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Best of Toronto

The Best Window Displays in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / January 2, 2011

Best Window Displays in TorontoThe best window displays in Toronto carry on a long tradition in this city even as they modify it somewhat. Back in the early part of the 20th century places like Eaton's were popular destinations for window shoppers who were attracted to the elaborate displays and happy lives depicted for all to long for. To a great extent, consumers have replaced this practice by browsing for products on the web, even if places like Holt Renfrew and The Bay still pull out all the stops for their window displays over the holidays.

But if the internet has become the place to "window shop" these days, that doesn't mean that the creative window display has become a thing of the past. Sure some retailers may take less care with these sorts of things, but one can nevertheless still find brilliant examples of what one might call this art form at certain book and music stores, not to mention the fact that there's been a rise in micro-galleries in the last few years whose main function is to display work in this way.

Here are the best window displays in Toronto.

Sonic BoomBest Window Display Sonic BoomPutting together the elaborate and often hilarious window displays at Sonic Boom is almost a full time job, and Tim Oakley does damn good one at that. Generally inspired by the cover art of a given album, he works with a budget of around $500 every six weeks or so to dream up a kitschy take on new releases that the store chooses to feature. Local bands often get some love, but the window display treatment is generally driven by what Oakley thinks will make for the best visuals.

TYPE Books
TYPE Books Window DisplayAlthough nearby Monkey's Paw may win the award for the oddest selection of titles to grace a window display, TYPE takes the cake for novel ways (please forgive the pun) to fashion literary-inspired art at its window on West Queen West. Always a good combination of books and more visually oriented materials, the store invites some pretty talent artists -- Micah Lexier comes to mind -- to take up the task of dressing the window displays. Curated by staff member Derek McCormack, each display is up for about six weeks or so.

Magic Pony
Magic Pony Window Display TorontoWith the opening of Narwhal Art Projects, Magic Pony was able to devote a space solely to the display of artwork without the retail crossover that takes place at the original location. But that doesn't mean that the windows have taken turn for the worse. Like the store itself, they occupy that strange region between the commercial and artistic, and still offer one of the best examples of how creative one can get when given a giant window to work with.

Soundscapes
Soundscapes Window DisplayWhile Sonic Boom's displays are bigger and more elaborate, there is an understated cool to the way that this College St. record store treats its windows. Although I've almost entirely switched to buying digitized albums now, every time I walk by, I find myself pining for the material object that is a CD (or record), complete with liner notes. And, on top of its visual appeal, a quick perusal of the selection of albums in the window wouldn't be the worst way to go about finding new music, bands or albums. The selections are always well curated, and when I'm not getting advice on who to listen to from the blogTO music team, a walk by Soundscapes will often do the trick.

Convenience Gallery
Convenience GalleryConvenience Gallery is a beacon of (all night) light and art on Lansdowne just north of Queen. Housed in what was obviously a former convenience store, this is the definition of a window gallery, and a long list of established and up and coming artists have displayed here over the years. For my money, the work is best viewed at night, when it tends to "pop" and draw the viewer in to stare for an extended period of time.

Roadside Attractions
20101203-Roadside_attractions.jpgAnother long-standing window gallery, Roadside Attractions isn't located in what many would consider an art-driven neighbourhood, but nevertheless, there's always something compelling at this display on a lazy stretch of Davenport immediately west of Christie. Curated by WeeSee Inc., the storefront gallery was one of the first in the city to embrace the concept.

Queen Specific
Queen Specific WindowThis one's easy to miss, but once located it becomes an regular source of fascination. Found right beside Dufflet Pastries (who co-sponsors the project), this slim window display -- two feet by eight feet -- hosts a new exhibition every month. Curated by Joy Walker, this is exactly the type of thing one hopes that his or her city has in healthy supply: surprising and delightful displays of pubic art that are just hidden enough that stumbling across them feels as though it's a generous reward for exploring the world on foot.

Discussion

34 Comments

Gilbert / January 2, 2011 at 10:24 am
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Surprised that Silver Snail didn't make the cut.
bullring / January 2, 2011 at 10:56 am
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Not surprised that someone was surprised that something didn't make the list.
alan / January 2, 2011 at 11:09 am
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fashion crimes
poop truck replying to a comment from bullring / January 2, 2011 at 11:27 am
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This is the third Sonic Boom plug I've seen here.

Not a Flack / January 2, 2011 at 11:40 am
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Not surprised that 9 out of 10 "best of Toronto" entries are on or near Queen Street West.
CT / January 2, 2011 at 11:42 am
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Le Crapeau's windows on Queen West deserves mention for its nostalgic nod to holiday vinyl!
aidan / January 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm
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no silver snail?
do you not live in toronto?
dnr / January 2, 2011 at 01:11 pm
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Sonic Boom? Besides their over priced records and surly staff what's not to like? Oh yeah the window displays. I think prison inmates make those displays. I guess it's more fun then making licence plates.
just wondering / January 2, 2011 at 02:07 pm
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This is really bad guys, what was the criteria (had to be between university and roncesvalles on queen)????

Who rated this, somebody from Arthur who escaped for the day. And people wonder why toronto is not a world class city - pathetic.
Dennis Harvey / January 2, 2011 at 02:23 pm
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What the uck is a world class city anyways? Is there a list kept somewhere that gets updated every few years? Toronto is awesome. I have lived here pretty much my whole life except for when I left to try out other parts of Canada for a bit.

Guess what.

I came back because Toronto is awesome.

And yeah, lots of people like what's going on on Queen West right now because it is pretty cool. Doesn't mean other parts of the city aren't cool, because they really are, Queen West just sort of stands out at the moment.

Can't we all just agree that Toronto is a really great city and that's why we are all still living here?

If you don't like it, move somewhere you do like. Lots of people move to Toronto all the time because they don't like where they are from.
miles / January 2, 2011 at 03:24 pm
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silver snail
The Liquor / January 2, 2011 at 04:39 pm
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i too enjoy complaining about inconsequential bullshit.

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
Jeff Garcia / January 2, 2011 at 05:24 pm
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Roadside rules!!!!!
nate / January 2, 2011 at 07:12 pm
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So many haters on here as usual. Decent list.
Richard replying to a comment from just wondering / January 2, 2011 at 07:20 pm
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So Toronto is not a world-class city because a left-wing blog has different opinions than you do on what a great window display is? Cereally?
Shannon / January 2, 2011 at 07:53 pm
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derek why not have the commenter's submit photo's of their favourite windows to BLOGTO, and then choose the best. I bet you get more then just queen street, but a wide selection across toronto.
Scott M2 / January 2, 2011 at 08:20 pm
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Love to Roadside. By artists. For artists.
bob / January 2, 2011 at 08:53 pm
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How about you guys try making a list of great windows displays of stores in Scarborough, St. Clair, Etobicoke.

Yeah, didn't you could.
skeeter / January 2, 2011 at 09:02 pm
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if there's one thing i've learned from reading this blog, is that using the word "best" only creates discord. how does one come to the conclusion that a particular window display is the best? or this tree in parkdale is better than that tree in north york? is there a scientific method? it's a matter of personal taste. so therefore, why not use "BlogTO's Favourite Window Displays in Toronto" as the headline instead?
Stan Krzyzanowski / January 2, 2011 at 09:13 pm
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I love having Roadside in the neighbourhood!!
nippleholic / January 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm
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I personally think the best window display in Toronto is at MissBehav'n
Daniel replying to a comment from nippleholic / January 3, 2011 at 12:13 am
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I second that....only on saturdays though!!
Rob / January 3, 2011 at 12:20 am
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If you have better suggestions, create a blog and get to it. Or open a store and wow us all.

Not surprised that people are surprised and complainy on BlogTO.

This is a good list, regardless of whomever was omitted.
Adam replying to a comment from just wondering / January 3, 2011 at 12:30 am
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I like how people like you use the most insignificant things -such as a blog post about window displays- to argue that Toronto is not world class. Why don't you come back when you have an argument that isn't stupid and pointless.
Eric Turner / January 3, 2011 at 11:19 am
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As a display artist in the "golden age of Window diplsay" in the 60's (when budgets for windows seemed to be limitless..at Simpsons and Eatons at any rate..) i;m dismayed to see how low the art of window display has sunk. In those days you apprenticed and worked your way from junior display artist to senior displaymen and I was fortunate to have the guidance of great dispalymen like Victor Halsley and Bill Mackenzie at Eaton's College street and Billy Taylor at Simpson's...highly skilled artists and truly creative. I say thank god for the Visual presentation dept at Holt's for Keeping the grand tradition of window display alive.(a sad lose was when Creeed's closed..another brilliant display dept bit the dust..)In the on-going uglification of Toronto's dispaly window..I am a dinosaur from a better time..I get that so don't bother saying so..
yobro replying to a comment from Shannon / January 3, 2011 at 02:05 pm
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there was a poll to determine the list. you could have voted in it, and filled in the 'write-in' vote for whatever window you chose.
you could have voted!!
John Thai / January 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm
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This category is too broad.

I think Holt has fantastic windows but can't really be compared to the artwork on display at magic pony, nor the nerdy awesomeness at silver snail. Apples and oranges. Different objectives. And sonic boom's windows are impressive in scale, but are mostly a pickup from the album art. Same with soundscapes (and that's a really bad example of their windows). Mokuba is missing from this list. And probably the bay xmas displays.

Reading Eric Turner's response made me sad for this lost art.

Henry replying to a comment from Dennis Harvey / January 7, 2011 at 08:38 am
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Yes, there is a list of world class cities. Guess which two are considered top-tier, or Alpha ++ if you will, and we will likely never be one.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/node/373401?wpisrc=obinsite
and here
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/gawc/world2008c.html
Car / January 10, 2011 at 08:17 pm
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"pubic" art? hello, typo.
michelle / January 24, 2011 at 06:18 pm
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Close but no cigar!

I got terribly excited when I saw the Dufflet Pastries picture as I have been doing the window displays there for years. Oh well, glad to have (sort of) made your list!

My other work can be seen here:

www.flickr.com/michelledawnsmith/sets

Please feel free to tell me what you think!



Monica replying to a comment from michelle / April 17, 2011 at 01:18 pm
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So it's YOU doing all those wonderful windows at Dufflet Pastries!!!

Thank you for the above link. I checked it out...fantastic!!

Keep up the great work.
don maravi / June 9, 2011 at 06:02 pm
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SOS

Where is the Best Window Displays of seafood in Toronto?

Thanks.
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm
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Le Crapeau's windows on Queen West deserves mention for its nostalgic nod to holiday vinyl!
Carlton / January 7, 2014 at 11:49 pm
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Does your website have a contact page? I'm having a tough time locating it but, I'd like to send you an e-mail.

I've got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it grow
over time.

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