Growing up in a suburb east of Toronto, I was unaware of the weight some neighbourhoods carried when their names were uttered. “You moved where?” gasped Lisa, in a voice somewhere between disbelief and awe. I had mentioned that my new condominium was on the third floor of ‘Forest Hill Lofts’, a three-year old converted factory whose history captivated me much more than the name of the building. Images of Toronto’s stuffy upper crust were thrown at me along with a general consensus that I, in my mid-twenties, along with my partner in his early thirties were unimaginably young to afford a home in -gasp- Forest Hill (see Realosophy's Forest Hill neighbourhood profile for local school and housing stats).
In a previous post, I mentioned that we did not research our new neighbourhood before we bought, innocently believing that we had moved into what seemed to be a much-revered area. My building’s moniker could not be false advertising, could it? After looking into Toronto neighbourhood boundaries, I realized that a more accurate name for my new home should be ‘Next to Forest Hill Lofts’ as I live in Fairbank, on the western side of Forest Hill. Curious to see if the stereotypes were true, I recently dove into Forest Hill and found that it is anything but the uptight picture that was painted whenever I mentioned its name.
There is incredible diversity amongst the eleven schools located in this neighbourhood. The well-known private all-boys school Upper Canada College and all-girls Bishop Strachan School are located alongside Catholic and public elementary and high schools. The Shore Centre for Learning lies just south of North Preparatory Alternative Primary School and West Preparatory Junior Public School. St. Michael’s College School, est. 1852, is the sole-remaining male Catholic school in Ontario and one of the many historically significant establishments in the neighbourhood. A number of Forest Hill schools, both public and private, are over one hundred years old and proud of their long-standing traditions which are reflected in the surrounding residential pockets.
What can be written about the glorious homes of Forest Hill? A large part of the mystique and awe of this neighbourhood is due to the extravagant houses that are found along Forest Hill Road, Spadina Road and Avenue Road. Gated driveways, ivy-covered walls, multi-car driveways and lavish facades - including the newly-popular copper eavestroughs - are what keep the fascination alive. Many HomeOwners are knocking down and rebuilding, whilst others are renovating what is already there, creating an ever-changing pocket of Toronto.
Forest Hill's residents are more diverse that one might imagine, due to the mix of rental and social housing located in the area. Bathurst Street houses the bulk of apartment complexes, interspersed with Synagogues, from Briar Hill Avenue down to St. Clair Avenue West. The multi-unit buildings also found on Eglinton Avenue West, have a broad range of facades from gothic to colonial to a style reminiscent of sixties retro. The muted stone colours allow all the buildings to flow together, despite the array of styles. Unbeknownst to a vast majority of Torontonians, Forest Hill has geared-to-income housing within its boundaries. White-washed high rise apartment buildings line the western border of Marlee Avenue and are monitored weekly by Toronto Community Housing - blue cars parked outside are the only indicator of social housing.
Accessibility is important to any thriving neighbourhood. Forest Hill has an aged-quality and with that comes narrower streets and impossible parking. Parking spots along any main artery within Forest Hill require tremendous parallel parking skills – pay attention to parking signs for parking-when-prohibited is a sure-fire way to get noticed in all the wrong ways. Parking on residential streets? Again, park only during designated times and be considerate to HomeOwners. Eglinton West and St. Clair West subway stations offer quick and easy transportation downtown. Bussing and biking have become fashionable modes of transport for the eco-friendly. The Bathurst #7 intersects with the Eglinton West #307 as well as the St. Clair West # 512; Avenue Road, as the eastern boundary of Forest Hill, has its #5 bus. Commuters rejoice! Along St. Clair Ave. West, familiar red and white streetcars make an appearance, shuttling people to and from the downtown core.
Eglinton West Village, a commercial district, is situated along Eglinton, just west of Bathurst. Mom-and-Pop produce stores, ice cream parlours and eateries that range in cuisine from Italian to Middle Eastern to Chinese line this slice of Eglinton. Bakery goodness wafts throughout the neighbourhood daily thanks to the two bakeries and five bagel shops located here. Hidden further within Forest Hill is a small market place of the same name. At the intersection of Spadina Road and St. Clair Ave. West lies a cluster of businesses which cater to surrounding residents. Coffee shops, dry cleaners and produce stands are only a few of the amenities that this market offers. Hidden within the neighbourhood, it is a quaint little surprise to those new to the area or just visiting for the day.
Although pricey real estate can be found in pockets across the city, there is something in the name of this particular neighbourhood that triggers immediate stereotypes which are both awe-inspiring and (partially) unfounded. It is a beautiful place to visit and spend a day - the Key Gardiner Beltline Trail provides a nature-filled path that begins in Forest Hill and weaves its way through Toronto; on my visit, I came across a pair of ambitious adventurers biking their way to the end of the trail – located somewhere along the Mississauga waterfront. I relish life in my next-to-Forest Hill-loft simply because I now have the opportunity to dispel circulating myths about a neighbourhood that I feel as much a part of as any other that I have lived in.
Jesse Fleming is a freelance writer specializing in Toronto neighbourhoods.