Walking on a Beach

We’re home.

This week we finally had a day when we could go for a stroll on the beach, and just chill. It’s been a hectic past few months – April was driving out to Halifax and quarantining and moving our son out of university residence and into his new apartment and visiting Lunenburg to see in person the new house we’d purchased via video link, and May was driving back to Toronto and getting our 1st COVID shots and getting organized to move and sweating the sale of our place there, and June was packing and driving and quarantining and unpacking in Lunenburg, and the first few weeks of July have been getting the car re-registered to Nova Scotia and getting our drivers’ licences and health cards and sorting things out in the house and cleaning and putting things away and driving to Bridgewater 847 times to pick up this and that and going to Halifax to get some furniture and putting that furniture together and organizing our books and getting to know some people in town and getting our 2nd COVID shots and then finally, this week, just looking outside and saying let’s go to the beach.

And it was wonderful. It was Hirtle Beach of course, our favourite and probably the chief reason we’re here at all. Slipping off sandals and splashing through chilly North Atlantic water, gazing at familiar sights and listening to the breeze and gurgle of waves, watching families braving the waters and young couples huddled on the sand. We’ve walked this beach a dozen times or more, and yet today was like our first walk.

In the parking lot near the beach, I turned to Ann and said hey look, Ontario plates on that car – that used to be us.

We’ve had a few moments over the past few weeks when we’ve said to ourselves, we’re here. Our first meal in our new house. Our first night out in Lunenburg. But now that we’ve had our first stroll on the beach, and now we really know that we’re here.

Time to get walking.

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

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.

TO Places – Roncesvalles and High Park

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 …..

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.

Grenadier Pond in High 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.

Art in the Park

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.

Sights:

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]

The Dream stage area looking very COVID neglected in the summer of 2020

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.

Diversions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

TO Places – Moore Ravine and the Brickworks

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 on this walk. Check the links for the latest info.

And now on to the regular post …..

The Don Valley Brickworks Park is one of the best little walking parks in Toronto, and getting there by walking down the Moore Ravine trail just adds to the fun. Please note that as of this post (July 2020), the City of Toronto is doing extensive work on the Ravine that will continue through the summer of 2020. You can still walk it, though there is a lot of dust and noise at the north end of the ravine trail Mon-Fri. Weekends are quiet but still dusty.

All that said, it would be a shame to skip the Moore Ravine just because of work to make it even better. Once you get past the first several hundred meters, you the path is (literally) clear to walk and enjoy the shady tunnel beside burbling Mud Creek.

Location: Moore Ravine starts at Moore Avenue, just east of Mount Pleasant Road. It follows Mud Creek down into the Don Valley, and the northern entrance to the Brickworks Park is at the south end of the Ravine trail. The Brickworks can also be reached from the south, off of Bayview Avenue. It lies just to the west of the Don River.

Public Transit: If you are starting at the top of the Moore Ravine, then take the 74 bus from St. Clair station on Line 1. You can also walk from St. Clair station in about 20 minutes. If you are starting from the south, take the 28 bus from Davisville Station on Line 1.

Why I like it:

Pure and simple, it’s just a fun place to walk. The Moore Ravine trail is wide and well shaded, and for most of its length runs beside Mud Creek. On a peaceful mid-week day, I’ve been the only person on the trail and able to hear the birds, the water, the swish of a breeze in the trees, and the crackle of leaves underfoot. Then when you get to the Brickworks, you leave a forested, mostly natural setting and enter a man-made setting that’s slowly reverting to nature. The old clay pits are slowly being reclaimed by grasses, shrubs, marsh ponds, and trees, and the paths meander so that you can cover a few km in a small area.

I love these connected parks in any season. In spring I’ve seen turtles basking on logs, and heard frogs grunting amorously. In summer cool shade of the ravine is a blessing, and there’s usually a breeze in the Brickworks to make the tall grasses sway. Autumn is the best, to me at least, with the leaves exploding in colour, and in winter there’s a different kind of peacefulness on a cold blue-sky snow-crunching day.

Sights:

Turtle sunbathing on a May warm day

There are lots of things to see, both man-made and natural. Just south of the Brick Works Park is the Evergreen Brickworks, which occupies the old industrial buildings of the original Don Valley Brickworks company. This complex has become an environmentally friendly showcase for sustainable development and the reclamation of industrial sites.

There are always interesting things going on here, including festivals, weekend farmer’s markets, winter markets and winter activities like skating, and lots of kid and family friendly activities. To be honest, sometimes the kids get a little over the top for me, so I usually try to go during the week when it’s quieter.

The walks around the park and the ravine are the stars of the show for me. If you are a bird watcher, you’ll probably spot dozens of species, and if you are an amateur entomologist you will have a lot of fun spotting beetles, butterflies, and various hopping insects. Those more interested in flora than fauna are also in for a treat, because of the mixture of Carolinian forest, grasslands, and marshy ponds. There are wildflowers, blossoming shrubs and trees, and aquatic plants to explore, so if that’s your thing I guess spring and summer are your seasons.

And if you just want to wander, try climbing the hill on the east side of the Brick Works Park. From the top, you get a great view south over bowl of the park with the Toronto downtown skyline on the horizon.

Food & Refreshment:

Depending on when you go, there might be a festival on, or the weekend farmer’s market, and that means food trucks and food vendors. I’ve been there when there was a Latin American festival going, and besides the music, there were lots of empanadas, burritos, tacos, and more than I could possibly try. In winter there’s often a hot choco vendor, and in summer there might be ice cream.

And everyday that the Evergreen Brickworks is open (which is almost 365 days a year), there is Cafe Belong. It’s a full-service sit down restaurant that also does takeout, and they have a full bar too along with a gorgeous patio space that’s perfect on a summer day. The food is tasty, organic, and ethically sourced for guilt-free indulging.

Diversions:

  1. The Brickworks is one of my standard stops if I am walking the Don Valley Trail from Corktown Common to Wilket Creek Park. You can use the Brickworks as a great jumping off point too, starting there and walking the Trail south to Corktown to end up at the Distillery District.
  2. There are other connector trails too – if you start down the Moore Ravine, you can exit to the west of the Brickworks and take the Chorley Park connector trail up out of the valley and into Rosedale. From there you can walk through one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Toronto to end up back at Yonge Street.
  3. The Brickworks is also about half-way on the Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail. Walking down Moore Ravine, you’re actually on a section of the Beltline. It continues north of the Moore Ravine, cutting through Mount Pleasant Cemetery (worth exploring all by itself) and continuing all the way west to Bathurst Street. Or from the south end of the Brickworks, the Beltline curves back north and west through David Balfour Park and then Mount Pleasant Cemetery where it completes its loop.
  4. One other route I’ve done is to start at Ramsden Park on Yonge Street (opposite Rosedale Station on Line 1), and walk south-east down Rosedale Valley Drive to Bayview where I turn north and follow the Don Valley Trail back up to the Brickworks. From there I usually keep going up Moore Ravine, through Mount Pleasant Cemetery and onto the Beltline which takes me more or less home. Going in this direction I get lots of uphill walking.

TO Places – St. Lawrence Market

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 …..

The area around St. Lawrence Market includes nearby Corktown and the Distillery District, and it’s a fantastic intro to Toronto – downtown, close to hotels, shops, and transit, full of history, and even more full of good things to eat. If you have just one day in TO, then come here.

Location: St. Lawrence Market itself is at the corner of Front and Jarvis Streets. My personal definition of the more general Market neighbourhood is the area between Church Street in the west to Cherry Street in the east, and King Street to the north down to the Esplanade in the south.

Public Transit: The nearest subway is King Station, on Line 1. The St. Lawrence Market is about a 5-7 minute walk from there. You can also take the 503 or 504 Streetcar east from King Station and get off at Jarvis Street – the Market is just a block south from there.

Why I like it:

First of all, there are a lot of memories for me here. When I met my soon-to-become wife in 1987, she was living in the area, just off the Esplanade. Since she had a much nicer apartment than my basement bedsit, I moved in with her and we lived there for the 1st year or so of our marriage. We also lived just north of here in the early 2000’s and spent many hours walking the neighbourhood pushing a stroller to get our son to sleep.

When we were young and, let’s call it non-affluent, we would hit the market at the end of the day, when vendors were selling off their unsellables. As our budgets expanded, and as we travelled, we starting looking for things we’d tasted in Europe – the cheese, the olives, the fish, the meats. Then when we became parents, a Saturday at the Market became an easy way to keep young one entertained and fed with interesting snacks. And always, it’s been a place to take visitors to the city, who never fail to be wowed by the scents, the sights, and the sounds.

Over the 30+ years since we lived nearby, we’ve always made a point of visiting the Market whenever we can, regardless of where we’ve lived in the City (or elsewhere – we would always try to squeeze in a visit when we came home while we were living in London). There is so much to see and do any time of the year, and if we’re feeling a bit bored by food-shopping we can always explore the rest of the area, especially east over through Corktown and the Distillery District.

There are actually 2 markets, the red brick South Market which is open 5 days a week, and the now-temporarily-in-a-tent-for-the-next-few-years-and-confusingly-named North Market, which is currently located south of the South Market. The North Market, which used to be on the north side of Front Street across from the South Market, is open on Saturdays as a farmers market and on Sundays as an antique market. The City is building a new structure to house it, and it will eventually return to its rightful North Market location.

Sights:

Since this area is one of the oldest in Toronto (at least, what passes for old in the sense of European settlement), there are many historical sites and features. But for me, the starting and ending point is the Market itself. I always get a tingle of anticipation whenever I visit, thinking of what I’ll find and what I’ll cook and, most importantly, what I’ll be tempted to eat while I’m there.

It’s also one of the great all-season places in Toronto. Spring is about new flowers and days just warm enough to sit out at a picnic table. Summer overflows with vendors on the sidewalks, with fruits and veggies from all around Toronto. Autumn is my favourite, when the harvest season brings those crisp blue-sky days that make wondering so much fun. And winter is great too, especially around the holidays, when the market is bursting with shoppers and carollers and cheer.

Outside the Market, the shops along King and Front Streets are interesting too. It’s become a bit of a furniture/design destination. There’s also George Brown College just east on King, so there’s a student vibe that’s fun. And of course, over at the Distillery District, there are tons of shops and funky laneways to wander and browse.

Holiday Market at the Distillery District

If you need some green space, there’s that too. The park next to St. James Cathedral is always green and welcoming. There are also a series of parks along the Esplanade (including one that’s in the opening shots of Kim’s Convenience), and at the east end of Corktown there’s the fabulous Corktown Common.

Winter at St. James is beautiful too

There are probably other things in Toronto that some might find more fun, but for me, spending the morning shopping at the Market, then picking up a picnic lunch and going for a walk through the neighbourhood to end up at the Common where I can sit on the grass and eat my feast, all followed by a coffee at Balzac’s in the Distillery – that’s a perfect day.

Summer at the market includes flowers

Food & Refreshment:

There are just too many to choose from – if you want to sample the multi-cultural variety of Toronto, you can start here and cover a lot. There’s down-home Canadian (Paddington’s Pump’s famous back bacon sandwiches!), pizza and pasta, souvlaki, sushi, chow mien, crepes, cheeses, smoothies, sausages, pates, pickles, breads, pretzels, sweets, fruits, veggies, spices, salts, herbs, oils, flavourings, and so much more, and that’s just in the Market itself.

Breakfast at Paddington’s Pump

When it comes to food, you have options. You can view it as a giant, full-on grocery store and pick up the ingredients for a feast. You can look at it as a great take-out place, from any of a dozen or so places that range from avocado toast to zaatar-spiced treats. Or you can sit down in a more restaurant-like setting (across the street at Market Lane) and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine at one of the places there. And of course, you can do all 3 the same day, as we often do.

Along King there are many more restaurants and bars, and if you time it well you can try some budding chef’s talents at the Chef’s House restaurant run by the George Brown College catering school.

Finally, the Distillery District has its share of wine and dine options, along with coffee, tea, and chocolate treats.

Come hungry and you’ll be fine.

Diversions:

  1. I’ve used the Market in the past as my jumping off place for long walks. To the east at the Common, you can pick up the Lower Don Valley Trail. To the south, you can join the Martin Goodman Trail. Either way, fuelling up at Paddington’s Pump is a great way to start a long walk.
  2. Just west of the St. Lawrence area, at Yonge and Front Streets, there is the Hockey Hall of Fame – what could be more Canadian, eh?
  3. While this isn’t the official Theatre District, you can find your share of the arts here. There’s the Meridian Hall (formerly the Hummingbird Centre for the Arts), the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Young People’s Theatre, and the Canadian Opera Company’s St. Lawrence space, all within a few blocks of St. Lawrence Market.
  4. Throughout the year, there’s live music and festivals galore, everything from buskers and Buskerfest to BBQ fests to Toronto’s own Holiday Market. Check sites like Toronto.com or BlogTO to see what’s happening.