Church and Wellesley
|Church and Wellesley|
|• Type||Ward 27 of Toronto City Council|
|• City councillor||Kristyn Wong-Tam|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
Church and Wellesley is an LGBT-oriented enclave in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is roughly bounded by Gerrard Street to the south, Yonge Street to the west, Charles Street to the north, and Jarvis Street to the east, with the core commercial strip located along Church Street from Wellesley south to Alexander. Though some gay and lesbian oriented establishments can be found outside of this area, the general boundaries of this village have been defined by the Gay Toronto Tourism Guild.
While the neighbourhood is home to the community centre, parks, bars, restaurants, and stores catering to the LGBT community (particularly along Church Street), it is also a historic community with Victorian houses and apartments dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Many LGBT people also live in the nearby residential neighbourhoods of The Annex, Cabbagetown, St. James Town, St. Lawrence, Riverdale and the Garden District, and in smaller numbers throughout the city and its suburbs.
Church and Wellesley is home to the annual Pride Week celebrations, the largest event of its kind in Canada with over 90 floats and an enthusiastic crowd that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. The Pride Parade is always on the last weekend in June. It runs southward along Yonge Street. The Dyke March is a women-only parade that runs on that Saturday afternoon and has a smaller parade route. There is also a weekend-long community fair that closes off Wellesley between Yonge and Church and also goes into Church Street. The community fair includes tables from a wide variety of groups involved in or associated with queer culture.
The 519 Church Street Community Centre is the meeting place for numerous social and political groups and became well known as a LGBT-friendly space. "The 519", as it is most often called, is a city-run recreation centre that has been adopted locally as the queer community centre, though its programming is not exclusive to LGBT groups and organizations. In 2007, a new wing was opened, and upgrades to the existing spaces were completed in 2009.
Church and Wellesley is also home to the AIDS Memorial, located in Cawthra Park, where the names of members of the community who have been lost to AIDS are etched into bronze plaques. A memorial candlelight vigil is held each year at the AIDS Memorial, during Pride Week.
Other names for the area
A number of alternative names for Church and Wellesley exist in local vernacular, including the Gay Ghetto, the Village, the Gaybourhood or the Gay Village — however, many of these "nicknames" are generic to gay villages across the English speaking world, and are therefore not descriptive of Church and Wellesley specifically, but of gay villages in general. Most people refer to it simply as Church Street or the Village, since most of the gay-related establishments in the area are located on that street.
Bars in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood include Woody's, Zippers, Byzantium, Slacks, Crews & Tangos, Fuzion, Churchmouse & Firkin, O'Grady's, Statler's, Black Eagle, Voglie, George's Play, Boutique and Flash. lo'la is located on Maitland Street and Fly on Gloucester Street.
The Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area was established October 2002.
In the summer of 2004, the business association launched a pilot project. Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. throughout the summer, two blocks of Church Street, from Wellesley south to Alexander, were closed to traffic to encourage more pedestrian activity. However, this proved controversial when some business owners accused other businesses of "stealing" customers by providing street entertainment, and ended three weeks earlier than planned due to a lack of money.
The business association also sponsored the Church Street Fetish Fair in August. In 2003, San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair had licensed a consortium of Toronto community groups to use the name Folsom Fair North for a similar fetish fair. That fair was held in a large parking lot near the corner of Wellesley and Yonge in 2003 and 2004, and in Allan Gardens in 2005, and the "Church Street Fetish Fair" was widely perceived as retaliation for the Folsom fair not being held on Church Street itself. Folsom Fair North, which changed its name to FFN in 2006, was last held in 2007.
The portion of the neighbourhood bounded by Yonge, Jarvis, Maitland and Carlton Streets was once the estate of Alexander Wood, a merchant and magistrate in Upper Canada who was at the centre of a strange, supposedly sexually related scandal in 1810. His lands were derisively known as "Molly Wood's Bush" in the early nineteenth century — "molly" being a contemporary slang term for "homosexual". In the spring of 2005, a statue of Wood was erected at the corner of Church and Alexander Streets (the latter named for Wood), honouring him as a forefather of Toronto's modern gay community.
Church Street and the area around it has been familiar to the Toronto gay community for many decades. Prior to the 1970s there had been an underground (mostly male) gay scene centred on various bathhouses and bars around the city that were not exclusively gay establishments but were known to be frequented by homosexuals. Allan Gardens, just east of Church Street on Carlton, was a well-known cruising area for gay men.
From the late 1960s through the early 1980s the focus of Toronto's gay subculture was the Yonge and Wellesley area. The most notable bar for the gay subculture was the St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Street (one block west of Church) just south of Wellesley. During the 1970s, the bar was the focus of many attacks by homophobes, especially on Halloween when the tavern held an annual drag contest that had been proceeded by an outdoor promenade until attacks by homophobes hurling eggs and rotten fruit made that impossible. The Glad Day Bookshop, for many years the city's only gay oriented bookstore, opened on Yonge Street near Wellesley in the mid-1970s. There were also a number of gay-oriented businesses and clubs on the side streets running west off of Yonge street around Wellesley, in particular St. Nicholas Street, a laneway running behind the west side of Yonge, and St. Joseph Street, one block north of Wellesley running west off Yonge.  The streets and alleys between Yonge and Bay also became a cruising area frequented by male prostitutes and their clients referred to by the police as "Track two".
Church Street, one block east of Yonge, started to become a predominantly gay area, and the centre of the gay life in Toronto, following the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids, an event that galvanized the gay and lesbian community in the city. George Hislop, a gay businessman and co-owner of one of the raided bathhouses, ran for Toronto City Council with his campaign headquarters located at Church and Wellesley. He was the first openly gay person ever to run for political office in Toronto, and only the second in Canada.
In the 1980s, the 519 Church Street Community Centre became the meeting place for numerous social and political groups and became well known as an LGBT friendly space. A strip of gay bars opened along the street and many LGBT people rented apartments, joined residential co-ops or bought condos close to Church. The area became known as a friendly environment where people could be open about their sexual orientation.
In 1991, Kyle Rae was elected to Toronto City Council to represent the ward that includes Church and Wellesley, becoming the city's first openly gay councillor. He represented the area until 2010, when he retired and was succeeded by Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city's first openly lesbian councillor.
The neighbourhood is part of the federal electoral district of Toronto Centre, most recently represented in the Canadian House of Commons by Liberal MP and interim leader Bob Rae. A by-election campaign to replace Rae is underway. It is part of the provincial electoral district of Toronto Centre, represented in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario by openly gay Ontario Liberal Party MPP Glen Murray. The provincial district was represented by George Smitherman, the first openly gay MPP elected to the provincial legislature in Ontario, from 1999 to 2010.
Prior to the provincial electoral redistribution of 1999, the neighbourhood was part of the provincial riding of St. George—St. David. Ian Scott, who represented that riding from 1987 to 1992, was not openly gay during his time in the legislature, although he came out after his retirement from politics.
In the 2012 electoral redistribution proposals at the federal level, the neighbourhood was proposed for division, with Wellesley Street serving as the new boundary between Toronto Centre to the south and a new district of Mount Pleasant to the north. Due to community opposition, in the final report the northern boundary of Toronto Centre was shifted north to Charles Street.
The television series Queer as Folk, a Canadian-American coproduction, was filmed in the Church and Wellesley area. Although considerable outdoor filming took place and the neighbourhood was quite recognizable within the show, the series was set in Pittsburgh rather than Toronto.
The Toronto-based comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall performed a recurring sketch, The Steps, on their television series in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the sketch was filmed on a studio set, it was inspired by a real cultural touchstone in the Church and Wellesley area, a series of steps along the length of a building on the southwest corner of Church and Wellesley where residents of and visitors to the neighbourhood regularly congregated to hang out and drink coffee from the Second Cup franchise in the building.
As times have changed and Toronto public has become more open to homosexuality, the role of Church and Wellesley as a "sanctuary" for LGBT people has been debated in recent years. Many bars and clubs throughout Toronto are now gay-friendly; establishments such as Wayla, the Drake Hotel and the Gladstone Hotel, although outside of Toronto's traditional gay village and not technically gay bars per se, are popular destinations for young gay and lesbian club-goers.
As well, rental rates for both commercial and residential property have risen significantly. In the 2000s, many privately owned businesses, including This Ain't the Rosedale Library, have been forced to close down or move to other areas due to these rent increases, and much larger corporations, such as Starbucks, Subway and the Bank of Montreal, have settled on the street in their place. The Priape chain of gay porn and clothing stores closed its Church Street and other locations in October 2013 when it filed for bankruptcy. Many smaller gay-owned businesses have moved to cheaper areas such as Parliament Street and Sherbourne Street, located east of Church and Wellesley.
The residents of the area are now largely middle-aged men with established careers, as the high rents and increasing density of condominium development mean that the majority of gay youth cannot afford to live in the neighbourhood. Some choose to settle in nearby neighbourhoods such as St. James Town and Cabbagetown, while others no longer feel it necessary to live near the village as they can be open about their sexuality without as much fear of backlash. Many in the gay community have expressed concern about the decline of the neighbourhood's appeal with youth and its loss of small businesses. Other downtown neighbourhoods much farther afield from Church and Wellesley, including Parkdale, Trinity-Bellwoods, Riverdale and Leslieville, are also now popular areas for LGBT residents; Parkdale in particular has even earned the nickname of "Queer West Village" in recent years.
In 2013, a partnership of community organizations, including The 519 and the Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Association, launched a community survey to solicit ideas for community revitalization. Questions posed by the study included "What is the role of a ‘LGBTQ village’ in a modern, progressive city?" and "What must be done to support the Church-Wellesley Village to solidify its role as a major cultural community hub in the Toronto context now and into the future?"
The Wellesley subway station on the Yonge–University–Spadina line provides the community with access to Toronto's extensive subway system. Other stations that are within walking distance to the community include:
Bus and streetcar routes that provide transportation to the community include:
- 75 Sherbourne (Northbound to South Drive Northbound and Southbound to Queen's Quay)
- 94 Wellesley (no transfer required at Wellesley station)
- 97(B) Yonge (Northbound to Steeles Avenue and Southbound to Queen's Quay)
- 141 Jarvis (Express service northbound to Mount Pleasant Road/Davisville Avenue (Davisville Village) and southbound service to Dundas Street/Jarvis Street ; please note that Express routes require additional fare.)
- 506 Carlton
Notable natives and residents
- Enza Anderson, transgendered media personality and political candidate
- Mark Elliot, the first openly gay talk show host on CFRB
- Malcolm Ingram, director Small Town Gay Bar
- Kyle Rae, former Toronto city councillor
- Bert Archer. "The evolution of Toronto's Church Street Gaybourhood". Yonge Street, June 23, 2010.
- Church Street Fetish Fair
- "St Charles Tavern remembered". Xtra. March 2, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
- Track Two(1982) directed by Harry Sutherland
- Cockerline, Danny (January/February 1984). "Street life versus sterility: the battle for St Joseph St.". The Body Politic. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
- Drag queens on Halloween, CBC Archives
- Benson, Denise (November 16, 2011). "Then & Now: Voodoo". The Grid. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
- "Proposed riding redistribution splits Village in half". Xtra!, August 31, 2012.
- "Village preserved in final riding-redistribution proposal". Xtra!, February 26, 2013.
- Paul Gallant, "Ready for a Renaissance". In Toronto, June 2013.
- "Changing times on Church Street". Toronto Star, May 13, 2006.
- "Priape closes all four Canadian stores" by Andrea Houston, Brandon Matheson, Daily Xtra, Mon, Oct 21, 2013
- "Exodus sees Church St losing its gay village identity". Toronto Star, October 13, 2009.
- Community News for Queer West. Xtra!, April 15, 2009.
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