Snow Day, January 2022

As predicted, Toronto was sacked with snow overnight and today, turning the city into a winter wonderland.

When I went outside earlier this afternoon, the first thing I noticed was the silence. Apart from the odd snowblower in the distance, the usual background hum of the city was absent.

It was unnerving at first, then pleasant, a sign that the neighbourhood was taking a break today.

Not that you can go very far, with side streets nearly impassible for vehicles and sidewalks slowly re-emerging from the deep snow. There are closures of every kind, from vaccination clinics to two major expressways. Numerous reports of TTC buses stuck en route, coupled with tales of passengers and bystanders moving them. Naturally, there were elements of social media that criticized such actions, because some people feel entitled to be douchebags on days like this.

Based a walk I took around the block, people are in a friendly mood, whether shaking heads over how much snow we got or thanking neighbours for shoveling the sidewalk. I saw a large group of children who, ignoring the ridiculousness of online schooling on a day like this, happily dragged sleds to whatever local hill awaited them.

Along Danforth, there were few signs of commercial activity.

Maybe you could enjoy a snowy shot.

Back home, it felt like the perfect day to crack out a bar of Grandpa’s Pine Tar, aka “The Original Wonder Soap.”

If you want to make your home smell like a rustic cabin you’d want to feel cozy in with friends and loved ones on a wintry day, Grandpa is the personal environment consultant you want.

Evening at Hanlan’s Point, 1896

Canadian Home Journal, August 1896.

To alleviate some of this winter’s gloom, a starry-eyed look at journeying over to Hanlan’s Point on a late Victorian summer night.

Toronto Island underwent plenty of improvements during the first half of the 1890s courtesy of the city and the privately-owned Toronto Ferry Company. These included a new wharf to handle larger ferries, a bandstand, a merry-go-round, and a ferris wheel. More parkland was created in 1894-1895 when two ponds were filled in to create 14 more acres of parkland, and Manitou Road was improved and lined with trees.

Further recommended reading: More Than an Island: A History of the Toronto Island by Sally Gibson (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1984).

Vintage Toronto Ads: The 1922 Municipal Election

Toronto Star, January 2, 1922.

For decades, Torontonians began their year by casting their ballots in the annual municipal election. It was generally held on New Year’s Day unless, as in the case of 1922, that fell on a Sunday. When they went to the polls that January 2, they had a variety of aldermen, controllers, and plebiscite questions to cast their votes for.

Among the main issues was one that frequently ate up acres of newsprint during the first half of the 1920s, Sir Adam Beck‘s quest to build radial railway systems throughout the province. That topic would require several posts, and is so tied up in partisan battles and deep emotions that I’m going to dodge it as much as possible here. I’m also writing this post without access to the Telegram, which, like the Star, would treat the issue with all the delicacy of an overwrought melodrama.

Charles Alfred Maguire, 1934. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photographic Archive, TSPA_0112954F.

There was no mayoral campaign. After a seven-year run as mayor, Tommy Church was elected as an MP in the federal election on December 6. During the nomination meetings for mayor and controllers on December 21, Charles Alfred Maguire was acclaimed as mayor. Church had contemplated holding down both jobs, but waited to see if Maguire, an incumbent controller, would support public ownership of power utilities. According to the Star, Maguire “made an impassioned attack” on Premier E.C. Drury’s opposition to ballot questions on radials in the Niagara peninsula and Toronto. After speaking, Church asked Maguire if he was prepared to stack outside boards with supporters of Beck and his hydro-related projects. “I do not think that it is necessary to ask me that question,” Maguire responded. “If any members of outside boards are not in full sympathy with the policy of the citizens so far as public ownership is concerned they will have to go.” After some applause, Church was satisfied with Maguire’s answer and dropped out. In a subsequent speech, Maguire indicated he fully supported the radials and believed Ontarians should be able to vote in support of them. All nine approved Board of Control candidates also indicated their support.

While the Globe all but ignored day-to-day election coverage and ran no campaign ads at all, plenty appeared in the Star. Among the candidates, several themes emerge, primarily that businessmen were best suited to run the city, because we know that always works out well. You’ll also notice Toronto’s historical penchant for cheapness and thrift at play.

Toronto Star, December 30, 1921.

In the race for the Board of Control, where the top four competitors would sit at City Hall, Thomas Foster finished first with over 23,000 votes. Foster had sat on council as either an alderman or controller for most of the period between 1891 and 1917, then was elected as a Unionist MP for York East in the 1917 federal election. Forced to run as an independent in 1921, he lost his seat and decided to return to the municipal realm. He later served as mayor from 1925 to 1927.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Nicknamed “Honest Tom,” Foster was a penny-pincher a la Rob Ford, whose habits included personally making repairs to the properties he owned. Unsurprisingly, he favoured low spending and taxes, as well as establishing a five cent fare for the recently-established TTC. He credited his victory to his “public economy and retrenchment policy.” He told the Star that he would have a better chance of helping the city as a controller than if he had returned to Parliament Hill.

The money he saved was later used for, among other things, the grandiose memorial he built for his family near Uxbridge.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Second place went to W.W. Hiltz, who would serve as mayor between Maguire and Foster’s terms. Originally a school teacher, he entered the home building and real estate business in the east end around 1907. After serving as a school board trustee, Hiltz served as an alderman from 1914 to 1920 and as a controller from 1921 to 1923. While he professed support of the radials this time around, he opposed them by the time he became mayor in 1924. While his opposition may have held doom radials for good, it, along with his support for prohibition, contributed to his defeat in 1925. The main achievement of his mayoralty was commencing construction of the downtown railway viaduct, removing many level crossings and leading to the completion of the new Union Station.

According to a Star editorial following his death in 1936, his greatest personal legacy lay “in the lives which he influenced as a school teacher, as a Sunday school superintendent, and in his daily life. He was indeed a good citizen.”

Toronto Star, December 28, 1921.

Third place went to Joseph Gibbons, a former streetcar conductor and union activist who was first elected as an alderman in 1915. He was first elected to the Board of Control in 1920 and remained for a decade. Gibbons was one of the few Roman Catholics elected during an era of Orange Order domination over city politics. “Never showy,” the Globe and Mail observed, “he was regarded as a solid, shrewd representative of the people.”

An ally of Beck, he later served a long stint as a Toronto Hydro commissioner and was its chairman when he died in 1946. Along with Hiltz, Gibbons was backed by the Star, who praised him as “an earnest, moderate, common sense advocate of the rights of labour.”

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

The final controller slot was claimed by A.R. Nesbitt, a lawyer who had a brief municipal career before a 14-year run as a Conservative MPP in Toronto Northwest and Bracondale.

Toronto Star, December 24, 1921.

The first of our losing Board of Control candidates, W.D. Robbins, later enjoyed a two-year run as mayor following the death of Sam McBride in 1936.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Also unsuccessful was R.H. Cameron, a leather goods manufacturer who was an on-again, off-again presence at City Hall during the 1910s and 1920s. He wasn’t the right man at the right time during his two unsuccessful mayoral runs in 1918 and 1926. He was endorsed by the Star, along with another defeated controller candidate, George Ramsden. Among Cameron’s proposals was improving access to Toronto Island via bridges at either end to allow a streetcar line to connect with the mainland.

Toronto Star, December 30, 1921.

The first candidate in our collection of ads to tout their perfect attendance, Clifford Blackburn’s dedicated council experience didn’t translate into a Board of Control seat. He regained his Ward Five (the area around Trinity-Bellwoods) seat in 1923 and was on and off council for the rest of the decade. He later served as a local Conservative Party official.

I did not discover any ads for the last place finisher, William Varley, who received just over 3,400 votes. “I have no regrets,” he told the Star. “I wish you to realize this, my campaign, was a good, clean one, without recriminations on either side.”

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Moving to the ward races, Frank M. Johnston’s lack of sparkle impressed enough voters in Riverdale to return him to office. Johnston, who had manufactured and wholesaled hats and caps, represented Ward One from 1918 to 1922, in 1929, and from 1931 until his death in 1941. A national champion ten-pin bowler, Johnston was involved in the creation of Greenwood Park.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Frank M. Johnston, successful Ward One candidate, should not be confused with Frank W. Johnston, unsuccessful Ward Three candidate. Despite the effort of his old buddy to portray Frank W. as a man of the people, he finished fifth in an 11-man contest in an area covering the central business district and The Ward. Frank W., a former grocer, would outlive Frank M., passing away in 1949.

Of the others in this cluster of ads, Hunter and MacGregor were victorious, while Ward Five forsook safety when it came to Robert Prince.

Toronto Star, December 28, 1921.

Among the successful incumbents was Toronto’s second female city councilor. Ethel Small followed in the footsteps of Constance Hamilton, who had served Ward Three in 1920-1921 but decided not to run in 1922. Small was a social worker who was active with numerous organizations, including presidencies of the Big Sister Association and the Social Service Club.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

During her three-year stint as an alderman for Ward Four (which covered Kensington Market and the Garment District), Small chaired the Board of Health and sat on several committees which reflected her interests, including parks and juvenile court. After her decision not to run again in 1924, no female councilors would be elected until Adelaide Plumptre in 1936.

Toronto Star, December 24, 1921.

Among those Small defeated was Lewis LeGrow, who paid for a wide range of ads in his futile quest for a council seat.

Toronto Star, December 28, 1921.

LeGrow’s ads make him sound like the epitome of businesspeople who run for office because they believe the “common sense” they developed operating a business was equally applicable to municipal matters.

Toronto Star, December 30, 1921.

He also displays this type of candidate’s obsession with saving money even if factors such as building infrastructure to support a growing population require the income raised via taxes.


Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

LeGrow may have run in the wrong ward, as his common sense approach and quoting of H.G. Wells earned a fifth-place finish with just over 1,000 votes.

Toronto Star, December 28, 1921.

Claude Pearce was another businessman who didn’t wow Ward Four voters. A successful automobile dealer, Pearce was also a long-distance runner and supporter of charities for orphans. In its endorsement, the Star called him “a man with ‘energy to burn,’ a four-square citizen who deserves a large vote.” He had better luck in the future, serving the ward as an alderman off-and-on between 1923 and 1933, plus a two-year stint as a controller in 1930-1931. Like Gibbons, Pearce was one of the few Roman Catholics to hold office during this era.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Note that both of Pearce’s ads brag about his property holdings. Does this refer to his dealerships or other properties? Was he a good landlord or a bad one? Did this have any effect on his results in 1922?

In 1942 Pierce received a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to charges of false pretenses. He had received insurance payments after reporting his car was stolen, but the vehicle was discovered by police in a garage he had rented on St. Clair Avenue. The court agreed with Pearce’s lawyer’s request for leniency on the grounds that Pearce turned the money over to a taxi company he owned.

Toronto Star, May 8, 1962.

Forty years later, the Star ran this amusing photo of Pearce protesting the behaviour of his fellow U.S. Steel shareholders. It wasn’t the first time he was an angry shareholder; in July 1958 he opposed Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline’s attempt to gain parliamentary approval for a stock split, unhappy that such a move would lower the stock’s value. After appearing in front of a parliamentary committee, he stuck around to interrupt the proceedings with questions or attacks on the company’s statements.

Toronto Star, December 30, 1921.

I’d love to know what was so extravagant about the parkettes that incensed W.R. Plewman so much. I’m guessing the cost amid post-war uncertainties.

The son-in-law of former mayor Horatio Hocken, Plewman previously represented Ward Five as an alderman in 1916 and from 1918 to 1920. He was a journalist with the Star for over half-a-century, where his notable contributions included his sympathetic coverage of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 and the “War Reviewed” columned he penned during the First and Second World Wars. Perhaps that explains why the Telegram, with its extreme hate-on for anything related to the Star at this time, was the only city daily not to endorse him.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Voters took the special care Plewman asked for, as he was the top vote-getter in Ward Five. He would not run again in 1923.

Toronto Star, December 31, 1921.

Of the candidates covered in this post, Pernelius Wesley Benner was the least successful. Being a large property owner whose “services are much needed” and believed aldermen did not deserve to be paid earned him a whopping 452 votes. While his performance might be excused, according to a post-election ad, due to being unable to attend any candidate meetings due to the flu, he had an equally weak performance in 1923 and an even worse one in 1924.

According to his 1945 Globe and Mail obituary, Benner was an authority on real estate taxation and assessment of corporate municipalities. Besides his careers as a builder and realtor, he served as an arbitrator in buying property required to expand the Welland Canal. He was also a master of the “Cock O’ The North Lodge” of the Loyal Orange Lodge. None of these sound like qualities which would appeal to the blue collar immigrant electorate of Ward Four.

His first attempt to run for office was ill-fated. The Star reported that during the candidate nomination meeting for Ward Five in December 1910, Benner (whose occupation was listed as “gentleman,” implying he was living off investments or inherited wealth) was notified that his daughter had broken his wrist, yet “he expounded his views at some length.” He felt uncertain about going ahead with his candidacy, and by the time election day his name was not on the ballot.

Toronto Star, December 29, 1921.

Five questions presented to voters on the ballot. Despite Drury’s intention to ignore the results, Torontonians voted in favour of radial railways. They also overwhelmingly approved a request to force horse-drawn vehicles to be illuminated at night, despite ads such as the one above. They rejected salary increases to the salaries of aldermen and Toronto Board of Education officials by a landslide. A narrow majority voted in favour of keeping the election date at the start of the year.

Sources: the December 22, 1921 and January 3, 1922 editions of the Globe; the February 27, 1936, November 24, 1943, October 8, 1945, July 30, 1958, and September 25, 1963 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the December 24, 1910, December 21, 1921, December 27, 1921, December 29, 1921, December 30, 1921, December 31, 1921, January 3, 1922, January 4, 1922, February 27, 1936, October 11, 1941, February 18, 1946, June 23, 1949, and May 8, 1962 editions of the Toronto Star.

“We Are Confident That Victory Is in Sight” – Nelson Mandela in Toronto, 1990

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on July 6, 2013.

“Nelson and Winnie Mandela enjoy a warm welcome at Queen’s Park yesterday. ‘We thank you’ for help in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he told a cheering crowd. ‘You, the people of Canada…have over the past 25 years been a constant source of support and inspiration to us.'” Photo by Colin McConnell, originally published on the front page of the June 19, 1990 Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photographic Archive, TSPA_0065227F.

At first glance, the space above Asteria Souvlaki Place at 292A Danforth Avenue drew little attention to itself. Until February 11, 1990, its occupants were happy to keep it that way. Not advertising to the world that this was the local office of the African National Congress (ANC) was intended to protect staff from potential harm. When word arrived that day from South Africa that Nelson Mandela was free after over 27 years of imprisonment, 292A Danforth went public by offering itself as a place for Torontonians to celebrate the news.

Politicians and union leaders spoke to over 1,000 people gathered on the street that evening. Mayor Art Eggleton, who had proclaimed February 11 as Nelson Mandela Day, told the crowd that “the people of Toronto have joined with freedom-loving people the world over.” Chants of “Long live Mandela” rose from Danforth Avenue.

Mandela’s release was viewed as a positive sign in the battle against South Africa’s apartheid policy, a fight for which Toronto was a hotbed of activity during the 1980s. Boycotts and divestitures of holdings in companies with ties to South Africa became the norm for educational institutions. Protests targeted businesses that continued to operate in the increasingly demonized country. The Toronto Board of Education organized annual anti-apartheid conferences for high school students.

One high-profile effort during this period was the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival. Poet Ayanna Black raised the idea during a United Way of Greater Toronto black development committee meeting earlier in the year. “We wanted to galvanize the community and emphasize this was something to concern everyone, not just blacks,” she told the Star. A foundation for the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival, headed by Toronto Board of Education consultant Lloyd McKell, began working on who should appear. They secured singer Harry Belafonte as honorary chairman and scheduled an appearance by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Though criticism of its perceived involvement in a political activity forced the United Way to change its role from festival sponsor to supporter, the charitable organization continued to play a key organizing role.

Toronto Sun, June 1, 1986.

The result was an eight-day festival in May 1986 featuring basketball games, club crawls, fundraising dinners, rallies, readings, and theatre. A Sun editorial hailed it as “truly a warm week in our community as people of all philosophies and colours came together against the evil of racial segregation.” The festival climaxed with a speech by Tutu at Queen’s Park on May 30, where he was the first foreign dignitary to address the Ontario legislature in 34 years. Wearing a yellow “Rally Against Apartheid” T-shirt, Tutu urged 10,000 attendees to support economic sanctions against the South African regime. “There is no doubt in my mind, in my heart, there is no doubt in the hearts of those who are in prison, there is no doubt in Nelson Mandela’s heart,” Tutu declared. “There is no doubt that we are going to be free!”

After gaining his freedom four years later, Mandela undertook a six-week globe-trotting tour intended to increase international pressure to dismantle apartheid and raise funds for the ANC. The legend that had grown around Mandela during his imprisonment made travelling with him, according to ANC colleague Joe Slovo, “like travelling with Elvis.” The Canadian leg of the trip started a busy week in Canadian history, whose end saw Elijah Harper raise an eagle feather to kill the Meech Lake Accord, and the federal Liberals choose a little guy from Shawinigan named Jean Chrétien as their new leader.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney greeted Mandela and his wife Winnie on the tarmac in Ottawa on June 17, 1990. “We bring to you a message of hope,” Mandela told his first Canadian audience. “We now see a light at the end of the tunnel. We see the end of the road of a hard and costly struggle. We have come to tell you that beyond the horizon lies a future South Africa that will be as glorious as it is humane.” The following morning, he addressed a joint session of Parliament before flying to Toronto.

Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander greeted the Mandelas, their entourage, and federal External Affairs Minister Joe Clark when they landed at Pearson around 2 p.m. They were welcomed at an Air Canada hangar by nine-year-old Nnaumbua Farrell, whose mother Joan was overcome by the moment. The high school teacher told Mandela she was so happy; could she hug him? He laughed as he fulfilled her request.

Toronto Sun, June 19, 1990.

The first scheduled stop was a rally at Nathan Phillips Square, but the grueling pace of the tour—eight public speeches during his 50 hours in the country—caught up to Mandela. While he rested at a hotel, Winnie took his place outside City Hall. She was greeted by dancers, ANC flags, and a crowd of 8,000. Though some people were teary-eyed not to see Mandela, Winnie assured them he would be on hand for a 6 p.m. speech at Queen’s Park. She received an Ojibwe talking stick which, according to the Sun, she could “knock with until South African President F.W. DeKlerk opens the door for the democratic process for all of South Africa.” Vendors in the square enjoyed steady business selling clothing and other Mandela souvenirs, which irritated some attendees. Scarborough teenager Tricia Jarrett told the Star that she came “to see a great man, and here they are, profiteering.” This didn’t stop her from buying a $15 T-shirt.

“Freedom fans: A crowd of 30,000 packs the lawn outside the Legislature buidling yesterday to hear Nelson Mandela’s stirring speech.” Photo by Rick Eglinton, originally published in the June 19, 1990 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photographic Archive, TSPA_0065219F.

Following a parade up University Avenue, Mandela spoke to an estimated crowd of 30,000 people at Queen’s Park. He received honorary citizenship from Mayor Eggleton, who was booed by the crowd. Other speakers, such as activist Dudley Laws and provincial NDP leader Bob Rae, received a warmer welcome. Mandela gave a half-hour speech thanking Canadians for their support in fighting apartheid over the years. “We are confident that victory is in sight,” he reflected. “But as in a steeplechase race, the last hurdles are the most difficult to overcome. As we enter the last lap, we call on the people of Canada to gather and redouble their efforts and endeavors in support of our struggle.” As he spoke, fists rose amid the crowd as they chanted his name. Some attendees took extraordinary measures to see Mandela speak—a heart patient from Cochrane signed himself out of Toronto General Hospital to attend.

The Mandelas wound down the day with a 1,500 seat dinner at the Westin Harbour Castle. Along with dignitaries ranging from former Ontario Premier William Davis to Metro Toronto Police Chief Bill McCormack, they dined on borscht, veal tenderloin, and peaches and wine from the Niagara Peninsula. Mulroney, also present, announced that the federal government would commit $5 million for the repatriation of South African exiles and the reintegration of political prisoners. Mandela called the prime minister a courageous man, noting that his commitment to aiding the anti-apartheid cause was “a source of wonder.”

Globe and Mail, June 19, 1990.

Mandela’s only public appearance in Toronto on June 19 was an address at Central Tech to 1,000 students gathered from across Metro. Despite an hour-and-a-half delay, he received an enthusiastic welcome. “As they were waiting for Mandela to come in,” Olivia Chow, then a school board trustee, recalled in an interview with Torontoist, “we announced that he is walking down the hallway. The entire auditorium of students was clapping, stamping their feet. The entire building was shaking, the excitement was so intense. As he walked inside, the entire place erupted.”

The poor treatment of black students in South Africa was discussed. Mandela mentioned an incident in Kimberly where police raids on students in their homes resulted in arrests, assaults, and book confiscations. “They are only demanding a better education and better school facilities,” he noted, “but it is difficult to understand the manner in which the police are reacting even when you make the allowance that we are dealing with a rather brutal community which has never known the art of addressing the concerns of the black community in a peaceful way.” He urged the audience to help raise funds to support the education of students who fled South Africa.

Toronto Sun, June 20, 1990.

Chow admits that she was “awestruck” by Mandela. “To be in front of a person that transcended hate and lived his life based on love and justice and equality and hope…it’s hard to describe that feeling. It was just inspirational.” She says students who were there still tell her how they felt when he walked into the auditorium that day.

The entourage moved on to Montreal later that afternoon for a brief stop before heading south of the border. Among the honours he received were a tickertape parade along Broadway in New York City, and the distinction of being the first private black person to address a joint session of Congress. Mandela returned to Toronto in September 1998 to address over 40,000 students at the SkyDome. He was also present in November 2001 for the official renaming of Park Public School in his honour.

“Mandela’s visit was more than a chance for Canadians to pay tribute to a principled man whose long fight for freedom and equality now seems surer of victory than at any time in his 71 years,” observed a Star editorial. “It was a reminder to them not to take democratic right for granted. It was a challenge to build on the foundation of democracy a Canada tolerant of diversity, mindful of its rich cultural heritage, and united in the common purpose of equality and opportunity for all.”

Sources: the June 19, 1990 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 21-27, 1990 edition of Now, the May 5, 1986, February 11, 1990, February 12, 1990, June 17, 1990, June 18, 1990, June 19, 1990, and June 20, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 1, 1986 and June 19, 1990 editions of the Toronto Sun. Interview with Olivia Chow conducted in 2013.


Poster by Barbara Klunder, 1990. Toronto Public Library, Alan and Thomas Suddon Collection, Suddon_0068.

Globe and Mail, June 18, 1990.

Toronto Sun, June 19, 1990.

The Sun showed divisions in its coverage. Christie Blatchford’s column, posted above, is full of awe and positivity – the sort of thing worth rerunning as a memorial. The same can’t be said for Bob MacDonald’s take on the visit, which jumped on Mandela’s communist colleagues and the recent actions of Winnie Mandela and her bodyguards. Also not a fan was David Frum, who attempted to dispell “the myth about Mandela” (said myth being ANC support of “democracy”). “Dishonesty, though it may get Mandela his parades, won’t bring democracy to South Africa.”

Compare that to Star columnist Frank Jones’s assessment of Mandela’s visit: “You didn’t have to be black to rejoice. His survival and, we hope and pray, the tearing down of apartheid barriers in South Africa, are victories that should be sweet to us all.”

Toronto Star, June 20, 1990.

Photo by Rick McGinnis, Now, June 21-27, 1990.

Some quotes from Mandela during his talk at Central Tech:

Black people in South Africa want to control their own education and the government is not prepared to concede. They are also demanding one educational system with no distinction between black and white education and the government is resisting that demand, too.

Many students now don’t even go to school and this is very regrettable because if our children don’t go to school, this means they won’t be able to fulfil their roles as future leaders.

Police have been going to the homes of students, arresting and assaulting them and confiscating their books. They are only demanding a better education and better school facilities, but it is difficult to understand the manner in which the police are reacting even when you make the allowance that we are dealing with a rather brutal community which has never known the art of addressing the concerns of the black community in a peaceful way.

World Events: Pearl Harbour

This series looks at how Toronto’s press has covered historical events. This time out: the attack on Pearl Harbour 80 years ago, which opened up the Pacific theatre of the Second World War and led to the official entry of the United States into the conflict.

Globe and Mail, December 8, 1941.

Excerpts from the Globe and Mail‘s December 8, 1941 editorial:

Yesterday was a fateful day which may well be the turning point of the war, now in truth a world conflagration. President Roosevelt has been fighting against a divided national opinion. Japan has consolidated it. The might of the world’s greatest nation is forced into the balance with that of the other free peoples. The result will not be in doubt…

Now it will be understood better how truly events shape our destiny. The United States and Canada have not established mutual defense relations without forethought. All North America is not on a war-footing heedlessly. The creation of an air route to Alaska and the establishment of air and naval nases almost to the edge of Asia have anticipated this day…

It will be a total war for every man and woman who can help. It will mean in reality a total war for Canada, whose southern boundary, for war purposes, will no longer exist.

The United States could have escaped its responsibility at a price, by sacrificing the welfare of China. But China’s valiant resistance has appealed to the inner heart of a nation which abhors injustice brutally administered. China can now be of good cheer. Japan has sealed her own doom. The day of totalitarian aggression is nearer its end.

Globe and Mail, December 8, 1941.

A sampling of reactions from missionaries and the city’s Chinese community, whose celebrations would be joyous when the Japanese surrendered four years later.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1941.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1941.

Maps of the Pacific were a key part of coverage in Toronto and elsewhere. The Star‘s was one of the simpler ones.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1941.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1941.

Photos of Allied bases in the Pacific. The picture in the bottom middle of this spread depicts Canadian soldiers entering Hong Kong a few weeks earlier. That day, the Battle of Hong Kong began.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1941.

Never mind Christmas, I imagine the switchboards were overwhelmed with calls to the West Coast once the news of the attack filtered through the city.

Star financial editor Main Johnson assessed the effects of a war with Japan on North American economies. He predicted a further increase in industrial war production and rationing of gasoline and consumer goods. On the potential of supplies being cut off from the US and UK, Johnson predicted that after some hiccups, “the eventual result will probably be an even closer economic and industrial co-operation between Canada and our southern neighbour.”

Financial Post, December 13, 1941.

Elsewhere in the local financial press, the Financial Post saw the attack as the motivation needed to implement conscription. A plebiscite held in April 1942 saw Canadians outside of Quebec vote heavily in favour of conscription. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, sensitive to the tensions that tore apart national unity a quarter-of-a-century earlier, took his famous stance of “not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary.” His delay tactics worked until 1944.

Cartoon by Les Callan, Toronto Star, December 9, 1941.

The first Star editorial cartoon about the attack and declaration of war appeared on December 9.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 7, 1941.

For comparison to Toronto’s coverage, here’s a front page from Honolulu on the day of the attack…

Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1941.

…and an editorial with a snappy title from the West Coast.

“The Old Lady of Shuter Street” – A History of Massey Hall

This post was originally presented as a gallery on Torontoist on July 31, 2013, just as the venue’s renovation and revitalization plans were announced. Additional material has been mixed in.

Massey Hall, April 21, 1975. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 42, Item 4.

How do you test a venue’s acoustics? If you’re an expert like Fritz Winckel, you fire a blank from a .38 revolver into the galleries of Massey Hall, as he did in the early 1960s. According to historian William Kilbourn, the result pleased Winckel. “The two second reverberation time, as well as the hall’s dimensions and volume that he had been measuring, corresponded closely to those of the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.” In short, Massey Hall ranked with the world’s greats.

The acoustics, at least for audiences, have been one of the main draws of Massey Hall since it opened its doors in June 1894. Despite the grief performers occasionally endured from its unusual stage dimension and lack of backstage space, the building has showcased the finest in amateur and professional artists. It has also witnessed political rallies, union conventions, church services, and pretty much anything else that, at its peak capacity, could draw over 4,000 people.

Threatened with extinction when plans were made for a replacement during the 1960s and 1970s—those plans ended up becoming Roy Thomson Hall—the “Old Lady of Shuter Street” embarked on major renovations tied into an adjoining condo project.

If your ticket is ready, we’ll walk through its history….

Hart Massey. Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: The Mail Printing Company, 1891).

During his lifetime, Hart Massey (1823-1896) had a complicated reputation. The patriarch of one of the city’s most powerful industrial families, he was often seen as, according to historian William Kilbourn, “a tight-fisted, quarrelsome, opinionated old autocrat.” He was known to send detectives to spy on employees of his agricultural machinery business. Yet Massey was also a devout Methodist who lobbied for reforms to improve the living conditions of the working class, and supported methods of self-improvement via libraries and public lectures.

Massey Music Hall, as the building was originally known, fit perfectly within his philanthropic philosophies. The hall would honour his son Charles Albert, who had been watching day-to-day operations of the family firm before his untimely death from typhoid in 1884. Charles Albert had been an amateur organist and was responsible for arranging the company’s cultural and social activities. To honour his son, Massey commissioned a large hall suitable for events ranging from public meetings to symphony performances.

Massey hired architect Sidney Rose Badgley, a Canadian who had designed auditorium-style Methodist churches in Cleveland, where Massey had lived for several years. Massey purchased land at the southwest corner of Gould and Victoria Streets in 1892 for the hall. The small size of the plot would impact its future development, a situation not helped by Massey’s refusal to buy a lot to the south for what he though was too high a price.

Interior of Massey Music Hall, circa 1894. Toronto Public Library, R-4116.

In a September 21, 1893 ceremony, Hart’s six-year-old grandson Vincent laid the cornerstone of the new hall. The venue would be built to seat 3,500, with room for 500 more seats onstage.

Massey expressed his hopes for the building in a speech which was read by an aide on opening night:

The building is modest in appearance, not too costly, nor too elegant, it being in every sense a hall for the people, and I only hope it may fulfill my expectations concerning it, and be a great source of usefulness and enjoyment to our citizens. Further, I hope that in the matter of conventions our fellow countrymen throughout the province may derive benefits therefrom, both directly and indirectly. If the building is disappointing to you in any way it cannot be for lack of time and thought on my part, for I have given it the closest possible attention in all its details.

Sketch of opening night attendees, Toronto Star, June 15, 1894.

A capacity crowd turned out for opening night on June 14, 1894. The musical highlight was a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” featuring a 75-piece orchestra and a 500-voice choir. Among the dignitaries on hand were Governor-General the Earl of Aberdeen and Toronto Mayor Warring Kennedy.

Though he was too ill to read his opening address, Hart Massey received loud applause when his physician led him to sit on the stage during the ceremonial speeches.

The News, June 15, 1894.

Local media lavished praise on the hall and its benefactor, with one major exception. The News objected to high prices on opening night, which flew in the face of making Massey Music Hall accessible to all—a small cartoon showed a music note and dollar sign dancing together.

Excerpt of coverage from the June 15, 1894 News.

The News claimed the acoustics were terrible, which made it “hardly likely” that few attendees would return. Heat was also problem, which made the paper speculate that opening a window “appeared to be some sort of a crime.” There was a cheeky suggestion that “had Mr. Massey’s gift been in the shape of public swimming baths it would have been more in keeping with the sultriness of the evening.”

A Star editorial the following day suggested the News’s bitterness stemmed from the refusal of the committee organizing the music festival to advertise in that paper, and that attacking a sick old man was “cruel and ungenerous.”

Toronto World, June 15, 1894.

The World‘s editorial was a more typical example of the press reaction.

Sketch of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (future King George V and Queen Mary) in Massey Hall. The Prince of Teck mentioned here is the future Earl of Athlone, who would serve as Canada’s Governor-General during the Second World War. The Toronto Star, October 11, 1901.

Massey Hall entertained royalty on October 10, 1901, when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York attended a concert as part of their tour. Originally the new heir to the British throne, who would be invested as the Prince of Wales the following month and take the crown as George V in 1910, was to be presented with the opera Carmen. However, the royal family was still officially mourning Queen Victoria months after her death, and protocol demanded that they couldn’t be seen indulging themselves with live theatre.

Hall officials hastily assembled a recital featuring Carmen star Emma Calvé. The royal entourage, which included Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier and Governor-General the Earl of Minto, was delayed. Calvé began singing, but lost her audience when the royal party entered around 10 p.m.

C.W. Jefferys, who covered the tour, described the Duke’s manner in an unpublished manuscript, including qualities that may have been needed that night:

The Duke had a sense of humor, a perception of ridiculous situations, always tempered by kindliness and restrained, sometimes, I fancy, with difficulty, by the necessities of public decorum. Its existence seemed to me to be revealed by the expression of his eyes, winning, friendly, with a touch of mischief, as though he wished to share the joke with you, and a little wistful. With the years, to judge from his photographs, the wistful look seems more apparent. One of the Canadian correspondents said, “When he looks at you, he wins you over; you don’t think of his royalty, you feel that he’s a man you’ve known all your life.” That was much my own feeling.

Postcard produced by Warwick Bros. and Rutter, Limited, 1910. Toronto Public Library, PCR-2207.

An exterior view preparing just before iron fire escapes were added in 1911. Other renovations during that decade included a connection to the neighbouring Albert Building in 1917, which provided much-needed office and storage space.

Hart Massey’s will stipulated that all of his assets had be dispersed within 20 years of his death. When that date approached, Vincent Massey devised a plan to place Massey Hall in the hands of a charitable entity, which was incorporated as the Massey Foundation in 1918.

Sketch of Massey Hall interior, the Telegram, June 4, 1913.

A sketch made for a meeting of the Presbyterian Congress. The hall hosted groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to Christmas parties for Toronto Hydro. It also booked an impressive list of speakers during the early 20th century, including Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle, Helen Keller, Nellie McClung, Bertrand Russell, and Booker T. Washington.

Street railway strike meeting, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8056.

The hall was also used by labour organizations for conventions, rallies, and strike meetings. One colourful moment: at the end of a convention of the American Federation of Labor in November 1909, president Samuel Gompers was handed a telegram informing him that he had to report to prison upon his return to the United States on a contempt of court charge.

Toronto Police Band, Massey Hall, February 2, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 189.

Besides professional performers, Massey Hall drew amateurs and institutional bands such as these musical cops.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 1926–27. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 3, Item 1.

Though an orchestra had performed for 11 seasons before disbanding due to the First World War in 1918, the ensemble that became the Toronto Symphony Orchestra formed in 1922. Originally known as the New Symphony Orchestra, it made its Massey Hall debut on April 23, 1923, an evening for which its musicians each earned a whopping $3.95. The program featured selections from Brahms, Dvorak, and Weber, climaxing with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The Telegram observed that while the musicians showed great range, “what it has in mobility it lacks in colour, and a strengthening of the woodwind[s] seems necessary.”

The Globe, October 10, 1933.

By the late 1920s, weakening bookings and outdated facilities made trustees consider selling the building. No serious buyers emerged. The situation improved when the conversion of movie theatres to sound pictures freed up time for pit musicians, which allowed the TSO to schedule more performances.

Taking a risk in the midst of the depression, the trustees took Massey Hall off the market and hired the architectural firm of Mathers and Haldenby to renovate the building. Capacity was reduced by almost 750 seats to allow the enlargement of the ground floor entrance and the creation of a gallery lobby. Rickety wooden staircases were replaced with steel and stone. A red-and-gold colour scheme was used onstage to, according to Alvan Mathers, “pull what was a vast cold cave into a rich warm interior.”

Toronto Star, September 30, 1933.

For the grand reopening on October 10, 1933, management brought in Guelph-born opera star Edward Johnson as the star attraction, along with pianists Scott Malcolm and Reginald Godden. The increased schedule of TSO performances helped show off conductor Ernest MacMillan, who had first performed at Massey Hall as a 10-year-old. MacMillan guided the TSO through 1956, earning a knighthood along the way.

Sketch of Massey Hall by Stanley Turner, 1934. Toronto ‘s 100 Years by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934).

A nice sketch of the hall after renovations wrapped up, for what appears to be a busy night for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

G. Ross Creelman, manager of Massey Hall, with mover Jack Hughey, circa 1952. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2556, Item 1.

A little backstage humour from the house staff. Careful with that harp!

Boxer Jack Dempsey with hatter Sammy Taft, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4397.

It may be hard to imagine, but Massey Hall was used for sporting events. The trustees had mixed feelings about showcasing boxers and wrestlers, occasionally vowing never to hold matches ever again when people complained such events were rowdy and vulgar.

One of the hall’s first forays into sports was an appearance by rising boxing star Jack Dempsey on April 12, 1919. “The Manassa Mauler” referring some opening bouts, then pummeled a sparring partner in preparation for his upcoming heavyweight title fight against Jess Willard. According to the World, the hall was “almost overflowing by men and men only—real men who appreciate the art of self-defence.”

Regular fight nights began in the 1930s and lasted until 1948, when the installation of a concrete floor under the orchestra seats as a fire safety measure meant ring posts could no longer be placed through the stage floor.

Globe and Mail, May 15, 1953.

The venue’s most famous jazz concert occurred on May 15, 1953, showcasing the only recording of five genre titans. The New Jazz Society of Toronto wanted to secure trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker for a show, and soon added bassist Charles Mingus, pianist Bud Powell, and drummer Max Roach to the bill. Chaos reigned over the evening, as the performers argued over what they being paid. Not helping was a half-full house, partly due to a televised heavyweight title boxing match between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott.

Globe and Mail, May 18, 1953.

When Gillespie and Parker wandered off for over an hour, the remaining trio played several numbers which Globe and Mail critic Alex Barris deemed the highlight of the evening. “With those two deposed bop kings off the stage, there was more opportunity to hear Bud’s brilliant, coherent playing as well as the flawless drumming of Roach and the precise bass playing of Mingus.”

When an album of the concert was released, contractual complications forced Parker to be billed as “Charlie Chan.”

Seiji Ozawa and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra rehearsing Satie’s “Parade,” February 14, 1966. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 72, Item 1.

The TSO scored a coup when it hired 28-year-old Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa to take over for the 1965–66 season. “We were lucky to get him,” TSO managing director told the Star in May 1964. “A young man on the way up today doesn’t usually want to get tied down.” Symphony members welcomed Ozawa’s non-tyrannical personality—as one performer put it, “he never insults anyone, cuts them up, or uses a harsh word.”

Ozawa conducted the TSO through 1969.

Elmer Iseler, conductor, rehearsing the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Massey Hall, circa 1970. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2367, Item 1.

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was Massey Hall’s oldest ongoing tenant, debuting several months after the hall opened. Elmer Iseler became its conductor in 1964 and would lead the ensemble until 1997.

CHUM DJ Bob McAdorey interviewing Bob Dylan at the Friars Tavern, fall 1965. The Telegram, November 11, 1965.

Bob Dylan’s late 1965 tour split fans across the continent. While an acoustic first set placated longtime fans and uber-purists, the electric second set provoked catcalls and cries of “sell out!” To back him for the plugged-in portion of the show, Dylan recruited Yonge Street scene vets Levon and the Hawks (who later became the Band).

Dylan rehearsed with the band at the Friars Tavern (now the Hard Rock Café) that fall, during which he slipped in an interview with CHUM DJ Bob McAdorey. Published on the eve of Dylan’s November 14 and 15, 1965 performances at Massey Hall, the singer-songwriter addressed recent criticisms. “My ideas change and my songs change,” he told McAdorey. “I don’t think the way I did when I was 18 or 19, and I don’t like being quoted on things I said or did then.”

As happened elsewhere, the audience split when Dylan hit the Massey Hall stage. There was booing and hissing when the electricity was turned on for the second set. Somebody sarcastically yelled out “Elvis!” A few people left the building. One irate fan complained to the Globe and Mail that Dylan had become “a cheap imitation of the Beatles.”

Toronto Star, November 15, 1965.

Newspaper reviews are laughable in hindsight. The Globe and Mail’s Bruce Lawson treated the performance as the interview he couldn’t secure with Dylan before the show. The Star’s Antony Ferry was filled with bile, calling Levon and the Hawks “a third rate Yonge Street rock n’ roll band” whose noise drowned out Dylan’s message. “That great voice, a wonderfully clean poet’s voice, is buried under the same Big Sound that draws all the Screamies to a Beatle orgy of pubescent kids at Maple Leaf Gardens.”

The Telegram, November 15, 1965.

Ferry’s Star colleague Robert Fulford disagreed; he found the acoustic half boring, while the electric set offered “great waves of sound roaring off the stage in marvellously subtle rhythms…It’s Dylan’s own new thing. I love it.” The Telegram’s Barrie Hale felt Dylan could lose the fussier members of the audience, and that the performance demonstrated that his new sound was picking up new fans. “They know something is happening there, they just don’t know what it is, but they dig it.”

The Telegram, April 1, 1967.

Like Ernest MacMillan, Gordon Lightfoot made his Massey Hall debut at an early age, appearing in a Kiwanis vocal competition at age 12. Few suspected that a series of performances by Lightfoot in March 1967 marked the start of an annual spring tradition.

“Above his grey denims he hulks uneasily in a light blue blazer and an Eaton’s basement tie, a screaming modmash of scarlet-orange, green and purple flaming against his innocent white shirt,” Telegram reviewer Michael Walsh observed during Lightfoot’s March 31, 1967 show. “A disorganized tangle of hair crowns his intense, rural features. Then the flat pick begins to move across the strings and electric magic that is Lightfoot suddenly takes over.”

Over the course of Lightfoot’s two-hour set, Walsh noticed a deep connection between singer and audience. There was no catcalling a la Bob Dylan’s show. Instead, “there were moments of hush when a song was brought forth for the very first time. There were moments of stereophonic sound, as couples would take up a chorus and sing along with familiar lyrics. There were moments of thunderous applause calling him back to encore again and again.”

In 1969, Lightfoot’s Massey Hall shows were recorded to wind up his contract with United Artists records, resulting in the album Sunday Concert.

Given Lightfoot’s long association with the venue, he was a natural choice to reopen the venue with three nights of performances in November 2021.

Massey Hall, September 5, 1974. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive, TSPA_0110141F.

As Massey Hall aged, its problems became apparent to its users. Bookings by opera companies and ballet troupes moved elsewhere. The opening of the O’Keefe Centre in 1960 and renovations to the Royal Alex soon after Ed Mirvish bought it in the early 1960s magnified problems with rehearsal halls, storage space, and ventilation issues. Musicians complained for years they couldn’t hear each other on the stage. Recording sessions were marred by noisy radiators and general street noise.

Sketch of proposed New Massey Hall at King and Simcoe Streets. Globe and Mail, July 6, 1976.

Reports commissioned by both the hall’s trustees and the TSO in the mid-1960s suggested that the orchestra needed a replacement venue. Even Vincent Massey noted that “the Old Lady of Shuter Street has served Toronto for over 70 years, but she has had her day.” Initially the southeast corner of King and Church was proposed as a new site, before “New Massey Hall” was incorporated into the Metro Centre plan in 1972.

Model of New Massey Hall. Toronto Star, September 8, 1977.

Rumours of its demise sparked action. “Sam the Record Man” Sniderman offered to buy Massey Hall and run it as a popular music venue. Theatre architect Mandel Sprachman proposed connecting it to the Elgin and Winter Garden as a large entertainment complex. Trustees reassured the public that the old hall would continue to operate, as least until a new facility was built. Eventually that condition was dropped, and old Massey Hall would serve as a companion to its official replacement.

“It was a busy day for Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon. She climbed into a bulldozer, and with help of operator Dave Martin, scooped the first bucket of earth from the site of the New Massey Hall at King and Simcoe Sts.” Photo by David Cooper, September 26, 1978. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive, TSPA_0066882F.

While the Metro Centre plan collapsed, elements like the CN Tower and New Massey Hall would be built. The trustees secured a former Canadian Pacific property at King and Simcoe, where ground broke on the new hall in September 1978. Shortly before it opened in 1982, the new venue was named in honour of press baron Roy Thomson.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Davis (left) at gala farewell concert at Massey Hall, June 4, 1982. Photo by Norm Scudellari Photography. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 345, Item 32.

On June 4, 1982, the TSO held a final concert at Massey Hall before moving to Roy Thomson Hall. Some audience members wore 1920s garb to honour the symphony’s opening night. Besides repeats of pieces performed in 1923, the concert included a performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and a commission by trumpeter John Cowell titled “A Farewell Tribute To The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street.”

A sampling of concert ads, Toronto Star, June 12, 1982.

With the departure of its resident classical music ensembles, Massey Hall’s bills included even more popular music acts, as this list of ads printed soon after the TSO’s final show demonstrates.

Toronto Star, June 9, 1994.

When Massey Hall was built in 1894, the roof nails were expected to last a century. An examination in 1993 found the roof was shedding its tiles right on schedule. The result was $750,000 in repairs in time for the venue’s centennial.

Besides a touch-up, Massey Hall celebrated its 100th birthday with a gala concert covering the many genres that graced its stage. Among the highlights was a performance of the “Toy Symphony” featuring Ontario Premier Bob Rae banging a drum, opera star Maureen Forrester imitating a cuckoo, and former Maple Leaf Eddie Shack shaking a rattle.

Proposed look of Massey Hall, taken from an April 10, 2013 City of Toronto staff report.

As part of the neighbouring Massey Tower condo project, Massey Hall received renovations that would have pleased past generations of performers. The plans revealed in 2013 called for the demolition of the Albert Building, construction of a two-level basement and a new annex building with improved amenities, replacement of seats dating back to the beginning, and the possible uncovering of stained glass windows blocked long ago.

In December 2020, it was announced that Massey Hall would be a component of the Allied Music Centre, a seven-storey tower adjacent to the venue containing new performance spaces, educational facilities, a bar, and more.

Sources: Intimate Grandeur: One Hundred Years at Massey Hall by William Kilbourn (Toronto: Stoddart, 1993); the June 15, 1894 edition of the Globe; the May 18, 1953, November 15, 1965, October 13, 1967, April 9, 1969, and July 2, 2013 editions of the Globe and Mail; the June 15, 1894 edition of the News; the June 16, 1894, October 11, 1901, October 7, 1933, May 2, 1964. November 15, 1965, November 19, 1965, November 10, 1972, June 6, 1982, and June 15, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star; and the April 25, 1923, November 11, 1965, November 15, 1965, and April 1, 1967 editions of the Telegram.

Opening Maple Leaf Gardens

This post is an expanded version of a “Historicist” column originally published on Torontoist on November 14, 2009.

Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Chicago Black Hawks on opening night of Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25811.

“The accolades were not out of place. There was simply nothing like Maple Leaf Gardens anywhere in Canada, writer Kelly McParland observed in his biography of Conn Smythe. “It was more than just a step-up on the old, cramped, badly ventilated Arena Gardens; it was a generation or more ahead of any other building in the country. It was clean, comfortable, and welcoming.”

Built in an almost unimaginable span of five months, the building that became a temple for generations of hockey fans is a testament to the executives who used their persuasive skills to raise the necessary funds during the Great Depression.

Hap Day and Conn Smythe, likely celebrating the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup victory, April 16, 1949. Day was on the Leafs roster when the Gardens opened. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 132809.

From the dawn of the National Hockey League in 1917, its Toronto franchises had called the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street home. By the late 1920s, its small capacity (eight thousand seats) and lack of amenities like reliable heating led Smythe, the Maple Leafs’ general manager and part-owner, to push for a new facility at any opportunity. Larger arenas in ChicagoDetroit, and New York allowed those teams to offer higher salaries to top players, which made Smythe fear that Toronto’s limited financial resources would leave the team uncompetitive. He also felt the arena’s drawbacks prevented a higher-quality clientele from attending games. As he told the Star’s Greg Clark, “As a place to go all dressed up, we don’t compete with the comfort of theatres and other places where people can spend their money. We need a place where people can go in evening clothes, if they want to come there from a party or dinner. We need at least twelve thousand seats, everything new and clean, a place that people can be proud to take their wives or girlfriends to.”

Toronto Star, January 9, 1931.

By early 1931, Maple Leaf Gardens Limited was established to raise funds for a new building. The first site considered was at Yonge and Fleet (present-day Lake Shore Boulevard) on property owned by the Toronto Harbour Commission. The company then looked at land that had belonged to Knox College on Spadina Crescent north of College Street, but faced opposition from nearby businesses. The same site was part of an arena proposal made by a set of unrelated financial investors was announced in early 1931, which was opposed by nearby residents spearheaded by future Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips and a pair of local clergymen. Smythe admitted the Spadina plan mystified him, but it provided the motivation to prod the team’s directors to speed up the site finding process.

John David Eaton and Lady Flora Eaton at opening of Eaton’s College Street store, October 1930. Fonds 1244, Item 1638.

Smythe and Maple Leafs director Ed Bickle negotiated with Eaton’s throughout 1930. The department store opened its College Street location (now College Park) that year and was open to drawing more customers from a nearby arena, even if its clientele might not be the type of people they hoped to attract to their frou-frou new store. Eaton’s owned land along Church Street between Alexander and Wood streets, but there was one holdout lot within the land parcel. Charles Carmichael demanded $75,000 for his property at 60 Wood Street, even though its value was closer to $10,000. When Carmichael continued to hold out, discussions began over Eaton-owned property at Carlton and Church, a site Smythe preferred due to its direct access to streetcar service.

Negotiations dragged on for months, with Eaton’s proposing several ideas that kept the arena out of sight of the upper class clientele they wanted to bring into the neighbourhood, including workarounds on Wood Street to dodge Carmichael’s property. Bickle pointed out that the arena could serve plenty of useful other purposes, such as convention space, and even proposed naming the building “Eatonia Gardens.”

A breakthrough came in January 1931. The Yonge and Fleet site was rejected for good after a $100,000 kickback was demanded by a party involved in the sale. Eaton’s decided to sell the Carlton and Church site, though it maintained the right to approve the exterior design of the arena. This would not prove a problem as the architectural firm hired, Ross and Macdonald, had also designed Eaton’s College Street. Eaton’s would also receive $25,000 worth of stock.

Directors of Maple Leaf Gardens, Ltd., 1931. Excerpt of opening night program reprinted in Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History.

Beyond the clout of fellow Maple Leafs directors such as mining executive J.P. Bickell in calling in favours with other businessmen, Smythe used all of his powers of persuasion to convince others to invest in the new arena. As Trent Frayne described him in a 1999 Globe and Mail profile:

Smythe wasn’t a big fellow, but he could dominate a room. His bright blue eyes were his most revealing physical aspect—warm and welcoming sometimes, colder than ice cubes other times. He was often intimidating, as often charming. He was described once by a friend as a “practical mystic. He believed in playing hunches and he believed in luck; mix his superstitions with his practical ability and you had him, a belligerent Irishman.” He was stocky and big-chested. He wore pearl grey spats and an off-white Borsalino fedora. He could be somewhat acerbic.

Sketch of Maple Leaf Gardens as it was first unveiled in the press. The Telegram, March 5, 1931.

Smythe, Bickell, and the other executives prodded local business titans to invest, despite questions about the timing of building a $1.5 million facility. As Elias Rogers Coal head Alf Rogers asked Bickell, “Don’t you know there’s a depression on?” (Rogers eventually bought twenty-five thousand dollars worth of stock).

Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. was incorporated on February 24, 1931. Its prospectus promised potential investors that as few as five shares “would make you as enthusiastic a fan as the wealthiest subscriber.” Gardens shares were touted as excellent gifts and positioned as a way to build a financial trust for children.

When construction bids were tendered, the Gardens found itself $250,000 short of financing the lowest offer. When Smythe came out of a meeting with the Gardens board and bankers indicating that they felt construction should be delayed for a year, Maple Leafs business manager Frank Selke ran down to an Allied Building Trades Council meeting on Church Street. Selke, who also served gratis as the business manager of an electrician’s union, proposed to the attending unions that any labourers who worked on the Gardens would receive 20% of their pay in Gardens stock instead of cash. Few objections were raised toward Selke’s scheme and he proceeded to sign agreements with twenty-four unions. When word of this plan reached Sir John Aird of the Bank of Commerce, he agreed to fund any lingering shortfalls. Workers who held onto their shares would have eventually made a nice little profit, as prices fluctuated from the fifty-cent range in the mid-1930s to the hundred dollar level by the end of World War II.

Dignitaries gathered to lay the cornerstone of Maple Leaf Gardens. Left to right: William MacBrien (former president of the Maple Leafs), Ed Bickle (vice-president of Maple Leaf Gardens), W.D. Ross (lieutenant-governor of Ontario), Reverend Dr. John Inkster, J.P. Bickell (president of Maple Leaf Gardens), and Victor Ross (a director of Maple Leaf Gardens). Mail and Empire, September 21, 1931.

Construction began on June 1, 1931 and proceeded at a rapid pace. Haste was necessary, as the facility had to be ready for the Maple Leafs home opener on November 12. Over 1,200 labourers, 750,000 bricks, and 77,500 bags of concrete were required to build the Gardens. The cornerstone was laid by Ontario Lieutenant-Governor W.D. Ross in a dignitary-laden ceremony on September 21. “Toronto,” said Ross, “is, and has been for years, a sports centre. Our position on Lake Ontario, our National Exhibition, our general enthusiasm for sports of all kinds—amateur and professional—make this city the ‘logical location’ for a building worthy of our record, of cur[rent] need and of our ambition.”

Bickell then stated the aims and idealism behind the Gardens, as well as complimenting Ross. We don’t recall some of the following aspirations being trotted out when the Air Canada Centre came to be, nor did the name W.D. Ross roll off the tongues of Leafs fans.

This building, with which I trust your name will be long associated, perhaps might be regarded as a civic institution, rather than a commercial venture, because its object is to foster and promote the healthy recreation of the people of this British and sport-loving city. It represents the combined efforts of all sections of the community. Capital for its creation has come very largely from those who are actuated by a spirit of civic patriotism, rather than a desire to reap financial benefit. No less a high ideal has inspired those who labo[u]r is creating it, for I am glad to tell your Hono[u]r that the members of the various trades employed are becoming part-owners of the enterprise by accepting a substantial portion of their remuneration in stock. There is I believe no precedent in any similar project for this happy situation.

A time capsule was laid that day, which was opened 80 years later.

Mail and Empire, November 12, 1931 (left), The Telegram, November 9, 1931 (right).

Long lines formed when season tickets went on sale on October 14. Selke and Smythe dropped by the queue to observe the buyers. Selke related to Globe columnist Bert Perry the specific seating needs of one family, who were fans of Leafs tough guy Red Horner:

One subscriber was telling the ticket-seller that he wanted tickets for his wife, his daughter and himself. He mentioned that his daughter, a high school student, was a great hockey fan, and she was particularly fond of the playing of Red Horner, the youthful defense player of the Leafs. It was his desire to obtain seats that would be located as near to Horner as it was possible to get during a game, so he finally decided to take them right behind the penalty box. And that is where he got them.

Opening ceremony at Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25804.

Despite minor delays, the Gardens was ready to greet a sold-out crowd of over thirteen thousand eager to see the Leafs take on the Chicago Black Hawks on opening night. Early in the day, Smythe wandered from line to line to observe the reactions of those seeking rush tickets. His queue jumping drew the notice of a police officer, who escorted Smythe off the premises until his identity was established. A later starting time was planned so that patrons had enough time to acquaint themselves with the seating plan.

The Black Hawks were in a state of disarray when they came to Toronto. Despite having reached the Stanley Cup final a few months earlier, coach Dick Irvin either quit or was fired in September. This wasn’t a shocking move given owner Frederic McLaughlin‘s habit of going through coaches like one changes clothes. “Where hockey was concerned,” Smythe once mused, “Major McLaughlin was the strangest bird and, yes, perhaps the biggest nut I met in my life.” McLaughlin’s wife, dancer Irene Castle, felt he ran the Black Hawks “with the zeal of an amateur who doesn’t know what it’s all about.”

Godfrey Matheson was hired as Irvin’s replacement and guided the team through pre-season training in Pittsburgh. He failed to arrive in Toronto. While initial reports suggested he was hospitalized for a stomach ailment, the Telegram reported on opening day that Matheson had “departed to Florida, a victim of a nervous breakdown.” The paper suspected that McLaughlin might “forget his pride” and rehire Irvin. Instead, it appears team physical director Emil Iverson went behind the bench.

Some of the dignitaries who bored the audience on opening night at Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. Left to right, based on identifications in a similar photo published in the next day’s Mail and Empire: J.P. Bickell, Ontario Premier George Henry, unknown (possibly Ed Bickle?), Toronto Mayor William J. Stewart, Canadian Bank of Commerce VP George Cottrell, broadcaster Foster Hewitt, and NHL president Frank Calder. This City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25805.

When the 48th Highlanders and Royal Grenadiers band played “Happy Days are Here Again” at 8:30 p.m., Smythe felt that “the scene was pretty much as I had imagined it in my rosiest dreams.” After the bands finished, Mayor William J. Stewart presented the team with floral horseshoes on behalf on the city. The many dignitaries who followed bored sections of the crowd. Telegram columnist Ted Reeve joked that “the ceremonies included everything but a one minute silence as a tribute to the stockholders.” Several paper admonished the crowd for heckling the speakers, especially Bickell and Ontario Premier George Henry, demanding that the game begin. In Bickell’s case, according to Selke’s memoir, he “fortified himself with a few extra belts of Scotch” to handle any jeers from the crowd during the long speech he had prepared. “Ceremonies figure out nicely on paper,” Telegram sports editor J.P. Fitzgerald observed, “but they do not work out at all in practice and it looks as though if outstanding citizens are to officiate at openings and on other gala occasions they must confine themselves to pantomimic gestures, short and snappy, a kind of lending their visible presence only.” Mail and Empire sports editor Edwin Allan echoed these sentiments, noting that “there will be no more opening ceremonies in professional games this year, and this is something to be thankful for.”

The Telegram, November 13, 1931.

As for the audience in general, Perry observed:

With its row upon row of eager-eyed enthusiasts rising up and up from the red leather cushions of the box and rail seats, where society was well represented by patrons in evening dress, through section after section of bright blue seats to the green and grey of the top tiers, the spectacle presented was magnificent. The immensity of this hippodrome of hockey, claimed to be the last word in buildings of its kind, was impressed upon the spectator, and those present fully agreed that Toronto had at last blossomed forth into major league ranks to the fullest extent.

The structure may have awed attendees, but the on-ice product didn’t. Mush March of the Black Hawks scored the first goal early in the first period. The Leafs tied the score late in the second period thanks to Charlie Conacher, but fell behind for good when Vic Ripley scored early in the third period. The Leafs outshot the Black Hawks 51-35 but the sterling goaltending of Chuck Gardiner helped Chicago come out on top by a score of 2-1. Gardiner’s performance was remarkable given the game was stopped for fifteen minutes during the second period when Conacher collided with the goalie (during this time, NHL teams rarely carried a backup). Though Gardiner’s arm was severely injured, he made it back on the ice and was applauded by the crowd.

Game summary, Toronto Star, November 13, 1931.

One spectator who didn’t have a good opening night was Forest Hill resident Norman Martin. During the game, three youths stole his car. “Up in the labyrinths of Rosedale,” the Mail and Empire reported, “Motorcycle Officer Constable #263 saw them and decided they looked suspicious. He chased them and ran their car into the curb. As they stopped, one of the trio hopped out of the car and hot-footed into the night.” All three were charged with car theft and hauled into juvenile court the next day.

Programme from the first year of Maple Leaf Gardens. Image via Global Vintage Sports.

After a slow start and a coaching change that saw opening night coach Art Duncan dumped after five winless games in favour of Irvin, the Leafs also proved to be a success by the end of the 1931/32 season, when they brought the Stanley Cup to their new home.

Sources: Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History by Stan Obodiac (Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd, 1981); If You Can’t Beat ‘Em in the Alley by Conn Smythe with Scott Young (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981); J.P. Bickell by Jason Wilson, Kevin Shea, and Graham MacLachlan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2017); The Lives of Conn Smythe by Kelly McParland (Toronto: Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 2011); The Story of Maple Leaf Gardens by Lance Hornby (Champaign: Sports Publishing Inc., 1998); and the following newspapers: the September 22, 1931, October 15, 1931, and November 13, 1931 editions of the Globe; the February 13, 1999, and February 17, 1999 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 11, 1931, November 12, 1931, and November 13, 1931 editions of the Mail and Empire; the November 12, 1931 and November 13, 1931 editions of the Telegram; and the November 13, 1931 edition of the Toronto Star.

An Arena of Many Names on Mutual Street

This post is based on two articles I wrote: an installment of the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column originally published by OpenFile on February 26, 2012, and a piece posted by Heritage Toronto on March 6, 2013. New material has also been incorporated.

Arena Gardens interior, between 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 964.

How to eliminate competition: according to veteran Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot, when Conn Smythe built Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931 he was determined that the Maple Leafs’ former home on Mutual Street would never host another professional hockey game. One morning, he sent a message to staff at the old venue offering all of them work at his new facility. The catch? The jobs were only available until Smythe left for lunch at 12:15 p.m. The staff raced up to the construction site on Carlton Street, leaving no one behind to watch the furnace that powered the building’s ice-making equipment. When the flames died out, the pipes burst and destroyed the ice plant.

If the tale is true, Smythe achieved his goal. Pro hockey was never again played at the Mutual Street site. But it wasn’t the end of a building that adopted many guises over a 77-year history. Whether the venue on the west side of Mutual Street between Shuter and Dundas was called the Arena, Arena Gardens, Mutual Street Arena or The Terrace, it provided entertainment for generations of Torontonians.

The Globe, October 7, 1912.

Opened on October 7, 1912, the Arena’s initial backers included Casa Loma lord Sir Henry Pellatt and entertainment impresario Lol Solman. The debut attraction was the week-long Toronto Musical Festival, which offered comedy, opera and orchestras. Globe critic E.R. Parkhurst found the orchestra-style seats set up on the rink “as comfortable as those in any concert hall.” The 5,000 attendees on opening night enjoyed a program featuring works ranging from Bizet to Saint-Saens as performed by a 62-piece orchestra and half-a-dozen singers from the Boston Opera Company. The city’s papers heaped praise on the building’s acoustics—the Globe noted that “both solo singers and an orchestra can be heard in nearly part with clearness.”

Toronto World, October 5, 1912.

Concerts were a sideline to the Arena’s role as a sports venue. It was the largest indoor rink in Canada and only the third to use artificial ice. Two professional hockey teams, the Blueshirts and the Tecumsehs, delayed their entry into the National Hockey Association (NHA) until the rink was ready. The Arena’s first pro match established Toronto’s eternal rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. Previewing the Christmas Day 1912 game, the Star observed that Blueshirts manager Bruce Ridpath had “gathered together a number of fast youngsters who are keen to show their ability, and may spring a surprise on the Canadiens.” A crowd of 4,000 saw the home team fall to the Habs 9-5.

Eddie Livingstone.

Hockey caused Arena officials plenty of grief when Eddie Livingstone entered the picture. First as owner of the short-lived Shamrocks then, from 1915, the Blueshirts, Livingstone quarrelled with his players and fellow owners. When a team representing the 228th Battalion was summoned to fight in Europe and forced to drop out of the NHA in February 1917, the league jumped on the opportunity to rid itself of Livingstone by suspending the franchise for “transgressions of the rule.” Livingston sued, beginning a decade-long series of legal battles. That fall, the remaining NHA owners formed a new league, the National Hockey League (NHL), and asked Arena management to run a new Toronto franchise which would borrow Livingstone’s players for a year. After winning the 1918 Stanley Cup, the new team didn’t return the players to Livingstone, which spurred more legal sideshows. The team adopted the name “Arenas” soon after, then changed to the St. Patricks (“St. Pats”) in 1919.

On February 8, 1923, the Arena served as the backdrop for the first radio broadcast of a hockey game. Following a recap of the first two periods of a game between North Toronto and Midland, Norman Albert called the third period for radio station CFCA. Unlike modern sports coverage where the game takes precedence over regular programming, CFCA’s owner, the Toronto Star, promised listeners that “there is no intention to shorten the regular musical program on any night when a hockey game is being broadcast.” The two period recap/one period live format was repeated when CFCA produced the first broadcast of an NHL game six days later, which saw the St. Pats beat the Ottawa Senators 6-4.

Foster Hewitt, circa 1920s? Hockey Hall of Fame.

On February 16, 1923, Star reporter Foster Hewitt called his first hockey game, which saw the Toronto Argonauts beat the Kitchener Greenshirts 5-3. The future Hockey Night in Canada icon was assigned at the last minute. His first booth, a four-foot-square glass box next to the penalty box, was equipped with a stool and a telephone. According to Hewitt biographer Scott Young, the box was so cramped that “when he sat on the stool his knees seemed to be around his ears.” Designed to keep out the crowd noise, the glass fogged up, hindering Hewitt’s play-by-play.

Toronto St. Pats players Corb Denneny, John Ross Roach, and Bert McCaffrey, December 2, 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 9946.

By the time Conn Smythe bought into the struggling St. Pats hockey team and renamed them the Maple Leafs in 1927, the Arena was outdated. The building lacked heating, so its temperature depended on outside conditions. Players cursed whenever the rink was too cold, or when a heat wave made the ice slushy. Capacity was at least 10,000 seats below that of rinks recently built for the NHL’s new American franchises, such as Detroit’s Olympia and New York’s Madison Square Garden. Fans endured box seats that were little more than wooden benches. Smythe was also irritated by contract conditions which severely limited the Leafs’ ice time and gate receipts. Leafs star Ace Bailey later noted that his favourite memory of the Arena was leaving it and winning the Stanley Cup during the team’s first season at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Overall, four Stanley Cup winning teams called the Arena home.

Toronto Bonspiel, scene at Arena Gardens, February 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 15759.

Other activities filled the void of pro hockey, such as basketball, bicycle races, mass meetings, tennis and wrestling. Bond defaults and unpaid taxes led to a takeover by the City of Toronto in the mid-1930s. The facility was leased to W.J. Dickson in 1938, whose family would operate it for the rest of its existence after he purchased the site outright in 1945. A roller skating rink that sparked many romantic relationships was later installed, while big band performers like Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller filled the seats.

Arena, interior for First Service, United Church, June 10, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 5563.

One of the most significant events to occur at the Arena was the birth of the United Church of Canada on June 10, 1925. A sample of that day’s front-page coverage from the Star:

Toronto became a veritable Christian mecca, and the Mutual Street Arena a 20th century ark of the covenant, wherein the fires of fervour and devotion, fused and welded the strength of three mighty denominations into one corporate instrument of the Kingdom of Christ. The arena in the past may have held larger gatherings, but none more reverential, and none comparable in significance with thqat which filled its floor and galleries today in witness and rejoiicing of the merging of the forces of Canadian Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Congregationalism; a gathering of 8,000 souls united in the prayer of Christ.

“Memories: Ted Dickson was manager of Mutual Street Arena (now The Terrace) in 1949 when Frank Sinatra made his only other Toronto appearance.” Photo by Ron Bull, published in the May 3, 1975 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, TSPA_0126687F.

When Frank Sinatra played two shows at the Arena in July 1949, promoters shelled out $10,000 for the crooner. Due to lousy weather, they wound up losing $3,000. In a 1975 interview, Arena manager Ted Dickson recalled the atmosphere surrounding Old Blue Eyes at the time:

He wasn’t on top at the time, you understand, but when he stayed at the Royal York a wing of the building was reserved for him and his entourage. People were still excited by him, though. They were always hanging around his room, trying to see him. And I remember we had requests for tickets–then they cost only $2–from places like Buffalo, Sudbury, and North Bay.

Radio hosts Wally Crouter and Bruce Smith both sensed a sadness around Sinatra at this point in his career. At a press party, Smith noticed that he “sat and talked to people for a couple of hours, and it was as if he had to talk to them.” Crouter observed how reserved Sinatra was at an after-concert gathering, and how “he was so quiet.”

Reviewing the first show, the Globe and Mail‘s Alex Barris felt Sinatra was entertaining despite nearly a two-hour delay.

He proved himself a seasoned and shrewd performer. Playing to an audience that seemed incapable of resisting an occasional squeal isn’t the easiest job in the world. Frank was able to go along with the gag most of the time, however, and usually made the best of these ill-mannered outbursts. The influence of such stars as Gene Kelly, who has worked with him in several movies, has given Sinatra a sort of showmanship that fills in the gaps that left his voice from time to time. Sinatra burlesquing Sinatra on “All of Me,” one of his earlier successes, can be a lot of fun to watch.

Sinatra would not perform again in Toronto until a pair of shows at Maple Leaf Gardens in May 1975.

“The mayor brushes up. Yesterday, as the temperature soared to 78 degrees, Mayor William Dennison (right) and streets commissioner H.F. Ayteo bundled into bulky sweaters, grasped their brooms, and cooled off with few ends of curling at Mutual St. Terrace.” Photo by Mario Geo, taken October 15, 1968. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, TSPA_0043348F.

Following $3-million renovations in 1962, the arena was divided into three storeys and renamed the Terrace. While roller skating remained, new additions included a parking lot and Canada’s second largest curling facility. Unlike other local venues, memberships weren’t required to curl—like a bowling alley, all sheets were available for league and recreational matches. Curling and skating remained draws until The Terrace closed in April 1989, after which the building was demolished to make way for condos and Cathedral Square Park.

The site’s history has not been forgotten. A historical plaque at 88 Mutual Street mentions several of the old venue’s notable events, even if got the date of the Sinatra show wrong. In 2011, Cathedral Square Park was renamed Arena Gardens.

Sources: The Lives of Conn Smythe by Kelly McParland (Toronto: Fenn/McClelland and Stewart, 2011); Lords of the Rinks by John Chi-Kit Wong (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005); Hello Canada! The Life and Times of Foster Hewitt by Scott Young (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985); the October 7, 1912 and October 8, 1912 editions of the Globe; the July 9, 1949 and December 6, 1962 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the December 25, 1912, February 9, 1923, June 10, 1925, May 3, 1975, and April 29, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.

The Telegram Sets, The Sun Rises

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on October 27, 2012. This article won the “Short Publication” category at the 2013 Heritage Toronto Awards.

The final front page of the Telegram, October 30, 1971.

11:20 p.m., Friday, September 17, 1971. Telegram publisher John Bassett entered his newsroom at 440 Front Street West. Assistant city editor Tim Porter, the son of one of the paper’s most colourful columnists, noticed something was amiss when he greeted his boss. “There was anguish on his face,” Porter later told the Star. Bassett tore a sheet of paper off a teletype roll, entered his office, locked the door, and sat down at his typewriter.

Two hours later the sheet was delivered to a copy editor. After two minor errors were fixed, Bassett’s piece went to print. It was published in a grey box on the front page of the weekend edition of the Telegram. Black would have been more appropriate, as Bassett had composed the death notice for the 95-year old-bastion of Tory Toronto, out of whose ashes emerged a tabloid which soon declared itself “the little paper that grew.”

Toronto Life, November 1971.

“The decision has been taken to cease publication of the Toronto Telegram,” began Bassett’s message to readers on September 18, 1971. “Many details must be completed and, hopefully, the newspaper will continue to appear for a time, but the decision has been taken.” He cited losses of $2 million over the previous two years, projected a deficit of $1 million for 1971, and noted that $8.3 million from other sources had been required to keep the paper alive. Bassett had made $5 million by selling shares in Maple Leaf Gardens and the Argonauts earlier that month; it was used to reduce the Telegram’s corporate debt. Deals to sell off the paper’s assets were underway, with the proceeds used to pay off banks, employees, and suppliers. The decision to close the paper was “the saddest I have ever had to make in my life, in war or peace.” Bassett ended the notice by thanking readers and staff for their loyalty and offered an apology: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t do better.”

The paper’s unions were immediately blamed for the paper’s demise, two of which had voted to authorize a strike action two days earlier at the King Edward Hotel. Labour strife had dogged the Telegram for years: members of the International Typographical Union had picketed all of the city’s dailies since 1964, while agreements with the other unions had expired at the end of 1970. Bassett offered a wage freeze for 1971 and a $10/week raise for 1972, and opened the paper’s books to verify that the paper was, in fact, losing money. The unions later proposed taking any wage increases for 1971 as IOUs, but Bassett held firm, coldly stating in a meeting before the vote “You’ll have to take whatever steps you feel are necessary and so will I.” Some union members felt that Bassett was close to capitulating or couldn’t believe that, given his interests in CFTO-TV and sports teams, he didn’t have enough money to meet their demands.

440 Front Street West, home of the Telegram from 1963 to 1971, later home of the Globe and Mail, The Telegram, September 20, 1971.

What they didn’t know before voting was that Bassett had already decided to shut the paper down, despite having the third largest circulation of any English daily in Canada. He had shopped the paper’s assets around for awhile, including negotiations with the Star to sell the Telegram’s subscription lists. He offered the paper to journalists Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton, who declined after seeing the books. The final decision to fold the paper was made on September 13, when Bassett sought permission to do so from the paper’s trustees. The Telegram’s fate was sealed during a meeting that night at John David Eaton’s home at 120 Dunvegan Road, where the Bassett and Eaton family members who were shareholders in the paper gathered. Only the publisher’s son Johnny opposed the closure.

During the strike vote, Bassett dined at Mister Tony’s restaurant in Yorkville with Telegram managing editor Douglas Creighton and political editor Fraser Kelly. After they learned the vote results, Kelly told Bassett that there were many Telegram employees who felt he didn’t care about the paper anymore, believed he had or was about to sell, and that regardless of the vote the paper was through. “You’re right on all counts,” Bassett responded.

Three writers who migrated from the Telegram to the Sun. Advertisements, the Telegram, October 28, 1971.

Employees were shocked when they heard about the paper’s closure, which had inspired fierce loyalty. Hartley Steward captured this in a Toronto Life article on the paper’s demise:

Nobody ever had a job at the Tely. You were with the Tely. And if you weren’t with the Tely, you were against it. At cocktail parties we were backed up against the wall, always with drink in hand, to answer for its insanities. And we came back off the wall swinging every time at the armchair critics because, with all its imperfections, it was our newspaper and it was put together four times every day with so much energy, so much loving care, against so many odds, that it could not go undefended.

The most quoted line regarding the closing came from veteran sports columnist Ted Reeve: “When I started to work for the Telegram in 1923, I thought it was going to be a steady job.”

Jaws dropped when it was soon revealed that the Star bought the Telegram’s subscription lists for $10 million and would lease the paper’s home for two years (the building was soon bought by the Globe and Mail, who moved in after the Star’s lease was up). The unions and groups of employees scrambled to find anyone willing to buy the paper, though potential saviours like Ed Mirvish and mining magnate Steve Roman passed, or placed conditions Bassett did not wish to honour. They urged all levels of government to save the Telegram, which produced little more than regrets and partisan bickering.

Among the more immediate concerns: questions about how the timing of the paper’s closure would affect coverage of the provincial election in October 1971. After Bassett announced that the paper’s final edition would appear on October 30, a week after the election, Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis charged that the Telegram was hanging on long enough to print editorials supporting Premier William Davis and the Progressive Conservatives.

The Telegram, October 15, 1971.

While the paper’s 1,200 employees looked for new jobs, a handful revisited a recurring idea to improve the paper’s advertising and circulation numbers, which had declined against evening rival the Star for years. Around 1966, Creighton and Johnny Bassett had discussed a companion morning tabloid which would be physically easier for commuters to handle, and offer a livelier alternative to the city’s only a.m. paper at the time, the staid Globe and Mail. This idea was refined by former Telegram managing editor Andy MacFarlane in 1967, who supervised mockups designed by artist Andy Donato of a multi-edition paper called “The Sun.” MacFarlane pictured a paper which was light on hard news and heavy on columnists, features, and sports. Publisher Bassett rejected the idea, feeling that it would compete with the Telegram instead of complement it. He wasn’t comfortable with the tabloid format due to its association with past sleazy Toronto rags like Flash and Hush. Creighton and MacFarlane tinkered with other tabloid formats, including a national paper inspired by the New York Post, but all received thumbs down.

As prospects of saving the Telegram dimmed, a group which coalesced around Creighton, Telegram Syndicate manager Don Hunt, and foreign correspondent Peter Worthington planned a new weekday morning tabloid. There was little time to develop the proposed publication, as Creighton and Hunt felt it needed to hit the presses within 24 hours of the Telegram’s final edition. Remembering Bassett’s qualms about the tabloid format, the paper was dubbed the Toronto Sun because it sounded like a traditional newspaper name.

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

Over the course of October 1971, the Sun developed its editorial policy. In his biography, Sunburned, Creighton included Worthington’s notes from the discussions that would shape the paper’s viewpoint, elements of which won’t surprise long-time readers:

Policy would be of basic “independence” and ideologically in the centre—more so than either Globe or Star. It would appeal basically to people who work for a living, not those who seek a free ride from society.

It would concentrate on local affairs—would be brightly written, irreverent, but balanced and responsible. In essence, it would tend to be an “opposition” newspaper and have no sacred cows. It would be the mouthpiece of no group—and certainly not the fashionable “left” elements of our society.

The editorials would be straight, hard-hitting and opinionated, and quite unlike the wishy-washy editorials that the Telegram indulged in. They’d be Daily Mirror-style in bluntness. We would stress the idea that we are Toronto’s “other voice”—the voice that the death of the Tely deprived Torontonians of. Keep stressing our independence.

Creighton would be publisher, Hunt general manager, and Worthington executive editor of the new paper.

Nailing down financial backing wasn’t easy. Lawyer Eddie Hyde was the initial financial point man, but a deal he built collapsed. Another lawyer, Progressive Conservative fundraiser and advisor Eddie Goodman, rounded up $700,000 worth of promised support (half of which was actually collected). With those funds in place, the Sun’s existence was publicly announced on October 14, 1971. Negotiations with Bassett allowed the paper to claim the Telegram’s paper boxes and news archive, as well as the Telegram Syndicate. Major media figures like Roy Thomson and the management of Southam Press gave the Sun little to no chance of survival in an age where long-running papers like the Telegram were folding.

The Telegram’s last editorial page cartoon, illustrated by John Yardley-Jones, October 30, 1971.

A lone print run of 340,000 copies was made for the final edition of the Telegram on October 30, 1971. Sensing a future collector’s item, people grabbed as many copies as they could. One antique dealer, who claimed to be serving former Torontonians, ordered 1,000 papers. Demand was so high that some copies of the 25 cent paper reportedly sold for five dollars. While some carriers reported that their bundles were stolen, one creative paperboy tossed his papers in a shopping cart and hawked them along Jarvis Street. His lineups were up to six vehicles deep.

At the Telegram, the farewell celebrations began with a champagne delivery to the sports department around 8 a.m., and continued at various apartments and watering holes across Toronto for the rest of the day. Even the police supplied complimentary booze. One worker showed up in a rented top hat and mourning suit, and repeatedly played “The Last Post.”

Despite hangovers, Sun employees were expected to show up at the space the paper rented at the Eclipse Building on King Street West on Halloween, to prepare the paper’s debut. Because the second floor was still being renovated, the paper initially operated out of the fourth floor, recently abandoned by a silk screening company. The worn, grimy conditions fit the underdog image the paper built. It also had a shaky electrical system, as columnist Paul Rimstead quickly discovered. When he attempted to plug in a kettle to make, depending on the source, either tea or booze-laced coffee, he plunged the newsroom into darkness.

Rimstead got plenty of mileage from the sad state of the premises, who referred to it as “the beautiful downtown Eclipse Building right next door to Farb’s Car Wash and across the road from King’s Plate Open Kitchen where you can buy a beef steak pie for 50 cents.” His ability to get away with revealing the behind-the-scenes world of the Sun, especially when he insulted his bosses in a manner that would have seen him canned elsewhere, became a key element of the new paper’s style. Many found it incongruous that a paper of such ‘conservative’ beliefs could be so liberal in its treatment of staff,” Worthington later noted, “not realizing that this was the essence of consistency for a paper that believes in and trusts individuality.”

The first print run didn’t go smoothly. First a courier got lost on the way to Inland Printing in Mississauga. One story was still sitting at the Eclipse Building. When the presses finally rolled at 2 a.m. on November 1, 1971, they produced a loud bang. The low-grade newsprint they were using was prone to breaking on the press, causing paper to spill everywhere. Less than two hours later, the first papers were ready. Because of the delays, only 75,000 out of the intended 125,000 copies were printed. Just like the final Telegram, the first edition of the Sun disappeared quickly.

The Sun’s debut front page, November 1, 1971.

Readers who saw the Sun rise discovered a paper whose content and tone linger in more sensationalized forms today. The headline story by future columnist Bob MacDonald spotlighted wasted government spending. The Sunshine Girl was in place, though she more closely resembled Worthington’s original vision of a girl-next-door than the later tarted-up models. Letters received snappy one-line responses. Cultural sensitivity was on display: an Asian-themed fashion spread was titled “Next: the year of the coolie.” Lubor Zink promised to continue providing “serious analysis of the complex domestic and international problems” that he had in his Telegram political column, which was code for obsessing over Communism and the evil of Pierre Trudeau.

The paper started with 62 employees and a tight budget, forcing everyone involved to come up with creative approaches to fill its pages. Because the Sun couldn’t afford the fee the Toronto Stock Exchange charged for listings, it copied the Star’s stock pages. When the Star found out, they purposely inserted mistakes. Eventually, Star managing editor Martin Goodman had a good laugh, then allowed the Sun to continue copying the Star’s listings for the princely sum of one dollar a week.

An example of early Sun reader devotion. Toronto Sun, November 3, 1971.

The paper quickly developed a rapport with its intended audience with its self-mythologizing narrative as the underdog of Toronto media fighting for the little guy. Staff received plenty of gifts from readers, including Chinese takeout, cigars, flowers, and a lost Telegram box. Phone lines jammed after Rimstead promised to give away bumper stickers on day three. An editorial celebrating the paper’s one-week anniversary thanked the readers for their support and provides points about the Sun that are still debatable:

For all us underdogs trying to challenge the goliaths, journalism has suddenly become fun again. We are the lucky ones in the Tely’s death. We are still fighting for something; we have hope. For that we thank you, our readers. And we’ll get better. Honest.

Sources: The Death of the Toronto Telegram & Other Newspaper Stories by Jock Carroll (Richmond Hill: Pocket Books, 1971), Sunburned: Memoirs of a Newspaperman by Douglas Creighton (Toronto: Little, Brown, 1993), Life in a Word Factory by Ron Poulton (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1976), The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993), Looking For Trouble by Peter Worthington (Toronto: Key Porter, 1984), the November 1971 edition of Toronto Life, and the following newspapers: the September 18, 1971, September 25, 1971, and November 1, 1971 editions of the Toronto Star; the November 1, 1971 and November 8, 1971 editions of the Toronto Sun; and the September 18, 1971 and October 30, 1971 editions of the Telegram.


Final back page Simpsons ad in the Telegram, October 30, 1971.

It was 41 years ago on Halloween weekend that the Toronto Telegram went out of business and the Toronto Sun was born – 1,200 people out of a job, 62 got with new ones. What brings this to mind is an account of the Tely’s demise on the website, by one Jamie Bradburn which is detailed and about as accurate as anything I’ve read about those turbulent times. – Peter Worthington, introducing a column on the Sun’s 41st anniversary, October 31, 2012.

When you have a regular column, sometimes you hack out pieces to get them done. Other times, you take your time to produce a labour of love, a piece that you hope tells a story the way you want it to be told, and that stands up as a work readers will enjoy for years to come.

This story was a labour of love.

The tale begins in my grandparents’ basement in Leaside, sometime in the early 1980s. Amid books saved from my father’s childhood and games like Tiddlywinks, there were some old newspapers. Three stick out in my mind: the King George VI memorial edition of the Telegram, the final edition of the Telegram, and the first edition of the Sun. I doubt I processed much apart from the ads, but these old newspapers were fascinating.

Add in my father’s stories about delivering the Tely when he was a kid (including, he claimed, during Hurricane Hazel). Add in my childhood fascination with the Sun, which he picked up whenever we visited Toronto. Tabloid dailies didn’t exist in southwest Ontario or southeast Michigan. None of the other papers we received had comic book sized weekend funnies. The ads had a different feel the papers I liked flipping through (looking at you, Friday movie section of the Toronto Star and Sunday arts section of the New York Times). Given my later feelings about the Sun’s political and philosophical leanings, it’s fascinating to think back at how innocently I looked at it.

As I grew older, my interest grew in publications that no longer existed, and how much of an outlier the transition from the Telegram to the Sun was in the early 1970s, an era where many major papers died across North America and new launches usually failed.

From the moment I started contributing “Historicist” columns, I knew this was a story I would tackle. I worked on it off-and-on for several years, gathering material until I reached a point that I felt confident that the piece was ready to be unleashed on the interwebs. The writing process took longer than usual—instead of doing my usual dash out the final draft in one long burst, I took my time over several days, refining all the way along.

The effort paid off. The feedback was among the best for anything I’d ever written, culminating in the Peter Worthington quote I led off this section with. If people who were there felt it was accurate, I guess I used good sources. The story won a Heritage Toronto award the following year, and has had a decent online afterlife. I even wound up with a copy of the final edition of the Telegram that one reader offered, as I never knew where my grandparents’ copy wound up.

I’ve resisted doing an updated/expanded version in case I ever summoned the courage to pitch a book based on my backlog or incorporating it into a history of Toronto newspapers I’d love to write someday (if you’re a respectable publisher reading this, let’s talk – just sayin’…). But the 50th anniversary of the Sun seems like an appropriate time to go the deluxe edition route.

Enough babbling from me. Let’s dive into the additional material…


The front page announcement on the September 18, 1971 edition of the Telegram that the paper would soon cease to be. Technically, Bassett’s claim that the Tely was Toronto’s oldest daily was true, if you separated the Globe and Mail‘s existence from the Globe (born 1844).

Telegram delivery trucks, September 18, 1971. Photo by Bob Olsen. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, TSPA_0110627F.

The original caption for this image, as published in the September 20, 1971 edition of the Star: “Telegram trucks stand ready to deliver a newspaper that, according to publisher john Bassett, is doomed to extinction. Bassett announced Saturday morning that the afternoon Toronto daily could no longer publish; but did not indicate when its last edition would come out. Bassett, in his announcement, said it was no longer economically feasible for the newspaper to publish. The move will end the jobs of some 1,200 employees; 250 of them in editorial and 200 truck drivers and helpers. Publisher John Bassett has turned down offer of help from Ontario government.”

Globe and Mail, September 20, 1971.

Toronto Star, September 20, 1971.

The Telegram, September 21, 1971.

One of the first eulogies from the Telegram‘s columnists.

The Telegram, October 28, 1971.

The Telegram, October 29, 1971.

Veteran Ottawa columnist Douglas Fisher‘s two-part finale. He would continue with the Sun until 2006.

The Telegram, October 28, 1971.

Dennis Braithwaite would bounce back and forth between the Star and the Sun over the course of the 1970s.

The Telegram, October 29, 1971.

Entertainment editor Roy Shields’ goodbye feels at home in the 21st century, especially his reflection on racial issues and a certain strain of Canadian smugness. Shields had been the Star‘s TV critic before moving over to the Tely in 1967.

The next day, he had a few more sentences…

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

Switching from microfilm to my copy of the final edition of the Tely, let’s begin with Bassett’s final editorial.

Peter Worthington’s preview of the Sun where, with some breaks, he remained until his death in 2013. His final piece was his own obit.

Goodbyes from the sports department.

The front page of the “On View” section. Note use of City Hall iconography in the section box.

Advertisers like Honest Ed’s said their goodbyes.

Toronto Star, November 1, 1971.

The Telegram, October 27, 1971.

Beyond the birth of the Sun, the death of the Telegram impacted what readers saw in Toronto’s other two dailies.

The Star increased its daily print run by nearly 200,000 copies to 622,000 on weekdays and 815,000 on Saturday, making the Star the fourth-largest afternoon paper in North America behind the New York Post, Philadelphia Bulletin, and Detroit News. Some of these papers were printed at 440 Front West under a two-year lease of the Tely‘s print facilities. All 93 delivery vehicles were acquired, along with the services of 6,000 carriers who would deliver copies of the Star to former Tely subscribers for a trial period.

Around 350 employees moved over to the Star across all departments. Content wise, the Star gained columnists Dennis Braithwaite, Dalton Camp, and Gale Garnett, movie critic Clyde Gilmour, entertainment writer Sid Adilman, and sports writer Bob Pennington. The “Today’s Child” adoption column moved over. The comics section gained Peanuts, along with Andy Capp, B.C., Beetle Bailey, Judge Parker, Marmaduke, Nancy, On Stage, and The Wizard of Id. Columnist Ron Haggart was slated to join the Star to comment on Queen’s Park, but the deal was cancelled after he wrote an article for an NDP publication praising its candidates during the provincial election campaign. He ended up helping launch CITY-TV’s news department

The Telegram, October 18, 1971.

The Globe and Mail bought 440 Front West and would move in after the Star‘s lease was up. It also acquired the rights to Weekend Magazine. On the writing side, its most significant scoop was Tely sports editor/Neil’s father Scott Young.

Birth and death notices from Editor & Publisher, November 6, 1971.

Toronto Sun, November 1, 1971.

Toronto Sun, November 1, 1971.

From day one, the Sun printed some questionable headlines.

Toronto Sun, November 2, 1971.

A welcome from mayor William Dennison, who compared a competitive press to beauty contests.

Toronto Sun, November 2, 1971.

The War of the Welles

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 26, 2013.

Orson Welles and unidentified man, before 1950. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4562.

Radio listeners enjoying the strains of Ramón Raquello and his orchestra on the evening of October 30, 1938 grew anxious. The mellow music they had tuned into on CFRB to wind down their weekend was interrupted by a steady stream of news bulletins concerning the observation of strange activity on the surface of Mars. Around 8:10 p.m., Toronto played its role in the unfolding drama:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. Toronto, Canada: Professor Morse of MacMillan University reports observing a total of three explosions on the planet Mars, between the hours of 7:45 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. This confirms earlier reports received from American observatories.

Sharp-eyed readers will observe a few discrepancies. The time is off by an hour. MacMillan University was not among our finer institutes of higher learning in 1938. The Intercontinental Radio News never chased a hot story.

The Martian invasion which followed wasn’t real either, but that didn’t prevent scared listeners from flooding the switchboards of every legitimate media outlet in Toronto with calls. While the level of hysteria didn’t approach that of south of the border, we weren’t immune from the impact of Orson Welles’s broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

The radio listings for 8 p.m. on October 30 gave little hint of the drama to come. A few listeners might have tuned into religious programming on CKCL (later CKEY) or Melodic Strings on CRCY (later CJBC). Most would have dialed CBL to listen to NBC’s The Chase and Sanborn Hour starring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden pal Charlie McCarthy. CFRB countered with CBS’s The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a series of adaptations of classic literary works spearheaded by 23-year-old boy genius Orson Welles.

Welles later admitted that he feared The War of the Worlds “would flop on account of being so dull and old-fashioned. We were afraid of being accused of going Buck Rogers.” Scriptwriter Howard Koch crafted an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s tale that, using modern news broadcasting techniques, tapped into the fears of listeners wearied by the recent Czechoslovakia war scare. Koch later described it as “that extraordinary night when the submerged anxieties of tens of thousands of Americans surfaced and coalesced in a flood of terror that swept the country.”

Part of the problem was that many listeners missed the show’s introduction. The Chase and Sanborn Hour tended to shed listeners whenever it brought on a musical act, and October 30, 1938 was no exception. People tuned out guest star Nelson Eddy (whose selections that evening included “The Canadian Logging Song”) and flipped around the dial. Anyone joining The War of the Worlds would have heard bulletins on the first Martian landing at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.

The Telegram, October 31, 1938.

Switchboards lit up at all Toronto media outlets. Police forwarded calls to CFRB. Worried callers relayed the details of the invasion and asked for further information about the situation in New Jersey. “Typical of the calls,” reported the Telegram, “was that of a sobbing woman who asked what army had invaded the United States and whether the invaders would come to Canada.” The Star heard from a north Toronto man dealing with hysterical women after listening to the broadcast. It took a while to convince him it was only a radio play. “It does seem fantastic, but is it true?” he asked. “Why in the world did they put on a show like that?” Calls flowed in after the broadcast ended at 9 p.m. from people so caught up in their fears that they missed Welles’s closing disclaimer that the show was a “radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying ‘Boo!’”

A letter to the Star from one reader described how panic spread, and how simple precautions could have prevented it. As summarized in the paper:

The writer was urged to listen to the play by a friend who had missed the opening announcement. On hearing the description of the “Invasion,” the writer called a cousin, who became excited and called his mother. Before they learned the program was a play their entire circle of friends has been alarmed and one was on the verge of entering a church and warning the congregation. Ruefully, the writer remarked, the damage would have been averted had they looked up the advance billing of program on the Star’s radio page Saturday.

While there were no reports of people jumping out of windows or hospitals being flooded with hysterical patients, fear did provoke some sharp reactions. Students at Orde Street Model School told their teachers stories ranging from parents who ordered them to shelter in the basement to a boarder who hopped in his car after declaring “this is no place to stay.” In Burlington, diners at a restaurant shook hands and kissed farewell in preparation for their imminent demise.

Cartoon by Les Callan, Toronto Star, November 1, 1938.

Papers consulted psychologists for their take on the scare. University of Toronto professor David Ketchum felt Torontonians worried so much about world events that it would take little prodding to make them believe Martians were invading or German war planes were flying over the city. “Just because people are getting more education today than a century ago,” Ketchum noted, “it does not follow that they are learning to think any more clearly.”

Politicians quickly expressed their outrage. Toronto mayor Ralph Day believed that future horror broadcasts should be censored. Controller Fred Hamilton joined calls for an inquiry. Toronto city council didn’t go as far as London’s, which adopted a resolution that condemned the show and called on the federal government to prevent future broadcasts that “might be calculated to disturb the peace of the inhabitants.” The feds didn’t take the bait, noting only two private stations (CFRB and Montreal’s CKAC) carried the show in Canada. Ontario Attorney General Gordon Conant resisted calls for provincial action, though he did say that such broadcasts were not in the public interest.

Cartoon capturing the general mood of Halloween 1938, the Telegram, October 31, 1938.

Promoters of rival entertainment forms like movies and live theatre couldn’t resist skewering radio. Shea’s Hippodrome manager Jerry Shea felt “they should all be arrested for allowing such a broadcast,” while Royal Alex manager W.J. Breen believed “all kinds of stuff like that should be cut out.” Newspaper editorials, such as the Globe and Mail’s, warned about the power of radio and how easily listeners could be misled.

Radio is not taken like the movies or a stage play. By no means all the radio “fans” tune in at the beginning of a program and follow it to the bitter end. As entertainment, radio commands remarkably little concentrated attention. Many programs are tuned-in part way through. Many are interludes in conversation, heard, as it were, in snatches. Under these circumstances it would not be unfair to say that producers of the play were at fault in adapting the “news bulletin” to their drama without special precautions against misunderstanding. During the European crisis radio audiences grew accustomed to having programs interrupted by special news “flashes” as the various networks competed in covering day-to-day developments. To come suddenly on a news announcement of a “meteor killing 1,500 persons” near Paterson, N.J., would give most people a shock. After all, meteors do fall.

The broadcast sparked interest in the red planet, temporarily making Toronto’s astronomers the hottest interviewees in town. Neither the Dominion Meteorological Service on Bloor Street nor the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill received any panicky calls during the broadcast, however. When asked about the possibility of life on Mars, a Dunlap staffer told the Star’s Gordon Sinclair that “we couldn’t answer such a question with yes or no; it would have to be maybe.”

The man Toronto media really wanted to talk to was Orson Welles. Among the reporters who rushed down to New York was the Globe and Mail’s Bruce West, who asked Welles how it felt to become famous overnight. Welles’s reply:

My idea of fame always was that it might be something that…oh…made more people ask for your autograph, or maybe prompted the head waiter to bow a little lower when you walked into some swanky restaurant. But all this seems to be a little different. Every time I walk down the street now I hear some guy say “There goes that son-of-a-bitch Welles, who scared the hell out of us the other night.” This is not exactly the kind of fame I had in mind, when I used to dream about it.

Welles rode on his notoriety for a while, quickly earning the nickname “Man from Mars.” The Star capitalized on the furor by inviting Welles to participate in its Santa Claus Fund holiday broadcast. Aired on December 21, 1938 by both the CBC and private stations, the show was held at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu) to raise money to provide “Santa Claus boxes” for needy children. Besides Welles, the broadcast’s other guests included Dionne quintuplets physician Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe (who auctioned photos of the quints), bandleader Percy Faith, Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor Ernest MacMillan, and members of CBC’s Happy Gang. In the lead-up to the show, Welles gave the Star little hint of what he would perform: “I’ll probably make up my mind what I’ll do when I face the microphone.” He chose a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III, reportedly because he picked up a 98-cent paperback copy of the play at a railway station drug store.

Orson Welles “shown here smoking one of the set of pipes presented to him at the civic reception at noon yesterday.” Welles is pictured with Rupert Lucas. The middle picture shows Star writer Greg Clark, Denton Massey, and Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe. The picture on the right shows Clark speaking with Wellington House resident William Williams. The Toronto Star, December 22, 1938.

Welles praised the city during the holiday broadcast. “I’m not from Mars,” he joked. “I’m from New York and very happy to be in Toronto. The entire city seems to be inhabited by Cossacks in fur caps. Mayor Day told me they were the policemen. They are entirely too polite for that—I don’t believe it.” After portraying the hunchbacked king, Welles apologized if he frightened anyone. He donated $25 to the fund “because this audience has been so good to him and for being allowed to read Richard the Third. It’s cheap at the price.”

Years passed before journalists who had worked in newsrooms during the airing of The War of the Worlds actually got to hear the tape from that night. Bruce West didn’t catch it until CHUM reran it for Halloween in 1973, and used his column to reflect on the reaction when it originally aired. “When reports of the great spoof and its spectacular effect upon the U.S. public appeared in the press, Canadians, as usual, smiled rather smugly at the curious antics of ‘those high-strung Yanks,’” West recalled. “But my countrymen didn’t fool me on the matter, because I had seen that night the switchboard in our newsroom light up like a Christmas tree as hundreds of worried Torontonians called the paper to seek assurance that the men from Mars weren’t heading our way.”

Sources: The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event by Howard Koch (Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1970); the November 1, 1938, November 11, 1938, November 5, 1973, and November 6, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 1, 1938 edition of the London Free Press; the November 1, 1938 edition of the New York Times; the October 28, 1938, October 31, 1938, November 1, 1938, December 10, 1938, December 16, 1938, and December 22, 1938 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 31, 1938 edition of the Telegram.


Hamilton Spectator, October 31, 1938.

“There is no doubt that [the] United States government will conduct an investigation, and we will leave it them,” federal minister of transport C.D. Howe told the Globe and Mail. “We have very friendly relations with their communications commission, but on program matters we deal directly with NBC or Columbia [CBS]. We take the occasional program from Columbia, but it so happens that we had Charlie McCarthy on CBC last night when this broadcast was on Columbia.”

The Telegram, November 1, 1938.

A front page photo two days after the broadcast. This shot of the unfortunate Ms. Cantlon ran in many newspapers. Given recent accounts which suggest newspapers hyped up the hysteria to fight back against the encroachment of radio on their profits, a cynic might speculate this shot was faked or highly embellished. If this was legit, those knee scrapes look painful.

Above the previous photo ran this headline…

…and here’s the accompanying story. It’s hard to say what would have struck more terror in readers: a knife attack by a Czechoslovak in Parry Sound, or the just-averted possibility of a streetcar strike.

The Telegram, November 1, 1938.

All of Toronto’s papers issued editorials about the broadcast and its impact. The Telegram‘s is typical in warning of careless radio listening.

London Free Press, November 1, 1938.

London’s city council was not amused by Welles’s broadcast. This clipping presents the full version of its resolution calling on the federal government to prevent similar broadcasts in the future. I’m with Alderman Skaggs on this one.

Toronto Star, December 10, 1938.

The front page of the December 10, 1938 edition of the Star proudly announced the securing of Orson Welles as a headliner for its Santa Claus Fund radio broadcast. How much of this article contains an actual conversation and how much was invented by the writer is for you to decide. The paper promoted the heck out of the event over the following two weeks, mixing descriptions of eager participants and stories of disadvantaged children designed to soften the hearts (and pocketbooks) of readers.