The Garden District is a new neighborhood, formed by the cooperation of the Toronto, Ontario East Downtown Residents Association and the City of Toronto in 2001. Located in the heart of bustling downtown, the Garden District is home to a significant amount of green space that provides some relief from the relentless concrete jungle in the rest of downtown Toronto.
The Garden District has a very urban feel to it, with all of the hallmarks of a major metropolitan city wrapped up in a single neighborhood. It is home to some of the city’s landmark churches and theaters, as well as Maple Leaf Gardens, the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Homes here range from stately Victorian mansions to affordable housing co-ops, and everything in between.
According to the official website of the Garden District Residents Association (GRDA), the Garden District is marked by the boundaries of Gerrard and Queen streets at its north and south ends, and Yonge and Sherbourne at the west and east edges of the area. Allan Gardens, from which the neighborhood takes its name, is also part of the neighborhood. The Allan Gardens Conservatory, home to an impressive collection of rare plants and flowers, is a popular, year-round tourist attraction that is completely free for both tourists and locals to enjoy. More than 16,000 square feet in the complex is devoted to housing and displaying horticultural exhibits.
The Garden District is an urban hub with a great deal of traffic moving in and out of the neighborhood at all times. Places of business, churches, hotels, and major tourist attractions all regularly draw droves of people to the commercial streets. Along Queen Street, you will see the high end furniture stores and restaurants that attract some of the city’s elite to the neighborhood. Church Street is another great place to explore for unique shopping and dining experiences.
As with everything in the Garden District, the atmosphere is a study in contrasts. While the area is certainly home to some of the city’s affluent and many of its largest attractions, poverty is also a problem in this portion of the downtown core. The GRDA mentions that in the ward the Garden District belongs to, 25% of the residents live in poverty.
With some of the major Toronto theatres and headline-making restaurants in the area, the Garden District is a surefire bet if you like entertainment near your home. The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres is a truly historic theatre complex. The facility is the last operational double-decker theatre in the world.
The Ed Mirvish Theatre is home to many of the shows produced by Mirvish Productions. Formerly the Canon, the theatre was renamed the Ed Mirvish Theatre in honor of the Toronto theatre mogul. Massey Hall, the legendary concert venue, is also located within the Garden District.
Dining in the Garden District is exactly what you would expect in a world-class city near to so many hotels and entertainment options. George on Queen is one of the premier luxury restaurants in a city full of luxury restaurants. On Church Street, Ethiopiques provides diners with traditional Ethiopian flavors served in the Ethiopian way – everything is eaten from a communal tray with the fingers. Queen Street is home to some of the hippest nightspots in Toronto. The Carbon Bar is a great place to start exploring this part of town if a high-end cocktail and a fashionable crowd is to your taste.
The housing price differential between the high-end and the low-end options in this neighborhood might be among the most extreme in the city. The houses themselves tend to be older homes, many faced with brick and behind large fences. There is some effort by homeowners to insulate themselves from both the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood, and the issues that sometimes arise on the streets. Within the Yonge-Church corridor, the vast majority of residences are multi-family apartment buildings.
The Garden District has more problems with pollution and noise than many other parts of the city. The downtown location makes air and noise pollution caused by traffic a fairly noticeable problem. Dirty streets and parks are also a problem that the neighborhood is striving to rectify.
Crime is of concern in certain portions of the Garden District. In a 2010 Toronto Star, the intersection at Dundas and Sherbourne, on the eastern border of the district, was mentioned as one of the most dangerous intersections in Toronto.
Drug dealing is also a concern in this neighborhood, and the parks are home to certain amounts of crime after dark. However, during the daytime hours the majority of the neighborhood is very busy, especially on the commercial corridors. These are not typically the locations of any serious problems.
Ryerson University is the largest school located within the borders of the District. Located in the upper northwest corner at Yonge and Gerrard, it also has satellite presence elsewhere in the Garden District. The Ryerson athletic center is one of the largest current tenants in Maple Leaf Gardens.
The St. Michael’s Choir School offers private Catholic education for boys starting in grade 3 all the way through grade 12. It is located between Church and Yonge, south of Dundas. There is also a French-language school in the area, the Ecole Elementaire Gabrielle-Roy, which provides education up to grade 6.
As with all places within central Toronto, access to public transportation is excellent here. Bus stops are located on nearly every block of the major corridors, and there are several subway stops that are easily accessible. The Queen and Dundas subway stops both fall within the Garden District.
The Queen Street street car line provides easy transit along the southern edge of the neighborhood. There is also a street car that runs east from Yonge and Dundas through the area.
Although the Garden District is not a typical family neighborhood, there are certainly families who make a happy home in the area. However, the majority of the people living in this downtown core neighborhood are either singles, or families living at home without children. The lack of schools in the neighborhood as well as the pace and noise of downtown living tend to make this area more attractive for up and coming professionals or others who crave that type of life. Most families with children in Toronto tend to live a bit further towards the outskirts of the city.