Toronto’s College and Spadina intersection and the ever-changing face of our city

Figure 1. Spadina LRT line – Spadina Ave. lookingsouth at Spadina Cr. and #508 Spadina Ave. 1984. Toronto Archives.

During the last heat wave of the year, I took off on my bike and headed to the Toronto Archives to do some research on my favourite dead venue, the Silver Dollar at College and Spadina. The attendants at Research Hall ushered me in, where I was given an account number and a card, and told to leave my belongings in a locker. Once inside, I accessed documents in the archives via a Records Request Form, which you can fill out by hand or by computer. One of the nice attendants showed me how to use the advanced search options, which made finding files very easy.

I quickly found one file I wanted from the stacks. It was a series of photographs of Spadina Ave. in 1984 (see fig. 1). I was lucky enough to find a shot facing south from Knox College with the Silver Dollar in full view. There it was, the same as it looks in my memories.

But what I was really looking for was more difficult to find than I had hoped, because I was looking for something to surprise me. I wanted to find a clue to lead me to something curious or quirky from the early years on the inside. The building was demolished this year (see fig. 2) and I’ve been feeling sentimental. I wanted to know more about my cherished venue. So I focused on what changed around it over the years until its untimely death.

From 2010-2018, I passed this corner nearly everyday, and spent as many Wednesday evenings as I could listening to the house bluegrass band, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, while sipping on four-dollar Jameson’s whiskey. That was a ritual that started in my early twenties among coworkers, and came to an end in a weeklong frenzy of concerts in April 2017, put on by the Dollar’s then-promoter Dan Burke. The neighbouring Hotel Waverly, which was home to several of my regular customers, was also shut down. The building in which I served those customers, a couple blocks east along College, was demolished in April of 2018. The area was certainly seeing a wave of change recently.

In April 2017, Toronto city council decided that the developers who acquired the Silver Dollar lot, Fitzrovia Real Estate, are responsible for restoring the Dollar, as it is a heritage building (though, sadly not the Waverly despite it being the new building’s to-be namesake). As planned by Kirkor Architects + Planners, the new Dollar is to be a fixture nested inside the first floor of their proposed 15-storey residential building. I must say, I’ve been feeling cynical about the restoration, as I’ve seen so many venues in the city die recently. I hope for the best but expect the worst when it comes to developers in Toronto.

Figure 2. Screenshot of Google Street View – Northwest corner of College Street and Spadina Ave. 2018. Google.

Unfortunately that has become a trend for Toronto’s dive-y venues in recent years. The El Mocambo on the south side of the intersection has been shuttered for years (though vague plans to resurrect it, as with the Dollar, have been made); the purple-bricked Kathedral and the Big Bop over at Queen and Bathurst, punk and dance venues respectively, closed their doors in 2010 to make way for CB2 (and a paint job). Only time will tell what the restoration holds for College and Spadina.

Figure 3. Truck carrying passengers during streetcar strike, northeast corner of College Street and Spadina. 1919, Toronto Archives.

In my search for information from the inside of the Dollar, I fell short. Though what I did findwas evidence of its existence much further back than I expected. The archives had a lot of photo documentation from the street. Most of which seemed requisitioned by the TTC for track construction plans. But what came with those photos were indications of the changing face of the intersection, and the city. For instance, the building that stood on the northeast corner in 1931—what is now home to the 7/11—was a Tamblyn’s drugstore. The chain, which had 63 locations in Toronto, and was sold to Loblaw’s in the ‘60s, has since all but disappeared. When it became a 7/11 is unclear (although Google Street View can date it to as early as 2007).

I was also able to find negatives documenting the intersection in 1964. From those files, I learned that three banks once occupied the corners of the intersection: the Royal Bank of Canada and the Toronto Dominion Bank in 1964 (fig. 4), and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1972 (fig. 5), This explains stoic architecture and the unnecessarily high ceilings in both the current Burger King and Rexall that have replaced the TD and RBC over the years (although, Rexall on the southwest corner was formerly an entirely different structure in 1919, see fig. 3). The CIBC is still in the same location as 1972, and will soon be the neighbour to the Fitzrovia development, as it was with the Waverly to the north.

Figure 4. Spadina Ave and College St. 1964, Toronto Archives.
Figure 5. Corner of Spadina Ave. and College St., looking north-west. 1972, Toronto Archives

Half a block to the east on College, the CampusOne residential development replaced all the units at 252 College between 2014 and 2016. Since 2014, there had been rumours circulating in my workplace at 205 College (at Beverley, another block east) that we were to move into the storefront of that new development, but instead the unit was leased to a McCafé. What will become of the lot at 205 since it was demolished this year is yet to be seen.

Also in 2014, Tribute Communities began construction on the high-rise residential development at 297 College right next to Kensington market. The space was occupied by a parking lot previously. There was talk of Wal-Mart taking up a lease in the retail space on the first floor, but the majority of Torontonians adamantly opposed that. Instead, the space is occupied by a grocery store, the so-called Independent City Market (a guise of Loblaw). The community still gave no warm reception to their new neighbour, as Kensington residents have fought for years to keep corporate retail out of the market.

What is to come for the neighbourhood is yet to be seen. I have high hopes for the intersection though I’m not holding my breath. But as with anything, especially in Toronto, the only constant is change.

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