This might not be of interest to anyone not of a certain age and from Toronto, but since I practically grew up on this street it held a lot of memories for me!
Posted by Chris Bateman / December 17, 2014
Yonge and Bloor used to be the site of a pauper’s cemetery
Officially known as the Toronto General Burying Grounds, the Strangers’ Burying Ground or Potter’s Field (a biblical name given to a number of nondenominational cemeteries around the world) was a place where anyone could be buried, regardless of religion. Between 1826 and 1855, 6,685 people were interred in the then-rural location near Yonge and Bloor. The bodies were exhumed and relocated to the Necropolis and Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the two decades after the cemetery closed.
Mr. Sub was founded in Yorkville
The first store in the Canadian hoagie empire opened at 130 Yorkville Ave. in 1968 under the more formal title of Mr. Submarine. Barefoot hippies gathered outside its entrance in the late 1960s, strumming acoustic guitars. Four years after it was founded, under the guidance of former dishwasher Gus Boulis, the business opened its first franchise location in 1972. By 1977, there were 200 Mr. Submarine stores in Canada.
The Toronto International Film Festival was first held on St. Thomas St.
The glitzy film festival has migrated south over the years, but it was first held at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Yorkville as the “Festival of Festivals,” In 1976, its first year, organizers Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl showed a selection the best movies from other festivals around the world to an audience of around 35,000. Dramatically growing in size and scope over the ensuing decades, the event was renamed the Toronto International Film Festival in 1994.
Joni Mitchell made her musical debut on Yorkville Ave.
The Penny Farthing cafe at 112 Yorkville Ave. was a weird sort of a place. Out the back of the converted home owner John McHugh installed a swimming pool and patio that in summer was serviced by waiters clad in bikinis. Inside, the cafe hosted performances by noted jazz and blues musicians, including Mitchell, but it McHugh was never much of a fan of the musical culture he helped nurture. Folk music was banned from his high-end stereo, he told Eric Veillette in the Star this year.
Yorkville nurtured Toronto’s first cafe culture
When The Coffee Mill closed its doors this summer, it marked the end of Yorkville’s once-vibrant coffee scene. In the 1960s, the neighbourhood was home to numerous European-style cafes, many of them with large outdoor patios at a time when most Canadian coffee drinkers preferred to remain inside. The Riverboat, Chez Monique, Village Corner, Mynah Bird, New Gate of Cleve, Café El Patio, and the Flick also doubled as music venues, nurturing the early careers of beloved acts like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Gordon Lightfoot.
Yorkville hippies demanded the neighbourhood be pedestrianized at Queen’s Park and City Hall
As Yorkville’s legend grew, the neighbourhood became increasingly popular with tourists who jammed the narrow streets with cars. Locals sought to have vehicles banned, organizing to a “love in” protest at Queen’s Park in 1967 and a sit-in on Yorkville Ave. that resulted in more than 60 arrests. There were other mass protests in Nathan Phillips Square, but the city refused to budge, eventually leading to a crackdown on local drug dealers and users.
The neighbourhood was also home to the city’s first drug culture
In its countercultural heyday, Yorkville was known as much for its drugs as it was its music scene. The CBC ran concerned news reports about long-haired shoeless slackers smoking marijuana, taking LSD, and generally loafing around, while the local government viewed the neighbourhood with more than just suspicion. In 1967, the police presence was dramatically increased and a 10 p.m. curfew imposed.
A motorcycle gang provided security for Yorkville in the hippie days
The Vagabonds, “Vags” for short (that’s a hard “g,”) arrived in Yorkville around 1966, bringing with them hard drugs like heroin, Jake Schabas recalls at Spacing. The gang, led by the long blonde-haired “Jesus,” formed an alliance with local hippies that allowed them to continue selling drugs in exchange for providing security. The Vags had a similar agreement with the residents at Rochdale College, an alternative university near Bloor and Spadina, and were once headquartered at 127 Hazelton Ave.
No-one is quite sure why Bloor isn’t spelled Bloore
Poor Joseph Bloore. The only known photograph of the brewer who co-founded the Village of Yorkville is truly awful, and even today the name of street that bears his name is, for reasons historians have been unable to definitively explain, possibly misspelled. Local historian Stephen Otto thinks Bloor added the “e” to perhaps add a little flair to his last name, but that the correct spelling remains the one Toronto put on its street signs.
The developer of Hazelton Lanes helped end Yorkville’s counterculture days
Developer Richard Wookey began buying up Yorkville property in the late 1960s, renting out space to The Vagabonds (see above) and appearing to be hospitable to the local culture. Wookey converted numerous homes into upscale boutiques and built the York Square and Hazelton Lanes shopping centres, pioneering the principles of adaptive reuse with architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers.
Over the decades, the resulting idealogical shift helped turn Yorkville into the kind of tony neighbourhood where one can find a $28 million condo.
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.
Let me tell you about one memorable Saturday night on Yorkville in the late 60's, just so you get an idea of what the place was like! (Most of the people I knew were older and a lot more worldly than me, but since I was a D.J. at CKFH radio they let me hang around with them!)
It was late Saturday afternoon and I went down to the Regency Towers Hotel where they had a lounge and disco called "The Wreck Room."
(The Wreck Bar was later called "Le Spot" and was the place where all the Rounders' hung out. It was also years before the "Disco" craze caught on in the rest of North America!)
Met my friend Rick L. at the bar and we preceded to spend the afternoon smoking weed, drinking scotch, and watching Road Runner cartoons on the TV.
In the early evening we went over the "The Avenue Road Club" and visited with Murray Campbell while he got the club ready for that nights festivities. (It was huge ....., could hold hundreds of people on two floors! One of T.O.'s top bands like Grant Smith and the Power on the main floor, and a disco in the basement. What a great place to meet the ladies!)
A bit later I left and wandered around the corner to Yorkville Ave and ran into Michael S. who was on his way to Miguel's Disco further down the street. (Michael's drug of choice was Seconal, [Reds] which was a barbiturate, so naturally we just sort of slowly sauntered up Yorkville Ave.)
A few doors down we noticed that there were two incredibly hot looking girls behind us (turns out they were Stewardesses) and Michael, who is a good looking guy to begin with, gave them a big smile and kept walking. A short distance later he did this again, and on the third time he stopped right in front of the girls, and with his most devastating smile said to them: "Are you following us?"
Naturally they had to say "YES" ................, so Michael smiled again, and said in his most charming voice, "I don't blame you!" And then kept walking! (I almost pissed myself laughing, but the good news is that we ended up spending the evening with these two lovely ladies!)
When we got to Miguel's the place was packed, and Michael sat at the seat that Miguel kept reserved for him on Saturday nights. (He sat next to Andy Williams, who was not only in town for a show ........, but was also whacked out of his head on MDA, which is now called ecstasy.)
I looked around, and the only seat open was at a table with four or five Para Dice bikers ........., who looked strangely out of place!
After I asked them if I could sit there (and got a dirty look as I sat down) some of the people I knew came in shortly after and said "hi" to me as they went to their tables.
Lenny B., who was a friend of mine, told me to come over and sit at their table, so as I got up to leave, one of the bikers leaned over and apologized to me for being rude! (Seems that Lenny, Donnie C. and Tommy H. were the guys who supplied the bikers with all their drugs! Lenny was into speed at the time and had a one day week. He would go on a run for four days ......, and then sleep for three. These were also the guys [along with Ian "The Professor" L.] who got that whole MDA thing started.)
Michael S. and I had a great time at Miguel's with the Stewardesses that night, and shortly after 1 a.m. we went back to Murray Campbell's apartment, which is above the Avenue Rd. Cub, and had our regular Saturday night party, which went on until the wee hours of the morning.
After the party ..............., it was over to the Colonnade Restaurant on Bloor St. for breakfast, and then, as the sun came up, it was off to High Park to ride the water buffalo and talk to the geese!
(God I was young and resilient back then .............., If I tried that lifestyle now I would be dead within a week!)