Riverside, along Queen Street East, just steps east of the Don River and Toronto’s downtown, has certainly evolved over the years into a super family-friendly neighbourhood. You can tell just by the strollers everywhere, especially on weekends, that this east Toronto ‘hood is a place to play and grow.
“Riverside is like this perfect little pocket in the city,” says local mom, Cindy Wagman.
Along Riverside’s Queen Street East there is no shortage of shops, restaurants, and drop-in centres that cater to the wants and needs of parents and their little ones. Prohibition Gastro House (kids can eat for $5 on weekends) and Lan Vietnamese ($6 meals for kids daily, dine-in only) are just a couple of the kid-friendly spots to chow down.
At Queen East and Grant, Little Peeps, a neighbourhood staple for the past 10 years, offers a wide array of chic baby and kids’ clothing and environment-friendly products.
“I’ve been here five years and there are a lot more parents strolling up and down Queen Street,” says Little Peeps staff Justin Dahl.
A few doors down, BRIKA specializes in hand-made kids toys, clothes and keepsakes among other home decor items. In the summer, ice cream at Sweet Jesus is not to be missed! Then there’s Smash Ping Pong where cool kids have birthday parties.
Oma Chiropractic & Wellness Centre has no shortage of supports for the whole family – from pre-natal education to babies (check out their Riverdale Yoga Babies), children and beyond – Oma is right at Queen St East and Munro, just steps east across the bridge from Toronto’s downtown.
“It’s still urban and you have access to incredible food and shopping on Queen…but it’s also full of families with children of all ages,” says Cindy. “We know all of our neighbours, are active in the local school and there are parks on practically every corner.”
Probably more than anything, parents love the parks here in Riverside. Just steps from Queen there’s De Grassi Street Parkette on Cummings with state of the art playground facilities, there is Joel Weeks Park (with a splash pad in warm months) and gorgeous greenery, Jimmie Simpson Park and Rec Centre, and McClearly Playground (built in one day by 500 volunteers – check out the cool backstory!). This doesn’t even include the slides, monkey bars, and sandboxes in the yards of all the local schools.
“There are literally four different kids parks within a five-minute walk from my front door,” says local dad, John Davies.
Adding to the neighbourhood’s family-friendly qualities is The Ralph Thornton Community Centre, including the Queen/Saulter Library Branch and the South Riverdale Child-Parent Centre, all at Queen and Saulter. John Davies says it’s been fantastic, especially in the early years.
“When my wife was on maternity leave she would stop by there with her daughter and meet other new parents, and it helped her not feel so alone during the year away from adults,” he says.
In addition to after-school programs and March Break camps, the Ralph Thornton Community Centre itself offers a special childcare service every Sunday. SUNDAY ESCAPE allows parents to do whatever parents do while their kids aren’t around while kids enjoy fun activities, including special theme nights, crafts, and movie nights.
“As the holiday season approaches, more and more parents are taking advantage of this opportunity to escape and shop or the other things that are hard to do with children underfoot,” says Ralph Thornton executive director John Campy. Parents are also invited to take advantage of 20 percent off their meal at a participating local restaurant through this program.
Beyond that, the Riverside neighbourhood and BIA put on all sorts of family-friendly events throughout the year, in partnership with local businesses and organizations. Some family favourites are Light Up Riverside, Riverside Eats & Beats Streetfest and Riverside Halloween – all of which have free live music, kids activities, treats and more!
“You couldn’t ask for a better place to raise kids,” says Heather Conway. “The drop-ins, many parks, community centres, restaurants and neighbourhood activities – there’s always something to do.”
Mom Dawna Dingwall adds, “We’ve never regretted our choice to buy a home here, especially after our kids arrived.”
KNOW A GREAT RIVERSIDE KID-FRIENDLY SPOT THAT WE’VE MISSED? LET US KNOW!
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, and Brunch Spots