Queen Street West

John Velocci

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

Looking east on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto in Canada
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
16mm/ƒ/16/29s/ISO 100
103 views
dedicated to Toronto


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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 Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Beaches 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.

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. The first park lots laid out in the new city of York (which would be renamed Toronto in 1834) were given to loyal officials who were willing to give up the amenities of modern cities such as Kingston to take up residence in the forests north of Lot Street. These 40 hectares (99 acres) lots were placed along the south side of the first east–west road laid in York, Lot Street.2 In 1837 Lot Street was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.3

“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 Street. 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 Portugal 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 West, formerly the headquarters of Citytv and MuchMusic and earlier the site of the Ryerson Press, now housing the broadcast operations of a number of television outlets owned by Bell Media.

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 Toronto retailing as the Macy’s/Gimbel’s competition was to New York City’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 Centre still remains at the same location, one of Canada’s largest office and shopping complexes. Simpson’s is also gone, but the historic department store building remains on the south side of Queen Street, occupied by the Hudson’s Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

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

Artwork Comments

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