Checking Out an Interesting Part of Town : Bloor West Village

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I tend to do most of my picture taking of the city while out on foot, which is why you’ve seen a lot about the places that are within walking distance : Kensington Market, Queen Street W., King Street W., Trinity Bellwoods Park. But the gorgeous weather encouraged us to get on the subway train a week ago Sunday, and travel a little bit further away, meeting up with our friend Andrea in a completely different part of Toronto, an area known as ‘Bloor West Village’. Although I’ve lived in or nearby the city since the age of four, I have never been to this historically significant area, so I found our walk and the sights very interesting, and I hope you will too.

To get there, we took the streetcar up to the subway line that runs along Bloor Street and then transferred to the Westbound train. We got off at the High Park stop and made our way up above ground where we met Andrea. After hellos and hugs, the first order of the afternoon was to get some lunch.

We went to a spot called The Yellow Griffin, home of 35 different burger choices. Not only do they have that extreme number of combinations for your burger, they also have a very nice list of side-dish choices to go with them. I went with a Sicilian Burger, that was topped with sun-dried tomatoes, olive tapenade and thinly grated Parmesan cheese, served with a purple cabbage slaw. Nick’s burger had mango and avocado on it and his choice of side-dish was sweet potato fries. I can’t remember what Andrea’s burger was but her side-dish was potato salad. To drink we had some nice cold beer. The food and the service were very good, as was the outdoor setting.

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After lunch we took a walk westward on Bloor Street to Windemere Avenue and then back again.

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For almost 100 years, this part of the city was the north-western-most border of Toronto, (until the 90s when other more western neighbourhoods were amalgamated), and Bloor Street was a designated highway, meant to be used to bypass the city if drivers wanted to. Nowadays nobody would use this road like that, as over the decades, as development occurred to the north, Bloor became more centrally located within the city, and today is considerably to the south of where many residents of the city live.

But the fact that it was first a developed highway combined with the fact that streetcar tracks were installed along it, meant very good things for this part of the city because it was easy for people to get to. As a result, for a long period of time this was the best and most successful shopping destination in the entire city. The prosperity and demand in the area allowed for beautiful buildings to be put up in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

If you’re interested in knowing the details about the history of Bloor West Village, there is a good Youtube video, featuring historian and activist, Madeleine McDowell, telling the whole story. Her family has resided in the area for generations, and she has personal memories of the place from her childhood. The video is of a speech she gave to residents of the area, who are concerned with the preservation of the important historical elements of their neighbourhood. It is and hour and 20 minutes long in its entirety, however, if you’re into history and would like to know how things came to be around that area, she gave a very it is worth taking the time to check it out. The video is broken down into 7 pieces, and here is the playlist for them : The History of Bloor West Village. At the end, the group discusses the methodology and concepts involved in deeming an area to be historically significant and therefore preserved. Now that this part of the city is central within Toronto, and no longer part of the outer border, there is a lot of pressure to develop some of it, adding tall condo buildings and such, so residents are concerned about what might be allowed to happen there.

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Currently there are only a few of the buildings in the area that have been classified as official historical site, and therefore protected : One is the Runnymede Library, (shown directly above). It was built in 1929 having been designed by architect John Lyle.

The second is the Runnymede Theatre, (shown in the very top photo). It was built in 1927, and was renovated 15 years ago by Chapter’s Bookstores, who paid 3.5 million dollars to restore it. Chapter’s recently closed the store on March 31st of this year after their lease ended, and the windows are currently papered over.

One thing that Madeleine describes that I found particularly neat, was how the area was first built within a forest, and they only cut down the trees that they needed to remove in order to make room. This has resulted in ancient oak trees still living there amongst the homes, to this day.

Another interesting part of the story about ‘Bloor West Village’ is that in the late ’60s, when the subway was extended to include stops in this neighbourhood, the local businesses saw a major decline. That was because people were just travelling right by, underground. So in the early ’70s the community of business people formed an association, to improve and promote the street, using their own pooled money. Their website is here. It includes a list of current goings-on, and some great historic images of the area. This was apparently the first group in the world to do this type of thing, and their success led to them being used as an example for other communities. Nowadays there are at least 71 Business Improvement Associations in Toronto alone, modeled after this one.

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As you can see by my photos, the BIA decorated the street with eye-catching Canadian flags, in honour of Canada Day, which is actually today, July 1st. Since I took these shots last week-end though, it is sheer coincidence that I am wearing a red shirt and hat in the shots. I had no idea the flags would be there as I got dressed for our date.

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After our walk, we headed back to the subway train. We were home again in half an hour, feeling happy to have experienced an afternoon of exploring a different part of the city, and really feeling like we had taken a little vacation.

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Happy Canada Day to those who live here, and happy Tuesday to you who don’t! We had a little barbecue party with friends on Saturday to celebrate, and today are planning on doing the same but with only the two of us and Eddie the cat. Of course, I’ll show and tell you about our get together soon.

I hope you enjoy, whatever you get up to, and I thank you for checking out my post.
xo loulou

ps – Nick is wearing the hat that he got during the shopping trip that I wrote about in this post.

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