How Kingston Road Is Rapidly Shaping Up To Be King Again

The history of Kingston Road is a well-worn path, endlessly explored by historians, local buffs and just about every Toronto publication.

According to the Toronto Historical Association, you can go as far back as the Ice Ages. Kingston Road had origins in the original Lake Iroquois shoreline and what is believed to be an early route followed by prehistoric animals. This was followed by more than 10,000 years of development by Indigenous peoples, and a few hundred years of French and British regimes.

Archival image from 1900.

Or you can glance at only the past century or two — from linking Toronto to farming settlements and eastern cities such as Kingston and Montreal, to the rise and fall of Highway 2. The transition of the once-famous motel strip to the now-infamous motel strip has fuelled Kingston Road’s most recent narrative.

Its glamour as ‘the gateway to Toronto’ has been fading.

Its future, however, is rapidly taking shape. The same market forces that are rejuvenating countless corners in the city are rolling out, eastward, along Kingston Road — like a ripple effect from the core.

Kingston Road could be king again.

“There was a catalyst,” says city councillor Gary Crawford, speaking of the development in his Scarborough Southwest ward that covers the road from roughly Victoria Park to Markham Road.

Kingston & Co. (Photo courtesy of TAS)

“The first development was Kingston & Co., right at Kingston and Victoria Park. This was the first time [the developer] decided to go east of Victoria Park. They actually took a chance — they saw something coming. That was the first development that got approved along that entire strip.”

The developer, Main and Main, boasts on their website that the project “(sets) the bar sky high for future projects along Kingston Road,” with eight stories that step up to 10 levels, spacious suites (more than half are larger than 800 square feet), and 20,000 square feet of retail space for the community.

“And since then, in many ways, it’s exploded,” Crawford says. “We’re seeing an incredible amount of applications, and all combinations of mid-rise and detached townhomes.”

The Bluffs development by Skale. (Photo courtesy of Skale)

Crawford also highlights other landmark projects landing in his ward: VHL’s Haven On The Bluffs Condos in Cliffside, Skale’s The Bluffs project in, you guessed it, The Bluffs. He believes these are catalysts for their communities, magnets for future developments and retail rejuvenation. And it’s all still very new, Crawford says.

“When you’re looking at development and growth (on Kingston),” he says, “I think it’s only been in the last six or seven years.”

The Beach goes east

The Beach has cachet — it’s generally famous, citywide, for its insular and protective community, perky retail, annual jazz fest and, of course, its beach.

Kingston Road starts here, north of Queen Street East, bringing a hint of The Beach spirit upward and outward, heading east toward southwest Scarborough communities such as Fallingbrook and Birch Cliff.

Hazily defined, Upper Beaches is used to describe swaths of this area around Kingston, tapping into the same lifestyle prestige as its famed neighbour. But unlike The Beach, you can actually get a condo there.

If you check out Urban Toronto’s development map, Queen East is practically a dead zone — a fact likely celebrated by the community — while Kingston seems to collect all the dots.

Upper Beach Club. (Photos courtesy of Cope Development)

Upper Beach Club Condos just broke ground in February on Kingston Road, west of Warden Avenue, with occupancy expected in spring 2019. A boutique mid-rise project with lake and city views — and overlooking the Toronto Hunt Club golf course — one of its suites recently won a BILD award for most innovative suite design.

Miles Cope, president and CEO of Cope Development, says Upper Beach Club is a unique project because its buyers actually want to live there.

“Almost all of our purchasers — I think 90 per cent of them — are in fact intending to live in the building, which is not as common these days,” he says. “A lot of condos, people are purchasing for investments and rentals. But it’s very much going to be a owner-occupied building, rather than a rental building.”

Most of its units are two beds and two baths. And Cope says it has attracted “empty nesters moving into a more maintenance-free lifestyle.” The boutique project brings 41 units to the site — which, he adds, used to house just three rental apartments.

Rendering of Upper Beach Club.

‘A lot more to come’

Frank Crisafi went to high school at Birchmount Park Collegiate. Growing up in the community and working in the area for the past decade, the RE/MAX sales representative says Kingston Road has “tremendous potential for redevelopment.”

“There’s a lot we can do to make it a useful and vibrant stretch of road,” he says. “New housing demands and businesses have brought about new requirements for Kingston Road, which have been studied extensively over the last decade. We’re just starting to see some of the changes implemented now, and there will be a lot more to come.”

Crisafi points out that Kingston Road services many areas that are undergoing “a rethinking,” and, as an artery, it has the power to pump fresh life into the region.

“If developed thoughtfully,” he says, “Kingston can be a huge draw for the communities it serves.”

A self-described “ex-Beacher,” Crawford moved into the area 20 years ago to raise his children, living east of Victoria Park for the first time. With the sudden splash of development activity in his ward, this east-end thoroughfare has a rare opportunity to redefine itself.

Crafting that identity, he says, is an enormous responsibility.

“Ever since I lived there, (it was about) how do we revitalize Kingston Road in a way that really fits in with the community?” he says. “And that’s the critical component, that’s the balancing act that we do to make sure that we put in what is important for the community.

“People like to move here. Change takes place over time — we have to make sure it’s the right change.”

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