Almost nine years ago, I moved to Toronto, the largest city in Canada and fourth largest by population in North America, and soon learned that the city is more than an attractive, up-to-date, bustling down-town. It’s made up of numerous distinct neighborhoods: some acquired ethnic identities decades ago – Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, Chinese, and so on – while others developed because of commercial activity.

I particularly like an area called the Junction, which gets it name from the fact that the country’s two large national railways and two smaller ones cross paths nearby. It was also home to flourishing stockyards and the country’s most noted maker of pianos.

The Junction fell into a slump in the 1980’s that local business and government leaders made an effort to reverse. The area now flourishes again and looked especially intriguing on a warm, late spring Saturday afternoon.

I went there to explore exhibits in houses and small businesses that were part of West Toronto’s yearly Art Tour. I also stopped in at the Book Exchange, where I’m friendly with Tom the owner. He provided me with quite a bit of lore about the Junction’s history.

Since I hadn’t visited the neighborhood for a year, I noticed several new businesses as I strolled along Dundas Street. Aside from a discount store that’s part of a national chain and a few eating places, all the businesses I passed for several blocks are local, mostly one-of-a-kind establishments that enjoy the freedom to express the personalities of the people who run them: the Beau and Bauble, Grasshopper, JPC Post Studios, ET Osteo Relief Clinic, Junction Fromagerie, the Sweet Potato, and dozens of others.

On this stretch of Dundas, a person can get a nourishing meal, buy a book, shop for groceries, take care of grooming needs, find an appliance, visit a chiropractor, buy canine supplies, get a picture framed, or wait in a doorway for a brief torrent of rain to pass, as I did, along with several others, when I made a return visit Sunday afternoon.

It didn’t take me long to figure out the appeal of the Junction and similar neighborhoods in Toronto. My experience has shown me that the shops are small and friendly. They don’t make an effort to impress or overwhelm. None of them look expensive. Tom told me that the area has many young people, that rents are mostly reasonable, and that women feel safe walking the streets. There seems a fair amount of sociability. The neighborhood gives a warm, human feeling that speaks well for a city of 2.75 million people.

By world standards, Toronto is a new city, but it has a lot to offer. I think of it as a well-kept secret that bestows its gifts on those who know how and where to look.

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