Monday, December 19, 2016

bonus features: “the bull in a china shop had nothing on this cow”

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

For your reading pleasure, here are all of the original press accounts of the cow's adventure.  My vote goes to the Telegram for the goofiest coverage and the one most requiring historical footnotes, as it tosses in baseball analogies and a passing reference to Ontario Premier Sir James Whitney. Imagine if a modern version referenced, say, Kathleen Wynne and Justin Verlander.

Globe, June 16, 1913.

News, June 16, 1913.

star 1913-06-16 militant cow on the warpath at kendal avenue and wells street
Star, June 16, 1913. Click on image for larger version.

tely 1913-06-16 mad cow on the rampage
Telegram, June 16, 1913.

World, June 16, 1913.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

to be continued?

"Windsbraut"(Bride of the Wind) by Oscar Kokoschka. Cover of History of the 20th Century #96 (1969).
In the aftermath of the recent American election, there’s plenty of apocalyptic doom-and-gloom out there. How much is justified remains to be seen, though early glimmers aren’t heartwarming. Even a couple of weeks later, getting off/modifying social media to save one’s sanity, or, after doing some contemplative soul-searching, figuring out how you can actually make a real difference in your community or beyond seems like the best advice.

Feeling meh or worse about the future is nothing new. Throughout recorded history, fears the sky was falling, or worse, are recurring themes during stressful times. The current malaise made me think of the one of the grimmest-ending essays I read when I was younger.

Behind my dad’s chair in the basement of my childhood home was a bookshelf filled with historical “partworks”—magazine series, mostly British, mostly from the early 1970s, which covered a particular topic, usually in around 100-130 issues. These series ranged from histories of the World Wars to A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which serialized Winston Churchill’s books with added contextual content.

I loved flipping through these series, initially for the colourful diagrams and pictures, then slowly appreciating the rest of the content. One of my favourites was History of the 20th Century, originally published in 1968-69. Its 96 issues introduced me to the scope of the era which shaped the world I was living in, and provided some answers as to who the heck those weird old guys in my postage stamp collection were.

The years it was published saw dizzying change in the midst of the Cold War—Prague Spring, protests in Paris, Biafra, the Vietnam war, coups galore, the election of Nixon, the moon walk, etc. The last issue was dedicated to reflections from editor-in-chief A.J.P. Taylor and general editor J.M. Roberts on the first seven decades of the century, and what was to come.

Their mood was not optimistic.

Let’s start with some of Roberts’ final thoughts: 
Where do we go next? We have already side-stepped the question: prediction is not the historians’ business. No historian can say; yet he ought sometimes to pose the question because thinking about it may help him to clarify what he really thinks important in what has already happened. Then he can say that if things go on as at present, then things will go on as much as at present. But he cannot be sure; too many prophets have been surprised in the past…

All that can be said is that perhaps more reason to be generally gloomy about present trends than had our predecessors. This is mainly because of the nuclear weapon. The possibility of its use is so depressing a prospect that it should not be over-dramatized. There is a possibility that life itself might be ended on this planet, but probably things would not be that bad. Somewhere, men would survive. And it is important to remember that they would not survive in stone-age conditions: they would survive with the knowledge and skills of 20th-century men. The possibility of making an eventual recovery would be rather greater than, say, that faced by stone-age man at the onset of an ice age. This, however, is hardly the point. There would still be untold suffering, loss of life, and destruction of most of what makes it tolerable and enjoyable for perhaps a majority of the world’s population.

This danger is very real. It is not real because there is anything in nuclear weapons which makes the men who have to control them any more foolish or more immoral than their predecessors. That is just the trouble. Men seem much the same. All that have changed are the consequences of error. In the past, mankind has shown no capacity to avoid conflict except for limited periods and in limited areas. All that now has to happen is that this continues to be true. Sooner or later, this will be likely to lead to a situation where people behave exactly as they have in the past in defence of their interests, but rely on nuclear weapons to do so. When that happens, the danger will be very great indeed. There is nothing new to prevent this situation arising except the knowledge we all share of the terrible destructive power of nuclear weapons. It is a pretty fragile restraint, given some of the political passions loose In the world today. This is why we must be gloomy if we think of the future as simply the continuation of present trends. Perhaps we shall be surprised. If we are, and some effective renunciation of nuclear weapons is achieved, or if we are not, and the nuclear war breaks out, the 20th century seems likely still to provide something different from the past. In either case, what would happen would be one of the most complete discontinuities in human history yet.

How I suspect, outside of historians and viewers of old British documentaries, many people know the name A.J.P. Taylor. Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1970.

But that was only the warmup for Taylor’s essay, whose ominous tone was set in its title (“To Be Continued?”) and accompanying images of missiles. Around the middle of the essay comes a passage that some might see as relevant to their current uneasiness about the state of the world.

When people read history, they do so not only to learn about the past. They also hope to learn about the future. They ask the historian “What is going to happen next?” The historian is no better qualified than anyone else to provide an answer. The study enables us to understand the past better—no more and no less. It gives us no insight at all into the future. The most the historian or anyone else can say is that, if men behaved in the past, this or that is likely to happen. The difficulty is that men do not always go on behaving as they used to behave.

As the essay draws to its close, Taylor contemplates the nuclear arms race between the Americans and the Soviets, and how the world was menaced by the potential for an accidental holocaust. The final paragraph was at first laughable to a younger me, as the 20th century was still unfolding around me and the Cold War drew to a close, but has grown on me over the years as a sense of the palpable fear people had that eventually we would blow ourselves up. While reading the following, keep in mind that the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a recent memory, Dr. Strangelove had been in theatres five years earlier, and the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only a quarter-century in the past.

The behaviour of mankind has changed. I doubt whether it has changed enough to prevent a nuclear war. When two great powers run an arms race, war is the inevitable conclusion, if history is any guide. I had contemplated a final word of advice to our successors who will design a new history of the 20th century thirty years hence. It is unlikely that this advice would prove of any use. Before then history will have come to a full stop.

Let that sink in a second.

I can’t predict what will unfold the next four years. None of us can. But the president-elect is one of several loose cannons around the world right now, brought to power through an angry, restless public or authoritarian means. Where populism is surging, we’re dealing with a public who has forgotten, or prefers to overlook, past examples of humanity’s inhumanity toward each other. With little direct experience of war or cultural repression, it’s easy to think that it’s fine to act on your darkest impulses. If you can’t have something, whether it’s a stable job or the unshakable command of my world you once experienced, nobody else should either. Anything you fear needs to be eliminated, no matter how realistic that fear is.

Periods of change are difficult. Combating fear is difficult and painful. It requires skill, nuance, the shaking off of complacency, and brokering occasional arrangements/compromises to reach a better understanding among us (though there are people whom trying to reach out is all but useless on either side of the fence). I’m still sorting out what I can do—I suppose at worst I can continue to offer historical context at appropriate moments in my professional work, even if that sometimes feels like I’m preaching to the converted.

It’s a battle we all need to tackle before we succumb to any of the apocalyptic visions out there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

so, about this summer...

Hello there.

Been awhile, hasn’t it? I hadn’t intended a summer hiatus for this website or my newsletter—or worse, permanent hiatus, as sometimes happens—but summer was a hectic season, filled with peaks and valleys.

During the first half of summer, I suffered what may politely be called a paralytic case of existential angst. I felt I was rolling towards breakdown, which I suspect was evident to others. My self-confidence went on summer vacation, leaving the rational sphere of my brain scrambling. Mix in burnout and fatigue (tired Jamie doesn’t function well), and you’ve got a bundle of neuroses. I questioned everything: my ability to produce work on par with peers; the overwhelming perfectionist impulses; the skill needed to keep money flowing (the joy of perpetual freelancer anxiety!); wondering if anyone cared about what I was writing.

Then toss in growing disenchantment with humanity in the wake of racial strife, political shitshows south of the border, and the general lack of respect shown while navigating Toronto’s streets. Every time I hopped onto social media, I wearied of rants, smugness, snark, and an inability to suggest constructive solutions to remedy situations

(I just realized that this may come off as a rant. Sorry.)

Having sunk to near-catatonia which scared my partner-in-crime, changes were needed.

First, I slashed my social media feeds. I didn’t go cold turkey, since social media is a fantastic promotional tool and I genuinely enjoy discovering new information or what is new with friends. But there was a lot of noise. Exit politics-heavy feeds, especially those dealing with blow-by-blow minutiae. By the time I finished curating my Twitter account, I had a nice roll call of historical feeds, community-building organizations, and thoughtful folks. For Facebook, it involved selective muting.

Second, I vowed to take better care of myself. Rest is vital. It’s critical to know when to recharge, when to turn down projects with potentially adverse health effects, and when to ignore the perfectionist impulses. The turning point was a cottage break in Muskoka. On the drive up, I was in full-on angst mode, then locked myself away in my bunkhouse to catch up on long-overdue reading. Took some solo drives through cottage country. By the time I returned to Toronto, I felt my old self returning. Further trips to a family reunion in western New York and a week in my hometown aided the restorative process. A project I work on annually came along at the right time, with the right material and theme to lift my spirits.

It’s still a work in a progress, and there are hiccups. But overall, I feel like I’m back in fighting shape, head brimming with ideas and exciting projects I hope to announce soon. Even enduring a major kitchen reno for over a month has been a minor irritant compared to the tortures my mind devised earlier this summer. I thank everyone for their support over this period, especially my partner-in-crime Louisa, who has grounded me when it’s been needed most.

Who knows, maybe I'll slip in time for some fun (or not-so-fun, depending on the topic) historical stuff on this website...

This post was adapted from my newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

Monday, June 06, 2016

bonus features: racism and homophobia in the pages of a police magazine

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

star 1973-01-10 the homosexual hoax
Toronto Star, January 10, 1973. Click on image for larger version.
The article that Tom Moclair studied carefully to write his News & Views piece "The Homosexual Fad" six years later. Seeing a piece such as this in the Star at the time is not a great shocker, as the paper's editorials tended not to look too kindly on the homosexual community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1610 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on December 18, 2012.

I'll be honest, I've misplaced the records as to where this image came from. Will update once information is available.
By the mid-1930s, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were Meccas for local moviegoers. Along their length within the limits of the City of Toronto, at least 35 cinemas offered Depression-era patrons entertainment. Among them was an Art Deco-styled theatre that provided a steady stream of magic shadows for over 30 years.

Then addressed as 1606 Bloor St. W., the Bloordale opened circa September 1935 as part of the Associated circuit. The cinema was designed by theatre experts Kaplan and Sprachman, whose other Art Deco cinemas included the Eglinton. Promotions during the theatre’s early years included a weekly Sunday-afternoon talent show broadcast on CKCL radio (later CKEY) in 1938. Music Stars of Tomorrow promised a screen test with the short lived Grand National movie company for the best performer, though we suspect that the firm’s dissolution soon after prevented anyone from achieving Hollywood glory. After a spell as part of the Odeon chain, the Bloordale was renamed the State around 1948 and joined the 20th Century Theatres circuit.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 15 duncan street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 2, 2012.

Google street view of 15 Duncan, May 2015.
A new sign recently appeared above the front door of 15 Duncan Street. After over 30 years bearing the nameplate Pope & Company, the entranceway now welcomes clients to Northern Lights Direct. While a direct response advertising agency fits with the building’s recent history as a dignified-looking office building, the experimental artists and punks who hung out there during the 1970s would have satirized its work in a second.

Built in 1903, 15 Duncan was among several buildings in the neighbourhood designed by the architect William Rufus Gregg‘s firm. Its siblings include the Telfer Paper Box building across the street and the Eclipse White Wear Building at King and John. For over half a century, the premises were occupied by Canada Printing Ink, who produced ink and other supplies for the printing industry.

Ink continued to play a major role when animation producer Al Guest moved in around 1967. Among the projects occupying Guest at that time was the low-budget, perennially rerun space saga Rocket Robin Hood. A Star profile of the show in 1967 claimed that Guest ran the “third largest animated cartoon factory in North America.” Guest discussed the limitations he placed on producing the kitschy cult classic: no blood and no hormone stirring. “At first glance Maid Marion may look rather fetching,” Guest noted, “but notice there’s never any cleavage. Even lines in men’s crotches are out.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

vintage ads: hooked on xerox

Hooked on Xerox (1)

Spring cleaning, especially when you're still sorting out the dregs of a move, often provides a few surprises. In this case, a folder of ads photocopied from early 1970s Canadian editions of Time, which were intended either for a post on this blog (when I was regularly doing such things) or my long-running vintage ad column for Torontoist.

Tucked in that folder was a Xerox campaign which occupied eight pages of prime real estate in the May 8, 1972 issue. It weaved the fictional tale of Snaggem Consolidated International (formerly Snaggem Fish Hook), and how the current line of Xerox equipment aided many aspects of the business.

Feel free to make up further backstories for the employees shown below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

toronto modern to post-modern: panel discussion

Add "participating in a panel discussion" next to "getting engaged" and "eating a grapefruit without grimacing" to the list of things I've done for the first time this year. Each of the participants was given a question to discuss for five minutes at the start of the session, before the audience asked questions. Mine was "What lessons from the 1970s have been lost?" After making a disclaimer about my personal experience of the city during that decade (restricted to tagging along with my Dad along Queen West), I launched into the following...

Among the lessons we should revisit are appreciating architectural styles which fall out of public favour, which aggravates the spectre of doom looming over modernist buildings we’ve discussed in this series; and mobilizing greater public support for threatened sites.

Outside of heritage activists and some community groups, think of the preservation campaigns you hear about most in the media—it’s things that appeal to our nostalgic instincts, such as the signs for Sam the Record Man or Honest Ed’s (though it should be said that the Sam’s outcry has led to a creative approach for retaining it, via the work currently underway to honour the city’s musical heritage at Yonge-Dundas Square with a “neon alley” where, near the Sam’s sign’s new home, visitors will be able to view recreations of historic venue signage). Will there be an outcry if anyone notices the gradual erosion of the original design of the Eaton Centre, as the external vestiges of the old Eaton’s store and other elements of Eb Zeidler’s design vanish under new cladding, or do we treat it as the natural evolution of the site?

If it’s a building whose architecture doesn’t inspire fond memories, or doesn’t match a classic, pre-1950 style, there are people out there content to, in the words of preservation forum I frequented years ago, “tear that shit down.” Suburban sites have suffered in this regard—think of buildings like the Bata HQ in Don Mills.

Click on image for larger version.
As for changing tastes, remember that during the 1960s and 1970s there were people who felt structures like Union Station and Old City Hall had outlived their usefulness and impeded the march of progress. In both cases, the public screamed for their preservation. While not all modernist buildings will survive, it is worth the effort in some cases for the public and creative architects to pitch developers on adapting these buildings for uses that benefit both the community and the bottom line. A carefully considered approach makes a stronger case than simply yelling that we need to save the site.

One issue preservationists face is the limited resources which handle official requests for heritage listing and designation. While we are getting better at enforcing heritage regulations, oversights happen. If the public is truly concerned about pro-actively preserving our past, they should ask councillors and other officials to support increasing city heritage staff to process requests in a timelier manner, research sites, and fix the loopholes which result in eyebrow-raising demolition permits.

That said, although we still end up with bad examples of facadism and urban taxidermy, I think we’ve learned much about preservation since the 1970s. We’ve developed a strong collection of sites through the combined efforts of architects, developers, and public input. These sites honour the historical architectural integrity, fuse new creative touches in respectful or innovative ways, and serve the needs of modern Torontonians. Being flexible enough to recognize new cultural and commercial potential in heritage architecture allows these buildings to demonstrate the possibilities lurking within other, less appreciated sites.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

bonus features: "the dream that is canada's wonderland"

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

Grounds of Canada's Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 70. Click on image for larger version.

Once again, Harvey R. Naylor came to the rescue.

His collection of photos (currently held by the City of Toronto Archives) showcasing the city, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a valuable resource for illustrating how Toronto evolved into its current shape. His images have saved the bacon of many online historians looked for great period colour images.

Here's a brief bio from the Archives' site:
Harvey R. Naylor, film and sound technician, was a lifelong Toronto resident who worked at some of the larger film production houses in Toronto, such as Jack Chisholm Film Productions and Media Communications Services, Ltd. He was also an amateur photographer with a personal interest in Toronto's local history. He practised photography for several years using second-hand cameras and experimenting with various types of film. However, once Naylor purchased a new Leica IIIF camera in 1956, he used it exclusively over the next 28 years to produce over 50,000 35mm Kodachrome colour slides of Toronto buildings, streets, TTC facilities and TTC vehicles. A well-known transit enthusiast, Naylor belonged to the Upper Canada Railway Society (UCRS), and was active with the Halton County Radial Railway (HCRR) and Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association (OERHA).
Over 8,400 slides created by Naylor await your browsing pleasure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 149 college street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 16, 2012.

149 College during its time as Central Tech, after 1900. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 247.
“Amid sounds of revelry and acclaim, amid the seductive calm of soft music, and the inspiring charm of many voices, amid cloud-like strata of fragrant fumes and infectious laughter from countless merry smokers, a temple of muscle and grace was appropriately dedicated to the youths who adorn the terminal years of the 19th century. The glamour of flashing lights and rich furnishings, harmoniously designed, burst dazzlingly upon the army of elated members and prospective members who pressed eagerly through the massive stone portals to assist in the house-warming.” So observed the Toronto Daily Mail during the opening-night festivities at the Toronto Athletic Club on January 22, 1894.

Friday, March 18, 2016

bonus features: the kkk took my baby away

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

ojr 1980-10-08 johnson incident
Oakville Journal Record, October 8, 1980. Click on image for larger version.
A reprint of the Oakville Star's coverage from 1930. That there was "no editorial comment about the incident" speaks volumes from a modern perspective.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

bonus features: chinatowns

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

globe 1907-10-11 asiatic peril editorial
The Globe, October 11, 1907.
The fear of the "yellow peril" in action - one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 660 broadview avenue (william peyton hubbard)

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 12, 2013.

Portrait of William Peyton Hubbard, 1913, by W.A. Sherwood.
When William Peyton Hubbard was born in 1842 it’s doubtful his father, a freed slave who had arrived in Toronto two years earlier, imagined that the infant would become one of the city’s most powerful politicians. The road to that accomplishment took time: Before Hubbard entered politics in 1893, he baked cakes and drove a horse cab, occupations that were the norm for the city’s small black population.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 925 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 22, 2013.

Toronto Star, October 26, 1948.
Until 1948, anyone headed to the southwest corner of Bloor Street and Concord Avenue typically went to peruse the area’s long succession of furniture businesses, looking for that perfect addition to their home d├ęcor. The granting of a liquor license that year to the Concord Tavern ushered in the intersection’s long association with music as a venue and instrument seller.

Monday, January 25, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1195 danforth avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 23, 2012.

Allenby Theatre lobby, 1936. Image courtesy Silent Toronto, which has more on the feature presentation depicted here.
A suggestion for anyone hitting the town in their best Rocky Horror Picture Show finery this Halloween: Make a pit stop at the Esso/Tim Horton’s at Danforth and Greenwood. Walk through the restored front doors underneath the marquee of the old Allenby theatre. Buy some snacks to fuel an evening of time-warping. Take a look at the old ads in the showcase by the front doors and take a moment to pay tribute to the place where the movie became a Toronto cult favourite.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

off the grid: retro t.o. gambling on conventions with paul godfrey

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 15, 2012.
The City, June 18, 1978.
For as long as Paul Godfrey has been involved in Toronto’s affairs, he has pitched hard for what he feels the city deserves. His current campaign for a local casino is the latest in a long string of projects he has promoted as a politician, media executive, or general deal-closer. As Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto in the late 1970s, his presence was seen as a plus when local tourism officials organized a trip to three American cities in April 1978 to bring in convention dollars.

Friday, January 01, 2016

previewing the maple leafs' 1977/78 season

hny 1977-78 cover
The WHA! The original Jets! Willi Plett!
Some people treasure pristine mint editions of old books and magazines. I treasure ragged copies that were well-loved, which display the repeated wear-and-tear of an owner who regularly flipped the pages (just as long as none of those pages are missing).

This is one of the most worn items in my collection: The Hockey News 1978 Yearbook, previewing the 1977/78 NHL and WHA seasons. Part of its weary appearance is due to little Jamie's use of it as something to press down upon while scribbling maps, fake hockey cards, or whatever else entered my brain. Part is my childhood fascination with a season just slightly before I followed pro hockey, spotlighting a league (the WHA) which was gone by the time I started watching Hockey Night in Canada and collecting sports cards.