I grew up in Toronto in the 60’s. I loved folk music, especially the songs that told stories. And the place to hear singers was Yorkville, home to maybe ten coffeehouses. I was too young to drink but just the perfect age for consuming gallons of caffeine.
I always went to the same place on Yorkville Avenue. On the street there was a door rounded at the top with a semi-circular awning above, then stairs down to a cramped space that held a tiny stage at one end. So many folksingers passed before my eyes and ears.
Yesterday I was walking along Bloor Street in Toronto, one of the city’s main drags. Along the way, I had spent time in two libraries, reading my book and joying in no agenda. I kept heading east, watching the flow of humanity on the sidewalk. I tried to make contact with many of them – psychically that is. No calls of greeting or stares. I saw they all had lives just as rich as mine. I wished them well. And perhaps none of them noticed me.
As I strolled, a word flashed in my mind … “Yorkville”. I was just a few blocks away. As I turned onto Yorkville Avenue, classy restaurants and elegant shops showed their huge windows to me. The days of underground hippie hangouts were long gone. Along the street, I saw three historical plaques, honouring three classic folk clubs which were no more: The Penny Farthing, The Purple Onion and The Riverboat. I hadn’t been in any of them but I was still sad.
And then there was 90 Yorkville Avenue. I recognized the door and the tattered awning. But I couldn’t remember the name of the club. A woman stood smoking on the step. I asked if she knew the history of the building. She didn’t. She told me the door was locked and the space below had been used for storage for a long time. Smiling, she suggested I Google it. A few minutes later, I was sitting on a bench, doing just that. I learned that Yorkville had morphed into an area boasting condos with a price tag of up to $28 million. I became reacquainted with the names of several coffeehouses, including, at #90, The Flick. In the 60’s it had been the refuge of folk fans but later switched to the more popular rock and roll. Trouble was, the name rang no bells whatsoever.
I decided to find someone who knew the history of Yorkville. Right beside the rounded door, I entered a fabric repair shop. (That’s the only term I can come up with. For the life of me, I can’t remember what to call such a place. Oh well.) The young man didn’t know history but he referred me on to someone named Emil, a real estate broker. “He’d know. He’s old. His office is in the next building.” Securely deposited in the next building, I saw no sign of Emil. I walked into a clothier store. “Oh, Emil. Go back to the street, turn left, nip into the alley, and climb the steps. His office is up there.”
Following instructions, I could find no such stairs. (Sigh) Into a dress shop. “I don’t know him.” Into a record store. The young man behind the desk knew neither local history nor Emil. “But you could try Fred. He works at the back.” I approached Fred and was pleased to see that his hair was grey (like someone else I know). Fred smiled but noted that he was a recent transplant from London, Ontario and wasn’t up on what Yorkville was like decades ago.
I stood in front of Fred. Another dead end, it seemed. And then an old fellow buried in a vinyl display case raised his head. “It was called The Flick. I went there a lot.”
We talked for a few minutes about the good old days. I thanked him and returned to the rounded door. I stared. I remembered the 18-year-old kid who opened that door on many a Friday evening. He was a good person. He yearned to play guitar and write his own songs. He wanted to go to festivals. He wanted to be good to people.
Thank you, teenage Bruce
For planting the seeds that blossomed into sixties Bruce
It’s nice knowing both of you