The University of Toronto is situated on the border of Queen’s Park in the city’s core, and it has continued growing since its foundation in 1827. Today, it is considered Canada’s premier university, and it’s known internationally for its influential research. It’s also centrally located in downtown Toronto, close to neighbourhoods like Yorkville and the Annex.
The University of Toronto’s core campus stretches from Spadina Avenue to Bay Street, and from Bloor Street down to College Street, although some of its buildings surpass these borders. It’s connected to the Discovery District, which is named in part for the campus itself, but also because of the nearby hospitals in the region. It’s two kilometers north of the Financial District and minutes away from Yorkville. Queen’s Park is also nearby, which contains the Ontario Legislative Building.
The University of Toronto was founded in 1827 as King’s College after influential people including John Graves Simcoe (Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada) and John Strachan (Anglican Bishop of Toronto) wanted a college to be built in the growing city. The school’s original building stood three storeys tall. King’s College was initially a religious institution that aligned with the Church of England, but in 1849 it was renamed “The University of Toronto” to eliminate its ties to the church. Strachan went on to establish Trinity College (which is now a part of U of T’s many colleges) as a private Anglican seminary.
The university began expanding quickly at the turn of the century. It began constructing buildings for its newly introduced Faculty of Law, Conservatory of Music, and Faculty of Forestry, as well as two other campuses in Mississauga and Scarborough. As the university expanded, so did its grounds, and many buildings that were built between 1858 and 1929 can still be admired today.
Northrop Frye, the Canadian renowned for his contributions to literary criticism, was a professor at the university
The ‘Toronto School of communication’ was established here
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 books in the library.
The Good News
The region surrounding the University of Toronto is stunning. Historical touches throughout the campus are contrasted with modern buildings constructed in the 21st century.
These historic and modern structures are punctuated with trees and parks that offer ample green space. Multiple pathways in the region mean you can take different routes and always come across something new. You could find a different bench on which to read a book, a new cafe to get a latte, a farmer’s market for shopping in the summer, or even the waterfall behind Victoria College.
The central location also means it’s minutes from some of Toronto’s most well known neighbourhoods. Kensington Market and Toronto’s Chinatown are just a few minutes south from the school, and you can find trendy bars and amazing deals in the area. The Financial District is to the west, and it’s the GTA’s most vibrant employment centre. Bloor Street is located to the north, which provides a gateway to the prestigious Yorkville neighbourhood. The campus is also handy to major subway stations, putting the entire city at your fingertips.
The Bad News
Being close to a University campus, the area is home to many students. This means that you may encounter student parties and other loud behaviour. The area is bustling for eight months of the year, but the good news is that 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 a heft sum if you’re not looking to live like a student.
Homes, Architecture, and Real Estate
The architecture of the area is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic Revival buildings dating between 1858 and 1929. Landmark 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 Annex is where you’ll find the most residential space, with Victorian and Edwardian mansions built there between 1880 and the early 1900’s. 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 to be close to school.
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 a median income of $61,000 according to the 2016 census. Single detached homes regularly sell for over a million dollars here, with condos selling in the $700,000 range.
The University grounds are surrounded by prominent Toronto neighbourhoods. Yorkville, an upscale residential and commercial neighbourhood, is only a ten minute walk away. Similarly, the Bay and Bloor area, known for its luxury high-rise condominiums, is close by. The campus is also two kilometers from the Financial District downtown.
The region is filled with exciting condo developments that are currently under construction. Theory Condos by Parallax Development Corporation will be a 30 storey tower located at 203 College Street. It will be a mixed use development, so in addition to its 309 residential units, it will feature office and retail space as well. Residents will be treated to a host of building amenities, including the building’s very own Starbucks at its ground level.
Design Haus at 233 College is another anticipated project in the area. It blends modern design with the classic red bricked architecture of Old Toronto. This boutique condo building has 116 individual residences, and are a great choice for students and professionals alike.
Parks and Green Spaces
The University of Toronto area is very dense with buildings, but it also has some of the city’s most treasured green spaces to sit down and read a book. These include lawns and flowers surrounding big buildings like Robarts Library and the numerous courtyards in the region. A designated area called Front Campus at King’s College Circle is a large green space in front of Convocation Hall. You’re also close to Hart House circle, a green area for the Hart House building.
The largest park in the area is of course Queen’s Park. Its large oval shape is outfitted with bike paths and benches throughout, as well as several monuments and statues commemorating historical events and people.
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. Its ample facilities include several indoor swimming pools, basketball courts, rooms for dance and fitness classes, and a large main room that hosts competitive events, classes, and conventional fitness equipment like treadmills and elliptical machines. Hart House (7 Hart House Circle) also 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 lessons!
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. The Neo-Romanesque architecture of the original building is juxtaposed with the modern Crystal extension completed in 2007. Exhibitions regularly rotate, with special unique events that run weekly. Of note is the “ROM Friday Night Live,” which allows visitors to eat, drink, and dance while enjoying food 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, exhibiting art installations from around the world. This museum also features rotating exhibitions, so it’s worth keeping up to date on what it’s featuring.
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.
The University of Toronto’s Robarts Library at 130 St George Street, (416) 978-8450, has one of the largest collections 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
- Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
- George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)
- Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street W)
- The Royal Conservatory of Music (273 Bloor Street W)
- CAA Theatre (651 Yonge Street)
- Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP (55 Bloor Street)
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 that the city has to offer and very much worth the ten-minute walk.
- Bar Mercurio, 270 Bloor Street W (416) 960-3877
- Over Easy, 208 Bloor Street W (416) 922-2345
- Insomnia, 563 Bloor Street W (416) 588-3907
- Smoke’s Poutinerie, 490 Bloor Street W (416) 588-2873
- Sushi Couture, 456 Bloor Street W (416) 538-8618
- Amnesia, 526 Bloor Street W (416) 538-3335
- Brewhaha, 39 Prince Arthur Avenue, (416) 964-2441
The neighbourhood has access to several subway stations, including Spadina (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 area is surrounded by world class healthcare. 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:
- Women’s College Hospital, 76 Grenville Street, (416) 323-6400
- Toronto General Hospital, 200 Elizabeth Street, (416) 340-4800
- Mount Sinai Hospital, 600 University Avenue, (416) 596-4200
- St. Michael’s Hospital, 30 Bond Street, (416) 360-4000
- Princess Margaret Hospital, 610 University Avenue, (416) 946-4501)
- 52 Division, 255 Dundas Street W, (416) 808-5200