Cameron House in the summer of 2012

The Cameron House at 408 Queen West, on the corner at Cameron Street, is considered a veritable institutions in Toronto, an integral part of the Queen West scene. The pub and music venue is inside a red-brick 19th-century building that was cleaned and restored several years ago. The gigantic ornamental ants, so familiar to those who visit the pub or simply stroll along Queen Street, still crawl over the facades of the building. The lounge at the front of the building is bustling with activity most nights, as musical performers and visual artists entertain those who pack the room. There is also a back room that presents cabaret-style theatre. It is a cozy space that in in the past has been one of the venues for the “Summerworks Festival.” I have attended several productions there and appreciated the intimacy of the space, as I was in such close proximity to the actors. When departing the theatre, I was amazed at the number of patrons that crowded the front room, enjoying the music while engaging in animated conversations.   

The Cameron has been associated with many well-known artists, including the Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Jane Biberry, Fifth Column, and the Golden Dogs. For artists who were in the early stages of their career, the Cameron House sometimes provided free accommodation in exchange for the artists performing in the pub.

Today, it is difficult to imagine Queen Street when the building housing today’s Cameron House was constructed in 1880.  It was the eastern portion of a pair of attached structures, and in 1880, the other half of the building remained under construction. The land to the immediate west of the buildings was a vacant field. In 1881, Angus Cameron moved into 408 Queen and opened a dry goods store. The other half of the building remained unoccupied. Cameron lived above the shop. His mother lived around the corner, in one of the houses on Cameron Street, which now bears the family name.

About the year 1888, the shop became the “Ryan and Sullivan Tailor Shop.” In 1890, the store was vacant, but the following year, E. Hodd moved in and opened a “furnishings shop.” In 1895, the structure became the “John Burns Hotel.” In 1896, it became the “Cameron House.”

My information is based on the Toronto Directories at the Toronto Reference Library.


The above photos is of the south facade of the Cameron House. It was taken on 17 April 2013. A new mural has been painted on its south facade. The southeast corner at the top of the building, on the fourth floor, has a distinctive rounded faux-tower. The ornamental termites are visible on the facade.


This is the mural that was on the south facade of the Cameron House in the summer of 2012.


The new mural on the Cameron House. It is signed in the upper right-hand corner, “Abrams.” Photo taken April 17, 2013.


Close-up view of one of the 10 giant ants on the facade of the Cameron House. These sculptures are the work of the artist Napoleon Brousseau (www.napob.com), who was commissioned to create them in 1984. They were originally red in colour, but were changed to white on 2009 for Nuit Blanche.


The east facade of the Cameron House on Cameron Street. (Photo July 2012). It can be seen that at some point, an extension was added to the rear of the original structure to enlarge the capacity of the hotel.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern


Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)


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One thought on “Toronto’s architectural gems—Cameron House on Queen Street West

  1. The sculptures are NOT TERMITES. They are 10 ants created by artist Napoleon Brousseau http://www.napob.com in 1984. He lived at the Cameron for ten years in the 80’s and was asked to make them by the owners Paul Sanella and Herb Tookey. He refurbished and replaced the original red ants with new white ones at Nuit Blanche in 2009. The present Cameron 10 ants has a Queen wearing a crown. Napoleon also has a plaque by the front door of the Cameron now alerting viewers that they are and always have been his creation although others have attempted to claim them.
    Napoleon also was commissioned to create 3 ants for the This is Paradise Show at the Mocca on Queen West in 2011. These have just recently been taken down as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art is moving.
    I would appreciate the artist be attributed properly. Thanks

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