Queen Street West
If there’s one neighbourhood in Toronto that’s inextricably linked to the city’s arts scene, it’s Queen Street West. From its birth in the heyday of 70s punk, the Queen West arts scene has continued to incubate a seemingly endless stream of musicians, artists, performers, designers, clubs and galleries.
Today, Queen Street retains its distinctive underground sensibility, but it’s also been complemented by some upscale residential and business additions, as condo developments, designer stores and tech companies have added a mix of young professionals to the street’s idiosyncratic existence.
A summer afternoon on the patio of a local bar like the Black Bull might best sum up the Queen West vibe, as bikers, artists, bankers, techies and hipsters all share beers while a variety of nearby clubs prepare for the evening performances and excited kids wait eagerly for a chance to watch a celebrity at the famed MuchMusic headquarters across the street.
Queen Street West begins at Yonge Street on the east and runs as far west as Roncesvalles and the Queensway. While there’s debate over where the “Queen West” neighbourhood ends and the “West Queen West” neighbourhood begins, most residents are content to just enjoy Toronto’s main creative artery. That trip west from Yonge takes Queen from the Eaton Centre to City Hall at Bay through historic clubs, the fashion district and the art and design district. Overall, 300 galleries, design houses, shops, restaurants and boutique hotels now line the street. A streetcar trip along the entire Queen Street strip, east to west, is a must for anybody interested in seeing the full variety of Toronto laid out before them.
History and Social Profile
Since the original survey in 1793 by Sir Alexander Aitkin, commissioned by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Queen Street has had many names. The first lots laid out in the new city of York (renamed Toronto in 1834) were given to loyal officials willing to give up the amenities of modern cities such as Kingston to live in what was then a forest. These 40-hectare lots were placed along the south side of the first east–west road laid in York, which became known as Lot Street. In 1837, Lot Street was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.
Since then, Queen West has been home to a shifting cast of residents, following the historic patterns of Canadian immigration. In the mid-19th century, the area around Queen and Bathurst was known as Claretown, home to many Irish immigrants. From about 1890 to 1930, the area between Yonge and University was home to many Jewish immigrants. Queen has also housed the city’s first Chinatown in the mid-1930s (Chinatown today is found just minutes north of Queen along Spadina Avenue), and has been the core of the city’s Polish, Ukranian and Portuguese communities.
In the 1960s, a number of music clubs established themselves along Queen, and when punk hit in the late ’70s, the area around Queen and Spadina was ground zero, helped by the nearby presence of the Ontario College and Art and Design. Clubs like the Horseshoe and the infamous Crash ‘n’ Burn helped put bands like the Diodes, Teenage Head and the Viletones on the map. Through the ’80s and ’90s, clubs like the Horseshoe, the Rivoli and the Cameron — all still thriving today — helped launch bands like the Cowboy Junkies and Blue Rodeo. Today, bands like Broken Social Scene and Metric continue to get their start in those clubs, as well as in more underground clubs like the Bovine Sex Club.
MuchMusic — Canada’s groundbreaking music television station — continues to inhabit its iconic headquarters at 299 Queen West. Further west along Queen, the city’s leading music stores — Rotate This and Soundscapes — can be found, as can one of Toronto’s leading repertory cinemas, The Royal.
Between Spadina and the beautiful Trinity-Bellwoods Park lies Toronto’s Fashion District, home not only to number of leading designers, but to numerous stores specializing in both vintage and fresh off the runway couture. Running further west is the city’s Art and Design District, a hotspot of galleries (including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), nightclubs and hip bars, especially around Ossington Avenue. Around Dufferin, at the beginning of the Parkdale neighbourhood, the district culminates in the Gladstone Hotel, which has become the centre of Toronto’s underground music and arts scenes.
- Gandhi Cuisine
- Banh Mi Boys
- La Palette
- 416 Snack Bar
- Arepa Café
Restaurants located on Queen Street West are heavily influenced by its art and hip culture. Here, you will find not only a number of the city’s best and most cutting-edge establishments, but also some of the best greasy spoon restaurants and good eats at inexpensive prices Toronto has to offer.
- Queen Street Subway Station
- Osgoode Subway Station
- Queen Streetcar
- Spadina Streetcar
- Bathurst Streetcar
- Ossington Bus
Queen Street West can be accessed by from the Osgoode subway station (at University Avenue) or the Queen Street West subway station (at Yonge Street). You can also take the TTC street car; the 501 Queen streetcars remains one of the TTC’s busiest and longest streetcar routes; it runs every six minutes in each direction (traffic permitting). Streetcars or buses also run north along Spadina, Bathurst and Ossington to the Bloor-Spadina subway line.