Toronto offers many different things to many different people. It is perhaps one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world with a huge variety of communities present; from Chinese to Italians, Indians and more. Thanks to this wonderful mix of nationalities, visitors to Toronto are given the opportunity to not only immerse themselves in Canadian culture but also to dip into a range of other diverse cultures from around the globe.
There is no shortage of cultural neighbourhoods to explore in Toronto. Little Italy is just one fine example of a very vibrant community. It embraces the Italian culture true and true and gives visitors the opportunity to sample everything that is great about Italy in one neat neighbourhood. Little Italy runs along College Street, centred at the intersection of College and Grace Streets and the adjacent residential area. It offers a lively strip of restaurants, cafes and bars and importantly, hosts the ever popular Taste of Little Italy Festival each summer – a mecca for Italian food lovers.
The history of Little Italy is just as impressive as the place itself. The community started to develop in the early 20th century when a large number of Italians arrived into Toronto. They first settled in an area then known as The Ward, centred on University Avenue and College Street, but by the 1920s most of them began to move west of Bathurst Street to the College-Clinton area. It was in this location that Little Italy was born and thereafter came the many impressive Italian eateries and bars that we are now familiar with today. In fact, Café Diplomat which is located at the intersection of College St. and Clinton St., is a Toronto institution and has been in business for over 45 years. It specialises in traditional Italian food and always manages to attract hoards of people to its impressive patio on a sunny day in Little Italy.
Another neighbourhood which is steeped in history is Little India. This is located on Gerrard Street East, between Coxwell Avenue and Greenwood Avenue. It originated in 1972 when businessman Gian Naaz purchased the Eastwood Theatre on Gerrard Street, now known as the Naaz Theatre, and began to screen Bollywood and Pakistani films. He managed to draw businesses into the area, many of them from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan backgrounds. Subsequently, Little India was born.
Little India definitely has a lot to offer visitors to Toronto. The Gerrard India Bazaar is perhaps the neighbourhood’s biggest attraction and it’s not hard to see why. This is the largest marketing place of South Asian goods and services in North America. It has over 100 shops and restaurants which represent regional diversities of South Asian culture; from the food to the music to the fashion, this market really encompasses all that is unique about South Asia.
The Danforth or Greektown is a neighbourhood which represents yet another significant community in Toronto – The Greeks. It is fair to say that the Geeks have a passion for food and this is expressed most clearly in the community’s annual food festival “The Taste of the Danforth”. This festival takes place at the beginning of August and is a major event, not only for “The Danforth” but for the whole city of Toronto. Visitors to the festival are treated to mouth-watering Greek cuisine such as souvlaki and spanakopita (spinach pie) as well as a range of other foods including Thai, Indian and Cuban. To add to that, there’s also a variety of family-friendly activities and entertainment throughout the weekend festival such as musical performances, traditional Greek dancing, challenges from professional Toronto sports teams and more. Last year alone, the festival managed to attract close to 1.6 million people.
We cannot talk about Toronto’s cultural neighbourhoods without mentioning Chinatown.The earliest record of Toronto’s Chinese community is traced to Sam Ching, who owned a hand laundry business on Adelaide Street in 1878. Ching was the first Chinese person listed in the city’s directory. The Chinatown of today extends along Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue and is a hub of activity. From authentic Chinese restaurants to numerous stalls and shops with great deals, Chinatown is a haven for those seeking a fantastic cultural experience as well as a bargain!
Restaurants which have garnered a reputation for themselves in the neighbourhood include Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant, Kwangtung Dim Sum, New Ho King Restaurant and Spadina Garden. In particular, Bright Pearl are experts in Dim Sum, while Spadina Garden specialise in Peking, Hunan, and Szechuan food. Chinatown is also just a stone’s throw from another great area in Toronto, Kensington Market, which represents a range of cultures through its plethora of restaurants and cafes including British, Asian and French.
Toronto really has it all when it comes to cultures and we’ve only mentioned a select few neighbourhoods in this article. There’s loads more exciting neighbourhoods to explore in Toronto including Little Portugal, Korea Town and more. If you’re a tourist in Toronto or a local who happens to like discovering new things, take the time to walk through these fantastic neighbourhoods–grab a coffee at a café there and talk to the locals. It will inevitably give you a real feel for what Toronto is all about.