Riverdale is the shining star of the east end neighbourhoods. It’s a symbiotic mix of upscale and casual friendliness. Beautiful parks, great schools, a variety of interesting shops, trendy restaurants, and tree-lined streets, it’s ideal for families while still being close to downtown. Running east of the Don Valley to Greenwood and south to Gerrard, the boundaries overlap in certain parts, including the tony Playter Estates, north of Danforth from Broadview to Jackman, which is where the original farmhouse of Ely Playter was built in 1812 and was later divided into several properties. Most of the homes are turn-of-the-century Victorian and Edwardian style, which were originally rooming houses. Spacious and maintaining old world charm, these houses have been renovated into single family homes by the baby boomer generation. This means gentrification of the neighbourhood has been well established over the past 3 or 4 decades. It’s urban posh on most streets and real estate prices run high here but never fear, there are still areas within the neighbourhood that are more affordable, including “The Pocket” which aptly named is a charming pocket square that runs west off Greenwood south of Danforth by the TTC Greenwood yard. Here there are smaller, semi-detached homes along with public housing, and an enclave of newly built houses with an added feature of being close to the Danforth subway. And bonus: There’s a great independent little brewery trotting distance just south on Wagstaff, open on holidays in case of emergency.
Another charm of Riverdale is that it’s culturally diverse. At Broadview and Gerrard is Chinatown East, Spadina’s little sister, much smaller but still a great place to get groceries and grab a bowl of pho noodles. The stretch of the Danforth from Broadview to Pape is known as Greektown and is full of restaurants and patios, never a dull dining experience with something always being set on fire or shattered…OPA! Further east along the Danforth, amid the fun new restaurants and pubs, there’s a growing Arabic community where you can find hookah bars and get some great Middle Eastern food.
Riverdale began as a small rural town until the Grand Trunk Railway was built in 1850 which began its growth as a working class community, building their homes south of the tracks. By 1884, Riverdale became a part of the city of Toronto and became connected to the rest of the city in 1918 when the Prince Edward Viaduct, now known as the Bloor Viaduct, was built. The neighbourhood exploded after that and the rest is history.
The biggest homes in Riverdale, those designated as heritage, are on the west side of Broadview, some of them are still private and Montcrest School occupies a number of them, including one that was home to William Peyton Hubbard (1842-1935), Toronto’s first black politician. How he got his political career started is a cool story and next time you go tobogganing down the Riverdale Park hill in the winter, you’ll never look at the dank Don River the same way. One icy cold day, William Hubbard, son of freed Virginia slaves and a baker, saved a man’s life who had fallen in the river with his horse and carriage. It turned out the man was George Brown, the founder of The Globe Newspaper (Globe and Mail) and a future father of Confederation. So grateful was he, that he took Hubbard under his wing like a bro and sponsored his 20 year political career as alderman and acting mayor. Hubbard was a badass oracle and made sure that Toronto’s water and hydroelectric (now Hydro One) was public ownership. And think about it, who knows what the course of history would have taken if George Brown had drowned that day? It’s a wonderful life, thanks to the guardian angels of Riverdale.
Fun fact: Speaking of Riverdale Park, in the 1970s, right around the time the Don Jail closed, the park was the proposed site of a 40,000 seat stadium that would later become the SkyDome. The plan was thankfully nixed due to objections by the Alderman John Sewell who had concerns of the residents in mind. Seems impossible to imagine Riverdale Park as a traffic jammed, hot dog vending, fan-filled stadium clapping “We Will Rock You” now, with its landscaped trees, shrubs, and green grass and spectacularly serene view of the cityscape. But it may have made sense for those who remembered the park as a hub of activity. Since its inception in 1880, the park had a long history of large gatherings including visits from the monarchy, huge sporting events, parades, and militia training.
Keeping it more simple, the people of Riverdale enjoy an idyllic lifestyle of picnics, tennis, swimming, Frisbee, skating, and let’s not forget the annual Zombie Apocalypse Convention…and of course, arguably the best tobogganing spot in the city….OPA!