East vs West Toronto: Where Should You Live?
Many modern cities see a divide between their Eastern and Western sides, and Toronto is no different. The subject can be a playful debate of bragging points, a snobbish discussion on the hottest amenities, and a fascinating look into the history of how the city was built all wrapped into one. We’d like to discuss the question of East vs West Toronto for the benefit of those looking to move into Toronto, and wondering which side suits their needs best.
First, the necessary discussion of definitions between East and West must be had. Most agree that the long line of Yonge St marks the division between the two halves. Alternately, it’s also common to view the space between University and Parliament (or Jarvis, or the Don Valley) as Central or Downtown Toronto, with the areas to either side being the true East and West. For the most part we will be operating on the latter definition, though in more centralized discussions, Yonge will be the base point.
To paint in broad strokes for those new to the city, Western Toronto is often seen as the “hipper” side of the city, with a denser population of both people and retail spaces. Eastern Toronto is newer and up and coming, while historically considered to be cheaper. As time marches forward, that divide in values and amenities is quickly shrinking.
Let’s first take a look at how and why that divide appeared in the first place.
EAST VS WEST: A HISTORY
Central and Western Toronto were established and built up long before what we now consider today as Eastern Toronto existed as more than farm lands. The chief factor forcing expansion Westward instead of East was the Don Valley. While Toronto had been incorporated and growing since 1834, it was not until 1918 that the Prince Edward Viaduct was built, linking the Western Bloor with the Eastern Danforth. More bridges followed and the East was slowly made more accessible.
Check out the entire map here. You can see just how underdeveloped the East was at this point in history compared to the West.
1900s industry also brought new challenges: it was smelly. Winds in Toronto tend to flow from west to east, carrying with it the heavy and often toxic odours from brickmakers, leather work, and steel mills. This kept the more affluent citizens in the West end.
Though not having anything to do with the Don Valley, many of Toronto’s larger social housing projects ended up on the East end, such as Regent Park, St. James Town, Crescent Town, and Moss Park. While others exist throughout the entirety of Toronto, many historic mistakes in judgement happened in these Eastern communities (see our piece on Regent Park) that would later need to be rectified to make the areas more livable for all.
With these historical hurdles to overcome, it’s a safe assumption that the East had some catching up to do in the development department, but now that it’s no longer such a major issue, we can take a look at where that leaves us today.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EAST VS WEST
In keeping with its longer history, Western Toronto has more historic and cultural centres in its midst. Here are a few of the highlights of the area.
Better for Walkers
The West side features very closely packed businesses along areas like Queen West and Bloor. Many of the finest shopping centres and restaurants dot these streets. Traffic tends to be pretty tight on these streets so walking is the preferred method of travel.
With the younger crowd and higher population density comes the swanky bars and clubs that never sleep. You’re always sure to find something interesting to do whether you’re a night owl or an early riser.
Convenient Condo Living
Western Toronto is condo central. In the East, there are more areas with height restrictions on new buildings. Condos make up the vast majority of housing now in the West end, which can be more convenient for those on the go, who don’t want to worry about things like lawn maintenance.
Western Toronto is home to a higher amount of significant landmarks, such as museums and art galleries. The tourism that graces the area gives it a fast paced and fresh feeling, as there’s always something new to see.
Fittingly enough, most universities in Toronto’s heart sit along University Ave and the spaces to the west. Combined with the younger-skewing population and comparatively cheaper condos that make up much of the central-west’s housing, the West side is likely your best bet if you’re a student.
High Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park, and Christie Pits Park are all carefully maintained parks nestled between the hustle of the city. Frequent events make these parks a great place to relax and enjoy, with everything from movies to plays lighting up the night.
Neighbourhoods with Culture
While the East is catching up with robust neighbourhoods like Greek Town, the West has a bevy of geographically specific neighbourhoods. If you’re looking for authentic cuisine, shopping, and culture from afar, check out places like Little Portugal, Chinatown, and Little Italy.
Location Location Location
If you have friends and family outside of the city, it’s more likely that Western Toronto is more convenient. The airport is to the west, and it’s a shorter drive to other major population centres such as Kitchener, Guelph and Waterloo.
Eastern Toronto is still a bit more spread out and developing. Here are some factors that may make it ideal for your new home.
Rush hour is still rush hour, but traffic tends to flow a bit easier towards the east, with less congestion thanks to the spread-out nature of the area. People who prefer driving may find it easier to get around in Eastern Toronto.
More Distinct Neighbourhoods
Due to the space between areas and the natural divisions of rivers and highways, the neighbourhoods in the east can feel a bit more distinct from each other. The Danforth, Leslieville, East York, Riverdale and Leaside are great examples.
While the West end has been developed for longer, this has also given way to many older buildings being demolished for newer condo towers. In the East end it’s common to find stylish housing and fresh new businesses pop up in the old brick bones of factories from years past. The Distillery District and the Evergreen Brickworks are both great examples of past industry giving way to future appreciation and reappropriation.
More Detached and Semi-Detached Homes
Eastern Toronto tends to have more large homes and less condo buildings. This can make the area more ideal for those looking to start a family. Many of these homes have distinct architectural styles depending on the neighbourhood and its history. Gorgeous brick homes with ample foliage line many side streets.
Broadview Avenue, enough said.
If you’re a fan of the waterfront but not the type that requires a marina and expensive boat, Eastern Toronto is the place for you. Woodbine Beach, the KEW Beaches, and Balmy Beach are all part of a long sandy shore with a convenient boardwalk and nearby parks.
It’s hard to imagine feeling immersed in nature while still being in Toronto, but a visit to the area around the Don Valley River will do the trick. Little pockets of nature can be found all around the East end, giving you authentic hiking experiences just a short jog from the TTC. It’s also closer to the gorgeous Scarborough Bluffs.
HOW TO CHOOSE?
The conversation is a bit more complex than just a simple East vs West debate. As we’ve outlined, each part of town has its own benefits depending on what you’re looking for in a home. Here are a few more things to consider for you, personally, when it comes to choosing a neighbourhood for your new home.
What do you spend your time doing most? Are you always at the gym? Are you into a certain sport? Check out local facilities and see where your special interest is best represented. For example, our area in Leslieville is chock full of gyms, but some neighbourhoods may only have one or two.
What routes are best to your work? Some locations may be closer but are more of a pain due to number of transit transfers or traffic. Test out your prospective transit and judge from experience.
General vibe? Take the time to walk the local streets and get a feel for the area and who lives there. Where do you feel most at home?
Friends and family? It likely goes without saying, but living closer to those you spend the most time with is always a nice perk. If you’re going to be leaving town frequently, think about access to major highways out of town and which towns are on which sides of Toronto to help you out.
MADE UP YOUR MIND?
If you have any further questions, or want to look into pricing and availability in a given area, please feel free to contact us! We have agents who specialize in both East and West Toronto, and we can provide specialized assistance no matter where in the city you want to call home.