Arts + Culture

The New Danforth

In 2006, I moved to the Danforth from the suburbs of Brampton, Ontario. At that time, I found the Danforth an exciting and interesting home because it was so different from where I grew up. I was suddenly surrounded by a new and exciting world, immersed in Toronto’s Greektown.

Today’s Danforth is much different from when I first moved here. Over the last several years, I watched the Danforth evolve. Gone is the traditional Greektown of the 1970s and ‘80s. A different life is being breathed into the Danforth and it is becoming a more contemporary neighbourhood with new energy and style.

According to Statistics Canada 2016, the population of the Danforth is changing, along with its culture. The Danforth is becoming more affluent and more multicultural. With this, the Danforth has seen a wave of new and dynamic businesses enter the area, creating a new feel and look reflecting this growth. In short, the Danforth is gentrifying; it is becoming reborn.

Recently, I took some time to talk with Albert Stortchak, president of The Danforth Business Improvement Area (BIA), which according to “was established in 1986, [and] works with the its local councillors, the city, and landlords to attract business to the area to continue to make it a vibrant place to visit and to do business.” Like me, Stortchak agrees that the Danforth is becoming a community of more diverse people that get out and participate in what it has to offer. Stortchak does not hesitate to agree that the Danforth is going through gentrification and points out the change in businesses and development in the area as evidence of this. In fact, Stortchak indicates that this is as much the result of a generational change as it is a change in the population and its spending power. As many of the traditional Greektown businesses are family owned, change is coming because the next generation does not want to take them over. The younger generation has their own ideas and prefer to make their living elsewhere. As a result, new business owners are opening shop on the Danforth with fresh ideas, new looks, and novel offerings, replacing the throng of Greek restaurants and shops that once lined the Danforth from Broadview to Jones.

In addition to the change in business along Broadview, there is a growing sense of community that is very different than it was ten years ago. The area is also significantly more multicultural than when I first moved here. Stortchak points out that there is a marked increase in young families and that the Danforth now has one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in Toronto.

People no longer consider this just an area where they live. Instead, the Danforth is becoming their neighbourhood. For me, long gone is the omnipresent feel of being out of place or being looked at as an outsider because I was not Greek. The Danforth has a new personality. New developments are bringing yet more people into the area and introducing them to a new life and new community. The parks are busier than ever before: new splash pads and children’s play areas, growing sports leagues, and a farmers’ market every Saturday during the summer in Withrow Park. There are new and exciting restaurants opening along the Danforth and the surrounding area creating a new nightlife: stylish new hangs with eclectic menus and hip drink lists, fashionable bistros and brasseries, and elegant dining spots with rich decors and exquisite culinary focus. New retail businesses are opening all the time, bringing shoppers custom, high-end goods: artisan shops selling hand-made leather goods, boutiques showcasing one-of-a-kind custom jewellery and accessories, and specialty stores such as butchers, fish mongers, and artisan bakeries. These are the kind of things bringing people out in droves to meet, buy, and spend time together on the Danforth.

I always loved being part of the Danforth. It was a new world to me when I moved here thirteen years ago. It took me out of the suburbs and introduced me to life in the best city in Canada: Toronto. But the Danforth has moved beyond that now. It has differentiated itself from other areas around Toronto like Little Italy, Little Portugal, Chinatown, or Roncesvalles. When I go to these parts of the city, they feel monochromatic and aged. They feel like time has stopped. The shops, restaurants, and the neighbourhoods themselves all seem to feel and look the same way they did a decade ago, when I first started visiting them. On the other hand, with its injection of youth, fresh energy, growing population, and new vibrancy, the Danforth is moving beyond the stereotypical Greektown. The Danforth is a destination, a multicultural community, and a home for people like me and so many others.

The Danforth has a lot to look forward to over the next several years. I am proud of the way it continues to keep the traditions of Greektown but is expanding its horizons beyond the once homogenous feel and look. People will always come here to experience the wonderful Greek culture, but now they can also experience all the new things the Danforth has to offer and participate in its rebirth. The Danforth has a bright and vibrant future ahead of it and the potential to set itself apart from the rest of the city. This is why I am excited to live here. This is why we should all be excited to live here.

Image from Flickr—no copyright infringement intended.

Darren Smith is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the Ontario Bar Association in 2004. He practised in civil and commercial litigation with a special focus on written advocacy. In August 2018, Darren left his practice to start a new career in publishing.

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