The Matador Ballroom was once located at 466 Dovercourt Rd (just north of College St on the west side) in the Dufferin Grove neighbourhood of Toronto.
Originally a Dance School
Built in 1914/15, the building was first home to the Davis Dance Academy on the main floor with a residential apartment on the second floor. The flat-roofed structure has two double-height bay windows on its main east façade. During World War I, events were held at the dance hall to raise funds for local troops fighting overseas.
Its Time as a Bowling Alley
In the early 1920s, the rear portion of the main floor was converted to a bowling alley for the Dovercourt Bowling Club. In 1953, above the existing alley, the second storey was also transformed into a bowling alley and renamed Elite Bowling. Along with the bowling, the structure housed a variety of commercial tenants.
The Matador Ballroom
In 1964, Ann Dunn purchased the property and renovated the building. Ms Dunn, along with her five children, lived on the second floor while the main floor became a live music venue. Later that same year, The Matador Ballroom opened. Also known as Club Matador, the after-hours dance hall and live country music club hosted legendary artists including Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, k.d. lang, Prairie Oyster, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Ian Tyson and Blue Rodeo.
On Friday and Saturday nights, when other live music clubs like the Horseshoe Tavern were closing for the evening, The Matador opened. The after-hours club operated into the wee hours of the morning, opening from around midnight to 4:30 or 5 am. The Matador was also sometimes open on Sunday evenings. Along with a cover charge (which was $3.75 in 1981), the club officially served hot dogs and soft beverages. The honky-tonk even had a celebrity boot collection strung along a wall near the ceiling.
Closing Time for The Matador
In 2007, the Toronto Parking Authority voted to expropriate the property for a 20-space parking lot. After 43 years in business and raising her family on the upper floor, Ms Dunn closed The Matador Club. But, with a public outcry and the “Save the Matador” campaign, the parking authority reversed its decision, and the teardown was stopped.
A New Vision for the Club
In 2010 and just months before she passed away, brothers Paul and Gerry McCaughey purchased the property from Ann Dunn. The new owners had plans to open a fitness centre; however, that changed when original architectural elements were found during renovations. Underneath the barnboard walls, plaster moulding from the dance academy was discovered. After researching the building’s history, the brothers shifted gears and decided to open an updated version of The Matador while still maintaining the club’s original roots.
With restoration near complete, it was set to reopen in 2016, but zoning, concerns about noise and other issues delayed its launch. In 2019, after nine years of investment and challenges, the McCaughey’s made the business decision to sell the property.
The Site Today
There is a proposal for a 30-unit, mixed-use development that will extend the entire property length, from Dovercourt Rd to Bill Cameron Ln. While the building is not designated as a heritage property, there are plans to preserve and incorporate The Matador Ballroom’s iconic sign and remount the signature wall from a backstage dressing room signed by the celebrated artists who performed there.
Did You Know?
- In the 1800s, the Denison family owned land in the area. They built an estate called “Dover Court,” named after their ancestral home in Essex, England.
- The floor was made of sprung oak to absorb shock.
- Ms Dunn made use of the previous tenant’s bowling pin-shaped sign.
- Leonard Cohen, a family friend of the Dunn’s, wrote the 1992 song “Closing Time” as a tribute to The Matador. He also filmed the music video there.
- k. d. lang and The Reclines music video for the 1987 release of “Turn Me Round” was recorded at The Matador.
- In a 2007 interview with Deirdre Kelly of The Globe and Mail, Ms Dunn said when she first saw the arches in the ceiling, she thought of Spain. That’s why she called it The Matador.
The Matador Ballroom Photos
- 466/468 Dovercourt Road
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Feb 18, 1914, pg 9
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 12, 1981, pg A8
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 2, 1994, pg C3
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 29, 2007, pg M2
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Oct 17, 2007, pg A16
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Jan 28, 2015, pg GT3
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: May 20, 2019, pg E3
- Preliminary Cultural Heritage Evaluation Report: 466-468 Dovercourt Rd by ERA Architects Inc
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: Toronto Public Library