Queen Street West’s Urban Philosophers

“One must look west from University Avenue on Queen Street to capture the visual flavour of old downtown.” M. Kluchner, Toronto the Way It Was (Toronto: Whitecap Books, 1988)

“‘Arrogantly Shabby’ is the motto of Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. The same might apply to Toronto’s Queen Street West.” Robert Frazier, Atlanta, Georgia

“London England’s Carnaby Street is Britain’s Queen Street West. Pity they lack the real thing!”—The author


Photographs Displaying the Thoughts of Queen Street’s Urban Philosophers

   DSCN1794   DSCN1795

 Near Queen and Spadina                Graffiti Alley


                           On wall near Queen and Spadina


                             Wall near Queen and Simcoe streets 


Mayor Ford’s thought on streetcars ( painted on wall near Queen and Simcoe streets)


Thoughts about Queen Street West from the book “The Villages Within.”


Queen Street is perhaps the liveliest and most interesting street in the city, a destination for Torontonians and tourists alike, a Mecca of trendy restaurants, sidewalk cafes, bizarre shops, and exotic boutiques. Young people have voted the Black Bull’s patio the most popular outdoor drinking venue in the city.

Many visit Queen Street West simply to observe the eclectic mixture of people strolling along the crowded sidewalks, a few displaying unusual attire. Some believe that the outfits worn by the older tourists are even more outlandish.

The street is a place to connect with others. Sometimes a new friend is found or an old acquaintanceship renewed. Each spring the sweet scent of marijuana drifts lazily in the warm air. Bare flesh and body jewellery bloom in profusion, displayed on parts of the body that were well hidden during the winter months.

Adding to the street’s hip and cool image, one of the city’s most expensive eateries offers its clientele valet service to park their cars. By contrast, street people, who wear special outfits of their own, retrieve cigarette butts and beg spare coins as they hover in doorways or position themselves in favourite locations beside the curb or under a tree. They watch the affluent and young pass by sporting their trendy outfits, many of them clutching a container of specialty coffee or the odd hand-rolled joint. Few streets in the city exhibit such contrast.

When the brightness of the day fades to the soft light of evening, garish neon signs become more prominent. Well-worn doorways lead to stairs that ascend to the second-floor levels. The thumping beat from gigantic speakers intrudes into the night air like rhythmic tribal drums of a long-lost civilization. The sights and sounds lure the youthful crowd, enticing them to seek entrance to the pubs, bars, and restaurants. For some, the evening’s goal is to attend the ever-popular Rivoli, and listen to the music of a not-yet-famous group, or to experience a popular underground comedian. Not until the early hours of the morning will the party crowd depart the scene, and even then, they will likely seek an after-hours club or quasi-illegal booze can. There is the endless cycle of nightlife on Queen Street West that is unrivalled throughout the city.

However, during the daylight hours, the street displays another scene, one that few are aware of it, as they rarely raise their eyes above the ground-floor level of the buildings. The upper storeys are rich in architectural detail and history. Gables, pointed dormers, parapets, tall brick chimneys, and ornate cornices with dentils and modillions gaze down silently on a streetscape that is foreign to the time that created them.

The hip Queen Street scene of today resembles a movie set superimposed on an ancient background. However, the original nineteenth-century stage remains amazingly intact, although a visitor must ignore the numerous modern-day actors and props if they wish to discover the former days of this fascinating street. This is one of the few Victorian commercial streetscapes that remains in Toronto. The city has designated it a Heritage Preservation Area. To explore its architecture is to enter a doorway into the past.

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One thought on “Queen Street West’s Urban Philosophers

  1. A wonderful trip down ‘memory lane’! My early 20’s to late 30’s were spent in Queen West’s ‘Alternative’ scene’. From 1993-2000, you would have been be hard pressed to find a more “underground” place on earth. It truly was a haven for social oddities such as myself. Wish we could bring those days back, but gentrification eliminated it altogether. Elated I was able to enjoy it while I could.

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