The Purple Onion (Toronto)

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Purple Onion Coffee House
Address 35 Avenue Road
Type Coffeehouse
Genre(s) Folk music
Opened 1960 (1960)
Closed 1965
Years active 1960–1965

Coordinates: 43°40′13.99″N 79°23′40.77″W / 43.6705528°N 79.3946583°W / 43.6705528; -79.3946583

The Purple Onion Coffee House was a music venue in the Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada. It operated from 1960 to 1965 and was located at 35 Avenue Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was a popular venue for folk musicians.


The Purple Onion was opened by Barry Witkin, Sam Gutmacher and Al Lastman (brother of former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman) in 1960 and was one of the first coffee houses to be opened in the Yorkville area of Toronto. Witkin reported in the Toronto Star that they “They pooled their savings, rented the building for about $750 a month and charged $1 club memberships and entrance fees of $1.50 to $3.[1]” In keeping with the strict liquor laws of the day the venue did not have a liquor license and no alcoholic beverages could be served.

The Purple Onion was a popular spot in the folk music scene and was an early performance venue for Buffy Sainte Marie, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, and many others. It was reputed to be the first place to host singer Carly Simon, who early on performed as a duo with her sister Lucy Simon. Gordon Lightfoot performed at first with his duo the Two Tones, and later as a solo act. Performers from outside of Canada also made stops, including Judy Collins.[2]

One of the best known stories about the Purple Onion is in 1963 Buffy Sainte Marie wrote the song the Universal Soldier (song), a song later recorded and made famous by Donovan.[3]


  1. ^ Hauch, Valerie (July 16, 2015). "Once Upon a City: Yorkville, home of Toronto's original indie music scene". Toronto Star. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  2. ^ Jennings, Nicholas. "The Riverboat and Yorkville's rich music history". Yorkville Music History. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  3. ^ Sainte-Marie, Buffy. "Universal Soldier lyrics". Buffy Sainte-Marie. Retrieved 10 March 2016.

External links[edit]

  • Photo of the exterior, [Sean] Browne. (22 January 1964). Exterior of The Purple Onion. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC27716.
  • Interior of the Purple Onion Coffee House. [Sean] Browne. (22 January 1964). Interior of The Purple Onion, Val Pringle in performance. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC27724.
  • History of Yorkville Bloor-Yorkville BIA