When living in a metropolis like Toronto for many years, it can be easy to succumb to the grind of everyday life and lose sight of a city’s hidden charms.
Yup – even though we reside in one of the most liberated progressive cities in the world, sometimes these truths are overshadowed by the obstacles we face in urban life on a daily basis, including endless transit troubles, a crumbling infrastructure, the density woes of ubiquitous high rises and urban sprawl, and the growing disparity between the affluent and the marginalized. It’s enough to create disenchantment in the delight of Toronto. Instead of a dynamic utopia of opportunity with new discoveries around every corner, we can begin to consider “Hogtown” as a concrete collection of cookie-cutter constructs, devoid of personality and rife with disappointment.
However, some times it’s critical to unplug from the race and take the time to look for the hidden. In fact, Toronto has a significant collection of lesser known, unusual, and even bizarre aspects that may provide a remedy for your urban apathy. Art, architecture, public spaces, you name it… Toronto abounds with unexpected treasures. Once discovered, contemplated, and revisited their mystery and quirkiness can breathe a bit of life back into your urban existence.
Take something as simple as the mysterious buttons found in a few unexpected locations across the city, like the playful-for-no-reason disco bathrooms of Otto’s Berlin Doner in Kensington Market. Do the buttons do anything? We won’t spoil it. Are they tempting to press no matter what? Certainly. Do they make people smile? Absolutely. Knowing that someone took the time and care to create something for the sole purpose of interrupting the norm with whimsy, is somehow… uplifting. Moreover, the control we feel – imagined or otherwise – at having made such discoveries (and pressed the button!) is comforting. Picture how those feelings can snowball when such oddities are experienced on a larger scale – and daily!
Discovering the urban underbelly of the unknown has the ability to reinvigorate your perception of Toronto with a new appreciation. In this new edition, we’re going to look at some of the city’s most irregular, playful, and puzzling residences, that paint some personality on Toronto. Here they are, in no particular order:
Having long been the subject of architectural intrigue, the three cubes that make up this infamous ‘Cube House’ were originally constructed in 1996 as an ode to architect Piet Blom’s cubic homes in Rotterdam, Netherlands. You can’t miss this amusing structure as you travel the Gardiner Expressway west from the Don Valley Parkway, and it’s become a striking landmark and fantastical feature of Toronto’s downtown core. The 42 foot x 42 foot cubes are divided into levels inside, and are said to be far more spacious than you’d think. You can see the interior here. The current resident of the home, Martin Trainor, has become an advocate for preserving the residence, which land owners and developers have tried to have moved multiple times over the past decade. As of March 2018, the property was still up for sale privately by the owner.
This unexpected home was built around 1905 by John Turner Sr. who owned a nearby construction yard at the time. When terra cotta look went out of style in the early 1900s, John was faced with a stockpile of leftovers. Some say that covering this home completely in a patchwork of terra cotta was a way to drum up attention for his business, and some say he was simply eccentric. Either way, John certainly had a sense of humour, as it’s clear that some of the tiles selected were intended for much larger buildings, like the header in the centre of the roofline! Some may call it eccentricity, some may call it excess, but we call this tip-to-toe terra cotta treasure a well-loved Toronto quirk!
But see this in person soon… as sadly this ‘Terracotta house is about to be demolished‘.
This mini marvel sits on a lot that’s only about the width of a car, which informs on it’s original purpose: a laneway. To this day, 128 Day Avenue retains the title of Toronto’s smallest house – just 300 square feet! Arthur Weeden unique build has survived since 1912, when decided to take advantage of the thin, empty lot tucked between two homes on Day Avenue. The home underwent a full renovation in 2007, with the intention of making it more practical and livaeable, as the home is lived in full time! As such, it’s received much media attention, and was even featured on Ellen! You can see pictures of the interior here.
(Check out this more recent multi-million dollar build, also situated on a former driveway!)
This house is not a trick of Photoshop – though it certainly looks like one! In fact, the current state of the residence – part of 6 row houses built around 1892 – is a result of a 1970’s heated legal battle. The consequence of those proceedings was the house being sliced down the middle, and one of the interior walls being shored up as an exterior wall. The other half was demolished to make way for a new structure. This bizarre home’s address – 54 1/2 St Patrick Street – is, in fact, not a result of the slicing and dicing, but rather a leftover from a late 1800s numbering system having to do with fire insurance. Weird!
This now-famous Leslieville oddity exists solely at the whim of the owners of the property. It’s a sweet story, actually! The owner, Shirley Sumaisar, is a collector and decorator. She and her son started setting out amusing collections of dolls and figures when her husband died, and the tradition has snowballed into the full front-lawn affair it is today, garnering much media attention over the years!
Also simply called ‘The Wood’, this semi-detached home has drawn attention from around the globe for it’s unexpected decor, which is both art and art-therapy. Back in 1994, the owner first decorated his mailbox in cork as a theraputic distraction while recovering from a sever spinal injury. Over the years, as he healed as much as he could from an accident that was – at the time of injury – considered fatal, the art project expanded to include coins, sliced up pool cues, etc, covering the entire facade of the home. The vertical lines of circular materials look a bit like vertibrae at points, perhaps a deliberate nod to the injury that began the endeavour.
Cute!! You don’t see too many cottages like this in the city anymore! (Urbaneer sold one of architectural merit a year ago: An Enchanting Victorian Cottage In Little Italy.) A leftover from the early 1860’s, this property was once part of a whole street of “workers cottages”. In the 1870’s all of the land was bought by a developer who turned Bright Street into row houses. This wee home – was the only hold out…. or so the story goes!
Why not take an afternoon, and seek out some of these landmarks! We guarantee they’ll make you smile. (Not to mention, they make for some great Insta posts!)
Stay tuned for our next installment of Toronto’s Hidden Gems!
May my team and I be of assistance? We’d be delighted to develop a productive sales strategy that will maximize results by leveraging market data, targeting marketing and drawing on decades of hands-on experience. It would be our pleasure!
~ Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –
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