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While the sign “Mówimy po polsku” (“We speak Polish”) is common in local storefront windows, the quaint village of Roncesvalles is actually an international community with Irish, British and Polish roots. Centred on Roncesvalles Avenue, the neighbourhood has a small-town, European feel, and its main street is lined with specialty shops, cafes and a range of unique restaurants featuring local and global cuisine. If you’re looking for a place to call home, Roncesvalles is the kind of residential neighbourhood where people know each other by name. The area’s rich history is seen and felt in the old churches, established schools and well-preserved Edwardian and Victorian homes. Several great parks make this neighbourhood ideal for families, and it’s a quick jaunt to the lakeshore — so whether walking, jogging or cycling, you won’t have far to go. The streetcar is at your doorstep and it’s only a 15-minute drive to downtown with easy access to the highway and Greater Toronto area.

Once upon a time . . .

Roncesvalles Gorge, Spain, 1813. British and Portuguese Divisions – one led by a young Irish colonel named Walter O’Hara – face 40,000 of Napoleon’s men. The French advance; Colonel O’Hara leads his men valiantly, but they are outnumbered and Colonel O’Hara is captured. By 1814, Napoleon is defeated and O’Hara immigrates to Canada where his role in defeating the rebels of William Lyon Mackenzie results in an award of significant land in Toronto’s west end. It is this neighbourhood, now known as Roncesvalles, where O’Hara’s land, lineage and most memorable battles are to be immortalized on local streets signs such as Roncesvalles Avenue; Fermanaugh Street (the county of his birth); and Marion and Constance Streets (the names of his wife and daughter).

While much of the original area was farmland, after Colonel O’Hara’s death in 1874 the land was subdivided, creating room for the neighbourhood’s residential beginnings. However, it was the laying of tracks – both railway and streetcar – that initiated the growth of the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Industrialization created employment opportunities, while the streetcar made transport easy for British immigrants to live and work here. World War II saw increased immigration from Eastern Europe and Poland. St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church serviced the community, however St. Casimir’s Church was later established and named after the Polish patriot who played a key role in building Toronto roads and railways.

Bricks & Mortar

Roncesvalles is becoming one of Toronto’s most desired neighbourhoods. The community’s commitment to keeping the small town authenticity in the midst of urban growth can be seen in the great efforts to restore and maintain this neighbourhood. The refurbished streetcar lines, preservation of original storefronts/ architecture, and curbside care of trees and plants all speak to the locals’ dedicated approach to excellence. The main street – lined mostly with family-owned shops and eateries – also offers residential options, with a number of unique above-store apartments. Surrounding tree-lined streets and laneways are home to well-preserved Victorian, Edwardian and Tudor architecture built mostly at the turn of the century. These cherished homes vary in size, ranging from townhomes to semi-detached homes to larger estates. This is the kind of neighbourhood where you can spend hours sipping coffee and exploring the quaint shops and beautiful streets, yet be in the heart of the city within minutes. This proximity to downtown also makes the new “Toronto Howard Park” residences a welcome affordable option for condo living. Defying skyscraper utility and perfect for the Roncesvalles Village feel, the architecture of this moderate-size development is known for its incorporation of professional landscaping and greenery. Most units feature outdoor terraces and balconies with phenomenal views of the neighbourhood. Situated along Roncesvalles Avenue and Dundas Street West, these modern yet functional units offer a great option for condo lovers in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood.

A breath of fresh air

In keeping with the friendly residential neighbourhood, Roncesvalles is well positioned when it comes to its many parks. Sorauren Park is a hub of activity with newly renovated facilities, beautiful gardens, special events and programs, and an off-leash dog park for your four-legged friends. With multiple tennis courts, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds, you can sign up the kids for soccer and t-ball or schedule a tennis lesson at the free public courts. And if you’re hosting this year’s family reunion, why not book the 2000-sq-ft field house perfect for year-round events. For live entertainment, children’s games, outdoor markets and a beer and food garden, celebrate summer at the annual Sarauren Park Festival. And for fall festivities, check out the park’s famous Pumpkin Parade. Every November 1st, you can bring over last night’s jack-o-lantern before wandering through a path lit up by hundreds of spectacularly carved pumpkins. Your kids will love it!

Just next door, you’ll find Charles G. Williams Park. City plans are in the works to open a recreation centre here, and the park currently offers a fantastic playground, sand box and wading pool for those hot summer days. High Park is also just a short walk away and offers 400 acres of parkland with trails for hiking, jogging, rollerblading or cycling. This park boasts a local zoo, outdoor swimming pool, baseball diamonds and incredible forested areas, not to mention Grenadier Pond. So grab your fishing pole and lose yourself on an afternoon get-a-way without having to go far from home. And if that isn’t enough, Roncesvalles is within walking distance to Toronto’s waterfront complete with beaches and boardwalk; playgrounds, pool and picnic areas.


Since the passenger trains of the 1850s, Roncesvalles has offered great transportation options. By 1895, the streetcar yards were built and the area features the most numerous streetcar tracks in the city, with picturesque Roncesvalles Avenue a streetcar experience to be appreciated. You can also hop a streetcar on Queen Street or Dundas Street where you can easily link to subway stations on either the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth lines. GO train service, stopping at Bloor Street and Dundas Street West, will take you west beyond the Greater Toronto Area or back towards Union Station where Via and alternate TTC services can be accessed. If you prefer to drive, downtown is only 15 minutes away; or jump on your bike and follow the Dundas or College Street bike lanes or the Martin Goodman Trail. Whatever your fancy, Roncesvalles offers easy city-wide access.

Coffee . . . Where art thou?

There is no shortage of cafes in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Alternative Grounds is a vegetarian cafe with good coffee and well-appreciated vegan and gluten-free fare. Popular with the locals, the Cherry Bomb is primarily a take-away coffee venue. The coffee is served in cool paper cups stamped with the red cherry logo, but you can bring your own mug for a discount. A newer addition to Roncesvalles is one that sums up the neighbourhood’s commitment to independently owned business. Enter: Roncy’s Bean, a new café that has found its home in the former residence of Second Cup after a local Facebook campaign to boycott the retail chain, and an outpouring of letters to City Hall, saw the Second Cup “out” and Roncy’s Bean “in.” It was a victory savoured by Roncesvalles locals. So come in and see what all the fuss is about. Roncy’s offers locally baked treats, specialty teas, coffees made from Reunion Island beans and homemade gelato, with 20 flavours on the menu. Coffee and gelato? You can’t beat that!

Date Night!

Date night is easy when you live in Roncesvalles, as you don’t have far to travel to find food, funand festivities to make your night great! Well respected for its wide variety of international cuisine, the world is your oyster– or Italian pasta or Indian fare. For a creole dining experience from Mauritas, the Blue Bay Café is only open Friday and Saturday night, where the curried shrimp with green mango comes highly recommended. With so many restaurants and cafés to choose from, open the door to new experiences and make your way through this corridor of dining delight. After dinner, why not head over to the Revue Cinema? Open since 1911, this historic venue has been host to thousands of other Torontonians who have laughed or cried through its films.

For an all-day breakfast at a great price, Aris Place has served Roncesvalles for over 34 years. With hearty meals, this Greek restaurant will fill you up for under $10 and is a favourite with locals. For a newer venue in Roncesvalles be sure to visit Barque Smokehouse, which offers an assortment of authentic southern barbecue, unique cocktails (including a Bacon Caesar) and a variety of rich, calorie-laden desserts. Pop in for brunch, lunch or dinner and you will be sure to leave smiling. Finally, for a unnique experience, participation in the annual Polish Festival is a must. With dancing, games, and Polish cuisine to be explored, you will be sure to return the following year if you can wait that long. Not to worry however–your favorite treats can be found year-round at one of Polish specialty shops, where perogies, schnitzel and sauerkraut are always available.

Does that come in a size 7?

Absolutely! This once-commercial centre of Toronto’s Polish community still houses a number of Polish establishments; however, the area has become an extension of Queen St. West with its eclectic shopping options situated in this quaint European-style village. Roncesvalles provides a remarkably unique shopping experience because of its many independently owned, family-run businesses. There are only a handful of retail chain stores. For your shopping pleasure, you will discover fashion and footwear boutiques (Dressers, Frock, Fresh Collective & Imelda); jewelry and specialty shops (Scout, Sweet Peas & Sweet Thrills); art, music and book stores (A Good Read, Another Story, She Said Boom); hardware and health retailers (Mercantile); grocers (Maple Produce, Rowe Farms and Thin Blue Line, to name a few); and a crazy range of cafes and restaurants all discovered in quaint two- to three-storey shops lining Roncesvalles Avenue. Shopping in Roncesvalles Village is a journey of exploration that is fun for the whole family.

Where to take the kids. . .

Wherever and however you spend your days, your children will need to go somewhere! If you are looking for some great age-appropriate books or want the perfect DVD for the weekend, Toronto libraries are a free public service and there are two locations in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. For fun family events and programs, make sure you pop into the library closest to you at 228 Roncesvalles Avenue or 1303 Queen St. West. Community centres also abound so check out the Keele CRC (Community Recreation Centre), the Parkdale CRC or the Masaryk/Cowan CRC, which are all located in your area. Please visit: Toronto Parks and Recreation Centres to learn more about the fun-filled programs.

Just as important as finding the right home for your family is finding the right school for your children. From kindergarten to high school, Catholic or public, Roncesvalles 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 their boundaries. Take a look at our list below and/or visit the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic School Boards (www.tdsb.on.ca & www.tcdsb.org).