Friday, August 28, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 672 dupont street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 1, 2013.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1915.
Employees of the Ford Motor Company likely smiled as 1915 dawned. During a January banquet at the automaker’s recently opened plant at the northwest corner of Dupont and Christie, employees learned they were receiving an across-the-board raise and would soon be joined by a fresh batch of co-workers. There aren’t any reports, however, as to whether workers celebrated by taking extra spins in freshly-built Model Ts on the rooftop test track.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the golden age of swarming

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on April 24, 2012.


Globe and Mail, May 27, 1989.
Depending on the city, the practice had different names—“bum rushing” in New York, “trashing” in Los Angeles, “steaming” in London. As the 1980s came to a close, the media in Toronto reported that a growing number of local youths participated in “swarming” attacks on individuals and businesses to steal jackets, jewellery, money, shoes, and, in the case of the Yonge and Eglinton branch of Fran’s, pastry. These incidents heightened fears about increased gang activity and how to handle restless, disaffected youth throughout all socio-economic levels in the city.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 1115 queen street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 27, 2012.

Queen-Lisgar library branch, 1909. Toronto Public Library.
When the Theatre Centre launches its new space in the old Queen-Lisgar library next year, it’s unlikely there will be as many disappointed faces as have witnessed past grand openings at 1115 Queen Street West.

The building’s origins date back to 1903, when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie granted $350,000 to the city to build a new central library and three neighbourhood branches. The grant allowed the Toronto Public Library to own sites rather than rent existing buildings. In the case of Queen-Lisgar, it replaced a 20-year-old branch rented on Ossington Avenue that had inherited the collection of an earlier Parkdale library. The new building was designed in a Beaux-Arts style by City Architect Robert McCallum, whose other surviving projects include the palm house in Allan Gardens. During its official opening on April 30, 1909, Chief Librarian George Herbert Locke assured the audience that the shelves would be fully stocked by the following week. Another speaker noted that the library would include special facilities for mechanics and students, but “the sort of fiction ladies were reputed to be fond of would occupy a secondary place.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 568 bloor street west

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

Alhambra theatre, September 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 263. 
When was the last time you were handed a ceremonial program at the opening of a new mainstream movie theatre? Attendees at the debut of the Alhambra on November 17, 1919 received a 14-page booklet extolling the virtues of the new theatre, along with a glimpse at upcoming attractions. The owners hoped that patrons would enjoy “the first of many pleasant evenings of relaxation to be spent in this perfectly appointed Temple of Silent Art.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 832 bay street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 9, 2012.

Bay Street, looking south from Grosvenor Street, April 24, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7582. Click on image for larger version.
From a distance, the recently completed Burano condominium tower appears to be the latest high-rise residential space along Bay Street. At street level, its ties to the past are more apparent through a nearly 90-year old fa├žade whose angles parallel the jog along Bay north of Grenville Street. Residents will soon be moving into a site whose base offered sales and service for generations of General Motors customers.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

off the grid: 146 dupont street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on December 4, 2012. A longer story about Hans Fread later appeared as a Historicist column for Torontoist

Sign of the Steer restaurant, northeast corner of Davenport and Dupont, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 504. Click on image for larger version.
Food and furnishings. These have been the staples for the revolving door of occupants at the northeast corner of Davenport Road and Dupont Street for over half-a-century.

Back at the turn of the 1960s, this high-turnover site brought such ruin to original owner Hans Fread, Canada’s first star chef, that 146 Dupont was known for years as “Hans Fread’s Folly.” However, for this notoriously outspoken restaurateur, most of his follies were self-inflicted; as he once admitted, “I am sometimes like a little boy with a big mouth—when I am angry, I talk too much and it comes back to hurt me.” Originally a lawyer in Germany, Fread fled to Canada in 1934 to escape the Nazi regime he openly criticized. Arriving in Toronto during World War II, he worked at the King Edward Hotel before opening Sign of the Steer in a converted house at Dupont and St. George in 1948. Fread quickly attracted lineups for specialties like pan-fried steaks branded with a poker to resemble grill marks, and other European-styled meals that stood out in a dull dining town. And his word was the law during his meals—minor requests from diners for adjustments weren’t tolerated. His notoriety grew to the point that CBC offered him airtime on its new television service, which led to Hans in the Kitchen (1953–54).

Monday, August 10, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. "a wonderland in canada"

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 29, 2012.

Vintage Ad: Loblaws brings you Canada's Wonderland
Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.
How incensed were critics of Canada’s Wonderland that it lacked Canadian content? As Vaughan councillor and York University professor James Cameron told the Globe and Mail a month before the park opened on May 23, 1981, “You could pick this thing up, lock stock and barrel, and move it to Pretoria and call it South Africa’s Wonderland. There is nothing Canadian about it at all.” Thirty years on, raising the spectre of apartheid-era South Africa seems a tad melodramatic—as a park PR official put it, “Canada’s Wonderland just means a wonderland in Canada.”


Sunday, August 09, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 222 lansdowne avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 13, 2012.
ts 36-06-24 new plant
Toronto Star, June 24, 1936.
Over 75 years after the first cash register rolled off the line at the National Cash Register (NCR) plant at Dundas Street West and Landsdowne Avenue, the bells are still ringing. The shell of classic industrial architecture seems appropriate for the warehouse-style grocers who have taken advantage of the building’s ample room for refrigeration, storage, and merchandising since the mid-1970s.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. late nights at people's foods

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 5, 2012. As of August 2015, the site is occupied by Rose and Sons restaurant.

ts 87-10-18 late night peoples
Toronto Star, October 18, 1987. Click on image for larger version.

Patrons intending to dine at People’s Foods on Dupont Street were greeted last week with a notice on the door stating that the half-century old diner was closing due to its lease expiring. Though one report suggests that the owners hope to find a new location, for now, regulars will have to look elsewhere for greasy-spoon staples and jukebox selectors at their booths.

A quarter of a century ago, People’s was among the “denziens of the dark hours” that the Toronto Star spotlighted in an article on life in the city between midnight and dawn. A 24-hour eatery at the time, People’s saw an early-morning procession of shift workers, police, and frat boys grazing on homemade burgers and onion rings. “The dazzling fluorescent lights are always on,” the Star noted, “and at 2:45 a.m. Thomas Rygopoulos is hefting a huge piece of solid white fat—easily measuring a cubic foot—from a blue plastic bag into the deep fryer. The customers want more French fries.” Rygopoulos had worked at People’s for five years when the Star visited. “People eat the same as in the daytime,” he noted. “You know how 1 o’clock is lunch time? It’s the same at night: 1 to 3 o’clock is lunch time at night.”

Among the diners were two University of Toronto students discussing a major crisis: An acquaintance about to be married had his bride-to-be back out 36 hours before the ceremony. Amid silent pauses over numerous refills of coffee, they contemplated how to rebound from such a situation. At least one of the students seemed to have problems of his own, as he told his friend, “the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that at least one person in this world feels worse than I do.” Both men noted they were regulars at People’s—one described it as “a landmark for romantic, bohemian fantasies … It’s the restaurant of the people.”

People’s wasn’t the only food-related stop on the Star’s late-night tour. On Danforth Avenue near Pape, Phil Cho sold produce at the Greenview Fruit Market. When asked who bought oranges at three in the morning, he replied, “taxi drivers. There are a few health nuts, so every night they need their oranges.” He also found that drunks would eat just about anything that caught their eye, even if it meant a smashed watermelon or two. Restaurant and shift workers tended to cause less chaos, as their purchases tended to head home.
There might have been items bought at Greenview among the debris that “Tokyo Rose” took care of nightly. The TTC’s subway-cleaning car derived its name not from the World War II axis propaganda agent but from the city it was manufactured in and a mocking reference to the sweet smell of garbage. Cleaner Elio Romano referred to the subway tracks as a “hobo’s paradise” due to the longer-than-average cigarette butts he tossed into his garbage bag.

The article ended with a glimpse of dawn at People’s, where Rygopoulos prepared breakfast for early birds. The creatures of the night had moved on to give way to those facing a new day, much as the restaurant’s home since 1963 may now face a new morning.

Additional material from the October 18, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star.

Monday, August 03, 2015

toronto sun mad libs: 1996 olympic bid edition

sun 1990-09-19 page 25 macdonald
Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990. Click on image for larger version.
Working on my epic-length piece on the history of Toronto's Summer Olympics bids last week, I was amused by several opinion pieces published in the Toronto Sun during the drive to host the 1996 games. It wasn't just that they attacked opponents of the bid, it was that they did so in stereotypical bombastic Sun style.

off the grid: ghost city loring-wyle parkette

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

"Young Girl," Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005. 
They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

Sunday, August 02, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. caribana turns 20

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 31, 2012.

ts 87-07-31 whats on front page
Toronto Star, July 31, 1987.
 “Caribana has become an important staple in the cultural diet of this city. And we feel encouraged that it has now been accepted in the mainstream.” Those words from festival coordinator LeRoi Cox reflected the confidence organizers felt as Caribana (the predecessor to the current Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival) celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1987. Rather than headlines reflecting fears of violence and criminal activity, coverage during that landmark year highlighted how to enjoy it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. waitin' for the spadina streetcar

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 19, 2012.

gm 97-07-26 streetcar opening preview
Globe and Mail, July 26, 1997. Click on image for larger version.
Lovers of wild pants and saxophones rejoice! As of this week, the Spadina bus of 1980s musical fame has returned while platform reconstruction takes the streetcar right-of-way out of service for several months. And the return of bus service might reawaken arguments that stalled the construction of the Spadina streetcar line for years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

off the grid: ghost city cumberland terrace

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 15, 2013.

Toronto Life, December 1985.
That Cumberland Terrace exists as a time capsule of shopping-mall design fits well with one of the site’s earliest uses: A cemetery preserving the memory of loved ones. Currently honoured with a plaque on the 2 Bloor West tower, Potter’s Field was Toronto’s first non-denominational burial ground when it opened in July 1826.

Friday, July 17, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. "temperance bill" temple keeps the junction dry

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 12, 2012.

The City, November 4, 1979.
As Toronto settles into patio season, pause for a moment if you enjoy a fermented beverage with friends. As late as 2000, enjoying a summer drink in public was impossible in portions of The Junction, a legacy of the dedicated efforts of “Temperance Bill” Temple to keep the neighbourhood dry.

“He doesn’t look like a slayer of giants,” began William Stephenson’s profile of Temple for the Star’s The City supplement in 1979. “Not when he’s cruising the boulevards of the west end in his little red Pontiac. Nor while applying his special English to the balls at the Runnymede Lawn Bowling Club or felling the five-pins at the Plantation Bowlerama. Certainly not when he’s flirting with the nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital each time he picks up the Meals-on-Wheels for delivery to Swansea’s shut-ins. On such occasions, the 5-foot-7, 130-pounder in the jaunty fedora and sport shirt looks like a successful politician, a Vic Tanny salesman, or perhaps a showbiz personality.”

Yet William Horace Temple slayed a few giants in his lifetime. The largest was Ontario Premier George Drew, who Temple, a faithful member of the CCF/NDP, defeated in the riding of High Park during the 1948 provincial election, despite having a budget one-fiftieth the size. Temple, who had lost by 400 votes in the previous election five years earlier, benefitted from fears about the repercussions of government legislation allowing cocktail lounges. Following Drew’s defeat, the provincial Tories used extreme caution in future attempts to loosen liquor laws.

At the time of The City article, Temple had celebrated his 80th birthday by downing quarts of tea. Though he once admitted to enjoying drinks to celebrate the end of World War I, Temple disdained anyone who imbibed. He believed the media was afraid to combat alcohol due to the power distillers held as advertisers, and claimed that all the negative aspects of American prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s was propaganda spread by liquor interests. “Booze enslaves, corrupts, destroys the moral fibre of a community,” Temple noted. “Battling the booze barons is the only honourable course for a citizen.”

Temple’s disdain for booze stemmed from his father, an abusive alcoholic train conductor. As a pilot in France during World War I, Temple frequently guided tipsy airmen to bed. As an RCAF duty officer during World War II, Temple infuriated his superiors by denying passes to senior officers he felt were too drunk to fly—“I had an uncomfortable war,” he later noted.

Keeping West Toronto alcohol-free was high among his pet projects. Its dry status dated back to 1904, when it was still an independent municipality. One of the conditions imposed when the area was annexed by Toronto in 1909 was that a two-stage vote (one for retail sale, one for restaurants) would be required to approve alcohol. The first major test came in the mid-1960s, when the owners of the Westway Hotel at Dundas and Heintzman organized a petition to allow alcohol sales. Temple, who headed the West Toronto Inter-church Temperance Federation (WTITF), delayed a vote by two years by proving many of the names on the petition were invalid. When the vote came in January 1966, the drys won. Temple’s forces won by an even larger margin in 1972, despite promises from a proposed Bloor Street bar to turns its proceeds over to Variety Village. Yet another vote in 1984 failed to sway the community.

Temple’s last hurrah came shortly after his death in April 1988. Smart money said that the temperance movement would collapse during a plebiscite that autumn without Temple’s determination and energy. “We did it for Bill,” proclaimed Derwyn Foley of WTITF when the drys won again. But it was one of the temperance side’s last victories. Throughout the 1990s, neighbourhoods within the dry area voted to allow alcohol. The last holdout, bounded by Bloor, Dundas, and Keele, voted 76 per cent in favour of allowing booze to be sold at restaurants in 2000 after dire predictions of increased crime and decay failed to materialize in the newly wet areas. As some proponents of alcohol sales predicted, an influx of businesses and eateries gradually flowed into The Junction.

If there’s an afterlife, it’s easy to imagine Temple’s reaction upon learning West Toronto had finally got wet. They would be the same words he yelled when he disrupted a Hiram Walker shareholders meeting in 1968 to find out if the distiller was funding politicians: “Sheep, nothing but sheep!”

Additional material from the November 4, 1979 edition of The City, the April 11, 1988 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 11, 1988 and November 15, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

Bonus: here are some of the comments which originally accompanied this article.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. family living, downtown style

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 17, 2012.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday mused that the city’s core “is not the ideal place” to raise a family. His sentiments about children playing in traffic on busy arteries aren’t anything that hasn’t been heard before, however wrong they are: families who have chosen to live deep downtown have long heard arguments about the suitability of such an environment for their children, especially from committed suburbanites like Holyday.

During a meeting of the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Toronto in May 1985, planners, developers, and investment advisors reviewed the city’s plans to redevelop the railway lands north of the Gardiner Expressway. They concluded that the city’s vision of having families eventually living there ran counter to the ways in which downtowns ought to be saved. Sounding not unlike Holyday, ULI president Claude Ballard said that children should be raised outside the core, in neighbourhoods where they could walk to school or rescue balls that rolled out into the street with minimal fear of being run over. Downtown living of the future, the argument went, was for empty-nesters who required less space once their offspring left home. In a rebuttal printed in the Globe and Mail, Toronto-based planner Ken Greenberg rejected Ballard’s vision, noting that “it is Toronto’s unwillingness in the past to follow conventional North American wisdom” on issues like encouraging families to live downtown that “goes a long way toward explaining why we have the much admired vitality, safety, and cleanliness on our streets.” Greenberg was likely referring to recently developed neighbourhoods like St. Lawrence, where mixed incomes and a large number of co-ops let its residents foster a community where children could enjoy a less homogenous upbringing than their parents had.

Eighteen years later, the Star profiled several families who had moved into condos and lofts in the core. Parents interviewed in the May 2003 article praised, as one parent put it, the “complete and full spectrum of life in the city” that their kids enjoyed steps away from home. Shorter commutes to downtown jobs provided more time for families to spend together during the work week. All enjoyed the ability to walk everywhere, which was a big draw for former Brampton resident Lisa Voutt. Despite friends and relatives in the burbs thinking she was “kind of nuts” for moving her family into a loft near St. Lawrence Market, Voutt enjoyed being freed from a car-centric lifestyle and noted the confidence with which her preteen daughters got themselves around the core by foot or TTC, and the large number of nearby activities they participated in.

Also interviewed for the article was Adam Vaughan, who had recently moved with his daughter into a condo not far from his job at the time as a CityTV reporter. “I wanted a place that was close to the culture of the city, the galleries, the music, and close to the politics of the city,” he told the Star. “All the things that were important to me. I wanted my daughter to understand how her father related to the city and have her relate to the city.” After he was elected to city council three years later, Vaughan advocated a 10 per cent requirement for three-bedroom units in developments to aid families experiencing problems with finding enough space to live in. Developers shot back that they had trouble competing with suburban projects on price, which meant the larger units were often among the last to sell.

Doug Holyday’s long-held views on where families should live, and his belief in the supremacy of market forces on determining housing stock, shouldn’t make his most recent comments a surprise. As an Etobicoke alderman in the mid-1980s, he opposed that city’s proposals to limit the number of apartment buildings that were designated for adult occupancy only. In a period where vacancy rates were low, families looking for apartments in Etobicoke—especially those with lower incomes—sometimes settled for sub-par dwellings as one landlord after another rejected their applications. Holyday blamed provincial rent controls, and housing activists who he felt exaggerated the problems that tenants faced.

His views didn’t win the day, as the provincial government banned adult-only apartment buildings (apart from seniors’ complexes and structures with four units or less) in December 1986. Holyday’s hate-on for rent controls didn’t fade—when Toronto city council voted in April 1999 to establish a task force to make the restoration of controls scrapped by Premier Mike Harris’s government an issue during the next provincial election, Holyday was the lone councillor to oppose the motion.

Additional material from the March 5, 1985, May 6, 1985, and May 14, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the May 11, 2003 and June 26, 2008 editions of the Toronto Star.