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A City Intersected: Yonge & Bloor

2006_12_19YongeandBloor.jpg
Photo by Gary Campbell.
Toronto has been called a city of neighbourhoods: The Beach, Yorkville, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, The Annex; all have their defining characteristics that make them appealing to locals as well as visitors. And when it comes down to it, most of these areas are well-defined by the intersection of two major streets.
Beginning a new column focused on these intersections with Yonge St. and Bloor St. may seem like an obvious, and boring, choice. Toronto’s two main subway lines intersect at this location, and many consider it the northern hub of downtown Toronto, filled with office buildings, condos, restaurants, shops and general urban sprawl. But in many ways, this is what makes it a logical place to start our journey. Most of you have been to this part of the city enough times that you have a point of reference. Don’t worry, we’ll reach such uncharted waters as Dupont St. & Lansdowne Ave. and Queen St. & Victoria Park Ave. soon enough. But for now, Yonge & Bloor it is.
Read on for the inaugural “A City Intersected” article.

History

rsz_2006_12_19Uptown.jpg
What is now one of Toronto’s busiest intersections was, in George Brown’s time, green and suburban. But by the 1920s, the area was becoming more popular, thanks in part to Loew’s Uptown Theatre (at right), which began housing both cinema and vaudeville performances that decade. It continued mostly as a single-screen cinema, but after a fire gutted the theatre’s main auditorium in 1960, the venue was forced to close.
By the end of the decade, a developer had rebuilt the Uptown as one of the world’s first multiplexes, featuring five screens. It spent the 1980s and 1990s as one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s key venues, but in 2001, a dispute closed the theatre’s doors forever and gave way to the construction of a condo.
In 1925, Yonge and Bloor’s first traffic signals were installed to allow for a more controlled flow of cars, buses and pedestrians, but it was the 1954 launch of the TTC’s first subway line that truly transformed the area, allowing its residents to reach Eglinton to the north and Union Station to the south. This helped lead to increased business and residential development at main intersections both downtown and midtown.
In 1966, an additional subway line along Bloor/Danforth that spanned from Keele to the west and Woodbine to the east opened for business, and today, Yonge-Bloor is the TTC’s busiest subway station, with an estimated 368,800 people occupying it each day.

So I’m here… now what?

Although it’s the corporate brand names, like Harvey’s, The Bay, CIBC and Starbucks, and the small trinket shops with high turnover, that you notice right away when standing on the corner of Yonge & Bloor, this is an area with a great deal of small and independent shops and restaurants as well.
Up for a light lunch? Look no further The Falafel House (717 Yonge Street), a healthy and delicious (not to mention criminally cheap) alternative to McDonald’s located on the east side of Yonge, just south of Bloor. If that’s not your taste, you can hop around the corner into Roy’s Square, a small street best described as an alleyway that features an additional sampling of inexpensive restaurants such as Indian takeaway Biryani House (one of the few Indian restaurants where the kitchen is entirely visible, and where you can actually watch them make the naan bread to order) and Ritz, a Caribbean fast food restaurant with other locations scattered along Yonge Street.
rsz_2006_12_19SushiTrain.jpgOr if you’d rather stay on Yonge Street, why not try the newly opened Sushi Train (750 Yonge Street, at left), just south of Bloor on the west side; or if Thai’s more your flavor, how about the Green Mango (located on both sides of Yonge!).
The recent demise of CD Replay means the only music stores near the Yonge & Bloor intersection are corporate: Sunrise on the east side of Yonge, and HMV around the corner on Bloor. Music buying is perhaps better saved for another part of the city, but just a few short blocks south you’ll find some great bookstores in Book City (663 Yonge Street; currently celebrating its 30th anniversary with a special sale) and ABC Books (662 Yonge Street). Believe it or not, the $1 bin in front of ABC Books (located just north of Irwin Ave. on the west side of Yonge St.) has some good finds every once in a while. Clothing and housewares fanatics may want to stop into Propaganda (686 Yonge Street) along the way for some unique buys.
Whether you consider it a haven for your wildest fantasies or an inappropriate eyesore, The Brass Rail (701 Yonge Street) has been a mainstay of the Yonge & Bloor area for years. The stripclub boasts its “Totally Nude European Style Female Dancers” and on a Saturday night you’d be hard-pressed not to find a Hummer limo unloading a car full of haughty guys ready for the show. For the real show, you might want to hop into Ginger (695 Yonge Street) next door and have a bite to eat. Sit near the window – you’ll never know who you see walking in and out of their next door neighbour’s doors.
Foes of the Blue Man Group will be happy to know that their engagement at that other eyesore, The Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge Street), is almost up. We’ll have to wait and find out what will occupy the corporate structure next, but those interested in a mellower night out might want to try The Duke of Gloucester (649 Yonge Street), one of Toronto’s most authentic British pubs. Finding it used to be a challenge, so you can thank the Panasonic Theatre for making it much easier. Just pop into Ruchi, the Indian restaurant next door and go upstairs. Relax, order a pint and indulge in the chips with curry sauce.
So there you have it. Clearly there’s more to Yonge & Bloor than big brands, dinky trinket shops and the Scientology building. Who knew?
Photo of the Uptown Theatre, exterior, Balmuto Street [ca 1970]. Photographer: Roger Jowett. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 169; Photo of Sushi Train by metrix_feet from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Comments

  • http://www.delineated.com Carrie

    Great intro article, Adam! I wish I had something like this when I first moved here…hopefully it helps out people who are new to the area. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  • kate

    I thought the last screening at the Uptown was in 2003 for the Midnight Madness screening of Undead.

  • sjfbarnett

    what a great new column. I’m looking forward to more obscure corners!

  • http://www.torontoist.com Adam D. Miller

    My mistake; it was a 2001 ruling that led the Uptown to close its doors, but it remained open until after TIFF 2003. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Mark

    Kate is right – it closed in the fall of 2003 due to excessive costs in making the theatre wheelchair accessible. Of course, the 1970 photo is of the Backstage, not the Uptown which fronted on Yonge. Several other cinemas which once graced the area are also long gone.
    In general, there is so much more to be said about the corner than a run down of the cheap lunch options and transit history pre-1967. The late great Ben Kerr (Kerr for Mayor) gave countless performances there, street artist VicTor regularly paints the corner, The Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame has a colourful history, the Hudson’s Bay Ctr and the nearby Manulife are interesting examples of the Brutalist style of architecture.
    Also, men’s clothier Stollery’s is a local institution, Silver 4 U is one of the best local jewellers anywhere, the former Britnell Books (now a Starbucks) served the ‘hood for over 100 years.
    Torontist – haul yourself out of the falafel hut and into the archives and onto the streets. There is much more to discover!

  • http://www.publicspace.ca Jonathan Goldsbie

    Exotic Tandoori on Charles, just west of Yonge. Very good Pakistani food, and easily the cheapest buffet in the city.

  • http://www.davemadethis.com Dave is…

    I agree with Mark.
    My favourite part of Yonge & Bloor was always Ben Kerr (RIP!).
    http://flickr.com/photos/rubbergorilla/81904753/

  • Eric

    Great idea for a column. I am not as familiar with some areas of the city that I would like to be, and I am certainly ignorant when it comes to the history of specific neigbourhoods. I am looking forward to the next one!

  • Steve

    Also going north you have the Toronto Resource Library and the edge of Yorkville.
    I didn’t know Ben Kerr had died. How sad. I guess it was inevitable though, he was ancient the last time I saw him perform.

  • andrew

    i hope you folks get around to jane and finch as an intersection. the two malls have some interesting aspects to ‘em.
    and the underground mall beneath yonge and bloor is kinda cool in its own right, although dwarfed by the PATH.

  • Roxanne

    Wow, what a great new column! I was there today and there was a very elaborate street performer duded out in Grinch regalia, lip-synching to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” He was at it for hours!

  • David Topping

    I saw that today too, Roxanne. Ironically, people seemed rather disgusted/confused by the performance. The Grinch was out-grinched!

  • Gloria

    I saw him too! But only when he was ducking into Harvey’s.

  • David Topping

    Oh, and I just got accosted by two pairs of Jews! Man, Bloor & Yonge is where it’s at today.
    I’m half-Jewish and, as far as half-Jews go, I look pretty damn Jewy, though I’m not religious at all. And when I was taking photos for the TTC project over the summer, two Hasidic Jews came up to me and wouldn’t leave me alone, kept putting a yarmulke on my head, trying to get me to say some prayers, that they would make my Judaism official. They were very persistent (and touchy) to the point of making me very, very uncomfortable, and I almost never get uncomfortable with people bugging me on the street.
    Well, it happened again tonight, as two pairs of relatively young Jewish kids – couldn’t have been older than me – asked me if I was Jewish and followed me up the street, one pair at Bay & Bloor, and one more at Yonge & Bloor. My response to the first was “nope,” and to the second was “I am, but I’m not interested” — which pretty much epitomizes how I feel about Judaism anyway.
    But man oh man, those were some annoying Jews. Does anyone know what the deal is with them? Who they represent, why they’ve gotta bug well-meaning but apathetic half-Jews like me?

  • Vanessa Caldwell

    Those Jews got me too!
    Except that I’m not Jewish. As soon I said I wasn’t, I regretted it and wondered what would have happened if I had said I was Jewish.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I always wonder what the black muslim Nation of Islam always wants with pink ol’ me, especially since the ones that stopped me yesterday were Five Percenters.
    I miss the Uptown so much. It was a crime that it was demolished. My favourite part of the Backstage were those weird carnival paintings on the wall and proscenium. The staff at the Backstage was also always horrible and the heating/cooling never worked.

  • David Topping

    Vanessa, I told them I was back in June, and they just start swarming you, put a yarmulke on your head, put it back on you if you take it off, try to get you to say some prayers, start grabbing your hands, touching your arms, forcing your hands on the book they’re holding, and they won’t leave you alone unless you walk away.
    Whatever you do, don’t tell them that you’re Jewish. They mean business.

  • Kate

    So that’s what happened to Ben. He will be missed.

  • Andrew Ryan Fox

    I spent part of my childhood living near the Jewish Russian Community Centre which is south of Steeles off Bathurst. I got swarmed once when I was about 14 by a bunch of Orthodox Jews when I was walking by it. They demanded to know if I was Jewish, and when I told them I was, they literally tried to drag me inside to pray with them. Like arm grabbing and everything. Those Lubovitchers are pushy, man…

  • Martha

    I have to say, I had a great experience at Silver 4U , Yonge & Bloor. They have great jewllery at very affortable prices. And the service is great as well.
    Toronto is a great city!!!! and Yonge & Bloor is one of the most convenient corners to meet a friend, because of the subway line.
    A very windy corner too.