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Neighbourhood Scout

Queen West uncorked Add to ...

When city engineers smoothed out the quirky twist where Dufferin Street meets Queen Street West, they removed more than a traffic bottleneck.

Since the Dufferin jog disappeared in November, some of the area's denizens say the cultural divide that separated eastern Parkdale from the fashionable part of Queen Street has crumbled as well.

"Everyone always said it would never go past the bridge," writer Kerry Doole says of the local pastime of speculating about how far gentrification will spread.

If couples are now driving down from Forest Hill for cocktails at the Drake Hotel, they mostly haven't ventured to the stretch of Queen between Dufferin and Lansdowne.

Now, Mr. Doole says, pedestrians are more likely to amble west under the railway bridge at Dufferin and Queen that has stood like a psychological rampart for so long.

He goes himself when he wants to find a hardware store or a cheap convenience store. And he increasingly goes to the west to see fresh bands and to avoid line-ups at the trendy bars.

Mr. Doole, who has lived near Queen and Dufferin for more than 20 years, remembers today's hot spots when they were serious dives. Today, he says, the entire music scene has moved west and high-quality roots, bluegrass and jazz can be seen at the Gladstone hotel and local clubs.

Inevitably, many locals lament the changes that haven't been so favourable to the artists, musicians and writers who have long lived in the area.

"The good greasy spoons are now trendy little bistros," he says.

This less-burnished stretch of Queen, from Dufferin to Lansdowne or so, still offers some of those more authentic establishments.

It also hasn't drawn a lot of developers putting up the high-rise condominium towers that are under construction on the south side of Queen on the east side of the underpass.

People who do venture beyond the new brightly illuminated Dufferin tunnel will find a parkette with a sort of amphitheatre built using limestone from the old underpass.

They will also find caring community programs, homeless shelters, funky shops, dollar stores, group homes and needle exchanges - all are part of the mix.

What it has going for it

Nightlife: The ever-popular Cadillac Lounge has doubled in size while The Rhino and Stone's Place add still more character to the 'hood.

The city's most dynamic mosaic: It's hard to think of a neighbourhood in Toronto that offers more diversity. Large Tibetan, West Indian and North African diasporas are here but immigrants from every pocket of the globe often find their feet in Parkdale.

Galleries: Some of the city's edgiest. Gallery 1313's current show on the theme of sex and bondage warns patrons to enter only if they're willing to risk the titillation.

Pragmatism: Sometimes people aren't so much in the market for original sculpture and designer jackets as they are for light bulbs and cat food. Hardware stores and green grocers abound west of the bridge. The practical-minded can also check out books from the public library or hang out at the Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre.

Designer Fabric Outlet has long been a mecca for interior designers and decor-obsessed homeowners. In an interesting departure for a fabric store, dogs are welcome.


Parkdale Collegiate Institute and Queen Victoria Junior Public School and Holy Family Catholic School are three of the schools that cater to a very diverse student population.


The elimination of the Dufferin jog makes for a smoother ride on the TTC's Dufferin Street bus and the area is well-served by transit with the Queen streetcar trundling for kilometres in both directions across the city.

Harbingers of change

Bacchus grew famous for the vegetarian rotis it served from a hole in the wall on Close Avenue many years ago, then drew its many followers to a new location on Queen Street But the restaurant's glamorous recent reality television makeover irked some locals who rate pendant lamps high on the list of things that have no place in Parkdale.

The Mascot offers art, music, magazines, free Wi-Fi and espresso shots from a temperamental vintage machine. It's a deliberately low-key hang-out for the community's artists and bloggers.

Motel: If refurbished hotels such as the Drake and Gladstone represent the polished aesthetic on the side east of Dufferin, Motel is the witty response on the west. It's a small black box with a casual clientele.

Market Values

Some eye-popping prices are appearing on local real estate listings - especially on the side streets south of Queen where grand red-brick Victorians have been restored. The swift escalation has pushed some of the neighbourhood's artists out to such areas as the Junction for more affordable studio space and living quarters.

A "hard" post and beam loft can be found for around the $330,000 mark at 24 Noble St. and the smaller houses north of Queen, heading towards the tracks, are more typical workers cottages. Some newly built houses and townhouses are springing up: A new four-bedroom semi south of Queen is currently listed at $899,900.

Still, anti-poverty activists have worked hard to keep affordable housing in Parkdale and a high percentage of the area's residents are renters.

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