Toronto is changing at such a rapid pace these days. With new development popping up throughout the core, many of the surrounding communities and neighbourhoods look quite different than they did just five years ago.
One area that appears to be feeling some growing pains currently is Church-Wellesley Village, loosely bound by Yonge, Bloor, Jarvis and Carlton. Long known as the centre of Canada's largest gay community, 'the Village' has become a neighbourhood that isn't too clear these days about what it wants or needs. In recent years, the need for a dedicated gaybourhood has been disappearing, evident from gay bars opening in other areas of the city, such as Dundas Street West and Queen Street East. Rents along Church Street have also been high for some time now too, and fewer businesses can sustain them. As a result, the 'gay' in 'gay village' is shrinking, and the nabe is morphing into something else.
When you walk through the Village now—at least in daylight—it's clear that it's an area that's being pulled in a few different directions. Development is taking some different shapes at all of its edges. At its base lies one of the biggest new developments in the city's core: Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens. Years ago, when it was announced that Canada's largest grocer wished to move into the venerable space, hockey fans were not happy. Since its opening however, the store has become a retail anchor for the Village, and was just this year awarded first prize for a new store over over 200 sq m in the World Architecture News retail awards.
Just across the street at the northeast corner of Church and Carlton, another development looks ready to take shape. The property was sold last year, meaning the small medical building and Zippers will be forced to vacate at some point. Still in the approvals process, the new tower at 70 Carlton Street, proposed by Tribute Communities and designed by Core Architects would reach 45 storeys.
At the north end of the neighbourhood, Charles Street, between Yonge and Jarvis, has turned into a new residential corridor for some pretty tall towers. After the success of Casa and X Condos, a whole slew of buildings is going up along this new 'strip', including Chaz, Casa II and III, AND X2 Condos. At one point on Charles (pictured below), the roadway is reduced to one lane to allow for the construction hoardings. Charles has an interesting distinction for a street in the neighbourhood, in that it actually falls within the Bloor-Yorkville / North Midtown area which allows for greater heights than the rest of the Village does.
The west border of the Village, essentially being Yonge Street, seems to be doing fine as far as new developments go, from a new complex at 501 Yonge Street at Maitland, to Five St. Joseph, to the much anticipated One Bloor East. Let's be honest, Yonge Street needs this development, or at the very least, a good scrub.
So it would seem the whole Village is surrounded by the promise of new towers, retail and development, and yet, the core of the neighbourhood itself feels a bit dusty. Numerous bars dot the Church Street landscape, as they have for decades. With the exception of a few of them though, little has changed to make this strip feel more relevant, however. Church Street no longer holds the appeal for much of the gay community that it once did. Walk along the strip on a Friday night at 11pm, and you're no longer guaranteed to see the sidewalks busy with people out for the night. It's hit or miss these days.
There are still some very beautiful residential buildings in the neighbourhood, thankfully, that aren't giant new condos. Single houses along Dundonald; the older post-war apartment buildings of Isabella and Jarvis; the sprawling (and towering) co-op and white apartment buildings of Alexander and Maitiland; even the smaller, handsome, older walk-ups that pepper the neighbourhood—there are plenty of reminders that this is largely a rental, residential neighbourhood full of properties that are well groomed and clearly looked after. One rental property at Church and Isabella is actually having an entirely new wing grafted onto its side, a clear sign that rental living is alive and well in the city.
The Village is also not without its public space. It's a dense neighbourhood that can support a great deal of foot traffic and there are initiatives to support that. One that's getting a lot of attention this week is the series of parklets being constructed along the east side of Church Street. Each of these 10 new spaces will occupy either one or two parking spots and will bring some much needed greenery and life to the streets. Half of them will be overseen by bars and restaurants—with seating for them—while the others will be places to just be and watch passersby. Construction of the Church Street Parklets is being donated by the Carpenters' Union and volunteers, and all materials for them come courtesy of Home Depot. (Thanks, Home Depot.) They'll be open until this coming October, when they'll be dismantled again.
Next year, Toronto will host World Pride and we're expecting to see an additional 200,000 to 400,000 visitors from around the world during Pride Week. Hopefully by then, the centre of the Village can catch up with its surroundings and clean itself up a bit. While we may not require a fully dedicated gay village anymore, there's still a relevant and good-looking role for Church Street to play, if it wants to.