Leslieville is a neighbourhood east of the Don River bounded by the Canadian National railway line and Gerrard Street to the north, Empire Avenue to the west, Eastern Avenue to south, and Coxwell Avenue to the east.
This quiet east-end neighbourhood forms part of the broader neighbourhood of South Riverdale. Leslieville began as a small village in the 1850s, which grew up around the Toronto Nurseries owned by George Leslie and sons, after whom the community is named. Most of Leslieville's residents were gardeners or were employed at one of the brick-making factories in the area.
Alexander Muir, the composer of The Maple Leaf Forever, was the first principal of the Leslieville Public School, one of the first buildings in the village. Muir was inspired when a brilliant maple leaf fell on his jacket from a Leslieville tree. That tree is still standing today and has become a famous landmark in the community.
For decades, South Riverdale was home to light industry, particularly along Eastern Ave. south of Queen St. Metal processing and tanning were notable industries which, along with other industrial activity, left Leslieville and South Riverdale with a legacy of contaminated land. In 2000, the A.R. Clarke Tannery went up in flames, burning for days and unleashing toxic ash on the surrounding neighbourhood. Almost all these industrial areas have now been abandoned and are awaiting redevelopment.
Leslieville once mainly housed those who worked in the factories, and their departure has greatly changed the area. The reduction in air pollution and fumes have made it much more appealing to members of the middle and creative class. Leslieville is a neighbourhood in which the process of gentrification is beginning. It is commonly referred to now as an up-and-coming neighbourhood, with new restaurants, shops and cafés slowly cropping up in the area. However, it is still a largely working-class and middle-class neighbourhood. In some of the former industrial areas large film studios have opened, including Cinevillage and Showline Studios. Just to the south, in the Port Lands area, the massive new Pinewood Toronto Studios are being built.
Leslieville, after many years of playing the role of little brother to more developed Riverside, has emerged as Toronto's hippest place to dine, drink, shop and live, or so proclaimed a 2005 article in the New York Times that also anointed the neighbourhood as the new Queen Street West. Historically home to light industry and the Film District, it's now more known as one of Toronto's best brunch destinations and features some great cafes, vintage furniture, fashion and design stores.