The University of Toronto Neighbourhood

The University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is situated on the border of Queen’s Park in the city’s core, and it has continued growing and spreading since its foundation in 1827. Today, it's first of Canadian universities and it's known internationally for its influential research. It's very centrally located downtown Toronto, neighbouring areas like Yorkville and the Annex.

Location

The University of Toronto campus stretches roughly from Spadina Avenue to Bay Street, and from Bloor Street down to College Street, although some of its buildings surpass those borders. It's two kilometres north of the Financial District and steps to Yorkville, with Queen’s Park right in the middle, which contains the Ontario Legislative Building.

History

In 1827, the university was founded by royal charter as King’s College after pressure from people like John Graves Simcoe (Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada) and John Strachan (Anglican Bishop of Toronto) who wanted a college to be built. The original school building, which was three storeys tall, was therefore constructed. At first, it was a very religious institution aligned with the Church of England, but in 1849, it was renamed "the University of Toronto" to eliminate its ties to the church. Strachan then started Trinity College (which is now a part of U of T’s many colleges) as a private Anglican seminary. The 1900s showed huge growth of the university, like building the Faculty of Law, the Conservatory of Music, the Faculty of Forestry, and two other campuses, Mississauga and Scarborough. As the university expanded, the grounds did as well, and many buildings that were built between 1858 and 1929 can still be admired today.

university
Street Car at University of Toronto by Diego Torres Silvestre

Local Trivia

  • Northrop Frye, the Canadian renowned for his contributions to literary criticism, was a professor at the university
  • Ten Nobel laureates taught or were taught at the university, including Lester B. Pearson, John James Richard Macleod, Frederick Banting, and Oliver Smithies
  • The North American football league is rooted in the University of Toronto, with the first football game played at University College on November 9, 1861
  • A fire in 1890 destroyed the inside of University College and destroyed 33,000 volumes in the library

The Good News

The University of Toronto neighbourhood is stunning. With historical touches throughout juxtaposed with new modern buildings from the last ten years, it's a beautiful place to be and to walk through if you have the chance. Being such a large and dense area, you can take a different route and come across a different path to follow, a different bench to read a book on, or even a farmer’s market to shop at in the summer, or a waterfall behind Victoria College. The central location also means it's steps to Bloor Street, a great shopping and eating spot, Bay Street, with its trendy and chic shops, and Yonge Street, Toronto’s main street for everything you need.

University of Toronto by rouilleralain
University of Toronto by Alain Rouiller

The Bad News

It's a student-run area for the most part, although the Annex and other residential areas are close by, which means you may run into the occasional fraternity party or drunken student post–exam season. The area is bustling for eight months of the year and then it quiets down when the students are home for the holidays. The historical buildings and central location also mean a higher price tag, so prepare to pay if you’re not looking to live like a student.             

The U of T
The U of T by Rick Weiss

Homes, Architecture, and Real Estate

The architecture of the area is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic Revival buildings dating between 1858 and 1929. Token buildings like Hart House have beautiful stained-glass windows and high ceilings. The Trinity College building has Jacobethan Tudor architecture, and its chapel has interiors of Indiana Limestone.

the trinity college by roens
The Trinity College by roens

The Annex is where you’ll find the most residential space, with Victorian and Edwardian mansions there built between 1880 and the early 1900s. There are also a handful of homes south of College Street, many of which are sectioned off to be rented to students who want to live in the area.

Co Campus Student Housing by Jon the Happy Web Creative
Co Campus Student Housing by Jon the Happy Web Creative

Who Is Your Neighbour?

Students from the University of Toronto make up a significant portion of the transient and seasonal residents, contrasting with the over 15,000 permanent residents. The nearby Annex neighbourhood is made up of mid- to higher-income families with an income range of $60,000, but some of the homes in the area are in the million dollar range. Similarly, a ten-minute walk from the University grounds brings you to Yorkville, an upscale neighbourhood, and the Bay and Bloor area, with luxury high-rise condominiums. It's also two kilometres from the Financial District downtown.

Parks and Green Spaces

The University of Toronto area is very dense with buildings, but it still manages to preserve some green spaces to sit down and read a book in once in a while, including lawns and flowers surrounding big buildings like Robarts library and courtyards near all the colleges. A designated area called Front Campus at King's College Circle is a large green space in front of Convocation Hall. Nearby is Hart House circle, a green area for the Hart House building.

robarts library
Robarts Library by Carsten Keßler

The largest park in the area is of course Queen’s Park, an oval shape with bike paths and benches throughout, as well as several monuments and statues commemorating historical events and people.

Tall Shiny Buildings by Benson Kua
Tall Shiny Buildings by Benson Kua

Recreation and Culture

The University of Toronto Athletic Centre (55 Harbord Street) is one of the largest gyms in the area, and it's open to the public and students alike. It's extremely large, with several indoor swimming pools, basketball courts, rooms for dance and fitness classes, and a large main room that hosts competitive events, runs classes, and offers typical fitness equipment like treadmills and elliptical machines surrounding an indoor track. Similarly, Hart House (7 Hart House Circle) has an athletic centre and an indoor swimming pool. You can buy a membership and take drop-in fitness classes or registered programs, including archery!

hart house by B Sutherland
Hart House by B. Sutherland

On the southwest corner of Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue is the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, providing the area with health and swimming facilities.

There are also many museums and galleries in the area.

  • The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM): One of the largest museums in North America, a new and somewhat controversial “crystal” façade was developed for the museum that has awed new visitors. Exhibitions regularly rotate, with special unique events run weekly. Of note is the “ROM Friday Night Live” allowing visitors to eat, drink, and dance while enjoying foods from local restaurants and music spun from local DJs.
  • The Bata Shoe Museum: Probably the most unusual and unique Toronto attraction, the museum exhibits footwear from across the globe. The permanent collection contains over 12,500 artefacts. You’ll be surprised how much you'll learn about shoes.
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO): Though not in the Annex exactly, the gallery is steps from the neighbourhood, providing art exhibits to residents that are sure to provoke as well as delight.

Churches in the area include Bloor Street United Church at 300 Bloor Street W, (416) 924-7439, Walmer Road Baptist Church at 188 Lowther Avenue, (647) 351-7222, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 69 Walmer Road, (416) 921-8108.

Libraries

The University of Toronto's Robarts Library at 130 St George Street, (416) 978-8450, is one of the largest in Canada. Attached to it is the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which holds Canada’s collection of rare books and is accessible upon request.

Arts and Entertainment

Restaurants

There are some great eats in the area, and not all are student-focused — although there are the food trucks on St. George. Just West of the University is the Annex neighbourhood, with some of the best restaurants on Bloor Street that the city has to offer and very much worth the ten-minute walk over.

Transportation

The neighbourhood has access to several subway stations, including Spadina Station (at Bloor Street W and Spadina Avenue), St. George (at Bloor Street W and Bedford Road), Bay (at Bloor Street W and Bay Street), Queen’s Park (at College Street and Queen’s Park Crescent E), and College (at Yonge Street and College Street). Each station has frequent buses or streetcars seven days a week.

For drivers, the Don Valley Parkway is a ten-minute drive away, leading to the 401 or the Gardiner Expressway.

Medical Centres and Doctors

The closest hospital to the University of Toronto area is Toronto Western at 399 Bathurst Street, (416) 603-2581 — on Bathurst Street between College Street and Dundas Street.

Other hospitals farther south of the area are:

Police Station

52 Division, 255 Dundas Street W, (416) 808-5200

Fire Station

Toronto Fire Station 344, 240 Howland Avenue

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