Although it’s not as recognizable a name as Forest Hill or Rosedale, South Hill is nearly as impressive as these fancy Toronto subdivisions, and boasts some of the most magnificent homes in the city – with a slightly more accessible vibe born of its proximity to trendy, counter-culture-friendly neighbourhoods like the Annex. Bounded roughly by Spadina, the CPR railway line (just north of Dupont) and Avenue Road, its northern boundary is St. Clair West, where a stretch of glittering government buildings quickly gives way to the mid-town hub of Yonge & St. Clair. The neighbourhood sits within the expanded boundaries of Casa Loma.
The first homes were built here from about 1890 to 1920 to serve as residences for Toronto’s elite. Scattered among the single family homes are a number of executive townhomes that have been built
in the last few decades. In keeping with the neighbourhood’s sensibilities, even the rental buildings are characterized by neat uniformity. Ornate work in brick and stone is the rule here. Designated mostly residential, the South Hill community is just a short distance to upscale shopping districts in Yorkville and Forest Hill Village, groups of specialty shops, restaurants and professional services on Dupont Street, Davenport Road and Avenue Road, and of course the tremendous collection of popular shops at Yonge and St. Clair. The area is liberally studded with parkettes, and nearby Sir Winston Churchill Park is equipped with 10 tennis courts, a children’s playground, wading pool and a jogging path. The Nordheimer Ravine borders the neighbourhood to the west.
Revered private schools such as Upper Canada College, Bishop Strachan and The Mabin School, as well as highly respected public and Catholic schools, all serve this community. TTC surface routes connect commuters to several subway stations on the Yonge/University subway line. By car, easy access in and out of the city is achieved via one of the many major routes, like Yonge Street, Avenue Road and Bathurst Street.
The South Hill neighbourhood is distinguished by the Avenue Road Hill, a land formation that was the former shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois, whose waters receded as the channel to the Atlantic drained them via Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to form present day Lake Ontario some 12,000 years ago. The escarpment that Lake Iroquois left behind was covered by a dense forest dotted by the ponds, creeks, and waterfalls that graced the Avenue Road Hill up until the 1900’s. The hilly terrain remains today, its natural beauty complemented by modern-day construction of bridges, roads and fine homes.
The beauty of South Hill made it an instant favourite with wealthy Toronto landowners. In the mid to late 1800’s, South Hill was dotted with mansions that were unsurpassed in variety and scope anywhere else in Toronto. Oaklands, the gingerbread mansion overlooking Avenue Road, Spadina House at 285 Spadina Road and of course Casa Loma, the 98-room dream home of Sir Henry Pellatt, still endure from this bygone era. This posh Toronto community is in the shadow of the famous ‘castle on the hill’, which set a high standard for the homes of wealthy residents who considered South Hill a countryside getaway during the early days of York.
Homes and Buildings
South Hill homes date to between 1890 and 1920, punctuated by townhouses built since the 1980s and luxury condo high rises like the Benvenuto, a modernist accomplishment left by the star 1950s architect Peter Dickinson. Construction continues on still more luxury condos being built along Avenue Road, sheltered by the tree canopy. In addition to houses and condos, South Hill also claims luxury rental apartment buildings such as The Clarendon. Many of these buildings boast art deco-inspired features and wondrous Tudor Revival detailing, and are located on both sides of Avenue Road, on the crest of the hill overlooking the city to the south.
South Hill is proud to possess some of the largest single-dwelling
houses in Toronto, many of which command spectacular views of downtown Toronto and even offer a distant glimpse of Lake Ontario, one of the great Toronto vistas. This is a district of abundant greenery and broad streets, where the most fortunate residents look out their windows onto the Nordheimer Ravine. A recent property listing for a home on Clarendon Crescent, a private South Hill cul-de-sac, advertised a 5,000 square foot detached home built in 1906, for $4 million – well above the average neighbourhood price in 2007 of $3,163,000. Though the home did not have a finished basement, it did have a two car garage with a private drive and parking for 9 cars, a main floor family room, vaulted great room, five bedrooms and four baths – with the interior beautifully restored and renovated by the owners so as to retain its former glory. The landscaped gardens were said to feature rolling lawns, mature mighty oaks, verdant views and abundant sun. Pristine landscaping and meticulously renovated houses, according to a 2008 Toronto Life article, are hallmarks of the area.
Inside South Hill
South Hill recently received a mention in a whimsical weblog entitled “Stuff White People in Toronto Like” – it was one of only ten Toronto neighbourhoods said to appeal to white people! Perhaps they, like Torontonians of all races, appreciate the varied topography, lush greenery and beautiful architecture to be found throughout South Hill.
Like many of Toronto’s high end residential areas, shopping is kept on the periphery, though locals near the south end of the neighbourhood benefit from conveniences like the Food Depot, a high-end pet food shop, a gas station with the ubiquitous Tim Hortons, bakeries, barbershops and art studios on Dupont near Davenport and more quick eats, restaurants and professional services along Davenport to Avenue Road. An eclectic mix of popular restaurants, flower shops and specialty stores at the intersection of Avenue and Davenport are within walking distance of many South Hill residents. Only minutes by car or public transit, the more comprehensive fine shopping districts lie in Forest Hill Village, Yonge and St. Clair, and Yorkville. Big box shopping like that found at the Loblaws SuperCentre is concentrated around Bathurst & St. Clair.l
South Hill is bordered on the west side by the Nordheimer Ravine, a popular destination point for fitness and nature enthusiasts who enjoy the connecting Beltline recreational trail and numerous walking paths. The ravine is located next to Sir Winston Churchill Park and the St. Clair Reservoir situated on the west border of this neighbourhood. The park features a popular running track, tennis courts and playground.
Parents from outside the proper district sometimes go to great lengths to try to get their children into Brown Public School, known for its French Immersion program; admittance is a privilege reserved for nearby residents. It has an indoor pool, and a gymnasium. There are two tennis courts behind the adjacent community centre. South Hill is served by a total of six elementary schools, three public high schools, three private schools, and a local branch of the Toronto Public Library. Some of the other well known learning institutes include De La Salle College on Avenue Road at Farnham, George Brown College‘s Casa Loma campus just south of Davenport, and St. Michael’s College nearby at Bathurst & St Clair. University of Toronto and Ryerson University are easily accessed via the Yonge-University-Spadina subway.
The South Hill neighbourhood is well served by public transportation, and major roadways provide easy access for motorists. The Avenue Road bus connects passengers to the Museum subway station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line and the St. Clair streetcar connects passengers to stations on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line. The Dupont bus goes to St. George station, Dupont station and also Jane station.
Neighbourhood hot spots include The Tarragon Theatre, which offers cutting edge live theatre south of Davenport Road, just east of Bathurst. Fine dining is nearby but so are value-conscious epicurean gems: The Corner House Restaurant at 501 Davenport Road makes ‘most romantic’ lists every year; The Southside is an upmarket, 22-seat bistro with a summer patio ($$); and David’s By Day/Buzz by Night is a Forest Hill favourite with prix fixe dinners, baked goods to go, salads, sandwiches and wraps ($).
All in all, South Hill is a community that wears its wealth easily and comfortably without appearing to take itself too seriously; it seems content to let its more ostentatious neighbours steal centre stage while remaining a quiet bastion of the good life in Toronto.