Riverdale is a large, diverse and vibrant neighbourhood in Toronto’s east end. Its boundaries are the Don River Valley to the west, Danforth Avenue to the north, Greenwood Avenue and the CN/GO tracks to the east, and Lake Shore Boulevard to the south. North Riverdale, from Gerrard to the Danforth, is a haven for young, well-to-do professionals; South Riverdale has traditionally attracted artists and working class families looking for affordable homes close to downtown, although prices have risen with its recent popularity.
There are several smaller communities within Riverdale. North Riverdale is best known for its large Greek population and the ancillary Greek restaurants along the Danforth. South Riverdale contains Riverside, East Chinatown (centred on Broadview and Gerrard) and the Studio District (south of Eastern Avenue), with Queen Street East being the most prominent entertainment and retail strip.
Traditionally, homes closer to the Danforth are more likely to be renovated and are more expensive than those further away, but the ongoing gentrification of South Riverdale has meant that these older, smaller and historically valuable homes have seen their value increase substantially. Some of the city’s tallest maples shade Riverdale’s many two- and three-storey Victorian and Edwardian houses. Built largely between 1880 and 1924, the grandest homes (and townhomes) bear witness to those prosperous times. Most houses also have parking off rear laneways; permits for street parking are available.
The area is well-serviced by public transit, and motorists will appreciate the proximity to the Don Valley Parkway, Lakeshore Boulevard and Gardiner Expressway.
The town of Riverside began life in the 19th century as several small rural communities and industrial sites which serviced the city of Toronto, located west of the Don Valley. In the 1850s, a railroad attracted jobs and people, with homes built below the tracks. Riverside became Riverdale in 1884 when it was annexed by the City of Toronto. (The name change was likely a reference to Riverdale Park, a long-time local landmark.)
The result of annexation was improved transportation and waves of immigrants settling into the area. The building of Toronto’s largest bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct, in 1918 instigated a wave of development which finally connected Riverdale to the rest of Toronto.
Riverdale does not suffer from a lack of green space or recreational possibilities. There are a multitude of parks and parkettes, as well as extensive bike paths along Dundas and the Lake Shore which offer easy access to downtown and Toronto’s best bird-watching spot, the Leslie Street Spit.
Riverdale Park, adjacent to the Don River, has soccer pitches and baseball diamonds on both sides of the river, with a swimming pool, tennis courts and an outdoor hockey rink to the northeast, as well as a running track in the centre. A north-south bicycle trail follows the river, while a footbridge crosses the DVP, Bayview Avenue and the railroad tracks.
Withrow Park, off Logan Avenue, is named after local landowner and builder John Jacob Withrow (1833-1900). It is among Toronto’s largest multi-purpose parks, containing facilities for baseball, bocce, soccer, football and rugby, as well as a pool and an ice rink. There is also a farmer’s market during the warmer months.
Greenwood Park, between Dundas and Gerrard, has an outdoor swimming pool, a baseball diamond and rugby field in the summer and a rink in winter.
The Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre (870 Queen Street East) features indoor swimming, a games room and gymnasium, as well as outdoor tennis and basketball courts.
Riverdale contains more than a dozen schools, but if you want to enrol your child in a specific one, call ahead to make sure you are within their catchment area.
Catholic children from JK to Grade 8 are welcome at Holy Name (690 Carlaw Avenue), which has been open since 1913. Two-thirds of the nearly 300 students in JK to Grade 6 at Dundas Jr PS (935 Dundas Street East) speak Mandarin or Cantonese as a first language.
Known as Hamilton Street School upon its opening in 1889, Queen Alexandria Sr PS (181 Broadview Avenue) – named after the wife of King Edward VII – teaches children in Grades 6 through 8. Greek and Chinese are the predominant first languages of the Grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Sr PS (100 Strathcona Avenue). It’s also a triple track school offering French Immersion, French Extended and English (core French) programs.
For area teens, Riverdale Collegiate Institute (1094 Gerrard Street East) has been the area’s primary high-school since 1907. The smaller Eastdale Collegiate Institute (701 Gerrard Street East) is aimed primarily at preparing young people for the work force through a variety of co-op education programs and experiential learning opportunities.
Danforth Avenue, in the heart of the city’s Greek community, is the North Riverdale’s primary shopping district. South Riverdale has several shopping areas, including Chinatown; Gerrard Square (at Pape Avenue and Gerrard Street); and Queen Street East, where old diners and hardware stores are giving way to trendy galleries, antique stores, restaurants and interior design shops.
The Real Jerk (709 Queen Street East) is an authentic Jamaican resto that does a steady takeaway business. Newcomers to “jerk” cuisine should try their jerk chicken with a side of plantain and a cool rum punch to wash it down.
It’s all in the name. Reliable Fish & Chips (954 Queen Street East) serves up, yes, reliably tasty halibut coated in a wonderful batter, served up with flavourful fries. Surprise: the poutine is just as good.
Expect long lines for weekend brunch at Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East). Favourites include the fresh-baked croissants and French toast, which is made on day-old bread which is fruity, cinnamon-y and soaked with flavour. Cash only.
Chef John Lee’s Sushi Marche (1105 Queen Street East) offers up Japanese groceries and sushi supplies, but the attraction is Lee’s made-to-order meals. It’s best to call in your order to avoid a long wait.
Moms concerned about the planet flock to Baby On The Hip (969 Queen Street East). Co-owners Cheryl Tschupruk and Gini Bechard stock their one-stop shop with organic and natural baby care products, including Bornfree bottles and Naturepedic organic crib mattreses.
For $465 a year, members can enjoy the fruits of the Mooredale Sailing Club (8 Regatta Road). That includes free lessons and the use of a small fleet of Lasers, Albacores and Hobies. The Canadian Yachting Association designs special lessons for beginners, and social events include Wednesday night dinners and Friday night races.