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Eat & Drink

A brief history of booze in The Junction

Posted by Ben Johnson / February 28, 2012

2012228-dundas-keele-1912-f1231_it0430.jpgBars on virtually every corner, throngs of people and cops on city streets, fights, and public drunkenness making Toronto an embarrassment to visiting tourists. No, I'm not describing the Entertainment District on a Saturday night. It's actually a scene from the Junction — then known as West Toronto — circa 1904.

At that time, drinking was such a problem among the neighbourhood's working-class Irish Catholics, Brits, Italians, Poles, Macedonians, and Croatians that the town of West Toronto voted to go dry; a law that was actually still in place in the Junction until 1997.

The fact that the Junction decided to enact such a law was not in and of itself a strange occurrence; if you've ever heard the city referred to as "Toronto the Good" you may or may not know that it's because around this time Toronto enacted all kinds of morality laws in keeping with Canada's Lord's Day Act. In early 1900s Toronto sport, entertainment, and almost all commerce on Sundays was prohibited. It was actually illegal to rent a horse on Sunday and Eaton's department stores even went so far as to draw their curtains on Sundays to guard against window shopping.

What is unique to The Junction is that this law prohibiting alcohol stood for so long, as did the pervading notion that this lack of alcohol has been what's prevented the neighbourhood from keeping up economically.

2012228-keele-subway-1932-s0071_it9184.jpgInitially, prohibition in the Junction seemed to have the intended effect and, immediately following the passing of the law, the area became a popular shopping destination. However, by the 1950s and 1960s, a number of the area's bigger employers had closed and shopping in the district became less popular with the advent of suburban malls. As a result, profits declined, property values began to drop, and area residents made a push to have the prohibition laws repealed in an attempt to get businesses to return to the area. Various local interests attempted referendums in 1966, 1972, 1984, and 1988; however, all failed.

In the meantime, the situation in the Junction continued to worsen. The area became known for crime and prostitution. As recently as 1995, according to the Junction Business Improvement Area (BIA), the vacancy rate was at 17 per cent and a significant chunk of the neighbourhood's storefront space sat empty.

2012228-Dundas-track-work-1923-s0071_it2820.jpgIn response fed up local residents who believed strongly that prohibition was the cause of the area's lack of business established the group 'Working for Equal Treatment' (WET) in order to try once again to overturn the Junction's dry designation. As a result of their campaign, a referendum that was part of a November 10th, 1997 municipal election finally saw the dry designation overturned.

These days the area is hailed as one of Toronto's (many) "up-and-coming" neighbourhoods. Indie coffee shops and design stores have moved into the area, followed by the sprawling Heintzman Place condo development. The Junction, no doubt, has entered a new phase.

Notably, and perhaps ironically, the once-dry area is now home to two new breweries. Both the soon-to-open Indie Alehouse and Junction Craft Brewery call the neighbourhood home. Although Junction Craft contract brews their beer in Guelph, they currently have an office, distribution warehouse, and small pilot system situated in the Junction and are working on a full brewery and retail store that owner Tom Paterson is hopeful will open by next fall.

2012228-weston-rd-1920-f1231_it1618.jpgLike Paterson, Junction Craft's Brewmaster Doug Pengelly and their designer David Hayes are also West Enders and are very conscious of the area's rich history. "There is definitely a certain cache having a brewery in a neighborhood with that history," says Paterson. In honour of that history, Junction Craft opted to name the company's first beer Conductor's Craft Ale, a nod to the fact that the area was once a major operations hub for Canadian Pacific.

Jason Fisher, President and Founder of Indie Alehouse and Junction resident also likens his business' approach to the area's distinctly independent attitude. But while Fisher is conscious of the rather unique place he's in opening a brewery in a once-dry neighbourhood, he tends to downplay the significance. "Honestly, I don't think it's that much of a big deal that the Junction now has The Indie Alehouse as a local brewery, brewpub, and beer store," Fisher says. "It's kind of a neat story, but the reality is a lot has changed in the past 10 yeas since the Junction repealed the dry local option — and a lot has changed in the Toronto Beer scene as well."

One wonders, however, if the repeal hasn't played a crucial part in the Junction establishing itself as a neighbourhood on the rise. Regardless of the historical significance of their forthcoming brew-pubs, the neighbourhood — and Toronto — seems to have embraced the two businesses. Junction Craft has been in operation for just six months and already touts 30 accounts all over West Toronto, in addition to a few in the east and across the GTA. Similarly Fisher notes that he hears from hundreds of area residents monthly who tell him how excited they are that Indie Alehouse is opening soon. And so while it's still tough to say what exactly the future holds for the neighbourhood, it seems that the return of booze may have been a very good thing for the Junction.

2012228-dundas-paintingI0003142.jpgIn addition to the interviews I conducted for this post, the following articles aided in my research:

Photos one through four from the Toronto Archives. Last image from the Ontario Archives.



GregS / February 28, 2012 at 01:13 pm
This is interesting. I didn't realize the Junction was dry for so long. It's still not exactly an awesome neighbourhood though.
Philamania / February 28, 2012 at 01:22 pm
It's a nice area and because of the lack of development in the last 50-70 years, the area maintained it's vintage look like some other TO neighbourhoods. Great read.
JLake / February 28, 2012 at 01:26 pm
Very informative and interesting read. Keep 'em coming!
W. K. Lis / February 28, 2012 at 01:44 pm
The "end" of the "dry" situation occurred when it was discovered that West Toronto's borders in the south actually went down the middle of Bloor Street West. It was assumed that the south side of Bloor Street was also "dry", but actually was part of York township at the time of the original vote. That started the "wet" ball rolling with restaurants opening on the south side of Bloor Street with liquor licenses being granted upon the discovery. The north side (the old city of West Toronto) eventually followed.
AV replying to a comment from GregS / February 28, 2012 at 01:45 pm
It is an awesome neighbourhood and we're glad people like you have yet to infest it :)

Thanks BlogTO, great read!
junction / February 28, 2012 at 02:06 pm
i love the junction, wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
KS / February 28, 2012 at 02:16 pm
Interesting history of The Junction. Looking forward to visiting the neighborhood and its local breweries! Thanks for the great article BlogTO!
Fig / February 28, 2012 at 02:56 pm
I've been waiting for another of your historical posts. Great read - thanks BlogTo!
arthu replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / February 28, 2012 at 04:57 pm
Wasn't there a bar that was split down the centre of each municipality? I recall not being able to order a drink on one side but was permitted to get blind drunk on the other.

Junction Guy / February 28, 2012 at 05:02 pm
Great article - but you missed one point - the vote barely passed at the time: the needed 60 per cent was exceeded by only two votes - meaning that if there was one voter who changed his or her mind from dry to wet in the ballot box he or she prevented a tie vote (the juction would have stayed stayed dry on a tie). In fact, east of Keele, the referendum failed that year, by a few votes.
Rob Ford / February 28, 2012 at 05:13 pm
Matt / February 28, 2012 at 06:09 pm
I was never really able to understand how a bylaw could exist on a neighbourhood level rather than on a city-wide level—I figured the Junction was a separate municipality when the law went on the books. So I don't understand how it was repealed as late as 97. Was it really against the law until then, or was it just historical habit?
David / February 28, 2012 at 06:10 pm
Thanks for the article - a couple of points worth clarifying, though.

First, there was never "prohibition" in the Junction, except when the entire Province enforced prohibition from 1916 to 1927. During the dry years, it was perfectly legal to posess and drink alcohol within the Junction's boundaries, a right which many pro-dry-Junction people exercised. Rather, it was simply illegal to sell it. I believe there were a few efforts to introduce prohibition to the area in the first half of the twentieth century, all of which failed.

In the late 1890s and 1900s when the calls for temperence came to the Junction, there were no Junction "bars" as we know them today. Alcohol sales were mostly done through the local hotels (none of which remain as hotels, although some of the buildings are still around). Being a connection point between Toronto and the rest of Ontario, the hotels in the Junction were popular stopping points for farmers and other businessmen who were passing through. As such, the concern was not so much about local residents drinking, but about travellers who would get drunk at the hotels. Basically, the Junction was more concerned about "undesirables" coming from out of town and ruining what the locals otherwise considered to be a nice, god-fearing, industrial suburb.

Of course, many of the factory workers were also commuters from other areas (such as Weston, Etobicoke, etc.), and, prior to Local Option they could spend their pay after work at a Junction hotel and, if they got too drunk to go home, stay the night in one of the rooms; This culture lead to other problems, including gambling and crime. One bar had a cockfighting in it and was the scene of a major brawl. In the 1890s, a resident of Weston spent his last nickel at one of the bars and could not get home except by foot; he was found the next morning, dead, in the gutter of Keele Street, his head bashed in and his pockets out-turned. His murder was never solved, and it highlighted the routine drinking culture of the area. One Methodist Junction preacher described the Junction, in 1903, as "a cesspool of harlotry, iniquity, and vice."

It is worth noting that temperence was also seen as a progressive cause when it first came in. (Long-time Junction dry activist Bill Temple was, in fact, a member of the CCF and the NDP.) Abstaining from alcohol meant that the working man kept his money and had enough to feed and clothe his family. As the author suggests, these factors changed somewhat by the late 20th century. While some clung to the old reasons, it seemed unintuitive to introduce alcohol sales to an area of run-down storefronts, prostitutes, and the nearby halfway house, although - as the author points out - the gradual and considered reintroduction of alcohol has attracted many restaurants to the area and has been at the heart of the area's revitalization.
David replying to a comment from arthu / February 28, 2012 at 06:11 pm
Oh - the bar split down the middle was on the north side of Bloor, just west of Jane. It was known by various names at different times including the Wedgewood, the Fan, and Billy Bob's.
Lonnie / February 28, 2012 at 09:07 pm
The junction is a great place. Just the other day I felt like getting shot in the face and headed out there.
Dov Eles / February 28, 2012 at 09:10 pm
There is a great book about the area called West Toronto Junction Revisited. Lots of pictures, and excerpts from the memoirs of A.B. Rice, a journalist and man about town at the turn of the 20th century. It is published by Boston Mills Press.;R=382394
burgs / February 28, 2012 at 09:38 pm
All I'm really hoping is that one of these breweries retail stores is open until at least 10 pm in case I miss the lcbo and beer store that closes at 9 at dundas west/bloor
Adam replying to a comment from David / February 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm
The Fan and Billy Bob's were operated at the same time, by the same owners - Billy Bob's was a "saloon style" bar on the main and upper floors, The Fan was a (you guessed it) sports bar in the basement. I would have loved to have been there when it was "split in half" from the bylaw.
John franks / February 29, 2012 at 02:35 am
Love the junction.. aside from the odd hooker found in a rolled up carpet.. It has great historical buildings and nice bars.. check it out! Don't wind up in a carpet, bro.
Crimson Cass / February 29, 2012 at 11:07 am
The West Toronto Junction Historical Society sometimes does a great presentation on the events leading up to the Local Option. They're a very productive group, with books and a current graphic novel series among their output, and have their archive in the Annette Street Library - that's right, libraries are about more than just books!
It wasn't just local working men (and it was all men, as women were not allowed in drinking establishments at the time), but also traveling railway and stockyards workers that contributed greatly to the problem. It was because of this passing-through population that there were so many hotels in the first place.
It's not an area that's any more dangerous than other parts of the city, but is refreshingly free of douchebags like some of the commenters above because of its lingering bad reputation.
Josiah Royce / February 29, 2012 at 07:12 pm
I have always found the rail, manufacturing and industrial history of The Junction very impressive from a local but also a national perspective. Just think how many TACKS hockey skates and CCM bicycles were manufactured and distributed across Canada from The Junction. Canada Packers stockyards were at one time famous for being the largest in North America; hence the Toronto nickname 'Hogtown'. The Heintzman Piano Company shipped pianos made in The Junction to the four corners of the World.

And it was not an accident that The Junction grew up around the railways. Many years before The West Toronto Junction, the area had always been a crossroads and pathway of First Nations hunting and trading routes.

Marc / February 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm
Really interesting article. Well written and researched!
Lily replying to a comment from burgs / March 1, 2012 at 02:08 pm
The Beer Store and LCBO on Dundas west of Runnymede are open until 10 Mon. - Sat.
Betty Bartusevicius / March 2, 2012 at 08:30 am
Great stuff!!! I lived there for years and still have family in the neighbourhood. It truly has changed. I totally enjoyed the festival last summer. Great food! Great music! Great people!
Damien / March 2, 2012 at 02:59 pm
J-towns got some great bars now. All it needs is a decent peeler joint. House of Lancaster III?
John replying to a comment from Lonnie / March 10, 2012 at 07:41 pm
@Lonnie. You're a fucking moron. That is all.
Linda / March 11, 2012 at 02:18 pm
I am looking to open up a shop that will help small business.
ITs such a cool area.
Ben / April 2, 2012 at 05:03 pm
That neightbourhood is where I grew up in the 70-90's and it was such a lovely neighbourhood I wish I could afford to buy in that area again I love it there!
Gary / October 21, 2012 at 07:59 am
An interesting and useful article. Some interesting comments as well. I pass through the Junction area often on weekends and find the vibe quite appealing. Lots of people & activities in summer months. A great neighborhood!
dick / October 24, 2013 at 06:52 pm
u are all just a bunch of snakes
Nancy Young / December 14, 2013 at 01:13 pm
As a person who voted to keep the Junction dry, I clearly recall the decision that changed it to allowing liquor to be sold in restaurants. What I could never understand is why the referendum to disallow the liquor to be sold was not included in the following election. I was proud of the fact that our area was able to keep temperance for so long. The wonderful woman who lived next door to me was a war bride and part of the temperance society at the time. She died before the law changed; and I moved out of the neighbourhood shortly thereafter.
Rust replying to a comment from Nancy Young / February 11, 2014 at 04:08 pm
Why the law wasn't included? Because we have the right to move onwards and upwards, not held back by ideas from old-folk such as yourself. You're a an old twit if you believed Temperance in the Junction was a good thing. Check out the Junction now, It's thriving, as opposed to dying, in your "Temperance Utopia", you old fart.
nancy / February 12, 2014 at 08:31 am
you think that drinking alcohol takes a person "onwards and upwards"? Name that also a heightened development? Calling me old twit and old fart make you feel better? Lowest common denominator...shame that

M.Clark / May 27, 2014 at 05:56 pm
The boundaries are/were west side of Runnymede Rd, was in York, down to Annette St. and the south side of Bloor St. was the town of Swansea, which had its own Hydro,Police,Water,everything. There is a lot of history to this whole area. The Lambton Tavern for one.
MH replying to a comment from Rust / August 18, 2014 at 11:09 am
Hey Rust, way to go saying insulting and judgmental things to an elderly woman. You're a real hero.
Seems to me she was merely adding her perspective as someone who lived there at the time and preferred it the way it was. How dare she! But don't worry, you put her in her place. Probably discouraged her from bothering to contribute to a site like this ever again.

You sure proved how superior you are to people of her generation.

It's hilarious that you actually think you represent an example of how we have moved "onwards and upwards".
MH replying to a comment from Rust / August 18, 2014 at 11:18 am
John Cleese talking about 'stupidity'. Might be useful for you Rust...then again, perhaps not.
Marc / August 26, 2014 at 01:56 pm
Are they really called Poles?
Mike replying to a comment from arthu / August 26, 2014 at 04:36 pm
The Wedge at north-west corner of Jane and Bloor
John / February 24, 2015 at 08:08 pm
I grew up in the junction in the 60's. All l remember was that beautiful yellow snow. At recess we would run outside to play in this yellow snow and little did we know that snow was suppose to be white. Those were the days at St. Rita's on Edwin Ave. So for all you people who love the junction, have your soil tested, especially for lead contamination. Enjoy!
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