Guildwood: Toronto Neighbourhood Explorer

Jesse in Neighbourhoods, Neighbourhood Explorer

Few neighbourhoods hold my fascination as Guildwood does (see Realosophy's Guildwood neighbourhood profile for local school and housing stats).  I have always made time to stroll through Guildwood Park, especially in the spring and fall months.  Losing myself somewhere between the shores of Lake Ontario and Kingston Road has always been a favourite pastime of mine.  Guildwood (or The Guild) has a century-old history which is ever present in Guildwood Park and endlessly satiates my need to read every historical plaque I see.  It is easy to forget that you are in the heart of Scarborough while navigating the streets during an evening stroll or searching amongst Guildwood’s seven parks for your favourite spot.

Set well below traffic-heavy Kingston Road as it approaches Scarborough Golf Club Road, this unique landscape creates slow-paced street life that is family friendly and is perfect for those inevitable games of pick-up hockey.  Guildwood Parkway, a very steep winding hill, is one of five streets that lead into the neighbourhood.  Ontario’s cold winter months and frozen streets make this particular access point dangerous to navigate and it is advisable to become familiar with Poplar Road, Galloway Road, Morningside Avenue and Bethune Boulevard as alternate routes in and out of the area; it may take a few attempts to become comfortable with the winding streets that form the bulk of the residential area, having gotten lost myself more than a few times.  When the urban planners were developing 'The Guild' in the 1950s, these curving roadways were designed specifically as traffic calming zones, a feature that is highly coveted today.  High-rise condominiums stand tall at the corner of Kingston Road and Guildwood Parkway.  My trick was to orient myself using this landmark as they are visible from almost the entire neighbourhood.

Turning onto Guildcrest Drive is a common mistake as it loops around and becomes Crestwood Drive without taking you into the lower residential area.  The trip is never in vain, however, for the cliffside homes that overlook the neighbourhood below are some of the most spectacular in the city.

Once you are amongst the snaking community streets you can appreciate the mixture of homes that make up Guildwood.  In 1953, the majority of the area was sold to developers and the houses reflect the styles of that era.  Interiors have been gutted; appliances updated and outer facades have been renewed to prevent a perpetual 1950s community, but retained the area’s fifty-year-old charm.  Street-by-street the housing styles change.  At the base of the hill which Guildwood Parkway winds down there are architecturally astounding houses that seem to be built directly into the landscape.  Homes that have lake views are generally larger and have more property than those located in central Guild.  This is not to say that the smaller homes are of lesser quality - while brazen HomeOwners of the lakeside install noticeable recreational facilities (read: tennis court on the front lawn), the smaller bungalows have manicured lawns and trimmed hedges.  As in all neighbourhoods, there are some residences that have not been kept up over the years and need a little more attention than others.  Never fear! All is not lost as these homes are blank canvases and HomeBuyers can decorate to their needs and individual tastes.  Adding another residential dynamic to the area are the apartment buildings that line Morningside Avenue allowing accessibility to renters as well as HomeOwners.

There are four public elementary schools and one Catholic elementary school located in the neighbourhood.  Sir Wilfred Laurier is the only high school inside the neighbourhood boundaries; however ,there are others, including a Catholic secondary school, located just outside Guildwood that are within walking distance.  Another benefit to the aforementioned winding streets is that they provide a safe walk to the neighbourhood schools.

The jewel of Guildwood is most definitely The Guildwood Inn.  Built in 1914 as a private thirty-three bedroom residence, it became the hub of a budding art community known as ‘The Guild of all Arts’.  The home went through endless expansions to provide accommodation for artists until 1945 when it was utilized as a specialized military hospital known as “Scarborough Hall”.  With the creation of Metropolitan Toronto, property taxes rose and the owners of the mansion and its five hundred acres sold four hundred of them to developers.  By 1957, the neighbourhood of Guildwood Village was created and the first HomeOwners moved in.  In the 1960s, another one hundred rooms were added to the pseudo Georgian Villa to provide lodging to its many visitors.   By the 1990s, ownership of the Inn was transferred to the Municipality of Metro Toronto which, by the end of the decade, had closed the hotel facilities.  Just prior to its closing, I stayed in the Guildwood Inn.  The rooms were furnished in dark wood polished to a high sheen and every detail from the carpets to the window dressings whispered about its rich past.  If only the walls could talk.

On crisp Saturdays, I end up in Guildwood Park along with a bride or two who are immortalizing their big day on the grounds of the magnificent house.  I pass dog walkers clutching their required plastic baggies, and various ornithological groups peering at the world through binoculars.  Regardless of the activities, the area remains clean, quiet and relaxing and well used by Torontonians.

Jesse Fleming is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 

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