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.
Photo by funkaoshi from Flickr.
On the southwest edge of Trinity-Bellwoods Park lies the quiet intersection of Queen St. West & Crawford St. Welcome to Parkdale East, also known as the Gallery District, where funky restaurants, shops and artists collide to form an area that is rapidly becoming one of the city’s most independently hip.
Entire books have been written about Queen St. West and the change it has undergone over the years. Torontoist will offer fragments of this history in future installments of A City Intersected, but feels compelled to share just one for now. Feel free to comment with a favourite or two of your own.
Although its current location now lies several blocks to the northeast, the history of the Queen St. West & Crawford St. area is somewhat rooted in Trinity College. Now a well-known part of the University of Toronto, it was originally founded in 1851 by Bishop John Strachan in an attempt to create a private institution with a strong Anglican foundation. Bishop Strachan was also a part of the founding of King’s College (which later became U of T), but after its secularization, he angrily split off to form his own religious institution. Trinity College was built on the site of what is now Trinity-Bellwoods Park, and began accepting students in 1852.
Eventually, after the death of Strachan and further secularization of the City of Toronto, Trinity College and the University of Toronto began negotiating the possibility of uniting. A deal was finally brokered in 1913, but it wasn’t until after the First World War that construction of the new building on U of T’s campus began. A new Trinity College was finally erected at its current location in 1925. The originally property on Queen St. West, meanwhile, was eventually sold to the city in 1950 and torn down to create Trinity-Bellwoods Park. All that remains are the old college gates (built in 1909), which can still be seen at the southern entrance of the park on Queen St. West. St. Hilda’s College, a residence building for female students that was established in 1888, is now a home for senior citizens.
The development of the stretch of Queen St. west of Trinity-Bellwoods Park into an area to see and be seen is a relatively recent phenomenon. Much of the current vibe around Queen St. West & Crawford St. is a result of expensive costs of living and operation, which are pushing artists and independent shopkeepers further away from the city centre. So while Parkdale East has long been hampered by its “seedy” reputation, its new inhabitants have already been successful in creating a vibrant community as they move in with their shops, restaurants and galleries.
So I’m here…now what?
Start your journey a few blocks to the west of Queen St. West & Crawford St., and slowly work your way toward Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Some credit the Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen St. West) for starting Parkdale East’s modern art wave when it first opened in 1994, but this is only the beginning of what the area has to offer (be sure to check out our Tall Poppy Interview with Mr. Bulger himself). Once you’ve had a chance to take in the latest exhibits, continue your walk along Queen St. West. Enjoy the quiet surroundings and try to visit as many of the smaller, independently-run galleries as you can. Some of the best the neighbourhood has to offer are temporary setups in vacant units, where you can chat with the artists about their creations. Go on, they don’t bite.
Beyond the galleries, another great destination for art lovers is the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (952 Queen St. West), which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto’s culture division and always seems to have a really peculiar and eye-catching display out front. Admission to the MOCCA is free, and their ever-growing collection includes about 400 pieces by 150 Canadian artists.
So you’ve worked up an appetite on your gallery-hopping stroll, haven’t you? Restaurants along Queen St. West near Crawford St. are plentiful, but why not take advantage of one of the three Toronto locations of Fresh by Juice for Life (894 Queen St. West)? This vegetarian chain has become something of a Toronto sensation, and how it hasn’t become even larger or spread to other veggie-friendly cities is beyond us! If you still haven’t been, try the meatless Thai burger and become an instant regular.
Of course, some may be after something a bit more unique to the area (or, let’s face it, a restaurant that serves meat). Next door to Fresh is Swan (892 Queen St. West), an old-fashioned diner with a unique, eclectic twist (and a surprising amount of smoked trout on the menu). The place fills up quick, so be sure to show up early and try the oysters.
What to do after lunch? Keep walking! It’s no High Park, but green spaces are too few and far between in this city, so make sure you spend at least a few minutes enjoying Trinity-Bellwoods Park (1053 Dundas St. West) by way of its Queen St. West entrance. Like some other Toronto parks, Trinity-Bellwoods has a leash-free area by the ravine where dog walkers can let their pets run free. The park also has a community fitness and sports centre with an indoor pool.
Professional musicians and amateurs alike won’t want to miss Capsule Music (921 Queen St. West), located across the street from Trinity-Bellwoods Park. This guitar shop specializes in sales, rentals and repair of the vintage gear you grew up drooling over. The store’s website lists a 1956 Gibson ES-350T and 1966 Fender Telecaster among its latest arrivals, but those looking for a bargain will appreciate the fact that they stock newer (and cheaper) replica models, as well.
Toronto has many shops like The Paper Place (887 Queen St. West), but this purveyor of colourful paper products is still the best in the city. Formerly called The Japanese Paper Place, the store changed its name to reflect the fact that it now carries a lot more than just Japanese products. Raw materials are its specialty, but those eager for something ready-made will appreciate The Paper Place’s unique photo albums, cards and journals, along with a great selection of unique gifts.
Still very much in transition, the Queen St. West & Crawford St. area promises something new with each visit. Whether you’re an art lover or simply tired of the more popular stretch of Queen St. West, we encourage you to explore this emerging neighbourhood while it’s still exciting.
Photo of Trinity College Gates by syncros. Photo of MOCCA by Pema Hegan. Photo of Swan by *ASAP*. All from Flickr.