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Saturday, June 30, 2018

How the Ale Yards became Toronto's unofficial beer district

In an area of Toronto best known for animal slaughterhouses and processing plants, change is afoot. 

The historic Stockyards, as its name entails, has long been recognized as the section of the city that once housed Canada's largest livestock market.

Spanning across St. Clair between Runnymede and Old Weston Road, the distinct stench of livestock and the occasional anti-slaughter demonstration will tell you that a part of the Stockyards remains an active meat packing district today. 

But on Symes Road, there's a new district in the making, completely unrelated to cattle and poultry: the Ale Yards. 

ale yards toronto

Junction Brewing occupies what used to be an old garbage incinerator. Photo by Hector Vasquez. 

A trio of breweries, all within two-minutes walking distance from one another – have joined together to create an informal coalition that may have a lasting impact on Toronto's brewery scene. 

"We were all looking for ways to work with each other and help each other," says co-founder of Junction Craft Brewing David Hayes, referring to his informal partnership with the folks at neighbouring Shacklands and Rainhard

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Rainhard Brewing was the first brewery to set up shop in the Stockyards. 

Three years ago, Rainhard was the only brewery in the Stockyards, brewing its hoppy IPAs solo at 100 Symes. Just a year later, Shacklands brought its Belgian ales to the same building. 

Then, six months ago, Junction moved from Cawthra Avenue into the Stockyards, transforming an old art-deco garbage incinerator that had sat unused since 1998 into the airy, Plant-designed space it is today – and the trifecta was complete. 

And while the term Ale Yards was a term that sprung up organically, the trio have wasted no time in trying to make the new moniker stick.

ale yards toronto

Shacklands specialies in Belgian ales. Photo by Hector Vasquez.

Last year the three breweries collaborated to create the official brew of Toronto Beer Week 2017, and naturally, they called it Aleyards – a fruity, hoppy IPA that used Junction's signature Kiln Amber malt. 

They're also planning some events for this summer, says Hayes, "an Ale Yards Oktoberfest" of sorts. 

ale yards toronto

All three breweries are located on the highly industrial Symes Road. Photo by Hector Vasquez.

Steve Werbin, the co-owner of Toronto Brewery Tours, runs mobile craft brewery tours on weekends and says the introduction of the Ale Yard district has added a new dimension to his tours.

"The vibe of the area is gritty, raw, dirty," he says. There are broken roads and massive trucks driving by, and it smells like meat. "That's part of the charm, though."  

Werbin says he hopes to see the Ale Yards receive an official designation from the city in the future, especially as the Stockyards begins see a shift at the behest of nearby residents who are pushing for more green spaces and less slaughter houses. 

"Ale Yards represents the modernization of an old economy," he says. "Let it modernize." 

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

HTO Park is Toronto's other fake beach by the lake

Take some sand, a few colourful umbrellas, and views of the lake, and what do we have? An urban Toronto beach. 

HTO Park, just like its counterpart Sugar Beach further east, is home to a manmade beach replete with a boardwalk, Muskoka chairs, and giant yellow umbrellas. 

hto park toronto

HTO Park was built in 2007. 

Built in 2007 by some of Toronto's most well known architects (Hariri PontariniJRALA and Montreal-based ingenue Claude Cormier), HTO's name is a remix of two terms: H20 (the chemical formula for water) and T.O. (Toronto, of course). 

The project transformed large swaths of industrial land - parts of which had been empty since the 1980s – into something far more useable, helping to revitalize the harbour into the tourist-friendly area that it is today. 

hto park toronto

Water taxis take passengers around the lake from the Harbourfront Centre Marina.  

Located not far west from the Harbourfront Centre, the docks surrounding the park are hotspots for visitors embarking on water taxi adventures that take you from dock to dock. Further to the western edge of the park you'll find stored canoes with boats and canoes for rent. 

hto park toronto

The eastern portion of the park includes HTO beach. 

The park takes up 4.3 acres of land and consists of two major areas: its eastern portion on Maple Leaf Quay, which includes the faux beach area marked by yellow umbrellas, and the western portion on what used to be the Peter Street Slip. 

From an aerial perspective, the park's grassy hills are meant to resemble a putting green, golf course-esque sort of pattern. By foot the mounds lose their patterned effect, though the trees and the shade they offer can still be appreciated in the summer. 

hto park toronto

The granite Fallen Firefighter Memorial pays respect to Toronto Firefighters who have died in service. 

Home to a collection of fun summer events, from artisanal markets to giant beach balls as part of the Redpath Waterfront Festival, you'll also find the Marine division of the Toronto Fire Services station on HTO Park East.

Expect this park to get busy in the summer, as it's one of the closest attractions to the main drag of Harbourfront. Try your best to get there early so you can save a spot under one of those coveted umbrellas. 

hto park toronto

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

The top 5 warehouse sales in Toronto this July

Warehouse sales in Toronto for July 2018 give you the chance to get a lot for a little and save big on top brands. Step up your workout, shoe, kitchen, clothing and yarn game at any of these huge sales happening this month.

Events you might want to check out:

Lucid Sample Sale (July 5 @ Erin Tracy Studio)
Save big on brands like BRIKA, Cheeky Monkey, Stray & Wander and Yoga Culture with 20 per cent of proceeds going to Second Harvest Food Rescue.
Yarns Untangled Summer Sale (July 5-9 @ Yarns Untangled)
Yarn and lots of it is on sale this month with special deals on individual yarns, needles, hooks, fibre, notions and more.
Athletic Locker Warehouse Sale (July 5-15 @ Athletic Locker Outlet)
If you're looking to beef up your workout wardrobe, tons of items from Asics, FILA, Wilson and Oakley is on sale for up to 90 per cent off.
Designer Shoe Warehouse Sale (July 7-8 @ Markham Farigrounds)
Improve your shoe game without breaking the bank as brands like Cole Haan, Dr. Scholls, FrancoSarto, Rider are more are all on sale for up to 80 per cent off.
Kitchen Stuff Plus Warehouse Sale (July 20-23 @ Kitchen Stuff Plus Outlet)
That stemware you've had your eye on is on sale for up to 90 per cent off, plus appliances, furniture, dinnerware, cookware and more.

by Lisa Power via blogTO

Graffiti Alley might be be Toronto's most unexpected tourist attraction

As in most urban cities, graffiti has been a point of contention for all parties involved. Toronto's business owners, artists, and politicians can't seem to decide how to differentiate between vandalism and art. 

Few of the latter were more notable than the late Rob Ford, whose attempts to curb graffiti sparked one of the most public conversations about graffiti to date. graffiti alley torontoIt's so ironic then that, today, Ford's image makes a cameo in a massive piece of street art that's arguably one of the most Canadian murals ever, located in one of Toronto's most iconic backstreets: Graffiti Alley. 

graffiti alley torontoCanonized by the tilting camera work of Rick Mercer's weekly rants, this little stretch of grimy back-alley between Spadina and Portland Street is best accessed from Queen, heading South along the t-shirt print store Bang-On.

graffiti alley torontoSometimes referred to by its adjoining alley Rush Lane, Graffiti Alley is more than a series of murals, mesmerizing as they are: it represents a watershed moment in Toronto's relationship with legalized street art. 

graffiti alley torontoThe area of Richmond and Spadina had long attracted the work of artists like SKAM and other members of the DOH and HSA crews before Style In Progress began hosting its legal 24-hour graffiti sessions along the nearly one-kilometre stretch. 

graffiti alley torontoWhen it was legitimized in 2011 through the efforts of the Queen Street West BIA, it also gave birth to StART — the city-sanctioned program in charge of nurturing legal street art — and paved the way for equally brilliant revitalization projects like the beautiful art of Underpass Parkgraffiti alley torontoSince then, the alleyway has become a staple feature of the city. It's been the locale for mini street festsmusic videos, been the host of Toronto's notorious secret swing, and even has a restaurant named after it.graffiti alley torontoYou'll often see guided tours leading huddles of international students as they admire wall after wall of striking street art that have been graced by well-respected writers like Uber5000 (whose little chicks can be found all over the city).

graffiti alley torontoMost murals here have a shelf life, getting painted over time with new work , though if you're well-versed enough in Toronto's graffiti scene you might still recognize the many odes to angels or the sandwich-eaters of ELICSER

graffiti alley torontoAs with most respected art, you won't see much vandalization on these pieces of 'vandalization'. As is the way, there isn't much tagging here. 

From the dirty puddles and the soft crush of soggy cardboard underfoot, a walk through the ever-changing museum of Toronto's street art history is appropriately grimy. 
graffiti alley toronto

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

The top 5 new ice cream sandwiches in Toronto

The top new ice cream sandwiches in Toronto are the latest and greatest in decadent ice cream-stuffed baked goods. Prepare yourself for outrageously sweet creations that are usually way too bulky to fit in your mouth in one go, but so good you'll try anyway. 

Here are my picks for the top new ice cream sandwiches in Toronto. 

Craig's Cookies

Make your own gnarly creation with Craig's ridiculously sweet and tasty cookies with ice cream flavours like toffee burn marshmallow. There's also bacon (because why not), plus the fact you can get these sammies until 10 p.m. all summer makes this Parkdale spot extra clutch. 

Machino Cafe

Stuff some cinnamon buns with scoops of Sicilian Ice Cream at this quaint little ice creamery in Bloorcourt. There's eight different flavours here, which you can also get on cookies and sugary donuts too. 

Futura Granita + Gelato

They're not called ice cream sandwiches at this St. Clair West shop — they're gelato paninis. It's all about rare (and vegan) flavours of granita and gelatos for when you're feeling fancy, because how good does fior di panna gelato on dark chocolate cookies sound? 


The macaron-makers on West Queen West have officially introduced ice cream sandwiches to their flagship store with a menu of 16 ice cream flavours like mojito sorbet and baked caramel crunch, which you can crush between a pair of chocolate chip cookies. 

Short and Sweet

This bakery might no longer have the hulking messy sandwiches of last year, but the ice cream bar at their newest location at Assembly Chef's Hall has something more epic: ice cream between Concha buns from Los Colibris, and fruit loop rice krispie squares. 

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

Little Jamaica is more than just Toronto's neighbourhood for jerk chicken

It's not news what the construction of Toronto's newest subway has done to Little Jamaica.

The Eglinton West neighbourhood that has historically been the landing ground for diasporas from all over the Greater and Lesser Antilles — Jamaican immigrants first —  has basically been decapitated by the Eglinton LRT.

little jamaica toronto

Construction on the Oakwood subway station began in 2014. 

Artery-clogging traffic and clouds of dust coating businesses in layers of dirt: these are just a few side effects of the work being done on Line 5's Oakwood subway station, which has been in the making since 2014. 

It's enough to deter even the most faithful non-locals from this strip between Oakwood and Marlee Avenue. What was once a five-minute rush hour drive from Oakwood to the Allen has now become a 30-minute affair. 

little jamaica toronto

The LRT construction has closed off the main sidewalk for many businesses in Little Jamaica. 

And while the incoming subway promises a future of accessibility with a new station right in the heart of Little Jamaica, the question is whether or not the current businesses there will survive that long. The LRT will be finished in 2021, if we're lucky

little jamaica toronto

The Jamaican patties from Randy's are some of the best in the city. 

Randy's will likely continue to stay afloat after nearly 40 years of packing up some of the best patties you'll find in Toronto, and the scent of barbecued jerk wafting from the drums at Rap's and Spence's Bakery might continue to entice pedestrians when they fire up daily at 6 p.m. 

Judy's Island maintains its status as a favourite for curry goat, and the killer ackee and saltfish from Entertainment Kitchen's bar is supplemented by the fact they throw proper yaad parties reminiscent of home. 

little jamaica toronto

Just Incredible Hair has been selling hair products since 1990. 

But other stores like beauty mainstays Monica's Beauty Salon (which has been open for decades) and Just Incredible Hair (since 1990) are barely getting by.

little jamaica toronto

This stretch on Eglinton has a fair share of barber shops. 

With items like wigs and gels for Black hair failing to entice a local demographic that's quickly changing, these stores and the handful of barber shops like The Barbers of Eglinton are mostly running off of community connections alone. 

On top of all this, it's been argued the most significant casualty of gentrification in the area has been Little Jamaica's reggae and Rasta scene. little jamaica toronto

Entire sections of Little Jamaica have been walled off by concrete blockades. 

Once an area where the likes of Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaac would visit to promote 45s and LPs with flyers, this strip of mostly Jamaican-owned businesses has been broken up and cordoned off by concrete blockades which have visibly crippled a number of stores.

Natty B's TreaJah Isle is one of the last bastions for the reggae community in Toronto, but even still, the quarter-century old store sells reggae vinyls while acting as a recording studio, juice bar, and Rasta accessories shop to keep up with rent. 

little jamaica toronto

Rasta Flex is one of many stores negatively impacted by the LRT construction. 

Just a bit further west, the shopkeeper at the clothing store Rasta Flex Michael says, "Nothing's moving, nothing's selling." 

Wrapping up mangos in paper and discarding the bruised ones, Michael has just started selling fruit on Eglinton, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays to make ends meet. 

little jamaica toronto

The shopkeeper at Rasta Flex has taken up selling mangos on weekends to make ends meet. 

"I don't know what will become of the Jamaican people here, most people have run away." 

"[We] can barely pay our rent, they should know that," he says, referring to the developers responsible for the gates which have all but completely concealed Rasta Flex from plain view. 

"There's no parking, if [customers] come here they get a ticket." 

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The Reggae Lane mural was unveiled in 2015. 

These days, the only way to dodge a fine in Little Jamaica is to either park on a residential street or at the 1529 Eglinton Green P, where you'll find the faces of Bob and Haile alongside local legends like Pluggy and Bernie Pitters leading into Reggae Lane

Designated in 2015, this small street running behind the main drag of Little Jamaica was designated Reggae Lane as part of the city's Laneway Project. It was the first and only move by the City of Toronto to solidify the area as the significant ethnic enclave that it is today. 

But most community members seem to agree that the naming of Reggae Lane, while a nice idea, fell short on its promise to promote the neighbourhood. 

little jamaica toronto

The construction in the area has impacted businesses all along the Eglinton stretch. 

Founder of the online reggae platform Canadian Reggae World Julian King calls Reggae Lane an act of "tokenism" – a gesture to placate the community without giving it real legs to stand on. 

"I still think Reggae Lane is a beautiful entity," he says. "But the city needs to invest in the businesses that are still here." 

little jamaica toronto

The oil drum at Rap's has long been a staple in Little Jamaica. 

King says that while endeavours like Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Canada Mosaic program (dedicated to "Canada's diverse musical landscape") receive federal funding ($7.5 millions-worth), the reggae scene – with a long and rich history in Toronto – gets nothing. 

And though the mural by artist Adrian Hayles is monumental in its own right, Reggae Lane itself is no destination. There are no back patios along this stretch, no musical events or guest reggae performances held in the lot, just empty bottles, trash, and illicit activity. 

"You have a gold mine in front of you," says King. "When Reggae Lane is treated correctly, it will become a true tourist attraction." 

little jamaica torontoWalking around Eglinton, it's clear to see that Little Jamaica is fighting the good fight. With all the abandoned storefronts, there's only hope that maybe the city will eventually manage to scrounge up the funding to bolster the area.

But even if they do, it'll likely be after the condos go up, the subway is complete, and the original businesses which have stood there for decades have come down. Oakwood Station will service a whole other community, and Reggae Lane will still just be a mural on the wall.

little jamaica toronto

by Tanya Mok via blogTO