Tuesday, March 31, 2015

the new wonder woman is here!

Star Weekly, September 15, 1968.

By 1968, Wonder Woman was long overdue for a major revamp. Over the decades since her introduction in  1941, the edginess that marked her early years (especially the kinkiness slipped in by creator William Moulton Marston) had been watered down. Her rogues gallery was nothing to write home about, from boring baddies like Angle Man to the bizarre, not-at-all-racist Egg Fu. An attempt to revive the character's 1940s look had faltered. Her dowdy alter-ego, military secretary Diana Prince, just wouldn't do in a Vietnam world.

Cue makeover. Writer Denny O'Neil and artist Mike Sekowsky shook up Wonder Woman's world with a series of changes that transformed her from a star-spangled heroine into an Emma Peel-inspired protagonist:

  • Dumped the costume in favour of mod clothing, which evolved into various white-coloured outfits by the early 1970s
  • Killed off useless love interest Steve Trevor, replacing him with a blind Asian mentor named I Ching
  • Ditched the superpowers, forcing Diana to rely on her athleticism and wits
  • Sent the Amazons into another dimension
  • Dropped her from the Justice League of America, where she was replaced by Black Canary

The launch of the makeover in late summer 1968 prompted Star Weekly beauty columnist Keitha McLean to discuss the changes to the iconic superheroine.

Cover of Wonder Woman #178, October 1968. Art by Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano.
This phase of Wonder Woman's career lasted for the next four years. Towards the end of this era, further experiments were tried, from blending fantasy author Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser characters into a battle with a weirdly-attired Catwoman, to a special "Women's Lib" issue written by Samuel R. Delaney. Ultimately, the reset button was hit, and by 1973 the status quo was restored.

Monday, March 30, 2015

comic strip dogs department

The Telegram, November 15, 1954. Click on image for larger version. 
November 15, 1954: the day Torontonians began enjoying two long-running comic strips, courtesy of the Telegram. Peanuts (whose local debut I wrote about for Torontoist) had been gaining popularity across North America since its debut four years earlier, while Marmaduke began causing mischief that year. Both strips migrated to the Toronto Star when the Tely folded in 1971.

Peanuts is regarded as a comic strip classic; Marmaduke is admired for its longevity (creator Brad Anderson is still alive at age 90). The Great Dane's monotony has led papers to try and drop the strip--an act they don't always succeed in carrying out. When the Star attempted to dump it in 1999, readers revolted.

When people like, as the Star put it, the same two jokes told over and over again ("Marmaduke is a dog with some human qualities, and Marmaduke is gargantuan"), it's comfort food they will fight tenaciously to hold on to. Reader protests to keep certain strips alive has led to plenty of zombie panels on the printed page of series whose expiration date was decades ago, and fueled a cottage industry of websites mocking those legacy strips.

Additional material from the February 3, 2008 edition of the Toronto Star

Friday, March 27, 2015

no more meatless days!

August 14, 1947 was a busy day on the global history front. British rule in India ended, as the subcontinent anxiously prepared to split into the new nations of India and Pakistan. In Germany, 22 former attendants at the Buchenwald concentration camp were sentenced to hang ("22 NAZIS TO DIE FOR ATROCITIES" screamed the Star's main headline). In Tel Aviv, violence between Arabs and Jews escalated, leading to fears, according to the Globe and Mail, of "the worst racial conflict in the Holy Land since 1939."

At home, Torontonians endured a week-long heat wave which was blamed for causing two deaths that day: a 60-year-old man who suffered heat prostration and was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Mike's Hospital, and another man who died at his home on Lauder Avenue. Temperatures hovered between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit around the province, and were accompanied by high humidity. The heat caused factories to close early. In Ottawa, government offices closed at noon. Low water pressure affected cities like Hamilton, Kitchener, and Peterborough. Dairy farmers near St. Thomas feared that dry pastures was responsible a 15 percent drop in milk production.

Amidst the gloom and doom, the front page of that afternoon's Telegram offered a ray of hope...to non-vegetarians, at least.

The next morning's Globe and Mail contained further details. While Canada had fallen behind on its commitments to supply Great Britain with millions of pounds of meat, the federal government felt the situation had improved enough that it was wise to let the Canadian public go hog wild again. It also appears the restrictions were primarily on red meat; eggs, fish, and poultry appear to have been exempt, disappointing those with cravings for thick steaks. 

Anyone who expected immediate gratification was disappointed.
There will be little meat served in restaurants today because most eating places prepare their menus ahead of time, Norman Kirby, a director of the Canadian Restaurant association said last night. He said that the serving of meat courses will become general next Tuesday [August 19, 1947].
Consumption of fowl is expected to take a drop of 10 to 15 percent, now that restaurants are out of the meatless category. According to several restaurant owners, the public has become accustomed to eating chicken and other fowl, and the drop in consumption may not be higher than 10 per cent.
I wonder if diners who grew used to eating chicken during the war may have helped play a role in the success of a Toronto restaurant which launched in the early 1950s--Swiss Chalet. 

With such a great headline like "NO MORE MEATLESS DAYS," you'd expect the lone front page picture on the Telegram to show a snappily-dressed diner tearing into a massive steak, a look of ecstasy covering their face.


OK, perhaps pictures of Ontario residents wilting in the heat? 

Nope, that was the next day's Globe and Mail.  

Pictures of Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Jawaharal Nehru to mark the birth of two new nations?

Nope, that was the next day's Star.

The Telegram, August 14, 1947
It's a "dog saves drowning man" story. Human interest triumphs! Perhaps Gale celebrated his survival with a nice, juicy, ration-free steak dinner. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

meet a newsboy department: "millionaire sam"

The Telegram, December 3, 1952. Click on image for larger version.
If you do the math, "Millionaire Sam" was only four years younger than the Tely itself. I wonder if he found the night watchman job he desired for his final years (unless it's a joke). Unless they opened convenience stores or expanded their hawking into a storefront newsstand, it's unlikely any of the younger men entering the newsboy field in 1952 enjoyed careers as long as Mr. Samuels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

paralytically modest museums department

It's Museum Week on Twitter this week, which prompted me to sift through my "Future Story Ideas" and "Misc" folders to see if anything relevant lurked about, waiting for its moment in the sun.

I found this: an article published in the Globe in 1932 declaring that, based on a report conducted for the Carnegie Corporation, Canadian museums were boring. Read deeper and you'll find greater complexities. Some institutions were getting off the ground; others suffered from a lack of endowments. Old models such as rooms tucked away in the middle of a university, lingered on. Only a few museums were "well worthy of the towns in which they are situated," such as the Royal Ontario Museum, which was undergoing an expansion along Queen's Park when this article was published.

Read the full article below to discover the extent of "paralytic modesty" in Canada's museums of the early 1930s.

The Globe, November 24, 1932

Monday, March 09, 2015

chatting before the wild party

During the recent run of Acting Up/Obsidian's production of The Wild Party, I was invited to give a pre-show chat prior to three performances. I split the talk into two sections: the black community in Toronto during the 1920s, and a brief look at vaudeville in the city during that decade.

Wedding of J.M. Williams and Rachel Stephenson, July 28, 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 8380. Click on image for larger version.
Among the weddings detailed on the social and women’s pages of Toronto’s major newspapers on July 29, 1926, regular readers might have noticed something unusual about one of them. As the Toronto Star’s headline put it, “Toronto Jamaica Folk Attend Smart Wedding.” The Star, along with the Globe and the Telegram, covered the union of merchant Joshua Michael Williams and Rachel Adina Stephenson. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the coverage is that, apart from references to the couple’s West Indian origins, it could have passed for any other society wedding. For example, Ms Stephenson was “charmingly gowned in white satin, with the cap of her embroidered net veil banded with orange blossoms, carried a shower bouquet of Ophelia roses and baby’s breath. Miss Gladys Bramwell, the maid of honour, and the five bridesmaids wore gowns of pink georgette, with drooping pink hats and carried bouquets of delicate pink rambler roses.” Also provided were what the guests and child ringbearers wore, the music played as the couple walked down the aisle, and their honeymoon destination (Niagara Falls). Had it not been for the picture printed of the marital party, you’d almost be unaware that the participants were black.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 471 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on September 18, 2012. More images will be uploaded shortly.

The Hungarian Castle undergoing renovations to transform into BMV, May 4, 2006. Photo by Jamie Bradburn

When it opened in 2006, the Bloor Street branch of BMV represented more than just a giant bookstore. Its bright blue exterior and large street-level windows removed an eyesore known to nearby businesses and residents as the “black hole of the Annex.” After nearly two decades of rot, any new owner or tenant occupying the former Hungarian Castle restaurant would have been greeted with open arms.
Why 471 Bloor St. W. appeared abandoned for so long is subject to rumours and urban legends. Elusive landlord Annie Racz didn’t provide answers during her lifetime. When she died in 2004, she left an estate consisting of millions of dollars worth of real estate centered around Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue, some of which remains empty under the stewardship of her heir. Despite high interest from potential buyers, Racz threw up barriers that months of negotiation couldn’t breach. Theories on why she hung onto these properties without maintaining them included attempts to prevent higher tax assessments, an inability to trust anyone, and sentimental reminders of her late husband.

Friday, February 27, 2015

off the grid: ghost city the bayview ghost

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 8, 2013.

Toronto Star, March 22, 1981.

When East York rejected physician Charles Trow’s offer to sell his 25-acre wooded property south of Leaside to the municipality for use as parkland circa 1950, little did political officials realize the headaches that would ensue over the next half-century.

Instead, the property—which offered a beautiful view of the Don Valley—was sold by Trow’s widow in 1953 to developers Hampton Park Company Ltd. Legal problems arose almost immediately as Hampton Park proprietors Harry Freedman and Harry Frimerman beat a foreclosure attempt when they were slow to pay the mortgage. The site was approved for apartment development in East York’s first official plan in 1957, but the document was scrapped when the township planner was fired for consulting with tower builders on the side.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

off the grid: scarborough transit debate goes back to the future

From 2012 to 2014 I contributed to The Grid. This article was originally published online on July 15, 2013. Given the ongoing debates over public transit in Scarborough, this piece will remain timely for a long time to come. You may also wish to read a piece I wrote for Torontoist several months later on the general history of public transit in Scarborough.

Toronto Star, March 19, 1985. Click on image for larger version.

Torontonians love arguing about the same proposed transit lines ad nauseum. Tuesday’s City Council debate—regarding which form the Scarborough RT‘s replacement will take—feels like a replay of past battles where a streetcar/LRT line was displaced in favour of a pricier, sexier option.

Toronto Star, January 29, 1975.
Among the priority studies recommended in January 1975—by a joint provincial/Metro Toronto task force on the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century—was a high-speed transit line linking the recently approved Kennedy subway station to Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern, and Pickering. Scarborough officials saw this line as key to spurring development in a downtown area based around the new civic centre, which would employ 25,000 people.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

off the grid: ghost city - 203 yonge street

This story was originally published online by The Grid on May 21, 2013.

There were few sports John Francis Scholes tackled that he didn’t master. The Irish-born, Toronto-reared athlete racked up championship titles in boxing, rowing, and snowshoeing during the Victorian era. His first trophy, earned during a 220-yard hurdle race in 1869, was proudly displayed in the Yonge Street hotel that eventually bore his family’s name.

Illustration of John Francis Scholes, as it appeared in the March 25, 1871 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News.

Scholes entered the hospitality business around 1880, opening a bar and hotel at 185 Yonge St. He moved his business a few doors north to 203 Yonge St. in the late 1890s, christening it the Athlete Hotel. Scholes used it as a base to mentor local athletes, including his sons John (who inherited his amateur boxing skills) and Lou (a champion rower). Scholes’ tough nature carried him through to his end—when doctors indicated a stomach ailment was terminal, he insisted on dying at the Athlete Hotel, where he entertained friends and former competitors.

Friday, January 16, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. - the eglinton subway we almost had

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on March 20, 2012. This article launched the series.


Introducing Retro T.O., a new series where we revisit key moments in recent Toronto history that still reverberate today. In this edition, we go back to the August 1994 ground-breaking ceremony for an Eglinton subway line that never materialized.

Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, July 21, 1995.
To those assembled at the corner of Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue, August 25, 1994 was a great day for the future of Toronto transit. A group of shovel-wielding dignitaries led by Ontario Premier Bob Rae broke ground on the Eglinton subway, a project that had been discussed for nearly three decades. Rae, whose York South riding would be served by the 4.7-kilometre, five-station line running from Black Creek Drive to Allen Road, touted the thousands of construction jobs required to build the subway before its planned opening in 2001. City of York officials were all smiles, especially Mayor Fergy Brown, who told reporters he was “busting my buttons with pride” that the municipality finally had its own rapid-transit system. If all went well, the future promised an extension from Black Creek to Pearson International Airport.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

off the grid: ghost city - hotel waverl(e)y

From 2012 to 2014 I contributed to The Grid, a weekly magazine/alt-paper which was known as eye for most of its existence. The publication folded in July 2014, leaving its website to slowly decay. Rather than let my contributions wind up in the Internet's equivalent of the afterlife, I will begin posting my pieces in no particular order. As some articles had already vaporized when I began collecting them, some reprints may be based on original drafts. In other cases, I'll toss in bonus material, especially if I learned more about the subject following the original publication.

The following piece, part of my "Ghost City" column, was published on June 18, 2013. I'm using it as the lead-off for this series, as the Silver Dollar Room received a heritage designation this week

College and Spadina, looking northwest, May 13, 1927. The Waverley is in the background (click on photo for larger version). Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4888.

“If you really want the best, dine at the Waverley,” a person by the name of W.M. Canning advised a friend on the back of a postcard depicting a refined dining room at the Spadina Avenue establishment circa 1908. Hard to believe, but there was a time when the Waverl(e)y was considered a hotel worthy of formal dances, organizational lunches, and tourism offices.

Built by John J. Powell in 1900, the Hotel Waverley replaced a structure that once housed the local YMCA. For the next half-century, the hotel was operated by the Powell family, whose members were active in hospitality-industry associations—Egerton Powell served as president of the Ontario branch of the Greeters’ Association of America during the mid-1920s. That decade also saw the Waverley house the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association’s office and a Canadian Pacific ticket outlet.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

bonus features: new year's eve 1976

This post offers supplementary material for an article I wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.
Toronto Star, January 1, 1977.
The Star’s initial coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations put a positive spin on the evening. A full page of its January 1, 1977 edition was devoted to scenes across Metro Toronto, from revellers downtown to skating clowns in Scarborough. Those who ventured out endured temperatures which dropped to -13°C.

On Yonge Street, the new year swept over the strip “like a new disco melody.” Among those mildly disappointed by the scene along Yonge that night was Chuck Ross, a 22-year old marketing analyst from North York. “Most of our friends have girlfriends now, so we figured we’d see if we could find some girls tonight by ourselves,” he observed. “I guess we haven’t tried very hard.” Spurned by the ladies, Ross and a friend wound up dining at an unidentified burger joint, staring at the mirror lining the counter.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

warehouse cocktail bar department: new year's eve suggestions, 1970s style

Saturday Night, December 1976.
With tonight being New Year's Eve, the time seems right to post a pile of booze ads with drink suggestions which were tucked away in a mid-1970s edition of Saturday Night magazine.

Don't fret if you don't have a magnifying glass, as you can click on any of the images for a larger version. Feel free to substitute your favourite brand, which may be unavoidable for long-gone labels.

Monday, December 22, 2014

bear-ing it all

Saturday Night, November 1977.
Sometimes, while looking for material around the home office for upcoming articles, I stumble upon items I forgot I had which would have been useful at a particular time. Such was the case last night as I was prepping for this week’s installment of my "Vintage Toronto Ads" column for Torontoist. Flipping through a stack of 1970s Saturday Night magazines next to my desk, I discovered the cover shown above.