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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Corso Italia is Toronto's other Little Italy

If you ask any longtime resident of Corso Italia about the 512 St. Clair streetcar, they'll probably tell you about the devastating track construction, and how it tore through the little community spanning just 800-metres for five gruelling years

Considered the second landing pad for the record-breaking wave of Italian immigrants arriving in Canada after WWII—with Little Italy on College being the first—Corso Italia was once a lively strip filled with merchants and locals running their daily errands.

corso italia toronto

The drawn out construction of the 512 streetcar route had a hugely negative impact on the area.

After the 512 tracks were completed in 2009, the part of St. Clair West stretching roughly between Westmount and Prospect Cemetery grew quiet. So quiet, the city even added speakers to the lamp posts lining St. Clair running west of Dufferin in an attempt to liven it up. 

corso italia toronto

Speakers play jazz from the lamp posts in Corso Italia for the majority of the day.

Today, you can still hear the sounds of swanky jazz subtly playing in the air, creeping from the speakers discretely hidden on the lamp posts beneath hanging baskets of flowers.

corso italia toronto

Corso Italia has many vacant or closing storefronts.

Still, the community had aged, and businesses who couldn't survive the dust of the construction and diminished foot traffic closed up shop (much like what's happening with Little Jamaica today) leaving behind numerous empty storefronts which even now line the street.

corso italia toronto

St. Clare's Roman Catholic Church sits at St. Clair West and Northcliffe.

It was a far cry from the energy of Corso Italia during the 1982 World Cup, when over 300,000 Italians took to St. Clair West and Little Italy to revel in hometown glory, a watershed moment in terms of Italian visibility and pride in Toronto. 

corso italia toronto

Many of the buildings here maintain an old style of architecture uncommon in the rest of the city.

It's been a slow recovery for the once bustling neighbourhood since then, and only now is Corso Italia beginning to see a resurgence in activity somewhat similar to the area's past glory days.

corso italia toronto

A black and white mural shows the Corso Italia area long before it was developed.

A wave of younger shops have joined the longtime Italian-run businesses operating traditional trades like tailoring, Italian leather shoe and grocers such as Diana Grocery or Centro Trattoria & Formaggi, and popular bakeries like Palermo

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Tre Mari's ciabatta buns are made fresh daily. 

Where there were once only venerated joints like Frank's Pizza House with its hulking calzones, Pizza e Pazzi, the Big Slice with its massive panzerottos, Marcello's, and Tre Mari Bakery with its fresh buns, there are now restaurants like Cano, serving elevated Italian brunch.

corso italia toronto

The streetcar stop all along St. Clair have unique shelters. 

Just outside of Corso Italia proper—around Oakwood Avenue, which feels like the 'real' eastern border of the neighbourhood—newer businesses with fresh energy have already entered the periphery. 

corso italia toronto

Traditional businesses like shoe shops operate alongside newer concepts like board game cafe Spielhaus. 

There's even a colourful and inviting new boardgame cafe called Spielhaus, which has over 2,500 games like D&D and snacks to keep you fuelled during your intense game sesh.

corso italia toronto

Carlo Diano and Lois Kim run the gelato shop Futura Granita + Gelato. 

Of course there's no shortage of gelato here, with more springing up each summer. Joining Corso Italia favourite La Paloma comes small-batch gelato from Madonna Mia and, though not in Corso Italia proper, Futura Granita + Gelato from Carlo Diano and Lois Kim. 

corso italia blogto

Futura's gelato, cookies, and freeze pops are all made in-house. 

Diano, whose father owned a shoe store called Varese located at St. Clair and Earlscourt for nearly 50 years, says he and Kim opened Futura Granita last year to bring their twist on Italian ice cream to an oldschool Italian neighbourhood. 

"We want to honour the tradition but put our stamp on it," he says. "The meeting of old and new, which is kind of where the neighbourhood is right now." 

corso italia toronto

Latin World is a grocery store selling Latin American products and tacos made to order.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes over the years has been the introduction of several laudable Latin American restaurants and grocers in the St. Clair and Oakwood area, including a slew of Peruvian like Paracas and El Salvadorian via Tita La Guanaca.

corso italia toronto

The tacos from Itacate are some of the best in the city. 

There's no shortage of incredible Mexican eateries too, including Tenoch, King's Taco's, and the always bustling Itacate, a family-run spot serving up some of the best Toronto tacos outside of Mexico.

corso italia toronto

The Brazilian restaurant Rio 40 is a popular destination during the World Cup. 

Seeing many of these businesses call some major World Cup contendors home, it's no surprise Corso Italia comes most alive during World Cup season, when people flock to Brazilian restaurant Rio 40 and Latin Fiesta to cheer for their teams. 

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El Eden Ecuatoriano is a grocery store selling Latin American basics like corn flour and Mexican soda.

Compared to elsewhere in the city, rent in this area is still considered low, and there are still empty storefronts to be filled. For an area that is only just beginning to awaken, the roster of businesses in Corso Italia is enough to travel afar for, and the future of the area looks promising too.corso italia toronto

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

Peanut Plaza is a lot more than the Toronto mall with the weird name

Peanut Plaza is somewhat of an iconic Toronto shopping centre.

With its fading aqua-coloured roof and clustered parking lot, the compact plaza offers an impressive roster of shops and services to the residents of the apartments and townhomes which surround it.

For non-locals, the plaza is best known for being that weird place named after a legume.

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Peanut Plaza was built in the 1960s and is owned by the developing company the Sitzer Group. 

Built in the 1960s, the 10,000 square-foot centre sits on a peanut-shaped parcel of land formed by a rare-occurring fork in Don Mills road—hence its name—equidistant from Sheppard and Finch.

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The plaza sits on a peanut-shaped piece of land on Don Mills Road.

During rush hour you’ll see cars careening down the swerve of Don Mills which becomes two one-way streets on either side, where playing Frogger with bags of groceries from Tone Tai in hand has been a rite of passage for tenants of Deerford Apartments or Goodview Townhomes.

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The plaza's many stores service the residents in the area. 

Aside from big box essentials like McDonalds, which draws in the kids from Georges Vanier and Woodbine schools, Popeyes, Pizza Pizza, the Beer Store, and the Bank of China, Tone Tai is undoubtedly the main draw of Peanut Plaza.

peanut plaza toronto

The Tone Tai supermarket popular Chinese supermarket. 

Added in 2009, it's a fairly new addition. Once an IGA, the space sat empty for a while before becoming the Chinese grocery store with a well-frequented seafood market and big selection of Asian products, along with some Latin American necessities.

peanut plaza toronto

Ali's Market is a Persian grocer selling usual flatbread and jams. 

Lining the outside of the plaza is also Ali’s Market, a Persian store selling your usual necessities like nuts, rosewater and packs of flatbread next to a location of Mr. Roc’s Crawfish.

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Fine India Grocers has spices and rice.

For Indian goods, there’s the tight corner shop Fine India Grocers, a handy albeit sometimes pricey place for Indian and Pakistani goods like dosa batter and spices located on the other end of the plaza.

peanut plaza toronto

You can find rice cookers and kettles at The Best Shop. 

The Best Shop, the second iteration of the PMall favourite, specializes in cheap home appliances like rice cookers and everything else, from notebooks to doilys to bath mats.

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The Seneca Pub is a popular spot for quick Indian eats and games of pool. 

Right next door is the Seneca Pub, a deceptively named Indian bar serving butter chicken with a patio and pool tables downstairs.

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There are a number of small shops and services operating inside the plaza.

Peanut Plaza itself is a well-lit, relaxed place consisting of two main corridors where you’ll find a varying collection of food options, operating alongside the lower-level Dollarama, a hair salon, and 50-year-old Don Valley Health Food, selling the usual salt lamps and supplements.

peanut plaza toronto

Hung Fok BBQ Gourmet has BBQ duck for sale. 

Hung Fok BBQ Gourmet is the spot for those too-lazy-to-cook days, offering styrofoam boxes chopped up BBQ duck with sides of Szechuan-style eggplant and rice for fair prices.

peanut plaza toronto

Edward is a traditional Chinese bakery selling pastries and cakes. 

Quick snacks come by way of Edward Bakery, your typical fragrant Chinese bakery selling egg tarts and pork buns.

peanut plaza toronto

Saigon Express serves up tasty pho and strong Vietnamese coffee. 

For a pho fix, there’s Saigon Express, a sit-down spot where fresh bowls of one-size Vietnamese noodles and plates of pork chops and rice are offered for cheap. Plus they also have really good milk tea and Vietnamese coffee, hot or iced.

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There's a store selling traditional Chinese ceramics and furniture. 

The most reputable food spot here though is undoubtedly Allan’s Pastry Shop, whose flaky goat patties and coco bread have been considered some of the best in the city for over 25 years.

peanut plaza toronto

The plaza spans over 10,000 square feet. 

Dedicated pastry lovers will often take boxed frozen patties home by the dozens, which comes up to about $1 per patty; if bought individually, it’s a bit more. 

peanut plaza toronto

Some stores located outside the plaza can't be accessed from inside. 

Head outside, however, and you’ll find another venerable spot whose praises are far less sung.

peanut plaza toronto

Harbour Fish and Chips has been serving fried halibut and french fries for years.

On the same side of the plaza as the reliably consistent Harbour Fish and Chips and longstanding Mr. Jerk, the original location of the chain which now has locations all around Toronto, is Mr. Gao’s Gardens.

peanut plaza toronto

Mr. Gao's  is a tiny stall tucked next to Fine India Grocers. 

Operating out of a tiny stall next Fine India Grocers with nary an English sign to indicate its existence is Mr. Gao’s Gardens, an authentic spot steaming up Tianjin buns for over 45 years.

peanut plaza toronto

Mr. Gao's has been operating for over 45 years. 

There’s a single table here and a little counter with a couple of stools, where you can post up to feast on orders of the thick-skinned Chinese steamed baos that Tianjin is famous for.

peanut plaza toronto

The steamed buns here come Tianjin-style. 

The cashier doesn’t speak English, and it’s cash only for orders less than $10 so if you’re ordering the 10 pork and green onions baos for $6.99, make sure to bring some change.

With such a diverse selection of affordable food, a trip to Peanut Plaza is well worth a trip. It’s just a five minute bus ride from Don Mills station, but first-timers should avoid playing Frogger on Don Mills until they’ve visited a few more times.peanut plaza toronto

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

The top 10 getaways for fall colours in Ontario

Getaways for fall colours in Ontario are spread all across the province. From scenic train rides through the rugged northern landscape to quaint escapes in our various wine growing regions, leaf peeping need not be the only focus of the trip. You can spend your days soaking up fall foliage and your nights enjoying good food and wine.

Here are my picks for the top getaways for fall colours in Ontario.

Lose yourself in the splendour of Algonquin Park

Algonquin is the epicentre of fall foliage tourism in Ontario — and for good reason. Thanks to its concentration of Sugar Maples, the leaves turn early here and get very colourful (there's a second wave of colour when poplar and birch trees change). You can take plan a portage trip, rent a ranger cabin, or even go car camping here.

Luxuriate in the beauty of autumn around Collingwood

It's tough to beat the Blue Mountain area when it comes to witnessing fall colours. From the suspension bridge at Scenic Caves to the mountain bike lift at the resort, there are numerous vantage points from which to take it all in. Scandinave Spa is also at its finest when the air is crisp but not yet cold.

deerhurst resort

Fall colours descend on the rolling hills around Deerhurst Resort. Photo courtesy of Deerhurst.

Soak up the beauty of Muskoka in style

Located amidst scenic rolling hills populated with Sugar Maples at the western end of the Highway 60 corridor, Deerhurst Resort is the perfect spot to soak up fall foliage with ample pampering and entertainment options, from golf to horseback rides and treetop treks. You can even do a guided trip to Algonquin from the resort.

Tower above it all at the Thousand Islands

Few places in Ontario match the Thousand Islands for the sheer majesty of fall foliage, as bright orange and red pockets flare up amidst the waters of the St. Lawrence River. Rent a cottage in the area, but make sure to make a stop at 1000 Islands Tower to get a bird's eye view of the whole area.

Witness Tobermory's rustic landscape set ablaze

The entire Bruce Peninsula is lovely during the fall, from Grieg's Caves at Lion's Head to the shipwreck-strewn bays of Tobermory. While it's beautiful here during each season, fall is particularly sublime for the contrast between the colourful foliage and the blue waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

hamilton waterfall

Tews Falls looks even more incredible than usual in the height of autumn. Photo by Worrawat Engchuan.

Spend a weekend exploring Hamilton's waterfalls

A visit to Dundas Peak and Hamilton's network of waterfalls is often done as a day trip from Toronto, but there's more than enough to see to justify an overnight stay. You can spend the day exploring the sights like Tews Falls, Spencer Gorge, Sherman Falls, and the Devil's Punchbowl, and then indulge in the city's culinary scene at night.

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Credit Valley

You don't have to travel for hours and hours from Toronto to see incredible fall foliage. One of the most picturesque regions is just an hour away in the form of the Credit Valley. Once you check in at the Millcroft Inn, you can do mini trips to explore the Forks of the Credit, Belfountain, and the newly opened Cheltenham Badlands.

Be dazzled by fall colours and local cuisine

Viamede Resort has got fall covered in more ways than one. You can spend the day exploring the lovely landscape around Stoney Lake, including a drive up to the Gut Conservation Area (one of the most stunning areas for fall colours), before returning to eat a harvest-themed tasting menu built around local produce.

agwa train tour

The Agawa Canyon Train Tour winds its way through Algoma. Photo via the Agawa Canyon Train Tour's Facebook page.

Take a scenic train ride through the North

If you're thinking about planning the fall foliage trip of a lifetime, the Agawa Canyon Train Tour should be on your list. It's a 114 kilometre tour around Algoma that features some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the province. You'll feel like you've entered a Group of Seven painting.

Rejoice in the harvest across wine country

Both the Niagara Region and Prince Edward County are sublime fall destinations. As the air turns cool and the landscape golden, wineries are abuzz with activity. Beamsville and Vineland are particularly beautiful thanks to their undulating landscape, though the rural charms of the County are also alluring.

by Staff via blogTO