Church St. during pride week 2011
Church and Wellesley is the home of Toronto’s LGBT community and is located downtown. It is referred to as “The Village”, “Gaybourhood”, “Gay Ghetto et. al. For those of you less familiar, the American television show Queer as Folk was filmed here.
The neighbourhood has provided a safe haven for queer culture for decades, but as times have changed, and society has become more embracing of gay people, it’s no longer the sanctuary it once was. The residents of the area are now predominantly middle-aged men with careers. High rents mean that the majority of gay youth cannot afford to live in the neighbourhood, and many no longer feel it necessary to live near the village as they can be more open about their sexuality elsewhere. Many have expressed concern about the decline of the neighbourhood’s appeal with youth and its loss of small businesses, and questions about its future linger.
Toronto celebrates gay pride for one full week during the summer
As Parkdale and Queen St. West become popular communities for queers, some feel that in the near future, Church Street may no longer be the heart of the gay community. Others argue that this isn’t the case, judging by the large crowds of gay men that are still prevalent on Church Street, especially during the summer.
Whatever the future may hold I have fond memories of the area. When I was a teenager I was fascinated with its charm, but in my twenties became less so. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have visited the pubs along the street more frequently, recognizing how important the neighbourhood is to gay history.
The streets are often crowded, and it can be overwhelming
Some afternoons I’ll nurse a pint by the bar and watch the regulars, many now in their 50s, and imagine what they were like when they were my age (I turn 33 on Monday). I wonder what struggles they faced and how they’ve watched Church and Wellesley change and evolve over the years. Their histories intrigue me.
Today, during my morning stroll I took a few pictures of iconic features that represent the spirit of the neighbourhood. Here they are.
The AIDS Memorial Wall
Located in Cawthra Square Park, The AIDS Memorial is engraved with the names of over 2,500 people who have died of HIV/AIDS in Ontario. It’s a sombre reminder of a disease that ravaged the gay community in the 1980s.
The plaques of names date from 1981 to 2012
The 519 Church Street Community Centre
“The 519“, as it is affectionately called, is the hub of community life in the village. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer (LGBTTQ) communities and friends are offered a wide range of internationally renowned programs and services that operate on an anti-oppression framework.
Underwear, leather, porn, sex toys, whatever your fantasy, you can find it here at Priape, a famous and popular location in the heart of the gay community. No shame, just pride!
Probably the most popular gay bathhouse/sauna in Toronto, Steamworks is where gay men over the age of 18 can enter and, well, have sex, to put it bluntly. BlogTO recently published a review of the facility that proved too controversial for some readers.
The Second Cup
Made famous by the comedy troupe, Kids in the Hall, Second Cup was a place where gay men would hang out and shoot the shit for a couple of hours. A few years ago, due to high rent, it disappeared, but recently returned without the steps that made it so iconic.
This is my favourite pub in the village, and where you’re most likely to find me on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, pint in hand, reading the newspaper. It has a great patio, and during the summer it’s almost impossible to find an empty table.
Every Friday and Saturday night Woody’s hosts a “best ass” competition where patrons are invited on stage for the audience to judge and rate the hotness of their bare apples. It’s a lot of fun, and if you’re drunk enough you might find yourself dropping your pants! I never have, although once a drag queen had me in a death grip as she tried to force me on the stage. The winner receives a $300 cash prize. Not a bad deal.
Although different bars, Sailor’s and Woody’s aren’t separated by an interior wall, so you can easily pass from one to the other for more cruising!
Crews and Tangos
This was once a lesbian bar, but is now mixed. They have weeknight drag shows, which are hit or miss, depending on the queen. I was kicked out of this bar once because I called a bartender an asshole. I thought he was being rude to me. It wasn’t my best moment.
Hair of the Dog
Another good patio known for its delicious menu and wide martini selection. At least, that’s what I think it’s known for. They also serve some of the best beer in the city.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
One of the longest running queer theatres in Canada. It also acts as a bar and event space where you can dance it up with your friends during the evening. A cover charge usually applies.
The Black Eagle
I’ve never stepped foot into this leather bar, but have always been curious, and afraid. Frequented by cubs, bears and leather-daddies, I think I’m too vanilla for this crowd.
The Alexander Wood Statue
Alexander Wood moved to Upper Canada in 1793 from Scotland and settled in York (now Toronto) in 1797. He became a well-respected magistrate and merchant but in 1810 Wood was embroiled in a scandal.
A woman by the name of Miss Bailey reported to Wood that she was raped by an unknown militiaman, noting that she had scratched the genitals of her attacker. Wood launched an investigation where he subjected a group of young men to an intimate physical examination.
Gossip quickly spread, and Wood was given the nickname “Molly” Wood. Ridiculed daily he returned to Scotland, though his exile would last less than two years, and he was back in Toronto by 1812. The land he had owned now inhabits Toronto’s gay village, and the neighbourhood has three streets named after him; Alexander Street, Alexander Place and Wood Street.
And there you have it, an introduction to Toronto’s gay village.