York University Heights, also known by many as Northwood Park, is a neighbourhood of spectacular natural beauty and the site of one of Toronto’s most recent large new housing developments. This surprisingly idyllic area of North Toronto is situated east of the Black Creek river between Sheppard and Steeles.
The concrete and glass jungle that is the York campus is nicely offset by all the area’s greenery. One surprising and beautiful hidden gem in the neighbourhood is the City-run community allotment garden at Four Winds, where residents can farm a small plot of land for as little as $75 a year! Community groups have made a concerted effort to shake its reputation as a hotbed of gang activity and student mischief, and the neighbourhood was in fact ranked ahead of the Annex for livability by Toronto Life magazine in 2013. Tennis is big here, with young local athletes training at the Rexall Centre.
There’s a laid-back feel to York University Heights, perhaps owing to the massive student population, and on sunny afternoons you’ll find them sprawled all over the lawns and parks. But there’s more to life than York itself, and the area’s large and entrenched Italian, Chinese and Caribbean populations enhance the dining and shopping options for residents, and add to its friendly and eclectic atmosphere. The strip malls and plazas that most businesses call home north of the 401 are less divided by specific cultures, and many offer a ‘round-the-world retail tour in one stop.
This is a young area by Toronto standards, with nearly 20% of the population in the 18-24 range alone. Seniors are less present here than in other northern neighbourhoods, comprising only 11% of the population, and there are lots of young children and families. In more established residential areas, locals enjoy good relationships amongst neighbours and speak highly of cross-cultural connections. Less enthusiastic are attitudes towards the more transient student population, who some residents feel have “overrun” the newer housing areas that have sprung up since the University sold the land that became the stylish and modern Village at York.
Parks and ravines abound in York University Heights, and hikers, cyclists and joggers can enjoy the trail systems that run through the Black Creek Parklands, G. Ross Lord, Derrydowns, Northwood, Topcliff and Grandravine Parks, to name only a few. Several of the University facilities, including the athletic centre and libraries, are open to the public. There are a total of fifteen public and separate board elementary schools, and high school students attend either C. W. Jeffreys Collegiate, Westwood Centennial S.S., or James Cardinal McGuigan S.S. Several libraries, as well as the Antibes and Driftwood Community Centres also serve the area.
Thanks to the presence of the university, the neighbourhood is already extremely well covered by TTC routes, and that’s only going to improve with the imminent opening of the Spadina subway extension. As it stands there are numerous bus routes, including its own York University Busway, Go Transit, York Region Transit, Via Rail, Brampton Transit and Greyhound stations. With the 401 and 400 only a few km away, it’s also a great area from which to commute in and out of the city. Bike lanes and paths accommodate cyclists more readily here than in neighbouring areas.
The age-old “town vs. gown” rivalry is alive and well in York University Heights. While local residents acknowledge that without the University presence they’d just be another sad suburb, tensions around lifestyle differences between partying undergrads and families result in a culture of only grudging acceptance, and outright animosity at the worst. The neighbourhood also borders on the notorious Jane-Finch area, although that community’s rough reputation really doesn’t reflect its current, highly livable reality.
The presence of students helps keep prices down in the area for everything from housing to dining, and that makes York University Heights a great option for those seeking value on a budget. Shopping and dining out are quite reasonable activities, and lots of local business keep the more upscale chains that dominate Steeles on their toes.
The home of the York Lions, the University’s Athletic centre offered free lifetime memberships to anyone purchasing houses in the first round of development of the Village at York. The spacious facility offers three gyms, a pool, fitness centre classes and squash courts.more info
Those in the know call this North York’s best Shisha bar, and its hookahs, coffee, smoothies, light meals and desserts make it a popular destination for students and argileh lovers of all ages. The lush red interior effectively disguises its bland parking lot setting, and creates a lovely old-world atmosphere.more info
Still a popular destination for school field trips and family outings, Black Creek Pioneer Village has made an effort to “hip-ify” itself in recent years, throwing nightlife events such as upscale whisky tastings by night. It’s also a thoroughly modern wedding and party venue.more info
This is the first Toronto outpost of an extremely popular (and Halal) Filipino chain restaurant, and it’s already a hit with the student crowd. The restaurant’s interior is clean and visually pleasing, and the menu offers a good range of dishes that reflect the best of what is arguably the least-known Asian cuisine.more info
Less woodsy than other parks in the area, Fountainhead’s popularity stems from its proximity to the cluster of giant high-rises at Finch and Sentinel. Students and families of all ages flock to the playground, enjoy the tennis courts of the Fountainhead tennis club, or just laze on the lush green lawns in the afternoon sun.more info