The Five at Five: Betty Wood

22 Jul 2021

From hidden-gems to places to people-watch, from bookshops to beauty spots – The Five at Five offers some post-lockdown inspiration that celebrates the independents.

This week’s selection has been curated by Betty Wood, the editor-in-chief of digital design magazine, The Spaces, who splits her time between London, where the magazine is based, and Toronto, where she lives in the West End with her wife, Louise.


Wood helped to launch the go-to publication for design-led content that explores new ways to live and work back in 2015, and took over as its editor-in-chief in 2018. Having worked with design brands across the globe, she is well versed in how to visually and aesthetically take an idea and turn it into a physical space.

“We moved from a tiny condo in the Financial District to an apartment in Little Portugal right after the first lockdown because we realised how important it was to have a community and access to outdoor space,” explains Wood, who is a champion of independents in her now-home of Toronto’s West Side. “We live on Dundas West, close to Ossington Avenue, which is the West End’s dining strip. We got married during the second lockdown, around the corner from our apartment — we can see the spot from our balcony.”

“My wife Louise is a foodie so she loves the area, but we really picked it as it’s a very creative neighbourhood — there are at least 10 independent art galleries, including the MOCA, within a 15 minute walk of our apartment. We often pop into a show when we’re walking our dog. It’s very inspiring for my own creative practice of making fibre artworks.”


My wife and I love Cry Baby Gallery in Brockton Village. It’s a gritty, industrial-looking cocktail bar hidden behind a gallery and is still a bit of a ‘secret’ in the city. Their drinks menu is super experimental, and their gallery, curated by Mony Zakhour, showcases local artists.


Safe House is a local grocery store and coffee spot that really comes alive at weekends. The owner Tyler Kostman turns the window bay into a DJ booth, inviting local musicians to come and spin for passers-by, who you’ll see dancing on the streets or sitting on benches around the store. It’s an unexpected and vibrant space.

Safe House sells food goods from local small-batch makers and hosts pop-up shows from emerging artists. Plus, the store itself is a lovely space with tin plate ceilings and mosaic floors. Good vibes for good people. I’ve got a mini-show coming up there in September.


Toronto has a reputation as a foodie city, and it’s well deserved. Our favourite local restaurant is Actinolite, which is a foraging and experimental restaurant helmed by Chef Justin Cournoyer.

I also have a massive sweet tooth and rave about the West End’s ice cream spots. Ruru Baked is my favourite. The company was started by pastry chef Luanne Ronquillo and serves custard ice cream. Everything about it is well-considered, from the branding to the minimalist, industrial design of the shop on Lansdowne Avenue. Its revolving flavours celebrate the city’s diversity: Pandan is my favourite, and my wife goes wild for their red bean and condensed milk scoop.


BAND - which stands for Black Artists Network in Dialogue - is a platform for Black artists in the city co-founded by Karen Carter, who’s put on some of my favourite shows over the last few years, including a photo exhibit on Ethiopian Freedom Fighters. It’s a small gallery but a critical one for the city that celebrates the Afro-Canadian and Caribbean diasporas.


If you want independent stores, Dundas West has rich pickings. Vintage furniture shops, local fashion brands, indie record stores – you name it; they’re all along this strip. But if I have to pick just one shop, it has to be MIKA’s, filled with tropical plants and handmade Japanese ceramics. I could spend all afternoon in this lush oasis.