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Toronto Club District

What does the future look like for the Club District?

Posted by Luke Champion / September 13, 2010

Toronto Club DistrictWhen CiRCA shut its doors earlier this year, the writing was already on the wall. Just a few years prior, big box nightclubs were ubiquitous along the Richmond street corridor, drawing the equivalent of a small city to the area every week. But a combination of bad press, pressure from city council and competition from burgeoning hot spots like Parkdale and Ossington, forced many of the mega clubs to close their doors, shifting the region once again toward new frontiers.

Historically, the area was a manufacturing district and 126 John Street - CiRCA's home - was no different. The building originally housed John Burns Carriage Manufacturers around the turn of the century, but the introduction of the automobile changed that. Then came Turnbull Elevator Manufacturing, then later on, industrial machinery. By the late eighties the neighbourhood's legacy had already been entrenched, but with the arrival of free trade everything changed.

Councillor Adam Vaughan has been living and working in the area for the better part of 20 years, first as a journalist and now as the neighbourhood's representative at City Hall. He recalls three different avenues that sprung from the demise of the manufacturing base. There was new residential space, new office space and of course, the nightlife.

The first two have always been there to some extent; old Victorian houses line the streets, many converted into offices themselves. It was the nightlife however, fueled by the emerging rave culture and underground party scene, that exploded and at the time, the city reluctantly played along.

"It was an area in transition," Vaughan says. "[The City] decided that they would allow the area to find it's own way and there would be no restrictions on liquor licenses. So the Entertainment District grew out of what effectively at the time, were a lot of speakeasies."

But as the area grew in popularity, corporate culture inevitably caught on, which gave birth to modern clubland and an oversaturation of the area and all the negative side effects - violence, noise, etc. - that go along with it. And while Vaughan has been paramount - and very vocal - in the area's most recent shift away from it's nightlife, he insists he's not anti-fun, or even anti-club.

"You know, I haven't banned dancing," he says. " We probably get an application every four of five weeks, and we're still licensing them. What we're finding is legitimate owners, ones that are interested in making a contribution to the neighbourhood not only get approval...but they tie into this amazing vitality in the neighbourhood as well."

Still, the reality is, it has become a lot more difficult to run a nightclub in clubland than it used to be. The neighbourhood was already in decline when New York club tycoon - and Cornwall, Ont. native - Peter Gatien arrived to open CiRCA. CiRCA should have been the boost needed to catapult Richmond Street back into the limelight and for a time it worked. The 55,000 square foot space received rave reviews, but even that was not enough - and the building is empty once again.

Entertainment District Toronto"The Entertainment District is winding down a bit," says Vaughan. "Largely as a result of policing the area, but it can be equally attributed to the fact that when people go out to party they don't want to do it with 6,000 people. Walmart style cultural venues just aren't cool anymore."

So what happens to the neighbourhood when the clubs leave?

Well, there are those condos that keep springing up. But a monoculture of condos isn't much better than a monoculture of clubs, so the buzzword here is "mixed-use." Vaughan's plan involves transforming John Street into a cultural corridor, a "high-tech, digital Kensington Market" he says. The base is already there, the street is within the vicinity of the CBC, the National Film Board, CTV, OCAD, the AGO and most recently - Bell Lightbox.

The plan already has $10 million set aside in city accounts and will run from the Grange all the way down to the waterfront, improving on the streetscape, adding pedestrian plazas and putting a priority on public art.

It all sounds great, but is it realistic? With some of the heavy weights listed above on board it's certainly doable, but who knows? It seems the area is finally growing up though, and at roughly 20 years in, it's seems appropriately timed.

This post concludes our special 13 part series on the Toronto Club District. All articles in this series can be found in the Toronto Club District section. A handy link to the individual articles is also included below.

How Inside Nightclub became a daycare
Toronto's Soup King to expand to Leslieville, Yonge and Sheppard
Inside a Victorian Era house in Toronto's Club District
The history of a downtown Toronto youth hostel
Charles Khabouth unveils Bisha, his new boutique hotel
A gaming hub thrives at 364 Richmond St.
More nightclubs to disappear from Clubland under proposed/condo hotel development
Sold! 140 year old house on Peter St. in the Club District
The last days of a Club District psychic
Where restaurants go to die in the Club District
Clubland originals mingle with nightclubs on Adelaide
The evolution of 81 Peter St. in the Club District



bill / September 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm
good ridence! clubs have no business in growing communities. plus when a couple of rich jewish kids get killed buying crack cocaine the party is over.
Richard / September 13, 2010 at 01:17 pm
What's with all the comments about Jewish people on BlogTO lately?

Anyways, we must mourn the closing of these clubs. No longer can a bunch of girls pretend to be slutty while in a club (but really be as closed and cold as can be once they're no longer within sight of someone's camera lens) while guys fork over $100s for 6 ounces of drinks to grind girls and hit on people's girlfriends.
Dave Z / September 13, 2010 at 01:26 pm
"The building originally housed John Burns Carriage Manufacturers around the turn of the century"

We just turned a century ten years ago. The turn of the last century you mean? It's funny these colloquial anachronisms that are still going around. Don't mean to nitpick, and yes, I understood what you meant.

Good read.
RKMK / September 13, 2010 at 02:48 pm
"No longer can a bunch of girls pretend to be slutty while in a club (but really be as closed and cold as can be once they're no longer within sight of someone's camera lens)"

SO much to deconstruct there, but maybe they didn't want to have sex with you because they could sense how much you actually hate them? Therapy, dude. Seek it.
Matthew Fabb / September 13, 2010 at 03:09 pm
As someone living in Mississauga, I can't help but have noticed a number of night clubs that have popped up over the last few years in Mississauga. I wonder how many other suburban clubs exists and if that's been apart of the drop in downtown TO. Why travel back and forth to downtown Toronto, if there's local clubs to visit, which themselves become more commercially viable as the suburbs reach a population density.
jen / September 13, 2010 at 05:43 pm
Were the tiny Parkdale/Ossington bars really competition for Circa? I'd never seen a club that big in Toronto before...surely it needed thousands of attendees every night to turn a profit. Toronto's not New York, our population just can't support a club that size, IMO. Still, I really enjoyed Randomland so RIP.
bullring / September 13, 2010 at 07:50 pm
Let the 905 trash set up clubs outside of the city, say, Etibikocke or whatever the hell it's called.
JoeParez replying to a comment from bullring / September 13, 2010 at 08:13 pm
nate / September 14, 2010 at 01:33 am
I've enjoyed reading these articles. I appreciate the work that's gone into the series. Thank you for the effort.

As a downtown resident, I have found it fascinating to watch this area evolve over time. It's clear that people have many different, strongly felt perspectives on whether the direction is positive or not.

I don't know if these articles get a lot of hits for the blog, but I do hope to see future series with this type of focus and approach. Delving into the historical context of the individual buildings definitely lends insight into our consideration and assessment of future possible uses.
piccola / September 14, 2010 at 09:46 am
So, anti-semitism, mysogyny and xenophobia in less than 10 comments. Must be a new record.
RaVaH Grrrrlllz replying to a comment from Matthew Fabb / September 14, 2010 at 11:00 am
You can't compare Body English to Circa. Sorry dude.
wayne / September 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm
that comment wasn't anti-semitic. the two teenagers driving daddy's range rover were jewish and were buying drugs and were killed. that's a fact! so go cry holocaust...holocaust somewhere else. geez.
K0 / September 15, 2010 at 03:41 pm
@ wayne & bill... are you talking about Dylan Ellis & Oliver Martin? Where was it ever reported that they were buying drugs?
Trev replying to a comment from bill / September 19, 2010 at 09:41 pm
except the clubs were there before the condos. just like the meat packer was there on niagara long before the condos

just sayin'
Wayne Is an Idiot replying to a comment from wayne / September 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm
There was never any report of them buying drugs. I suggest you do your research before spewing lies and calling them facts...
Wayne=Dummy replying to a comment from wayne / September 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm
There was never anything reported about drugs in that case. Before you start spewing lies and calling them facts make sure you have you "facts" straight...
Warren / November 16, 2010 at 12:30 am
If Charles owned circa it would not be in business

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