afghanistan during a peace-keeping mission, Barb began purchasing orange blossom and rose essential oils from local farmers, paying them twice what they could make selling the poppies used for heroin production.

Today, she works with farmers across the globe to gather natural, organic, and fair trade essential oils that both create memorable scents and provide much-needed jobs in areas like Afghanistan, Haiti, Rwanda, Israel, Iran, and Madagascar. Barb's ongoing work even led to the release of the award-winning documentary Perfume War, which chronicles the creation of The 7 Virtues and her ongoing commitment to social justice issues.

A Canadian native, Stegemann lives in Nova Scotia but Toronto is where much of her business interests are based, and she frequently finds herself in the charming city beloved by legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs. "Head offices for Sephora Canada, where we sell our contemporary peace perfumes, is there," she explained. "I love to meet our fragrance merchants and my mentor, Will Chung at Sephora, in person. We are like a family, and all hug after our meetings."

Now, Stegemann guides us through her "second home" to show us how she enjoys her (rare) hours at leisure.

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

"This is my favorite hotel in Toronto. It's right across from where the UP Express train stops at Union Station. We have booked the Queen’s Suite before to host media events. It’s where Queen Elizabeth stays when she visits. It’s 2400 square feet. You are not allowed to take photos in the main bedroom where she has slept. But my friends have been known to wear tiaras and pose like princesses in that room. But they never post them." 100 Front St W;

Library Bar

"Located right inside the Fairmont Royal York is the coolest bar/lounge for after work drinks or even dinner. It’s intimate and dark like a jazz club with cozy booths and tables with velvet and books and oak and the smell of very expensive, delicious wine. Nothing is cheap at the library lounge, you go there for the energy. And it’s convenient to meet clients or friends in the same hotel you are staying in."

Soho House Toronto

"Because I don’t live in Toronto, I wanted to belong to a place where I could feel like I was home when I visited. The Soho House is the perfect place to bring people when you are meeting them for the first time. It's for the creative industries from film to music and beyond. You will fall in love with this creative, historic house with its big lounge-y chairs on the main floor bar, and urban fusion vibe in the upstairs restaurant. The lunch buffet is the best in the land with an endless banquet table of every food option including massive vegan and vegetarian options." Bishop's Building, 192 Adelaide St W;

Casa Loma

"Casa Loma is the kind of place that makes your jaw drop. Even if you are not going to a party, fundraiser or wedding, there are three gorgeous restaurants inside worth visiting. BlueBlood Steakhouse, Liberty Café, and The Terrace Grill. You can also go to the castle and tour it."

Planta Restaurant

"As a vegetarian, I cook all of our meals when I am home, but when I am on the road, I need to find restaurants where I can find selection (and get vegan ideas). Planta Restaurant is an internationally inspired plant-based-food-only restaurant. (No meat or dairy is served.) The soaring ceilings and stylish setting make it so popular you will need to make reservations. You must try the cauliflower tots and the world famous Planta Burger. But do not get the 18 carrot dog. I draw the line at a carrot replacing a hot dog." 1221 Bay St;

Natrel Outdoor Skating Rink

"Located at Queen’s Quay West on the waterfront down the street from the CN Tower, the famous CN Tower casts a shadow over the rink, you are that close. It’s on the water, the shoreline of Lake Ontario. It’s my husband’s favorite place to go when I am in meetings. (I am more of a swimmer). There are restaurants all around the rink, bring your skates or you can rent them." 235 Queens Quay W;

Earls Restaurant

"I love bringing our Toronto team there on Tuesdays for dinner when I am in the city. The bottles of wine are half price, and it’s a pretty amazing and extensive wine list. I feel like a pro when I cook with the Earls Restaurant recipes at home. Suddenly I'm a chef making reductions and lime zest." 150 King St W #100;

Underground shopping

"You enter the underground shopping conveniently at Union Station where your UP Express train took you from Pearson International Airport. It connects to the Fairmont, and you can continue shopping and dining underneath the heart of the city if you are there during the winter or if it is raining. I far prefer the sights and sounds of Toronto when the weather is great, but if not, you won’t miss a beat underground. It will take you to cafes, sushi, boutique shopping and connects to the massive Eaton Centre where Sephora and all of the exciting shopping can be found."

Kensington Market

"This place is iconic, in particular for boomers and Gen Xers who watched the famous Canadian TV show The King of Kensington from ’75 to ’80. The market is massive with every kind of food you dream of. If you are staying at an Airbnb downtown, this is where you grocery shop at the market. The smells, the sounds of vendors and the people shopping, it’s really exhilarating. There are breweries and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to walk to on a summer’s day."


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