Joshua Chong, Senior Arts & Culture Editor
Though it’s known to most as Midtown Toronto, Yonge and Eglinton feels a lot more like Toronto’s second downtown core. Within the past decade, the stretch of Yonge Street between Eglinton and Lawrence has witnessed explosive growth.
Today, there are dozens of mixed-use towers, hoards of crowds, and construction cranes too numerous to count. (At one point, the area was said to have one of the highest density of cranes in all of North America.) This construction boom is set to coalesce with the completion of the new Eglinton Crosstown in 2022, when the neighbourhood will cement itself as the Yonge and Bloor of the north.
It’s hard to imagine that two centuries ago, the area was the site of the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern, a decisive battle in the Upper Canada Rebellion. Less than a century ago, Yonge and Eglinton was a small suburbial outpost of Toronto, known as North Toronto. And between 1954 and 1973, the TTC’s Eglinton Station was the northern terminus of its Yonge Line, marking – at the time – the outer limits of Toronto proper.
Despite its exponential growth in recent decades, the area still retains its small town charm. Stepping out of the subway station, the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton feels no different than the cosmopolitan rumble of any downtown intersection, with its rush hour crowds and the din of construction.
But as you walk a few blocks north, the crowds thin out, the city noise fades into a distant hum, and the community comes alive. The quaint stretch of Yonge Street just north of the intersection is lined with charming storefronts occupied by independent boutiques, bookstores, hole in the wall cafes, and a wide array of family-owned restaurants and diners that serve food from all corners of the world.
For a quick pick-me-up, check out Himalayan Coffee House’s drinks (especially their delectable hot chocolate) and pastries. You can relax in the cafe’s cosy hangout or hop outside and people-watch from the quiet St. Clements – Yonge Parkette.
For a more substantive meal, head down to Stock T.C., a new sprawling cafe-restaurant-grocer located within the old community post station. Think Eataly – but without the exorbitant prices and mediocre food.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, the neighbourhood is also ground zero for a turf war between several excellent ramen restaurants and bubble tea shops – with new ones popping up every few months like wildflowers on the forest floor. Though locals will swear by their ramen and bubble tea place of choice, you really can’t go wrong with any of the establishments that occupy almost every block.
If you are looking for a more quiet and relaxing space, head east – away from the metropolitan buzz of Yonge Street – and you will find Eglinton Park, lined with old oak trees that wrap around an open field that is almost always filled with teenagers playing ball or young families picnicking with their little ones.
Walking from the main intersection to the park – and seeing the concrete high rises towering beside eclectic shops and old brick houses – pretty much sums up the character of this neighbourhood: a juxtaposition of urban Toronto and small town suburbia.