If there’s a single spot that mirrors Toronto’s effervescent shopping scene, it’s the minimalist menswear boutique Gerhard Supply. On a busy stretch of the Junction—a former industrial zone turned “it” neighborhood, thanks to a crop of live-music joints, salvaged-furniture stores and trendy cafés—the shop is the brainchild of Toronto native Langton Willms. A proud local who cut his teeth developing several American outposts for the British Columbia–based fashion label Aritzia, Willms brought his retail muscle to this emerging locale four years ago.
While pockets of Toronto were still gazing toward cultural epicenters such as Montreal and Vancouver for inspiration, the Junction forged its own gritty path, embracing a small-town spirit and attracting a steady flow of creative entrepreneurs along the way. These days, however, even the pulsing city center has a distinct voice, and it’s unmistakably cosmopolitan. More than 100 nationalities mingle in Toronto, so it’s no surprise that the retail landscape is equally worldly and vibrant. Read on for our action-packed buyer’s guide to Canada’s biggest metropolis, including a stroll through its answer to Rodeo Drive, a morning at a lively 200-year-old food hall and more.
To Market, to Market
No Toronto vacation is complete without a visit to St. Lawrence Market (92–95 Front St. E.; 416-392-7219; stlawrencemarket.com), a spectacular 19th-century building with dramatic stone archways and high-domed ceilings.
Weave through a maze of green-grocers, bakeries and butcher shops to arrive at Kozlik’s (Upper Level, 19A; 416-361-9788; kozliks.com), a 68-year-old family-owned mustard operation that hawks 36 zingy varieties, such as lime-and-honey and the delightfully pungent hot garlic. (Canada is the world’s largest mustard-seed producer.) Ramekins filled with complimentary pretzel sticks ensure you can dip freely.
On the south side of the market’s busy basement, you’ll discover one of its oldest vendors, Rube’s Rice (Lower Level, B12/B15; 416-368-8734). The gregarious Albania-born owner, Aida Koduzi, is on a first-name basis with most of her weekend shoppers and will reach into various baskets to scoop out a kaleidoscopic assortment of grains that range from organic wild rice sourced straight from Saskatchewan to a jade green Chinese variety flavored with bamboo extract. Across the hall, dried bonito flakes, jugs of maple syrup and Mexican ancho chilis jostle for shelf space at Lively Life Fine Foods (Lower Level, B9; 416-362-1464), a filled-to-the-brim gourmet food shop that specializes in international condiments.
Take your time strolling through West Queen West, an eclectic 1.2-mile strip of Queen Street West that has long been considered a hotspot for fashion and art fiends.
Begin at Frank & Oak (No. 735; 647-930-8711; frankandoak.com), a brick-and-mortar incarnation of the men’s online apparel and accessories brand. In addition to its office-friendly staples, including the $48* Jasper, a slim-fitting oxford, the brand stocks a revolving door of stylish loungewear. It also gets bonus points for its on-site vintage barbershop.
Just two blocks away, Article 27 (No. 899; 416-504-3636; art27.ca) is a tiny cosmetics store where the pristine white walls lend a soothing, spa-like ambience. Owner Camelia Nicoara emphasizes ethically sourced soaps, scrubs and serums from all over the world, which is why her shop is named for a clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
You can sift through unique embellishments at Lady Mosquito (No. 1022; 647-637-9335; ladymosquito.ca), helmed by Peruvian-Canadian designer Cynthia Villegas. In addition to showcasing candy-colored brooches by Peruvian artists, Villegas transforms unlikely raw materials, such as palm nuts, into stunning asymmetrical beaded necklaces that she crafts in a workshop in the back.
Fusing the vibes of a hotel gift shop and a funky flea market, Drake General Store (No. 1144; 416-531-5042, ext. 101; drakegeneralstore.ca), one of five locations in Toronto, is chock-full of “modern Canadiana,” as one enthusiastic sales associate puts it. Translation: whimsical curios such as campfire-scented candles, hockey-themed hats and dainty cup-and-saucer sets etched with alpine scenery.
The Mink Mile
On Cumberland Street, in Yorkville, Toronto’s most fashionable district, mammoth department stores and luxury brands (a highly anticipated Chanel flagship opens here in early 2017) stand across from rustic galleries and antique shops tucked into Victorian row houses.
For a truly local souvenir, choose from an eye-catching collection of handmade pottery, moccasins and silk scarves at Craft Ontario (No. 118; 416-921-1721; craftontario.com; relocating in October). The nonprofit-backed emporium highlights exclusively Canadian artisans and is one of the city’s only shops to display contemporary Inuit jewelry.
Stationery junkies flock to The Papery (No. 124; 416-962-3916; thepaperytoronto.com), a 40-year-old community mainstay. The cavernous space is crammed with collectable treats, such as rolls of Japanese chiyogami gift wrap, cheeky made-in-Canada greeting cards by graphic designer Wendy Tancock and patterned pouches by Toronto-based Tatiana Kozlov.
Knitwear label Ça Va De Soi (No.138, #5; 416-929-5353; cavadesoi.com) brings its Montreal-based lineup of sleek merino skirts, blazers and dresses, perfect for a blustery Canadian winter, to this cobblestoned street. It also stocks a fledgling men’s collection (mainly round-neck cashmere sweaters). Next door, Augustina (No. 138, #3; 416-922-4248; augustinaboutiques.com) is a sophisticated stop for flirty and feminine handbags, shoes and jewelry. Crowd-pleasers include delicate pendants and coil rings by Hollywood darling Anita Ko and python-skin clutches that you can personalize with monograms.
Named for the four railway lines that intersect here, the Junction is Toronto’s diamond in the rough. While there are still traces of its scruffy factory past, the neighborhood’s affordable rents make it an ideal backdrop for quirky owner-operated boutiques along Dundas Street West.
At aforementioned menswear spot Gerhard Supply (No. 2949; 416-797-1290; gerhardsupply.com), everything on the hangers—including techie outdoor apparel and heritage denims—is Toronto-made. But that requirement doesn’t hold true for the personal-care items, such as a Napoléon Bonaparte–inspired cologne from French fragrance giant Je Suis Un Homme.
Furniture and textiles from the Indian subcontinent dominate the expansive interiors of Haveli Home (No. 2871; 416-645-0337; havelihome.com). It’s easy to get lost among the many quilted bedspreads, silk table runners and ikat pillowcases here. Owner David Anderson, who took his first trip to South Asia as a wide-eyed teen, still makes an annual pilgrimage to the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan, in India, to keep the inventory fresh.
Japanese and Scandinavian designs meet at Mjölk (No. 2959; 416-551-9853; mjolk.ca), a cedar-scented home store that doubles as an art gallery. Steered by husband-and-wife team John and Juli Baker, the shop’s offerings—which run the gamut from earthy copper teakettles made in Japan to cast-iron candleholders from Norway— are largely inspired by the couple’s travels.
Hearty weekend brunches steal the show at Smith (553 Church St.; 416-926-2501; smithrestaurant.com; brunch for two, $40), a three-story French bistro that was a nightclub in a previous life. Order one of their three versions of eggs Benedict (peameal bacon, smoked salmon or spinach), which all swap a standard hollandaise for a decadent leek fondue.
For an indulgent mid-afternoon treat, pop into Banh Mi Boys (392 Queen St. W.; 416-363-0588; banhmiboys.com; lunch for two, $15), an Asian-inspired sandwich shop that serves up subs, steamed buns and tacos stuffed with Vietnamese and Korean ingredients that include kalbi beef, lemongrass tofu and five-spice pork belly, with a heap of kimchi fries on the side.
A meal at Boralia (59 Ossington Ave.; 647-351-5100; boraliato.com; dinner for two, $70) is like feasting on Canada’s rich culinary history. Husband-and-wife pair Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris were inspired by the country’s indigenous tribes, early settlers and 18th-century immigrants, which is evident in plates such as pan-roasted elk, spiced scallop crudo and deviled Chinese tea eggs.
Sample inventive Sicilian comfort food at Nodo (2885 Dundas St. W.; 416-901-1559; nodorestaurant.ca; dinner for two, $60), a cozy eatery with checkerboard floors. Highlights include the ragù-filled rice balls and seafood linguini; both pair well with carefully crafted Negronis.
Consider rounding off your night with a cocktail and a 360-degree view at the Thompson Toronto (550 Wellington St. W.; 416-640-7778; thompsonhotels.com; drinks for two, $25). The hotel’s airy rooftop lounge and floor-to-ceiling windows make it an ideal perch from which to survey the glittery city skyline.
RCI® affiliated resorts in Toronto include:
Member Review: “The rooms at the resort are awesome!”
For complete member review (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts
Thompson TorontoAn ultramodern 102-room property—expect heated marble bathroom floors and iHome docks—with a 24/7 diner, near the entertainment district. 550 Wellington St. W.; 416-640-7778; thompsonhotels.com; doubles from $260 a night
Gladstone HotelToronto’s oldest continually operating hotel is set in a 19th-century Victorian building and has 37 artist-designed rooms. 1214 Queen St. W.; 647-793-7026; gladstonehotel.com; doubles from $180 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2016