Little Italy has been developed since 1900, however it would take a few decades before the Italian-run businesses really started popping up in the neighbourhood. What’s more, Italian Canadians established small shops and markets in Little Italy long before they were able to open the cafés and restaurants the neighbourhood is now best known for.
Predictably, Little Italy is a neighbourhood where businesses — especially the restaurants — are largely run by Italian Canadians. Most of these retail spaces are situated along College, between Bathurst and Ossington, while the streets to the north and south are largely residential.
In the summertime Little Italy really gets to shine — sizeable sidewalk patios fill up in a rather European manner. Some of the bakeries and gelaterias on College have been around for some time now. Café Diplomatico, a beloved local corner spot, has been serving up authentic pizza and gelato since before Torontonians knew the pleasures of outdoor dining.
It may be hard to believe, but Little Italy has much more to offer than just authentic Italian food. The Italian population that originally arrived in the neighbourhood in the early 20th century is in fact shrinking, making way for residents of different backgrounds to share the land. Little Italy is now also home to a sizeable Portuguese population.
Entertainment venues along College also make Little Italy a destination for culture fanatics, day and night. Residents living in the area might be found at a concert at the Mod Club on a Friday night, or eating unlimited bowls of cereal and watching old cartoons at the Royal Cinema on Saturday morning. The Royal is also one of the only theatres in the city that still plays movies on actual film.
The neighbourhood has long been significant in the area of media and entertainment. CHIN Radio was created by an Italian resident in the 1960s, and now broadcasts programs in 32 languages. Originally Johnny Lombardi solely broadcasted Italian-language radio, however his handiwork resulted in the conception of Canada’s first multicultural radio station, whose head office is located on College near Grace Street.
Italian Canadians living in the neighbourhood don’t hide the pride they take in their community. Little Italy is even home to the Italian Walk of Fame — because if not here, where else? Pedestrians can follow the stars that line the sidewalk on College from Grace Street to Clinton, in order to learn about the Italians who’ve made an impact over the years.
Although the only sizeable green space in Little Italy is the Fred Hamilton Playground, Trinity Bellwoods is just south of the neighbourhood, and frequented by its residents. In terms of indoor public facilities, the College - Shaw branch of the Toronto Public Library is always a great place to escape a rainy day.
With all that this one-of-a-kind neighbourhood can offer, it’s somewhat surprising that Little Italy condos aren’t more plentiful, and though there are some new developments planned, the condo scene still flies under the radar.
The affordable Edwardian homes that once attracted Italian immigrants to Little Italy in the 1920s are still standing today. Residential streets in the neighbourhood are dense with detached and semi-detached houses. And while lots may not be massive, the Edwardian-style homes sure are charming.
Besides single-family dwellings, there are a handful of Little Italy condos that have allowed the area to increase in density in recent years. As a result of developers not wanting to disturb the existing landscape too much, most of these contemporary buildings are lower to the ground than the typical downtown Toronto condo tower.
The Channel Club at 456 College — on the corner of College and Spadina — has been around since 1990, while The Europa was added just a few blocks to the west in 2007. A number of historical structures have also been preserved and transformed into hard lofts, including the Movie House Lofts at 394 Euclid Avenue and the Button Factory Lofts at 200 Clinton.
Residents of Little Italy condos don’t only visit College for its restaurants, shops, and venues, but also to access the streetcar service that cuts straight through the neighbourhood. North-south options for public transit, on the other hand, include the Ossington bus and the Bathurst streetcar.
The Locals: Historically Italian Canadians, but diversifying more and more every year.
Code of Conduct: Spending entire afternoons drinking espresso on sidewalk patios is encouraged — when the weather permits.
What You’ll Find: A healthy mix of quiet residential streets and busy business-filled ones.
What You Won’t Find: Little Italy condos soaring high into the sky.
The Homes: The single-family houses are Edwardian in style, while the multi residential buildings range from hard loft to contemporary condos.