Saturday, December 22, 2012

at the coffee house

At The Coffee House

Found this cartoon while researching this weekend's edition of Historicist. I can sympathize with the frustrated diner -- a couple of months ago a friend and I experienced a lengthy delay at a Corktown brunch spot we had liked. Over an hour passed before we discovered our order had slipped through the cracks.

Usually the 100-year wait while dining in Toronto is for the bill. I usually dash to the cash when it's time to go, regardless of the grumbly looks this occasionally inspires.

Source: the News, December 31, 1887.

Monday, December 17, 2012

bonus features: prudish about pinball

This post provides supplementary material for a Torontoist article about the evolution of Toronto's pinball machine regulations, which you should read before diving into the following text.

I began my research for the article by going back to the 1930s, when guardians of morality began pressing to curb or eliminate pinball machines. On my first run through the Star archives, one of the earliest references to pinball I found was on the kids page of the May 5, 1934 edition. Problem: it wasn’t the pinball I was looking for:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

past pieces of toronto: the paradise cinema

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. The following was originally posted on January 29, 2012. At this point, the column went from biweekly to weekly. This entry also seems like a good one to repost now with news that the Paradise has been sold.

Goodbye Paradise

Personal story: the first time I went to the Paradise was to see Robert Altman’s Nashville. The print was faded, but watchable; my seat was in rougher shape. The armrest was barely attached to the rest of the chair with either duct tape or chewing gum. While some people would have hightailed it to the nearest theatre with stadium seating, the improvised fix gave the Paradise a certain charm.

Opened around 1937, and known for a time as the New Paradise, it was a neighbourhood cinema that served the community around Bloor Street West and Westmoreland Avenue. Notes in the City of Toronto Archives indicate the Paradise suffered from its share of mishaps in the projection booth. When the theatre was built, it was quickly discovered the projectors were not aligned with the portholes looking out into the auditorium. In a letter to the Motion Picture Censorship and Theatre Inspection Branch, manager L. Jefferies reported that during the screening of the serial Daredevils of the West on December 9, 1943, “the film broke at a notched sprocket hole causing one frame to burn through the aperture. The operator was right beside his machine and, without the aid of a fire extinguisher, was able to stop the film from burning any further and, inside of one minute the picture was again on the screen, the projection machine not being damaged in any way.”

The Paradise passed through numerous hands over the years, including the Odeon chain. It appears to have closed briefly in the late 1950s, and was described as “junky and musty” after it reopened. It ran Italian films in the late 1960s and survived a fire in 1969 that required firefighters to cut two holes in the ceiling (it reopened within days). By the 1980s, as Eve’s Paradise, the theatre was a late convert to the trend of older cinemas-turned-porn houses.

When the Festival rep house chain took over in 1990, $250,000 worth of renovations were made that included fresh paint, reupholstered seats and the installation of a larger screen. The new operators promised “alternative and offbeat first-run films for people who think,” starting with Pedro Almadovar’s 1982 comedy Labyrinth of Passion. Toronto Star movie critic Henry Mietkiewicz felt the Paradise should have reopened with a more worthy flick than one from a filmmaker he referred to as “that Spanish schlockmeister,” but decided that the soft-core elements of the film were “perversely appropriate to the theatre’s recent past.”
On June 30, 2006, the screen at the Paradise went dark for the last time. A variety of problems, ranging from competition with DVDs and glossier theatres to owners considering retirement from the business, were cited for the closure of Festival Cinemas. While the Fox, Kingsway, Revue and Royal found new operators after varying lengths of inactivity, and despite an attempt to revive it in 2009, the Paradise remains shuttered. As long as the building remains intact, there’s always the possibility future cinemagoers will discover what miracle substance is holding their seats together.

Additional material from the August 17, 1990 edition of the Toronto Star. Photo of Paradise Cinema taken June 20, 2006 before one of its last screenings, Dr. Strangelove.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 in 1912

In honour of today being the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012, here’s a roundup of front-page headlines from a carefully selected batch (as in those I could get my hands earlier this morning) of Toronto newspapers the last time the calendar read 12/12/12:

The Toronto Daily Star

The only paper to acknowledge the significance of the date, which it called “a gala day for puzzle fiends and people of the class of who travel one hundred miles to see a century plant boom.”



The Star also wins the best headline of the day: “THE KING AND YONGE CORNER HAS BECOME A GUSTY SPOT.” Recent gale-force winds added to the problems of crossing King and Yonge in the shadow of one of the city’s first skyscrapers, the Canadian Pacific Building. “Ladies making the crossing looked in some particulars like the pictures of fishermen’s daughters down on the stormy strand, when they have lost hope for their loved ones in the fishing boats out on the raging seas.” The wind tunnel effect was so bad that a gust lifted a bicycle and dropped it in the middle of the road, where “it was rescued from a hungry trolley car.”

“WOMAN BEATEN TO DEATH IN HOME AT CEYLON, ONT.” – With the subheadline “SON SAW A STRANGE MAN IN VICINITY NEIGHBOR INTIMATES SOMETHING TO TELL.”

“LAURIER ADVOCATES A CANADIAN NAVY WITH FLEET ON BOTH OCEANS” – The pro-Liberal paper claimed that the rush to hear federal opposition leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier speak about recent naval policy “beat anything that had been seen in years. The police and gallery officials were driven half out of their wits to control the crowd which gathered. Women in furs and jewels were packed like sardines outside the gallery door an hour before the bells rang.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

past pieces of toronto: maple leaf stadium

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. The following was originally posted on December 16, 2011.

The paid attendance figure said it all: 802. A venue with a capacity of 18,000 that had once crammed as many as 4,000 more people than that into it was going out with a whimper. The sparse number of fans who witnessed the last baseball game at Maple Leaf Stadium on September 4, 1967 didn’t even have the satisfaction of seeing the hometown Maple Leafs achieve a final victory. A 7-2 loss marked the end of upper-level minor league ball in Toronto and 40 years of play at the foot of Bathurst Street. Ironically, the winning team, the Syracuse Chiefs, later became the farm club for Toronto’s long-awaited major league ball club.

Yet Maple Leaf Stadium wasn’t far removed from its glory days. Under Jack Kent Cooke’s ownership during the 1950s, the Maple Leafs were one of the best draws in minor league ball, with stronger attendance figures than at least two major league clubs. In addition to the competitive team that won four International League pennants between 1954 and 1960, fans were drawn by an endless stream of promotions. As Louis Cauz noted in his book Baseball’s Back in Town, “every night seemed like New Year’s Eve. There were fireworks displays and fan appreciation days. Music blared whenever there was a lull on the field and fans left the park with ponies, baseballs, bats, caps and long chunks of salami.” Not to mention car giveaways, leggy actresses and milking contests.

Plans for Maple Leaf Stadium began when club officials saw attendance drop at the team’s Hanlan’s Point home during the mid-1920s. Despite a winning team, delays ferrying ticketholders on and off the island discouraged fans. Team president Lol Solman found a solution nearby, where the Toronto Harbour Commission had reclaimed seven acres of land at Bathurst and Fleet from the lake. Designed by the architectural firm of Chapman and Oxley, who were also responsible for nearby structures such as the Crosse and Blackwell Building (now OMNI television), Palais Royale, the Princes’ Gates and the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, Maple Leaf Stadium only took five months to build.

Despite drizzle and temperatures barely above zero, over 14,000 fans witnessed Mayor Thomas Foster toss the first pitch on April 29, 1926. By the bottom of the ninth inning, fans were preparing to head home when the Maple Leafs, who were trailing the Reading Keystones 5-0, suddenly tied the game. Extra innings were few: a bunt by Toronto third baseman Del Capes in the tenth inning allowed outfielder Herman Layne to score. The victory was the first of many for the Maple Leafs that year: the team brought the International League pennant home to the stadium fans affectionately referred to as “Fleet Street Flats.”

By the 1960s, the stadium was viewed as a decaying relic unsuited for a step up in the baseball world. Though many baseball officials and sportswriters declared that Toronto was ready for the major leagues, Cooke repeatedly failed in attempts to lure new or moving franchises. Frustration mounted among fans; as Star sports columnist Milt Dunnell wrote in 1967, “Toronto regarded itself as a big league town. It refused to buy the minor league product any longer.” Both attendance and Cooke’s interest in the team declined. After Cooke sold his remaining shares in 1964, the owners who followed him struggled with disinterested fans, advertisers leery of promotions with little return, mounting municipal tax bills and battles with the stadium landlord, Toronto Harbour Commission.

The demise of Maple Leaf Stadium was swift. Despite interest from the likes of hockey Maple Leafs co-owner Harold Ballard, a month after the 1967 season ended the team was sold to interests who moved the franchise to Louisville, Kentucky. Demolition took place over the first half of 1968, which the Toronto Harbour Commission claimed was necessary due to fears that children who snuck into the decaying stadium would injure themselves. When the site was redeveloped for housing, one of the new streets was named Stadium Road in honour of the old ballpark.

Additional material from Baseball’s Back in Town by Louis Cauz (Toronto: Controlled Media Corporation, 1977) and the October 17, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Photo of Maple Leaf Stadium, circa 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 843.

Monday, November 12, 2012

e.t. phoned home, then complained to the toronto sun

etelliott



As I once wrote in a Historicist column, it was hard to tell if longtime Toronto newspaper columnist McKenzie Porter believed everything he wrote or pulled the legs of innocent readers. His columns for the Telegram and the Toronto Sun are full of head-scratching passages that are hopefully meant to be satirical. Ranting about pooping is definitely humorous, defending apartheid in South Africa less so. The absurdity of Porter's columns fits comfortably with the contrarion streak that has always filled the Sun's pages.

While researching an upcoming article, I came across this beaut of a Porter column about the movie E.T. It’s one of the oddest attacks of the Steven Spielberg classic I’ve ever read. The film’s problem? It caters to idiots who project human qualities onto animals and other beings!

Source: the Toronto Sun, August 6, 1982
Please, please tell me that last line about eugenics was a joke…

Friday, November 02, 2012

past pieces of toronto: albert britnell book shop

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. The following was originally posted on December 2, 2011.



The Starbucks at 675 Yonge Street isn’t your typical branch of the corporate coffee giant. The walls are lined with sturdy old wooden bookshelves while the floor is a checkerboard of black and white. Why this location is not like the others is hinted at on the fa├žade. Look up to the second floor and you’ll notice a legendary name in Toronto bookselling: Albert Britnell. The quality of the literature on the shelves inside doesn’t always match the standards the Britnell family maintained for over a century of book retailing, but it’s a nod to the building’s past that comes in handy while waiting for a friend or first date.

English native Albert Britnell entered the book trade by working in his brother John’s bookstore in London. Both brothers moved to Canada in the 1880s, bringing with them several hundred volumes. After working together for a time, Albert established his own bookstore at 240 Yonge Street in 1893 and quickly established a reputation as a purveyor of collectible books, especially Canadiana. As the Globe noted in 1924, “it was not an unusual thing on a Saturday afternoon to meet in the shop professors, judges, eminent counsel, leading ministers, and always some politicians.” Among early regular customers were prime minister Wilfrid Laurier and Ontario premier Oliver Mowat.

A letter sent to Star book columnist Kildare Dobbs by reader Stewart Cowan in 1973 gave a sense of what the store was like while the founder ran it. If the two clerks in the front were busy, Britnell “would hurry forward to serve you and if you didn’t have an interesting talk about books, the fault was yours, not his. The mere fact that you were seeking a book made you a person of importance. And I had a feeling he never forgot you after the first contact.”

Besides books, Britnell dedicated himself to the temperance movement. Unfortunately, he may have pushed himself too hard crusading against the booze demon: during an October 1924 meeting of the Womens’ Voters League regarding an upcoming plebiscite on alcohol, 60-year-old Britnell suffered a fatal heart attack (a contemporary account noted “the excitement had been too much”). The business was taken over by his son Roy, who purchased 675 Yonge Street in 1927 and moved the store there a year later. The story goes that to test the ability of the new location to handle the weight of so many books, Roy ordered the building contractor to drive a dump truck onto the main floor.

Known for his suits and spats, Roy Britnell also developed the store’s special-order system, which took advantage of publishing warehouses in the city to quickly find whatever a reader wanted. The system also allowed the store to display a greater range of titles, with only one or two copies of most books sitting on shelves. The shop also became a place for writers to sign their works or browse.

By the late 1990s, the store appeared to weather the rise of megastores like Chapters and Indigo. While other independent book stores in the city fell like dominoes, Britnell reported record sales in 1998. But the family was growing weary of the book business—one generation was ready to retire, the next wished to pursue other interests. After determining that it was unlikely any buyer would be able to both purchase the building and carry on the business, the family announced that the store would close at the end of March 1999. Britnell’s special-order business, which was responsible for 60 per cent of sales, was sold to Books for Business, who continues to use the name for its wholesale operations.

During the wind-down, the sign in front read “extinction sale.” Inventory depleted faster than expected, leading to the store’s closure a month earlier than anticipated—on the last day, one customer walked out with $1,000 worth of reading material. Newspapers were full of reminiscences, including writer George Fetherling, who told the Star “It was a charming place, a great institution, a link with Toronto that is not only lost physically but practically passed from memory.” The building’s next main tenant decided, design-wise, that link shouldn’t be totally severed.

Additional material from the October 17, 1924 edition of the Globe, the March 1999 issue of Quill & Quire, and the April 4, 1973 and January 29, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star. Photo of Albert Britnell Book Shop taken between 1966 and 1972 by Ellis Wiley, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 113.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

passing thoughts as halloween passes by

Quick, name things you feared as a child.

For me, it was comic books, films, or TV shows involving transformation sequences or body horror. These scared the beejezus out of me, even if the transformation was merely implied and not shown, such as a deceased Chevy Chase going back to Earth as adorable mutt Benji in Oh Heavenly Dog (a movie which scared Roger Ebert, for other reasons).  At home, I couldn't handle the transition from Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk.




Hearing the Hulk theme music was the cue to scoot elsewhere. Why this shook me up was a good question - maybe I thought it was horrifying that a poor schlep could turn into a raging beast, that he was going through something so unpleasant I didn't want it to happen to me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

bonus features: mount hope cemetery

This post provides supplementary material for a Torontoist article about Mount Hope Cemetery, which you should read before diving into the following text.


Source: the Globe, October 2, 1909
While death is usually a sad event, especially when it strikes suddenly, the way newspapers wrote obituaries in the early 20th century puts a smile on my face. After reading the Globe’s account of George Foy’s passing in 1909, I pictured a dark comedy sketch, where Mr. Foy is beaming while out on “one of these little jaunts.” He runs into the police officers, smiles, declares “Mr. Office, I believe I have been seized with a slight attack of asthma!,” then drops dead. Cue laugh track.

It’s the note about Foy’s “little jaunts” that seems so odd…funny…colourful...or maybe my perceptions have warped too much.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

past pieces of toronto: the sam the record man signs

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. The following was orginally published on November 21, 2011.

Lighting the Sam The Record Man Sign for the Last Time (2)

For four decades, solo or as a pair, the spinning neon records of Sam the Record Man were a Yonge Street landmark. Tacky to some, a reassuring sight to others, they lured music lovers into the store to linger. When the site was purchased by Ryerson University in 2007 part of the deal was that the discs would be remounted on the school’s new Student Learning Centre or a nearby building. Now that Ryerson President Sheldon Levy is having second thoughts about bringing the signs out of storage, there’s a strong possibility the only places to see them will be old photos, YouTube videos and SCTV’s parody of Goin’ Down the Road.

Entering Sam the Record Man was like visiting a museum of music history. The place had a ramshackle charm, with numerous expansions resulting in clashing decor styles and uneven floors. The walls of the older sections were filled with fading celebrity signatures. You didn’t dash in and out of Sam’s for the newest album you wanted; you spent hours browsing for hidden treasures, whether it was an obscure import, cassettes of bird sounds from Point Pelee or a Body Break CD from the bargain bin. As late as the 1990s the store’s warehouse reportedly had 30,000 78s in stock. As Dave Bidini summed up the Sam’s experience in a 2001 National Post article, “In a world that's changing too fast too soon, going to Sam's was to escape, to be swallowed in the bosom of the past, where discovery and adventure was part of life.”

Sam Sniderman entered the music business as a teenager when he began selling records in his family’s radio store on College Street in 1937, allegedly to impress his future wife. In 1961 he moved the business to 347 Yonge Street , where he set up shop two doors south of main rival A&A Records. As Sniderman noted in a 1967 interview with the Globe and Mail, “we’re friendly competitors, except that we’ll stab each other in the back whenever we get a chance.” By the end of the decade, Sniderman opened his first franchised store, located in the Golden Mile area of Scarborough, and erected the first of the iconic spinning records. They replaced a neon assembly that featured the store’s address number and a giant thermometer.

Over the next few decades, Sam the Record Man gradually expanded into three neighbouring properties. To the north, the store took over the site of one-time Gordon Lightfoot haunt Steele’s Tavern, which had served as a buffer between Sam’s and A&A and where the second spinning record was placed. To the south, the store crept toward Gould Street, swallowing up a historic CIBC branch. Sniderman also invested in other ventures that played off his store’s name, such as the Sam the Chinese Food Man restaurant, and built a chain that operated over 100 locations at its peak.

By the new millennium, Sam’s was in trouble. The business was slow to adapt to internet retailing and computing in general (Sam admitted he was a “paper-and-pencil guy”), while the rise in online file sharing took a bite out of sales. When Sam the Record Man declared bankruptcy on October 30, 2001, newspapers were filled with reminiscences of customers sad to see the store. The flagship store closed briefly after that year’s Boxing Day sale, but the records didn’t stop spinning for long—Sniderman’s sons Bobby and Jason reopened it in January 2002. They kept the store running for another five years until it closed for good in June 2007. A lone franchise carries on at Belleville’s Quinte Mall. The neon records spun for the final time during 2008’s edition of Nuit Blanche, then went into a hibernation that increasingly looks like a permanent rest.

Additional material from the February 11, 1967 edition of the Globe and Mail, the November 1, 2001 edition of the National Post, and the November 3, 2001 edition of the Toronto Star. Photo of Sam the Record Man taken by Jamie Bradburn, October 5, 2008. "Sam the Record Man" Sniderman passed away in September 2012.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

past pieces of toronto: the uptown theatre

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 .The following was the debut installment of the series, originally published on November 4, 2011.


Equipped with the latest in sound technology in its later years, the main auditorium of the Uptown was a great place to see films in which things go boom. As the action unfolded on the screen each punch or explosion reverberated in your seat. Such experiences, and the grand architecture and decor, made the demise of Uptown Theatre so painful: its final corporate parent refused to pay for wheelchair accessibility upgrade.
Loew’s Uptown opened on September 20, 1920 as a 1,600 seat theatre showing pioneering director D.W. Griffith’s film The Love Flower. As the Globe's E.R. Parkhurst reported, “it would be difficult to conceive of a theatre more admirably designed for the comfort of its patrons or better adapted for the enjoyment of the very best that brains, equipment and talent can provide in motion picture entertainment.” The opening gala saw appearances from leading lady (and Griffith’s lover) Carol Dempster, movie star/former Upper Canada College student Bert Lytell, theatre owner Marcus Loew, and Toronto mayor Tommy Church. A live orchestra was present, as it would be through the silent era until the Uptown became one of the first theatres in Toronto wired for talkies.

Following a fire in 1960, the theatre underwent renovations that, when officially unveiled to the public in 1962, the Toronto Star saw as a barely a nod to the new post-television reality of movie-going as a social occasion. “In New York,” noted Star writer Wendy Michener, “many houses serve coffee and have a really comfortable sitting-meeting-talking lounge. In Toronto, the only move in that direction to date has been the installation of hot-dog machines.” Perhaps theatre management sensed that Torontonians of the future would be able to snack on frankfurters anywhere downtown.

Shortly after the 20th Century theatre chain took over the Uptown in 1969, the cinema closed for four months as it was converted into a five-screen multiplex under the eye of architect Mandel Sprachman. Referring to his work on the Uptown and the Imperial Six further south on Yonge (now the Canon Theatre), Sprachman noted that “if I didn’t step in, those grand opulent cinema temples would be torn down and replaced with parking lots and high-rises. What I do is to give old cinemas a new lease on life. Architecturally speaking, I do my damnedest to help the old and new live together.” In the case of the Uptown, the result was a 1,000 seat main theatre for first-run spectaculars (starting with the musical version of Goodbye Mr. Chips), two other mainstream first-run screens, and the two “Backstage” theatres that specialized in art films. The complex was redesigned in eye-catching, playful pop-art influenced colours.

Over time, the Uptown became a key venue for the Toronto International Film Festival, especially as other Yorkville-area cinemas such as the Hollywood and Plaza closed their doors. When the Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered Famous Players to make the Backstage, Eglinton and Uptown wheelchair-accessible in 2001, the chain decided to close the historic theatres rather than incur the cost of required renovations. Famous Players cited a changing market and shifting demographics as the real reasons for the closures, but these were treated with skepticism in the press. The Backstage shut down immediately after the closures were announced in December 2001, and the rest of the Uptown lingered on until it took its final bow during the 2003 edition of TIFF. While the Eglinton survived as an event venue, the Uptown was sold to condo developers. Tragically, the theatre experienced a final burst of reverberating action during demolition work in December 2003 when a section collapsed onto the neighbouring Yorkville English Academy, killing student Augusto Cesar Mejia Solis.

Image: Uptown Theatre, interior, Cinema 1, circa 1970. Photo by Roger Jowett. City of Toronto Archives, series 881, file 169, item 2. Additional material from the September 21, 1920 edition of the Globe and the August 16, 1962 edition of the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

past pieces of toronto: the dominion coal silos

Starting today I am republishing the "Past Pieces of Toronto" column I wrote for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following article, though not officially part of the series, can be considered its pilot. It was originally published on October 11, 2011.

Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 125
 To some, they were a nostalgic landmark, a throwback to a time when Toronto homes relied on coal as home heating fuel. To others, they were a contemporary eyesore that should have been razed long before condos took their place. Regardless of one’s views, the nine storage silos that operated for 70 years by Dominion Coal and Wood at Merton Street and Mount Pleasant Road were a key visual element of North Toronto. The Dominion silos will be memorialized with a plaque from Heritage Toronto that will be unveiled in a ceremony at the site at 5:30 p.m. on October 11.

Designed by the E.P. Muntz Engineering Company, the concrete coal silos went into operation in 1929 with a storage capacity of 350 tons each. Along with the Milnes Fuel facilities at Yonge Street, Dominion Coal bookended a series of construction and industrial sites bordering the old Belt Line railway along Merton Street that served the growing population of Toronto’s northern edge. Dominion fought for the residential coal business in Toronto against long-established sellers such as Elias Rogers, and over a hundred
other licensed dealers who sold the black mineral by the sack-full. When a steep decline in home coal usage caused many of Dominion’s competitors to cease business during the 1950s, the company survived by latching onto the emerging do-it-yourself home construction market. By the mid-1980s, coal and firewood accounted for only 2 per cent of Dominion Coal’s sales, mostly to rural customers who continued to rely on old-fashioned stoves and furnaces. The company didn’t forget what built its reputation: in the 1990s, it received a merit award from Heritage Toronto for restoring the painted advertising that covered the silos.

A fresh coat of paint didn’t have much of a chance against rising land values and a site with an elevation attractive to condo developers looking to sell future residents on great views of downtown. When Dominion Coal president Bruce Chapman announced in May 1999 that the silos would close, he anticipated little resistance from the city in changing the zoning from commercial to residential as other properties along Merton Street had done. Before the last batch of construction material was sold that September, the site was purchased by Urbancorp, whose intent was replace the silos with two condo towers.
Local heritage agencies worked to preserve them. Already listed by the Toronto Historical Board as having “architectural and historical importance,” the site was granted a heritage designation that delayed redevelopment plans. City councillors debated the merits of salvaging any part of the silos. While local representative Michael Walker argued for discussions with the community about preservation, councillors like Mario Silva saw no redeeming aesthetic qualities in the structures—as he told the North Toronto Town Crier in December 1999, “I hate silos myself.” Silva felt they were “extremely ugly” and believed that “the neighbourhood would be relieved to see these silos finally go.” While Urbancorp argued about the excessive costs to build around the silos (which were considered too small to be converted into condos) and the test soil contamination levels around them, the developer devised several plans that allowed the historic structures to remain.

But none of those plans were enacted. By the time Monarch Construction acquired the site in September 2002, the silos had disappeared from the North Toronto skyline and the way was clear for the residences currently occupying the corner. One of the few reminders of their existence was found a few blocks north along Mount Pleasant Road in the window display at George’s Trains, where models of the silos were incorporated into the backdrop. Unlike George’s, which has moved on, the Heritage Toronto plaque will provide a permanent memorial and a space for people to debate whether creative reuses for the silos could have been implemented, or if they deserved their fate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

renowned editors of canadian newspapers: black jack robinson

John R. Robinson

Awhile back, I posted some browning profiles of prominent Canadian newspaper editors. Here's the last of the Toronto-related pieces, featuring long-time Telegram editor John "Black Jack" Robinson. As historian Jesse Edgar Middleton once noted, Robinson spared no mercy for municipal politicians "who showed signs of ‘wobbling’ or seemed unduly eager for self-aggrandisement."

According to Telegram chronicler Ron Poulton, the best description of Robinson was provided by longtime Mail and Empire/Globe and Mail columnist J.V. McAree, "who envisioned him hurrying through the streets with a gait like an Indian on the trail, eyes down, pockets stuffed with newspapers, coat everlastingly flapping. He sometimes passed his own daughters without seeing them. Friends who haled him were grabbed in passing and coaxed to keep up. McAree thought that Robinson was colour-blind to all shades between black and white. 'Either a thing was something to thank God for or it was an outrage.'"

His daughter Judith followed in his journalistic footsteps, joining the Globe the same year he died. During the 1930s she became a prominent political columnist, arousing the ire of the federal government for criticizing its heavy-handed attempts to censor the press during the early days of World War II. She ended up at the Telegram, serving as the paper's chief Ottawa columnist until her death in 1961.

Additional material from The Paper Tyrant by Ron Poulton (Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1971).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

north york welcomes you, 1965

Source: The Enterprise, September 8, 1965.

Just one of the odd little stories that catch my eye during a marathon research session, which in this case was conducted in the comfy confines of the top floor of North York Central Library. In terms of newspaper research, I prefer working at NYCL because it tends to be a little quieter than Toronto Reference (the exceptions being teenagers who decide it's the perfect spot to release their raging hormones and one frequent researcher unfortunately endowed with distracting verbal/physical tics) and certain older papers are not kept under lock and key. It also has a large selection of community papers from the north half of the city stretching from Don Mills to Weston, which have been valuable when researching suburban stories

I didn't look far enough in the future to see what the feedback on this sign was. I can't imagine a slogan like "progess with economy" excited too many residents. The "city with heart" branding used during the 1980s was far better, as it sounds less technocratic and more in line with what any good community aspires to.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ladies and gentlemen, mr. orson welles eats spaghetti

Orson Welles Eats Spaghetti

Source: a disintegrating copy of The Daily Mirror (overseas edition), April 7, 1953.

Friday, May 04, 2012

let's talk about being bullied, aka the rob ford story?

Cover to Let's Talk About Being Bullied

The cover caught my eye as it sat in a bin at Goodwill Buy the Pound in Scarborough: a large, blonde-haired bully about to give the beats to a bespectacled pencil-neck geek whose dog is afraid of what might unfold. There was something familiar about the bully, though it took a second to kick in.

Sweet jeezus, it's Rob Ford!

Flipping through the book, the resemblance grew with each page. I figured it was worth making a fifty-cent investment, since who knew when it might come in handy for a mayoral fiasco.

That opportunity is now. Wednesday night, there was a confrontation next to Ford's home between the mayor and Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale. Details are still emerging, but Ford's actions toward the media in the wake of the incident (such as refusing to talk to any City Hall reporters unless Dale is removed from the beat) reinforce his image as a bully to those who don't support him.

Which brings us back to Let's Talk About Being Bullied. Let's flip through and see how it might be interpreted as a biography of the mayor.

Friday, April 27, 2012

captain britain presents the fantastic four adventure game

Fantastic Four Adventure Game
Source: Captain Britain #28, April 20, 1977.

Sort this one out: a game page written and drawn by a Canadian for an American publisher who placed it in a comic book designed for the British market. You follow?

The game itself is pretty simple. If you're feeling bored, print out the full-sized version, grab the nearest die, and play a round or three.

Owen McCarron was an advertising director and cartoonist with the Halifax Chronicle-Herald whose feature Fun and Games was syndicated across Canada. A comic book fan, McCarron produced various giveaways that, according to John Bell's guide to Canadian comic book history Invaders From The North (Toronto: Dundurn, 2006), were "mostly full-colour comics that were distinguished by bold, engaging artwork and reasonably solid storylines." For  Marvel, McCarron produced Fun and Games pages like the one above and a series that ran 13 issues in 1979-80 with covers advising readers that "all you need is a pencil."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

the mail and empire on journalism schools, 1912


The journalism school that Toronto's morning conservative paper barely conceals its disdain for evolved into the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (though I agree that one doesn't have to sit in a classroom to learn the essentials of reporting). Seventy-nine budding scribes made up the opening class on September 30, 1912. Within five years, the school handed out its first Pulitzer Prize, which makes me wonder if the Mail and Empire later pooh-poohed the concept of journalism awards.

Source: the Mail and Empire, April 19, 1912.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

a british opinion on canadian wine, 1965

Penguin Book of Wines

One series of paperbacks I've picked up at fundraising book sales over the years is Penguin's food handbooks.  Small, rarely more than 50 cents a copy, and ranging in subjects from haute cuisine to proper freezing techniques, they're food guides designed for reading instead of gawking. Aimed at a British audience, there are occasional nods to North America, such as a brief look at our fermented grape industry in Allan Sichel's 1965 guide The Penguin Book of Wines.

Monday, February 06, 2012

vintage national geographic ads of the day

Vintage Ad #1,594: Caterpillar Discusses Forests

Anyone following the saga of Caterpillar's decisions to first ask its workers in London, Ontario to take a 50 percent pay cut, then close the plant may find dark humour in the ads we're spotlighting today. Back in the late 1970s, Caterpillar portrayed itself as a good corporate citizen interested in spurring debate on environmental and public infrastructure issues. A long series of ads in National Geographic explored topics ranging from road maintenance to water pollution. The tag line on all of them"There are no simple solutions. Only intelligent choices"probably sounds like a sick joke to those who lost their jobs in London.


There are a dozen more ads in this series on my Flickr feed.

Source: National Geographic, June 1977