Located just north of downtown, The Annex is an exciting, affluent neighbourhood which derives much of its energy from the nearby St. George Campus of the University of Toronto, many of whose staff and students live in the area. Its traditional boundaries extend from Bloor Street in the south to Dupont in the north, Spadina Avenue in the east to Bathurst Street in the west, although the city includes the West Annex (west to Christie Street) and Yorkville (east to Yonge Street).
House prices range from $700,000 for a fixer-upper to over $3 million on major streets like Madison and Lowther. Mainly residential, The Annex’s tree-lined streets are surprisingly quiet given their proximity to the main traffic artery which is Bloor Street. There are many lovely Victorian and Edwardian homes and mansions, most of which were built between 1880 and the 1910. Red brick and rough stone were the main building materials, and the neighbourhood’s origin as the home of Toronto’s elite is reflected in the most common decorative details, including deep archways, terra cotta detailing and elaborate window surrounds. Less elaborate homes in the English Cottage, Georgian and Tudor styles were constructed between 1910 and 1930.
The Annex is well-serviced by public transit. Street cars run along Bathurst and Spadina, and the subway runs along both Bloor and University Avenue.
European settlement began in the 1790s when surveyors laid out York Township. East of Brunswick Avenue was the village of Yorkville; west of Brunswick was part of Seaton Village. Yorkville agreed to annexation in 1883, and in 1886, developer Simeon James created the Toronto Annex subdivision.
Immediately becoming one of Toronto’s elite neighbourhoods, The Annex attracted the likes of Eatons department store patriarch Timothy Eaton and George Gooderham, president of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The area’s reputation as an address for the very wealthy remained intact until the 1920s when the upper class repaired to more fashionable addresses in Forest Hill and Lawrence Park.
The suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution prompted an influx of Hungarian immigrants into the area, and many businesses along Bloor are still owned by Hungarian-Canadian families.
Christie Pits (750 Bloor Street West) is a large park whose hillsides are beloved by tobogganers each winter and whose rink is a favourite of local skaters. When the snow departs, residents partake of the extensive picnic areas, three baseball diamonds, basketball courts and bocce pitches. There is also a pool, and fields for rugby and football.
Small parks dot The Annex, most notably Jean Sibelius Square, which is a favourite with dog owners, although all animals must be on a leash. There is s also a fenced-in playground. Leashes for the children are not required.
Athletes can access great facilities at both the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (750 Spadina Avenue) and the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre (55 Harbord Street). Membership is required at both places and is open to everyone.
Central Technical School (725 Bathurst Street) is a state-of-the-art high school which offers its 1800-odd students a wide variety of programs, including visual arts and technical studies, as well as work experience and co-op placements.
Founded as an Anglican choir school, Royal St. George’s College (120 Howland Avenue) is a private boy’s school predicated on Anglican values and strong academics. Its 426 students attend classes from Grades 3 to 12 and follow the motto “Through Knowledge and Duty” and the credo “Manners Maketh Men.”
The Casa Loma campus of George Brown College (160 Kendal Avenue) offers a diverse array of programs, while the nearby St. George campus of the University of Toronto remains a prestigious institution for students of both the arts and the sciences. Summer strolls (or jogs) along the Philosopher’s Walk, a scenic footpath which winds its way through the campus, are a must for locals and students alike.
The Annex is a mixed neighbourhood with loads of restaurants, book stores, clubs and clothing boutiques, many of them catering to the area’s university population and most of them clustered along Bloor Street.
The most obvious emblem of the city’s Hungarian population is the Country Style Hungarian Restaurant (450 Bloor Street West). Generous portions and modest prices are the hallmarks of this Annex staple. Perhaps its most famous meal is the Country Style Wooden Plate - a spread of cabbage rolls, wiener schnitzel, fried pork chops, Parisian schnitzel, sausage, bacon, beets, rice and home fried potatoes that could feed a whole family.
Near Country Style and right beside The Bloor Cinema is Ghazale (504 Bloor Street West), a Lebanese take-out restaurant whose considerable foot traffic is tempted through its door by the delicious smells emanating from within. Shwarma, lentil soup and samosas are fast, healthy choices.
Dupont Street around Spadina is home to several choices both traditional and innovative. The Pour House (182 Dupont Street) is a traditional Irish pub with traditional Irish pub fare, and is a great site for birthday parties and special events like the annual Robbie Burns diner. Magic Oven (270 Dupont Street) is a health-conscious pizzeria (think lactose-free and vegan soy-based cheese) with an enormous menu catering to vegans and vegetarians as well as carnivores. Virtually next door is Live Organic Food Bar (264 Dupont Street), a dynamic raw food bar whose ingredients are all fresh, uncooked vegetables.
The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West) is one of Toronto’s few surviving repertory movie theatres. It balances second-run Hollywood fare with classic Hollywood titles and foreign films, and hosts many film festivals, including Hot Docs and After Dark.
Annex movie lovers also have at their disposal some of the city’s most interesting video stores. Queen Video’s Bloor Street location (480 Bloor Street) and Suspect Video (605 Markham Street) both stock new, high-profile DVDs and obscure and odd indie titles. Across the road from Suspect is Vintage Video (604 Markham Street) which specializes in out-of-print VHS and DVD, as well as model kits and toys from filmdom’s pasts.
U of T’s proximity benefits book lovers with neighbourhood stalwarts like Book City (501 Bloor Street West) and its more bohemian neighbour Seekers (509 Bloor Street West). Book City boasts knowledgeable staff and a more intimate vibe than the bigger chains, while Seekers is a second-hand shop which is a favourite of university students looking for used and obscure titles.
Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor Street West) is one of Toronto’s most famous rock clubs. A recent renovation has improved sight lines, and the sound system is clear and powerful.
Students and intellectuals populate Future Bakery & Cafe (483 Bloor Street West) at literally every hour of the day. Couples, friends and families enjoy long conversations over coffee and decadent desserts. The patio is great for people-watching in summer.