Spring on Queen Street West, Toronto, CA

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Wed, 05/02/2007 - 22:12.

Toronto in spring is a romantic place. I discovered this when I spent the afternoon of Sunday April 22 on Queen Street West. I know there are many interesting districts in Toronto, for museums, dining, theater, and shopping, but I had been to Queen Street West before and I already knew that if pressed for time this street had more than enough to offer in the way of dining, arts and culture, and shopping. This was the first time I had experienced spring in Toronto. The last time I was on Queen Street it was mid November and beginning to snow. The sky was grey, it was a damp cold depressing day and outside at least, it wasn't much better than being in Cleveland. Mid-April is a totally different story though; the day was warm and sunny, almost like summer. Thousands of people were out, biking, walking, walking their dogs and children, and patios were open for dining. I started out with several objectives – get some good coffee and chocolate, find some birthday gifts for friends (children and adults), and take in some world class art and fashion.

Here is how I spent my Sunday...

I started the afternoon by stopping in The Devil's Workshop – the studio and gallery of jewelry artist Sarah Wan. Sarah and her husband have a live/work condo in a renovated industrial building called The Chocolate Factory. At the street level is Sarah's gallery, workshop and classroom. I took her Wedding Band Workshop last fall and made white gold wedding bands for my husband and myself. She was excited to see me wearing the ring I had made and she photographed my hand for her album. The class was her original idea and it's becoming more popular all the time – only in London can couples take a similar bridal jewelry making class. Sarah's gallery shows her own jewelry and the work of other artists. Much of it is silver or white gold and techniques vary including cast, wrought and beaded pieces. Sarah is a very creative person. She could be an interior decorator if she wanted. She designed the chic look of her gallery; matte black walls and white display cases set in the walls. Each case is surrounded by a large white vintage wood picture frame.

After The Devil's Workshop it was off Fresh for a decadent yet healthy brunch. Fresh is a vegetarian cafe with a huge menu that includes lots of smoothies, veggie burgers, salads and Asian inspired noodle dishes. It appears to be a chain, there are three other locations in Toronto. The one we chose had a large patio near a beautiful community garden. As soon as I saw dogs dining under several tables I knew I would like this place. Fresh may have the best coffee in Toronto! They use organic beans, perfectly roasted and brewed. My cappuccino was the best I can ever remember having. When it arrived at the table the color and texture of the foam even looked extraordinary. The coffee I ordered later was excellent too. Not to neglect their food, the almond pancakes topped with fresh berries we shared were definitely the best pancakes I have ever had! Lots of very fresh tasting, lightly toasted almonds were mixed into the light, fluffy, moist pancakes. I will be looking forward to returning to Fresh for lunch or dinner next time I'm in Toronto.


I have found Toronto to be the best place to shop for unique children's clothes and toys. Maybe it is because Toronto seems to have a lot of young families with hip parents. Planet Kid and Polka Dot Kids are just two boutiques that come to mind. Of the two, Polka Dot Kids has more toys and nursery decorations. I bought a deck of French language alphabet cards there. The vintage-look pictures that illustrate each letter are pretty enough to use the cards for decorations. At Planet Kid you can find reasonably priced infant and toddler clothing designed and made in Toronto. Their slogan is “Cosmic – Canadian- Cool.”  One of the designers that sells there was working on the sewing machine last time I stopped in. I really like how they have a lot of stylish boys clothing (so many designers neglect boys). Maybe next time I am in I will buy Claes one of the fireman's jackets – they are very high quality and look like a real uniform in miniature. They look very warm and comfortable too .

At the Queen Street galleries you can experience it all; mid-career international artists who's works sell for tens of thousands (some of them Cuban, which you don't see in the U.S.), very talented Canadian artist who's works are difficult to experience elsewhere, the most innovative and witty student pieces, and exception crafts.

Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer, from Germany, was one of the international artists showing now on Queen Street, in Lausberg Contemporary gallery. His sculptures, made of bands of colored plastic, seemed inspired from colorfield painting. They straddle the line between painting and sculpture and convey and odd sense of weight and volume.

Angell Gallery, which seems to favor paintings and photography never fails to catch my eye when I am on Queen Street. From on of their cards I learned that they have been in business for 10 years (impressive feat in the gallery business!). Angell Gallery seems to have their stable of artists that aesthetically work well together for exhibitions. I would guess the artists they represent are Canadian, though I don't know for sure. A recurrent theme seem to be tension between man and nature. The current exhibition, “Zenith” by Geoffrey Pugen features large beautiful glossy prints of his digitally altered images where humans and animals seem to merge and find themselves in unexpected situations. More than just a collage, each work seems to contain a cryptic narrative.  

The * new * Gallery, (the name may sound familiar to some Clevelanders) is an artist run gallery for contemporary crafts. Down a flight of stairs from the street level, a small, well lit space, with fresh white walls, the * new * Gallery is probably one of the best spaces I have seen to show crafts. The intimate scale is perfect for amazing tiny things, things that would be lost and overpowered elsewhere. Exhibitions here are brief, two-three weeks so there is usually something new to see.

The arts anchor of the whole street is MOCCA (the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art). I have been there several times now and the exhibitions are amazing! Admission to MOCCA is free (donations requested). The museum is not large, but it seems to be the perfect scale and layout for viewing installations, sculpture and digital art. It has never been unpleasantly crowded when I was there. Two shows of work by Carolee Schneeman were going on when I visited: “Breaking Boarders” and “Remains to Be Seen.” Together the shows deal with three issues: war, the erotic and felines. “Remains to Be Seen” will be up until May 26th, but “Breaking Borders” has now closed. I first learned of Carolee Schneemann a few years ago in a class about Art of the Beat Generation through Pop Art. Schneemann has been getting critical attention since the 60s for her performance art and multimedia pieces. She is appreciated in the U. S. and the rest of the world. I loved these two shows (each by a different curator) because it is very difficult to appreciate an artist like Schneemann without seeing her works in person. I had not check MOCCA's exhibition schedule, so I found myself pleasantly surprised. Cat lovers should not miss Schneemann's series of large format photographs titled Infinity Kisses. They are not cute and cuddly, but I will say no more.


Spring is always a good time to add something new to your wardrobe and Toronto is the place to find something really unique in the way of fashion. I felt like I had been wearing the same Dale of Norway sweater all winter. From October to March in Cleveland all I care about is being warm, but now I am tired of wool and the color beige. I had visited the boutique/studio Peach Berserk at 507 Queen Street several times over the past few years. I had been very impressed, The experience was like going to a gallery or artist's studio rather than a store. From the first time I had stepped in the store knew I wanted something but it was always so hard to decide. Should I get a hoody, a skirt, a top, lingerie, a velvet jacket, a silk gown? and what print or combination of prints? Peach Berserk is all about prints – designed by owner Kingi Carpenter and hand silk-screened right there in the back of the store. The garments are sewn on the premises too. I decided to take the time to look at everything they had available (they take custom orders too) and try on a few things. When Kingi offered to do alterations on a shirt I liked that was just a little too big I was hooked. Peach Berserk clothes are fun, artsy, sexy and certainly attract attention. I have not worn my top or hoody yet. I have never seen anyone wearing a Peach Berserk garment in Cleveland – or anywhere for that matter, but I think i would recognize one if I saw it – yes they are that original. I will have to see what reactions I get in Cleveland.

Sunday night, before leaving Toronto for the trip home to Cleveland, we were in the mood for Thai. We drove down Queen Street beginning at Gladstone Street going east looking for a new place to try.  Some places were closed, others looked too much like takeout restaurants, then on the south side of the street we were drawn to a place called The Secret of Asia (formerly The Friendly Thai) the packed dining room looked promising. Luckily two tables were still available so we were seated without a wait. Framed restaurant award certificates crowed the window by the door. They were from the days under the old moniker, but we were told the staff was the same, only the management and name were new. The menu had a variety of Thai and Malaysian dishes. We ordered a curry lamb dish and a curry pad Thai with chicken - both were excellent, spicy and very fresh. Even the lack of a liqueur license turned out to be a plus, they had no beer, but they were giving away wine! We were told they will have a liqueur license soon so, unfortunately, it won't be byob.

The décor in Secret of Asia was an interesting diversion while we waited for our meals. I have been taking an anthropological approach to architecture lately and could not help analyzing the dining room. The building was old, probably Victorian and the dining room was narrow with a high ceiling. The bar in the back had been transformed into a tropical hut, but under the thatched roof were circa 1910 ice box cabinets. The lighting fixtures in the dining room were from three different eras, probably the 30s, 90s and 21st century. The saturated colors on the walls worked well with an Asian décor, and may have been new, but were probably left over from a contemporary style bistro that seems to have occupied the location a few years ago. The atmosphere was actually very nice; soft lighting, a local artist's abstract paintings were for sale on the walls, and tables were covered with a silky, metallic Asian fabric. The Secret of Asia was such a perfect, delicious, relaxing end to our day we left Toronto a little later than we had planned.

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