Welcome to Little India:
Little India is a colourful, unique neighbourhood tucked into north-east corner of Leslieville. Just 10 blocks wide, the tiny community is home to the largest South Asian market in North America, drawing shoppers who scour the stores for bright silks, Bollywood films, sequined saris and handcrafted paan, a regional favourite made from areca nuts and betel leaf. Renowned for its restaurants, locals and visitors alike revel in the neighbourhood’s endless selection of Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi dining options. Still affordable, it’s an intriguing and diverse community that is a treat to call home.
What you'll fall in love with:
For two days every summer, Little India puts on the epic Festival of South Asia, a spectacular celebration of ethnic arts and food. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to take in open-air Bollywood movies, eat street-side samosas and naan, and take in art, live music and performances from people like Vasu Primlani, the award-winning Indian stand-up comic. Organized by the Gerrard India Bazaar Business Improvement Area association and TD Bank, the free festival is one of the highlights of living in the neighbourhood.
Little India is bordered by the CN Rail Line in the north, Dundas Avenue in the south, Greenwood Avenue to the west and Coxwell Avenue to the east. Most locals are over 30 and they typically live with a partner, some couples have children, some don’t. Census records show there aren’t many Indian people living in Little India; the neighbourhood carries that name because the business district is prominently South Asian. Two out of every three people who live in the neighbourhood were born in Canada, and immigrants who live in Little India are far more likely to be from China than anywhere else. Most residents who learned English as a second language spoke Cantonese or Chinese first – in 2011, just 200 locals said Punjabi was their mother tongue. The area offers a nice mix of single family homes, semi-detached homes and condominiums for sale. The average house price is $786,000, and the average condo price is a still-affordable $265,000.
Locals can get to Union Station in under 20 minutes by car, and about 40 minutes on the TTC. A bike is a great option from this neighbourhood, as a ride into the downtown core will take just 30 minutes and will bring you right along the lakeshore, across the mostly flat Martin Goodman and Lower Don Recreation trails. Getting to Yonge and Bloor takes about the same amount of time by car, but both transit and bike travel times are shorter by about 10 minutes.
The only school in Little India is Roden Public, which has been in the neighbourhood since 1907 and received a 5.9/10 in the Fraser Institute’s 2015-16 review of schools. Alternatives include St. Joseph Catholic School and Leslieville Junior Public, both of which are minutes away in neighbouring Leslieville.
Little India is a tiny South Asian oasis inside the larger neighbourhood of Leslieville, a community that has been called “hipsterville east” thanks to its rapid transformation from a working class ‘hood to a trendy professional enclave. Little India hasn’t escaped the gentrification, and residents live at the confluence of these two cultural rivers.
At home in their neighbourhood, locals enjoy lively community celebrations for major South Asian holidays including Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Saris, bangles, silks and spices are on offer, along with custom jewellers and textile dealers for those who want something custom made.
Many of Leslieville’s hipsters come to Little India for the food, and restaurateurs cater to them in return. Take Udupi Palace, a beloved local restaurant that trumpets its “vegan, gluten free, Jain-friendly” options and hosts the world’s only Spicy Dosa Eating Contest. People from all walks of life take part. “No sauces or dipping – just supercharged with Indian spices,” the restaurant’s website says. “Water bottles provided during the contest.”
If they’re looking for something a bit different, residents of Little India can take a short walk to the burgeoning Leslieville scene, with its cosmopolitan coffee shops and swank eateries. Or they can hop on a bike and head to The Beach, enjoying the summer jazz festival there or just relaxing by the water. Locals can also grab a ride to Riverdale, a family-friendly community to the west. It’s a fantastic neighbourhood for curious folks who like a little bit of everything.
A little bit of history:
Little India began to emerge in the 1972, when an Indian immigrant named Gian Naaz decided to rent a shuttered local movie theatre and start showing Bollywood films. This cultural anchor drew South Asians from great distances, and attracted other Indian and Pakistani businesses to the area. Restaurants, ethnic grocery stores, textile and sari importers opened in the neighbourhood, along with paan shops selling the unique preparation of betel leaf and areca nut that many South Asians enjoy. By the early 1980s, the enclave was well-established, with about 100 shops drawing tens of thousands of visitors from across North America and beyond.
The BIA was established in the early 1980s, and by the early 2000s the organization reported that four of every 10 visitors were coming from the United States. The Naaz theatre closed in the 1990s and Gian Naaz died in 2000, having used his wealth in part to build the first school in his home village in Punjab, India. Today, the neighbourhood looks to draw all kinds of people to enjoy South Asian culture, and the street celebrates Muslim Eid, Sikh Vaisaki and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The area is now home to Canadians and immigrants with a wide variety of ethnicities, and the streetscape has expanded to include Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi businesses.
Little India on a map
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