Building community in the Canary District with the Summer Festival

By Elspeth Chalmers

The weekend of July 23 and 24 marked the first instance of the Canary District’s Summer on Front Street Festival, with vendors from across the Downtown East gathering on the Front Street promenade.

The festival featured live music as well as face painting, balloon animals and a busker.

Bella Magic, a contact juggler, crystal ball manipulator, “enchantress and mesmerizer” roamed the festival through rain and shine. A resident of East York, she said the community was so welcoming, she’d consider moving to it.

Sarah Yeung of Arts Speak Studio, also an east end resident, came to Toronto in 2017. “My sister and I moved from Vancouver to open a women’s kickboxing studio. That was the dream, and we were open for two years but closed during the [lockdown].”

Sarah began painting during the pandemic and displayed prints of her oil paintings and digital artwork. “Everyone’s been lovely so far, so I hope we get to come back.”

Regent Park resident Cheryl Rutherford found the festival the perfect place to launch her pandemic-inspired business. Encorewrap offers reusable gift wrapping and gift bags. “Everything is repurposed, upcycled or organic,” Rutherford said.

“I actually build mascots. That’s my day job.” After being sent home during the pandemic, Rutherford utilized her textile background to sew masks to raise funds for non-profi t organizations. As regulations changed, she made bags from mask-making scraps.

The festival was well attended despite rainy weather. For Annie Cormier, a resident of the Canary District and the brains behind the event, it was heartwarming to see the community come alive, “I spent nine months putting it together, so seeing people in the community coming out and enjoying themselves was incredible.”

Cormier learned about the Canary District through her graphic design work at Dream, one of the developers behind the vertical neighbourhood and the main sponsor of the event.

“I’ve lived down by the Rogers Centre, I’ve lived up near Mount Pleasant Cemetery. I’ve lived east and west.”

Cormier missed the small town feel from her youth, and feels she’s found it in this quiet, friendly neighbourhood. “I feel like I get the best of both worlds here.”

She moved in a year ago and wanted to do something for the community and its retailers. “Because we’re tucked away, that can be a blessing and a curse.”

The Canary District is perhaps best known from the 2015 Pan-American Games, when it housed more than 10,000 athletes from all over the world. Since then, this 35-acre area has continued to develop.

A site plan has been approved for the district’s final development. Block 13, at 495 Front Street East, will be a mixeduse building developed by Dream and the Kilmer Group.

As development ends, community building begins. The Canary District Front Street Festival is a first step of many in creating a sense of identity.

“Only now is the Canary District built up enough that it’s becoming a destination,” says Cormier. “So I think it’s a good time to put it on the map.”