The three small
buildings at 107, 109 and 111 King St. E. have been silent spectators to almost
every major event that has happened in this city since they were first built
back in 1834.
They were onlookers
in 1837 as soldiers marched past their doorways on their way to crush
Mackenzie’s rebellion and later from their upper-floor windows people watched
in quiet protest as the rebel leaders were hanged across the street a year
miraculously survived the Great Fire of 1849, which destroyed their neighbours
including St. James’ Cathedral. They were around when the new cathedral, the
one we have today, opened its doors in 1853.
They saw the
first sidewalks in Toronto laid outside their doors; the first street gaslights
lit followed by electric ones; felt the roar of the first streetcars to roll
by; witnessed the great tides of immigration to flood this city in the mid 19th
century and were there to celebrate the 1867 Confederation. They have survived
war, fire, urban renewal—and even Andy Warhol.The first business to make 107
King St. E. home was Joseph Rogers’ Fur and Hat Manufacturer where, before he
got famous, was one of Canada’s greatest painters Paul Kane was hired to paint
the sign that was to hang from the front door.
On Nov. 22,
1848 fire breaks out in the block that houses the Joseph Rogers store and it is
here that William Thornton becomes the first Toronto firefighter to die in the
line of duty.
The store was
rebuilt and Roger’s son and later grandson stayed on at 107 King St. E. running
the business to at least the mid 1870s.
In 1891 Mrs.
Gallagher’s Foreign and Domestic Fruits moved into 107 St. E. and next door, at
109-111, The Great London and Liverpool One Price Clothing House took up
residence (currently La Maquette Restaurant). Today on the façade of 107 King
St. E. you can still see the tiny remains of the iron hooks imbedded into the
stone that once held Gallagher’s awning.
By 1893, Oak
Hall, one of the most impressive stores in late 19th-century Toronto stood next
door on the site of the present day Sculpture Garden (1981).
gentleman’s clothing emporium at 4-storeys-high with floor-to-ceiling windows
and 12 Greek Goddess statues adorning the façade was sadly demolished in 1938.
However it did create that terrific vista of St. James’ Cathedral we have
demise of Oak Hall King Street East started its descent into a series of
second-hand clothing outlets, machine shops and empty store fronts.
However by the
late 1950s, upstairs at 107 King St. E. becomes the art studio of one of the
most celebrated painters in Canada: Tom Hodgson, a founding member of the
highly influential group of abstract artists known as the Painters Eleven.
This group that
also included other notable Canadian artists—Jack Bush, Alexandra Luke, Jock
Macdonald, Kazuo Nakamura and Harold Town—was formed in 1953 and by the time
the group formally disbanded in 1960, Tom’s King Street studio dubbed The Pit
was the coolest place to be in pre-hippy-era Toronto.
It would be
there, in what was then a very depressed area of town, that Tom would host some
of the wildest parties this city had ever seen up to that time.
Don George tells me he remembers going to The Pit one night when cold cuts were
being served on the bodies of nude women lying atop the buffet table, all the
while naked young art students swung shamelessly from a rope across the
And all of this
happening a stone’s throw from stately St. James’ Cathedral in a time when
Toronto-the-Good protesters were picketing the King Edward Hotel because then
unmarried Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were “living in sin.”
years 1960 to1967 when Hodgson lived and worked at his King Street East studio,
the people and parties—not to mention the work—kept on coming. One of the great
local myths that survives to this day is whether Pop Art icon Andy Warhol, when
visiting Toronto, would spend time at the Pit. Tom, the last surviving member
of the Painters Eleven, died in 2006. Beginning in the early 1980s King Street
East, which up until then had spent the last half century in decay, began its
way back to recovery. In 2003 107 and 109 King St. E. were completely renovated
by developers Michael and Anne Tippin. Today the two buildings (their ground
floors joined) are home to a new restaurant called Origin, a perfect name for
one of Toronto’s oldest and most historic treasures.
Please visit my
website www.brucebelltours.ca or call me at 647-393-8687 for info on my local
upcoming tours & my next tour
to New York City Oct. 15-17.