Thursday, 5 December 2013

Neighbourhood: Toronto Shopkeeper Explores Liberty Village

Where once factories rumbled, now condos and shops thrive.

51 Hanna Avenue
If you were to go back 50 years and tell a Torontonian that you lived in Liberty Village you'd be greeted with a blank stare. Back then the area which would later become known as Liberty Village (the moniker was bestowed by property developers seeking to spur gentrification of the neighbourhod) was once one of Toronto's most industrial.

Liberty Village's industrial past grew out of it's location along the city's main railway lines. Factories making everything from carpets and baking powder to toys and farm equipment once kept the streets alive with manufacturing. The Inglis plant alone once employed over 17,000 people at its peak (I now understand how that Inglis billboard visible from the Gardiner Expressway came to be). The site of the current Lamport Stadium once housed the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women and nearby was the Central Prison for Men, Liberty Street being where freed prisoners would step back into their normal lives.

By the 1980s, most industry had abandoned the area in favour of cheaper premises either off shore or in the suburbs. Artists began to move in attracted by the light filled former industrial spaces and the affordable rents. Developers took advantage of the trend for loft living and converted many of the remaining buildings into condos, shops, and galleries. The result is a mixed use neighbourhood with both newly built condominiums and repurposed industrial buildings.

Roughly defined, Liberty Village encompasses the area bordered by King Street, Dufferin Street, the Gardiner Expressway, and Strachan Avenue.

The Liberty Market Building (171 East Liberty Street) houses 300,000 square feet of retail and commercial space on the south side of Liberty Village and includes several historic buildings. Much of the site was used for gun manufacturing during the Second World War. The Galleria that runs through the building once carried trains used to deliver supplies and collect the arms being manufactured there.

At the east end of the Liberty Market Building you'll find Casalife (unit 170), a large home store selling the perfect mix of condo-sized furnishings and home accessories. The retailer stocks a comprehensive selection of barstools as many of the small neighbourhood condos feature breakfast bars rather than dining rooms.

The Village Cheesemonger
Walking west you'll stumble upon The Village Cheesemonger (unit 155). The shop carries over a hundred varieties of cheeses from around the globe as well as a selection of gourmet treats for your pantry; everything you'll need to fill the cheese board at your next dinner party.

Demo Soap
Continuing down the Galleria discover Demo Soap (Unit 171), a unique purveyor of handmade soaps and bath bombs. The fragrant store is decorated with vintage sound systems (which are unfortunately not for sale) and sells soaps with a wide variety of fragrances and shapes. Their soaps are vegetable based and hand cut on site.

Shoppers looking to oufit their new condo are well served at EQ3 (51 Hanna Avenue). The two-storey outpost features home accessories on the ground level and furniture upstairs. This location features a Marimekko shop with colourfully designed bedding, pillows, and tableware.
West Elm
Nearby you'll find West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), the only Toronto location for Pottery Barn's urban sister. Available here is a wide selection of modern furniture, home accessories, and rugs. Their new Market concept features a range of kitchen tools, cookware, and gifts.

Grab a bite: Finish your day of shopping with dinner at Origin (Unit 100 at the Liberty Market Building) where the global menu is served in the former Bren gun factory; or enjoy a cold beer and a signature burger at Williams Landing (120 Lynn Williams Street); or sample the seasonally inspired menu at Mildred's Template Kitchen (85 Hanna Avenue). If you're visiting in the morning, check out School for their brunch menu and freshly baked treats.

[Click here for an informative walking tour by the Liberty Village BIA]