The diversity of free, inclusive and accessible community programs available in Toronto’s vibrant Riverside neighbourhood is as eclectic as the individuals who take comfort in them. Whether you’re looking to swim, sew, or share a meal with new faces, Riverside is home to a wonderful assortment of services and programs intended to bring people together as neighbours, inspire a sense of belonging, promote health and well-being, and build community.
Have you ever wondered where to Zumba for zero dollars or how to access free pet food when times are tough? Read on to learn more about what you’ll find in Riverside (from A-Z!), and click on the links to see how you can get involved whether you currently need a helping hand or have one to offer:
Affordable child care in a safe and welcoming environment and convenient location – what more could a parent ask for? Located steps north of Queen E close to the 504 and 501 streetcar stop at the corner of Broadview and Queen since 2003 (formerly on Boulton Ave.), this bright and cheerful not-for-profit organization is a godsend to working parents of infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers and/or school-aged children.
Founded in 2000 by the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto, this warm and welcoming space located at the corner of Strange and Queen in Riverside offers everything from free knitting and sewing classes to spiritual spas, foot care, and conversation. Programs and classes are open to anyone and the centre welcomes groups for use of their spaces.
Mustard Seed has also been the proud host location of Light Up Riverside for 10+ years, in partnership with the Riverside BIA. This annual holiday event on the last Saturday of November fits perfectly with the spirit of Mustard Seed – welcoming the whole community for warm drinks, cheerful live music, kids activities, and a tree lighting.
Health and fitness have no boundaries in Riverside. Jimmie Simpson Community Centre, located on Queen Street East beside Jimmie Simpson Park, offers a wide variety of free fitness programs for individuals of all ages including swimming, Zumba, yoga and pilates. The facility also provides after-school programs and summer camps for youth.
In addition to all its amazing programs, the centre also partners with the Riverside business community to host fun seasonal events such as Riverside Halloween Fest with Nell & Natasha’s Real Estate Homeward and the Riverside BIA, as well as the community Easter Egg Hunt.
Located along Queen East near and Boulton Ave, this community-based feminist organization provides emergency shelter, protection, and advocacy support for all women and children who wish to secure long-term, independent and affordable housing. Nellie’s also operates a community support and outreach program for low income and socially isolated women and children in the community.
There are so many ways to give in support of Nellie’s, and many Riverside businesses host events in support of this most-worthy community cause, such as Oma Chiropractic & Wellness’ annual Love Yourself event.
With a variety of spaces and multipurpose rooms for use, the Ralph Thornton Community Centre has long been where local residents come together to identify, discuss and address issues affecting Riverside, as well as host workshops, celebrations, and classes. Looking to offer a cooking demonstration? Call them! The RTCC also offers mentor programs, after-school programs, camps for youth, and free access to computers.
The Queen Saulter/Library Branch, housed in the same facility, has an amazing roster of programming all year-round such as family time, 3D printing workshops, the Repair Cafe, LEGO Club and more.
Plus, these two are an amazing community partners working alongside the Riverside BIA and others to host fun and accessible community-wide events that engage and give back, such as the annual Riverside Antler Breakfast, Riverside Wine & Craft Beer Fest, and Riverside Eats & Beats Streetfest!
The building itself at 765 Queen St E is a historic landmark in Toronto’s East End. It’s a heritage building, designed by EJ Lennox was originally Postal Station G and has a rich history of 100+ years!
Established in 2012, this grassroots community group came together with the purpose of doing outreach, education, and community-building around green initiatives in Riverside, particularly at Joel Weeks Park. While fostering the Riverside Community Garden (pictured) in Joel Weeks Park is a primary interest of the group, other activities include community clean-ups, education around nutrition, container gardening, and a farmers market.
Dedicated to making a positive impact in Rivertowne, Canada’s first revitalized mixed-income community located north of Joel Weeks Park in Riverside, this resident collective hosts a number of free community programs and events including the Rivertowne Breakfast Program, an annual BBQ, a multicultural fair, and Black History Month celebrations.
In cooperation with local neighbourhood groups and Toronto Employment & Social Services, St. John The Compassionate Mission, located just north of Broadview and Queen East, serves more than 4,000 meals a month and provides a warm, welcoming space for all walks of life to come together for conversation, free counselling services, and more. Right next door, their famous St. John’s Bakery, is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise producing some of Toronto’s best organic sourdough breads and sweets!
With 36 locations including a 28-unit transition house at Riverside’s former Edwin Hotel at the corner of Queen East and Carroll, WoodGreen Community Services is one of Toronto’s largest social service agencies assisting over 37,000 people each year in their search for safe, affordable housing and meaningful employment. At the Riverside location, drop-in programs include meals, employment assistance, community gardening and a pet food bank.
Woodgreen is also an active community partner – in 2017, Woodgreen partnered with the Riverside BIA, Indigenous artists and other agencies, to bring the mural ‘Tkaranto Past, Tkaranto Future’ to 650 Queen East, helping acknowledge and welcome first stories and culture.
DO YOU HAVE OTHER LOCAL COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS OR PROGRAMS THAT COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SOMEONE’S LIFE? PLS TELL US ABOUT IT, WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Karen Lloyd is a writer, photographer and website designer in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood. This blog is part of the series giving you the inside scoop on Riverside, Toronto. Read other blogs in the series: Riverside Patios, Places to Stay in Riverside, Brunch Spots, Health & Wellness in Riverside, Kid-Friendly Riverside, Event & Catering Spots, Riverside Chefs, Self-Care in Riverside, It’s Easy Being Green in Riverside, The Dirt on Gardening in Riverside, Eat Around the World in Riverside, and Saying ‘I Do’ East of the Don.