Vice & Virtue

Sexy is not the word you’d usually use to describe a show on moral reform and regulation, but the library’s Vice & Virtue exhibit is a real looker. Warm red walls, fabulous black-and-white photos and some zippy charts show just how far we’ll go to keep pleasure at bay. Prohibition, censorship and some really virulent homophobia – when it comes to policing the id, we’ve done it all. There’s only one small cabinet and a chart devoted to gay history, but it’s a cool little show, and the central image – blown up at the entrance – is alone worth the price of admission. A wonderfully dark and gloomy shot of Yonge Street looking north from below College Street circa 1914, it shows Toronto in an earlier low-rise era, the streets clogged with streetcars, pedestrians and even the occasional horse-drawn cart. There’s a pre-prohibition liquor store in the foreground – hard to conceive in this LCBO era – and the tower of an old fire hall in the left rear background. What the exhibition won’t tell you is that the tower once marked the site of one of Toronto’s most famous homo hotspots. For generations of Torontonians, the St. Charles Tavern was the gay bar. Gay men gathered in the huge, U-shaped space and on Halloween, homophobes arrived to pelt the drag queens with eggs. The bar went gay in the mid-1960s and remained so until its demise in 1987. The small TD Gallery always has some interesting shows but this is one of the best, especially if you’re partial to Toronto history. It runs until April 30, 2017.