Monday, April 17, 2017

a programming note

As I figure out where my life and career stand post-wedding and post-Historicist, one area I’m reviewing is my online presence. With the various projects that are currently on the go, and (possibly irrational) worries that I spend too much time in front of my computer, I’m determining how my time online may be better spent, especially placing findings, thoughts, and writing which falls outside of contracted work.

Here’s a preliminary plan:

  • Twitter will be where I post links to my work, worthwhile links related to history or local matters, quick contextual posts related to the news cycle, and old ads/pictures/stories that may amuse or anger you. I promise never to act in trollish ways, and maintain a respectful space on a platform that doesn't often act in respectful ways.
  • Instagram will be where I post pictures primarily from walks and roadtrips, from neighbourhood strolls to exploring the backroads of North America. My partner-in-crime will keep an eagle eye on my feed to ensure I toss in enough tags for each post!
  • Facebook is primarily a personal space for me. Several people have suggested that I create a professional FB page focusing on my work and related, non-personal items. A fan page, basically. Do you think this is worth pursuing, or would it waste time?
  • JB’s Warehouse will carry on for anything history-related, whether it’s bonus features for my published pieces, oddball flights of fancy, or computer housecleaning which deserves more than a quick tweet or Instagram post.

 Suggestions related to this plan are appreciated, so leave a comment if you’ve got advice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

bonus features: opening the eaton centre

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

gm 1974-06-21 timetable race begins for eaton centre
Globe and Mail, June 21, 1974. Click on image for larger version.
Based on the following description published in the Star in late 1972, the Eaton Centre replaced what was then a barren stretch of Dundas Street.

The south side of Dundas between Bay and Yonge at present offers one of the more dismal views downtown. Two Italian restaurants are the only bright spots on a block made up chiefly of parking lots and a rent-a-car lot and garage. The vista through the parking lots is of Eaton's drab box-like warehouses. 

The same article mentioned an interesting land trade that didn't happen, which some people might interpret as an early 1970s example of "the war on the car" and definitely indicates the regular tension between the city and Metro levels of government. Parkland that was set aside near Trinity Square could have been somewhere else on the property...

The developers had originally offered the city a strip of land along Dundas, but the city rejected the proposal because this land would simply have been acquired by Metro Toronto (which controls Dundas St.) to widen Dundas to six lanes. Metro planners had called for the street widening to support the increased traffic Eaton Centre might be expected to generate; but the city objected, because a widened Dundas on the other side of Bay would have wiped out Chinatown.

(Chinatown moved west along Dundas to Spadina over the next few years, but that's another story.)

In a victory for the city, Metro reversed itself and Dundas will only be widened 14 feet along the Eaton Centre stretch, to provide one extra turning lane for cars entering the development's parking garage. On the insistence of Alderman John Sewell, the city also required Fairview to set its buildings back 10 feet from the street, so that the sidewalk can be widened.

gm 1977-01-08 eatons ad
Globe and Mail, January 8, 1977.
gm 1977-01-11 eatons ad
Globe and Mail, January 11, 1977.
gm 1977-01-13 eatons ad
Globe and Mail, January 13, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of the ads Eaton's published in the weeks leading up to the opening of their new flagship store. 

gm 1977-01-15 eaton store preview ad
Globe and Mail, January 15, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

A guide to the new Eaton's store, floor by floor. There would be some tinkering; the "Annex 7" floor opened in October 1977 to clear out items a la the old bargain store behind Old City Hall.  The space, which had been buying offices, was converted, as a store executive put it, into "an adventure area for bargain hunters" that included opportunity buys and scratch-and-dent items.

I'm not sure at what point 3 Below (which was located where the food court currently sits) closed. I don't recall ever going into it as a kid in the late 1970s/early 1980s (eager-beaver me would have wanted to visit every floor), and dimly recall signs indicating it was an employee-only area. 

gm 1977-02-09 photo
Globe and Mail, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

A shot inside the mall published on the eve of its opening.

sun 1977-02-09 eatons opening ad
Toronto Sun, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

The next series of images are a 12-page advertising supplement published in the Star two days before the grand opening. For ease of reading, I've merged the diagrams which were pages 6 and 7 of the original version.

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p1

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p2 credits for who built the store

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p3

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p4

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p5

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p6-7

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p8 great pic headline

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p9

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p10

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p11

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p12
Toronto Star, February 8, 1977. Click on images for larger versions.
I compared the opening day store listing with a current directory, and found seven retail/service brands that are still in the mall, though not all of them have been present at all times since 1977. They are A&W, Birks, Brown’s, Le Chateau, Shoppers Drug Mart, TD, and Town Shoes.

Additional material from the October 14, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the November 24, 1972 edition of the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

valentine ideas from the toronto sun, 1977

Figuring out how to mark Valentine's Day can be stressful and strike terror in your heart. Have no fear -- the following items I recently stumbled upon from 40-year-old editions of the Toronto Sun during a recent research session may provide inspiration (or a laugh).

If you feel a traditional card isn't enough for your sweet patootie, how about something along these lines?
sun 1977-02-10 valentine ideas
Toronto Sun, February 10, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

Then there's dinner. You could decide to go out, either to a cozy neighbourhood spot for a romantic rendezvous (if they have tables left) or a popular downtown restaurant. Why not hit The Esplanade?

Toronto Sun, February 13, 1977.

Toronto Sun, February 13, 1977.
You could also stay at home and prepare a lovely, heartfelt meal. If your budget is tight, as were those of inflation-conscious couples during the 1970s, we have the following suggestions not just for Valentine's Day, but the entire week.

sun 1977-02-10 budget menus
Toronto Sun, February 10, 1977. Click on image for larger version.
Of course, not everyone will spend the day with someone. But don't fret - singles can make the day less awful by cooking offal!

Toronto Sun, February 10, 1977.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

vintage awful romance comics of the day

Just Married #107, September 1975
By the end of the 1950s, the majority of comic-book publishers were gone, victims of the great comic-industry slump, and by the 1960s only Charlton, Marvel, and DC Comics were still publishing romances. Of the three, Charlton's were probably the absolute worst love comics ever produced. Each issue gave the impression that, after having blown their entire monthly budget on a beautiful cover, the editors parceled out the interior pages to various talented high school relatives of the staff. - Trina Robbins, From Girls to Grrrlz (1999)
While doing some file housekeeping on my computer, I found several scans of one-page fillers from those rock-bottom Charlton romance comics. In this particular issue, the uncredited writers (who online databases don't identify, possibly to spare them embarrassment) were fixated on how many punchlines they could write based on the low intelligence of females. Truly bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, relying on tired old stereotypes that would have been ancient in 1955, let alone 1975.

All this in a titled called Just Married. One hopes the liaisons depicted in its pages didn't last long, and that the female protagonists realized the guys they were mooning over were schmucks.

Just Married #107, September 1975
Just Married only lasted seven more issues, one of the last gasps of a dying genre. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

off the grid: when mel freezes over

As I no longer have a copy of this story as it originally appeared on The Grid's website in early February 2013, this reprint is based on the draft I submitted for publication. I also integrated a "bonus features" post which originally appeared on this website on February 8, 2013.

Toronto Sun, January 15, 1999.
“It might have people across this country shaking their heads, even rolling their eyes,” Peter Mansbridge observed while introducing the January 13, 1999 edition of The National. To some Canadians, Mel Lastman’s plea for military assistance to help Toronto cope with a record-breaking month of snowfall confirmed their view of the country’s largest city as a magnet for spoiled, whiny wimps.

By the time Lastman requested help, Toronto had endured 84 cm of snowfall over the first two weeks of 1999, with 21 cm alone coming down on January 13. The deepening accumulation, combined with gusty winds and cold temperatures led to chaos. Clogged switches delayed GO service, drifting snow covered the third rail of exposed subway lines, and the Scarborough RT proved its uselessness in inclement weather. TTC chief general manager David Gunn recommended people stay home, as chances were “poor to nil” that closed subway sections would operate for several days. Snowplows barely made a dent on roads as the white stuff continued to fall.

Toronto Star, January 14, 1999.
“I’m petrified of what could happen,” Lastman told the press. “You come to a point where you can’t push it back any more. Then no cars move. I want to have (the army) ready in case there’s 25 cm of snow.” Lastman had recent precedents: troops were called in for assistance during the Red River flood in Manitoba in 1997 and the ice storm that paralyzed eastern Ontario and Quebec in 1998.

The next morning, four Bison armoured personnel carriers arrived at the former Downsview military base from CFB Petawawa to await use as emergency ambulances. While reservists shoveled out bus shelters and fire hydrants, 420 regular troops were placed on standby. They spent most of their time relaxing around the old base by rehabbing an old gym basement bowling alley, playing cards, and practising snowmobile manoeuvres for a future Arctic posting. One officer who had assisted with the ice storm cleanup told the Star that “it’s kind of hard just sitting here when you want to help.” Lastman told the troops that “it’s better to be safe than sorry…I don’t believe you want to wait until people are possibly gonna die.”

Torontonians coped with the situation in varying ways. Commuters stuck downtown booked hotel rooms and made Eaton Centre merchants smile. Cotton Ginny reported a run on nightgowns, while Shoppers Drug Mart was packed with people stocking up on bathroom essentials. Rentals at the Yonge-Wellesley Rogers Video more than doubled. Meals on Wheels provided extra food to clients in case they were forced to close. Municipal and transit employees racked up overtime, with some snow removal employees sleeping in temporary trailer camps. There were the expected idiots: one man was charged after being caught drunk snowmobiling along the Don Valley Parkway.

Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.
As the city dug itself out, several city councillors questioned Lastman’s actions and lamented that he didn’t consult them. Lastman didn’t call an emergency council meeting out of fear of the speeches his colleagues might make. “The press would have been there, and what they would have been saying I don’t know. Some of them would have been absolutely out of it.” The mayor believed he was the only person who cared about the welfare of the entire city instead of specific wards, He never regretted his actions. “We arranged it so that senior citizens could go around the corner to get milk,” he boasted to the Star a decade later.

By the time the month was over, Toronto endured a record-breaking 118 cm of snowfall. Councillor Jack Layton found the storm “a teaching lesson in municipal arrogance” due to the city’s complacency. Eye Weekly noted that the previous fall, council’s urban environment committee voted against budgeting an extra $28 million to clear windrows. Up to $70 million was spent on clean-up, more than double the annual $32 million snow clearing budget.

Eye columnist Donna Lypchuk had fun with the charges that Torontonians were wusses when it came to snow. “Torontonians get a little touchy the minute they see a snowflake,” she observed. “Like little robots, they go outside, see their cars covered with snow, make a phone call and then drop back into bed with complete resignation.” She felt the exhaustion of those battling the storm could have been avoided by just letting the snow melt on its own.

Lypchuk’s conclusion? “I think it’s time Torontonians familiarized themselves with important Canadian concepts, such as snow. During the winter, snow is going to fall from the sky. This is not a scary, unusual thing. It is normal. Respect the snow and be prepared.”


Bonus Material

Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.
Confession time: I’m drawing a blank as to what I did during the Snowmageddon of January 1999.

I definitely experienced it. I was living in Guelph, working at the campus paper. Given the regular dumpings Guelph received, the storm likely didn’t seem unusual. It was probably just another snowy day, albeit one with greater accumulation. My guess is that either I curled up with a pile of library books or headed over to the Ontarion office to work, surf the net, or play endless games of Civilization II. It was around this time that staff relations within the office settled into a permanent deep-freeze, sparked by deep disagreements about the cover of that week’s issue. The only story about the storm in the following week’s edition noted there were no plans to shut down the U of G campus, and that students were encouraged to take advantage of increased Guelph Transit service as parking lots turned into mountains of cleared snow.

As for Lastman’s call for the army—it was Mel. Given his bombastic style, it would have been hard not to expect anything else.

Toronto Sun, January 16, 1999.
After hearing all the jokes made about the situation over the years, reading about the circumstances at the time makes it clear action was needed. The factor that seems to be forgotten is that Toronto was already buried under an unusually large amount of snow. The forecasts for the storm that prompted Lastman to call in the troops didn’t look promising, and city services were already strained. And he did have the examples of military involvement in other natural disaster over the previous two years. The laughs at Toronto’s expense seem partly a natural reaction against the centre of the universe, and partly out of little comprehension of how badly the city’s infrastructure, especially for commuters, was affected. I was really struck by CBC archival clip’s depiction of a Meals on Wheels run, where deliverers provided extra food to clients in case the service had to be suspended.

I also checked out the Sun’s coverage. The front page on January 14, 1999 bluntly echoed TTC chief general manager David Gunn’s advice: “STAY HOME.” It also introduced the paper’s method of measuring the snowfall: the “Mel freezes over” infographic, which used Lastman’s height as a yardstick for how much snow fell that month.

On the editorial page, a list of snow-related mottos was devised to replace the new official motto the paper loathed, “Diversity our strength.”

Toronto—The city under North York
Toronto—Home of the squeegee kid, until you need one.
Toronto—Our mayor shovels it better than your mayor.
Toronto—Beware of drive-by plowings.
Toronto—Don’t even think about parking here.
Toronto—Where snow melters go to die.
Toronto—Where snowballs have a chance.
Toronto—Apocalypse Snow.
Toronto—Home of the two-hour cab wait.
Toronto—It’s not as bad as Buffalo, but we’re working on it.
Toronto—Where “The Better Way” is walking.
Toronto—We’d rather be in Florida.
Toronto—The flake by the lake.
Toronto—As pure as the driven slush.
Toronto—Home of Pearson Airport—you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Toronto—Plow me.

Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.
Meanwhile, back over in the Star, it was interesting to read how angry councillors were over the lack of consultation from Lastman. Among the miffed was Frances Nunziata. “I sent a letter to the Mayor January 6 with a number of recommendations,” she told the paper. “I didn’t get any response, or even an acknowledgement.” According to Michael Prue, who represented East York, councillors were “taking all the crap because Mel Lastman tells (the public) that everything’s wonderful and everything’s being fixed and I get phone call after phone call that it’s not that way.”

Additional material from the January 21, 1999 edition of Eye Weekly, January 19, 1999 edition of the Ontarion, the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, January 16, 1999, January 17, 1999, and January 11, 2009 editions of the Toronto Star, and the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, and January 16, 1999 editions of the Toronto Sun.

Monday, December 19, 2016

bonus features: “the bull in a china shop had nothing on this cow”

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

For your reading pleasure, here are all of the original press accounts of the cow's adventure.  My vote goes to the Telegram for the goofiest coverage and the one most requiring historical footnotes, as it tosses in baseball analogies and a passing reference to Ontario Premier Sir James Whitney. Imagine if a modern version referenced, say, Kathleen Wynne and Justin Verlander.

Globe, June 16, 1913.

News, June 16, 1913.

star 1913-06-16 militant cow on the warpath at kendal avenue and wells street
Star, June 16, 1913. Click on image for larger version.

tely 1913-06-16 mad cow on the rampage
Telegram, June 16, 1913.

World, June 16, 1913.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

to be continued?

"Windsbraut"(Bride of the Wind) by Oscar Kokoschka. Cover of History of the 20th Century #96 (1969).
In the aftermath of the recent American election, there’s plenty of apocalyptic doom-and-gloom out there. How much is justified remains to be seen, though early glimmers aren’t heartwarming. Even a couple of weeks later, getting off/modifying social media to save one’s sanity, or, after doing some contemplative soul-searching, figuring out how you can actually make a real difference in your community or beyond seems like the best advice.

Feeling meh or worse about the future is nothing new. Throughout recorded history, fears the sky was falling, or worse, are recurring themes during stressful times. The current malaise made me think of the one of the grimmest-ending essays I read when I was younger.

Behind my dad’s chair in the basement of my childhood home was a bookshelf filled with historical “partworks”—magazine series, mostly British, mostly from the early 1970s, which covered a particular topic, usually in around 100-130 issues. These series ranged from histories of the World Wars to A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which serialized Winston Churchill’s books with added contextual content.

I loved flipping through these series, initially for the colourful diagrams and pictures, then slowly appreciating the rest of the content. One of my favourites was History of the 20th Century, originally published in 1968-69. Its 96 issues introduced me to the scope of the era which shaped the world I was living in, and provided some answers as to who the heck those weird old guys in my postage stamp collection were.

The years it was published saw dizzying change in the midst of the Cold War—Prague Spring, protests in Paris, Biafra, the Vietnam war, coups galore, the election of Nixon, the moon walk, etc. The last issue was dedicated to reflections from editor-in-chief A.J.P. Taylor and general editor J.M. Roberts on the first seven decades of the century, and what was to come.

Their mood was not optimistic.

Let’s start with some of Roberts’ final thoughts: 
Where do we go next? We have already side-stepped the question: prediction is not the historians’ business. No historian can say; yet he ought sometimes to pose the question because thinking about it may help him to clarify what he really thinks important in what has already happened. Then he can say that if things go on as at present, then things will go on as much as at present. But he cannot be sure; too many prophets have been surprised in the past…

All that can be said is that perhaps more reason to be generally gloomy about present trends than had our predecessors. This is mainly because of the nuclear weapon. The possibility of its use is so depressing a prospect that it should not be over-dramatized. There is a possibility that life itself might be ended on this planet, but probably things would not be that bad. Somewhere, men would survive. And it is important to remember that they would not survive in stone-age conditions: they would survive with the knowledge and skills of 20th-century men. The possibility of making an eventual recovery would be rather greater than, say, that faced by stone-age man at the onset of an ice age. This, however, is hardly the point. There would still be untold suffering, loss of life, and destruction of most of what makes it tolerable and enjoyable for perhaps a majority of the world’s population.

This danger is very real. It is not real because there is anything in nuclear weapons which makes the men who have to control them any more foolish or more immoral than their predecessors. That is just the trouble. Men seem much the same. All that have changed are the consequences of error. In the past, mankind has shown no capacity to avoid conflict except for limited periods and in limited areas. All that now has to happen is that this continues to be true. Sooner or later, this will be likely to lead to a situation where people behave exactly as they have in the past in defence of their interests, but rely on nuclear weapons to do so. When that happens, the danger will be very great indeed. There is nothing new to prevent this situation arising except the knowledge we all share of the terrible destructive power of nuclear weapons. It is a pretty fragile restraint, given some of the political passions loose In the world today. This is why we must be gloomy if we think of the future as simply the continuation of present trends. Perhaps we shall be surprised. If we are, and some effective renunciation of nuclear weapons is achieved, or if we are not, and the nuclear war breaks out, the 20th century seems likely still to provide something different from the past. In either case, what would happen would be one of the most complete discontinuities in human history yet.

How I suspect, outside of historians and viewers of old British documentaries, many people know the name A.J.P. Taylor. Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1970.

But that was only the warmup for Taylor’s essay, whose ominous tone was set in its title (“To Be Continued?”) and accompanying images of missiles. Around the middle of the essay comes a passage that some might see as relevant to their current uneasiness about the state of the world.

When people read history, they do so not only to learn about the past. They also hope to learn about the future. They ask the historian “What is going to happen next?” The historian is no better qualified than anyone else to provide an answer. The study enables us to understand the past better—no more and no less. It gives us no insight at all into the future. The most the historian or anyone else can say is that, if men behaved in the past, this or that is likely to happen. The difficulty is that men do not always go on behaving as they used to behave.

As the essay draws to its close, Taylor contemplates the nuclear arms race between the Americans and the Soviets, and how the world was menaced by the potential for an accidental holocaust. The final paragraph was at first laughable to a younger me, as the 20th century was still unfolding around me and the Cold War drew to a close, but has grown on me over the years as a sense of the palpable fear people had that eventually we would blow ourselves up. While reading the following, keep in mind that the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a recent memory, Dr. Strangelove had been in theatres five years earlier, and the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only a quarter-century in the past.

The behaviour of mankind has changed. I doubt whether it has changed enough to prevent a nuclear war. When two great powers run an arms race, war is the inevitable conclusion, if history is any guide. I had contemplated a final word of advice to our successors who will design a new history of the 20th century thirty years hence. It is unlikely that this advice would prove of any use. Before then history will have come to a full stop.

Let that sink in a second.

I can’t predict what will unfold the next four years. None of us can. But the president-elect is one of several loose cannons around the world right now, brought to power through an angry, restless public or authoritarian means. Where populism is surging, we’re dealing with a public who has forgotten, or prefers to overlook, past examples of humanity’s inhumanity toward each other. With little direct experience of war or cultural repression, it’s easy to think that it’s fine to act on your darkest impulses. If you can’t have something, whether it’s a stable job or the unshakable command of my world you once experienced, nobody else should either. Anything you fear needs to be eliminated, no matter how realistic that fear is.

Periods of change are difficult. Combating fear is difficult and painful. It requires skill, nuance, the shaking off of complacency, and brokering occasional arrangements/compromises to reach a better understanding among us (though there are people whom trying to reach out is all but useless on either side of the fence). I’m still sorting out what I can do—I suppose at worst I can continue to offer historical context at appropriate moments in my professional work, even if that sometimes feels like I’m preaching to the converted.

It’s a battle we all need to tackle before we succumb to any of the apocalyptic visions out there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 227 front street east

This story was originally published on The Grid's website on May 7, 2013.

Advertisement showing Consumers Gas Station A complex. Toronto's 100 Years by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934).
For Consumers Gas, permission from the province in 1879 to produce gas for heating, appliance fuel, and industrial uses couldn’t have come at a better time. Its main business—providing gas extracted from coal for lamplighters to brighten the city’s street-lighting system—would soon be swept away by electricity. The resulting demand from businesses and homes for the fuel produced in its gasworks at Front and Parliament Streets, especially from areas recently annexed to Toronto, led to the company’s rapid expansion during the 1880s.

Consumers Gas purchased much of the land on the south side of Front between Berkeley and Trinity streets and quickly built a complex of processing facilities eventually known as Station A. Among them was a purifying house built in 1887 at the southwest corner of Front and Berkeley. Designed by the firm of Strickland & Symons, the building was styled to resemble a basilica. As architectural writer Patricia McHugh observed a century later, the building and its neighbouring facilities were “striking reminders of how architecturally accomplished utilitarian factories can be. Rows of great stone-capped piers, pinnacles, fancy brickwork, stepped gables—none of these were necessary to make gas, but they did announce corporate pride and confidence.”

Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, File 124, File 3, Item 38.
The building processed gas until natural gas pipelines were connected to Toronto in the mid-1950s. Along with sites that eventually became 51 Division and Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre, the purifying house was one of very few parts of Station A to remain physically intact. Food manufacturer Dalton’s purchased the site in 1967, expanding its operations from the neighbouring building, a former woollen mill built in 1882 which Old City Hall architect E.J. Lennox reputedly had a hand in. Dalton’s specialized in maraschino cherries, pleasing cocktail drinkers and dessert lovers across the city. The combined structures became known as the Dalton Building.

The site was purchased in early 1984 by the Canadian Opera Company for offices, workshops, and rehearsal space. It would be the COC’s first permanent home—the company had relied on rentals around the city. Plans also called for a 400-seat performance venue to supplement the COC’s ongoing effort to build a permanent home, a quest which lasted until the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. Extensive renovations were boosted by a $1 million donation from the Tanenbaum family, which resulted in the facility being named the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. The complex opened in stages over three years.

Toronto Star, February 27, 1986.
The performance space, later known as the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, opened with The Beggar’s Opera on February 26, 1986. “The moral tone of Front Street E. went into precipitous decline last night,” Star critic William Littler cheekily opened his review, “when a perfectly respectable maraschino cherry factory yielded its address to a loud and unruly gaggle of thieves, cutthroats, strumpers, and procurers, otherwise known as the Canadian Opera Company.” Littler felt the space was “the ideal kind of ersatz opera house to accommodate history’s most famous send-up of that supposedly aristocratic form.” The moral tone of the area never recovered, to the delight of those who have toured the facilities or caught a performance there.

Additional material from A Tradition of Service: The Story of Consumers Gas (Toronto: Consumers Gas, 1993), Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989), and the November 11, 1984 and February 27, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1 benvenuto place

This story was originally published in the online version of The Grid on May 28, 2013.

Benvenuto, circa 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 328A.
In a sense, Simeon Janes was already king of the hill. Regarded as one of Toronto’s sharpest real estate wheeler-dealers, he built a fortune during the 1880s by subdividing the land that became The Annex. When he decided to build a mansion in 1888, he settled on a property high up on Avenue Road with an expansive view of the growing city below.

Completed in 1891, Benvenuto lived up to English translation of its Italian name—“welcome”—as Janes entertained guests with feasts in its grand dining room and concerts in its conservatory. A contemporary account described the mansion as “a splendid piece of masonry, which puts to shame the flimsy ephemeral edifices, with their stuccoes and veneers, of modern house construction.”

Janes sold Benvenuto to Toronto Railway Company proprietor William Mackenzie in 1897. Reputedly Mackenzie paid for part of the purchase in the pre-TTC streetcar operator’s stock, which was ironic given Janes backed an opposing bid when the city offered the transit contract to private concerns six years earlier. Mackenzie continued Benevenuto’s tradition of entertaining the rich while building a transportation empire which included the Canadian Northern Railway (the company responsible for developing Leaside).

Sir William Mackenzie leaving Benvenuto, circa 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1298.  
Following Mackenzie’s death in 1923, the mansion fell into disuse. Parcels of the property were sold, resulting in the development of Edmund Avenue and Benvenuto Place. Developers who bought the remaining property in 1927 planned to demolish the mansion to make way for a deluxe apartment building. While the mansion was knocked down in 1932, several elements survived. The retaining wall along Avenue Road stayed put, while ornate gates Mackenzie shipped in from Italy moved west to their current location at 38-44 Burton Road.

Plans for an apartment complex remained in limbo until the early 1950s. Architect Peter Dickinson designed a flat-roofed, balcony-and-window-rich concrete structure which became one of Toronto’s first modernist buildings. Opened in stages between 1953 and 1955, 1 Benvenuto Place operated as a luxurious apartment hotel whose residents saw celebrities like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor pass through its lobby. The hotel service lasted through the late 1970s, after which it continued to offer some of the city’s priciest rental apartments.

1 Benvenuto Place, 1955. Canadian Architectural Archives.
While there had been an onsite restaurant from the start, it didn’t make culinary waves until it transformed into Scaramouche in late 1980. Rising chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander handled the kitchen during its first two years, then Keith Froggett settled in for a run now heading into its 30th year. During the mid-’80s, pastry chef Joanne Yolles accidentally came up with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes after pondering the most blue-collar dessert she could make for a high-end eatery. The result: coconut cream pie. Soon after, a separate pasta bar offering $6 dishes created nightly lineups.

Talk of converting 1 Benvenuto Place into a condominium began in the mid-’80s, upsetting many residents. This may have been among the factors which led to the building’s addition to the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 1989. The conversion process finally went ahead in 2004, at which time monthly apartment rents ranged from $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $5,500 for a three-bedroom. Existing tenants had the option of continuing as renters or buying their apartments. For a time it appeared Scaramouche would be replaced with a single condo unit, but an agreement signed in March 2010 allowed the restaurant to continue serving diners.

Additional material from Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: Mail Printing Company, 1891), The Railway King of Canada by R.B. Fleming (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1991), the July 2005 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 18, 1927, November 24, 1982, December 30, 1989, November 6, 2004, September 10, 2007, and March 12, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

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.