I actually had to stop myself from loudly telling off the first wave of trucker-hat wearers. They started traipsing around my hood, South Riverdale, as though they were warily and begrudgingly evaluating it for hip acceptability. Trucker hats, since they were simultaneously hot and over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the better part of a year ago, naturally made a belated arrival here on the same greasy, unkempt, “Mod haircut”–sporting heads. These scrawny, snide, underemployed paupers would swipe desirable little trinkets from your house if given a chance, and every single one of them knows a dealer.

Their question when doing a walkabout of Queen St. East, I suppose, is “Do enough hip people live here?” (Also “Will I have to find a new dealer?”)

Actual examples:

  • Two fellas, early 30s, in expensive summer casualwear (dark summer pants and open linen shirts), cut wordlessly through the park with a mid-30s chick who is easily six months pregnant. Naturally, she’s wearing shorts and a halter top and carries an antique chair. Her flip-flop sandals make ironic-sounding footfalls.
  • Three lads, early 20s, in full-on thrift-shop shirts, caps (not trucker), and bandolier knapsacks, pause at an unmarked storefront, then walk on and mutter to their female friend, who looks in the distance and says “It’s on the next block.” No, kids, Gio’s is not in fact Edward Levesque’s Kitchen.

The kicker? In both cases, the girls engaged the now-expected hipster habit of regarding the sidewalk while deliberately putting one foot ahead of the other. They’re so hip they’re blasé. They don’t even need to look around; of course they’re completely familiar with this neighbourhood. (So why stop at Gio’s? Everyone who lives here knows what the totally-unmarked former Bank of Montreal branch now is.)

Queen West has cycled all the way back around to unhip for so very long, and it sold out so many lifetimes ago, that we’ve had time to develop another term – West Queen West – to indicate the truly-hip neighbourhood, which now too has been colonized by condo renos. Nonetheless, key to Queen West’s “hipness” is its density of retail storefronts, allowing birds of a feather to flock together.


Over here we’re still Queen St., right? So doesn’t it follow by some kind of half-arsed hipster transitive property that we’d be hip, too? (I mean, look at Dundas West. It’s also west, right? And isn’t it hip now?)

When they take the streetcar ride out here (“OMIGOD, I can’t believe how long it takes”), which finally clues them in to where the Don River is, they’re shocked to discover a hood that simply can never become the new Queen West at any point in our lifetimes.

On Queen West
  1. Continuous storefronts are the norm, with almost no street-level residential.
  2. Setbacks are almost uniformly short, with few parking lots.
  3. Landmarks that formerly interrupted the storefront sequence, like the Claremont, are now storefronts.
  4. There’s a decided lack of infrastructure or parks (Trinity Bellwoods being a notable exception).
  5. Both sides of the street are comparable.
On Queen East
  1. Storefronts are regularly broken up by vast street-level residential buildings. Many are mixed-income social-housing developments installed here in the ’80s and ’90s when nobody gave a shit about the most polluted neighbourhood in the city – a great place to warehouse the poor. Those buildings will be here for decades.
  2. Additionally, a few conventional apartment buildings dot the streetscape, including one with an oddball gate used to reach a rear parking lot.
  3. Due to the industrial heritage, infrastructure, like gas stations, is notable.
  4. We’ve got a large stone library, an underpass, auto dealers and auto-body shops, and large retailers with parking lots, including the very same Shoppers Drug Mart where Wheels bought his condoms on DeGrassi.
  5. Perhaps most importantly of all, single-family houses still exist on Queen St., along with a couple of duplexen and triplexen.

And in fact, I did an inventory. Between Broadview and the eetcarstray yards are:

  • At least 61 domiciles (counting front doors, including basements but excluding actual apartment buildings), comprising also the edge of a “private” tæunhæume development where a Silver Spur sits in a garage
  • Ten apartment buildings, one of them a giant, immaculate complex with a massive courtyard, several of them dead-giveaway social housing
  • A large housing co-op
  • A LOFT S development whose owner was twice charged with fraud. Until this week, the building contained squatters (“It’s me. Can you let me in?”) who did not look at all different from the other bottom-of-the-barrel poor in the hood here
  • Thirteen car shops (repair, parts, collision, accessories)
  • Four gas stations
  • Two old folks’ homes
  • Three parks
  • Three “community” or rec centres. The South Riverdale Community Health Centre will do house calls and deliver you clean works if you’re a druggie but has no doctors you can walk in and see
  • A Beer Store, with multiracial, all-ages queues of rubbies outside its door before opening time
  • Four semi-industrial retail shops (appliances, aluminum, equipment rental, geetars); one combined roofing contractor–domicile; two bike shops
  • Two laundromats
  • Two churches
  • A postal sorting station
  • The Ashbridge Family Estate and a neighbouring giant tract
  • The aforesaid Russell Division streetcar yard, recently “beautified” on the Queen St. frontier and extending all the way into Eastern Ave.
  • The Duke of York tavern, the size of a Lower East Side boutique hotel–flophouse. (Interestingly, last summer I remember only a single case where I passed by the Duke near a weekend closing time and did not see a parked police car)
  • And – by far my favourite – three Chinese-food factories, one of them now disused

In short, a quintessential mixed-use neighbourhood.

Now, what about the other main drags?

Overrun with single-family residences and a tiny few old industrial buildings, which are now being hastily converted into unwise live–work spaces. (I spent a lot of time in one of them.) Some of the newer conversions have ridiculously small setbacks and easily-broken glass doors nearly at grade. A large school and two quixotic apartment buildings break up the flow, as does the Jones Library, one of Toronto’s many unsung Modernist jewels.
Two ethnic neighbourhoods (the poorer of the poor downtown Chinese; Indic) sandwich a sorry collection of homes, a superb new high school, and the unique and bazaar-like Gerrard Square (“Gerrard Scare”; “Jurassic Square”). (Actually, it isn’t unique – it’s got competition in the nameless strip mall at Carlaw.) Run-down, forgotten, and third-rate.
Home to more heavy-metal contaminants than anywhere else in the city. When the Clarke tannery (no relation) spent two weeks burning to a crisp, we inhaled half the periodic table. Also notable: Speeding cars that routinely run red lights and smash into gas mains; dilapidated houses with down-on-the-bayou inhabitants; derelict diners; a giant Weston bakery; and a sorry strip mall with an actual Mac dealer.
Best of all? The following sequence beginning at Morse St.: The Toolbox, a housing co-op, an unkempt single-family dwelling, and the Hell’s Angels. Unusual even for Toronto, a city fond of running the same street with more than one name, Eastern turns into Kingston Rd. at one end and Front St. at the other. Who the hell wants it?

How about the north–south streets? An interesting option, but only Broadview and (sadly) Coxwell could be made to work, and they would end up with the same mixed-use assortment as Queen St.

So you see, residents of South Riverdale are hard-core. We’re here because we like it, we want to be, or we have to be, and that gives us the freedom to be genuinely and individually rather geographically hip. In short, hip South Riverdalers are hip wherever we go, while you on Queen West lose your cachet at Yonge St.

And get rid of that goddamned hat or I’ll do it for you.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.06.05 17:44. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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