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

Located between Bloor Street and Dupont Street, from Avenue Road to Bathurst Street, the Toronto neighbourhood known as the Annex also stretches southwest of Bloor Street (and though technically called the South Annex, it is still referred to as the Annex by locals). While the name of the area was not inspired by great creativity — the growing city of Toronto “annexed” the land — the rich mosaic of people reflects the diversity and vitality of this historic downtown neighbourhood. With Toronto’s most prestigious university at the heart of this community, it is no surprise that students, faculty, and alumni; artists and writers; young professionals, and successful business owners have chosen to make the Annex home. The historic setting and beautiful houses found on picturesque and pedestrian-friendly streets have drawn families and urban dwellers ready to exchange condo living for a Victorian “estate” of their own. Moreover, the wonderful mix of bookstores and boutiques, art galleries and theatres, restaurants and cafes, great schools, and friendly atmosphere create a warm sense of community making the Annex a perfect place to live.

Once Upon a Time…

Early South Annex residents were the Jarvis, Crookshank and Denison families; however by the 1850’s, the land was subdivided and put on the market. Perhaps equivalent to present-ay dlistings detailing: “Close to downtown with lake views,” selling points included close proximity to the “new” Parliament buildings, and location in the “most healthy and pleasant part of the city with considerable elevation above the lake.” With the establishment of the University of Toronto creating further incentive to settle in the neighbourhood, houses began to dot the horizon. North of Bloor, the land was subdivided and quickly became one of Toronto’s most elite neighbourhoods, with Timothy Eaton (the father of the Eaton’s department store) one of its earliest residents.

After the Golden Era of the 1920s, there was a gradual move north to the more fashionable suburbs of Forest Hill and Lawrence Park, with the remaining residents later unifying to save their neighbourhood from being ransacked by the proposed Spadina Expressway. To the rescue came writer and urban-renewal activist Jane Jacobs. Known literally, figuratively, and internationally for standing up to federal bulldozers from Manhattan to Melbourne, Jane was instrumental in the canceling of the Lower Manhattan Expressway and the salvation of an Australian housing complex. Jane moved to Toronto in 1968, where she was equally influential in saving the Annex through canceling the Spadina Expressway and associated roadways already under work.


Bricks and Mortar

While the stone gateposts and cast-iron street lamps of South Annex’s signature street, Palmerston Boulevard, hail back to the turn of the 20th century and showcase magnificent trees and distinguished homes, overall, the South Annex neighbourhood became overlooked and has only more recently returned to its earlier prominence, with the area’s proximity to downtown in the heart of the University of Toronto district ensuring its growing prestige. Many university faculty, alumni, and urban professionals have purchased homes in the Annex with the aim of restoring these beautiful Victorian properties. Built from 1870 to 1910, the homes vary in size and style featuring grandiose fireplaces, hard wood floors, high ceilings, gables, and front porches. There is a move to return some of the larger estates, once converted to rooming houses or student dwellings, back to their original state. Several of these homes were razed — despite community protest — with apartments designed by architect Uno Prii taking their place. The unique exteriors of these buildings with unexpected facades seemed to quell the complaints and have since eased their way into the streetscape.

North of Bloor Street, the character-infused homes of the Annex homes were built between 1880 and 1930. With red brick, sandstone, and terra cotta clay exteriors, these Victorian-style estates on pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets are marked by ornate architectural detail with impressive archways, turrets, and pyramidal roof tops. More modest homes were built after 1920 and are of English Cottage, Georgian, and Tudor style architecture; however, the reality of condominium growth is ongoing as developers continue to reach into every corner of the city, the upscale Annex neighbourhood included. The recent launch of B.streets at Bloor Street and Bathurst Street, by L.A. Inc., promises to be nine storeys of sophistication, its contemporary architecture and exciting amenities targeting professionals looking for something slightly more exclusive.


A Breath of Fresh Air

Essential to the health and vibrancy of any neighbourhood, local parks and recreational facilities provide year-round access to fitness fun for residents of the Annex. Young or old, student or professional, you will appreciate the close proximity to the University of Toronto Athletic Centre. The fitness facilities include weight and aerobic rooms; squash, badminton, and tennis courts; a gymnasium, and more. The 200-metre indoor track will keep runners happy during inclement weather, while the Olympic-size pool will have swimmers of all ages diving into their glory. For an outdoor equivalent perfect for hot summer days, Christie Pitts Park features a 25-metre outdoor pool, splash pool, warm pool, and deep pool complete with 1-metre diving board and two-storey water slide. Located just west of the Annex at Bloor and Christie Streets, this 20+ acre, multi-use park also boasts three baseball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer field, sand volleyball court, picnic area, outdoor ice rink, and perfect slopes for sledding during the winter months. Another nearby option is Vermont Square Park (819 Palmerston Avenue), where the monkey bars, wading pool, and off-leash dog park are well complemented by the neighbouring St. Albans Boys and Girls Club and Bill Bolton Hockey arena. Finally, Queen’s Park is not to be missed. Home to many civic events and parades, this parkland offers an oasis of green where you can pull up a park bench under the blue of the sky or curl up with a book under the shade of a maple tree.


Taxi!

The Annex, simply put, is an amazing neighbourhood when it comes to getting around. Well served by public transit, Annex access to TTC service is too easy. Jump onto the subway: either the Yonge-University-Spadina line at Dupont Station or the Bloor-Danforth line at Bathurst, Spadina, and St. George stations. The Bathurst streetcar will carry you south to exciting destinations such as the CNE grounds or BMO field. Go, Toronto FC! Late-night TTC buses also run on Bloor and Bathurst Streets if the Entertainment District or King West Village keep you hostage past curfew. While Bloor Street is usually quite busy, bike lanes weave through the city, and it is only a 15-minute walk to Yorkville shopping or a 10- to 15-minute walk down to College Street and Little Italy. For motorists needing to get in or out of the city, the major highways both north and south can be reached in about 25 minutes.


Coffee…where art thou?

Home to some very credible contributors to Canadian coffee culture, the Annex neighbourhood does not fall short in the café department. Though the Starbucks on Bloor Street, just east of Bathurst Street, may be a good spot for people watching, there are many more fantastic coffee houses to explore. The Green Beanery and Aroma Espresso Bar are excellent nearby options while, the b Espresso Bar has made its home at The Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor Street. Situated on the U of T campus, L’Espresso Bar Mercurio serves hearty espresso in an informal but sophisticated atmosphere; as well, Scoop and Bean, at 2 Follis Avenue, serves a fine affogato — vanilla Kawartha ice cream topped with a shot of Reunion Island espresso is a perfect to start your day or perhaps the perfect dessert. For fabulous décor, mouth-watering food, and fantastic coffee, Ezra’s Pound is a great advocate of the expanding Toronto Coffee Culture. Located on Dupont Street, cappuccinos, croissants, and consistently fine coffee are part of Ezra’s commitment to providing Torontonians with a first-class café experience.


Date Night!

For a casual date night, dinner on the patio at The Victory Café followed by coffee and board games at Snakes & Lattes before hitting The Labyrinth for cheap drinks makes for a relaxed night out. Depending on the night, Lee’s Palace hosts some great bands, while the Bloor Cinema hosts many of the city’s independent film festivals. People watching and/or window shopping are also interesting options, although nightfall in the Annex is a playground of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to be explored. While many of the neighbourhood’s entertainment venues are aimed at the university demographic, the Brunswick House and Madison included, head further south to charming Harbord Street where you will find a wealth of venues to suite your fancy. The sophisticated ambience, yet informal atmosphere of Harbord House will create the perfect place to share a quality meal or catch up with friends after a trip to the cinema, the game, or work.

If you are trying to create an out-of-the-ordinary evening, you probably never thought of the Bata Shoe Museum or Royal Ontario Museum as potential venues. Thursday evenings between 5pm and 8pm, admission at Bata is pay-what-you-can, with a $5 suggested donation. At that price, why not start your night with perusing famous footwear worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, and Napoleon Bonaparte? For something completely different, the ROM features a range of events and activities year round. On any day, a visit to the museum is well worth the $9 ticket price; however, on scheduled Friday nights from 6–11pm, Friday Night Live offers late-night benefits for the same great price. Modeled after similar events in America and Europe, pop-up bars around the Museum feature local and international wines, beers, and cocktails; tantalising fare created by a range of top chefs, and fantastic DJs. Dance your way through the ROM’s collections with live performances, art installations, and late night lectures from a breadth of happening people – a perfect venue reflecting the cool, uber-hip spirit of the Annex.


Does that come in a size 7?

The Annex plays host to a number of shopping pockets, but Bloor Street’s eclectic mix of venues (independent book and music stores, antique and home décor shops, bakeries and boutiques) immediately comes to mind, highlighted by the over-sized and loudly-fronted Honest Ed’s and the neighbouring Sonic Boom. And the fun is just beginning, with the Mirvish Village shopping district located south of Bloor Street on Markham Street offering even more great retail therapy with its craft and book stores, antique shops, art galleries, and one-of-a-kind specialty stores. For a more village-type feel, Harbord Street’s charm extends to its quaint shops and classic cafes; on a practical level, the Bloor Superfresh ensures 24-hour groceries, while the LCBO and Shoppers Drug Mart on Dupont Street will take care of your other household needs. For residents of the Annex, everything you could ask for and more is at your fingertips.


Where to take the kids…

A season’s pass to the Royal Ontario Museum gives you a perfect option on rainy days, and local community centres are readily available to keep your children active. Be sure to check out Scadding Court Community Centre (707 Dundas Street West), Alexandra Park Community Centre (105 Grand Court), Trinity St. Paul’s Centre (427 Dundas Street West), or the Lighthouse Community Centre (1008 Bathurst Street).

If fostering your child’s love of reading is important to you, the Annex places you in the heart of storybook land with libraries in every direction. The Spadina Road Public Library (10 Spadina Road), the Palmerston Library (560 Palmerston Avenue), the College/Shaw branch (766 College Street), and the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street) offer a range of free programs for children and families. The 6-week program Shakespeare for Kids will instill a passion for literature through the exploration of magic and wizards, while Sophie’s Studio will promote creativity through writing — perhaps in early preparation for your child’s acceptance to the University of Toronto!

Before your children can tackle university, kindergarten is a good start. From elematary school to high school, the Annex has some great options. Most Toronto schools have definite enrollment boundries, so it always a good idea to contact the school you have in mind to ensure your new home falls within its boundries. 

For more information, visit the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic School Boards websites.


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