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 Cari Miller
What are we doing at Bayview & Eglinton? It’s a fair enough question to ponder. After all, there’s not much to look at upon arrival at this intersection. On the northeast corner, you’ve got a shopping plaza with places like Curves, Rexall and Dominion, and across the street there lies a rather large McDonald’s. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? Well, don’t give up just yet. A much less corporate environment lies just a few short blocks to the south. It’s time to head down Bayview to get a feel for what this neighbourhood is all about. Excuse the detour, but accurate as the title might have been, we weren’t about to call this column A City Intersected: Bayview & Manor Rd.
The Town of Leaside was incorporated on April 23, 1913, but the history of this area stretches back to the 1841 settlement of William Lea. Hoping to settle down with his family, Lea purchased a plot of land just south of where his father, John Lea, had his farm. The original Leaside was a large, octagonal brick house, located close to what is now Leaside Memorial Gardens.
In the 1870s, the Ontario and Quebec Railway Company bought some land on the south-east corner of William Lea’s property to lay down railroad tracks. This led to the gradual growth of the area, but was a much slower process than what the railway company had envisioned. Facing some financial difficulties, the Ontario and Quebec Railway Company eventually leased this part of the railway to the Canadian Pacific Railway, who completed a train station on the land in 1884. It was named “Leaside” in honour of William Lea and his property.
Leaside did not become a burgeoning residential area until 1927, when the Leaside Viaduct allowed for easy transport over the Don River between east Toronto and Leaside. By the end of World War II, the population of Leaside was 9,800 residents, and by 1949, it was up to 14,826. In 1913, at the time of incorporation, the population had been just 43 individuals.
One building that played a large role in the modern history of the Bayview & Eglinton area is Leaside High School. Located on nearby Hanna Road and established in 1945, the school quickly became one of Toronto’s most revered academic institutions. As recently as 2006, Leaside was named the “Best Toronto School for Languages” by Toronto Life Magazine, and its diverse alumni include author Margaret Atwood and comic actor Will Arnett.
Along with its neighbouring communities, The Town of Leaside was amalgamated into East York in 1967, and in 1998 became a part of the new City of Toronto.
So I’m Here…Now What?
Unless you want to spend some time picturing a young Margaret Atwood walking up the steps of Leaside High School, you’re best advised to immediately journey south on Bayview Avenue. It won’t take long before you’re struck by the sheer variety of restaurants and shops this area has to offer. It’s definitely one of the most eclectic mixes of stores and restaurants in the city, which is also why the area is one of the most sought after for its houses.
Why not start your day with a delicious croissant at Rahier (1586 Bayview Avenue)? Foodies know this bakery to be one of Toronto’s very best patisseries, and François Rahier has consistently delighted his customers with plenty of delicious cakes, cookies and pastries. If you’re attending a dinner party and would like to wow your hosts and fellow guests with a delicious dessert, this is definitely the place to visit. Be sure to check out Torontoist’s 2006 “Baked Goods Review” here.
A trip to The Elegant Garage Sale (1588 Bayview Avenue) next door is like browsing through decades of household items accumulated by an eccentric old relative. You’ll find everything from dated wall art and old books and records to furniture and small knick-knacks. What better way to furnish your new house or apartment than with relics of the past? The prices, too, will surprise you – and in a good way.
If you’re serious about your mystery novels, chances are the books at Elegant Garage Sale won’t quite cut it. Luckily, Sleuth of Baker Street (1600 Bayview Avenue) is there down the block to meet your needs. This bookstore has specialized in crime and detective fiction for nearly three decades, and, like any good independent bookstore, features author visits, signings and a friendly and knowledgeable staff who will help you track down whatever you’re looking for.
With a new location having just opened up in Hazelton Lanes, The Tea Emporium (1592 Bayview Avenue) seems to be everywhere. Still, the definitive purveyor of loose tea is definitely not to be missed, regardless of what neighbourhood you find it in. Unlike the location we wrote about in our Avenue Road & Eglinton Avenue West edition of A City Intersected, this location doesn’t have a tea lounge. However, that shouldn’t stop you from picking up a few blends and trying them at home, especially since this is the original location!
Food shopping is bound to make you work up an appetite. Luckily, Toronto’s best place to eat chicken wings and catch a hockey game is just down the street. Duff’s Famous Wings (1604 Bayview Avenue) offers up large, juicy wings that taste just like the ones you’ll find in Buffalo, New York. This is no coincidence; just ask Canadian brothers Hy and Rob Erlich, who franchised one of Buffalo’s most beloved chicken wing taverns and brought it to Toronto. If you’re feeling especially brave, or just want to impress your friends, order your wings “Armageddon” (one of three steps above “Hot”). A College Street location of Duff’s Famous Wings opened up recently, but if you want to see the Erlich twins in action, Bayview & Eglinton is still the place to find them.
Of course, if you’re in the mood for something a bit more exotic, Lemongrass (1630 Bayview Avenue) is the perfect alternative. This Thai-Vietnamese restaurant was once so popular in the area that it opened up a sister restaurant, Riz, across the street. While that restaurant has since closed, Lemongrass remains one of the city’s best––and overlooked––Asian fusion restaurants. Be sure to try their Vietnamese spring rolls, lemon soup and Saigon rack of lamb. The restaurant is fairly small so reservations are recommended.
If you somehow still have room after your plate of wings or Thai-Vietnamese feast, stop into Hollywood Gelato (1640 Bayview Avenue) for an icy treat. This place now rivals La Paloma in terms of popularity, and lineups are often out the door during the summer. Don’t let the winter chills keep you away, though. Hollywood is still open in the winter, serving up tasty cappuccinos and espresso alongside its usual dozen-or-so flavours of gelato.
So, there’s a lot more to Bayview & Eglinton than Sunnybrook Plaza and a McDonald’s Playplace, isn’t there? Next time you visit a relatively quiet and homogenous intersection, try exploring a little further. You may be surprised at what lies a little to the south. In the meantime, we’ve had to leave out so many of the other great shops and restaurants along Bayview Avenue, so tell us about any favourites we may have forgotten!
Photos of Duff’s Famous Wings and Sleuth of Baker Street by Cari Miller. Photo of Margaret Atwood taken from Leaside High School’s 1957 yearbook.