Tuesday, October 04, 2016

so, about this summer...

Hello there.

Been awhile, hasn’t it? I hadn’t intended a summer hiatus for this website or my newsletter—or worse, permanent hiatus, as sometimes happens—but summer was a hectic season, filled with peaks and valleys.

During the first half of summer, I suffered what may politely be called a paralytic case of existential angst. I felt I was rolling towards breakdown, which I suspect was evident to others. My self-confidence went on summer vacation, leaving the rational sphere of my brain scrambling. Mix in burnout and fatigue (tired Jamie doesn’t function well), and you’ve got a bundle of neuroses. I questioned everything: my ability to produce work on par with peers; the overwhelming perfectionist impulses; the skill needed to keep money flowing (the joy of perpetual freelancer anxiety!); wondering if anyone cared about what I was writing.

Then toss in growing disenchantment with humanity in the wake of racial strife, political shitshows south of the border, and the general lack of respect shown while navigating Toronto’s streets. Every time I hopped onto social media, I wearied of rants, smugness, snark, and an inability to suggest constructive solutions to remedy situations

(I just realized that this may come off as a rant. Sorry.)

Having sunk to near-catatonia which scared my partner-in-crime, changes were needed.

First, I slashed my social media feeds. I didn’t go cold turkey, since social media is a fantastic promotional tool and I genuinely enjoy discovering new information or what is new with friends. But there was a lot of noise. Exit politics-heavy feeds, especially those dealing with blow-by-blow minutiae. By the time I finished curating my Twitter account, I had a nice roll call of historical feeds, community-building organizations, and thoughtful folks. For Facebook, it involved selective muting.

Second, I vowed to take better care of myself. Rest is vital. It’s critical to know when to recharge, when to turn down projects with potentially adverse health effects, and when to ignore the perfectionist impulses. The turning point was a cottage break in Muskoka. On the drive up, I was in full-on angst mode, then locked myself away in my bunkhouse to catch up on long-overdue reading. Took some solo drives through cottage country. By the time I returned to Toronto, I felt my old self returning. Further trips to a family reunion in western New York and a week in my hometown aided the restorative process. A project I work on annually came along at the right time, with the right material and theme to lift my spirits.

It’s still a work in a progress, and there are hiccups. But overall, I feel like I’m back in fighting shape, head brimming with ideas and exciting projects I hope to announce soon. Even enduring a major kitchen reno for over a month has been a minor irritant compared to the tortures my mind devised earlier this summer. I thank everyone for their support over this period, especially my partner-in-crime Louisa, who has grounded me when it’s been needed most.

Who knows, maybe I'll slip in time for some fun (or not-so-fun, depending on the topic) historical stuff on this website...

This post was adapted from my newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

Monday, June 06, 2016

bonus features: racism and homophobia in the pages of a police magazine

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post.

star 1973-01-10 the homosexual hoax
Toronto Star, January 10, 1973. Click on image for larger version.
The article that Tom Moclair studied carefully to write his News & Views piece "The Homosexual Fad" six years later. Seeing a piece such as this in the Star at the time is not a great shocker, as the paper's editorials tended not to look too kindly on the homosexual community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1610 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on December 18, 2012.

I'll be honest, I've misplaced the records as to where this image came from. Will update once information is available.
By the mid-1930s, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were Meccas for local moviegoers. Along their length within the limits of the City of Toronto, at least 35 cinemas offered Depression-era patrons entertainment. Among them was an Art Deco-styled theatre that provided a steady stream of magic shadows for over 30 years.

Then addressed as 1606 Bloor St. W., the Bloordale opened circa September 1935 as part of the Associated circuit. The cinema was designed by theatre experts Kaplan and Sprachman, whose other Art Deco cinemas included the Eglinton. Promotions during the theatre’s early years included a weekly Sunday-afternoon talent show broadcast on CKCL radio (later CKEY) in 1938. Music Stars of Tomorrow promised a screen test with the short lived Grand National movie company for the best performer, though we suspect that the firm’s dissolution soon after prevented anyone from achieving Hollywood glory. After a spell as part of the Odeon chain, the Bloordale was renamed the State around 1948 and joined the 20th Century Theatres circuit.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 15 duncan street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 2, 2012.

Google street view of 15 Duncan, May 2015.
A new sign recently appeared above the front door of 15 Duncan Street. After over 30 years bearing the nameplate Pope & Company, the entranceway now welcomes clients to Northern Lights Direct. While a direct response advertising agency fits with the building’s recent history as a dignified-looking office building, the experimental artists and punks who hung out there during the 1970s would have satirized its work in a second.

Built in 1903, 15 Duncan was among several buildings in the neighbourhood designed by the architect William Rufus Gregg‘s firm. Its siblings include the Telfer Paper Box building across the street and the Eclipse White Wear Building at King and John. For over half a century, the premises were occupied by Canada Printing Ink, who produced ink and other supplies for the printing industry.

Ink continued to play a major role when animation producer Al Guest moved in around 1967. Among the projects occupying Guest at that time was the low-budget, perennially rerun space saga Rocket Robin Hood. A Star profile of the show in 1967 claimed that Guest ran the “third largest animated cartoon factory in North America.” Guest discussed the limitations he placed on producing the kitschy cult classic: no blood and no hormone stirring. “At first glance Maid Marion may look rather fetching,” Guest noted, “but notice there’s never any cleavage. Even lines in men’s crotches are out.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

vintage ads: hooked on xerox

Hooked on Xerox (1)

Spring cleaning, especially when you're still sorting out the dregs of a move, often provides a few surprises. In this case, a folder of ads photocopied from early 1970s Canadian editions of Time, which were intended either for a post on this blog (when I was regularly doing such things) or my long-running vintage ad column for Torontoist.

Tucked in that folder was a Xerox campaign which occupied eight pages of prime real estate in the May 8, 1972 issue. It weaved the fictional tale of Snaggem Consolidated International (formerly Snaggem Fish Hook), and how the current line of Xerox equipment aided many aspects of the business.

Feel free to make up further backstories for the employees shown below.

Monday, May 09, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 110 lombard street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 5, 2013.

110 Lombard Street, circa 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 2. 
Though no engines have raced out its doors in over 40 years, the origins of 110 Lombard St. are imprinted in a roundel above its main entrance: CENTRAL FIRE HALL 1886. During its long existence, the building has balanced coping with tragedy with making the city laugh.

The building was designed by David Roberts Jr. [PDF], whose architectural career was tied to the Gooderham family. Beyond working on many structures in the Distillery District, Roberts designed landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the George Gooderham House at Bloor and St. George streets. The firehall, once touted by the Globe as “the finest building of its kind in the Dominion,” was equipped with sleeping space, a gym, and a state-of-the-art telegraph fire-alarm system. Though the hall was scheduled to open in July 1887, service was delayed by the poor condition of Lombard Street.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

toronto modern to post-modern: panel discussion

Add "participating in a panel discussion" next to "getting engaged" and "eating a grapefruit without grimacing" to the list of things I've done for the first time this year. Each of the participants was given a question to discuss for five minutes at the start of the session, before the audience asked questions. Mine was "What lessons from the 1970s have been lost?" After making a disclaimer about my personal experience of the city during that decade (restricted to tagging along with my Dad along Queen West), I launched into the following...

Among the lessons we should revisit are appreciating architectural styles which fall out of public favour, which aggravates the spectre of doom looming over modernist buildings we’ve discussed in this series; and mobilizing greater public support for threatened sites.

Outside of heritage activists and some community groups, think of the preservation campaigns you hear about most in the media—it’s things that appeal to our nostalgic instincts, such as the signs for Sam the Record Man or Honest Ed’s (though it should be said that the Sam’s outcry has led to a creative approach for retaining it, via the work currently underway to honour the city’s musical heritage at Yonge-Dundas Square with a “neon alley” where, near the Sam’s sign’s new home, visitors will be able to view recreations of historic venue signage). Will there be an outcry if anyone notices the gradual erosion of the original design of the Eaton Centre, as the external vestiges of the old Eaton’s store and other elements of Eb Zeidler’s design vanish under new cladding, or do we treat it as the natural evolution of the site?

If it’s a building whose architecture doesn’t inspire fond memories, or doesn’t match a classic, pre-1950 style, there are people out there content to, in the words of preservation forum I frequented years ago, “tear that shit down.” Suburban sites have suffered in this regard—think of buildings like the Bata HQ in Don Mills.

Click on image for larger version.
As for changing tastes, remember that during the 1960s and 1970s there were people who felt structures like Union Station and Old City Hall had outlived their usefulness and impeded the march of progress. In both cases, the public screamed for their preservation. While not all modernist buildings will survive, it is worth the effort in some cases for the public and creative architects to pitch developers on adapting these buildings for uses that benefit both the community and the bottom line. A carefully considered approach makes a stronger case than simply yelling that we need to save the site.

One issue preservationists face is the limited resources which handle official requests for heritage listing and designation. While we are getting better at enforcing heritage regulations, oversights happen. If the public is truly concerned about pro-actively preserving our past, they should ask councillors and other officials to support increasing city heritage staff to process requests in a timelier manner, research sites, and fix the loopholes which result in eyebrow-raising demolition permits.

That said, although we still end up with bad examples of facadism and urban taxidermy, I think we’ve learned much about preservation since the 1970s. We’ve developed a strong collection of sites through the combined efforts of architects, developers, and public input. These sites honour the historical architectural integrity, fuse new creative touches in respectful or innovative ways, and serve the needs of modern Torontonians. Being flexible enough to recognize new cultural and commercial potential in heritage architecture allows these buildings to demonstrate the possibilities lurking within other, less appreciated sites.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

bonus features: "the dream that is canada's wonderland"

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post.

Grounds of Canada's Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 70. Click on image for larger version.

Once again, Harvey R. Naylor came to the rescue.

His collection of photos (currently held by the City of Toronto Archives) showcasing the city, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a valuable resource for illustrating how Toronto evolved into its current shape. His images have saved the bacon of many online historians looked for great period colour images.

Here's a brief bio from the Archives' site:
Harvey R. Naylor, film and sound technician, was a lifelong Toronto resident who worked at some of the larger film production houses in Toronto, such as Jack Chisholm Film Productions and Media Communications Services, Ltd. He was also an amateur photographer with a personal interest in Toronto's local history. He practised photography for several years using second-hand cameras and experimenting with various types of film. However, once Naylor purchased a new Leica IIIF camera in 1956, he used it exclusively over the next 28 years to produce over 50,000 35mm Kodachrome colour slides of Toronto buildings, streets, TTC facilities and TTC vehicles. A well-known transit enthusiast, Naylor belonged to the Upper Canada Railway Society (UCRS), and was active with the Halton County Radial Railway (HCRR) and Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association (OERHA).
Over 8,400 slides created by Naylor await your browsing pleasure.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 5145 yonge street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 16, 2013.

plaque for first municipal building north york 

When North York split off from York Township in 1922, space was required to house the new municipality’s offices. Civic workers played musical buildings during the new township’s first year, for a time settling on two upper floor apartments on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue in the village of Lansing. When a fire destroyed that office and its accompanying council records in February 1923, plans were initiated for a brand new structure at the southeast corner of Yonge and Empress Avenue.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 149 college street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 16, 2012.

149 College during its time as Central Tech, after 1900. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 247.
“Amid sounds of revelry and acclaim, amid the seductive calm of soft music, and the inspiring charm of many voices, amid cloud-like strata of fragrant fumes and infectious laughter from countless merry smokers, a temple of muscle and grace was appropriately dedicated to the youths who adorn the terminal years of the 19th century. The glamour of flashing lights and rich furnishings, harmoniously designed, burst dazzlingly upon the army of elated members and prospective members who pressed eagerly through the massive stone portals to assist in the house-warming.” So observed the Toronto Daily Mail during the opening-night festivities at the Toronto Athletic Club on January 22, 1894.

Friday, March 18, 2016

bonus features: the kkk took my baby away

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post. 

ojr 1980-10-08 johnson incident
Oakville Journal Record, October 8, 1980. Click on image for larger version.
A reprint of the Oakville Star's coverage from 1930. That there was "no editorial comment about the incident" speaks volumes from a modern perspective.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

bonus features: chinatowns

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.

globe 1907-10-11 asiatic peril editorial
The Globe, October 11, 1907.
The fear of the "yellow peril" in action - one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 660 broadview avenue (william peyton hubbard)

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 12, 2013.

Portrait of William Peyton Hubbard, 1913, by W.A. Sherwood.
When William Peyton Hubbard was born in 1842 it’s doubtful his father, a freed slave who had arrived in Toronto two years earlier, imagined that the infant would become one of the city’s most powerful politicians. The road to that accomplishment took time: Before Hubbard entered politics in 1893, he baked cakes and drove a horse cab, occupations that were the norm for the city’s small black population.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 925 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 22, 2013.

Toronto Star, October 26, 1948.
Until 1948, anyone headed to the southwest corner of Bloor Street and Concord Avenue typically went to peruse the area’s long succession of furniture businesses, looking for that perfect addition to their home d├ęcor. The granting of a liquor license that year to the Concord Tavern ushered in the intersection’s long association with music as a venue and instrument seller.

Monday, January 25, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1195 danforth avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 23, 2012.

Allenby Theatre lobby, 1936. Image courtesy Silent Toronto, which has more on the feature presentation depicted here.
A suggestion for anyone hitting the town in their best Rocky Horror Picture Show finery this Halloween: Make a pit stop at the Esso/Tim Horton’s at Danforth and Greenwood. Walk through the restored front doors underneath the marquee of the old Allenby theatre. Buy some snacks to fuel an evening of time-warping. Take a look at the old ads in the showcase by the front doors and take a moment to pay tribute to the place where the movie became a Toronto cult favourite.