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.
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.
Or 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.