My Toronto — Part 3
Spadina and College
After living in the rather posh -but not so convenient — Avenue Road and Chaplin Crescent area, I was hoping for a place slightly closer to down town and my job, and with a reasonable rent.
I spent weeks hunting, with my various friends all pitching in with helpful suggestions. I forget how I came across the Huron Street apartment, but I was glad that I did. It was perfectly situated for transit if I so chose, or a short drive to get to work.
It was in an older area of Toronto, on Huron Street, which is in the College and Spadina area. There was this rather ancient apartment building which had no vacancies in the main building, but had a strange tiny one bedroom place in the annex of the building. It was on the second floor and was accessible via a metal stairway. The rent was an unbelievable $50.00 a month and included a parking spot. No one would be sneering at the old Chevy in this location.
To my utter amazement, both the big building (shown above) and my old annex (shown below) are still there! (Google Street view does not lie.)
My tiny apartment was one of two on the second floor in a small three-story building — basically behind the main building. (An artist lady lived on on the third floor, but I never saw her. Hers was the apartment in the top, with the slanty roof. She had one window at each end of the place.) I never found out who lived on the ground floor. The upper apartments were accessible via a fire escape type metal stairway.
Across from our fire escape was the back of the main building, also with access from a fire escape and that end of the building housed some of the strippers from the historic Victory Burlesque strip club down the street. Toronto at that time was still pretty prudish and the place was patrolled by Morality Squad officers. There is a detailed article on the Victory at this Wikipedia link.
I was often visited by policemen coming to the wrong building, looking for one or other of the strippers. The rather flamboyant girls would hang out on the top of their fire escape, directly opposite mine and take in what sun they could, in skimpy outfits. The officers were always super apologetic for the error and while they were apologizing to me, the girls across the way would take advantage of them being distracted and would quickly disappear.
My tiny apartment had a really tiny bathroom with a shared bath tub. Whoever was using it locked the door on their inside of the tub. Sometimes one of us would forget to unlock their side of the door. Mostly the arrangement worked.
The area I moved to was an incredibly interesting one. It was in the College and Spadina area of Toronto. It was smack dab in the middle of a teeming ethnic area, a section of Torontos’ Chinatown.
There were little take-out Chinese fooderies all around. One of my favourite places sold Peking duck from an open window at College and Spadina. Some evenings, several of us would pitch in and share a take-out order.
There was this great outdoor market on Augusta Avenue— Kensington Market. Fresh produce, baked goods, cheese, meat, fish. Live poultry too.
Friends who lived in the area showed me the Market and pointed out the best stores and stalls to visit. We all did our food shopping there on Saturday mornings — it was packed. Wall to wall stalls, with merchants of many different ethnic backgrounds selling a crazy variety of food. Sidewalks packed with shoppers. Road jammed with delivery trucks trying to squeeze through.
It was even more crazy than how it is shown in 1924, in the public domain photo below.
About two years ago I happened to go to the area one Saturday for an artisan event and was shocked to see that the Kensington Market I used to know was completely gone. Pity.
For some history on that market area, here is a link to a Wikipedia piece.
On the main drag, Spadina Avenue at College, there was the El Mocambo club, a place where music acts like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy played.
After I left the area, in the 70s, acts like U2, even the The Rolling Stones … would show up. For a really detailed article on the Elmo, read the Wikipedia entry here. The Elmo is still there, though it — like other music venues — has suffered greatly during the Covid 19 pandemic.
To say that the area was colourful would be an understatement. It was during a time when hippies, and drugs and U.S. draft dodgers were rampant. My various stoner friends used to drop in so as to watch my photograph enlargements developing in the tank, that I kept with the enlarger in a closet-like “spare” room.
Around the surrounding streets stoned hippies could be found in almost every doorway. Drunks and possibly drug dealers wandered around the area, there were fights in the alley behind our flats every single night.
There was, and still is, a ratty old blues bar on Spadina at Cecil Street called Grossmans. Terrible, smoke-filled old place, there since 1943. In spite of the name, it was run by a Chinese couple. You can find out more about Grossmans at this link.
At Grossmans I met the then newly formed Canadian blues band called Downchild. They had secured a gig there as the house band. They were very young, and also very arrogant and rude. I was invited by my friend Dave Bush, publisher of the underground hippy owned publication called the Harbinger, to interview them and write an article. (The Harbinger was around from 1967 until 1971).
I did my best with those Downchild guys, but interviewing them was like talking to rocks, they were that cooperative. Hans, from the Harbinger was there with me, taking the photos for the article. They didn’t seem to warm to Hans either.
Many years later when I met up with the Downchild Blues Band at another tavern where they were the house band, they hadn’t changed much, just the hairstyles and a couple of band members. You can read up on Downchild at this link.
In Part 4, I’ll tell you about the notorious Baldwin Street, a relatively short walk from my annex apartment.
Here is an excellent article about the area at Spadina and College. https://grangecommunity.ca/past-and-present/spadina-heritage/