Exploring Toronto with Sights on Bikes
There is no doubt in my mind that bicycling is one of the best ways, if not the best way, to explore a city. You cover more than walking, you can easily stop anywhere, and you can get to the hidden spots that you wouldn’t be able to access by car and transit. I have decided that this summer I am going to spend a lot of time exploring Toronto, perched on the padded seat of my bicycle.
So after last week’s official Toronto biking tour with Sights on Bikes, today I set off by myself to check out the city. On a beautiful Saturday morning I left Toronto’s east end and cycled into the Taylor Park Creek system which is a beautiful and serene valley surrounding a creek, completed devoid of vehicular traffic. I came back up at Stan Wadlow Park near Woodbine Avenue and cycled westwards on one of Toronto’s designated bicycle lanes on Cosburn Avenue, turned south on Logan Avenue and made my first stop at Withrow Park where several merchants were selling a wide variety of home grown and organic food products. The action on the playground was in full swing (literally) and local East York and Riverdale residents had come out to enjoy and sample the bounty that was on offer.
Colour abounds everywhere
Cycling west on Hogarth Avenue I decided to do an experiment: to cycle while the camera was rolling to give my viewers a real idea of what this neighbourhood looks like. The Riverdale area, located south of Danforth Avenue – East Toronto’s main thoroughfare, is a quaint residential area with Victorian homes and tall, leafy trees. Over the last few years, many homes in the Riverdale area have been upgraded and renovated, and the resulting gentrification and the central location have made it a very popular neighbourhood.
A great downtown vista from Broadview Avenue
I arrived at Broadview Avenue, a north-south connection between Danforth and Eastern Avenues. Broadview Avenue overlooks the Don River Valley and offers several excellent lookout points of the downtown skyline. I stopped to take in the amazing panoramic view of Toronto’s downtown skyscrapers and watched the hustle and bustle on the Don Valley Parkway while soccer players were getting their exercise on the fields below the embankment.
Just minutes south of here I stopped at the intersection of Toronto’s Eastern Chinatown at Broadway and Gerrard Streets. The City of Toronto features the second largest Chinese population in Canada after Vancouver and has three Chinatowns within its city limits. The Chinese and Vietnamese stores at Broadview and Gerrard stretch from Broadview to Carlaw Avenue along Gerrard Street and sell inexpensive produce, meat, seafood and other general merchandise.
The infamous Don Jail
Close by is a historic landmark: the Don Jail was built between 1862 and 1865 and is one of Victorian Toronto’s most important remaining intact structures. The jail was expanded in the 1950s to increase capacity. The facilities in the old section of the prison are very outdated and one particular judge actually credited a person with three days for every one day spent serving in the prison, just to account for the harsh circumstances. The Don Jail was also the location of Canada’s last hangings: two convicted murders were hanged here in 1962.
I then crossed the bridge over the Don Valley and cycled north on Sumach Road to head into the Cabbagetown neighbourhood for a quick visit to Riverdale Park, a public part that features athletic fields and is anchored around Riverdale Farm, a publicly accessible farm that is operated by the city. From 1888 onwards Riverdale Farm was actually Toronto’s Zoo, but after the opening of the much larger Toronto Zoo in the eastern end of Scarborough in 1974, this site was converted into a farm that is accessible free of charge from April to October.
The horses are enchanting the crowd
Riverdale Farm is extremely popular with young families since it features farm animals such as horses, donkeys, cows, goats, sheep, pigs and poultry. Groups of young children were gathered around the horse pen and checked out the various barns with different animals in it. I had to chuckle when I saw one of the city workers taking two goats and several kid goats for a walk on a leash – I had never seen a goat on a leash before. Riverdale Farm features a central farmhouse, a tearoom that sells snacks and refreshments as well as washroom facilities. The grounds around the farm house are beautifully maintained and landscaped with a wide variety of flowers that are in full bloom.
Blooms at Riverdale Farm
The north entrance to Riverdale Farm is exactly opposite another historic Toronto landmark: the Necropolis Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in Toronto with many graves dating back to the early 1800s. Many early famous Toronto personalities are buried here, including George Brown, the founder of the newspaper that became the Globe and Mail, as well as William Lyon Mackenzie – Toronto’s first mayor. Beautiful gravestones tell tales of times long-gone, and of the cemetery’s 50,000 residents, each of whom left a mark on this city.
Historic house in Riverdale
The area surrounding Riverdale Farm and the Necropolis Cemetery is called Cabbagetown, a residential area that got started in the 1840s by Irish immigrants. The name of the neighbourhood originated because the relative poor residents resorted to growing cabbage in their front yards. Cabbagetown has undergone substantial gentrification since the 1970s and today is one of the most desirable and picturesque residential neighbourhoods in the city. Many successful urban professionals, professors, artists and politicians call this Heritage Conservation District their home.
From Cabbagetown I cycled west on Wellesley Avenue, a major east-west connection in downtown Toronto. I crossed the intersection of Church and Wellesley, the heart of Toronto’s gay community. The Church Wellesley Village is one of Canada’s most vibrant communities and home of various special events such as Pride Week and the Church Street Fetish Fair. Dozens of shops, restaurants, bars and outdoor patios make this a popular entertainment district.