In 1883, Yorkville had the distinction of being the first village annexed by the City of Toronto and has since become an eclectic mix of Victorian houses, luxury condominiums, commercial office towers, plush four star hotels, theatres, gourmet restaurants and a prestigious shopping district. There is a certain prestige to the name itself within the city of Toronto; its mention automatically evokes images of wealth, style and luxury. Officially considered part of the Annex, it is bounded by Bloor Street to the south, Davenport Road to the north, Yonge Street to the east and Avenue Road to the west, an ideal location for subway commuters who are just steps from both major lines, and a 5 minute drive to the Don Valley Parkway. The heart of the city is easily accessed from Bloor-Yorkville, which is touted by its Business Improvement Area as the “ultimate fusion of historic charm and modern seduction”.
Locals and tourists alike visit the many specialty stores, fashion boutiques, jewelry stores, antique shops, fancy spas and world class art galleries that have placed the area on internationally recognized Top Ten lists for shopping destinations. Not for the light of pocket, Yorkville is lined with international labels such as Prada, Hermes and Gucci, as well as Canadian retail icons Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew, Stollery’s, William Ashley China, and four upscale shopping centres (Hazelton Lanes, Holt Renfrew Centre, the Manulife Centre and Hudson’s Bay Centre) making this stretch of Bloor Street Canada’s fashion mile. Popular destinations such as the George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the McLaughlin Planetarium offer an afternoon of enjoyment. There is a small selection of schools in the immediate area.
Entrepreneur Joseph Bloor founded the Village of Yorkville in 1830 as a residential suburb. The residential area is distinguished by Victorian Mews, quaint residential streets, vibrant flower baskets and picturesque gardens that have drawn some of Canada’s most celebrated musical talents, including Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell, to the area in the 1960’s when bohemian culture flourished here. Yorkville was also known as the Canadian capital of the hippie movement; in 1968, Rochdale College at the University of Toronto was opened on Bloor Street as an experiment in counterculture education. Bloor-Yorkville has since undergone many transformations and now enjoys its reputation as a dynamic urban centre, edging the counterculture south and west to Queen Street West where the rents and real estate values remain more reasonable.
As higher densities were eventually allowed by the City’s official plan, office towers and department stores displaced the local retail shops along Bloor Street. With real estate values increasing in the 1980s and the 1990s, some residential homes north of Bloor along Yorkville were converted into high-end retail, including the many art galleries, boutiques, and popular bars, cafes and eateries along Cumberland Street and Yorkville Avenue. Many buildings were demolished and condominium developments built, a process that is still continuing on the ever-changing Bloor Street. Furthering the retail and commercial attractiveness of the area is the fact that the busiest TTC subway station in the city, Yonge and Bloor, is located so close by. Here the two largest and busiest subway lines intersect, serving approximately 368,000 people per day.
In 1994, the award-winning Village of Yorkville Park was constructed. The turn of the last century saw the launch of Santé, the Bloor-Yorkville Wine Festival which is held every May, and in 2003, Yorkville saw its 150th anniversary celebrated by a gateway marker heralding the Village of Yorkville Park.
Yorkville has always been an excellent place for celebrity watching, especially in the Hazelton Lanes shopping complex. Since this became known, some of the celebrities who once made Yorkville their destination, especially during the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF, have migrated elsewhere and are now spotted in the entertainment district bars and after-hour clubs. Yorkville still remains the top celebrity hangout in Toronto, however, and celebrities staying at the area’s fine hotels are seen throughout the year, especially at such famed local restaurants as Sassafraz (now completely restored and reopened in 2007 after a devastating fire), Pangaea (Canadian food, game, contemporary classics; $$$) Prego Della Piazza (superb Italian, beautiful outdoor courtyard; $$$), and Bistro 990 (French, hosts private parties and major celebrity hangout; $$$$).
Some of the city’s most exclusive retail stores jockey for attention on Yorkville’s streets, including Prada, Gucci, MAC Cosmetics, Hugo Boss, Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Escada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Cartier, Harry Rosen, Calvin Klein, Cole- Haan, Vera Wang, Lacoste, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Williams-Sonoma, Bang and Olufsen, Betsey Johnson, Max Mara, Mont Blanc, Bulgari, Birks, Coach, Guerlain, Swarovski and other upscale designer boutiques. The Holt Renfrew department store on Bloor is the luxury retailer’s flagship, with 4 floors and various boutiques, and personal shopping available for those who require wardrobe assistance. The recently renovated Chanel store is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and many others are undergoing renovation and expansion of their space and retail lines. Though some chain retailers like Browns Shoes actually carry products in their Yorkville stores that are much higher-end than what is sold in their other boutiques, in recent years, mid-market retailers like Winners, FCUK, Aldo, Roots, H&M and Banana Republic have begun to encroach upon the strip, offering more affordable options. Nevertheless, Bloor-Yorkville is still recognized as one of the most luxurious shopping streets in North America, often being compared to New York’s 5th Avenue, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive.
Yorkville is also distinguished by its many exclusive art galleries, including Gallery One, Drabinsky Gallery, Beckett Fine Art, Maslak McLeod, Scollard Street Gallery, Old Master Gallery, Feheley Fine Arts, Gallery Gevik, Hollander York Gallery, Kinsman Robinson Gallery, Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Loch Gallery, and Mira Godard Gallery. In all, more than 700 shops can be found on the 27 blocks that make up the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area, which features more than 2500 businesses as members, making the association is one of the largest organizations of its kind in Canada.
Guests enjoy luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons, the Park Hyatt where guests enjoy a host of complimentary services from car service to high-speed Internet, access to its premier spa and salon, Stillwater, fine dining with bistro-style cuisine in Annona and breathtaking views from Roof Lounge. The Windsor Arms boasts some of the city’s most luxurious guest rooms and spectacular panoramic views just minutes from the business district.
Yorkville is home to the award-winning Yorkville Park, a series of unique gardens located on the south side of Cumberland stretching west from Bellair. Bud Sugerman was instrumental into the transformation of this site, formerly a row of beautiful Victorians demolished to make way for a parking lot, into one of the Toronto’s favourite public parks. He first fell in love with the Village of Yorkville when he established his interior design practice there in the late 1940s. From the 70’s into the new century, his passion for the area expressed itself in long battles to protect the unique aspect of the village. Along with preservation, his efforts extended to beautifying the old buildings and narrow streets. Bud Sugarman was instrumental in the transformation of this site, designed by Oleson Worland Architects in association with Martha Schwartz / Ken Smith / David Meyer Landscape Architects to fete the surrounding neighbourhood and reflect the diversity of the Canadian landscape by placing a variety of plants representing different regions of Canada, into a distinct series of gardens.
The designer park features seemingly bizarre elements that work well together: for instance, a paved square of land dotted with pines growing out of circular benches is offset by metal archways among a row of crabapple trees. There is marshy wetland, a rain/icicle curtain, mist-emitting light columns, a courtyard filled with benches and chairs where many area workers enjoy their lunches in fine weather, bordered by a 600-tonne slab of billion-year-old granite known as ‘The Rock’ cut out of the Canadian Shield and transported to the park in pieces to be reassembled there!
Bloor-Yorkville has also become the home of some of Toronto’s most exciting and dynamic events, most notably the wildly popular and prestigious ten-day Toronto International Film Festival. 2009 will mark its 34th year as a venue where film lovers, filmmakers, industry professionals and media can watch the best in new cinema from established masters and new talent. The TIFF typically screens over 300 films from over 50 countries, with a heavy dose of Canadian content, and the Cumberland Theatre at Cumberland & Avenue Road, in the heart of Yorkville, has traditionally been a major participant.
Properties & Real Estate
In 2007, Yorkville was tied with Vancouver’s Robson Street as the 25th most expensive street in the world, with rents of $198 per square foot. In a meteoric rise,Yorkville now commands rents of $300 per square foot, making it the 3rd most expensive retail space in North America. Bloor St. was recently named the 7th most expensive shopping street in the world by Fortune Magazine, claiming tenants can pull in $1,500 to $4,500 per square foot in sales.
Yorkville is also home to some of Toronto’s most expensive condos, most starting at over a million dollars and going well beyond, including such developments as The Prince Arthur, Renaissance Plaza, 10 Bellair, One St. Thomas, The Hazelton Hotel & Residences, and 1166 Bay Street. Several new projects are underway in the area including a landmark development at the corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets, which has seen parts of that intersection just east of Yonge Street blocked off for months. The project is known as One Bloor and, at 80 stories in height, it will be the tallest residential building in Canada.
The Future of the Neighbourhood
Beginning in 2008, the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area has launched a $25-million initiative to update the street-scape from Church Street to Avenue Road. The objective is to create an enhanced pedestrian experience with widened sidewalks, mature trees, flower gardens, modern lighting and public art. A month after construction began to beautify Bloor St. through Yorkville, a group of nearly a dozen merchants has hired prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby to try to halt the project so they could change it. They claim the inconvenience of construction is hurting their business, but moreover, they are upset because they had no idea what was happening until construction started. The chair of the BIA has disputed that claim, saying that the project has been in the works for a decade, was approved by council two years ago, and was the subject of discussion at the city as recently as June – garnering media coverage all along. Construction was suspended in mid-November until after the holidays so as not to damage sales during the lucrative Christmas season.
Beginning to end, the project is scheduled to take 18 months. But work will be done in phases moving westward from Church St. to Avenue Rd. so it will not all be torn up at one time and it will not inconvenience a single business for the entire period. Bloor-Yorkville’s transformation will surely continue, as it always has, providing a stimulating oasis in the heart of downtown.