Toronto, along the 501 Streetcar Route – Part 5- Historic Queen East

By: Jim Bamboulis

Hey everyone and thanks again for stopping by. We hope you’re enjoying our 501 Series and that the articles are giving you that extra push to (re)discover parts of Toronto you may not know much about. We’re moving right along, this week to Historic Queen Street East.

This historic stretch, aka Old Queen Street East, was supposed to blow up years ago. Many were hoping that both foot traffic and businesses would pick up considering how close this neighbourhood is to Yonge Street. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. As you’ll find out below, this stretch of the 501 has some years to go before more eager shoppers flock to it.

Feel of the area

I’m not going to lie. Between Victoria and Sherbourne Streets, Queen East is pretty desolate. More desolate once you go east of Church Street. If you’re looking for food and bar options, there are a few options but not many. Queen East is for the more adventurous soul, those who love exploring often overlooked parts, enjoy off the beaten path parts. This part of the 501 is charming in that Old Toronto style. From the Metropolitan Church to McTamney’s and Ash Farrelly’s George Street Diner, Historic Queen East is definitely a unique section of downtown Toronto. What is lacks in finesse, it makes up for with eccentricity.

Why come to this area

Metropolitan Church

The largest Church in downtown Toronto, The Met is a stunning building that dates back to the 1870s. Although most of the original building burnt down in 1928, the newer version was built on the old foundations (map). The Gothic church reopened in 1929 and in 1930, a new organ was installed. Updated and restored over the years, it now has more than 8,200 pipes with sizes ranging from a large as 32 feet and as small as a pencil. To go along with the massive organ, it also has 54 bells.

St. Michael’s Cathedral

Located just north of Queen Street, St. Michael’s is one of my favourite churches in Toronto (map). Built in the Gothic revival style and dedicated in 1848, this cathedral is home to the largest English-speaking Catholic diocese in Canada. Iconic and significant, it was built to accommodate and serve the growing RC population of Toronto, especially during the immense influx of immigrants from Ireland fleeing the Irish famine in the 1840s and 50s.

McTamney’s Pawnbrokers

Another iconic symbol of Toronto happens to be one of Canada’s oldest and most established family run businesses (map). McTamney’s has been in the buying and selling business for over 150 years. The shop has been at Church and Queen for nearly 100 years. Generations of people have come and gone through the doors including a few celebrities here and there.

George Street Diner

There’s B Espresso Bar next door to upscale George Restaurant which is next door to funky Carbon Bar. All modern, slick and on Queen Street. But if you’re like me and want a bit of nostalgia with your meal then venture off Queen. Go south 1 block to Richmond Street at George Street (map). There, you’ll find one of the most authentic diners in Toronto’s east end, an  Owner with a great story and a simple philosophy.

In my opinion, it all starts from the top. If the Boss is good, the staff will be good, the food will be quality and in turn the customers you attract will be good. Bad ownership means bad everything. When it comes to the George Street Diner, Owner Ash Farrelly brings positive energy from the first hello to the last goodbye. Walk in here and you’re treated like family. 

Ash is a lovely lady who came to Canada from Ireland. Like many immigrants, she came with a dream and only a few dollars in her pocket.  After much hard work and a necessary bank loan, Ash took charge of the Diner and put some soul into it. Her inviting personality and warm sense of humour creates an energy that is like no other. Here, it’s about meeting people, talking to people, face-to-face interaction. Like the good old days. You won’t find a TV or WiFi. Here, it’s all about reigniting the lost art of conversation.

There you have it, Historic Queen East. Did we miss something about this neighbourhood that you feel we should have included? Let us know.

Thanks all and happy travels as always.


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