Toronto Through My Lens

Category: New construction (Page 1 of 2)

Bloor Street United Church

Passing by the Bloor Street United Church at 300 Bloor Street West a couple of weeks ago, I was quite surprised by the renovation/demolition taking place there.

Located in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, the 19th century Neo-gothic structure is undergoing a major interior and exterior restoration and renovation that includes the redesign of 20,000 square feet of community and commercial office spaces. For the time being the congregation is worshipping with St. Matthew’s United Church at 729 St. Clair Avenue West.

The mixed-use project aims to add approximately 40,000 square feet of leaseable space which will support the congregation’s ongoing programs. The completion of the project will carry out the original mission of the church, providing a community space for gathering and worship.

A glimpse into the future

Respecting the heritage building, the commercial and residential program form a podium and a 29-storey-high tower – the Cielo Condos – that is set back from the church. The tower takes cues in geometry and materials from its neighbourhood. The brick fabric of the Annex is reflected along the accordion-like podium of the building and features panels of windows that connect residents to the city and neighbourhood. In contrast to the intricate detailing of the church, the tower’s minimal form and gold detailing complement the existing structure.

A Bit Of History

The church began as a Presbyterian congregation in 1887 to serve the rapidly growing population of then-northern Toronto, with the church building opening in 1890. In 1924, the church voted by a substantial majority to join the United Church. Three years later, a portion of the church was demolished when the city decided to widen Bloor Street.

The church grew in size in the 1940s and 1950s as an influx of immigrants arrived in the area. The congregation was so large that on several occasions, Massey Hall was rented to hold some services. It was decided to renovate the church in 1954. As it was nearing completion, however, a fire broke out and the church was badly damaged, with most of the sanctuary destroyed. Money was quickly raised to rebuild the church; in the interim the congregation met at nearby churches and U of T’s Convocation Hall.

Renovation Pics

Changes on Sherbourne Street

Up until a few years ago I would pass through the Sherbourne Street area near Bloor Street East twice per day, on my way to the subway. Not the most uplifting of ‘hoods, the area has traditionally been slightly down at heel. That has all been changing recently. This past weekend I went up Sherbourne Street, not having done so for quite a while, and was shocked by the recent changes on Sherbourne and neighbouring Howard Street.

Apartments and restaurants on Sherbourne Street demolished between Shoppers Drug Mart and Eggsmart restaurant

Howard Street

After years of neglect, the heritage building on the corner of Howard Street and Sherbourne Street finally gets some attention (and a new condo built above it):

Northeast corner of Howard Street and Sherbourne Street
Northeast corner of Howard Street and Sherbourne Street
Northeast corner of Howard Street and Sherbourne Street
Future Demolition, North Side of Howard Street
Behind the Eggsmart restaurant on the corner of Sherbourne and Howard Streets
Future Demolition
North side of Howard Street, east side of Eggsmart restaurant
Beside the stores on Howard Street, looking over to Sherbourne Street
Looking east down Howard Street. New construction on the left and new condo ahead left (corner of Howard & Parliament Streets)
Will they stay or go?
A couple of remaining shops on the north side of Howard Street beside the construction site
Will they stay or fall to the wrecking ball?
Remaining shops on the south side of Howard Street

Glen Road

I shot these while heading to the subway via the wonderful little street known as Glen Road. I’ve always loved Glen Road; so much character – to me it has an almost-Brooklyn look and feel. It’s a huge bonus that the once-derelict period houses on the west side of the street were recently renovated and revitalized:

Glen Road Apartments
Glen Road Apartments
This side of the street was once derelict and abandoned…
…now beautifully restored
Beautifully restored
Subway entrance at the end of Glen Road
Time to go underground for a while

Sherbourne Street continues to change and gentrify. Over the last few years several upscale condos have gone up near the corner of Bloor Street East, making the area a little more desirable than it was a couple of years ago.

A Walk Up & Down Avenue Road

It was a crisp fall day when I started my Avenue Road photowalk at Bloor Street West. I made my way up Avenue Road, reached Dupont Street, then returned south until I hit University Avenue and Dundas Street West. Here’s a little of what I encountered along the way.

The Prince Arthur Condo
38 Avenue Road
The Prince Arthur Condo, 38 Avenue Road
I’ve always loved this entryway – so elegant, dramatic
New Condo Construction: 183 Avenue Road
Construction on the northeast corner of Avenue Road and Pears Avenue in Yorkville. This is a proposed 10-storey mixed-use condominium building designed by BBB Architects for K P Isberg.
Hazelton Lanes Residences
55A Avenue Road
Galerie de Bellefeuille
87 Avenue Road
Future Site of “The Webley”
121 Avenue Road
Bike Memorial For Adam Excell
On the corner of Avenue Road and Davenport Road. Adam Excell was riding his bike on Avenue Road, near Davenport Road on June 13, 2015, when he was struck and killed by a car that did not remain at the scene.
David Drebin Mural
On the northwest corner of Avenue Road and Davenport Road. David Drebin is a Toronto-born professional photographer.
David Drebin Mural & “Super Convenience”
Northwest corner of Davenport Road and Avenue Road
The Hare Krishna Temple
The Hare Krishna Temple is located at 243 Avenue Road. The building is the former home of Avenue Road Church. It was built in 1899 and was originally the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. The building was designed by Toronto architects Gordon & Helliwell.
The Church of the Messiah
240 Avenue Road. This Anglican church was founded on March 24, 1891 by members of the Church of the Redeemer further south on Avenue Road. The building, and the rectory next door, were designed by Gordon & Helliwell, the same architects who designed what is now the Hare Krishna Temple across the street.
Fall Leaves
Somewhere on Avenue Road
Mural Outside Havana Coffee Bar
233 Davenport Road, southwest corner of Davenport Road and Avenue Road
Flower Markets
Avenue Road, south of Davenport
Giant Ring
Outside Louro & Sons Jewellers, 104 Avenue Road
These cast bronze figures are entitled “Mixer” by sculptor An Te Liu, a Taiwanese-Canadian artist living and working in Toronto. “Mixer” envisions its installation as a stage inhabited by a pair of cast bronze figures engaged in dialogue with passersby, hotel visitors, and each other. Bold and distinctive in silhouette and richly finished in a lustrous deep gold patina, the sculptural ensemble forms a vivid and iconic tableau establishing the Park Hyatt as a singular destination. As a public artwork, “Mixer” is monumental in scale – visible from afar and instantly recognizable. Open and intimate, the work invites visitors to experience the artwork fully and in the round. People become a critical part of the scenography, which unfolds within the architectural proscenium and extends out into the city.

“Mixer” finds shape and expression in the rich history of Park Hyatt Toronto, merging classical figurative allusions with industrial, artisanal, and organic forms culled from glassware, vessels, and couture. The forms also stem from a reinterpretation of the artistic legacy of Henry Moore, a seminal figure in the history of the modern era in Toronto. “Mixer” captures the allure of social encounters and celebrates imbibing in all the senses. They form a continuity between the illustrious past of Park Hyatt Toronto and its present renaissance as an exemplar of elegance and luxury. An Te Liu’s inspiration for this work comes more specifically from an archival photograph of the Park Hyatt Rooftop Lounge, commonly known as “The Rooftop bar at Park Plaza,” years ago. An Te Liu would visit during his years as a student at the University of Toronto – understanding its’ social significance as a landmark in the city. Park Hyatt Toronto invites visitors to experience the artwork in the round, as this ensemble of works seems like an encounter or conversation. The hotel program inspired this meaningful concept as a place of social convergence, where friends and strangers cross
Lillian Massey Building
Building used by University of Toronto, 125 Queen’s Park
“Freedom Fighters”
Queen’s Park
“Freedom Fighters”
Queen’s Park
Fall Leaves
Queen’s Park
Al Purdy Statue, Queens’ Park
Al Purdy was a 20th-century Canadian free verse poet. Purdy’s writing career spanned 56 years. His works include 39 books of poetry; a novel; two volumes of memoirs and four books of correspondence, in addition to his posthumous works. He has been called the nation’s “unofficial poet laureate” and “a national poet in a way that you only find occasionally in the life of a culture.”
Iranian Demonstration
There was an Iranian demonstration happening that day at Queen’s Park, and this guy was ripping up and down Queen’s Park and University Avenue with his balloons and flag
U of T’s Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre
112 College Street, at University Avenue
“Happy Lunar New Year”
Canada Post box at University Avenue and Dundas Street West
The United Building
481 University Avenue. On the corner of University Avenue and Edward Street. Converting into luxury condos.
The United Building
481 University Avenue. On the corner of University Avenue and Edward Street. Converting into luxury condos.

“Meet Me Under The Clock”

While running errands last weekend, I passed through the construction hoarding of the massive conversion/construction project in which the historic St. Charles Tavern building, on Yonge Street above College, is being integrated into a new highrise residence. On the hoarding were historic pictures of the Tavern’s events from years past, accompanied by relevant text. I was suddenly struck by the thought, Hey, this would make for a great blog post… so that’s what I did. Being that it’s currently Halloween also injected a shot of inspiration.

Early Days

Ah, the St. Charles building and clock tower… what a history.

The clock tower, located at 488 Yonge Street above College Street, was built in 1870, and was Toronto Fire Hall No. 3 for many years. I read somewhere that the tower was purpose-built so that the fire department could store the fire hoses in the height of the tower.

Starting in the 1920s the tower/building was turned into retail spaces. Apparently there was everything from bicycle shops and car dealerships to an art gallery, which was damaged by fire during the Second World War. With its new identity as a restaurant/club/lounge, the St. Charles Tavern opened in 1951, serving Chinese-Canadian fare. The old Fire Hall’s surviving brass rail and tower were a central component of its marketing campaign: “Meet me under the clock!”.

The St. Charles’ gay roots start to show… “Call Me Miss-ter”, indeed.

Gay History Begins

By the early 1960s, the St. Charles Tavern became known as a gay bar – and this is where the real interesting history starts! Any Torontonian knowing even a small bit of our city’s gay history has heard about the infamous St. Charles Tavern and what used to transpire there.

For many years the St. Charles Tavern was the starting point for the drag queen promenade. The Halloween drag shows that happened there during the 1960s and 1970s are stuff of legend. Unfortunately, so much violence accompanied it.

At that point in history it was illegal to wear clothes of the opposite sex in public; potential harassment and arrest would frequently follow. The only day of the year that opposite-sex clothing was permitted to be worn in public was Halloween, hence the massive crowds at the St. Charles Tavern on that special night of the year.

But, oh the violence of the time…

The gay-haters lined up by the hundreds (and later, the thousands) to jeer and heckle the drag queens (some deposited from limousines) as they arrived at the St. Charles. Rotten eggs, hatred, taunts and threats of physical violence flew in abundance.

A Toronto Star article from November 1, 1971 reported that an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 onlookers, many of them hostile, had turned out Halloween night to participate in the spectacle that year. Police blocked off the street, and “only admitted and obvious homosexuals were allowed through police lines.”

“Hey, eggs don’t hurt as much as bricks do”

Local police officer

In 1977, Toronto mayor David Crombie ordered police to intervene and provide protection to the gay community accessing the tavern on Halloween. That year, the crowd was estimated at 8,000 strong. As the crowd threw eggs, one police officer remarked to a reporter, “Hey, eggs don’t hurt as much as bricks do”. Local businesses participated in keeping the gay community safe. The Westbury Hotel, across the street from the St. Charles, closed 120 rooms facing Yonge Street to prevent attacks from above.

“On October 31, 1979, despite promises to control and disperse the crowd, police failed to prevent a violent, homophobic mob from gathering on Halloween evening on Yonge Street in front of the St. Charles Tavern. Almost 2,000 people gathered on the street, throwing eggs and chanting “Kill the queers.” The Yonge Street entrance to the bar was actually closed; patrons entered by the back alley door, which was heavily guarded by police. At least 103 people in the mob were arrested, most of whom were charged with breach of the peace. A volunteer gay defence patrol, Operation Jack O’Lantern, spent the evening escorting gays and lesbians through the neighbourhood, and became involved in at least one altercation.”1

Photos From Back In The Day

As a gay man living happily in the 2020s enjoying the current full rights and privileges I take for granted in our Canadian society, the photos below enrage and disgust me. WHY was this allowed to happen?!! HOW could this happen?!! It’s utterly mind-blowing to me. Had this been any other marginalized racial or religious group, you know damn well this blatant hatred and hostility would never have been allowed to occur. “Kill the queers!!” seemed to be the mantra of the time. Shameful… utterly shameful.

OK, rant finished now… on to the photos.

The haters and gawkers wait for more drag queens to arrive. At least there’s police presence.
Crowds gather outside the St. Charles to jeer and taunt the arriving patrons
And yes, this was the intellectual level of the haters and bashers who cruised Yonge Street. yelling “Kill the queers!!”
A brave drag queen fights back after being pelted head to toe with eggs
Nice welcoming Committee
At least she’s getting police protection!
The haters wait for the drag queens to arrive
One against many

Halloween at the St. Charles Tavern: A Video

Moving On…

In the 1970s, the St. Charles became outdated. The tower was designated a heritage property in 1974, however, and given a restoration treatment in the mid-1990s.

The St. Charles would gradually evolve into less of a draw for the gay community. Compared to the friendlier, gay-owned establishments popping up a few blocks over (i.e. Church & Wellesley), the bar became notorious for petty crimes, drug deals and the sex trade. The Tavern’s notoriety hit its peak after the disappearance and murders of a few patrons — brutal attacks that remain unsolved and from which the bar never fully recovered. It closed in 1987.

The final decades of the St. Charles were unceremonious. Various retail shops filled the ground floor, with dance clubs like Empire and Circus occupying the upper level until the late ’90s. The space would eventually be converted to rental apartments, but the building was emptied in late 2018 when demolition began in earnest for the new highrise that was to come.

Fast Forward…

The St. Charles is now being integrated into a building called Immix, which will be a luxury apartment (rentals) complex.

I took these shots on June 23, 2018. The entirety of the 19th-century Fire Hall tower that once stretched above the St. Charles Tavern will be incorporated into the new structure.

A Few Years Later…

I took these shots on October 14, 2022. The tower looks like it’s being consumed by the high-rise behind it. Completion can’t be far away. I do like the nod to its gay past, though, with the rainbow spire at the top of the clock tower.

What a building, what a history…


Historic photos courtesy of The Arquives (Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives)
Parts of historic text courtesy of The Toronto Star
1LGLC (Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada) website

Construction In Progress

One Bloor Street West slowly rises

This condo project is named The One, which is a nod to its address at 1 Bloor Street West. When completed, the tower will stand 85 floors high and be the absolute last word in luxury downtown living.

If you’d like to dream a bit and see how the other half lives, check out the developer’s website.

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