149 College Street

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

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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.

Though demonstrations of athletic prowess and the Richardsonian Romanesque building designed by architect E.J. Lennox (later responsible for Old City Hall and Casa Loma) were praised by the press, the evening wasn’t perfect. A performance by the Toronto Lacrosse Club Minstrels was so inappropriate that the Toronto Star believed “it was to the credit of the athletic club that they were roundly hissed.”

Despite the initial burst of excitement over facilities like gymnasiums, billiard rooms, and one of the city’s first indoor swimming pools, the Toronto Athletic Club quickly ran into financial problems. It didn’t help that club founder (and former Toronto mayor) John Beverley Robinson, who had turned over property he had lived on since 1850 to provide it with a home, died two years after its grand opening. The city’s other social clubs provided little support. When the mortgage was foreclosed on in October 1899, 149 College St. witnessed the first of many tenant changes.

In July 1900, city council purchased the building to provide a new home for the Toronto Technical School. The deal had been tied up for a month due to accusations by alderman Daniel Lamb of “undue influence” placed on his fellow councillors by those who still had a financial stake in the property. Though an inquiry found no proof of wrongdoing, Lamb refused to apologize for his actions. Among the renovations that the school—which evolved into Central Tech—made was to fill the basement pool with concrete and use it for art classes.

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149 College as Stewart Building, October 20, 1957. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, S 1-3861A.

Following the school’s move to its current site at Harbord and Borden in 1915, 149 College St. served as a military headquarters. Another HQ moved in with the onset of the Great Depression: the Toronto Police. The force considered the site, which was renamed the Stewart Building soon after they moved there in 1931, a temporary home while waiting for a new civic building to be built along Queen Street west of Osgoode Hall. A planned seven-year stay stretched out to nearly three decades.

When the newly amalgamated Metropolitan Toronto Police moved their offices to another temporary site in 1960, they retained the building as the home of 52 Division. This was also seen as an interim solution—excess office space and limited parking spots for vehicles made police officials eager to find a new home for the precinct. While the force’s preferred site at the northeast corner of Dundas and Beverley would have wiped out several heritage-designated homes, a committee led by alderman William Kilbourn suggested in late 1973 that the building could be renovated to meet the police’s needs. Though Kilbourn hoped that a presentation by architect Jack Diamond would persuade the police to stay, Metro Council rejected the idea in favour of 52 Division’s current home at Dundas and Simcoe.

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Toronto Star, September 29, 1979.

149 College St. was sold to the Ontario College of Art. Instead of cutting a ribbon during the opening ceremony in September 1979, Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon made the final brush stroke on a watercolour of the building. The police returned to the site several times to investigate complaints about offensive art and an incident involving students carrying guns that turned out to be replicas for a class project. After the college departed during the late 1990s, the building was used as a French-language school (Collège des Grands Lacs) before the Rotman School of Management’s executive-education centre moved in. The business school commissioned 149 College’s umpteenth set of renovations which, according to architect Tania Bortolotto’s website, was intended “to rejuvenate the derelict interiors into a refined atmosphere expressing the client’s branding aims.” In a way, that goal brought the building back to the refinement the Toronto Athletic Club offered over a century earlier.

Sources: the January 23, 1894 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail, the January 23, 1894, June 19, 1900, and September 29, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star, and the July 31, 1931 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Daily Mail, January 23, 1894.

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Evening News, January 23, 1894.

In a January 10, 1900 editorial on physical fitness facilities in the city, the Globe hoped the Toronto Athletic Club would make a comeback. “The Toronto Athletic Club on College Street was in every respect a praiseworthy institution. Not only did it fill all the requirements as a resort for young men, but it was admirably arranged and splendidly equipped,” the paper observed, also noting that was “constructed on too ambitious a scale to be a permanent success.”

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Toronto Star, September 17, 1901.

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The Globe, July 30, 1931.

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The Telegram, July 31, 1931.

Bonus Features: 19th-century NIMBYism and the Typhus Epidemic in Ontario

Before diving into this post, please read the related TVO article.

The coverage of the court case in the October 6, 1847 edition of the British Whig against Kingston city officials for allowing the emigrant sheds to obstruct traffic is dense, so here are some highlights.

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First off, the paper’s opinion, which praises the efforts of the city officials, and references the recent death of Toronto bishop Michael Power.

The indictment contained four counts: obstruction of Emily Street by erecting a building upoin it; the “erection of privies, near that street and near King Street, and also near the waters of the harbour, to the nuisance of all persons in the street, or dwelling in the adjacent houses, and whereby the waters which were generally used by the neighbourhood became unfit for use;” erecting emigrant sheds near King Street, filling them with the sick and dead to the nuisance of all; and that the sheds were built by unknown people and emigrants and assembled on site.

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A sampling of complaints, including the NIMBY I quoted in the article (a John P. Bower, Esq.).

The defence attacked several of the complainants, while holding up the noble aims of the city officials offering assistance to the emigrants. For example:

The Baron de Rottenburg, who bears no love to Emigrants, had to board the west windows of his house to keep away an imaginary infection; and, more serious than this, the amiable Baroness had to make liberal use of lavender water, and was put to the unendurable trouble of placing scent bottles to her fastidious nostrils. To be sure, the great inconvenience which the noble Baron and Baroness have sustained, is of more consequence and greater weight, than if thousands of these pooe Irish Emigrants should die for want, with hunger, and disease.

Kind of reminds you of arguments surrounding relaunching the economy versus preventing potential deaths, doesn’t it?

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The verdict. Note that while the defendants were judged guilty, the jury appreciated their conduct.

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From the July 17, 1847 edition of the Bytown Packet (which evolved into the Ottawa Citizen), advice on how to prevent catching infectious fevers like typhus.

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An editorial eulogizing Dr. George Grasett, from the July 20, 1847 edition of the British Colonist.

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Portions of Michael Power’s obituary from the October 5, 1847 edition of the British Colonist.

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Power’s death was noted on the other side of the Atlantic, in pieces such as this roundup of the typhus situation from the October 30, 1847 edition of the Times.

A Guide to Online Toronto Historical Newspaper Resources

Let’s say you’re a historical writer/researcher. You have some Toronto-related projects on the go, or are taking your enforced stay at home as an opportunity to work on those ideas you’ve had on the backburner. You determine you’re going to need to do some newspaper research for your project.

In many cases, this isn’t a problem.

For some time, I’ve thought about creating a series of guides for Toronto-centric historical resources. The current situation surrounding COVID-19 feels like an appropriate time to show where you can find old Toronto papers online for free—which titles are available, and which aren’t. If there’s anything I miss in the following list, send a message and I’ll add it.

Toronto Public Library

star 1919-02-17 front page

If you have a TPL account, you have full access to the following newspaper archives:

Globe and Mail
Covers the Globe (1844-1936) and the Globe and Mail (1936-2015).

Toronto Star
Covers the paper from 1894 to 2016. Note that the early issues (1892-1893) are missing.

To access these, go to “A to Z List of Databases” page.

Tip: If you’re in either of these databases and want results from both of them at the same time, click on “ProQuest” in the top left corner, then conduct your search. This will also provide one-stop-shop access to the rest of the ProQuest databases the TPL offers, which opens up stories from the National Post, some Metroland community papers (from the late 1990s on), post-2015 G&M and Star stories, magazines, academic journals, and so on.

The TPL also has digitized copies of the British Colonist between 1838 and 1846. Using the normal library search function, type in “British Colonist,” the month and the year you are looking for (H/T to Jane MacNamara).

Google News

me sample page

A short-lived project to digitize papers. There’s useful material here, but it’s a pain to work with. You can’t download pages (I use screen captures to preserve material for later use), the papers are poorly organized and full of gaps, and the search function is useless. Toronto-based papers available on here include:

British Colonist (1843-1854)
WARNING: from 1848 on issues are mixed in with a Halifax paper of the same name.

Colonial Advocate (1824-1834)

Financial Post (1907-1986)
Scattered missing issues. If you are a paid subscriber to Newspapers.com, save your brain cells and search for FP (and its successor, the National Post) there.

Mail and Empire (1895-1900)
Listed under “Daily Mail and Empire.” Large gaps within this time period.

Mackenzie’s Weekly Message (1852-1853)

Toronto Daily Mail (1881-1885, 1887-1895)
Large gaps within these two time periods.

Toronto World (1885-1886, 1890, 1911-1921)
Large gaps. Some of the missing weekday issues between 1911 and 1915 are filed under the Toronto Sunday World. The uploaders were not paying close attention.

Ontario Community Newspapers Portal

weston sample page

Hosted by OurDigitalWorld, lots of material covering the GTA. While some communities on the portal only have indexes, the following have pages you can view and download:

Barrie
Clarington (including Bowmanville and Orono)
Halton Hills (including Acton and Georgetown)
Milton
Newmarket
Richmond Hill
Weston
Whitby
Whitchurch-Stouffville

Simon Fraser University

cjn example

SFU has digitized numerous ethnic papers across the country, including the following Toronto-based titles:

Canadian India Times
Canadian Jewish News
Canadian Jewish Review
Courrier Sud
Crescent
El Popular
Hung Chung She Po
Messenger
Minchung Sinmun
Modern Times Weekly
Shing Wah Daily News
Tairiku Jiho
Vestnik
Zhyttia I Slovo

Internet Archive

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The main draw here is The Varsity, covering all issues from 1880 to 2010. Other U of T papers uploaded include an assortment of Erindale campus papers and some issues of Toike Oike.

Now

NOW Magazine

The entire back issue archive. Registration required.

Who’s Missing?

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While these resources will cover many of your needs, there are plenty of papers that haven’t been digitized yet. Here are several key publications that are missing in action:

The Telegram (1876-1971)
While portions of the paper’s photo archive have been digitized by York University, no issues are currently available (I was once told by somebody at York the cost to do so would be prohibitive, given it was published for nearly a century). Given the paper’s strong influence, for better or worse, on City Hall politics, its long circulation and philosophical war with the Star, and overall excellence during the late 1960s (the After Four section is fantastic for tracking the city’s youth culture), its lack of availability is unfortunate.

The Mail/Mail and Empire (1872-1936)
One of the city’s first papers to make use of columnists, including pioneering female journalist Kit Coleman. There were periods where it was an exciting paper to read, other times the dullest waste of newsprint imaginable. Also interesting to see its evolution during the 1880s from a near-official Conservative party organ into a paper with an independent mind, before returning to the Tory fold.

The World (1880-1921)
The haphazard selection on Google News gives a good hint of the perennially underfunded World, whose “Sunday” edition (actually published late Saturday night) is a great early 20th century weekend paper.

The News (1881-1919)
The News had several personality shifts over its existence, and, thanks to a labour action, spawned the Star. When it was good, it was really good, especially under E.E. Sheppard in the 1880s and John Willison in the early 1900s.

The Sun (1971-)
For all its self-mythologizing, the Sun has not been kind to its online archives, nor has any digitization appear to have taken place. Some people might count this as a blessing, but it is a valuable record of editorial opinion.

Eye/The Grid (1991-2014)
Stories are available here and there, but the removal of its archive was a lousy move on Torstar’s part, making plenty of valuable coverage of Toronto’s cultural and political scene vanish.

Bloordale/State Theatre

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

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To be honest, I misplaced my notes as to where this image came from. Source info appreciated.

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.

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Assorted ads for the Bloordale and State cinemas, taken from the Toronto Star. Clockwise from top: February 2, 1955, February 5, 1965, and September 9, 1935.

An incident reported to provincial theatrical regulators in 1957 illustrates how well employees handled any situation. On Nov. 30 of that year, a patron carelessly tossed a lit cigarette into a room containing cardboard boxes filled with empty, returnable glass jugs. The boxes ignited, but staff quickly put out the fire. To keep patrons calm in case anyone noticed any smoke, the manager announced from the State’s stage that excess smoke from the neighbourhood had entered the theatre’s ventilation system. The report observed that “patrons received the announcement good-naturedly and the program continued without interruption or further difficulties.” Damage was estimated at five dollars.

The State continued as a first-run movie house until it closed around 1968. “Although a well-thought movie house,” John Sebert concluded in his book The Nabes, the cinema “never reached its potential, as it was on the fringe of about five neighbourhoods, but part of none.”

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1972.

When the building was converted into the Quo Vadis banquet hall in the early 1970s, it ran into problems with the nearby Junction neighbourhood’s dry status. That the building stood within 10 feet of the southern boundary of the alcohol-free zone prompted owner Harry Snape to join businessmen from The Junction in successfully petitioning City Council for a vote on liquor during the 1972 municipal election. The dry forces, led by “Temperance Bill” Temple, went into full battle mode, claiming the money spent campaigning was better spent on footwear for children. Voters agreed, as all nine questions that would have allowed liquor were defeated. Snape, who served as the pro-booze spokesperson, warned that businesses like his would be driven away.

For years, the building housed Pekao Trading & Travel. During the late 1990s and into the 2000s, it was also home to Pekao Gallery, which Canadian Art magazine called “one of Toronto’s better-kept secrets.” Besides art exhibits, the underground space also served as a jazz venue. The building is currently home to an employment centre, frame store, and insurance office. The narrow vertical strip advertising Frame It on Bloor fills the space where the State’s projected sign once lit up the night.

Sources: Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz (Toronto: Glue, Inc., 2008), The Nabes by John Sebert (Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2001), the Fall 2001 edition of Canadian Art, and the March 23, 1972, November 15, 1972, and December 5, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star. Various reports filed in the City of Toronto Archives were also consulted.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 5, 1972.

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Toronto Star, December 9, 1972.

110 Lombard Street (The Old Firehall/Second City)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 5, 2013.

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110 Lombard Street, circa 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 2.

Though no engines have raced out its doors in over 40 years, the origins of 110 Lombard St. are imprinted in a roundel above its main entrance: CENTRAL FIRE HALL 1886. During its long existence, the building has balanced coping with tragedy with making the city laugh.

The building was designed by David Roberts Jr., whose architectural career was tied to the Gooderham family. Beyond working on many structures in the Distillery District, Roberts designed landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the George Gooderham House at Bloor and St. George streets. The firehall, once touted by the Globe as “the finest building of its kind in the Dominion,” was equipped with sleeping space, a gym, and a state-of-the-art telegraph fire-alarm system. Though the hall was scheduled to open in July 1887, service was delayed by the poor condition of Lombard Street.

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The Globe, July 8, 1887.

After the City rejected a proposal to build a larger firehall elsewhere, the site was expanded with a water tower in 1895. Firefighters based at the station would battle some of the city’s greatest disasters; several sustained eye injuries during the Great Fire of 1904.

By the 1960s, plans were underway to replace the station with a new firehall at Front and Princess streets. “It is so old,” the Star said of the building in February 1966. “Firefighters have to beat the rodents off before they can slide down their polls.” Alderman June Marks added the hall to a list of buildings and residences in her ward to which she handed out free rat poison. (The firehall’s supply came gift-wrapped, topped with a red bow.)

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1971.

After the firefighters departed, the City hoped, as one advertisement announced, that “some ingenious entrepreneur will grasp the opportunities in leasing these premises.” The site was converted into a dining and entertainment complex—dubbed The Old Firehall—in 1972, with family-style dining in the basement and the Fire Escape disco on the ground floor. Globe and Mail advertorial writer Mary Walpole lured customers with promises of “great platters of golden southern fried chicken, prime, juicy roast beef, bowls of succulent gravy, and that special Fire Hall apple pie.”

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1973.

Looking for a cabaret-style attraction, the Old Firehall signed a contract with Second City in January 1974; the improv company needed a new space after their first Toronto home was padlocked by the landlord. Moving into a venue that possessed a liquor licence was a critical factor, as the lack of one doomed their six-month stay at Adelaide and Jarvis in 1973. (Provincial liquor officials felt the neighbourhood was already saturated with drinking spots, and didn’t believe Second City’s rented space was a true theatre.) Old Firehall manager Oscar Berceller, who previously ran celebrity-magnet restaurant Winston’s, saw Second City as part of a planned revamp of the building that would have converted the basement to a “gypsy cellar” with violinists. Berceller’s death soon after appears to have curtailed this idea.

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“Brian James, founder of a new organization which will send used tools to underdeveloped countries, seen with cast members of Second City revue Rosemary Radcliffe, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, John Candy and Joe O’Flaherty.” Photo by Reg Innell, originally published in the Toronto Star, April 17, 1974. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0128758f.

With a company featuring John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Rosemary Radcliffe, and Gilda Radner, the Second City made their Old Firehall debut in March 1974 with Hello, Dali! The Star‘s theatre critic, Urjo Kareda, felt the initial revue showed more bite than previous efforts and worked in Canadian-centric material without being pushy about it. Radner was praised for realizing that “she can be gorgeous and hilarious at the same time, without one distorting the other,” while Levy provided the show’s highlight with a skit about “Ricardo and his trained Amoeba.”

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Globe and Mail, March 14, 1974.

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Toronto Star, March 14, 1974.

In its early days at the Old Firehall, Second City competed with musical acts playing elsewhere in the building. “The only way we could attract an audience was to offer free draft,” producer Andrew Alexander later noted. “I think the audience thought they were there for the beer and rock ‘n’ roll—and the comedy was interstitial.” Among other short-lived 1970s distractions was The World’s Greatest Hamburger, which Globe and Mail food critic Joanne Kates found “tough and dry.”

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Globe and Mail, August 25, 1975.

When Second City prepared to move to Blue Jays Way in 1997, spirits long-reputed to haunt the Old Firehall didn’t take the news well. The frequency of odd events increased during the troupe’s final month in the building, including a burst pipe that flooded the theatre, flickering lights, and mysterious computer shutdowns. Friendly spirits, however, appeared onstage, as some famed alumni participated in the final shows. After making a surprise appearance at an improv set, Martin Short told the Star that “The Old Firehall is one of those important places for me. We’re always looking back for familiar places, whether it’s granny’s house that still exists, or your mom’s.”

A Second City alum was honoured as the building transitioned into its next incarnation. Following Radner’s death from cancer in 1989, Gilda’s Club was established to provide support and therapy spaces across North America to those living with cancer and their families. The Toronto branch opened in the Old Firehall in October 2001 and remained until it moved to Cecil Street in 2012. It was replaced on Lombard by the College of Makeup Art & Design.

Sources: The Great Toronto Fire by Nancy Rawson and Richard Tatton (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1984); the April 7, 1887 edition of the Globe; the March 31, 1973, January 10, 1974, August 25, 1975, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 2, 1998 edition of Maclean’s; and the September 20, 1895, February 4, 1966, April 23, 1969, November 13, 1971, January 5, 1973, December 11, 1973, March 14, 1974, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Letter to the editor, Toronto Star, March 28, 1895. 

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Lombard firefighters in action, from the July 24, 1895 Globe.

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Photo by Frank Teskey, originally published in the January 22, 1971 Toronto Star.  Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0112378f.

This photo accompanied another image of a prospective renter. From the caption:

To prove that the facilities are still in good operating order, fireman Gord Didier slides down the pole, while firemen Ron Horniblow (left) and Ray Samson watch. On January 31, City Property Commissioner Harry Rogers will open sealed tenders from prospective tenants who want to lease the 86-year-old firehall, now replaced by a new building at Front and Princess St. It might be converted by someone into a restaurant.

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Globe and Mail, December 10, 1972.

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Mary Walpole’s advertorial take on the Fire Hall. Globe and Mail, March 31, 1973.

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1997.

5145 Yonge Street (First North York Municipal Building)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on April 16, 2013.

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When North York split off from York Township in 1922, space was required to house the new municipality’s offices. Civic workers played musical buildings during the new township’s first year, for a time settling on two upper floor apartments on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue in the village of Lansing. When a fire destroyed that office and its accompanying council records in February 1923, plans were initiated for a brand new structure at the southeast corner of Yonge and Empress Avenue.

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The Telegram, December 20, 1923.

Designed by Murray Brown, who also designed North York’s official seal, the two-storey structure at 1 Empress Avenue was officially opened on December 19, 1923. Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Henry Cockshutt presided over the ceremony, delivering a generic speech about Canada being a country of the future. “Owing to the large gathering which crowded the new hall,” the Telegram reported, “the Lieutenant-Governor was unable to open the door with the golden key, and just declared the hall opened” Local MP William Findlay Maclean used the occasion to stump for better federal representation for the growing municipality.

The building’s main attraction was its second-floor council chamber. Besides serving as a battleground for municipal affairs, the room was rented to groups ranging from the Orange Lodge to the local horticultural society.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 30, 1978.

Though the building was bursting at the seams by the late 1930s, material shortages during World War II delayed expansion plans. An extension doubling the building’s size was completed in time for North York’s 25th anniversary in 1947, but the township’s post-war growth quickly made it inadequate. Rather than build another addition, North York erected a new municipal office to the south at 5000 Yonge Street, whose first phase opened in 1956.

Over the next 30 years the old offices, now addressed as 5145 Yonge Street, housed numerous public and private tenants. During the 1960s it was home to a courthouse handling construction safety cases and the local Emergency Measures Organization. The 1970s brought sitcom possibilities via North York’s parks and recreation department, as well as healthcare courtesy of the Victorian Order of Nurses. When the North York Public Library moved its audio/visual collection from its Fairview branch in 1982, the Star named only one of the over 2,000 titles carried on reels of 8mm and 16mm film: Bambi Meets Godzilla. For six dollars, users could rent projectors and screens for 24 hours to watch full-length film classics or half-hour condensations of recent blockbusters like The Muppet Movie and The Empire Strikes Back. A reading lab and youth theatre school rounded out the 1980s.

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The transformation of Lansing into downtown North York sealed the fate of the old municipal building. In November 1986, North York City Council approved a $10 million deal to sell the site, along with a neighbouring fire hall designed by Brown during World War II, to Menkes Developments. A condition of the sale was that Menkes would preserve the original front façade of the old building and the hose tower of the fire hall. Both buildings were disassembled in 1989 then waited as ever-changing plans, objections from local ratepayers, and mounting interest bills delayed construction of the project that became Empress Walk. Depending on the day, plans included a cinema, condos, office space, and shopping which were built, and a hotel/convention centre which wasn’t.

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Today, the remnant of the municipal building is attached to the mall’s back entrance, surrounded by glass.

Sources: Pioneering in North York by Patricia W. Hart (Don Mills: General Publishing, 1968), the August 30, 1978 edition of the Don Mills Mirror, the July 13, 1982, August 24, 1982, November 7, 1986, and December 16, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star, the December 20, 1923 edition of the Telegram, and the July 24, 1947 edition of the Weston Times and Guide.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, May 13, 1986.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 30, 1978.

The second North York municipal building. Its site is currently occupied by an office tower.

The Gladstone Hotel

Originally published as a gallery post by Torontoist on September 25, 2014 to mark the Gladstone Hotel’s 125th anniversary.

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Gladstone Hotel, fall 1952. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library.

As Toronto’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the Gladstone Hotel has seen much over its 125 years. When the doors first opened in 1889, it was a place for travelling businessmen to rest and for local athletic and social clubs to gather. Its proximity to Exhibition Place made it ideal for visitors and exhibitors. Through the late 20th century its reputation diminished, reflecting the economic and social decline of Parkdale to the west. But although it came to be perceived as a flophouse, it offered a sense of community to patrons and residents, giving them a place to relax with a drink and a bit of country music.

Over the last two decades the Gladstone has reawakened, becoming one of the city’s major cultural hubs as the neighbourhood around it has transformed. “Gladstone Hotel now stands as an epicentre of cultural incubation in Toronto’s west end, fostering creativity and community in everything it does,” its website notes. “Renowned for twisting perceptions and giving canvas to underrepresented and marginalized groups, Gladstone Hotel aims to raise the profile of subcultures and subvert the mainstream, creating a unique and open-armed narrative around its historic stature.” Art installations, burlesque, dancing, dining events, music, theatre, trivia nights, and many other forms of entertainment have found a place within its walls.

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The Globe, December 31, 1880.

The current Gladstone Hotel is the second building at the northeast corner of Queen and Gladstone bearing that name. The first, constructed in 1879, aroused the wrath of councillors in neighbouring Parkdale (then an independent municipality), who tried to block its liquor license. Originally known as Brady’s Hotel, it became the Gladstone in 1880 after the Robinson family purchased it. Proprietor Susanna Robinson was a widow with 13 children whose late husband had run hotels in Kleinburg and Yorkville. An 1887 advertisement offered guests the “finest brands of wines, liquors, and cigars,” plus Guinness Stout. James Britton might have required several pints after he lost to William McMurrich in the 1881 municipal election.

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The Empire, June 23, 1894.

Designed by architect George M. Miller, whose other works included the chapel at Wycliffe College, the second Gladstone Hotel opened in 1889. As Toronto Life observed over a century later, “the hotel aped the style of the time, a graceful, if unremarkable, Richardsonian Romanesque of red brick, arched passageways and gargoyles in stone relief.” A cupola located on its southwest corner was removed in the 1940s.

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Queen Street subway looking east, November 17, 1897. The Gladstone Hotel is in the background on the left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 8.

The hotel’s location across Queen Street from the Parkdale railway station helped business in the early days, as did its proximity to the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (the forerunner of the CNE). It provided a comfortable base for fair exhibitors and military performers. “The most striking feature about the hotel,” the Globe observed in 1904, “is the absolute cleanliness and neatness which is to be observed in each and all of its departments, whether in the collars, parlors, or dining rooms.” During the 1905 fair a full floor was occupied by 40 members of the Irish Guards, whose presence was honoured with a commemorative light display on the front of the hotel.

During extensive renovations made by owner Turnbull Smith an electric Otis elevator was installed in August 1905. Covered up for years, it was rediscovered during 21st century renovations when a hole was knocked in the wall. Refurbishing took nine months. Longtime regular Hank Young (1941-2009) was hired to operate the elevator upon its return to service. Known as the “Gladstone Cowboy,” Young first sang in the hotel as part of a country band in 1961, and eventually became a karaoke fixture known for his rendition of “Hey Good Lookin’.” Christina Zeidler felt his hiring was “a match made in heaven…He was a great storyteller.” Young was contractually obligated to wear outfits drawn from his collection of cowboy boots, hats, and bolo ties.

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Toronto Star, April 28, 1911.

Hans Waldheim (as spelled in accounts other than the one above) had very itchy fingers. Reputedly related to Prussian nobility, he was sent to Kingston Penitentiary in 1904 for a string of break-and-enters in Toronto. Incarceration failed to curb his criminal tendencies, as outbreaks of minor burglaries accompanied his travels. Around 1910 he was employed by the Gladstone as a porter and night clerk. After leaving the hotel, he used his knowledge of nightly routines to plan the perfect time to empty the till—the moment the clerk went to attend the main floor fireplace. He almost got away with it in April 1911, but was noticed and fled. Waldheim was on the run for a week, until police caught him trying to break into a home on Indian Road during the early morning of April 28. During his hearing on May 29 he claimed he broke into the Gladstone to pay a fine, fully intending to refund the stolen cash. Magistrate Rupert Kingsford didn’t buy the sob story or his lawyer’s request deport Waldheim to his native Germany. Kingsford sent Waldheim back to Kingston Pen.

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Queen Street subway east from Dufferin Street, April 22, 1915. The Gladstone Hotel is on the left, the Parkdale train station on the right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1409.

Disaster nearly struck when a fire forced 75 guests and boarders to evacuate the hotel on January 17, 1918. The blaze began in a rubbish heap in the basement underneath the kitchen. A night watchman called the fire in just before 5 a.m. When firefighters under the guidance of fire chief Duncan McLean arrived, the hotel was filled with smoke. That fatalities were avoid was thanks to swift thinking 20-year-old Union Station employee Stanley Condy. He was preparing to go to sleep when he heard someone yell “fire!” He ran to each floor, opening fire windows and guiding groggy guests to escape routes. “With a handkerchief over his mouth to prevent him from swallowing the smoke,” the Star reported, “he worked like a little hero running the elevator up and down till he was overcome by smoke and had to give up his task and seek fresh air.” McLean praised the calm evacuation. “There was absolutely no panic and everyone did the right thing at the right time,” he told the Telegram.

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Gladstone Avenue, looking north from south side Queen Street, March 23, 1949. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1881.

The Gladstone’s decline was long and slow. By the mid-1980s, most of its permanent residents were cabbies, pensioners, or truckers. “They are not necessarily down-and-out,” a Globe and Mail feature on the city’s hotel residents observed in 1985, “but they clearly march to a different drummer.” Regular patrons drank in the Melody Bar or caught country acts at Bronco’s (the current ballroom space). By the 1990s, the Art Bar offered space for performers and weekly drawing classes. Observers wondered how long it would be before the creep of gentrification westward along Queen Street would hit the Gladstone.

Room description, 2000, courtesy of Now:

The nightly rooms are on the lowest floor. I put my shoulder to the door that’s stuck on a lump of filthy shag carpet. Big ridges under the rug make walking on it precarious. This $49.25 room has a double bed, bath, TV and a phone to the front desk. It overlooks a roof covered in glass shards and the Price Chopper parking lot. It’s not a bad room, but the dispute between the hotel owners has prevented investment in upgrading. I have to pull the door hard to close it. This brings an all-swearing condemnation of door-slamming from an unseen neighbour.

In late 2000, after a bitter sibling rivalry resulting in death threats, longtime owners Allan and Herb Appleby sold the Gladstone. The new owners were Michael Tippin (who specialized in heritage renovation projects) and the Zeidler family. Plans called for the number of rooms to be downsized during renovations, and new programming catering to an artsier crowd a la New York’s Hotel Chelsea. Relations between the partners quickly soured. The low point may have been Tippin’s decision in February 2002 to send in security to lay off staff and evict the remaining long-term residents. Police mediation resulted after Margie Zeidler arrived to support those getting the boot. After legal battles and a bout with receivership, the Zeidlers were awarded full ownership in late 2002. The residents stayed on for two more years, then were offered assistance (including several days of free rent) in finding new homes elsewhere when the pace of renovations increased. The documentary Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel captured the changes during this period, as management juggled the needs of longtime regulars with a newer, younger, artier clientele.

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Photo by Sandy Nicholson, Toronto Life, June 2005. 

Management of the hotel passed on to filmmaker Christina Zeidler. The slow pace of renovations picked up as the hotel’s infrastructure succumbed to years of neglect. “We wanted to keep as much of the original building as possible,” Zeidler told the Star in 2005. “But the place was on its last legs. We had to redo everything—mechanical, electrical, floors and walls. Every time we started one job, we’d find more work that needed to be done.” Thirty-seven artists were hired to make over the guest rooms into individual works of creativity. A December 2005 gala served as the official relaunch.

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Gladstone Hotel, February 2009. Photo by Wil Macaulay. Creative Commons.

A longtime Gladstone tradition which wound down in 2014 was weekend karaoke in the Melody Bar. Hosted for nearly 15 years by Peter Styles, the chance to sing your heart out provide a venue for different generations of patrons to mingle. “Character types (Parkdale elders, skinny Queen West aesthetes and tables of birthday partiers) who normally wouldn’t be within the same three-block radius all manage to cohabit an irony-free zone where everyone fights for the mike and four minutes of fame,” Toronto Life observed in 2003. Among the props Styles used was an applause sign, which he felt helped those onstage. “The best thing to do is encourage energy in the audience for the singer,” he told the Star in 2012, “and of course they give it back.” A pipe burst during the intense cold of January 2014 wrecked the room’s audio equipment and soundproofing, which management saw as a sign it might be time to bid karaoke adieu.

Sources: Parkdale in Pictures by Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1991); the August 22, 1904, August 21, 1905, and May 30, 1911 editions of the Globe; the April 11, 1985 and February 20, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 28, 1911 edition of the News; the August 24-31, 2000 edition of Now; the April 28, 1911, January 17, 1918, September 30, 2000, February 21, 2002, October 14, 2002, June 23, 2004, November 15, 2005, October 31, 2009, August 31, 2012, and March 20, 2014 editions of the Toronto Star; the January 17, 1918 edition of the Telegram; and the October 2001 and September 2003 editions of Toronto Life.

UPDATE

In early 2020 the Gladstone was sold to Streetcar Developments, whose other historical projects have include the Broadview Hotel and the Distillery District.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 1905-08-21 newly renovated gladstone

The Globe, August 21, 1905.

news 1911-04-28 bold burglar

The News, April 28, 1911.

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The Globe, April 10, 1914.

globe 1914-07-21 plum theft

The Globe, July 21, 1914.

tely 1918-01-17 gladstone fire

The Telegram, January 17, 1918.