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15 signs you grew up in Toronto in the 1980s


Nostalgia is more than just the latest internet meme. It taps into a primal and powerful part of our collective identity. The web’s latest deluge of look-back content got us sharing memories here at Toronto Life. It wasn’t long before we had pages and pages of notes about how our city once was, and the experiences that determined our sense of civic pride and shame. (In ten years, there will a post like this heavily featuring Rob Ford). We’ve compiled our favourites from the decade of huge hair, 1050 CHUM and Art Eggleton. Here, 15 signs you grew up in Toronto in the 1980s.


1. You crammed onto the Spadina Bus while singing “Spadina Bus”

The old Spadina 77 buses seemed to come every five seconds, yet they were always sweaty, crammed and infuriating (unlike today’s modern TTC). You could get through it by singing the Shuffle Demons’ delightful “Spadina Bus”—a surprise top-40 hit from 1986. The 77 route was eliminated in the ’90s when Spadina Avenue was revamped to reinstate the 510 streetcar. And the fate of the Shuffle Demons? One of them is running for mayor.


2. You actually enjoyed seeing laser shows at the McLaughlin Planetarium

The rock-themed shows, which reached their height of popularity in the mid-’80s, were the only way to get teenagers into the planetarium voluntarily. Patrons would walk through the haze of marijuana smoke, up the shallow steps and into the circular main room to watch psychedelic lasers zap out astonishingly literal interpretations of rock lyrics in Laser Floyd, Laser Zeppelin or Sgt. Peppers Laser Light Show.


3. You rode the Wilderness Adventure log ride on field trips to Ontario Place because it was the only fun thing to do there

Located in the section known as Ontario North Now, the log ride was the only child-friendly diversion from all the educational stuff, like stuffed birds and a full-scale replica of the Canada Arm.


4. You tried to sneak into The Twilight Zone

This wildly diverse club at Richmond and Simcoe was the place to be in the ’80s. With its legendary sound system and string of top-name guests (the Beastie Boys famously graffitied the doors), what underage Toronto teen didn’t want a fake ID, just to experience it. Sadly, it’s a parking lot now.

5. Your first introduction to classism was how “BiWay” became a schoolyard insult that was shorthand for “cheap”

SPARX shoes were a dead giveaway, but the “BiWay” insult pretty much applied to anything from Bargain Harolds, Woolco, Zellers or Kresge’s.


6. You still imagine passenger space travel will be just like Tour of the Universe

The erstwhile attraction at the base of the CN Tower was the world’s first flight simulator ride, and operated from 1986 to 1990. After passing through some fake customs stations and getting bogus inoculations for astro-diseases, “passengers” took a “flight” to Jupiter on Canadian Airlines’ (remember them?) interplanetary service. The thing only lasted 15 minutes, but is seared in the collective memory of a certain generation of Torontonians.

Mr. Greenjeans

(Image: Lynda W./Yelp)


7. You spent your birthday singing your heart out at Sing Your Heart Out

After a celebratory dinner at Mr. Greenjeans in the Eaton Centre, you and your friends could record yourselves belting out “Time After Time” or “Heaven is a Place on Earth” in the on-site mini-studio kiosk, then take your own voice home on audio cassette. Not the singing type? You were probably celebrating your birthday at The Mad Hatter.


8. You actually thought Toby’s Good Eats was cool

They were everywhere in the ’80s, but the Toby’s Good Eats at Yonge and Bloor was the quintessential downtown snack shop. By the time it lost its hilariously terrible name—it was re-branded “Toby’s Famous”—the restaurant  seemed downright quaint, dwarfed by imitators and better nearby dining options. For those looking for a trip back through time, there’s still a Toby’s Good Eats in Hamilton.

9. You took weekend pilgrimages to Sandylions for stickers

Like the friendship beads that preceded it, the sticker-trading trend pegged popularity to who had the largest and coolest collection. Getting ten bucks and someone’s mom to drive you and your friends out to Sandylions—the massive sticker emporium in Markham—always meant you’d have an edge. For those looking to introduce a new generation, the store is still selling its adhesive treasures under a different name. Check out the Stickers & More Warehouse in Thornhill.



10. You thought Canada’s Wonderland was truly in the middle of nowhere

Canada’s Wonderland may now seem like a quick 30-minute drive, but as a child, with the anticipation building to ride The Bat or the Ghostercoaster (depending on your age), the drive to a yet-underdeveloped Maple seemed like an eternity.


11. John Majhor pretty much defined your early musical taste

Through his CHUM radio and CityTV shows, John Majhor introduced Torontonians to bands like The Police and Blue Rodeo. Toronto Rocks!—a pre-MuchMusic video-music program—started in its 4:00 p.m. time slot on CityTV in 1984, making it a staple of many teens’ after-school rituals. Sadly, Majhor died in 2007 at just 53.

12. Bregman’s double-chocolate fudge version is still your platonic ideal for cake

As most midtowners know, going to the movies at the Hollywood Theatre almost always meant a trip to nearby Bregman’s. The dine-in bakery had a perpetual (and deserving) queue, but the hotspot’s famously moist double-chocolate fudge cake was worth the wait. After 28 years in business, Bregman’s closed in 2007.


13. You got ready, got set, for Imagination Day

Imagine, imagine, you could imagine.


14. For you, “The Voice” wasn’t Whitney Houston

It was Mark Dailey (1953-2010). He was everywhere.


15. You know that Rob Ford wasn’t the only modern mayor to turn his back on Pride

Art Eggleton, whose mayoralty spanned the entire decade (1980-1991), never once attended a Pride festival. Now a senator, he’s changed his mind about the whole thing, and has advised the current mayor to attend. This video from 1988 shows one of the Eggleton-free parades, as well as a snapshot of the Church-Wellesley Village at that time. Remember the steps?

Special thanks to Retrontario, the YouTube channel with countless incredible clips from around Ontario. Check it out here.  

Images: laser show: YouTube/screenshot; cake: Bregman’s; Sandylions: Sandylions; Toby’s Good Eats:; Mr Greenjeans: Lynda W./Yelp; skyline: Skeezixx1000/Wikipedia)

  • Penelope Butterbean

    You didn’t need ID to get into The Twilight Zone.

  • Rico_Featherbutt

    You kids missed the 70′s, and your self of entitlement missed what Ontario Place was about…and that horrible Amphitheatre.

  • thinkplease99

    Exactly. I lost a lot of my hearing there.

  • outburst

    So true about BiWay. My father sent me to school with a BiWay bag one day. It was the last time I let that happen.

  • Edward Bliss

    Remembering The CNE when it had the Bulova Tower, The Alpine Way, and Exhibition Stadium

  • Guest

    Nice going you schmucks. You used the Toronto Blue Jays font, but didn’t even bother to mention them? Dorks…

  • Lucile Barker

    Lime Ricky’s in the Eaton Center…the button man outside of Sam’s…

  • Kathlay’N Morgaret

    Note the pride parade back in the day they actually wore clothes that covered them. Not today it less& less for sex appeal. I personally find their appearance unable to watch a.put some great outfits on I know your closets are full. Loved to see a well dress gay couple.. look to STEVEN AND CHRIS.. now that class!!!!! Just love their program… BYE BYE

  • geoff_zinderdine

    What clearer illustration that they never climbed those stairs. I mean, it was an all ages after-hours club, ferchrissake. Besides, it wasn’t sneaking in that the cognoscenti did… it was either going to Pariah on Wednesday night or waiting for the cover to drop on the weekend.

  • Binndair Dundat

    Re the Gay Pride vid:

    My band was on the bill right behind the Nancy Sinatras (who didn’t want to yield the stage to us and the sound engineer had to unplug them) and at the very beginning of the march: a non-starter as the crowd would have headed south, missing our performance. Victory was ours when the assembled masses stopped dead at our feet as we hit the boards and fired up the amps

    A warm breeze over us; people hanging out of the 519′s windows; the slapback of the PA off of the surrounding architecture; the throng pogoing like mad – and the hardy few trying to thread their way between the crowd and the buildings to proceed with the parade.

    Why all of this fuss? We were the only straight band on the bill (I got in via my entertainment committee roommate), therefore not recognised as darlings of the community – the sound man had predicted this and dealt with it accordingly, God bless – but because music is the universal language ….

    This probably explains why we aren’t found anywhere in the clip, though it would have been nice; I’d like to think that I was quite fetching in my denim miniskirt, pink tights, construction boots, sailor hat, handmade band shirt and string of pearls (which I immediately had to sling over my back when it hit the pickup switch on my Les Paul and killed its output). By the way, we did finagle an interview with CITY TV’s Monika Deol which aired on that day’s news – and of that fiasco I’ll say no more.

    As an aside, to appreciate the scale of the parade back then note the northbound vehicles on Church before the march was even over.

    At any rate that, my friends, was MY summer of the ’80s.

  • lloyd

    Actually the Toby’s good eats moved to college and Bathurst no need to go to Hamilton. They change the last part of the name but on there site they kept the simbol Toby’s good eats.

  • keller23

    What was cool about the 1980s: every 2nd news article wasn’t about gays. Good times.