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What does the future hold for Wallace and Lansdowne?

Posted by Rick McGinnis / November 30, 2010

Wallace and LansdowneWallace Avenue intersects with Lansdowne where the latter street curves gently north of Bloor, at what has to be one of the city's most well-preserved Edwardian commercial crossroads, a little high street that came into existence to service what was once a thriving working-class neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood to the south and west steadily transforms itself, this group of storefronts is likely to be swept up in the changes in the next few years, but right now it's a fascinating and intimate little study of city life.

Wallace and Lansdowne 1929Wallace and Lansdowne looking north 2010A search through city archives turns up just one photo of Wallace and Lansdowne from 1929, shot to document an upgrade to the streetcar tracks that used to run up Lansdowne, from a spot on the street just next to the TTC car barns that formerly stood between Wallace and Bloor. The view hasn't changed much since then, from what can be seen just behind the work crew and their equipment. The building that commands the intersection at the broadest angle of the crossroads, now occupied by New Friends Travel, was once William Hertel's pharmacy according to a 1921 city directory.

grocery at Wallace and LansdowneIn an age before reliable or inexpensive home refrigeration, city neighbourhoods were punctuated by little retail centres - a greengrocer and butcher shop every couple of blocks for daily shopping trips, with larger commercial hubs like Wallace and Lansdowne at further intervals. Might's City Directory from 1921 records it as a thriving little area, with Hertel's drug store, alongside two grocers and two shoemakers, a physician and a dentist, a barber, a stationer, a newsdealer, a tobacconist, a confectionary, a milliner, a clothing repair shop, an Oddfellows Hall, a Chinese laundry and Wallace Vulcanizing, in a storefront between what is now Ely's Beauty Salon and Pepper's Cafe.

Southwest corner of Wallace and LansdowneJose Rodrigues has run Peppers since 1984, and on a chilly Monday afternoon, the place fills up with a small crowd of mostly men here to watch Barcelona play Real Madrid. Jose - everyone calls him Joe - says the low point for the area was the late '90s, when the police shot a guy involved in a drug deal right across the street, in front of the big old house that commands the southeast corner of the intersection (Dr. Morgan Alfred's offices in 1921). Since then, he says, things have gotten steadily better.

Southeast corner of Wallace and LansdowneA few months ago, French game developer Ubisoft opened up a new office in the old GE building just to the west, with plans to fill it with 800 employees. As if anticipating the changes, a young couple bought the bakery across the street from Pepper's, changed its name to Paris Bakery and gave it a much-needed makeover, with room for a new patio that will mirror Joe's across Wallace. "It makes this corner look a lot better," he says.

Northwest corner of Wallace and LansdowneOf the 18 remaining storefronts at Wallace and Lansdowne, only three of them are currently vacant, including the two next to Precious Flowers on the northeast corner. Some have a ghostly retail life at best, like the mysterious office at 190 Wallace, and Venture's Dry Cleaning next door, but others are thriving. Novelist Russell Smith lives just nearby, and says that the line ups at O Bairradino Churrasqueira are often fifteen minutes long, but that the barbeque chicken is worth it - "the best I've had in the city."

Northeast corner of Wallace and LansdowneSmith represents the people who Rodriques gratefully sees transforming the neighbourhood, mostly from Bloor Street upwards, where art galleries, vintage shops, cafes and restaurants have been infiltrating an area that stubbornly retains its crackhead presence. Smith, also a columnist at the Globe & Mail, says he was a regular at Pepper's even before it became his regular World Cup spot this summer, and he fondly describes the morning regulars at Paris Bakery, a contingent of seniors who've hung on since its previous incarnation as Bom Apetite, and who take advantage of its new liquor license to get a good beer buzz on before noon.

With all this action happening, it's hard not to look at New Friends Travel and imagine that its generous frontage would be irresistible to a Starbucks or some other bellwether chain. Joe at Peppers loves the idea, though he says that the owner has no intention of selling out. It's the sort of area where familiarity has created an informal BIA among the businesses; Joe tells me that he and the owner of O Bairradino grew up on the same street in the same town in Portugal.

artwork on fence around former TTC car barnsHow long that will endure remains to be seen; Joe says he's started thinking about retirement after 27 years. "I haven't seen hipsters in Pepper's yet," says Russell Smith. "If I was the owner I don't know if I'd like it, but for businesses around here this can't help but be good." The houses around Wallace and Lansdowne, built for the workers at the American Standard plant and the once-massive General Electric complex that were once just up the street, are turning over at a furious rate, though Smith says the only potential drawback to the neighbourhood is the former car barns site, now an empty lot whose chain link fence has been prettied up with a striking art installation sponsored by the TTC. The land is apparently poisoned with trichloroethene, the TTC blames GE for it, and the ongoing dispute means the land sits vacant.

It might not be an insurmountable obstacle, and it's hard to imagine a prime little strip like Wallace and Lansdowne remaining as it is for too long, for pretty much the same reasons that made it a commercial hub for the original residents of the houses nearby. "I think it'll go on being an interesting mix for awhile, but eventually it'll get gentrified out of existence," Smith says, then adds, with a note of regret, "I am partially to blame."

Discussion

33 Comments

Damon Schreiber / November 30, 2010 at 09:56 am
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re: the last line in the article: Oh that Russell Smith! So very humble!
Vic / November 30, 2010 at 10:27 am
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Nice article. I've always liked that train pic, and I'm glad you made a "now" version of it.

Another change that is hopefully coming soon to this stretch of Lansdowne: Bike lanes were approved by council this year, after a public consultation last Winter. Delayed as usual, but I hope to see them soon.
Joey Joe Joe / November 30, 2010 at 11:00 am
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More places like Starving Artist and less like Pepper's and you have a neighbourhood happening!
AV / November 30, 2010 at 11:10 am
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Short answer to the title question: More trendy Queen W. refugees, less things and people that made this area awesome 5 years ago.
JR replying to a comment from AV / November 30, 2010 at 11:15 am
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yuppers!
TC / November 30, 2010 at 11:18 am
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Nothing ever stays the same. Get over it!
Matt replying to a comment from Joey Joe Joe / November 30, 2010 at 11:20 am
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What? Just because it doesn't cater to your demographic doesn't mean it isn't a neighbourhood.

Toronto is already overrun with places like Starving Artist. It's getting boring and turning the city into one big demographically homogenous landscape. That ain't urban.

Good neighbourhoods don't always need to be infested with doggie spas and hot yoga studios and one espresso joint for every 100 residents.
Mo replying to a comment from Joey Joe Joe / November 30, 2010 at 11:33 am
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Have you ever been to Peppers?! It's the perfect neighbourhood pub that caters to the heavy Porteguese locals, but welcomes the growing population of young professionals snatching up houses in the area at an alarming rate. On many, many ocasions a dozen+ of my friends and I have taken over Peppers, and Joe and his wife treat us like family. They're nothing short of awesome! Perhaps, if he served tall boys of PBR you'd be less inclined to judge so quickly.
AV replying to a comment from Matt / November 30, 2010 at 11:39 am
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"Good neighbourhoods don't always need to be infested with doggie spas and hot yoga studios and one espresso joint for every 100 residents."


A-fucking-men. Let me add "art" gallery/bars/studio & antique stores/overpriced picker places to that list as well!
jnyyz / November 30, 2010 at 11:45 am
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Thanks for this article. I ride through this intersection twice a day, and now I know a little bit more about the area. I've been to the bakery, but I'll have to check out the BBQ chicken.
Matt R. / November 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm
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Great article. I moved in right at Symington and Wallace and have lived there since July 2010. Moving from College and Bathurst to Bloor and Lansdowne was quite the step for me, and when I first moved in I was praying for the Starbucks, the mega grocery stores, or the mega strip mall to be built at the vacant lot where the TTC Barns used to sit. However now, I'd love to see something like the Wychwood Barns Gallery‎ that happened over at St.Clair and Bathurst, a communal park/center for the arts that everyone can enjoy. This area doesn't need to go all commercial, but it could use a boost in parks and public spaces to pull the area together.
Nick / November 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm
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Good article. Exploring how streetcar lines affected the urban character and inspired these "high streets" decades ago is always a fascinating game.

The neighbourhoods north/northeast of High Park lost a lot more than transit routes when they lost their on-street rail.
Melanie / November 30, 2010 at 02:03 pm
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Why don't all the people worried about gentrification just buy some property and put in a couple Coffee Times? Then the lovely neighborhood can remain stagnant for a few more years until you all get raises, start voting conservative and move to North York
Tanja replying to a comment from Melanie / November 30, 2010 at 02:14 pm
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Hah. Don't worry, we've already got 2 Coffee Times within 5 blocks here on Lansdowne. Gentrification is a long ways away.
Matt / November 30, 2010 at 02:17 pm
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Thanks Melanie. These discussions wouldn't be complete without so1me person inevitably confusing the desire for responsible, sensibly-paced revitalization with a desire to keep neighbourhoods stagnant and ghettoized. Thanks for coming out, and thanks for judging my politics without knowing a thing about me.
Richard replying to a comment from Matt / November 30, 2010 at 02:32 pm
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You give me a man boner with your perfect logic. Thank you for being one of the few sane ones Matt :)
Matt / November 30, 2010 at 02:44 pm
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Back at you.
Melanie / November 30, 2010 at 03:07 pm
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Actually Matt, I agreed with your earlier comment.

My opinion is simply that its problematic for blogs like this one and discussions around the neighborhood to speak of gentrification as a something to always oppose when in reality it can take many forms.

But unfortunately my sarcasm was misinterpreted. I'll stick to logic in the future as a boner friendly form of discussion.
David / November 30, 2010 at 03:11 pm
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I grew up in the area from the early 70s until mid 80s. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that was on the corner. The area has changed and yet it hasn't. I recall the old TTC building that once stood there and also going up to the GE plant to watch thru the window as the lightbulbs moved along the conveyor build.
Plus the many other factories to the west of Landsdown.
David / November 30, 2010 at 03:14 pm
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I grew up in the area from the early 70s until mid 80s. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that was on the corner. The area has changed and yet it hasn't. I recall the old TTC building that once stood there and also going up to the GE plant to watch thru the window as the lightbulbs moved along the conveyor build.
Plus the many other factories to the west of Landsdown.
David / November 30, 2010 at 03:17 pm
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I grew up in the area from the early 70s until mid 80s. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that was on the corner. The area has changed and yet it hasn't. I recall the old TTC building that once stood there and also going up to the GE plant to watch thru the window as the lightbulbs moved along the conveyor build.
Plus the many other factories to the west of Landsdown.
David / November 30, 2010 at 03:20 pm
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I grew up in the area from the early 70s until mid 80s. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that was on the corner. The area has changed and yet it hasn't. I recall the old TTC building that once stood there and also going up to the GE plant to watch thru the window as the lightbulbs moved along the conveyor build.
Plus the many other factories to the west of Landsdown.
Rochelle Latinsky / November 30, 2010 at 03:20 pm
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Does anyone know the effects of Trichloroethylene on the surrounding neighbourhood?

Thanks for highlighting an up an coming area, I've been watching that neighborhood for a few years as I'm getting to the point of being able to purchase a home, and I like that there's still that element of community surrounding all of the changes.
David / November 30, 2010 at 03:23 pm
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I grew up in the area from the early 70s until mid 80s. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that was on the corner. The area has changed and yet it hasn't. I recall the old TTC building that once stood there and also going up to the GE plant to watch thru the window as the lightbulbs moved along the conveyor build.
Plus the many other factories to the west of Landsdown.
Matt replying to a comment from Melanie / November 30, 2010 at 04:54 pm
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Ah, I see. Well, in that case I agree somewhat. I think the key is to distinguish between gentrification (which is bad, by definition meaning significant displacement of existing residents and rising unaffordability) and revitalization (which is good, meaning minimal displacement of lower-income residents while still attracting higher income residents and all the good their money can bring.)

Toronto just doesn't seem to have figured out how to revitalize neighbourhoods without slowly turning them into exclusive enclaves. Bu a lot of cities have the same problem.
JB replying to a comment from Rochelle Latinsky / November 30, 2010 at 05:47 pm
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From what I know it would only be a big issue if we didn't have plumbing and all of us used well water, because the Trichloroethylene seeps into ground water.

I'm not sure if there'd be any seepage into the basements of the surrounding houses, although I don't think it would be an issue for anyone who doesn't live directly across from the site.

Honestly the bigger concern is the Nitta Gelatin factory beside the site - although it's gotten better this year, there are still days where you have to shut your windows because of the smell (see: the nasty process of turning pig by-products into gelatin).

Even if the Landsdowne bus garage site gets cleaned up, I'm not sure who would develop next to that kind of factory.
corgie / November 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm
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Where will all the poorer folks go when it gentrifies? It's getting harder to be low-income person in this city. The demographic of people in their 20's is not the one i'm concerned about - their poverty is a common and temporary phrase.

I grew up in this neighbourhood and I hope it stays as blue collar and down to earth as it was (and is). 'Trendy' brings with it a pretension and smugness that wouldn't sit well in that area...and I hope it resists it. There's nothing wrong with young people or arts people moving into an area, but I really hope they become part of the community, rather than dominate it.
Josh Medeiros / December 1, 2010 at 01:35 am
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I grew up in the area from the early 90s until 2009. I had a job as a delivery boy for the pharmacy that is on the corner. There's been many delivery boys there.

The area is certainly getting a lot better. But it wont become completely artsy. Also, I think it best that it doesn't get fully gentrified. In any case, it will always be a mostly Portuguese neighborhood. Rich or Poor.
scottd / January 26, 2011 at 02:06 pm
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The TTC yard was slated for a police station and that was something that locals wanted and it was hoped that it could lead to a revitalization of the corner. The soil dispute stopped that and Carlton Village came out the winner. Peppers is liked by many people but it also attracts large SUV's and Pickup trucks that park on the sidewalk and block passage. For that reason I dont support Peppers. Starbucks? NOOOOOOO. How about another locally owned coffee shop like Angel's over at Wallace and Symington.
Kae / January 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm
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Scottd - We now have several great local coffee shops in the neighbourhood; Cafe Neon and Toronto Coffee Company. Good foreshadowing! What next?
Larry / March 16, 2012 at 07:25 pm
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I have lived in the area on Campbell ave for 5 years now and have seen the changes first hand... Personally I would never step foot in Peppers and cant wait for it to become something else... The comment about the SUVs is sooooo true~!
Alex / April 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm
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A place matches the employment in the area. If the factories are closing down and being replaced by offices, then obviously the area won't be blue collar anymore. It isn't about the number of high-end coffee shops that open, it's about the number of low-income jobs that are available.

I think Toronto isn't gentrifying so much as the population is growing, and people want to live in Toronto. So the land values go up and places like factories can't afford to be located in Toronto anymore so they move. They get replaced by higher wage jobs and so people with higher incomes move in to be close to their jobs, and people with lower incomes move out to be closer to their jobs. The city would normally just expand, except we surrounded it with suburbs so there is no room there to put new factories or other lower wage jobs, plus those jobs can now be done much cheaper overseas. I think that's why every condo being built seems to be "luxury" with insane prices for tiny bachelor units.

I'm not sure what's gonna happen to TO or Ontario, since the manufacturing is leaving and not being replaced. Are we gonna end up with all the low-wage jobs being service jobs, and all the high-wage jobs being office jobs? Or are office jobs gonna become the new low-wage jobs?
stu / November 9, 2012 at 09:36 pm
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they should return streetcars to this area!

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