A huge part of what I believe to be Toronto’s appeal is its collection of unique and diverse neighbourhoods that can be found city-wide. Personally, when I feel most in love with Toronto (no, not riding the TTC) is when I am off exploring a new area that I’ve never been to. Perhaps it’s due to the novelty involved, discovering territory I’ve yet to set foot in like the Christopher Columbus I sometimes try to be, or maybe it’s the feeling that I’m getting to know Toronto that little bit better. Regardless of the reason, exploring is something I love to do, which is why I’ve decided to share my list of favourite Toronto neighbourhoods that I’ve experienced thus far. I’ll be splitting this segment into parts as there’s far too many great hoods! Here’s the first few:
Yes, Bloor is an incredibly long street, extending all the way from the Don Valley River to Mississauga, so it’s a pretty ambitious request to trek across the whole street. Bloordale, however, encompasses the western part of the street running along Lansdowne to Dufferin. Still recognized as a Business Improvement Area and likely to undergo it’s fair share of gentrification over the next few years, there’s something wholesome about Bloordale. It seems sleepy by its exterior, but truthfully what makes this area thrive is its nightlife, thrift shopping, and hidden gems of cafes. My first time in this neighbourhood I stopped in a cafe called The Common in which the friendly barista (who happened to know every guest who walked in personally) gave me my recommendations to go out for the night with my friend. With the success at bars like Burdock Brewery, The Three Speed, and Bar Neon, I decided that the next day I needed to come back and give the thrift stores a try, because this neighbourhood was cool.
Queen West has turned into everything I can’t stand about Toronto. All you see on Queen West are trend-based places, completely ephemeral in their existence and all the lines, lines, and lines to attend them (don’t even get me started on charcoal ice cream). Particularly annoying is how gentrified Queen West and Parkdale (coined Vegandale) have become and how over-saturated it is with “hipsters”, whatever that word might mean. However, amongst the sea of what I find unbearable, there is Ossington, Though the street itself extends further, Ossington’s excitement is mostly between Queen and Dundas. Ossington was known as the hip place to go out, back when I was in high school. The bars are small and cozy and sometimes a secret (hint : there’s a speakeasy bar in the back of what seems to be a barber shop), the shops are functional, nifty, and unique, and the cafes are perfect places for getting homework done. Ossington has the small neighbourhood charm and is seemingly untouched by the pretentious behaviour all over Queen Street.
I do love Italian food but that’s not exclusively why this neighbourhood is one of my favourites. Running along the stretch of College Street, west of Bathurst, Little Italy has it’s variety of restaurants, cafes, and unique shops. I strongly recommend Empire Espresso for coffee, The Walton for food, (especially their quiche), interior charm, and a sit on their patio if the weather permits, and Souvenir Studios for artisanal crafts, accessories, home decor - seriously one of the most visually beautiful shops.
Frankly, this neighbourhood is still new to me. All I really know about it is it’s where Dundas intersects with other major roads because it starts to change its course. Oh and the intersection of the railroads too! MOCA and the Drake Commissary. I can tell from what I’ve seen so far that it’s fairly industrial but in the way that I find intriguing. The Nestlé Canada factory is located here so it kind of smells like hot chocolate (great!) but apart from that, I’m still getting to know it. But the history of it is quite interesting - might I recommend the Wikipedia page?
*Still need to make a trip to the Western Toronto Railpath!
Occupying Dundas St West, this neighbourhood has a lot to offer. In recent years, it’s been hyped for the resto-bar scene, particularly on the stretch between Bathurst and Ossington. Go even further west and you’ll start to see some of the Portuguese heritage, like bakeries (pasteis de nata - yum) and restaurants. Like most urban neighbourhoods, Little Portugal is defined by the cafes, restaurants, and shops, and surely there’s no shortage there. Personally, being a fan of consignment, Little Portugal is worth the visit for the incredible VSP Consignment alone.
I can’t leave out the neighbourhood of my own people. That’s right - the Polish hood! One of the best places to get authentic pierogies and kielbasa or hit up a Polish mass at one of the churches, Roncesvalles is not just the hotspot for Poles. It’s actually a terrific neighbourhood, fairly family oriented, with bakeries, butchers, cheese shops, restaurants, clothing shops, and mini grocers. You can actually very clearly see that the demographic here is different to that of a neighbourhood like Queen West just by looking at the shops. However, even if you’re not fitting into the category of a young Toronto family, this neighbourhood is still so great to explore.
As you can tell, many of Toronto’s neighbourhoods are segregated by the groups of immigrants that came to Canada in the 1950’s onwards. While the demographic in these neighbourhoods has changed quite a lot since then, it’s nice to see the lasting monuments that make reference to varying cultures.
More in store next Monday. But I have yet to know all of Toronto so here are a few on my to-explore list :