Let’s throw Pride off Church St.
How many times over the Pride weekend have you stayed in a beer garden or bar — or more likely stayed out of one — because you couldn’t fathom being trapped in another line?
Those lineups always make people feel like they’re missing the party. Either we are forced to wander on and on in an exhausting search for some place to park ourselves or we stay inside a bar or beer garden for fear of never getting in again.
Knowing we can get to where the action is means we can relax and settle into what’s going on around us. In other words, we’re more likely to party where we’re at if we know we don’t have stay there. Parties are all about freedom of movement and freedom of choice.
More space for Pride is a cure for many ills. More party and drinking options are essential for Pride’s future viability.
Moving the event too far away isn’t feasible. Exhibition Place, High Park, even the Don Valley parks are too far to walk to from homo central along Church. So Pride should explore annexing new spaces nearby: Allan Gardens and Queen’s Park are the first obvious choices, followed by the quads at U of T or Ryerson and the various side streets that connect them to the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood.
Addition of green space would be a big improvement — just look at the unflagging popularity of the Cawthra Square Park beer garden, despite the interminable lineups outside and in. Last year saw two new developments that point the way: People sitting on the Town Inn lawn to watch the drag stage at the new northernmost end of the Pride’s entertainment area on Church; and the success of Folsom Fair North in Allan Gardens later in the summer, despite the rain.
Imagine a dance area, a performance stage, or both, in the middle of a licensed park like Allan Gardens, ringed by vendors and community booths. Shade, grass on which to sit, good sightlines so you can see what’s going on. Think how amazing it would be to dance the night away under the stars. Why not throw in a midway along one of the adjacent streets, something that encourages a carnival atmosphere? Wouldn’t it be worth walking an extra two blocks?
Smaller parties in the parkettes just east of Yonge have failed to attract the crowds in the past. But they were small and isolated events. For the bigger parks to work as Pride venues, the whole centre of gravity of Pride would have to shift toward them. In other words, it wouldn’t feel like you had to walk an extra two blocks if you shifted the whole shebang over a couple of blocks.
For Allan Gardens to work, for example, you’d probably have to move the Pride marketplace and other vendors along Carlton or Mutual streets to connect the park to Church. And you wouldn’t close down Church north of Cawthra. Something similar could be done with Queen’s Park, with booths along Wellesley or Gloucester, and those parkettes could finally be put to good use.
Church St will always be busy during Pride. By moving some of the Pride stages and others features off the street, Church can be left to the folks who, day in and day out, try to come up with new- fangled ways to keep us happy — the strip’s bars and other businesses. If main entertainment stages, beer gardens and many of the food vendors were moved elsewhere, bars and businesses could fill the void with big licensed patios extending onto the street.
This would also address a simmering dispute between Church St businesses and Pride Toronto, where restaurants and other outlets feel squeezed out by temporary vendors. It is often claimed that the vendors block access to regular businesses. For all the hassle, many Church St businesses see Pride weekend as a loss.
If Pride decamps partly from Church, then the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Association could step in to figure out how to make the strip work for businesses and patrons, alike.
Of course, it would be lovely if all of Church St and environs could be blocked off and turned into one giant beer garden — like what happens in Montreal. That would open up the strip for pedestrians and get rid of those ugly fences that keep us penned in to the smaller beer gardens. But that’s just not going to happen with our current regulatory system. There is a local group of troublemakers, however, looking into lobbying for changes over the long-term. Get to it, folks. Victorian booze laws and the Alcohol And Gaming Commission Of Ontario (AGCO) are huge obstacles if Toronto’s Pride wants hold onto its reputation as an international travel destination. Municipal reform is in the air and a city like Toronto should have more control over booze laws and their enforcement. There’s never been a better time to mount a wholesale challenge to the AGCO’s stranglehold on Pride.
Increasingly, Pride weekend, the rich pageant that is the community itself, on and off the stage, is what attracts the crowds and keeps them happy — not the parade. Of all people, we queers should be better party planners.