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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

bonus features: a box of laura secord

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.

Can you spot the Laura Secord shop in this picture? Click image for larger version. Streetcar track work at Queen, King, and Roncesvalles, April 23, 1923. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Series 71, Item 2058.
For a chain whose locations spread quickly across Toronto, finding good, close-up shots of a Laura Secord store from the City of Toronto Archives' online selection was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There's a sign here, a shop hidden behind hydro poles there, and generally good landscape shots where a Secord store is only a tiny portion of the picture.

A Laura Secord shop hiding behind a pole at the southeast corner of Yonge and Bloor. Maybe it was feeling shy when this shot was snapped on September 9, 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 3, Item 646.
The historical essay contest Laura Secord sponsored in 1923 was amusing for the rigidity it was run with. I'm not sure praising entrants for their work while simultaneously criticizing them for going over the word limit was a brilliant idea. I suspect contest officials believed they did the right thing by showing the importance of literary discipline and following rules to the letter, and provide a warning to entrants to other essay contests. My question: by how much did those kids run over? Given the strong sense of toeing the line in those days, it wouldn't shock me if it was less than 25 words.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

past pieces of toronto: ed's warehouse

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 19, 2012.

Cover detail from Honest Ed’s Story by Jack Batten (Toronto: Doubleday, 1972)
Honest Ed Mirvish had a giant beef with his restaurant empire on King Street West. A 500-ton-per-year-sized beef. Chosen as his signature dish due to the simplicity of cooking and serving it, the affordable roast beef dinners Mirvish devoured amid the bric-a-brac at Ed’s Warehouse and its sister restaurants kept actors, businessmen, theatregoers and tourists well fed for over 30 years. Diners enjoyed Yorkshire puddings, canned peas, Salvation-Army seating, galleries of forgotten actors and Tiffany-style lamps, but only so long as men donned a jacket and tie.

Long after most Toronto restaurants abandoned formal dining dress codes, Ed’s Warehouse stuck by its fashion policy. Show up without either jacket or tie, and staff either forced the garments upon diners (regardless of fit) or they were denied entry. How zealously were the rules enforced? A trio of teenaged Boy Scouts found out in November 1977, when their families chose Ed’s for a celebratory meal after the three Scouts received Duke of Edinburgh awards of excellence from Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McKibbon at Queen’s Park. The trio were required to wear their official uniforms at the ceremony and figured they wouldn’t be a problem when they dined out after. Wrong: the party was denied entry at both Ed’s Warehouse and neighbouring restaurant Old Ed’s, where Honest Ed himself reputedly gave the order to staff (the party ended up at a basement hotel cafeteria). Following the ensuing bad press, management conceded the Scouts should have been served, as clerics and Shriners were allowed to bend the rules.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

past pieces of toronto: bata headquarters

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 8, 2012.

Bata Headquarters, Don Mills, circa 1965-1969. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 356, Item 023.
Thomas Bata was proud that the Don Mills headquarters of his shoe empire was designed so that it couldn’t be expanded. He believed that the role of headquarters was not to dictate corporate policy, but to act as catalyst for stimulating new approaches to marketing and product development. “In outlining our specification to the architect,” he wrote in his autobiography Bata Shoemaker to the World, “we insisted that the building should be designed so that, if we were ever tempted to spawn a huge bureaucracy, we would be thwarted by the lack of space and immovable walls.” While Thomas Bata’s vision was fine as long as his company retained the property, it didn’t serve the building when it passed to other hands.

When Bata moved its base of operations from England to Canada in the early 1960s management briefly considered Batawa, the company town north of Trenton that the shoemaker developed during World War II, for the new headquarters. Issues Thomas Bata experienced across the Atlantic soured him on the idea. “I was aware of the problems that can arise when local management and corporate executives operate out of the same location,” he noted. “Seemingly trivial issues, such as who presides at public functions and whose wife opens the flower show, can become a source of friction. Above all, I was concerned that my presence in Batawa might undermine the stature and authority of the person who was running the Canadian company.” Thomas also worried about the lack of nearby international airports.