The History of Music on Yonge Street murals are located on the north and south sides of a 22-storey building located at 423 Yonge St (north of Gerrard St E, between McGill St and Granby St) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. Click for Part II.
This article focuses on the north-facing mural at Granby St, which celebrates the iconic musicians and the legendary venues that helped define Yonge Street’s music scene from the 1950s through to the 1960s. The incredible 70 m tall murals were created by artist Adrian Hayles and presented by the Downtown Yonge BIA.
The Musicians & Venues
The north-facing mural was completed in 2016 and features nine musicians and six Downtown Yonge area locations (from top to bottom):
Ronnie Hawkins, pictured singing next to Le Coq d’Or Tavern facade, was one of the tavern’s most famous performers. In 1958, Arkansas-born Rompin’ Ronnie and his band, The Hawks, headed to Canada, eventually landing in Toronto. They played their high-energy rockabilly sound at the former clubs’ Le Coq d’Or, the Hawk’s Nest and the Nickelodeon.
Glenn Gould is depicted playing his Steinway piano. A child prodigy, the Toronto-born classical pianist, gave his first public performance on the organ at the Eaton Auditorium in the former Eaton’s College Street store in 1945. He was just 13 years old. Today, the auditorium is known as The Carlu in College Park.
Dianne Brooks is shown next to the Sam the Record Man sign. Born in New Jersey, the talented R&B, jazz, and blues artist was a popular entertainer at the Yonge St clubs, including the former Club Bluenote. The Bluenote was an intimate after-hours R&B dance hall.
Jackie Shane is pictured near the Massey Hall sign. The Nashville-born transgender soul singer found fame in Toronto. She played sold-out shows at the former Saphire Tavern and also performed at the Brass Rail Tavern and the former Hawk’s Nest.
Muddy Waters is seen playing his guitar near the Friar’s Tavern sign. He’s an iconic and influential American blues singer who played the former Colonial Tavern and The Rock Pile at the Masonic Temple.
Shirley Matthews is pictured next to the Colonial Tavern sign. In the 1960s, Ms Matthews, who had been a Bell Canada switchboard operator, had her R&B singing career launched at former Club Bluenote.
BB King is shown playing his Gibson guitar, Lucille. The legendary American blues singer-songwriter performed at venues in the Downtown Yonge area, including the former Colonial Tavern and the historic Massey Hall.
Gordon Lightfoot is pictured singing into the mic. The Canadian folk-music superstar was a regular entertainer at the former Steele’s Tavern and has done over 170 shows at Massey Hall, first performing at Toronto’s beloved music venue in 1951 at the age of 13.
Oscar Peterson is depicted playing his piano. The renowned Canadian musician is regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Mr Peterson played at the former Friar’s Tavern, Massey Hall and also at the former Town Tavern, where the jazz album On the Town with the Oscar Peterson Trio was recorded in 1958.
Out of all the venues mentioned above, the only three that exist today are Massey Hall, The Concert Hall at the Masonic Temple (once known as The Rock Pile) and The Carlu (once known as Eaton Auditorium).
Yonge Street Music History Mural & Venue Photos
- Mural: Yonge Street Music History by artist Adrian Hayles
- Downtown Yonge BIA: Music Murals
- Heritage Toronto: Music Murals & The Town Tavern
- Allied Music Centre: Massey Hall: Gordon Lightfoot
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, University of Calgary & York University Libraries
- Videos: Historica Canada YouTube Channel