Travel: Daytripping on Toronto’s West End
Most businesses in "The Junction" are locally owned and operated; some have been around for decades, while others are brand-new.
Photos by Don Kreger
For an intriguing glimpse into Toronto’s past and its future—one that may provide a model for the resurrection of similar parts of Buffalo—consider a day trip to the up-and-coming west side neighborhood called “The Junction” on your next journey up north.
Earning its name from the junction of four intersecting railroad lines, the heavily industrial zone, once a center for meat processing and furniture construction, was the independent city of West Toronto Junction before it was annexed by Toronto in 1909. The Maltese community that once made its home in the area has largely disappeared by now, replaced by a gentrification-friendly blend of artists, young professionals, families, and sundry hipsters all attracted by the relatively low—by Toronto standards—cost of living. Through an oddity of Canadian law, the Junction remained alcohol-free (at least in theory) all the way to the year 1997 (or 2000, depending on whose account you believe). Now it’s making up for lost time with plenty of nightlife, including brewpubs, clubs, and restaurants.
Reaching your destination by car is easy: just head west on Dundas Street West from downtown. The Junction is bounded by Keele Street to the east and Runnymede to the west, a very walkable half-dozen blocks, with the vast majority of businesses on Dundas itself. Taking public transportation is a bit trickier, because you’ll need to take a combination of streetcar and subway. It’s worth it, though, if you’re interested in discovering cozy, virtually chain-free neighborhoods off the beaten path. (There don’t appear to be any hotels at the moment, so you’ll want to make accommodations elsewhere if you plan to stay overnight.)
Long known by Toronto insiders for its vintage furniture shops, this particular strip of Dundas is now becoming known for a much broader range of stores. Some businesses have been around for thirty years or more, while others are practically brand new. Most are locally owned and operated.
There’s a noticeable spirit of cooperation among them, too—the coffee shops get their décor from the furnishing stores a block or two away and their art from the galleries in the vicinity, for instance, and one shop owner will think nothing of recommending another’s establishment if she doesn’t have what you’re looking for. As in Buffalo, much of the entrepreneurial vibe is driven by motivated twenty- and thirtysomethings who believe in their neighborhood.
Eating and drinking
Hungry? Health-conscious, locally sourced choices abound, including Locomotive (3070 Dundas W., locomotivecoffee.com), a classic coffeehouse featuring gourmet sandwiches, and the Indie Ale House (2876 Dundas W., indiealehouse.com), where craft beers are brewed on-site in small batches, best enjoyed with the restaurant’s enormous burgers. The newish Playa Cabana Cantina (2883 Dundas St. W., playacabana.ca/2883-dundas) comes highly recommended for its Mexican fare and tequila, while Vesuvio (3010 Dundas St. W., vesuviopizza.com) has been serving pizza and Italian cuisine for half a century. There are Indian, Japanese, and Thai options as well. With its board games, special events, and concert schedule (in addition to a full menu and microbrews), 3030 (3030 Dundas St. W., 3030dundaswest.com) serves as a kind of social center for the neighborhood.
Top off your meal with a stop at Bunner’s (3054 Dundas St. W., bunners.ca/shop) for gluten-free, vegan desserts that still manage to look and taste mighty decadent. Even if you can’t bring home any of its offerings, you’ll still want to stick your head in the door at Gourmeats (2948 Dundas St. W.), a gorgeous old-school butcher shop with new school touches like a chalkboard suggesting what to do with various cuts of meat. Then there’s the Sweet Potato (2995 Dundas St. W., thesweetpotato.ca) for groceries and other food-related needs.
Design and home furnishings
Here’s where the Junction truly excels. Mjölk (2959 Dundas W., mjolk.ca) specializes in upscale Japanese and Scandinavian design; the showroom is elegant yet minimal and the knowledgeable staff are clearly devoted to their niche. Smash (2880 Dundas W., smash.to) and Metropolis Living (2989 Dundas W., metropolis-living.com) are two variations on a theme—reconditioned, repurposed, and upcycled midcentury artifacts—and both well worth a visit. The focus of Eclectic Revival (3075 Dundas St. W.; eclecticrevival.com) is antique lighting, but you’ll find other goodies there, too.
ARTiculations (2928 Dundas W., articulations.ca) is a dream of an art supply store, small but packed with tantalizing finds. It also offers workshops for adults and kids alike, and the on-premises gallery—one of four on the strip—showcases area artists. Pandemonium (2920 Dundas W., pandemonium.ca) has new and used music and books, while Big Daddy’s (3044 Dundas W.) deals in DVDs. Boutiques, shoe stores, pet supply shops, and opticians round out the bill in this emerging shopping mecca.
Ron Ehmke writes about popular culture and cultural tourism for Spree and other publications.