Take a self-guided tour of Toronto’s dynamic downtown art scene, including graffiti, galleries and street art.
When Vogue declared Queen Street West the second coolest neighbourhood in the world, locals weren’t surprised. Since the 1980s, this stretch of downtown has been a nexus for art and fashion.
Today, you can find restaurants and bars, trendy fast-fashion retailers, cool pop-up shops and local indie boutiques and galleries. A certain grittiness remains, which makes strolling Queen West an experience. Art lovers will find much to see—and photograph—on the strip between Spadina Avenue and Shaw Street.
Start your self-guided tour at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, then walk westward to hit these six local art spots.
Giant Thimble sculpture
This oversized bronze sculpture of a large thimble atop a pile of buttons pays tribute to the factory workers who worked in this neighbourhood when it was still Toronto’s garment district.
The sculpture—Canadian artist Stephen Cruise’s Uniform Measure/STACK—is situated at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West (just south of Queen Street West) making it the perfect meeting spot to kick off a Queen West art walk.
The greatest free art exhibit in downtown Toronto is Graffiti Alley. Several blocks long, this colourful laneway (aka Rush Lane) just south of Queen West between Spadina and Portland Avenues makes a great backdrop for urban photography or Instagram selfies.
But it’s also an ever-evolving tribute to the city and its culture. A recent visit revealed engaging commentary on Black Lives Matter and the Indigenous Land Back movements, striking portraits of pioneering Toronto MCs Michie Mee and King Reign… and several artistic interpretations of raccoons (our unofficial mascot). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch artists in action when you visit.
This watering hole at 408 Queen Street West is a local icon where artists have lived, worked, and played. The building dates to 1880, and since the 1980s the Cameron has been a beloved local bar and music venue that has resisted gentrification.
Above the bar, a bold yellow sign states: “This is Paradise.” And the 10 ant sculptures crawling up the building exterior? Artist Napoleon Brousseau’s cheeky response to a previous city government’s issue with the Cameron’s upper floor artist “tenants.”
Even though Kawhi Leonard left the Toronto Raptors after the team’s 2019 NBA championship win, his image remains emblazoned on Queen West. Artists Willy Wales and Kyle Ghostkeeper, who specialize in tattoo portraits and spray paint art, created a giant mural on the side of Forever Young Ink tattoo shop (522 Queen St. W.) of Leonard in full flight.
An unfortunate side effect of gentrification is that it can make artistic neighbourhoods less affordable for artists. Artscape is a non-profit that helps provide affordable studios and workspaces throughout the city; its 900 Queen Street West building is one of its oldest and hosts a thriving artist community.
Stop by the John B. Aird Gallery for socially engaged art, including painting, collage, installation and other contemporary work in a variety of media.
Craft Ontario Shop
More than 200 Ontario artisans sell their work through this non-profit organization, whose Craft Ontario Shop at 1106 Queen Street West offers some of the best Indigenous art in the city (including Inuit sculpture and prints), as well as unique contemporary textiles, jewellery and housewares.
Getting to Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue:
- Take the 501 Queen streetcar to Spadina Avenue
- Or, take either the Line 1 Yonge-University or Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subways to Spadina station, then catch the 510 Spadina streetcar southbound to Queen Street West