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 …..
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.