Roncesvalles, known affectionately as Little Poland, has built a reputation as a haven for the city’ foodies, with restaurants offering various cuisines, bakeries, butchers and delis making the area a gourmet’s treat. Roncesvalles is primarily a residential neighbourhood, one that has become increasingly in demand in recent years, especially since the city undertook a major reconstruction of the area from 2009-2011. The renovations not only replaced much of the infrastructure, but also rebuilt sidwalks and bike lanes and beautified much of the neighbourhood with trees and planters — turning the area, especially Roncesvalles Avenue itself, into a pedestrian-friendly destination. The result has been that small local businesses — including specialty gift shops, clothing and shoe boutiques, book, video and music stores — have thrived.
That easy-going, relaxed ambience is aided by the fact that the neighbourhood borders on High Park, one of the city’s largest green spacs, and is also home to Sorauren Avenue Park. Roncesvalles is also a popular cultural destination. That neighbourhood love for the arts is epitomized by the Revue Cinema, a popular repertory theatre built in 1912 — and celebrating its centenary in 2012 — and designated as a city heritage site. The theatre closed in 2006, but was reopened as a community-run, not-for-profit business due to local efforts. There are also a number of small clubs and music venues, most notably Hugh’s Room, perhaps Toronto’s leading folk club. At the very foot of Roncesvalles Avenue is the Palais Royale, a historic ballroom dating to the 1920s, which once hosted big bands like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Since the 1950s, the venue has been host to a number of popular and alternative rock bands, everybody from Blur to The Pogues to Sigur Ros. Most notably, in 2002, the Palais Royale hosted a Rolling Stones concert. The area also has its colourful history. The Boyd Gang — a notorious group of 1950s bank robbers led by the infamous Edwin Alonzo Boyd — began their crime spree at the Roncesvalles branch of the Bank of Montreal (now a Starbucks) and holed up in a local apartment between robberies. The neighbourhood is centred around Roncesvalles Avenue, but is bordered roughly by Lake Ontario to the south, High Park to the west, Sorauren Avenue to the east and Bloor Street to the north.
History and Social Profile
The area was originally made up of the small independent villages of Brockton and Parkdale and of parcels of land granted to John George Howard, a leading architect of the time. Between 1883 and 1893, the land that currently makes up the Roncesvalles neighbourhood was annexed as part of the city of Toronto.
In the early part of the 20th century, residents began to move into the area as Toronto expanded. Following the second World War, the area became a popular destination for Polish refugees and immigrants, who established a number of local businesses and churches. While the area has subsequently become much more diverse — as seen from some of the well-known Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and businesses in the neighbourhood — the annual Roncesvalles Village Polish Festival is still considered the largest Polish festival in North America. In 2011, an estimated 300,000 people attended the event.
The Roncesvalles neighbourhood is also home to a major hospital in St. Joseph’s Health Centre, originally an orphanage, which has been operated since the 1840s by the Sisters of St. Joseph Order. The site was originally Sunnyside Lodge, the first home of John Howard.
Roncesvalles has also become a popular site for condo development, most notably along Sorauren Avenue, where a number of older industrial buildings have been converted into lofts. There are also plans to convert other buildings nearby into part of a new community centre.
- Café Polonez (Polish)
- Barque Smokehouse (Barbeque)
- Butler’s Pantry (Asian Fusion, Indian)
Predominately a Polish community, here you will find authentic polish butchers, bakeries, and restaurants. The area also caters to a variety of cuisines of different cultures including Thai, Vietnamese, as well as fair trade cafes with vegan threats.
- Fern Avenue Public School, 128 Fern Avenue, (416) 393-9130
- Garden Avenue Junior Public School, 225 Garden Avenue, (416) 393-9165
- Howard Park Junior Public School, 30 Marmaduke Street, (416) 393-9255
- St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Elementary School, 116 Fermanagh Avenue, (416) 393-5227
- Dundas West Subway Station
- Keele Subway Station
- TTC Street Cars
- GO Transit
Roncesvalles is conveniently served with the Dundas West and Keele subway stations to the north at Bloor Street. The 501, 504, 505, 506, and 508 streetcars provide frequent service and the Queensway bus provides service along Parkside Avenue from Keele station. There are also GO trains operating along the CN/CP lines to the east, stopping at Bloor Street and Dundas Street West.