South Hill is a unique neighbourhood in Toronto. Its defining feature is Avenue Road Hill, part of an escarpment formed from the shoreline of Lake Iroquois 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, when the lake’s waters receded to form what is today Lake Ontario. Its position on that escarpment gives South Hill residents a stunning view of the city, and although the escarpment no longer boasts its dense forest, ponds and waterfalls, the neighbourhood still offers residents a natural oasis overlooking the urban bustle of Toronto.
The neighbourhood also sits in the shadow of Toronto’s own castle, Casa Loma, and was the site of a number of other mansions built at the end of the 19th century by the city’s elite as country getaways. Most of those mansions are gone now, and those left have been converted to historic sites or museums, but South Hill remains an upscale neighbourhood with historic homes, leafy streets and hilly terrain edged by ravines and parks.
And South Hill is also the only neighbourhood in Toronto that features its own “independent” republic. The republic of Rathnelly, named after a mansion built by William McMaster in 1830, declared its independence during Canada’s centenary in 1967, and has maintained its status by throwing a street party every year.
Bordered by St. Clair Avenue West on the north, Avenue Road on the east, the Canadian Pacific rail tracks near Dupont Street on the south and Spadina Road on the west, South Hill boasts historic homes built between 1890 and 1920. Since 1980, the neighbourhood has seen the construction of townhouses and luxury condominiums, as well as a number of upscale low-rise apartment buildings. Due to its natural beauty, its history, its quiet exclusivity and its easy proximity to shopping in Yorkville and Forest Hill, South Hill is a neighbourhood heavily in demand among families and professionals both young and old.
History and Social Profile
South Hill was one of the first neighbourhoods established in the city. The early settlers of York — the town that was to become Toronto — divided what is now South Hill into concessions in the late 18th century. One large concession was granted to Peter Russell, after whom Russell Hill Road, which still runs through South Hill, was named. By the late 19th century, the area was home to mansions built by some of the wealthiest families in the city. Senator John Macdonald built Oaklands, which today is part of the private De La Salle College.The Eaton family built Ardwold, James Austin built Spadina House, which today is a museum, and, of course, there’s Casa Loma. The neighbourhood was gradually absorbed into the city of Toronto starting in 1905.
One of those mansions — built in 1830 — was called Rathnelly and was built by Senator William McMaster. While the McMaster estate was sold to developers in the 1880s, the residences that sprung up in the area — in the south-east corner of South Hill — continued to call the immediate neighbourhood Rathnelly. To mark Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967, residents declared themselves the independent republic of Rathnelly, and marked the occasion by crowning a queen, holding a parade and forming an “air farce” of 1,000 helium balloons. The “republic” also issued its own passports to nearby residents. Today, the republic of Rathnelly continues to hold an annual street party to celebrate its independence.
For those looking for a neighbourhood that will allow them to enjoy nature, the west side of the neighbourhood offers the Nordheimer Ravine, a popular site for walkers and joggers which connects, in turn, to Toronto’s Belt Line Trail. Nearby is Winston Churchill Park — which features a running track, a playground and 10 tennis courts — and the St. Clair Reservoir, which is very popular with dog walkers.
South Park is also very close to one of the downtown campuses of George Brown College and to the Tarragon Theatre, one of Toronto’s leading venues for independent drama. It’s also within walking distance of the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and the shops and restaurants of Yorkville, Bloor Street and the multi-cultural delights of St. Clair Avenue.
- Frangipane Patisserie
- Live Organic Food Bar
- Ezra’s Pound
- Magic Oven
- Corner House Restaurant
- Dupont Station
- St. Clair West Station
- St. Clair Streetcar
- Buses serve Dupont Street, Avenue Road and Spadina Road
- Brown Junior Public School, 454 Avenue Road, 416-393-1560
- Deer Park Junior and Senior Public School, 23 Ferndale Avenue, 416-393-1550
- Oakwood Collegiate Institute, 991 St. Clair Avenue West, 416-393-1780
- Central Technical School, 725 Bathurst Street, 416-393-0060
- Northern Secondary School, 851 Mount Pleasant Road, 416-393-0270