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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

paralytically modest museums department

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

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

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


The Globe, November 24, 1932


Monday, March 09, 2015

chatting before the wild party



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

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

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 471 bloor street west

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

off the grid: ghost city the bayview ghost

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

Toronto Star, March 22, 1981.

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

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

off the grid: ghost city - 203 yonge street

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

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

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


***

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

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, January 01, 2015

bonus features: new year's eve 1976

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

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