The accidental neighbourhood
Mirvish Village is probably Toronto's only accidental neighbourhood. Founded by Ed Mirvish, it's located just next to his iconic Honest Ed's Discount store and its carnival facade of orange, white and black letters against a bright red background. The thousand blinking lights and cheesy slogans ("the only thing that's crooked is the floor") are simply part of the place's charm. Honest Ed's, founded in 1948, is a Toronto institution – and landmark – that emerged well before dollar stores invaded North American neighbourhoods. It dominates the corner of Bathurst and Bloor like a grand old diva who still likes to dress in her flapper outfits and swish martinis in a sweeping gesture at passersby. Rumour has it that the real estate is worth more of a fortune than the store rakes in these days, and the owners would like to close it down.
The Village was created in the 1960s after Ed Mirvish bought up the Markham Street houses, at the suggestion of the city, to allay complaints about noise, and create a parking lot for his customers. Then, the city changed its mind about allowing a parking lot, and the Victorian houses had to be put to other uses. So Mirvish and his wife, a sculptor, created a miniature artists' district on Markham Street, next to the Bathurst and Bloor intersection. Today, the street features artist studios, book stores, galleries, shops and restaurants. Apparently, there is a $5 million dollar Frank Stella painting in one of the galleries on the street.
Ed Mirvish died, beloved by the whole city, at age 92 in 2007. Before that, Mirvish Village would host his birthday party each July, attracting, apparently, over 60,000 people. Mirvish had a big heart: every Christmas, he would give away hundreds of turkeys at Honest Ed's. People would line up around the block for hours, from all walks of life and perhaps all areas of town. It was a unifying social event, forcing people to talk to each other as they waited for their holiday bird. One man reported waiting 12 hours for his free turkey. Giving out free birds – over 30,000 so far – has been a holiday tradition since 1987. Ed Mirvish was also a patron of the arts, buying up the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street in the early 60s and creating a theatre district in Toronto as a result, complete with Mirvish-owned restaurants.
Throughout the summer, the Village hosts Pedestrian Sundays. The street is closed to cars, though not to bicycles. There are concerts and street vendors: massage tables, clothing racks and something called a Jacob's Ladder scattered across the road. One pleasant restaurant with a good patio is The Butler's Pantry. Its menu is multicultural, with items like Bul go gi, a Korean dish of marinated beef; Khowsway, a Burmese entree with chicken in coconut milk and Kosharee, green lentils with rice garnished with macaroni and fried onions, inspired by Egyptian street food. There are also two Moroccan dishes, one of which is tagine. Several sandwiches are also on the menu for hotter days.