In the 80s and 90s, there were a handful of fine city comic shops, but none as fine, it seemed, as the Silver Snail. I remember the feeling of expectation waiting for the next “Dark Knight” or “Watchmen” the way I had for albums by my favourite bands, moving through the Queen Street store to the rack at the back of the room.
My girlfriend and I would share the cost; each of us buying a comic and trading them. Sleeved in plastic and parcelled into thin brown envelopes, we’d head to the Queen Mother or the Rivoli or — in the way old days, the Queen Street Diner — and take out the comics, sipping diner coffee, sharing the cheapest item on the menu and reading front to back, and front to back again. Then, a long subway ride back to the suburbs.
Until the recent opening of the Black Canary Cafe, there’s never been anything like an official Toronto comics’ cafe.
But with the Silver Snail having moved from their longstanding Queen Street shop to Yonge and Dundas — I’ll always remember my infant son begging us to take him to see if the window display had changed, and if it hadn’t, wondering who they’d put in there next — proprietors had the good sense to make room for the Black Canary, which sits at your elbow as you walk into the second-floor walk-up. Here, you can buy whatever you need, then avoid weather or distance to spend quality time reading and drinking coffee inside the store itself. Modern comic lovers never had it so good.
After a spell of seasonal shopping before Christmas, I hauled my X-Men and Spider-Man kids’ collections on the cafe’s west-facing bar over-looking Yonge Street, an experience that revealed the Canary as not only a true comics cafe, but a Yonge street portal, maybe the only place on the strip to sit and drink and watch Toronto; a new Toronto; new and fast and lively and busy.
I was reminded of the Burger King that once stood in the same block. As kids, we’d sit by the floor-level window and turn albums over in our hands drinking Cokes and root beers; reading liner notes, studying musicians’ credits. Then, a long subway ride back to the suburbs.