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.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

bonus features: george gurnett

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

In an opinion piece published on November 30, 1833 complaining about the rejection of his expense claims in covering the provincial assembly, Gurnett described his editorial policy for the Courier of Upper Canada. He avoids mentioning that the “the true interests of this province” he believed in tended to coincide with Tory/Family Compact policies:

In the management of our journal, we have never courted, or deferred to, what is usually called public opinion; neither have we courted the approbation of persons in authority, or in fact of any individuals whatever. Our sole object has been to promote to the utmost extent of our ability and our means, the true interests of this province; and in the pursuit of that object; we have advocated those principles which we believed to be most conducive thereto; those principles we declared clearly and distinctly, when we first appeared before the public some seven odd years ago.

Monday, February 03, 2014

wonder what a hold-up man thinks about after he is caught

Source: the Mail and Empire, March 11, 1922. Click on image for larger version.
An odd one-shot cartoon found on the crime and southwestern Ontario news page of the Mail and Empire. It appeared above the daily rundown of the previous day's proceedings at Osgoode Hall, none of which involved hold-ups.

The only story with a vague connection to this illustration concerned two mail robberies in Essex County. In the first case, five men pleaded guilty to charges of "conspiring to rob Herbert Jacobs of Government mail at Tecumseh on February 15th." Severn Laforet, a bank teller, confessed to plotting the dastardly deed in order to cover a $2,000 shortfall in his accounts. One of those involved in the heist was also charged with two other men in an attempted hold-up of a mail car in Amherstburg.

The oddest story from the Mail and Empire's crime blotter came from the Chatham area, under the headline "INJURED BY VICIOUS SOW."
Roy Beamish, a farm hand employed by Charles Stewart, of Harwich, was seriously injured about the hands and body when he was attaced by a vicious sow while endeavoring to take young pigs away from her.
It appears no charges were laid against the sow.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

jaywalking: the early years

I should be used to waking up to the radio blaring our glorious mayor's latest blunder. Should be, but it's still aggravating, maddening, and saddening all at once. That there are people who actually still admire the oaf is among the things that makes me fret about the future of humanity.

It appears our best mayor ever may have been ticketed for jaywalking last night. Which got me to thinking, especially after reading a story on the early history of jaywalking, when did the term first appear in Toronto newspapers? Cue a quick trip to the online archives of the Globe and Mail and the Star...

The answer appears to be two stories published a century ago. First, an item from the May 18, 1914 edition of the Star, which compares jaywalkers to another emerging menace of the automotive age, the joyrider.

Source: the Toronto Star, May 18, 1914.

The next day, the Globe published the following piece - less body, more headline:

Source: the Globe, May 19, 1914.

Friday, January 31, 2014

the toronto that wasn't department

Source: the Globe and Mail, March 19, 1976. Click on image for larger version.
"A master plan for Aquatic Park in Lake Ontario calls for expenditures of $26 million for a 5,000 seat ampitheatre, campsites, a wildlife area, fishing piers, and accomodation for 1,500 power and sail craft," opened a 1976 Globe and Mail article on future plans for the Leslie Street Spit. The plan also provided for the private sector to build attractions like hostels, hotels, and a "20-acre marineland park."

A Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority official noted that over 150 potential uses for the site were studied so that the proposed park would complement, not compete, with existing recreational facilities along the waterfront. Under the plan, the public would enjoy unrestricted access to 70 percent of the park's shoreline.

The article doesn't address the pressing concern of what to do with the quonset hut in the middle of the spit, whose naming rights were later claimed one fine April 1 by Spacing magazine.

Alas, you cannot go swimming in an artificial lake in the middle of the Leslie Spit, nor can you enjoy water rides at its mini-marineland, or shower after an overnight camping trip. I think the non-realization of this plan was a good thing, as the greenspace which evolved along the spit provides a temporary weekend escape from the hurlyburly of the city. It's a ideal place for a lazy day's bike ride or walk, to stare at the many species of birds who stop by for a rest, or guess where the debris along the water was carted in from.

Additional material from the March 19, 1976 edition of the Globe and Mail

Thursday, January 30, 2014

vintage toronto media infighting department

When reading Toronto's early newspapers, you have to remember that half of what you're reading is either partisan sniping or satirical attacks. That little context is provided for most of these attacks can drive a researcher mad, unless you're already deeply immersed in the subject. Reading these stories at random can be a head-scratcher - you know it's supposed to be funny, but you're not sure why.

And then there are times when a great headline lures you into an attack piece. Take the case of the following headline I stumbled upon in the January 12, 1849 edition of the Toronto Mirror:

Death from Intense Cold

Naively, I thought Toronto might have endured a cold snap 165 Januarys ago similar to the new ice age we've enjoyed this month. Maybe this headline topped a tragic tale of a victim of deep freeze.


Instead, the story "mourns" a rival newspaper, the original incarnation of the Toronto Standard (whose modern-day namesake has endured its own deep freeze). I should note that the Patriot was another rival rag.

This story helps explain why if you flip through surviving copies of the Toronto Standard in the Toronto Reference Library's Baldwin Room, there aren't any editions past number five.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

great moments in toronto transportation history

Source: The Telegram, October 14, 1961. Click on image for larger version.
An amazing fact: if this was the first accident on the DVP, it occurred a month-and-a-half after its first section (Bayview/Bloor to Eglinton Avenue) opened. Were drivers that much more careful in 1961, or was it plain old luck that nobody else had spun out or suffered a fender bender?

If you're wondering when the DVP experienced its first traffic jam, the answer is: August 31, 1961, the day it opened. Star reporter Fred Hollett was brave enough to experience the DVP's first evening rush hour.
I rode the new five-mile section of parkway yesterday during its first evening rush-hour. And it was a five-minute trip from Dreamsville to Nightmare junction.
Dreamsville was the Danforth Ave. entrance to the parkway, where I had all three lanes to myself for nearly a mile. Nightmare Junction was the Eglinton Ave. exit where hundreds of motorists celebrated the parkway's official opening with one of the worst traffic jams in Metro history.
Eglinton Ave. during rush hour is usually jam-packed. The parkway traffic just increased the pressure. There were so few cars at the Danforth end of the parkway I could have sat down in the middle of the road and boiled a three-minute egg. At the Eglinton end the only things boiling were motorists and radiators.
Hollett suspected the south end of the highway was empty because motorists couldn't figure out where to enter it from either side of the Bloor Viaduct.

Additional material from the September 1, 1961 edition of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE: It appears Brian Ferguson wasn't the first driver to get into an accident on the DVP, though he may have been the first under normal circumstances. During the opening procession, Toronto alderman Joe Piccininni smashed a taillight while trying to make a turn. Thanks to Chris Bateman for this piece o' information.