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 fa├žade 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.