Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Toronto’s latest attraction isn’t in its downtown core or in the heart of one of its many bustling neighbourhoods. Rather it is tucked away in the west end of the city in an area with an industrial heritage that has faded from prominence during the past century.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has relocated from a small downtown space to a mammoth 55,000-square-foot edifice that once was the tallest building in Canada. The choice of location had plenty to do with its proximity to the Junction, the revitalized district that is poised for a boom. With a goal to lean on the artistic community that has migrated to the Junction, the museum is doing for the area what investment in the arts is supposed to do: Foster community pride, draw visitors, and hippify the neighbourhood.
Opened on September 22, MOCA includes gallery space for Canadian and international artists as well as studios on its inspiring fifth floor. Thirty-four local artists pay as little as $70 per month to occupy the studios, where they will work on their creations while patrons visit the facility and no doubt interact with each other in an environment certain to spark partnerships.
“Whenever you get artists working in one place they’re going to form an artist community, and because of the range of artists that will be here I expect a lot of really interesting work and collaborations to come out of here,” says Jen Pilles, the studio manager at MOCA.
The MOCA is a short walk from the Dundas West subway station and about two kilometres (1.3 miles) from the Junction’s main strip. Filled with designer shops, more than a dozen vintage furniture stores, artisan boutiques, and even a hidden bar, the Junction feels like a city within a city. Not surprising, since it once was. Until 1909, the Junction was its own municipality called West Toronto. It was home to four railways — hence the name, Junction — and to Toronto’s stockyards. It even had a stock-market exchange. Some of its most arcane laws continued into this century, including a little-known legislation that prohibited alcohol from being sold in the district that covers about 16 city blocks. In 2001, the prohibition ruling was overturned and bars and restaurants moved in.
Among them was one of the first craft breweries in Toronto, Indie Ale House, which opened in 2012 and has won some of the most prestigious honours at the Canadian Brewery Awards. Owner Jason Fisher took a chance on the neighbourhood and it has paid off.
“When we moved in here there was next to nothing in the neighbourhood. Now there are so many different businesses and you can tell it’s become considered one of the cool places to be in the city,” says Fisher, who proudly says Indie Ale House “may be the only bar in the city that doesn’t serve a lager.” Instead, it focuses on rich, flavourful, and distinct brews, including an acclaimed sour cherry beer that is barrel-aged for two years.
Indie Ale House is one of the hot spots in the Junction and a must-visit watering hole to get an excellent pint and find a feel for the neighbourhood as it is today. To glimpse how it used to be, a stop in one of the vintage furniture shops along Dundas Street West will evoke the past through their eclectic collections. Similarly, a stop at Latitude 44 art gallery will give you a chance to view local and national artists, including some who have created scenes of the Junction. Among the appealing pieces is a painting featuring Henry’s Variety, a convenience store at the corner of Dundas and Indian Grove that is rich with memories.
“Henry’s Variety exemplifies the neighbourhood feel,” says Latitude 44 owner Janet di Bernardo. “So many people who come in here have a memory or story to share about their experience with Henry’s. It’s one of those places that has just held a lot of poignant moments for people who have lived here for a long time.”
Di Bernardo chose the Junction for the gallery and framing shop because of the architecture and the aesthetics. She has come to love it because of the community camaraderie she’s experienced. “It’s one of those great neighbourhoods that Toronto is known for,” she says. “People underestimate it. They don’t realize historically it was affluent and a very important part of the city’s heritage, and remains so.”
More and more people are discovering the Junction, too. Yadder Madrigal runs a design and decor store on Dundas Street West and echoes the thoughts of other entrepreneurs who say they’ve witnessed a rise in interest.
“It’s definitely a destination,” the owner of MBM Made by Madrigal says about the Junction. “We’re not separated from the rest of the city. We are still close to the core. Whether it’s good food, art deals, live music, you can come here and explore, and you’re certain to come across something that you’ll consider a find.”
MORE ABOUT VISITING MOCA
Location: 158 Sterling Road, Toronto, ON (see map below)
Admission Fee: $10 for adults