One of the oldest areas in downtown Toronto is the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. It was here that the town of York, now Toronto, was founded in 1793. The neighbourhood’s boundaries are Yonge Street to the west, Front Street to the south, Parliament Street to the east, and The Esplanade to the south. What was once old is now new again: a former industrial area with many historic buildings constructed in the 19th century, it has now been redeveloped into a popular downtown commercial and residential neighbourhood, with Victorian homes standing beside modern condominiums. The neighbourhood offers everything from fine dining, farmers’ markets, historical properties and monuments, theatre, and night life.
Taking a walk through this neighbourhood can take a few hours or most of the day, depending on where your interests lie. As you stroll through the streets, you’ll notice the Victorian lampposts on almost every corner: there are about 150 of them. Several of the buildings in the area have been declared Ontario Heritage Trust buildings.A foodie-cultural tour of Old Town
1. St. Lawrence Market stlawrencemarket.com
92 - 95 Front Street East (corner of Jarvis Street)
+1 416 392 7219
Start your morning here. The Market opens at 5am on weekends and 8am on weekdays.
Established in 1803, this is one of Toronto’s major markets. The complex consists of the South Market, where over 100 vendors, including butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and green grocers sell their goods on a daily basis (closed Sunday). On Saturdays only, the North Market features seasonal produce, meats and baked goods from over 50 local farmers; and on Sundays only, an Antique Market with over 80 dealers is open to the public. From antiquarian books to vintage jewelry, fine china and furniture, there is something for everyone here.
You can spend hours browsing the various shops in the Market. Below are some of my favourites:Chris’ Cheesemongers
South Market, Upper Level 40
93 Front Street East
+ 416 368 5273
Kenny and Daniel know their cheese, and they always provide great recommendations. Whether you want soft cheese, hard cheese, mild cheese, or the beautiful runny, stinky stuff, these guys are very knowledgeable and they always make me look good: my guests always rave about my cheese platters. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can sample to your heart’s content and learn something new. The shop specializes in farmhouse cheese from Quebec and Europe. Scheffler’s Deli & Cheese
St. Lawrence Market, Upper Level 7
93 Front Street East
+1 416 364 2806
Scheffler’s Deli & Cheese has one of the largest selections of antipastos and appetizers in the market: stuffed peppers, olives, tomatoes and grape leaves; marinated olives, wild mushrooms, homemade pestos and dips. The deli selection is enormous, with one of the largest varieties of prosciutto in the city. Here’s an idea: grab some bread from any of the bakeries in the Market, and fill it with cheese and prosciutto from Scheffler’s – a great snack any time of day. And, just when you think you’ve seen everything the shop has to offer, you get to the cash register and admire the display of rare and hard-to-find chocolates, at reasonable prices to boot.Placewares
St. Lawrence Market, Upper Level 29
93 Front Street East
+1 416 603 1649
If you need something for your kitchen, Sam can get it for you. This small shop is stuffed to the gills with an enormous collection of cookie cutters, mixing bowls, specialty pots and pans, mandolins and other gadgets, virtually anything and everything your heart desires. Dominos Foods
South Market, Lower Level B8 / B17
93 Front Street East
+1 416 366 2178
Domino’s has an excellent selection of bulk goods. I like wandering in here, checking out the tightly packed aisles of nuts and dried fruit, candies, baking supplies, olive oils, spices, grains, imported teas and freshly ground coffee, ethnic foods and those hard to get items such as fregola sarda and black chick peas from Italy and dried lavender for baking. Dominos also stocks a very impressive collection of imported chocolates. My favourite: Pocket Coffee, individually-wrapped dark chocolate pralines that contain Italian liquid espresso in the centre.Mustachio
South Market, Lower Level B34
93 Front Street East
+1 416-367-VEAL (8325)
Stop for a lunchtime sandwich at Mustachio, known throughout the city for its famous Italian-style sandwiches: generous portions of veal drenched in tomato sauce and parmiggiano reggiano, with layers of crispy, breaded and fried eggplant, fried onions and roasted peppers on warm foccacia bread. Mustachio also offers pasta dishes, soup and salads.
2. Market Gallery
South St. Lawrence Market, Second Floor
95 Front Street East (at Jarvis Street)
+1 416 392 7604
Before leaving the Market, head over to the second floor of the South Market, which is now used to showcase the art, culture and history of the city through paintings, artifacts and photographs. This space is in the original council chamber of all that remains of Toronto’s first City Hall, built in 1845. During this time, the second floor also housed municipal offices and the main floor housed various markets and a police station. It wasn’t until 1899 that the rooms became overcrowded and a new City Hall was built at Bay and Queen Streets, which still stands today.
Their latest exhibit, Mariposa: Fifty Years of Making Music, runs from July 9 to October 15. It documents five decades of one of Canada’s oldest and best known music festivals through historical photographs, festival programs, and sound recordings. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday: 10AM to 4PM, Saturday: 9AM to 4PM. Closed Sunday, Monday and public holidays.
3. St. Lawrence Hall, stlawrencemarket.com/hall/index.html
157 King Street East (at Jarvis Street)
+1 416 392 7130
Walk up Jarvis Street to King, and make a left on King Street, going east. Here stands the famous St. Lawrence Hall. Built in 1850 to serve as the City's public meeting place, St. Lawrence Hall was a major social and cultural venue for concerts, balls, receptions and lectures. It was an important venue for many African-Canadian abolitionists who fought for the rights of Underground Railroad refugees escaping American slavery. The ground floor was designed as commercial space; the second for offices, and the third floor housed a 1,000 seat amphitheater. It was fully restored in 1967 and designated as a National Historic Site. The Hall is available for rent and still hosts social and business functions of various sizes. Tenants of the building include the elegant Biagio Ristorante, the offices of Heritage Toronto, and Opera Atelier, which produces opera, ballet and drama from the 17th and 18th centuries.
4. Cathedral Church of St. James, stjamescathedral.on.ca
65 Church Street (at King Street East)
+1 416 364 7865
Continue walking west on King Street, until you hit Church Street. This cathedral first opened its doors for services in 1853 and is the oldest congregation in the city. The 100-meter-tall spire, was the tallest in Canada upon completion. This Ontario Heritage building is the episcopal seat of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Toronto Diocese. Free organ concerts are held during the week. The organ has 5,000 pipes and includes the original gallery organ from 1853 over the main south entrance at the rear of the cathedral. On a nice day, you can sit outside in the flower garden, located adjacent to the cathedral. This is a perfect place to read a book, eat a sandwich, or watch the world go by.
5. The King Edward Hotel
37 King Street East, M5C 1E9
+1 416 863 9700
Just a few metres west of the cathedral is the King Edward Hotel, which Torontonians lovingly call the King Eddy. Many famous celebrities have stayed here, including The Beatles
during their first visit to Toronto in 1964. The King Eddy was purchased by a Toronto developer in March 2010 for $53 million dollars with the intent of fully renovating the building. Works are underway to build condos on the third, fourth and fifth floors, which have been vacant and unused for the past 20 years.
High tea at the King Edward is a not-to-be-missed event. It has been served here since the hotel’s opening in 1903 and while I’ve had high tea in hotels throughout the city, none compares to that of the King Eddy. When you select the King’s Tea ($30), you get a choice of 12 different brews to choose from. The host brings a three-tiered platter with a beautiful selection of finger foods to your table: the bottom tier holds sandwiches: egg salad with mustard and arugula, smoked salmon, and smoked Turkey Waldorf; the middle tier contains melt-in-your mouth raisin scones with Devonshire cream. The top tier contains an assortment of delicate pastries: French chocolate cake with the pistachio and marzipan filling; lemon blueberry tarts, meringues, Linzer cookies and cheesecake. Afternoon tea is offered from Wednesday to Sunday, 2:30 pm to 5 pm. Reservations are highly recommended. Other tea options include the Ploughman’s High Tea ($26) and an Asian Inspired Tea Box ($28)
6. Flatiron Building
49 Wellington Street East (near Front Street)
+ 1 416 703 1100
Built in 1892 to house the head office of the Gooderham and Worts distilling company, the Flatiron was the first building of it’s kind constructed in North America. Known for its distinct narrow, wedge shape where Wellington Street merges with Front Street to form a triangular intersection, the building is a Historic Site. It has a mural on its back wall, making it appear to have more windows than it does. The Flatiron is still being used as an office building and there is a small pub in the basement with a large patio around the south side of the building. Beyond the pub, the building is open for viewing from Monday to Fridays from 9AM to 5PM.
7. Esplanade Bier Markt, thebiermarkt.com
58 The Esplanade
+ 1 416 862 7575
If you’re looking to find a place to wind down, The Esplanade is filled with restaurants and pubs. One of my favourites is Bier Markt. With over 100 brands of beer from over 24 countries, this Belgian brasserie has the perfect menu that pairs food and beer. And depending on what time of year you’re visiting, you will experience a “culinary feastivul,” ranging from fondue in February, shellfish in May, Oktoberfest in October and wild game in November.