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Street signs for Queen Street West and Abell Street, in West Queen West.

Queen Street West describes both the western branch of Queen Street, a major east-west thoroughfare, and a series of neighbourhoods or commercial districts, situated west of Yonge Street in downtown Torontomarker, Ontariomarker, Canadamarker. Queen Street begins in the west at the intersection of King Street, The Queensway, and Roncesvalles Avenue. It extends eastward in a straight line to Yonge Street where it becomes Queen Street East; eastbound Queen TTC streetcars loop at Neville Park Boulevard near Queen Street East and Victoria Park Avenue in The Beachesmarker neighbourhood.

Queen Street was the cartographical baseline for the original east-west avenues of Toronto's grid pattern of major streets. The western end of Queen (sometimes simply referred to as "Queen West") is now best known as a centre for Canadian broadcasting, music, fashion, performance, and the visual arts. Over the past twenty-five years, Queen West has become an international arts centre, and a major tourist attraction in Toronto.


Looking west along Queen Street from Yonge Street, circa 1885
The intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue in 1909
Since the original survey in 1793 by Sir Alexander Aitkin, commissioned by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Queen Street has had many names. For its first sixty years, many sections were referred to as Lot Street, but in 1851 it was renamed for Queen Victoria. The back of the property lines of the first lots surveyed in the city were aligned at Lot Street.

"Queen West" is local vernacular which generally refers to the collection of neighbourhoods that have developed along and around the thoroughfare. Many of these were originally ethnically-based neighbourhoods. The earliest example from the mid-19th century was Claretown, an Irish immigrant enclave in the area of Queen Street West and Bathurst Streetmarker. From the 1890s to the 1930s, Jewish immigrants coalesced in the neighbourhood known as "the Ward", for which Queen Street between Yonge and University served as the southern boundary. The intersection of Queen and Bay Streets also served as the southern end of a thriving Chinatown in the 1930s. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the area was also the heart of Toronto's Polish and Ukrainian communities. From the 1950s through the 1970s, many immigrants from Portugalmarker settled in the area. Gentrification over the past twenty years has caused most recent immigrants to gradually move to more affordable areas of the city as desirability of the area drives up prices.

Like other gentrified areas of Toronto, the original "Queen West" —the stretch between University Avenue and Spadina Avenue — is now lined with upscale boutiques, chain stores, restaurants, tattoo parlours and hair salons. Perhaps the best-known landmark on this section of Queen West is the broadcast hub at 299 Queen Street Westmarker, formerly the headquarters of Citytv, now housing the broadcast operations of a number of television outlets owned by CTVglobemedia.

Yonge to University

Shoppers crossing Queen Street West in 1910
Since the 19th century, Queen Street West at Yonge Street has been one of Toronto's primary shopping destinations. Originally, the Eaton's and Simpson's department stores faced each other across Queen Street, with the rivalry between the two stores at one time as central to Canadian retailing as the Macy'smarker/Gimbel's competition was to New York Citymarker's retail history. The pedestrian crosswalk on Queen Street, just to the west of the intersection with Yonge Street, was for years one of the busiest in Canada, as thousands of shoppers a day comparison shopped between Eaton's and Simpson's.

Today, Eaton's is gone, but the Toronto Eaton Centremarker still remains at the same location, one of Canada's largest office and shopping complexes. Similarly, Simpson's is also gone, but the historic department store building remains on the south side of Queen Street, occupied by The Bay department store.

Further west, this stretch of Queen Street is dominated by institutional and cultural buildings such as Old City Hall, Toronto City Hallmarker, Osgoode Hallmarker and the Four Seasons Centremarker.

University to Spadina: Queen West

Street merchants on Queen West
Queen Street West is known for its shops and restaurants

The area between University and Spadina Avenues was a cultural nexus in the 1980s known for its restaurants, clubs and eclectic mix of street performers, musicians and a haven for the punk rock scene with its famous club kids such as Kinga, Seika, Wanda and a host of others. In the 1960s and early 1970s, this stretch of Queen Street West was an ageing commercial strip, known for "greasy spoon" restaurants and inexpensive housing in the area. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the area was transformed by local students, including those of the nearby Ontario College of Art & Designmarker, and the area developed an active music scene which was one of the dominant centres of Canadian music in its era.

The vibrant arts culture soon attracted other artists, audiences, and wealthier people to the area. Since then, the name "Queen Street" has become synonymous with the words "trendy", "hip", and "cool". Older and hipper bars such as the Cameron, the Horseshoe Tavernmarker and The Rivolimarker have not changed much, and top Canadian musical and comedy acts can still often be found performing in the area.

The broadcast hub at 299 Queen Street Westmarker (formerly called the CHUM-City Building), housing a number of CTVglobemedia's television operations, is located at the corner of Queen and John Streets in this area. Most notably, MuchMusicmarker has become intimately associated with Queen Street's culture; the station's VJs have often broadcast their segments live from outside the building, and programs such as Electric Circusmarker and the MuchMusic Video Awards have regularly taken place on the street.

A movement by local citizens to rename the area "Soho" after a side-street in the area has never been taken seriously by the municipal government.

Spadina to Trinity Bellwoods Park

The gates to Trinity Bellwoods Park along Queen Street West
As rents rose, most artists began moving westward along the five kilometre thoroughfare. In the early 1990s, the newly vogue area was associated with nightclubs such as the Bovine Sex Clubmarker.

Occupying the same area, between Spadina Avenue and Trinity Bellwoods Parkmarker, is Toronto's Fashion District. In the later 1990s, high-priced clothing stores opened in the same area as the gentrification of the district continued. In the 2000s, the changing character of Queen Street West gave rise to concerns in some quarters over the pace and implications of gentrification.

On February 20 2008, a large fire destroyed several buildings on the south side of the street, between Bathurstmarker and Portland Streets. The block had been declared a heritage conservation district by the city the year before. Toronto Fire Services' "active incidents" website reported the fire as six-alarm intensity, with over 14 separate units dispatched to the scene throughout the day. Several neighbourhood businesses and apartments were destroyed in the blaze. In some cases, the destruction caused by the fire gave rise to additional angst over the changing character of Queen Street West and the potential nature of the new development that would eventually replace the burned buildings.

Trinity Bellwoods to Dufferin: West Queen Street West (the Art and Design District)

An early-morning street scene in the Gallery District as a 501 Queen streetcar bound for the Humber Loop approaches.
The Drake Hotel, a symbol of the area's gentrification
Between Trinity Bellwoods Parkmarker and Dufferin Street is West Queen Street West, also known as the Art and Design District. For this one kilometre stretch, nearly every storefront on the north side is either a gallery, bar, or nightclub (the south side of the street is largely taken up by the buildings and grounds of the former Queen Street Mental Health Centre, now part of CAMH.) One of the major players in the development of this recent phenomenon is Katharine Mulherin. The Stephen Bulger Gallery, founded in 1994, is also located on Queen West.

Another cause of this gallery conglomeration was the conversion of an old building into Gallery 1313, with extensive financial assistance by the city. The large amount of gallery space, including such galleries as Loop and Fly, allows Toronto artists of all levels of ability to show their work at a low cost.

Unlike the boutique-oriented storefronts of the eastern portion of the street, the Gallery District contains an abundance of space available for special events. The lack of retail in the area, however, creates a void of weekday pedestrian traffic.

West Queen Street West has undergone rapid transformation in the past couple of years. Rents have increased dramatically and many galleries have left. Recent departures include Sis Boom Bah, Luft Gallery, Burston Gallery and Brackett Gallery. At the same time as galleries have closed, many new bars have opened. Many attribute this sudden shift to the development spearheaded by the Drake Hotelmarker, a former flophouse recently renovated and converted to a boutique hotel at a cost of $6 million.

The Gladstone Hotelmarker is one of few pre-existing fixtures in the area that has been able to capitalize on the recent boom. This grand old railroad-era hotel had over the years fallen into disrepair and barely maintained itself by renting boarding-house style accommodation. The tavern on the first floor is now home to a weekly "Art Bar", where locals from the arts community converge to socialize. In 2005 it underwent a major renovation spearheaded by the Zeidler family.

The Camera Bar -- originally established by film director and producer Atom Egoyan -- is now operated by the Stephen Bulger Gallery as a rental space that offers a bar and film/video screening venue.

The Queen West Art Crawl (QWAC) is an annual three-day festival celebrating the arts on Queen Street West and featuring the artists, arts organizations and businesses on the thoroughfare. It is produced by the not-for-profit Parkdale Liberty Economic Development Corporation.

Dufferin to Roncesvalles: Parkdale

Dufferin and Queen is a two-legged intersection broken up by the Queen Street Subway (a historic CN railway bridge underpass - first built in 1898) in the 1200 block. Once past there, Queen Street West makes its way through Parkdale Villagemarker. Parkdale is one of Toronto's oldest neighbourhoods, with an abundance of social housing on the south side of Queen Street, as well as rooming houses and day centres toward Sorauren Avenue.

Although Parkdale has a working-class social profile, with both low- and high-density rental housing in the streets south of Queen, gentrification has recently become an issue. The high market value and desirability of the older houses on the north side have made it possible for young professionals to renovate and raise property values, as happened in earlier decades in inner Toronto neighbourhoods such as The Annex and Cabbagetownmarker.

Lower Queen TTC line

A streetcar travels west along Queen Street West in downtown Toronto.
A horse-drawn streetcar on Queen Street West in 1888
Beneath Queen Street West is a little-known urban artifact. In the 1940s, the Toronto Transit Commission proposed to construct, in addition to a rapid-transit subway under Yonge Street, a second tunnel under Queen Street that would allow the PCC streetcars from certain routes to avoid other traffic as they ran through central areas. The Queen subway would run from Trinity Bellwoods Park in the west to Broadview Avenue in the east. This two-line plan was approved by referendum in 1946, but when hoped-for funding from the government of Canada did not materialize, the Queen line was postponed. In the 1960s, the TTC decided that a subway to replace the crowded Bloor Street streetcars would be more valuable, as after the construction of the Yonge line most of the passenger traffic had moved north with the subway. While the Queen line remained on the list of proposals into the 1970s, it was never a priority again.

However, when the Yonge subway was being constructed in the early 1950s, the shell of an east-west station for the Queen line, sometimes called Lower Queen, was built under its Queenmarker station, and passenger flows within the station were laid out on the assumption that it would eventually be an interchange. In the 1990s, some of the space was reused for a pedestrian passage when the subway station was being made wheelchair-accessible, but the rest of the empty station shell remains to this day.

Even without the subway, the 501 Queen streetcar remains one of the TTC's busiest and longest streetcar routes; it runs every six minutes in each direction (traffic permitting) and is one of only two lines to use the articulated double-length ALRV streetcars. Queen Street West is also served by Osgoodemarker station at University Avenue.

West Queen West BIA

The businesses on the stretch of Queen West from Bathurst to Gladstone Ave. have organized the West Queen West Business Improvement Area, which is mandated to undertake streetscape improvement projects, organize community events and promote the neighbourhood's unique commercial establishments.

Its vision is to retain the unique character of the West Queen West business community in the midst of renewal and growth, while attracting visitors/tourists to an area known to boast high concentrations of art and culture. The BIA seeks to offer the West Queen West neighbourhood as a distinct destination for residents and tourists – remaining Toronto’s focal creative community as it has been for decades.

See also


  1. Camera - Lounge/Bar and Screening Gallery - Toronto
  2. Parkdale Liberty
  3. [1]

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