Toronto insider: Dear Yorkville, how did you get so good?

Yorkville, when I think of the place you used to be, I only wish I knew you when. Founded in the early 1800s by Joseph Bloor, an entrepreneur who got Bloor Street named after him (it’s a big one in the city), you started out as a residential suburb with two main industries, the Yorkville Brick Yards, which manufactured the well-known yellow bricks, and breweries, such as The Severn Brewery and the Joseph Bloor Brewery. Quiet Victorian-style homes, in quiet streets and adorable gardens dotted the neighbourhood before getting swallowed up by the City of Toronto. And you still have a few architectural and historical highlights for people like me who love this stuff! 

Here are my top three: 

1. The Yorkville Library

We can thank Andrew Carnegie (l835-1919), the American philanthropist who loved to build libraries for this one – since he came through in a big way with more than CA$350,000 for this library.

2. The Yorkville Firehall #312

Built in 1878 with the distinctive yellow bricks from the Yorkville Brick Yards, this fire station is one of the city’s oldest fire halls. It’s an excellent example of Victorian Gothic architecture and the two-storey structure has a five-storey clock tower with three bays.

3. The original Mount Sinai Hospital

In 1913, four immigrant women from Toronto’s Jewish community started fundraising. It took nine years, but they finally bought a building at 100 Yorkville Ave. It became Mount Sinai Hospital, which moved locations several times and now the restored historic façade of the original location has been incorporated into a condo development. 

Then the hippies came 

Oh Yorkville, you really changed your face in the ’60s, you were all rundown and shabby chic, a bohemian cultural centre, luring some of the best artists this country has produced, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot, as well as literary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Dennis Lee. Margaret Atwood was underground! It was a hippie haven! Others came to Yorkville’s famous coffees to hang out and be inspired by talent, the love-ins and poetry readings that went on at all hours of the day. Oh, if only I had a fairy godmother, I would make myself older so I would have been able to live the magic – and inhale just a little bit. 

Then the Ferraris came

Look at you, now. Everybody grows up, and the hippies did too. And you started to pull up your socks: during the ’70s and into the ’80s, high-end Bloor Street businesses, such as Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew and international designer brands began to attract chic boutiques, first class art galleries, high-end hotels and restaurants with movie stars. And let’s not forget the exotic cars like the Ferraris that snake along the avenues of Yorkville and Cumberland. You embraced it all. And now, enough chatting, I want people to really get to know you. I’m going to tell them your best spots.

The Shopping

Start at one end and work your way down the street along Bloor St. between Avenue Road and Yonge St. for one of the most popular shopping areas that’s been compared to New York’s Fifth Avenue and Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive. Luxury retailers include Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Prada. 

Unique spots

For real-life shopping, check out Over the Rainbow for loads of denim options to fit every body shape. For clothes, shoes, cosmetics, perfumes and furs all in one place, go to Hold Renfrew, the high-end department store. For fun, unique gifty items and cool souvenirs, go to Rolo’s, or pick up beautiful Chinese teacups and vases at Pine and Bamboo Ceramics.

Get a haircut or a pedicure

Fantastic salons include Greg May Hair Architects, Hair on the Avenue, Oskar on Scollard and Industry Salon, which is rejoining forces with Toni & Guy Hairdressing. Get a massage, a speedy facial or a fabulous mani-pedi at Stillwater Spa. 

Eat and drink

Yorkville, what I like about you is that you know how I like to eat and drink to survive. Grab an espresso from Zaza Espresso Bar and watch the people go by as you sip your espresso or get one at Nespresso’s. Find a large selection of natural, organic products at Hazelton Lanes’ Whole Foods. Go to Sushi Inn for Sushi Pizza or dine at Sassafraz, a favourite for visiting stars and celebs. If you want to eat under the radar, try Flo’s Diner, a reasonably priced ’50s diner with burgers, sandwiches and an amazing grilled cheese. Do you like afternoon tea? Check out the Tea Room at the Windsor Arms Hotel, which has been serving tea since 1927.

Just drink

So many great spots: Amber, Hemingway’s rooftop patio and, if you like hotel bars, Intercontinental Hotel’s Skylounge, or the Roof Lounge in the Park Hyatt Hotel for an amazing view of the city and a classic cocktail.

Don’t miss

If you haven’t yet booked your place at the FIPP World Congress, which takes place on 13-15 October 2015 in Toronto, find out how to do so here.

Any questions?

Get in touch with FIPP’s head of events, Claire Jones.

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