Forest Hill Neighbourhood Profile
Prime real estate in midtown Toronto
By Elysse Zarek, revised by Sarah Bleiwas
Forest Hill, as the name suggests, was once a hill in the forest, but urbanization has long since replaced the trees with single-family homes and apartment buildings. Forest Hill is now one of the prettiest and most prestigious neighbourhoods in the city. In the past, local bylaws and building codes stated that all houses must be designed by an architect and foliage must be planted in front of the house. The mansions in Lower Forest Hill are impeccably designed and the decades-old trees now tower over the sidewalks. In Upper Forest Hill to the north, homes are smaller, yet still subject to the same building codes, and lot sizes between the two areas are comparable (Dunkelman, Your Guide to Toronto’s Neighbourhoods).
“If you like old homes with character and charm, this is where you’d find them,” says one resident.
Within Forest Hill is a smaller community known to locals as Cedarvale. Homes in Cedarvale are slightly smaller than in Forest Hill, and the ravine that cuts through the neighbourhood is a source of local pride.
Jewish families have lived in Forest Hill for decades, ever since the Jewish community began its migration up Bathurst St. Situated halfway between Lake Ontario and the Jewish community in Thornhill-Vaughan, Forest Hill and its Jewish residents are right in the middle of Toronto. Many of the synagogues in the area date back to the first half of the 20th century, and the shops along Eglinton Ave. give the area a Jewish feel.
Forest Hill by the numbers
73,810: neighbourhood population
19,565: number of Jews
26.5:% of Jewish residents
3,160: number of Jewish seniors
190: households that speak Hebrew
$998,000: average price for a single detached home
$1,900: average rent for a two-bedroom apartment
population figures - 2001 Canada Census
The neighbourhood is situated on prime real estate and house prices reflect that accordingly. However, there are also many duplexes and apartment buildings on the major streets.
Forest Hill’s boundaries are Briar Hill Rd. to the north, Yonge St. to the east, St. Clair Ave. to the south and Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd. to the west.
Settlement began in the neighbourhood in the 1860s, and in 1923, Forest Hill officially became a village. Meanwhile, as the Jewish community crept up Bathurst St. in the 1930s, it established synagogues and schools in the Forest Hill area to serve the growing Jewish population. Forest Hill Village remained separate from Toronto until 1967, when it agreed to be annexed by the city (although it had long been subject to Toronto planning codes).
The 1960s in Toronto was a time of tremendous urban growth. In the late 1960s, Toronto planned to construct a highway that would run from Highway 401 to downtown Toronto via the Cedarvale Ravine and Spadina Rd. The proposed route sliced through the heart of Forest Hill and the Annex and called for the demolition of dozens of Cedarvale homes. As the city began construction, local residents protested.
They founded several neighbourhood groups, teamed up with urban sociologist and local celebrity Jane Jacobs, and successfully focused public opinion against the expressway. In 1971, the province withdrew its support for the Spadina Expressway and a new age of urban activism began. The only part of the original plan still visible today is the stretch of road called the W.R. Allen Rd. (or “the Allen”) from Sheppard Ave. to Eglinton Ave.
Twenty-six per cent of Forest Hill’s 73,810 residents are Jewish and they make up the neighbourhood’s largest minority group. Jewish ranked as the top ethnic group in Forest Hill, followed by Canadian and English. Hebrew is the most frequently used language for 130 households, while 40 households speak Yiddish. While there are significant immigrant populations to the west of Forest Hill, for the most part, the multiculturalism that is a mainstay of Canadian society – and Toronto in particular – is harder to find in this corner of the city.
The majority of residents fall into the 25 to 64 age bracket. Although there are enough children and seniors to give the neighbourhood a family feel, their numbers are still lower when compared to the rest of Toronto.
“There are a lot of kids in the neighbourhood but you don’t really see them too much,” says Cindy, whose three children go to Jewish day schools close to their home. “In a more suburban place, I think your kids get to know their neighbours more. But we don’t go to the local public school so I don’t know if that’s just our experience.”
When the Lorraine and Allan moved to Toronto from Cape Town, South Africa in 1976, they settled in Forest Hill knowing only one thing about the neighbourhood: it was close to a Jewish school. Lorraine recalls her impression of Bathurst St.
“There are several large synagogues that are predominant there. When I saw the area and saw the synagogues, even though I didn’t know what they signified, I could see that because they were large synagogues, then there must be a large, predominantly Jewish community,” she says.
Many of the synagogues and day schools in the area are established community institutions that have stood in the same places for decades. Holy Blossom Temple has been in its current building since 1937. With nearly 2,500 member families, Holy Blossom is the largest Reform synagogue in Canada. It has daily, Shabbat and holiday services, a preschool, and a Hebrew school. The synagogue also has a history of social action – tzedek – programs: it participates in the Out of the Cold program, providing homeless folks with food and shelter one night a week during the winter.
Beth Tzedec, another synagogue in the neighbourhood, is the largest Conservative shul in North America, with a membership of 3,000 families. It also has daily, Shabbat and holiday services, as well as a seniors’ club and adult education programs. The synagogue also houses the Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum, a Jewish museum containing British historian Cecil Roth’s Judaica collection, and often displays items on loan from the New York Museum of Judaica along with local exhibits.
Beth Sholom, the other Conservative synagogue of considerable size, is located at the foot of the Allen Rd. and boasts a membership of about 1,100 families. In addition to the daily, Shabbat and holiday services, the synagogue also has a monthly “shteibl” service – a shorter Shabbat morning service that focuses on discussion and singing – and a Jewish storytelling program for adults at a neighbourhood coffee shop. Beth Sholom also hosts the south location of the Intersynagogue Kosher Food Bank and participates in the Out of the Cold program.
The local Orthodox synagogue is the Village Shul. Adult education classes are the shul’s specialty, with topics such as “I quit: the Torah’s lessons for conquering frustration” and “Men’s role in the world.” The shul also has a mikvah. The Temmy Latner Forest Hill Jewish Centre is an Orthodox centre affiliated with Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. This Jewish centre holds morning Shabbat and Holiday services. They also have a Hebrew School.
Although technically just south of Forest Hill, Chabad of Midtown is a convenient choice for those in the neighbourhood who enjoy Chabad Lubavitch's wide variety of social, religious and educational activities.
There are other smaller shuls in Forest Hill. Beth Haminyan is a congregation with Shabbat and holiday services. It places emphasis on a close-knit participatory havurah, and also offers social and educational programs. Beth Lida Forest Hill and Torah Emeth Jewish Centre both hold services throughout the week.
The House is a non-denominational centre aiming to educate young adults (17-23) and instill in them a love of Jewish thought and life, through nightly interactive discussions and dynamic experiential programming.
Jewish education is also easy to come by in Forest Hill. Robbins Hebrew Academy is a Jewish Day School from JK to grade eight that stresses Jewish education, Hebrew language and love for Israel. The school is affiliated with the Conservative movement and has about 1,450 students on three campuses. The Bathurst campus is located in Beth Tzedec (the other location is in Armour Heights).
Leo Baeck Day School is affiliated with the Reform movement. One-third of the school day is devoted to Hebrew studies, while two-thirds are reserved for lessons in English. The school has about 650 students on two campuses ranging from preschool to grade eight. The Bathurst campus is housed in Holy Blossom Temple, and the uptown campus is in Thornhill-Vaughan.
Eitz Chaim Day Schools - Viewmount Branch, catering to the Orthodox community, is just north of Forest Hill on Bathurst St., as is Bialik Hebrew Day School, linked to the Labour Zionist movement.
There are also various supplementary schools and after-school Hebrew programs. All of the synagogues run some type of educational program for elementary-school children.
For high school boys, the Orthodox Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Toronto offers both Jewish and secular programs. Additionally, this Yeshiva has a Beis Medrash program for post secondary studies.
Shops and Services
Several kosher shops serve the Forest Hill clientele, and near Bathurst St. and Eglinton Ave., one can easily find kosher restaurants. For groceries, local residents head to Fortino’s at the Allen Rd. and Lawrence Ave. and Metro Supermarket at Bathurst St. and Lawrence Ave. (both in Lawrence Manor), or the Loblaws at St. Clair Ave. and Bathurst St.
Clothing and home decor shops can also be found along Eglinton Ave. W., which is arguably one of the city’s ritziest shopping areas. Many of the boutiques are specialty stores that cannot be found at the local malls.
Yorkdale Shopping Centre, just north of Forest Hill, was one of Canada’s first and largest suburban malls. Almost every major retail chain has set up a store in the mall. However, the throngs of people at lunchtime, on evenings and in the month of December can be frustrating. Yorkdale is connected to the subway line and the Allen Rd., making for easy access from Forest Hill.
In the warm weather, many residents like to walk around on Eglinton Ave. or sip coffees at the sidewalk cafes while watching the crowds. Inside the residential areas, there are several parks. Every July, the city hosts a street festival along Yonge St., which is walking distance from the eastern part of this neighbourhood.
For recreational activities, the local community centre has an indoor and outdoor pool, gymnasium, walking track and exercise rooms. Close by in the Yonge and Eglinton area is a public library with various programs, and a picturesque trail for walkers and bikers.
For indoor entertainment, there are several movie theatres at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. The Prosserman Jewish Community Centre and Koffler Centre of the Arts in Bathurst Manor also serves this neighbourhood, which is exactly halfway between the BJCC and the Miles Nadal JCC at Bloor St. and Spadina Ave.
The Forest Hill neighbourhood is conveniently located near several subway stops on the University subway line. Many residents are within walking distance of either the Davisville or Eglinton subway station, and those who are not can easily take one of the many buses that run along all the major streets, plus a few not-so-major thoroughfares in the residential areas.
The car is often the primary method of transportation in this neighbourhood. Many of the streets are one way, and parking on the side of major streets means traffic often clogs the area around rush hour. However, driving downtown is usually speedy at off hours – Bathurst St., Spadina Rd. and Avenue Rd. all provide quick routes to the downtown core in approximately 15 minutes. The Allen Rd. – all that remains of the Spadina Expressway – heads north and connects to Highway 401, as well as the north part of the city.
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