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St Lawrence Market


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Apr 24, 2007
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Downtown Toronto
I was surprised to find no thread for this neighbourhood.
This article made me feel all warm and fuzzy as I pondered a move there, one which I've been considering for several years.

Oasis amid skyscrapers has a magic of its own

Dec 22, 2008 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (5)
Kenneth Kidd
Feature Writer


It's a drizzling rain, the one falling this December midday, and Nona Alexander is tightly tucked into a full-length green overcoat and burgundy cloche. Lord Montgomery, as always, is at her side, his fur as salt and pepper as the snow under his paws.

They have been coming here, to Berczy Park, just about every lunch break for the last four years. It was Lord Montgomery's doing, really.

Until the miniature schnauzer arrived in her life and started coming with her to work – "It's a very progressive company" – Alexander used to march straight past the park on her way to St. Lawrence Market. Now she lingers, happy at the discovery of a soothing ritual.

"There's always something interesting going on," she says. "You can sit and watch people. There are birds and the squirrels."

It's an unlikely respite, this little oasis nestled against the gleaming ridge of office towers two blocks to the west.

"You wouldn't think there's a park here," she says, nodding her head softly toward the bank buildings. "King and Bay is just over there and all that craziness.

"Okay, shorty, we have to go back," Alexander says to her stroll-mate, who is preparing to lunge at a nearby pigeon. "Don't even think about it." She tugs at Lord Montgomery's leash. "He thinks he owns the place."

There's just something about this park-in-miniature that makes you think along the lines of possession and husbanding. You want to have it always nearby, a little patch of triangular glory, its walkways radiating from a more-or-less central fountain framed by curving metal benches.

There's a splash of maturing spruce and pine on the north flank and, to the east, that playful trompe-l'oeil by artist Derek Besant on the back of the 1892 Gooderham Flatiron Building. It's almost impossible not to smile at the tiny perfectness of it all, to want somehow to claim it as your own.

There's a solace here, an inner peace; your heart beats just a little more slowly the moment you arrive.

Transplanted to some suburban subdivision, it just wouldn't work the way it does here. All of Berczy's charm would vanish in the journey. You need the densely urban surroundings, the contrasts they provide. Without them, the park wouldn't be an oasis.

Look to the south, along Front St. E., and it's as if you're taking in the view from an ancient, colonial common. There's the magnificent Beardmore Building (1872) with its tall, narrow windows and mansard roof topped in the middle by a widow's walk. And then two companions, side-by-each: the yellow-and-red brick Perkins Building (1874-75) snuggling next to the painted cast-iron façade of the Commercial Building (1872).

Your eyes could linger endlessly on the details of those storefronts, each of them an exclamation of 19th-century hope and promise.

Yet it's the view to the west that keeps beckoning, declaring the greater contrast. Name just about any downtown skyscraper and you can get a glimpse of it high overhead from here. One King West. First Canadian Place. Scotia Plaza. The CN Tower in the distance.

Maybe that's one secret of Berczy's appeal, the seeming improbability of such a sainted triangle in the midst of all this. For a park to flourish here, surrounded, there had to be some magic in the air, some strange power at play.

Which, in the event, there seems to have been.

Berczy was never meant to be a park, or at least not at first.

The City of Toronto acquired the land in the early 1970s, planning to build the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts on the site.

When the arts centre was, instead, built on the south side of Front, local residents and businesses started petitioning for the space to be turned into something green. The era helped. It was a time when neighbourhoods across the city were being celebrated.

But why "Berczy"? Ask park users about the name and blank looks ensue, something the park's naming was meant to correct as much as to soothe a wound of history.

William Moll Berczy may be little known, but he was one of the more colourful characters of local history, as if he had leaped from the pages of a Henry Fielding novel.

The son of a prominent diplomat, Berczy was born Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll in Wallerstein, part of present-day Germany, in 1744. He trained at some of the finest art schools in Europe but ended up on a diplomatic mission to Poland in the 1760s.

This is where, by Berczy's own liberally embellished account, life got interesting. He ended up hiding in a Turkish harem before being captured by bandits. They nicknamed him Bertie, or Berczy in Hungarian.

He then bounced around Europe before winding up in London as one Albert Guillaume Berczy, a painter of miniature portraits. It was such work that likely introduced him to wealthy speculators trying to develop land in western New York.

Berczy was soon recruiting more than 200 German immigrants and sailed to the United States in 1792. But in the wake of complicated disputes over land and supplies, he eventually transplanted his settlers to present-day Markham in 1794 at the behest of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe.

Again, there were disagreements over land, whether the settlers had met the conditions required to gain title, whether Berczy was himself a speculator. He had been borrowing heavily to keep his settlement going, but a penniless Berczy was eventually forced to decamp for Montreal, where he flourished as an artist.

He died in New York City in 1813, en route to London, where he had hoped to plead the case of his Markham settlers. Or so he had said.

His coffin was reputedly filled with rocks, his death certificate unsigned.

At the west end of the park, tucked away under a tree, there's a little bronze sculpture, not much more than a metre tall. It depicts a husband and wife, sheltering two children between them.

In summer, you might never know it was there, and it almost wasn't.

Commissioned by a local historical society, the sculpture was at first accepted by the city but then rejected on aesthetic grounds.

A furor ensued, with author Margaret Laurence even entering the fray to declare: "The work seems to me to be a tender and beautiful tribute to the Berczy family and, by extension, a tribute to the concept of family everywhere."

In 1982, the sculpture was finally installed with financial help from the Consumers' Gas Company, whose original headquarters are nearby and whose first president, in 1847, was none other than Berczy's youngest son, Charles Albert.

Nothing Berczy, it seems, ever comes without controversy and heartache.

Maybe that is part of the park's unspoken charm, the way it seems to withstand and resolve any conflict between worldly struggle and a more eternal peace. This is a knowing park.

On a good day, you can even glimpse that wisdom, out there somewhere between Berczy's winter canopy of branches and the glistening towers beyond.
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I agree this neighbourhood should have its own thread. There is one under the Retail section for St. Lawrence/King East that covers various openings and closings in the area.

I really like living near this neighbourhood -- the whole area is a bit of a calm oasis in a way, and it has great access to other 'hoods like King East, the Distillery, Corktown, Yonge St., etc. It is enormously livable with an unheard-of three grocery stores within walking distance in addition to the Market itself; and that will soon be four once the Fresh & Wild opens in the Distillery. Suffice to say you can eat well when you live in this neighbourhood.

I was pleased to see this Berczy Park article, though I have to say the photo would have looked a lot nicer a few months ago. Also, I think the park is getting a bit run-down and needs some sprucing up (haha). Those benches along the wall are horrifically uncomfortable, at least for those of us under 7 feet tall. I read somewhere that has been money budgeted for revamping the park but I don't know when it might take effect.
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There's a fellow (Bruce Bell) who has various walking tours through the area. I remember a glowing article about his tours a few years back.

Bruce Bell also writes an article on Toronto history in every issue of the local Bulletin newspaper. Many of the stories are fascinating and it is sad how little of Toronto's history most of us are aware of. To paraphrase Bruce: the type of historical sites the US would honour with monuments we pave over with parking lots.

No part of the city seems to have more history than "Old Town" around the St. Lawrence Market area.
I've lived in just about every part of Toronto, including North York, The Beaches, The Gay Village, Riverdale and other interesting areas but the place I prefer is St. Lawrence. I think it's the best place to live in Toronto and the most beautiful too. Hell, I think it's the best neighbourhood in Canada! (and I've lived in Montreal and Vancouver) Everything is right at your doorstep. (including the PATH system, on freezing days like today) It's easilly the best place I have ever lived
Thought I'd make the first post of 2009 to this thread. :)

I've been gravitating towards St. Lawrence Market over the years and am seriously considering buying. I enjoy my current neighbourhood, Yonge & Eglinton, and could very well stay where I am. But I'm falling in love with the St. Lawrence Market area.

How would you describe everyday life in and around St. Lawrence Market?
Thought I'd make the first post of 2009 to this thread. :)

I've been gravitating towards St. Lawrence Market over the years and am seriously considering buying. I enjoy my current neighbourhood, Yonge & Eglinton, and could very well stay where I am. But I'm falling in love with the St. Lawrence Market area.

How would you describe everyday life in and around St. Lawrence Market?

It's a great mixed neighbourhood with great restaurants, several 24/7 grocery stores, an LCB (which is about to expand), the Market and pretty good transit. What's not to like!
That's the question... what's not to like?! I have yet to meet anyone make any complaints about the hood. So, seriously, what's not to like?! I'd like to know. :)

DSC, you mention it's a great mixed neighbourhood. Are you referring to demographics? How would you describe the demographics of the area?
I think it's great personally - depends what your looking for.

During the week it's a little bit quiet - but that's not a bad thing.

If you vencher farther north it's a bit more seedy - and by that I mean there's more mixed income / subsided housing developments - so you'll see more homeless people - not to much in the way of crime till you make your way a bit more north.

It's quite dense too, probably one of the densest parts of Toronto - and by that I mean - typically, take city place, for one, sure there a lot of towers but theres some space between them - this area is building after building (all lowrise).

So that can be a + or - for some - it definitely feels a lot more dense then other areas.
Instead of expanding this location they should look at opening a new location somewhere towards the Distillery. That area is quite underserved.
Expand how? That site is pretty small.

There is a proposal in with the City to expand the LCBO at Front/Market SOUTH through the top floor of the old FishMarket - they are on same level - and go right to The Esplanade. On the ground floor of the Fish Market the idea is restaurants/shops. They applied for a zoning review/permit a few months ago but the City permit site seems to be down today so I can't give you the reference.