Walkablog

This is a blog about walking, rambling, hiking, trekking, and getting around. I walk, therefore I have sore feet.

It’s more of a journal than a travelog, and tells my story as I experience it walking. I hope it inspires you to get out and walk about your city.

Favourite Toronto Walks -East Toronto Loop

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Also be aware that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited availability or opening hours. Please check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not.

And now on to the regular post …..

Several years ago, I was training to do the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I had never done a walk (and I walked it more than I ran it) of more than about 20 km, and since a marathon is 42 km, I planned out a walk that would be about 30 km in length and incorporate some ups and downs to get my legs built up.

This walk starts and ends in mid-town Toronto at Yonge and Eglinton, and takes in parts of the Beltline, the Don Valley Brickworks, the Lower Don Trail, Riverdale Park, Corktown Common, the Martin Goodman Trail, the Beaches Boardwalk, the Glen Stewart Ravine, the Taylor-Massey Creek Trail, E.T. Seton Park, Wilket Creek Park, Sunnybrook Park, the Burkes Brook Ravine, and Sherwood Park – whew!

Length: About 32 km, including about 200m of vertical ups and downs

Surface: Mostly paved, with gravel path on some of the ravine trails, plus the wooden boardwalk in the Beaches.

Public Transit: Start and end at Eglinton Station on the Line 1 subway

Route:

Starting from Eglinton Station, head south on east side of Yonge St and turn east (left) at Manor Road. Cross the street and turn right (south) down Tullis Drive. Follow Tulis south to Belsize Avenue, crossing the street to the south side. You’ll see a fence laneway in front of you – take that as it’s a public right of way and follow it to Millwood.

Laneway between Belsize and Millwood

Turn left (east) on Millwood and proceed down the hill. At Acacia, turn south (right) and follow that to Davisville Avenue. Cross Davisville and turn west (right) for a few meters to Pailton Crescent. Turn left (south) and follow Pailton to Merton Street. As you cross Merton at the crosswalk, there is a path directly in front of you beside a condominium building and that takes you to the Beltline Trail.

At the Beltline, turn left (east) and follow it for about 100m to the entrance into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Inside the Cemetery follow the purple painted lines on the road, following it east under Mount Pleasant Road and around towards the memorial gardens. The marked path takes you east and south and exits the cemetery at Moore Avenue, opposite the entrance to the Moore Ravine Trail – careful, there are always many impatient drivers as you try to cross.

Descend on the trail into the ravine and follow it for about 1km. When you reach the entrance to the Don Valley Brickworks, you can detour left over the bridge and follow the trails in the Brickworks, or else continue on the Beltline south until you enter the Brickworks opposite the main buildings near the car park. Exit the Brickworks complex here, crossing Bayview Ave at the lights to join the Lower Don Trail (turn right, south). Follow the Don Trail south parallel to Bayview for about 1.5 km to the traffic lights at Rosedale Valley Drive. Cross here and directly in front of you will be the stairs up the hill beside St. James Cemetery. Climb up to reach Wellesley Park.

Walk through the park and onto Wellesley Street, and keep going about 100m to Sumach Street. Turn left (south) and follow Sumach to the entrance to Riverdale Park. Turn left into the Park and follow the path diagonally across past Riverdale Farm, in a south-east direction, to reach the stairs leading down into the Don Valley. Follow the path down to reach the bridge over Bayview Avenue – climb up, cross the road, and then take the stairs down onto the Lower Don Trail. Follow the Trail south about 1.5 km to Corktown Common.

If you go past the Common, the Trail bends a bit west and then east under the Don Valley Parkway overpass, to come to a trail junction. Turn left (east) here to cross the Don River and then join the Martin Goodman Trail parallel to Lakeshore Blvd. If you detoured into the Common, follow the paths in the park back out through the junction tunnel that passes under the train tracks to rejoin the Lower Don Trail.

Once on the Martin Goodman Trail, follow it east for 2-3 km to reach the entrance to Woodbine Beach park. It’s better to walk on the north side of Lakeshore, as the cycle path and foot path are separated here so you’re not constantly being dinged by cyclist’s bells.

Martin Goodman Trail between Carlaw and Leslie

When you reach Woodbine Beach park, cross Lakeshore at the traffic lights and turn into the park, follow the Martin Goodman trail pathway connect to the west end of the Beaches Boardwalk. Keep going east following the boardwalk for 2 km to reach Balmy Beach Park.

the Boardwalk at Beaches park.

At Balmy Beach, at the end of the Boardwalk, turn north (left) onto Silver Birch Drive and follow it north to Queen Street. At Queen, turn left (west) and follow it for about 500 m to the entrance to Ivan Forest Gardens park, on the north side of the street. Turn into the park and follow the trail north through the park, which will turn into Glen Stewart Park, and exit at Glen Manor Road East. Cross that street and descend into the Glen Stewart Ravine, following the trail north and east.

Exit the Glen Stewart Ravine trail at Kingston Road and turn right (east). Walk along Kingston Road east – you can either go all the way to Victoria Park Ave and then turn left (north) or else turn north up one of the side streets such as Scarborough Road and follow that to Gerrard – if you do that, turn right (east) on Gerrard and walk east to Victoria Park, then turn left (north). Once on Victoria Park, follow it north under the train tracks and on past Danforth Avenue. Keep going north past the Victoria Park subway station, and about 500m north of the station the road descends into a gulley. On the west side of the road opposite the Dentonia Park Golf Course you will find a set of stairs descending into the Taylor-Massey Creek Park trail system.

Once on the trail here, follow it west for about 4 km to reach the lower Don parklands. At the Lower Don off-leash dog park, turn right (north) and follow the trail north and then west crossing under the Don Valley Parkway to reach the junction with the Don Valley Trail system. Turn right (north) crossing the Don River over the old Don Mills Road bridge,

the old Don Mills Road bridge

and follow the trail through the parking lot to reach a bridge over the train tracks. Turn left (west) at the top of the bridge and follow the trail to reach the entrance to E. T. Seton Park.

In Seton Park, cut across the car park and turn right (north) along the roadway. Follow the road north till you pick up the West Don Trail inside the park, and then take that trail north through E. T. Seton park all the way to the car park on the south side of Eglinton Ave near Leslie Street. Turn left (west) at that car park and follow the roadway west and then north to cross under Eglinton and enter Wilket Creek Park.

hints of autumn on a September day

Keep going north through Wilket Creek till you reach the junction of the roadway/trail that turns west (left) heading towards Sunnybrook Park. Follow that roadway/trail west into and through Sunnybrook Park, towards the Riding Stables. Just before you reach the Stables, there is a path on the west side of the road that leads to a bridge which crosses the West Don River. Take that path west and on the other side of the river, turn left (south) on the trail beside the off-leash dog park. Follow the trail heading south and then bending west. On the west side of the dog park, turn right (north) onto the Burkes Brook trail. Follow this north and bend to the west to keep going parallel to the water. The trail officially ends after about 500-600m, but you can exit the official trail and keep going west on the unofficial trail. This continues for another 500 m to reach a steep hill climbing up out of the ravine to reach Bayview Avenue.

Cross Bayview (either directly here or else a bit to the north at the traffic lights by Sunnybrook Hospital). On the opposite side of Bayview, reenter the Burkes Brook trail and descend into the ravine again. Follow this trail west for about 1km, climbing the stairs passing through the off-leash dog area, to descend into Sherwood Park. At Sherwood Park, turn north and then west at the bridge over Burkes Brook (next to the City of Toronto maintenance buildings) and climb the hill along the roadway to exit the ravine/park onto Sherwood Avenue.

Up the stairs in Burkes Brook

Follow Sherwood west for about 500m to Mount Pleasant Road. Cross at the traffic lights and continue west along Sherwood for about another km or so to reach Yonge Street. Turn left (south) on Yonge and follow it for about 1km to reach the finish back at Eglinton Station.

Sights:

I like this walk because of the variety of scenery – the forests and wildness of the ravines, the garden settings in the parks, the sand and the lake along the Boardwalk, and the urban stretches through the upper beaches. That variety keeps it interesting over the whole length of the walk, and it also means that in any season there will something different. The ravines and shaded streets also mean you have some shelter from summer sun, though note that in winter most of the trails are not cleared or salted so they can get icy.

The Beltline down Moore Ravine

Another cool thing about this walk is that it actually follows a number of the various creeks and brooks that have been buried over time. For example, at the start of the walk, Tullis Drive follows the course of Mud Creek. If you listen carefully at the manhole cover at the corner of Tullis and Glebe Road, you can usually hear the stream following under your feet. The same happens on Millwood in the little gully that you descend into – that gully is there because of the creek. Check out the Lost Rivers project to learn more about this fascinating part of Toronto’s history.

down the hill on Millwood into the Mud Creek gulley

I also like this route for the many angles it gives you on the Toronto skyline. From the Don Valley near the Brickworks, you see it from the north and east. From beaches, you see it directly along the lake and you get the tall chimneys of industry poking up as well. You always see the CN Tower poking through and that landmark is usefully to navigate by. These landmarks are reminders that while you’re walking through many beautiful natural settings, the industrial and commercial aspects of the city are always around you.

Industrial Toronto reclaimed – the old railway bridge at the north end of E.T. Seton Park

The many parks that this route takes in are also little time capsules. Corktown Common and the Brickworks, for example, are relatively new additions to the City’s park system, having been created in the 2010’s as part of the revitalization of what had been industrial areas. A generation earlier, in the 1970’s, parks such as E.T. Seton were added, and to offer the growing middle classes not just trails but also recreational amenities like a disk golf course and an archery range. A generation before that, in the 1940s after WW2, Sunnybrook Park was laid out after a private estate was taken over during the war to create a health facility for returning veterans. And finally, another generation back in the 1920s, the parks in the Beaches are 100 years old and reflect the formal gardens, picnic areas, and baseball diamonds that were popular then.

Taylor Creek

Finally, this route, especially around the Beaches, is great for people watching, I’ve seen everything from multi-generational families out for a stroll to movie shoots to outdoor aerobics classes. It can get crowded in high summer, especially on a weekend, but for people watching that just adds to the fun.

Food & Refreshment:

There are several spots where clusters of restaurants and coffee shops will set you up for the journey. That starts with Yonge & Eglinton, which is packed with places to grab some food as you set out or as you finish.

In the Brickworks there are washrooms, water fountains, and a great cafe, plus on weekends there are often farmers markets or festivals on (note that COVID-19 may crimp these a lot so check ahead).

At Corktown, there are washrooms and water fountains, and there are several coffee shops nearby. Near the Common, the shops/restaurants at the Distillery District, or the St. Lawrence Market, offer lots of choice.

In the Beaches, there are washrooms and water fountains in several of the parks. There are also cafes near the Boardwalk, and of course along Queen Street itself there are many places to chose from. If you are paying attention to the route, you’ll see that Queen between Silver Birch Drive and Ivan Forest Gardens is about half-way, so it makes a natural spot to stop for a break.

North of the Beaches, your last chance for coffee or food is near Victoria Park and Danforth. After that, if you are following the route as described, there are no coffee shops until you get back to Yonge Street. There are some washrooms and water fountains in Taylor-Massey Creek, E. T. Seton, Wilket Creek, and Sunnybrook Parks.

Note that all of the public washrooms and water fountains in any of the city parks are seasonal, so they close around October and don’t reopen till May. Note also that COVID-19 is causing restrictions on some of these facilities. In winter, you may need to use coffee shops along the route.

Diversions:

  1. I’ve described the route in a counter-clockwise direction. You can of course reverse that and go clockwise round. The hills are the same I think – you are still climbing in and out of various ravines, but it might be a bit easier going clockwise as the climbs are less steep.
  2. It’s easy to break this up if you want and tackle it over different days. Jump on/off points include the Brickworks, Corktown Common, Queen Street, or Victoria Park Station.
  3. The Distillery District and Corktown St. Lawrence are worth exploring in their own rights, as is the Beaches neighbourhood. If you break up the route, you could spend a few hours in either area and that would be a great way to explore the eastern part of the city.
  4. As noted, seasons matter quite a bit on this route. Summer near the lake is awesome, the trees in the ravines are stunning in autumn, the wildflowers in spring are gorgeous, and the quiet of a fresh snowfall is peaceful. You could walk this route multiple times and see different things every time.

TO Walks – The COVID-19 New Normal

For the past several months now, I’ve been starting off most of my posts with this:

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Also be aware that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited availability. Please check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not.

And after 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m wondering if I need to keep saying that. Don’t we all know this by now?

You hear people talk about “the new normal”, and the idea that what we have become used to with COVID-19 is what we’re going to have to keep doing for the foreseeable future. We all hope there will be a vaccine soon, but in the meantime we just need to keep doing the right things to manage the epidemic.

  • practicing physical distancing: 2m = 1 hockey stick = 3 dog-lengths
  • wearing a mask where physical distancing isn’t practical, like shops and indoor public spaces
  • washing hands and avoiding contact points
  • cheering each other up with sidewalk chalk art

While that’s become mundane, at least for me, what’s also become part of my new normal is the way I’m walking these last few months. For example, I’ve stopped thinking or planning for long multi-day out of town walks. The Bruce Trail is out right now, partly because sections are closed, partly because the Bruce Trail Org is actively discouraging through-hikes, and partly because I’m reluctant to book B&Bs or hotels right now.

And then, within the city, my routine has changed. In the Before Times, I would take public transit to some end point and walk home. Now I don’t want to use those the bus or subway, and since the City has closed many public washrooms in parks and has shut off public water fountains, I need to plan my routes carefully around pit stops while carrying extra water with me.

All of that means much of my walking has been local, 1-2 hour forays around nearby neighbourhoods. Thankfully, we live in mid-town and there are many quiet, shaded backstreets to chose from, so most days I ask Siri to just randomly pick a direction – North, East, South, or West – and head off that way.

With tricks like this, and some others I’ve learned, my new normal COVID-19 walking routine is helping me to keep sane.

COVID-19 Walking Hints and Tips

  • Walk on the left when you can. This means you’re facing the traffic if you have to step into the street briefly to give space on the sidewalk to someone else
  • Backstreets have less foot traffic. On busy streets like Yonge, I sometimes feel like I need to wear a mask because of the density of other pedestrians. On side streets, there’s hardly anyone about any day of the week, and it’s quieter so I can hear the birds.
  • Plan your route. Like I said, washrooms and water can be tricky. I can carry water, and I guess I can pee in the bushes if I need to, but that only works in forested parks and ravines. The neighbours don’t take kindly to pits stops in their hedges.
  • Planning ahead also means both hydrating before I leave as well as emptying the bladder.
  • Avoid bike trails, especially on weekends. Toronto has many multi-use trails, like the Don Valley Trail, and they are mostly too narrow to allow 2m of physical distancing from cyclists. Weekends are the most congested with would-be Tour de France pelotonistes, so I look for walker-friendly options.
  • Take a picnic. With many coffee shops and restaurants still limited in seating, and requiring mask-usage if you do go in, it’s easier to just take some snacks and have a bite on a park bench somewhere.
  • Skip parks with off-leash dog runs or playgrounds. Parks like this usually mean more pedestrians and less physical-distancing, which should mean more mask-wearing, and I don’t like to wear a mask outdoors, so I just don’t go near those parks.
  • Look for big, natural settings. Toronto is blessed with a wonderful system of ravines, trails, and parks that are big enough to offer lots of trails and fewer people for lower density, especially during mid-week.
  • Look for quiet neighbourhoods with lots of windy streets. Toronto has many areas that feature beautiful homes, lots of shade, and little traffic. Often these are quiet any day of the week so you can go for walks when the weekend-warriors are clogging the parks. Personal favourites include:
    • Lawrence Park
    • Lytton Park
    • Cedarvale / Wychwood
    • Hoggs Hollow
    • Rosedale and Rosedale Heights
    • Forest Hill and Upper Forest Hill
    • Moore Park
    • Chaplin Estates
    • Davisville
    • Leaside
    • Rathnelly
    • The Beaches
    • Leslieville
  • Check out the cemeteries. I’ve written many times about walking through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and Mount Hope and Prospect Cemeteries are favourites too. They’re quiet, shaded, and usually free of cyclists, and this time of year I can fill my water bottle at one of the taps around the grounds. That said, please do remember that first and foremost these are places of memory and quiet contemplation.
  • The worse the weather, the fewer people about. If it’s raining or really hot/cold, you can avoid crowds by using the weather to keep crowds down. Remember – there’s no bad weather, just poor clothing choices.

And probably most importantly, remember that we’re all in this together. We’re all missing something, we’re all a bit inconvenienced, and we’re all impatient to be able to get back to whatever it was we thought was normal before.

Gear – Osprey Talon 22 daypack

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: Osprey Talon 22 daypack

How much?: $150 CAD + tax, plus $35 + tax for the rain cover

Where, when, how do I use it?: I bought this recently, in spring 2020. Partly this was because I wanted a bigger pack for day hikes than the Deuter RaceX 12L pack that I also use. Partly it was simply because the Osprey was on sale, so I ended up getting it for about $60 off the combined price of the pack and the rain cover.

I’ve used it multiple times in just the first few weeks, for hikes as well as shopping runs, where BTW the extra bottle wine capacity (6-8 bottles versus 4-5 for the Deuter) is a useful feature. I’m planning to use it as my go-to day-hike pack. I like it for several reasons:

  1. It’s the right Goldilocks size, not too big nor too small.
  2. It comes in sizes, so I was able to get the long one that fits my long torso.
  3. It has a semi-rigid frame-like structure, meaning it’s stiff enough to feel like it’s got a frame but it doesn’t actually have one which keeps weight down
  4. The waist belt has side pockets, useful for little things like COVID-19 essentials (face masks and hand sanitizer), Clif bars, Swiss Army knife, etc.
  5. The outside mesh pockets are big enough to hold a 1L Nalgene bottle
  6. There are lots of pockets inside and out to organize your stuff, and it’s got a hydration sleeve with a port for the tube as well.
  7. It will hold a laptop no problem in the hydration sleeve.
  8. It’s relatively water resistant even without the rain cover, and really good with the cover on.

Compared to the smaller Deuter bag, the Osprey bag is heavier of course, but not by as much as you’d think. The Talon holds 22L in volume versus 12L, but it weights only 810g versus 550g, a decent tradeoff of weight for load, and you can carry up to around 8 or 9kg with it.

The biggest thing for me is the adjustability of the strap system. While I like my Deuter RaceX bag too, the Osprey just fits me better because it’s longer. I took it out for a 4 hour hike the other day, carrying 2L of water plus snacks with an ice pack, rain jacket, sun glasses, a seat cushion, and COVID-19 masks and hand sanitizer, so pushing 4kg with the weight of the bag itself, and once I had it adjusted it rode well up and down hills and stairs feeling light and comfortable the whole time. And that was on a 30C day when I was perspiring a lot – the mesh back system really helped.

Would I buy it again?: Yes, I like this bag. Since it’s new and I’ll likely get years out of it, by the time I’m ready for a new one Osprey will have some other model out. That said, I’d definitely look at their products again.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

TO Places – The Beaches

Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Restrictions on social gathering or use of public spaces placed by either the Province of Ontario or the City of Toronto may limit what you can do. Check the links for the latest info.

And now on to the regular post …..

Any time of the year is a good time for the beach

If you live in Toronto, just saying “the Beaches” probably brings up several images – the shops, restaurants and bars, ice cream, the parks, the sand, the boardwalk, and probably more besides. Whether you are a lifelong resident or a weekend visitor, strolling the boardwalk and staring at the waves is magical.

Location: There’s the “beach” part of the Beaches and then there’s the neighbourhood. The sandy lakefront starts at Woodbine Beach and continues along the lake to Balmy Beach Park. The neighbourhood stretches along Queen eastward from around Woodbine Avenue to the end of Queen Street near Victoria Park Avenue, and then south to the lake and north to Kingston Road.

Public Transit: Take the Queen 501 Streetcar east from Queen Station on Line 1 and get off at Coxwell Avenue for Woodbine Park, or a bit further east past Woodbine Ave for the shops.

Why I like it:

For me the Beaches bring up several other images. One is of Canada Day in 1999 – we had just arrived back in Toronto that day, having returned from London, so we thought we’d go for a walk to get reacquainted with the City. The Beaches seemed like the perfect spot to do that. There was a big celebration and party going on in Kew Gardens, and we nearly cried thinking about what we had left behind in London and what was welcoming us back to Toronto.

And then when we were expecting our son and my wife was well along in her pregnancy, in fact a day or 2 past her due date, we decided to go for a walk along the boardwalk. We’d heard that exercise was a good way to get things going, along with eating spicy food, so on our stroll we also grabbed a slice of hot pepperoni pizza.

With no signs of impending labour, we wandered the neighbourhood and came across a home for sale with an open house in progress. We popped in, and must have fit the estate agent’s profile, because she was all over us. We were living in a downtown condo at the time and knew that eventually we’d want a home with a garden and some space for a toddler, and this was a nice family house that backed onto the local school – you could send your child off through the backyard gate into the school grounds – and for a few moments we had serious thoughts of “what if we lived in the Beaches”.

And then we realized that the timing wasn’t great – she was only days from delivery and we didn’t fancy moving with a 1 or 2 month old – so we kept on strolling. Soon enough, within a few days our son was born, and we had more important things to do.

And as he got older, every few months we’d drive out to the Beaches, this time with a stroller, and walk along the boardwalk. Later our strolls took in the parks and playgrounds and ice creams and chasing him along the sand and tossing pebbles into the waves. Once he even won a prize by guessing the # of jelly beans in a jar at a local antique called The Seagull – it was a framed picture of well-known Beaches shops and restaurants. We kept that for years afterwards.

And then there’s the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I did that in 2017, and the last quarter of the route took in Queen Street right through the heart of the neighbourhood. The eastern end of the route was at Maclean Avenue, where you turned and headed back down Queen, and from that turn there were about 8-9 km to the finish. I was exhausted when I came up Woodbine Ave onto Queen and as I plowed along I kept thinking “where is Maclean, when do I get there”. I was one of the stragglers at the end of the race but there were still lots of locals cheering on us slowpokes as we dragged ourselves through. I still think of that whenever I pass Maclean.

So all of those memories colour how I see the Beaches. I’m sure I’m not the only Torontonian who has a range of memories of the neighbourhood, and I’m sure that as long as we live here we’ll continue to visit to soak up the spirit of the place.

Sights:

The lakefront and the sand are why this area is popular, and the sightseeing starts there.

Woodbine Beach

There’s much more to the area than the actual beaches, of course. The parks are great for picnics and playgrounds. There’s also the pool at Woodbine Park, the outdoor skating rink at Kew Gardens, and many great spots to run around as a kid, an adult, or a dog (there are several off-leash dog run areas along the beach). Plus there are dozens of benches and Adirondack chairs along the boardwalk, perfect for people-watching or just staring at the lake.

The people-watching and window-shopping are also fun along Queen. The area is constantly changing, and old favourites like Seagull Antiques or Lick’s Burgers have sadly closed up, but new places open constantly and there are still some familiar spots like the Sunset Grill and the Beacher Cafe. COVID-19 has put a dent into the retail character of the area, but it will bounce back over time and in the meantime there’s plenty to see and do.

That’s true any time of the year, by the way. The changing seasons are reflected in the parks and the lake. On a hot summer day, the water is blue and enticing, while on a cold January day it can be grey-green and forbidding, but it’s always fascinating. The autumn colours are wonderful, and the spring flowers too. And the many places to pop into along Queen mean that you can always warm up or cool down no matter what the weather.

New Year’s Day at Balmy Beach

Food & Refreshment:

There are dozens of ice cream, coffee, burger, pizza, and other takeaway places in the area, including a Pizza Pizza outlet in Kew Gardens at the Boardwalk. There are also usually food trucks around on weekends. And of course, there are many local bars and restaurants to choose from, offering casual to formal options.

Another great idea is to visit some of the many food shops along Queen and grab the ingredients for a picnic – fresh fruit, bakeries, cheeses, snacks, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and more are all available, and there are many picnic tables scattered around the parks along with shady spots and sunny sand where you can enjoy your feast.

There are public washrooms in the parks, along with public water fountains. These are seasonal, open from about May 1 to about Oct 1 depending on the weather. Outside those months, the many coffee shops on Queen are good places for a pit stop.

Diversions:

  1. The Leslieville neighbourhood lies just to the west of the Beaches, along Queen between about Broadview to about Leslie. It’s only about a 2 km walk or so between the neighbourhoods, and there are lots of shops and sights in between, so breakfasting in Leslieville and lunching in the Beaches makes for a great day out.
  2. If the weather is kind, walking from Queen Station on Line 1 along Queen out to the Beaches will take you about an hour and a half, and then you can take the Streetcar back. You can also do that in reverse, and walk back to Queen Station.
  3. The Martin Goodman Trail follows the lakefront all the way across Toronto. Walking or cycling that trail to and from the Beaches is a great way to get some exercise.
  4. The Glen Stewart Ravine runs north from Queen at about Glen Manor Drive, and takes you along a wonderful trail up to Kingston Road. The autumn colours here are spectacular.
The RC Harris Water Treatment Plant at the east end of Queen

Toronto Discovery Walks

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Also be aware that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited availability. Please check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not.

And now on to the regular post …..

Over the past several months, I’ve written about a number of my favourite walks in Toronto. This time, I wanted to highlight something a bit different.

One of the many great things about living in Toronto is the work that the City has put into exploring its past and making it accessible to a new generation of residents and visitors. One of they ways of doing that is a fantastic program called Discovery Walks.

Each of these walking routes explores some of City’s many natural features like the lakefront or the ravine trail system, and along the way points out the history of the City.

For example, the Garrison Creek walk takes you through downtown Toronto following the route of the now-buried creek that, back in the 1790’s, emptied into Lake Ontario near what today is about Bathurst Street. Following this route takes you through some interesting inner-city neighbourhoods that are full of history, as well as fantastic shopping, bars, and restaurants.

Other Discovery Walks include perennial favourites that I’ve covered, like the Beltline. They also include some lesser known yet well worth the walk trails like the upper west Humber, the eastern ravines and the beaches, or the Don Valley Hills and Dales.

If you visit the City’s website, the list of walks shown includes a map for each route. There are currently 11 of them, and they’re all great. Whether you’re a lifelong resident of Toronto or a visitor with an afternoon to fill, check them out! Toronto is a great walking city (ahem, it’s what I’ve been blogging about for months now!) and these walks prove it.

Length: Each trail is different. They are usually in the 1-3 hour range for a typical walker, and you can jump on/off any of these walks in many places.

Surface: A mixture – mostly they are paved and suitable for strollers and mobility devices, though there can be some gravel portions. Check each route map for details.

Public Transit: Each walk is accessible at start and finish by public transit, usually a combination of streetcar and subway, with some bus travel too. Each route map has details.

Route: See the City website for details. Each route has a detailed map that you can download.

Sights: Each of the walks has many sights to take in. Some are more nature-oriented, like the Humber Marshes, and some are more urban, like the Downtown or Uptown walks.

Any of these walks works well in any season. That said, I’ve always liked Toronto best in about mid-October on a crisp early autumn blue-sky day when the leaves have started to turn but it’s still warm enough for light clothes.

Food & Refreshment:

Most of the routes take you past at least some type of refreshments, either along the route or near the start or finish. Each route map will have some details.

Also, most of the routes take you at least partially through various City parks and trails, and there are public washrooms in most of them. There are also water fountains in most parks. Be aware, however, that these are usually seasonal so they are closed between roughly late October through early May.

Besides the public facilities, Toronto is well-endowed with coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and numerous other places where you can make a pit stop of one kind or another.

Diversions:

  1. Can I suggest blending some of my Favourite Walks with the Discovery Walks? Check out my list and you’ll see that portions of my favourite walks cover the same trails (the Beltline for example) as one of the Discovery Walks. You can walk my route but use the Discovery Walk for more historical info. Or you can walk the Discovery Walk and use my walk for pictures and maps. Mix and match.
  2. As the late great Ernie Banks used to say, let’s play two – why stop at one Discovery Walk when you can link them together and make a great outdoor day. For example, the Lambton House walk route is adjacent to the Humber River route.

Gear – Gregory Paragon 38 backpack

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: Gregory Paragon 38 backpack. I think this model is being discontinued however, as the Gregory website has it on clearance. There’s a bigger 48 model still available I think.

How much?: about $200 CAD including tax

Where, when, how do I use it?: I bought this in the spring of 2019, because I was planning to start doing some long multi-day walks. By multi-day, I mean anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. That said, this pack is more for walks with accommodation along the way than it is for pure backpack wilderness hiking. Think of things like the Camino de Santiago.

To date, while I haven’t taken it out of Ontario, it has been used for my 200km Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto walk. On that trip, I booked B&Bs and hotels for each night, so I was just carrying clothes, rain gear, shaving kit, first aid kit, an iPad, sundries, snacks, and water. Even so, my full pack weighed in at around 11 or 12 kg for the 6 day walk. I could have been more economical in packing, and with more planning and experience I am sure I could make it work for longer trips without adding too much if any weight.

I picked it because it fit well. Gregory packs are sized by length, and since I have a long torso I needed the medium/long model. When I tried it in the store, with a couple of 5 kg weights tossed in, I was able to adjust it easily to my frame and get the weight sitting on my hips. The belt system is good, and the straps allow you to adjust it pretty much however you need it.

This has an aluminum internal frame to carry the load and the material is relatively heavy nylon for durability. The back is meshed as are the cushions, and properly adjusted it will float a bit off your back so that there is some air circulation.

I like the storage. There are side pockets on the waist belt that are big enough for multiple Clif bars. The side mesh pockets can hold a 1L Nalgene bottle. There’s a big stretch mesh exterior pocket on the back that I used for my rain jacket and the rain cover. Inside, there are multiple pockets including one for a hydration bag, and the top cover has multiple pockets too that worked well for handy access to snacks and the first aid kit. I like that you can get into the main compartment from the top or from the bottom.

Another plus is that there are multiple strap and clip-on points. I used the ones on the bottom of the pack to strap on my walking poles, but I could still reach around and unclip the straps to get the poles while walking if I needed to. With a couple of bungee cords, you can use the exterior tie-down loops to hold other stuff too.

The pack kept my stuff dry in light rain, though I did have moisture inside the pack from sweating through the fabric. The rain cover works well in heavier downpours, and it’s a nice bright dayglo yellow so if I’m walking along a busy road I’ll use the rain cover just for the visibility.

The biggest con is the weight given the size. This is a 38L pack after all, yet it weighs nearly 1.5kg empty. There are lighter ones on the market that hold more, though they are also more expensive than this one.

Would I buy it again?: Not sure. I like the fit of the Gregory packs, and the versatility of the pockets and straps. However, if I could find something lighter with the same or greater volume, then I think I’d go for that as long as it wasn’t too much more expensive. All that said, if this model is discontinued then I’d have to look for a new bag anyway. I’d probably start with Gregory to see what they have, and if I couldn’t find what I needed then since I have an Osprey and a Deuter daypack, I’d see what those manufacturers had.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

Unstuffing

Out for a walk recently, my mind wandered as it usually does and on this day I was singing a song to myself to set my pace, a Janis Joplin tune called Mercedes Benz.

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all drive Porches, and I must make amends

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends

So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

Copyright Sony Music Entertainment

As those words revolved in my head, my train of thought moved on to the materialism that the song parodies, and that brought me round to the idea of “stuff”. Why do we have stuff?

A few years ago, I was flying home from a business trip to Madagascar.

My fellow passengers were mostly like me – businessmen in suits and jackets and ties – so I couldn’t help but notice a guy wearing bush shorts and a bush shirt, with thick woollen socks and heavy hiking boots. He was a bit older than me, perhaps late 60’s, yet with a healthy energy and a tanned outdoorsy complexion. He stood out for what he was wearing, and also for what he was carrying – an old-fashioned canvas rucksack and a little folding luggage cart to which was strapped a small crate full of hardcover books.

I watched him board and take his seat, and then as I took mine, I briefly noticed he was across the aisle from me, before I disappeared into my flight routine, taking out my headphones and book and settling down for a 4 hour hop to Johannesburg.

Partway through the flight, I looked up from my book to see that he was reading it over my shoulder along with me. When he saw me look up, he asked if I liked it – I think it was a James Clavell novel, Shogun or something – and we got to chatting. Over the remainder of the flight I learned a bit of his story.

He was a woodworker and carpenter, from outside Guelph in Ontario – less than a hundred km from Toronto, though we met on the other side of the world (how do Canadians always seem to find each other?). He lived on his own, though he had grown children. He liked to travel, and each winter he’d work for a few months and when he’d saved enough he’d head out somewhere. He’d just spent a couple of months in Madagascar, bird-watching and wildlife spotting, and was trying to decide where to head next once he got to Johannesburg. North he thought, maybe Morocco.

Other than bird-watching, he loved to read, hence the crate of books. He’d pick up any English-language books he could find and trade them with other travellers along the way. Sometimes he’d sell a few, or spend a bit of time teaching people to read in English to make a few dollars. Other than that, he had a few clothes, his binoculars, and a simple lifestyle, staying in hostels or crashing on people’s couches. He could spend 6 months travelling for a few thousand dollars, most of which went on airfare, and when his money ran low he’d head back to Canada to work for a few months and make enough to travel some more.

When we got to Johannesburg, I offered to buy him a coffee, but his next flight was going off through one terminal and mine through another, so we shook hands and wished each other safe travels.

I can’t remember now what his name was – Jack or Bill or something like that. But I think of him now and again, because I envy him, and that Janis Joplin song brought his image back to my mind.

When I’m walking, I’m usually just doing that – walking. I might take a water bottle or a small knapsack with some snacks, perhaps a rain jacket. That’s about it. I like walking because I can do it with so little.

And this is what I what was going through my mind as I thought about “stuff”. It was tied up with a recent family dinner conversation, my wife and son and I. We were talking about the homes of some of my son’s friends, which to be frank are considerably larger than ours, and moved on to stuff in general – the cars, smartphones, clothes, and other everyday things that people buy that can be outward signs of affluence. My son said that one of his goals was to be able to buy a nice house, and we talked about what “nice” meant and what you need in order to be comfortable – where the line was between comfortable and luxury and what “stuff” was a luxury, what was a necessity, and what was in between.

On my walk, that conversation muddled and mingled with my recollections of my long-ago fellow traveller, and the words in that song. His stuff was minimal – a few clothes and some books, and not much else. Janis was singing about materialism and mocking it. And as I walked I realized that I was meandering around Lytton Park and Forest Hill, relatively upscale neighbourhoods in mid-town Toronto.

And parked in their driveways, I’d often notice expensive cars (Mercedes Benzs and Porches amongst them, which is probably what triggered the memory of the song), and other conspicuous displays of consumption – fancy bikes, electric scaled-down cars for kids, and so on. Smug thoughts drifted through my head. What a wasteful carbon footprint.

And then I thought about my walks, and the recent series of posts that I’ve been doing about my gear. My pile of walking stuff is actually bigger than I’d like to admit – walking poles, knapsacks, water bottles, hiking boots, rain gear, and exercise clothes, not to mention the other stuff I’d like to buy including a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, a bigger pack, a cook stove, and cooking gear.

As I mentally checked off the stuff on my so-called minimal list, my smugness faded. Is my footprint really so light? My stuff may feature eco-friendly, recycled polyester fleece, merino wool and ethically-raised duck-down, but does that make my stuff virtuous and their stuff vulgar? Who decides whose stuff is bling and whose is basic? At the end of the day, it’s still stuff.

So as often happens, if I walk long enough I come full circle in my thoughts. On my way home, I mulled over the idea of “unstuff”. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve told myself that I don’t need much. By the standards of many in Toronto, we live relatively modestly. I go for walks. I armchair shop for hiking gear. We drive a basic car. And while I’d like to think of that as unstuffing my life, if I’m honest it’s more a case of “less stuff” than it is “unstuff”.

I’d like to say I can step away from stuff, and walk lightly. Whether I can do that honestly – well, there’s a new thought to mull over as I walk.

Favourite Toronto Walks – A Downtown Loop

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! As part of its COVID-19 strategy, the City of Toronto may have closed some of the parks or other public facilities mentioned. Check with the City first.

And now on to the regular post …..

The Crystal at the ROM

I’ve often wandered Toronto’s core, whether out for a noon stroll when I was working downtown, or just taking a roundabout way home when we lived near St. Lawrence Market. I thought it would be fun to put together a walking route of around 10 km that took in many of the sights, offered plenty of shopping, eating, and resting options, and provided a bit of tour through some of the historic parts of the city. I hope this route ticks those boxes for you.

Tip: I’ve included lots of links for some of the sights along this walk – check ahead to confirm opening times, and to find out about special shows or exhibits and things to do.

Length: About 10-12 km, depending on wanderings, so about 2.5 to 3 hours at a leisurely pace.

Surface: Paved.

Public Transit: I set this up to start and end at Nathan Philips Square, which is a block west from Queen Station on subway Line 1. You can also take the subway to Osgoode Station, also on Line 1 (on the University Ave side of the loop) and walk about 3 blocks east. Finally, you could adjust the walk to follow the loop shown but start/stop at Union Station, if you are coming in by GO train.

Route:

Starting at Nathan Philips Square, in front of the Toronto sign, head south-east towards Bay Street, and follow Bay south through the financial district to Front Street. Turn east on Front (left) and walk towards Yonge Street, passing the Hockey Hall of Fame. Continue east on Front Street past Berczy Park, crossing Church Street and continuing to Jarvis Street by the St. Lawrence Market.

Turn north on Jarvis and walk up to King Street, then turn west on King. You can cut through the gardens at St James Park if you’d like, or just keep going along King to Church Street. Turn north (right) on Church and continue up to Queen Street. Turn west (left) on Queen and continue to Yonge Street. Turn north (right) and walk up Yonge past Dundas Square, Ryerson University, and College Park, to reach Wellesley Street. Turn west (left) on Wellesley for about 50m, then turn north (right) onto St. Nicholas Street. Follow St. Nicholas north to Charles Street. Turn east (right) and return to Yonge Street, then turn north (left) and go up Yonge to Bloor Street.

Turn west (left) on Bloor and continue to Bay Street, crossing to the west side. Turn north on Bay and walk up to Cumberland Street. Turn west (left) on Cumberland and walk through Yorkville to Avenue Road. Turn south (left) on Avenue and walk down to Bloor. Cross Avenue and then cross Bloor, to reach the south-west corner by the Royal Ontario Museum. Continue west on Bloor to the gates marking the entrance to the Philosopher’s Walk, just west of the ROM.

Follow Philosopher’s Walk (fun fact – Philosopher’s Walk follows the ravine of the now-buried Taddle Creek) south to Hoskin Avenue. Cross Hoskin and then turn west (right) for about 50m to Tower Road on the University of Toronto campus. Turn south on Tower road and follow it through the arch at Soldier’s Tower. South of the Tower, follow Kings College Circle south and west and then cut west through the campus to reach the corner of St. George and Russell Street. Follow Russell Street west to Spadina Circle, then turn south on Spadina to reach College Street. Cross College and then Spadina to reach the south-west corner, and then continue west on College to reach Augusta Avenue. Turn south (left) down Augusta into Kensington Market. At Baldwin Street, turn east (left) and continue a few meters to reach Kensington Street. Turn south (right) and follow Kensington to Dundas Street.

At Dundas, turn east (left) and follow it, crossing Spadina in Chinatown. Continue on Dundas to Beverley Street, crossing to the south-east corner by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Turn south on Beverly and walk down to Grange Park. Enter the Park and cut through past the Henry Moore sculpture to reach Stephanie Street. Turn east on Stephanie and then after a few meters turn south to walk through the little park at St. Patrick’s Market. Continue south to Queen Street. Turn east (left) on Queen and cross University Avenue to the north-east corner. Jog north on University a few meters to the gate into Osgoode Hall gardens, turning east and walking through the Gardens to emerge on the west side of Nathan Philips Square. Walk through the Square to take a selfie in front of the Toronto sign!

Sights:

There are too many sights along this walk to list them all. If you want public spaces then there’s Nathan Philips Square, Berczy Park‘s famous Dog Fountain, Yorkville Park, and Grange Park and a few more.

St. James Park gardens

If you want famous/interesting buildings there’s the Old and New City Halls, Brookfield Place, St. James Cathedral, College Park, all of U of T, and plenty of others too.

University College at U of T

If you want culture, there’s the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, not to mention the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hockey Hall of Fame

And if you want shopping, there’s St. Lawrence Market, the Eaton Centre, Yorkville and the Mink Mile, Kensington Market, and the many shops along the route.

Lunch!

This walk was designed to tempt you with lots of sights, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you started out with the best of intentions to finish and got so distracted that you have to come back another day.

The Henry Moore sculpture at Grange Park

Also, this walk works in any season. I did it recently on a scorching July day, and being able to pop into places like the Eaton Centre for some AC cooling was really nice. Passing so many covered shopping areas like that also means that on a rainy or snowy day, you can duck out of the weather. Then again, like so many walks in Toronto, I think this would be at its best in early autumn, to catch the foliage in Queens Park and U of T, and to take advantage of the harvest foods at the markets. And finally, don’t forget that in winter, you can go skating on the outdoor rink at Nathan Philips Square. Really, any time of the year will work.

Food & Refreshment:

I set this up going anti-clockwise round the downtown core, which means you go by St. Lawrence Market near the start, a perfect place for breakfast or lunch or a snack. Going in this direction lets you pass through Kensington Market near the end, which is also a great spot for food plus it has lots of coffee joints, juice bars, and beer-and-alcoholic drink bars. In between, there are coffee shops, restaurants, ice cream parlours, bakeries, donut shops, food trucks, and more that cover the spectrum from quick takeaway to full service sit-down.

As far as restrooms and toilets are concerned, there are lots – Nathan Philips Square, St. Lawrence Market, the Eaton Centre, College Park, and Yorkville all have public facilities, and of course the many coffee shops and restaurants along the way provide lots of options.

One thing there isn’t a lot of is water fountains – there are ones in St. Lawrence Market and in the Eaton Centre, but other than that you may want to carry water with you. Of course, the many food/drink options along the way will tempt you if you’re thirsty, so staying hydrated shouldn’t be a problem.

Diversions:

  1. This whole route offers detours, distractions, and diversions. My advice is to use the marked route as a rough guide and just let your curiosity take over.
  2. That said, the two food markets (Kensington and St. Lawrence) are destinations in themselves for me, and so are the AGO, the ROM, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. I could spend hours at any of these places.
  3. From the St. Lawrence Market area, heading east a bit and taking in the Distillery District is good fun. There’s a great holiday market there in December, and some tasty food and shopping options year-round.
  4. Starting at about Carlton Street, and running north about a block east of Yonge along Church Street, the Village is a vibrant, fun, and colourful neighbourhood that’s Toronto’s spiritual home of Pride and its LGBTQ community. The annual Pride parade attracts hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and is centred along Church.
  5. A few blocks further east of the Village, along Parliament Street between about Gerrard and Wellesley, the Cabbagetown neighbourhood showed Toronto what we could do with our beautiful Victorian homes. It’s full of good shops and quiet little streets that are perfect for a stroll, and nearby Riverdale Park and the Riverdale Farm offer lots of things for kids to do.
  6. Yorkville covers several square blocks between Yonge Street and Avenue Road, and between Bloor and Scollard Streets. A hippie hangout in the 1960’s, today it’s full of high-end shops, art galleries, bars, restaurants, and some of the best people-watching in the city.

Gear – Black Diamond Alpine FLZ trekking poles

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: Black Diamond FLZ Cork-handled carbon-fibre trekking poles

How much?: $190 CAD + tax

Where, when, how do I use it?: I bought these in 2018, anticipating that I was going to start doing some long hikes. Since then, I’ve taken them out on several hikes of different lengths, the longest a 200km walk from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto which included about 88km of the Bruce Trail.

I wasn’t really a big believer in trekking poles. I had used borrowed ones before, in particular on a few hikes in Ireland. There, I was using just one pole because the owner had the other. It was useful when climbing bogging hill sides to have the extra “leg” but I didn’t think they’d make much difference on a flatter walk.

That changed when I used them on the Bruce Trail. The Niagara section is actually fairly moderate compared to the northern stretches of the Trail, but I found it a workout when carrying about 12kg in a backpack. Going up and down hills, cliffs, and ravines on rocky, uneven ground is tough, and the poles paid for themselves by saving me a couple of times from taking a header, spraining an ankle, or worse.

If you use trekking poles properly, adjusted for your height, you can transfer a fair amount of the work from your leg muscles to your arms which would otherwise just be swinging. That helps a lot both uphill and downhill. I also found them very useful going down hill on broken rock, to pick out which rocks seemed planted and which were loose.

I like the cork handles on these poles – I was walking in September but it was still in the mid-20s and I was perspiring a lot. Plastic handles would have become slippery, but the cork let you grip without feeling hot. In other seasons, the cork grips are still grippy even with gloves on in winter. These poles are “handed”, meaning there is a left and a right which you need to respect that so that the wrist straps sit correctly without chaffing. You can use them without the wrist straps, but it’s amazing how many times your hand comes off a pole so the straps mean fewer times bending down with a heavy pack on your back to pick them up.

The length adjustment and the folding mechanisms on these poles work pretty well. The pair I have extend to 120 cm, and that works for my height (175 cm). If you were taller, you’d probably want longer poles.

They are lightweight, since they are made of carbon fibre. They are plenty stiff however, and they’ve never bent or felt like they were getting wobbly even when I felt like I had most of my weight leaning on one pole.

I like the tips too. They have a smallish metal tip with a little plastic cap on it that works well on rock and rough ground, and they also come with a rubber cap that you can put on when on sidewalks or roads if the clicking bugs you. The metal tip with the plastic works well on snow, and you can get sharper metal winter tips if you need something even pointier. The standard baskets are fine for most seasons, even winter, but if you are facing deep snow you can get bigger baskets like you’d see on a ski pole.

Overall, I’m convinced. For everyday hikes around the city, I don’t bother with them. But for rough ground, especially with a pack, I’d go so far as to call good trekking poles a life-saver, and these Black Diamond poles fill that role really well. Granted, I’ve never used another pair so I can’t compare them to other makes and models, but these feel right and they work so that’s good enough for me.

Would I buy it again?: Yup. There used to be an advert in the UK for a brand of deck sealant, where the tagline was “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. That’s what I like about these poles – no fuss, they just work.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

TO Places – Riverside and Leslieville

Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Restrictions placed by either the Province of Ontario or the City of Toronto may limit what you can do. Check the links for the latest info.

And now on to the regular post …..

One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Toronto is the area along Queen Street East, and east of the Don River. It has several names. The City calls it South Riverdale, on Google Maps it’s Riverside and Leslieville, and to Torontonians it’s now mostly thought of as just Leslieville. Whatever you call it, it’s a great area to wander and explore.

Location: For me, what I’ll call Leslieville is a bit more compact than what the City calls South Riverdale. I think of it as extending a few blocks north and south of Queen between Broadview and Greenwood Avenue to the east, and Eastern Avenue and Dundas Street to the south and north. Most Torontonians think of Riverdale as being a bit on the east and west sides of the Don along queen, from River St in the west to Broadview (or a bit past that to the train tracks) in the east. If that’s Riverdale to you, then Leslieville is the area east of Riverdale along Queen to Greenwood.

Public Transit: Take the Line 1 subway to Queen Station, then catch the 501 Streetcar east to about Broadview if you want to wander east through Leslieville. Or stay on the streetcar to about Greenwood and then you can wander back west. It’s only about 4.5 km along Queen back to the subway.

Why I like it:

I like it for several reasons. First of all, there are a ton of little shops, bars, restaurants, and funky dives. OK, it did go through an overly-hipster stretch a few years ago, but now it’s matured into a gentler post-hipster family neighbourhood that still tries to show a little edge here and there, yet not enough to actually be dark and edgy – the equivalent of parents in their early 30’s. For me as a parent pushing 60, it’s great walking around and seeing young families starting out.

Another reason to like it is that it’s a foodie place and I do like to eat. There are plenty of places and they create some competition for each other – you have to be good to stand out. And that foodie scene is then echoed in some of the food shops – cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers, organic greengrocers, bakers, and more. You could dine very well for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and finish in a cool bar, anywhere in a 2 km stretch of Queen between Broadview and Leslie. That competition also means that places turn over, so if you go back every few months there will be something new to try.

One other fun fact – back in the 1980’s, Canada’s national broadcaster the CBC ran a show for teens called the Kids of Degrassi Street, about inner-city kids living on what is a real street that’s smack in the middle of the area. In the 2000’s, a revived and updated version of Degrassi Street starred a little known young actor named Aubrey Graham, who today is better known as Drake. Today, you can wander along the real Degrassi street looking at the renovated homes that are now everywhere – a far cry from the working class world of the original Degrassi Street TV series.

Sights:

The most obvious sights are along Queen, and just walking up and down here you’ll find something to catch your eye, whether it’s a cool design/clothing place, a retro bar, or a thrift shop full of bargains. The streets will be a mixture of locals and tourists, young and old, new parents, grandparents, kids, dogs, bikes, strollers, and little wagons. It’s a real neighbourhood, not a manufactured one, where people live and work and play. Walking around you see Toronto in its diversity, though it’s also true that the gentrification and ensuing increase in housing costs means that it’s losing some of its funky edge.

Besides the shops, you see that gentrification when you wander the side streets, increasingly full of older homes renovated and updated. The time to buy here was 5-10 years ago – a $500k fixer-upper then will probably be worth well north of $1m now. If you are into houses and home reno’s, wandering about will give you lots of ideas to try.

There are also some nods to history throughout the neighbourhood. Just north of Queen, on Broadview, there is the former Don Jail, built in the 1860’s and only closed in the 2000’s.

Today, the building has been restored and incorporated as the admin wing of BridgePoint Hospital, and you can tour the grounds to admire the architecture.

There’s also nods to local history at places like the Leslieville Pumps. This gas station is now known more for it’s takeout or eat-in BBQ than it is for petrol.

Food & Refreshment:

Too many to list, there’s everything from fine dining to bistros to diners along Queen. Toronto’s diversity is reflected as well – pizza, sushi, BBQ, Indian, Thai, Caribbean, you name it.

There are lots of coffee places and bars too, many with outdoor tables which are perfect for people watching. Summer is the best time for that, and sun-starved winter warriors are often sitting out in March or April whenever they can.

There are some public washrooms at the community centre at Jimmy Simpson Park. Other than that, a coffee place is your best bet for quick pit stop.

Diversions:

  1. It’s not massively far to start out at St. Lawrence Market for breakfast and then walk north and east through Corktown to Queen and then on over the Don River into Leslieville. You can of course go the other way, starting in Leslieville and ending perhaps at the Distillery District or at St. Lawrence. Either way, you tie together 2 great foodie areas with a nice 4-5 km walk.
  2. To the north of Leslieville along Gerrard Street, is one of Toronto’s several Chinatowns, centred around Broadview. A loop up Broadview from Queen to Gerrard and then east to about Carlaw will take you through that vibrant scene.
  3. If you keep going east on Gerrard, past about Leslie, you come to Little India, the downtown’s place for authentic south Asian foods, fashion, and charm.
  4. At the east end of Leslieville at about Greenwood, a short walk south and east takes you to Ashbridges Bay, which is basically the entry into the Beaches neighbourhood.