It’s taken about fifty years, but King Street East from Jarvis to Parliament Streets is now evolving into a neighbourhood of showrooms, studios and high-end retailers. Al Smith, executive director of the St. Lawrence Market BIA says “it’s a neighbourhood different from anywhere else. The store owners are connected to a global network; they live design at an international level.”
KEDD (The King Street East Design District) is part of a much larger community known as Old Town. It contains a couple of theatres, George Brown College, some of TORONTO’s oldest architecture, pubs, good restaurants including George Brown’s Chef’s House, the Toronto Sun newspaper, and coming soon The Globe and Mail Centre. The area is an easy walk from the St. Lawrence Market, St. James Cathedral, the Distillery District, and the West Don neighbourhood. On Saturdays and Sundays KEDD is ‘brunch central’ for downtown eastsiders.
CHICAGO (or at least Travel Reporter ALAN SOLOMON from the Chicago Tribune) spent some time this summer sampling TORONTO’s restaurants – a number of Latin American establishments – and pronounced them really good to excellent. Solomon says “one of the joys of seeking out Pan Am eats in TORONTO is that finding them brings you into so many of the city’s neighbourhoods, most of them easily accessible via TORONTO’s trademark red streetcars or its easy-to-figure-out subway.”
He began in Kensington Market “more of a state of mind than a market” and Baldwin Street where “just days before my arrival Sully Rios opened her little empanada shop called Latin Taste.”“Julie’s Cuban Restaurant, 202 Dovercourt Road, is the quintessential neighbourhood restaurant . . . try the ropa vieja, a traditional pulled-beef dish with traditional Cuban sides (rice, black beans, plantains).”
Albert’s Real Jamaican Food on St. Clair Avenue West “is a full-sized diner facing a Catholic Church with an Orthodox synagogue right next door. Folks line up to order oxtail, curry goat, stew beef, jerk chicken and other good things.”Across St. Clair Avenue from Albert’s: “El Fogon is a 12 year-old Peruvian restaurant. I ordered the lomo saltado, a national dish of sliced sirloin, sweet onions, tomatoes and French fries (‘Inca steak fries’) all tossed together in a wok and washed down with an amber Inca Kola.”
Valdez on King Street West: “We get quesadillas featuring eggplant and artichoke, an award-winning smoked chicken guacamole, chaufa (a Peruvian fried-rice dish) with duck and edamame, and a brisket-endowed mofongo you’ll find in Santurce.”“El Catrin, in its second year in the Distillery District, is a trip, a mind-blowingly gorgeous, theatrical installation whose decor almost, but not quite, overwhelms chef Olivier Le Calvez’s interpretations of Mexican standards. Pulpo carnitas, anyone?”“Milagro, with three locations serves the requisite tacos plus surprise variations (rib-eye and bacon) along with other creative foodstuffs, including a wonderfully complex mole poblano.”
Former mayor BARBARA HALL and her city council can take much of the credit for the success story unfolding today in TORONTO’s Fashion District (roughly Richmond West to King Street, and Bathurst to John.) This area was once a prime industrial hub in the city’s core. But in the 1980’s it was heading to rust bucket land as industry moved out, first to suburbia, then overseas and to the US and Mexico. Brick warehouses emptied out, and property owners began demolishing them with little regard for their heritage value.
Mayor Hall and her council brought in The Regeneration Planning Initiative, eliminating traditional land use restrictions and calling for the preservation of these wonderful old structures. Today, the Fashion District is a boomtown within a boomtown. The warehouses are fully occupied with light industrial businesses – new media, technology, fashion, architecture and entertainment.
With an influx of sidewalk patios, several fine restaurants, office towers and apartment buildings, the district has become a hot, go-to downtown destination. Best of all – the developers are treating the heritage buildings with more than a little respect.
TORONTO loves the movies. With 70 downtown screens and about a dozen neighbourhood cinemas, weekly film festivals, summertime outdoor screenings, TIFF’s galleries, research library, and cinematheque, and three film studio complexes – the Toronto International Film Festival is the cherry on top.
“Room”, an Irish/Canada co-production, took the top prize this year – The People’s Choice Award. It’s a mother-and-son abduction drama that could well be Oscar material. Based on Canadian author Emma Donoghue‘s novel, the story follows a mother and young son <Vancouver’s Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson> who live in a 10 by 10 foot space. The boy – for the moment anyway – believes this is the entire world. But his curiosity is growing, along with his mother’s desperation.
Top prize in the Platform program for global drama went to TORONTO filmmaker Alan Zweig. He took the $25,000 prize for HURT, a documentary about Steve Fonyo, the cross-country Canadian runner who raised millions of dollars for cancer research 30 years ago, and has fallen on hard times since. Twelve international films competed for this prize. Jurors from China, Holland and France joked there was no chance this was an ‘inside job‘ because “we’re not Canadian!”
With 3,000 volunteers, large and comfortable cinemas, films from the four corners of the world (39 from Canada this year), open to the public, financial support from three levels of government, and stars galore – after 40 years, TIFF remains a smashing success and a well-earned feather in TORONTO’s cap. We do this very well indeed.