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.|
Hay’s design for Yorkville Town Hall combined English Gothic and continental influences. Elements such as a large rose-shaped stained glass window were inspired by religious edifices, reflecting a style that historian William Dendy felt “implied the earnest and serious attitude to civic responsibilities, and to life in general, that was considered appropriate in municipal affairs.” The central four-storey portion of the buff- and red-brick building contained a police station on the ground floor, the councll chamber and municipal offices on the second, and a grand public hall on the third. A central arch was intended to lead to a shopping arcade and marketplace in the rear. Wings on each side of the central block were rented out to businesses to help pay the mortgage.
Among the special touches added to the façade was a crest designed to honour the five councillors who comprised the first Yorkville village council in 1853. Topped by a beaver, the five sections of the crest paid tribute to butcher Peter Hutty (a sheep’s head), brewer John Severn (a beer barrel), brickmaker Thomas Atkinson (a brick mould), blacksmith James Wallace (an anvil) and carpenter James Dobson (a jackplane).
Though it wasn’t finished, the first major event held at Yorkville Town Hall was the York Township Agricultural Society’s annual exhibition in October 1860. The back market never materialized; instead, in 1861 the central arch became a gateway to stables housing the horses which pulled streetcars for the Toronto Street Railway’s first route, which ran down Yonge Street to St. Lawrence Hall. The building served as a community centre where residents listened to Sir John A. Macdonald plead the case for Confederation or watched travelling music shows which promised “the latest gems of Ethiopian Minstrelsy.”
|Source: Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto Fifth Series (Toronto: John Ross Robertson, 1908).|
Around 5:30 p.m. on November 12, 1941, a fire broke out and swiftly gutted the interior. While Naval Club steward George Godsmark was not on the premises at the time, his wife and six children were about to sit for dinner at their apartment within the hall when the blaze began. They didn’t sense anything was amiss until they heard the fire reels. By the time firefighters escorted the Godsmarks out, the building was flooded with water sprayed from Yonge Street and neighbouring buildings. The clock on the tower continued to run for an hour after being enveloped in flames, but fire and police officials feared that wooden chunks falling to the ground heralded a total collapse. Thousands of spectators were pushed further and further back, especially after the fire flared up for a second time around 7 p.m. The blaze provided real-life practice for civil defence volunteers scheduled for drills that evening at the Yorkville fire hall.
|Source: the Toronto Star, November 13, 1941.|
Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993), the October 1, 1860 and September 24, 1862 editions of the Globe, the November 13, 1941 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the November 13, 1941, November 14, 1941, and May 27, 1942 editions of the Toronto Star.