I think one of the things I love most about the city of Toronto is its history. I love learning about the birth of its neighbourhoods and how certain developments and public spaces came about; their creation, their design and their overall impact on the residents of this city. In this second instalment of exploring Toronto’s neighbourhoods, we get down to the nitty-gritty and delve into three of the city’s most prolific and historically rich districts Toronto has to offer.
First up is the world-renowned St. Lawrence Market, known for its beautiful and striking historical architecture and its vast, bustling marketspace that operates year-round come rain or shine, sleet or snow. It is one of two major markets located in Toronto – the other one being the equally charming Kensington Market – and was named world’s best food market in 2012 by National Geographic magazine! When St. Lawrence Market was founded back in 1803, it was the city’s first and only public market that residents and tourists could enjoy together. Almost from day one, a real emphasis has been placed on celebrating local food and culture together with the city’s many inhabitants.
The marketplace consists of three separate buildings, each designed with a specific purpose in mind and constructed at different dates throughout the nineteenth century. First and foremost, there is the North Building, which houses both the farmer’s markets (Saturdays from 5:00a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) and the antique markets (Sundays from dawn to 5:00p.m.). The South Building houses the marketplace’s many restaurants, the Market Gallery and miscellaneous shops which include delis, bakeries and butcher shops. It’s well worth pointing out that the South Building alone plays host to over one hundred and twenty specialty vendors! Finally, St. Lawrence Hall – built in 1850 – houses retail businesses and various city offices. The rooms situated on the building’s top floor are available to book for large corporate events and weddings.
The entire marketplace is wheelchair accessible and it also offers convenient and economical parking options to all visitors arriving by car. If you want to learn more about the Market, its history and the story behind its surrounding area, perhaps you should consider booking a walking tour through Bruce Bell Tours and Heritage Toronto! Or, if you’re in the mood to party make sure to attend one of the many festivals the St.Lawrence Market hosts throughout the year: Criterion Bike Race, Woofstock (the largest outdoor dog festival in North America) and Buskerfest, the continent’s largest street entertainment festival. Buskerfest runs every August for four consecutive days and has recently been voted one of the Top 100 Festivals & Events in the province by Festivals & Events Ontario.
Let’s turn our attention to another Toronto hot- spot with an equally fascinating history behind it: The Beach (or, ‘The Beaches’ depending on what your opinion is regarding the district’s official name). The neighbourhood was named for the uninterrupted stretch of sandy shoreline that is bounded by the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in the east and Woodbine Park in the west. The beach itself is split into quarters and each portion was given its own name: Balmy Beach, Scarboro Beach, Kew Beach and Woodbine Beach (make careful note of these names because you may need them if you’re participating in a Toronto pub quiz night).
What was once a heavily wooded area in the early twentieth century has be- come one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. The property’s boardwalk, beach and public facilities were officially opened in 1932 and since then, the area has become a resort-like haven situated on the east side of the “old” city of Toronto. If you take a stroll through the district, you’ll notice plenty of period architecture dating back to both the Victorian and Edwardian eras as well as today’s typical modern art style mixed in. This is one of the things I personally love most about Toronto; its penchant for mixing the old with the new, combining charming historical details with those of a more modern, streamlined flavour.
The renowned shopping district of Queen Street East lies at the very centre of the The Beach community so if you’re in the mood to get a little spendy after having basked in the sun on the coastline, there’s no better place than right here! The Beach is also the ideal place for city-dwellers to raise a family because not only is the crime rate unusually low, but there are many reputable schools located throughout the neighbourhood as well as numerous parks and bike trails (the most prominent of which is the Martin Goodman Trail). As far as seasonal events go, Kew Gardens – which acts as the neighbourhood’s social hub – hosts the Beaches International Jazz Festival, the Christmas Tree & Menorah Lighting Festival and the local Arts & Crafts show each year.
If there was an award being handed out for biggest makeover, it’d have to go to Yorkville. What once birthed the Toronto hippie movement has now become the premiere destination for swank predilections, luxury shopping and exclusive rooftop lounges. Oh, and let’s not forget the world-renowned commercial stretch along Bloor Street that’s become known as Toronto’s “Mink Mile.” In 2006, the Mink Mile was ranked number twenty-two on the list of the most expensive streets in the world with rents listed upwards of $208 per square foot (as of 2008, this figure had risen to $300 per square foot).
The village of Yorkville was founded in 1830 by entrepreneur Joseph Bloore and William Botsford Jarvis and was initially set up primarily as a residential suburb. By the middle of the twentieth century, the area had taken on a decidedly bohemian vibe that encouraged the growth of its own form of style and culture and this is what ultimately gave rise to Canada’s hippie movement. Yorkville was a veritable breeding ground for musicians, artists and authors (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Margaret At- wood all hail from Yorkville). Though the city boasted of its creativity and ability to foster individuality, Yorkville quickly became somewhat of an eyesore and the only thing that helped turn the district around and made it into what it is today, was the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. This drove up rental and land prices and served as the beginning of the end for Canada’s bohemian hippie.
The older residential areas of Yorkville were swiftly converted into high-end retail space as well as art galleries, specialty antique shops, nightclubs, bars, luxury condo towers and exclusive hotels. The Four Seasons Toronto is Canada’s first five-star hotel and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is the biggest – and most expansive – museum in the country. Both of these infamous tourist attractions can be found in the heart of Yorkville. The neighbourhood’s shopping centres are listed as Cumberland Terrace, Hazelton Lanes, Holt Renfrew Centre, Hudson Bay Centre and the Manulife Centre. Mention these to anyone and they will immediately conjure images of luxury and exclusivity in the minds of every Torontonian. Yorkville’s reputation as the city’s most prestigious district continues to thrive and will surely go onto quicken the heartbeat of every urbanite living, working and visiting the city.
The next time you find yourself wandering the streets of these lovely Toronto neighbourhoods, we hope you’ll take a moment to really appreciate each one’s historical significance and their paths from natural, untouched landscapes to refined, culturally-rich urban centres. There are many sites to see here and many things to try out and explore for yourselves and it would truly be a waste if one didn’t take advantage of these spaces and everything they have to offer!