Characterized, of course, by the vibrant and colourful Portuguese community that still makes up a large part of its population, Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood is one of the city’s most active and exciting areas. Mixed with Italian, Brazilian and, increasingly, Asian populations, the area is also becoming home to a growing number of young professionals and artists as this part of Toronto hosts a growing segment of the city’s cutting-edge artistic community.
Bordered by College Street on the north, the CN Rail tracks to the west near Lansdowne Avenue and the south near Queen Street and Ossington Avenue to the east, Little Portugal also encompasses the urban oasis of Beaconsfield Village, with its quiet, leafy streets. But the whole of the neighbourhood has become a highly sought after destination for young professionals, especially those with families, and artists who have followed the migration of many of the galleries and nightclubs westward along Queen. The many beautiful houses range from the Gothic and Victorian semi-detached and rowhouses near Dundas to the larger two- and three- storey homes near Queen. And as a few luxury condo projects have taken root, the tree-lined streets have become even more attractive to those seeking Old World charm while remaining easily connected to the ultra-modern city.
History and Social Profile
Little Portugal dates back to the 1800s, when much of the area was owned by the Denison family, who built their home, called Brookfield, at the corner of what is now Ossington and Queen in 1815, when the land was mostly still virgin forest.
The family sold the estate in the 1850s, and within 20 years, a network of roads had been built that configured the neighbourhood as it is today. The main street in the neighbourhood at the time was Beaconsfield Avenue, named after former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who had been given the title of Lord Beaconsfield by Queen Victoria. Beaconsfield Avenue has been designated by the Toronto Historical Board due the numerous Victorian houses dating from the 1880s and 1890s that dominate the neighbourhood.
By the 1920s, many of the arriving Italian immigrants — who were finding employment on the railroad or in the city’s bustling road construction industry — were buying up the single-family Edwardian houses that had been built along the side streets in the area. As the Italian population grew, the area began to take on a Roman character, with many businesses, restaurants and bars being opened to cater to the growing community.
But as the area grew, it also began to become more multicultural. Following the Second World War, many of the first-generation Toronto-Italians and many of the new immigrants began to move north to the St. Clair Avenue area. The area began to enjoy a new renaissance, however, as many Portuguese families began to fill the vacuum.
Beginning in the 1950s, the area became home to a large influx of immigrants from Portugal, many of whom had originally arrived to work in the mining, railway and farming sectors of northern Ontario. As the city rapidly expanded and construction of skyscrapers and office buildings exploded, the Portuguese community became a major factor in the growth of Toronto. And many of those arrivals settled in Little Portugal.
The Portuguese influence is today most strongly felt in the stretch along Dundas Street west of Ossington known as Rua Açores, where many of the stores, markets, restaurants and cafes are Portuguese or Brazilian.
Today, the area has also become much more multicultural and a hotspot for cultural and artistic diversity. The area has established itself as a popular destination for Torontonians looking for a fun day or night out. And as new condo and housing projects are established, it’s becoming an increasingly popular place for those looking to live in one of Toronto’s hippest communities.
Much of the arts scene is centred around the Drake Hotel on Queen Street — a popular place for underground musicians — and especially its neighbour, the Gladstone Hotel, perhaps the heart of Toronto’s alternative music and artistic scene. Bars/galleries/performance spaces like The Beaver, established by the late artist/music promoter Will Munro, add to the arts vibe in the community.
A prime example of the area’s mix of culture and experimentation is the Monkey’s Paw bookstore on Dundas. The store has become famous across North America for its collection of unique, rare and flat-out weird books, as well as for its Bibio-mat machine, which dispenses a random book for a twoonie.
The nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park is one of the largest, most historic, popular and beautiful green spaces in Toronto. Its presence, especially with its scenic and paved walking path, lends the area — in the heart of downtown Toronto — a lush and calm oasis in the midst of its bustling streets. The park was the original site of Trinity College, one of the colleges that now make up the University of Toronto. The college buildings were completed in 1852, although the college merged with the University of Toronto in 1904 and moved to its current location in 1925. The original buildings were sold to the city and were mostly destroyed in the 1950s. In fact, the only remaining traces of the school are the stone and iron gates at the Queen Street entrance to the park.
Today, as well as its natural beauty, the park is the site of a popular toboggan run in winter, a well-frequented dog park (as seen in the movie Dog Park), a well-used community athletic centre including two swimming pools, outdoor volleyball and tennis courts, a large playground, a hockey rink, fields for soccer, football and rugby, and three softball fields.
The park has also become a popular site for local musicians. The Live in Bellwoods series of videos features acoustic performances by local and visiting artists in various areas of the park.
The area also has a number of other popular areas for recreation, especially for families. The McCormick Recreation Centre and the Trinity Community Recreation Centre both feature indoor pools, gymnasiums, weight rooms and games rooms. McCormick Park also has an indoor arena for skating and hockey, and a tot park and wading pool.
- Drake Hotel
- Oyster Boy
- Julie’s Cuban Restaurant
- Enoteca Sociale
- Brockton General
- Shirley Street Junior Public School, 38 Shirley Street, 416-393-9270
- Alexander Muir/Gladstone Ave Junior and Senior Public School, 108 Gladstone Avenue, 416-393-9140
- Ossington/Old Orchard Junior Public School, 380 Ossington Avenue, 416-393-0710
- Dundas Streetcar
- Queen Streetcar
- College Streetcar
- Buses run along Ossington, Dufferin and Lansdowne