Holiday open houses and summer street parties are welcome neighbourhood events. Progressive dinners and potluck suppers among friends are not so unusual. The annual Beaconsfield Village Travelling Dinner must surely mark the ultimate in neighbourhood noshing.
Beaconsfield Village was incorporated in 1910 in honour of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whom Queen Victoria named Lord Beaconsfield. In the Toronto west end, the streets were first laid out in the l880s and l890s. The village runs from Ossington in the east to Dufferin in the west, Dundas in the north to Queen in the south, with approximately 2610 households, and a population of over 6200 people. For many years, overwhelmingly a Portuguese neighbourhood centred on Rua Açores on Dundas Street, it has increasingly become the home of the arts community focused on Queen Street West. This is the catchment area for the Travelling Dinner which was originally organized by some residents living on Beaconsfield Avenue, and this year included 120 individuals from 60 households.
Anyone in the area who signs up for the dinner in time is welcome to participate. A week prior to the event, participants are informed which course will be their contribution. This year, 15 houses provided appetizers, 15 soup and salad, 15 entrées, and 15 desserts. The hosts supply the appropriate alcohol. Six participants attend the host home for each course. Each course is expected to last 75 minutes or so. The participants then move on to another host, and so on throughout the evening. Never are the guests at one home the same in the next. The participants are all mixed up, all the better to get to know as many people as possible.
My friend described the wonderful camaraderie which developed through the evening. Eight people is a small enough group that people bond quickly. Moving from one house to another, people travel on foot, greeting fellow participants on the street in passing. As the evening progresses and liquor flows, new groups bond with each course, and the warmth multiplies. Particular dishes such as Mark’s trio of soups served in shooter glasses, or Jordan and Lisa’s Crack Pie in honour of Mayor Ford, become the talk of the town. The evening this year concluded with an “after party” at the Guild, a local bistro on Dundas, where the majority of the participants gathered until the wee small hours of the morning, all the better to dwell on a warm and delicious experience. This was the sixth such event; the date for next year has been set already.
In the big city, friends and family are often far-flung. Residents may (or may not) have contact even with their neighbours next door. People who live down the street or around the corner may be unknown. Eating together is a traditional mark of hospitality and sharing. Yet we do it so seldom. That is why the Beaconsfield Village Travelling Dinner is such an attractive model. Such an event requires initiative and considerable organizational skills, but what could be more worthwhile than building community between strangers in the city?