Edgewater Hotel

The Corner of Roncesvalles and Queen

There are few main streets in the city that still look the same as they did in the '70s, never mind after nearly a century, and against all odds Roncesvalles Ave. has preserved itself, while the rest of the city has been transformed. Take the postcard image above, printed by R. Fred Darke Photography of Berkeley St. in the early-to-mid-1970s, and taken at the spot where Roncesvalles begins, just after King St. West completes its final, graceful curve northward and ends at Queen.

This is how the corner looked when I moved to Parkdale over twenty years ago, with only minor changes - the improbably-named TEOEL Travel Bureau and its sign had gone, and a massive west-facing billboard had sprouted from the back of the Edgewater Hotel, which no longer offered the "nightly entertainment in fully licensed rooms" promised by the copy on the back of the postcard. The hotel had an abiding reputation for seediness, enhanced by the hookers who paid its hourly rates, squeezed eastward as the Lakeshore motel strip was being demolished piecemeal.

An antique dealer friend, a recovering alcoholic, described its fully licensed rooms as a "bucket of blood," having spent days and nights there in the '60s. The main floor bar had a final, brief return to life as a live music venue in the heyday of the grunge era, before the hotel was emptied and closed. These are the sorts of memories that are reviving themselves now, as I prepare to leave the neighbourhood and the renter's life for our first home, many blocks north of Parkdale/High Park West.

Buses still picked up passengers at the Sunnyside bus terminal next to the Edgewater when I moved into a Parkdale loft, back when The Simpsons debuted on the Tracey Ullman Show and Guns N' Roses released their first album. The terminal closed within a couple of years, and the building limped along as a dingy coffee shop for a few years before McDonald's took it over, then began using city regulations and inspectors in a proxy war with the Edgewater that saw the hotel shut down and taken over by Days Inn, who coated the whole building in beige stucco and closed the main floor bar.

Days in Toronto

The corner looks tidier today, if a bit less lively and infamous. The tangle of overhead wires has been reduced, but the Edgewater's iconic sign has become a victim of taggers, whose access to the hotel's roof has been made immeasurably easier by the billboard's pillars and struts. Everybody complained about the McDonald's, but its arrival was a turning point for the corner, and the Starbucks so fondly wished for by many locals would probably have prevented local fixture Easy from opening up for coffee, breakfast and brunch across the intersection.

The hotel and its neighbour have had a long - and occasionally difficult - relationship; the copy on the back of the '70s postcard brags about the convenience of the bus terminal next door, a last remnant of the heyday of bus travel, and when the Edgewater was what was known euphemistically as a "traveling salesman's hotel," implying a transient but occasionally loyal clientele for whom a good bar and a quick escape were amenities.

This is what that relationship looked like when it began, back in 1939, on the eve of World War Two, with the Edgewater still under construction. I was sent this picture years ago, by the son of the man who ran the B&G Coffee Shop and Milk Bar, back when the streamlined moderne bus terminal was new and the Sunnyside amusement park just across the street was thriving. The hotel and its neighbour will probably continue to live in each other's pockets, but for now at least, my own close relationship with the corner, and the street that begins there, is coming to an end.

B&G Coffee Shop

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