Toronto Walk: Little India

Today we’re headed to Little India, or the India Bazaar, in Toronto.

Fueled by South Asian entrepreneurs immigrating to Toronto and settling around the beacon of the Naaz Theatre, Little India has been a vibrant community in Toronto since the 1960’s. The sights, sounds, and smells of the strip of Gerrard has been a siren call to many, leaving friends who have lived in the area earning Pavlovian reactions to cardamom and curry.  The street, lined with the eateries, grocers, jewelry shops, travel agencies, and sari shops, has collectively earned the name India Bazaar, (even though the area has it’s own little Pakistani, Little Bangladeshi, Little Afghan and Little Sri Lankan segments) and over the years the local BIA (the Gerrard India Bazaar Business Improvement Area) has spent it’s effort and resources making drastic improvements and focusing on cultural street festivals.

Toronto’s personal Delhi of downtown is chock-full of history, including the Naaz Theatre

Over time, the Bazaar has changed, with many South Asian settlers choosing to move to the suburbs where property prices are cheaper, changing the face of Etobicoke, Scarborough, Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, and Vaughan and sparking the creation of Little India’s across the GTHA. Still, the India Bazaar calls many back to the six blocks between Coxwell and Greenwood Ave which supports 200+ shops. 

In the last two years, a growing concern is that the Little Indias across the GTHA have been “sucking up business” in the off season, today we’ll see what the impact has been on the Original Little India, one of North America’s largest South Asian Bazaars. 

Toronto Walk: Pacific Mall

the pacific mall floor area.

the pacific mall floor area.

Located at the corner of Kennedy Road and Steeles Avenue in the Greater Toronto Area, two shopping complexes next door to each other, the Pacific Mall and the Market Village in Markham offer visitors a grand Asian shopping experience.

That is what Guiding Star describes as the largest indoor Asian Mall in Canada. With 500+ stores selling everything under the sun (including, notoriously, knock off designer wares) Pacific Mall is a one stop shop for all the things you’ll ever need. What’s interesting though is rising past the main floor, away from the rush of the crowd, you can see the true architectural style of the place. Among the food court, karaoke rooms, and video arcade you can see architect Wallman Clews Bergman’s work. 

Pacific Mall was constructed around the same time as the  establishment of ethnic malls and plazas in the late 1980’s in and around Scarborough (what what). Based off of the rising development of Cuban, Jamaican, Asian, and South Asian malls, in Scarborough (nearly 60 were developed) Pacific Mall responded to an increase in immigration and an uptick in international investment in entreprenurialism. 

The architectural design of the mall is a mix of red bricks, steel beams, and glass, creating a “fabulous transparent building as different as possible from its surrounding” . Not quite of Hong Kong or of Toronto,  but a little of both, the mall both distinguishes itself from, and invests itself in, its surroundings. 

Inside, the streets are numbered and named to correspond to both affluent or lucky numbers or famous streets in Hong Kong.

As an official Canadian Tourist Attraction, the mall is exempt from the Retail Business Holiday Act and is open year-round including statutory holidays. Pacific Mall also hosts festivals and celebrations for the community.[1][2]

Maybe we’ll catch one today!

TorontoWalk: Tommy Thompson Park

Today, we’re trying to do this bike/walk trip. We’ll go as deep as we can into the Leslie Street Spit which extends five km into Lake Ontario and is over 500 hectares in size. If you’re interested in joining us, but don’t want to face the traffic, there’s this virtual tour.

For a history of TTP (Tommy Thompson Park), look to TTP’s website. TTP is completely man-made, originally constructed by Toronto Harbour Commissioners (THC) in 1959,  the land was drastically increased in 1973. From 1974 to 1983 approximately 6,500,000 cubic metres of sand/silt were dredged from the Outer Harbour and placed at the spit which created the many lagoons and sand peninsulas. And it hasn’t stopped. OVer the years, additional fill has widened and extended the shoreline, and despite the restricted operation hours (mainly weekends) well over 100,000 visitors enjoy TTP annually. Given the high visitor numbers, the proposed residential growth in the West Don Lands that could see local resident numbers reach 60,000 and the development of Lake Ontario Park, TTP is recognized as one of the best areas for greenspace improvement along the Toronto waterfront.

With the construction in the area, we’re hoping to start our walk close to the regular 1:00 time, but that could change!

TorontoWalk: Dufferin St.

My parents recently came back from Uganda after participating as Curricula Consultants with “Teachers Helping Teachers” and they’re coming over tonight for dinner. So today’s TorontoWalk will include a stop off for some groceries at a Dufferin locale. But! The history!

“Dufferin” is named for Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who served as Governor General of Canada from 1872 to 1878. He’s known as one of the most successful diplomats of his time, due in part to his work in Syria and Lebanon – and in part to having pretty outstanding facial hair.

Dufferin – the street – has also earned notice. In 2003, 2007, and 2013 it was voted as one of “Ontario’s Worst 20 Roads” in the Ontario’s Worst Roads Poll.  Today we’re doing a Dufferin leg between Dupont and College, where the street is primarily residential on both sides though there are some historical notables:

The Dufferin Mall, for example, sits on land that until 1955 was occupied by a half-mile race track officially called Dufferin Park, but unofficially nicknamed Little Saratoga and Sufferin Park. Once owned by the Denison family, the racetrack had been operating since the 1800s and survived a battle with churches and newspapers against race-track gambling in Canada. You can tell that the bad blood continued for sometime as an obituary that appeared in the Globe and Mail described Abe Orpen (the Racetrack’s owner and operator) as “the lawbreaker who ran the poolroom in old Toronto Junction, and came within an inch of going to jail as the proprietor of a gambling club on Wellington Street.”

The Dufferin Mall and Dufferin Grove Park area – in addition to being one of many a race track in Toronto – also served as a stadium for events like circuses and wild west shows like the Young Buffalo wild west shows that featured performers such as Annie Oakley, “peerless rifle and wing shot of the world.” Just imagine: Annie Oakley, the animals and performers of the circus marching along Bloor and Brock from the old TTC barns on Lansdowne down to the track on Dufferin.

North of College, and west of Dufferin is the former village of Brockton and on the east is the Dufferin Grove neighbourhood, named after the park on the east side of Dufferin. From Bloor Street to Davenport, Dufferin is lined with homes built from the 1920s to post-World War II. The Galleria Mall is located on the west side of Dufferin and on the south side of Dupont Street, and for most in the area, it serves as a reminder of local business struggling against a lack of consistent anchor stores. After Zellers was replaced by… nothing,. The only things holding this building together are the Fresh Co, LCBO, and Dollar store.

The neighbourhood west of Dufferin in this area is known as Wallace Emerson, while on the east it is known as Dovercourt Park (which recently launched a Community Association). North of Davenport, Dufferin ascends the former Lake Iroquois shoreline escarpment.