Not Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood

My newest obsession is the list of Toronto heritage buildings I found online earlier this summer.  I’ve been poking away at it for a while, trying to make it user friendly so I can plan outings.

One of the interesting things I discovered on the list was an area of the city called the Garden District.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was the very same area I lived in when I first moved to Toronto back in the “olden days” when I was fresh out of university.


Trust me, there was nothing garden-y about this area when I lived there.

My curiosity prevailed and a quick trip downtown was in order.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that in spite of the new signs, it’s still pretty gritty in the old stomping grounds.

I had a tiny one bedroom, basement apartment in an old building on a tree-lined street. The street is still beautifully lined with trees, but I did a double-take on the sign outside my former 2-storey apartment building.

There was nothing *luxury* about the building when I lived there, and it’s even less luxurious today.


The small building now looks underwhelming with its scruffy cedars, metal mesh on the basement windows, and tall no-nonsense fence wrapped around the property.

Whatever charm it once had is now gone.


It was a pretty rough neighbourhood when I lived there.   A short distance away from my apartment was a low-brow hotel and stripper club.  Quelle surprise!  It was still there, although it’s received a bit of a face-lift since the early 80s.


The sign that once simply proclaimed GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! now seems to have found a new *enticing* angle. I haven’t decided whether they intended it to be ironic or not.

Back then, I was young and blessedly naive.  I didn’t worry about being robbed on my way home from the subway, or having my basement apartment being broken into.  I didn’t feel threatened by the people who obviously lived on the streets, or the occasional guy, liquored up from the Filmore, who would follow me home.

It’s different now.  I think aging makes us feel more vulnerable.  We’ve seen, heard, and been exposed to so much more – and a lot of it unpleasant.  That’s just a long way of saying I was acutely uncomfortable walking alone on the streets.

The groups of men clustered near the Seaton House, a shelter for men, didn’t help.  Was that shelter always there?!!  How could I not have noticed before?

But like many other areas of the city, the Garden District is slowly going through gentrification.  Beautifully restored homes are more common than not.

heritage-pembroke2So why is it called the Garden District?

The name was officially designated by City Council in 2001 in recognition of Allan Gardens, a indoor Conservatory sitting on the northeast border of the District.

Heritage - Allan Gardens.jpg
Photo taken this summer on the first day of Bike Rally in support of People With Aids Foundation

There is a lot of history in this area.  I think I will be back for many more visits … which makes me think how funny it is that we sometimes end up exactly where we started.




  1. Neighborhoods, shopping areas, clothing, etc. are always interesting as they go up and down through the years. They’re in vogue one year and out the next only to return again. Here’s hoping you walk down those streets again and feel comfortable and are surrounded by updated residences and businesses. 🙂


  2. Adventures are best for the young because they just don’t see the dangers. I love the signs, they really do show how wording is everything and you shouldn’t trust everything you read, and don’t assume Garden is an area containing plants.


  3. I was brought to this article by the tag ‘strippers’ and feel as if I have been left short changed!
    Being a keen DIY enthusiast I love nothing more than hiring a steam creating appliance from the local steam creating appliance store on a weekend and removing wallpaper from any vertical surface, plastered with such parafernalia, I can find and foolishly believed this piece would contain tips and pointers for my forthcoming days off. Needless to say I was left disappointed… But not by the quality of the writing. Lovely piece Joanne, thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is always interesting to return many years later back to a place one has lived in before. Sometimes they are just the same and sometimes changed beyond recognition…. Other times its just our own perceptions that have changed, for example as children we perceive things as being way bigger than they actually are. I returned to my original childhood home, years later and realized that the staircase I thought had 100 steps actually only had about 20 of them, but because they were steep and I was little, my perception was different to reality!

    I love the humor in your writing in this post… I think you are right, that we do become more vulnerable when we are older and therefore less naive.



    • I have that same feeling when I go back to my hometown and I think how small everything looks! There is not only the perceptions of a child to an adult, but also going from a large city back to a small town!


  5. I’ve had a desire for months to take a day and meander around my home town, relive childhood memories. Your post has increased that desire, although I sure hope I don’t see a lap dance sign. That’s too funny…worst lap dance on Yelp. I wonder what he was expecting.

    I’ll say it again. You have very interesting buildings and neighborhoods in Toronto. I wonder what you’ll show us next.


  6. That sign is hilarious, or terrible, I haven’t decided just which at the moment Joanne. Not so long ago I meane3dered near the area i went to college in Saskatoon. Everything looked vaguely familiar but completely different. I couldn’t decide if it had changed or I had.


  7. Dundas Street E rang a bell so I had to have a look at the map. I think we stayed on Seaton Street and definitely walked along the street to the Eaton Center. I am still waiting for you to venture into Cabbagetown – north of Carlton Street and a fabulous area for gorgeous Victorian architecture. I agree with you that growing older does make us more wary when venturing into slightly sleazy areas, though being so does annoy me as I used to be such an adventurous young thing!


  8. I like your take on seeing where you used to live as it is today. Do you suppose it was every bit as seedy back then, but the glow of youthful optimism made you see it a different light?! 😉


  9. I recently visited the town where I first went to college and was shocked at how run down it was. Then my friends reminded me that we were so busy being young and enjoying campus life, that we didn’t pay much attention to the town. So you’re right, our perspective changes how things look to us. I have no desire to go back to those days.


    • Even back then I knew it was pretty seedy, but it was the best I could afford at the time. If anything, it looks much better now. My disappointment was the actual apartment building I lived in. It used to be (at least to my youthful eyes), a pretty building.
      Oh well, like you said, I have no desire either to relive those early days!


  10. Finnegan begin-again!
    Yup! It is interesting to go back to places you’ve lived and see the changes. I love the luxury sign… I guess compared to a park bench, it’s ‘luxury’ 😉
    Love the lap dance sign!


    • I had noticed over the past number of years that neighbourhood signs have been popping up all over the city. It seems that there’s been a deliberate attempt to give each section of the city an identity. I rather like that – real estate values or not.

      This visit to the old ‘hood simply reminds me of how oblivious I was when I was younger. Is it the hallmark of most youth to go through life with blinders on?


  11. Revisiting areas you once lived in can bring back mixed emotions. I’ve found that myself when returning to places I lived when I was at university- seeing what has changed and what still remains the same.


  12. Oh m goodness, this post made me laugh. We too started out in a luxury apartment that I called “The shoebox” from the first moment I saw it. I called the neighborhood adventurous. It does sound so much better than dangerous. Good friends of ours were our neighbors back then. He called me “Snowflake” and I called him “Chocolate cookie”. Times were different then and I treasure the memories I have.


  13. Brilliant. I love these tours into your past. And isn’t it amazing the things we do as youngsters that make us quake as older adults?

    By the way, you introduced us to Allan Gardens in your A to Z challenge last year. Also, we got cookies. I miss those days. (I should confess, I didn’t remember that post on my own. It popped up as “Related” at the bottom of your post. 🙂 )


  14. The photos are lovely. I looked at a basement one bedroom once and I really wanted it but didn’t have enough money to cover 3 months rent and a deposit. I think it worked out well for me that I didn’t.
    As far as the new name “Garden District” well, any effort at all is better than none.
    My husband and I have lived all over the city and suburbs, and even out of state, only to return and settle within 5 miles of where we both lived as children.


  15. I like your view about how the older we get the more vulnerable we feel because we’ve seen too much, etc. I’ve always held the same thought but I also attributed it to the fact that we have more to lose now than we did before husbands, children, degrees, etc. You certainly do find ways to make even the most ordinary outing into something most unique! Quite a talent you have in that.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I think some towns have areas which go “seedy” before they start rising out of their ashes. Mixed metaphors, Joanne. . . In Columbus, an area which was decaying became an area for bicycling, then for galleries and is moving towards the big warehouses becoming condominiums. . .
    I liked the beautiful exterior of the conservatory. It is interesting to be named after a person named Gardens, which becomes the district’s name too.
    This is such an elegant house with intricate brickwork corners.
    Too bad about the girls nightclub, the men’s home and yet, there is potential development and improvements. I will have hope. . .

    Liked by 1 person

      • There definitely seems to be a life cycle … Lovely neighbourhood, gradual decline, decrepitude, rediscovery, rebirth, lovely neighbourhood. Yes – I’m seeing a lot of it too. I rather like seeing the rebirth 🙂


    • Hahaha! I had hoped the Filmore would be gone to more upscale development, but apparently not. Maybe if enough money is offered …

      I should correct something though. Allan Gardens is named after a former mayor of Toronto named George Allan who had donated the land for the park. It was renamed Allan Gardens when Mr Allan died in 1901.


  17. It’s always interesting to revisit old haunts, especially when many years have gone by in between. That sign is so funny! What a great way to turn a bad Yelp review into a plus… I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the worst lap dance ever! 😜 I’m really enjoying these downtown adventures of yours… and now I recognize Dundas Street (although I don’t think we were in the Garden District).


    • Actually, you were! I looked up the boundaries of the Garden District and it goes to Yonge Street and includes Ryerson University which is near where you were staying. That area around the university is so beautiful now … But it wasn’t always!

      I laughed at the Filmore sign too. Do I detect a sense of pride? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  18. It seems more like you’ve returned to the scene of the grime. Reminds me of some of the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods I lived in when I was young and barely scratching out a living. The good old days–may they never come again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s