As Queen Street East in Riverside & Leslieville sadly say goodbye to Regal Hardware it makes me wonder what was it like when we first said hello? (Over a century ago)
The crew at Regal Hardware after a hard days work, April 2014
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Matteis @CBCsteph
We’re getting used to seeing lineups on Queen Street East in Leslieville and Riverside at the happening spots in the evening or at Lady Marmalade for brunch in the afternoon. But, in the last week it’s been for a different reason. Regal Hardware is closing up shop and everyone wants a piece of history. A substantial increase in property values (taxes) and a decrease in sales have left the owners with no choice. The gentrification of Queen Street East is moving fast and furious and unfortunately that means the mom and pop shops will be moving out – even the great ones like Regal Hardware. Locals have been walking through the doors of 800 Queen Street East with a question about a toilet or a light fixture for almost 110 years.
Well, from now on they will need to go up to Home Depot and hope and pray that the one employee that knows what they are doing isn’t on a coffee break. Sometimes I wish that I could hit the pause button on a neighbourhoods transition and that would be right about now. A fantastic mix of great shops and restaurants as well as older, more established businesses currently sit on Queen Street East although not many more established than Regal Hardware. We must keep in mind that Riverside is a retail strip rich with tradition and the Riverside BIA is the oldest business association in Toronto. More info can be found here.
These nice folks have operated the shop since 1973. They are only the 3rd owners in 110 years! At one point Nick owned (from my understanding) all the buildings on that block, including the Bonjour Brioche building which he eventually sold to the owners of the restaurant because he wanted to keep them in the neighbourhood.
In addition to being a real estate agent – I’m also an amateur eastside history buff. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to try and piece together what this strip of Queen East in Riverside (+ Leslieville) looked like when they originally opened. I would appreciate it if anyone has anything to add – photography or story wise. Please comment below or send it to me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Queen Street at Don Bridge looking east 1911
Let’s have a stroll up and over the Don River Bridge onto the Queen Street East of yesteryear… A walk down Queen around 1905 would have similarities to a walk down this street in 2014. A lot of the same charming buildings still exist – which we are all thankful for. It would be a lot quieter of course as it is years before the automobile arrived onto Toronto Streets. The streetcar existed by this time but were horse drawn and privately run (until the TTC began to operate it in 1921). It would be also be a very filthy walk as the roads were still all dirt. As the city of Toronto grades drastically to the south, Queen Street must have experienced a lot of muddy flooding. All the trendy rain boots the girls wear today would have come in handy!
Looking towards the Bridge over the don and into the Riverside neighbourhood in 1907. Jilly’s tower can be seen in the background. I’m not sure how many street lights existed in the east end at this point. So perhaps our walk should be during the day. The next photo is undated.
A postcard shows Queen & Grant streets in the late 19th or early 20th century.
By this point east of the Don felt like a quiet but bustling small town far removed from downtown which was recovering from one of the largest catastrophe our young city had ever seen. The great fire of 1904 had just about leveled downtown and it was not a pretty site. People started to scatter in different directions and Riverside in 1905 looked like a pretty desirable location to set up business for the original Regal Hardware store proprietor. It was a neighbourhood experiencing growth and prosperity. It’s also possible the new shop owners lost their location in the fire downtown. Here is a photograph of downtown Toronto after the fire.
Looking out their shop window at Regal Hardware they currently face the Mustard Seed complex. In 1905 a small church sat on that site. It was referred to as the Woodgreen Tabernacle in the book a facebook friend connected to our neighbourhood group found it in. If you haven’t joined / liked our group you should! Click here. We don’t know the exact date of this photo but we do know its before 1892 as that is when the Woodgreen Place Victorian row house development went in down that Laneway (which is not built when this photo was taken). We recently sold one of these homes you can find the images here. These houses sit behind the building that houses our offices at RE/MAX Hallmark at 785 Queen Street East. In this photo our building was already built as you can see it to the west. A creepy shadowy image is also seen walking down this laneway. If you want to speculate about ghosts you can do that in our previous blog post here. You can also see a piece of the sign for the east end’s first library ever (This is the building that currently houses County General, Philz). I learned this by reading this historical plaque with my sister and kids one day on a wander down Queen.
Shortly thereafter, as the population of the area increased, the church was too small so it was demolished and a much bigger one was built on the same site. Our office looks like it might have been a photography studio by this time in the early 20th century.
I found this photo of Queen & Degrassi from 1925. Albeit, 20 years after the opening of Regal Hardware, but I’m sure it hadn’t changed much. There were, by this time, paved roads and the Riverdale train stop at this location. It looks like a druggist was operating out of this location during the early years of the 20th century.
Below is 630-634 Queen Street East in 1918 – currently a condominium project “Sync” by Streetcar Developments. More info can be found here.
Here is a great photo from across the street from Regal, Looking east. 1930.
Broadview Avenue 1907
Thanks for reading this. If you have anything to add please drop me a line!
RE/MAX Hallmark Realty