After hobbling our way through one of Toronto’s coldest winters on record and waiting patiently for the ever elusive spring we were promised, we’ve finally reached summer! We’re true blue Canadians at heart and we know that we’re only going to get about ten minutes worth of summer time weather per year so when the mercury reaches ten degrees above freezing, we hit the streets in droves, clamouring for warmth and sun!
Torontonians look for a bunch of different things when we go out exploring; atmosphere, nature, action, intellectual stimulation, and (most of all) great food to fill our bellies with! We’re an eclectic bunch and we’re undeniably drawn to unique spaces that dot this great city of ours. Let’s be honest, we’re rather spoiled for choice when it comes to great locations and neighbourhoods that we can peruse and explore during the warmer months!
Let’s start at the beginning and focus on a couple of neighbourhoods that are situated on one of Toronto’s oldest settlements: the historic Distillery District and Liberty Village. If cobbled streets, traditional Victorian buildings, and unique open spaces are what float your boat, then you should really look no further than Toronto’s Distillery District. Although this pedestrian-only area sees the bulk of its foot traffic throughout the Christmas holidays during its annual hosting of the Toronto Christmas Market, there are a fair few who wander its charming streets in the warmer months as well. Namely because of its notable atmosphere, you can literally taste his- tory at every corner. The village is primarily centered amongst the red brick buildings that make up the Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery, which was founded in 1869.
There are more than seventy unique shops, award winning restaurants, and cultural spaces located within the Distillery District and each one of them offers up an exceptional blend of art and ethos that stand out from the more generic, big box retail spaces of downtown Toronto. If you’re headed to the village in search of a good hearty meal, I’d make a beeline for Archeo, a truly captivating eatery that mixes historical and modern design throughout its open plan restaurant. For those of you who are feeling particularly spendy, head for jewelry boutique Gilding the Lily. If you’re more in the market for something trendy yet timeless and tailored, make a trip to Gotstyle Distillery where you’ll find endless rails of fashionable and well-made men’s and women’s clothing sourced from around the world.
If seasonal events are more your game, I would suggest making some room in your social calendar for The Distillery Sunday Market which is held every Sunday from June 7th to September 27th in Trinity Square, and beginning June 3rd, Trinity Square will also host its annual Music City Summer Series every Wednesday evening from 6:00 p.m.
Liberty Village is another one of Toronto’s distinctive historic neighbourhoods and it’s located quite close to Fort York, which was established by the British military in 1793. The Village is widely considered to be one of the city’s finest assets because it’s pretty much surrounded by Toronto’s most popular tourist sites: the serene Lakeshore Boulevard, the heady financial district, and the hopping downtown entertainment sector consisting of clubs, bars/lounges, hip eateries, galleries, and shops.
Liberty Village in particular has experienced massive growth since 2004 when the redevelopment or “gentrification” of the area initially began. Within the past few years alone, the area has seen quite a sizable shift from the existing industrial pockets to more bohemian urban spaces.
Liberty Village is now known mostly for its flourishing art and design studios, not to mention its spacious Liberty Market Building which houses office, studio, and retail spaces. Check out Maizal, a fairly new Mexican bistro that serves up delicious platters of cheesy quesadillas that’ll have you contentedly rubbing your tummy and grinning like a cat that’s just caught a canary! If you’re wandering through the Village and only have time for a quick bite to eat, head for the Liberty Village Market & Café where you’ll find coffee, tea, sandwiches, salads, pastries, and a plethora of fresh fruit. Local design and souvenir shop I Have A Crush On You is full to the rafters of charming gifts, cards, figurines, and design studio space that provides a great interactive environment for creatives in the area.
The Bloor West Village area is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Toronto’s famous (and exceptionally beautiful) High Park which makes this bustling neighbourhood a popular one for city dwellers and tourists alike. Bloor West, which runs along Bloor Street from Jane Street to Ellis Park Road, is primarily considered a shopping district of sorts because it’s comprised of roughly four hundred shops and restaurants. This is an area that was originally established by Eastern Europeans and one of its original delis – Astra Deli & Catering – still stands today, serving up delicious old fashioned sandwiches, sausages and meat pates.
If you’re looking for a restaurant with ambiance and old world charm, pop into The Kennedy Public House for a pint and a hearty meal reminiscent of those served in genuine old English pubs that Canadians seem to be endlessly fascinated by. Speaking of tasty treasures, there is a cute retro-inspired bookshop called Eat Your Words that carries hoards of new and secondhand cookbooks that you must visit if you’re an aspiring chef! If you’ve got some extra time, Coco’s Closet is well worth looking into if you’re eager to snap up vintage, gently used designer fashions (and don’t worry, the small boutique carries many different items priced to suit any budget).
The Bloor West neighbourhood is incredibly popular with young families for two very good reasons: because of its close proximity to Toronto’s largest green space, High Park, and because many of downtown’s elite schools are located within walking distance of the Village’s residential areas. As soon as you step foot within its geographical boundaries there is a sense of calm, friendliness and joviality that sweeps over you primarily because of the area’s vibrancy and welcoming aura.
The Village is famous for hosting the Toronto Ukrainian Festival which runs this year from September 18th to the 20th. This will be the 19th year that Bloor West Village has hosted this public outdoor event and since its inception, it has become known as North America’s largest Ukrainian street festival. Each year, this festival serves as one of the city’s greatest highlights and you can sense the camaraderie in the air between the locals and visitors when everyone gets together; its certainly a lovely example of just how diverse and welcoming Toronto really is!
And finally, we come to Queen West, or what has become commonly referred to as downtown Toronto’s shopping haven extraordinaire! Throughout the last decade or so, this neighbourhood has transitioned beautifully from a once eclectic but harried entertainment strip to an almost exclusively retail driven destination. Rent prices continue to climb due to Queen West’s appeal to the young (and affluent) city dwellers who frequent the area’s shops, fitness centres, galleries and rooftop bars and restaurants.
Vogue magazine published their ranking of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods in its infamously massive September issue of last year and guess which borough nabbed the number two spot? Queen Street West, that’s who! It was ranked second on the list beating out places like Sodermalm, Stockholm (Sweden), Canal Saint-Martin, Paris (France), Bushwick, New York City (U.S.), and Hackney, London (U.K.).
The Queen West retail environment offers up a great (and balanced) mix of homegrown independent shops and the more standard global retail brands like Zara and H&M. The thing that makes these shops stand out the most is their luscious historical architecture. If you were to stand on the street corner and look up or down the strip, you’d see a picturesque blend of Victorian, Gothic and some Tudor influenced design permeating throughout the neighbourhood. Swathes of weathered red brick and grey stone exteriors pave the way from one end of Queen West to the other, making for some really stunning photography should you choose to walk through the strip on a warm summer’s day. Keep a lookout for the colourful and eye-catching murals of street art that adorn the sides of buildings. They lend a startlingly modern feel to an otherwise historically strong area of downtown Toronto.
Speaking of art, if you’re a lover of Canadian design and artwork you should definitely plan a trip to the newly opened Abbozzo Gallery at 401 Richmond. After browsing the gallery for an hour or two, hop on over to the prestigious globally-inspired eatery Nota Bene which was named Canada’s best new restaurant by both Toronto Life and Air Canada’s EnRoute magazines!
In the summer months, the Queen West neighbourhood is alive with the sights, sounds and smells of the nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park’s Farmers Market. Beginning in May and lasting through to the end of October, Market Days are held every Tuesday from late afternoon to early evening. The Market is open to pedestrians, cyclists and TTC users (and all areas of Trinity Bellwoods Park and the Market is wheelchair accessible). Specializing in local organic fruits and vegetables, the Farmers Market is always jam-packed with hungry urbanites eager to get their hands on farm-fresh produce!
Just from studying and profiling these four Toronto neighbourhoods alone, you can see how diverse, eclectic and varied our city is in terms of commercial spaces and outdoor events and activities. When you hear people referring to Toronto as a ‘melting pot,’ you know they’re not far off because no matter where else you look, no other Canadian city compares to what we have; a truly welcoming and inclusive urban environment that beckons everyone with open arms.
» Life & Style » Neighbourhoods of the 416