Thursday, February 28, 2013

past pieces of toronto: the telegram building

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 12, 2012.

Photo of the Telegram Building by Ellis Wiley, taken prior to 1966, City of Toronto Archives Fonds 124, File 1, Item 91.

British press baron Lord Northcliffe referred to it as “the finest newspaper office I have ever visited.” Most people called it “the old lady of Melinda Street.” For over 60 years, the rambling collection of buildings at the southeast corner of Bay and Melinda Streets was home to the Telegram, the voice of the city’s conservative Protestant working class.

By the late 1890s, the Telegram had outgrown its offices at King and Bay. While warned about staying on Bay Street, whose homes and businesses were regarded as being in seedy decline, publisher John Ross Robertson was drawn to the Crown Hotel a block south at Melinda Street. After the site was cleared, his wife Jessie laid the cornerstone on July 6, 1898. Less than two years later, at 7 a.m. on February 26, 1900, Robertson’s sons Cully and Irving pressed buttons that fired up the presses at the paper’s new home.
Telegram employees were pleased to discover the perks of their new home. In a time when most reporters worked from simple kitchen seats, the editorial offices of the Telegram Building were equipped with oak chairs and desks sitting atop a polished maple floor. Robertson maintained two offices: a Spartan room in the rear of the first floor which had space for a secretary, a desk and a spittoon, and a lavishly furnished spot on the second floor reserved for distinguished visitors. In either office, the publisher presided over meetings concerning his personal (amateur sports, freemasonry, local history) and philanthropic (the Hospital for Sick Children) interests.

Friday, February 22, 2013

stand up and tell 'em you're from detroit

Vintage Ad #2,170: Stand Up And Tell 'Em You're From Detroit

Alas poor Detroit. A city teetering on the brink of receiving an emergency financial manager appointed by the state of Michigan run its affairs .A city that has become a poster child for ruin porn. A city Forbes magazine declared to be "America’s Most Miserable City." Yep, Motown is going through a rough patch. How, when, or if it bounces back remains to be seen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

past pieces of toronto: spadina's moving walkways

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 5, 2012.

Spadina moving walkway. Photo by Eva Amsen.
With eyes closed, imagine yourself at an airport ready to embark on a jet-age journey to an exotic destination. As you and your backpack, briefcase, or luggage glide along the moving walkway, dreams of adventure or relaxation fill your head. The faint odour of rodents barely distracts you from your visions. Suddenly, there’s a lurch at the end of the walkway that jolts you back into the reality of standing at either end of the Spadina subway station.

We may be exaggerating the experience one could have had using the moving walkways that carried TTC passengers between subway lines for 25 years. Whether you saw the moving walkway as a novelty item, a useful connector or, as a cranky early user told the Star, believed they were "slower than walking," the walkways were a unique feature that was never used elsewhere in the city's transit system.

When the Spadina line was under development, its Spadina station was originally known as Lowther and was not intended to connect to the Bloor-Danforth line. The decision to join the two lines together was made to allow passengers to access the Spadina line from Bloor Street and to save the TTC a few dollars by eliminating the need for a fare collector at the new station. Moving walkways would allow users to walk at a faster clip or take a slow, foot-relaxing ride along the near-platform length of the corridor between the two Spadina stations.

When the walkways opened in January 1978, users were advised by the Star that they would provide both entertainment and shocks. The elderly were warned not to get too comfortable with the slow flow, as the walkways would “spurt at the end, sending riders stumbling into the mezzanines at either end.” School kids treated it a toy, with some “plunking their knapsacks down and sitting on them,” while others rode the rails or attempted to run against the flow.

After a quarter of a century transporting commuters, the walkways were shut down for a thorough inspection in November 2003, which determined that the drive system and other major components required immediate replacement. The TTC considered three options: repair (which would have extended its life by 10 years, cost $1.1 million, and required $100,000 per year in upkeep), replacement (25 year lifespan, $4 million cost, $84,000 per year in upkeep) or retirement (no cost, as annual upkeep cost would be used for removal). Caught in a budget squeeze, the TTC chose the retirement option. Hoarding went up in June 2004, which left a metre-and-a-half wide passage for commuters to use during the removal process. As John Lorinc noted in the Globe and Mail, the tight space provided “a rare opportunity to find out what it’s like to be temporarily buried alive.”

Some hints of the walkways’ existence remain. The replacement tiles look different than the originals that still line the corridor. Etched into the old tiles are reminders to “please hold handrail,” but the only ones anyone can grasp are figments of their imagination.

Additional material from the September 4, 2004 edition of the Globe and Mail and the January 31, 1978 edition of the Toronto Star

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

bonus features: william peyton hubbard

This post offers supplementary material for a recent "Ghost City" column in The Grid, which you should read first before diving into the following text.




Among the neat things I found while looking through the city archive files on William Peyton Hubbard was a letter from 1907 stamped with Toronto's official civic seal. The document was an official notice from Mayor Emerson Coatsworth vouching for Hubbard while the latter toured Washington and other American cities. Given the racial attitudes of the time, I suspect there were numerous occasions this letter aided Hubbard.

Mr. Hubbard is a highly esteemed citizen of Toronto. He is now and has been for many years a leading member of our City Council, during which time he has occupied a number of positions of prominence. He has been repeatedly elected to the Board of Control by the City at large, and has occupied the position of Vice-Chairman of the Board, a position second only in importance to that of Mayor of the City.

Controller Hubbard’s keen interest in all municipal public works and services may lead him to seek information in the various cities visited by him, in which case we bespeak for him that kindly courtesy and consideration which we are sure the presentation of this letter will secure.

Other items Hubbard preserved from his trip include visitor passes to government buildings in Washington.

Monday, February 11, 2013

love and shortening

Source: the Globe, December 20, 1893.
To those celebrating Valentine's Day later this week, keep this in mind: a relationship can't be cemented unless there's high-quality shortening uniting you.

According to Wikipedia, Cottolene was a beef tallow and cottonseed oil based shortening marketed from 1868 through the mid-20th century. Its advertising campaigns were directed at destroying North America's "lard habit."

Please don't let this catch the eye of some Crisco executive, lest they get the brilliant idea to run a viral marketing campaign based around romance and their product. There are many, many roads that could go down, some of which aren't safe for work.

Friday, February 08, 2013

bonus features: when mel freezes over...

This post provides supplementary material for an article in The Grid regarding the time the army was called in to help Toronto cope with a major snowstorm in 1999, which you should read before diving into the following text.

Front page, Toronto Sun, January 15, 1999.


Confession time: I’m drawing a blank as to what I did during the Snowmageddon of January 1999.

I definitely experienced it—at the time I was living in Guelph, working at the campus paper. Given the regular dumpings Guelph received, the storm likely didn’t seem unusual. It was probably just another snowy day, albeit one with greater accumulation. My guess is that either I curled up with a pile of library books or headed over to the Ontarion office to work, surf the net, or play endless games of Civilization II. It was around this time that staff relations within the office settled into a permanent deep-freeze, sparked by deep disagreements about the cover of that week’s issue. The only story about the storm in the following week’s edition noted there were no plans to shut down the U of G campus, and that students were encouraged to take advantage of increased Guelph Transit service as parking lots turned into mountains of cleared snow.

As for Lastman’s call for the army—it was Mel. Given his bombastic style, it would have been hard not to expect anything else.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

past pieces of toronto: palace pier

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 15, 2012.


A scene from an evening at Palace Pier: during a dance sponsored by the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in January 1951, participants were officially greeted by Toronto Controller John Innes. As his speech neared its end, he noted that it would be nice if everyone in the hall knew how to do an old-fashioned waltz.
“Having said his piece,” reported the Star’s Alex Barris, “Controller Innes was leaving the stage when the band started playing—a waltz.” Innes grabbed Lisa Derny, an Arthur Murray employee who had introduced him to the audience earlier in the evening, “waltzed her around a couple of times, planted a kiss on her cheek and strutted off.”

That anyone ever received a kiss at Palace Pier was a minor miracle given the venue’s checkered history. When the Provincial Improvement Corporation received the go-ahead from the Toronto Harbour Commission in July 1927 to build an entertainment complex stretching nearly 1,800 feet into Lake Ontario, it had grandiose visions. Had the original plan gone ahead, Palace Pier would have included a ballroom to hold 3,000 dancing couples; a “palace of fun” containing bowling and skating facilities; a bandstand with a capacity of up to 3,000; a 1,500 seat theatre; covered walkways and a steamship dock. Fundraising went slowly, and it wasn’t until January 1931 that the cornerstone of the first phase was laid. The ballroom was as far as building went, and it stood vacant for nearly a decade. The developers periodically promised to complete the site, but lawsuits and failure to pay mortgage and taxes led to foreclosure by 1940. As one shareholder remarked, the site was “that white elephant at the mouth of the Humber.”

The following year, the unexpected happened: Palace Pier opened as a roller rink. For the grand opening celebration in June 1941, comedian Bob Hope was brought in to raise money for the Red Cross British Bomb Victims’ Fund. Hope told jokes for 15 minutes about his movie co-stars then signed autographs for an hour. “Bob made it a lark instead of a job” reported the Star. “He joked with the crowd, sang at the top of his voice when the mood struck him, or dazzled some sweet young thing with a look.”

During the mid-1940s, Palace Pier was one of the city’s premier big band venues. Among the bandleaders who played there were Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Harry James and Stan Kenton. When bookings dried up in the 1950s, the site was used for private functions, political rallies and boxing matches.

The end of Palace Pier came swiftly. Flames rising 200 feet in the air during the early morning hours of January 7, 1963 were visible across the lake in Buffalo, where local media called the Etobicoke fire department to verify the blaze. By the time it was extinguished, only the stone fa├žade and side walls remained. After the debris was cleared away, the site sat vacant for a decade as redevelopment plans came and went until one of Metro Toronto’s first waterfront condo communities bearing the star-crossed name opened in 1976.

Additional material from the June 26, 1941 and January 5, 1951 editions of the Toronto Star. Image: Palace Pier under construction, July 29, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 34, Item 70.