Dundas street fair a watershed moment for the once grimy thoroughfare

National Post Peter Kuitenbrouwer Posted 13/06/10 | Last Updated: 13/06/11 10:26 AM ET

Our family and some friends were walking down the centre of Dundas Street West on Saturday afternoon, mouths agape. Closed to traffic for its first street fair, Dundas had abruptly become a destination, exploding with humanity and creativity.[/caption]

Coco noticed the place first.

Our family and some friends were walking down the centre of Dundas Street West on Saturday afternoon, mouths agape. Closed to traffic for its first street fair, Dundas had abruptly become a destination, exploding with humanity and creativity.

Coco, our two-year-old chocolate lab (who is a practical creature) yanked on her leash and pulled me over to a little desk. A sign on the desk read, “Easy Tiger.” A young woman wearing tiger ears and with whiskers painted on her cheeks sat strumming a ukelele. At her feet sat a dog’s water dish, around which she had placed five dog biscuits.

Without ceremony, Coco ate all the biscuits. Meanwhile I bought a glass of iced tea, $1, and two fat cookies, $1 each, decorated with tigers. Several of our party nipped into Easy Tiger. Turns out it’s a housewares shop, open for its first day of business.

The street fair, which closed Dundas from Ossington to Landsdowne on Saturday, was a watershed moment for Dundas. It showcased a street that, quite suddenly, has metamorphosed from a grimy thoroughfare into an eclectic destination.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="496"]<img class=" " src="http://nationalpostnews.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/fair.jpg?w=620&amp;h=316" alt="Facebook " width="496" height="253" /> For nearing 20 years I have lived near this stretch of Dundas. Aside from several delightful Portuguese bakeries, the strip has struggled, home to discount variety stores, car repair garages, dusty Vietnamese tax return offices, travel agencies and Portuguese sports bars.[/caption]

Change started a few years ago, with Cantina (one of the sports bars) becoming Enoteca Sociale, an Italian wine bar, at the corner of Dundas and Coolmine Road. Closer to Ossington, Nazare Snack Bar became a little boite called The Communist’s Daughter.

Dundas is one of the longest and busiest east-west streets in Toronto. Traffic and streetcars compete for road space; cyclists take their life in their hands. Few people stop.

On Saturday, everybody stopped. Children plucked chalk from cups set up by the streetcar tracks and drew all over the street. Bands played on three stages. Samba dancers shook their tail feathers. Women perused racks of vintage clothing. Ana Bailao, the local councillor, wore a floor-length skirt and walked about, beaming. Jazz bands competed with Peruvian bands. Even the MP, rocker Andrew Cash, brought his guitar, and took the stage with his son, Sam Cash.

Perhaps my favourite stop was a booth at St. Helen’s, the Catholic church near Lansdowne. The church normally holds its bazaar in May, but moved it to June to join the street fair. I bought a malaçada, a deep-fried sugary pastry, from a woman who spoke only Portuguese.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="496"]<img class=" " src="http://nationalpostnews.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/fest.jpg?w=620&amp;h=414" alt="Facebook" width="496" height="331" /> Dundas West Fest took place on Saturday on Dundas Street West in Toronto, Ontario.[/caption]

Later my wife and I joined some friends for a beer at a makeshift patio of The Guild, a new eatery offering “contemporary Canadian cuisine” (Yukon gold gnocchi with braised Ontario wild boar, $14). Sharing our table were a couple and their son. Portuguese of origin, they had lived on Dundas for many years, above their flower shop, which they recently closed to make way for The Guild. They still own the building, and live upstairs.

“Isn’t this fantastic?” the gentleman said of the street fair.

For many years there has been an unspoken tension on Dundas between the Portuguese immigrants who have anchored this neighbourhood since the 1970s, and the Yuppies who have poured in since. Somehow, just raising a glass with a florist at a temporary patio on Dundas washed all that away for me. Old and new Dundas: everyone just got along.

On Monday Helder Ramos, co-ordinator of the Dundas West Business Improvement Area, was still reeling from the success of the event.

“We’re a little surprised,” he said. “We knew we had a good thing going.”

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