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What Queen West used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / May 10, 2012

History Queen West Toronto photosQueen West seems a natural street to knock off as I continue to fill in some of the more obvious gaps in our collection of historical photo posts. Although Yonge Street is typically considered the most important street in Toronto (and for good reason), it wouldn't be difficult to make the argument that, at least historically speaking, Queen Street deserves consideration for that title.

Part of the reason for this, as is explained in the Queen Street West Heritage Conservation District Plan, is that Queen (then known as Lot Street) "was the baseline established by the Royal Engineers, when they laid out the town of York (now Toronto) in 1793." At the behest of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, much of York was divided into 41 lots, the boundary lines of which define our current streetscape.

Here's a cogent explanation of how it all worked, courtesy of Jane E. MacNamara on the site Simcoe's Gentry:

"They had narrow frontages (660 feet) on Lot Street (today's Queen Street), to allow all owners access to the town and harbour. The lots were ten times as deep (6,600 feet) as they were wide and extended north to today's Bloor Street. There were 32 Park Lots running from the Don River, west to about today's Lansdowne Avenue. From there, west to the Humber River, the land was divided into nine "Township" lots, following the pattern of the Park Lots, but double the width. They were 200 acres each, more or less, as the contours of Lake Ontario and the Humber River would allow. The Park Lots closest to the Town of York were the most desirable, and the status of the persons to whom they were granted reflected this."

Plan York Harbour TorontoIt's rather remarkable to think that Toronto developed from such lots, and yet there's obvious proof of it all over the place. But Queen Street is important for more than this reason, of course. A vibrant commercial strip throughout the 20th century and beyond, it's also the home to municipal landmarks like Old and New City Hall, one of Toronto's oldest and most majestic buildings in Osgoode Hall, and the site of profound change over the last couple decade or so.

That said, what's also fascinating about Queen Street is just how many of the street's buildings remain from the turn of the century. Many of them have been altered or added to in some way, but if you look closely enough, you'll see that they've been around for the long haul. Toward that end, this photo essay from Urban Toronto is a must-read.

For the purposes of this photo survey, I've included images taken between roughly Bay and Gladstone streets. If it didn't make for an awkward title, I could have referenced West Queen West to underscore that this overview takes us to places like the now-lost Trinity College and John Abell Factory. I've always thought the line between Queen West and West Queen West seemed a bit arbitrary, so I've dispensed with it altogether here. The Queen Street Subway (what we would today call the Dufferin Underpass), on the other hand, more obviously marks one's entrance into Parkdale.

For those interested in the more recent history of this stretch, we're blessed with the work of two local photographers who have documented the changing face of Queen West and West Queen West. To fill in the period post-1970, do check out the work of Patrick Cummins (who just released a book) and, of course, Kevin Steele, whose Portraits of Queen West is always delightful.


20101112-Trinity-College.jpgTrinity College, 1856 (sadly demolished in 1950)

2011125-Asylum_Right_Wing_Toronto.jpgProvincial Lunatic Asylum (also demolished)

2012510-gladstone-sketch-1890s.jpgThe Gladstone Hotel, Ca. 1900s (via the Gladstone Hotel)

2012330-john-Abell.jpgThe John Abell Factory (now the condo filled Queen West Triangle)

2012510-queen-west-euclid-1900s.jpgQueen & Euclid, 1900s

2012510-standard-theatre-1900s-482qw.jpgStandard Theatre at 482 Queen West, 1900s

2012510-queen-manning-1900.jpgQueen & Manning, 1900

20111026-Night-1910-Auditorium_Theatre_in_Toronto.jpgAuditorium Theatre at 382 Queen West, 1910

2012510-queen-west-city-hall-1911.jpgLooking west across Queen from the tower at Old City Hall, 1911

2012510-queen-spadina-1912.jpgQueen & Spadina, 1912

201188-trinity-park-1914-f1231_it0005.jpgCorner of Queen and Gore Vale, 1914

201147-qb-se-1916.jpgSoutheast corner Queen & Bay, 1916

2012510-queen-gladstone-east-1916.jpgLooking east along Queen from Gladstone, 1916

2012510-queen-lisgar-nw-1919-f1231_it0587.jpgNorthwest corner Queen and Lisgar, 1919

2012510-299-queen-west.jpg299 Queen West, 1919

2012510-queen-west-990-1919.jpg990 Queen West, 1919

20100822-1923_Toronto_QueenSt_and_Bay_NW.jpgQueen & Bay, 1923

201188-trinity-gates-1926-f1548_s0393_it20527-1.jpgGates to Trinity College in 1926

2012510-queen-bathurst-1928.jpgSoutheast corner of Queen & Bathurst in 1928 (now a CB2 furniture shop)

2012510-queen-simcoe-1931.jpgQueen & Simcoe, 1931

2012510-queen-west-322-1940s322 Queen West, 1940s

2012510-queen-markham-616-1940.jpgQueen & Markham, 1940

2012510-queen-west-129-135-1941.jpg129-135 Queen West, 1941

2012510-queen-west-485-1941.jpg485 Queen West, 1941

2012510-gladstone-queen-1949.jpgGladstone north from Queen, 1949

2012510-queen-west-137-39-1953.jpg137-39 Queen West, 1953

2012510-queen-west-141-47-1953.jpg141-47 Queen West, 1953

2012510-queen-west-508-1958.jpg508 Queen West, 1958

2012510-queen-ossington-1958.jpgQueen & Ossington, 1958

2012510-queen-west-387-1959.jpg387 Queen West, 1959

2012510-queen-west-630-1960.jpg630 Queen West, 1960

201147-newcityhallconstruction1964.jpgNew City Hall under construction (Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building going down), 1964

2011221-broadwaythreatrebayqueen.jpgBroadway Theatre, Queen and Bay area late 1960s

201147-bay-theatre-1970s.jpgBay Theatre, late 1960s

2012510-gladstone-1970s-maybe.jpgGladstone & Queen, 1970s (?)

2011426-no-name-cab-1970s-queenwest-f0124_fl0002_id0124.jpgMetro Cab on Queen West (west of Beverley)


Photos from the Toronto Archives (unless otherwise noted) / Second image from the Toronto Public Library



mike in parkdale / May 10, 2012 at 03:24 pm
I've live most of my life along this street. Very nice photos. It's been posted many times before, but a pictorial of old Queen Street just doesn't seem complete without the R C Harris plant in the east, and the King/Queen/Roncy intersection in the west.
DontbeSilly / May 10, 2012 at 03:46 pm
1856-2002...nary a skinny jean wearing d-bag to be found.

The Glory Years.
McRib / May 10, 2012 at 03:47 pm
great pics.

sadly a lot of the street still looks much as it did in the 1920s, a bit of a run down dump with wooden fucking utility poles all over the place.

GRBY / May 10, 2012 at 04:00 pm
The city should encourage more landlords to restore these buildings back to their original design, just like they did with CB2's Queen and Bathurst location.

Great post BlogTO!
Rafa / May 10, 2012 at 04:18 pm
Queen and Spadina looks identical to today. Interestingly enough, these pics just reinforce that public transportation hasn't evolved along Queen for 80 years.
Robert Ford / May 10, 2012 at 04:30 pm
Dear Queen & Spadina 1912,

Get that trolley outta there! Future generations want subways! Subways, subways, subways! And waistcoats! Waistcoats, waistcoats, waistcoats!

Mr. Robert Ford
gorf replying to a comment from McRib / May 10, 2012 at 04:59 pm
Having lived many years overseas in a place where such infrastructure was buried, I would be quite upset if the old wooden utility poles were removed. I love staring at the one out my window. It adds character to the street scape.
Jacob replying to a comment from DontbeSilly / May 10, 2012 at 06:30 pm
Yup, instead we had top-hat wearing d-bags.
Not Daniel / May 10, 2012 at 06:34 pm
1. Love the lack of traffic lights at Queen and Bay ca. 1923
2. Does anyone know what happened to the spire atop The Gladstone?
pho replying to a comment from DontbeSilly / May 10, 2012 at 07:06 pm
I'm pretty sure the punk kids of the 70s and 80s wore skinny jeans.
alez / May 10, 2012 at 08:19 pm
I find that the amazing that even back then, the queen/Simcoe parking lot still existed, as it does to this day.
Derek / May 10, 2012 at 10:30 pm
Hey all... Just a sheepish note to indicate that I've cleaned up a few of the typographical errors previously found on this post and added five photos that were originally on my list but somehow never made it into this collection when it first went live.
fyfe / May 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm
Wow. they had goth's in the 1920's?... maybe it is still the same ones we see now...!
Mg replying to a comment from Not Daniel / May 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm
The guy in the bottom right of the Queen/Bay photo is the traffic light. Before the red/green lights were introduced, traffic control consisted of a cop with a stop/go sign.
the Lunatic / May 11, 2012 at 03:18 am
Too bad the Lunatic Asylum was torn down. Of course now it would be turned into the Lunatic Lofts.
Pat Oreg replying to a comment from gorf / May 11, 2012 at 08:41 am
Nobody cares what you think.
the lemur / May 11, 2012 at 09:21 am
Where can I find a bigger version of that Queen/Gladstone photo?
Sam / May 11, 2012 at 11:22 am
Didn't you get some of these photos from Wikimedia Commons?
Paul / May 11, 2012 at 11:41 am
Fond memories of the Gladstone hotel. That was the place where I was first served a glass of draught beer without being asked for ID. It was the mid-60's and I was 17 at the time. The drinking age was still 21. The place was a real skid-row dive in those days, with separate men's & ladies' rooms. The price for a draught had just gone from 10 to 15 cents a copy and people were outraged. It was still pretty easy to get fairly hammered on less than a buck.
Rafter replying to a comment from Pat Oreg / May 11, 2012 at 01:59 pm
I agree with with gorf, but I don't care what you think Oreg. The poles give Queen West it's character.
Rafter replying to a comment from Pat Oreg / May 11, 2012 at 02:03 pm
The developers don't give a damn about the district or the arts community. They made this indisputably clear when they demolished 48 Abell.
Pat Oreg replying to a comment from Rafter / May 11, 2012 at 02:20 pm
Nobody cares what you think either.
Josh / May 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm
Nice pics of my apartment on Queen at Manning! Wasn't fun when it burned down but I'm happy to be back in and these photos are great to see.
Mr. Lazy Susan replying to a comment from DontbeSilly / May 13, 2012 at 01:04 pm
2002-2012 Golden Age of Snooty Comments About Queen Street.
zach / May 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Great photos, the City of Toronto Archives are awesome! Anyone with old Toronto photos should think about accessioning their collection into the Archives.

And if you want to keep the photos for yourselves, you can check out our website. We'll help you preserve and digitize your collection!
Sandra / May 16, 2012 at 01:31 pm
Can someone tell me the location of the last picture taken that captures Chicago's Diner & Silver Cross
Kim replying to a comment from Sandra / May 23, 2012 at 05:54 pm
It looks like Queen street east of Peter, just before John st
patrick driscoll / September 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm
Trinity College was converted into a boy and girls club in the early 40's it was called Trinity K club I was a member from 1945 until it was demolished in the 50's. It was agreat place for girls and boys,to play sports,baseball, foorball,basketball, etc. We lived there winter, sumer and fall Pat Driscoll.
patrick driscoll replying to a comment from patrick driscoll / September 22, 2013 at 01:00 pm
Where is the reply? Please send a reply I would appreciate. Thank you PD.
Tom keddy / January 18, 2014 at 05:00 pm
My husband is racking his memory for the name of the grocery store on queen st west
1960 near near hicks meats & dukes bike shop . The store was 3 or 4 stores east of hicks meats .
Thanks .
Goldielover / March 8, 2014 at 08:35 pm
Used to spend many a Saturday afternoon strolling along Queen Street and checking out all the second hand book shops, including of course Old Favourites down on Adelaide. That would have been in the late 1970s through to the early 1990s. Mostly all gone now. Got pushed out when the area started becoming trendy.
Mark / March 9, 2014 at 01:32 am
Amazing how old the 90's shot looks already. The cars especially
Karen J. Pottruff replying to a comment from Derek / March 9, 2014 at 11:49 am
Thanks, Derek, for these wonderful historical photos of old T.O.
They need to be preserved.
Ainsley / March 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm
I just love having the Toronto Archives available so we can remember our history. It's such a great resource.

I make vintage Toronto photo coasters, great for those of you interested in Toronto's history. I've just started so there are only a few neighbourhoods, but more will be coming soon!
gorfdagoof replying to a comment from Pat Oreg / March 9, 2014 at 06:15 pm
Untrue. We all care.
gaddabout replying to a comment from Pat Oreg / March 9, 2014 at 06:19 pm
This just highlights how much better a job we could have done preserving some of these old buildings. You see other cities with so much old character, while in Toronto everything is wrecked, rezoned, rebuilt.
Tara Greene / March 10, 2014 at 01:16 am
I am a 2nd generation Torontonian. My father's Uncles owned the Pickford Movie Theatre at Queen and Spadina on the North West side for many years.My Dad grew up in that neighbourhood as did all of his cousins in the 1920's.He talked about the neighbourhood, and how the Cameron Hotel was a flop house back then. I remember being downtown with my Mom as a child and Queen West in the 70's when I attended OCAD. The only happening thing on Queen West then was the Peter Pan, the Queen Mother,the Beverly where everyone went to drink beer, and the old stores and restaraunts. It was lovely. Toronto hasn't preserved it's history and looks too blah.
norm replying to a comment from Tom keddy / September 6, 2014 at 02:50 pm
Grocery store was Genosove's and I was a delivery boy about 1956-57 along with many other kids. I was born upstairs at 607 Queen W. in '45.
carol / November 17, 2014 at 10:30 am
Can't find Queen and Givins Street photos (974 Queen street west). If anyone know where I could look, please let me know!

Roy Schulze / November 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm
Every generation in Toronto gets its own Ellis Wiley. Kevin Steele is ours.
Marc / November 18, 2014 at 06:16 am
Incredible how such a benine, non confrontational and non controversial article like this leads to such hatred filled comments. You guys need help.
John / November 22, 2014 at 11:02 am
Great to see, Thanks for posting! Heartbreaking to see what we have lost. Everything feels dirty and cheap down there now. We all thought we were so cool in our time but it seems we have torn the sole out of it.
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