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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ice Cream Factory Outlet: A New Old Danforth East Gem!

Half-way through the summer, and half-way through a heat wave, so no doubt that general enthusiasm for ice cream is wearing thin. However, we've uncovered another neighbourhood gem that is just too delicious to keep to ourselves!

Like Pioneer, we're sure many of you have driven east of Main on Danforth and noticed the "Ice Cream Factory Outlet" sign hundreds of times and for one reason or another filed it away for later. We finally decided to  make later a reality and investigate.

St. Clair Ice Cream aka Maple Leaf Dairy at 2861 Danforth is both an ice cream parlour stuck in time, and a real ice cream factory that has been in operation on the Danforth since at least 1936. Their original location (of course!) was on St. Clair.

The company makes thousands of litres of fresh ice cream in dozens of flavours. If you're tired of the regular options at neighbourhood spots, we highly recommend heading here to try one of the 30 or 40 options: Salty Caramel, Strawberry Cheesecake and Ginger among the more original.

Pioneer loves a good deal, so discovering a kids cone is only $2.50 was a treat. However, our eyes almost fell out of their sockets when we discovered just how good a deal this really is: the serving size is almost the size of small bowling ball. It seemed like there were at least three scoops dripping off Junior's rainbow sherbet cone (which became so messy we needed a bowl and a spoon!). We watched in horror as someone ordered a large, which is so much ice cream that even running a marathon wouldn't burn it off.

The bad news is that this new 'old' local gem is only open seasonally, so literally, get it while it's hot! Or you'll have to wait until next year.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Magic: Urban Fairies Take Over Danforth

The first time we heard that there were going to be fairy doors showing up along the Danforth, we were a little bit skeptical. After all, we know that fairies don't really like hot weather (thanks to Junior Pioneer #1 for confirming this is true) so we wondered what on earth they were doing on our little strip of Danforth. However, we realized that the Danny's Urban Fairies are really and truly a kindred spirit to our Pioneer-ing nature. They are the new generation of fairies, not afraid of people (kind of like Tink in her most recent appearance in Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue) and curious about the world. They've picked the most family-friendly strip in Toronto to spend their summer, and a whole bunch of Danforth businesses are welcoming them to their premises.

The catch is that you have to believe in fairies to see the doors, as they only appear to those that want to see them. Kind of like this sudden surprise at Serendipity Bakery......

As a celebration of this magical summer filled with pixie dust, they have agreed to appear at various surprise events along the Danforth (with their local host & interpreter Natalie Coulter) so don't miss all the fun. It starts today (July 15) at the Danny Loves Music at East Lynn Park from 6-9 with glitter tattoos for the little ones and some tips for the adults on where exactly to find these homegrown creations. And feel free to post your own fairy discoveries to the Danny's Urban Fairies page - you never know when one will pop up. Faith, trust & a little bit of pixie dust!

These fairies at The Borough are very serious about their parliamentary duties, obviously.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Danforth East Mural: It's Done!

During the wee hours of May 19, the windows of Pioneer HQ were rattling with what sounded like dump trucks cruising up and down our usually serene street, awaking even the soundest sleeper in the house. Finally managing to catch a glimpse out the midnight window, we discovered it was a TTC bus. Enraged, we wondered why they were driving empty buses up and down a side street on the Monday of a long weekend.  Our sleepy consciousness would never have settled on the truth, that someone had just been murdered only 700m away from our door (and closed down a major bus route). It wasn't until the next morning that the reality of nocturnal Danforth descended on us. At first, we were much like everyone else, grappling with disbelief and not content with the middling answers of our politicians. Once the dust settled though, Pioneer knew we had to take action and do something symbolic and positive, to let the world know Danforth East is still a great place where people care about their 'hood.

Thanks to DECA who not only provided funding for the project but also connected Pioneer with neighbourhood volunteer Sherry Lin, a super-mom of two plus a community thinktank 'thinker' in her day job. Two heads are better than one and the idea for our 100in1day #danfortheast mural was born. 

It was quite a feat to witness, and we are so thankful to everyone who came out and helped paint a picture of what Danforth East means to them. The finished result is 25 feet of heart! 

Drumroll please......and here it is! 

The mural has finally made it to its public debut, one month to the day, on the boards next to 1801 Danforth. It took some convincing to get it there, but Daddy Pioneer really just wanted it out of the HQ's basement so he volunteered to do most of the labour to hang it. Thanks! 

Please take a stroll by and take in some of the loveliness, and if you weren't able to contribute, let us know Danforth East means to YOU in the comments below! 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's In The Oven: New Pizzeria On Danforth

Pioneer loves breaking the news about a  new business opening up, particularly when it's food related, however this new resto announcement is a bit bitter sweet. We happened to notice an open door and some construction happening at 1450 Danforth this past weekend and popped our head in to investigate. The former Marrakech Restaurant is being overhauled and already has a new facade and exterior. The inside was a construction zone, but one of the crew stopped to chat and shared that there would be a new Magic Oven Pizza opening up. A call to the company's Danforth location confirmed that this is in fact true: the current location will be closing and shifting down to our neck of the woods at the end of July.

Although we're glad a solid business is opening up on this strip, this will have an impact on our favourite local pizzeria Gerrard Pizza & Spaghetti, who are on that block and already make a long list of fresh custom pizzas the way that mama used to make them.

Hopefully there's room for everyone: the experience at both places will be completely different as people head to Gerrards to say hi to Vito and wave to their neighbours over a glass of house wine, while Magic Oven is a destination for pizza lovers from all over (either pick up or dine in).

The take-out and delivery option at Magic Oven will probably generate a lot more car traffic issues, but looking at the glass half-full made us realize this will also create more foot traffic which is what this block needs. So although there might be double-parked delivery cars jamming up Danforth on occasion, more people will be walking to pick up their pizza pie!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Come & Paint: Danforth East Mural

A short post today, as Pioneer is busy getting ready for our community mural project we're working on with DECA. If you haven't heard about it, come down to Coxwell parkette Saturday morning between 9:30 and 12:30 and have your say about what Danforth East means to you in paint.

This mural came about as DECA and Pioneer were talking about something awesome we could do on 100in1DayTO to help people remain positive after the most recent violent crime on our strip. And there's lots to love about #danfortheast, so we're pretty sure you'll find something to say on our mural (or on Twitter if you can't make it!). **Weather pending!**

Monday, June 1, 2015

East Lynn Farmers Market: So Where's The Beef?

The East Lynn Park Farmers' Market opens for the season this Thursday, and we’ve got some great news for meat lovers: the beef sold at the market by farmer Henricus Verhoeven just got glowing marks for its nutritional value! You might remember Verhoeven from last summer as the bearded gentleman who sold his delicious homemade sausages and a huge variety of meats and eggs from Styrofoam coolers at the front of the market.

Recently, Professor Richard Bazinet, a professor of nutritional sciences at U of T, tested Verhoeven's steak and found it contained a far better ratio of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than typical supermarket beef. Verhoeven's meat boasted a spectacular omega6 to omega3 ratio of just over three to one. 

Amazing, you are all saying. But Pioneer, what does that mean?? This is good because beef is typically a higher, unhealthier ratio.  Omega-3s are a family of fats generally considered to be healthy, in fish like salmon and plant versions like flax and chia. Omega-6, on the other hand, is pro-inflammatory, and we get too much of it from processed foods. In other words, shop at East Lynn market for your dinner and you’re one step to getting healthier!

Verhoeven, who runs the 100-acre Bio Vision Farm north of Guelph, says his certified-organic beef is 100 percent grass fed, a coveted status among the health-conscious these days. His Scottish Highland herd -- the sample that was tested at U of T --  has been on grass for about 25 years. But ‘grass-fed’ is a tough claim to prove, since there’s no certification for it. That’s why Professor Bazinet, a fatty acids researcher, has started testing beef himself. Verhoeven’s beef was low in omega-6 and high in omega-3, Bazinet says, and that’s convincing evidence the herd was truly eating grass.

What’s the biggie? Well, Bazinet has sampled a lot of steak, and says the flavor is much better with grass fed -- but he cautions that it must be cooked differently than supermarket steak.

“I put in on a really hot grill for 30-40 seconds, flip and wait another 40 seconds,” he advised. “My wife says I should not be allowed to call it cooking!” (please be careful trying this at home!)

The weather forecast calls for sunny skies this Thursday, a perfect day to fire up the grill and give some grass-fed steaks a whirl and don’t forget some fresh Ontario asparagus on the side! 

***THANK YOU to our guest blogger Heidi who did ALL the leg work on this story for us. We hope she will come back and blog for us some more! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Cafe on Danforth: D'Lusso Is A Hidden Gem

Co-partner & manager Daniella, always ready with a smile. 
Pioneer has a new HQ and it's called D'Lusso Cafe. That's right, you heard us, we're moving out of our shared bedroom office into the shiny new cafe at 1504 Danforth. What girl wouldn't want free wifi and gourmet espressos at their fingertips after a stressful business meeting? Plus, the crowd at D'Lusso is familiar and unexpected at the same time - it could be because everyone's a cousin in this family run business, including 'uncle' Joe.

In all seriousness, finding D'Lusso was like uncovering a really really secret hidden gem on the Danforth. Many readers probably vaguely remember an unremarkable cafe and lounge in that space called Apollonia, and before that a really sketchy sports lounge, so when D'Lusso first opened its doors in March it was tough to get the attention from pedestrian traffic already used to passing by.

When Pioneer discovered this gem, the girls behind the counter (Daniella & Laura) were immediately like soul-sisters, and we felt like we'd walked into someone's kitchen party. This can, and will, make all the difference in the world when you've got some fierce competition moving in down the street.

The cafe serves not only coffees and espressos, but also a long list of paninis, juices, breakfast sandwiches, specialty iced drinks (iced caramel macchiato anyone???), italian sodas and desserts. Our tastebuds literally screamed with joy after sampling an almond ice, a grown up version of a slushee made with almond paste straight from casa della nonna in Italia.

We were eager to come back and try the next day's special: a smoked-chicken panini with tomato chutney, herbed butter and apple cheddar. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious and Pioneer ate every single bite of the over-sized but well priced sandwich.

The cavernous space has been remodelled to accomodate large mummy-and-baby groups at the back, or Pioneer's next birthday party! You can sit at the front next to the open patio doors and people watch all morning, or sit at the bar and chat with Daniella who will tell you all about the history of the neighbourhood. She and most of her family (and a whole gang of regular customers) have lived on that block for decades - we've dubbed them The Originals, and they've got pictures up on the walls of Danforth shops owned by their grandfather 50 years ago.

They're also one of the only coffee places in the neighbourhood that are open after dinner, so next time you're looking for a quiet-ish place to escape to, this is the place to go - and don't worry, we'll save you a seat! Salute!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Policing the Danforth: Looking back to move forward

Theodore Roosevelt lived by the maxim “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – a revolutionary idea in mid-century American politics. Fast forward to the Danforth in 2015 and take note of the ground swell of community pride visible at coffee shops, restaurants, farmers markets and anywhere along the lengthy sidewalk. This is in some parts due to the work of the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) that has in some ways adopted Teddy’s philosophy: they’ve done what they could, with what we have here on the east end of Danforth. To make it a safer place, to make it a better community. 

And it truly felt that way until recently. 

Last week, our favourite pizza place Gerrard Pizza & Spaghetti won the new DECA Gems contest.  During the festive celebration at Ethiopian restaurant Hirut, Gerrard Pizza owner Vito Greco held his crystal “Stanley Cup” trophy up high with a grin on his face looking forward to the future of his business and his neighbourhood. 

Photo Credit: Austin Delaney / CTV Toronto
Yesterday, it was a new reality. Vito was sweeping up shards of glass from his front patio. A bullet ripped through his front window and a man was dead after being shot and killed only two doors down from Gerrard at a late night middle-eastern dive called Rotana. The second time in two years that police tape has cordoned off his stretch of Danforth because of a violent crime. Vito is fed up and so is the neighbourhood. 

Ironically, during the celebration at Hirut last week, Pioneer and Vito got onto the topic of neighbourhood history. This isn’t the first time that there has been tension in the neighbourhood (and it won’t be the last). During the 1940s and 1950s, there was so much post-war tension amongst multicultural groups along the Danforth that violence would break out frequently and with terrible results. Vito’s elderly father, who has been running Gerrard since 1959, says that groups of young Italian men were not allowed to “congregate” and would be asked to ‘move along’ by uniforms. 

Pioneer put in a call to 54 and 55 Division to ask them about their response to Monday night’s violence, and quite simply, will they be asking people to ‘move along’ from the Coxwell parkette, from out front of the many, many dive bars, from the alleyways and parking lots? 

Staff Sergeant Mullin from 54 Division and Constable Morrice at 55 gave us a resounding yes to this question. Although both units have been making an effort over the past few months to do evening inspections of liquor licenses and scanning for associated issues, they are changing their strategy quickly to adapt to the overwhelming need for police presence. 
  1. They will be partnering with Municipal Licensing & Standards (MLS) to put businesses in this area under the microscope, and making sure business owners are taking accountability for the kind of clientele they host.  It has worked in the past and they’re hoping it will work again. 
  2. They’ll be reallocating their resources and moving more officers to cover the wee hours of the morning. Taking a closer look at how they are policing the Danforth. 
  3. They’ll be beefing up police presence. This is a common policing strategy that works to deter crime by having visible uniforms. This will also keep people ‘moving along’, by leaning on bylaws like prohibiting consuming alcohol in parks and public spaces. 
  4. They’ll partner with TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy team) on community initiatives. 
Overall, both Sergeant Mullin and Constable Morrice confirmed that our crime rate in the neighbourhood is actually going down. Although it may seem as if it’s increasing, the number of high-profile violent crimes is bringing some bad PR and outweighing the gentrification and general reduction of the seedy element. 

As a community, a lot of people are asking what we can do to combat these incidents. There is no simple answer. Wrapping yourself in Teflon bubble wrap is not the solution. Reporting crimes, calling in suspicious activity and keeping your eyes open is one answer. Get involved with the BIA or with DECA on projects that will help promote a safe neighbourhood – there are lots of volunteer opportunities for community activism.  Get to know your local businesses and shop at them. Be smart. Don’t feel bad about calling TPS about things that make you uncomfortable.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. “

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Starbucks Coming To Danforth East

While we haven't been able to get a statement from the mother ship just yet, the news around the neighbourhood is that a Starbucks is going in at 1417 Danforth. Our unofficial source spoke to someone that was actually official who confirmed that yes, there will be a Starbucks location opening up there.

Pioneer loves her Red Rocket and Celina's and Serendipity Bakery. And all the other small coffee shops that have kept us wired for the last decade, so it will be sad to see the impact on all these friendly neighbourhood places.

But we're pretty sure that there is enough coffee to go around. Plus, nobody makes Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies quite like Red Rocket. And we're not going to Starbucks for a cheddar jalepeno scone (#celenasfavourite).

So although there might be some backlash, consider this article from the U.S. that suggests real-estate follows the Starbucks effect and not-vice versa. They pick the "next hot neighbourhood" and real-state values soar. So to quote Barry Manilow everyone, it looks like we made it - if you're thinking like a real estate baron. If you're considering everything else about our neighbourhood, we think this place made it already a long time ago. #lovedanfortheast

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


While we were writing our last post about the Coxwell Barns, we were also munching on Red Rocket cookies and listening in on other coffee shop banter which resulted in a slight error. Luckily, you are all forgiving readers, right?? And since we gathered this information from brilliant local historian Stephen Wickens, we needed to set things in order. 

The Coxwell Barns was not converted into a bus terminal until the mid-1960s, when the subway was built. This photo from 1971 shows the impact of the Coxwell subway station and the pretty little buses all lined up in one small corner of the enormous concrete pad around the building. 

(Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto archives). 

Monday, May 11, 2015

A TTC History Lesson

The lights were blazing in the TTC garage as Pioneer strolled by a few weeks ago, so we started wondering more about this mysterious building taking up so much usable space at the intersection of Coxwell and Danforth. We did what any smart blogger would do and reached out to neighbourhood historian Stephen Wickens, who knows a heck of a lot about urban affairs and the TTC. Here's a history lesson for you! 

The Danforth Garage, as it’s formally called now, has served many purposes over the years. It was once upon a time called the Coxwell Barns and was part of the same streetcar barns system as the Wychwood Barns and four other transit “service” nodes.

In 1915, when the above picture was taken, streetcar tracks sprawled across the city far and wide including along Danforth. The Coxwell Barns served as a repair shop for these streetcars until the early 1960s.

If you look at an aerial view of Coxwell & Danforth from the mid-1900s, you can see that transit engulfs the whole intersection and the Barns has been expanded and is being used for buses rather than streetcars. These buses and their diesel fuel left their legacy in the form of the brown land the site sits on today.

Currently, it’s a big dumping ground for things the TTC doesn’t know what to do with, kind of like that drawer in Pioneer’s kitchen filled with knick knacks that serve no purpose. It also provides free parking for TTC employees.

Pioneer would love to see it restored to its original glory and once more serve as a neighbourhood hub in a different format like the Wychwood Barns which was repatriated by the city in 2008 and houses Artscape, a farmers market plus more. What would you do with our east-end space? If you’re interested in hearing more about the Barns and its future, architecture students from Ryerson University will be presenting their vision and development of the “Danforth East Streetcar Yards” tonight at Tobias House (7:00 p.m.).

Let us know what you envision for that intersection. Reach us at and we’ll post some of the best ideas and pass them on to our local councillors.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Eephus: East End Breweries Get Real, Part 2

Eephus. Pronounced Ee-Fus. It certainly had a ring to it, so when Pioneer first heard the name of this craft beer, we had to find out what it meant and why. Our ‘research’ led us to a brewery that mixes two good ol’ fashioned past times: beer & baseball. Left Field Brewery is taking Toronto by storm and they’re laying down roots here in the east end.

Pioneer was lucky enough to stop by the brand new Left Field brewery on a brew day when the heady scent of yeast was in the air. Co-owner Mandie Murphy was busy putting the finishing touches on the retail shop, which has been open as a pop-up (or in baseball terms, a fly ball) for the past few weeks. For her and her husband Mark, owning their own brewery is a dream come true after spending years building the Left Field empire outside of the GTA.

When the couple accidentally discovered an old brick factory tucked into a spot on Wagstaff Drive, they made the big move. It’s taken over a year of renovations, including tearing down pink walls, digging up floors for drainage and replacing windows and doors but the new space is a showstopper.

Mandie and Mark live along the Danforth and according to them, picking a spot in the east end was a no brainer.

“There’s a strong sense of community here and we knew there was support for local businesses – and no craft brewery yet!” She also pointed out that East York has always represented when it comes to craft beer. After all, The Only has been specializing in it for over a decade.

As the province continues to debate about retailing craft beer and the opportunities for growth in that sector, Left Field is a good example of why this is such a relevant conversation. By the numbers, they’ve already made an impact to the community by creating five full time jobs and four part time spots. The brewery has been built to expand in the future to triple its current capacity, which means even more jobs.

But we’re forgetting about the most important part of this story. Their beer is good! Actually, it’s great. Left Field brews beers with a focus on quality and flavor, using traditional methods and the best ingredients. Their starting line-up includes five or six regulars plus a star pitcher every so often, including an upcoming collaboration with Pilot Coffee next door.

And what about Eephus? We know at least one of our readers is a huge baseball fan and will most likely get this reference, but if your name doesn’t start with a C and end with a Y, you won’t know that it’s the name of a very rare baseball pitch. Thrown only a few times a year, an Eephus catches the batter off guard. Kind of like this Left Field easy drinking brown ale, minus the fat sweaty ump behind the plate.

Left Field opens for business at some point in the very near future, but you can catch their fly balls in the meantime so stay tuned to their social media feeds (@LFBrewery & leftfieldbrewery).

Monday, April 20, 2015

Happy Birthday to Us!

Six years ago today, a small community minded blog was launched into the world and never looked back! Our first month of blogging covered the opening of Legacy Spinning, the 'new' Starbucks at Jones and a mysterious coffee shop called Double Shots. Take a spin through our archives and read some of the gems from the past - we hunted down the best arancini, tried out Moroccan restaurants, went on some walking adventures and watched 800 people line up for Carter's opening day.

Thank you so much to the readers who have stuck with us over the last six years, watching this neighbourhood change for the better through our eyes and words. It's been a great experience to be part of. And you're all part of it too - the ground swell of change happening along east Danforth. There is no better place to live in Toronto if you ask us, and even our 50 things list doesn't do this neighbourhood justice.

To celebrate the milestone, and to say thanks to all our readers, we're throwing another East End Pioneer party (anyone remember Run/Walk/Pubcrawlin'???) so stay tuned for the details.

Here's to hoping that the next six years are as exciting as the ones that just passed!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

#RunTO: Danforth Represents at Boston

It’s 5am on the Danforth, with a balmy mid-March temperature of -15.  You’re probably still deep in slumber, snuggled up in bed listening to the wind howl and glad to be indoors. There is no rest for the weary though when you're training for the Boston Marathon, like Danforth resident Emily Kettel who was most likely lacing up her runners while the rest of us were deep in REM sleep.

Only 2,300 Canadians will toe the line tomorrow on Marathon Monday, to get one of the most sought after race medallions in the history of recreational running. Running the Boston Marathon is EPIC for Pioneer and most of the running community, so we were thrilled to chat with Emily about finally qualifying for the big race.

She’s been training for her first Boston since December, which means that during most of the frigid winter she was outside doing fartleks, speed work and running long on weekend mornings. Emily’s new to the Danforth area (welcome!) so luckily there were a whole bunch of brand new routes around the east end to discover. So far, her favourite local path is running down Logan past the peaceful Withrow Park as the sun is rising.

Favourite place for a post-run refuel? Newly established Goat Coffee on Pape where she reloads with their super-food salads or robust breakfast menu accompanied by a steaming hot espresso.

Tonight as we’re sitting down to Sunday dinner, Emily and Black Toe Running mates will be carbo loading (or eating Swiss Chalet if she can find one!) and hitting the hay to make the trek to the start line tomorrow.  On how she’s going to handle the infamous Heartbreak Hill, she says slow and steady.

Good lucky Emily! East York is rooting you on. For other Toronto runners going to Boston, you can check out this video and following #runTO on Twitter tomorrow.