While pockets of Toronto were still gazing toward cultural epicenters such as Montreal and Vancouver for inspiration, the Junction neighborhood forged its own gritty path, embracing a small-town spirit and attracting a steady flow of creative entrepreneurs along the way. These days, however, even the pulsing city center has a distinct voice, and it’s unmistakably cosmopolitan. More than 100 nationalities mingle in Toronto, so it’s no surprise that the retail landscape is equally worldly and vibrant. Read on for RCI’s action-packed buyer’s guide to Canada’s biggest metropolis, including a stroll through its answer to Rodeo Drive, a morning at a lively 200-year-old food hall and more.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
No Toronto vacation is complete without a visit to St. Lawrence Market, a spectacular 19th-century building with dramatic stone archways and high-domed ceilings.
Weave through a maze of green-grocers, bakeries and butcher shops to arrive at Kozlik’s, a 68-year-old family-owned mustard operation that hawks 36 zingy varieties, such as lime-and-honey and the delightfully pungent hot garlic. (Canada is the world’s largest mustard-seed producer.) Ramekins filled with complimentary pretzel sticks ensure you can dip freely.
On the south side of the market’s busy basement, you’ll discover one of its oldest vendors, Rube’s Rice. The gregarious Albania-born owner, Aida Koduzi, is on a first-name basis with most of her weekend shoppers and will reach into various baskets to scoop out a kaleidoscopic assortment of grains that range from organic wild rice sourced straight from Saskatchewan to a jade green Chinese variety flavored with bamboo extract. Across the hall, dried bonito flakes, jugs of maple syrup and Mexican ancho chilis jostle for shelf space at Lively Life Fine Foods, a filled-to-the-brim gourmet food shop that specializes in international condiments.
Take your time strolling through West Queen West, an eclectic 1.2-mile strip of Queen Street West that has long been considered a hotspot for fashion and art fiends.
Begin at Frank & Oak, a brick-and-mortar incarnation of the men’s online apparel and accessories brand. In addition to its office-friendly staples, the brand stocks a revolving door of stylish loungewear. It also gets bonus points for its on-site vintage barbershop.
Just two blocks away, Article 27 is a tiny cosmetics store where the pristine white walls lend a soothing, spa-like ambience. Owner Camelia Nicoara emphasizes ethically sourced soaps, scrubs and serums from all over the world, which is why her shop is named for a clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
You can sift through unique embellishments at Lady Mosquito, helmed by Peruvian-Canadian designer Cynthia Villegas. In addition to showcasing candy-colored brooches by Peruvian artists, Villegas transforms unlikely raw materials, such as palm nuts, into stunning asymmetrical beaded necklaces that she crafts in a workshop in the back.
Fusing the vibes of a hotel gift shop and a funky flea market, Drake General Store, one of 5 locations in Toronto, is chock-full of “modern Canadiana,” as one enthusiastic sales associate puts it. Translation: whimsical curios such as campfire-scented candles, hockey-themed hats and dainty cup-and-saucer sets etched with alpine scenery.
THE MINK MILE
On Cumberland Street, in Yorkville, Toronto’s most fashionable district, mammoth department stores and luxury brands (a highly anticipated Chanel flagship opens here in early 2017) stand across from rustic galleries and antique shops tucked into Victorian row houses.
For a truly local souvenir, choose from an eye-catching collection of handmade pottery, moccasins and silk scarves at Craft Ontario. The nonprofit-backed emporium highlights exclusively Canadian artisans and is one of the city’s only shops to display contemporary Inuit jewelry.
Stationery junkies flock to The Papery, a 40-year-old community mainstay. The cavernous space is crammed with collectable treats, such as rolls of Japanese chiyogami gift wrap, cheeky made-in-Canada greeting cards by graphic designer Wendy Tancock and patterned pouches by Toronto-based Tatiana Kozlov.
Knitwear label Ça Va De Soi brings its Montreal-based lineup of sleek merino skirts, blazers and dresses, perfect for a blustery Canadian winter, to this cobblestoned street. It also stocks a fledgling men’s collection (mainly round-neck cashmere sweaters). Next door, Augustina is a sophisticated stop for flirty and feminine handbags, shoes and jewelry. Crowd-pleasers include delicate pendants and coil rings by Hollywood darling Anita Ko and python-skin clutches that you can personalize with monograms.
Named for the 4 railway lines that intersect here, the Junction is Toronto’s diamond in the rough. While there are still traces of its scruffy factory past, the neighborhood’s affordable rents make it an ideal backdrop for quirky owner-operated boutiques along Dundas Street West.
At aforementioned menswear spot Gerhard Supply, everything on the hangers—including techie outdoor apparel and heritage denims—is Toronto-made. But that requirement doesn’t hold true for the personal-care items, such as a Napoléon Bonaparte-inspired cologne from French fragrance giant Je Suis Un Homme.
Furniture and textiles from the Indian subcontinent dominate the expansive interiors of Haveli Home. It’s easy to get lost among the many quilted bedspreads, silk table runners and ikat pillowcases here. Owner David Anderson, who took his first trip to South Asia as a wide-eyed teen, still makes an annual pilgrimage to the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan, in India, to keep the inventory fresh.
Japanese and Scandinavian designs meet at Mjölk, a cedar-scented home store that doubles as an art gallery. Steered by husband-and-wife team John and Juli Baker, the shop’s offerings—which run the gamut from earthy copper teakettles made in Japan to cast-iron candleholders from Norway— are largely inspired by the couple’s travels.
St. Lawrence Market: 92–95 Front St. E.; 416-392-7219; stlawrencemarket.com
Kozlik’s: St. Lawrence Market, Upper Level, 19A; 416-361-9788; kozliks.com
Rube’s Rice: St. Lawrence Market, Lower Level, B12/B15; 416-368-8734
Lively Life Fine Foods: St. Lawrence Market, Lower Level, B9; 416-362-1464
Frank & Oak: Queen Street West, No. 735; 647-930-8711; frankandoak.com
Article 27: Queen Street West, No. 899; 416-504-3636; art27.ca
Lady Mosquito: Queen Street West, No. 1022; 647-637-9335; ladymosquito.ca
Drake General Store: Queen Street West, No. 1144; 416-531-5042, ext. 101; drakegeneralstore.ca
Craft Ontario: Cumberland Street, No. 118; 416-921-1721; craftontario.com (relocating in Oct. 2016)
The Papery: Cumberland Street, No. 124; 416-962-3916; thepaperytoronto.com
Ça Va De Soi: Cumberland Street, No.138, #5; 416-929-5353; cavadesoi.com
Augustina: Cumberland Street, No. 138, #3; 416-922-4248; augustinaboutiques.com
Gerhard Supply: Dundas Street West, No. 2949; 416-797-1290; gerhardsupply.com
Haveli Home: Dundas Street West, No. 2871; 416-645-0337; havelihome.com
Mjölk: Dundas Street West, No. 2959; 416-551-9853; mjolk.ca
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.