I know that with its glitz and international corporate residents it may seem strange that I refer to Yorkville as a neighbourhood. But it’s always been one. Originally it was the self-governing Yorkville Village until it was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1883, and it has somehow retained at least some of that charm especially on streets like Scollard and Hazelton where houses as old as the village are crammed side by side and high rise development has been generally spurned.
I live on the north side of Cumberland in what used to be the second building east of Avenue Road. The Four Seasons Hotel was the first until they ripped it down and left nothing but a gaping hole. I liked the Four Seasons, especially during the days when it was the hotel of choice for the movie stars attending the Toronto International Film Festival. Occasionally, the lines of limos and the sidewalks crowded with cameras and gawkers were a bit much, but there were compensations, and for a girl who spends a lot of time in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok, crowded sidewalks are no rarity.
As for the compensations, well I sat next to Kim Basinger at Akusa. Like me, she was by herself – which looking back was rather odd – and the two of us had a little chat until she asked me what movie I was in Toronto to promote. When I said I wasn’t in the business, she lost interest in me.
Akusa, for those of you who don’t know it, is a Japanese restaurant on the north side of Yorkville Avenue, just west of Bellair. It’s on the basement level of a building, and you have to go down steps to get to it from the main street. I’ve been going there for as long as I’ve lived in Yorkville and I’ve never had a bad meal.
My other run in with a star took place at the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant when it was still on Bloor Street on the second floor of the Esplanade. I was there for dim sum with my friend Mimi when a clamour broke out at the entrance. It was Gong Li with an entourage. She sat four tables away from us and I tried hard not to stare too much. She looked absolutely stunning from that distance, and five minutes later I found out she looked stunning from any distance because I bumped into her as I leaving the washroom and she was entering it. I mumbled something worshipful in Mandarin. She just smiled.
When I found out the Dynasty was going to close that location I was quite upset. It was the only Chinese restaurant in easy walking distance that served good dim sum. Then to my delight, I discovered it had moved right into the village and was now on Yorkville Avenue, just west of Bay Street.
I had no such luck when the Cumberland Cinemas closed. They were almost directly across the street from me and – except during TIFF – I could go on a whim a few minutes before screening time and expect to get a good seat for the eclectic mix of mainly independent and foreign films they showed. Now the closest movie house is the ManuLife Center at Bay and Bloor. It’s only a ten minute walk, but the movie selection is more mainstream, and it is always more crowded. Normally when I go there, I include a trip to the LCBO to get some wine, and I always stop in at the Indigo book store. Indigo is large, and is part of a chain, but the service in that store is so terrific that despite its size it feels like a cozy neighborhood operation.
One of my definitions of a neighbourhood is that I can get anything I need within walking distance. And I can. There’s a Whole Foods store on Avenue Road, just five minutes northwest from me, and another five minutes to the east on Bay Street there’s Pusateri Fine Foods. Between the two of them there isn’t any food – except for my Chinese staples like ten pound bags of fragrant rice – that I can’t buy. And next to Pusateri’s, on the corner of Cumberland and Bay, there’s a Starbucks and my supply of VIA instant coffee.
Whenever I go to that Starbucks, I invariably go north to Yorkville Avenue and then east towards Yonge Street to visit the Yorkville Public Library. I don’t know how this gem of a Beaux Arts building has survived. It was built in 1907 with money endowed by Andrew Carnegie. I always stand outside for a few minutes to admire its façade – two pairs of columns, Doric capitals, a bracketed cornice and stone quoins. It reminds me of several buildings on the Bund in Shanghai, but in miniature form.
Thousands of visitors treat Yorkville as a tourist destination. They can’t see past Bloor Street’s Mink Mile, the boutiques, art galleries and antique shops that dot Cumberland, Yorkville and Hazelton Avenues and Scollard Street, and the patio restaurants that pop up like dandelions the moment the outside temperature is bearable. But I have been living in Yorkville for so long now that it I don’t only think of it as the place I live, I think of it as my home and my neighbourhood.
About Ava Lee
Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who specializes in recovering massive debts that aren’t likely to be recovered through traditional methods. Independent, intelligent, and creative in her methods, Ava does whatever needs doing to get the job done. Ava’s motto is: “people always do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Her challenge is to always find that wrong reason.
Even though she’s petite, it’s a serious mistake to underestimate her physical abilities. She is well trained in martial arts and uses her abilities to get her out of dangerous circumstances. She is also accustomed to working alone, to the point of obsession, which becomes interesting when she is forced to negotiate with powerful and unfamiliar alliances.
When Ava isn’t travelling the world solving crimes, she lives in Toronto’s exclusive Yorkville neighbourhood.
Meet Ian Hamilton, author of the Ava Lee novels, at the Yorkville Library
April 29, 6:30pm
22 Yorkville Ave
Free event, everyone is welcome.
For more information, please call 416-393-7660.