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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Jane’s Walk Guide: The Inner Suburbs

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The second annual Jane’s Walk will be held on May 3 and 4. In anticipation of the event, Spacing will be highlighting some of the unique walks. Spacing is a founding partner in Jane’s Walk.

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Toronto suburbs have redeeming qualities that often overlooked and are rarely experienced on foot. They are full of largely ungentrified neighbourhoods where ethnic diversity flourishes. Some are windows into the farming communities that preceded the growth of our city. Others hearken back to the manufacturing and industrial past that allowed Toronto to flourish. While others still hearken back to the influx of immigrants that drastically changed the city’s skyline in the 50s and 60s.

However, despite the nostalgia and the aura of multiculturalism that these neighbourhoods invoke, many of our inner suburbs are in need of major repair. Poverty, violence, and unemployment, largely due to underfunding and poor social services, plague many of these communities. Focus on the inner suburbs (one of the themes of this year’s Jane’s Walk) will not only re-introduce participants to Malvern, Jane and Finch, Mount Dennis and other inner suburbs, it will also serve to clarify the often negative “second-hand reports and conventional wisdom” that most Toronto media likes to portray. As many of these communities are in a transition phase, these walks will serve as an opportunity to discuss, debate and dream about the many possibilities for sustainable development and social equity present in these neighbourhoods.



The East Scarborough walk will give participants a chance to better familiarize themselves with this distant neighbourhood on the periphery of Toronto. The tour will include a visit to one of Toronto‘s oldest chapels, an aboriginal gathering place, an exceptional mural, and a sculpture garden will surely prove there is life and beauty outside the downtown core.

In the Golden Mile: City of Industry Tour, participants will visit the remnants of Scarborough‘s industrial heritage along Eglinton Avenue east. The walk will take visitors to the GECO plant, one of many former munitions factories which contributed towards Toronto‘s World War II effort. Tour guides Jeremy Hopkin and Rafael Gomez will try to reconcile Scarborough‘s early history as a First Nations settlement and farm community with its more recent manufacturing and commercial activities.

The Planning in Malvern walk will provide participants with an opportunity to explore the relationship between imagination and reality. Malvern, which is located in the northeast corner of Toronto, is the home of the Toronto Zoo, the Nike Malvern Sports Complex, and the Rouge Valley Park. Originally planned as a model community in the 50s, this neighbourhood has experienced social and economic troubles. Although significant improvements have been made to raise the quality of life in Malvern, poor transit service still make this community seem worlds away. Tour leader Craig Cal will provide a taste of things to come as he evaluates Malvern’s potential for the future.


The Crescent Town and Valley Below tour will explore the high-rise community, lush ravine, and the diverse business that flank the eastern Danforth Avenue strip. Crescent Town, which is located in the Victoria Park and Danforth Avenue area, once belonged to the Massey family who owned a farm on this location. The farm has the notoriety of being the first to produce pasteurized milk in Canada. Yvonne Bambrick and Spacing’s Shawn Micallef will take visitors on a psychogeographic walk which will engage and encourage participants to share their memories or feelings about what the sites and history they encounter along the way.

In Thorncliffe Park, visitors will learn the history behind one of Canada‘s first high-rise communities. Located on next to the Don River on the east and Milwood Road on the west, the area was occupied by a farm until the 20s when a horse race track was built on the site. In the 50s, plans emerged to transform the area into a car-oriented community. The park was originally meant to house 12 000 people, but currently is home to over 30 000 people. Due to this high density, Thorncliffe Park is home to Canada‘s largest elementary school. The walk will explore this neighbourhood which is known for attracting residents of many faiths and backgrounds, a characteristic which is reflected in the varying places of worship that dot the community.


Flemingdon Park, not only houses the Ontario Science Centre, but it is also home to a lively and diverse community that speaks over 50 languages. Explore this dynamic neighbourhood with Davide Lemire and Kathleen Wynne to better understand the evolution of Flemingdon Park from a farm owned by Mayor Robert John Fleming in the 1920s into a high-rise community meant to accommodate the waves of immigration that characterized the 60s and 70s.

The Victoria Village tour will take visitors through this friendly Lawrence Ave East and Victoria Park neighbourhood. Victoria Village, which overlooks the Don Valley, offers stunning views of the natural beauty and restorative efforts that surround the Don River. This walk will engage residents to share stories and memories of people and places that make up this community.

The Inside Scoop on Jane and Finch will provide just that — the scoop! Originally planned as a model community in the 60s, Jane and Finch immediately fell prey to poor urban planning and limited social services garnering it comparisons to Harlem and and Compton. However, despite the negative press that follows this densely populated intersection, it is area that many proudly call home and are working hard to improve. A group of neighbourhood youth will lead participants through the places that make Jane and Finch a lively and rich community. The tour will visit a library, recording studio, soccer fields, and the high school, all of which play an important part in the making this place home.

The Lawrence Heights tour will guide the curious through the many resident-led art and garden projects. Lawrence Heights, which is located between Lawrence Avenue West and Highway 401 and runs parallel to the Allen Expressway, is characterized by a mixture of low- to mid-rise buildings (tall buildings were not permitted because of the nearby Downsview Airport) and single family homes. In 2007, plans revealed that this community would see improvements, which include the replacement of all public housing units with modern affordable housing. The Jane’s Walk will explore what the future holds for Lawrence Heights, with an overview of the opportunities and challenges revitalization poses for this community.


A walk through Mount Dennis will provide a great opportunity to engage in the development debate. This neighbourhood is bounded by Jane Street and Weston Road to the north and west, and the slithering Black Creek to the east. Its name comes from the Dennis family, shipbuilders who owned a boatyard along the nearby Humber River in the 19th century. Mount Dennis today is a unique medley of industrial parks, multicultural commercial streetscapes, vast and numerous parks. It is also the home of the now empty 50 acre lot once occupied the former Kodak factory has proven great fodder for discussion concerning its future. Led by the Mount Dennis Walking Group, this tour will take participants through the hidden treasures—a secret garden, old cemeteries and idyllic ponds—that make this a vibrant community.

For scheduling, directions, meeting place and information on all the Jane’s Walk walks visit

photo by bribriTO



  1. “Poverty, violence, and unemployment, largely due to underfunding and poor social services, plague many of these communities”

    How do you derive that it is the result of ‘underfunding’? Looking at the increasing poverty in Toronto on the Untied Ways ‘Poverty by Postal Code’ map, combined with historical data, there is a much stronger link to unemployment and those factors than ‘underfunding’. The areas that are losing the most jobs are experiencing the greatest increase in poverty and violence.

    If you go on the Jane/Finch walk, make a detour through the industrial areas which provided much needed employment for the area. Notice the ‘for lease’ signs, buildings occupied by ‘places of worship’ and used car dealers. Walk far enough down Oakdale Rd. and see how employment producing areas are now being replaced by developments like “Oakdale Village”.

    I am more convinced that it is the over taxing of rental apartments and employment producing properties, that has deteriorated the area, than under funding.

  2. This was re-written, wasn’t it? The original post said the inner suburbs deserved their bad rap because they were products of sprawl and car-culture. I was all set to tear into Ms. Simoes for another typical display of downtown progressive ignorance/arrogance, but it looks like someone realized that post aiming to challenge “second-hand reports and conventional wisdom” maybe shouldn’t be composed of both.

    But even in its edited form, the downtowner bias shines through: the inner suburbs are a wilderness of bad planning and social breakdown, plagued by “poverty, violence and unemployment”, their only redeeming feature a flourishing ethnic diversity and “aura of multiculturalism”. If not for the downtown progressive fetishization of multiculturalism, one wonders if these walks would even take place. Indeed, the only nostalgia the inner suburbs seem to invoke for downtown progressives is for the good old days when Scarborough was still Scarberia, and you could dismiss the people who lived there without feeling like a racist.

    The inner suburbs do not need redemption from downtown progressives. As impossible as it is for downtowners to grok, many people do actually CHOOSE to live uptown. Stop treating that choice as some bizarre aberration and recognize that, in the problems they face and the solutions required to solve them, the inner suburbs are the same as any other part of the city. Save your field trips for the Zoo.

  3. Iqbal> It seems like these walks aren’t for you, you’ve got too many updown-downtown issues to deal with and work through first. Seems like you want the suburbs to live in some kind of isolation bubble — an angry bubble at that who thinks of “downtown” and “uptown” as some kind group-thinking block.

    Since I live in one of these suburbs, I’m glad you don’t speak for all of us. I look forward to walking around my suburb and other suburbs, and maybe even downtown, if I can make it. I live in Toronto first, then in my neighbourhood. I don’t know where you live.

  4. Iqbal: having read Patricia’s other posts, she clearly states she lives in those same inner suburbs, not downtown. Before sounding off, do a little research so you don’t look like a fool.

    Just look at the map of postal code poverty and where the walks are taking place: she’s right and your defensiveness is out of whack.

  5. Suzet> I’m working through my issues right here. These walks are supposed to spark debate, discussion and dreams, no? Or should we just agree about everything and leave it at that?

  6. Heather> If Patricia lives uptown, my mistake for calling her a downtowner. But that doesn’t change the tone of her post, nor my problems with it.

  7. Patricia — What exactly is an “aura of multiculturalism”? Some sort of smoggy haze?

  8. there is a certain irony to Iqbal’s complaints: it was the same one being made about downtown by the suburbanites for 40 years, until most of the population woke up to the notion that single use neighbourhoods planned out in the burbs kill the vibrancy of cities.

    But to call the inner burb problems the same as any other part of the city is absurd. Sacarborough’s issue are differnt than Parkdale’s, while Etobicoke’s issues are different than East York’s. They each require unique approaches.

    lastly, what Iqbal seems to ignore is that this isn’t a downtown/uptown debate. Its density versus sprawl. There is also something of a precedent set by the US suburbs. They are rotting and the people are turning to more dense living for both economic and social reasons.

    I don’t think he’s read much from Spacing or he wouldn’t be going on a rampage since Spacing has the most nuanced view of the city that is presented by the big blogs and major publications (aside from the Star who have an army of reporters all over the GTA).

  9. Julia> How exactly do Parkdale’s problems differ from Malvern’s? I’ve lived in both, and it seemed to me they were a lot more alike than different.

    If downtown = dense and uptown = sprawl, then how is this NOT a downtown/uptown debate? You say density, I say downtown. We’re still talking about the same thing.

    As for nuance, I agree, Spacing does a pretty good job. What I’m taking issue with are core assumptions in Patricia’s post, which yes, I do think are typical among people who read Spacing (I regret and retract my earlier characterization of them as “downtown progressives”. Apparently they don’t all live downtown).

    The primary assumption is that the built form of the inner suburbs is inherently anti-social; that the wide streets, strip malls and light industrial zoning the inner suburbs “kill the vibrancy of cities” (to use your phrase). But then, if this is true, why are all those ethnic communities flourishing? Do the inner suburbs only work for multicultural people?

    Maybe it’s that the built form of the inner suburbs isn’t anti-social after all. Maybe it’s just a built form YOU personally don’t enjoy. Fair enough, move downtown. That’s the great thing about Toronto; there are lots of different neighbourhoods to choose from (of course, if you do move downtown, you’ll be contributing to the dreaded gentrification that has all the nuanced Spacing readers in a tizz. Striving for utopia, you’re damned either way).

  10. Julia,

    Please explain to me then, the curtailing fortunes of these areas and those adjoining them just outside of the 416 area.

    In fact, your comments support, rather than reject Iqbal’s point. It is not sprawl, transit or lack of bike lanes that is central to the decline in these areas. If it were Mississauga, Vaughn and Markham would not have fared opposite fates. They are near identical in density as the area’s in question. The success of those areas, if defined by less poverty and higher incomes, are in large part a result of Toronto policy. Toronto’s tax policies towards non residential properties has had the effect of increasing rents, reducing incentive to build more rental accommodations and moving companies who are not attached to the city out. No nuanced required.

  11. I wish I had more time to debate this but I’ll concentrate on one or two things: parkdale probs and seen on the street. Malvern’s are not so apparent. Much different approach on how to deal with drugs and gangs.

    uptown/downtown/sprawl: I’ll say that Yonge all the way up to Finch is ‘urban’ yet it spans the entire city. oakwood and the eglinton strip west of the Allen Rd is very very urban and not downtown. Mimico in South Etobicoke has wonderfully charming urban feel. Same goes for Weston.

    Its not about where you live, but the density and built form. Strip malls are fine for communities to flourish, but I don’t think any would choose it as an ideal built form since most are located on 6-8 lanes of mini-expressways. No matter your political stripe, you cannot advocate that these are ideal conditions for a city to flourish.

  12. Glen wants to believe that taxes are the problems, not that we’ve built cities that are economically unsustainable BECAUSE of sprawl. the only way those 905 areas prosper is because of low biz taxes, but now that oil is hitting $150 a barrel people are going to want to live close to where they work, and I don’t see a mad dash to build condos beside industrial wastelands of Mississauga.

    We’ve seen what lax American tax policies have done to their burbs — destroy them.

  13. Julia,

    Believe it or not, most people who moved to the 905 region, did so to be closer to work. Seeing that they have been much more successful in making jobs (800,000 vs. Toronto losing 100,000), it would be more likely that it is Toronto that is not sustainable. More people from Toronto work in the 905 region than the other way around, a trend that continues to increase. A trend that does not support the use of public transit.

    As you said, people want to live close to where they work. Toronto has less jobs today than it did in 1989. So we both seem to agree that the future lies in the 905 area.

    And yes they do build condos in the 905 region. Thanks for making my point.

  14. nothing like picking out one fact to make your point and turning one debate into another.

    Hope you like the traffic jams on Steeles and every other major arterial road heading into/out of TO. That’s the future I certainly don’t long for.

  15. Julia> This is great. Now we’re into the nitty-gritty.

    If you don’t want traffic jams on Steeles, explain how Toronto can replace the jobs we’ve lost to the 905. Why should a company set up in Weston or Agincourt instead of Mississauga or Richmond Hill? Because Glen’s right: it’s not lack of social services that plague the inner suburbs, it’s lack of jobs.

    Compared to this question, everything else is secondary.

  16. If jobs are the problem then why is there 14 Priority neighbourhoods?

    Job are important, and I don’t argue that, but to say a lack of social services do not plague the burbs is bordering on idiotic.

    Simple to avoid traffic jams: replace a large portion of the road space on major arterials with high-occupancy transit, namely LRT. Any other way you will get LA-style traffic, which is already here.

    I’m not sure if you guys are arguing for compact dense living. If you;’re not, go back to the 1950s

  17. Julia, what on earth are you talking about?

    You said the decline was because of sprawl. I used the 905 region to point out the fallacy of that argument. Then you tried to make the point that the 905 region is bound to fail because people want to live closer to where they worked. To which I agreed, only that the evidence shows that those jobs have been created in the 905 region. The evidence shows that the 905 region has grown in jobs and population. Toronto has been stagnant for nearly a generation.

    This whole thing reminds me of John Barber’s take on the issue………

  18. The growth of jobs in the 905 is like the growth in super-discount airlines. As gas prices rocket up, this historical blip will pop as people can no longer afford to pay for mobility in 905 style lifestyles on a day to day domestic level. People may move, or the might demand more public transit, which will be super expensive, given the land use pattern. Perhaps taxes will go up.

  19. That strikes me as one of John Barber’s stranger columns. He seems to be making the point that the data is almost contradictory. As for the jobs vs. social services issue, I’d say you need both.

    If good, suburban office park jobs suddenly appeared in one of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, many current residents wouldn’t get much benefit because they don’t have the qualifications, and their kids aren’t on track to qualify for those jobs either. Sure, the area might see a better mix of income levels from workers moving to live close by — though proximity to York U doesn’t seem to have had much effect on Jane & Finch. But to a large extent you’d just be displacing the residents who need social services to some other area which may not offer any better support.

    As for the other side, if the social services are plentiful but the only work is in the 905, then the social services are going to help people with their careers — but a bunch are likely to move into the 905 to live closer to their new jobs. Good for the individuals, but the improvement in the neighbourhood will be slow, if at all.

    Maybe the easiest thing to agree on is that Jane’s Walk is an excellent way to discover a new part of the city. If everyone in the suburbs went for a walk downtown, and everyone south of Bloor went for a walk in the suburbs, maybe the discussion wouldn’t have to be so polarized.

  20. Very interesting discussion.

    I personally must admit I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea of touring areas of the city in large groups like tourists, particularly in the context of social equity and social service discrepancies.

    I went on a similar walk in East London, and it still stands as one of the more bizarre and frankly awful experiences I’ve had.

    I understand the purpose here is not voyeuristic, but there is something very odd about the scene of people depicted in the picture above. But then again, I’ve never once walked around the city with a camera, so perhaps this is simply not my thing. The idea of exploring the city in large groups is simply not my thing.

  21. Matt,

    I certainly am not trying to polarize the issue. I grew up in the Keele/Finch area, so I know it well. If you or anyone wants links to the source material in which I retrieved my information from, by all means, ask.

    You make an interesting point about what might happen if an urban office park was to be built in one of the subject areas. What I would like to discuss is why should we be so discerning about what types of jobs are available. Especially in light of the paucity of jobs available in the city. Furthermore, and this is an issue which I discussed with Anne Golden, is that if these areas have higher percentages of immigrants, factory or trade work is more suitable. As lack of English proficiency is less of an encumbrance. These areas at one time had far more jobs. They did not disappear into thin air. They moved, mostly to the 905 region. Any fate that sprawl might befall on the 905 region will certainly be felt more so in these areas due to the economic differences.


    There is a move afoot to the increase density in major corridors in the 905 region. This is to be better able to support public transit. While I don’t see any subway system any decade soon. I do see conditions improving enough to support more bus service.

    Keep in mind that these are relatively young cities. Even Spadina Ave was once a residential street.

  22. Glen, sorry if that sounded like an accusation — it was more of an observation that you and Julia weren’t agreeing on much. As for the office park, the reason I picked that is simply the decline of the manufacturing sector nationwide. Local factors may have driven light industrial jobs out of the 416 over the last couple of decades, but reversing that now would require going against the overall trend that is seeing factory and trade jobs disappear everywhere.

    Dave, I think it helps that these walks are free and given by people with close local ties. In the ones I went on last year, the guides’ love for their neighbourhoods and respect for the people who live there came through pretty strongly.

  23. Julia> Call me an idiot, but what are “social services”? You don’t mean schools, sewers and emergency services, do you? Because the inner suburbs have plenty of that kind of stuff.

  24. Matt,

    I didn’t know that. That definitely makes a difference.

  25. In my case I choose Crescent Town to do a Jane’s Walk because I’ve been there a few times and like it, and think it subverts the common thinking about planned high rise communities. I do not live there, so my “tour” will be limited to historical bits I know, and observations on things I like (how modernism and ravine work so well together, etc). Like a lot of Toronto’s suburbs , Crescent Town seems to work and succeed despite the planning and land use of the surrouding area (not that there are no problems). I also have, as co-guide, Yyvonne Bambrick who grew up for 18 years in one of the towers on the 28th floor. Then we’ll be venturing in to the ravine, surrounding residential community, along the Danforth where there is interesting economic activity and into Shoppers World mall/stripmall.

    Dave, I’ve been walking in groups around Toronto since I got here, and I agree there are uncomfortable moments. I hate the idea of being a tourist, and try to mitigate that by just talking about what I know (architecture, some historical facts, a psychogeographic approach), and simply introducing people to interesting neighbourhoods, so they know what is there, so that space gets filled in, a bit, on their mental map. I will, at the beginning, also invite anybody that knows something about a place we end up, or wants to suggest a diversion, is welcome to do so.

    I’ve been on some bad tours as well, so know in part what to avoid. Group walks are inherently different than the way we normally walk. You aren’t invisible, you become the main thing on the street, so that affects the space. Though like many things, i think “the good” of this introduction is greater than the discomfort.

    At the end, I’ll suggest people do the route on their own again, maybe linger longer in a restaurant, to see what it’s like then, and if it is different.

  26. Matt,

    I agree that in today’s let’s make it in China climate, luring these types of industries back to the 416 area is a fools errand. Things might change in the future, but for now I can’t argue with your reasoning.

    I would like to add though, that the current climate is not only a detriment to growth but one which effects the viability of existing jobs. Look what is set to happen to Duke’s Cycle. They were paying $15,000 a year in property tax. If they rebuild, their taxes are set to go to the uncapped rate of $90,000 per year. Do you think that they can swallow that? Even if the city sets the rate at the level proposed by the end of the ‘Enhancing Toronto’s Business Plan’ the rate will still be $45,000 per year. I am afraid that a lot of small business will be unwilling or unable to pay such taxes. Their demise will allow big retailers and power centers to flourish in the city.