bonus features: new year's eve 1976
This post offers supplementary material for an article I wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.
The Star’s initial coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations
put a positive spin on the evening. A full page of its January 1, 1977 edition
was devoted to scenes across Metro Toronto, from revellers downtown to skating
clowns in Scarborough. Those who ventured out endured temperatures which
dropped to -13°C.
|Toronto Star, January 1, 1977.|
On Yonge Street, the new year swept over the strip “like a new disco melody.” Among those mildly disappointed by the scene along Yonge that night was Chuck Ross, a 22-year old marketing analyst from North York. “Most of our friends have girlfriends now, so we figured we’d see if we could find some girls tonight by ourselves,” he observed. “I guess we haven’t tried very hard.” Spurned by the ladies, Ross and a friend wound up dining at an unidentified burger joint, staring at the mirror lining the counter.
|Toronto Sun, December 30, 1976.|
At the International Centre on Airport Road, 5,000 people welcomed 1977 in a funky manner thanks to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Though his most innovative years of the decade were behind him (previewing the concert, the Globe and Mail described Brown as “the former king of soul, since demoted to a lowly dukedom”) the crowd enjoyed Brown’s performance—when they could see it. “In this big place our table must be at least 150 yards from the stage,” Scarborough resident Bill Neal told the Star. “We should have brought our field glasses.”
Over in Scarborough, around 4,000 people gathered to skate and dance to live music at the civic centre. A parade of 150 people, including marching bands and clowns, endured the frigid temperatures during their trek over from Scarborough Town Centre. “We just came along to warm up for a party later tonight,” noted 17-year-old Brett Cleminson, a member of the Agincourt Air Cadets Kazoo Band. “We go in all the parades even in the cold ones like this one.”
While bubbly flowed at most parties, tea was the strongest beverage served at Willard Hall, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s female residence on Gerrard Street (now operated by Covenant House). Few stuck around that night to partake. The beverages were “a bit stronger than tea” over on Camden Street where attendees included writers Marian Engel (guess which book of hers was mentioned) and Judith Merrill. The Star noted that both scribes went wherever their friends were: “No one else invited me,” Merrill noted.
|Revellers on a northbound Yonge subway train, Toronto Star, January 1, 1977.|
As for the subway, none of the stories touched on the as-yet unreported racist assaults. Instead, those interviewed depicted a blissful scene:
“It’s like there’s a spell on New Year’s Eve,” said 18-year old Peter Juskovic of Downsview, as he joined the party-goers and the parties on the subway this morning.
“Everybody’s friendly, everybody’s happy. It’d sure be different world if it was like that all the time.”
Juskovic, a tow truck driver, was riding the Yonge St. line “for the fun of it” shortly after the New Year began, and he and his buddy, 18-year-old John Cowie, also of Downsview, were having the time of their lives.
“I started out New Year’s Eve by going to a tavern and having a great steak,” Juskovic said. “Then we went to Mrs. Night’s for some disco dancing, and then off to Nathan Phillips Square for a bit of skating—and, of course, to meet any available girls.”
“Right now, we’re riding the subways to meet people, wish them a happy New Year, make them smile, get them ready for tomorrow. It’s great. It’s a beautiful world right now.”
|Toronto Star, December 29, 1976.|
In the weeks following New Year’s Eve, papers were filled with op-eds on racism in Toronto. Some were well-considered, others boneheaded. Among the latter was a piece by Paul Tuz, the executive vice-president of the Metropolitan Toronto Better Business Bureau, which was published in the Sun. His solution to racism: patriotism!
Warning: the following passage might make the heads of anti-colonialists explode. Heck, it will make most readers do their finest imitation of that scene in Scanners (you know the one I’m talking about).
Great empires, great nations have always been capacious and willing to receive and use the contributions of widely varying ethnic groups. The Roman Empire, the British Empire were strong because both were able to include, rather than exclude people of divergent races and cultures. In the case of the British Empire, racial and ethnic differences disappeared in common service to the Crown . The unifying force was loyalty. And in Canada today, our unifying force was ought to be something comparable.
Tuz then notes how schoolteachers no longer stress patriotism in the classroom, that school boards no longer supported scouting organizations, cadet corps, or other “organizations that help foster the principles of citizenship.”
We seem to have let slip away many of the old institutions by which we assimilated newcomers into the Canadian way of life; and we have failed to replace them with alternatives for bringing our adopted sons and daughters into the Canadian family. A family which can be proud of each and every one of its members.
Aside: while the Star and the Globe and Mail gave significant coverage to the subway incident in the days following New Year`s Eve, the Sun took its time. Readers learned far more about Prince Andrew's visit to the Toronto area, a story a Sun editorial admitted it was bored by yet wasted tons of trees on.
|Toronto Star, December 14, 1973.|
When McGuinness Distillers pulled its sponsorship of free New Year’s Eve rides on the TTC in August 1977, the Star published the following editorial:
|Toronto Star, August 17, 1977.|
Additional material from the December 31, 1976 edition of the Globe and Mail and the January 9, 1977 edition of the Toronto Sun.