The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern


A complete history of Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern, “the Birthplace of Canadian Rock,” to coincide with its seventieth anniversary.

Like the Queen Street strip that has been its home for seven decades, the Horseshoe Tavern continues to evolve. It remains as relevant today as it did when Jack Starr founded the country music club on the site of a former blacksmith shop. From country and rockabilly to rock ‘n’ roll, punk, alt/country, and back to roots music, the venerable live music venue has evolved with the times and trends — always keeping pace with the music.

Over its long history, the Horseshoe has seen a flood of talent pass through. From Willie Nelson to Loretta Lynn, Stompin’ Tom Connors to The Band, and Bryan Adams to the Tragically Hip, the Horseshoe has attracted premier acts from all eras of music. In The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, David McPherson captures the turbulent life of the bar, and of Canadian rock.


Toronto Book Awards
Heritage Toronto Award, 2018 Historical Writing


Expect to learn more than you ever imagined about this venue at Queen and Spadina.


At a time when music venues are under attack by gentrification and development, the Horseshoe remains immortal. I’ve long wondered what those checkerboard floors would say if they could talk. Now they can.

Alan Cross, internationally renowned radio broadcaster and music writer

David McPherson does an amazing thing with this affectionate and informative book about the “Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.” As someone who has performed there and attended countless shows there over the years, it made me feel like
I was a witness to something much bigger and more integral to the history of Toronto’s ever-changing music scene.

Ron Sexsmith

David McPherson’s tall cold pour of a story left me smacking my lips, nodding my head, and feeling just fine. My recommendation: pull up a chair, drain off one chapter, then another, and the next. Before long, you’ll feel absolutely giddy about the Horseshoe and its raffishly distinguished history, Toronto, music, this excellent writer, and the whole wide world.

Charles McNair, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Land O’ Goshen

a glorious two-handed plunge into the loam of the most famous rock ’n’ roll club in Canada; digging in the weeds to find the bones that find the ghosts who played there, from Hank Williams to Tom Connors to Frankie Venom to Townes Van Zandt and beyond.

Dave Bidini, author of Writing Gordon Lightfoot

The Horseshoe Tavern has long been the most important club in Canada, down at the corner of Queen and Spadina in Toronto. Whether it’s legendary residencies from Stompin’ Tom to the Rheostatics, or a super-surprise concert by the Rolling Stones, or my own band playing a string of New Year’s Eve shows in that room that I will never forget, the Horseshoe is Canada’s beating heart of rock ’n’ roll. David McPherson’s book does a brilliant job illustrating just that.

Grant Lawrence, The Smugglers

David McPherson has captured the soul and the sweat, the joy and the chaos of the hands-down greatest music parlor in Canada. This book takes you through a journey that began before rock ’n’ roll and keeps the ghosts humming with you long past closing time. From Stonewall Jackson to the Last Pogo the spirit that is the Horseshoe lives in these pages.

Colin Linden, musical director of the TV show Nashville and member of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings

The Horseshoe is one the most beloved clubs in North America. Certainly Toronto would not be the same without it. David McPherson takes us on a wonderful journey that shows the reader why the club is called the Legendary Horseshoe and where those legends came from.

Bernie Finkelstein, founder True North Records and manager, Bruce Cockburn

A living, breathing entity that encapsulates everything good about live music — this is the Horseshoe Tavern I know and love; it was the first place the Northern Pikes ever played in Toronto (1985). I’ve had so many great nights since then on that stage, in the audience, and at the bar. This book truly captures the vibe of the best live music venue in Canada: the sweat, the history, and most of all, the sound, and, did I mention the sweat? A love song for the musical Grande Dame of Queen Street.

Jay Semko, the Northern Pikes

A valuable document of the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern history. One of Toronto’s most enduring music venues that fostered both local and international performers. Jack Starr’s legacy lives on!

Josh Finlayson, Skydiggers 

Over the years, Toronto has had its fair share of legendary clubs including the El Mocambo, the Colonial Tavern, the Matador and the Riverboat. Arguably, none of these are important as the Horseshoe Tavern. Open since 1947, the Horseshoe started as a country bar, for a short while was at the center of Toronto’s punk scene and for the past 35 years has booked a plethora of eclectic up and coming Canadian and international acts, many of whom have gone on to become superstars. On the eve of its 70th birthday, author David McPherson finally tells the fabled club’s story.

Rob Bowman, Grammy Award-winning author and professor

In 1986, moving from Montreal, between late nights at Rock ’N’ Roll Heaven and equally late nights at the Horseshoe Tavern, my initiation into the Toronto music scene began. David McPherson has encapsulated that remarkable feeling of what the ’Shoe brought to me and countless other rabid music fans; fans that knew that it was almost as much the spirit of the venue as it was the live music you saw there that made the ’Shoe the legend that it is.

Steve Anthony, CP24 Breakfast co-host

Pays serious homage to a venue we can only hope will be around far beyond the 70 years it has already lived.

Spill Magazine

A nostalgia trip for those who were there, and an intriguing primer for those who weren’t.


Whether your interest is music, history or nostalgia, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern is worth reading.

Toronto Sun

A rigorously researched account of one of Canada’s most storied music clubs.

The Globe and Mail

There are stories aplenty but the book has been tightly edited so the true music fan’s only criticism is that they might wish for even more.

Penguin Eggs Magazine (

A worthwhile addition to the Canuck bookshelf.

McPherson’s dexterous unearthing of some of The Horseshoe Tavern’s history is most welcome.

The Country Standard Time

It’s an important piece of work for Canadian music fans, lovingly written and researched from a fan’s perspective.

The Hamilton Spectator

The definitive history of the venue from its original owner, Jack Starr, through all its various incarnations, owners, and bookers and their families, up to the present day.

Penguin Eggs

About the Authors

David McPherson

Posted by Kendra on November 15, 2016
David McPherson photo

David McPherson

David McPherson is a regular contributor to Words + Music, Hamilton Magazine, and No Depression. Over the years his writing on music has also appeared in Paste, American Songwriter, Canadian Musician, Exclaim!, and at He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Jim Cuddy

Posted by Kendra on April 11, 2017

Jim Cuddy

Jim Cuddy is a Canadian singer-songwriter primarily associated with the band Blue Rodeo. He attended North Toronto Collegiate Institute, where he met and befriended Greg Keelor, his future bandmate. He also went to Upper Canada College and Queen's University. Cuddy was born in Toronto, Ontario.