<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=294326554740919&ev=PageView&noscript=1" /> Palmerston - Little Italy - Wilson Sisters

Leonordo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Sophia Lauren, Roberto Benigni, Pavarotti, Bocelli, Armani, Versace, pasta, pizza, risotto, arancini, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto. . . . Think of Italy and images of art, film, fashion, food, and fine wines become a quick and delightful cascade of thoughts. While the gift of experiencing these wonders in their native birthplace requires time and money, Toronto’s Little Italy — one of Italy’s largest out-of-nation neighbourhoods — promises more than a taste of Italy. Bordered roughly by Ossington Avenue, College and Bathurst Streets, and Dundas Street West, Little Italy is a warm, multicultural, and vibrant neighbourhood in the heart of Toronto. Famous for its restaurants, cafés, and specialty shops, the heart of this community is located at the intersection of College and Grace Streets. And with affordable Edwardian houses, town homes, and classic lofts, Little Italy’s close proximity to the downtown core, great schools, parks, and sense of community make this neighbourhood ideal for both young professionals and families alike.

Once upon a time . . .

Italian history makes for more than great films, but also plays an important role in our own Canadian past. Meet Giovanni Caboto (otherwise known as John Cabot), one of the earliest Italian immigrants who explored and claimed Newfoundland for the English in 1497. It would be almost 400 years before Giovanni’s countrymen would follow, this time to Toronto, with a second wave arriving after World War II. By the 1920s, the commercial and residential core of Little Italy was firmly established on College Street. Affordable Edwardian homes lining the side streets were bought by Italian immigrants, many of whom ran local establishments or found work on the railways and in road construction. By the 1960s, there was a move by some north to the Corso Italia district on St. Clair Avenue West, making room for Portuguese, Asian, and South American newcomers. In fact, the first multicultural radio station in Canada was launched in 1966 by Johnny Lombardi from the second floor of his family’s grocery. Establishing the Italian-language CHIN Radio, the studio now run by Lombardi’s son broadcasts in 30 languages, with the area nicknamed the Johnny Lombardi Way and marked by a historical plaque honouring Lombardi’s contributions to Little Italy and Toronto in general.

And so, the signposts lining the main street display the boot of Little Italy and mark an ethnically diverse community, yet distinctively Italian. In 1985, the local business association officially adopted the name Little Italy in recognition of its role as a starting place for Italian-Torontonians. While many of the original families and current restaurant owners have exchanged urban for suburban life, moving to areas such as Woodbridge, Richmond Hill, and Mississauga, the Italian presence remains with its award-winning cafés, restaurants, and local venues where Italian men can be found drinking grappa and discussing the important things in life such as politics and World Cup soccer.


Bricks & Mortar

Walk through the heart of Little Italy and you will encounter early 19th-century architecture with College Street’s two- and three-storey mixed commercial and residential buildings. Downstairs you may find a bakery or market with beautiful nonas gossiping in their local dialect while carefully selecting fresh produce to cook for their families. Upstairs you may find a unique above-store apartment perfectly positioned next to your favourite café. Surrounding tree-lined streets and laneways are home to well-preserved, turn-of-the-century Edwardian homes ranging from detached to semi-detached row and town houses, many with front porches and smaller lots. A newer architectural addition to Little Italy, boutique condominiums and lofts are being woven into the historic fabric of the existing streetscape. Developers such as Cube, Nero, and IT Lofts have found their way from the heart of Toronto into this relatively untouched pocket of the city with plans to develop mid-rise buildings offering modern, functional lofts in self-contained living spaces that are great options for condo lovers in the Little Italy neighbourhood.


A breath of fresh air

Parks are essential to the health and vibrancy of any neighbourhood and Little Italy offers a great range, from sitting areas to full-sized green spaces providing more than enough room for year-round fun. One such parkette, located on the southwest corner of Grace and College Streets, memorialises the life and work of Johnny Lombardi (CHIN radio), who died in 2002. The curved seating evokes the ocean and radio waves that brought Johnny Lombardi together with the diverse cultures he championed. An animated statue of Johnny sits across from a young boy wearing Johnny’s cap who, tool still in hand, has etched a continuous line drawing continents and peoples together and powerfully capturing Lombardi’s passion for a multicultural Canada. Another great park on Roxton Road combines the Fred Hamilton Playground and George Ben Parkette and showcases a world of green including a fantastic playground, sport’s field, and baseball diamond. A serious ball park, the George Ben boasts a bullpen, dugouts, restrooms, clubhouse, and press box. For year-round family fun, Bickford Park has a great slope for tobogganing and plenty of room for playing soccer, baseball, or picnicking in the warmer months. Whatever the season, you will see people jogging, frolicking, and playing with their dogs in the dynamic parks that are so much a part of life in Little Italy.


Taxi!

While a lush Venetian gondola with crushed velvet seats and Persian rugs may take you through the canals and waterways of Venice, the closest mode of transport with red velvet will be the somewhat plush red seats of a Toronto streetcar. While you can rent a canoe or kayak down at the Harbourfront, Little Italy will be out of reach without some kind of land alternative. Still, Little Italy’s central location and proximity to downtown make getting around easy. The Ossington bus, up to (or coming down from) the subway is a favourite with locals who consider it the most reliable TTC option; however, the Bathurst streetcar also runs regularly and will also take you up to the Bloor-Danforth line. The Yonge-Spadina-University line can be accessed with the College Street and Dundas Street West streetcars. The TTC may lack Persian rugs, but it will get you to where you want to go. If you prefer a nice walk, both Queen St. West shopping and the Bloor-Danforth subway line are in walking distance, and if you are a die-hard motorist, you will discover that the Gardiner Expressway or Lake Shore Boulevard is only a 10-minute drive away.


Coffee . . . Where are thou?

Why not start your morning, break up your day, or end your evening at The Sicilian Café on College Street? Serving Torontonians since 1959 and open 7-days a week until 1 am (3am on Fridays and Saturdays), the café’s authentic Italian coffee and fresh Belgian waffles topped with homemade gelato exemplify life in Little Italy: strong, smooth, and sweet. Another great local meeting place is the Riviera Bakery, a bustling bakery-café that serves proper Italian coffee as well as the best cannolis in the neighbourhood. A newer addition to the Italian café culture of Little Italy is The Slow Room. Located near College and Dovercourt Streets, the Slow Room’s hearty Italian sandwiches and commitment to coffee excellence will ensure that this café will be a long-time favourite. When it comes to pulling shots and steaming milk, the art form equating to coffee bliss is well mastered here.


Date Night!

From gelato and espresso, to award winning traditional Italian cuisine, to crazy celebrations during World Cup soccer (when Italy won in 1992, more than 200,000 took to the streets in a party that lasted for days) . . . you will feel like you have been whisked away to a trendy yet distinctly European village — the perfect atmosphere for a night out. During the summer, College Street is bustling with pedestrians while the sidewalk patios are overflowing, so be sure to make reservations. While you wait, why not wander by the Italian Walk of Fame paying tribute to the extraordinary achievements of Italians with granite and brass stars imbedded permanently on the main street of this very vibrant neighbourhood. You also really can’t make a bad choice when it comes to choosing an Italian restaurant with regional cuisine, traditional fare, and award-winning culinary expertise just part of the authentic dining experience of Little Italy.

For great food, atmosphere, and a stand-out patio, dinner at Gato Nero is a must. On a warm night, stroll east to the Big Chill for some ice cream; stop into Soundscapes, one of the best CD/record stores in the city; then pause for a drink or two at No One Writes The Colonel. Alternatively, the newly renovated Royal Repertory Cinema screens indie and art, one-off screening, and festival films. If the night is still young, embrace the multicultural side of Little Italy, get back to your Spanish roots and pop over to El Convento Rico for some salsa dancing and a drag show. Little Italy is one of the hottest hotspots in the city, with some fantastic lounges and hip places to chill at on a Saturday night.


Does that come in a size 7?

Renowned for its trendy, European atmosphere, the Little Italy shopping district located on College Street between Shaw Street and Euclid Avenue boasts a multitude of establishments for your shopping needs. From Italian food and specialty shops, vintage and fashion boutiques, and book and record stores, there’s something for everyone. Ms. Emma Designs and Lilliput Hats will keep you dressed in style from head to toe, while fresh produce, baked goods, and dairy are available just down the street: check out Friendly Magnolia Fine Foods, Nova Era Bakery, and La Fromagerie. For fresh flowers, pop into the Pink Twig, and for household furniture and design, Ziggy’s at Home will have you sorted. The Portugal Village shopping district on Dundas Street also features a range of bakeries, specialty shops, fresh fruit, and vegetable markets, as well as authentic Portuguese restaurants, cafés, and markets.


Where to take the kids. . .

Unlock your child’s imagination by visiting the College/Shaw Public Library, where you can foster their love of reading through summer reading clubs and encourage their creativity by joining the staff for craft, film, and story time. The College/Shaw Public Library serves as a community meeting place and offers reading material in a number of languages that reflect the multicultural population of the area. To keep your children active, the West End YMCA at 931 College Street includes a gymnasium and swimming pool to keep your children diving into fun.

Wherever and however you spend your days — unless you’re homeschooling, of course — your children need to go somewhere. From kindergarten to high school, Catholic or public, Little Italy has some great options. Most Toronto schools have definite enrollment boundaries, so it’s always a good idea to contact the school you have in mind to ensure your new home falls within its boundaries. For more information, visit the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic School Boards websites.