Take the “Red Rocket” to three historic neighbourhoods—Cabbagetown, East Chinatown and Little India.
There’s no better way to explore Toronto than on foot—although travelling by TTC streetcar is a close second. Combine these two modes of transportation to journey across town to three of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods.
Start by catching the 506 Carlton streetcar at the intersection of Yonge and College/Carlton streets (the latter goes through a name change at Yonge). The 506 travels east along Carlton Street before heading south and continuing eastbound along Gerrard Street East.
Victorian architecture in Cabbagetown
You’ll still be on Carlton Street when you make a pit stop at Parliament Street. One of the first things you’ll notice as you stroll the area’s side streets is the beauty of the Victorian-era architecture. Much of the neighbourhood is a Heritage Conservation District; this city designation has protected its village-like feel and the variety of its structures. These include grand homes, coach houses, modest worker’s cottages and tiny row houses.
Cabbagetown’s name was originally an epithet coined by affluent British landowners against the Irish newcomers who fled the famines of the 1840s to settle here, many of whom set up front-yard kitchen gardens that offended their wealthier neighbours’ sensibilities. Since then, the name has become a point of pride, as well it should: Cabbagetown is one of the city’s prettiest neighbourhoods, with diverse businesses and residents from different walks of life.
Head back to Parliament and stroll south to Gerrard Street East, where you can catch the streetcar again.
- A latte or Americano from Jet Fuel Coffee (519 Parliament St.), one of Toronto’s original indie cafés
- Japanese yatai (food-cart inspired food) from Gushi (296 Gerrard St. E.)
- Traditional beignets and single-origin, direct-trade Congo Kivu coffee beans from Congo Coffee & Beignets (298 Gerrard St. E.)
Asian food & urban views in East Chinatown
Toronto is home to multiple Chinatowns; jump off the streetcar at Broadview Avenue for East Chinatown. Smaller than downtown Chinatown, East Chinatown’s roots date to the 1970s, when rising property costs downtown pushed migrants to the Riverdale neighbourhood. Gerrard Street East and Broadview Avenue host a plethora of Chinese and Vietnamese shops, restaurants, cafés and salons.
If you’re snapping photos, the flashy bilingual signs featuring English and Chinese characters are a must, as is the paifang or traditional-style Chinese archway (downtown Chinatown doesn’t have one). Scenic Riverdale Park East offers an iconic downtown-skyline view, and is a great spot to nosh on takeout Chinese barbecue or Vietnamese banh mi before reboarding the 506 and continuing eastbound.
Shopping & street festivals in Little India
Exit the streetcar at Greenwood Avenue and continue on foot. Little India’s main drag encompasses Gerrard Street East between Greenwood and Coxwell avenues and is known for its array of fashion, jewellery, book and music stores, as well as restaurants serving up delectable Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Bangladeshi cuisine.
Historically, the neighbourhood’s early 20th century residents were English, Irish and Scottish. By the mid-1900s, these demographics changed to Italian and Greek immigrants, as well as increasing numbers of Chinese and South Asian Canadians.
Today, Little India—also known as Gerrard India Bazaar—is North America’s largest South Asian market and a must-visit during its midsummer TD Festival of South Asia and magical late-autumn Diwali, festival of lights.