Church and Wellesley is an LGBT-oriented community located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is roughly bounded by Gould Street to the south, Yonge Street to the west, Charles Street to the north, and Jarvis Street to the east, with the intersection of Church and Wellesley Streets at the centre of this area. The boundaries are not fixed, as some gay and lesbian oriented establishments can be found outside of this area. The American television series Queer as Folk was filmed in the Church and Wellesley area.
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 of nearly 800,000 people. The Pride Parade is always on the last weekend in June. It runs southward along Yonge Street. The Dyke March is a woman-only parade that runs on 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 of Toronto-run recreation center that has been adopted locally as the Queer Community Center, though its programming is not exclusive to LGBT groups and organizations. It is currently under renovation including expansion of the building (now complete) and upgrades to the existing spaces. The facility will remain open during the upgrades, which are scheduled for completion sometime in 2007.
While the neighborhood 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 and Riverdale, and in smaller numbers throughout the city and its suburbs.
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 areaEdit
A number of alternative names for Church and Wellesley exist in local vernacular, including the Gay Ghetto, the Village or the Gay Village, the Gaybourhood. Less commonly used terms include Gay & Wellesley and Queens Park (a play on words with Queen's Park, the seat of Ontario's provincial government); 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. Some people refer to it simply as Church Street, since most of the gay-related establishments in the area are located on that street.
The steps in front of Second CupEdit
"The Steps" in front of the Second Cup coffee shop on the south-west corner of Church and Wellesley, was an infamous communal stoop. It had often been packed with people chatting, flirting, and drinking coffee. Indeed, the Steps were parodied by The Kids in the Hall, who themselves were from Toronto and had an openly gay member, Scott Thompson. The Steps' significance as a social gathering spot diminished in the early 2000s, in part because the business association of the neighbouring Yonge Street commercial strip hired private security to patrol its streets. Some homeless youth and street kids migrated from Yonge Street to nearby Church Street as a result. Some people saw these youth as 'undesirable'. Some older gays felt threatened by incidents of aggressive panhandling and insults. The upwardly mobile gay clientele began to move on when they found the relocated street culture incompatible with their own.
This migration caused a backlash from Church Street business owners who threatened to remove the Steps and other loitering areas altogether. In April 2004, the property owner expanded the retail space of the shops to the street front, due to the backlash mentioned above. However, this created further controversy, as the expansion meant that the shops in that building were no longer wheelchair-accessible. (They had previously been accessible because the street's gradual slope meant that the northernmost end of the Steps was in fact a ground-level ramp. In 2005, however, a new wheelchair ramp was added at the front of the building.)
The "communal stoop" area has moved two blocks south to the corner of Church and Alexander, near Timothy's and the statue of Alexander Wood (see below). The former Second Cup location closed down, and is now the location of Ginger, a pan-Asian restaurant; around the same time, a Lettieri franchise opened across the street.
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 a 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 held that year and in 2007, but will not be held in 2008.
The portion of the neighborhood 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 gay sex 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 spring 2005, a statue of Wood was erected at the corner of Church St and Alexander St (the latter named for Wood), honoring 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 around 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. The most notable bar for the gay subculture was the St. Charles Tavern at 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. There were also a number of gay-oriented businesses on St. Nicholas Street, a laneway just west of Yonge in the same area. The Glad Day Bookshop, for many years the city's only gay oriented bookstore, opened on Yonge Street near Wellesley in the mid-1970s.
Church Street started to become a predominantly gay area, and the center 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 bath houses, ran for Toronto city council with his campaign headquarters located at Church and Wellesley.
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.
As times have changed and Canadian society has become more open to homosexuality, Church Street is no longer viewed, particularly by gay youth, as an essential destination. Many bars and clubs throughout Toronto are now gay-friendly; establishments such as the Drake Hotel and the Gladstone Hotel, although outside of Toronto's traditional gay village and not technically gay bars per se, are currently popular destinations for young gay and lesbian clubgoers.
As well, the area has become more of a "mainstream" destination causing rental rates for both commercial and residential property to rise significantly. Many privately owned businesses have been forced to close down or move to other areas due to these rate increases, and much larger corporations — such as Starbucks, Baskin-Robbins and the Bank of Montreal — have settled on the street.
The residents of the area are now largely middle-aged men with established careers. The high rents mean that the majority of gay youth cannot afford to live in the neighborhood. Some choose to settle in nearby neighborhoods 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 neighborhood's appeal with youth and its loss of small businesses.
Therefore, some feel that in the near future Church Street may no longer be the "heart" of the gay community. This prospect has led many to ponder whether Toronto really needs an enclave for sexual minorities. Others feel that it is time for the gay community to move on to another area of town. Some have noted that many small gay-owned businesses have moved to cheaper areas such as Parliament Street and Sherbourne Street, located east of Church and Wellesley. Some have speculated that within ten years, Parliament and Wellesley may become Toronto's new gay village. Parkdale and the Queen Street West area have also become destinations for gays and lesbians, even earning the nickname of "Queer West Village" in recent years.
- Enza Anderson, drag queen and political candidate
- Mark Elliot, the first openly gay talk show host on CFRB
- Kyle Rae, Toronto city councillor
- Rolyn Chambers, popular social/nightlife columnist for fab
- Malcolm Ingram, director Small Town Gay Bar
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