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5 hidden gems... and a ROBO Café (around St. James Cathedral)

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? 5 cool urban gems around St. James Cathedral + new unattended ROBO Café.

No need to go far to be delighted! While showing one of Toronto's beautiful little corners to friends from Quebec City, I found five hidden treasures I hadn't seen yet or noticed before around St. James Cathedral.

Spiral in the cathedral

Last Saturday, the doors of St. James Anglican Cathedral (106 King East at Church St) were open. Apparently, it is open every day at least from 9 am to 1 pm.

I wanted to show my visitors the stained glass windows and the superb organ inside the historic 1853 neo-gothic building. Always impressive! (It’s good to know that they offer free organ concerts on Tuesdays at 1pm.)

On the way out, we entered the little chapel at the entrance. It was my first time there and I was pleased to see the spiral staircase that allows the ringers to reach the bells, which ring every 15 minutes, sing on the half hour and offer us the whole thing, ending the song by ringing the number of strokes to mark the hour.

The diocese created this very educational leaflet about the bells of St. James.

Bench mark

A gorgeous bench was added in front of the cathedral, featuring the metal art of the duo Scott Eunson and Marianne Lovink. These artists have been working on collaborative works since 2009. They created the masterful sculpture at the corner of Eastern and Sackville and Eastern, near the Canary District) towards the Canary District. They also did the beautiful Lansdowne Fence Streetscape, commissioned by the TTC, which adorns an entire block not far from the Lansdowne subway station.

Asparagus in the playground

I've walked through this park several times since its reinvention in 2019 without ever realizing that the fun playground fun included... giant asparagus!!! This market-themed park (in reference to nearby St. Lawrence Market) is a creation of the company Earthscape, who are responsible for another very successful playground behind the AGO.

Braided tree

You have to pass under a pretty arch to exit the north side of St. James Park. Looking closely, I noticed the base of the shrubs, and followed their progression radiating throughout the green installation to realize that this is a living structure! And while you stand there, looking northbound, look for the Brickman (art by the group Inges Idee).

Secret Garden in red and Black

The idea of an official sculpture garden is not bad in itself. Every year we discover different installations in the Toronto Sculpture Garden. Now, the garden is recovering from the pandemic with a bang! The current installation will be there until August 31, 2023.

The nine magnificent red busts seem to float above an imaginary straight line. Afrophilia is the striking work of Toronto-based Jamaican artist Frantz Brent-Harris. It is described as follows: Inspired by the generation of young Black people who are driving a shift in self- perception and changing our global consciousness of Blackness to appreciate its immense value, diversity, and beauty. By rejecting respectability politics and refusing to be identified with narratives of oppression, they can instead identify with the joy of being human; Black Love as a revolutionary act..

ROBO Café on Church Street

A few weeks ago, I noticed people lined up in front of... a wall on Church Street, just north of Wellington. I realized that they were waiting for a new kind of vending machine to make them a coffee! It was one of five ROBO Cafés in town.

I was skeptical of the quality of the coffee that would result from such a process. After all, the company behind the ROBO Cafés is KioSoft, which specializes in creating unattended payment solutions for laundromats, parking lots, car washes...

I did my research and it turns out that local Dark Horse Espresso Bar is behind this project! In existence for over 15 years, this company now has five independent coffee shops across the city. I knew they wouldn't risk their reputation with bad coffee.

My visiting friend is one of those coffee aficionados who weighs his beans before grinding them, stirring the result to ensure an even spread of grinds before running it through his intimidating espresso machine. He was the perfect companion to test the ROBO Café at 36 Church Street (a block south of the cathedral). His verdict? ROBO Café makes a great espresso!

While you're there

While you're there, cross Wellington Street and head behind the Flatiron Building on Wellington to Berczy Park, which is beautiful in the fall. It always reminds me of Paris! Even though the dog fountain is inactive for the cold season, you can admire it and the large trompe l'oeil mural. And don't miss the giant hands on the west side of the park!

This post is a complement to local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls available in Toronto’s major bookstores, on and or We also deliver or contact the author directly at to arrange for a pick up with a discount at 299 Booth Avenue, in Leslieville.


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