Wiggle room in the west end: High Park provides the green space in an area bursting with eclectic places to live, shop and dine

Sweet pea at play: Lee Sheppard and Jenny Gilbert with their daughter, Veronica, at High Park.

Peter J. Thompson/National PostSweet pea at play: Lee Sheppard and Jenny Gilbert with their daughter, Veronica, at High Park.

Sitting in her living room looking out the window, Jenny Gilbert’s view may well be from a country estate — an expanse of green grass and leafy trees spreads out before her, from her home facing High Park.

A dozen steps up from the sidewalk to the front door puts the house at an ideal elevation for unobstructed gazing into Toronto’s largest park. “In the spring we watch the crabapple trees blossom and in the fall we see the changing colours of the leaves,” Ms. Gilbert says. “We live on a busy street, but it doesn’t feel that way at all.”

Ms. Gilbert lives in a three-bedroom semi-detached home near Parkside and High Park Boulevard, around the southeast corner of the park, with her husband, Lee Sheppard, and their two-year-old daughter, Veronica.

The young, outdoorsy family appreciates their rare urban circumstance of having ample green space across the street. “We have a small property with just enough room for a table and chairs, a barbecue and a kiddie pool out back,” Ms. Gilbert says. “The park has become an extension of our yard. That’s what urban living is about — interacting with your city.”

They often simply cross the road to play in the large grassy area in front of the house, but also like to explore the grounds. The Jamie Bell Adventure Park, with its giant castle turrets, slides, ropes, swings and bridges, is a sweet spot for children of all ages to have fun. Plus, it’s close to the duck pond.

It feels like a very European lifestyle to be able to pick up things here and there, rather than always shopping at a big store that sells everything

High Park Zoo is the place for communing with exotic wildlife — there are yaks, emus, wallabies and llamas here, but it’s not hard to find domestic critters scurrying around throughout the park’s trees and meadows. Toronto Police horses clip-clop about the trails regularly as well.

Torontonians gravitate to High Park year-round for activities such as ice skating, swimming and tennis, as well as for picnics and barbecues. Join the crowds taking in the cherry blossoms here each spring, on the hillside overlooking Grenadier Pond on the west side of the park.

Make the most of warm summer nights at Canadian Stage’s annual Shakespeare in the Park, a pay-what-you-can event held at the amphitheatre from June 26 to Sept. 1, at 8 p.m. This season Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew hit the stage.

Mr. Sheppard has always had fond memories of the park. “When I was in a band a long time ago, I used to drive our drummer home in this neighbourhood,” he says. “I had a romantic idea about living across from the park in a nice old house. Now we do and we love it.”

Apart from the park, Ms. Gilbert and Mr. Sheppard have other reasons to be keen on their ’hood. A short scoot south on Parkside leads to the lake, Sunnyside Pavilion and the Sunnyside-Gus Ryder outdoor pool.

“I’m from the West Coast, so I like being close to the lake,” Ms. Gilbert says. “We spend a lot of time down there in the summer.” The family enjoys cycling together (Veronica hitches a ride with dad), pedalling along the waterfront or touring the Humber River Trail.

Neighbouring Roncesvalles Village offers yet more benefits. “It’s incredible how complete Roncesvalles Avenue is in providing what we need,” Mr. Sheppard says. “We get all of our groceries there, stop into the bakeries and shop for books and music.”

The couple picks up sweet treats and homemade perogie from Benna’s Bakery and Deli — one of Roncesvalles’ many traditional Polish merchants. Cherry Bomb Café’s almond croissants are another favourite.

“It feels like a very European lifestyle to be able to pick up things here and there, rather than always shopping at a big store that sells everything,” Ms. Gilbert says.

To the northwest of High Park, Bloor Street West is similarly dotted with shops, such as fresh-produce vendors and butchers, numerous pubs, restaurants and cafés, plus health food stores, acupuncture clinics and day spas.

Grab a scoop of gelato at neighbourhood newbie Ci Gusta, an Italian eatery; or stop into Snappers Fish Market on Durie Street for a catch-of-the-day to pan-sear at home. Bloor West Village hosts a number of fun-for-all events throughout the year, such as its Street Festival on July 13, a Ukrainian Festival from Sept. 13 to 15 and the Cavalcade of Lights, on Nov. 20.

Along Bloor there are the Jane, Runnymede, High Park and Keele subway stations, which make for easy east-west travel out of and into the city on the Bloor-Danforth line. Numerous bus routes from the stations are also useful for getting around town.
Hop on the 30-Lambton bus from High Park station and head north on High Park Avenue into the heart of The Junction, an eclectic neighbourhood where Dundas Street West is lined with more cafés and restaurants, as well as unusual furniture and decor retailers.

With its poster-sized vintage anatomical charts in the storefront window vignette, Post and Beam Architectural Reclamation is a trove of unique reclaimed mantels, windows, grates, doors, lighting and hardware.

Interior-design shop and gallery Mjölk (pronounced mi-yelk) sells high-end furniture, lighting and housewares by contemporary Scandinavian and Japanese designers. Eclectic Revival specializes in antique lighting with chandeliers, sconces, pendants, table lamps and more, all restored in-house.

At Forever Interiors, on Dundas west of Keele Street, carpenter and designer/owner Martin Scott uses reclaimed wood from Toronto houses and churches to build his harvest tables and other furniture, collaborating with a demolition company to source supplies.

“Most of our wood is Douglas fir and comes from homes and churches constructed between 1880 and 1930,” says Mr. Scott, who has sold nearly 500 of his tables to restaurants across the city, including local hot spots, such as Indie Ale House, a 4,000-square-foot brewpub; The Beet Organic Café; Hula Girl Espresso Boutique; and Playa Cabana Cantina.

A handful of restaurants are set to open in the Junction in the next six months. The new kids on the block will join mainstays such as Vesuvio, which arguably has the best pizza in the city, along with Junction Fromagerie and Bunners, a vegan, gluten-free bakery.

“The Dundas strip was stuck in 1974 for a long time,” Mr. Scott says. “I’m glad to see the street picking up and catering to the people in the neighbourhood. The Junction is surrounded by West Bend, High Park and Bloor West Village, but you don’t go through a forest or tunnel to get from one to the next. We all interact together.”

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SOURCE: Natonal Post Homes Neighbourhood Lindsay Forsey


Joe Chung

Joe Chung

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CENTURY 21 Leading Edge Realty Inc., Brokerage*
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