In the 1920’s, artists, writers, shopkeepers and bohemians began settling into 19th-century row houses along Gerrard West and neighbouring streets. They painted the stuccoed houses in rainbow colours, opened art galleries, bookshops, restaurants and – a first for TORONTO – an outdoor patio. The neighbourhood was christened GERRARD STREET VILLAGE. It became our city’s Greenwich Village, Soho, the Left Bank – an enclave of bohemia in the middle of a very conservative town.
CSILLA FEL remembers TORONTO’s first patio: “The first patio with the yellow awning was a rented house and was called “The Jack and Jill” . Catherina Barca, aged 97 passed away quietly this spring. The Globe and Mail called the Barcas ‘pioneers in sidewalk cafes.’ This was my backyard as a child and the atmosphere of coffee and creativity has stayed with me my whole life.”
Ernest Hemingway called the Village home for a while; the Group of Seven’s Lawren Harris sketched here; painter Albert Franck rented a shop in the 1940’s. Some other villagers – poets Al Purdy and bp Nichol, Margaret Atwood, Milton Acorn, Michael Ondaatje, Joe Rosenblatt, Gwendolyn MacEwen – a slew of intellectuals, designers, booksellers and writers.Only a few of the Victorian-era houses remain – “totally emasculated” as one old-timer put it. A hotel, parking lot, hospital buildings, a condo and a steam plant occupy – what was once – TORONTO’s ‘Brigadoon’.<PHOTOS – City of Toronto Archives; Image above – David Mason Books>