A Brief History of the Village
Considered the founder of Toronto’s Gay Village, Alexander Wood first purchased the area as part of a 25-acre parcel back in the mid-1800s. As a result of Alexander’s preference for men, he was mocked by the community and, at one point, even accused of a scandal due to his openness. Though he passed away in 1844, the area would quickly be developed and go on to be Toronto’s first safe space for queer and gay people – so much so that by the 1950s, some underground bars and bathhouses had already emerged to serve the community. A statue of Alexander Wood was erected in 2005 but removed in 2022 due to his discovered involvement in the residential school system.
Unfortunately, by the 1970s, tensions had grown between this area and a growing homophobic sentiment. In an effort deemed ‘Operation Soap’, police raided the area and arrested over 250 individuals, charging them with running underground brothels and inciting further homophobic hate crimes and injustices. Though many of those arrested would later be deemed innocent, this became a pivotal moment for Toronto’s queer community, which eventually evolved the area into the thriving, supportive, inclusive community that it is today.
For a more thorough review of the area’s history, be sure to check out this article from the McLean Clinic!
The Village Today
Since the 1970s, the community has remained strong and proud and has quickly become a hub for inclusive entertainment, not to mention some amazing food and drink spots! It is the origin of the Toronto Pride movement, so if you ever find yourself in Toronto in June, you are not going to want to miss stopping in to be part of the Pride Month celebrations, which draws hundreds of thousands of people every year. Follow the community on Instagram for all the new event announcements!
Best Spots for Food & Drink
Woody’s and SAILOR are two connected bars that have been catering to the village since 1989! For locals, this is the place to start your night out. They regularly host drag shows, karaoke, and nightly competitions to entertain the masses. They serve delicious cocktails and, of course, tonnes of different shots to get your evening party started!
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, check out Storm Crow Manor. Having dubbed itself ‘Toronto’s geekiest bar’, you’ll find a vast array of differently themed rooms, secret doors, games, and some pretty epic cocktails. Their happy hour goes from 3-6pm, where you can order an array of affordable finger foods, as well as a mystery cocktail that is always changing!
Church Street Garage is another great spot to meet up with friends and enjoy fabulous drinks and pub-style food. They offer nightly specials, and their brunch is nothing short of legendary.
Best Places for Shopping & Entertainment
If you ask a local where the best place to shop in the Village is, they will probably tell you to stop in at Out On The Street. From couture clothing lines to Pride gear, to the more risque of items, they have three levels of fun and fantastic merchandise for you to peruse.
If you’re looking for the trendiest in men’s apparel, check out Grapefruit. They carry stylish duds for all tastes and even have their own in-store brand, GBasics, which is designed and manufactured right here in Toronto.
For an inclusive and exciting time out, you’ll want to head to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Since 1979, they’ve not only been a 2SLGBTQ+ friendly space, but they have provided Toronto with an ‘artistically rigourous’ style of performance, including everything from spoken word poetry to interpretive dance, to musicals and full-on theatrical performances by some of Toronto’s most talented and passionate actors.
Finally, to experience a world-class drag show, go to Crews & Tangos! The live performances are not to be missed, coupled with theme nights, weekly specials, and both in-house and guest performers.