Toronto’s Queen Street, the portion running west from stately University to cosmopolitan Spadina, was originally a jumble of greasy spoons, barbershops and clothing stores. Owners lived above their shops, while children played on sidewalks. There were even a couple of watering holes that supplied the mostly Irish, Jewish and Eastern European locals with cold, cheap draft beer. By the late 1970s, those bars had become part of a fertile breeding ground, a creative hothouse of forceful protest, stylish adventure and uninhibited experimentation that produced an explosion of musical talent. In many ways, it paralleled the city’s fabled Yorkville scene of the previous decade, with a tight concentration of clubs that served as a launching pad for a generation of future stars.
The catalyst for change was the nearby Ontario College of Art. Drawn by the lure of affordable housing and restaurants serving inexpensive meals, students from the college began moving into the area, rubbing shoulders with the district’s working-class denizens. Soon, artist-run galleries, theatres and other performance spaces sprang up, while music quickly took over the taverns and the illegal, after-hours clubs that surreptitiously opened