Canary Restaurant & Palace Street School – Over 160 Years of History

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1972 - Looking towards the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. From 1965 until 2007, the Canary Restaurant was located in the heritage-designated building. The building has undergone several additions and alterations throughout its history, which dates back to 1859. Other purposes it served include a school, hotel, factory and storage facility
1972 – Looking towards the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. From 1965 until 2007, the Canary Restaurant was located in the heritage-designated building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 19, Item 29)

The Canary Restaurant was once located at 425/441 Cherry St (at Front St E on the southeast corner) in the Canary District of Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood.

The iconic greasy spoon was in operation from 1965 to 2007; however, the red brick building has quite a long history with four phases of construction – the school in 1859, the second-storey school addition in 1869, the hotel extension in 1890 and the warehouse addition in the early 1920s.

The Palace Street School

In 1857, land at the corner of Cherry St and Front St E (then known as Palace St) was purchased for £800 to build a public school. The area was residential at the time, and according to the assessment, the former St Lawrence Ward ward had the largest number of children, but it did not have its own public school. The nearest one was a privately funded school established by local brewer Enoch Turner, which opened in 1849.

So, in 1859, the one-storey Palace Street School was built. It was designed by architect Joseph Sheard, cost approximately $2,000 to construct and had one room for boys and another for girls. The original school structure is located on the ground floor, at the southwest corner of the building. A newspaper of the day said it was “built of white brick with red brick dressings.”

Attendance at the school increased and it soon became overcrowded. In 1869, architect William Irving, Mr Sheard’s son-in-law, designed the second-storey addition, which included two classrooms, two galleries, furniture, and drawings for just over $3,000.

By the 1880s, school enrollment decreased as the area became more industrial. Later that decade, the schoolhouse closed.

The Hotel & Manufacturing Years

2020 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E on the southeast corner in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E on the southeast corner in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto

In 1890, Robert Irvine purchased the property. He hired architect David Roberts Jr to design a three-storey addition on the north side of the building for a hotel and to convert and incorporate the former school into the extension. The Irvine House opened later that year and was designed in the Queen Anne Revival style. What we know as The Canary was once the entrance to the hotel.

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, a producer of enamelware. A three-storey warehouse was added on the building’s east side. It still bears their name, “Thos Davidson Mfg,” a ghost sign on the north wall. Other occupants included Tippet-Richardson Moving & Storage and Canada Felt Co.

The Iconic Canary Restaurant

Between 1988 and 1990 - The Canary Restaurant neon sign and the Cherry St sign
Between 1988 and 1990 – The Canary Restaurant neon sign and the Cherry St sign (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 5)

In the mid-1960s, the Canary Restaurant relocated to the ground floor of the historic building. The land their restaurant had previously occupied at University Ave and Dundas St W had been expropriated. The Vlahos family brought the original Canary sign with them.

With its row of stools, Formica® tables and chrome-backed chairs, the destination diner welcomed everyone from office staff and truck drivers to construction workers and hockey players. There were autographed photos of celebrities, 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.

The Canary House

The building is part of the upcoming mixed-use development called the Canary House in the Toronto Indigenous Hub. The structure will incorporate the heritage-designated building that once housed the Palace Street School, The Irvine House, Cherry Street Hotel, Thomas Davidson Manufacturing and the Canary Restaurant.

Did You Know?

  • The southwest portion of the building, constructed in 1859 and 1869, is the oldest surviving public school structure in Toronto. It features Jacobean-style architectural elements, including a front-facing, shaped gable.
  • In the mid-1800s, public schools in the city were called “common” schools.
  • Front St E from Jarvis St to the Don River was previously known as Palace St. It was named so since, at the time, it led to the Palace of Government or the Parliament Buildings, once located at the southwest corner of Parliament St and Front St E.
  • The city gave the building heritage status in 1976.
  • Some movies filmed at The Canary include The Long Kiss Goodnight and Three to Tango. Also, the restaurant’s exterior is shown at the end of the Kids in the Hall episode “Hoopla.”
  • Mr Sheard, the architect of the 1859-built school portion of the building, has a street and parkette named after him. They’re located, along with a heritage plaque, between McGill St and Granby St in the Downtown Yonge area, on the site of his family’s homestead. Mr Sheard was a carpenter and later became an architect and politician. He designed many buildings in Toronto and assisted in creating the country’s first Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. In Toronto, Mr Sheard was the head of public works, an alderman, and, from 1871 to 1872, the city’s 19th mayor. He was a leading advocate for the August Civic Holiday.
  • Mr Roberts Jr, the architect of the 1890-built hotel portion, designed many buildings in the Distillery District (the main building, malt house, rectifying house, cooper shop, barrel shed and storehouse) and the Toronto landmark, the Gooderham “Flatiron” Building.

Canary Restaurant Photos

1972 - Looking towards the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. From 1965 until 2007, the Canary Restaurant was located in the heritage-designated building. The building has undergone several additions and alterations throughout its history, which dates back to 1859. Other purposes it served include a school, hotel, factory and storage facility
1972 – Looking towards the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. From 1965 until 2007, the Canary Restaurant was located in the heritage-designated building. The building has undergone several additions and alterations throughout its history, which dates back to 1859. Other purposes it served include a school, hotel, factory and storage facility (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 19, Item 29)
Between 1988 and 1991 - The Canary Restaurant was once located on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto. The original structure, on the ground floor at the southwest corner of the building, was constructed in 1859 and was once the Palace Street School
Between 1988 and 1991 – The Canary Restaurant was once located on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto. The original structure, on the ground floor at the southwest corner of the building, was constructed in 1859 and was once the Palace Street School (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 654, Item 11)
2021 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel, Thomas Davidson Manufacturing and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the Canary District of the West Don Lands neighbourhood
2021 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel, Thomas Davidson Manufacturing and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the Canary District of the West Don Lands neighbourhood
Between 1988 and 1990 - The Canary Restaurant sign (notice the sign has lost its neon tubing) and the Cherry St sign
Between 1988 and 1990 – The Canary Restaurant sign (notice the sign has lost its neon tubing) and the Cherry St sign (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 5)
2020 – The corner portion of the building at 425/441 Cherry St was once home to the Canary Restaurant. In 1890, the building was remodelled to become The Irvine House, and this corner portion was the hotel's entrance
2020 – The corner portion of the building at 425/441 Cherry St was once home to the Canary Restaurant. In 1890, the building was remodelled to become The Irvine House, and this corner portion was the hotel’s entrance
Between 1988 and 1990 - The busy dining room in the Canary Restaurant, once on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood. The restaurant was in business at this location from 1965 until 2007
Between 1988 and 1990 – The busy dining room in the Canary Restaurant, once on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood. The restaurant was in business at this location from 1965 until 2007 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 1)
2021 – Once the dining room at the Canary Restaurant
2021 – Once the dining room at the Canary Restaurant
Between 1988 and 1990 – The busy pass-through window and kitchen at the Canary. The restaurant closed in 2007
Between 1988 and 1990 – The busy pass-through window and kitchen at the Canary. The restaurant closed in 2007 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 7)
Between 1988 and 1990 - The kitchen at the Canary Restaurant
Between 1988 and 1990 – The kitchen at the Canary Restaurant (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 2)
Between 1988 and 1990 – A view of the dining area at the Canary Restaurant
Between 1988 and 1990 – A view of the dining area at the Canary Restaurant (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 11)
Between 1988 and 1990 – The pass-through window inside the Canary Restaurant, once located at Cherry St and Front St E
Between 1988 and 1990 – The pass-through window inside the Canary Restaurant, once located at Cherry St and Front St E (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 9)
2021 – A view inside the former Canary Restaurant
2021 – A view inside the former Canary Restaurant
2021 – A view inside the building once home to the Canary Restaurant on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E
2021 – A view inside the building once home to the Canary Restaurant on the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E
1972 – The Canada Felt Co once occupied the former Palace Street School located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the 1969 green Pontiac Beaumont
1972 – The Canada Felt Co once occupied the former Palace Street School located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the 1969 green Pontiac Beaumont (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 60, Item 14)
2020 – The original portions of the building, attached on the south side of 425/441 Cherry St, were built in 1859 and 1869 for the Palace Street School. The ground floor of the school was constructed in 1859, and the second storey was added ten years later. At the time, the area was residential, and this section of Front St E was called Palace St. The building is the oldest surviving public school in Toronto
2020 – The original portions of the building, attached on the south side of 425/441 Cherry St, were built in 1859 and 1869 for the Palace Street School. The ground floor of the school was constructed in 1859, and the second storey was added ten years later. At the time, the area was residential, and this section of Front St E was called Palace St. The building is the oldest surviving public school in Toronto
1972 - Notice the round, front-facing gable on the 1859 and 1869-built portion of the building originally home to the Palace Street School. It was designed in the Jacobean style. Notice the Canary Restaurant sign on the northwest portion of 425/441 Cherry St
1972 – Notice the round, front-facing gable on the 1859 and 1869-built portion of the building originally home to the Palace Street School. It was designed in the Jacobean style. Notice the Canary Restaurant sign on the northwest portion of 425/441 Cherry St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 60, Item 12)
1972 - The original building at 425/441 Cherry St (on the left side of the photo) was constructed in two phases, in 1859 and 1869, for Palace Street School. The right half of the photo shows the portion built in the 1920s for a warehouse. The ghost sign across the top of the building reads: "General Steel Wares Limited"
1972 – The original building at 425/441 Cherry St (on the left side of the photo) was constructed in two phases, in 1859 and 1869, for Palace Street School. The right half of the photo shows the portion built in the 1920s for a warehouse. The ghost sign across the top of the building reads: “General Steel Wares Limited” (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 60, Item 13)
Between 1988 and 1990 – Looking northeast towards 425/441 Cherry St in Toronto's West Don Lands neighbourhood. The building, which has undergone a few additions, was originally a school, then a hotel, a warehouse, storage and the Canary Restaurant. In the mid-1800s, the area was residential; however, over the years, it transitioned to industrial. Today, it's going back to residential
Between 1988 and 1990 – Looking northeast towards 425/441 Cherry St in Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood. The building, which has undergone a few additions, was originally a school, then a hotel, a warehouse, storage and the Canary Restaurant. In the mid-1800s, the area was residential; however, over the years, it transitioned to industrial. Today, it’s going back to residential (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 12)
2020 – The original building, at the southwest corner of 425/441 Cherry St, was once the Palace Street School. The building is Toronto's oldest surviving public school
2020 – The original building, at the southwest corner of 425/441 Cherry St, was once the Palace Street School. The building is Toronto’s oldest surviving public school
2021 – Looking northeast toward the heritage building at Cherry St and Front St E for the construction of the Canary House in Toronto's West Don Lands neighbourhood
2021 – Looking northeast toward the heritage building at Cherry St and Front St E for the construction of the Canary House in Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood
1954 – Tippit-Richardson Moving and Storage once occupied the former Palace Street School at the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. Across the street on the southwest corner was the Regent Gas Station
1954 – Tippit-Richardson Moving and Storage once occupied the former Palace Street School at the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E. Across the street on the southwest corner was the Regent Gas Station (Toronto Public Library R-2793)
Between 1988 and 1990 – The Canary Restaurant in the front corner of the building at 425/441 Cherry St. The heritage-designated building was constructed in four phases - the original school structure on the ground floor, at the southwest corner of the building in 1859, the school's second storey addition in 1869, the northwest hotel extension in 1890 and the east side warehouse addition in the early 1920s
Between 1988 and 1990 – The Canary Restaurant in the front corner of the building at 425/441 Cherry St. The heritage-designated building was constructed in four phases – the original school structure on the ground floor, at the southwest corner of the building in 1859, the school’s second storey addition in 1869, the northwest hotel extension in 1890 and the east side warehouse addition in the early 1920s (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 666 Item 9)
2020 – The Canary Restaurant was once located on the ground floor in the northwest corner of the heritage building at 425/441 Cherry St in Toronto
2020 – The Canary Restaurant was once located on the ground floor in the northwest corner of the heritage building at 425/441 Cherry St in Toronto
2020 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E on the southeast corner in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – The Palace Street School, Cherry Street Hotel and the Canary Restaurant were once located at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E on the southeast corner in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – Looking southeast towards the ghost sign that bears the name "Thos Davidson Mfg," a producer of enamelware that once occupied the space at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood
2020 – Looking southeast towards the ghost sign that bears the name “Thos Davidson Mfg,” a producer of enamelware that once occupied the space at 425/441 Cherry St and Front St E in the West Don Lands neighbourhood
2021 – The building being prepared for the construction of the Canary House at the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in Toronto's West Don Lands neighbourhood
2021 – The building being prepared for the construction of the Canary House at the southeast corner of Cherry St and Front St E in Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood
2022 – Looking southeast towards the construction of the Canary House at Cherry St and Front St E in Toronto. The 13-storey condo will have over 200 suites
2022 – Looking southeast towards the construction of the Canary House at Cherry St and Front St E in Toronto. The 13-storey condo will have over 200 suites
April 16, 2023 – The heritage building at 425/441 Cherry St that once housed the Canary Restaurant, the Cherry Street Hotel and the Palace Street School has been wrapped with a protective covering during the building's restoration and construction of the Canary House
April 16, 2023 – The heritage building at 425/441 Cherry St that once housed the Canary Restaurant, the Cherry Street Hotel and the Palace Street School has been wrapped with a protective covering during the building’s restoration and construction of the Canary House
April 16, 2023 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Cherry St and Front St E during construction of the Canary House
April 16, 2023 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Cherry St and Front St E during construction of the Canary House
2018 – Artist rendering of the future Canary House in the Toronto Indigenous Hub in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto
2018 – Artist rendering of the future Canary House in the Toronto Indigenous Hub in the West Don Lands neighbourhood of Toronto (BDP Quadrangle)
2021 – The Sales Office for the Canary House is located across the street at 398 Front St E on the northeast corner. This heritage property, built in 1923, was originally the Canadian National Railway Office Building
2021 – The Sales Office for the Canary House is located across the street at 398 Front St E on the northeast corner. This heritage property, built in 1923, was originally the Canadian National Railway Office Building
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