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Queen West’s long and crazy history

Over the past quarter-century, Marsha and Tom Reber have seen their community through endless changes.

Over the past quarter-century, Marsha and Tom Reber have seen their community through endless changes.

Relocating to Queen West from Manhattan in the early 1980s when Internet research was barely a concept let alone reality, the couple truly did walk into the neighbourhood unaware of its reputation. Derided as one of Toronto’s least desirable drug warehouses until the turn of the millennium, Queen West is cleaning up; quickly becoming one of the city’s most popular and gentrified locales. So why move there?

“A detached Victorian home at a reasonable price as compared to the expensive 38th floor apartment we were coming from? It was the home, not the neighbourhood that motivated us to move here,” reflects Marsha wistfully about her reasons for settling on Beaconsfield Avenue. “It was an easy choice regardless of how others saw the area.”

Almost three decades and two full-grown children later, the decision to stay has proved entirely fruitful. While they could have moved, the Rebers found plenty of positivity to keep them planted and eventually proud of their locale: devout yet unobtrusive community support, semi-regular parades, festivals and a bold mixture of ethnic groups offering diversity and flavour.

Moreover, with such longstanding participation in the ward, the Rebers are a wealth of verbal accounts about Queen West’s rich legacy. They know some of the homes’ sagas, not to mention Queen Street pre-gentrification; before renovations on The Drake Hotel (then The Stardust) and The Gladstone — the area’s pinnacle bar/hotel/restaurants — turned an underdeveloped strip of crumbling buildings and businesses barely scraping by into a musical, commercial and social hotspot.

Accrediting much of the recent activity to augmentation of those establishments, The Rebers seem proud yet almost overwhelmed by the influx of eateries, boutiques and galleries that have sprung up over recent years. They invite “newbie” neighbour Jordie Neumann — moving from Roncesvalles less than a half-decade ago — for opinions on some of Queen West’s enterprises.

“There’s been a strong transition of businesses here. You’ve got everything from some of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants like The Golden Turtle to side street cafés like Luna, Julie’s Cuban restaurant and casual bars like Sweaty Betty’s. Now all we need is a simple pub ... somewhere you can go for wings and beer to watch the game,” he winks.

 
 
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