In 2013 I went to Toronto, Ontario to attend BlogHouse and the TBEX Conference. As part of the conference I go to go on a walking tour called Rock and Roll Yorkville. Toronto is a city I had visited before, and being the largest city in Canada I knew some things about Toronto, but not a lot. The walking tour took place in the Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto, and went through some of the music history that has taken place there.
I love music, but I didn’t know that there was a huge music scene in Yorkville in the 1960’s. The Yorkville neighbourhood became “Canada’s youthful Bohemian scene” where musicians like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, and Gordon Lightfoot would write music, and perform. Our tour guide Dave also had stories about other musicians from the 60’s as well, including one about a performance John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave at the The Toronto Rock & Roll Festival that was held in 1969. It’s said that it was this festival that gave John Lennon the confidence that he could make it as a solo artist. Basically you can blame Toronto for breaking up The Beatles (just kidding, kinda).
I went on two different walking tours in Toronto, and on both tours it wasn’t always obvious that I was standing in an area with history. Most of the buildings, the record stores, music clubs and coffee houses that once supported the folk and rock music scene in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood are all gone. Luckily our walking tour also including a going to the bar and enjoying a beer on the patio component where our group were shown some photos from the Yorkville scene in 1960’s. After the tour Dave emailed us some links to some of the song and musicians that would have played at the different coffee shops and bars in Yorkville.
This is a song called It’s My Time by The Mynah Birds, a group that played around the music clubs of Yorkville in the 1960’s. Fun fact The Mynah Bird members included Rick James and Neil Young.
Today Yorkville is one of the richest neighbourhoods not only in Toronto, but in all of North America. It has the third most expensive retail space in all of North America, and instead of seeing places like The Riverboat Coffeehouse, where up and coming musicians would be performing, today in Yorkville you’re much more likely to see designer stores and high-end hotels. It was fascinating not only to hear about all the musicians who played in Yorkville in the 1960’s, but to also hear about how Yorkville changed from being equivalent of Canada’s version of Haight-Ashbury to Canada’s version of Rodeo Drive.
If you are coming to Toronto you should check out the Yorkville neighbourhood. Unfortunately this walking tour is no longer offered, but if you want to learn more about the music history in Yorkville check out this documentary from the CBC or the book Making The Scene.
A general map of Yorkville is below.
Disclaimer: As an attendant of TBEX 2013 I received complimentary admission for this walking tour. All opinions in this post are my own.
Have you been to Toronto?