Corktown is a neighborhood of contrasts: Quaint Victorian cottages beside huge renovated factories; a methadone clinic up the street from an upscale restaurant; an auto body shop around the corner from a Porsche dealership.
Cynthia Wilkey has lived for over two decades in one of the renovated cottages on a private street with only 28 houses. When she first moved to the area, Wilkey thought she’d miss the community spirit of the co-op where she had lived for years. “But you can’t live this close to people without getting to know them. If there’s an unusual noise, my neighbor will knock at my door to see if I’m ok.”
A lawyer working in the field of poverty, Wilkey serves on the Corktown Residents and Business Association (CRBA) and is a wealth of information about the history of the neighbourhood and the changes it’s undergoing. Named after the influx of immigrants from county Cork in Ireland in the 1800s, this once gritty industrial area is undergoing a face-lift as numerous condos pop up and architecture, photography and small businesses move into tastefully renovated buildings.
Another sign of change was the recent opening of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead Café. According to Wilkey, the restaurant serves an amazing high-end poutine and potato salad with smoked fish.
“The area is totally being transformed … largely due to planned waterfront revitalization,” says Wilkey referring to the nearby West Don Lands development project.
But as the neighborhood changes, it holds onto its historical relics. Old churches and the Enoch Turner schoolhouse, established in 1849, are among these gems.
The community gardens in Percy Park is one of the newer gems. After a long day, Wilkey need only wander to the end of her street for a bit of tranquility here among the flowers. She may then dine at Weezies where the pan-fried Arctic char is “fantastic.” And so are the salads; the owners use fresh produce from a nearby rooftop garden.
Wilkey and her CRBA colleagues meet every month at Dominion on Queen pub, housed in the historic Dominion Brewery building. She loves the live music and typically orders a local brew — Steam Whistle or a Mill Street organic — to accompany her meal of pasta or cob salad and maybe soup.