Featured image by Norm Li / Centrecourt
Toronto is a city of dozens of unique and inspiring neighbourhoods, each offering a special aspect that makes them original. Here’s our profile of eight of our editors favourites (more profiles coming soon).
Read on and then get out there and explore!
What is a BIA?
The City of Toronto describes them thus: “A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is made up of commercial and industrial property owners and their non-residential tenants who join together under a volunteer Board of Management (BIA Board) to carry out improvements and promote economic development within their designated area.”
Toronto is an innovator in this kind of community partnership. There are currently 83 BIAs in the city and they work to enhance and promote business areas as “safe, vibrant places to do business, unique destinations for tourists and focal points for neighbourhood activity.” We are a big fan of the BIA system which is why we incorporate them into this neighbourhoods article.
We can’t cover all 80+ business improvement areas in this article but we can list a few from east, central, west and north. So much diversity in this city. Here are a few favourites:
- The Junction
- Little Italy
- Kensington Market
- Downtown Yonge
- Queen Street West
- Midtown Yonge
- The Beach
- Mimico by the Lake
Exploring the City’s BIAs
The Junction BIA
In the west of the city a tad north of High Park, lies the Junction neighbourhood, named for the confluence of intersecting railway lines that formed an enormous rail junction and stand to this day. Situated mostly on Dundas, east and west of Keele St, this neighbrhood has charming shops and a few green spaces including Vine Park, where kids can play and you can watch the trains.
During CafeTO initiative where restaurants have served patrons curbside, plenty of barriers and picnic tables have been added to the streetscape. Dundas St has a vibrant restaurant scene and has taken advantage of this setup to allow for a very strong outdoor patio scene, that truth be told, did not exist before. This BIA exemplifies the motto growing across the city: “Support Local.”
Little Italy BIA
Founded in 1985, Little Italy is centred on College St. West from Bathurst St. in the east to Shaw St. in the west. Have you ever seen the amazing photos of crowds of people celebrating the heroics of Italy during international soccer events! The celebrations are memorable and an iconic part of city life.
Historically Italian in ethnicity, especially during the mid to late 20th century, Little Italy is a vibrant bustling multicultural neighbourhood in the central west of the city. Known for an active street scene, cafes and nightlife, the neighbourhood is especially charming in summer. Visit and have an espresso or gelato, and check out the shops stretching many blocks along charming College. St. West.
Kensington Market BIA
Located centrally, just west of Chinatown, Kensington Market is one of the most beloved, vibrant and eclectic neighbourhoods in the city. A mixture of residential and retail predominate in this bohemian low-rise hood.
In Toronto’s early history, ethnic groups like the Jewish and Portuguese, settled in Kensington and established shops and retail stores that dealt in food, spices, fish, meats and grocery items. Later the hippie vibe settled in and by the 70s and 80s a left of centre culture and retail experience that included music and art shops became one of the defining characteristics. Explore the main thoroughfares Kensington Ave and Augusta Ave (connected by Baldwin).
Downtown Yonge BIA
Bounded by the Church St. area to the east and hospital row and University Ave to the west, The Yonge St strip is legendary for shopping and nightlife. Yonge street is famous for many reasons and with some revitalization over past years the neighbourhood boasts some colourful parks and the wide open space called Yonge Dundas Square.
Though Eaton Centre is spectacular and worth a visit, there are many independent retailers along Yonge between Queen and Bloor that are deserving of your attention. One special spot is College Park. Visit year round to see how a welcoming urban park space can be created in the centre of a downtown.
Queen Street West BIA
Long known as a shopping, art and nightlife district, Queen West and West Queen West, the strip closer to Parkdale in the city’s west end, are pleasant and vibrant neighbourhoods that exhibit all the charms of downtown art and culture-focused communities.
Sitting near Yonge St, the financial district and Kensington Market, Queen Street is beyond a doubt blessed by location. Whether you jump off a streetcar at Spadina or the subway at Osgoode station this hood is so central and full of options. Bikes are plentiful in this area. Though parts are undeniably commercial, and some high-rises have been erected at Spadina, this neighbourhood has so far stayed comfortably low rise and retained enough of its art-culture roots to satisfy most city explorers.
Midtown Yonge BIA
Toronto has developed in a nodal fashion, with arteries like Yonge sprouting dense centres along the subway line. This is especially true at Yonge and Eglinton, a hustling crossroads of skyscrapers and small retailers, mixing in “midtown” also known as “uptown.” Midtown Yonge BIA is located along Yonge Street from Merton Street in the south to Soudan Avenue in the north.
According to their website, the Yonge-Eglinton area will be a short walk from the Eglinton Crosstown LRT when the transit project is completed. The BIA writes: “The BIA is home to many retail, restaurant, food and personal services businesses, as well as dozens of medical professionals.”
The Beach BIA
On the east side of the city centre, located along the shores of Lake Ontario, The Beach or “the Beaches” as the neighbourhood is colloquially known, is a long standing favourite. There are a half dozen beaches, and Woodbine beach is the go-to for major celebrations like Victoria Day and Canada Day, leisurely strolls on the boardwalk or some high energy beach volleyball.
This community has some prime beach space along with shopping, dining, and beautiful green spaces, all anchored around Queen Street East.According to their profile on the Toronto BIA directory you will find “independent clothing shops, artist collective markets and galleries, diverse public art, cozy cafes, charming patios, a local brewery, and many friendly faces.” Annual events, include Winter Stations, Movie Nights in the Park, the Beaches Easter Parade, and the Beaches International Jazz Festival.
Mimico by the Lake BIA
This west end neighbourhood lies on the Lake Ontario shores in opposite position from the Beach. Similarly blessed with nature the neighbourhood is famous for the high-rise Humber Shores community which includes the magnificent Humber Bay Park east and west.
This community offers a breathtaking mix of spots in all seasons, and has some of the best recreational opportunities and arguably some of the best skyline and architecture views. Images below show the Toronto skyline across the massive Humber Bay and the heavily photographed Humber Bay Arch Bridge.
Missing in Action?
There are well known neighbourhoods that do not seem to have any BIA. High Park, in the city’s west end does not specifically have its own BIA. There is the Bloor West Village to the west, Junction to the north and Bloor by the Park to the east.
High Park businesses on Bloor St include dozens between Keele in the east and Runnymede in the west. Will they eventually be absorbed into a neighbouring BIA or form their own organization? There must be a hundred businesses along the half dozen blocks across the top of High Park.
We should note that the BIA coverage is not complete, as there are potentially dozens of communities all across the city that will one day have their own BIA when the program expands. And we hope it does.
What neighbourhoods do you recommend?
Did we miss anything? Surely we did. We admit a list of eight favourites is only scratching the surface. Toronto is truly a city of neighbourhoods, and that community vibe is everywhere.
If you have a recommendation please leave a comment! If you are part of a BIA or neighbourhood organization get in touch – we’d be happy to collaborate with you!
Links and Resources
We have linked to the Instagram page of all the BIAs mentioned in this article. Here are a few more relevant links.
TABIA / Toronto BIAs
This website has a great design and includes maps of all the BIA districts.