I love walking down St. Joseph Street in downtown Toronto. The street consists mostly of 1940s-era Art Deco and/or brownstone apartments. Much of the original architecture is still in place and, thankfully, the street has not been totally overrun with towering condos. Yes, there are some condos on this street, but they have been kept low (not counting FIVE St. Joseph near the corner of Yonge Street) and styled to match the existing architecture of the original buildings. I always feel like I’m stepping back in time when I walk through this small street, which really only stretches from Queen’s Park Crescent to Yonge Street; it’s a small street with big character, and there’s a lot of gay history here as well.

Apartments at 26 St. Joseph Street
The Canadian Music Centre, 20 St. Joseph Street

A Dark Past

The street is quite idyllic until you come upon an apartment building at 16 St. Joseph. Whenever I pass by this building I always think of that atrocious murder of gay bar owner Sandy LeBlanc in September 1978, and I wonder who committed this violent murder and for what reason. This murder is famous in the annals of Toronto’s gay history, and remains unsolved to this day.

There has been a lot written on this particular murder so I won’t go into great detail here, nor am I qualified to – just Google it if you want to learn more. Basically, friends of Sandy LeBlanc became worried when they didn’t hear from him after a day or two. The friends went to the apartment building and kicked Sandy’s door in – they found LeBlanc’s bloody body on the floor. He had been stabbed over 100 times – the police called it “overkill” and I can certainly see why. Police at the time found bloody footprints leading from the carpet in the bedroom to a window overlooking the alley. Reports said the carpet was so thick with blood it squished when officers walked on it. A bloody handkerchief was also found on the front lawn of the property.

The building was known as 16 St. Joseph Court at the time of the murder in 1978

Anyway, back to the street…

11 St. Joseph Street. Home many years ago to the famous and seminal 1970s gay club “The Manatee”, and later, “The Playground”. The condo building has been rebuilt since that time, but reconstructed in the exact same design as the original.
Luxury townhouse at 10 St. Joseph Street
5 St. Joseph Street – former home of the gay club “Katrina’s”, later renamed “Colbys”, and later still became “Bachelors”. Like 11 St. Joseph Street beside it, the original building was demolished but a new one rebuilt in the exact style.
Near the corner of Yonge and St. Joseph Streets stands a sculpture entitled “Artifacts of Memory”, created by artist Eldon Garnet. It is composed of five lines of text which stretch out into interconnected yet disparate strands:
“FROM ONE NARRATIVE TO THE NEXT / IF NOT TOMORROW TOMORROW / LUCKY ENOUGH TO FLY INTO THE FLAME / SLOWLY SURELY DISAPPEARING / FOLLOWED BY MOMENTS OF EQUILIBRIUM”
Not on St. Joseph Street but right around the corner is 579 Yonge Street, home to the awesome gay bar “Cornelius” back in the day. The dichotomy of this building still amuses me to this day – in the 70s and 80s, “Cornelius” sat above the notorious biker bar “The Gasworks”. You could not possibly have found two more disparate worlds co-existing in one structure.

And… that’s about it. If you’re interested in the history of Toronto’s gay clubs from the 60s, 70s and 80s, check out the site Then & Now. There’s an abundance of detail there regarding Toronto’s gay past and it makes for fascinating reading, especially if you were in the scene at the time.

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