Corktown, Distillery District, West and Lower Don Lands, East Bayfront and Lower Yonge
Corktown got its name in the early 19th century as Irish emigrants, mostly from County Cork, fleeing the famine settled in the area, although some say that the many distilleries, breweries and corkstopper manufacturers may have secured its nickname. Some of the original workers’ cottages are still in the area.
Corktown is located north of the Gardiner Expressway to Queen Street East, between Berkeley Street to the west and the Don River to the east.
In the 1960s, much of Corktown was demolished to make way for the elevated roadways that now stand over the neighbourhood, the most significant being the House of Providence (1857-1962), an institution run by the Sisters of St. Joseph to care for orphans and the elderly poor.
The Distillery District, which is now home to many cafés, restaurants and shops, was once home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832. The district, which has the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America, was designated a National History Site of Canada in 1988.
In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-friendly area, opening to the public in 2003. The Distillery is the location of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, which is home to the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the drama productions of George Brown College.
The West Don Lands started off as a large city park, but was sold to developers in the 1830s. In the late 19th century, it was part of Corktown and home to many Irish immigrants, as well as a number of factories and warehouses. The West Don Lands is bordered by the Don River, King Street East, Parliament Street and the rail line adjacent to the Gardiner Expressway. The Lower Don Lands goes south from the rail line to the Ship Channel.
In 2006, the City of Toronto under Mayor David Miller announced a new plan to create a residential community in the abandoned area, which included 6,000 residential spaces with 20 per cent being allocated to affordable or subsidized housing. In 2009, it was announced that the West Don Lands would be home to the athlete’s village for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Games.
East Bayfront has an industrial past and is currently undergoing a transformation to a mixed-use residential and commercial district. The area is bounded by Parliament Street to the east, Jarvis Street and the Jarvis Slip to the west, and the rail line and Gardiner Expressway to the north. It is now home to a number of new parks, including Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common, the Parliament Wavedeck, as well as Corus Quay and a campus of George Brown College.
To the west of this area is Lower Yonge, an area bounded by Yonge Street to the west, Jarvis Street and the Jarvis Slip to the east and the rail line and Gardiner Expressway to the north.
Corktown, in particular, is seeing a huge neighbourhood renaissance with many of the older homes being renovated and upgraded. But most of the housing stock in this area is condominiums. The West Don Lands and East Bayfront is seeing a massive boon in condo developments, with everything on offer from affordable housing to multi-million dollar penthouses. Go to CondoLifeMag.com to see a complete list of new homes and condos for sale.
A ride on a Segway, a performance at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, a stroll through the Corkin Gallery, topped off by a coffee from Balzac’s and a little chocolate from Soma would be a perfect afternoon at the Distillery District.
Much of the southeast region of Toronto is still being built and a lot of its amenities are still to come. The new YMCA and the health and wellness facilities in the Canary District opened in May. Plans for the entire area are expansive; full details can be found on Waterfront Toronto’s website.
Parks & Rec
If a little sunbathing is in your future, head on over to Sugar Beach at the foot of Jarvis Street. It features a sandy beach, umbrellas, Muskoka chairs, a rocky amphitheatre, pedestrian areas and a splash pad. Sherbourne Common on Queens Quay East transformed a former industrial area into green space. Its signature feature is a 240-metre-long water channel featuring three art sculptures that rise almost nine metres, called “Light Showers,” by artist Jill Anholt.
Corktown Common borders the Don River, located east of Bayview Avenue south of King Street East, and was built on remediated industrial lands that will be the centrepice of the emerging neighbourhood. The park has playgrounds, a splash pad, athletic field, marsh, bike paths, a boardwalk and an off-leash dog area. It also boasts 7.9 acres of urban prairie.
Underpass Park, located under and around the Eastern Avenue, Richmond and Adelaide Streets overpasses, is the most extensive park ever built under a highway in Canada. It transformed a derelict space into a unique community park that boasts a playground, park benches, two basketball half-courts, an extensive skateboarding park and flexible space that can be used for markets, festivals and community events.
The Distillery District has more than 80 shops offering a wide selections of boutiques and interesting craft and gift shops, including Bergo Designs, a wonderful store full of leading-edge home products. The 10,000-square-foot Corkin Gallery, which specializes in contemporary and photographic art, is a visual treat for any art enthusiast.
Corktown, one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods, has been pegged as the city’s next design district, and as you walk along Queen and King streets, you’ll find wonderful boutiques.
Streetcars ply Queen and King Streets and an LRT is planned for Cherry/Sumach Street, south from King Street through the West Don Lands to the CN rail corridor just north of the Gardiner Expressway. The LRT will be expanded south as the Lower Don Lands come under development. Bicycle paths and trails are also a large part of the redevelopment of the area.
Eat your heart out
In Corktown, the George Street Diner is an institution at the corner of Richmond Street West and Georgetown Street. But don’t let the name fool you; the offerings are decidedly better than the usual burgers and fries.
The Distillery offers several cafés – including Balzak’s and the wonderful Brick Street Bakery – but its crowning glory may be the Pure Spirits Oyster House, where the seafood is fresh and wine list is comprehensive. The Distillery is also home to the Mill Street Brew Pub and El Catrin Destileria, offering authentic Mexican cuisine. Over at the Corus Quay in East Bayfront, you’ll find Against the Grain Urban Tavern, offering an amazing waterside patio overlooking Sugar Beach.