Neighbourhood Watch: Trinity Bellwoods
When I moved from San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to Toronto, I knew I wanted a neighborhood with a similar diverse bohemian feel, that was close to good eats, unique shopping, and had a fair amount of greenspace. I was familiar with Queen West from past visits to the city, so when we found & moved into an old converted church fringing Trinity Bellwoods park, it was a win-win. I was happy to have my greenspace, and my mother was happy that I had finally found religion.
When I reference the Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood in this piece, I consider it's confines to be pretty much Bathurst to the east, Shaw to the West, Queen to the South and Dundas to the North. Sure, going as far east as Bathurst might be pushing it, but I spend so much time browsing that stretch of Queen that I just have to include it. Some of my favourite stops:
Fresh Collective (692 Queen St. West) - was my first "favourite find" as a Toronto newb, and is still very dear to my heart. I believe I have more peices from this designer-run collective than any other boutique, my favourites being a Dagg & Stacey jacket, vintage fabric skirts by Fresh Baked Goods, and Tara Campbell's "Odd Bird" domino pendants.
Cabaret Vintage (672 Queen St. West) - carries gorgeous high-end vintage peices. Perfect for finding that unique prom or formal dress, and a friendlier staff you will seldom meet. Owner Thomas Drayton is often there to greet you with compliments and smiles.
Magic Pony (694 Queen St. West) - is more than just a gallery displaying great pop & urban artists, it's also a fantastic place to shop for unique gifts for that toy-loving young at heart friend. OK.. or yourself (the plastic Ultraman figurine on my desktop is calling me guilty).
Morba (665-667 Queen St. West) - everyone knows this Queen Street shop, the one with the window full of space-age lamps and glowing white bubble shades. Even if you're not the mid-century modern freak that I am, it's worth a step inside just to marvel at the crazy amount of vintage stock, and their perilous-looking feat of chair stacking from floor to ceiling.
Dufflet (787 Queen St. West) - a Toronto legend, and their blueberry lemon cheesecake is still some of the best around.
Clafouti (915 Queen St. West) - because one pastry entry is clearly not enough. I could drown in their strawberry-rhubarb tarts and die happy.
Noce (875 Queen St. West) - when Terroni is too crowded and you don't mind spending a teeeensy bit more for a delicious meal and impeccable service, head further down Queen a block to Noce (a midweek drop-in should be ok, but reservations are usually necessary on weekends). The menu focuses on seasonal specialties prepared Tuscan-style, and their flair for flavour pairings has never missed the mark in all my visits there.
Capsule Music (921 Queen St. West) - you don't have to be a musician to appreciate the design beauty of a classic guitar, and Capsule Music's collection is top-notch. I've often caught myself licking the window display whenever they have a gorgeous old Gretsch hollow body gazing out at me.
Queen West Animal Hospital (923 Queen St. West) - who would have thought that one could find the most gracious, friendly and gentle veterinary staff right in downtown Toronto? When it was time to say goodbye to my cat of 21 years last winter, their compassionate handling of the whole thing was quite a comfort - I was a mess, but they helped pull me through.
But to say that the Trinity Bellwoods area is all about Queen Street is doing it a definite disservice. A certain comedic local rockstar I know once told me that Dundas was "one of the most under-appreciated streets in Toronto", so I've always made a point of giving the stretch of Dundas from the park area and westward a good amount of exploratory attention. In addition to excellent Portuguese bakeries, Dundas also holds hidden jewels in the form of great little independent local-label shops. The block between Claremont and Bellwoods is a personal favourite - Skirt! (903 Dundas West) is packed with absolutely stellar girly dresses, tops and, yes, skirts!, while conversely the puzzlingly-named Sunshine Deli (895 Dundas West) lack pastrami but sports a really inspiring vintage collection. And at Model Citizen (913 Dundas West) you'll find fun retro designs for the fellas. For eats, Saving Grace (907 Dundas West), is a great (albeit crowded on weekends) little brunch/lunch spot, with fresh unique dishes similar to Swan on Queen West.
The park itself is full of life and charm. On any given warm weekend, the tennis courts, softball, and soccer fields are hopping, cyclists line the bike paths, and the playground near the Community Center on Crawford is full of laughter. The Community Center swimming pool has free recreational swim times, and has hosted many a party (most recently taking part in Nuit Blanche). Trinity Bellwoods is also a great dog park (and was used in the 1998 film "Dog Park"). The large sunken field area on the northern Dundas side known as "the dog bowl" is a designated off-leash area (my dog Millie would like to chime in at this juncture that it is her favourite). And if you're a Victorian architecture junkie, there are some gorgeous old mansion-style homes on Crawford just north of the community center.
(The park's "dog bowl" also makes a good sledding hill in winter. Photo by Melsky, as seen on Flickr).
Regular events in the park include the annual Queen West Art crawl (each September), the Alley Jaunt (taking place in summer/fall in many of the street's alleys surrounding the park), frequent book fairs and community yard sales, as well as impromptu performance art and summer drum circles. We've strolled through the park after dark and seen some amazing fire dancers, plus the occasional TV or movie filming.
The Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood is sadly starting to feel the strain of the chain boutiques and large stores pushing westward from the Queen/Spadina throng and, within the past few years, past even Bathurst. With this gentrification comes improvements in the streets and store facades plus a heightened sense of security, but at what cost? I have already seen many of the truly unique independent shops and galleries buckle under soaring rent costs and move westward into the more affordable Parkdale. As Toronto's west side continues to grow and evolve, I sincerely hope my neighborhood can find a way to do so gracefully.
Additional pictures of Trinity Bellwoods on Flickr.
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