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The Purple Onion
Brief introduction to The Purple Onion coffee house
The Purple Onion was hailed as one of the first and one of the most important coffee houses to arrive on the early Yorkville scene. Opened up by 6 individuals known as the Purple Onion group, the president of the club was a man named Al . The Purple Onion was known to host Folk music performances as its main form of entertainment. while watching these shows, individuals could enjoy beverages such as coffee and light snacks such as sandwiches and cake. located at the Address of 35 avenue road, The Purple Onion was right in middle of the Yorkville scene. The purple onion greatly pushed the scene in Yorkville as according to Nicolas Jennings, in 1964 it was considered the most successful coffee house of the time.
According to Buffy Saint Marie, who was one of the more prominent folk Figures who visited the Onion, it was the place to be in talking about politics and music. The Purple Onion was a place for aspiring folk artists to gather. In its later years of 1965, a shift would be seen and more jazz and rock would be featured by bands made up of young eager teenagers. This was to keep up with the change of pace Yorkville would see in the mid to late 60s. One famous rock band that consisted of teenager's who gigged at the Onion was Luke and Apostles.
At its maximum capacity it could only fit 90 people and was described by on goers in the Toronto star to be as spacious as a telephone booth with the stage being the telephone. Old photos reveal that Inside there where old chairs and tables that gave a diner like feel. True to the old-fashioned Victorian houses of the time, the exterior of Onion was described by a Maclean's reporter to be "a Victorian parlor that was blown up by a gas explosion during a whist drive"
What was Folk Revival Music?
From roughly 1964-1967, Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood was a haven for hippies, art and music - specifically folk revival. Starting in the 1940s and reaching its height in the 1960s, in coffee house circuits in New York and San Francisco - folk revival music took America by storm. Part of the reason was the rise of "singer songwriters" with controversial and political opinions. The music played by these individuals evoked social justice concerns and was considered more "intellectual" than rock n' roll. This began in America with the likes of Pete Seeger and continued with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary also gained popularity at this time.
According to the author of Born at the Right Time, Doug Owram, it was the "music of a subcommunity of older youth that existed on the fringes of society in larger cities". Folk music made its mark upon the rising youth culture of the time. It provided the soundtrack to an age of social activism. To Canadian music historian; Nicholas Jennings, Canadian folk rock was written in an autobiographical sense - entrenched in the artist's personal life - as well as rich with Canadian imagery and a unique sense of place. Yorkville was the only place in Toronto to experience this music, as opposed to the venues of Toronto in current day being scattered throughout the city.
Folk music proved financially popular for these businesses and they were able to book performers from the United States and beyond. The coffee houses were a key source of revenue for musicians, with top performers making two to three thousand dollars a week. The Globe and Mail's "THINGS TO DO IN TORONTO" featured a weekly section titled "COFFEE HOUSES" which detailed the performers of the week. Audiences packed into the coffee houses in droves and paid cover charges to hear their favorite folk artists and groups.