WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Three good reasons to get out of the house: a colourful evening walk + a hidden passage + a secret garden.
(To get the book: click here)
It would be a shame not to take advantage of the warm summer evenings to walk around Toronto! There are less people in the streets at night and it's cooler. Even better if you can go to Little India, when the gleaming windows of this district are at their best!
The origin of the neighbourhood
Yes, Little India is a South Asian enclave, but contrary to what one might think, it is not because there is a high concentration of residents of South Asian origin. It all started in 1972, with the opening of a cinema showing Bollywood-style movies in a part of town that was shunned by merchants, and therefore cheap to rent.
Apparently, the Naaz Theatre was the first cinema in North America to show exclusively South Asian films. The Indo-Canadian crowd in the GTA enthusiastically followed, and the theatre's success led to the opening of South Asian restaurants and retailers. The Gerrard Indian Bazaar was born.
In short, Little India is primarily a commercial district, supported by a Gerrard Street business association with storefronts between Greenwood and Coxwell
Since the 2000s, cool shops and restaurants, with no South Asian ties but attracted by the colourful neighbourhood, have added their touch to Gerrard Street. These include sandwiches at Lazy Daisy's Café, Glory Hole’s donuts and great finds in the Blue Crow Gallery.
Over the past decade, numerous murals have graced the alleys around Gerrard with splashes of colour. So much so, that in my walking guide, I named this walk the Little India Bohemian Stroll.
My favorite street corner for a little hippie dip was the Flying Pony (at the corner of Gerrard and Rhodes Avenue), with surrounding alleys lined with street art. A giant pigeon sculpture greeted us on the façade. Inside, there was an art gallery and a profusion of small installations to observe while sipping coffee and enjoying their pastries. Then it closed in the middle of COVID...
Fortunately, it was replaced by the Black Pony Café and Snack Bar, which kept its neon flying horse sign and, on its sides, the funny mural reminding us: "YOU ARE HERE".
It has also kept its vocation as a café (the place opens at 8am). In addition, they now close at 11pm and offer a more elaborate menu which I can't wait to try (e.g. cheese plate, duck confit sandwich, etc). Their terrace is very welcoming.
In the artsy spirit, you must then visit the open-air art gallery on Craven Road... so easy to miss!
Craven Road is unique in Toronto! Running north from Queen Street to the railroad tracks at the edge of Upper Beach, it features the longest wooden fence in the city. Here and there, anonymous artists have exhibited works and created installations on the wooden walls.
Intersected by Dundas Street, Gerrard Street and Fairford Avenue, the wooden fence borders the backyards of Ashdale Avenue properties. The original fence was erected by the City in 1916 on the portions of Ashdale properties that were expropriated to built what would become Craven Road. It was known as "Shacktown". Annexed to Toronto only in 1909, it was a neighbourhood of dilapidated houses and Craven Road (then Erie Terrace) had a very bad reputation. The “Poors Fence" was built to prevent residents of the new road from taking a shortcut by encroaching on properties on Ashdale.
It still has some of the smallest houses in Toronto. But there’s nothing poor about them. In 2019, I saw a very tiny one for sale, listed at $680,000. To learn more about this fascinating neighbourhood, you'll want to check out the Tiny House Society of Craven Rd article in Spacing urbanism magazine.
Hidden corridor and secret garden
Only the locals know that all the dead-end streets (from west of Coxwell to Woodfield) are connected by a paved corridor which leads to an underpass. It allows residents to pass under the railway to reach the Danforth neighbourhood and its subway line.
I just realized that this corridor is well lit, which adds to the pleasure of an evening stroll. And I was surprised to discover Ashdale Parkette, a small secret garden in a triangle patch of land along the paved path, just east of Ashdale Avenue.
We can return to the effervescence of Gerrard Street from any street, to admire the beautiful saris, jewels and golden statuettes in the windows... and maybe have a drink at Black Pony.
This is a complement to STROLL #24. Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the 262-page walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, You can get it online on Amazon, Indigo, in Toronto bookstores or directly from the publisher. The author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations. You can also contact the author directly for pick up arrangements (with a discount) at 299 Booth Avenue (Leslieville) Toronto. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.