Photo by kuzan 3 from Flickr.
Toronto has been called a city of neighbourhoods: The Beach, Yorkville, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, The Annex; all have their defining characteristics that make them appealing to locals as well as visitors. And when it comes down to it, most of these areas are well-defined by the intersection of two major streets.
Those who live downtown generally stay downtown, but Avenue Road and Eglinton Avenue West is well-situated enough to merit the occasional visit, regardless of where you may be coming from. Located on the edge of the upscale Forest Hill area, the stretch of Eglinton Ave. close to this intersection is lined with some good eats, shops and a whole lot of history. Just grab the 32 Eglinton West bus from Eglinton or Eglinton West subway station and you’re there in a snap.
The village of Forest Hill, Ontario (est. 1923) was named for a single property, the 1860-built summer home of John Wickson located at Eglinton Avenue West & Old Forest Hill Road. Before the 1920s, the area was known as Spadina Heights. Don’t go looking for the actual Forest Hill property today; the forest is gone and the property replaced by apartment buildings.
Although it was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1967, the area continues to be known for its wealth and exclusivity, so much so that the boundaries of the area, now split into “Lower Forest Hill” and “Upper Forest Hill,” are heavily disputed. Most agree that Forest Hill is bordered by Bathurst Street to the west, Avenue Road to the east, St. Clair Avenue to the south and Eglinton Avenue to the north. This places the intersection of Avenue Rd. & Eglinton Ave. W. at the northeast corner of what many consider to be one of the most luxurious parts of Toronto.
Prior to World War II, Forest Hill area was largely populated by affluent Anglo-Protestants, but by the 1950s and 1960s many Jewish residents and entrepreneurs started to move into the area from the southern part of Spadina. According to the 2001 census, half of the current population of Forest Hill today is Jewish.
So I’m here… now what?
The intersection of Avenue Rd. and Eglinton Ave. W. is characterized by the fact that it lies on the edge of an affluent area. That said, visitors should not feel intimidated by the giant houses and wealth of the residents who lie south of this junction and should instead look to the modesty of the north. The stretch of businesses along Eglinton Avenue West (which some call “Eglinton Way”) are very accessible, and upscale clothiers are neighboured by modest family businesses.
The best place to start is on the northwest corner, where you’ll find Yitz’s Deli (346 Eglinton Ave. W.), an Eglinton West institution known for its corned beef sandwiches and cigar selection. The restaurant was established in 1972 by Yitz Penciner, who decided a humidor and delicatessen under the same roof was a good idea. It turns out he was right, because business here always seems booming. Don’t go home until you’ve tried a bowl of their matzo ball soup and the classic corned beef on rye. They’ve also got a great take home area filled with homemade soups and baked goods.
Of course, delis aren’t for everyone, so if you’re in for a real old-fashioned hamburger, why not visit The Burger Shack (233 Eglinton Ave. W.) a short walk east at Eglinton & Oriole Parkway? Don’t let the bizarre signage sway you, their cheeseburgers will make you wonder why you ever settled for McDonald’s or Burger King in the first place. Just make sure you order one of the homemade patties and not the cheaper, frozen variety. Their souvlaki and fish ‘n’ chips are also worth trying.
Once you’re done with lunch, head west to the Eglinton Theatre (400 Eglinton W.) – and yes, that’s the notorious Oliver Jewellery (366 Eglinton W.) you passed by to get there (“I buy your jewellery!”).
The marquee may seem tacky today with messages like “Josh’s Bar Mitzvah” and “Jordan & Sara: A Wedding Story!,” but when it first opened in 1936, the Eglinton Theatre was an awe-inspiring example of Art Deco architecture and design at its best. The cinema continued to screen films in the decades that followed, but by the early 2000s had become yet another casualty to the futuristic megaplexes. Today the venue has been restored to its original Art Deco glory and operates as the Eglinton Grand, a beautiful venue suitable for special occasions like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. It’s not open to the public, so you may want to call ahead if you are interested in viewing the inside of this historic gem.
Dozens of shops line the streets of Eglinton Ave.W, most of them catering to specific needs and tastes. If you’re at all into tea, make sure you don’t miss The Tea Emporium (351 Eglinton Ave. W.) on the south side of Eglinton. Loose tea is king here, and the Emporium’s friendly staff will help you select wonderful blends from a seemingly endless variety. It’s also worth popping into 306 (306 Eglinton Ave. W.), a women’s clothier that takes its name from its street number. If you have kids, definitely check out Oink Oink (352 Eglinton Ave. W.), a strange pink building that appeals to both kids and their parents with their selection of chic children’s clothing and toys.
Avenue Road & Eglinton Avenue West is much closer to the downtown core than you think, and boasts plenty of reasons to be seen. After all, there is life beyond Queen West and The Annex. So get out your bike, car or metropass and grab yourself a corned beef on rye. Just beware of the extra spicy mustard.
Photo of Yitz’s by Adam D. Miller. Photo of Eglinton Theatre courtesy of Eglinton Grand.