Leaside is a relatively new Toronto development. There were fewer than 500 residents as recently as 1929, but the population has grown substantially in the intervening 90 years, thanks in part to affordable housing, the scenic Don Valley, and rich shopping along Bayview. Upper-middle class families are attracted to the community’s well-regarded schools, good-sized homes (with driveways) and multiple recreation facilities. Its boundaries stretch from Laird Drive in the east to Bayview Avenue in the west, from Sunnybrook Park in the north down to Moore Avenue and Southvale Drive in the south.
Like other popular neighbourhoods, Leaside has seen its house prices rise in recent years. A common entry price for North Leaside homes is $900,000; $500,000 for South Leaside. There are bungalows and mansions, but most homes are traditional Tudor-style, all-brick, two-story, single-family detached designs dating from the 1930s and 1940s. Leaded glass windows, wainscoting, arched and peaked entryways, and broad wooden door casings are common exterior details. A distinctive intermixing of cut stone around entrances and front bay windows is common, and interior artisanship is apparent in traditional wooden mouldings, baseboards and floors.
American immigrant farmer John Lea settled the area with his family in 1819. His son William built an octagonal house in 1850 which he named Leaside.
The first fully pre-planned community in Ontario, the Town of Leaside was planned and incorporated by the Canadian Northern Railway on land acquired from the Lea family. The community was the location of a heavy artillery plant and training airfield during World War I, and was the site of the first delivery of airmail in Canada in 1918.
Residential development continued after the war. Various companies, including the Durant Motor Company and Canada Wire and Cable, came and went, mostly between the World Wars, and each built houses for its workers and executives. In 1967, Leaside was amalgamated into East York, which became part of Toronto in 1998.
Trace Manes Park (110 Rumsey Rd) is home to the Leaside Tennis Club, and has six courts. There is also a tots playground, a baseball diamond and an outdoor ice rink in winter. Adjacent to the park is the Leaside branch of the Toronto Public Library (165 McRae Drive).
Howard Talbot Park, situated in a picturesque valley at the south-east corner of Bayview and Eglinton Avenues, has two baseball diamonds and is home to the Leaside Baseball Association. It also has a water playground for young children.
In the northeast corner of Leaside is Serena Gundy Park. The parkland was donated in 1960 by the estate of James H. Gundy, president of the securities dealer Wood Gundy Limited, and is named after his first wife. Visitors picnic and hike in summer and cross-country ski in winter. It has a pool, and the extensive wooded areas are home to birds and wildflowers.
Adjoining Serena Gundy Park to the north is Sunnybrook Park, the former estate of businessman Joseph Kilgour. It has a rugby/football pitch, as well as the Thomas H. Thomson Nature Trail which was established in 1994.
The Leaside Memorial Community Gardens (1073 Millwood Road) includes an indoor swimming pool, an ice rink, a curling rink and an auditorium. It is also home to the Leaside Curling Club and a hockey school for children aged 5 to 7 run by the Leaside Hockey Association.
Leaside High School (200 Hanna Road) hosts both the Leaside Badminton Club and the Leaside-East Toronto Soccer Club. The Leaside Lawn Bowling Club also practices behind the school.
Opened in 1939, the Rolph Road School (31 Rolph Road) teaches Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6 and has an independently run daycare. Also opened in 1939, St. Anselm Catholic School (182 Bessborough Drive) presently has 331 students from JK to Grade 8, and maintains ties with St. Anselm Catholic Church (1 McNaughton Road).
Northlea Elementary and Middle School (300 Rumsey Road) was opened in 1944 and underwent extensive renovations in the early ‘90s to accommodate over 800 students. Northlea is a dual track school, offering English programs from JK to Grade 8 and French immersion from Senior Kindergarten to Grade 8. Bessborough Elementary and Middle School (211 Bessborough Drive) was the first public school in Leaside and services JK to Grade 8. The on-site Bessborough Child Care Centre serves as a community centre for local groups and agencies.
Founded in 1945, Leaside H.S. (200 Hanna Road) is considered one of Toronto’s better schools and was author Margaret Atwood’s alma mater. It services Grades 9 through 12, and has an extensive French immersion program.
Leaside’s vibrant commercial strip runs primarily along Bayview from Millwood Road to Manor Road, and boasts a mix of chain stores, independents, boutiques and restaurants.
Over 20 flavours and a quality product make Hollywood Gelato (1640 Bayview Avenue) a Leaside favourite. It’s busy but worth the wait, especially on hot summer days.
McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (1544 Bayview Avenue) has the perfect summer patio from which to people watch. And their menu, featuring Old Man McSorley’s cut prime rib and the Bayview Burger – is inexpensive and good.
Kamasutra (1522 Bayview Avenue) offers a contemporary take on traditional Indian cuisine in a beautifully decorated, candlelit room. The wine list is extensive and there is a strong selection of microbrews on tap. Fast and friendly servers offer up tasty dishes like coconut-crusted calamari, butter chicken and prawns vindaloo.
Chef Keiichi Masuda offers a classic menu of sushi, sashimi, noodles and hand rolls at Mikado (114 Laird Drive). Ingredients are fresh and prepared in-house. Remember not to dip your futomaki in the soy sauce.
The portions are large and tender at The Olde Yorke Fish & Chips (96 Laird Drive). While the rest of Laird betrays its industrial roots, this family-run pub oozes warmth and comfort. The menu is small but well-done, including the titular meal (choose from halibut, cod or haddock), Scottish meat pies and homemade chowder.
The Sleuth of Baker Street (1600 Bayview Avenue) specializes, natch, in all manner of detective, crime and mystery fiction. A cozy reading nook in back makes it a crime not to curl up with a good James Ellroy or Dashiell Hammett.
You can work up a sweat shopping at Enduro Sport (94 Laird Drive). The chain’s Leaside location sells all manner of running shoes, triathlon racing equipment, and wetsuit and swimming gear. Its bike shop is expert at bike fitting.
Quality new and gently-used kids stuff can be had at Once Upon A Child (1386 Bayview Avenue). That means Graco strollers, Mexx clothing, baby gates and toys. There’s also a play area and nursing station, as well as free parking behind the store.
Milbree-Viking (133 Laird Drive) is a deli, bakery and smokehouse which caters to Leaside’s Finnish population and everyone else with pullas (coffee breads), lihapiirakkas (rice and meat pies), Finnish chocolates and all manner of traditional tastiness.