Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories: Toronto Public Library-Queen/Saulter Branch

In this feature of the ‘Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, Branch Head, Judy Leung, walks us through the incredible journey of the Queen/Saulter Library Branch, located at 765 Queen Street East. Come with us on this story from its early days, to how it came to be a staple in the community, as we welcome the Branch back with its re-opening after a long hiatus through this pandemic.

Special thanks to Judy Leung for contributing this story:

When I started at the Queen/Saulter Library ten years ago, it came full circle as I remember coming here growing up, when my parents owned a restaurant/convenience store further east along Queen Street East toward Greenwood. 

Shortly after I began, I came across a folder of community support letters that was collected in 2001 when this branch was considered for closure.  The community support for Queen/Saulter was very much apparent in those letters.  One letter from a child summed up the sentiments of many: “I use this library all the time because I love this library with all my heart.”

Those letters told a story about how the community had to fight to have a library in this neighbourhood, and then fight to keep it open.


South Riverdale residents had long felt neglected by the city due to the few services available in the neighbourhood at the time.  The community was also concerned about the lack of library service on Queen Street East.

In 1977, the then historic post office building at 765 Queen Street East was acquired by the City of Toronto for conversion into a multi-service community centre. 

The Queen/Saulter Library opened December 11th, 1979 at a temporary storefront location at 761 Queen Street East (where the Riverside BIA had their offices from 2012-2016).  In 1980, the branch relocated to its present site in former Postal Station G., built in 1913, and designed by E.J. Lennox, the eminent architect who also designed Old City Hall, Casa Loma and the King Edward Hotel.

queen saulter library

Picture on right, temporary storefront location at 761 Queen Street East.
Picture on left, permanent location at 765 Queen Street East.

Then in 2001, the Queen/Saulter Library was considered for closure but the community organized to keep it open.  The community support was so strong that instead of closing, it was refurbished in 2002.  It shows how a little library like Queen/Saulter can touch so many people and be a part of something so much bigger through community support and partnerships.

Strong partnerships help bring library programs and services out into the Riverside community, some of the many examples are below:

Inside and Outback Walk with authors Shawn Micallef (Stroll, Spacing Magazine) and Ron Fletcher (Over the Don) presented with the Riverside BIA as part of the Riverside Walks Festival (2012).

queen saulter shawn riverside

Shawn Micallef addressing the crowd inside the Queen/Saulter Library

ron fletcher curling club queen saulter riverside

Ron Fletcher addressing the crowd outside the Royal Canadian Curling Club

Danette Steele presented with the Riverside BIA as part of the Jane’s Walk festival (2015).

halloween queen saulter riverside

Annual HOWL-O-WEEN Party for children and families presented with the Ralph Thornton Community Centre and the South Riverdale Child-Parent Centre (2019).


Celebrating the holidays with festive cards given to community members.  The cards feature Queen/Saulter librarians and were created by talented staffers Alison Wright (card on top) and Kayla Preston-Lord (card on bottom).

queen saulter librarians riverside

Queen/Saulter Library – Winner of the inaugural Riverside BIA’s Customer Service Superstar Award (2013).

Over March 2020 to August 2021, Queen/Saulter Library has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and staff have been relocated to nearby libraries.  Many Riverside community members have visited staff at these locations to express how much they miss the Queen/Saulter Library and their eagerness for its reopening.  We also miss everyone, and it is heartening to feel all the love and support.  It serves as a reminder of how rewarding it is to be part of the Riverside community and the library’s importance in making the community stronger.

We couldn’t be happier and more excited for our long-awaited re-opening on September 14, 2021!

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The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.




Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories: Film & TV Culture in Riverside

As part of our ‘Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, we’re sharing the story of the film and TV culture in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood, with some fascinating tidbits from over the years.

This story has been modified from it’s origins as one of our Riverside Walks. Thanks to our former BIA Board Member and local historian Ron Fletcher and his ‘movie buff’ brother Bernie Fletcher for sharing photos and information for this original walk/story.

Have you ever wondered where some of your favourite TV shows and movies were filmed? In some cases, the answer is very close to home! Just steps from Toronto’s major film studios, the Riverside neighbourhood has been a film and TV hotspot for decades thanks to the area’s film-friendly ‘doors open’ policy. Home to the famous De Grassi Street, which inspired the Degrassi TV series, Riverside has been transformed for “Cinderella Man” (2005) and more recently hosted shoots for TV series such as “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Taken.”

Ralph Thornton Centre / Queen Saulter Library (765 Queen St E) & Cinderella Man (Queen St E) 

The columned façade was designed by E.J. Lennox, who also designed Old City Hall and Casa Loma. The building was constructed in 1913 and served as Postal Station G until 1975. It was acquired by the City of Toronto and renovated into a community center and library in 1979. Scenes from Cinderella Man (2005) were filmed in and around the building and in The Mouth of Madness (1994).

Recognize the Queen/Saulter library? Queen Street East was outfitted to look like a Depression-era American town for Cinderella Man (2005) directed by Ron Howard. Photo credit: Bernie Fletcher 

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) directed by John Carpenter, filmed inside the library. Photo Credit: Toronto Public Library Archives.

George Iliades (741 Queen St E) 

A lot has changed on Queen St E, but George Iliades, barber and actor, has been in the same shop for the last 54 years and has been in 14 movies! His first appearance was in 2001, for a TD Bank Commercial (TD rented his shop for the ad and ended up putting him on camera too). After that, he got an agent and has been in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and more.

Owner of Broadview Beauty Parlour and well known figure George Iliades in his shop. Photo Credit: George Iliades.

The Broadview Hotel (106 Broadview Ave) & Teck Theatre (700 Queen St E) 

Originally built in 1891 as a Romanesque style hall for public gatherings called ‘Dingman’s Hall,’ a 1907 ownership change converted it to rooming houses for men working in factories or on the rail lines. The building was Jilly’s Strip Club by 1986. In 2014, Streetcar Developments bought and transformed this iconic building into a boutique hotel with the Toronto skyline’s best views. It has since been the scene of prominent TV series such as A Handmaid’s Tale. Right next door was once the Teck Theatre, a Toronto movie house opened from 1931-33 during the transition from silent movies to ‘talkies’. Read all about The Broadview Hotel’s long and colourful history in our past feature.

Photo Credit: Toronto Archives.

Riverside Bridge & Il Ponte (625 Queen St E) 

The Bridge appeared in Angel Eyes (2001) with the CN Tower at the back, even though Angel Eyes is set in Chicago. At the eastern foot of the Bridge, the Italian restaurant Il Ponte, named for the Bridge it was located beside, was the set for the TV series Mary Kills People (episode 2×05).

A still screen from the series “Mary Kills People”. 

A still screen from the 2001 film “Angel Eyes”

Quince Flowers (660 Queen St E) 

A popular floral shop in Riverside for over 10 years, Quince boasts TIFF as one of their clients and created the flower wall ‘step and repeat’ for TIFF’s 40th Anniversary. Quince did the floral arrangements  for the TV series Suits as well as Atom Egoyan’s movies Chloe (2009) and Ararat (2002).

The stunning flower wall at TIFF done by Quince Flowers. Photo Credit: Quince Flowers

The floral arrangements seen here, a still from the incredibly popular series Suits, was done by Quince Flowers!

The Opera House (735 Queen St E) 

An iconic Toronto music venue since 1989, the building originally opened in 1909 as a Vaudeville stage, then as La Plaza Theatre (1930s), and as a movie theatre through the 1960s. As multiplex screen venues popped up, the venue transformed again in 1989 under new ownership to a live music venue that has hosted many of the world’s top acts such as Metallica, Cindy Lauper, and Eminem. The Opera House has been in many movie scenes, notably The Rocker (2008) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995). Learn all about The Opera House and it’s long history in our past feature about it.

Still screen from The Rocker (2008)

De Grassi Street & Bruce Mackey Park (55 Wardell St) 

Originally named for the soldier, Filippo De Grassi, the street was made famous after it inspired the hit TV series franchise. Bruce Mackey Park was officially dedicated to a founding friend and supporter of the Degrassi TV series: Bruce Mackey opened his home to young filmmakers, Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood, who were making a short children’s film. The Kids of Degrassi Street was born, spawning the cult classic franchise including Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which starred now famed artist Drake, and Degrassi: Next Class. Read more about this in our past story about De Grassi St vs Degrassi St!

Laird Fx (46 McGee St) 

Established in 1979 by Laird McMurray, Laird Fx is Canada’s largest firm doing special effects, props and more devices for film, TV, theatre and live events – having worked with series such as Star Trek. Laird changed the game by hiring people full-time year-round – locking in good employees and talented people.

A look inside the Laird FX workspace reveals bits and pieces from countless projects. Photo Credit: Laird FX

If Riverside’s “door open” policy, landscape, and proximity to major local film studios were not enough to make it a hotbed for TV and film projects, the character and history of the area are. Buildings and streets in Riverside reflect a city that has changed greatly but retained qualities and proudly bears markings of its past. Set for today, tomorrow, or yesterday, Riverside provides a great canvas to tell a visual story.

We hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of some of the fascinating film and TV moments in Riverside’s history, and cheers to many more being made every day!


40 years 40 stories graphic

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories: George “Jim” Thomason & Unilever

As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we are sharing the story of Jim Thomason, an East End native, a father and loving grandfather, and a long-time employee of the Unilever factory at the foot of the Don River.

Our thanks go to Jim’s granddaughter, Sabrina (Riverside BIA’s summer 2021 Marketing Assistant!), for contributing this amazing story and to Jim and other family members for sharing their memories.

My Grandfather, George “Jim” Thomason, was born April 22nd 1931 at East York General (now Michael Garron Hospital) and – until he moved to the West Coast to enjoy his retirement “without snow” – he was a Toronto Eastend native who grew up just northeast of Riverside neighbourhood.

An early photo of Jim Thomason as a toddler, c 1933 (Photo credit to the Thomason family)

Gerrard and Pape bridge c 1930 (Photo Credit Toronto City Archives)

Back then he was a tall, slim man and a self proclaimed “Spiffy Dresser.” After all, he did meet my Grandmother, Sheila Taylor, a Scottish-American immigrant, in a $75.00 suit. Three weeks wages at the time!

As a young man Grandad wanted to be a printer, and got an apprenticeship at Bryant Press (near Spadina Avenue in the West End). However shortly after, with the printing system becoming more automated, the Printers Union went on strike and they paid him $25.00 a week to stand on a picket line for a few hours.

According to Grandad, his father, “was pissed off, ‘excuse my language’ ” he said on the phone, “that he was being paid a wage not to work but to stand around for a few hours.” So to keep the peace, as he said he always did – and not uncommon for the time – Jim took a job he did not want and worked there his entire life.

Born in between World Wars and into the Great Depression, my Grandad grew up being told you got “a job that pays every week and it was considered permanent if they liked you and you liked it.” Jim Thomason worked at Unilever – the Lever Brothers Sunlight Soapworks Factory – on Eastern Avenue from March 1948 until he retired with a gold watch and a pension in 1991.

Lever Brothers Soapworks Factory, Exterior, 1930s (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Lever Brothers Soapworks Factory, Interior, 1930s (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

When I asked my grandad if he liked it he said “No, but I kept my nose clean and held on to it. It’s not like today, where they say ‘we will see how you fit in after 18 months and maybe renew your contract… none of that. You had a job if you showed up and worked hard!”

In 1948 he was paid 95 cents an hour with a 5 cents an hour living bonus, working out to be around $40.00 a week. At 21 he joined the compulsory Canadian pension plan and over 40 years later he retired on a salary of $37 500 a year plus overtime pay.

Images of Lever Brothers Soap Factory, Exterior 2019 (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Images of Lever Brothers Soap Factory, Exterior 2019 (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Ninety in April this year, Grandad’s memories of Riverside, Riverdale and Leslieville in the 1930’s and 40’s, although not named as such then, are as vivid as ever. He can still recall the family names and ethnicities of every neighbour he had on Cavell Ave.

Can you tell me about anyone that sticks out in your memory from your childhood?

 “There was this Italian Immigrant family who lived up the street and they owned a grocery store up on the Danforth.” He spoke as if he were standing outside the store telling me about it. “The Greco Family, the son was Tony and they were a ‘go to church two to three times a week’ kind of family but they had the best produce at their store.”

Tony Greco and his Mother, Southwest corner, Danforth and Logan 1930 (Photo Credit Toronto City Archives)

Do you have memories of Queen Street from your days working at Lever Brothers?

“So much of the city at that point was still under development but down south of Queen Street was a combination of working class homes and industrial factories that all depended on the Don River as a way to move raw materials up from the lake docks and into the factories.”

I can recall this story from my own childhood, Grandad telling me about hauling bags of lye off a barge that would pull up to a loading dock in the Lever Brothers factory. “It was labour but few jobs that paid every week and had room to grow with seniority didn’t start out as labour” he said, as if this were still a common work practice.

My grandparents lived in the east end their whole working lives. They raised two children who went on to have families of their own, myself included, in the Riverside and, Riverdale areas. They continue to tell our family stories of life in young Toronto, starting a family and seeing the neighbourhood grow around them.

My Grandad is a thoughtful and hardworking man who served the east end neighbourhood of Riverside his whole working life. It’s been a joy to share his story.

Jim and Kyle, his son and contributing writer Sabrina Thomason’s father – 1964 (Photo credit: Thomason family)

Sheila and Jim Thomason in the 1970s (Photo credit: Thomason family)


40 years 40 stories graphic

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories: Better Way Cleaners, A Constant for 56 Years

As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we’re putting a spotlight on Better Way Cleaners at 724 Queen Street East, one of Riverside’s longest standing family businesses and the family behind the steadfast storefront.

Our thanks go to Edward Jang – who took over the family business after his late father William (Bill) Jang’s retirement in 1988 – for sharing his thoughts and memories for this article.

Photo of Better Way Cleaners storefront in 2021

Photo of Better Way Cleaners storefront in 2021 at 724 Queen Street East in Riverside neighbourhood, Toronto

How has the community changed over the years?

When asked what the Riverside neighbourhood was like when Better Way Cleaners first opened, Edward shared:

“Not like it is now. It was a bunch of clothing stores, shoe stores, and the odd grocery – unlike now, how it is mostly restaurants. Once Gerrard Square opened up in the 70s, all the businesses on Queen started moving there and they were replaced by restaurants.”

“It wasn’t the best area in Toronto at the time… it was a rougher area. The [Broadview] hotel was a hotel, then it became a strip club, now they’ve renovated it to what it is now. The southeast corner was a bank, and the southwest corner was actually another cleaners at the time.”

View of Queen Street East, view east across Broadview Avenue, Riverside neighbourhood, Toronto – April 2, 1982

View of Queen Street East, view east across Broadview Avenue, Riverside neighbourhood, Toronto – April 2, 1982

Reflecting on how the community itself had changed, he added that Riverside in the 1960s was “definitely a working-class neighbourhood…”

“The community is younger now, and more couples and families. It’s more family oriented. With the new condo developments, there’s a lot more young professionals. Before these were condos, they were working areas.”

With so many local and family-owned businesses having come and gone in the neighbourhood in the time since Better Way Cleaners opened, we asked what kept them in Riverside. Edward shared that his roots are in this neighbourhood, where he grew up and went to school, and knows so well. He grew up in a large family in a busy neighbourhood, no stranger to hard work, with a strong sense of community. 

“It’s tradition”, he said, “My father opened this store. I grew up in this area, graduated from U of T and worked at TD bank. When my father was ready to retire, he asked me if I wanted to take over the business, and I’ve been doing this full time since 1988.”

“I come from a family of 8, and I’m number 6. All of us have come and worked here and then gone off to school, but I stuck around here and took over the business.”

When asked about what challenges the business has faced over the years, Edward chuckles and answers “Taxes! They’re crazy in this area” before adding:

“There’s been a decline in demand for dry cleaning services. When I worked at the bank in the 80s, everybody wore suits, skirts, dresses. Then they introduced casual Fridays… there’s just been a whole shift culturally and people rely on dry cleaning services less. Especially now, more and more people are working from home. Even when they do go to work, it’s sweaters or golf tops – when I was at the bank, it was jackets, ties, and suits. Dress codes are becoming less restrictive, and I guess that effects my line of business!”

Hanging proudly in the shop are plaques recognizing Better Way Cleaners as community sponsors. Ate right is Edward’s son’s hockey team, c. 2000.

What hopes do you have for Riverside’s future?

“I hope it continues to grow and trend with new stores. I would hope that this area becomes more like Queen and Spadina – how it’s so busy and they have some higher end shops. A shift towards more of a balance between retail and dining, to draw more young people in and keep them in the area.”

Edward shares that the main changes that the business has made over the years has been in their machinery and equipment, but their business model and approach has remained constant: “We’ve had the same storefront since 1965.”

Keeping up with industry standards, as well as shifting toward digital and automated technology has been the biggest business change. “We’ve updated our machines. The ones we have now are just three or four years old. We started 50 some odd years ago with used machines.”

Passers-by may be familiar with the cleaning machines visible from the window at Better Way Cleaners.

Does the technology change frequently in this industry?

“It has become a lot more computerized. Before, you could fix the machines with stuff you could get at the hardware store. Now when something breaks down, you have to call the specialist to fix it.”

Edward also shared the sad news of his father’s passing last year:

“It happened on Thanksgiving last year. He was 89 years old… Fine one day and didn’t wake up the next. He did start it all back here in ’65.”

Photo of the front counter inside Better Way Cleaners at 724 Queen St E

Photo of the front counter inside Better Way Cleaners at 724 Queen St E

When asked for any final thoughts for this article, Edward mentions that he plans on retiring in the next few years. While there are no concrete plans regarding what to do with the business, or a set date in his mind, Edward is fond of his years in Riverside. He says he embraces change and is excited for the future of this neighbourhood — which he will observe from retirement. 

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Meet our #QueenEastEats Community Supporter: Hullmark

We’re excited to thank Hullmark , one of our Queen East Eats Community Supporters!

Hullmark is a real estate and investment development team which is heavily involved in supporting community. Owner Jeff Hull has carried on Hullmark as the family business that started with his grandfather, investing in the same neighbourhoods the family first lived in.⠀

“We are pleased to be part of Queen Eats Eats. The programme is helping shine a spotlight in support of so many hard hits businesses through this summer and fall, including White Lily Diner and other beloved Hullmark tenants. Our Queen Street Eats eateries and bars have so many unique local flavours and so much personality that makes up the character of their neighbourhoods – we’re looking forward to seeing everyone out on the patios in support of local businesses!”~Jamie Zeldin, Director of Asset Management at Hullmark.

What’s #QueenEastEats?

It’s a series of giveaways, colourful displays, public art, tours, business features, and more to welcome everyone to the Queen Street East al fresco dining experience this summer and fall. Stay tuned as we bring you something new every week! Learn more check out our Patio Map to plan your experience Queen East Eats in #RiversideTO & #Leslieville


Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) with Ben Denham of White Lily Diner who are part of the CafeTO and Queen East Eats programme in 2021

Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) with Ben Denham of White Lily Diner who are part of the CafeTO and Queen East Eats programme in 2021

Hullmark has been a strong community member within Riverside for many years, as a supporter of the Riverside Gateway Bridge Project and past events such as Wine & Craft Beer Fest, and the Eats & Beats Streetfest.

Beyond being just a real estate investment and development team, Hullmark is a city builder committed to shaping a vibrant urban Toronto, with their involvement in Queen East Eats certainly being no exception to this!

Queen East Eats Thank You Decal - Riverside Toronto

Big thanks to ALL our Community Supporters of ‘Queen East Eats’:

Hullmark, Outline Financial, The Wright Group, and Radical Road Brewery’s Marketplace