Queen West 1990s

What Queen West looked like in the 1990s

You tend to hear a lot about what Queen West looked like back in the 1980s and '90s, before the furniture stores moved in and the iconic Big Bop closed. These memories tend to take familiar nostalgic form, idealizing some putative authenticity that has been lost to gentrification and redevelopment. And while there's some truth to such narratives, this tendency toward glorification likely paints an inaccurate picture of the place. Don't get me wrong, I wax nostalgic often enough about Toronto's lost grittiness — a process that's sanitized the city to a degree that's perhaps problematic — but there's a more complicated story than the one that surrounds questions of authenticity.

That's why I was so pleased to stumbled across this set of images of Queen West from the 1990s on the Toronto History Flickr page. Part of a larger exhibition of Toronto street photography running until May 2014 at the Archives, these photographs by Ivaan Kotlulsky, a jeweller who had a shop at 692 Queen Street West, reveal the characters who passed by his shop and offer a glimpse at the makeup of a street that's changed profoundly over the years.

Some of them depict folks down on their luck, while others hint at the changes to come, but they're all shot with a keen eye for the neighbourhood's residents and their experience of the street. These aren't about architectural documentation, as you might see more obviously in the work of Patrick Cummins (who incidentally is the curator of the exhibition), so much as the people who called the neighbourhood home. And there's a certain tenderness in the manner in which they're depicted that offers considerable insight in to the life of the street.

PHOTOS

Queen West 1990s

Queen and Bathurst, 1995

Queen West 1990s

Sign of the times, 1995

Queen West 1990s

Remember Black Ice? Queen and Markham Beer Store, 1998

Queen West 1990s

Queen and Markham, 1995

Queen West 1990s

Near Queen and Manning, 1995

Queen West 1990s

Lester Pawis outside the Red Indian Art Deco Antique Store, 1999

Queen West 1990s

High Life, Queen and Portland 1995

Queen West 1990s

Squeegee kid at Queen and Bathurst, 1996

Queen West 1990s

Squeegee crew at Queen and Bathurst, 1998

Queen West 1990s

Walking past Cabaret Nostalgia, 1996

Queen West 1990s

Hanging in a back alley, 1995

Photos from the Toronto Archives. To view additional photos, check out the complete set on the Toronto History Flickr page.


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