Places we live: Riverside

Willarie Maranan is a fourth-year child and youth care student from the neighbourhood of Riverside. Her family moved to Riverside when she was six and has lived there since. She took me for a walk around her neighbourhood and shared her stories about living in the Riverside community.

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Maranan lives in a little pocket called Rivertowne, also known as Don Mount Court, one of the first developments to be rebuilt as a mixed-income neighbourhood in Toronto. “The neighbourhood has been experiencing developments over the past few years,” she says.

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Rivertowne and the rest of the Riverside neighbourhood have been experiencing gentrification from various business developments. Gentrification has a negative connotation in the sense that businesses come in to establish their developments and unintentionally destroy the identity of the community. In Riverside though, the gentrification actually seems to be helping the community in positive ways while still maintaining the area’s urban identity. The corner of Queen and Broadview in particular has undergone some big changes.

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This building at Queen and Broadview used to be Jilly’s strip club. “Parents are happy about the closing of Jilly’s because it made the area safer for their kids. The strip club attracted a lot of bad attention,” Maranan says. Streetcar Developments, the firm that owns the property aims to revitalize the building into a hotel, plans to keep the iconic red-brick façade of the building to maintain its historical mark in the area.

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On the north-east side of same corner is Dangerous Dan’s. There are a lot of new restaurants and establishments that have popped in the community, but so far, Dangerous Dan’s has remained. “People come to our neighbourhood just to have the dining experience at Dan’s burgers,” she says.

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“St. John’s bakery is another iconic spot as it attracts people with its pastries. The cool thing about St. John’s is that it is run by the St. John’s mission, which is right beside it … the scones are amazing,” Maranan says. Profits from the bakery help the mission with its operation and day-to-day activities in the community.

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The old Don Jail is adjacent to the new Bridgepoint Active Healthcare facility. “Every time I tell someone I live by a jail, they kind of get weirded out but it’s really not bad. There’s just something eerie about these two buildings being beside each other. It’s a good example of how the rest of the neighbourhood is like. Both old and new co-existing,” Maranan says. The old Don jail is now being used as an administrative wing for the facility.

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Maranan also shows me the Ralph Thornton Community Centre. This neoclassical heritage structure was designed by E.J. Lennox, the same architect who designed Casa Loma and Old City Hall. The building was built in 1913 by the federal government to house a postal station. In 1979, the city leased the building and it was eventually converted into a community centre.

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The Opera House is another iconic staple in Riverside, built originally as a Vaudeville theatre, combining circus acts with a more typical forms of entertainment. Big acts who have performed here include Nirvana and Eminem. “These days, the Opera House mostly hosts indie bands who offer great alternative music,” says Maranan.

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Waterfront Toronto, a government-run organization that aims to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront, developed Underpass Park. The park features a skate park, basketball courts, and a playground. This past June, graffiti artists from Toronto came together to put their art on the columns and structures of the park as part of the Pan Am Path Art Relay.

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Our last stop was the Riverside Bridge. On the archway of the bridge is a phrase that says, “This river I step in, is not the river I stand in.” This quote was taken from Heraclitus’ philosophy about change. Heraclitus said, “you could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” This perfectly summarizes the story of Riverside. Throughout the years, the neighbourhood has evolved to this dynamic and revitalized area, while staying true to its urban roots.

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When I ask Maranan if she would move out of Riverside, she quickly replies, “I’m good here, I love this area. The vibe here is really great and chill and I wouldn’t trade it for the busier downtown feel. This neighbourhood has shaped me to who I am today and I’m forever thankful for that.”