I start by rounding around the front of the New Town Family Restaurant. The individual handing out free three-day GoodLife passes nearly startles me. I decline – wouldn’t know who to give them to. “No worries,” he tells me, as I note the good choice in location nonetheless. The diner hugging the corner boasts what seems to be its entire menu on its sign – all day breakfast among it. Even as a proponent of breakfast food at any hour of the day, I have yet to try it out.
I round the bend, finding myself on Gerrard Street East. It’s a street I have frequented quite a bit over the last year. It is of course home to the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA and one of the most impactful and distinctive streetscapes in the city. It is always a treat to gaze on the colourful facades of the clothing and jewellery shops, but it’s not my goal today. No, today I want to look behind the scenes.
On the way, I note a couple of scenes. The Glen Rhodes United Church, as imposing as it is on the street, at first glance is a bit of an anomaly amongst its South Asian surroundings. The church in its earliest form predates Little India by 60 years, however. I am impressed not only by its Gothic structure, but by its status as an affirmed church and a centre for the Pakistani community.
The next street over from Rhodes is Craven, locally known as Tiny Town for its DIY houses. I am tempted to cross the street and head south, but alas, I continue on. Less impressive is the amount of closed, empty shops. If you walk down the entire course of the Bazaar, you’ll notice quite a few of them. It’s a sad sight and speaks to perhaps the decline or at least the changing nature of the South Asian hub.
Ashdale Avenue is where I move off Gerrard. I snap a picture of the mural in front of the library before heading north. I enter the alley from behind the library. My first encounter is the Naaz Theatre complex. I didn’t have a chance to check it out from the front, but if it mimics the back, it still needs a lot of work. Actually, I can hear the grinding of a saw happening from inside. My other senses catch the tempting aromas from the street and the not so inticing wall designs.
Wooden fences and back decks populate the lane. I admittedly feel weird about being there. Like an arena dressing room to the public, it feels like a no go zone – the unpretty behind-the-scenes scene.
At Woodfield, I am thrown slightly off course by a couple of unplanned and planned distractions. First, the unexpected – a series of images making up a mural. I interpret the first to be a face with large eyes, a mustache, and tiny mouth – wearing a crown. Walking up to the street, I can’t resist but get another peek of my favourite building on the street.
My planned diversion is to head north. Woodfield has a bit of road maintenance going on. A passing jogger has to navigate around the holes in the sidewalk and through the muddy road. Canadian flags and a mismatch of adjacent housing have my attention. I also remember that a tunnelized stream runs under the street.
Ahead in the distance the street slopes up to an end. Before that, it’s bisected by another road. The row of houses leading up to southwest corner concludes a flat roofed brick building. This is Woodfield Grocery and puzzles me. I know of corner shops existing in Cabbagetown, so this is unexpected. I wonder how long it’s been here.
I head inside. I see no one at the counter but then hear a ‘hello’ from seemingly nowhere. A couple of steps forward produces a woman sitting in a hidden corner reading the paper and manning the security cameras. I head to the back of the shop and fetch myself a chocolate milk. While she rings it up, I mention my curiosities about its odd location. She makes no comment, so I go on to ask whether a lot of people come by. “Sometimes. More in the summer.” The language barrier between us has me sensing an awkward conversation coming, so I leave it at that and wish her a good day as I exit.
If I continue up Woodfield I’ll hit a path which trails under the CNR tracks toward Monarch Park. Alas, this is an adventure already travelled, so I hang a left.
My plan is to head down Highfield to rejoin the laneways. Before I do, I note the houses north of Walpole. They are a bit out of place compared to the rest of street. As my Greenwood Avenue exploits showed me, the residential neighbourhood in this area developed in pockets as the brickyards closed down and the land was converted.
The image of daisies on a black brick building welcomes me back to the lane. This is the Riverdale Hub, a former industrial building turned community centre. I had a chance to tour it during last year’s Doors Open. It is an interesting building with a wonderful mandate.
On Glenside I see perhaps the grandest design of the day. A woman from the residential complex behind me exits as I capture it. I often wonder if I’ll be asked what I’m doing when I am snapping photos. Alas, she continues on her business and I add the peacock to my Galaxy SIII’s gallery.
The alley hits an incline and I reach Redwood on the otherside. The Centre of Gravity Circus/Side Show Café is a fascinating structure. I know it’s an old theatre complex but looking up I see ‘Pool and Billiards Parlour’. Perhaps one of its incarnations after it ceased to be a theatre (whenever that was)?
I round back to check out the rest of building. More graffiti and a door leading to a death drop. That’s different.
Continuing on, I come to Greenwood. Across the street the alley continues. I contemplate it, but with a 14% phone battery, I nix it. Thwarted by technology.
I instead head to Gerrard to attack my bucket list. The first thing that catches my attention at the Brickyard Grounds is the coloured archival photo of the corner. It’s a long and narrow shop, but spacious nonetheless. I walk up to the counter and am amicably greeted by the barista. Not being one for lattes, I simply ask for drip. Behind me another barista alerts me she’s trying to pass through. Between the counter and the wall there is not tons of rooms. I apologize, joking that I tend to take up a lot of space. She tells me instead that they knew they’d regret putting shelving on the wall. We have a laugh about that.
I fit my coffee with milk and sugar and take a spot at the front of the store – right under the picture. I snap it for my collection and run through the rest of my photos from today while working on my coffee. I half-eavesdrop on the surrounding conversations including a police officer’s chats with the baristas and then a patron near me.
I bring my finished cup up to the counter and thank the barista that passed behind me earlier. I ask about what I had and she says it is an organic, fair trade roast and tells me about the differences it and dark roasts. Then I compliment her on the unbelievable job they have done with the place and the awesome tribute to the local history of the area. She mentions the photo, which she had touched up by a graphic designer, and points out they took the sign to the former occupants – the Native Canadian Arts & Crafts Gallery – and fitted it onto the counter. Didn’t even notice it ‘til then. From there, I pledge to come back – weekend brunch looks too enticing – and after exchanging names (thanks for the chat Sophie!), I leave.
My Transit Now Toronto app settles my dilemma between the bus and the streetcar. It’ll be the 31 today, and it comes five minutes to swoop me to the subway.