Restaurants of the world, versatile athletics, endless parks, and perfect tree-lines begin to identify the emerging community of Leaside.
Lying just above and beyond the Don Valley in mid-town Toronto, within a busy three block strip of Bayview south, between Davisville Avenue and Soudan Avenue, beats the eclectic heart of the Leaside dining and shopping experience.
Hollywood Gelato scoops mouth-watering ice cream with nuts and fresh fruit. “An embarrassment to any neighborhood,” McSorley’s Saloon walks the line between cheeky sports bar and family restaurant, serving hearty bacon and cheese banquet burgers and unlimited peanuts; the shells of which you’re encouraged to toss on the floor.
Hair salons and health spas, tennis equipment stores and yoga centre, gourmet bread and wine stores, chef and teachers stores, fortune-teller and mystery book shop also populate the strip. Pick from one of a half-dozen flower shops to impress with the perfect Valentine or Mother’s Day gift. I recommend Passion Fruits for its varied selection and rain-forest-like freshness. The Smokin’ Pipe Inc. may suit your Father’s tobacco tastes.
Two Japanese restaurants stand side by side, on the same block as three Thai restaurants. Three Indian and Italian restaurants also vie for business along with a Pan-Asian restaurant, French patisserie, Mediterranean restaurant and the aptly named Mexico Lindo. Try its satisfying beef chimichanga, rice, re-fried beans and salad plate for $10 and deliver your best Spanish with charming staff.
In contrast, diversity does not yet apply to Leaside residents, predominantly of British, Scottish, and Irish heritage, making Bayview Ave. a crossroad of new and old Toronto. Real estate values of Leaside’s neatly ordered homes climb steadily. White collars now outnumber blue ones. Branches of all five Canadian national banks station themselves among a plethora of jewelry boutiques and antique stores along the emerging Bayview strip. Drop in to the Elegant Garage Sale for a disco ball or Elvis paraphernalia.
Take Millwood Road four blocks south to discover scrumptious dry breaded chicken balls at China Food take-out. The southeast block of Laird Avenue and Wicksteed Avenue, a short walk from Millwood, has birthed a cookie-cutter monster conglomerate: Home Depot, HMV, Subway, New York Fries, Hallmark, Starbucks, Sony Style, Urban Barn and Best Buy beckon in strip-mall American tones.
Canada Wire and Cable company bought this Leaside lot in 1914, opening a subsidiary, Leaside Munitions, to manufacture shells during the First World War. Research Enterprises carried on the war effort, building radio equipment and optical supplies during the Second World War. On the adjacent lot, of Wicksteed to Eglinton Avenue East, the Canadian government constructed the Leaside Aerodrome, which became the site of Canada’s first air mail delivery when on June 24, 1918, pilot Brian Peck arrived from Montreal with about 1200 letters.
Present day Laird Avenue, running north-south on Leaside’s east side, is the dividing line between residential and industrial Leaside. The strip between McRae Drive and Millwood Avenue is full of car dealerships and service centers. Mainstay restaurants such as Golden Griddle (open 24 hours), Olde York Fish & Chips and enduring oddities like Sandy’s Cycle Shop and bookstore give the strip a measure of stability. Grilltime Gourmet Meat Shop grills up your steaks, while you wait. North of McRae Drive, one finds KABOOM! Fireworks next to Fox and Fiddle, where bartenders lament the politics of tipping, while Leaside sports teams drink beer.
On winter evenings, the neighborhood streets are ghostly quiet. Inside the Leaside Gardens, the arena buzzes with the sound of excited hockey Moms and Dads. Sleeted skates carve up the ice, as future Doug Gilmours heave after the puck. At Trace Manes Park, little leaguers imagine hitting one over the fence (grey monster) and into one of the Leaside Tennis Club’s six courts. Adjacent lies a playground and public library. Leaside curling and lawn-bowling appeal to the laid-back athlete.
At Mallory Green (The Point), Leaside’s southwest corner, visitors are often greeted by raccoons, rabbits, foxes, high school sweethearts snuggling in front of sycamore bushes and even the occasional deer. Overlooking Sun Valley and Rosedale, The Point provides a striking view of the CN Tower, set apart from the skyscrapers of commerce.
At nearby Mount Pleasant Cemetary, just north of Moore Avenue on Bayview Avenue, Leasiders bike, jog, walk dogs and eventually rest in peace. Glenn Gould, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Timothy Eaton also rest there.
Access Serena Gundy Park from Rykert Crescent, or Sunnybrook Park from Sutherland Drive in Leaside’s northeast corner. In the valley, you will find cricket pitches, horse stables, barbecue grounds, and endless walking, running, and hiking trails.
With two baseball diamonds, a rugby field and a massive hill for spectators in summer and toboggans in winter, Leaside High School carries on the theme of great open spaces. LHS is also known for its high standard of language classes and famous graduates, such as literary giant Margaret Atwood and Arrested Development star Will Arnett. Before moving to Calgary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper got his bilingual start at nearby Northlea Public School.
From the Leaside Bridge, the great expanse of the Don Valley stretches away downtown and away from Toronto. Like spotting witches in Serena Gundy Park, or memories of the Millwood wild animal sanctuary of black panthers and giant snakes, Leaside legends and view points define this place.