Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto
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And now on to the regular post …..
Ronscesvalles is both a neighbourhood and a street, and its location next to High Park makes it a perfect area to explore, shop, and eat either before or after wandering the park.
Location: The neighbourhood of Roncesvalles parallels the avenue of the same name for a few blocks to the east and west of the street. Roncesvalles Avenue starts a couple of blocks south of Bloor Street West, and runs south to end at Queen Street West. It’s bounded to the east by the train tracks that curve up from near Queen at about Landsdowne Street, and on the west by High Park, although many people would consider the streets immediately adjacent to the park to be the neighbourhood of High Park. Anyway, just aim for Roncesvalles Avenue and you know you are in Roncy the neighbourhood.
Public Transit: Take Line 2 west to Keele Station, and walk south on Dundas a couple of blocks until the road forks – follow the right hand fork and you are on Roncesvalles Avenue. Or, take the 501 Queen streetcar from either Queen Station or Osgood Station on Line 1, and get off at the south end of Roncesvalles Avenue.
Why I like it:
Roncy the neighbourhood for me is really about the shops and restaurants along Roncesvalles Avenue. Years ago, when I first moved to Toronto, my brother had a tiny studio apartment at the corner of Dundas and Bloor. I used to visit and we’d walk down Roncy Avenue, which back then reflected the eastern European wave of immigration that had settled in the area in the 1920’s and 1930’s. You could get a decent schnitzel and a beer (but not much else) at a half-dozen places back then.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the area started changing. The older generation started to sell off to a younger, and as we moved into the 2000’s, these younger folks had a different food and shopping sense. The older eastern European places started to change hands and gradually, as part of restaurant trends throughout the city, new flavours and cultures started to settle. Today, it’s 2 km of funky restaurants mixed with old favourites, where you can get a great BBQ, quality seafood, Asian fusion, and much more. You can also shop for locally grown organic produce, cheeses, books, clothes, or antiques, stop for a local not-another-coffee-chain coffee, or indulge in a drink at one of several bars.
Plus, you are just a couple of blocks from High Park. It’s easy to start on Roncy for breakfast or lunch, then go for nice stroll around the Park and end up back on Roncy to pick up fruit and veg for dinner before heading home. Of course, you can do the opposite and start in the Park for a brisk, appetite-building walk before satisfying that hunger in one of Roncy’s many restaurants.
To be honest, if your idea of sights includes tall buildings and high culture, then this may not your place. On the other hand, if your idea of sights includes some funky fresh menu options and window-shopping in a real neighbourhood filled with the diversity of Toronto, then you are in the right place. Combine that with the natural beauty of High Park and you’re set.
Even then, there is culture in the hood. Just east of Roncy there is the new Museum of Contemporary Art on Sterling Road. Since that opened, a number of gallery spaces have started up in the area, creating a new cluster of art buzz that takes you outside the cloister that used to be centred near the AGO in downtown Toronto. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Another cool option is the Dream in High Park, when the Canadian Stage Company puts on a full length play by Shakespeare during the summer. I remember going 30 years ago (Midsummer’s Night Dream?), and it’s still a tradition. [Sad note: COVID-19 has cancelled this for 2020, alas! Cross your fingers for 2021]
Of course, walking in the park is its own type of culture. I like coming in any season. Autumn of course is a natural, with the turning leaves. Spring is also great, especially in May when the cherry blossoms bloom in High Park (beware the crowds though, weekends can be brutal). A summer day is great, and so is a winter’s afternoon. Oh, let’s be honest, it’s always good. Just come.
Food & Refreshment:
As I’ve said, there are many restaurant, food shop, and bar options up and down Roncesvalles Avenue. There are also many more along Bloor West which forms the northern border of High Park, especially to the west of the park. These days as well, if you walk the length of Roncy down to Queen West and then turn left (east), you’ll go through Parkdale and several other changing/renewing neighbourhoods. It can be a great walk that way too.
In High Park itself, there’s a couple of places to eat including the famous Grenadier Restaurant, and often ice cream or food truck vendors in summer. There are washrooms throughout the park and lots of water fountains [but COVID-19 has many water fountains shut off in 2020 so bring your own water], though these are open only in the warm months between May and October. In the cool months, there are lots of coffee shops back on Bloor or Roncy where you can have a quick pit stop.
- Starting just east of Roncesvalle Avenue, at Lansdowne and Queen, is the newish West Toronto Railpath. It runs sort of north-south, and takes you up north of Bloor to near Davenport Road. It’s being expanded and in a few years will be connected into the city’s wider bike plan.
- Within High Park itself there are many trails and roads, some paved and some not. On a quiet weekday, it’s easy to get lost in what can feel like a giant forest in the middle of Toronto. You can spend a couple of hours covering many km of trails.
- High Park is also home to the High Park Zoo, a small but fun place for kids. We took our son there many times when he was a wee lad.
- At the bottom of Roncesvalles Avenue, where it crosses Queen West, there is a bridge and connector trail that crosses the train tracks, the busy Gardiner Expressway, and Lakeshore Boulevard. This lets you jump onto the Martin Goodman Trail along the shore of Lake Ontario, at Sunnyside Park. Either direction, east or west, is fun. I like to go west and cross back over Lakeshore at about Ellis Avenue in order to walk north just to the west of High Park, through the neighbourhood of Swansea, and end up back on Bloor West. From there I can turn right (east) and finish back at Roncesvalles.