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.

Paydirt.

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.