Toronto Theatre District & Cabbagetown

Neighbourhoods of the 416

Exploring Toronto

on December 2015 | in Life & Style | by Vanessa Buttino | with No Comments

Toronto has a real penchant for being culturally diverse and inclusive of all social backgrounds and lifestyles. Each of the districts described below have their own distinctive appeal. There is literally something for everyone including historic neighbourhoods, neon billboards, a student-friendly sector and university campus, plus all the best public events you can shake a stick at!

Evocative of London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, Toronto’s Theatre District is the third largest English-speaking theatre district in the world (and the largest one in Canada)! Our theatre ward is located in downtown Toronto near the picturesque Harbourfront and Lake Ontario and is considered one of the focal points of the city’s entertainment district. A good chunk of this region is bounded by Adelaide Street in the north, University Avenue in the east, King Street West in the south and Bathurst Street in the west.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of having such a prestigious and prominent theatre district right here on our doorstep is getting to enjoy touring West End and Broadway productions that travel here frequently to packed houses. When Torontonians are asked to name their favourite live theatre venues, they often answer with the big six: the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Roy Thomson Hall, the Ed Mirvish Theatre, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres and Massey Hall.

Toronto’s oldest theatres (Royal Alexandra, Massey Hall and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres) were constructed at the turn of the twentieth century. Back then, live entertainment primarily consisted of plays that were written abroad (mostly hailing from Britain) as well as popular music hall shows of the day. A present day nod to the city’s storied theatrical history takes the form of the Canadian Walk of Fame that runs through several streets within the Theatre District and pays tribute to Canadian performers and musicians who have made an impact within the entertainment industry.

On the east side of downtown Toronto lies a neighbourhood that evokes poignant feelings of history and family life and its name is possibly one of the most whimsical titles ever put down on a map: Cabbagetown. The village received its name from the poor Irish immigrants who settled in the area during the late 1840s; most of them couldn’t afford to buy fresh produce to feed their families so they planted cabbages in their front gardens!

Toronto's Cabbage Town

According to the Cabbagetown Preservation Association, the neighbourhood is comprised of “the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian housing in all of North America.” The mostly brick Victorian houses that line the streets of Cabbagetown were predominantly constructed in the late 19th century. A couple of decades later, post-WWI, the area became horribly impoverished and eventually became known as one of the city’s largest slums.

It wasn’t until sometime in the 1970s that things started to turn around for Cabbagetown. The area was suddenly becoming gentrified by wealthy professionals and what remained of the original Victorian structures were lovingly and painstakingly restored and renovated, providing new homes to those affluent newcomers. To this day, Cabbagetown remains a wonderful mix of social classes and backgrounds: those wealthy patrons have stuck around, but so have the city dwellers that occupy public housing. This heady mix of Torontonians in one sector makes for a very eclectic neighbourhood; you’ll find discount supermarkets and second hand vintage stores alongside swanky restaurants, gourmet shops and art pop-ups. The “Old Cabbagetown” shopping district that runs along Parliament Street is incredibly popular amongst both locals and visitors alike because of its varied collection of distinct shops and cafés.

The Cabbagetown Festival – always a great draw for Torontonians – happens each year in September and includes the popular Parade and home tours in which residents open their historic homes to the paying public. This attraction has proven so popular over the years that it has been covered by the Toronto Star newspaper nearly every autumn. The district’s Arts & Crafts fair is held during the Festival at the weekend in the picturesque Riverdale Park West. In addition to the main festival, there is also the Cabbagetown Short Film & Video Festival on offer for those who prefer a more arts-driven public event. Short films from around the world, none longer than fifteen minutes, are screened and later judged by a jury of industry peers and professionals. Film producer and writer Gina Dineen originally founded this festival in 1992.

The Annex is a popular quarter for both young adults – mostly students – and older professionals because of its close proximity to the University of Toronto, arguably one of the best universities in the world. Students and faculty members live in and around this neighbourhood that is bounded by Dupont Street, Bloor Street, Bathurst Street and Avenue Road. It’s an affluent district that is inhabited mostly by English-speaking urbanites. Much of the Annex is residential space populated by a fairly even mix of Victorian and Edwardian homes and commercial buildings. Most of these structures were commissioned and built in the years between 1880 and the early 1900s.

Much of the Annex’s commercial sector consists of small retail shops, quaint and affordable restaurants and cafés, and bustling entertainment venues that fill up from Thursday nights to early Sunday mornings. These are aimed specifically to the prominent university student demographic that populates the neighbourhood. Seaton Village, or “West Annex” to some, contains the Koreatown shopping district, which is always full of activity, yet retains a pleasant, serene, family-friendly vibe throughout. Bloor Street is the main stretch of the Annex which boasts popular Toronto institutions like Honest Ed’s, The Bloor Cinema, and Sonic Boom. Lastly, the Mirvish Village shopping quarter contains a lovely assortment of bookstores (always popular with students), art galleries, antique shops and rare specialty stores.

Finally, we come to one of the city’s main highlights and its most beloved public gathering space: Yonge-Dundas Square! It was first conceived in 1997 as part of a revitalization project for downtown Toronto. Designed by Brown & Storey Architects, the square was eventually completed in 2002 to wide acclaim. The intersection of Yonge and Dundas, which contains a unique x-style crossing, is one of the busiest in the country and serves more than 100,000 pedestrians a day!

NXNE at Yonge-Dundas Square

Yonge-Dundas Square hosts many public events throughout the year and frequently serves as a central venue for NXNE, the Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato, Nuit Blanche, Pride Week, and just recently, the 2015 Pan Am Games. Popular landmarks surrounding the square include the Toronto Eaton Centre, Ryerson University, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the infamous City TV building. The large billboards and neon signage that populate the space are evocative of New York City’s Times Square and definitely add to the square’s appeal, making it one of Toronto’s prime tourist attractions.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that the main centrepiece of Yonge-Dundas Square is its collection of ten enormous water fountains, spaced out evenly in two rows on the pavement. Designed by Dan Euser of Waterarchitecture, pedestrians are encouraged to walk through the fountains (especially on particularly hot days). Water play is also encouraged and to put people’s minds at ease, all of the fountains have a unique filtration system in place that guarantees the water remains at or above pool quality water.

We live in such a cosmopolitan, historically rich city that boasts so many different sectors and neighbourhoods, each one to suit different people, different businesses, and different commercial enterprises. We’ve got quiet spaces, grand spaces and beautiful spaces. There is truly no other city we’d rather spend our time in than the one we call home: Toronto.

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