Monday, July 21, 2014

dave keon invites you to try...

Dave Keon invites you to try... (1)
Click on image for larger version.
The 1970s. You have a pantry full of Campbell's Vegetable Soup. You can't decide what kind of sandwich will taste best while playing spelling games with the alphabet pasta. Who do you turn to!

Toronto Maple Leafs hockey star Dave Keon, of course!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

nautical 'n nice

Nautical 'n Nice (1)
Click on image for larger version
In the midst of recent housecleaning, this pamphlet fell out of a decaying cookbook I was about to toss out. Much screams 1970s: the layout, the nod to Canadian nationalism, and the heavy use of tinned food. Perhaps somebody worked very hard in Aylmer's test kitchen to devise these nautical-inspired dishes...or perhaps they were handed a list of products and told "do something with these!" Note the absence of "edible" in that sentence.

Brave enough to enjoy a taste of "Nautical 'n Nice?" Continue on...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

signs of insanity from windsor

Source: Eye, May 3, 2001.
While researching a recent Torontoist post regarding the demise of Eye/Eye Weekly/The Grid, I dug through a box of material meant to be scrapbooked over a decade ago. Besides finding a couple of fully intact issues focusing on the 2001 Toronto Fringe Festival, I unearthed this clipping of a long-shuttered Windsor pizzeria whose slowly-decaying sign provided years of mirth for my sister and I.

Over time, Star Pizza's sign lost more letters. By the mid-2000s you could buy a "lie" for 99 cents, which is a bargain when you're looking to hoodwink somebody.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

bonus features: proclaiming pride

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

Source: Toronto Star, November 1, 1978.
On my computer reside plenty of files I'm stumbled upon in the midst of research which I figure may be useful someday, no matter how absurd they are. Prime example: Art Eggleton dressed as a pickle. Based on the highlighting on the PDF copy of the original page, I discovered this gem while working on a Hallowe'en post. The original caption read as follows:
No sourpuss: Dressed as a pickle, but all smiles, Toronto Alderman Art Eggleton hands out a balloon to Diana Russo, 2, of Grace Street, at campaign headquarters last night. Supporter Robert Long offers Hallowe'en treat. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

dull, dull toronto

During some recent research, I stumbled upon a book review longtime Globe and Mail writer William French penned over 40 years ago for George Glazebrook's The Story of Toronto. French's introduction sums up the stereotypical view of Toronto history, and the battle I and my fellow historians face daily to present the city's past in fresh, engaging ways.
Anyone writing a history of Toronto faces an awkward problem: the story, on the whole, is dull. It lacks drama and dash, and our heroes are in a minor mode. Without exceptional effort on the part of the author, his book will also be dull.
Apart from the clash of arms in 1813 and the rattle of muskets in 1837—both encounters were marked by an almost comical incompetence—Toronto’s story is one of slow, plodding growth over the years. The major element in that story is a rather dull and narrow bourgeoisie, preoccupied with matters of property, finance, and morals. Until recently, anyway: the city is now undergoing a fundamental transition, but that’s current events, not history, and won’t be history until the transition is completed.

"Fundamental transition" might be an understatement, given the changes the city underwent during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

Source: the Globe and Mail, December 4, 1971. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

appreciating archives

Conservatory Lab, Archives of Ontario
Conservation lab at the Archives of Ontario. Photo taken during a Doors Open tour in 2010.
Plug in the laptop. Attach the cooling pad to ensure the computer resists self-immolation. Wait for research materials to arrive, or start in on an order placed ahead of time. If waiting, sign on to the internet, work on other projects, or grab a pencil (no pens allowed!) and scribble random thoughts on scrap paper or in a notebook. When the boxes and file folders arrive, dive headfirst into the past.

Yep, just another day researching in an archive.


I love working in archives. Flipping through holdings brings forward the same feelings of discovery I had as a student while working with my father’s archival-sized collection of newspaper clippings. In both cases, beyond gathering the information required for the project at hand, I enjoy stumbling upon odd, unrelated tidbits. These side findings are good for a laugh, for shock value, and for inspiring future articles. Anything that pushes the wheels in my head is a bonus.

Each archive has its own character. Size wise, work spaces I’ve utilized in Toronto range from the roomy research hall at the City of Toronto Archives to the cozy, residential setting of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. The D.K. “Doc” Seaman Hockey Resources Centre is attached to an arena in Etobicoke, so it’s possible to catch some shinny when your work is done. Out in Scarborough, I’ve worked amid a collection of century-old musical instruments at the Salvation Army’s archives. Just today, I made my first visit to the Ontario Jewish Archives, a collection whose slightly hidden location within a large North York complex enhances the treasure hunt atmosphere.

The archives I’ve mentioned are only a small sampling of the historical records sources available in the city. The internet has widened exposure of collections large and small—beyond posting archival documents and photos, archive websites allow better preparation for visits by allowing you order materials before dropping in. The time savings hit me when I forgot to place an order before my first visit to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, resulting in an hour-and-an-half to kill before my materials were scheduled for delivery.

Staff is a critical asset. Archivists and their associates will answer your questions regardless of how bizarre they might seem. They’ll hunt far beyond your initial request and deliver material from sources (or suggest search terms) you hadn’t considered, or something will spark their memory of a deeply-buried item suited to your quest.

And so, on Archives Awareness Week, this is thanks to all of those working in archives who offer their expertise to researchers of all stripes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

past pieces of toronto: cbc don mills broadcast centre

Jesters on Top of the World
Photo taken on Gordon Street, Toronto, December 3, 2009.
From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the "Past Pieces of Toronto" column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. This is the final installment to be reprinted, one appropriate for today as it was originally posted on April 1, 2012. 

That date is key, for the following is an April Fools joke, one I learned several lessons from. Prepare yourself for another lengthy preamble.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

past pieces of toronto: knob hill farms

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the "Past Pieces of Toronto" column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. I've republished all but two of those pieces on this website. 

Here's the first of the final pair, both of which provided good lessons for future writing. Prepare yourself for a lengthy preamble.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

scenes from st. lawrence market, 1934

Scenes from St. Lawrence Market, 1934 (2)

Sifting through files on one of my 7,853 USB keys, I found a folder of material I'd copied from City Lights, a short-lived (1934-35) Toronto magazine from the mid-1930s. Its content fell somewhere between the New Yorker and a Depression-era Toronto Life. City Lights is also one of those subjects that is perennially on my Historicist back burner - someday a profile will see the light of day, once I can find any information about its brief existence.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

the poetry of william lyon mackenzie

Last night I went to Second City for the first time in ages. Little did I know the comedy wouldn't stop when I got home.

The interwebs were abuzz with news of  2010 Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson jumping into this year's race. Said candidate decided to launch their campaign with a lengthy poem which provoked waves of derision, because that's what you automatically do when you have a platform which allows only 140 characters at a time (though in this case, it is a train wreck of verse).

In my fatigued state, the following thought sprang into my head:

The only offhand example I thought of was a piece of doggerel I encountered while researching the incorporation of Toronto in 1834. Technically, William Lyon Mackenzie wasn't running for mayor when the following piece was written - the position didn't exist yet - but he'd be named our city's first chief exec soon enough.

Context: Mackenzie, along with some other Reformers, opposed Upper Canada's legislation to incorporate the Town of York as the City of Toronto, viewing as little more than an attempt to raise taxes and control who sat on the new city council.

And now, a sampling of the poetry of William Lyon Mackenzie:
Come hither, come hither, my little dog Ponto
Let’s trot down and see where little York’s gone to;
For forty big Tories, assembled in junta
Have murdered little York in the City of Toronto

If I stumble upon more verse by our city's past mayors, or mayoral wannabes, you can bet it'll find a home here. 

Source: The Firebrand by William Kilbourn (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956).

Monday, March 17, 2014

predicting what 2014 would look like department

Great Grandma's Attic in 2014
Source: the Toronto World, March 18, 1914. Click on image for larger version.
The author, so obsessed with nice girls and CLOTHES, neglects to mention how ATHLETIC Great-Grandma was. Unless only the garments and the SUFFRAGIST banner were Great-Grandma's, the readers of 1914 were left to assume that the fishing reels, golf clubs, paddles, playing cards, and racquets WERE Great-Grandpa's. The author also neglects Great-Grandma's taste for WRITING, via the book on the floor and the typewriter hiding under the chair. FANCY that.

But this is me in 2014 LOOKING BACK at 1914. It's true many people's first impulse would be to don the vintage clothing to see how FUNNY they look. Or attractive...

Sunday, March 02, 2014

and the oscar for criticizing the 1964 academy awards ceremony goes to...

Source: the Toronto Star, April 13, 1964.
To mark Oscar night, we're heading back 50 years to check the reaction from Toronto's TV critics regarding the 36th annual Academy Awards ceremony on April 13, 1964. Among the milestones that night were the first black performer to win Best Actor (Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field) and the first film to place three nominees in the Best Supporting Actress category (Diane Cilento, Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman in Tom Jones, all of whom lost to Margaret Rutherford from The V.I.P.s).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

shopbreaking and sweating

Source: the Telegram, April 7, 1911.
Two adjacent sketches make up today's post. Did the artist try to suggest bags under each crook's eyes to illustrate their depravity in holding up one of the city's most prominent jewelers? Or did John Lester naturally look that weary? Also, were they trying to pass along their stolen diamonds to unsuspecting tourists in Niagara Falls? A possible sales pitch under that scenario:

WILLIAMS (since he shows promise as the smooth talker of the pair): Hello there young lovers. Are you here to celebrate your honeymoon?

GROOM: We are. Just arrived on the train. Been looking forward to this for three years. Do you know if anyone's going over the falls in a barrel today?

WILLIAMS: Wouldn't know. Not as common as you'd think. By the way, I notice your rings are not diamonds.

BRIDE: He couldn't afford them on his clerk's salary. But our love is priceless.

WILLIAMS: That may be true, but it would be nice to have one to show the depth of your love, wouldn't it?

GROOM: Why sure!

WILLIAMS: It so happens I'm a travelling jeweler, and I have some sample diamonds I'm intending to show to dealers here. I think I may have one which is perfect for such a lovely couple as you two. And since it's a sample, I can let you have it for a reasonable price. Think of the envy your friends will feel when they see you with genuine diamonds!

BRIDE: Henry, we have to have them!

GROOM: Anything for you my dear.

WILLIAMS: Excellent. You will be happy with your purchase.

GROOM: Thank you sir. And now, let's go find somebody who can tell us if anyone is going over the falls in a barrel today. We really want to see this!

Sidenote: Ellis Brothers were based at 96-98 Yonge Street, north of King Street. The firm was eventually absorbed by Birks.


The second illustration depicts plans for a new YMCA at College and Dovercourt. A century later, the building still provides a place for locals to work out. It was designed by the architectural firm of Burke, Horwood & White, who also worked on the Central and Broadview Ys mentioned in the article. Neither of those buildings survive - the Broadview location is now residential, while the old Central site is currently occupied by Toronto Police Headquarters.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

making trouble at the grand opera house with ward and vokes

Vintage Ad: Those Trouble Makers, Ward and Vokes
Source: the Toronto World, April 9, 1911. Click on image for larger version.
First thing about this ad which caught my eye: the funky typeface used by the Grand Opera House, which it used for all its showcase ads during this period.

Second thing about this ad which caught my eye: "Lucy Daly and her Pony Ballet." Did Ms. Daly bring ponies on stage to performance classical ballet? Did she do an interpretative dance routine to salute ponies? While I'm unable to confirm either theory, it appears Daly was a singer/dancer who had toured with headiners Hap Ward and Harry Vokes for several years. The New York Dramatic Mirror noted that during a production of A Pair of Pinks in Montreal in 1905, Daly "was as bright and vivacious as ever and danced beautifully." I also wonder if she was related to another frequent performer in Ward and Vokes productions, Vokes's wife Margaret Daly-Vokes.

Third thing about this ad which caught my eye: "The Famous Fun Makers." Ward and Vokes were unknown to me, which prompted some digging. They appear to have been a popular touring act across North America starting in the late 1880s, producing farcical musicals. A program for their production of A Run on the Bank at London, Ontario's Grand Opera House in 1896 lists witty character names like Con Mann, Clubs R, Trumps, Adam Shame, Nera Mann, Billy Booze, and Sassy Moll ("a tough girl"). 

Harry Vokes's New York Times obituary raises another question about this ad: did Toronto audiences actually see Hap Ward, or did another comedian assume the name? According to Vokes's obit, the pair split in 1904 when War retired. Yet the act continued for several years. It's entirely possible Vokes kept the act's name, using new partners as necessary, or maybe the Times meant 1914. Vokes continued to perform until 1918, after which he worked at the Beacon Oil Company plant in Everett, Massachusetts. He died from injuries sustained in a plant explosion in 1922 at the age of 55. It was noted  that "Hap Ward was at his old partner's bedside during the night." Ward spent his retirement running a roadhouse near Boston, then died in New York City in 1944. His obit notes that he left behind a widow named Lucy - Lucy Daly of pony ballet fame, perhaps?

Source: the Toronto World, April 9, 1911.

Local reviews of Trouble Makers were positive, albeit in the way most productions of the period received thumbs up (Toronto's newspapers lacked quality drama critics until the arrival of Herbert Whittaker and Nathan Cohen after World War II). E.R. Pankhurst of the Globe noted: 
The piece is replete with ludicrous situations, the comedy perfectly irresistible. The dances and ensembles have much to commend them; the scenic settings are excellent, which the musical numbers...are particularly pleasing. Altogether the production offers diverson that could not be bettered and Ward and Vokes incidentally score another triumph.
Additional material from the April 11, 1911 edition of the Globe, the June 3, 1905 edition of the New York Dramatic Mirror, and the April 16, 1922 and January 4, 1944 editions of the New York Times.