Monday, June 29, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. tip-toeing around tipping

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on August 14, 2012.

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Toronto Star, July 11, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

“Tipping is a questionable practice,” began a July 1979 Star editorial, “but as long as it remains a factor in determining the wages of restaurant employees in Ontario, everything should be done to ensure they receive the tips they’re entitled to.” Issues surrounding tipping—including surveys regarding the public’s bill-topping habits and concerns among servers about proper tip distribution—were highlighted by the paper that month, though many of the issues discussed remain contentious.

The spring of 1979 saw several labour grievances launched by angry servers at downtown bars and restaurants. Arbitration ended the El Mocambo’s policy of requiring bartenders to pay back one per cent of total booze sales during their shift to their managers; less successful were waiters at Noodles restaurant at Bloor and Bay and the Courtyard Café in the Windsor Arms Hotel. The sister eateries employed a percentage-of-sales tip distribution system where waiters paid two-and-a-half per cent of the night’s sales to the maître d’, up to two per cent to busboys, and five dollars a week to the bartender. Servers filed a grievance through the Canadian Food and Associated Services Union, objecting to the maître d’s cut, which often wound up being 20 per cent of the tips they would have received. Management countered that the front-of-house staff were essential to good service by setting the tone, greeting guests, and providing general assistance. According to Windsor Arms food and beverage manager Frank Falgaux, “when you tip you feel you are paying the waiter. But if everything was good then all those people contributed. A tip is really for the team that makes the whole dining room.” The arbitrator agreed with management.

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1979.
Servers at some establishments also found themselves saddled with the responsibility for paying credit-card transaction fees that their bosses wouldn’t absorb on their own. Management at Sherlock’s on Sheppard Street explained that the practice allowed the server to pay their part of “the expenses involved in collecting for the charge account” rather than passing the fee directly onto customers. Combined with other cuts, Sherlock’s waitress Sybil Walker estimated that, out of a weekly gross of up to $300 she earned in tips, up to $120 was passed on to others—a significant loss given that minimum wage for servers back then was $2.50 per hour.

While many diners automatically paid the standard 15 to 20 per cent tip during the summer of 1979, Bardi’s Steak House owner and Canadian Restaurant Association president Alex Manikas suggested they should be more discerning. “A waiter who greets you cheerfully and is genuinely attentive warrants a bigger gratuity than the cold, proper automaton in white gloves,” he told the Star. But that philosophy didn’t occur to difficult customers. In an incident at the Peter Pan on Queen Street West, a customer who occupied a prime table during peak dining hours with his girlfriend to enjoy a bottle of wine and carrot cake left the change he received from server Hillary Kelly for his $9.98 bill—two pennies. When she asked why he was “so tight,” he responded, “because I’m a socialist. I don’t believe in tipping.” Kelly told him that she was a worker and he had insulted her efforts. She threw the tip back at him and the rest of the restaurant cheered as he departed in a huff.

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Toronto Star, August 23, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
As for the secret of receiving generous tips, Fran’s waitress supervisor Jessie Logan suggested “catering to the whims of a regular customer, no matter how eccentric they may seem.” She recalled a diner at the chain’s St. Clair location, “a quiet, well-dressed man in his 30s,” who dropped by nightly to order a meal current health authorities would pounce on in a second: a raw hamburger accompanied by a glass of milk with a whole egg (including the shell) placed in it. “The bill would come to less than two bucks. You know what he would tip me? No less than $5 and up to $35 per night. They don’t make great, loony tippers like that anymore.”

There had been an effort to form a waiters association to replace tipping with a flat 15 per cent service charge a la several European countries, but it fizzled when employers balked. Not that all restaurant owners were opposed—La Cantinetta owner Luigi Orgera, who had servers at his King Street restaurant place their tips in a pool, felt a service charge would allow waiters to receive higher pay and equalize generous and miserly tippers. He believed that “the pay would be better so we could attract a better staff.”

But tipping—and the controversies surrounding it—remain with us, as demonstrated by a recent private member’s bill from Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue to forbid management from taking a share of tips.

Additional material from the May 15, 1979, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the July 11, 1979, and July 16, 1979, editions of the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 484-488 yonge street

From 2012 to 2014 I contributed to The Grid. The following piece was my final "Ghost City" column, published June 25, 2013.


St. Charles Tavern, 1955. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library.
For a spot later known for fiery confrontations, perhaps it’s fitting that the clock tower above 484-488 Yonge St. originally watched over horse-drawn fire engines emerging from the building below. The structure served as Fire Hall Number Three from the early 1870s until the late 1920s; after the fire department moved around the corner to Grosvenor Street, the old hall was occupied by furniture stores, car dealers, and a cycle shop.

In 1950, the St. Charles Restaurant opened at the site with the slogan “meet me under the clock.” Its colourful owner, Charles Hemstead, worked his way up from a newsboy at the corner of King and Bathurst to a real-estate wheeler-dealer. Though he owned hotels and sold rural properties that turned into developments like Mississauga’s Dixie Plaza, his heart belonged to the racetrack. Described by the Globe and Mail as a guy who wore “finely tailored suits and a diamond horseshoe stickpin and a ring worth $6,000,” Hemstead had corralled a stable of horses that included 1943 King’s Plate (as the Queen’s Plate was then known) victor Paolita.

Toronto Star, August 17, 1950.
Alongside the typical steak-and-seafood menu served by eateries with classy aspirations, the St. Charles offered Chinese dishes in its “Oriental Room.” Within a few years, a second location opened at the Canadian National Exhibition to serve hungry fairgoers. That location was destroyed by a fire in January 1961, one of a series of setbacks whose stresses likely contributed to Hemstead’s fatal heart attack later that month.

During the 1960s, the St. Charles Tavern, as it was then known, developed a reputation as a gay hangout. By 1966, it advertised a “Call Me Miss-Ter Revue” showcase of exotic dancers and female impersonators. Along with nearby bars like the Parkside, the St. Charles became part of a new Yonge Street Hallowe’en tradition of costume balls. Laws outlawing the donning of the opposite gender’s clothes tended to relax on Oct. 31, providing an opportunity for drag queens to strut their stuff. Crowds gathered along Yonge Street between Wellesley and College to watch, as the Star termed it in 1969, “the procession of fabulous female-creatures-who-aren’t.”

Onlookers treated the annual procession as a freak show, an attitude that grew uglier as the 1970s progressed. Those entering the St. Charles in drag on Hallowe’en were pelted with eggs and ink, ruining outfits some had worked on for a year. Chants of “kill the queers” emerged from the crowd. Radio stations encouraged people to head down to Yonge Street to join the mob of up to 5,000 people. Media treated it as a light-hearted event, rarely tackling the hate that spewed out. Police looked the other way when violence broke out.

Fears heightened in 1977 after the sexual assault and murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques increased vitriol against homosexuals. Community groups like the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) urged police to crack down on the Hallowe’en hate mob. When police officials suggested the best course of action was to stay away from the St. Charles, politicians including St. George MPP Margaret Campbell and Mayor David Crombie urged the force to provide adequate protection. GATE and the Metropolitan Community Church launched Operation Jack o’ Lantern to provide escorts for anyone feeling threatened on Hallowe’en night.

Globe and Mail, November 1, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
At first, police failed to live up to promises to curb the mob, allowing it to form for several more years. Participants at the St. Charles ball entered via the back door. Reports of back alley and side-street bashings increased. The ugly attitude of the gatherings was personified by a 21-year old woman interviewed by the Globe and Mail on Hallowe’en 1979. “It’s great, because everybody’s so friendly, right? Except if you’re a faggot—that’s different.” The woman said she was there to egg anyone she thought was gay; the paper didn’t mention if she was among the 103 people arrested that night.

“The events of October 31 are a civic disgrace, and should be a source of shame to every citizen of the city,” declared an editorial in the gay journal The Body Politic on the eve of Hallowe’en 1980. “Every citizen, every elected official should share every gay person’s dismay at having to face, each year, a night of humiliation and hate. A night that is passed over in silence, that has drawn no criticism, no condemnation, that has not moved one single elected official to say, ‘This is appalling and disgraceful. This must be stopped.’ It is in the interests of the entire city of Toronto that the city lose its reputation, both here and abroad, for allowing a night of anti-gay bigotry unparalleled in any other city in Canada.”

Toronto Sun, November 1, 1977. Click on image for larger version.
Though police rejected a proposal to block the St. Charles with a convoy of garbage trucks in 1980, they erected metal barriers along Yonge Street’s east sidewalk and prevented anyone from stopping to gawk or jeer. They discouraged media from urging listeners to congregate along Yonge, and asked local merchants to sell eggs to regular customers only. “There were so many officers on Yonge Street,” observed The Body Politic’s Gerald Hannon, “it was beginning to look like a replay of the October Crisis.” Those hoping to lob eggs were disappointed—“this place sucks.”

The peace was maintained the following Hallowe’en, despite jeering attempts from a few yahoos and barbs in the Toronto Sun (“It’s a special night for these homosexuals, the people who dress up every night of the year”). The annual onslaught of hate gradually faded as Hallowe’en celebrations shifted over to Church Street and evolved into a crowded block party where revellers from across Toronto showed off their costumes.

Though it ranked among the top 10 sellers of draught beer in the city in the early 1980s, the St. Charles Tavern closed around Christmas 1987. Various retailers filled the space over the years—current tenants include an electronics store, a music shop, and a sushi joint. The decaying, pigeon poop-clogged clock tower, whose hands were stuck at 12 for years, was renovated after Joseph Bogoroch bought the property in 2002. With a fresh coat of paint, it stands proud above Yonge Street.

Additional material from the December 1977-January 1978, December 1979, October 1980, and December 1980-January 1981 editions of The Body Politic; the January 17, 1961, January 18, 1961, October 28, 1977, and November 1, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; the January 26, 1966, October 31, 1969, November 1, 1979, October 21, 1980, and November 5, 2002 editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 1, 1981 edition of the Toronto Sun.

I also prepared bonus features for this article, which you can find via this link, which covers in further detail the death of Charles Hemstead, and the scene on Hallowe'en.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the birth of queen street west

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

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1979.

With Silver Snail’s impending move to Yonge Street, one of the few remnants of the original Queen West strip is departing the scene. The ongoing transformation of the stretch between University and Spadina into a row of chain stores is just the latest evolution of the street. Back in the winter of 1979, the Star and Toronto Life devoted lengthy articles to the birth of what would become, as one headline put it, “gutter glamour on Glitter Street.”

The Star depicted pre-hip Queen West as such:
Six years ago, the unwary Saturday afternoon browser who slipped off Yonge St. on to Queen St. W. unwittingly fell off the edge of the known shopping world. At that time, deepest darkest Queen St. W.—notably the few blocks between John St. and Spadina—had little to offer the inquisitive, well-heeled young shopper with money to spend. There were the old, antique shops, the porno shops and the Turner Wine Store at the corner of John and Queen with its down-at-heel clientele of listless, hungry men, the greasy spoons, office buildings and machine shops. Even the more adventurous would go scurrying back to Yonge St. or north to Bloor, with its classy, high-priced Yorkville.
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Toronto Star, February 2, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
Toronto Life characterized the area as a marginal strip on the fringes of the clothing trade, where the streetscape was “inhabited by transient winos and the ethnics who had failed to prosper in the new country, ‘old-country good-for-nothings’ in the eyes of their more successful compatriots.”

Several explanations were given for why the landscape changed. There was the influence of Ontario College of Art graduates who stayed in the neighbourhood. Rent was far lower than in Yorkville, which provided better profit margins for the new business owners whose average age was 30 to 35. There was the allure of nearby cultural attractions like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Alex. Frequent streetcar service and plenty of on- and off-street parking didn’t hurt.

Queen Street looking west from St. Patrick's Market, June 7, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526,  File 76, Item 29. Click on image for larger version.
The result, according to the Star, was a neighbourhood where “the spirit of trend” had “raised her elegant skirts” and nestled “among scores of bright, funky craft stores, highbrow art book and comic book shops, new antique emporiums, elegant eateries and purveyors of the crazy, imaginative baubles that attract the moneyed restless.” A few reminders of the old days, like the A. Stork and Sons poultry store and a touch of industrial pollution, lingered on.

Both articles viewed the refurbishment of the Peter Pan restaurant as the turning point for the strip. With a history as an eatery stretching back to 1905 (and under its present name since 1935), the diner at 373 Queen St. W. attracted three partners who discovered old booths, counters, and fixtures gathering dust in the basement. After a refurbishment, the new Peter Pan was, according to the Star, “an art deco wonderland, a smash hit with the city’s young affluent.” That is, it was a hit if you could stand the servers, who Toronto Life declared the representative figure of the new Queen West (“the narcissistic waiter who’s in a punk band”).

Queen Street looking west from Beverley Street, June 7, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526,  File 76, Item 30. Click on image for larger version.
Of the 27 businesses listed in the Star’s “Where to shop in new village” guide and a few others included on a map, only four will continue on Queen West following Silver Snail’s departure: the Black Bull, Peter Pan, the Queen Mother Café and Steve’s Music Store. Even in 1979, merchants worried about the street’s future. “I don’t want too much change in the original street,” noted Peter Pan co-owner Sandy Stagg. “Change will come, I know. I just hope we can keep it under control.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1979 edition of the Toronto Star and the March 1979 edition of Toronto Life.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. burying the gardiner

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 24, 2012. And, as we predicted, people are still devising burial plans for the Gardiner.

Jarvis Street, east side, looking northeast from Lake Shore Boulevard East, showing Gardiner Expressway under construction, 1963. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5603.
“I’ve looked at this darn thing from one end to the other and I can’t think of anything I would like to change.” Frederick Gardiner’s verdict on the expressway that would bear his name was not one future municipal officials shared. Within a decade-and-a-half of the Gardiner’s completion in 1965, grumblings arose from City Hall that the elevated section through the core should be knocked down. Like clockwork, every few years a plan to bury or replace the freeway emerges. Each plan is initially greeted with relief that the waterfront will soon be rid of what many people have perceived as an eyesore and barrier. Just as predictable is the backlash, which usually involves fears about runaway costs and traffic Armageddon during construction. Given the current crumbling state of the Gardiner, somebody is devising a new burial plan as you read these words.

One of the first serious contemplations to tear the sucker down came in the fall of 1983, when Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton asked city staff to investigate burying the Gardiner. Eggleton was supported by Metro Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey, who saw a golden opportunity for a new route through the not-yet-redeveloped railways lands to the north. Godfrey justifiably feared that “with all the bureaucracy and red tape involved in putting a roadway of that magnitude through, I really wonder whether we’ll all be alive to see it, even if all the money is available.”

Toronto Star, September 30, 1983.
The opportunity to use the railway lands soon evaporated, but other ideas abounded. City planning commissioner Stephen McLaughlin described to the Star three plans submitted to the city: “modest” ($25 million to demolish the Jarvis and York ramps and build a new exit at an extended Simcoe Street); “grand” (place the Gardiner in a trench or tunnel between Bathurst and Jarvis); and “visionary” (for $1 billion or so, re-route the Gardiner into a tunnel under Lake Ontario).

Such plans were hooey to Sam Cass, Metro roads and traffic commissioner, and staunch defender of the Gardiner. Cass, who was still promoting the completion of the Spadina Expressway in 1983, called the Gardiner “a beautiful structure that’s still doing what it was designed to do.” While we won’t quibble with Cass over aesthetics such as the view of the city skyline while cruising along in open traffic, his contention that maintaining it wouldn’t cost much proved incorrect. Cass boasted that the Gardiner required no repair during its first decade-and-a-half and figured once a modestly priced five-year program to fix salt damage was completed, the elevated section wouldn’t require further repair for a quarter-century. Given Cass’s math, the Gardiner is crumbling on schedule.

Toronto Star, January 20, 1988. Click on image for larger version.
As annual repairs became a reality, calls for the Gardiner’s burial increased, especially as other cities contemplated demolishing their elevated highways. In a lengthy 1988 piece on why the Gardiner should come down, the Globe and Mail’s John Barber likened it to a Cadillac in a scrapyard. As chunks of concrete fell and its steel skeleton rusted, Barber declared “the highway that began life as a heroic symbol of the city’s progress is now just an overflowing traffic sewer.”

Among those Barber spoke with about alternative options was developer William Teron, whose company was covering over a section of the Boulevard Périphérique in Paris. Bringing his plan to municipal officials in 1990, Teron proposed an eight-lane Gardiner buried along the waterfront and a revamped, landscaped Lake Shore Boulevard. He promised to deliver the highway in less than three years and cover the $1 billion cost in exchange for development rights for housing and offices along the Gardiner’s former route, which Teron figured would recoup his costs. Naysayers included Metro traffic officials, who warned of cost overruns, overstatement of green space, massive traffic tie-ups during construction, and disruptions to TTC service.

Teron’s plan went nowhere, as did the succession of proposals that arose over the next two decades. Visions of a buried Gardiner emerging from both City Hall and various task forces and waterfront authorities came and went, scuttled by fears over cost, voter reaction to tolls, watching the extended Big Dig in Boston, and complacency. Among our favourite quotes was councillor Howard Moscoe’s reaction to a 1999 proposal where the builders of the 407 ETR would have managed a $2 toll per trip to drive through a tunnel: “a truly a pie-in-the-ground proposal.” As experts and city officials are confident there’s no danger of total collapse anytime soon, odds are good everyone will enjoy the elevated section for a long time to come. Once the concrete is shored up perhaps another recurring plan for the Gardiner will re-emerge: building attractions and/or businesses under it.

Additional material from the October 28, 1988 edition of the Globe and Mail, the February 9, 1999 edition of the National Post, and the September 30, 1983, September 13, 1989, April 24, 1990, and July 15, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. mel lastman vs. adam vaughan

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 8, 2012.

Shortly after becoming mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman was asked if he worried about his wife Marilyn’s verbal snafus. “All the time,” he said. “But I find it cute and if people don’t like it, too bad.” The same could be said of Mel’s odd outbursts, yet few found it cute when Lastman uttered a death threat against CBC reporter (and current city councillor) Adam Vaughan in May 1999.

Thanks to a police leak, it was an open secret among City Hall reporters that Marilyn Lastman was caught shoplifting a $155 pair of designer pants at the Promenade Mall Eaton’s on April 19, 1999. According to the police report no charges were laid “due to her age as well as no outstanding offences on her record.” Sources close to Marilyn believed the pressures of Mel’s job had resulted in depression and prescription drug use. The incident was kept quiet until the satirical magazine Frank published a story that declined to name either Lastman.

When some city councillors indicated that Vaughan, who had a testy relationship with the mayor, was sniffing around the shoplifting incident, Lastman assumed he was behind the Frank piece. On May 11, 1999, Lastman noticed Vaughan talking with councillor Kyle Rae in the council chamber and angrily approached him. “Before I could say anything,” Vaughan told the Star, “he burst in on me and said, ‘I’ve heard you’ve been talking about my wife. Stop talking about my wife. Leave my family alone. If you don’t leave them alone, I’ll kill you. I’ll write every letter I have to to the CBC to get you fired. Do you understand?’” The outburst earned stunned looks around the chamber. “No one likes being threatened, especially with death and firing,” noted Vaughan. “It shakes you up a bit.”

Lastman issued an apology to Vaughan later that day. The letter noted that “it was improper to have a private conversation with you in a public place. It was also a conversation inappropriate in tone and language. If you have been offended by our conversation then I am sorry for my words. I would like to sit down in private with you to apologize in person and to have an appropriate private discussion about the difficulties we have had.” That night, Star publisher John Honderich called Lastman to indicate that the paper would publish the shoplifting incident the following day.

Several city councillors defended Lastman, citing his recent stresses. Doug Holyday felt sympathetic toward the mayor’s problems and indicated he wouldn’t question the outburst. Brian Ashton determined that Lastman’s threat was no worse than “what schoolyard kids might do, or you might say when you stub your toe in the workroom.” Budget chief Tom Jakobek believed that the threat would not reflect negatively on the city, despite it being “not a good call on his part.” Rob Davis, who claimed he was asked by Vaughan about Lastman’s family, believed that Vaughan had not taken “the most appropriate action for reporters.” On the other hand, the Toronto Sun, one of Lastman’s staunchest defenders, criticized his outburst. “What Lastman did was wrong in public or in private,” noted a May 13, 1999 editorial. “If he can’t see why, he might want to reassess his future in public life.”

Following the incident, the Lastmans spent two weeks in Florida. When he returned, the mayor attacked Toronto’s media for being a pack of liars, pointing to Vaughan and his father, CityTV reporter Colin Vaughan, as among the most negative of the bunch. In the long run, Lastman’s relationship with the media deteriorated so much that the Sun, which once dropped Don Wanagas as a columnist for criticizing the mayor, allowed Sue-Ann Levy to mock him. As the Globe and Mail’s John Barber wrote when Lastman declined to run for another term in 2003, open contempt of the media “became one of the hallmarks of his reign—and reciprocal feelings among once-fawning journalists helped considerably to shorten it.”

Additional material from the May 12, 1999, May 13, 1999, and January 16, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 14, 1999 edition of the National Post; the May 12, 1999, May 13, 1999, and June 15, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 13, 1999 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the first indy

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 10, 2012.

Toronto Star, May 8, 1986
“The most expensive beer commercial in Canadian history unfolds this weekend on the grounds of Toronto’s Exhibition Place,” observed the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt on the eve of the first Molson Indy a quarter of a century ago. At stake for the brewer were $50 million worth of insurance and the wrath of Parkdale residents petrified that their neighbourhood would be left in shambles.

As back as the late 1960s, several attempts were made to bring a major auto race to central Toronto. Efforts in the late 1970s to hold races at Exhibition Place met fierce opposition from a Parkdale-centric citizens group known as the Anti-Grand Prix Coalition (AGPC) and city councillors like John Sewell (“it’s a stupid idea”). The AGPC reformed in the spring of 1985 when a proposal from Molson to run a CART Indy-car race gained momentum. As AGPC chair Susan Shaw told the press, “We put up a good fight then and we’re going to put up a good fight now.”

As in the 1970s, the AGPC feared the garbage, noise, pollution, and vandalism such an event could bring. While they failed to stop the race (which apparently raised cheers among some Parkdalians who saw it as a boon to the neighbourhood), AGPC succeeded in having the city address their concerns. Toronto City Council approved the race by two votes in July 1985 with several conditions attached: capping attendance at 60,000, a detailed traffic plan, tight noise controls, and the formation of a committee consisting of municipal and Molson officials, police, Parkdalians, and the TTC to oversee the event. Molson received permission for one year to run the race and was responsible for any resurfacing costs.

For two weeks in May 1986, there was a jurisdictional spat between CART and international sanctioning body FISA (Fédération Internationale de Sport Automobile), from which it split away in the late 1970s. FISA ordered its Canadian affiliate CASC (Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs) not to sanction the race and suspend any member drivers who participated. Once threats of legal action ended that tantrum, the operators of the Indianapolis 500 received a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court of Ontario prohibiting Molson from using the term “Indy” in event advertising. A week before the race, the court ruled in favour of Molson as it wasn’t satisfied that the Indianapolis Speedway would suffer irreparable brand damage and had used the “Indy” name for other Canadian races.

Globe and Mail, July 18, 1986
Back in Parkdale, residents prepared themselves for the three-day event, which began on July 18, 1986. The AGPC was satisfied with the consultations they had with the City and Molson but kept their guard up. One benefit quickly pleased them: the special attention police paid to illegal parkers. With only 3,000 spots available near the course, there were nightmares regarding traffic chaos despite pleas from race organizers to take transit. Over Indy weekend, 280 vehicles were towed away, mostly to a temporary lot on Abell Street.

Though residents were given a public-works hotline for complaints, it stayed cool. While there were complaints about noise and naughty patrons, the weekend went smoothly. Though the hum of Indy cars bounced off apartment buildings, an army of decibel meters revealed levels no worse than passing buses—AGPC official Bart Poesiat admitted to the Star that the race was less sonically disruptive than the annual CHIN picnic. Some residents profited by renting out their driveways and yards as parking spots, with rates as high as $10 per vehicle along Tyndall Avenue.

Apart from long waits by spectators to use the walkway to reach the inner section of the track and a first-lap exit by Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve, the first Molson Indy was viewed as a success. Before the drivers started their engines on July 20, Roy Orbison sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Though Emerson Fittipaldi earned the pole position and Danny Sullivan was coming off two CART victories in a row, the winner was Indianapolis 500 champ Bobby Rahal. Despite a lengthy penalty for passing the pace car on his way out of a pit stop, Rahal, who found the course “fun to drive,” flirted with the lead several times before taking it for keeps with only 12 laps left in the race. The worst injury was a broken ankle suffered by Mike Nish, though the Jaws of Life were required to extract him from his crashed vehicle near the Princes’ Gate.

The positive feelings participants felt toward the event were summed up by race car owner Roger Penske. “The people behind this track have done a tremendous job in putting it together and promoting the race,” he told the Star. “I just hope the people in Toronto realize what they have and that’s something special.”

Additional material from the November 1, 1977, June 13, 1985, July 17, 1986, and July 19, 1986 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the July 16, 1985, May 4, 1986, July 12, 1986, July 19, 1986, and July 21, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the wimpy awards

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on March 27, 2012. The number of burger joints, especially those with gourmet aspirations, has continued to rise since this piece was originally published. There's even a website (Tasty Burgers) dedicated to review the GTA's purveyors of ground round, or whatever they're tossing in the burgers these days. 

Illustration by Patrick Corrigan. Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.
It’s safe to say Toronto is currently hamburger crazy. Whether you prefer going to an old-school burger joint that retains its 1960s-era appearance, testing a highbrow patty made with gourmet ingredients, or joining the never-ending lineups at The Burger’s Priest, Toronto has rediscovered its love for a slab of ground meat loaded with every topping imaginable (though you still can’t get lettuce at Johnny’s in Scarborough).

Back in March of 1983, Toronto Star food writer Jim White felt the local burger scene needed recognition. Noting that there were so many awards for the arts, White jokingly told readers that to correct a “cultural imbalance,” the paper was launching a series of articles to hand out Oscar-style statuettes to worthy local eateries. To honour Toronto’s best burgers, White devised the Wimpy Awards, which honoured Popeye’s gluttonous pal.

White’s criteria for the Wimpys ruled out “anything pre-fab, served by clowns or named after someone like Harvey or Wendy.” Though he intended to focus on the burger alone, White discovered that “the décor, background music, and ambience of a burger joint can be just as important as the product.” As a control measure, a basic burger and fries were ordered at each restaurant in the competition, as “the quality of French fries colours one’s impression of the burger.”

Some winners from the Wimpy Awards, presented with little fanfare on March 16, 1983:

Best Burger for the Buck: the original location of Lick’s in the Beaches, then a narrow eatery with long lines, two tables, and six stools. For only $1.95, Lick’s served large burgers that White described as “superb and perfectly charbroiled.” He noted that “the only thing missing in this setting is John Belushi shouting ‘Cheezeburgah…cheezeburgah.’” No mention as to whether the chain’s singing schtick was already in place.

Most Expensive Burger in Toronto: For $10, patrons of the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel received a loosely packed patty served with a truffle-tinged artichoke, purposely-undercooked chips, and a bland tomato tart.

Best Staging for a Burger: At the Bloor Street Diner, diners enjoyed their meal amid a backdrop of “pink neon, high-gloss black lacquered trim and stainless steel table tops.” The burger itself had a quality most people would appreciate—it wasn’t “sinewy.”

Best Patty: The Hayloft at 37 Front St. E. offered a burger that was lean, juicy, flavourful, and extremely fresh. Unfortunately, White felt it was ruined by lousy condiments, mediocre bun, and fries that had been sitting around for a while. The server accidentally brought White a cheeseburger, which was topped with “a tasteless, carrot-coloured film to peel off as one peels dried rubber cement off the back of one’s hand.”

Best Burger in a Supporting Role: Both Mr. Greenjeans (Eaton Centre and 120 Adelaide St. E.) and Partners (836 Danforth Ave. and 765 Mount Pleasant Rd.) served their burgers in large wicker baskets filled with Buffalo chips and on what White considered the city’s best burger bun, a light egg roll prepared by Central Bakery.

Toronto’s Darkest Burger: The experience of eating at Toby’s Good Eats at 91 Bloor St. W. on even a sunny day was “like sitting in a cellar during a hydro black-out.” When the waitress told him to enjoy his lunch, White replied “we would if we could see it.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

radio waves and walking tours

Item: I recently appeared on Radio Regent's Dums Dums show, along with Adrienne Coffey from the Archives of Ontario, to discuss how to use archives. Listen to the podcast here.

Item: Along with fellow Historicist writer David Wencer and Heritage Toronto's Plaques and Markers Program Coordinator Michelle Ridout, I'll be leading a walk during Doors Open weekend (May 23-24). The subject: "Sport Stadiums and Lakeside Leisure: Playing Along the Waterfront"

Three walks will be conducted each day, at 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. I'm leading the 11:00 a.m. walks each day; Michelle will lead the other two Saturday walks, while David will guide the other two Sunday walks.

Want to come? Sign up on the Doors Open site for the slot that best suits your plans for that weekend! The meeting spot is Little Norway Park, located at the southwest corner of Bathurst and Queens Quay.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

toronto is fast becoming an apartment-house city

The News, April 27, 1912.
Also worthy of note, which I didn't edit out of this clipping: a silly story of the day (the man with the 39-letter last name); a typical example of how ads often looked like news items ("In Camp and Barracks"); and an announcement regarding appointments for what was eventually known as the Langstaff Jail Farm, where minor offenders (and some ill/poor seniors) were shipped to tend land until 1958.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

covering the assassination of abraham lincoln, toronto-style

Abraham Lincoln, 1863
April 15, 1865: the front page of the Globe featured its usual assortment of classifieds and diplomatic dispatches from Great Britain and elsewhere. It also contained the latest news from Hamilton, publication notices for two books, and an article offering advice from a former Torontonian on moving to California. Nothing particularly earth-shattering.

Not so the headline halfway down the first column of page 2:

Globe, April 15, 1865.
The Globe then outlined what it knew about the events at Ford's Theatre the previous evening, and gave this description of Lincoln's condition:
The President was in a state of synops, totally insensible and breathing slowly. The blood oozed from the wound at the back of his head. The surgeons used every possible effort of medical skill, but all hope was gone. The parting of his family with the dying President is too sad for description.
In a separate incident, an attempt was made on the life of Secretary of State William H. Seward, which led to fears for his life.

After stories about a warm greeting given to politicians George Etienne Cartier and Alexander Tilloch Galt in Halifax, and a flood in Montreal, the paper published an editorial about Lincoln and Seward. An excerpt:
In the absence of information as to the author of these bloody deeds, the class to which they belonged and the motives which influenced them, we are left entirely to conjecture. But it is not difficult to arrive at a probable conclusion on these points. Mr. Lincoln was remarkable for his kindliness, generosity, and uprightness. He was one of the last men we should have expected to see struck down by the hand of a private enemy. No harsh exercise of authority against an individual was at all likely to have led to his assassination. To an enemy of his public career, to one who was prompted by a desire to kill the President rather than the man, we must loo for the author of the bloody deed. The act was thoroughly pre-arranged; it was not that of a madman. The preparations for escape prove that fact...That a fanatical Southerner was the author of this deed will be the conclusion of almost everybody, and the object not difficult to discover. Mr. Lincoln is unquestionably the ablest statesman whom Providence has vouchsafed to the American people in the midst of their great struggle. His sagacity, his prudence, his firmness, and above all, his honesty, which compelled popular support and sympathy, made him a tower of strength amidst the tossing waves of the revolution.
William H. Seward
The paper had reservations about Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson:
The anxiety for his safety was unquestionably sharpened by the fact that the Vice-President, Mr. Johnson, is far from being, in all respects, worthy to fill Mr. Lincoln's place. His fiasco at the inauguration ceremonies is still fresh in the memories of our readers.* Mr. Johnson was chosen by the Republican Convention at Baltimore last year, simply as a compliment to the loyal people of the Southern States. He was unquestionably the ablest representative of a slave State who adhered to the Northern cause with entire devotion, and in their eagerness to show friendliness to loyal Southerners, the Republicans forgot that other qualities were wanting in the man of their choice besides fidelity and talent...Mr. Johnson is a self-made man, and we need hardly say that any one who rises from the workman's bench to the place of United States senator must possess great qualities both of head and heart. It is alleged that the conclusion which might have been drawn from his recent escapafe in the Senate Chamber as to his habits was erroneous. He is said to be a very honest, straightforward man, with much of the roughness of the Westerner which marked Jackson and Lincoln, and also a large share of their shrewdness and sagacity. Mr. Johnson is called to a great position at an important crisis, and we hope he may prove worthy of it. In one important respect he is all that could be desired. Casting aside early prejudices, he is a friend of emancipation and warmly sympathizes with the coloured race.
Then, the final summaries:
As a friend of peace on this continent we regret the loss of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, if it be decreed that both shall die. Mr. Lincoln was too wise to have been a party to a war with European powers and Mr. Seward, strong as was his language at times, is believed to have been throughout a true friend of England and of peace...The whole world will be shocked by these frightful deeds, and the cause in support of which they were undertaken will gain only a temporary benefit from them.

Front page story, Globe, April 17, 1865.
Following the usual Sunday publishing break, the Globe returned on April 17 with the death of Lincoln as its front page story. Reaction from across America was provided to readers.

Excerpt from page 2, Globe, April 17, 1865.
Page 2 provided further updates, including the news that Seward would recover. He continued on as Secretary of State in the Johnson administration. Among his later accomplishments: the treaty bearing his name which made Alaska an American possession in 1867.

* Johnson was reputedly hung over on inauguration day. His cure was more whiskey. He gave a rambling, nearly incoherent speech in the Senate Chamber as the opening act for Lincoln's second inaugural address.

Monday, April 13, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. take me out to the brrrrrr game

Globe and Mail, April 7, 1977.
This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on April 3, 2012. 

Fur coats, parkas, and snowmobile suits—not the garb traditionally associated with an afternoon at the ol’ ball game. Yet for baseball fans at the Blue Jays’ franchise debut on April 7, 1977, heavy winter gear was necessary to endure snow and bone-chilling wind. Though many of the 44,649 attendees left Exhibition Stadium after the first inning to escape the inclement weather and to start bragging that they were there, those who stayed (“assuming they survive the pneumonia that is bound to set in,” noted the Globe and Mail’s Allen Abel) were warmed by the team’s performance on the field.

The team received over 200,000 requests for opening-day tickets. Some devoted fans of the old minor-league Maple Leafs franchise that left town after the 1967 season felt they deserved a place at the front of the line. According to George Holm, director of ticket operations, their letters were filled with declarations that the letter writers had attended all of the Leafs’ home openers and should be able to do the same with the Jays.


Toronto Star, April 5, 1977
Amid the huddled masses, fans bore Blue Jays souvenirs and memorabilia. The team gave Toronto-based Irwin Toys an exclusive license to market caps, glasses, gloves, and other items. Some of Irwin’s suggestions, like hip flasks and women’s panties, were vetoed by team vice-president Paul Beeston. “I mean, we’ve got a family thing here and the flask seemed a little inappropriate,” Beeston told the Star.

Yet some fans would have loved a Blue Jays flask for the first game. Besides allowing one to warm up with a nip of scotch, sneaking in a flask would have been the only way to enjoy any alcohol thanks to a beer ban at Exhibition Stadium enforced by the Ontario government. Despite fan pleading, provincial officials refused to lift the ban due to fear of the havoc drunk spectators might cause and the horror of exposing underage fans to beer. During the game, fans chanted “we want beer” while a plane flying overhead bore a message to Premier William Davis: “Good Luck Jays! Now Give Us Beer, Bill.” The taps weren’t turned on for another five years.


Toronto Star, April 7, 1977.
As beer-denied fans huddled while sitting atop the aluminum seats that, as sportswriter Stephen Brunt later noted, “perfectly transferred cold right up the spines of spectators,” the grounds crew used a Zamboni-like device to clear the field of snow. The game was only slightly delayed and, shortly after 1:30 p.m., fans rose as the 48th Highlanders played “The Star Spangled Banner” and a red-parka-clad Anne Murray sang “O Canada.” The pop star’s performance gave third baseman Dave McKay, the only Canadian Blue Jay, goosebumps. “I hadn’t expected to react like that,” McKay told the Star. “It was an emotional moment for me.”

The hero of the Jays’ 9-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox was first baseman Doug Ault. After Toronto’s first two batters struck out in the first inning, Ault hit a home run. As the Star’s Jim Proudfoot observed, “forty thousand pairs of hands were either slapped together loudly or waved in the air…and several thousand feminine hearts palpitated as the handsome Texan acknowledged all the applause while jogging in with the Jays’ very first score.” Ault hit another homer in his second at bat and drove in four runs total during the game. He acknowledged the support of the freezing fans, noting that they “really got me pumped up.”


Globe and Mail, April 8, 1977. Click on image for larger version.
The standing ovations Ault received would be among the few that season, as the optimism of opening day gave way to realism—an expansion team that would win 54 of 161 games.

Additional material from Diamond Dreams by Stephen Brunt (Toronto: Penguin, 1996), the April 8, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 5, 1977 and April 9, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star.

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.

Nope. 

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.