Toronto, Canada's largest city, is famous for its long-standing social liberalism, tolerance, anti-discrimination policies and multicultural population. It is home to one of the largest LGBT populations in the Americas.
It hosted World Pride in 2014.
The Church and Wellesley district is the epicentre of the city's gay community and a major tourist destination. Parkdale and West Queen West are also popular districts featuring many gay bars, clubs, restaurants and other businesses. The annual Toronto Pride Week Festival is one of the largest pride celebrations in the world, attracting over 1 million visitors every year.
The portion of the neighbourhood bounded by Yonge, Jarvis, Maitland and Carlton Streets was once the estate of Alexander Wood, a merchant and magistrate who was at the centre of a strange sex scandal in 1810 when he investigated a rape case. The victim claimed that she did not know the identity of her attacker, however she had scratched her assailant's penis during the assault. In order to identify the assailant, Wood personally inspected the genitals of a number of suspects for injury. Amidst rumours and the threat of sodomy charges, Wood, now nicknamed "Molly Wood", went into exile in Scotland for two years before returning to his post in 1812. In 1827 he purchased 50 acres (0.2 km2) of land which included what is now the Church and Wellesley Village. His lands were derisively known as "Molly Wood's Bush" in the early 19th century — "molly" being a slang term then for "homosexual".
Church Street and the area around it has been familiar to the Toronto gay community for many decades. Prior to the 1970s there had been an underground (mostly male) gay scene centred on various bathhouses and bas around the city that were not exclusively gay establishments but were known to be frequented by homosexuals.
From the late 1960s through the early 1980s the focus of Toronto's gay subculture was the Yonge and Wellesley area. The most notable bars for the gay subculture were on Yonge Street (one block west of Church) just south of Wellesley. During the 1970s, the bars were the focus of many attacks by homophobes, especially on Halloween when the tavern held an annual drag contest that had been proceeded by an outdoor promenade until attacks by homophobes hurling eggs and rotten fruit made that impossible.
Church Street, one block east of Yonge, had been a depressed area with low rents and started to become a predominantly gay area as gay-owned bars and other businesses started opening up as an alternative to the straight owned bars on Yonge St. whose owners were accused of being hostile of their gay clientele.
The centre of the gay life in Toronto shifted to Church Street following the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids, an event that galvanized the gay and lesbian community in the city. George Hislop, an openly gay businessman and co-owner of one of the raided bathhouses, ran unsuccessfully for Toronto City Council.
In the 1980s, the 519 Church Street Community Centre became the meeting place for numerous social and political groups and became well known as an LGBT friendly space. A strip of gay bars opened along the street and many LGBT people rented apartments, joined residential co-ops or bought condos close to Church. The area became known as a friendly environment where people could be open about their sexual orientation.
In the 21st century, the role of the Village has declined as many bars and clubs throughout Toronto are now gay-friendly; establishments such as Wayla, the Drake Hotel, the Gladstone Hotel and the Beaver, although outside Toronto's traditional gay village and not specifically gay bars are popular destinations for young gay and lesbian club-goers.
Many LGBT businesses have closed or moved to other areas due to rent increases, and been replaced by chain stores and restaurants. Many LGBT people can no longer afford to live in the neighbourhood , while others no longer feel it necessary to live near the village as they can be open about their sexuality without as much fear of backlash.
- Statue of Alexander Wood (at the corner of Church and Alexander streets). In the spring of 2005, a statue of Wood was erected at the corner of Church and Alexander Streets (the latter named for Wood), honouring him as a forefather of Toronto's modern gay community.
- 1 Equilibrium Mural (Parkside Student Residences), 111 Carlton St (at Jarvis St). In summer 2018, artist Okuda San Miguel erected a very colourful, 23-storey mural on the east side of the Parkside Student Residences building. The mural has an LGBT theme.
- The ArQuives (formerly known as the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives), 34 Isabella Street, ☏ . Tu-Th 6:30-9PM, F 1-5PM. The archives hold a wide range of artifacts including memorabilia, pins, t-shirts, periodicals, audio and video documentation, oral histories, personal papers, and organizational records.
- 1 The 519, 519 Church Street, ☏ , fax: . City-funded LGBTQ community centre hosts various community, athletic and cultural groups.
- 2 Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St (1 block east of Yonge St). Venue for bold gay & lesbian theatrical expression. $30 tickets.
- 3 Hanlan's Point Beach. The official clothing-optional beach, popular with gay men, on the Toronto Islands. Ferries run frequently from the foot of Bay Street (next to the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel) year-round to Hanlan's Point (a 15-min trip, $7.50 round-trip). Ferries leave the city as early as 9AM and return as late as 11:15PM in summer. Or you can take one of the many water taxis along the harbour for $10 one-way.
- 4 Spa Excess, 105 Carlton St, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: . A men's bathhouse open 24/7/365. Clean, well kept with friendly staff. Wide demographic. Open daily 24 hours. A short distance outside of Church-Wellesley Village but still in the spirit of the village. In case it isn't obvious, customers come here to have sex with each other.
- Pride Toronto. Held the last week of June. Pride Toronto is the annual LGBT festival which draws crowds of LGBT tourists, and straight people who want to see how LGBT people have fun. During the last weekend, Church Street is closed off in Church-Wellesley Village for entertainment stages, beer gardens, and a huge steer fair. Friday and Saturday evenings, you will find various circuit parties. Blockorama, on Sunday afternoon, caters to Black/Indigenous/People of Colour community with a stage for Soca, R&B, Soulful House, Afrobeat and Hip Hop music. On Friday, there is a Trans Pride march. Saturday, it's the Dyke March led by the Dykes on Bikes motorcyclists. On Sunday, the massive Pride Parade proceeds down Yonge Street, the city's main street. Also led by the Dykes on Bikes, it is a mass of corporate floats, community groups, politicians, unions, drag queens, religious groups, and, at the end of the parade, naked people. Bring water, a hat and sun block: it's usually very hot.
- The Rhubarb Festival, 12 Alexander St, ☏ . February. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents experimental, edgy and fringe-friendly queer theatre, dance, music and performance art during this 10-day festival. A $20 day pass gets you into 3 or 4 shows.
- 5 Inside Out LGBT Film & Video Festival, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W. Late May/early June. 180 Canadian ind international films and videos over ten days, produced by and about LGBT people.
- Toronto Queer Film Festival. Early November. A four-day film festival started by queer people who felt Inside Out had become too commercial, it focuses on experimental films and/or social justice-themed projects, especially those focusing on the experiences of Indigenous people, people of colour, people with disabilities, transgender people, sex workers, porn makers, and other communities marginalized in contemporary LGBT cultural programming and spaces.
- Nuit Rose. June. Toronto’s queer version of the Nuit Blanche festival. A free annual festival of queer art and performance, showcasing provocative, contemporary work by local and international artists throughout the city.
- Halloween Street Party, Church Street. Late October. Thousands of revellers (many in costume, many scantily-clad) flock to this the pedestrian-only street party.
- We're Funny That Way!, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Early June. A 4-day, annual LGBT charity comedy festival.
- 1 Glad Day Bookshop and Cafe, 499 Church St (south of Wellesley St), ☏ . Cafe/bar 9AM-late, bookshop 11AM-7PM. The world's oldest LGBT bookstore has expanded to include a cafe and wine bar that often hosts community events. Since 1969, Glad Day has been a linchpin of the LGBT community in Toronto.
- The West Queen West Art & Design District offers a bevy of art galleries, design shops, coffeehouses, and hip lounges. This neighbourhood along West Queen Street in the city's West End is also sometimes called "Queer West Village". It is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA).
- Take a Walk on the Wildside, 161 Gerrard St. E, ☏ . Tu-Sa noon-5PM. Transformation services for male-to-female cross-dressers. Boutique with clip-on earrings, wide width ladies shoes and boots to size 17, wigs, jewellery, makeup, corsets, lingerie, silicone breast forms, corsets and waist cinchers, hip pads, books and magazines, videos, stockings and pantyhose, skirts, blouses, dresses, and fetishwear. It tends to be overpriced as this is a niche provider (they limit this to one or two people in the store at a time) and the full "You Keep Everything package" (all the clothes, makeup and services to turn a man into a new woman) can run up to $500, so it's typical for clients to buy the most common items (which can be obtained anywhere) from mainstream new or used women's merchants and get just the specialized items (such as wigs, breast forms or oversize ladyslippers) here. A few once-popular features (such as the Toronto crossdressers club or the handful of B&B-style rooms) that had been offered at some point (Wildside was founded in 1987) are now gone. Proprietor Paddy (Patricia) Aldridge is theatrically trained (BA) and recognizable to cinemagoers as 2014 documentary Transfixed (Alon Kol) depicts her fitting Martine Stonehouse in a last-minute wedding dress before she espouses John Gelmon.
- 1 Hair of the Dog Neighbourhood Pub & Restaurant, 425 Church St. Higher priced pub grub, but they have very good nachos.
- Fabarnak, 519 Church Street (Church-Wellesley Village), ☏ . M-F 8:30AM-4PM, Sa (brunch) 9AM-4PM. This restaurant is a social enterprise that offers a range of culinary dishes prepared and served by members of the LGBTQ community who face barriers to employment. More than 60% of the food is locally grown and produced. Owned and operated by the 519 Community Centre. Mains $8-16.
- Church St. Garage, 477 Church St (Ccrner of Maitland and Church). M-F 11AM-2AM, Sa Su 9:30AM-2AM. Their sidewalk terrace right on Church St is great for people-watching, and the pub food is okay. Drag shows and karaoke in the evening.
- Bullfog Cafe, 89 Granby St (a block south of Carlton St off Church St). Home of Ontario’s first winning Champion Barista. Elaborate latte art, pastries, sandwiches. A favourite of the LGBT community.
- 1 Churchmouse & Firkin, 475 Church St. English pub grub. Small summer patio.
- 2 Crews & Tango, 508 Church Street. The quintessential gay bar/club in the gay village. 2 floors, 3 rooms, and weekly drag shows makes for a great night to town.
- 3 Woody's and Sailor, 465-467 Church Street. Daily 1PM-2AM. The biggest bar in the city. Very friendly. Hosting nightly DJs & men's competitions on weekends, this lively, cavernous gay club boasts 5 bars.
- Wayla, 996 Queen Street East (in the -East End), ☏ . Daily 8PM-2AM. An upscale bar inspired by underground clubs of New York City. It attracts mid-20s to mid-40s professionals — gay, lesbian, transgender, straight & bisexual. It hosts a Sunday afternoon tea dance for gay men. Its comedy showcase features queer stand-up comics, and its art features LGBT artists.
- 1 Town Inn Suites, 620 Church St (at Charles), ☏ . Five minutes' walk from Bloor-Yonge subway. One-bedroom suites with bathroom and kitchenette; swimming pool. Showing its age, and furniture and fittings of variable quality (in particular, extractor fans generally defective), but redeemed by a friendly front desk and efficient service engineers. For a decent view you need to go to the very top. Recommended for stays of a month or more.
- 2 [dead link] Tokyo Love Hotel, 29 Wellesley St E, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Japanese-style love hotel with fantasy rooms. Check in online for discretion. Accommodations include a variety of themed rooms, decked out with mirrored walls, a private bathroom, an HD TV, and "sweet treats and adult goodies." 2 hours $90, 4 hours $180, overnight $300 (opening special).
- Daily Xtra. LGBT news and events for Toronto. The online continuation of the weekly LGBT newspaper that ceased publication in 2015.
- 1 Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, 115 Simpson Avenue, ☏ . Sunday morning: Meditation Service 9AM, Celebration Service 11AM, Inspiration Service 7PM. A welcoming congregation openly affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual and transgender people.
- Salaam (Toronto Chapter), 519 Church Street Community Centre. A monthly discussion group and peer support for queer/trans Muslims.
- Gay Sober Men, St. Luke's United Church, 353 Sherbourne St (enter door south of the main door on Sherbourne). Th 7:30-8:30PM. Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Hassle Free Clinic, 66 Gerrard Street East, 2nd Floor, ☏ . Provides free medical and counselling services in many areas of sexual health for men, women and trans people.