My Suburbia: 11 former city dwellers explain why everything’s better in the burbs

My Suburbia: 11 former city dwellers explain why everything’s better in the burbs

My Suburbia

Tucked away in some of Toronto’s biggest burbs are pockets that combine urban cool and small-town charm. And the houses are (way) cheaper and (way) bigger than anything you’ll find in the city. Here, a handful of happy decampers on where they landed and what they love most about their new homes.

My Suburbia: Brooklin Whitby
Shepherd and Wills at the new Brooklin library with their kids, Kate, Avery and Sam
Brooklin (Whitby)

Population (Whitby): 122,000 | Average home price (2012): $370,883 | Property tax rate (2012): 1.35 per cent | Median household income (2006): $90,056 | To Yonge and Bloor: 60 KM

The homeowners

Sarah Wills, 38, high school teacher; Brett Shepherd, 40, sales director

Sarah: “We’ve lived in Brooklin for 10 years. We recently upgraded from a three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot townhouse to a new, four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot detached house in the same area—we didn’t want to leave the neighbourhood. We bought the new place from a builder for $409,000. It has a big front porch, which gets a lot of use. Brooklin is a front-porch community. We sit out on weekends and watch the kids play and ride bikes on our court, or have a glass of wine in the evening.

“We love that Brooklin has a country feel, but it isn’t rural. It has an old town with a nice mix of shops and restaurants, and a small park right in the middle with an outdoor stage where bands perform on Thursday nights in the summer.

“We’ve convinced a lot of our friends to move here from Pickering and Ajax. They’ve fallen for Brooklin’s charm. The place is filling up with young families—so much so that they’ve had to put up portables at the elementary school to accommodate all the students. A new state-of-the-art school is scheduled to open in September.”

Places they love

Orchid Salon and Medi-Spa
24 Princess St.
Situated in a century home right in the old town, it’s Sarah’s favourite place to relax and get pampered.

Campkin’s of Wellingborough
22 Baldwin St.
A quaint English-style tea house. The tea is served in delicate china with an array of delicious baked goods.

38 Baldwin St.
An Italian restaurant with a large patio for al fresco dining in the summer and a fireplace inside for the colder months.

Baldwin street burger
53A Baldwin St.
A cool burger restaurant that serves naturally raised local beef with yummy twice-fried french fries.

Brooklin Community Centre and Library
8 Vipond Rd.
An airy retreat with huge windows and gorgeous timber-vaulted ceilings.

My Suburbia: Unionville (Markham)
The McNulty family: Keira, Krystyna, Reagan, Mark and Paige
Unionville (Markham)

Population: 136,857 | Average home price (2012): $605,564 | Property tax rate (2012): 0.91 per cent | Median household income (2006): $79,924 | To Yonge and Bloor: 31 KM

The homeowners

Mark McNulty, 38, retirement planner; Krystyna McNulty, 38, stay-at-home mom

Krystyna: “We used to live in the Annex, and moved to a rented house at Bayview and Eglinton when we had our first child in 2006. In 2008, we decided to move to Unionville. We’d both grown up here, and even went to the same high school. We liked that we could be close to farms and hiking areas, but also not far from Toronto.

“Our timing was excellent—we bought our house in the fall of 2008, not long after the market crash. We paid $715,000 for a bright, four-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot home—about $100,000 below asking. It’s in the Bridle Trail neighbourhood, the more mature part of town, with lots of old trees, and just a quick walk from Main Street. The huge backyard and pool were big draws; we were adamant that if we were going to move to the burbs, we were going to have a pool.

“Unionville is a picture-perfect place to raise a family. The original buildings along Main Street date back to the early 1800s, and in the summer the street is patio heaven. In winter, the whole town is lit up with Christmas lights. It’s our little Utopia.”

Places they love

Forsythe Family Farms
10539 Kennedy Rd.
A subscription-based agriculture program. The McNultys pick up fresh produce here all summer.

Blossom Lounge
157 Main St.
One of Krystyna’s favourite shops. It has specialty soaps, accessories, jewellery, and clothes you won’t find at the mall.

Unionville Arms
189 Main St.
A family pub with a big patio and hearty food. The French onion soup and meat pies are great.

The Village Grocer
4476 16th Ave.
A specialty food shop with a great selection of meat and prepared foods. The McNulty’s love the bakery’s rocky-road bars.

Toogood Pond
A long, peanut-shaped pond and park located just off Main Street. Great to walk around in summer or skate on in winter.

My Suburbia: Port Credit
The Shavers at home in Port Credit with their kids, Noah and Abby
Port Credit (Mississauga)

Population: 12,100 | Average home price (2012): $456,027 | Property tax rate (2012): 0.94 per cent | Median household income (2006): $71,393 | To Yonge and Bloor: 26 KM

The homeowners

Jen Shaver, 37, teacher; Chad Shaver, 37, chartered accountant

Chad: “We lived in the city for a number of years, first at Yonge and Davisville and then in a condo near Dundas and Church. Our initial move out of the city, in 2004, was a shock. We bought a bungalow in east Oakville, and while we liked the mature trees in the area, we had to drive all the time and missed being able to walk places.

“In 2008, we started looking for another house and went to see a property in Port Credit. It was a warm summer evening, the restaurants were packed and we saw lots of couples out on the street. We fell in love with the place. That summer, we found our current home—a renovated 1,600-square-foot bungalow with a second storey added onto half of the house. It was in a perfect location—on a tree-lined street, just south of the main commercial zone along Lakeshore.

“We’re thrilled we ended up in Port Credit. It used to be a more industrial area, but in the past few decades, many factories have been converted into condos, townhouses and shops. Now we’re within walking distance of everything.”

Places they love

Old Credit Brewing Company
6 Queen St. W.
An award-winning family-run craft brewery that offers free tours and makes a delicious amber ale.

Runner’s Mark
53 Lakeshore Rd. E.
An independent running store catering mainly to experienced runners and offering seminars with a variety of experts.

Papa Giuseppe’s
26 Lakeshore Rd. E.
A simple, rustic pizza place that rivals Terroni. They make a fantastic, thin-crust Margherita and an excellent antipasto platter.

Muse Boutique
80 Lakeshore Rd. E.
A women’s clothing store with a great selection and honest staff who will tell you if something doesn’t look good on you.

Port Credit Memorial Park
20 Lakeshore Rd. E.
It’s on the banks of the Credit River, and features a basketball court, skate park, bandstand and rink.

My Suburbia: Streetsville
Skiby and his girlfriend enter the Graydon Bar & Grill in Streetsville
Streetsville (Mississauga)

Population: 12,500 | Average home price (2012): $456,027 | Property tax rate (2012): 0.94 per cent | Median household income (2006): $71,393 | To Yonge and Bloor: 38 KM

The homeowner

Mike Skiby, 39, chiropractor and owner of MyHealth Care Centre

“I started working as a chiropractor at a clinic in Yorkville, but when I opened my own practice, I wanted to do it here. I grew up in Mississauga and once worked as a lifeguard at a pool in Streetsville, so I knew the area and loved it.

“In 2002, I found a Georgian-style heritage home on the main strip and bought it for just under $400,000. The house was built in 1853 and used to belong to Mississauga’s mayor. It’s 2,400 square feet with a 1,000-square-foot deck at the back overlooking Streetsville Memorial Park, which extends to the Credit River and has a baseball diamond, soccer field and outdoor pool. On Canada Day there are fireworks in the park, and I always have friends over to watch the show from my deck.

“When people come to visit, they’re surprised that this is Mississauga—it’s far from your stereotypical cookie-cutter houses and suburban sprawl. Plus it’s really close to downtown. I can usually beat my friends who live at Yonge and Eglinton to a patio on King West.”

Places he loves

Crafted Décor
232 Queen St. S.
The perfect place to pick up home decor gifts. Every December, the owners transform it into a
Christmas store.

Graydon Bar & Grill
235 Queen St. S.
An upscale gastropub in a historic building, it features live music three nights a week. Also a great place to grab lunch.

Via Ciclante
222 Queen St. S.
A cyclist’s dream, this 34-year-old, family-run shop has a great selection of bikes, apparel and accessories.

Makai Salon
219 Queen St. S.
A modern hair salon staffed by young and hip stylists, and one of a handful offering Bumble and Bumble products in Mississauga.

The Franklin House
263 Queen St. S.
This hotel-turned-pub serves hearty, traditional English fare like bangers and mash and steak and mushroom pie.

My Suburbia: Newmarket
Colalillo and Espielithies at home in Newmarket

Population: 80,000 | Average home price (2012): $449,130 | Property tax rate (2012): 1.08 per cent | Median household income (2006): $81,640 | To Yonge and Bloor: 52.5 KM

The homeowners

Lisa Colalillo, 33, and Nicholas Espielithies, 30; real estate agents

Lisa: “When we started looking for a house, we were hoping to spend around $400,000. You can’t get much for that these days, but in Newmarket we found we could get great value for our money. When we saw this property it was love at first sight. It was listed at $560,000; we got it for $530,000 in March 2012.

“It’s a three-bedroom, 40-year-old bungalow that had been newly renovated—including the kitchen and two of the three bathrooms. The property is huge—80 by 180 feet on a corner lot—and has about 50 trees that are close to 100 feet tall. We also have a long driveway with lots of parking. There’s a big gazebo and firepit in our backyard, so last summer we invited everyone on our street for a barbecue. They’re all original owners; we’re the only newbies.

“Moving here was a lifestyle change, but we were ready for it. Newmarket is a peaceful place with lots of natural space, yet you don’t feel like you’re cut off from civilization. When we need a hit of downtown, we’ll go, but the city could never offer us what we have here—at least not at this price.”

Places they love

Fairy Lake Park
A green space right in the middle of Newmarket that features great trails, concerts in the park, food festivals—even historic battle re-enactments.

Studio Five
184 Main St. S.
A modern hair salon with a retro flair. Decor includes vintage suitcases as magazine holders and old barber shop chairs.

Nature’s Emporium
16655 Yonge St.
Newmarket’s answer to Whole Foods, only bigger: 50,000 square feet of every kind of organic food you could ever want.

Made in Mexico
196 Main St.
A lively Mexican restaurant where servers are prone to singing and throwing sombreros. It’s moving across the street in April.

Orleans Restaurant & Lounge
17380 Yonge St.
A friendly place to chill out with friends, eat Cajun/Creole food and listen to live blues.

My Suburbia: Thornhill Woods (Vaughan)
Patricia and Greg at home with their kids, Avi, Maya and Noa
Thornhill Woods (Vaughan)

Population: 16,849 | Average home price (2012): $631,020 | Property tax rate (2012): 0.93 per cent | Median household income (2006): $86,616 | To Yonge and Bloor: 33 KM

The homeowners

Patricia Kaplan, 36, kindergarten teacher; Greg Kaplan, 36, management consultant

Patricia: “Before moving here, we lived at Mount Pleasant and Eglinton. A lot of our friends thought we were crazy for moving so far away, but we love it. Thornhill Woods is a new development between Dufferin and Bathurst, north of the 407. We bought a brand new, 2,600-square-foot, four-bedroom house in 2003 for $352,000. We couldn’t afford anything that big in Toronto.

“Last year, the place started to feel a little small—especially the backyard—so we began looking around for something else in the neighbourhood. We got entangled in a bidding war for a house nearby, but we lost and vowed never to go that route again. When a newly built house on our street came on the market, we put in a bully offer of over a million dollars and got it. It’s a bright, modern 3,400-square-foot house with an open-concept kitchen (with granite counters), lots of storage space and a much bigger backyard.

“This is a great place to raise kids. There are tons of programs for the little ones, great schools and loads of parks. When we first moved here, it was basically just a big field, so we’ve seen the neighbourhood evolve into a bustling area. It’s new, but it doesn’t have that suburban-sprawl feel.”

Places they love

Bagel Nash
8707 Dufferin St.
The Kaplans’ favourite place for Montreal-style bagels—served with a selection of toppings—as well as other baked goods.

Aroma Espresso Bar
9320 Bathurst St.
The Thornhill outpost of an Israeli coffee chain, it has great espresso and a good variety of salads, sandwiches and pastries.

ArooWha Sushi & Sake Bar
1101 Rutherford Rd.
A popular Japanese restaurant that serves amazing Yakisoba chicken and maki rolls.

Want Boutique
9301 Bathurst St.
A women’s clothing store that carries everything from jeans to formal wear and features dozens of international designers.

North Thornhill Community Centre
300 Pleasant Ridge Ave.
A new facility with a huge pool, space for birthday parties, an outdoor splash pad and an amphitheatre.