In a city landscape that is rapidly filling up with new builds and sky high condos, it’s easy to forget the rich architectural history that surrounds us. Thankfully there are gatekeepers for these landmarks who help remind us of the Toronto of yesterday, all while supporting our city’s unique and vibrant communities.
Cabbagetown is one of Toronto’s older neighbourhoods, named for the Irish immigrants who first called this region home, and who were so poor that they grew cabbages in their front yards. Today this central Toronto area is recognized by the Cabbagetown Preservation Association for it’s prominently featured semi-detached Victorian houses, as "the largest continued area of preserved Victorian housing in all of North America."
In addition to these Victorian homes, there are a number of other lesser known spaces that many of us pass on a daily basis, proudly reflecting the Toronto of yesteryear. These historical buildings also deserve to be celebrated. 12 Amelia Street is one of these properties, and Elie Benchitrit and his family have worked tirelessly to keep the legacy of this property thriving in its restored state.
Known to many as the quaintly cozy restaurant F’Amelia this staple in the Cabbagetown community, and member of The Cabbagetown BIA is also a part of our city’s history. 12 Amelia was originally a single family worker’s cottage, the most common type of small house in Ontario, and much of the United States of America in the late 1800’s. 12 Amelia has a deed of land dating back to July 2, 1901 and a record of the cottage itself constructed in 1903.
Read our review of F'Amelia here.
Thanks to owners like Elie Benchitrit, who purchased the cottage in 1978, the space has maintained its simple charm, even post renovation, into the form of a restaurant as it stands today. The Benchitrit family bought the land with the intent of turning it into a charming French restaurant, Le Canard enchaîné, named after the satirical French newspaper.
In the early days there were some challenges to get residents of Cabbagetown on board with changing the space. Local members of the community feared the erection of a McPub style chain restaurant that would litter their charming neighbourhood. It hit Elie how committed the Cabbagetown community was to their space.
When filing the papers for the renovation the room was filled with members of the area working to ensure that Cabbagetown preserved its historical legacy. Delightedly the Benchitrit family had a vision for the space that celebrated the landmark’s origin and endeared itself to local’s hearts and stomachs.
When Elie Benchitrit shared his plans for transforming the space into a quaint French restaurant individually to those who resided close by, one by one locals began to share their support of the plans. These same concerned neighbours later became regular patrons of the restaurant that followed:
Over the years it’s been amazing to feel the support from our neighbourhood and the city as a whole. In fact, 12 Amelia’s patio is technically on public space and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the local residents.
Wanting to maintain the integrity of the cottage, Elie squared off the land and built around it, with a permit, in 1987. These plans included a basement kitchen, as more space was needed to successfully run the business. Today the restaurant operates with two kitchens, one in the basement and a small one upstairs. Elie notes:
What makes the space so unique is that there are so few of these cottages left and we didn’t want to lose this in creating our restaurant.
Looking at the space, and paying attention to the glass veranda and patio, those passing by and diners alike can really get a feel for how the cottage looked over a century ago.
12 Amelia continues to enrich the experience of Toronto’s residences. Elie recalls,
I remember around 25 or 30 years ago when I was working as a chef at the restaurant, an elderly couple came in for a celebration. They proudly told us that the woman had been born inside the cottage where they were dining. We couldn’t believe our fortune to meet one of the original people who lived here.
Elie noted that the same family spirit is alive and well in the restaurant since the space has hosted many weddings over the years, with happy couples returning each year on their anniversary for a special meal.