I’ve been a fan of Front Street since stepping off the overnight VIA Rail departed from Montreal for the first time, summer 1980. I had come to Toronto to perform at the Zanzibar on Young Street, or to visit my eldest brother who lived downtown with several other post-graduate students, can’t recall which. If it was the latter, being hungry after the overnight trip, he likely bought me lunch at St. Lawrence Market. Sitting on a stool eating peameal bacon sandwiches was trendy at the time, as was the exploitation of the female body; an expanding business manifesting from burlesque, striptease and topless go-go girls, to the full blown lucrative phenomenon that was table dancing and I was a key player. One arresting teenage mistake, followed by a jury trial, resulting in a criminal conviction paved the way down that deviant path (but that’s another story).
There was no golden glass skyscraper dominating the scenery in the early 80′, but the Royal York Hotel had been standing proud since 1927 and Union Station opened the travel hub that same year with Prince Edward snipping the ribbon. By then the city had become a thriving industrial center and there was a need for both. They called it Hogtown! The stench and squealing long dissipated; Toronto was built on the brutal butchering of hundreds of thousands of pigs beginning in the 1860’s. Today, the William Davies building at 145 Front Street East is all that’s left of the sprawling stockyards, packing, and processing plants. The Company was the first Canadian meat exporter and the largest food producer of the era, killing and shipping millions of pounds of salt-cured pork annually for decades. (No disrespect to his descendants, but for the benefit of those who do not condone the practice of eating meat, you could say that William Davies got what was coming to him when he died after being butted by a goat in 1931; well into his 90’s after a full life fat off the hog.)