Monday, December 28, 2015

off the grid: ghost city balmy beach club

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 23, 2013.


Photo taken April 2013.
When prominent jurist and one-time Mayor of Toronto Sir Adam Wilson partitioned his property along Lake Ontario in January 1876, he set aside a portion for use as a public “promenade and recreation grounds.” Within a few years, the community of Balmy Beach grew around Wilson’s lands, which sat amid the growing amusement parks and cottages that spurred the development of The Beach.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 346 spadina avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on September 12, 2012. This was my first piece under the "Ghost City" banner, which the publication had used periodically for similar pieces. "Ghost City" lasted as a weekly column through June 2013, though the title was occasionally brought out of mothballs by other writers.  Since this piece was originally published, the Gold Diamond restaurant has closed.


When the Gold Diamond restaurant opened this summer, it inherited a building teeming with ghosts: Paranormal spirits are reputed to have inspired the lion statues out front and once required the services of an exorcist. Symbolic ghosts have also left their mark through the legacies of a Jewish-community landmark and a series of Chinese eateries.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 260 church street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on September 25, 2012.

260 Church Street, May 7, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 35. Click on image for larger version. 
At street level, the Pizza Pizza at the southwest corner of Church and Dundas deviates little from other branches of the chain. Apart from reproductions of vintage French advertisements on the wall and lights dangling like teardrops from the ceiling, 260 Church Street bears the same orange colour scheme and the same special-touting window ads as other locations. But a glance at the upper two levels of its exterior reveals that past orders inside included bank deposits with a side of dipping into savings.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

off the grid: ghost city golden mile plaza

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 26, 2013.


tely 54-04-07 gmp 5 loblaws 400
Telegram, April 7, 1954.
Following World War II, Scarborough Township was in dire financial straits. “We didn’t have enough money to meet our weekly payroll,” reeve Oliver Crockford recalled years later. Crockford placed his hopes on a 255 acre parcel of federal land along Eglinton Avenue east of Pharmacy Avenue that the township purchased in 1949. Industrial development quickly ensued, with major companies like Frigidaire and Inglis opening along what was soon dubbed the “Golden Mile.”

Sunday, December 06, 2015

before yorkdale had fashionable santas


Don Mills Mirror, November 22, 1972

Yorkdale Shopping Centre has earned more than the usual publicity for one of its Santas this year -- "Fashion Santa," a sartorially-smart take on the jolly old elf. While this take on St. Nick is designed to appeal to adults, kids can still find a traditional Santa at the mall much as they have since the 1960s.

Yorkdale was among the North York malls the Don Mills Mirror visited in 1972 to talk to the men behind the beards. While I mentioned this story in a "Vintage Toronto Ads" column for Torontoist, here is the full article.

dmm 72-12-13 local santa clauses
Don Mills Mirror, December 13, 1972. Click on image for larger version.

Friday, December 04, 2015

off the grid: ghost city rosedale park

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 20, 2012.

Rosedale Field clubhouse, November 30, 1921. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 615.
During World War II, Montreal-based Park Steamship Company named additions to its war cargo fleet after a few Canadian parks. Among those chosen were Hillcrest and Rosedale. Assigned to write historical plaques about each park, poet P.K. Page contacted Toronto civic officials for background information. Parks commissioner Charles E. Chambers provided Page with the info she required, but noted at the end of a March 27, 1944 letter that “neither park has any historical importance.”

Monday, November 30, 2015

bonus features: scenes from the brunswick house

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.

Globe, December 12, 1921
Ontario implemented prohibition of liquor sales via the Ontario Temperance Act in 1916. It was about as successful as such things go, which is to say, people still wanted to drink. Its repeal began in 1924 (after which weaker beer was allowed), then replaced entirely in 1927 by the creation of the LCBO.

A follow-up to Mr. Jennes's transgression appeared in the Globe five days later. Along the line, his last name lost an "e":
Fred Jenns, bartender at the Brunswick Hotel, was fined $50 and costs or 10 days for obstructing  the police. Jenns held on to an officer when he entered to look for liquor. The explanation was that Jenns kept a little liquor for his own use, and that he did not mean to obstruct the police.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the end of eaton's

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on August 28, 2012. This was the final installment of the column, though I continued writing for the paper under the "Ghost City" banner.
Toronto Star, August 21, 1999.
“The notice posted on the doors of the flagship Eaton’s store in the Toronto Eaton Centre on the morning of August 23, 1999 is not the usual professional presentation,” observed Eaton-family biographer Rod McQueen. “The 8-1/2 by 11″ document has been photocopied and hung in place with Scotch tape. The typescript statement, evocative of the words carved on a tombstone, reads: ‘The T. Eaton Company Limited, an insolvent person, pursuant to subsection 50.4(1) of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, intends to make a proposal to its creditors.’”

Shoppers lined up outside the store that morning, expecting bargains galore as Eaton’s began to liquidate its stock. They were disappointed; the details were still being worked out, and the great sell-off wouldn’t begin for two more days. While some customers bought items before they vanished forever, others browsed quickly before wandering off empty-handed. Nostalgia for a faltering Canadian icon was one thing; benefitting from its misery was another.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. dining at the coxwell kresge

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 26, 2012.

Kresge's Come to Toronto
Toronto Star ad announcing Kresge's arrival in Toronto, June 12, 1929. The original location on Danforth west of Woodbine is, as of November 2015, occupied by Dollarama. Click on image for larger version.
While modern successors of five-and-dime stores like Dollarama expand across the city, they lack certain attributes their ancestors possessed. You won’t find the mingling of odours from parakeets, popcorn, and rubber boots. You won’t find the latest chart-topping records. And, in the chains at least, you won’t find a classic lunch counter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 20 st. joseph street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 6, 2012.

Creating more space within a heritage building can be tricky, especially if plans outlining previous changes are unavailable. When the Canadian Music Centre wanted to open up its main floor for a performance space and lounge, architects worked around obstacles like central-air ducts installed over the course of the former Victorian home’s history.

Monday, October 12, 2015

an editorial about bigotry and federal election campaigns, 1904

The [Toronto] News, October 28, 1904. 
Given the ugliness of the 2015 federal election campaign, especially regarding bigotry and excessive partisanship, it's unfortunate that comments within this 1904 Toronto newspaper editorial are still relevant. Only a few words require adjustment to reflect the present situation.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

early adventures in the journalism trade department: destination downtown

Packing for a move inevitably causes glimpses of your past to resurface, especially when you have packrat tendencies. Sifting through a pile of papers atop my record shelf, I found a golden yellow folder cover in newsprint-smudged fingerprints. Inside were multiple copies of several stories I wrote for the University of Guelph's newspaper, the Ontarion, during my final year in academia. I suspect the articles in the folder were intended to be attached to job applications, which I sent plenty of as I tried to sort out my future and avoid a forced return to the Windsor area.

Among the clips was this piece, my first feature-length foray into urban issues, published during the summer semester after I graduated. My work for the Ontarion had been almost exclusively arts-related or the weekly archival roundup, though I had started to slip in the odd news story (such as covering hearings for a student occupation which occurred while I had been abroad). When this article was published, I still had no idea what the future held. By summer's end, I became the arts and culture editor after the initial hire left. 

Little did I know that two decades later covering urban revitalization would still be on my professional radar. 

Click on the images for larger versions. 
ontariondowntown1

ontariondowntown2
The Ontarion, May 26-June 8, 1998.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. cbc's black wednesday (and the impact in windsor)

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on April 10, 2012.

Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, December 7, 1990.
It was an evening that should have been joyous for Canadian television. But as the Gemini Awards ceremony ended on December 4, 1990, the audience learned of an ominous announcement on that night’s edition of The National. The hosts of Monitor—the Gemini-nominated investigative-news series that aired on Toronto’s CBC affiliate, CBLT—stood arm-in-arm as they watched a story indicating that CBC would slash $110 million from its budget by closing 10 regional TV stations and cutting 1,200 employees. It was believed that Monitor was among the shows that would get the axe, an event for which co-host Jeffrey Kofman seemed prepared. “Toronto is already well served by the media,” he told the Star. “I’ve had five great years. I’ll survive.” The punctured mood was summed up by Peter Mansbridge, who found it difficult to enjoy his Best Broadcast Journalist award “when I know a lot of my colleagues will be losing their jobs.”

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

off the grid: the choosing of an interim toronto mayor, 1978

Looking through my files recently, I found this story, which was published by The Grid toward the end of 2012. Details are sketchy - I suspect it was one of those pieces which fell off the website before the publication folded. I don't remember what the original title of this article was, though the sub-head likely mentioned Rob Ford during a time when it appeared he might be tossed from office.

ts 78-08-27 johnston beavis title fight
Toronto Star, August 27, 1978, Click on image for larger version.
When Toronto city councillors voted for an interim mayor on September 1, 1978, the deadlock the media predicted came to pass. Candidates Fred Beavis and Anne Johnston had 11 votes each. Under the law, there was one solution to determine who would fill the last three months of David Crombie’s term: placing the contenders’ names in a cardboard box.

Monday, October 05, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 1172 dundas street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on May 2, 2013.

Dempster's Staff of Life Bakery is visible in the background of this streetcar track construction shot taken along Dundas Street on July 19, 1917. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 681.
During the last decades of the 19th century, the Toronto bread market was a battleground. Bakers faced resistance from housewives used to making their own loaves and tough battles for customers with an increasing supply of commercial competitors. When teenager George Weston entered the business in the early 1880s, the future food mogul joined nearly 60 other city bakers and nearly 60 more confectioneries.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

bonus features: revisiting the past lives of st. lawrence market

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.

St. Lawrence Market, north market (1850-1904), Front St. E., north side, between Market & Jarvis Sts.; interior, main corridor, looking north, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library. Click on image for larger version.
The construction of the 1904 incarnation of the north market was anything but a smooth process. Mind you, if you changed the few specific details, the following Star editorial could apply to many projects which go off the rails.

star 1904-09-19 editorial on slm
Toronto Star, September 19, 1904.

Monday, September 14, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 10 scrivener square

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on May 14, 2013. Last week, an onsite time capsule was opened.

Globe, September 10, 1915.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was tired of arguing. Negotiations with government bodies over the development of a replacement for the existing Union Station were heading nowhere fast. Fatigued by squabbling, in 1912, the CPR moved several passenger routes from downtown to a line it controlled in the north end of the city. While a train station already existed on the west side of Yonge Street near Summerhill Avenue, it hardly matched CPR executives’ visions of grandeur.

Friday, September 11, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 696 yonge street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 29, 2013. The building is still boarded up as of this reprint.

Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.
The Church of Scientology’s Toronto headquarters are in the midst of an “Ideal Org” makeover—signalled, last month, by boards nailed to the Yonge Street high-rise. While it remains to be seen whether the move will fracture the controversial faith’s local followers as similar, costly refurbishings have in other cities, the plans are less than modest, indicating a colourful new façade will be placed on the almost-60-year-old office building, along with a new bookstore, café, theatre, and “testing centre” inside.

Built around 1955 in the International style of architecture, 696 Yonge’s initial tenant roster included recognizable brands like Avon cosmetics and Robin Hood flour. They were joined by an array of accounting firms, coal and mining companies, and the Belgian consulate, along with a number of construction and property management companies run by Samuel Diamond, whose name later graced the building.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

bonus features: memory lane

This post offers supplementary material for an article I originally wrote for The Grid, and was recently republished by Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece. 

ts 66-07-23 viking books profile
Toronto Star, July 23, 1966. Click on image for larger version.
Of the other stores mentioned in this article, Ryerson Press's home at 299 Queen West would become home to the CHUM/CITY media empire.

Friday, August 28, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 672 dupont street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 1, 2013.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1915.
Employees of the Ford Motor Company likely smiled as 1915 dawned. During a January banquet at the automaker’s recently opened plant at the northwest corner of Dupont and Christie, employees learned they were receiving an across-the-board raise and would soon be joined by a fresh batch of co-workers. There aren’t any reports, however, as to whether workers celebrated by taking extra spins in freshly-built Model Ts on the rooftop test track.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the golden age of swarming

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on April 24, 2012.


Globe and Mail, May 27, 1989.
Depending on the city, the practice had different names—“bum rushing” in New York, “trashing” in Los Angeles, “steaming” in London. As the 1980s came to a close, the media in Toronto reported that a growing number of local youths participated in “swarming” attacks on individuals and businesses to steal jackets, jewellery, money, shoes, and, in the case of the Yonge and Eglinton branch of Fran’s, pastry. These incidents heightened fears about increased gang activity and how to handle restless, disaffected youth throughout all socio-economic levels in the city.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 1115 queen street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 27, 2012.

Queen-Lisgar library branch, 1909. Toronto Public Library.
When the Theatre Centre launches its new space in the old Queen-Lisgar library next year, it’s unlikely there will be as many disappointed faces as have witnessed past grand openings at 1115 Queen Street West.

The building’s origins date back to 1903, when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie granted $350,000 to the city to build a new central library and three neighbourhood branches. The grant allowed the Toronto Public Library to own sites rather than rent existing buildings. In the case of Queen-Lisgar, it replaced a 20-year-old branch rented on Ossington Avenue that had inherited the collection of an earlier Parkdale library. The new building was designed in a Beaux-Arts style by City Architect Robert McCallum, whose other surviving projects include the palm house in Allan Gardens. During its official opening on April 30, 1909, Chief Librarian George Herbert Locke assured the audience that the shelves would be fully stocked by the following week. Another speaker noted that the library would include special facilities for mechanics and students, but “the sort of fiction ladies were reputed to be fond of would occupy a secondary place.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 568 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on March 5, 2013.

Alhambra theatre, September 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 263. 
When was the last time you were handed a ceremonial program at the opening of a new mainstream movie theatre? Attendees at the debut of the Alhambra on November 17, 1919 received a 14-page booklet extolling the virtues of the new theatre, along with a glimpse at upcoming attractions. The owners hoped that patrons would enjoy “the first of many pleasant evenings of relaxation to be spent in this perfectly appointed Temple of Silent Art.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 832 bay street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 9, 2012.

Bay Street, looking south from Grosvenor Street, April 24, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7582. Click on image for larger version.
From a distance, the recently completed Burano condominium tower appears to be the latest high-rise residential space along Bay Street. At street level, its ties to the past are more apparent through a nearly 90-year old façade whose angles parallel the jog along Bay north of Grenville Street. Residents will soon be moving into a site whose base offered sales and service for generations of General Motors customers.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

off the grid: 146 dupont street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on December 4, 2012. A longer story about Hans Fread later appeared as a Historicist column for Torontoist

Sign of the Steer restaurant, northeast corner of Davenport and Dupont, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 504. Click on image for larger version.
Food and furnishings. These have been the staples for the revolving door of occupants at the northeast corner of Davenport Road and Dupont Street for over half-a-century.

Back at the turn of the 1960s, this high-turnover site brought such ruin to original owner Hans Fread, Canada’s first star chef, that 146 Dupont was known for years as “Hans Fread’s Folly.” However, for this notoriously outspoken restaurateur, most of his follies were self-inflicted; as he once admitted, “I am sometimes like a little boy with a big mouth—when I am angry, I talk too much and it comes back to hurt me.” Originally a lawyer in Germany, Fread fled to Canada in 1934 to escape the Nazi regime he openly criticized. Arriving in Toronto during World War II, he worked at the King Edward Hotel before opening Sign of the Steer in a converted house at Dupont and St. George in 1948. Fread quickly attracted lineups for specialties like pan-fried steaks branded with a poker to resemble grill marks, and other European-styled meals that stood out in a dull dining town. And his word was the law during his meals—minor requests from diners for adjustments weren’t tolerated. His notoriety grew to the point that CBC offered him airtime on its new television service, which led to Hans in the Kitchen (1953–54).

Sunday, August 09, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 222 lansdowne avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on November 13, 2012.
ts 36-06-24 new plant
Toronto Star, June 24, 1936.
Over 75 years after the first cash register rolled off the line at the National Cash Register (NCR) plant at Dundas Street West and Landsdowne Avenue, the bells are still ringing. The shell of classic industrial architecture seems appropriate for the warehouse-style grocers who have taken advantage of the building’s ample room for refrigeration, storage, and merchandising since the mid-1970s.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. late nights at people's foods

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 5, 2012. As of August 2015, the site is occupied by Rose and Sons restaurant.

ts 87-10-18 late night peoples
Toronto Star, October 18, 1987. Click on image for larger version.

Patrons intending to dine at People’s Foods on Dupont Street were greeted last week with a notice on the door stating that the half-century old diner was closing due to its lease expiring. Though one report suggests that the owners hope to find a new location, for now, regulars will have to look elsewhere for greasy-spoon staples and jukebox selectors at their booths.

A quarter of a century ago, People’s was among the “denziens of the dark hours” that the Toronto Star spotlighted in an article on life in the city between midnight and dawn. A 24-hour eatery at the time, People’s saw an early-morning procession of shift workers, police, and frat boys grazing on homemade burgers and onion rings. “The dazzling fluorescent lights are always on,” the Star noted, “and at 2:45 a.m. Thomas Rygopoulos is hefting a huge piece of solid white fat—easily measuring a cubic foot—from a blue plastic bag into the deep fryer. The customers want more French fries.” Rygopoulos had worked at People’s for five years when the Star visited. “People eat the same as in the daytime,” he noted. “You know how 1 o’clock is lunch time? It’s the same at night: 1 to 3 o’clock is lunch time at night.”

Among the diners were two University of Toronto students discussing a major crisis: An acquaintance about to be married had his bride-to-be back out 36 hours before the ceremony. Amid silent pauses over numerous refills of coffee, they contemplated how to rebound from such a situation. At least one of the students seemed to have problems of his own, as he told his friend, “the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that at least one person in this world feels worse than I do.” Both men noted they were regulars at People’s—one described it as “a landmark for romantic, bohemian fantasies … It’s the restaurant of the people.”

People’s wasn’t the only food-related stop on the Star’s late-night tour. On Danforth Avenue near Pape, Phil Cho sold produce at the Greenview Fruit Market. When asked who bought oranges at three in the morning, he replied, “taxi drivers. There are a few health nuts, so every night they need their oranges.” He also found that drunks would eat just about anything that caught their eye, even if it meant a smashed watermelon or two. Restaurant and shift workers tended to cause less chaos, as their purchases tended to head home.
There might have been items bought at Greenview among the debris that “Tokyo Rose” took care of nightly. The TTC’s subway-cleaning car derived its name not from the World War II axis propaganda agent but from the city it was manufactured in and a mocking reference to the sweet smell of garbage. Cleaner Elio Romano referred to the subway tracks as a “hobo’s paradise” due to the longer-than-average cigarette butts he tossed into his garbage bag.

The article ended with a glimpse of dawn at People’s, where Rygopoulos prepared breakfast for early birds. The creatures of the night had moved on to give way to those facing a new day, much as the restaurant’s home since 1963 may now face a new morning.

Additional material from the October 18, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star.

Monday, August 03, 2015

toronto sun mad libs: 1996 olympic bid edition

sun 1990-09-19 page 25 macdonald
Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990. Click on image for larger version.
Working on my epic-length piece on the history of Toronto's Summer Olympics bids last week, I was amused by several opinion pieces published in the Toronto Sun during the drive to host the 1996 games. It wasn't just that they attacked opponents of the bid, it was that they did so in stereotypical bombastic Sun style.

off the grid: ghost city loring-wyle parkette

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

"Young Girl," Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005. 
They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

Sunday, August 02, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. caribana turns 20

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 31, 2012.

ts 87-07-31 whats on front page
Toronto Star, July 31, 1987.
 “Caribana has become an important staple in the cultural diet of this city. And we feel encouraged that it has now been accepted in the mainstream.” Those words from festival coordinator LeRoi Cox reflected the confidence organizers felt as Caribana (the predecessor to the current Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival) celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1987. Rather than headlines reflecting fears of violence and criminal activity, coverage during that landmark year highlighted how to enjoy it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. waitin' for the spadina streetcar

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 19, 2012.

gm 97-07-26 streetcar opening preview
Globe and Mail, July 26, 1997. Click on image for larger version.
Lovers of wild pants and saxophones rejoice! As of this week, the Spadina bus of 1980s musical fame has returned while platform reconstruction takes the streetcar right-of-way out of service for several months. And the return of bus service might reawaken arguments that stalled the construction of the Spadina streetcar line for years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

off the grid: ghost city cumberland terrace

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 15, 2013.

Toronto Life, December 1985.
That Cumberland Terrace exists as a time capsule of shopping-mall design fits well with one of the site’s earliest uses: A cemetery preserving the memory of loved ones. Currently honoured with a plaque on the 2 Bloor West tower, Potter’s Field was Toronto’s first non-denominational burial ground when it opened in July 1826.

Friday, July 17, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. "temperance bill" temple keeps the junction dry

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 12, 2012.

The City, November 4, 1979.
As Toronto settles into patio season, pause for a moment if you enjoy a fermented beverage with friends. As late as 2000, enjoying a summer drink in public was impossible in portions of The Junction, a legacy of the dedicated efforts of “Temperance Bill” Temple to keep the neighbourhood dry.

“He doesn’t look like a slayer of giants,” began William Stephenson’s profile of Temple for the Star’s The City supplement in 1979. “Not when he’s cruising the boulevards of the west end in his little red Pontiac. Nor while applying his special English to the balls at the Runnymede Lawn Bowling Club or felling the five-pins at the Plantation Bowlerama. Certainly not when he’s flirting with the nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital each time he picks up the Meals-on-Wheels for delivery to Swansea’s shut-ins. On such occasions, the 5-foot-7, 130-pounder in the jaunty fedora and sport shirt looks like a successful politician, a Vic Tanny salesman, or perhaps a showbiz personality.”

Yet William Horace Temple slayed a few giants in his lifetime. The largest was Ontario Premier George Drew, who Temple, a faithful member of the CCF/NDP, defeated in the riding of High Park during the 1948 provincial election, despite having a budget one-fiftieth the size. Temple, who had lost by 400 votes in the previous election five years earlier, benefitted from fears about the repercussions of government legislation allowing cocktail lounges. Following Drew’s defeat, the provincial Tories used extreme caution in future attempts to loosen liquor laws.

At the time of The City article, Temple had celebrated his 80th birthday by downing quarts of tea. Though he once admitted to enjoying drinks to celebrate the end of World War I, Temple disdained anyone who imbibed. He believed the media was afraid to combat alcohol due to the power distillers held as advertisers, and claimed that all the negative aspects of American prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s was propaganda spread by liquor interests. “Booze enslaves, corrupts, destroys the moral fibre of a community,” Temple noted. “Battling the booze barons is the only honourable course for a citizen.”

Temple’s disdain for booze stemmed from his father, an abusive alcoholic train conductor. As a pilot in France during World War I, Temple frequently guided tipsy airmen to bed. As an RCAF duty officer during World War II, Temple infuriated his superiors by denying passes to senior officers he felt were too drunk to fly—“I had an uncomfortable war,” he later noted.

Keeping West Toronto alcohol-free was high among his pet projects. Its dry status dated back to 1904, when it was still an independent municipality. One of the conditions imposed when the area was annexed by Toronto in 1909 was that a two-stage vote (one for retail sale, one for restaurants) would be required to approve alcohol. The first major test came in the mid-1960s, when the owners of the Westway Hotel at Dundas and Heintzman organized a petition to allow alcohol sales. Temple, who headed the West Toronto Inter-church Temperance Federation (WTITF), delayed a vote by two years by proving many of the names on the petition were invalid. When the vote came in January 1966, the drys won. Temple’s forces won by an even larger margin in 1972, despite promises from a proposed Bloor Street bar to turns its proceeds over to Variety Village. Yet another vote in 1984 failed to sway the community.

Temple’s last hurrah came shortly after his death in April 1988. Smart money said that the temperance movement would collapse during a plebiscite that autumn without Temple’s determination and energy. “We did it for Bill,” proclaimed Derwyn Foley of WTITF when the drys won again. But it was one of the temperance side’s last victories. Throughout the 1990s, neighbourhoods within the dry area voted to allow alcohol. The last holdout, bounded by Bloor, Dundas, and Keele, voted 76 per cent in favour of allowing booze to be sold at restaurants in 2000 after dire predictions of increased crime and decay failed to materialize in the newly wet areas. As some proponents of alcohol sales predicted, an influx of businesses and eateries gradually flowed into The Junction.

If there’s an afterlife, it’s easy to imagine Temple’s reaction upon learning West Toronto had finally got wet. They would be the same words he yelled when he disrupted a Hiram Walker shareholders meeting in 1968 to find out if the distiller was funding politicians: “Sheep, nothing but sheep!”

Additional material from the November 4, 1979 edition of The City, the April 11, 1988 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 11, 1988 and November 15, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

Bonus: here are some of the comments which originally accompanied this article.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. family living, downtown style

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 17, 2012.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday mused that the city’s core “is not the ideal place” to raise a family. His sentiments about children playing in traffic on busy arteries aren’t anything that hasn’t been heard before, however wrong they are: families who have chosen to live deep downtown have long heard arguments about the suitability of such an environment for their children, especially from committed suburbanites like Holyday.

During a meeting of the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Toronto in May 1985, planners, developers, and investment advisors reviewed the city’s plans to redevelop the railway lands north of the Gardiner Expressway. They concluded that the city’s vision of having families eventually living there ran counter to the ways in which downtowns ought to be saved. Sounding not unlike Holyday, ULI president Claude Ballard said that children should be raised outside the core, in neighbourhoods where they could walk to school or rescue balls that rolled out into the street with minimal fear of being run over. Downtown living of the future, the argument went, was for empty-nesters who required less space once their offspring left home. In a rebuttal printed in the Globe and Mail, Toronto-based planner Ken Greenberg rejected Ballard’s vision, noting that “it is Toronto’s unwillingness in the past to follow conventional North American wisdom” on issues like encouraging families to live downtown that “goes a long way toward explaining why we have the much admired vitality, safety, and cleanliness on our streets.” Greenberg was likely referring to recently developed neighbourhoods like St. Lawrence, where mixed incomes and a large number of co-ops let its residents foster a community where children could enjoy a less homogenous upbringing than their parents had.

Eighteen years later, the Star profiled several families who had moved into condos and lofts in the core. Parents interviewed in the May 2003 article praised, as one parent put it, the “complete and full spectrum of life in the city” that their kids enjoyed steps away from home. Shorter commutes to downtown jobs provided more time for families to spend together during the work week. All enjoyed the ability to walk everywhere, which was a big draw for former Brampton resident Lisa Voutt. Despite friends and relatives in the burbs thinking she was “kind of nuts” for moving her family into a loft near St. Lawrence Market, Voutt enjoyed being freed from a car-centric lifestyle and noted the confidence with which her preteen daughters got themselves around the core by foot or TTC, and the large number of nearby activities they participated in.

Also interviewed for the article was Adam Vaughan, who had recently moved with his daughter into a condo not far from his job at the time as a CityTV reporter. “I wanted a place that was close to the culture of the city, the galleries, the music, and close to the politics of the city,” he told the Star. “All the things that were important to me. I wanted my daughter to understand how her father related to the city and have her relate to the city.” After he was elected to city council three years later, Vaughan advocated a 10 per cent requirement for three-bedroom units in developments to aid families experiencing problems with finding enough space to live in. Developers shot back that they had trouble competing with suburban projects on price, which meant the larger units were often among the last to sell.

Doug Holyday’s long-held views on where families should live, and his belief in the supremacy of market forces on determining housing stock, shouldn’t make his most recent comments a surprise. As an Etobicoke alderman in the mid-1980s, he opposed that city’s proposals to limit the number of apartment buildings that were designated for adult occupancy only. In a period where vacancy rates were low, families looking for apartments in Etobicoke—especially those with lower incomes—sometimes settled for sub-par dwellings as one landlord after another rejected their applications. Holyday blamed provincial rent controls, and housing activists who he felt exaggerated the problems that tenants faced.

His views didn’t win the day, as the provincial government banned adult-only apartment buildings (apart from seniors’ complexes and structures with four units or less) in December 1986. Holyday’s hate-on for rent controls didn’t fade—when Toronto city council voted in April 1999 to establish a task force to make the restoration of controls scrapped by Premier Mike Harris’s government an issue during the next provincial election, Holyday was the lone councillor to oppose the motion.

Additional material from the March 5, 1985, May 6, 1985, and May 14, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the May 11, 2003 and June 26, 2008 editions of the Toronto Star.

Monday, June 29, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. tip-toeing around tipping

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on August 14, 2012.

ts 79-07-11 tipping
Toronto Star, July 11, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

“Tipping is a questionable practice,” began a July 1979 Star editorial, “but as long as it remains a factor in determining the wages of restaurant employees in Ontario, everything should be done to ensure they receive the tips they’re entitled to.” Issues surrounding tipping—including surveys regarding the public’s bill-topping habits and concerns among servers about proper tip distribution—were highlighted by the paper that month, though many of the issues discussed remain contentious.

The spring of 1979 saw several labour grievances launched by angry servers at downtown bars and restaurants. Arbitration ended the El Mocambo’s policy of requiring bartenders to pay back one per cent of total booze sales during their shift to their managers; less successful were waiters at Noodles restaurant at Bloor and Bay and the Courtyard Café in the Windsor Arms Hotel. The sister eateries employed a percentage-of-sales tip distribution system where waiters paid two-and-a-half per cent of the night’s sales to the maître d’, up to two per cent to busboys, and five dollars a week to the bartender. Servers filed a grievance through the Canadian Food and Associated Services Union, objecting to the maître d’s cut, which often wound up being 20 per cent of the tips they would have received. Management countered that the front-of-house staff were essential to good service by setting the tone, greeting guests, and providing general assistance. According to Windsor Arms food and beverage manager Frank Falgaux, “when you tip you feel you are paying the waiter. But if everything was good then all those people contributed. A tip is really for the team that makes the whole dining room.” The arbitrator agreed with management.

gm 79-05-15 tipping 2
Globe and Mail, May 15, 1979.
Servers at some establishments also found themselves saddled with the responsibility for paying credit-card transaction fees that their bosses wouldn’t absorb on their own. Management at Sherlock’s on Sheppard Street explained that the practice allowed the server to pay their part of “the expenses involved in collecting for the charge account” rather than passing the fee directly onto customers. Combined with other cuts, Sherlock’s waitress Sybil Walker estimated that, out of a weekly gross of up to $300 she earned in tips, up to $120 was passed on to others—a significant loss given that minimum wage for servers back then was $2.50 per hour.

While many diners automatically paid the standard 15 to 20 per cent tip during the summer of 1979, Bardi’s Steak House owner and Canadian Restaurant Association president Alex Manikas suggested they should be more discerning. “A waiter who greets you cheerfully and is genuinely attentive warrants a bigger gratuity than the cold, proper automaton in white gloves,” he told the Star. But that philosophy didn’t occur to difficult customers. In an incident at the Peter Pan on Queen Street West, a customer who occupied a prime table during peak dining hours with his girlfriend to enjoy a bottle of wine and carrot cake left the change he received from server Hillary Kelly for his $9.98 bill—two pennies. When she asked why he was “so tight,” he responded, “because I’m a socialist. I don’t believe in tipping.” Kelly told him that she was a worker and he had insulted her efforts. She threw the tip back at him and the rest of the restaurant cheered as he departed in a huff.

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Toronto Star, August 23, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
As for the secret of receiving generous tips, Fran’s waitress supervisor Jessie Logan suggested “catering to the whims of a regular customer, no matter how eccentric they may seem.” She recalled a diner at the chain’s St. Clair location, “a quiet, well-dressed man in his 30s,” who dropped by nightly to order a meal current health authorities would pounce on in a second: a raw hamburger accompanied by a glass of milk with a whole egg (including the shell) placed in it. “The bill would come to less than two bucks. You know what he would tip me? No less than $5 and up to $35 per night. They don’t make great, loony tippers like that anymore.”

There had been an effort to form a waiters association to replace tipping with a flat 15 per cent service charge a la several European countries, but it fizzled when employers balked. Not that all restaurant owners were opposed—La Cantinetta owner Luigi Orgera, who had servers at his King Street restaurant place their tips in a pool, felt a service charge would allow waiters to receive higher pay and equalize generous and miserly tippers. He believed that “the pay would be better so we could attract a better staff.”

But tipping—and the controversies surrounding it—remain with us, as demonstrated by a recent private member’s bill from Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue to forbid management from taking a share of tips.

Additional material from the May 15, 1979, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the July 11, 1979, and July 16, 1979, editions of the Toronto Star.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the birth of queen street west

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on April 17, 2012.

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1979.

With Silver Snail’s impending move to Yonge Street, one of the few remnants of the original Queen West strip is departing the scene. The ongoing transformation of the stretch between University and Spadina into a row of chain stores is just the latest evolution of the street. Back in the winter of 1979, the Star and Toronto Life devoted lengthy articles to the birth of what would become, as one headline put it, “gutter glamour on Glitter Street.”

The Star depicted pre-hip Queen West as such:
Six years ago, the unwary Saturday afternoon browser who slipped off Yonge St. on to Queen St. W. unwittingly fell off the edge of the known shopping world. At that time, deepest darkest Queen St. W.—notably the few blocks between John St. and Spadina—had little to offer the inquisitive, well-heeled young shopper with money to spend. There were the old, antique shops, the porno shops and the Turner Wine Store at the corner of John and Queen with its down-at-heel clientele of listless, hungry men, the greasy spoons, office buildings and machine shops. Even the more adventurous would go scurrying back to Yonge St. or north to Bloor, with its classy, high-priced Yorkville.
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Toronto Star, February 2, 1979. Click on image for larger version.
Toronto Life characterized the area as a marginal strip on the fringes of the clothing trade, where the streetscape was “inhabited by transient winos and the ethnics who had failed to prosper in the new country, ‘old-country good-for-nothings’ in the eyes of their more successful compatriots.”

Several explanations were given for why the landscape changed. There was the influence of Ontario College of Art graduates who stayed in the neighbourhood. Rent was far lower than in Yorkville, which provided better profit margins for the new business owners whose average age was 30 to 35. There was the allure of nearby cultural attractions like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Alex. Frequent streetcar service and plenty of on- and off-street parking didn’t hurt.

Queen Street looking west from St. Patrick's Market, June 7, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526,  File 76, Item 29. Click on image for larger version.
The result, according to the Star, was a neighbourhood where “the spirit of trend” had “raised her elegant skirts” and nestled “among scores of bright, funky craft stores, highbrow art book and comic book shops, new antique emporiums, elegant eateries and purveyors of the crazy, imaginative baubles that attract the moneyed restless.” A few reminders of the old days, like the A. Stork and Sons poultry store and a touch of industrial pollution, lingered on.

Both articles viewed the refurbishment of the Peter Pan restaurant as the turning point for the strip. With a history as an eatery stretching back to 1905 (and under its present name since 1935), the diner at 373 Queen St. W. attracted three partners who discovered old booths, counters, and fixtures gathering dust in the basement. After a refurbishment, the new Peter Pan was, according to the Star, “an art deco wonderland, a smash hit with the city’s young affluent.” That is, it was a hit if you could stand the servers, who Toronto Life declared the representative figure of the new Queen West (“the narcissistic waiter who’s in a punk band”).

Queen Street looking west from Beverley Street, June 7, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526,  File 76, Item 30. Click on image for larger version.
Of the 27 businesses listed in the Star’s “Where to shop in new village” guide and a few others included on a map, only four will continue on Queen West following Silver Snail’s departure: the Black Bull, Peter Pan, the Queen Mother Café and Steve’s Music Store. Even in 1979, merchants worried about the street’s future. “I don’t want too much change in the original street,” noted Peter Pan co-owner Sandy Stagg. “Change will come, I know. I just hope we can keep it under control.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1979 edition of the Toronto Star and the March 1979 edition of Toronto Life.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. burying the gardiner

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 24, 2012. And, as we predicted, people are still devising burial plans for the Gardiner.

Jarvis Street, east side, looking northeast from Lake Shore Boulevard East, showing Gardiner Expressway under construction, 1963. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5603.
“I’ve looked at this darn thing from one end to the other and I can’t think of anything I would like to change.” Frederick Gardiner’s verdict on the expressway that would bear his name was not one future municipal officials shared. Within a decade-and-a-half of the Gardiner’s completion in 1965, grumblings arose from City Hall that the elevated section through the core should be knocked down. Like clockwork, every few years a plan to bury or replace the freeway emerges. Each plan is initially greeted with relief that the waterfront will soon be rid of what many people have perceived as an eyesore and barrier. Just as predictable is the backlash, which usually involves fears about runaway costs and traffic Armageddon during construction. Given the current crumbling state of the Gardiner, somebody is devising a new burial plan as you read these words.

One of the first serious contemplations to tear the sucker down came in the fall of 1983, when Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton asked city staff to investigate burying the Gardiner. Eggleton was supported by Metro Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey, who saw a golden opportunity for a new route through the not-yet-redeveloped railways lands to the north. Godfrey justifiably feared that “with all the bureaucracy and red tape involved in putting a roadway of that magnitude through, I really wonder whether we’ll all be alive to see it, even if all the money is available.”

Toronto Star, September 30, 1983.
The opportunity to use the railway lands soon evaporated, but other ideas abounded. City planning commissioner Stephen McLaughlin described to the Star three plans submitted to the city: “modest” ($25 million to demolish the Jarvis and York ramps and build a new exit at an extended Simcoe Street); “grand” (place the Gardiner in a trench or tunnel between Bathurst and Jarvis); and “visionary” (for $1 billion or so, re-route the Gardiner into a tunnel under Lake Ontario).

Such plans were hooey to Sam Cass, Metro roads and traffic commissioner, and staunch defender of the Gardiner. Cass, who was still promoting the completion of the Spadina Expressway in 1983, called the Gardiner “a beautiful structure that’s still doing what it was designed to do.” While we won’t quibble with Cass over aesthetics such as the view of the city skyline while cruising along in open traffic, his contention that maintaining it wouldn’t cost much proved incorrect. Cass boasted that the Gardiner required no repair during its first decade-and-a-half and figured once a modestly priced five-year program to fix salt damage was completed, the elevated section wouldn’t require further repair for a quarter-century. Given Cass’s math, the Gardiner is crumbling on schedule.

Toronto Star, January 20, 1988. Click on image for larger version.
As annual repairs became a reality, calls for the Gardiner’s burial increased, especially as other cities contemplated demolishing their elevated highways. In a lengthy 1988 piece on why the Gardiner should come down, the Globe and Mail’s John Barber likened it to a Cadillac in a scrapyard. As chunks of concrete fell and its steel skeleton rusted, Barber declared “the highway that began life as a heroic symbol of the city’s progress is now just an overflowing traffic sewer.”

Among those Barber spoke with about alternative options was developer William Teron, whose company was covering over a section of the Boulevard Périphérique in Paris. Bringing his plan to municipal officials in 1990, Teron proposed an eight-lane Gardiner buried along the waterfront and a revamped, landscaped Lake Shore Boulevard. He promised to deliver the highway in less than three years and cover the $1 billion cost in exchange for development rights for housing and offices along the Gardiner’s former route, which Teron figured would recoup his costs. Naysayers included Metro traffic officials, who warned of cost overruns, overstatement of green space, massive traffic tie-ups during construction, and disruptions to TTC service.

Teron’s plan went nowhere, as did the succession of proposals that arose over the next two decades. Visions of a buried Gardiner emerging from both City Hall and various task forces and waterfront authorities came and went, scuttled by fears over cost, voter reaction to tolls, watching the extended Big Dig in Boston, and complacency. Among our favourite quotes was councillor Howard Moscoe’s reaction to a 1999 proposal where the builders of the 407 ETR would have managed a $2 toll per trip to drive through a tunnel: “a truly a pie-in-the-ground proposal.” As experts and city officials are confident there’s no danger of total collapse anytime soon, odds are good everyone will enjoy the elevated section for a long time to come. Once the concrete is shored up perhaps another recurring plan for the Gardiner will re-emerge: building attractions and/or businesses under it.

Additional material from the October 28, 1988 edition of the Globe and Mail, the February 9, 1999 edition of the National Post, and the September 30, 1983, September 13, 1989, April 24, 1990, and July 15, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. mel lastman vs. adam vaughan

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 8, 2012.

Shortly after becoming mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman was asked if he worried about his wife Marilyn’s verbal snafus. “All the time,” he said. “But I find it cute and if people don’t like it, too bad.” The same could be said of Mel’s odd outbursts, yet few found it cute when Lastman uttered a death threat against CBC reporter (and current city councillor) Adam Vaughan in May 1999.

Thanks to a police leak, it was an open secret among City Hall reporters that Marilyn Lastman was caught shoplifting a $155 pair of designer pants at the Promenade Mall Eaton’s on April 19, 1999. According to the police report no charges were laid “due to her age as well as no outstanding offences on her record.” Sources close to Marilyn believed the pressures of Mel’s job had resulted in depression and prescription drug use. The incident was kept quiet until the satirical magazine Frank published a story that declined to name either Lastman.

When some city councillors indicated that Vaughan, who had a testy relationship with the mayor, was sniffing around the shoplifting incident, Lastman assumed he was behind the Frank piece. On May 11, 1999, Lastman noticed Vaughan talking with councillor Kyle Rae in the council chamber and angrily approached him. “Before I could say anything,” Vaughan told the Star, “he burst in on me and said, ‘I’ve heard you’ve been talking about my wife. Stop talking about my wife. Leave my family alone. If you don’t leave them alone, I’ll kill you. I’ll write every letter I have to to the CBC to get you fired. Do you understand?’” The outburst earned stunned looks around the chamber. “No one likes being threatened, especially with death and firing,” noted Vaughan. “It shakes you up a bit.”

Lastman issued an apology to Vaughan later that day. The letter noted that “it was improper to have a private conversation with you in a public place. It was also a conversation inappropriate in tone and language. If you have been offended by our conversation then I am sorry for my words. I would like to sit down in private with you to apologize in person and to have an appropriate private discussion about the difficulties we have had.” That night, Star publisher John Honderich called Lastman to indicate that the paper would publish the shoplifting incident the following day.

Several city councillors defended Lastman, citing his recent stresses. Doug Holyday felt sympathetic toward the mayor’s problems and indicated he wouldn’t question the outburst. Brian Ashton determined that Lastman’s threat was no worse than “what schoolyard kids might do, or you might say when you stub your toe in the workroom.” Budget chief Tom Jakobek believed that the threat would not reflect negatively on the city, despite it being “not a good call on his part.” Rob Davis, who claimed he was asked by Vaughan about Lastman’s family, believed that Vaughan had not taken “the most appropriate action for reporters.” On the other hand, the Toronto Sun, one of Lastman’s staunchest defenders, criticized his outburst. “What Lastman did was wrong in public or in private,” noted a May 13, 1999 editorial. “If he can’t see why, he might want to reassess his future in public life.”

Following the incident, the Lastmans spent two weeks in Florida. When he returned, the mayor attacked Toronto’s media for being a pack of liars, pointing to Vaughan and his father, CityTV reporter Colin Vaughan, as among the most negative of the bunch. In the long run, Lastman’s relationship with the media deteriorated so much that the Sun, which once dropped Don Wanagas as a columnist for criticizing the mayor, allowed Sue-Ann Levy to mock him. As the Globe and Mail’s John Barber wrote when Lastman declined to run for another term in 2003, open contempt of the media “became one of the hallmarks of his reign—and reciprocal feelings among once-fawning journalists helped considerably to shorten it.”

Additional material from the May 12, 1999, May 13, 1999, and January 16, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 14, 1999 edition of the National Post; the May 12, 1999, May 13, 1999, and June 15, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 13, 1999 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the first indy

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on July 10, 2012.

Toronto Star, May 8, 1986
“The most expensive beer commercial in Canadian history unfolds this weekend on the grounds of Toronto’s Exhibition Place,” observed the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt on the eve of the first Molson Indy a quarter of a century ago. At stake for the brewer were $50 million worth of insurance and the wrath of Parkdale residents petrified that their neighbourhood would be left in shambles.

As back as the late 1960s, several attempts were made to bring a major auto race to central Toronto. Efforts in the late 1970s to hold races at Exhibition Place met fierce opposition from a Parkdale-centric citizens group known as the Anti-Grand Prix Coalition (AGPC) and city councillors like John Sewell (“it’s a stupid idea”). The AGPC reformed in the spring of 1985 when a proposal from Molson to run a CART Indy-car race gained momentum. As AGPC chair Susan Shaw told the press, “We put up a good fight then and we’re going to put up a good fight now.”

As in the 1970s, the AGPC feared the garbage, noise, pollution, and vandalism such an event could bring. While they failed to stop the race (which apparently raised cheers among some Parkdalians who saw it as a boon to the neighbourhood), AGPC succeeded in having the city address their concerns. Toronto City Council approved the race by two votes in July 1985 with several conditions attached: capping attendance at 60,000, a detailed traffic plan, tight noise controls, and the formation of a committee consisting of municipal and Molson officials, police, Parkdalians, and the TTC to oversee the event. Molson received permission for one year to run the race and was responsible for any resurfacing costs.

For two weeks in May 1986, there was a jurisdictional spat between CART and international sanctioning body FISA (Fédération Internationale de Sport Automobile), from which it split away in the late 1970s. FISA ordered its Canadian affiliate CASC (Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs) not to sanction the race and suspend any member drivers who participated. Once threats of legal action ended that tantrum, the operators of the Indianapolis 500 received a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court of Ontario prohibiting Molson from using the term “Indy” in event advertising. A week before the race, the court ruled in favour of Molson as it wasn’t satisfied that the Indianapolis Speedway would suffer irreparable brand damage and had used the “Indy” name for other Canadian races.

Globe and Mail, July 18, 1986
Back in Parkdale, residents prepared themselves for the three-day event, which began on July 18, 1986. The AGPC was satisfied with the consultations they had with the City and Molson but kept their guard up. One benefit quickly pleased them: the special attention police paid to illegal parkers. With only 3,000 spots available near the course, there were nightmares regarding traffic chaos despite pleas from race organizers to take transit. Over Indy weekend, 280 vehicles were towed away, mostly to a temporary lot on Abell Street.

Though residents were given a public-works hotline for complaints, it stayed cool. While there were complaints about noise and naughty patrons, the weekend went smoothly. Though the hum of Indy cars bounced off apartment buildings, an army of decibel meters revealed levels no worse than passing buses—AGPC official Bart Poesiat admitted to the Star that the race was less sonically disruptive than the annual CHIN picnic. Some residents profited by renting out their driveways and yards as parking spots, with rates as high as $10 per vehicle along Tyndall Avenue.

Apart from long waits by spectators to use the walkway to reach the inner section of the track and a first-lap exit by Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve, the first Molson Indy was viewed as a success. Before the drivers started their engines on July 20, Roy Orbison sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Though Emerson Fittipaldi earned the pole position and Danny Sullivan was coming off two CART victories in a row, the winner was Indianapolis 500 champ Bobby Rahal. Despite a lengthy penalty for passing the pace car on his way out of a pit stop, Rahal, who found the course “fun to drive,” flirted with the lead several times before taking it for keeps with only 12 laps left in the race. The worst injury was a broken ankle suffered by Mike Nish, though the Jaws of Life were required to extract him from his crashed vehicle near the Princes’ Gate.

The positive feelings participants felt toward the event were summed up by race car owner Roger Penske. “The people behind this track have done a tremendous job in putting it together and promoting the race,” he told the Star. “I just hope the people in Toronto realize what they have and that’s something special.”

Additional material from the November 1, 1977, June 13, 1985, July 17, 1986, and July 19, 1986 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the July 16, 1985, May 4, 1986, July 12, 1986, July 19, 1986, and July 21, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the wimpy awards

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on March 27, 2012. The number of burger joints, especially those with gourmet aspirations, has continued to rise since this piece was originally published. There's even a website (Tasty Burgers) dedicated to review the GTA's purveyors of ground round, or whatever they're tossing in the burgers these days. 

Illustration by Patrick Corrigan. Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.
It’s safe to say Toronto is currently hamburger crazy. Whether you prefer going to an old-school burger joint that retains its 1960s-era appearance, testing a highbrow patty made with gourmet ingredients, or joining the never-ending lineups at The Burger’s Priest, Toronto has rediscovered its love for a slab of ground meat loaded with every topping imaginable (though you still can’t get lettuce at Johnny’s in Scarborough).

Back in March of 1983, Toronto Star food writer Jim White felt the local burger scene needed recognition. Noting that there were so many awards for the arts, White jokingly told readers that to correct a “cultural imbalance,” the paper was launching a series of articles to hand out Oscar-style statuettes to worthy local eateries. To honour Toronto’s best burgers, White devised the Wimpy Awards, which honoured Popeye’s gluttonous pal.

White’s criteria for the Wimpys ruled out “anything pre-fab, served by clowns or named after someone like Harvey or Wendy.” Though he intended to focus on the burger alone, White discovered that “the décor, background music, and ambience of a burger joint can be just as important as the product.” As a control measure, a basic burger and fries were ordered at each restaurant in the competition, as “the quality of French fries colours one’s impression of the burger.”

Some winners from the Wimpy Awards, presented with little fanfare on March 16, 1983:

Best Burger for the Buck: the original location of Lick’s in the Beaches, then a narrow eatery with long lines, two tables, and six stools. For only $1.95, Lick’s served large burgers that White described as “superb and perfectly charbroiled.” He noted that “the only thing missing in this setting is John Belushi shouting ‘Cheezeburgah…cheezeburgah.’” No mention as to whether the chain’s singing schtick was already in place.

Most Expensive Burger in Toronto: For $10, patrons of the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel received a loosely packed patty served with a truffle-tinged artichoke, purposely-undercooked chips, and a bland tomato tart.

Best Staging for a Burger: At the Bloor Street Diner, diners enjoyed their meal amid a backdrop of “pink neon, high-gloss black lacquered trim and stainless steel table tops.” The burger itself had a quality most people would appreciate—it wasn’t “sinewy.”

Best Patty: The Hayloft at 37 Front St. E. offered a burger that was lean, juicy, flavourful, and extremely fresh. Unfortunately, White felt it was ruined by lousy condiments, mediocre bun, and fries that had been sitting around for a while. The server accidentally brought White a cheeseburger, which was topped with “a tasteless, carrot-coloured film to peel off as one peels dried rubber cement off the back of one’s hand.”

Best Burger in a Supporting Role: Both Mr. Greenjeans (Eaton Centre and 120 Adelaide St. E.) and Partners (836 Danforth Ave. and 765 Mount Pleasant Rd.) served their burgers in large wicker baskets filled with Buffalo chips and on what White considered the city’s best burger bun, a light egg roll prepared by Central Bakery.

Toronto’s Darkest Burger: The experience of eating at Toby’s Good Eats at 91 Bloor St. W. on even a sunny day was “like sitting in a cellar during a hydro black-out.” When the waitress told him to enjoy his lunch, White replied “we would if we could see it.”