If you’ve already sauntered ’round the CN Tower, checked out Chinatown and stocked up on edible souvenirs at St Lawrence Market, it’s time to steer queer of the more mainstream sights of the city and check off the great LGBT experiences and attractions that Toronto has to offer. You’ll find most of them clustered in and around the city’s two main gaybourhoods — Church-Wellesley Village and West Queen West — with others confettied throughout other nearby neighbourhoods.
1. The Village
The Village, or Church Street, or Church-Wellesley Village, has been the epicentre of LGBT life in Toronto for decades. A bustling strip of bars, restaurants, cafés, theatres, galleries and green spaces, this is ground zero for Pride celebrations. Those who haven’t been to Toronto before might find that the gaybourhood looks strangely familiar, courtesy of Church Street and various of its venues having stood in for Pittsburgh on Showtime’s Queer as Folk. Relive scenes from the series at the boisterous Woody’s, one of QAF’s regular original shooting locations, or just grab a coffee or a martini and a window seat and watch the world go by.
2. The 519
The 519 Church Street Community Centre has been the gaybourhood hub for 35 years and offers a slew of programs, events and services. Their innovative, friendly Fabarnak Restaurant trains people from the community with barriers to employment to gain skills and creates delicious locavore food in the process. It’s a fantastic spot to stop for lunch or pick up a picnic to eat in adjacent Cawthra Park.
3. Alexander Wood statue
Poised on the corner of Alexander and Church streets, this proud statue commemorates businessman and justice of the peace Alexander Wood, who arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1793. A victim of homophobia after a scandal in 1810, he suffered ridicule and discrimination but persevered to go on to have a hugely successful public-service career. The 50 acres of land he bought in 1826, derogatorily nicknamed “Molly Wood’s Bush” by his foes, is now Toronto’s gay village.
4. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Tucked off Church Street in a former garage and car showroom, Buddies — a not-for-profit, professional theatre company devoted to promoting queer Canadian culture through cutting-edge programming, artists-in-residence programs and youth initiatives — is the fast-beating artistic heart of queer Toronto.
5. Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
The largest independent LGBT archive in the world, this incredible resource focuses on Canadian content and holds important historical records, unpublished documents, publications, audio-visual material, art, photos, posters and other items of interest. Plan ahead, though: those wanting to explore the archives must send their area of research interest to the archive five business days ahead of a proposed visit.
Possibly North America’s oldest surviving LGBT bookstore is just a block from the Village on Yonge Street. This literary classic has been peddling both new and vintage titles since 1970; it settled into its current home in 1981. There’s a fantastic range of books, covering everything from activism to youth fiction. The store makes excellent use of its second- and third-floor spaces and hosts regular events.
7. Hanlan’s Point
Tucked far away from the tread of most tourists — and with a great city view — Hanlan’s Point is one of only two official clothing-optional beaches in the entire country (along with Vancouver’s Wreck Beach), and its sands are always crammed with crowds of queer folks sunning, swimming, picnicking and partying. It’s not LGBT-specific, although on sunny afternoons, you might think it was. Take the ferry from Queen’s Quay to Hanlan’s Point and follow the crowds for the short walk to the beach. Alternatively, take the ferry to Ward’s Island or the more frequent Centre Island service and have a leisurely stroll across the islands before stretching out on the sands.
8. West Queen West
Toronto’s other main LGBT neighbourhood boasts a slew of reasons to venture away from the Village. For a coffee, dinner, a night out or an overnight, check out WQW’s duo of hip, LGBT-adored art hotels, the Drake and the Gladstone; get caffeinated at Ossington’s I Deal Coffee or linger over an early-evening glass of Ontario wine or a night on the tiles at the tiny, lesbian-owned Beaver, where nightly events pinball from country to hip hop to ’90s grunge to bear nights. The neighbourhood even has its own homo highlight in the form of August’s Queer West Arts Festival. Queen West is also the city’s official Art and Design District, and it’s crammed with galleries, including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, where eye-catching works adorn the inside and exterior.
9. Trinity Bellwoods Park
Stretching between West Queen West and Dundas Street West, this beloved green space sees art fairs, vintage clothes sales, drum circles, picnics, rope walkers and frisbee players fill the grassy areas around the ravine on summer days. Tuesday afternoon farmers’ markets take place in the quieter northwestern corner. Coffee shops and patisseries abound in the blocks nearby.
10. Art Gallery of Ontario
The province’s premier art institution is impressive, both inside and out. With an exterior redesigned in 2008 by local boy Frank Gehry, who grew up in the streets beside the gallery, it’s worth a visit just to admire the gleaming wave of glass that runs along an entire block of Dundas Street. Inside, Gehry’s Baroque Stair is perhaps the most delightful staircase you’ll ever clamber up, full of swirls, twists and irregular widths. Single ladies, take note: “It’s the kind of place,” Gehry is supposed to have said, “you might meet your future wife.” The permanent collection features African and Oceanic, Canadian, modern and contemporary, photographic, European and the Thomson collection of art.
11. TIFF Bell Lightbox
One of the main venues for Toronto’s annual Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, which recently celebrated 25 years, the chic, five-screen TIFF Bell Lightbox regularly runs LGBT-relevant programming.
12. Metropolitan Community Church
Providing spiritual services for the people of Toronto since 1973, the Christian (but all-welcoming) Met is progressive and diverse and has an active choir, as well as regular services. Started in the 1970s as a congregation to serve LGBT people, the Metropolitan now actively welcomes people of all beliefs, backgrounds and sexual identities. Services are held at 9am, 11am and 7pm on Sundays.