A Variety article in 1968 highlighted the appearance of Joni Mitchell at the Riverboat, a tight coffeehouse located below street level at 134 Yorkville Ave., the epicentre of the Toronto folk-music and counter-culture scene. The cover charge would be $1.75 for a poetic artist whose songs “talked of more innocent days,” according to Variety, “leaving an optimism that is rare.” Ten years later, the club (with its pine walls, red booths and brass portholes), which staged intimate performances by everyone from Gordon Lightfoot to Odetta, Kris Kristofferson and Neil Young, closed its doors. The last act was Murray McLauchlan, a singer-songwriter whose final set began in the earliest hours of June 25. The innocence and optimism of the 1960s died on different days, and in many ways. The sinking of the Riverboat was one of those moments.
Ian Tyson performing at the Riverboat Coffee House in Toronto, April 20, 1966. Photo courtesy York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram
Harry Belafonte with Gordon Lightfoot at the Riverboat Coffee House July 5, 1967. Photo courtesy York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram
Joni Mitchell performing at The Riverboat Coffee House April 19, 1968. Photo by Dennis Robinson/The Globe and Mail
Neil Young plays the Riverboat Coffee House in 1965, a year before moving to Los Angeles and joining Buffalo Springfield. Photo by Manfred Buchheit
A 1969 Riverboat handbill including a performance by Neil Young. Courtesy of Nicholas Jennings
Gordon Lighfoot performs the first of a month long set at the Riverboat Coffee House January 4, 1967. Photo courtesy York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram
Bernie Fiedler, owner of the Riverboat Coffee House at 134 Yorkville Ave in May 1966.
Murray McLauchlan, left, performed the final concert at the Riverboat, owned by Bernie Fiedler, right, June 25, 1978. Photo by The Canadian Press