Amid the modern luxury condominiums and trendy shops that have come to shape contemporary Yorkville, remnants of the neighbourhood's rich musical history lie embedded in the streetscape. Some of the buildings which housed the over 40 clubs and coffee houses that featured nightly performances in the 1960s and 1970s survived Yorkville's transition from a bohemian counterculture community into a hub of high-end retail. Now, the venerable institutions that spawned the careers of musical talents like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have officially been recognized by Heritage Toronto.
Three plaques were unveiled inside the Masonic Temple on the evening of May 6. While one plaque commemorates Yorkville's hip music scene overall, the others celebrate what were two of the city's most popular clubs.
The Purple Onion, opened in 1960, proved to be one of Yorkville's most successful folk music coffee houses. The venue hosted acts from comedian Rich Little, Carly Simon, and The Travellers. Local favourites Luke & The Apostles, who performed to the capacity crowd following the plaque presentation, and Gordon Lightfoot, also in attendance, frequently played at The Purple Onion. This plaque will end up outside the venue's Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue location, a Victorian row-house which is planned to be saved as part of the 33 Avenue Road development.
The third plaque recognizes The Penny Farthing, which opened in 1963 and served as a stomping ground for Joni Mitchell. Leonard Cohen's roots can be traced back to this venue as well, where his songs were debuted by the band The Stormy Clovers in 1966. The coffee house at 112 Yorkville featured a backyard patio complete with a swimming pool and bikini-clad waitresses.
In addition to Gee Chung from The Greater Yorkville Residents’ Association, several special guests attended the event, including Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and former Mayor Barbara Hall. Founding member of The Travellers, Jerry Gray, treated the assembled crowd with a performance of "This Land Is Your Land" to much acclaim.
The unveiled plaques will be installed throughout Yorkville in the summer, cementing the neighbourhood's legacy as a hotbed of live music. A Heritage Toronto walking tour hosted by music journalist and historian Nicholas Jennings will take visitors to the sites of these now shuttered venues on June 23.
To find out more about Heritage Toronto's programming, including the wealth of walking tours being held over the summer, visit the official website. Do you have any memories of attending Yorkville's live music venues? Let us know by leaving a comment in the field provided below.