By Oliver Moore – Globe and Mail
Jane Jacobs never lived south of Harbord Street, but it’s the kind of neighbourhood she would have liked: a mix of young and old, tenants and homeowners. There are schools, pubs and an old-folks home. Children enjoy the splash-pool at the little urban nugget of a park and the mish-mash of one-way streets keeps traffic to a minimum.
The area is often called South Annex by optimistic Toronto real estate agents, though Harbord lies considerably below Bloor Street, the traditional southern border of the Annex. Perhaps more accurately described as the South South Annex, or maybe North Kensington, the area shows its roots as an immigrant community. Aging Portuguese men still hose down the sidewalks and their wives will sometimes sweep leaves off the lawn. Old neighbours compete fiercely over the quality of their rose bushes. Many of the basements include concrete grape presses and garage wine-making is a regular ritual for some.
The older residents are gradually moving out, though. Many of the couples who bought a generation or two ago for a relative pittance have in recent years sold their semis to young professionals for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of these newcomers have, in turn, spruced up the properties and tried to get anywhere up to three-quarters of a million. For all that, the area remains relatively affordable considering its proximity to downtown: a brisk half-hour walk from the financial district.
Although the demographic is changing, the neighbourhood retains its traditionalist vibe and it has its share of local busybodies. It’s the kind of place where modern architecture is damned because it will ruin the character of the street. And when someone drops a bit of refuse in another person’s garbage can â€” while coming home late from the bar, say â€” they just might find it on their own porch in the morning.
It’s not all establishment, though. A group of youths have for years been playing evening pick-up games of basketball in the alley between Borden and Brunswick. A regular turnover of student renters helps keep the streetscape vibrant, there’s at least one co-op and some two-bedroom apartments go for as low as $1350 a month (though the top of the range dwarfs that). A few homeless people live rough in the neighbourhood, including a shy man who goes by the name Elizabeth. Often standing on College Street opposite Kensington Market, he never begs and retreats from those who speak loudly or aggressively but will accept low-key offerings of the money he so clearly needs.
A neighbourhood of committed recyclers and re-users, where anything remotely useful will be snagged off the curb before the garbage men arrive, the area is still dense and dirty enough to sustain a substantial population of large racoons. The biggest of them are heavy-hipped monsters with no apparent sense of fear. They’ll walk through local backyards in broad daylight, passing unconcernedly within a few feet of a person reading. And the otherworldly screeching and hissing of their night-time fights can be heard a block away.
Besides the occasional skunk, the other only notable neighbourhood pests are the flocks of pigeons. They cluster in their hordes on the sidewalk at College Street and Brunswick Avenue, barely deigning to move as pedestrians walk through them. They do well there, fed by people on outings from the nearby seniors’ residence and drinking from the public water fountain.
Where: Harbord St. to College St., between Spadina Ave. and Ossington Ave.
TTC access: Streetcars run regularly on Spadina, Bathurst and College and Harbord has a bus line. Depending where you are in the zone, the Bloor subway line is probably a 5- or 15-minute walk away
Street safety: Very little evidence of crime, other than bottles snagged from recycling bins and maybe some opportunistic theft by living-rough-type guys wandering through. Garages are periodically broken into
Shopping – retail: Joe’s [dry] Cleaners, La Carrera Cycles, Bustan (for hydroponic equipment), Ulster Coin Wash and Coinorama Coin Laundry, Exclusive Paints, College Maple Leaf Hardware, Maya Cleaners, Spic & Span (a laundromat), Drum Travel Service, Good For Her (a sex shop for women), Wright Real Estate, three other conviences stores (for a total of five in the area) and the four local bookstores: Caversham, Atticus, Toronto Women’s Bookstore and She Said Boom. Too many computer stores to specify names, just say that there are at least 10 on College Street.
Shopping – food: Not much except for the Harbord Bakery and convenience stores at Ulster/Brunswick and Robert/Harbord. But just outside the area you’ll find a Dominion (Bloor/Robert) and of course Kensington Market. A location at which to pick up Good Food Box vegetables is on Major Street, north of Harbord
Eating/drinking – Pubs: The Cloak and Dagger, Rowers, Sneaky Dee’s, Bistro 422, The Silver Dollar Room, The Comfort Zone
Eating/drinking – Restaurants: Harbord: Boulevard CafÃ©, Kensington Kitchen, Harbord Fish and Chips, Olive and Lemon and Flip, Toss & Thai
College: Splendido, dessert trends cafÃ© patisserie, Free Times CafÃ©, Maggie’s, Amato, Massimo’s Pizza and Pasta Bar, Mars, Aunties and Uncles and Leao D’Ouro Restaurant Bar
Eating/drinking – Starbucks: None in the zone. The closest are east of Spadina on Bloor, near the corner of College and Euclid and the three spots around the University of Toronto campus: Robarts Library, the Warren Stevens Building and College/Beverley. There is, however, a Second Cup on College Street, opposite the top end of Kensington Market
Schools: Younger children are served by Lord Lansdowne Public School and King Edward Public School. They each have fewer than 500 students, the majority of whom do not speak English as their first language.
Lord Lansdowne scored better in testing during the 2004/05 academic year, with its grade 3 and grade 6 students both beating the city and provincial averages in reading, writing and math. At King Edward the grade 3s were about average in reading but below the city and provincial averages in writing and math. The Grade 6 students were below both city and provincial averages in all three categories
Students at Lord Lansdowne can also participate in International Language Programs — studying Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish — and there are Core and Extended French Programs. The King Edward facilities include a two-story gym and specialized classrooms for science, music, art and design and technology. There is also day care centre at the school.
There is no high school in the zone and the closest is Central Technical School, an historic building on Bathurst Street north of Harbord. Roughly two-thirds of the 1,800 students there are male and more than half of the student body has a primary language other than English.
The school has Enriched levels and Special Education, including a resource room and monitoring for students who have been identified as having learning disabilities. Although known for its automotive training and lauded for winning two years running the Skills Canada Solar Power Car, the school does not have a reputation as an academic bastion, scoring below average in math and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. Harbord Collegiate, which has a better academic record, lies 3 blocks west of Bathurst.