Photo by MonkeyfacedRatfink 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.
College Street is more often celebrated, but Little Italy has got nothing on Corso Italia. If you want to see scores of real Italians speaking to each other in Italian, a whole lot of rosaries hanging from car rear view mirrors, a ridiculous number of shoe stores and at least a dozen different places to get pizza or a cappuccino take the St. Clair streetcar over to Dufferin and explore the area. Bravissimo!
Although many of the houses and buildings in the area were built around World War I, Corso Italia is largely defined by the Italian immigrants who moved up to the area from College Street or directly from Italy in the late 1950s.
Before then, the neighbourhood was the eastern half of Earlscourt, a working-class community established in 1906 where mostly English and Scottish immigrants resided. Many of these immigrants would divide their time between hard labour at mills or factories during the day and working after hours at building temporary shacks until enough money was saved up to build proper homes. This was before many of the area’s British immigrants were enlisted into the allied forces during World War I.
In 1910, Earlscourt was amalgamated into the City of Toronto and the area began to flourish. The decades since have seen the area change immensely, though many of the local businesses have been around for years. Today, Corso Italia is home not only to a large Italian population, but also a sizeable West Indian and Portuguese presence.
So I’m here… now what?
The main thing to do in the Dufferin & St. Clair area is eat, so why not start with the best? Marcello’s (1163 St. Clair Ave. W.) bills itself as a pizzeria and though that’s the best thing they have to offer, their salads and pastas are worth trying as well. Locals agree that this restaurant is much better than the more popular Ferro several blocks to the east.
In an area where most of the restaurants are Italian, it’s a shame that The New Tivoli Restaurant (1160 St. Clair Ave. W.) had to close its doors in October 2006. The greasy spoon served up home-style cooking since the 1930s and was an area favourite in the years since.
Most of the area’s bars cater to an older male crowd, so the best place in the area to relax and have a few drinks is Eden Trattoria (1331 St. Clair Ave. W.). The great thing about Eden’s is its late hours and the fact that you can go there for just about any occasion: dinner, late-night drinks, coffee; you name it!
Ready for dessert? Why not grab a canoli at Tre Mari Bakery (1311 St. Clair Ave. W.) or a cappuccino at Tricolore Café (1240 St. Clair Ave. W.)? And who can forget that other Italian favourite, gelato? Once the weather warms up, make sure you don’t miss La Paloma (1357 St. Clair Ave. W.). Although the gelataria has gone on to open locations in Woodbridge and at Vaughan Mills, the original spot at the corner of Lansdowne & St. Clair Ave. W. is open year round and has retained much of its 1967 charm.
Corso Italia’s shopping scene is very Italian. If you’re looking for independent bookstores or used vinyl, you’ll have to try another neighbourhood. Shoes and clothing are mostly what you’ll find along the St. Clair stretch, so have a look around at some of the sales.
You definitely won’t want to miss Consiglio’s U-Save Center (1219 St. Clair Ave. W.), which has unique selection of competitively-priced housewares. The store is also involved in the community, hosting the annual Great Tomato Hunt. Check out their website for details.
Getting a bit hungry again, are we? Corso Italia has many small grocery stores with items you won’t find at Loblaws or Dominion. The ones not to miss include Centro Trattoria Formaggio (1224 St. Clair Ave. W.) and Antica Roma Fine Meats (1153 St. Clair Ave. W.)
Limited in its focus? Maybe, but Dufferin & St. Clair is probably the only area where even the Home Hardware (4 St. Clair Gardens) carries high-end Saeco cappuccino makers. It’s no coincidence that the crazed Italy fans you saw on TV during the last World Cup were hanging out at Eden Trattoria and not Bathurst & College.
Photo of La Paloma by Simon Chambers from Flickr. Photo of Dufferin & St. Clair Ave. W. circa 1927 courtesy of The City of Toronto Archives.