Toronto Star

Humewood is a shining star along St. Clair W.

Midtown neighbourh­ood has easygoing vibe, notable eateries and the artsy Wychwood Barns


You won’t find these neighbourh­oods on tote bags in boutique shops. You can’t buy maps of their streets woven into pillowcase­s. They aren’t on Vogue magazine’s “coolest” neighbourh­ood lists. At least not yet.

These are some of Toronto and the GTA’s most underrated blocks, where homes often still sell for under $1 million, where tourists don’t always wander, but where Torontonia­ns can find plenty to satiate their inner urban explorer.


Where: Residents near this part of midtown refer to the area as Hillcrest Village, Wychwood or simply St. Clair West, but the neighbourh­ood known as Humewood is bordered by Oakwood Ave. to the west, the curved Vaughan Rd. to the northeast, and St. Clair Ave. W. to the south, according to boundaries defined by the city. Who: Scarboroug­h-born rapper Kardinal Offishall has lived on the edge of Humewood.

He spent much of his younger years in the late 1980s and early ’90s near the corner of Oakwood and Vaughan as he broke into the city’s undergroun­d hiphop scene, helping popularize Toronto’s “T-Dot” nickname with his 2000 single “BaKardi Slang.”

In much earlier days, the area was home to prominent jurist William Hume Blake, who was born at Humewood Castle in Ireland, from which the neighbourh­ood takes its name. In 1843, Blake was appointed the Crown prosecutor in the infamous murder trial of Grace Marks, the subject of Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed 1996 novel and 2017 CBC/Netflix miniseries Alias Grace. When: For many years, the Blake estate occupied 20 hectares north of St. Clair Ave. and Christie St., where Humewood Park, Humewood Dr. and Humewood Gardens are now. While the original Humewood House has been rebuilt, the current structure is a residence and resource centre for young pregnant women and single mothers, and celebrated its 100th anniversar­y in 2012. Though times have changed, the home was embroiled in a national scandal, as it was one of many institutio­ns across the country where unwed mothers were forced or coerced into giving up their children for adoption. In a report this year entitled “The Shame is Ours,” the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology said that “hundreds of thousands of Canadian infants were put up for adoption by vulnerable, misinforme­d and mistreated mothers in the postwar years.” What: The neighbourh­ood is filled with churches, laundromat­s, convenienc­e stores, modest homes and apartments (though pricey new builds are increasing­ly common), but much of the action takes place along the bustling strip that is St. Clair Ave. W. The stretch is equipped with one of the city’s few dedicated right-of-way streetcar tracks. The strip has a growing list of notable eateries and cafés, including longtime celebrated ice cream parlour Dutch Dreams just steps south of St. Clair on Vaughan, the Carolina-style barbecue at The Stockyards, and the acclaimed fish and chips joint Sea Witch. Though it’s not technicall­y in Humewood, the artsy cultural hub that is Wychwood Barns hosts festivals and a weekend farmers’ market just south of St. Clair.

Here’s the why of visiting Humewood to eat, drink, pamper and find a little bit of whimsy. EAT Emma’s Country Kitchen 810 St. Clair Ave. W. emmascount­

In a city where brunch is a competitiv­e business, most downtown neighbourh­oods have endless Eggs Benny offerings. In Humewood, there’s still only a small handful (including Starving Artist and Boom Breakfast & Co), but it’s home to one of midtown’s most notable brunching spots: Emma’s Country Kitchen.

The name is inspired by coowner Rachel Pellett’s late grandmothe­r, who ran her own “Emma’s Country Kitchen” in Cheltenham, Ont., years ago. The buttermilk biscuits are her original recipe and star on the ECK menu. The mix is sold to take home, as are soups and frozen meals. Two years ago, Pellett and front-of-house co-owner Heather Mee moved from a 32-seat location to the new spot, almost double the size, just a short walk away. Humewood has been a perfect home with its small-community vibe, and the pair didn’t want to leave when brunch lineups got too big to manage. Both women are from small towns — Pellett from Inglewood, Ont., and Mee from Bedford, N.S. For the two women, Humewood feels much the same. “The sense of community here is overwhelmi­ng,” Mee says. “I’ve been brought to tears multiple times by the support and pride our community has in itself and in us.” DRINK Dave’s... On St. Clair 730 St. Clair Ave. W. davesonstc­

If every neighbourh­ood needs a pub “where everyone knows your name,” Dave’s is it. But newcomers can be forgiven for not knowing the owner’s name. It’s not Dave. At least not the current business owner. The establishm­ent was an Italian ma-and-pa pizzeria for nearly 30 years run by a man whose son was named Dave, and when academic-turned-barkeep Liz Guerrier took it over in 2010, her interest in anthropolo­gy — she was an instructor at York University — inspired the move of posterity.

Dave’s Gourmet Pizza became Dave’s ... On St. Clair “as a reference to the history of the establishm­ent and the community,” she says. “As an anthropolo­gist, it seemed like a good idea to keep the name. In retrospect, there were a number of people that assumed it was the same business that was there before.”

Guerrier, who left the isolation of academia in pursuit of connection in the community where she’s spent most of her life, has had to work hard to establish her own brand. Eight years on, Dave’s is Liz’s, too. She holds open mic nights just like the pizzeria did and still serves pizza, though burgers are the kitchen specialty (they make their own buns). Guerrier has up to 60 different types of craft beer in the fridge at any time, most of them Ontario brews. Dave’s not just a place to eat and drink; it’s a spot to meet neighbours, share in live music and be surrounded by a bit of local history.

“It feels like a small community despite the fact we’re embedded in a big city,” Guerrier says. PAMPER Woof & Shloof 666 St. Clair Ave. W. woofandshl­

For Jesse “Mountain” Sternberg, the business of grooming and doggie daycare is spiritual.

With his staff and two “sidekicks” — 12-year-old English sheepdog Maydel and 11month-old toy Yorkie mix “little Jimmy” — Sternberg operates Woof & Shloof (Yiddish for nap) under a mandate of genuine connection with the animals. He has come to be called a “dog whisperer,” by connecting on a spiritual level with the canines in his care.

“I’ve always been deeply connected to animals and to nature since I was a little boy,” he says.

He tunes into the dogs’ emotions, allowing the animal to inform the care — “the dog is the customer,” he says, not the owners. It’s better to have a happy dog with a bad haircut, for example, than a terrified dog with a good haircut. So Sternberg and team have sometimes blindfolde­d dogs or blow-dried them backwards so they don’t react out of fear.

Since opening Woof & Shloof nearly a decade ago, the business has evolved beyond daycare and grooming and will include a dog-walking service in the fall. Sternberg partnered with a former co-op student to create every city dog’s dream: Shloof Ranch, an extended getaway for small packs of dogs to roam 18 acres of land near Bolton, Ont.

In many other cases, animals are anxious when owners leave their dogs. “This is the opposite,” Sternberg says. “The dogs get excited to go away.” WHIMSY Hogtown Mascots 400 Vaughan Rd. hogtownmas­

In the north end of Humewood, fantastica­l seasonal window displays pop with brightly coloured fabric characters straight out of a child’s imaginatio­n. A pig in a plaid shirt and overalls, a purple flower with pink lips and a blue one with a big grin. The window displays are just a taste of the imaginatio­n on display at Hogtown Mascots, which offers custom mascots, rental costumes, and materials and tips for artists. Founder John Kernaghan, whose team has built characters for children’s TV shows, 20th Century Fox, Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres, has been making mascots since he was a kid, when his fascinatio­n for Disney costumes started it all.

“I was infatuated with the fact that somebody had to be able to see out of that, breathe out of it, and also make sure it was manoeuvrab­le enough,” he says. “I never let go of that idea.”

He learned tricks of the trade at a costume shop in Belleville, Ont., where he made his first set of 40 costumes for a local Santa Claus parade. Kernaghan eventually landed a job as a character performer at Canada’s Wonderland. He donned Jabberjaw the shark, Fred Flintstone, George Jetson and Boo-Boo Bear costumes. Since then, he’s trained in costuming at Sheridan College and worked for a Disney kids show doing stop-motion puppetry before starting Hogtown Mascots with co-founder George Civello. They chose the Humewood location for its “neighbourh­ood-y storefront,” where the window display offers passersby and commuters at the nearby bus stop something to smile at. The curious will step inside for a peek behind the curtain where all that imaginatio­n is manufactur­ed. T.O. Blocks is an occasional series. If you’d like to suggest a neighbourh­ood for us to profile, contact edtlifedes­

 ?? WOOF & SHLOOF ?? Woof & Shloof — Yiddish for nap — is grooming and doggie daycare
WOOF & SHLOOF Woof & Shloof — Yiddish for nap — is grooming and doggie daycare
 ?? RANDY RISLING TORONTO STAR ?? Two of the newest characters at Hogtown Mascots, home to imaginativ­e seasonal window displays.
RANDY RISLING TORONTO STAR Two of the newest characters at Hogtown Mascots, home to imaginativ­e seasonal window displays.
 ?? DAVE’S... ON ST. CLAIR ?? Dave’s... On St. Clair is a popular neighbourh­ood hangout.
DAVE’S... ON ST. CLAIR Dave’s... On St. Clair is a popular neighbourh­ood hangout.

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