What up and coming looks like: The Junction Triangle at 5

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At a cozy brew pub at Dupont Street and Campbell Avenue one wet evening, a clutch of residents from the betwix-and-between Junction Triangle area traded the sort of stories that have become standard fare for thousands of homeowners drawn to up-and-coming Toronto neighbourhoods: street parties, insane house prices and backyard vegetable plots.

Adam Charlesworth, a real-estate agent who moved in six years ago when prices were still affordable, recalled the first parent meeting at his daughter’s school: only five people showed up. But as neighbours networked, attendance swelled at parent meetings, movie nights and school fundraisers. “Now, every event is standing room only.”

It’s a tale told in many transitioning neighbourhoods. But while gentrification appears to be an implacable force in most older parts of Toronto, what’s helped matters along in this particular enclave is the fact that newer Junction Triangle residents, five years ago this month, decided to get a jump on the real-estate brokers and give their community an official name – as well as a louder voice on hot-button local issues, such as the use of diesel trains for the new Union-Pearson Express.

The industrial area, hemmed in on three sides by rail corridors, extends between Dundas West (as it bends northward) and the tracks west of Lansdowne Avenue, and stretches south of Bloor along Perth Avenue. Within two years, it will be further bisected by a 1.5-kilometre-long viaduct running between Bloor and Davenport Road. The bridge will raise the Barrie GO line over a busy east-west freight corridor.

Richard Mongiat, a set designer and artist, moved in 13 years ago because of the rock-bottom house prices – a symptom of the crack problem in the Bloor-Lansdowne area, as well as the presence of an especially dodgy peeler bar. “It was a bit like the Bermuda Triangle,” he muses, “an odd bit of land stuck in the middle.”

The locale was also known for the horrific 2003 slaying of 10-year-old Holly Jones, abducted while walking to a friend’s home in the neighbourhood. The tragedy cast a heavy pall over the community for years.

The upbeat naming campaign surfaced in 2010, not long after the opening of the West Toronto Railpath, a park that runs along one of the Triangle’s edges. Organizers allowed online voting and held a parade to announce the winner. (“Rail City” was a close contender.) “That’s the moment the neighbourhood turned the corner,” Mr. Charlesworth says. “Without a name, you’re a nebulous thing.”

The Portuguese, Italian and Ukrainian working-class families who made this formerly unbranded community their home for generations – and are now moving out – may feel otherwise, although local politicians such as Davenport MP Andrew Cash insist that ethnic and social diversity continues to exist amid the $650,000 fixer-uppers. “It’s important to note that there are a lot of working-class people in this area and that has not changed.”

What does set the Junction Triangle apart from some other real estate friendly neighbourhoods is the fact that the community has seen a surge of new employment activity alongside the usual renos, restos and condos.

It’s an evolution well suited to a wedge of Toronto that was historically home to the sorts of industrial-age factory buildings that sprang up near rail lines, but are very much an endangered species in the contemporary city.

The new jobs tend not to be blue collar, of course. Davenport Councillor Ana Bailao points out that the video-game developer Ubisoft moved 300 employees into an old factory on Wallace Avenue a few years ago, and has seen its staff at that location expand to 800. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of the former Viceroy plant, at Dupont and Dundas, is leased to artists as studio space, while Planet Storage occupies the rest.

And council last spring approved an ambitious mixed-use plan by Castlepoint Numa to redevelop an eight-acre former aluminum plant just south of Bloor, off Perth and Sterling Road. The staged project calls for four towers, two of which will have 560,000 square feet of office space. Phase one is the restoration of the 1919 Tower Automotive Building for arts-and-tech industry tenants. Some smaller industrial buildings in the vicinity are already filled with start-ups.

The city “negotiated hard” to keep those employment lands, Ms. Bailao says. The planning rules ensure the Nestlé factory nearby doesn’t face pressure from condo development. “We wouldn’t entertain offers unless we could save employment and protect Nestlé.”

Other parts of the Triangle, however, are following a much more familiar trajectory. While the Bloor and Dupont retail strips inside the Junction Triangle are far from Leslieville-grade upscale, a few quirky merchants, such as a puppetry shop on Dupont, have appeared amid empty storefronts. The parks department clubhouse in Campbell Park, long a grim concrete box, has been transformed into a Dufferin Grove-like hangout, with donated gear and freshly made snacks.

Wallace Walk, a townhouse development off Dundas West, is going up on a smelly old paint plant site. Closer to Lansdowne, a low-slung warehouse on Dupont will soon be torn down to make way for an 18-storey condo.

Kevin Putnam, one of the Junction Triangle co-founders, points out that the newly formed residents’ networks succeeded in pushing the city to get both developers to add community amenities: a daycare centre and service hub at Wallace Walk, and a 10,000-square-foot library in the podium of the Lansdowne-Dupont condo tower – which, by no coincidence, is just one block from a new supermarket opening in a former warehouse.

“Before, nothing was happening in the community,” says Mr. Mongiat, who insists the new moniker has brought more than just hipsters and gentrifiers. “It’s a feisty neighbourhood. The change in the last 10 years has been incredible.”

 

Originally posted in the Globe and Mail on March 27, 2015

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