Thursday, December 19, 2013

tales from the santa claus trenches of north york, 1972

Source: the Mirror, December 13, 1972. Click on image for larger, readable version.
Now that my apartment has more or less been cleaned up, time to sift through the mess of files on my computer. Buried in folders with titles like "Future Story Ideas," "Toronto Ads," and the vague "Misc.," are loose ends I've collected over years of research, waiting for their moment in the spotlight. Sometimes, the news cycle rewards the long waits these .jpg and .pdf files endure in the bowels of the Warehouse-o-matic 3000. Others are useless until the right time of the year rolls around.

Take the story above, a 1972 profile of North York's finest Santas. I suspect that any jolly old St. Nick 40 years on who gently but firmly tells a kid they're a greedy brat would receive a warning at the minimum, an escort by the security guard elves at the maximum.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

charming old codger department

Vintage Ad #530: Get that Jem Dandy Bounce with Geratex! 
Advertisement, Safari, March 1957.

There are standard tropes generations of newspapers have relied upon to fill up that tiny piece of front page real estate which no other story can stretch into. One is the "aw, isn't that 100-year-old-person cute!" trope. These tales often came over the wires, and had zilch to do with the city it was published in.

For example, take this tale pasted in the middle of the March 27, 1952 edition of the Telegram:

'Eye For Girls'
He's Not Old At 102

Galesburg, Mich - March 27 (AP) - "I still get a kick out of seeing a pretty girl," mused William Ridler as he observed his 102nd birthday today.

"When I don't any more, I'll know I'm getting old."
Imagine the Upworthy-esque headline were this published today: "If You Fear That Lust Fades With Age, This 102-Year-Old Man Will Change Your Mind."

Friday, December 06, 2013

bonus features: "we are confident that victory is in sight"

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I wrote several months ago, which I am revisiting in light of the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Front page, the Toronto Star, February 11, 1990. Click on image for larger version.
Note that amid the history-making headlines about Mandela's release from prison, a Toronto buffoon made his way to the front page. In this case, it's Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, who would pass away two months after this edition. 

Advertisement, Now, May 29, 1986.
The Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival proved controversial during its organizational stages. When the United Way announced the event in November 1985, it gained support from local business leaders. "Here's the time for this city to show where it stands," noted Xerox Canada president David McCamus. Yet there were criticisms that such an event over-politicized the United Way, stretching its mandate beyond distributing funding to organizations within Metro Toronto. "The festival is certainly a worthy cause," observed Star columnist David Lewis Stein. "But those who want to participate should do so as individuals and leave the United Way out. The United Way cannot be all things to all people." The Sun encouraged a backlash against the agency, who reduced its role from co-sponsor to supporter.

Also controversial was an anti-apartheid conference organized by the Toronto Board of Education in March 1986. Within the board, some trustees were uneasy about holding a conference based around the issue. Worried that the event would portray "whites as racists," trustee Nola Crewe was bothered about "teaching our children that it's only white people who do these things." Alternately, fellow trustee Fran Endicott criticized board chair Ann Vanstone for allowing a letter from South African ambassador Glenn Babb onto the board's agenda. Babb demanded equal time to present his government's point of view, hoping at a minimum the board would show a pro-government film. The board rightly refused to recognize the letter. Over the next two years, the left and right wings of the board battled over the content of similar conferences.

Friday, November 29, 2013

bonus features: kit's kingdom

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I recently wrote, which you should dive into before reading any further. 

If you're interested in sampling Kit Coleman's writing, the best compilation is Ted Ferguson's Kit Coleman: Queen of Hearts, published in 1978. Ferguson organizes excerpts from Kit's columns by theme, generally choosing her funniest bits. One major drawback of this book: no footnotes indicating which editions of the Mail or Mail and Empire the pieces were drawn from.

The last chapter offers a series of "words of wisdom" from Kit. Some of her advice seems quaint, some reveals her distrust of others, some only require slight tweaking to remain relevant:
The arrogance of youth would be unbearable if it were not so amusing.

Candor is a virtue for which women pay most dearly.

It is no use attempting to converse with cranks. As soon as you discover their crankism, fly.

Was there ever a friendship between two women that did not mean a plot against a third?

There is no more charming girl in all the world than she who is attentive to old ladies.

On the dunghills of life, we sometimes find the sweetest flowers growing.

Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

bonus features: next on tvontario, doctor who

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I recently wrote, which you should dive into before reading any further. 

Art by Ted and Pat Michener. The Toronto Star, September 11, 1976.
As much as I hate the new archives databases the Toronto Public Library uses for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star (a grocery list of reasons that would fill several posts), there are some bright spots. One is the inclusion of Star Week, which will be handy for researching television- and food-related articles. For this particular story, Star Week helped nail down Doctor Who's initial airdates on TVO. It also offered an interesting glimpse into Saturday night television at the dawn of the 1976-77 season. 

None of the shows spotlighted on Star Week's cover had staying power. Clockwise from top left:

Bill Cosby - Cos. Sketch comedy/variety show. Cancelled November 1976.

Tony Randall - The Tony Randall Show. Sitcom about a widowed judge. Only show featured on this cover to last more than one season, surviving until March 1978.

Nancy Walker - The Nancy Walker Show. Sitcom about L.A.-based talent agent. Cancelled December 1976. Walker quickly resurfaced as the star of Blansky's Beauties in February 1977.

Jim Bouton - Ball Four. Sitcom inspired by Bouton's controversial best-selling book about life as a pro baseball player. Cancelled October 1976.

David Birney - Serpico. Drama inspired by the Al Pacino movie. Cancelled January 1977.

John Schuck and Richard B. Shull - Holmes and Yoyo. Sitcom about a cop and his robot partner. Cancelled December 1976.

Dick Van Dyke - Van Dyke and Company. Sketch comedy/variety show whose cast included Andy Kaufman. Cancelled December 1976.

Robert Stack - Most Wanted. Crime drama. A Quinn Martin production. Last wanted in August 1977.

Monday, November 11, 2013

vintage korean war recruiting ads

Source: Toronto Star, August 9, 1950. Click on image for larger version.
During a recent research project, I found a handful of military recruitment ads from the early years of the Korean War, which feel appropriate to post for Remembrance Day. The Toronto personnel depot listed in these ads is long gone, having been converted to parkland in the early 1960s.

Friday, November 01, 2013

past pieces of toronto: yorkville town hall/st. paul's hall

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 July 8, 2012. 

This installment marked the end of the column - what was originally a summer hiatus turned permanent when the entire site wound down a few months later. A placeholder page still exists, optimistically claiming that the site is still on hiatus, but all of the content was pulled down. Fear of such a move resulted in this series of reprints. And yes, I was among those who were owed money for a time, though I eventually received it via dogged persistence. Apart from that ending, OpenFile was a good experience, providing another outlet for my writing.

When word came that the column would be suspended for two months, it was a relief. I figured I would take a breather, wand direct my energy toward other projects I was working on. When I took over "Ghost City" at The Grid soon after, it was clear that if the column came back, it required a new focus. A proposal to switch to a series focusing on people whose names graced neighbourhood streets, buildings and institutions was accepted, pending a review of OpenFile's freelance budget.

Two posts await revisiting, each bearing lessons I learned after they were published. Expect annoying forwards when they surface. But enough blabbing...on with the show!

St. Paul's Hall, formerly Yorkville Town Hall, 1907. Toronto Public Library.
Perhaps Yorkville has always had a taste for luxury. When presented with two designs by architect William Hay for its town hall in 1859, the councillors of what was then a separate suburban village picked the pricier plans. Was the extra money worth it? Probably, since the building they approved at the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Yorkville Avenue served the community well until its fiery demise during World War II.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

bonus features: the war of the welles

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I recently wrote, which you should dive into before reading any further. 

Source: the Hamilton Spectator, October 31, 1938.
CBC having control over all Canadian radio stations - imagine the field day Sun Media would have had with that fact had it existed in 1938!

"There is no doubt that [the] United States government will conduct an investigation, and we will leave it them," federal minister of transport C.D. Howe told the Globe and Mail. "We have very friendly relations with their communications commission, but on program matters we deal directly with NBC or Columbia [CBS]. We take the occasional program from Columbia, but it so happens that we had Charlie McCarthy on CBC last night when this broadcast was on Columbia." 

Monday, October 28, 2013

bonus features: lou reed's walk on the wild side, in toronto

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I recently wrote, which you should dive into before reading any further. 

Source: the Globe and Mail, November 14, 1966.

While the Globe and Mail ran a picture but no article regarding the November 12, 1966 appearance of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show in Hamilton, the Star did the opposite. For some reason, Nico's name was spelled ENTIRELY IN CAPS throughout Gail Dexter's review. A sampling:
The films are simple enough--The Underground and Edie [Sedgwick] and NICO and lots of black leather projected on a huge screen to intense rhythmic noise. The action builds to a sado-masochistic climax and then The Underground comes on stage.

The group plays with a persistent heavy beat so loud that the floor of the new gym vibrates, and they play for two hours with lights, films, and optical patterns flashing behind them. Songs like "Heroin" (it's my life and it's my wife) to which Gerard simulates a fix, and "Death Song for Hell's Angels" (shiny, shiny, shiny leather, whiplash girl-child in the dark) through which the dancer flagellates himself.

But NICO is the star. She's tall and blond and beautiful in a remote northern way. She played herself in Fellini's Dolce Vita and now she sings with the Underground; and, in her singing, she projects a tragic awareness that becomes almost painful. Her final number, "If I'm late, will you wait for me?" holds the audience enthralled for a half-hour.

And that was one of the problems: The audience, about 800 students, just sat there stunned for three hours. They were supposed to dance but the gym is so big that only a few couples were sufficiently exhibitionist to try--but they went wild. A one-time McMaster student, Charlotte Kennedy, just ran up on the stage and started dancing with Gerard. He flashed lights on her and cavorted for the cameramen. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

that other time we had a bedridden mayor

Background: besides writing Past Pieces of Toronto for OpenFile, I tackled several other assignments for the site. One was this piece, originally published on August 8, 2012.

Source: Toronto Star, November 10, 1970.
Rob Ford’s recent hospitalization for asthma, stomach and throat issues raises questions about what would happen if the mayor endured an extended period of time in a hospital bed. While it’s likely he would pass on most of his duties to Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, previous top municipal officials haven’t let ailments like a broken pelvis prevent them from performing official tasks. Such was the case with Borough of North York Mayor Basil Hall.

What landed Hall in North York General Hospital on November 6, 1970 was an attempt to touch up the paint in the basement of the home he had recently moved into at 87 Forest Grove Dr. When he stepped from one ladder to another, Hall lost his footing and fell to the concrete. “There was no chance to break the fall in any way,” he recalled, “so I just landed with my full weight on my right hip.” It took Hall, home alone and suffering shock from the fall, an hour to crawl 50 feet to the telephone in the den. After having difficulty reaching an operator he called his son Brian, who sent for an ambulance. Hall, who had broken his hip and pelvis, was placed in traction and told he would be bedridden for at least five to six weeks.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

bonus features: making and remaking hazelton lanes

This post offers supplementary material for a Torontoist post I recently wrote, which you should dive into before reading any further.

Source: the Toronto Star, April 5, 1973.
It was nice for a change to read about a development project where the nearby residents weren't convinced the sky was going to fall. Unless there's a secret back story missing from both the media coverage and the personal correspondences I leafed through while researching this article, it sounds like the developer did everything right to reassure the community that all would be well. 

Besides the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers' Association, the neighbouring Annex Ratepayers' Association (ARA) was consulted. In a letter to alderman Ying Hope, an ARA representative wanted to "commend the process of community association consultation in the development of the project." 

Not that there weren't opponents. In a letter to the city clerk, Hazelton Avenue apartment building owner Mohsen Djelweh complained about the potential traffic bottleneck along his street. He also worried that granting an exception to the 45-foot building height limit would cause Yorkville to "slowly die and convert into a canyon" instead of remaining a "highly regarded, highly attractive low-rise development" which drew tourists.

Monday, August 26, 2013

before st clair, there was the yonge street "disaster"

Background: besides writing Past Pieces of Toronto for OpenFile, I tackled several other assignments for the site. One was this piece, originally published on March 22, 2012.

Subway construction along Yonge Street, 1949. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 574, File 2, Item 4992. Click on image for larger version.
Throughout the debate on whether LRTs or subways should be built in Scarborough, the construction of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way has been a persistent bogeyman. Vilified by ardent subway supporters such as Mayor Rob Ford as one of the biggest disasters in Toronto transit history, the work carried out on St. Clair has been criticized for its delays and impacts (real and imagined) on local business and traffic. Those who imagine fewer hardships building a subway than a surface line may want to examine the miseries that surrounded the construction of the original Yonge line, which was far more disruptive to the local landscape than what occurred on St. Clair.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

past pieces of toronto: china court

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 July 1, 2012.

Source: The Traveller’s Encyclopaedia of Ontario 1979 (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 1979)
 As the future of the ethnic shopping mall is debated in the media, one of the first to grace Toronto’s landscape is all but forgotten. A glance at the exterior of Chinatown Centre on Spadina Avenue gives no hint of its immediate predecessor, an attraction deemed worthy of mention in the provincial Traveller’s Encyclopaedia: “Constructed and decorated by craftsmen brought in from Hong Kong, this sparkling assortment of authentic oriental pagodas, gardens and Chinese boutiques makes a new focal point for the Chinese community in Toronto.” Despite such attention, China Court operated for only a decade—the victim of grander visions from its developers.

Monday, August 05, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the toronto mechanics' institute

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 June 10, 2012.

Source: Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto Volume 2.
For a building that launched one of Toronto’s greatest assets, the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute (TMI) had a history that historian Donald Jones once described as “disasterous.”

Established at a public meeting in 1830, the TMI (known as the York Mechanics’ Institute until 1834) was intended to provide for “the mutual improvement of mechanics and other who become members of the society in arts and sciences by the formation of a library of reference and circulation, by the delivery of lectures on scientific and mechanical subjects…and for conversation on subjects from which all discussion of political and religious matters is to be carefully excluded.” It was inspired by a wave of mechanics institutes established in Great Britain during the 1820s that aimed to educate the working classes. Since Toronto was barely industrialized in the 1830s, the organization’s early membership tended to be drawn from the middle class. Its early directors included prominent figures such as William Warren Baldwin, Sheriff William Jarvis, Jesse Ketchum and John Rolph. As historian J.M.S. Careless once noted, the TMI soon appeared to provide little more than “intellectual amusements” for its founding families. Regarding an early, well-publicized lecture on “Natural and Experimental Philosophy,” Careless suspected that “what any mechanics present may have thought of all this is something else.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

a who's who guide to toronto's theatre world, 1979

Click on image for larger version.
Here's one for Toronto theatre historians - a one-page guide to who the Star believed were the movers and shakers in the local theatrical scene as the 1970s wound down. Among those listed is Gina Mallet, who passed away earlier this month.

Source: the Toronto Star, July 14, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

what's toronto's history of non-majority mayors?

Background: besides writing Past Pieces of Toronto for OpenFile, I tackled several other assignments for the site. One was this piece, originally published on March 6, 2012, written at a time when Rob Ford was in the doghouse with most of City Council over public transit and people were discussing his hold on Toronto's agenda as if he was leading a minority. 

Town Crier and Mayor Rob Ford Announce Commemorations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812
One of the few pictures I've taken within a close proximity of Mayor Rob Ford, snapped during a press conference announcing the city's War of 1812 celebration plans, December 8, 2011.

During the past month, consequent of the battle between City Council and Mayor Rob Ford over the transit file, there have been declarations that Toronto’s chief executive is being placed in the same position as a premier or prime minister charged with a minority government, despite there being no formalized political parties at City Hall.

While previous City Councils in the pre- and post-amalgamation City of Toronto have rejected mayoral policies, there hasn’t been sustained and consistent opposition on the scale hinted at by recent votes. Councillors who maintained their opposition to particular mayors—the group that resigned to protest John George Bowes’s involvement in a financial scandal in 1853, the reformers who fought the development policies of William Dennison’s administration during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the bloc of David Miller’s right-leaning opponents who coalesced around Denzil Minnan-Wong—have generally not brought the majority of their colleagues ’round to see their way.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

neighbourhood nicknames that didn't catch on department

Source: The Downtowner, November 14, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
Hands up, who has called the area encompassing the original town of York and St. Lawrence Market "the Lower East Side" in the past week? Anyone?

Monday, July 22, 2013

past pieces of toronto: towers department stores

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 June 3, 2012.

Source: the Toronto Star, November 16, 1960
As the 1960s dawned, the discount department store heralded a new era of shopping. While Toronto had been home to stores such as Honest Ed’s for some time, the new breed of bargain emporiums were large, suburban sites which promised low prices, self-service and plenty of parking. Two years before future industry giants K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco opened their first stores in the United States, Towers brought Metro Toronto consumers a taste of the future of retail.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the book cellar

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 June 24, 2012.

Advertisement, Books in Canada, May 1971.
According to veteran Star books columnist Philip Marchand, the test of a good bookstore was simple. “Take a real reader, a habitual browser of books. Imagine that person walking by the bookstore en route to somewhere else. Can he or she resist the temptation to enter the bookstore? To while away a few minutes—well, half-an-hour—instead of attending to business?” The Book Cellar in Yorkville met his criteria, especially its magazine room: “Facing away from the from the Hazelton Lanes courtyard, the room is both quiet and cheerful. To stand there in the afternoon sun, browsing through magazines, listening to strains of Vivaldi or Billie Holiday, is to experience peace.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

bonus features: the don runneth over

The following offers supplementary material for a recent Torontoist post, which you should read first before diving into this post.

Don River flood, looking south from Wilton Avenue (now Dundas Street) bridge, March 27, 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1170. Click on image for larger version.
The City of Toronto Archives’ online treasure chest of images includes plenty of pictures of floods along the Don River between 1916 and 1920. A few stories about those shots, starting with the March 28, 1916 edition of the Globe:
Swelling of the Don, Humber, and Credit Rivers by the heavy rain of yesterday put much land around Toronto beneath a tide of ice and rushing water, while the flooding of the Canadian Northern Railway yards at Rosedale to a depth of four feet suspended traffic to and from Toronto over their lines for some hours, the eastbound afternoon trains being cancelled…So far as the Don is concerned, this is the worst flood since 1897. One of the remarkable features was the flight of thousands of rats driven from their homes in the garbage-made land at the foot of the Winchester street hill.

The crisis in the Don Valley arose when ice cakes piled up at the lower bridges and the water could not escape as rapidly as it poured down from the upper reaches of the river.

So rapidly did the Don rise and flood the flats and yards that it was impossible for the CNR to draw passenger coaches in the coach yard on the east side of the river to the main line over a trestle. Heavy coal cars were placed on the light bridge to hold it down and prevent it from being swept from its light fastenings…At four in the afternoon the course of the river was hardly distinguishable in the lake of water which spread from the hills on the east side of the river to the CPR railway embankment on the east side.

Railway employees who returned from repairing the damage done by a washout just north of the yards found that they could not reach their cars and were forced to spend the night on dry ground, awaiting an opportunity to reach their clothes and food by means of light engines, which were keeping the mainline open…Cellars in factories along the Esplanade were filled with water.

Monday, July 08, 2013

fringe '99

Toronto’s Fringe Festival is currently marking its 25th year, which provides me with a good excuse to look at the first edition I attended, way back in 1999.

At the time I was winding down my days in Guelph. Still recovering from the black comedy of working at the Ontarion, I was searching for work, hoping to avoid returning to Windsor. I had just moved into the cheapest place I ever lived in, the entire top floor of a house near Edinburgh and Paisley, a summer sublet which set me back $140/month. Looking for something to lift the gloom of job hunting, I decided a trip to Toronto was in order. I’d read about the Fringe for a few years, and its ticket prices fit my budget. I’d pick a show at random and hope for the best.

Flipping through the program doesn’t reveal what I saw that year. No tickets slipped inside, no performances circled, no clippings. So I checked a journal from that time. Nada. Then I remembered I had an IKEA box full of clippings from my first few years in Toronto, stuff intended for future journals or scrapbooks that never were.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the mynah bird

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 May 20, 2012.

Advertisements, (left) the Toronto Star, April 22, 1966 (right) the Globe and Mail, July 26, 1967.
In an August 1967 article, the Globe and Mail’s Blaik Kirby set the scene for anyone curious about entering one of Yorkville’s oddest coffee houses. “The Mynah Bird is a fetid room in a former Victorian home, with a tiny triangular stage behind bars in one corner. There are two other rooms in reserve if needed. You enter through a hallway, passing the piranha and the caged mynah bird after which the place is named. Hanging rushes conceal the high ceiling. The walls are red flecked wallpaper. The lights are low, with candles on each table. One of the two friendly go-go girls ushers you to a seat, and soon reappears on the stage. She is slightly plump, with long dark hair and a pseudo-leopard-skin minidress looking like something out of Tarzan. She is succeeded by a slimmer and slightly more talented girl, dressed in a modest mod outfit, who dances under black light.”

The hint of titillation helped the Mynah Bird during its decade-long run at 114 Yorkville Ave., along with the crazy publicity schemes hatched by owner Colin Kerr. Never at a loss for colourful stories, Kerr claimed that he acquired his beloved mynah bird Rajah on a trip to India in 1956, where he was participating in a golf tournament. He was told Rajah had magical good luck powers that could only be used on others for the next 40 years, which sometimes manifested themselves through droppings left on celebrities. When Kerr returned to Toronto, he opened a shop on Bloor Street devoted to selling mynah birds. It wasn’t a surprise when he launched a coffee house in 1964 that it was named after his favourite creature.

Monday, June 24, 2013

vintage family circle ad of the day

Vintage Ad #2,266: Spinning Top at the Beach?
Source: Family Circle, July 29, 1969.
With the current heat wave slamming Toronto, it's tempting to run to the nearest beach to keep cool. But when even a dip in the lake isn't enough to cool you down, yet you want to remain outdoors, desperate measures are called for.

Which brings us to this beach beauty's innovation: the human spinning top. As you spin in your preferred direction (I prefer clockwise), air flowing through the portholes will keep you cool as a cucumber. Spinning might make you dizzy, but who says that keeping cool and stylish doesn't come without costs?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the (mutual street) arena

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 February 26, 2012, and has been modified to replace incorrect information. This article also formed the basis of a piece I wrote for Heritage Toronto in March 2013.

Arena Gardens interior, between 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 964.
How to eliminate competition: according to veteran Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot, when Conn Smythe built Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931 he was determined that the Maple Leafs’ former home on Mutual Street would never host another professional hockey game. One morning, he sent a message to staff at the old venue offering all of them work at his new facility. The catch? The jobs were only available until Smythe left for lunch at 12:15 p.m. The staff raced up to the construction site on Carlton Street, leaving no one behind to watch the furnace that powered the building’s ice-making equipment. When the flames died out, the pipes burst and destroyed the ice plant.

If the tale is true, Smythe achieved his goal. Pro hockey was never again played at the Mutual Street site. But it wasn’t the end of a building that adopted many guises over a 77-year history. Whether the venue on the west side of Mutual Street between Shuter and Dundas was called the Arena, Arena Gardens, Mutual Street Arena or The Terrace, it provided entertainment for generations of Torontonians.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

bonus features: goodbye historic concourse building, hello ernst & young tower

This post offers supplementary material for a recent Torontoist article, which you should read first before diving into this post.

Mosaics by J.E.H. MacDonald on the arch of the entrance to the Concourse Building. Photo taken June 18, 2013.
Whatever your opinion on the merits of facadism, it is a relief to know that the surviving pieces of J.E.H. MacDonald's work on the Concourse will live on in its successor. I wonder if anyone has approached Oxford Properties to include poetry in the foyer as the Concourse originally did. There are several approaches that could work:
  • Restore the poetry that graced the Concourse in 1929.
  • Add in appropriate verse from poets of that era who weren't represented in the Concourse.
  • Assign current poets to provide fresh verse.
  • Utilize poetry about Toronto.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

past pieces of toronto: shopsy's on spadina avenue

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 May 6, 2012.

Shopsy's, Spadina Avenue north of Dundas Street, 1968. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 246.
To what lengths would loyal customers go to grab a sandwich from Shopsy’s? During a severe snowstorm in the mid-1940s, one man skied over to purchase a pastrami sandwich. Such was the dedication regulars had during the deli’s 60-year run at 295 Spadina Avenue.

The business began in 1921, when Harry and Jenny Shopsowitz opened an ice cream parlour in front of their home on Spadina, just north of Dundas Street. A selection of deli items was soon added, with corned beef based on a family recipe from Poland becoming the specialty of the house. In her novel Basic Black with Pearls, writer Helen Weinzweig depicted the deli during its early years: "In my time it had been a small delicatessen. I remembered Shopsy’s parents. They stood at the steam table from morning to night, pale and patient, wearing long white aprons, their faces moist from the steamer. They were unfailingly benign towards children."

Friday, June 14, 2013

famous monsters of filmland presents the funtastic adventures of dr. who

While sorting through the stacks of magazines residing in the official warehouse coffee table, I came across the lone issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland I've ever possessed. Fueled by the horror movie boom on television during the 1950s, editor Forrest J. Ackerman cultivated many a budding film buff with a mix of classic movie stills and articles geared to a younger audience. I picked up this issue out of curiosity amid a stack of 1970s Marvel black-and-white magazines for 50 cents at the K-W Bookstore in downtown Kitchener years ago. Juvenile, but fun to flip through for its great images and breathless prose.

Not mentioned on the cover of the Bicentennial month edition is the second-longest feature in the issue, a profile of a long-running British sci-fi television series which had been shown in a few American markets since 1972: Doctor Who.

Monday, June 10, 2013

past pieces of toronto: 811 gerrard street and the messages of morris silver

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 April 29, 2012.
Morris Silver protesting the Bank of Nova Scotia. The Toronto Star, July 22, 1976.
Morris Silver loved attention. The retired dry cleaner was a passionate, opinionated man who let everyone know what he thought about matters that deeply concerned him, especially political issues and people who knocked back a drink before jumping behind the wheel. The storefront that once housed his Handy Andy’s cleaning business at 811 Gerrard St. E. near Logan Avenue was illustrated with amusing hand painted messages such as “DRUNK DRIVERS ARE…LOUSY LOVERS SOBER DRIVERS PUCK MUCH BETTER” and “WELCOME TO METRO SURVIVORS FROM QUEBEC. IN ONTARIO, WE SPEAK, LAUGH, ADVERTISE, SING, DANCE, PLAY, DO HANKY PANKY AND PROPOGATE FREELY IN 156 LANGUAGES.”

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

bonus features: one hundred years of art at the grange

This post offers supplementary material for a recent Torontoist article, which you should read first before diving into this post.
Goldwin Smith with dog in front of the Grange, 1905. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
A slice of life photograph at the Grange in the years between the house was willed to the Art Museum of Toronto (as the AGO was originally known) by Harriette Boulton Smith in 1902 and the opening of its first onsite exhibition 100 years ago today.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

past pieces of toronto: speakers corner

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 April 22, 2012.

They seemed like just another bunch of goofy guys crammed into the booth at the corner of Queen and John Streets. Paying a dollar destined for a charity gave them two minutes in the spotlight. As the camera clicked on that day in March 1991, they sang. The tune was about asking a girl to be their Yoko Ono, complete with Yoko-style shrieks. While other musicians earned little more than a brief appearance on CITY TV, a visit to Speakers Corner helped propel the career of the Barenaked Ladies.

Speakers Corner was installed sometime after CITY moved into the former Ryerson Press building in 1987 and was among the quirky innovations programmer Moses Znaimer developed at the station. The public’s views on virtually anything quickly proved a useful addition to the station’s newscasts. In 1990, producer Peter Whittington proposed a weekly half-hour show built around Speakers Corner, with clips linked by themes like politics and the battle of the sexes. Costing little to produce, the series debuted that September. The Star’s Antonia Zerbisias called Speakers Corner “a clever little show” which “covered everything from stupid tongue tricks to propositions to CITY personnel.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

bonus features: "bravo for the women of canada"

This post offers supplementary material for a recent Torontoist article, which you should read first before diving into this post.
Cartoon by Andy Donato, the Toronto Sun, January 30, 1988.
One of the pleasant surprises I discovered while researching this story was that all of Toronto’s major newspapers agreed that the Supreme Court of Canada made the right decision to kill the existing federal abortion law. There were notes of caution (the Sun’s editorial strongly recommended counselling on alternatives and birth control, while the Star suggested some controls would be necessary), but they weren’t accompanied by troglodytic language.

I was impressed by the Sun’s coverage—it was very even-handed, to the extent of a point/counterpoint piece where representatives from pro-choice and anti-abortion groups were given space to state their views side-by-side. There was one exception, and it’s a doozy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

past pieces of toronto: eaton's college street

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 May 27, 2012. 

Front cover of special number of The Eaton News showing Eaton’s College Street. City of Toronto Archives, Series 682, Subseries 1, File 34.
Once upon a time, a major retailing family decided that College and Carlton Streets would replace Queen Street as the city’s main east-west artery. They intended to erect one of the world’s largest retail/office complexes at the southwest corner of Yonge and College. Though reality intervened, the end result, the Eaton’s College Street store, was hardly a letdown.

Eaton’s began assembling land at Yonge and College prior to World War I. When construction began in 1928, Eaton’s envisioned a seven-storey base housing a store topped by an office tower rising 670 feet into the sky. While all of Eaton’s merchandise and offices were intended to move from its collection of buildings off Queen Street, company officials later admitted they lacked the resources to pull off the full transfer. Thanks to a combination of worsening economic conditions, problems with building over Taddle Creek and the vagueness of the tower plans (apparently the sketches made no provision for elevators or stairs), only the base was built.

Friday, May 17, 2013

bonus features: 10 scrivener square

This post offers supplementary material for a recent Ghost City column written for The Grid, which you should read first before diving into this post.

Source: The Globe, September 10, 1915.
Besides Mayor Tommy Church, at least two other people spoke during the September 9, 1915 cornerstone ceremony for the Canadian Pacific Railway's new North Toronto station. CPR general manager A.D. MacTier thanked everyone for their assistance in initializing the project: “I hope that through this gathering I may be able to get to know your city officials, businessmen and the public generally, believing as I do that only by much personal friendship and knowledge of each other’s aims and needs can that mutual understanding and respect be created, without which the proper amicable relations between a large public utility and the people of a great city can neither be created nor maintained.”

Also speaking was jurist William Mulock, who referred to the ongoing conflict in Europe. According to the Globe, Mulock “observed that the Empire was engaged in a gigantic struggle, but ultimate victory for Britain and her allies was certain. The action of the CPR showed that they had confidence in the future, which had in store greater things for Canada and for the whole British Empire.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

bonus features: opposing the subway

This post offers supplementary material for a recent edition of Historicist posted on Torontoist, which you should read first before diving into the following text.

Headline, the Toronto Star, December 18, 1958.
Accompanying several of the stories I drew upon were plenty of  screaming front-page headlines. Or at least there were in the Star and the Telegram - it appears the Globe and Mail thought they were below their sober, reserved standard. TTC Chairman Allan "Lampy" Lamport soon caused enough problems for the transit provider on his own when he resigned his position several weeks later.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

a tale of two game 7s

Click image for larger version of the front page of the May 2, 1993 edition of the Toronto Star.
I expected to run into honking cars galore.

Given last night was do-or-die time for the Maple Leafs, I figured there would be mass celebrations if they managed to survive the first round of the playoffs. In the checkout line at the Vic Park and Gerrard FreshCo, the customer ahead of me asked the clerk if she had heard any game updates. She had—it looked like the boys in blue were headed to victory.

Mentally noting that the game was almost over, I anticipated running into happy, honking fans spilling onto the streets. Drove west along Danforth. Nothing. Deciding I wanted to discover the result organically, the dial on my radio developed an allergy to hockey games.

The streets were still quiet when I reached home. No honking in the distance as there was when the Leafs won their first match in the series. Overtime, perhaps?

A quick glance at social media told me all I needed to know. It was going to be a silent night.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

past pieces of toronto: fran's st. clair avenue

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 April 15, 2012.

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, January 22, 1948.
The man probably struck the staff of Fran’s on St. Clair Avenue as eccentric. Most nights, he dropped into the 24-hour diner around 2 a.m., bundled up in a heavy coat regardless of weather, gloves covering his hands. Whether he spoke through his scarf or not, the order was the same every time: a plate of scrambled eggs. Given his nocturnal habits and its close proximity to his apartment, pianist Glenn Gould became a Fran’s fixture.

Catering to the habits of night owls like Gould was one reason the original location of Fran’s stayed in business for 61 years. As longtime customer Shirley Olejko told the Star when the restaurant closed in 2001,”when you were partying, after a long night you came here because nothing else was open.”
Francis Deck had worked for his brother’s Buffalo-based Deco restaurant chain for two decades before establishing his own 10-stool diner at 21 St. Clair Avenue West in 1940. The menu consisted of comfort foods like burgers (Fran’s introduced the banquet burger) and salads enhanced by dressings developed by Deck’s wife Ellen. The formula worked well, as the Decks opened two more locations by 1950.

Friday, May 10, 2013

ten years of gold

This is the first and last reference to Kenny Rogers in this post. Apologies to  fans of "The Gambler" hoping for more.

Tomorrow marks a decade since I jotted my first random thought online. The site has waxed and waned, from periods of prolific posting to a depository of reprints from defunct outlets. What started as an attempt to resurrect my university journal writing habit became the launch pad for my current writing career, even if many early entries were little more than text messages which I later wiped out.

The earliest screen capture I could find of the site, snapped June 2, 2004.
The ongoing process of reformatting and cleaning up old entries has revealed plenty of changes over the past decade. In May 2003, I had long dropped the notion of working at Canadian Tire’s head office for two years before moving on to something else. By year four, a comfort zone had set in. Yet old creative impulses reassert themselves. Writing had been a painful process since the black comedy of The Ontarion, an experience whose legacy would probably be diagnosed as a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder. It didn’t help that an attempt to restart a written journal/scrapbook died when that notebook vanished along with the backpack it was resting in. Observing the world of blogs which emerged at that time, I thought it might be fun to see where writing one might lead to. One without flashing letters and bad MIDI files.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

vintage facial massage equipment department

Source: the News, December 15, 1911
Initially I thought this piece was typical advertorial copy of the period. Reading on, a couple of things jumped out at me: no reference to a specific distributor/manufacturer, no mailing address, and no customer testimonials. It's a legitimate story about the latest innovations in facial massage technology.

It's easy to see why this invention never caught on - if the facial contraption fell off, drowning was a giant risk. If anything, this contraption resembles a proto-snorkel -- the inventor might have better directed his energy to developing deep-sea diving equipment.

Monday, May 06, 2013

these are a few of my favourite things

Vintage Ad #2,244: 21 of my favourite things (3)

While processing a pile of backlogged vintage ads awhile back, I encountered a set of spots from a batch of mid-1980s issues of Maclean's promoting a period creamy liqueur. Each ad listed 21 favourite items of models straight from Eighties central casting. Which made me think: what would a list of 21 of my favourite things look like?

I loathe making "favourite" lists of any sort. Compiling "top ten" lists makes me shudder. Yet I love reading them. Go figure.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

shameless self-promotion department

ITEM! If it's the first weekend in May, it's time for Jane's Walk. In just six years the annual event has grown from a handful of strolls around Toronto to walks in 25 countries. I've enjoyed the walks I've joined, and decided this year to lead one.

Toronto has long enjoyed one of the most competitive newspaper markets in North America. With no fewer than three major competing dailies at any time since the 1870s, Toronto readers are accustomed to a broad range of editorial viewpoints. Our papers have been run by a cast of characters including philanthropists, labour and social activists, political parties, comic strip enthusiasts, lousy businessmen, and Fathers of Confederation. The behind-the-scenes stories were often as dramatic as those that were printed in the pages of publications bearing banners like Empire, Globe, Mail, News, Star, Sun, Telegram, and World.

This walk will look at the sites where the news was produced, and how those sites were used as public gathering places, especially during election campaigns. We’ll reflect on the architecture lost when the cluster of newspaper offices around King and Bay gave way to financial towers. We’ll explore the circumstances under which some of today’s major dailies were born, and how nearly-forgotten papers died.

Where: Starting at the southeast corner of King Street East and Leader Lane (across the street from the King Edward Hotel).

When: Sunday, May 5, 2013, 2 p.m.

ITEM! Woke up to great news yesterday morning -- Kevin Plummer and I were nominated for a National Magazine Award in the "Blogs" category for our work on Torontoist's "Historicist" column. We've got pretty good company in our category [PDF of all nominees]. Coming on the heels of the column's fifth anniversary, this is a great honour. The winners will be announced on June 7.

vintage cringe-inducing medical breakthrough department

Source: the Telegram, March 22, 1922.
The same day that the Toronto Star heralded the work of Frederick Banting, Charles Best, J.B. Collip, J.J.R. Macleod and their associates for giving those afflicted with diabetes a "message of hope," this disgusting "medical breakthrough" appeared in the Telegram. I believe the same technology has been employed in fiction to cure vampirism. I also don't doubt that stories like this warmed the hearts of casually racist readers, or those who might have believed such a quack invention would truly improve humanity.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the shell oil/bulova tower

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 March 4, 2012.

“Meet me at the Shell Tower” pamphlet, circa 1955, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 261, Series 756, File 50, Item 1.
Oil can giveth, and oil can taketh away. That might be the easiest way to sum up the story of the 36-metre-high clock tower that provided Canadian National Exhibition visitors with a great view of the city and a foolproof meeting spot for 30 years. Born from sponsorship by an oil giant, the landmark died to make way for a car race.

Designed by architect George Robb, the modernist Shell Oil Tower was the first building in Toronto to utilize welded-steel construction. It quickly proved a popular attraction following its debut in 1955, thanks to promotional pitches like this one:

There’s a new landmark at the “Ex.” It’s the Shell Oil Tower, whose gleaming glass walls and giant clock add a new feature to the skyline. An elevator is waiting to whisk you to the observation platform, far above the ground, where you can look down on the breathtaking spectacle of the greatest show on earth, the Canadian National Exhibition...look out over Metropolitan Toronto. Here is a unique bird’s eye view which makes a trip up the Shell Tower a must for every visitor to the Exhibition. You’ll find the Shell Tower straight through the Princes’ Gates. Make it a meeting place—get into the habit of saying to your friends “Meet me at the Shell Oil Tower.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the gardiner expressway's eastern section

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 March 17, 2012.
Demolition of Leslie Street ramp viewed from north side of detour, looking south-east, photographed by Peter MacCallum, January 20, 2001, City of Toronto Archives, Series 572, File 77, Item 4.
As work began on the eastern extension of the Gardiner Expressway in 1964, the man whose name graced the highway was proud of the road that became one of his legacies. “You know,” said Frederick Gardiner, “I used to lie in bed dreaming in Technicolor, thinking it was too big. Now I know it isn’t. Maybe in 20 years time they’ll be cursing me for making it too small. But I won’t be around to worry then. Right now, I’ve come up smelling of Chanel No. 5.”

Outside of some nearby residents who missed what Globe and Mail columnist Michael Valpy called their “private freeway” and city councillors who curried their favour, few who looked at the eastern stump of the expressway cursed Gardiner for making it too small. Quite the opposite: as time passed, the stretch between the Don Valley Parkway and Leslie Street was viewed as a crumbling eyesore.

Part of the problem was that it was an orphan of Toronto’s expressway plan. When it opened in July 1966, the stump was the first phase of the Scarborough Expressway, which would have linked the Gardiner to Highway 401 near Highland Creek. Had a request to the Ontario Municipal Board from a citizen group inspired by the fight against the Spadina Expressway not delayed work, the next approved phase of the Scarborough Expressway would have extended it to Birchmount Road and Danforth Road. While Queen’s Park cancelled Spadina in June 1971, provincial officials were willing to fund a short extension of the Scarborough Expressway to Coxwell Avenue if the OMB approved it. While the demise of Spadina muted enthusiasm for the new expressway, as did the looming task of buying 1,000 houses blocking the full route. Despite the City of Scarborough’s continued support of the highway, Metro Council approved a report in 1974 that scrapped it entirely. By 1980, references to the Scarborough Expressway were removed from Metro’s official plan, leaving only a “transportation corridor.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

contributing time

Source: The Grid, April 18-24, 2013.

Yep, that's me in the contributor profile section of The Grid this week. Pretty good company here - it's funny both of us chose "war on the car" as the City Hall debate we're tired of.

The piece associated with this profile is online for your reading pleasure...or, if you're in Toronto, grab a copy from your friendly neighbourhood box.