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.

ts 79-08-23 slicing tips
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.

ts 79-02-03 transforming queen west 1
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.
ts 79-02-03 transforming queen west 2
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.