By Ursula Terlecki Cover Photo by Jon Sasaki
To say that Toronto is changing is a bit of an understatement. The city is growing at an unbelievable rate and it seems like everywhere you look new developments (some atrocious and some inspiring) are altering the character of the city.
Much of this change has also come from the transformation and revitalization of specific neighbourhoods.
Because of its immigrant roots Toronto has always consisted of vibrant enclaves that offered a unique flavour. But as the population has grown, so have the neighbourhoods with many undergoing a renaissance brought about by young, creative and ambitious entrepreneurial folks that now inhabit them.
Among such neighbourhoods is Parkdale Village (located between Toronto’s Little Portugal and the historically Polish Roncesvalles) which began as a wealthy suburb of Toronto in 1879 and subsequently, with the arrival of immigrants, became one of the most diverse areas of the city.
Parkdale recently took part in Toronto’s Nuit Blanche festivities in an effort to attract visitors and show off what it has to offer.
We spoke to the newly hired Executive Director of the Parkdale Village BIA, Anna Bartula, to get an insider’s perspective into the efforts.
As the Executive Director of the Parkdale BIA, I essentially promote and maintain a strong neighbourhood retail area and local identity that already exists in Parkdale. I do this through a series of events, marketing initiatives and street-beautifying projects, as well as oversee improvements to buildings and the Queen West streetscape. I report to an elected Board that represents the property owners and tenants along Queen West from Dufferin to Roncesvalles.
What was the Parkdale BIA hoping to achieve when coming up with a Nuit Blanche strategy?
Any initiatives the BIA implements have to boil down to promoting the area as a business, entertainment and shopping destination. Having Nuit Blanche exhibits throughout the BIA area helped us attract new visitors into Parkdale Village as well as encourage locals to journey to parts of the neighbourhood they may not have visited recently.
With so many new businesses opening up, it’s important to share all the changes with our community. The festival also supports the artistic community, which is thriving in Parkdale. We have a high percentage of artists, studios and galleries in the area and the LEITMOTIF truck installations really helped us to identify Parkdale as a hot bed of culture and creativity.
Who organized all the installations? How many were there in Parkdale?
It was a group effort. We have a small but dedicated staff, wonderful volunteers, and then of course the help of the 10 artists themselves and Curator Stuart Keeler made it all possible.
We officially had 8 installations produced by the BIA as part of LEITMOTIF, but there were numerous independent projects created by local businesses and artists, including some fabulous exhibits within Parkdale galleries such as Skeir Gallery, The Sixth, and Gallery 1313.
Were you pleased with the turn out during Nuit Blanche?
I’d say overall we were pleased with the turnout. Certainly the weather helped and the fact that we spent weeks reminding people that exhibits would be displayed all the way up to Roncesvalles. Nuit Blanche was very central this year so our angle was to encourage people to start their night at Roncesvalles where the LEITMOTIF: “Border Patrol” exhibit was, and make their way downtown along Queen.
Parkdale is going through a bit of renaissance right now, why do you think that is?
There are so many factors! Although it may seem like the renaissance is recent, the neighbourhood has been going through changes for years. Lately, with the foodie trend and social media exploding there is added attention being paid to the nightlife and restaurants within Parkdale.
We continue to see an influx of artists and young professionals relocating to the neighbourhood due to its inclusive nature and relatively inexpensive spaces, and having three quickly developing BIAs on either side of us (Roncesvalles, West Queen West & Liberty Village) has increased traffic along our borders.
Can you shed some light on some of the most exciting new Parkdale establishments?
There are so many exciting things happening in the area – whether they are new or have been here for years and are being rediscovered.
We’ve got the new kids in the hood like Kanji Sushi and Black Widow Tattoo; and then there are our time-tested gems such as the local butcher, Cattleman’s Meat Market (in business for 75 years!) and The Painted Table (located in our bustling antique block).
Then, of course, Parkdale has a whole other spectrum of businesses and services run by new Canadians that make up a big part of our neighbourhood and add to its unique personality; who knew Tibetan food was so delish!
What are your hopes for Parkdale for the future?
I hope the area continues to prosper for its businesses and residents, but that it doesn’t lose its grittiness. Right now it seems there are pressures from all directions for Parkdale to conform to certain trends, and like a parent to a teenager, one can’t help but want to protect Parkdale from growing up too fast.
For me personally, having lived in Parkdale for almost 30 years, I feel quite protective of the area, and I think that many Parkdale residents feel the same way.
What are your personal favourite places in the neighbourhood?
Breakfast: Eggs Benedict at Parkdale Pete’s Corner Grill at Sorauren Ave
Coffee: The Mascot Café
Lunch: Momos from Himalayan Café, Pizza from Old Man Pizza & Wings, Shrimp Roti from Bacchus Roti
Snacks: Salsa from Jola’s Good Catch General Store, Meringue Donut from Glory Hole
Health: George at Hot ‘n’ Dog will lift anyone’s spirits, JR’s Natural Health
Dinner: Love the Pirate Ship at Kanji and overall menu at Maialino Enoteca
Drinks: Zywiec beer at The Rhino
Fashion: I’ve been visiting Designer Fabric for over 25 years and secretly wish I lived there! I love the selection at House of Vintage
Art: Gallery 1313, Goodfellas, Skeir Gallery
Home: My dining set is from Pickwick’s Choice Antiques, Parkdale Home Hardware for all home emergencies
Books: The River Trading Company (say hi to Walter the cat for me), Toronto Public Library, who have a “Human Library” event coming up that sounds so fun!
Fun: Wish I had the guts to get back on some old school roller-skates from My Roll Life; sadly I’m not as athletic as I’d like to think I am.