The former Canary Restaurant was located at 425/441 Cherry St (at Front St E on the southeast corner) in the Canary District neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Palace Street School
The iconic greasy spoon was in operation from 1965 to 2007 however the building itself has quite a long history. The original building that is attached to the right of The Canary, was once the Palace Street School. It was built in 1859 when the area was residential, back when Cherry St was called Palace St. It was designed by architect Joseph Sheard and 10 years later, his son-in-law, William Irving added the top floor to the school building. In the 1880s, school enrollment was decreasing as the area was becoming more industrial. Later that decade, the schoolhouse closed.
The Hotel & Manufacturing Years
In 1890, Robert Irvine purchased the property. He hired architect David Roberts Jr to remodel the former school and to design the corner portion of the building to become The Irvine House. What we know as The Canary was once the entrance to the hotel. Mr Roberts Jr was the architect behind many buildings in the Distillery District (main building, malt house, rectifying house, cooper shop, barrel shed and storehouse) as well as the Toronto landmark, the Gooderham “Flatiron” Building. In 1892, Mr J.J. Darcy took over the 40-room property and renamed it the Cherry Street Hotel. Advertising from 1893 mentions “the best $1.00 a day house in Toronto.” Until 1910, the historic landmark operated as a hotel under a few different names including the D’Arcy Hotel and the Eastern Star Hotel.
The building was left vacant until 1922 when it became home to Thomas Davidson Manufacturing, producer of enamelware. Another addition was added on the east side, behind the restaurant. It still bears their name “Thos Davidson Mfg” a ghost sign, on the north wall. Another occupant of the building was Tippet Richardson.
The Iconic Canary Restaurant
In the mid-1960s, the Canary Restaurant relocated to the historic building. The land their restaurant occupied at University Ave and Dundas St W was expropriated. The Vlahos family brought the original Canary sign with them. The destination diner with its row of stools, Formica® tables and chrome-backed chairs welcomed everyone from office staff and truck drivers to construction workers and hockey players. There were autographed photos of celebrities along with Christmas lights and artificial hanging plants. The restaurant was also used for movies because of its preserved décor. The family-owned restaurant remained in business until 2007.
Toronto Indigenous Hub
The City gave the building heritage status in 1976. It’s the oldest surviving public school in Toronto. There are plans to renovate and restore the 160+-year-old landmark. It’s a part of the Toronto Indigenous Hub land redevelopment.