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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Cities for People: the lowdown on Toronto’s Wallace Emerson Neighbourhood

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This is part of a series of posts by students in OCAD’s Cities for People workshop. This post was researched and written by Dakota Wares-Tani, Emily Laur, Julie Forand, Dionisios Vriniotis, and Muriel Schvartzman. Their psychogeographic map of the neighbourhood above is a collage of texture, found objects, hidden art, and friendly people that carried them through a journey of the neighbourhood.

Wallace Emerson neighbourhood is a late-bloomer, only defined during the 1970s, this mix land-use area was given the convenient title of the  intersection of Wallace Ave. and Emerson Ave. The residential area north of Bloor St. is generally single-family dwellings and many have been converted into apartments. Currently, the northern area is mostly post-industrial development and the northeastern area has been swept up by condos. Although the housing has aged, particular streets have undergone renovations, however, many parts remain neglected and in need of an uplift.

A walk through Wallace Emmerson’s changing landscape.

Residents decorate their front lawns and porches with religious emblems or ornamental figurines. The neighbourhood’s residents are a mix of South Asian, East Asian, and European, and few with English as their first language. Today Portuguese and Chinese continue to settle here.

A study sketch during our visit.

With the mix of ethnicities emerging in this neighbourhood, it brings a lot of culture to the community. As we toured around the streets, one can see many local restaurants, retail stores and other unique services. The atmosphere is warm and spirited, especially with the Euro Cup going on.

The streets are characterized by many long narrow laneways that can provide either rowdy or quiet passages to other major streets. These areas reveal the true “messy mix” nature of the neighbourhood, as the old and new, rough and clean, industrial and natural, are interwoven to create these dense walkways. Beautiful rust against vibrant blades of grass mesmerized us as we passed by alternating peeling garage facades beside new shiny ones.

A lane way is flanked by two parkettes protected by distressed guardrails.

Today, there are many development and reconstruction projects going on. We noticed one particularly large site that was fenced off on the border of Bloor St. and Lansdowne Ave, blocking off a couple of manufacturing warehouses. However, it was masked by a black fence portraying beautiful silhouette imagery of the community. This was a nice example of engaging the community in a more subtle and artistic way.

Portion of the block-long fence installation masking the construction site.

Thinking of opportunities that might arise in this neighbourhood for our intervention, we focused on these three themes. First was our experience at the antique shop called “Captains Antique”. The shop owners welcomed us in and gladly shared their story of how they came to this area. It wasn’t the most pleasant situation to come from, but what pulled our heart strings was that they’ve found this neighbourhood as their new home and were welcomed by the community to stay and flourish.

Captains Antique

The second incident that captured our attention was a comment by an older gentleman when we first explored the neighbourhood. Right outside the Baptist Church at Bloor St. and Dufferin St., like a kindly father would advise, he said, “You young ladies should not drink and drive.” This moment took us by surprise as we’ve never had a stranger make such a comment, but with his seemingly genuine nature we took it to heart. It showed us that there is a community here, and they watch out for each other.

Community spirit within the church

Lastly was the opportunity to engage the with the community at its facilities and community centre. It all started with our journey though the park which the community fought for over three years to have created. They converted 7 acres of warehouses into a huge open playing field with a soccer pitch and natural BMX park. Around the community centre and park we found hidden traces of art installations that add a little bit of character and warmth to the environment.

Community centre rink has many purposes throughout the summer including ball hockey and a dog park.

Natural-ground BMX park

Hidden pavement art we stumbled upon entering the park

Overall the feel of this neighbourhood gave us a varied mix of emotions and thoughts. The community of people seem enthusiastic and down-to-earth but the physical landscape of buildings and vegetation could use come loving. Even though the area look rough, the attitude of the people trumps the aesthetics. This neighbourhood is a box of hidden gems, it just takes a good sifting through it to find them…or possibly a kind stranger will share them with you. It’s a good locally-focused community with the intention of positive change for their area and future generations.

Flipped photo of the community centre provides a new interpretation of the place



  1. Wallace Emerson CC is amazing. The facility itself has seen better days but the programming is great. Amazing drop in program for families through the Early Years. I’ve been doing the evening aerobics classes for eight years. Saturday gymnastics for kids is also great. Sometimes I am there twice a day. It’s a very busy place. Wish the city would fund some upgrades to it. The mall beside it however is hurting and I hope with Zellers leaving that someone will come in a resurrect it. Need a decent grocery store among other things.

  2. Hey that’s me Angie the crossing guard.