The Annex is one of downtown Toronto’s best-known neighbourhoods. It combines the charm and history of 19th-century architecture with a residential mixture of academics, celebrities, families, students and activism. Known as one of the most politically progressive areas of the city, the Annex has played a key role in shaping the Toronto of today.
Bordered by Bloor Street on the south, Bathurst Street on the west, Dupont Street on the north and Avenue Road on the east, the Annex is right next to the University of Toronto and draws much of its population from Toronto’s leading post-secondary institution. As a result, the neighbourhood has gained a reputation as home to many of the city’s leading intellectuals, as well as many of the artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers that give Toronto its cultural flavour.
The Annex is a mix of majestic, and often historic, homes — many of them now subdivided into apartments — along with high-rises — several of which are architecturally unique — and newly constructed townhouses. The area is criss-crossed by quiet, leafy streets and boasts a number of parks, where a large population of dogs and babies can be found side by side with hackysackers, soccer and frisbee players.
Businesses in the area — located largely along Bloor Street — are a unique mixture. The Annex boasts a number of bookstores, with some of the city’s best-stocked used stores catering to bibliophiles. The original Book City store, opened in 1976, also makes its home along Bloor Street.
The Bloor Cinema, originally built as a vaudeville theatre in 1905, and now dedicated largely to documentaries — but still featuring regular screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show — remains arguably the city’s leading and most popular repertory cinema.
Lee’s Palace, a club on Bloor that was originally a cinema, has remained one of the city’s leading alternative music venues for almost 30 years. Bands like Nirvana, Oasis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all played the club, with Lee’s being the debut Toronto show for many bands. The upstairs Dance Cave remains a popular destination for those seeking to lose themselves in retro rock, goth or alternative dance music.
The Brunswick House, a bar founded in 1876, became a legendary hangout for students and those looking for cheap beer, raucous entertainment and music. The bar was infamous for its bouncers, its fights and its numerous calls for police to break up overzealous partys. While the Brunny has gone considerably more upscale in recent years, the establishment is still a historic attraction, especially for those who attended U of T and still remember quaffing a few — or a lot — at the bar.
The area features restaurants of all descriptions, everything from Italian, Korean and old-school Hungarian to sushi, Mexican, Middle Eastern and health food. There are also clothing stores, the Jewish Community Centre, yoga centres, health food stores, bakeries, delis, bars and numerous others of varied description.
The Annex is also steps away from the upscale shopping of Yorkville, as well as the Royal Ontario Museum, the Royal Conservatory, Varsity Stadium and Arena and, of course, the world-famous Honest Ed’s is just the other side of Bathurst Street.
And if all else fails for entertainment, there’s always Snakes and Lattes — a coffee shop stuffed with thousands of games, from staples like Monopoly to geeky delights to completely unknown and bizarre discoveries — where groups can sit for hours exploring their inner gamer.
History and Social Profile
The neighbourhood began to come into being in the 1790s, when York Township — the predecessor to the city of Toronto — came in to being. The part east of Brunswick Avenue joined the village of Yorkville, and the area west of Brunswick was part of Seaton Village. In 1883, Yorkville was taken over by the city of Toronto, and in 1886, developer Simeon Janes built a subdivision which he named the Toronto Annex. The Annex joined Toronto in 1887, and Seaton Village joined in 1888.
Much of the Annex’s historic building occurred in this era. The large Edwardian and Victorian houses which dot the area have even acquired their own name within Toronto, becoming known as “Annex-style houses.” Most are built of brick or sandstone, and many feature arches, turrets, prominent attics and even cupolas.
In more recent times, the area’s architectural notoriety has continued. Canadian architect Uno Prii designed a number of high-rise buildings in the 1960s that were hailed — although not always immediately — as original, even groundbreaking. Examples of Prii’s work can be found in The Vincennes at 35 Walmer Road, the Prince Arthur Towers at 20 Prince Arthur Avenue and the Brazil Towers at 485 Huron Street.
In the early 1900s, many of the area’s wealthy families — which orignally included such prominent early Torontonians as Timothy Eaton and George Gooderham of the the Gooderham & Worts Distillery — began moving to the enclaves of Forest Hill and Lawrence Park.
Since then, while the Annex has remained home to many upscale residents, it has also undergone various demographic changes, while remaining in the forefront of Toronto history. In the 1950s and ’60s, after the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, a large number of expatriate Hungarians moved into the Annex. For years, the area was home to a number of Hungarian restaurants, which became hugely popular with students and arty types, due to their generous portions, reasonable prices and bohemian atmosphere and entertainment. While most of those restaurants are gone now, a few remain and a significant Hungarian population remains. The Annex and neighbouring areas also house a significant Korean population, as well as a growing South and Central American population.
In the 1960s, city planners developed a scheme to run a highway, called the Spadina Expressway, through the heart of the city. The plan, which would have split the Annex in two, was opposed by residents, led by famed urban planner and Annex resident Jane Jacobs. Their rebellion successfully killed the project in 1971, and effectively demolished any future plans for constructing expressways through the city.
Since then, the Annex has maintained a reputation as one of the city’s most liberal neighbourhoods, a reputation that has led some conservative commentators to heap scorn on the area. The residents, though, have mostly taken pride in the label.
And while the Annex has also maintained a reputation for upscale residences and upscale and arty residents — current Annex dwellers include author Margaret Atwood and former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson — the area has become an eclectic mix, with a changing student population, and a number of new townhouses being built, along with a number of new condos in the eastern part of the neighbourhood.
- Acme Burger Company
- Future Bakery
- New Generation Sushi
- One Love
- Country Style
- Southern Accent
- Joons Korean
- Duke of York
- St. George Station
- Spadina Station
- Dupont Station
- Bathurst Station
- Museum Station
- Bathurst Streetcar south
- Spadina Streetcar south
- Buses north on Spadina and Bathurst
- Buses on Avenue Road, Dupont and Davenport
- Palmerston Avenue Junior School, 734 Palmerston Avenue, 416-393-9305
- Huron Street Junior, 541 Huron Street, 416-393-1570
- Jesse Ketchum Junior and Senior, 61 Davenport Road, 416-393-1530
- Harbord Collegiate, 286 Harbord Street, 416-393-1650
- Central Technical School, 725 Bathurst Street, 416-393-0060