John St. could well be one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets – except that it’s no longer a secret. Indeed, north of Queen St., it’s now becoming the main drag of a thriving downtown neighbourhood.
Of course, there’s still a big commercial element; one need look no farther than the fabulous pink Umbra outlet, a design store that puts its money where its mouth is in a most un-Toronto-like manner.
Though the architectural standards on John aren’t wildly elevated, the elements fit together. That’s the important thing. Though most buildings were probably built as offices, they have found new life in recent years.
There was a moment back in the ’90s, for example, when the street became home to some of the city’s most important art galleries. Given its proximity to the Art Gallery of Ontario, perhaps that’s not surprising.
Though the new AGO is still under construction – it doesn’t reopen until mid-November – it’s a landmark even from behind. Overlooking Grange Park, the gallery presents a new image for those whose vantage point is John, not a main street. But that’s exactly what makes it so interesting, even compelling.
Streets such as John give residents and visitors alike an alternative view of the city and familiar sights such as the AGO. In the normal course of events, the gallery is its main Dundas St. facade. The beauty of John lies in its closeness to these sorts of destinations – the Ontario College of Art and Design and Queen Street West as well as the AGO – while being slightly off the beaten track.
For Toronto, a city in the midst of a rebirth, John is one of hundreds of streets that will provide the space for intensification to happen. In time, they will be seen as the saviours of the city.