Bell in Brief: The Derby Tavern was for Corktown dreamers

In the heart of Corktown—on the southeast corner of Parliament and King streets—once stood the Derby Tavern.

The tavern was built in 1846.

Generations of mill workers (on their way home from a long day toiling at the various factories and mills in the area, like the still-standing Gooderham and Worts) would stop off at the Derby. There they would throw back tankards of ale and sing songs of the old country.

Its final years saw the Derby deteriorate into just another dive—in a city full of dives—before it was ultimately torn down in the early 1990’s.

But for over 140 years, the shamrock-inspired Derby Tavern served generations of dreamers. To have heard an Irish ballad sung decades ago in that tavern by someone who had just arrived from Ireland after leaving his home (his land, his mother, his brother…) and deliver it with such utter despair and hope for a better world beyond this one must have been mesmerizing.

The Derby Tavern was as much a part of our heritage as Fort York or St. James Cathedral. Today the tavern site on the southeast corner of Parliament and King is home to the Derby Lofts.

All photos are courtesy of Toronto Public Library.


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About Bruce Bell

Although born and raised in Sudbury Ont, Bruce Bell has carved out quite a niche for himself in Toronto, historically speaking. Bruce has been writing a popular monthly column on the history of Toronto for the Bulletin, Canada’s largest community newspaper since 1999. In 2002 he was named by the city of Toronto the Official Historian of St. Lawrence Hall and St Lawrence Market. In November of 2003 Bruce was asked by the Ontario Heritage Foundation to host the 200 anniversary celebrations of St. Lawrence Market. In May 2004 Bruce was appointed official historian of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel as part of the famed hotel’s centennial celebrations. In October 2004 Bruce was appointed Honourary Historian of the Hockey Hall of Fame Heritage Building. In June 2006 Bruce was appointed Curator in Residence for the spectacular Dominion Bank Building (built in 1914). In October 2006 Bruce was bestowed the title ‘Honourary Historian of the 51 Division Heritage Building’ by Toronto Police Services for his work as a historian in 51 Division. In April 2007 as part of the Fairmont Hotel & Resorts 100 year birthday celebrations, Bruce was named Honourary Historian of the famed Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Bruce is the author of two books Amazing Tales of St. Lawrence Neighbourhood and the just published TORONTO: A Pictorial Celebration. Bruce is also the official tour guide of Toronto’s famed St Lawrence Market where visitors from around the globe are constantly being impressed with his expert knowledge. In addition to his tours at St Lawrence Market, Bruce conducts tours through Old Town Toronto, University of Toronto, Kensington Market, Yorkville and the Historic Distillery District as well as walking tour weekends in New York City. In 2003 Bruce began his History Project a historical plaque program which to date includes marking the site with large bronze markers of Toronto’s First Jail, The Great Fire of 1849, the hanging of the Rebellion of 1837 leaders Lount and Matthews and the birthplace of Canadian Statesman Robert Baldwin. Bruce’s mission is to tell Toronto’s history through his tours, writings and lectures including his sold out shows at Toronto’s famed Winter Garden Theatre, in an informative and entertaining way. Email him at

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