It has been nearly two hundred years since the intersection of Queen & Spadina was born. When the two roads first met, Toronto still wasn't even a city yet: it was the town of York, home to less than two thousand people. Queen Street had been one of the very first roads the British built when they got here, part of the original plans for Toronto all the way back in 1793. They called it Lot Street back then, the northern edge of the first few blocks built in the new town (right around the St. Lawrence Market). A few decades later, it was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.By then, Spadina had also been built. It was laid out as a wide avenue by William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who also designed Osgoode Hall and would play a leading role in the political struggle for Canadian democracy. He had just built a brand new house on his sprawling country estate; it stood on the hill above Davenport: the original Spadina House. Baldwin had the grand avenue carved out of the forest south of his home in order to get a better view of the lake. The estate, the house and the new road would all be given the same name: Spadina. It's an Anglicized version of an Ojibwe word: "Ishpadinaa" ("a place on a hill").
So it was when Baldwin built his avenue in the 1820s that the intersection of Queen & Spadina was first created.
Back in those early days, the intersection was way off on the outskirts of town, just outside the official border of the tiny new Upper Canadian capital. But it didn't stay that way for long. Toronto grew quickly over the course of the 1800s. By the time the early 1900s rolled around, Queen & Spadina was at the heart of a bustling metropolis.
By then, some landmarks that are familiar to us today were already there. The Bank of Hamilton opened on the north-east corner in 1902. It's been there ever since; it's home to a CIBC branch now. You can see it in the photo above (from 1908 or '09) and in this photo from 1912:
And the Bank of Hamilton isn't the only building to have survived the last hundred years. The building on the south-east corner — today it's a Hero Burger — was already there a century ago. It's been there since the 1880s, originally a dry goods store designed by the architectural firm of Langley & Burke. (They're the same fellows behind the Bloor Street Viaduct, the Necropolis Chapel, and churches and cathedrals like Metropolitan United, Trinity St. Paul's, and the spires of St. James and St. Michael's.) It's been there so long, in fact, that the column in front of the door to the building has been worn away by the countless hands that have touched it over the last hundred and thirty years. Right now, it's protected by plywood and propped up until it can be restored.
The Mary Pickford Auditorium was named after Toronto's first big movie star. She had been born on University Avenue (where Sick Kids is now) back in the late 1800s and launched her acting career as a young girl on the stages of the theatres of King Street. Before long, she'd moved to the United States, where she quickly became one of the very first superstars of the silver screen. At the time the Mary Pickford Auditorium was charging people a nickel to watch movies at Queen & Spadina, Mary Pickford was one of the most famous people in the entire world.
Here you can see some streetcar track work being done in the spring of 1912 — much like the track replacement that shut down the intersection for two weeks a hundred years later, during the summer of 2012:
And here again in 1922:
And here is the Queen streetcar itself, picking up passengers at Queen & Spadina during the First World War. We're looking at the south-east corner of the intersection — that's the Hero Burger building behind them:
But one of the most interesting features of Queen & Spadina had nothing to do with buildings or transit. It was in the middle of the intersection, buried beneath the ground: a public washroom. You got to it by descending a subway-style staircase in an island in the middle of Spadina, just a bit south of the intersection. It's at about the same spot where you get off the southbound Spadina streetcar today. Here's someone heading down to relieve himself during the 1890s:
But even with warnings like that in place, many found the public washrooms distasteful. They soon went out of fashion. By the end of the 1930s, Queen & Spadina's underground loo had been sealed off and filled in: sinks, stalls, urinals and all.
It was just the beginning of a long century of change, which has given us the Queen & Spadina of today: an intersection that would seem both familiar and strange to the Torontonians who passed through it a hundred years ago.
You can check out more old photos of Spadina thanks to Derek Flack at blogTO right here. And take a virtual iTour of Spadina thanks to Heritage Toronto over here. The Toronto Archives have posted a whole set of old Queen West photos on Flickr here. And Lost Toronto has a bunch of neat then-and-now posts about the intersection here. There's also a little bit more about the turret/Hero Building building here.
You can read Chris Bateman's post, "What happened to all the public washrooms in Toronto?" here. And his history of public toilets in our city here.
You'll find Doug Taylor's post about the washroom at Queen & Spadina here. His post on the intersection with a focus on the Mary Pickford here. And a photo of the theatre from the 1930s on his blog here.
Lost Rivers shared some information about Spadina here. And the Toronto Historical Association has some about William Warren Baldwin and the Spadina estate here. William Warren Baldwin is on Wikipedia here. Spadina House is here. And Spadina Avenue is here.