With a History Degree as part of my multi-disciplinary education on Housing, I’ve always been fascinated with Toronto’s past. In fact, my undergraduate research included exploring the migration patterns of different cultural groups from 1860-1970 as they influenced Toronto’s housing market. Certainly if there’s one aspect that makes Toronto unique when compared to other urban centres, it’s how we’re a city of neighbourhoods rich with a patchwork of different cultures and lifestyles. The Danforth is but one of many interesting examples. Click HERE for a past HomeWatch newsletter called ‘Toronto: The City Of Neighbourhoods’.
The Danforth, as Danforth Avenue is colloquially known, is the major arterial road running east over the Bloor Street Viaduct connecting the city centre to the east end beginning with the neighbourhoods called Playter Estates and Riverdale. There’s a great synopsis of the history of The Danforth on the Danforth’s BIA site HERE which offers this charming summary:
“Danforth Avenue in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was named after Asa Danforth, an American contractor who was commissioned in 1799 to cut the Danforth but didn’t actually build it. The Don and Danforth Plank Road Company built Danforth Ave in 1851, connecting it to Broadview Ave and creating a viable route to the more populous surrounding communities down near Queen St East and Kingston Road. With the barriers of the Don Valley and Don River, the Danforth started out as a remote area. It was remembered as “a dusty country road – a sleepy byway that ran through open fields, market gardens, brickyards, scattered houses, the odd church, and occasional hotel or roadhouse, where Torontonians would go for weekend revels.” In the early 1790s just north of the Danforth, industries began settling along the east bank of the Don Valley to take advantage of the water power potential of the Don, and later to exploit the valley’s rich clay deposits for brick-making purposes.
In the late 1800s, as the City of Toronto grew because of an increasing immigrant population, the City decided in 1884 to annex the previously un-serviced lands south of the Danforth, north of Queen St East and east of the Don to Greenwood. The lands north of the Danforth and east of Donlands Ave, and Chester Village were later annexed to the City of Toronto in 1909. In 1888 the Toronto Street Railway established a streetcar line along Broadview Ave from Queen St East to the corner of Danforth Ave and in 1913 the Danforth line of the municipally-owned Toronto Civic Railways began service east of Broadview Ave. The single most important event in the Danforth’s history came in 1919 with the completion of the Bloor Viaduct bridge over the Don Valley, finally connecting the Danforth to the City via Bloor Street.
Initially the bridge was called the Bloor Street Viaduct, but on September 11, 1919 Toronto’s City Council unanimously agreed to rename it the Prince Edward Viaduct to honour Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) who had received an enthusiastic welcome a few weeks before on his first visit to Toronto. First inhabitants to the new lower middle class suburb of Toronto were mainly immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland. In the 1950s an influx of Italians came to the area, followed by Greeks and other immigrants in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s second generation Greeks and Italians moved to the outer suburbs, while children of Anglo-Saxon suburbanites, attracted by low real estate prices and closeness to downtown Toronto (the Bloor-Danforth subway line opened in 1966), returned and launched a major wave of home renovations and restoration in the area.”
It’s true the early signs of gentrification made its appearance in the late70s with the arrival of first time homebuyers known as ‘white-painters’ (most first time buyers couldn’t afford to sandblast the exterior brick so they instead relied on paint). I remember back in 2000 when I was being interviewed by Global Television on downtown real estate where, once I got over my camera fright, came up with this snappy comment. “In the ’70s it was Cabbagetown, in the 80s it was Riverdale, in the 90s it was College Street, and for the new millennium it’s Roncesvalles Village!” The statement was completely true. The gentrification movement, where middle class households relocate into former downtown working class neighbourhoods, has followed this housing trajectory. Click HERE for my past HomeWatch newsletter called ‘Gentrification In The City’.
Which, as it applies to Greektown, doesn’t mean there are a lot of Greeks living in Greektown anymore. In fact, Riverdale is now a dynamic mix of urban swells and the family-minded. Fortunately, the patina of its past still remains in the street signage and on The Danforth’s commercial strip which boasts an eclectic mix of retail, shopping and loads of Greek restaurants. To pay hommage to the neighbourhood’s past, the other day after meeting my new clients I grabbed lunch at Messini Authentic Gyros at 445 Danforth Avenue.
For lunch I indulged in their Pikilia appetizer. Comprising tzatiki (I’m still reeking of garlic), cheese pie, spinach pie, dolmades, and greek butter beans in tomato sauce, this was great value for $11.95. And despite my late-for-lunch 3pm arrival, the place was hopping!
445 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M4K 1P2
I loved dining at this spot which was filled with a great mix of folks. Totally neighbourhoody and great value.
Does The Danforth appeal to you? Click HERE to learn about my newest listing in a former sausage factory! What?