I have explained before that I live on the outskirts of the Mennolands in an urban backwater about 150 km from one of the centres of Mennonite life in Canada.That’s fine with me. I am close enough to the centre for the Menno amenities I want without having to actually live there.
Few people who live in the Capital of the Ontario Mennolands – a nebulous region extending outward from Kitchener-Waterloo – willingly visit the metropolis of Toronto. Sometimes they claim their reluctance is because of the traffic. Sometimes it’s the sheer size of the city that bothers them. Sometimes, they say nothing at all – they just shudder.
I think that they just haven’t seen my Toronto – the Toronto that has both interesting cocktail locations and a number of lesser-known Mennonite tourist sites. Today, I write to correct the record.
But this post isn’t just for the Toronto-shy KW Mennonites who accidentally fall upon my blog from time to time. I like to imagine that I also have readers who are not so much Mennonite as Mennocurious. Such readers might occasionally find themselves in my fair city and be wandering aimlessly about wishing they knew where to find sites of interest only to Mennonites, and the places to go for cocktail supplies.
Once again, I am here to help.
It is true that most tourists interested in a bit of Menno-voyeurism are likelier to want to head to the Capital of the Ontario Mennolands. There, they can get themselves educated through films and museums, they can buy Mennonite-made quilts and foods, and they can spend an afternoon ogling Mennonites who wear their faith on their shirtsleeves and bonnets.
You won’t find any of that in the big city. But you’ll find plenty of other points of interest. I have made you a list. And a handy dandy tourist map. I hope you like it.
Don’t imagine that this list is anything like exhaustive of all of the interesting Mennonite and/or cocktail sites in Toronto. It’s a big city and we Mennonites (and cocktail drinkers) are lurking everywhere.
A former train station, this liquor store is visually stunning, inside and out. It deserves to be on every tourist’s list simply for its architectural beauty. Being one of the larger liquor stores in the city, it also has a fairly impressive inventory.
Just a block and a half away, you can also find a little cluster of Mennonite residences. There’s nothing particularly Mennonite in the look of the place. It just looks like a nice little housing complex. But if you hang about there for a bit, you might see a Mennonite. None of the bonnet/suspenders kind of Mennonite, of course, so you’ll have to be skilled in identifying the genotype, to spot one of us. I guess you could just ask everyone you saw coming and going. But that’s a little intrusive, now isn’t it?
Please be polite.
Ten Thousand Villages
The flagship Ten Thousand Villages store is not in Toronto but rather in New Hamburg, no doubt due to the larger consumer base in the latter location. Nonetheless, Toronto has two locations. Though the chain has dropped the Mennonite branding from its storefront, the volunteers who staff the front desk are still — nine times out of ten — real live Mennonites. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I suggest you drop in and tell them you’re looking for fair trade, recycled glass martini glasses, coupes and/or champagne flutes.
Feel free to say you’re asking for a friend.
Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre
A lot of Mennonites come to the city for schooling. I usually advise tourists to wander through the grounds of the University of Toronto and to make sure they see the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. But there’s nothing really Mennonite about that. The library doesn’t even have much in the way of Anabaptist holdings. But the Mennonite corner of the Toronto School of Theology is in one of the University’s grand old buildings so you can swing by that if you like. Sadly, the university is a better neighbourhood for one seeking a pint of cheap beer than for the cocktail aficionado.
Tate St., 461 King E and the Historic Distillery District
Before starting Churches in the city, Mennonites established missions intended to reach the poor and needy. The first mission started by the Mennonite Conference of Ontario was located on Tate St., which was in a poor industrial section of the town close to the Don River. When the whole street was demolished in 1907, the mission moved to 461 King St. East. It’s now a shop selling picture frames and is pretty far off the beaten track for tourists to Toronto. But if you walk a couple of blocks south, you come to the Historic Distillery District, which is actually pretty close to the old Tate St.
Despite its promising name, there is no working distillery in the Distillery District. Still, it’s a picturesque little area with cobblestones, art galleries, a theatre, three chocolate shops (at least one of them fair trade), and a number of places for good food and drink.
Danforth Mennonite Church
After the failure of the King St. Mission, the Mennonites of Ontario concentrated their efforts on a mission on Danforth Ave. in the east end of the city, an area that was still pretty agricultural at the time. The city grew up around it and the Church now sits among stores and businesses. Despite renovations over the years, the building here retains the charm of the little country Church that time forgot. From the outside, you might be fooled into thinking that the doors will open and the people streaming out will be dressed like their Old Order brethren. Nope.
The Danforth is often listed in tourist guides as a possible point of interest but these guides rarely take you any further east than Greektown. The Church is in the part of town known as the Danforth Mosaic, or just “the Danny“. It’s a mixed neighbourhood with as much grit as charm. While there are more sports bars than cocktail spots, there’s a hip little place just west of the Church at 1794 Danforth. I recommend the Fresh Morning Dew.
Toronto United Mennonite Church (TUMC) and Proximity
One of the larger Mennonite Churches in Toronto is located in the Beach neighbourhood (I’m not actually sure but I think the Chinese Mennonite Church located on Woodbine just around the corner from the Danforth Church might be the largest). It might seem odd that the two major English-speaking Churches are both in the east end of the city. Well, it is odd, I guess. It happened that way because they were founded by different branches of the Mennonite Church. When it started, TUMC was affiliated with the General Conference Mennonites and Danforth was Old Mennonite. TUMC was mostly populated with Mennonites who had come through Russia; and Danforth was home to Swiss Mennonites and, as a mission Church, many new converts from the neighbourhood. The two branches of the Church have since grafted themselves together again but that legacy left us two congregations in the east end of the city.
Located in the Beach neighbourhood, TUMC makes a pretty attractive day trip for the Mennophile on vacation. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon at the beach after stopping in to say hi to the staff at the Toronto Mennonite New Life Centre. You can always pick up cocktail makings on the way out at the conveniently located liquor store just a block or two west of the Church building.
140 Victor Ave and Thereabouts
Before it had the Queen St location, TUMC operated out of a house in Riverdale. It’s in a tony neighbourhood now but Mary Dick who was the minister’s wife at the time used to tell stories of prisoners who escaped from the nearby Don jail hiding out in the ramshackle neighbouring houses and yards. You can still see the house, though it doesn’t look as impressive as it does in the old pictures. Walk a block west and a teensy bit North and you’ll see one of the best views there is of downtown Toronto, looking across Broadview and the Riverdale park. You can also see the old Don jail that Mary was talking about.
My own neighbourhood is just a bit south-east of Riverdale and so I have scouted out all of the cocktail opportunities in the area. One of my favorites is Pinkertons, located at Gerrard and Jones. It’s about as hipster a place as you’ll find on the east end. As we Mennonites are often indistinguishable from hipsters, I feel quite comfortable there. They have all the classic cocktails. It’s a nice opportunity for a French 75 (remember to call it a Conscientious Objector in your head).
Toronto’s Harbourfront is part of many a typical tour of the sights. If you rent yourself a bike, you can pedal all along the waterfront and it’s really quite nice. The Harbourfront Centre also has nostalgic resonance for many of us Mennonites who remember the years when we all came together to run an annual Christmas sale for Ten Thousands Villages in the space. When you go, imagine the indoor space there festooned with Christmas trees full of ornaments and tins upon tins of fair trade hot chocolate. Ah well, we never made enough money and corporate headquarters back in New Hamburg put a stop to all our festive retailing.
But you can’t take away our memories, you rural capitalist overlords.
Anyway, while you’re biking along the waterfront trail, you might want to stop in to the Cooper St. liquor store. It’s nothing like as impressive looking as the Summerhill store, but it does have the best selection in the city.
The West End
You may have noticed that most of the sites mentioned so far are in Toronto’s east end, really the south-east. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing of interest in the west end. The cocktail scene, for instance, is far livelier in the west end. Or so I’m told. I head west a couple times a year to go to BYOB Cocktail Emporium to restock my supplies of stir sticks, bitters, and anything else I’m too lazy to DIY.
Mennonites live in the west end, too. For a few years back in the late 1990s, a number of west end Mennos got together as something of rotating house church. They called it The West End Gathering, demonstrating again the Mennonite flair for creativity in nomenclature. For the most part, those Mennos still live in the west end. They’ve just stopped gathering. I know of a number in the High Park area, a few near Trinity Bellwoods, and others in Parkdale. Miriam Toews apparently lives someplace out there, though she was never part of the gathering. I don’t know exactly where she lives. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.
For all I know, you’re a creepy Mennostalker.
I’ve added a couple of places on the map that didn’t quite make the cut. But if you’re really keen on seeing all the Mennonite sights and have a bit more time on your hands between flights, go for it. At the corner of St. Clair and O’Connor in East York is a seniors’ complex that was built with the joint efforts of Danforth Mennonite and Toronto United Mennonites. We sometimes have Mennonite cultural events in the meeting room there — events like lectures, memorial services, and book launches. You can’t, however, find a decent cocktail bar for miles.
I’ve also put Black Creek Pioneer Village on the map, though it’s far enough from the city centre that you should think of it as an outing or day trip. If you’re here on the third Saturday of September, though, you can attend a Mennonite relief sale there. It’s a lot smaller than the one in the Capital in May. But it’s not without charm (it is without cocktails).
Back downtown, you can also go by a couple other sites of early missions. There was one on Bond St near the modern day Ryerson University, and another at College and Spadina. If you’re there, you may as well take a side trip into Kensington Market. It doesn’t have much in way of a Mennonite heritage but parts of it will appeal to Mennonite frugality, and other parts will serve you up a nice cocktail.
Finally, I felt I would be remiss if I did not put on the map the only place in the city where it is possible to buy “Manitoba Mennonite-Style Farmers’ Sausage.” It won’t satisfy the purists but it deserves a place on the map.
I know my knowledge is incomplete. I am particularly ignorant about places in Toronto of significance to the Mennonite Brethren and, basically, any branches of the faith other than my own. I welcome your suggestions.
A Mennonite in Toronto
There already exists a Toronto Cocktail and I considered just making that up for this occasion. I couldn’t, in good conscience, however, expect any of my frugal readers to suffer the expenditure of a full bottle of Fernet Branca when you will probably only use it for this one particular drink.
Ok, let’s be honest. I was not about to go out and fork it over for a bottle of Fernet Branca given that when I’ve tried the Toronto cocktail in the past, I haven’t been all that keen on the particular bitterness that is Fernet Branca. This recipe brings out some of the tones of the Toronto cocktail but it’s not as unfailingly bitter. And I do think you should be able to find other uses for that bottle of Pernod and the bottle of Campari you’ll have to pick up for this one.
- 2 oz Canadian rye whiskey
- 1/2 oz Campari
- 1/2 oz Pernod
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 1 mint leaf plus more for garnish
Muddle the mint leaf in the bottom of mixing glass with rye. Add other ingredients and stir well. Strain into a short glass with ice. Garnish.