On September 6, 2015, Toronto opened its streets for the second time this year for Open Streets TO. Last time, I walked the dynamic Yonge Street, noting the history and influence of Eaton’s on the strip. On this day, I decide to tackle the other main street: Bloor.
In the course of walking this 3km stretch, I came to the curious realization that I’m actually walking three Bloors: the Mink Mile upscale shopping district, the museum/UofT/Annex row, and the smaller shop and bar section within the Koreatown BIA.
I suppose there could be a fourth if I include Bloor east of Yonge: the neglected, forgotten Bloor. (Seriously, I have no idea what’s there.)
Yonge and Bloor is changing. It’s had a long history, beginning as the gateway into the Village of Yorkville and continuing to be reinvented today. Its southern corners will eventually host two massive towers – one that’s well far along and the other that’s just a plot for now (formerly occupied by the fallen Stollery’s building). When
One Bloor East Number One Bloor and The One are completed, they will be imposing gatekeepers.
The Mink Mile lines both sides of the street from Bloor to Avenue. There’s nothing modest about the size of its storefronts – and for good reason. It’s the most prestigious commercial real estate in the city and country. It’s an exclusive part of town, and even though I’ve walked the stretch many times, it’s easy to feel excluded because of it. Still though, it’s a beautiful and walkable stretch of street with colourful planters and wide sidewalks.
At Queen’s Park, the ROM crystal boldly juts into the street. It’s a controversial structure in the city. The museum is beloved as a classy, archaic building, the original Romanesque Revival wing which lines Philosopher’s Walk opening in 1914. But then there’s this thing that’s been slabbed onto it. You either like it or hate it.
And I get the hate – it represents everything that many feel is wrong with redevelopment & heritage in Toronto. It’s the new ruining the old – whether it’s attaching a tower to an older pediment or obliterating the old with a new tower completely (cough*Stollery’s*cough). But to me, the ROM is a structure that works aesthetically. I like it.
The ROM kicks off the campus/museum-y row. Beside it is the Royal Conservatory, built in 1880 as the first McMaster University before it moved to Hamilton. As one might expect, there’s a musical performance in front of it. Like the ROM, the Convervatory also has a modern addition which really meshes old & new. And Koerner Hall is a great venue.
The Bata Shoe Museum mans the southwest corner at St. George. It’s a Raymond Moriyama design, who intended it to look like a shoe box. That was in 1994. In 1924, the corner looked a bit different.
166 St. George Street looks somewhat similar to the George Gooderham house (1892), which survives diagonally from it. They were both built in the 1890s in the castle-like Romanesque Revival style, as highlighted by their mighty turrets and fine masonry. The Gooderham residence, now the York Club, is the last bastion of residential Bloor Street.
At Huron is the former Rochdale College. I feel especially connected to this site because of its association with 1960s Yorkville, which effectively got me into learning about Toronto history. The school opened in September 1968, following the Yorkville hippie ‘exodus’ after the hepatitis crisis of that summer. The building wasn’t even finished.
Rochdale was intended to be an innovative, experimental alternative to conventional university education, which by accounts of Rochdalians (see comments) had its plusses and negatives. Being an outsider who was born long after Rochdale, I’m cautious about commenting about its legacy. I do wonder if it’s an “you-had-to-be-there-to-know” kind of history. The dominant perception that seems to have prevailed in history is that Rochdale was a chaotic, drug-filled environment that succumbed to its own dangers. But its influence and legacy goes beyond that limited view. The Unknown Student (1969), created by the Rochdale Sculpture Group, sits in despair in front of the building.
For more on Rochdale and the Unknown Student, there’s Stuart Henderson’s incredible thesis and book Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, Dream Tower: the life and legacy of Rochdale College, Rochdale, the runaway college, and this very informative blog on the sculpture (featuring some great shots of the lost houses across the street).
Spadina Avenue/Road marks the end of UofT and the beginning of what I call the modest commercial strip that extends to (and past) Christie. I’m welcomed by a jovial band.
Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church is another interesting landmark to me for its Eaton family connection. Timothy Eaton, with his empire already quite profitable, helped f(o)und the construction of Trinity Methodist Church, as it was first named in 1889.
There are few nearby Eaton homes in the Annex as well. You can see their locations and other Eaton affiliated sites in my T. Eaton Co.’s Toronto map.
While caught up in the examining Trinity-St. Paul’s, I hear ringing behind me. I have to sidestep the oncoming cyclist, who I’m pretty sure is Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. It’s serendipitous, because she is an advocate for city building & public space, and responsible for bringing us Open Streets. She tells me a ‘thank you’ and rides out of sight.
Next, I come to two nearby structures which I believe were once neighbourhood theatres. Actually, the first – now housing a Bulk Barn and the Annex Billiards Club – looks like a one-time theatre, although I can’t confirm.
The second – the muralled Lee’s Palace (of Scott Pilgrim fame) – was Allen’s Bloor, opened here in 1919. I’ve taken in one concert at Lee’s: an intimidate showing by 90s rock outfit Econoline Crush in 2007. I have to puzzle at why or how someone painted ‘WE HATE YOU’ on the top (or who is ‘we’).
At Bathurst & Bloor, Honest Ed’s buzzes with Open Streets activity. A train of cycists ride by some yogis. Nearby, people partake in some road hockey. Behind them, Ed Mirvish’s store – a Toronto institution since 1948 – is set for closure and redevelopment in 2017. It’ll be another project to track, especially in what happens to Mirvish Village.
The next stretch of street encompasses downtown Toronto’s Koreatown. It’s a neighbourhood whose beginnings reach back to the 1960 & 70s, when the first wave of Korean immigrants came to Toronto and began to rent out these shops on Bloor West.
The Korean Village Restaurant, for example, opened in 1978 and is one of the oldest and best Korean eateries in the city. There’s a date marker above its door, taking it back to the 1900s. I like to imagine the layers of occupants in this structure over the years. Those are a lot of stories.
Approaching Christie, I stop to take a photo, because I’m reminded of an archival shot I saw days before of the same location in 1920.
The Bloor Street of 1920 at Christie Street was residential, streetcar lined, and cobblestoned with a recently created Christie Pits/Willowvale Park.
As it should, Christie Pits bookends Open Streets TO as an activity hub. There’s target shooting and more yoga.
Finally, I gaze back east. Number One Bloor is somehow still visible kilometres away! Between where that tower and I stand, there are several neighbourhoods and several moods and many landmarks with their own stories, all linked together by this one stretch of road. It’s amazing how that happens – and we have so many examples of it across our city. With that, it’s off to the next adventure!