Experience the Creative Heart of Toronto

Photo courtesy: Stefan Lialias

If Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, then the city’s West Queen West (WQW) neighbourhood is one that tells the tale of the whole city.

Located less than half a kilometre from Lake Ontario, where the city first took root two hundred and fifty years ago, WQW (as the locals know it) is close enough to the core of the metropolis to be part of its pulse, but just far enough away to provide its own take on city life.

It’s this enthralling combination of the old and new, reassembled in imaginative ways, that gives WQW its feel and has led the art and design influenced district to be called the creative heart of the city.

Photo courtesy: Stefan Lialias

The Gladstone Hotel stands as the entry point to the district on its western frontier. The red brick Romanesque building is a classic example of the types of hostelries that once dotted not only Toronto but all of southern Ontario. Original plaster mouldings in its grand hallways date back to when it was built in 1898 to accommodate visitors to the provincial capital. After falling into disrepair during the back half of the 20th century it was revived and revitalized as an arts hub at the beginning of the 21st. It remains one of the oldest operating hotels in Toronto, and has 37 unique artist designed rooms to accompany its 3 gallery spaces and the 45 art exhibitions it hosts each year.

Just  a couple of blocks down the street is The Drake Hotel, which also played a pivotal role in WQW’s transition from a strip of Queen Street on the way to somewhere else to a destination in its own right. With music and other entertainment every night, The Drake is renowned for being as much a feast for the ears as the Gladstone is for the eyes.

Photo courtesy: Stefan Lialias

Speaking of feasts, as you wind your way along Queen to the other end of WQW at Bathurst, you’ll be tempted by restaurants with cuisine from dozens of cultures, often standing side by side: Italian, Iranian, Filipino, Lebanese, Mexican, Ethiopian…why there is even one devoted to Canadian cuisine! Toronto is often referred to as ‘the most multicultural city in the world’ and West Queen West is a testament to that.

Dotted amongst the restaurants are some of the city’s most intriguing small retailers specializing in everything from 1960s furniture to handmade perfumes to designer fashion (Prince had stage outfits designed and made in WQW) and jewellery to exotic spices, socks and sexy lingerie.

Maybe one of the best ways to enjoy West Queen West, though, is to take a step off of the bustling thoroughfare. Grab a coffee or herbal tea from one of the many cafes (we like the Argentinian hot drink ‘mate’), accompany it with a pastry or macaron (or carbon ice cream!) from one of the specialty bakeries. Then head to the alabaster gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park — located smack dab in the middle of the neighbourhood — grab a park bench or your own bit of greenery, and do nothing but relax and enjoy the day.