The Heritage of Bloor West Village
Between 1838 and 1855 Lieutenant Colonel William Smith Durie, an officer from Gibraltar, lived in Thornhill, Barrie and Toronto. His Toronto Estate was the area that today we call Bloor West Village. Durie Street once was a path going through his property. He died in 1885 after a long and successful career in the militia.
Another famous resident in the early days of Bloor West Village was John Scarlett, a businessman who owned a fairly large chunk of land in the area, north of Bloor Street and west of Keele Street. A horse lover, he opened a racetrack in 1837 on his property which stayed open for four years. In 1838, he built his house at the corner of Dundas and Keele and named it Runnymede.
Laying track at Dundas and Keele streets in 1912. Photo credits: Archives Toronto
Both men saw the area changing in the 1840’s when the railway came. With the arrival of the trains, landowners started to divvy up their properties and offer them for sale. One of the first settlers to do so was John Scarlett, who subdivided his land and called it “Runnymede Estate”.
Twenty-four years after the death of Lieutenant Durie in 1909, what was his property became annexed to the expanding City of Toronto. The new district grew fast with improvements and following after the annexation, city services were implemented. The first residents to benefit from this fast wave of new services were immigrants of Eastern European background.
Navigating the Area
The limits of Bloor West Village are bound by Runnymede Road to the East – Bloor Street West to the south – Annette Street to the north – Jane Street to the west. Although some maps also include other zones within the Bloor West district. As such, these expanded areas are sometimes referred to as “Runnymede Bloor West Village” or “High Park North”. Bloor West Village residents enjoy the presence of two nearby subway stations, Jane and Runnymede which are both situated very close to the residential streets. The Annette Street bus transports passengers through the area, and subsequently travels to the Dupont subway Station on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line.
The Gardiner Expressway and the Lake Shore Boulevard are just a couple minutes away, and one can drive downtown in less then half an hour (when there is no traffic of course!).
Many people frequent Bloor and Annette Streets for the many local shops and restaurants. It is also not uncommon for residents from other parts of the city to visit the neighbourhood to do some shopping, and of course enjoy the many bakeries, cafes and delicatessins.
Bloor West Village has a very popular shopping district, located along Bloor Street between Jane Street and Ellis Park Road. The district encompasses more than 400 boutiques, coffee shops, restaurant and other services – most of it being “healthy oriented”. The BIA (Business Improvement Association), created in 1970, created the first shopping district in the world which promotes shopping. The association also brings life to the area by holding events and several festivals. One of the most popular events is the Ukrainian Festival, the largest Ukrainian street festival in North America!
Small businesses are sharing Bloor West with large corporations. Photo credits: Proliphic
One of the most famous stores in the neighbourhood is the Chapters, which took over the Runnymede Theatre in 1999. Commonly known as the “Runny”, this grand vaudeville theatre was converted to show movies in the late 1930s. But even with all these changes over the decades, the building kept its majestic feeling, with an auditorium ceiling painted to give the illusion of an open sky. The rest of the interior is themed to give visitors the impression of an exotic place. It is said that the store is haunted by the ghost of a little girl whose death was caused by a falling sandbag. In fact, there is no official record of anybody dying there – people can shop for books in peace!
Inside the Chapters Bookstore. Photo credits: Cinemarie
Exterior view of the Chapters Bookstore. Photo credits: Mdanyluk
Many Torontonians move to this prime location for its proximity to High Park, which is the largest mixed recreational and natural park in Toronto. Spanning on 161 hectares (398 acres or 1.61 km2), the urban green space offers many sporting – cultural – educational facilities. It is also a great place for dog owners, since the park allows dog walking on-leash. For those who prefer green space by the lake, there is the Humber Bay Park, just south of Bloor West Village. Located in Etobicoke by the Lakeshore Boulevard, the park has welcomed visitors officially since 1984.
Colborne Lodge is the 19th century home of High Park founders, John and Jemima Howard. In 1873, the Howards deeded their 165 acre country property to the City of Toronto to be used as a public park. Photo credits: Suzanne Williams
Even though the neighbourhood’s roots date back to the 19th century, most of the residential streets were developed between 1910-1930. Many of the homes built consist of 2 level duplexes designed in the American Craftsman style, featuring wood trim, oak accents, hardwood floors, fireplaces (if you are lucky!), and the very iconic Toronto front porch beneath an extension of the main roof. Some pockets are starting to see some of the older homes being torn down to make way to bigger new constructions.
Some examples of other architectural styles in Bloor West Village include Victorian, Edwardian and Tudor. The brick houses, similar to the American Craftsman houses, offer two-storey / four-bedroom features.
But no matter what style you may see on these streets, the neighborhood is a favorite for its well established houses, shaded by the majestic Oak and Maple trees.