One of the things I liked most about Toronto was the diversity of neighbourhoods – it was great to be able to take in such a variety of areas even in the short amount of time I was there. I know there were many neighbourhoods I just didn’t get to – I look forward to exploring them on my next visit!
On my first night in Toronto, Amanda and I stayed in her ‘hood of North York for dinner. What blew me away around Yonge Street was just how dense it was (the 2006 Census recorded a population of 635,370 in North York, only about 100,000 less than the entire population of Edmonton in that year).
With high rises all around us, it was a reminder of the kind of amenities that can bloom around that sort of density. One great example was a complex with a Loblaws on a ground floor, entertainment and shopping above that, and condo towers on top – and all connected to a subway station across the street.
Unfortunately, it was clear what was the priority means of commuting in that neighbourhood: given the number of storefronts that lined both sides of Yonge Street, there was a dire need for crosswalks in smaller intervals. Instead, we saw innumerable pedestrians jaywalking across the five lane road.
Inhospitable Yonge Street
West Queen West
Although Amanda currently lives in North York, her dream neighbourhood in Toronto is West Queen West. An eclectic mix of boutiques and lofts, I could easily see why she’d want to move here.
The Spice Trader, a great little shop
Cookie from Dufflet – tasted like a Reese peanut butter cup!
On those hot and humid days, there was nothing better than standing out by the lake, taking in the cool breeze.
I didn’t get to do this as often as we would have liked during that week, but I did really enjoy the stroll on the boardwalk we did get to take that night!
Out on the lake
Our trek through Chinatown was brief, and focused – Amanda and I spent most of our time trying to track down something for our Mum.
We also didn’t wander past the tourist-driven shops, a shame because I know it would have been a great area to eat our way through.
Couldn’t resist a picture of sushi-bobbleheads
Kensington, with its hippie sensibilities, reminded me of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury (though maybe not as rough around the edges). I loved the colourful homes-turned-shops, with wares spilling into their yards and onto the sidewalk. The area actually closes its streets once a week as well for “pedestrian Sundays”.
Judith Deutsch Park
One of the most rewarding byproducts of exploring a city on foot is the things you end up stumbling upon. Judith Deutsch Park was a fun example of this, a narrow playground we came across on our way from Chinatown to Kensington.
Amanda loves to exercise!
The playground was made up of sturdy metal versions of popular gym equipment – everything from an elliptical to resistance machines.
It just seemed so random, but was such a neat interactive little pocket that definitely livened up a dreary strip of pavement.
Historically, the Distillery District dates back to 1832, and represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The area was purchased by developers and re-opened in 2003, offering a mix of cultural and retail experiences, as well as residential options.
Without a doubt the neighbourhood itself is picture-perfect: the area is enclosed, bastion-style, with brick and stone walls. Paired with the cobblestone, pedestrian-friendly streets, it was no surprise when we saw a wedding party traipsing through for photo opportunities. The Distillery has also been home to all sorts of interesting events, including food truck festivals and Toronto’s first Diner en Blanc.
They had some interesting outdoor sculptures as well, which nicely juxtaposed the historic backdrop.
Straight out of War of the Worlds
It was a great area to browse – an outdoor arts market was set-up, in addition to some funky gift and houseware shops. We especially enjoyed the art on display at Cube Works, all constructed entirely out of Rubik’s cubes.
Only limited by their imagination…
We decided to grab a coffee at Balzac’s, which seemed to be a top-rated café in Toronto. We were puzzled, then, to encounter a sign that warned that no photography was permitted inside the shop. We had to wonder about this policy, especially for a third-wave coffee shop – wouldn’t they want the publicity from coffee addicts posting candid photos taken of their drinks?
Mack defied the signage and snapped a quick photo of the interior, which was quite striking. The coffee, on the other hand, wasn’t a highlight.
For lunch, we stopped inside Mill Street Brewery, a microbrewery known for their organic lager (it can be found in Edmonton). The restaurant side was comfortable, serving up predictable, but comforting pub classics. Amanda liked her turkey club, and Mack’s beer-battered fish and chips were decent. My chicken pot pie was all right, though I could have done without the side of mushy, thawed peas and lead potatoes.
Mill Street beer
Inside the pub
Chicken pot pie
We stuck around for the free tour inside the small on-site brewery, which is now mostly used for R & D purposes (at that time, for example, they were trying out an Italian rice brew). Our guide reinforced how small they were in comparison to some of the big fish in the industry – what Mill Street produces in a year can be replicated by Labatt in eighteen hours.
Although it was a stunning neighbourhood to visit, I was hoping our food and drink experiences would match the grandeur of our surroundings.
Waterfront Night Market
A festival can be considered a temporary neighbourhood, which is how I thought of the Waterfront Night Market. It was such a serendipitous moment when I wondered aloud to Amanda whether or not Toronto hosted any night markets similar to the one found in Richmond, BC – then promptly stumbled across a poster advertising the Waterfront Night Market taking place that weekend.
As we didn’t have a car, we decided to take the free, advertised “fun bus” from City Hall down to the festival site (which happened to be the parking lot of the downtown T & T Supermarket). Apparently organizers didn’t learn from the previous year when similar problems happened – they again only had three buses, resulting in massive wait times. Although we waited an hour for the promised ride, they did avoid a #funbusfail.
The fun bus, living up to its name
When we reached the festival grounds, it was busy, but not quite as packed as I remember the Richmond equivalent to be.
I’m sure the smoke could have been seen for miles
It was clearly a food market, with merchandise vendors outnumbered ten to one. The hawkers in particular were entertaining, and reminded me of some of the Asian markets my family and I had visited long ago.
Meat on a stick
And though we had dinner not long before, we indulged anyway. To do so, Mack did have to get over the overpowering aroma of both stinky tofu and oyster omelettes though.
The bane of Mack’s existence
The strawberry ice drink I ordered (featuring fruit popping pearls) had the consistency of ice cream!
The tornado potato was unfortunately not crispy
In addition to the vendors, there was a live music stage and an NBA tournament going on – the sights and sounds were almost overwhelming!
I’m happy we made our way to the night market – it was definitely something we wouldn’t have been able to experience at home.