Many describe Canada as nation of immigrants. And rightly so. In major cities like Toronto, nearly half the population was born outside of Canada. Equally, we can call Toronto a city of neighbourhoods. True enough. The city officially recognizes 140 designated neighbourhoods. Include the unofficial neighbourhoods, and the total rises to about 240.

So if you and your family are moving to Toronto—as thousands of families do each year—what’s the best neighbourhood? Some will tell you Allenby is the best park of town for families. Deer Park and York Mills also rank high, for those who can afford the prices in upscale suburbia.

What’s so great about Don Mills, Toronto?

With so many neighbourhoods to choose from, it’s impossible to identify one clear favorite. But one neighbourhood well-worth considering is Don Mills. A mixed-use neighbourhood in the North York district, Don Mills brings together a number of favorable elements. A little bit urban, a little be suburban. Largely residential, but also commercial. With shops, schools, parks and reasonable real estate, this neighbourhood seems to have it all.

Canada’s first planned community

At one time situated on the outskirts of the city, Don Mills now feels pretty central in the grand scheme of urban Toronto. City planners and property developers first set their sights on the Don Mills area in the mid-1950s. At that time the entire territory that we now know as Don Mills was something like 20 farms covering about 2000 acres. And by 1965 the vision of a modern, self-contained community had come to life.

Much of the original architecture still stands today, highly Bauhaus inspired and quite avant-garde for it’s time. But in the last ten years, much of the district has enjoyed a series of facelifts and modern updates. Today, the cutting edge designs of the 1950s stand beside the modern structures of the 21st century, along with charming green spaces and pedestrian friendly shopping centers.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s urban population, between 1950 and 2000, rose from roughly 1 million to nearly 5 million. So the self-contained, planned community on the outskirts slowly merged with the rapidly expanding metropolis and the district of North York. Yet, when you pass through Don Mills, you still get the feeling you’ve entered another town, with its own distinct character.

Main attractions in Don Mills

Opened in 1958, the Toronto Botanical Gardens (TBG), in the north-east corner of the more expansive Edwards Gardens, serve as one of Don Mills’s original landmarks. The TBG covers four acres consisting of 17 different thematic gardens, each representing a specific botanical style or habitat, such as a Carolinian forest, a culinary herb garden, a formal English garden, and so on. The much larger Edwards Gardens are a popular locale for weddings and events, but the gardens themselves do not receive nearly the same level of care and attention as the TBG. You can access both gardens near the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and Leslie Street.

To find more urban green space, head to the Don Valley wilderness park at Wilket Creek. The Wilket Creek Park includes more than 100 acres (44 hectares) and 2 km of pedestrian and bicycle trails. The park has plenty of picnic areas and BBQ pits, and also provides access to adjoining parks, namely Serena Gundy and Sunnybrook. In the wooded areas you will find a great variety of common evergreens and deciduous trees, as well as a host of less common species like Canada Sicklepod, Snakerod, and New York Fern. Bird watchers can also have a field day here in the protected wilderness.

Once you’re through communing with nature, you may want to hit the mall. Or perhaps the other way around. Either way, the Shops at Don Mills could easily be considered the town centre. With more than 70 retail stores and restaurants, this massive shopping centre opened in 2009 following the demolition of the old and outdated Don Mills Centre, which had been around since 1955. The renovation brought a huge expansion and relocated most of the parking into a multi-level garage. The self-described “lifestyle mall” has some of the neighbourhood’s most popular restaurants, and a free ice skating rink in the winter. And don’t miss the majestic water fountain that erupts twice every hours with a 4-minute display.

Among the newest and most distinctive features of Don Mills are the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum of Islamic art. Located side-by-side in a new 20-acre park on the Don Valley Parkway, and opened in 2014, these two facilities are genuine cultural and architectural landmarks of Toronto. The glass-roof, pyramid-like Ismaili Centre serves as both a mosque and a community centre. It is the sixth such Ismaili Centre in the world. The equally impressive Aga Khan Museum, next door, at 77 Wynford Drive, is the first museum in the western world dedicated to Islamic and Persian art and Muslim culture.

Schools in Don Mills

If you’re moving with a family, then finding a good school will be one of your highest priorities. You’ll be glad to know that Don Mills has some of the most reputable public schools in the city. Denlow and Rippleton are especially highly ranked.

  • Denlow Public School, 50 Denlow Boulevard, 416-395-2300
  • Rippleton Public School, 21 Rippleton Road, 416-395-2810
  • Don Mills Middle School, 17 The Donway East, 416-395-2320
  • Don Mills Collegiate Institute 15 The Donway East, 416-395-3190
  • Greenland Public School, 15 Greenland Road, 416-395-2500
  • Norman Ingram Public School, 50 Duncairn Road, 416-395-2720

You can also find a number of private schools in the area, offering specialized teaching methods and international curriculums.

Further reading

To learn more about life in Toronto, check out our articles on Toronto Real Estate TrendsCost of Living in Toronto vs Montreal, Green Shopping in Toronto, and the Best Restaurants of Toronto.

And if you need any additional assistance with your move to Toronto, ARIANNE has been helping families relocate to Canada for more than 20 years. Check our website for a complete description of our city-specific Relocation Guides and One-on-one Services.

PHOTO CREDIT: Aga Khan Museum in Don Mills, Toronto (Wikipedia)