Toronto Entertainment District: Portraits

The Toronto Entertainment District fully embodies what the city as a whole is known for: a good time. Located in its core are top attractions scattered only short distances apart. We are conventionally familiar with the omnipresent list of destinations like the CN Tower, TIFF Bell Lightbox and Scotiabank Arena, stitching together the fabric of the district while building Toronto’s iconic skyline. Tourists, residents and suburbanites flock to the area every day, bursting out of Union Station, TTC streetcars and hotel lobbies, spilling onto these grid-like streets. Similar to arteries delivering blood to every corner of the body, these roads are a passageway for Torontonians, guiding them through the city and on with their day.

On the other hand, the Toronto Entertainment District’s centrality is not solely dependent on its physical geography or global recognition of its attractions. It relies on seemingly mundane days filled with work-related commitments, pre-game obligations and “guests-visiting-from-out-of-town” rituals. These are our stomping grounds, a crossroads for the mix of people flowing throughout the city, no matter the reason. It’s the different faces who give it a pulse and are responsible for making the memories which subsequently birth Toronto’s diverse reputation.

A few weeks ago, one sunny afternoon, we took to the streets to find these #FacesofTED.

Claire is a copywriter we found eating lunch in David Pecaut Square with Ryan, her creative director.  “I am born and bred in Toronto! I’m an east end girl originally, but downtown west is my home now. You’d be hard pressed to get me to cross Yonge St.”

She has this suaveness when chatting about time spent along King West and hits up “Barre3 classes for fun and fitness.” Her ideal day in the Toronto Entertainment District involves “wandering around, you know,” she smiles and shrugs, “do a little shopping, eat a couple oysters; there are a lot of good oyster deals, which is great.”

Ryan too has a longstanding relationship with the Toronto Entertainment District. When asked about his weekend plans he mentions the reputable stage shows touring in and out of our Mirvish theatres.

“I did see Book of Mormon when it was here, which was amazing. I do plan to see Come From Away. Otherwise, sometimes I’ll hit up Grace O’Malley’s for some live music.”

Johnny was busy manning his hot dog stand outside the northern entrance of the Rogers Centre when we approached him. Hustling in a prime location with only a few moments to spare, he let us in on his favourite memories made while working in the Toronto Entertainment District.

“When the Blue Jays made the playoffs, it was a couple years ago, the first time they made the playoffs in like 20 years! It was actually really exciting working here.”

He becomes reminiscent, delving into a place of nostalgia and smiling as he recounts, “it was just mayhem, it was actually really good though. It was really good to see the city come back together.” When off duty, Johnny tells us he tries to get inside to catch the game or see the “plenty of restaurants to check out with friends”, naming Boston Pizza on Front St. which is perfect for both!

We discovered Mohammed sitting solo during his break, spending it on a sunny bench in Clarence Square Park. “I like to relax myself, it’s a beautiful day, the sun is out! Why not enjoy this?”

Mohammed has only been working in the Toronto Entertainment District a couple months but is happily adjusting and shares, “I like my job, my work, my environment and when I sit here I see many beautiful people around me.” He laughs and again acknowledges the gorgeous weather that day.

City dwellers, Samantha and Xander were meandering through shops in the Toronto Entertainment District when we caught them dropping Xander’s guitar off for maintenance. He has a cool, casual air about him, telling us he has “played the guitar for about eight years.”, while Samantha, just as chill, tends to dabble with “a bit of keyboard and a little saxophone.” With too many artists to choose a fave, Xander elects Led Zeppelin upon contemplation, whereas Samantha leans towards the old-school stylings of Amy Winehouse.

“I’ve been coming here for my whole life because I live here,” says Xander who often ventures to the area for errands and leisure. They mutually agree on the Toronto Entertainment District being an ideal meeting place for Torontonians to have fun and get stuff done.

“I kind of like how busy it is in a way, like it’s just where you can find a lot of stores, see a lot of people, it kind of feels like Toronto” – Samantha

The contagious smile on Obiri’s face caught our attention whilst roaming the Toronto Entertainment District on his way to work. He is well versed in the area’s food and drink scene, currently working at O&B Canteen in the TIFF Bell Lightbox and regularly visits Barhop, where it’s “pretty casual and cool with a lot of young people.”

“I live in the east end of the city but always travel to the district for work. I have always worked in the district.” Calling Toronto home for “basically 27 years”, Obiri is familiar with the ins and outs of the city, expressing how in the Toronto Entertainment District “you feel this vibrant energy you don’t see in other places in the city.”

“There is always a mix of people coming from different countries and cities. They’re just all here trying to enjoy the entertainment we have in the city.”

We spotted Erika standing atop a bench just outside Toronto Entertainment District borders, eating salad from a large container. With different events regularly popping up throughout the area, it was not surprising to learn she was involved in “running this hilarious relay thing – its pretty fun” she says and excitedly illustrates, “a bunch of people will run down here and we coach them all – they’re street fundraisers.” This is just one example of the ongoing hustle and bustle happening all over Toronto – with something new to look forward to every day.

Her origin story begins in “a really small town outside of Kingston, called Battersea”, but when Toronto comes to mind, she swiftly expresses her admiration for the city. She confesses, “I love this area!”, and outwardly contemplates, “Why? Hmm, because everyone comes here to shop, but everyone, like, different comes – a lot of outside-of-Toronto people come here so that’s kind of cool”. Cool, indeed.

We noticed Dilan’s colourful presence while waiting for a friend in the heart of the Toronto Entertainment District. Although she lives in Queen West, Dilan makes a point of integrating her social life around venues in this area, saying, “I come here for restaurants, entertainment and my gym – it is called Fit Factory.”

Dilan describes the Toronto Entertainment District in the way most Torontonians could agree with, declaring, “I think it is diverse; business, entertainment, food, all this culture!” But it’s hard to boil down to a straight definition because mostly, it is dependent on experience. Walking throughout the district is familiar; a nostalgic tap on the shoulder from seeing a legendary home run at the Rogers Centre or witnessing an epic musical at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Strung between these larger memories are daily micro-moments, responsible for the dynamic relationship many of us build with the Toronto Entertainment District. Where patios are radiating with deep conversation, sidewalks are alive and everyone is gazing up to see what colour the CN tower is shining.