A proposal to demolish and rebuild the property at 365 Queen St W and make alterations to 367 Queen St W has been submitted to the Toronto Preservation Board. The proposal comes just as the Silver Snail, Toronto's iconic 35-year-old comic book store, winds down its last months before relocating to the Annex.
The proposal seeks to completely tear down the unremarkable grey retail cube at 365 Queen West and make alterations to its heritage-designated neighbour to restore the façade to its former Victorian glory. According to the proposal, a three-story retail building incorporating the historic façade will be constructed across both lots. A rendering and some drawings of the proposed building have been produced by Montgomery Sisam Architects which show how the second storey façade will be completely redone and brought into architectural conformity with the mansard roof.
While the restoration of the second storey is a pleasant step toward acknowledging the building's heritage, the plans for the street level suggest movement in the opposite direction. The Silver Snail is one of the few remaining businesses which survived the gentrification of this part of Queen West. For many locals, its imaginative and whimsical window displays and its colourful superhero-themed storefront art provided a brief reprieve for passers-by from the sleek and ultramodern architecture which has come to dominate the area.
Not to diminish the artistic merit of these new buildings, but the loss of colour and vibrancy from the face of 367 Queen West seems regrettable now, and in some ways bespeaks of misplaced priorities in the designation and treatment of heritage and cultural sites in Toronto. The Silver Snail has done business at 367 Queen West for nearly 36 years and has made a little niche for itself in the community. Meanwhile, does anyone remember W. J. Burroughs who, in 1878, set up shop in the building we are now trying to simulate? The rendering shows an approximation of the heritage style: the narrow Victorian doors and windows are gone, replaced with a solid glass wall, and ornamentation is cut, especially from the second floor (where, conspicuously, ample space has been left for signage). The design is a modernist's nod to historical Toronto architecture, but perhaps more significant to our culture is the quirky comic book store that hung around long enough to witness such a profound transformation of its community.
Thankfully, the story of the Silver Snail will end differently than that of Sam the Record Man whose enormous sign gathers dust somewhere in a Ryerson University warehouse. When the Silver Snail leaves toward the end of June, it will head for the Annex, hopefully taking its sign, and recreating for the streetscape the façade so beloved by the Queen West crowd. Meanwhile, a new building will rise at its former home, paying tribute to a significant phase in Toronto's history while moving forward with its neighbourhood and incorporating new urban aesthetics.