When most of us think of a vacation we imagine airports, luggage and preparatory spray-on tans with eager anticipation. Travelling any distance at home, however, is an obligatory exercise in efficiency rather than a charming opportunity to delight in our fair city. We reserve pleasing plein air
jaunts for the more exotic (or distant) locales. But if a corner of our city takes almost as long to get to from downtown as Billy Bishop to Newark Liberty, can we not include faraway Toronto neighbourhoods in our travel issue?
Enter the shabby-chic upper west side of Toronto the Good, the area known as The Junction. Until a little more than 10 years ago, it was the last bastion of our early 20th-century “dry” history. (Excessive public drunkenness spurred the rising temperance movement, and the sale of alcohol was banned in The Junction from 1904 until the late 1990s.) Just five years ago it was a quiet, suburban industrial zone with more “for lease” signs than window coverings.
Now, on any given sunny Sunday, the neighbourhood is bustling with activity as independent galleries and hip boutiques open their doors for the after-brunch set who spill out of patios and wander the streets.
To visit The Junction, take the subway to Keele Station and then take the 89 Weston bus north to the corner of Dundas West and Keele streets. The 1920s-era buildings and noticeable lack of Starbucks will be your first indication that you’ve left civilization as you know it. Prepare to be adventurous and enter stores and eateries the likes of which you've never seen before!
My first stop is Mr Antico (384 Keele St), a somewhat bizarre and downtown-priced curiosity shop where one can find a plastic Lisa Simpson figurine flanking letterpress dividers filled with porcelain clogs. Obviously.
Next, I scamper west along Dundas Street, where I encounter an amazing vintage/salvage shop called Smash (2880 Dundas St W). This mecca for industrial-awesome features house-made editions of antique prints, toy soldiers and whatever your ironic hipster condo/loft requires. As a museum to the scale and design of signage and memorabilia alone, Smash is a must-see.
After tickling my tastebuds with some material delicacies, I wander into The Sweet Potato (2995 Dundas St W), where I see a gaggle of inked queers restocking heritage purple beans and peppers. I have a little chat with the manager, CJ. She says The Junction was much quieter and sketchier when she first started working here four and a half years ago. “There were largely vacant storefronts, and when I’d close the store at night the streets would be empty more often than not. Now, almost every night, there are people milling about. There are lots of bars and a diverse nightlife, and there are queer or queer-friendly venues popping up, too.”
Heading back east, I come across Mjölk, pronounced “me-yelk" (2959 Dundas St W), and become so immersed in beautiful Scandinavian and Japanese accessories for the home I forget my rumbly tummy. The owner, John, gives me a tour of the Japanese “wildflowers in lucite” ruler, bubble hourglass and Finnish reindeer pelts. I’m sure I’ll be dreaming of the Borge Mogensen sofa for weeks to come.
The Cool Hand of a Girl Café (2804 Dundas St W) promises me a quick lunch, as I am running low on time and desperately hungry. They deliver the best sandwich/coleslaw combo I've ever had. Thick slices of avocado crusted with parmesan cheese on artisanal bread with herbed mayo, fresh basil, tomato and arugula is just what I needed.
— Ryan Kerr is a very adventurous man with a huge mjölk and a rumbly tummy.