Visiting High Park and Toronto’s West End Neighbourhoods

One of the beauties of Toronto is its diversity, the fact that hundreds of ethnic groups from all over the world congregate here in this metropolis and give their distinct flavour to this urban mosaic of cultures.

Since I had already taken my European visitors on a walking tour of downtown, covering most of the main sights, as well as on a bicycling tour of Toronto’s waterfront, I decided it was time to show them some of Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods for an authentic feel of the city away from the big tourist sites.

We started in the East end and drove through East York, an up and coming neighbourhood, originally working class, where many of the older bungalows are now being upgraded into two-story homes. Crossing the Leaside Bridge over the Don River, we explored the upscale Leaside Neighbourhood, featuring beautifully kept houses sheltered by a canopy of huge trees.

Sculpture in Toronto’s High Park

Making our way over through the equally upscale Moore Park Neighbourhood we crossed the Mount Pleasant ravine to get to the highrise towers of Yonge Street. Further west on St. Clair I turned north towards Upper Canada College, one of Toronto’s foremost private high schools, an appropriate anchor point for the elite Forest Hill neighbourhood. On our drive through this exclusive area, my visitors noticed all the horseshoe-shaped driveways in front of the mansions, something that I had never even noticed before.

Heading back down to St. Clair we drove past the multi-ethnic area around Bathurst Street, continuing our trek westwards towards Corso Italia, another Italian neighbourhood in Toronto. My European visitors commented on how green the city is, something that struck them as very different from many European cities. They also noticed that the residential neighbourhoods very extremely quiet and peaceful and that all the hustle and bustle and noise was confined to the main streets. We enjoyed looking at the little corner stores, displaying flowers, fruits and vegetables and the lively neighbourhoods with all the shoppers.

Then we drove back south to Bloor Street and explored the Polish area around Roncesvalles Avenue, right next to an area full of stately houses and majestic trees on the eastern outskirts of High Park.

Maple Leaf flower bed in High Park

Toronto’s largest park was our next destination. High Park features a variety of sports facilities, including baseball, tennis, a swimming pool and is a mecca for fitness buffs. There is also a small zoo with various bovine creatures, goats and other smaller animals. The heart of the park of Grenadier Pond, a beautiful natural body of water surrounded by willow trees. Various fishermen were practicing their hobby, although we did not know what type of fish they might catch.

We strolled along the pond while overhead the “Snowbirds”, a team of rather outdated Canadian fighter jets that have an unnvering habit of crashing, were practicing for the Air Show. They were doing loops and flying in various formations, sometimes surprisingly close to some of the highrise buildings right next to the Humber River.

Once we had reached the southern edge of the park we turned northwards again and walked past Colborne Lodge, the home of Jemima and John George Howard, a monument to a couple that helped to create one of Toronto’s largest parks. The Regency-style cottage, built in 1837, is also a perfect example of the architecture that was so popular in the early 19th century.

After High Park we headed further west through the lively Bloor West Village neighbourhood, which features many stores and restaurants, many of them Ukrainian. A craving for smoked sausages and cabbage rolls can definitely be satisfied here. Then we turned down from Bloor Street towards the parking lot right next to the Humber River. We parked our car and went for a half hour walk up the path by the river. I explained that the Humber River leads towards salmon spawning grounds and every fall thousands of brightly coloured salmon make their way up the rapids. We also saw several grey herons, stalking their slippery prey.

Heron in the Humber River

A nice gentleman, originally from New York City, stopped beside us and asked if we wanted our picture taken. I immediately spotted his accent and he admitted he had been in Toronto since 1963, I guess he still hadn’t lost his accent. He gave us some restaurant tips and walked on with his dog. A nice little interlude.

All this walking had made us hungry and we wanted to return home where my brother would fix us a delicious lunch. The last part of our West End exploration included the very upscale Kingsway neighbourhood, with its mansions, expansive front lawns and majestic trees. From there I drove back through the Annex neighbourhood and up the Rosedale Valley towards the Don River Valley, where I crossed the river on Pottery Road. Again, my visitors were commenting on the huge amount of green space that Toronto had to offer.

Grenadier Pond in High Park

Our second last destination along our driving tour was Chinatown East, a collection of Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean stores at the intersection of Broadview and Gerrard Streets, followed up by Little India further east on Gerrard. The ethnic mosaic in Toronto truly creates some astounding neighbourhoods and the diversity as well as the large amount of green spaces had left an impression on my European visitors. They commented that away from the downtown core, Toronto didn’t even seem like a large city, but more like a colourful collection of villages.

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