Riverside BIA: Looking Back on 2021, Looking Ahead to 2022

A message from Riverside BIA Executive Director, Jennifer Lay:

As we turn the page on 2021 we are taking a moment to reflect. YES, it has been ANOTHER YEAR…BUT, this past year has once again reinforced the perseverance, ingenuity, kindness, caring and resilience of everyone in this business community. I’ve appreciated continuing working closely with many of you and getting to know you better and a big welcome to all our new members who joined us this past year.

As we continued to get through this pandemic together in 2021, as we will do in 2022, we the Riverside BIA are here to support, and help this incredible neighbourhood shine, with MANY ‘support local’ campaigns, streetscape programs like weekly graffiti removal services, public art, CafeTO supports, and many innovative offerings. 

Read on for more…

We began 2021 in a darker place and wanted to bring some light to our main street. Thanks to a grant from the City of Toronto’s ArtworxTO program and a collaboration with local artists Jessica Lin, 10+ storefronts were activated with The Serenity Project in Riverside over winter 2021. This amazing exhibit lives on virtually – experience it for yourself!

We continued to commemorate the BIA’s 40th anniversary year over 2021 with the Riverside 40 years, 40 stories series -including intimate stories about what makes this neighbourhood special. From the story of how the BIA began with a small group of dedicated business owners, sitting around a kitchen table at night, to big projects like the Riverside bridge lighting and stories from local business members like George the Barber who has been here longer than the BIA itself. This story telling series is powerful and meaningful. 

In addition we showed some Riverside pride with our popular ‘You are Here’ campaign and Riverside commemorative merchandise – see our collection here 🙂

At the same time we worked together with our Queen Street BIAs to run some incredible promotional campaigns like the #LoveOnQueen and #HolidaysOnQueen giveaways with Queen West BIA, and the Queen East Eats programme to promote outdoor dining with the Leslieville BIA! We are better by working with our friends and neighbours…

We continued to support our business members 1:1 through 2021, just get in touch and we will likely be able to help or direct you!

Advocacy can work and it is really about bringing our concerns, needs and good ideas forward to our elected officials to help inform critical policies and programs. The BIA has been doing this throughout the pandemic and will keep doing this proactively and in response to government announcements. We have done more of this in the past year than ever in our history and will keep it up. It has produced results.

We were proud this year to continue putting a spotlight on our seasoned and new members with the ‘Get to Know Your Locals’ series – enjoy it here 

Riverside BIA continued to work hand in hand with the City of Toronto and nearly 20 of our members to run a successful CafeTO program. The 2021 program included taking part in the CafeTO Live Amplified Music Pilot project – a huge success in our BIA! Once again this would not have been possible without the support of the City, and we look forward to continued partnership in 2022 for this critical economic recovery program for our many local restaurants, bars, and cafes.

We also had the privilege of participating again in the iheART Mainstreet Art Challenge. Thanks to a partnership with Steps Public Art, the Leslieville BIA, local artists, and community supporters Rockport and Percy Ellis Developments, we implemented the ‘Welcome Back to Main Street sidewalk art project which you can still enjoy on the sidewalks and virtually here.

Over 2021, the Riverside BIA collaborated with Toronto-based arts organizations East End ArtsWomen Paint, and Native Women in the Arts and local artists on “Women Paint Riverside: Currents of Change”. The project -originally envisioned as part of the Riverside BIA Streetscape Master Plan – comprises public art murals in the laneway cooridor spanning three city blocks – located north of Queen Street East, south of Thompson Street, east of Carroll Street and west of Grant Street. Thanks to funding support from StreetArt Toronto, as well as community supporters Hullmark and Streetcar Developments, the project was realized over summer 2021 and launched with a community celebration on September 25th, 2021.

Riverside BIA was fortunate to be able to work alongside Streetcar Developments, Councillor Paula Fletcher’s office and local artist Nick Sweetman and a collective of local Toronto artists to animate the Riverside Square construction hoarding with 150+ feet of vibrant murals reflecting Riverside’s diversity and pride – enjoy a quick tour here, then go see it for yourself (just east of Riverside Common Park at 657 Queen E)

We also got busy, thanks to funding from Ontario Reconnects, and many local collaborations  – in the new Riverside Common Park!! The space was officially launched with Councillor Paula Fletcher on October 17th, 2021 and then we hosted a holiday market in December. The space was also lit up for the holiday season, thanks to the City of Toronto Parks team. We have some great ideas for special things in store for 2022! Let us know what you’d like to see happening there.

Riverside BIA took part in the Bag of Toronto initiative twice in 2021: for Mother’s Day and for the Holiday season! This initiative saw over $5000 of locals products purchased from locals Riverside businesses by Toronto residents, while promoting Riverside as a whole and giving back to our local charity of choice – the Ralph Thornton Community Organization. A big thanks to Bag of Toronto and we look forward to future collaborations!

Thanks to a grant from FedDev Ontario and cost-share with the City of Toronto BIA office, Riverside BIA project-planned over 2021 and will be implementing 43 new corten steel tree grates to replace our aging tree pits while improving accessibility and continuing to protect our city trees on Queen Street East. Keep yours eyes peeled for these upgrades!

This year’s Riverside Window Wonderland was a collaboration local artists and businesses, thanks to funding support from Ontario Reconnects! Click to see all the designs and find out who won this year’s contest as top voted window of Riverside and Queen Street East!!

We capped off the year demonstrating a virtual coming together by raising $9,000 for the Rivertowne Breakfast Program through the 10th Annual (2nd virtual) Riverside Antler Breakfast, in commemoration of Founder Chef Scott who we lost in early 2021. THANK YOU to all the sponsors, donors, supporters and organizers and the outpouring of support from the community.


Riverside Window Wonderland 2021: Meet the Artists

Each year, during the holiday season, Riverside shops and retailers host the “Window Wonderland” contest, displaying festive imagery and getting in the holiday spirit! This year is an extravaganza with 15+ participating storefronts with many designs by local artists!  It’s a fun way to get into the spirit whilst supporting local business and artists.


This year’s Riverside Window Wonderland is supported by the Ontario Reconnects programme. It’s all part of the Riverside Reconnects series to help welcome everyone to enjoy what our local business district and neighbourhood has to offer. Thanks for supporting local!

Artists Danielle Hyde (@cocreation_art), Asli Alin (@aslialin), Erin McCluskey (@mcclusk), and Ailsa Craigen (@pentopapier),  have each created four window displays with hand-drawn illustrations and decorative lights in participating storefront windows as part of this festive project!

Meet the Artists…

This year’s Riverside Window Wonderland features amazing local artists. Here’s a brief introduction:⠀

Danielle Hyde

Riverside Window Wonderland Danielle Hyde at The Opera House Grill

Danielle Hyde at The Opera House Grill, Riverside Window Wonderland 2021 (Photo Credit: Riverside BIA)

Danielle Hyde is a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist and persons with a disability (OCD). She is a member of Red Urban Nation Artist Collective (RUN) creating Indigenous murals and place-making. Their work blends traditional and non-traditional mediums.  Centering this work is an artistic practice and process that sees all Art as an act of co-creation. Danielle collaborates with all beings; seen and unseen, human and non-human, in a creative chorus to tell stories. Through these deep conversations on ethical relationality with the world around us, generosity anchors our shared spaces while creating windows of understanding to build community together with Art.

Check out their Instagram

View their Riverside Window Wonderland creations and VOTE for your faves!

⠀Asli Alin

Riverside Window Wonderland Asli Alin at Korman and Co

Asli Alin at Korman & Co, Riverside Window Wonderland 2021 (Photo Credit: Riverside BIA)

Asli Alin is a multidisciplinary artist traversing disciplines of drawing, painting, installation and photography who holds a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. She has been commissioned to create public art in Canada and Europe and her work has been featured in a number of galleries throughout Toronto and abroad. Asli lives and works in Toronto.

Check out Asli’s Instagram and Website

View Asli’s Riverside Window Wonderland creations and VOTE for your faves!

Erin McCluskey

Riverside Window Wonderland Erin McCluskey at Dirty Pawz Dogwash

Erin McCluskey at Dirty Pawz Dog Wash, Riverside Window Wonderland 2021 (Photo Credit: Riverside BIA)

Erin McCluskey is an emerging artist from Ottawa currently practicing in Toronto. She recently earned a BDES in Illustration from OCAD University. With a background in Illustration and Theatre, she creates images that exist on paper, walls, objects, spaces, and stages. In her mural practice, Erin enjoys creating large, colourful, busy scenes with flat shapes. Erin has worked on previous mural projects such as Women paint, Main Street Art Challenge, Outside the box, Bell Box murals & more.

Check out Erin’s Instagram and Website

View Erin’s Riverside Window Wonderland creations and VOTE for your faves!

Ailsa Craigen

Ailsa Craigen at Untitled By Flaunt salon, Riverside Window Wonderland 2021 Photo Credit Ailsa Craigen

Ailsa Craigen at Untitled By Flaunt salon, Riverside Window Wonderland 2021 (Photo Credit: Ailsa Craigen)

Ailsa Craigen is an interdisciplinary illustrator and designer residing and working in Toronto. Ottawa-born, she attended Ryerson University for her Bachelor of Architectural Science and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands for her Master of Science in Architecture. Specializing in line and architectural drawings, Ailsa’s work has been featured in spaces across Toronto and has been commissioned by a number of private clients and companies including CBRE and Collecdev.

Check out Ailsa’s  Instagram and Website and

View her Riverside Window Wonderland creations and VOTE for your faves!


The Government of Ontario’s ‘Ontario Reconnects’ programme and the Riverside BIA for funding support to help make the Riverside Reconnects series possible.

Thanks to Percy Ellis for Helping Welcome Everyone (Back) to Main Street!

We’re excited to thank Percy Ellis, one of our Welcome (Back) to Main Street sidewalk art project Community Supporters!

Percy Ellis is a real estate and investment development team which is involved in supporting community. Katie Schimke, Associate Development Manager and part of the community engagement team at Percy Ellis, shared:

“Throughout the pandemic, we feel the importance of public art pieces was highlighted as folks were driven outside to socialize and exercise. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to contribute to an initiative that combines our love for art with our passion for creating connections and encouraging people to come together!” 

Percy Ellis’ focus is building stylish comfortable homes for tenants that seamlessly integrate into Toronto’s favourite neighbourhoods, while supporting and connecting with the communities they are rooted it!

What’s the Welcome (Back) to Main Street Art Project?⠀

Riverside BIA and Leslieville BIA teamed up and brought big things to Queen Street East for IHeART Main Street in summer/fall 2021! We have 16 sidewalk murals ‘welcoming’ everyone in 16 different languages by incredible artists Bareket Kezwer and Curtia Wright so you can have fun discovering them all along Queen E from Davies Ave to Vancouver Ave, while supporting local!⠀This project was supported by STEPS Public Art as part of I HeART Main Street as well as amazing community supporters Percy Ellis Developments and Rockport Group. See the full map here.

Photo of a completed sidewalk mural from Welcome Back to Main Street art project in Riverside BIA and Leslieville BIA - Credit Selina McCallum

Representative Colleen from Percy Ellis is Top Row Middle (floral shirt), along with Reps from Riverside BIA, STEPS Public Art, Councillor Fletcher’s Office, and the Artists Bareket Kezwer and Curtia Wright – photo of a completed sidewalk mural at Queen E & Booth from Welcome Back to Main Street art project in Riverside BIA and Leslieville BIA (Photo Credit: Selina McCallum)

We officially ‘unveiled’ Welcome (Back) to Main Street murals on Aug 18 as part of the #iheartmaintreetchallenge with artists Bareket Kezwer @bkez and Curtia Wright @curtia, along with community supporters @paulafletcher ’s office, Rockport Group @rockportgroup, Percy Ellis @percy_ellis_development and STEPS Public Art, and project organizers from Riverside BIA & Leslieville BIA.⠀

Mural artists Bareket Kezwer and Curtia Wright pose with Welcome Back to Main Street sidewalk art by Bareket in front of 791 Queen St E - Photo Credit Selina McCallum

Mural artists Bareket Kezwer and Curtia Wright pose with Welcome Back to Main Street sidewalk art by Bareket in front of 791 Queen St E – Photo Credit Selina McCallum

It was wonderful to meet in person for this brief celebration to tour the murals together after such a collaborative, creative and inspiring process.⠀

Big thanks to ALL our Community Supporters of our ‘Welcome (Back) to Main Street’ Sidewalk Art Project:

STEPS Public Art, Percy Ellis, and The Rockport Group, Leslieville BIA and Riverside BIA!

Riverside 40 Stories, 40 Years: Bonjour Brioche

As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we’re sharing the story of Bonjour Brioche, a cafe and bakery serving up authentic french pastries and unbeatable brunch! Bonjour Brioche has been in the Riverside Neighborhood since the late 90s and the community has developed so much around this East End staple, it is now a part of the foundation that makes Riverside the close-knit neighborhood it is today.

If you are a Toronto East-Ender, Bonjour Brioche is Saturday Morning music to your ears. This Riverside institution has been satisfying french-pastry lovers, brunch enthusiasts, and latte bowl devotees since opening 1997. 

Located at 812 Queen St E, on the Corner of Queen and De Grassi, Lori Feasson and her French, pastry chef Husband Henri opened the french patisserie over 20 years ago with the hope of filling a massive food and beverage void in the neighborhood at the time. Named Bonjour Brioche after Hello Toast, a small breakfast joint the couple knew of, Lori said “Okay, Henri is from France so it’s Bonjour Brioche for us!” 

We were living in the area, well in Leslieville which we still are and I liked it here even though 25 years ago it was pretty [different than today]. But we just didn’t want to commute, and we wanted to stay in the hood and we figured we could handle like a little ma and pop style bakery,” Lori said pretty matter of factly when asked, Why Riverside?

Business Founders Lori and Henri Celebrating 20 years in 2017 (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

The owners agreed that the Riverside neighborhood has seen a massive change in the last two and a half decades that was propelled by new businesses like Bonjour Brioche putting down roots and saying we are here to stay. “There wasn’t anything here, like I was excited that there was a 711 in the neighborhood, there was literally nothing when we started,” Feasson explained. She said that even her contractor helping them renovate the bakery before opening thought they were crazy for choosing Riverside at the time.

But after opening and having some initial success Lori said “other restaurants started to follow when they saw that we were up and functioning… [they] could see that it was working for [us] so they knew this area had potential and could support more.” 

When Lori and Henri initially opened they had their sights set on owning a bakery. “…we just thought we would sell our pastries and our tarts and things like that to-go and the breads of course!” Lori continues “but well it kind of evolved rapidly into more of a cafe as well. And of course, it’s still a bakery but yeah the brunch thing kind of evolved on its own.” 


Bonjour Brioche, on a busy weekend Pre-Pandemic, serving the East End (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

The bakery’s success brought french classics and fresh bread to the east end, something that – until Bonjour Brioche – was reserved for Toronto’s West-Enders. Lori also commented that even despite the insane weekend rushes and success of the front of house “the bakery aspect is still even more than the table service. Our sales are still higher for our takeaway and whole pieces and cakes and things like that than it is for brunch or lunch.” 

Fresh Pastries from Bonjour Brioche (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

The bakery/restaurant’s main kitchen is located in the “dungeon”, the building’s basement, where Henri and his team somehow seamlessly produces hundreds from scratch goods. So I had to know how it was possible to cater to such a growing audience without compromising on quality or quantity. 

“I don’t think people are aware of the fact that we don’t have a deep fryer or big industrial stove. We cook all the omelets and stuff on three hot plates that we have upfront. I guess people don’t have any idea how much can be pumped out of three hot plates. Really I should have called the restaurant three hot plates,” Lori explains while laughing thinking about the front-of-house service. “We have to keep it fairly simple so mostly our items are baked downstairs in the large bakery ovens and then we just plate them with a quick salad.” 

Bonjour Brioche Takeaway Windows Through COVID-19

Bonjour Brioche Takeaway Windows implemented through COVID-19 to offer quick and safe service (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

Bonjour’s menu hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years as classics never go out of style. Lori recommends the Quiche Lorraine because it’s simple and really yummy plus it comes with a salad that’s dressed in the most incredible shallot vinaigrette. The dressing was created by Feasson over 20 years ago and she said she has been the only one making it in those two decades. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this dressing has converted even the pickiest eater into a salad lover, it’s that good!

Bonjour Brioche took part in the Buy Toronto Time campaign to raise awareness of the challenges small business face during the pandemic

In 2021, Bonjour Brioche took part in the ‘Buy Toronto Time’ campaign to raise awareness of the challenges small business face during the pandemic.

 The pandemic hit the hospitality industry, harder than most businesses but Bonjour Brioche sought to embrace the new restrictions and returned to their roots of offering all their menu and specials to go via a takeout window built into the restaurant’s front window. Lori said with the support of the CafeTO patio to add additional outdoor seating options alongside their existing covered patio, the Bakery has been just as busy as before. 

Bonjour Brioche's CafeTO curblane patio on De Grassi Street on a rare quiet moment when it's not packed for breakfast or lunch

Bonjour Brioche’s CafeTO curblane patio on De Grassi Street on a rare quiet moment when it’s not packed for breakfast or lunch

Although her team has shrunk from 25 to 9, they feel like the business and its staff are more like family than ever, and she explains that “we just trust each other and we’ve kept COVID free because, you know, we are all pretty much living within five minutes of here as well so we know that we’re all staying together and local and following protocol and yeah it’s been really good. I’m feeling safe and so is the team.” 

Celebrating Lori Feasson's 62nd birthday at Bonjour Brioche with staff, Riverside, Toronto

Celebrating Lori Feasson’s 62nd birthday at Bonjour Brioche with staff, Riverside (Photo credit: Bonjour Brioche)

The Riverside neighbourhood has grown into a community of small businesses that over the last 25 years have gotten to know one another and Bonjour Brioche is notwithstanding. Their fame of course reaches beyond the East End as they’ve been voted Best Brunch by NOW Magazine readers, just to name one example.

They have even been featured in famous TV series such as ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’:

Scene from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ inside Bonjour Brioche, Riverside, Toronto

Scene from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ inside Bonjour Brioche


When we asked if there was anything else Feasson wanted to say about their time in Riverside over the last 20 plus years she had this to say. 

“I’ve watched families grow up, literally like little kids were in their diapers and now they’re coming out, and they’ve got to be 25 now you know, and asking ‘can I have a baguette?’. 

A lot of changes but it’s just a real sense of community when you have a small place that has served, you know, everybody for so long; and I get that sense of community first hand because I’m here every day. Unlike my husband who’s just down in the dungeon. I get the compliments and the accolades. 

Just this summer for instance, someone said ‘I’m so happy here! We’ve been living in New York City. We got engaged here, I never thought you’d be open after all these years. Been in New York for 10 years and I came back and, and it’s just as good as it was 10 years ago. So all those things that are just really nice to hear from families and just different people and tourists and that have been coming for years as well. It’s just, yeah, just I guess a nice sense of community!”

40 years 40 stories graphic

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Meet our #QueenEastEats Community Supporter: Outline Financial

We’re pleased  to thank Outline Financial, one of our Queen East Eats Community Supporters!

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial shared: “Since moving into the neighbourhood in 2015, we’ve gotten to know many people who live and work in the area and like to give back any way we can. Anything that brings more visitors into the area bars, pubs, restaurants and breweries benefits the community as a whole. I really like how this area has become a destination. The selection of options for food and drink are pretty great in the area and we want to see it thrive.”

Outline Financial have been focused on providing great mortgage and insurance solutions while giving back any way they can. They are pleased to support Queen East Eats to help bring more visitors into the area’s bars, pubs, restaurants and breweries, and benefit the community as a whole. 

We were happy to take this opportunity to catch up with Jason and help share his story:

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial (at right) with Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) - two community supporters of the Queen East Eats programme in Riverside and Leslieville BIAs

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial (at right) with Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) – two community supporters of the Queen East Eats programme in Riverside and Leslieville BIAs

What do you love about Queen Street East’s Riverside and Leslieville areas -what do you feel makes this area unique?

Jason: I love the area because it has a lot of diversity and a great energy about it. The food and drink options are pretty outstanding, all within this tight knit community.

Throwback to 2018 when Jason supported the Riverside Wine & Craft Beer Fest!

Throwback to 2018 when Jason supported the Riverside Wine & Craft Beer Fest!

What’s your favourite thing about the work you do?

Jason: I love coming to work every day and helping my clients realize their dreams of home ownership. It’s a pretty rewarding feeling to be a big part of such an important decision. 

Big thanks to Jason Friesen and the team at Outline Financial for all their support in the business community!

What’s #QueenEastEats?

It’s a series of giveaways, colourful displays, public art, tours, business features, and more to welcome everyone to the Queen Street East al fresco dining experience this summer and fall. Stay tuned as we bring you something new every week! Learn more check out our Patio Map to plan your experience Queen East Eats in #RiversideTO & #Leslieville