April 29, 2015
The industrial-chic neighbourhood known as The Junction in Toronto‘s west end, is a magnet for lovers of design, historic architecture, avant-garde style and artisanal cuisine. The best way to experience its bohemian vibe is to stroll its streets; that’s where you’ll find an eclectic mix of more than 200 local businesses as well as artists, foodies and a vibrant community spirit.
Begin your explorations in the laneway across from The Junction BIA on Pacific Avenue, where graffiti artists Jon Todd and Shea Chang created a mural that captures the colourful character of the neighbourhood. Over the past century, a series of diverse ethnic groups – Italians, Irish Catholics, Croatians and British – have left their stamp on this district. Its industrial past includes foundries, mills, manufacturing and meat packing facilities drawn to the region’s four intersecting railway lines.
As you walk along Dundas St. West between Keele and High Park, you’ll see the impressive architectural remains of its proud past among the brick facades of the restored storefronts. Railway history is given a nod at Junction Train Platform Park, where the Junction Farmer’s Market takes place on Saturday mornings from spring through to autumn. It’s a top spot to stock up on natural honey, artisanal cookies, seasonal organic fruit and charcuterie.
More history is on tap at SMASH, an expansive showroom and event space where vintage, salvage and industrial materials, fixtures and furnishings are reinvented, reused and resold. Many of the large, repurposed pieces such as maple dining room sets, are highly sought after by Toronto’s top interior designers and film crews, but more portable items include T-shirts by artist Jon Todd, vintage wallpaper and custom artwork.
Entrepreneurial verve is also alive and well at nearby Indie Alehouse. Located in a Former Sears catalogue drop-off depot, this building was boarded up for many years until owner Jason Fisher dreamed up the idea of a neighbourhood brewpub. Now, it’s a popular local hangout. A flight of beer includes crowd-pleasing ales like Instigator IPA or the witbier-style Broken Hipster, but culinary adventurers will also enjoy exploring inventive brews such as Sunkicked (featuring aged tequila) along with small plate treats such as sticky mahogany ribs and black truffle popcorn.
Fancy a shot of whisky and a Cuban cigar while getting your short back and sides? Stop in at Rod, Gun & Barbers, a gentlemen’s lounge and barbershop with a quirky Canadiana décor complete with taxidermy deer antlers, vintage posters and outdoorsy gear. Here, clients can enjoy a traditional straight razor shave and hot towel treatment while swapping fish tales with other patrons. Open seven days a week and late nights, walk-ins are welcome.
Craftsmanship also abounds at MjÃ¶lk, where you’ll find high-quality furniture, lighting and housewares by designers from Scandinavia and Japan. For local work, watch for handmade pieces by Alissa Coe of Toronto, who creates beautiful hand numbered pastel porcelain coffee ritual sets. Other exquisite items include Ethiopian honey, cherry wood cutting boards and stylish indoor gardening tools.
Art and style merge at nearby LATRE, where owner Brian Vu curates a collection of intriguing ethnic goods from the Northwest Territories and Africa. His own line of unisex hand-dyed indigo surplus military wear is also in high demand and created onsite. If you’re inspired by all the creativity, sign up for a workshop at ARTiculations, a locally-run art supply store and gallery with its own back room studio and hands-on workshops in sketching, painting and printmaking.
If your walk stirs up an appetite, Beet Organic Café offers eco-happy fare with the added bonus of a pretty patio overlooking a leafy side street. Helmed by a nutritionist and a homeopathic doctor, all juices and smoothies are created with fresh organic ingredients. The menu is as healthy as it gets with a crop of fresh salads packed with kale, quinoa, and roasted balsamic mushrooms. Bison burgers, wraps and sandwiches (all with gluten-free options) round out the extensive menu. A Kids Menu including a Nibbler plate with bite sized portions of cheese, chicken, and veggies will keep little ones happily busy. Another healthy culinary option is Agora Café, where all bread and pastries are baked onsite and Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian options abound.
Discover even more culinary treats at The Junction in Toronto at Delight, purveyors of handmade, organic Fair Trade chocolates and ice cream. At this pretty shop, owners Jeff Brown and Jennifer Rashleigh create European-style chocolates, each one a work of art. Chocolate from the Dominican Republic merges with Ontario’s own Harmony Organic to incredible success in varieties such as Dark Chocolate infused with Salish smoked sea salt from British Columbia. Spend some time mulling over inventive ice cream flavours such as Bee Sting (honey and cayenne) and Quebec Blue cheese. It’s all small-batch crafted and organic. If you can’t decide, go with a scoop of Junction Junk Yard, a heavenly creation featuring caramel, peanut butter and chocolate that’s deservedly a top seller.
Wrap up your neighbourhood explorations with a stop at kaffebar, a craft coffee shop just east of Keele St. This stretch of The Junction is still a bit gritty around the edges but its hip entrepreneurial spirit adds to the charm. This tiny café is located in a former motorcycle repairs shop and offers freshly baked goods, artisanal coffee by Pilot Coffee Roasters and a double shot slushie with enough caffeine to fuel you home.
Header image: Begin your explorations of The Junction on Dundas St. West © Michele Peterson
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Have you been to The Junction in Toronto? Where are your favourite places to go in the area? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Michele Peterson