Thursday, August 27, 2009

1,599: yesterday's papers



Part of the fun of preparing historical columns is reading the other stories that share space with the subject of my research. These side items sometimes provide the seed for a future column. For example, while researching last weekend's Historicist column about the move of Campbell House, I found an odd Eaton's advertisement that I turned into a Vintage Toronto Ads post. I also discovered a number of stories about local landmarks that were celebrating their grand opening, mired in neighbourhood battles, or proposing actions that never happened. While I may be able to turn these into long essays someday, a couple of them were too good to leave alone.

In short, welcome to a new feature on this blog. The material will mostly be from Toronto papers, but anything's fair game. Rather than drag out this introduction, let's dive right in...

***

"Resident says 95% against turning rail line into park"
Toronto Star, July 18, 1970


In early July 1970, The Toronto Planning Board recommended that a three-mile long abandoned Canadian National Railway line once known as the Belt Line should be bought by the city for use as a bicycle/pedestrian trail. Local NIMBYs soon made their opinion known:

Bernard Barrett, who said he represents Chaplin Cres. residents, said they have joined 98 homeowners west of Bathurst St. who earlier protested a park would encourage vandalism and immorality in the area. They will ask city executive and officials at a public meeting at City Hall Wednesday to let them buy the CNR land to extend their back yards?

So which was the real motivation behind those protesting the trail: fear of the outside world intruding on their domain, or visions of a land grab?

The trail triumphed—the Kay Gardiner Belt Park provides a pleasant means of travelling from the north end of Forest Hill to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Have never noticed a significant amount of immorality while following the path.

***

"Massey Hall asks city for new site"
Toronto Star, August 6, 1970


After a consultant's report in 1967 suggested that the venerable venue was beyond modernization, Massey Hall trustees looked toward building elsewhere. They found that the city's Executive Committee was "very sympathetic" to requests for donation of land for a new auditorium. The preferred site was the southeast corner of King and Church.

The move never happenned, though I wonder if a Massey Hall at the proposed location would have eventually tied in or taken over the programming at the St. Lawrence and O'Keefe Centres.

***

"Few squares left Dennison fears"
Toronto Star, August 6, 1970


Square dances and polkas may be going the way of dry Sundays in Toronto. Mayor William Dennison today called for attendance figures at this summer's concerts, square dances and polkas.

Does anyone have current attendance stats on city square dances?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

1,598: you're listening to cfru, 93.3 fm in guelph

I recently flipped through a long-abandoned index of mix tapes and stumbled upon a milestone that happened ten years ago today—the last weekday afternoon radio show that I hosted in Guelph. The excuse I need for a long entry on my broadcasting days...

***

You might say I would wind up on the radio one way or another. As a kid I taped mock radio programs on my Fisher-Price cassette recorder, complete with fake ads and song intros. I imagined it would be fun to have a studio at my disposal, with an endless tower of records to play in a WKRP in Cincinnati setting. The radio station was always the same (CHJZ - no idea what the letters stood for), as was the advertiser ("Harrison, we're the quality people"), who sold ACME-like products with a gravelly-voiced pitchman named Doc.

***

I first volunteered at CFRU early in my first year at U of G. I figured that organizing the scattered stacks of vinyl in the station's record library would give me a good idea of what the station had to offer. Within a few months I looked into training for going on air, but was told by management that I couldn't do a freeform show and had to work within a niche—several were suggested (punk, rap, world), but none were in genres that I knew in depth. Still, a challenge was a challenge, so I thought about what could work...until it was also made clear by one of the station's programmers that my lack of minority status of any sort would probably prevent me from getting a show.

There was little use in sticking around when the welcome mat wasn't being rolled out.

I didn't step foot in CFRU for over a year-and-a-half. By the summer semester between my second and third years, station management had changed and projected a more welcoming attitude. Needing something to occupy my time, I gave my original plan a second try. Returning to the record library, I spent several months reorganizing the collection. As Christmas of '96 drew nearer, I was allowed to fiddle with the mixing board and reel-to-reel deck in the off-air studio. I was soon off to England for a semester, where I worried for a time that being away for several months would leave me at square one whenever I returned.

These fears were groundless. Within a few weeks of returning to Guelph, some brave soul decided I was ready to go on air. After a few weeks of filling airtime in odd slots, I received a weekly two-hour slot. Freeform was A-OK by this point—my pitch involved playing records from the library that hadn't appeared to have had a good workout in years. As long as I didn't play any contemporary top 40 hits and filled the CanCon requirements, everyone was happy.



All that was needed was a name. The winner was derived from a recurring SCTV skit where Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas played organ salespeople. For the next two years, listeners were treated to "everything including the kitchen sink" on JB's Musical Warehouse and Curio Emporium. CBC's Nightlines was the show's main inspiration, with themed sets and a taste for cheesy guilty pleasures. There were occasional album spotlights and passages read from books to provide context for the tunes on the playlist. The creative energy I had felt building inside while I was in London now had an outlet and I was going to ride on it as long as possible.

***

During my first show, the lone request was from a pre-teen who wanted to hear the Spice Girls. Since the station's mandate was to be non-commercial, I had to break her the bad news that we didn't have any. This came as a relief, since I had just endured four months of constant exposure to the Spices in the UK.

There was one running joke when it came to requests. My friend Brad occasionally phoned in to hear the Alan Parsons Project, partly because he liked them, partly because he knew how I loathed most 1970s prog rock. We'd laugh before moving on to another choice, though once I surprised him by digging out a dusty disc.

Callers kept me amused whenever I hosted a late night fill-in slot. The timeslot attracted drunks and stoners, and it wasn't unusual to have listeners ask for the same tune two, three, even five times in a row (usually whenever I played tracks from The History of Vancouver Rock Volume 3). One store owner requested a disc of shows from the show. I even had a brief fling with a listener who liked my voice, which luckily didn't end as a remake of Play Misty For Me.

***

Digging through the station's archives was like being a kid in a candy store. Sampling reel-to-reel tapes stored in containers that predated me. Finding a mini-reel of pun-heavy federal customs ads from the 1980s warning about the dangers of carrying drugs abroad. Concept albums about maple syrup with university folk ensembles. Obscure off-Broadway musicals where the lead instrument was autoharp. Eight-track carts asking if nuclear plants and salmon could co-exist. Rare 1960s Canadian rock albums. And so on...

***

During the summer of 1998, government funding opened up a couple of temporary jobs at the station. I spent two months as a fundraising coordinator, researching new methods of raising funds during the station's annual pledge drive. The job didn't demand much, so I spent most of my day working on other things around the station. The experience was most useful as a prelude to working at the Ontarion, as I had a sneak preview of the politics and personalities that rarely produced a dull moment on the second floor of the University Centre. The low point came during a staff meeting where one annoying summer hire kept shutting down or flipped the bird other staffers they disagreed with. I reached my breaking point with the nonsensical arguments and had a rare volcanic eruption, yelling "STOP IT!" at the top of my lungs before fleeing in tears (at this time, I feared if I said the wrong thing to the wrong person, I'd be put through the ringer and have some sort of "oppressor" stigma attached to me that wouldn't allow me to work in other campus organizations). I ran into my office, where one of the other coordinators helped me regain my composure with calming words. Just as I was almost back to my usual state of mellowness, the annoying employee walked in and made a snarky comment. It was the wrong moment to do so, as the anger came roaring back and I yelled something along the lines of "I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR BULLS**T!" The recipient warned me never to come near them again, which was fine by me.

***

I taped many of the shows, but often found myself hitting fast forward when my voice came on. I've never been too comfortable hearing playback of my yakking, but I figured the tapes would be something to treasure in the future. It may have also been a case of not wanting to obsess over flaws in my on-air delivery that Dad pointed out, such as a tendency to say "um" or "uh" a lot.

Don't let some of the events I've described give you the impression being on the air wasn't fun—I enjoyed every moment of it. New worlds of music opened up, especially 60s rock from Brazil and Quebec. Anytime I received a positive call or a staffer walked into the studio with a wide grin, it boosted my confidence and made me feel good that somebody's day was lightened up for a second.

***

Like many good things, my DJing career came to an end. A new job in Toronto meant no more weekday show. I was offered a late night slot, but figured the commute would leave me sounding like a dead man on the air. So, after two years on the air, JB's Musical Warehouse and Curio Emporium closed up shop on August 26, 1999. Since I had already started working in my new habitat, the final show was pretaped onto two sixty minute cassettes. The playlist below comes from the tape index—an archaeological dig is required to find the tapes, so I can't say at the moment what my final words of wisdom were.

I continued to do occasional fill-ins over the next few years, then hosted a late night shift on alternating Fridays over the summer of 2004. The enjoyment level was still there, but my earlier fears about energy proved true as I nearly dozed off while driving back to Toronto at two in the morning.

***

Hour One
Nardwuar Versus Gilligan -NARDWUAR/BOB DENVER
To It And At It - STOMPIN’ TOM CONNORS
Julianna - PAUPERS
Rainbow Of Fire - COLLECTORS
The Jungle Line - JONI MITCHELL
Beerbash - RHEOSTATICS



Boot To The Head - FRANTICS*
Piece of Crap - NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
Zig Zag Wanderer - CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
Hobo Chang Ba - CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart - THE MOVE



Blackberry Way - THE MOVE
Flowers In The Rain - THE MOVE
Night Of Fear - THE MOVE
Cherry Blossom Clinic - THE MOVE
Desculpe, Baby - OS MUTANTES



Fugua No. II - OS MUTANTES
El Justicero - OS MUTANTES

Hour Two
Across 110th Street - BOBBY WOMACK & PEACE
Fantasy Is Reality - PARLIAMENT
Funky Woman - PARLIAMENT
Pusherman - CURTIS MAYFIELD
I Walk The Line - JOHNNY CASH



Heartaches By The Number - RAY PRICE
Good Hearted Woman - WAYLON JENNINGS
Old Corrals & Sagebrush - IAN TYSON
I Will Dare - REPLACEMENTS
Summertime - OSCAR PETERSON



I Learn A Merengue, Mama - ROBERT MITCHUM
Eve Como Yo - MACHITO & HIS ORCHESTRA
007 (Shanty Town) - DESMOND DEKKER
Summer Side Of Life - GORDON LIGHTFOOT
Stuff Up The Cracks - MOTHERS OF INVENTION

* The "Boot to the Head" song was played on the air, not any of the various skits that employed the phrase

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

1,597: vintage chatelaine ad of the day

Vintage Ad #891: Do You Buy Blue Bonnet Margarine Because of the Text-Heavy Ad?

Watch out for that text about to crush your head!

Since Chatelaine was a large-format magazine until the early 1970s, this was an ad I had to piece together like a puzzle—like most consumer scanners, mine is built for documents not much larger than 8-1/2 x 11, which makes dealing with old issues of Life, Look, Maclean's, etc. like playing with a jigsaw puzzle. Given the spacing of the text, this ad was easy to reassemble, though I resisted the temptation to play around with it in Photoshop so that the mountain of text posed a greater peril to the unsuspecting margarine consumer.

Source: Chatelaine, July 1970 - JB

Monday, August 24, 2009

1,596: photo du jour

Bicycle at the Spit at Night (3)

Bicycle at the Spit at Night (3a)

Taken at the Leslie Street Spit, August 22, 2009. Bottom photo altered by selecting "auto color" in Photoshop. - JB

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1,595: warehouse clown department

Vintage Ad #888: CLOWNS! CLOWNS! AAAAAHHHH!!!

CLOWNS! CLOWNS! AAAAHHHH! The boy in front is keeping his cool in the face of clowns preparing to promise him a balloon and floating paper ships, have him as the main course for dinner, or other nefarious deeds.

Phobia of clowns wasn't a childhood problem, as encounters were few and far between. I even went out as one for an early Halloween outing, with emphasis on cute over scary—no grotesque face, just dabs of red on my cheeks. The only time I was disturbed by a clown-like figure occurred when I was barely school age. It happened on the lone trip Dad and I made to the CNE without the rest of the family, which also provided my first long distance train trip on the Windsor to Toronto run. Wendy's had a booth on the grounds with a woman dressed as the burger chain's mascot (the chain had been in Canada for a few years—its 500th store opened in Toronto in 1976). As we approached her, unease set in. Something about a girl with yarn for hair, an old-fashioned dress and bright red cheeks didn't register well. I don't remember what happened next, though it likely involved screaming and a quick retreat to my grandparents' place.

Source: National Geographic, May 1967 - JB

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1,594: photo du jour

The View From the Tip

The view north from the tip of Point Pelee. The trek to the southern end of mainland Canada was longer than last year, though the tip's length is not back to the length it had years ago when it took a long hike to reach a long-gone viewing platform.

(Speaking of things long gone at Point Pelee, does anyone know where one may find the cartoon featuring aliens curious about the formation of the tip that ran in the park's visitor centre for years?)

Irwin Allen's Tip!

For comparison, here's how the tip looked two years ago. The rocks in this picture are found at the edge of the forest in the top shot.

Top photo taken August 3, 2009, bottom photo July 1, 2007.

***

PS: Several new posts on Torontoist, including two SummerWorks reviews (Actionable and Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry), a vintage ad celebrating the ninetieth birthday of the Music Hall theatre, and tasty finds on an edible tree tour. - JB

Monday, August 17, 2009

1,593: vintage monthly detroit ad of the day

Vintage Ad #875: Wonderland Mall Has it in the Bag

Alas, Wonderland Mall's bag was full for only two more decades. The shopping centre closed in 2004 and was demolished to make way for a big box centre with the more genteel moniker of Wonderland Village. I have never been to either incarnation—we never spent time in the western suburbs of Detroit when I was a kid, and Dad and I rarely ventured through Livonia during our exploratory drives around southeast Michigan. Since any stores or services were available in the suburbs we usually went to (Southgate, Taylor, Troy, anywhere with "Heights" in its name), there was little reason to go wandering through the west.

Water Winter Wonderland has a lengthy piece on the birth and death of Wonderland.

Also in the July 1985 issue of Monthly Detroit:

* A cover story on longtime Detroit Free Press columnist Bob Talbert, the source of at least one quote I've used on this site ("outta my mind on a Monday moanin'").

* Interviews with author Elmore Leonard and 1960s radical John Sinclair.

* A sampling of thoughts from Detroiters on what the Fourth of July meant to them. Fireworks, patriotism and picnics were the dominant themes.

***

The same issue is the source of this week's vintage ad on Torontoist, where Detroiters are encouraged to come to Toronto and "Discover the Feeling!" - JB

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

1,592: tape from california 10: talk to me of mendocino



Through the Forest on California 128

My last day in California proved to be the only one during the trip where I made a major miscalculation in terms of distance. The goal was to drive from Ukiah to Coos Bay, Oregon, where I prebooked a room at a casino (it seemed the best option when scouting hotels online). All I had to do was drive back to the coast and be on my merry way northward.

Miscalculation #1: the amount of time required to drive to the coast. The highways between Ukiah and Mendocino are scenic (see above for a shot from California 128), but their winding nature took longer than anticipated—just over an hour to the ocean.

Mendocino Hotel

Once I arrived, I wandered into Mendocino, which was in the midst of Heritage Days. Despite hordes of people, I couldn’t resist the lure of the landscape, even as I couldn’t shake Talk to Me of Mendocino out of my head.

No Yogurt Today

It's always important to know where you won't find yogurt in an unfamiliar town. Mendocino was a magnet for unusual vehicles adornments that day...

Just What the License Plate Says Somebody Been Reading a Little Ayn Rand?'

...attracting pessimists and Ayn Randians. The town felt quirky, with its cottage-like homes, collection of wooden towers and other slightly-out-of-present-time vibes.

Driftwood Architecture (1)

Below the town, the beach hosted several fine examples of driftwood architecture. The cliff in the background was made of rock that easily flaked off, which I imagined would be ideal for kids playing on the beach who needed building tools or decorative elements for their sand castles.

Cave by the Beach (2)

Had a canoe or kayak been strapped to the Grand Marquis, I would have attempted to drift through this tunnel in a heartbeat.

Miscalculation #2: the last portion of Highway 1 proved the most irritating. Despite the natural beauty of the tall redwood forest, it grew monotonous. The last 10-15 miles took a hour to drive, with the steady parade of tight turns and lack of railing doing a number on my nerves. Given the sharp drop onto the forest floor, I’d have to be paid enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life in order to drive this stretch at night. And yet other drivers continued to pass me...

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (1)

Relief came at the end of the highway, when I arrived at the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett. After I handed over five dollars, the park attendant warned me to turn in the rearview mirrors, which I had no clue how to do. Fears of future arguments with Budget officials crept into my head.

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (3)

Approaching the tree...

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (4)

...almost through...

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (6)

...success! Time to watch others pass through! For a perspective on how large this tree is, check this picture.

Confusion Hill Sign (2)

Concerns about time prevented me from doing little more than snapping quick photos of the tacky tourist traps north of Leggett along US 101. Sorry to disappoint those of you who hoping for shots of chipalopes—will non-touristy grazing elk suffice? I felt like I was back on childhood drives on US 12 through the Irish Hills west of Ann Arbor.

Trees of Mystery - Paul and Babe

I stopped to say hi to Paul and Babe in Klamath. I asked for advice on where to eat, but they admitted they couldn't pass on any information after closing time at the Trees of Mystery.

Beachcomber Restaurant - Parmesan Halibut

I ate dinner at the Beachcomber in Crescent City. The house specialty was Parmesan Halibut, whose fine crumb coating was tasty but should have been served on a smaller plate to make the skimping of sides less obvious. At least it came with a creamy bowl of dill-topped clam chowder and a small square of bread pudding.

Sunset at Crescent Bay (2)

Miscalculation #3: But night was now approaching and I soon realized the trip to Coos Bay was going to take a few more hours. I kept my fingers crossed that dinner would keep me alert enough to finish the day's driving.

Welcome to California Welcome to Oregon (2)

Before the sun made its final exit, it was time to say goodbye to the Golden State and hello to Oregon.

Sunset on US 101 (1)

US 101 stayed close to the ocean, which made for a beautiful sunset. I pulled off the road, set my mini-tripod on the roof and clicked away.

I reached the hotel around 11, just in time for a brief dip in the pool before passing out in my rustic-themed room. Glad to be settled, but I knew if I ever did this trip again, Arcata or Eureka might have been better spots to spend the night to allow more time to explore one log cabins and other kitschy mysteries.

Full set of pictures. All photos taken May 24, 2009 - JB

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

1,591: "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

Was a culinary curse at work while I spent a week back at the family homestead? You be the judge...

Sunday: On the way back from a family daytrip to Toledo, we planned to eat dinner at Quatro's in Monroe. Not the cheapest place to dine, but it always had a good selection of meat dishes and special touches like an extensive Weight Watchers-friendly menu. We sensed something was amiss we approached the parking lot and failed to see a single vehicle. The worn exterior looked as if it hadn't welcomed diners since our last meal there. We didn't bother to pull in to see if there was a sign on the door indicating what had happened and drove on to another family favourite, Salvatore Scallopini in Southgate.

A search of the web doesn't provide any answers as to what happened to Quatro's, other than hints a management change had caused a drop in quality. We guessed the economy of southeast Michigan may have helped do it in.

Monday: After spending the day with Amy and Gavin at Point Pelee, we planned to meet Mom for dinner at Shin Shin, our usual haunt for Chinese food in Windsor. We arrived to find the "Closed" sign hanging and a note. Luckily it wasn't a repeat of the Quatro's experience—the closure was for a month-long holiday. We wound up at Tunnel Bar-B-Q, which I don't think I had eaten at since high school other than take-out desserts. Given the luck we were having with restaurants and TBQ's ownership and financial issues in recent years, it wouldn't have shocked me if something had suddenly happened to the venerable establishment. Though the menu has been updated, most of the elements I remembered remain: top-notch side ribs, old-school frozen krinkle-cut fries and over-the-top desserts (it's probably a good thing I rarely indulge myself with a slice of their chocolate torte, which I occasionally requested for my birthday).

(For a idea of what TBQ looked like in its early days, check out International Metropolis.)

Tuesday: Something I never expected to see in Amherstburg has popped up: a sushi bar. Mom had heard through the grapevine that it was good, so Sarah and I decided we were going to bring a few rolls home for lunch. We drove over...and discovered it was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. By now we figured the food gods were feeling mischievous.

Thursday: On the way back to Toronto, we stopped at roadside stands along old Highways 3 and 18. As we neared Blenheim, we needed a rest/drink stop, which the 7-11 had often provided. As we were about to pull in, a shocking sight awaited us.

Bye Bye Blenheim 7-11

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

The word was drawn slowly out of my mouth, like a character about to crash in an action movie or cartoon. I repeated it once or twice, much to Sarah's amusement. The 7-11 I'd stopped at for years was now an empty shell. No satisfying my Slurpee addiction this time.

We pulled into the Tim Horton's across the road.

The tally: one permanently closed restaurant, one restaurant on an extended vacation, one restaurant taking a day off, one convenience store that no longer handles argumentative lottery players.

Monday, August 10, 2009

1,590: sum, sum, summerworks...

2009 SummerWorks Banner

Back in summer theatre-going mode this week, thanks to this year's edition of SummerWorks. As with the Fringe, I'm contributing to Torontoist's coverage...starting with Red Machine: Part Two.

Photo taken outside the Factory Theatre, August 8, 2009 - JB