Toronto Through My Lens

Tag: SpadinaAve

Toronto Chinatown Festival 2023

On August 19 and 20 the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area hosted its 23rd annual Toronto Chinatown Festival on Spadina Avenue, running from Sullivan Street to College Street.

This year the Festival’s theme was Flaming Phoenix: Rebirth & Uprising, signifying the rebirth of our city after COVID-19. In Chinese mythology, the Phoenix is an immortal bird whose rare appearance is said to be an omen foretelling harmony at the ascent to the throne of a new emperor – the same might be applied to our city as we try to put COVID behind us.

Falun Dafa Parade

Making my way up Spadina Avenue to the Festival, I encountered a parade from the Falun Dafa practitioners. They were supporting the 417 million Chinese people who have withdrawn from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its youth organizations. The parade began at Clarence Park and wound through the streets of Chinatown. As far as I know, this parade was not connected with the Chinatown Festival in any way.

Toronto Chinatown Festival

Moving further north up Spadina Avenue I found the actual Festival. This year’s Festival seemed really scaled back to me and there didn’t seem to be that much of interest to photograph; regardless I found:

Lots of street food…

Plenty of jewellery and clothing vendors…



And various street stuff…

Moving out of the Festival area and further down Spadina Avenue, I encountered Saturday afternoon market shoppers:

And that was about it!

The El Mocambo

Hello everyone and welcome back after my TOcityscapes hiatus! If you’d like to see what I was up to while in Tuscany, Italy you will find my blog here.

This past weekend I attended Doors Open Toronto and visited a couple of venues. Of most interest to me was The El Mocambo on Spadina Avenue. As someone with a passionate interest in pop/rock music history, I’ve always wanted to see inside the “El Mo” to see what it’s like.

That famous Spadina Avenue palm tree

A Bit Of History

The venue has played a crucial role in the development of popular music in Toronto since 1948 – the place is Toronto music history personified!

Opening in 1948, the El Mocambo was one of the city’s first cocktail bars. The establishment’s name and iconic neon palm sign were inspired by a San Francisco nightclub. At that time, the main floor was converted into a dining hall with a dance floor on the second floor that featured Latin music. Live music was not permitted until July 1948 (imagine that!?), when the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario reversed an earlier ban.

Stairs leading up to the upstairs stage. These are the names of the many acts who performed at the club.
Leading up to the stage

Bring On The Rock n’ Roll!

The business and building were bought in 1972 by Michael Baird and restaurateur Tom Kristenbrun. Under the pair’s ownership, the “El Mo” became a youth-oriented blues and rock music venue. It brought bands like Downchild Blues Band (which became the club’s house band), as well as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and many others, “up the street” and paid them a regular fee to perform. During the early 1970s, the upstairs featured mostly “retreads” and “has-been” acts, with the occasional group on the rise. Most of the time, drink sales determined which bands would return. The bands would start out downstairs and if the revenue they generated increased, they would sometimes graduate to upstairs. Up and coming performers such as Tom Waits, U2 and Elvis Costello performed at the El Mo in the 1970s.

Debbie rocks out: From a Blondie concert at The El Mocambo, sometime in the late 70s

The Rolling Stones Surprise Gig

On March 4, 1977, looking for a low-key venue to record in, The Rolling Stones played two performances at the club. The second performance occurred the next night, March 5, 1977. The Stones billed themselves as “The Cockroaches”, and club patrons got the surprise of their lives when this band turned out to be the Rolling Stones. The live album of these Stones performances, entitled El Mocambo 1977, was released in 2022.

The stage and club floor, seen from above
Bird’s eye view of the stage
The upper balcony looking down at the stage
El Mocambo stage on the ground floor

Saved, Renovated, Rejuvenated

The club was expected to close after a last show on November 6, 2014. However, on the eve of its impending closure, it was announced that the club had been purchased for $3.8 million by Michael Wekerle, who arranged to renovate it and maintain it as a live music venue. Currently, the El Mocambo is open and operational after its 30 million dollar renovations to two stages, several different bars, a recording studio, private rooms, and dance floors. It looks terrific and has been beautifully restored, with a strong emphasis on the club’s past (and rightfully so).

Concert memorabilia
Ticket stubs from from concerts past
The lower level bar
The original booking schedules for acts. The logs showed who was booked, how much they were paid and how much tickets cost to attend the concert. For example, above, Blondie was booked for August 2 and 3, were paid $2,750 for the gig, and tickets were an outrageous $5.50 each!!
In the lobby: the original 1948 “Tavern” neon sign, plus an announcement of a concert by “The Cockroaches” (aka The Rolling Stones) during their surprise concerts here on March 4 and 5, 1977.
The original 1948 drinks menu – Wow!… drinks for .75 cents!

Artwork Off Camden Street

There is a small street in the Spadina Avenue/Richmond Street West area called Camden Street. While passing Camden Street this past weekend I noticed a flash of bright colour from a side alley there and decided I just had to explore further. What greeted me were some very colourful murals and artwork.

North Side

On the north side of Camden Street there is an unspectacular – actually rather dismal – parking lot. Here are the murals I found there (’tis a pity the tag vandals have damaged so many of them):

South Side

On the south side of Camden Street there is an unassuming, dark alley that displays some pretty impressive artwork. These cartoon-style murals remind of that Lichtenstein art that was so popular in the 80s.

The murals below were painted in 2006 by youth from the Cecil Harbourfront Community Centre as part of the City of Toronto’s Graffiti Transformation Project. These are seriously good:

In the same alley but not part of the City of Toronto’s Graffiti Transformation Project, are these pieces:

Frequently the best art can be found in the most unassuming places…. like this.

“Uniform, Measure, Stack”

At 438 Richmond Street West, on the northwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West, there is an intriguing bronze sculpture by artist Stephen Cruise. Created in 1997, the piece is entitled Uniform, Measure, Stack. The sculpture consists of a thimble, buttons and markings of a tape measure which wraps around the northwest corner of Richmond Street West and Spadina Avenue (please ignore the vandal tagging and snow on the artwork!).

The sculpture was created to commemorate the surrounding area of the city that was once the textile factory district. Even with the Toronto Eaton Centre just blocks away, this area once housed a majority of the textile factories that would produce products for the mega-distributor. As textile production moved out of the city, these factory spaces were re-purposed into artist studios. Now, the neighbourhood has transformed again and condo developments dominate the area.

The piece’s artist, Stephen Cruise, has this to say about his creation:

Spadina has an incredible history that goes back to when workers walked out of Eaton’s in 1905 I believe, on strike for better conditions. And they decided to reorganize themselves and they moved out and moved in and along Spadina Avenue.

So, I guess in thinking about some of the research, it did direct me to what it was that could make up the components of this sculpture. And that is to keep it very simple. And what making a garment is all about draws back to one’s hands. It’s… it’s not so much even the machine, it’s choosing the thimble and choosing the buttons and hand sewing. It’s something that would draw you back to more the personal aspect of it so – I tried to keep the tools as simple as possible and…

Unfortunately, I think, it was a beginning of a foothold for so many people who moved on and with the competitive nature and pressures from offshore it’s become next to impossible to be able to provide that opportunity. And as much as the street signs have the additional text to them, saying “fashion district,” in another short period of time it’s going to be just a memory. So the stacking of the buttons and placing the thimble atop it, trying to create some kind of setting with trees that would mature over time, there still was very much this thought that I was creating something as a memory. So it’s evidence of what once was a colourful past, but at the same time it’s what something once was.

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