Queer Girl City Guide: Toronto, Canada

By: Camilla, Melisa & Meredydd

Feature image via zazzle.ca

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To put it bluntly, Toronto is a big city, and there is a whole heck of a lot going on here. No guide could cover all of the amazing things that occur on any given week/month so just consider this our take on the best of the city, especially the queer, West-end leaning aspects. We have all come to Toronto with really different backgrounds, and there are probably countless other people who could write another totally distinct guide but we volunteered so you are stuck with us!

Meredydd

I have lived in Toronto for most of my life. First in the suburbs but I moved downtown as soon as I could. I have traveled extensively but never found a city that makes me as happy as this one, even on the coldest day of winter.

Melisa

I’m a Torontonian by birth, but grew up in and still live in the suburbs. As a kid I spent many Saturday mornings in Parkdale gallivanting with my family at BiWay to buy Rockets and Cherry Blasters, go to fabric stores on Queen Street and thrift shop nearby (I’m still just as short, buy Rockets and Cherry Blasters and thrift shop, so not much has changed there). I didn’t truly appreciate Toronto’s general quirks and its not-so-subtle queerness until I went to school and began working downtown and even just talking about the city with Camilla and Mere for this guide. We’re incredibly fortunate that, for the most part, being queer is largely incidental. People here are usually on the go, but when the neighbours and curious tourists have time to stop and mind each other, we’re incredibly accommodating, friendly and have lots of feelings and opinions we’re willing to share about coffee and food.

Camilla

I’m a transplanted British citizen, having arrived in Canada three short years ago to work – I have been dubbed a “Britadian” by my friends. In all honesty, Toronto was never a city I had on my radar until the hoards of Brits in Vancouver and an East Coast American (now ex) girlfriend convinced me to rethink where to plant my new roots in this glorious country. I came to the city imagining this gritty, hollow, concrete metropolis but Toronto, completely and unexpectedly, reeled me in. Having lived in a handful of fairly exotic cities during my transient and wanderlust-ful early twenties, Toronto is actually the first city that I’ve not gotten itchy feet over after 12 months plus. There are a lot of things to be said for the wildly multicultural character of the city (half of the population was born outside of Canada) but through my own happy accidents and researching for this guide, there’s also a ridiculous amount to be said for the raging queer character of the city, which is integrated so seamlessly into the whole. In my experience, Toronto has the distinct ability to bend and flex to be everyone’s home. It still makes me cheesy-grin that I can call it mine.

More than just queer friendly, in Toronto queer culture mostly feels totally integrated into the fabric of the city. It is very much a city where you have to make your own community. Put in the effort, put yourself out there and you will be rewarded with a really, really good time.

The Gaybourhood, and Neighbourhoods That Might As Well Be

It’s telling that the first time any of us had been to the Gaybourhood in the past six months was to write this guide. In Toronto the epicentre of the traditional Gay Neighbourhood is the corner of Church St. and Wellesley St. and extends North and South down Church. In years past, Church was pretty much all there was – gay clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops dominated primarily by gay men (but with a lesbian and trans* presence). The atmosphere in Toronto has changed in recent years however, as many queer-owned businesses have opened in neighbourhoods across the city and queer bar nights take over mainstream bars.

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Church Street, Copyright Jacq Bonneville

Part of Toronto’s charm is also its overall queer-friendliness. Although there may once have been a real need for a queer-specific area, now it is less necessary and furthermore, the community doesn’t demand it. That doesn’t mean that there is no place for Church St. However, it just means that the city has lots more to offer the queer resident or visitor than what’s contained in the Gaybourhood.

Parkdale is in the West end of downtown and stretches from Dufferin to Roncesvalles (mostly along Queen St. West). It is one of the most queer-friendly parts of Toronto and is a quickly and eternally gentrifying neighbourhood full of fun bars, cafes, restaurants and shops mixed in with families new to Canada, amazing roti, jerk shops and cheque cashing places. Don’t let the apparent lack of patios fool you – many places have full ones in the back, like Cadillac Lounge (1300 Queen St. W. 416-536-7717 open daily 11am-2am). Other places worth checking out are Grand Electric (1330 Queen Street West, 416-627-3459 open daily 6pm-late) for hipster tacos and Bacchus Roti (1376 Queen Street West, 416-532-8191 open T-F 12pm-9pm, S 2pm-10pm) for Guyanese-style Roti.

In summer, walk a little east on Queen, stopping first on Ossington St. Ossington is a relatively new stretch of excellent restaurants and bars. The best of the street is Pizzeria Libretto (221 Ossington Avenue, 416-532-8000 open daily 11:30am-11pm) home of the only real Neapolitan style pizza in the city. End your visit to Parkdale with a break in Trinity Bellwoods Park (Queen St. W. at Strachan St.). If you want another snack, Nadege (780 Queen Street West, 416-368-2009 open MTW 8am-8pm, ThF 8am-9pm, S 8am-8pm, Su 8am-7pm) has macaroons and cakes almost too beautiful to eat.

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Cadillac Lounge, Copyright Jacq Bonneville

Kensington Market is on all of the “must see” lists of Toronto, with good reason. It’s eclectic, unique, charming, and so very weird. ‘Pedestrian Sundays’ during the summer are the pinnacle of how appealing Kensington Market can be, but on any given day you can watch street performers, catch secret gigs, get lost in the vintage stores, people-watch whilst consuming a burrito bigger than your head at Big Fat Burrito (285 Augusta Ave. 416-913-7487 MTW, Su 11am-9pm, Th-S 11am-10pm), and be part of a drum circle/interpretive dance-off at Bellevue Square Park. It seems to attract hippies, hipsters and queers like nowhere else. Other Kensington Market highlights include Kid Icarus which is a stationary and print shop with incredible custom work (205 Augusta Ave. 416-977-7236 M-S 12pm-7pm, Su 12pm-5pm), Urban Herbivore (64 Oxford St. 416-927-1231 open daily 8am-sunset) home to the greatest avocado sandwich, Global Cheese (76 Kensington Ave. 416-593-9251), Kensington Cornerstone (2A Kensington Ave. 647-343-1597 MWThF 12pm-9pm, S-Su 10am-9pm) a 100% gluten-free resto with great Sangria pitchers.

The Annex is equal parts student grunge and professor fancy thanks to its proximity to the University of Toronto, which means that you can reap the advantages of both whilst being neither (like me). Fiesta Farms (200 Christie St. 416-537-1235 M-S 8am-9pm, Su 9am-7pm), the neighbourhood’s independent grocery store, is ripe with foodie lesbians buying their organic hummus and local kombucha. The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St W. 416-637-3123) is a recently-renovated, fully licensed theatre exclusively showing documentaries. I get my yoga on at Kula (304 Brunswick Ave. 416-922-5852), which gets all the points for $8 community specials including Queer Yoga (every Monday), Brown Girls (every Wednesday) and the most rocking Live Music Flow. In terms of coffee/food/drink, I could go on for days but I will limit my recommendations to the board game café, Snakes and Lattes (Bloor St W. 647-342-9229 open daily 11am-2am), Sam James Coffee Pocket (688a Bloor St W. 647-341-2572 M-F 6:30am-7pm, S-Su 9am-5pm) which is the tiniest and best, Tacos el Asador (690 Bloor St W. 416-538-9747 MT, Th-S 12pm-9pm, W 1pm-9pm, Su 2pm-9pm) pick up their pupusas and eat them with a cute girl whilst watching Timbits soccer at Christie Pits Park, Southern Accent (595 Markham St. 416-536-3211 Tu-Su 5pm onwards) with its excellent cajun cooking and bourbon tasting and Fresh on Bloor (326 Bloor St W. 416-599-4442 M-F 11:30am-10pm, S-Su 10:30am-10pm) where I never fail to have cyclical crushes on all of the wait staff bringing me quinoa-battered onion rings and the best sweet potato fries with miso gravy.

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Snakes & Lattes, Copyright Jacq Bonneville

Laid back and pretentious-free Queen Street East, especially east of the Don Valley Parkway, doesn’t get as much attention as its younger, hipper sister (West) Queen West. Young families, older retirees and 20-something day-trippers tend to dominate the area. The vast majority of mostly local businesses cater to this mix of locals. Grab a cheeseburger and shake at Dangerous Dan’s (714 Queen St. E open daily 12pm-midnight) before heading to a live music show across the street at The Opera House (735 Queen St. E). With the exception of a Starbucks at Queen and Logan, neighbourhood cafes dominate the area including the original Dark Horse location (682 Queen St. E 647-436-3460 open daily 7am-8pm), stroller-friendly Te Aro (983 Queen St. E 416-465-2006 M-F 7am-6pm, S 7:30am-6pm, Su 8am-6pm) where the Kiwi owners also roast their beans in house, and Mercury Espresso (915 Queen St. E, 647-435-4779 M-F 6:30am-8pm, S 7:30am-8pm, Su 8am-8pm), who also supplies the beans for the espresso ice cream at Ed’s Real Scoop (920 Queen St. E 416-406-2525).

Torontonians are brunch fanatics, and the east end is where some of city’s best brunch places call home. The wait lines on weekends are a scandal (no reservations), but the blueberry pancakes at Edward Levesque’s Kitchen (1290 Queen St. E 416-465-3600 Tu-F 5:30pm onwards, S-Su 9am-3pm brunch, 5:30pm onwards), or huevos rancheritos at Lady Marmalade (898 Queen St. E 647-351-7645 M-F 8am-4pm, S-Su 8am-3pm) are worth the early morning call. Ceili (kay-lee) Cottage (1301 Queen St. E 416-406-1301 M-Th 5pm-12am, F 5pm-2am, S 12pm-2am, Su 12pm-11am) is the cutest little Irish pub with a white picket fence and patio and a healthy selection of whiskeys that’ll make you forget you’re actually in Toronto. Riverdale and Leslieville are in close proximity to other quirky neighbourhoods– you have Chinatown East and Little India to the north and the Beaches to the east.

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East Leslieville Mural

Full disclosure: Old Town, Toronto’s oldest neighbourhood, is my home away from home. I attended school in Old Town, I work in Old Town, I love eating, drinking, frolicking and passing out in Old Town. St. Lawrence, in the heart of Old Town, is dotted with Victorian and Edwardian era buildings and row houses mixed with new housing developments (Toronto is a condo city, after all). Come the world famous St. Lawrence Market (93 Front Street East). From Tuesdays to Saturdays, you can get everything from the best and widest variety cheeses from around the world to fresh apple cider at the Saturday Farmer’s Market (from 5:00am!) to cooking supplies to yummy Chinese food from that somewhat sketchy-looking vendor in the lower level. But for those that eat meat, Carousel Bakery is the only place to clog your arteries with Toronto’s famous peameal bacon sandwiches (Canadian back bacon, for those that don’t know). Their version with a fried egg is highly recommended by me and not by your GP.

Chopped and Cropped

The Aveda Institute (125 King St East. 416-921-2961) tricks you into thinking that you’re at some seriously fancy salon with aromatherapy scalp massages, unlimited herbal tea and makeup touch-ups (consensually, of course) before you leave. They are staffed by a never-ending stream of eager, exceedingly well-coiffed students who are, more often than not, straddling the divide between hipster and queer. More than once I’ve chosen my cut by pointing at the cute crop of a student. It’s effectively an Alternative Lifestyle Haircut Menu in real life, is what I’m saying. Bonus points for starting at $21. Open M 12pm-6pm, TW 9am-6pm, ThF 9am-8pm, S 9am-6pm

Jamie at Shampoo (32 St. Andrew St (Kensington Market). 416-542-1576) is fantastic (although not cheap, but you’re worth it). She can do everything from the basics to bold, brilliant colour and she is a huge Star Trek geek too. Open T 10am-6pm, W-F 10am-8pm, S 10am-7pm, Su 12pm-6pm

Coupe Bizarre (710 Queen St. W. 416-899-6058) is probably the best known and oldest “alternative” hairstyle salon in the city. Not queer owned but definitely queer friendly! If you don’t trust the Aveda students with your precious locks and Jamie at Shampoo is all booked up, Coupe Bizzare is a commendable choice. Open M-F 10am-8pm, S 10am-6pm, Su 12pm-6pm

Fuss Hair Studio (1093 Queen St. E. 416-469-0006) – Stacey Lipstein and Kristin Rankin are the owners and hair stylists by the queers and for the queers! Ok, they cater to straight people too, but these girls and their stylists have the know-how on classic and modern cuts and are very honest and helpful with their clientele. Open T-F 10am-8pm, S 9am-4pm

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Hair Fuss Salon

Tattoo Me Now

Speakeasy Tattoo (299 Harbord St. 647-378-2481) is a small, mom and pop shop with zero attitude. They have great female tattooists, guest artists from all over the world and a ridiculous Pomeranian pup, Wilma, who will absolutely sit on you until your nerves are calmed (if you require that kind of assistance). Alternatively if you need a caffeine buzz to power through an inking session, they are right next to (arguably, because Torontonians have so many feelings about this) the best coffee in Toronto, Sam James. I have utilized both methods here, and Wilma wins.

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Camilla at Speakeasy Tattoo, Copyright Jacq Bonneville

Right in the heart of the Gay Village, Passage (473 Church St. 416-929-7330) is one of the city’s most popular tattoo shops, primarily having reached that status through word of mouth and recommendations. The owner was recently voted the Best Artist in Toronto by the Now Magazine Reader’s Poll. A friend once fell asleep whilst getting her inner bicep tattooed here, although I’m not sure if that’s a remarkable feat in her sleeping abilities or a remarkable testament to Passage.

A tattoo parlour that’s clean and clear and under control! Blackline Tattoo (577 King St.W 416-850-8227) is one of the nicest and cleanest parlours you’ll find around the city (you’re welcome, discerning hypochondriacs), also reflected in their above average pricing. The artists and guest artists here are very skilled and accommodating, and there’s tons of clothing, accessories and jewellery for sale.

Sexy Supplies

Come as You Are (493 Queen St. W 416-504-7934) is a co-operative sex store, which makes it even more awesome than it otherwise would be. They have genuine core values, a good sense of humour and a truly epic selection (for lack of a better word), especially since moving into their new digs. Come As You Are is the most fun, at least until you get home and take your pants off. Open M-W 11am-7pm, Th 11am-8pm, F 11am-9pm, S 11am-8pm, Su 12pm-5pm

Instructions On How To Get Some, or Dating a Torontonian

The dating scene in Toronto is very reflective of Toronto in general. In this city people don’t tend to make the first move and often appear ‘too cool’ or cold. In fact most people are friendly as long as you make even a little bit of effort. The queer scene can be a bit cliquey though, and it makes it harder to break into new social groups (unless they’re the Toronto Straddlers who already love you by default). Unfortunately OKCupid is not really a big thing in the city, so you really do just need to get out there. Despite the challenges, Toronto is massive with the distinct advantage of containing lots and lots of people, constantly coming in, of all types. You look cute. Ask her out. And once you do, there are a ridiculous amount of sweet and quirky options for where to go on dates (like everywhere mentioned in this guide).

So a Lesbian Walks Into a Bar…

The two standouts in a city that has one lowly lesbian bar* are The Beaver (1192 Queen St W. 416-537-2768 open daily 10am-2am), and The Henhouse (1532 Dundas St W. 416-534-5939 Tu-Sa 6pm-2am). Whilst they cannot be categorized as lesbian bars, both are the right amount of lady queer and neither are dominated by gay men, which otherwise is the case for the vast majority of categorically gay bars. The Henhouse was started by Katie Sketch and Jenny Smyth, former Vancouver rockers in The Organ. Katie’s personal record collection is housed in the jukebox, high school yearbooks coat the walls of the bathrooms and the venue hosts a wide range of events including Tits and Toques (a monthly indie girl party) and Dinner and a Drag Race (weekly screenings of RuPaul’s Drag Race). The Beaver is a Parkdale/Queen West café that regularly morphs into a wild dance party for varying alternative weirdos like ourselves. Interestingly, Henhouse was recently voted the Best Gay/Dyke Bar 2012 by the readers of Now Toronto, with The Beaver coming in as runner up. I wrote this before I knew that, honestly.

*Slacks (562 Church St. 416-928-2151 Tu 5pm-12pm, W-S 5pm-2am, Su 5pm-12pm) is the only actual lesbian bar in Toronto and it is located in the Gay Village on Church St. Every other queer/lesbian event takes over a mainstream bar for the evening but Slacks is (pretty much) all lesbian. It is a restaurant during the early evening and then converts to a bar atmosphere with a DJ later on. Slacks has a lot of regulars and it can be hard to meet anyone new there, although the vibe is very much about hooking up.

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Clubs-Crews & Slacks, Copyright Jacq Bonneville

Crews/Tangos (508 Church St. 647-349-7469 open daily 8pm-2:30am) is a mixed queer bar with drag shows every weekend downstairs (plus a patio and another dance area in the back) and a lesbian-oriented bar upstairs. The downstairs tends to attract tourists and bachelorette parties and the upstairs is dark and it feels like the dance floor might cave in. Despite the evident drawbacks it is still possible to have a fun night here as long as you start drinking early.

Taking Over TO, One Girl Party At A Time

Cherry Bomb (at Andy Poolhall, 489 College St.) happens on the second to last Saturday of every month. It’s definitely a hot, sweaty club party, geared towards younger queer women and friends (although open to all) in its promises of filthy dance-your-ass-off fun. Free before 10pm, $7 cover after.

Toastr (at the Riverside Public House, 725 Queen St. E) happens every second (or third) Saturday of the month and is one of the few queer events in the East end. The event caters to a (slightly) older crowd and features rotating house/electro DJs. It is somewhat less cliquey than other Toronto monthlies and lots of people dance especially later in the night. Get there after 11. $5 cover.

Centres, Organizations and Services that are Relevant To Your Interests

The 519 Church Street Community Centre (519 Church St. 416-392-6874) is the biggest and best queer resource centre in the city. It offers all the programs and services you would expect from a good neighbourhood community centre, targeted at LGBTTQ individuals, allies and friends. In addition to programs for Newcomers to Canada, counselling, family services and anti-poverty, the 519 also offers space for meetings, events and parties (including the park beside the building). The 519 is really the centre-piece of queer services in Toronto and can also help you find any other support or connection you might need in the city.

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The 519, Copyrigth Jacq Bonneville

LGBT families in Toronto are distinctly unremarkable, but the sight of them never fails to warm the cockles of our hearts. It’s safe to say that almost any kind of non-nuclear family unit can be found in the city, and many variations of gay parenting have won equal treatment under the law in Ontario. The 519 Community Centre and the Sherbourne Health Centre (333 Sherbourne St. 416-324-4100) have been running Queer Parenting Workshops for years (Dykes Planning Tykes, aww). Queer-Positive Prenatal Classes are a thing, as is Queer Family Camp and Gender Independence Groups for kiddos from K – Grade 4.

Sherbourne Health Centre offers primary healthcare services to the citywide lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning community, alongside residents of South-East Toronto. The service is supported by the classically-named Rainbow Health Ontario, a province-wide program designed to promote access to healthcare services to LGBT communities.

Toronto Pride

Toronto Pride (June 22-June 30, 2013) is one of the best in the entire world, according to some completely unbiased, unmentionable source. But really, over a million people attend the week-long festival every year and it is one of the city’s biggest tourist events. There are actually three huge parades over the course of the weekend; The Trans* March, The Dyke March and the Pride Parade. Pride spirit takes over the entire city, not just the Gaybourhood. It is probably the one time all of Toronto’s neighbourhoods and cliques and interest groups all get together to celebrate collectively. Plus the parties are AMAZING and the weekend is always sunny and hot. Pride week is a bit of a marathon so pace yourself, choose your events wisely, come up with some sort of count-off/buddy system for your crew and don’t hold back.

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Dykes on Bikes

Books, Arts and Culture, Eh.

The LGBT Arts and Culture scene in Toronto is heavily integrated into the city-wide scene, but there are numerous community-based organizations and non-profits that work to the advancement of the Queer-centric performing arts. Queer West, and the Queer West Arts Collective, is perhaps the most active non-profit, running events such as the Annual Queer Arts Festival, the Queer West Film Festival, and the Smash Words Festival (poetry and Cabaret). Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St. 416-975-8555) is a not-for-profit, LGBT, professional theatre company that has been operating since 1979.

The TorontoStraddlers are lucky enough to have a resident comic/performer/event wrangler in our midst, Catherine. She hosts the weekly ‘Laughs at Slacks‘, a free women’s and LGBT comedy open mic night with rotating guests. ‘Storytelling at Caplansky’s‘ occurs every Sunday and while it’s not exclusively queer, it attracts a lot of queer storytellers who are keen to hang out in a deli, eat smoked meat and share their stories. ‘Write Club Toronto‘ at the Garrison is a new, monthly literary smackdown straight out of Chicago and according to Catherine, it’s a good place to get your queer crush on, so there’s that.

The Inside Out Film Festival is the largest event of its kind in Canada, regularly attracting crowds of 35,000 across the 11 day, early-summer festival. It is an excellent place to catch films with LGBT content (not just coming out movies, or stereotypically gay storylines) from all over the world, and is a lot more accessible than other film events in the city, such as the Toronto International Film Festival.

Toronto’s LGBT/Feminist literature scene has had a hard time thriving and even just surviving of late. In a city as commercial as Toronto, independent bookstores in general but specialist bookstores especially struggle to compete with the mega chains. Whilst the November closing of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, a feminist institution and all-round women’s collective for the last 39 years, is disappointing, the city still has an LGBT champion in Glad Day Bookshop (598A Yonge St. 416-961-4161), which is the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in North America -open M-W 11am-7:30pm, Th-F 11am-9pm, S 10am-9pm, Su 12pm-6pm. Glad Day is nothing if not committed to its market. Sadly for lady homos, that market is mostly gay men according to the absolute plethora of shirtless and sometimes pantless men on magazine covers that grace your eyeballs soon after entering. It’s ok. Power through, and you will find the best lesbian fiction selection in the city.

Safety In The City

In all honesty, the vast majority of the downtown core is so busy, basically all the time, that you don’t need to worry about avoiding anywhere but at the same time, don’t wander down shady alleys and deserted backstreets like a crazy fool. The sheer presence of people and vehicles on the street has its advantages. I have been scared more often by my own shadow walking down the quiet residential street of my home town in rural England than by anything on the big, bad streets of Toronto. The places where your safety could be compromised are on the outer fringes of the city and in certain neighbourhood pockets; places where visitors are unlikely to stumble. In terms of LGBT safety, we’ve never experienced any negative attention or harassment based on our presentation, who we’re with or the places that we frequent. That’s not to say that Toronto doesn’t have its safety issues and like any North American city, we’re grappling with sporadic acts of violence and gang-related crime has been seeping into the downtown core on occasion in the last few years.

The Financial Reality of Living Here

Rent = expensive for Canada, not overly expensive for a major metropolitan city. No matter what your budget is you can probably find something although it might be a bit of a dump, or in the boonies. Adjust your standards accordingly. Roommates are highly recommended as a money saver. There is also ridiculous amount of condo development all over the city.

Food = there are so many good food options at every price point that downtown dwellers will typically eat out as opposed to cooking. Cheap and cheerful abounds in Chinatown(s)/Koreatown. Groceries seem to be more expensive than in the States, as a whole. Cheese is especially killer, so congratulations if you’re vegan.

Booze = due to legal requirements all booze has to be purchased at quasi-government stores. The Beer Store is the actual name of the store where you buy beer. Taxes make drinking more expensive than most other places in North America but with the sheer amount of bars in existence across the city, you can be picky as to where you choose to spend your drinking dosh.

Public transportation = one of the most expensive public transportation systems in the world, made up of a network of subway trains, streetcars and buses. It can get you where you need to go, reliably and fairly quickly, especially if you’re navigating the downtown areas. Walking or cycling is highly recommended if you don’t want to deal with the smell of breath on the subway. Bixi bikes come highly recommended! Whilst the city is not especially pedestrian or bike-friendly, the sheer number of people doing anyway it is a sign that it’s one of the best ways to get around. You can get a much better feel for the diverse neighbourhoods and all of the little gems that they hold by foot.

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Bixi bikes

Universities and Colleges

Toronto is not a University town but several of the countries biggest and best schools are located here:

University of Toronto
24 Kings College Circle
416-978-2011

Ryerson University
350 Victoria Street
416-979-5000

York University (not downtown but still a major Toronto school)
4700 Keele Street
416-736-2100

George Brown College
200 King St E
416-415-2000

You’re Fit (And You Know It)

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Toronto Roller Derby

The team thought it would be funnier if the non-Canadian introduced this section. Perhaps because, unlike them, I’m slightly less disillusioned by the years of consistently being let down? Who knows. The four big shot franchise teams are the Maple Leafs (hockey), the Blue Jays (baseball), the Raptors (basketball) and TFC (soccer), all of whom have had their worst seasons ever, pretty much. Apparently the chances of teams collectively not making the playoffs in their respective leagues for 2+ years in a row is more than 1 in 1600. I guess that means we’re overachieving in our underachievement. The Leafs’ genuine fan base (as in, aside from the corporate sponsors) deserves special mention for their utter commitment to astronomically high ticket prices. My lack of dealings with the corporate world means that I may never see a Leafs game, and I’m cool with that – the tribes of neighbourhood kids playing pickup at every city park rink are enough entertainment. Each summer I have urges to drop by a Blue Jays game, more to drink beer at an altitude that’s almost as high as the A-Camp Mountain (cheap seats!), marvel at CN tower and guiltlessly not pay attention to the game because, quite frankly, Brits have absolutely no clue about baseball. Toronto also has the Argos (football), the Marlies (AHL), and the Rock (lacrosse). And now for sports news far more relevant to your gay interests…

In Toronto there is a gay or queer-friendly sports league/activity for virtually every interest – especially if that interest is hockey. Women’s Hockey Club of Toronto is explicitly queer friendly. Recreational soccer is also popular, as are softball and swimming. For something really, really Canadian, check out (gay) curling! Roller Derby is a queer thing here but it’s not quite as popular as it is south of the border. Boxing also has its own women’s only space in the way of the Toronto Newsgirls Club.

In Conclusion…

What are you waiting for? Come and fall in XO with TO. Seriously, people thought that should be the city slogan for a while. Whilst we are not quite so cheesy, it’s entirely possible for that to happen. Pop that toque on your head and get over here already!

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47 Comments

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    I can’t believe Yes Yes Y’all isn’t listed as one of the queer parties you need to go to! The lineup can be a bit insane though.

    “TORONTO’S BIGGEST, BASHIEST, SWEATIEST QUEER HIP HOP/RnB/DANCEHALL JAM”

    It’s at the Annex Wreck Room every 3rd Friday of the month.

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    thanks…what.. a swim club devoted to us!…I am moving there now..just kidding! I have never understood why Torotionians hate the city…i thought it great…your article made me wanna visit it soon!

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    I was just in Toronto this weekend for the Inside Out festival. This was my second year in a row going. During my stay this year, my car was parked in a garage in the entertainment district and one of my windows was broken. Luckily, nothing was taken from my car, but I did have to drive back to Pittsburgh with a garbage bag taped to my door window. As I looked around, there were a lot of empty spaces with pieces of glass surrounding them.

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    ahhh I think you definitely did justice to the city! I’m going to be moving to Halifax this year and I sort of regret not going to a closer university, because I love Toronto and i’m going to miss it a lot. I’ve never felt more comfortable and at home here, and i’m going to miss how queer friendly, and just friendly in general, the city can be.

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      As someone who is making a move from Halifax to Toronto, I feel like we would have a lot of notes to share. The good news is that Hali is very quer friendly as well! My (MOC presenting) girlfriend and I have never had any issues walking around here, although we do tend to stick to the hipster-lesbian infused north end of Halifax. Good luck with your move!

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        Thanks, and you too!
        Based on this post about Toronto, how do you think Halifax differs? I always hear people talking about the really good art/music scene and the friendly people, but I have no idea what it’s like.

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          Halifax is ALOT smaller. You can walk from one end of the peninsula to the other in under an hour. However, that lack of size is what makes it seem like a big city with a small town vibe. Haligonians (yes, that IS what we’re called) are generally super laid back and friendly for the most part, and really love meeting new people. There are a on of hippy-creative-hipster types roamin around and if that’s what you’re in to, you’ll fit in fine. Just bring warm clothes. And rain gear.

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            How fast are you sprinting? LOL It’s not that small.

            I live in Halifax now, and grew up here. I also lived in Toronto for a couple of years in my early 20’s. As a non-hipster, I’ve found it really hard to be involved in the lesbian scene both in Halifax and Toronto. :/

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    Thanks for the info :) I only live 1.5 hours or so from Toronto but I find the city very overwhelming when I’m there.

    I do like Glad Day bookshop and I try to buy at least one book when I go there cause LGBT bookstores are so rare.

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      If you break down the city into neighbourhoods, it should be a lot more manageable! That’s pretty much how we approached (some sections of) the guide, as it felt way too big to handle initially. Hope this helps with subsequent adventures!

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      Another neighbourhood suggestion…the area along St. Clair West is near and dear to my heart. Not specifically queer, but lots of queer folks live there. A good handful of cute cafés to take cute girls on dates. Dutch Dreams, in particular, is a local institution of ice cream fabulousness.

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    i totally agree with most of the stuff said above as a tried and true torontonian. parkdale can be a little scary after dark, so i think that deserves a mention. it’s got that up and coming bar/club/snazzy coffee shop thing going on but it’s still working on the safety aspect.
    if you’re into hip hop, as mentioned in a comment above, Yes Yes Y’all is the party for you. despite, (sometimes) questionable mixing the DJs put on some damn good music and the clientele leans more towards the ladies into ladies.
    i’m not a very big fan of the way this article dismisses the necessity of a queer neighbourhood. the village is still a vibrant piece of toronto’s queer history that shouldn’t be completely written off.

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    Hey all,

    A few other queer things in Toronto worth mentioning:

    In terms of sexy supplies:
    Good For Her – a great sex shop in the Annex. Owned by a lesbian and very queer and sex positive place.

    In terms of community organizations:
    There are lots of great community organizations in Toronto. Here are a few more:
    SOY (Supporting Our Youth) specifically works for LGBTQ youth (soytoronto.org)
    The People Project – lots of dynamic ideas and workshops from a very inclusive and diverse standpoint. (http://www.thepeopleproject.ca/)
    Egale Canada/Egale Canada Human Rights Trust – Canada’s only LGBTQ human rights organization. They just held the first ever Canada-wide GSA summit in Toronto (egale.ca)

    In addition, there are really awesome events/organizations that are specifically for Queer People of Colour in the city. Like Stud Magazine for example.

    Also, worth mentioning that Toronto police and firefighters walk in Toronto Pride every year. And Toronto Police services have a specific officer who is the LGBTQ liaison in the city. (Not to say there isn’t a lot of education needed to be done – but its a step in the right direction).

    And I think it is worth going to the Village (Church and Wellesley) just to see such visible displays or queer pride in a city centre.

    I love Toronto!

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        i was all lined up to write this guide a YEAR AGO but then a lot of shit happened/i moved to montreal. EXCELLENT JOB EVERYONE, here are my additions!

        + get it got it good at the holy oak is my all-time favourite dance party ever. mostly oldschool hiphop, pretty diverse crowd. bathrooms are unfortunately not accessible but last i was there people were using the bathrooms at pizza pizza down the street

        + another vote for good for her, women-owned queer/trans positive sex shop that created the feminist porn awards!

        + the toronto newsgirls boxing gym is totally badasssss, lesbian-owned, drop in classes are $15 bux and you can rent gloves there. they are open to everyone but are women/trans only at certain times. the shape your life program is a free program open to women/trans survivors of violence and is totally amazing

        + there’s a queer prom in toronto hosted by SOY (Supporting Our Youth)

        + the Triangle Program is an alternative highschool program within the public school board that’s just for LGBTQ youth! rad, right?

        +mitzi’s sister – queer owned brunch spot in the west end with AMAZING rotating specials. there are two locations – the one on sorauren is the cutest, IMO.

        + re: glad day bookstore – it almost shut down but was rescued by a coalition of amazing people who now run it as a collective. there are often amazing cultural events happening upstairs! there is an awesome fundraising campaign underway right now (via their website) that includes perks like a meet and greet with tegan and sara at their upcoming july show :)

        + ORAD is the ontario rainbow alliance of the deaf, offering free ASL classes! this is reeeeeeally amazing because a lot of ASL classes don’t teach queer specific language/can be outright homophobic

        + planned parenthood toronto offers a series of free, awesome, diverse sexual health workshops for alllll kinds of women who have sex with women (trans inclusive yayy!) called “Sex talk” and they’re worth checking out, even if you’re visiting from out of town. the most recent one on march 13 was “Gimmie All Your Loving: a workshop for LGBTQ women of colour exploring open relationships” – more info on the PPT website!

        + if you’re looking for a home, the facebook group “homes for queers toronto” is really active and helpful

        + BATHHOUSES/SEXY HOOKUP TIMES: the pleasure palace hosts a women/trans only bathhouse (http://pleasurepalacetoronto.com/) which is not accessible but there’s a working committee on that (www.accesexxable.ca – i think the org is kind of dormant at the moment but maybe you could email them and reignite the fire? i used to be on this committee before moving and there are TOTALLY RAD people involved who you should connect with anyway). there’s also a 2QTPOC-only bathhouse called GRIND that just happened last month. not sure if there’s more events planned but if this is your jam you should send an email/check them on facebook ([email protected])

        + re: pride toronto… i just wanna clarify that the dyke march and trans march are both MARCHES and not parades. the important distinction here is that they are activist spaces with political intent. from pride toronto’s website: “The Dyke March is not a parade – it is a political demonstration of critical mass; a moment seized to revel in the strength, diversity and passion of LGBTTIQQ2SA women and trans folk.” this is true also of the trans march, which is not actually a pride-run event (though it is supported by pride volunteers) but is organized by grassroots collective of trans and 2 spirit community members. trans women of colour and disabled trans folks are encouraged to lead the march!

        ok hope that helps if anyone has any questions about toronto ever i am totally down to help out. complicated feelings about that place but i like being a tour guide :)

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          OH ALSO i wish someone had told me that re: dating in toronto about 6 yrs ago so i didn’t just feel like the city was so cold/there was something wrong with me. but srsly. no one talks to each other. that’s why the toronto w4w missed connections section goes on for DAYYYYYYYS.

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          In addition to the Pleasure Palace, there’s also the last-tuesday-of-the-month night at Oasis Aqualounge, which is also not accessible (blergh). It’s not packed, but it’s well-attended, and if you’re coming in for Pride, I say one might as well skip the bar and just come to the bathhouse.

          There’s a Pride event (which may mean cis dudes can attend) happening the same night as the dyke march, so, see everyone there? I will give complimentary hanky code and brunch spot guidance.

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          YES!!!

          I did the Shape Your Life program at Newsgirls and it was amazing. Honestly, please do send me messages if you’re a Toronto person and thinking of doing that and are nervous and I will tell you all the thousands of ways that it is awesome.

          For folks who are young(er), Planned Parenthood has some fabulous programs. I can honestly say that volunteering for them changed my life, dramatically, for the better.

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    Thank you sooo much for writing this. I have been waiting for a guide to Toronto ever since I started reading autostraddle. I love how indepth this is and as a native Torontonian I learned a lot! I have so much exploring to do now that I’m finally of age! Thanks to this I now know where to get a queer haircut! This article seriously saved my social life. Thank you! (P.S. hi to all the TO straddlers I met at the meet up)

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    I grew up in Toronto but left when I was 18 (which was a few years before I came out so I know next to nothing about the gay scene there) and haven’t spent much time back since, so I’m especially glad to see my hometown represented here on Autostraddle!

    And Camilla, Mere, and Melissa, thank you all SO MUCH for refraining from mentioning our joke of mayor and his political scandals/gross homophobia. If only he could represent us as well as you can!

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    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS! Starting in three weeks I’ll be doing a solo whirlwind visit across the pond to Toronto and San Francisco. I love the Queer Girls Guide to SF and I was heartbroken that you didn’t have a similar one for Toronto, but just in time here it is! Brilliant!

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    What are the best clothing stores to find lesbian style in Toronto?

    And b/c I read autostraddle so much I am linked into your mental grid. I was just wishing for a Toronto guide and here it is! Thanks!

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      That all depends on what your ‘lesbian style’ is, I guess! But the city has a ton of great shopping options, ranging from mainstream stuff at the Eaton Centre, Yorkdale Mall, etc, to thrift stores and boutique-y places in Kensington Market, on West Queen West, etc.

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    As a lifelong Torontonian I approve of this article.

    +1 to the mention of Queer Slowdances…they are so much fun!

    – Snakes & Lattes seems to always be suuuuper busy, but a good alternative is Go Lounge, which is located in Parkdale and has the whole board games/cafe combination too.

    – I’m surprised that y’all don’t see okcupid as much of a thing in the city, because I’ve found it to be very much the opposite. The Toronto queer community can be very very cliquey, but okc seems to be a treasure trove of new faces (er…aside from the 10 or so lesbians I know in real life and have seen on okc) who are cute and cool but not as involved in the queer scene.

    – I didn’t know that Queer Yoga was a thing but I’m hoping to move downtown in the fall and would be super interested in hitting that up. Thanks for the info!

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    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m going to the University of Toronto next year and look so forward to living downtown. I’m from a small Ontario town so I look so forward to embracing what it means to be a queer woman in the big city. Thanks for such great advice!

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