What Mirvish Village looked like in Toronto before it was demolished and gone forever
Mirvish Village once took up a small stretch of Markham Street adjacent to the iconic Honest Ed’s building.
A row of businesses, bars, restaurants and artist studios once sat in the shadow of the discount store’s bright marquee lights.
On February 1, 2017, the entire street was boarded up.
All of the tenants were forced to move out to make way for the development replacing Honest Ed’s and the surrounding area at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor.
Ed Mirvish bought up most of Markham Street in the early 1960s and later in the decade, it became an artist’s colony; even Anne Mirvish had a studio on the street.
In 2016, it was still home to studios as well as an eclectic mix of shops.
Darrel Dorsk started visiting Markham Street when he moved to Toronto from California in 1974. Like many, he would head to David Mirvish Books to buy the Sunday edition of the New York Times.
Back then it cost 25 cents; he was a regular customer until the store closed in 2009. By then, the paper was $7.50.
Dorsk ran The Green Iguana Glassworks at 589 Markham St. He had been in the same spot since 1981 and filled the storefront with his handmade frames, glass baubles and a variety of prints and pictures. “It’s very messy in here, but hopefully people find it interesting,” he told be during this final few months in the space.
Neighbours referred to Dorsk as the mayor of Mirvish Village and he had plenty to say about his time on the street back then.
"I like to tell people I’ve been suffering from an obscure medical syndrome working on Markham Street and the acronym is TMF. It stands for too much fun.”
Dorsk got his start in the 1970s selling stained glass boxes, which he made with his girlfriend at the time. His zoology degree from Berkeley hung in his store and he noted he once wanted to be a veterinarian – that’s why there are so many natural history prints on his wall.
He was sad to be leaving Markham Street but moved his business into a building he bought at 948 Bloor Street West.
His neighbour Julia ran the vintage-inspired lingerie store Gigi’s House of Frills next door. She was a newbie on the street but has found a place in the Mirvish Village community. The street was a starting point for lots of local businesses thanks to its cheap rent.
For her, finding a new location had been difficult, but she planned to share a space with a vintage clothing store when she moved out at the end of January 2017.
Scott Cramer from Neurotica was late to solidifying his post-January plans. He ended up relocating his vinyl shop to Little Italy. While he'd only been on Markham Street for a couple of years, he said leaving it was bittersweet. And he was no stranger to moving around.
“I was at three different places on Queen Street and I’ve never been in a community with my shop like this,” he said at the time, noting that the Markham Street community was a tight one. “It's pretty remarkable.”
Although over the years, customers had been persistently asking him what would happen with the neighbourhood and his business. "It's become frustrating," he said at the time. “I almost got t-shirts made up just that said, ‘I don't know.'"
He didn't know at the time, but the Vancouver-based developer Westbank revealed its plans for Mirvish Village back in 2016 and they included multiple high and low rise buildings with rental units and a pedestrian-only zone along Markham Street.
To many, this sounded better than condos, however, it’ll never replace what came before it.
Catherine Carroll who ran Black Rock Studios was painting hexagonal tiles when she reflected on her time working on Markham Street. She knew Mirvish Village was private property but wasn't happy her community was being dismantled.
“They’re displacing a community,” she said back in 2016. She'd been looking for a new space and even considered moving to Hamilton where rents were cheaper – she wasn't ready to leave Toronto quite yet.
Charlotte Hall, who ran an art gallery, moved out of her space in early November 2016. Her fondest memories of the street involved sitting on her front steps and chatting about art and politics with her neighbours over coffee.
She told me that the local residents association planned a New Orleans-style Second Line party to celebrate the life and death of Honest Ed's and Mirvish Village.
The Depanneur’s Len Senater approached Butler's Pantry's Atique Azad about the project.
"I basically said to him, what do you want to do? Do you want to sell your last couple of sandwiches and just die this slow painful death? Or do you want to go out in a Thelma and Louise blaze of glory and turn your restaurant into a Syrian refugee pop-up for the last few months of your lease?"
There was also a massive party at Honest Ed’s in February 2017. And while many found it hard to imagine the end was coming, the construction eventually arrived.
"They [couldn't] believe it because this [was] such a beautiful street" said Cramer. "I mean, there [was] nothing like it in Toronto."
This article has been modified from its original version published on November 27, 2016.
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