Toronto’s Best Emerging Neighbourhood: The Upper Beaches
It’s an understatement to say that I’m a little cynical when it comes to (a total lack of) urban planning and thoughtless condo developments in Toronto. Like many major urban hubs in the world, Toronto’s residential buildings have started to look more like human hives than homes. Tinier units, cheaper materials and taller roofs define the city’s skyline today, while independent stores are increasingly losing out to big-box rivals.
What happened to building communities where neighbours say hi to each other, people know their butcher by name, and parents aren’t afraid to let their kids take more than two steps outside of their protective bubbles? Seeking out these vibrant communities is what I love to do when I travel—they define the personality of a city—I just wish I could find more of them here at home.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered the ultimate oxymoron: a condo developer with a conscience. Streetcar Developments’ slogan “rethink urban living” appears to be more than just a marketing tagline. Their plans feature low and mid-rise buildings that blend into the existing community and in some cases include communal outdoor spaces and parks. A condo developer building a park?? I’ve only ever dreamed of such a thing.
When Streetcar invited me to explore Toronto’s Upper Beaches with them, I can admit I was pretty skeptical. I expected to spend half the warm evening in an overly air-conditioned presentation centre listening to a marketing pitch. Instead we spent the whole night hopping between boutique stores, labour-of-love restaurants and discovering the calm oasis of the Glen Stewart Ravine that connects the upper and lower Beaches.
Founder Les Mallins, a Beaches resident himself, is driven by a passion to build a more livable, culturally rich city, the foundation of which is a strong community. I am optimistic that we may yet claw back our beloved communities. Here is some of the best that the Upper Beaches has to offer.
The Art of Cheese
925 Kingston Road
Co-owner Bill Miller, a.k.a. “the grand fromage”, could keep you entertained for hours at this artisanal cheese shop with his assortment of cheese hats and boundless knowledge of Canadian, European and specialty cheeses. Make sure to order a block of the San de Oro, a raw cow’s milk cheese from north eastern Italy.
1035 Kingston Road
Lovers of unique and beautiful things will be delighted by Sharon Smyl’s treasure trove of locally made, small-batch gifts, jewellery, cards and stationery, pottery, glassware and more. The former marketing director has found a new life curating this collection of simple joys. Pick up a jar of La Bomba antipasto, made just 15 minutes away with owner Enzo’s grandmother’s Piri Piri peppers.
The Beech Tree
924 Kingston Road
This cozy local favourite restaurant serves up a mixture of traditional English, French and Ontarian interpretations of Italian food. Everything at the restaurant is cooked from scratch. The kitchen cures its own bacon, picks its own onions and bakes its own bread. The Flirty French 75 cocktail, with gin, lemon juice and house-pureed Ontario strawberries, is the perfect way to kick off a summer evening.
The Chopping Block
2256 Queen Street East
This butcher specializes in quality locally raised meats like beef, lamb, chicken and pork from Ontario. You can also find kebabs, burgers and homemade sausages next to salad dressings and sauces. If you’re looking for a special souvenir, the bison sausage with maple and fig or the herb-curry marinated leg of lamb are divine.
Ed’s Real Scoop
2224 Queen Street East
You’ll want to get to this ever-popular ice cream shop early to beat the lines that spill out the door onto the street in the summer months. Watch the waffle scones being made fresh in the window (if you’re lucky you might even get a sample taste as you wait). The scoops are gigantic, so you’ll probably only need one.
Yellow House Gallery
921 Kingston Road
This brand new art gallery showcases local and regional artists’ contemporary works, as well as offering custom framing for artists and art lovers. The name Yellow House is based on a studio founded by Vincent Van Gogh at the turn of the 20th century where he and contemporaries like Paul Gaugin worked on modern ideas about the art of their time.