Front Street East & Church Street

Toronto has been called a city of neighbourhoods: The Beach, Yorkville, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, The Annex; all have their defining characteristics that make them appealing to locals as well as visitors. And when it comes down to it, most of these areas are well-defined by the intersection of two major streets.

Photo by gbalogh from the Torontoist Flickr Pool. Previously on A City Intersected, we visited Front Street East & Jarvis Street, one of Toronto’s most historic intersections and home to the great St. Lawrence Market. This week Torontoist creeps a little further west to Church Street, a spot that shares a lot of the same history, but has its own fair share of gems.

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As with Front Street East & Jarvis Street, the intersection of Front Street East & Church Street was a central part of the Old Town of York, the settlement that ultimately became the City of Toronto. The south side of Front Street lay completely bare to provide those staying at hotels on the north with a view of the lake.

What we failed to mention last time was that the lake was actually a lot closer to Front Street than it is now. In fact, some of the first buildings erected on the south side of Front Street East were wood constructions built on stilts. Erosion usually led these buildings to fall apart and sink, so an embankment was built to allow for more permanent construction.

Given the direction Toronto has taken, it may come as a surprise that few developers were interested in building west of Church Street before the mid-19th century. At the time, the centre of the Old Town of York was at King & Frederick Streets, and residents couldn’t envision traveling beyond Church Street on a regular basis.

Once the City of Toronto was established in 1834, however, development started occurring at a faster rate. Vendors in the area in the mid-19th century included Mr. J.W. Lang, who specialized in tea imports from Japan, India and Ceylon. Reportedly an eccentric, Lang was so invested in the quality of his goods that he staffed a full-time tea-taster.

The building where he sold his tea still exists, through numerous exterior changes that have cheapened its historical significance, on the southwest corner of Front and Church Streets. The Dixon Building (45-49 Front Street East) was built in 1872 and serves as Toronto’s only remaining structure with a cast-iron facade. At the time, this was considered to be a cutting -dge trend of development.

Originally home to the Canada Vinegrowers, today this building’s tenants include The Sultan’s Tent and Nicholas Hoare (see below). Another unique aspect of this intersection is that it actually has a third street, Wellington, as a part of it. Wellington Street runs parallel to Front Street to the west of Church Street.

Very close to the northwest corner, on Wellington Street, is the Gooderham Building (49 Wellington Street East). Though flatiron buildings would be built in other North American cities, most popularly in New York, Toronto’s has the distinction of being the first. The significance of the building mostly lies in its unusual shape and colour, starkly different from anything else you’d find in the area.

Also of interest is the mural on its rear wall, which was painted by Canadian artist Derek Besant in 1980. Those interested in seeing how the inside of this fascinating building looks can visit between 9 a.m. So I’m Here…Now What? Bookstores are rarely described as “elegant” or “fancy,” but somehow Nicholas Hoare (45 Front Street East) manages to fit the description.

Beyond the nice wooden bookshelves and meticulous displays, the store definitely captures the feel of the sort of urban bookstore you might find in London or Dublin. If you’re the breed of book lover who shies away from mainstream titles, this is the place for you. Even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, the knowledgeable staff will gladly recommend their favourites to anyone who will listen.

If you’re one of those people, like our old friend Zanta, who wants a constant, year-round reminder of Christmas, Flatiron’s Christmas Market (51 Front Street East) is not to be missed. Those wanting something on the unique side will appreciate their selection of imported and locally-made goods.

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