The South 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 north, Grace Street on the west, College Street on the south and Spadina Avenue on the east, the South 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 South Annex also borders Little Italy to the west, lending the area along College a distinctly European flavour. College continues to be home to some of the city’s most popular cafes. Bar Italia, Café Diplomatico, Sicilian Ice Cream are virtually household names to those longing for a friendly patio on a sunny afternoon. And College remains one of the city’s prime shopping districts, with clothing, food and furniture stores mixing with everything from second-hand bookstores to ethnic music stores to florists.
The South 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 and College Streets — are a unique mixture. The area 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 South 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 the Bata Shoe Museum.
History and Social Profile
The neighbourhood came into being in the 1850s, when land belonging to the Jarvis, Crookshank and Denison families was sold and subdivided into smaller lots. A construction boom coincided with the establishment of the University of Toronto in the late 1850s, and much of the Annex’s historic building occurred over the next couple of decades. 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.
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.
And the Italian presence in the South Annex has continued to lend the neighbourhood a cosmopolitan and multicultural flavour.
College Street — which takes its name from King’s College, the original title of the University of Toronto — began to be laid out in 1842, and following the grant to the city of the land that would become High Park in 1873, began to be extended west through the area that today is known as Little Italy. Around the turn of the 20th century, buildings began to be constructed along the street. And 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 Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish families began to fill the vacuum.
That mixture has continue to make the South Annex one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Toronto. While the area has maintained a reputation for upscale residences and upscale and arty residents, mixed with the European flavour along College, the area has become an even more eclectic mix, with a changing student population, and a number of new townhouses being built, along with a number of new condos.
- Harbord Bakery
- Boulevard Café
- Free Times Café
- New Generation Sushi
- Harbord Room
- 93 Harbord
- King Edward Junior and Senior Public School, 112 Lippincott Street, 416-393-1320
- Harbord Collegiate, 286 Harbord Street, 416-393-1650
- Central Technical School, 725 Bathurst Street, 416-393-0060
- Clinton Street Junior Public School, 460 Manning Avenue, 416-393-9155
- Montrose Junior Public School, 301 Montrose Avenue, 416-393-9770
- Spadina subway station
- Bathurst subway station
- Christie subway station
- Buses or streetcars run along Spadina, Bathurst, College, Harbord and Bloor