Late Nights at People’s Foods

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on June 5, 2012. 

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Toronto Star, October 18, 1987. Click on image for larger version.

Patrons intending to dine at People’s Foods on Dupont Street were greeted last week with a notice on the door stating that the half-century old diner was closing due to its lease expiring. Though one report suggests that the owners hope to find a new location, for now, regulars will have to look elsewhere for greasy-spoon staples and jukebox selectors at their booths.

A quarter of a century ago, People’s was among the “denziens of the dark hours” that the Toronto Star spotlighted in an article on life in the city between midnight and dawn. A 24-hour eatery at the time, People’s saw an early-morning procession of shift workers, police, and frat boys grazing on homemade burgers and onion rings. “The dazzling fluorescent lights are always on,” the Star noted, “and at 2:45 a.m. Thomas Rygopoulos is hefting a huge piece of solid white fat—easily measuring a cubic foot—from a blue plastic bag into the deep fryer. The customers want more French fries.” Rygopoulos had worked at People’s for five years when the Star visited. “People eat the same as in the daytime,” he noted. “You know how 1 o’clock is lunch time? It’s the same at night: 1 to 3 o’clock is lunch time at night.”

Among the diners were two University of Toronto students discussing a major crisis: An acquaintance about to be married had his bride-to-be back out 36 hours before the ceremony. Amid silent pauses over numerous refills of coffee, they contemplated how to rebound from such a situation. At least one of the students seemed to have problems of his own, as he told his friend, “the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that at least one person in this world feels worse than I do.” Both men noted they were regulars at People’s—one described it as “a landmark for romantic, bohemian fantasies … It’s the restaurant of the people.”

People’s wasn’t the only food-related stop on the Star’s late-night tour. On Danforth Avenue near Pape, Phil Cho sold produce at the Greenview Fruit Market. When asked who bought oranges at three in the morning, he replied, “taxi drivers. There are a few health nuts, so every night they need their oranges.” He also found that drunks would eat just about anything that caught their eye, even if it meant a smashed watermelon or two. Restaurant and shift workers tended to cause less chaos, as their purchases tended to head home.

There might have been items bought at Greenview among the debris that “Tokyo Rose” took care of nightly. The TTC’s subway-cleaning car derived its name not from the World War II axis propaganda agent but from the city it was manufactured in and a mocking reference to the sweet smell of garbage. Cleaner Elio Romano referred to the subway tracks as a “hobo’s paradise” due to the longer-than-average cigarette butts he tossed into his garbage bag.

The article ended with a glimpse of dawn at People’s, where Rygopoulos prepared breakfast for early birds. The creatures of the night had moved on to give way to those facing a new day, much as the restaurant’s home since 1963 may now face a new morning.

Sources: the October 18, 1987 edition of the Toronto StarThe site was soon occupied by Rose and Sons restaurant.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Six)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. As Toronto’s pools open up, it’s time to finally wrap this up.  Click here for the full series

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The Telegram, August 20, 1923.

The final week of  lessons were devoted to life-saving techniques. While they continued in their normal spot on the comics page on August 20, the Telegram devoted two pages to its coverage of the Water Nymph Carnival. Prepare yourself for plenty of winsomeness…

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The Telegram, August 20, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 21, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 21, 1923.

How it appears voting was conducted at the carnival.

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The Telegram August 21, 1923.

Coverage of the carnival’s awards ceremony. By this point, based on the coverage, that this event could have used to promote youthful female virility in 1930s Germany.

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The Telegram, August 22, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 23, 1923.

No header was included with the next-to-last installment – perhaps a hint that the end was nigh?

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The Telegram, August 24, 1923.

And the series ends with tips on resuscitation. But the paper wasn’t quite finished with its coverage of the Water Nymph Carnival…

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The Telegram, August 25, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 25, 1923.

It does not appear as if the Water Nymph Carnival became an annual promotional event for the paper. Checking if the name was used elsewhere, a quick scan of Newspapers.com shows…

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Washington Herald, April 13, 1913.

…a vaudeville act which visited Washington D.C. prior to the First World War.

The name was also used for a diving competition during “Pasadena Day” at the Los Angeles Live Stock Show in October 1920. In between the cattle judging events, the Los Angeles Times reported on October 6, 1920, attendees could see “some of the loveliest swimmers and divers in Southern California.”

The word “winsome” was not used.

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Minneapolis Daily Star, May 30, 1925.

Finally, swimming lessons being put into use for a “water drama” in Minneapolis.

Enjoy your swimming this summer and, especially under current conditions, do so safely.

Canada, Day One

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 28, 2008. Note that the first paragraph from the original story might make some readers feel a little melancholy in the midst of the COVID pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

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Canada Day weekend is upon us, with the nation’s birthday serving as the perfect excuse to celebrate the start of summer. Fireworks, public meals, outdoor concerts—Torontonians will be out in force for these events over the next few days, much as they were on the day our nation gained status as a dominion.

From 6 a.m. onwards, the smell of roast ox filled the area at the foot of Church Street (now the St. Lawrence Market Green P lot). The roast went on all day, with the meat distributed to the city’s poor. A few blocks north on Church at Adelaide Street, those wishing to deliver a religious blessing on the new nation attended a service sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance at the Mechanics’ Institute (an ancestor of the Toronto Public Library).

Over at The Globe, editor George Brown spent all night working on a lengthy essay on the history of the new country. Copies of the paper were quickly snapped up once it rolled off the press at 7 a.m. Brown’s editorial raised an issue that still affects Canada, western grievances (even if the “west” in this case is Ontario).

So far as the people of Upper Canada are concerned, the inauguration of the new constitution may well be heartily rejoiced over as the brightest day in their calendar. The Constitution of 1867 will be famous in the historic annals of Upper Canada, not only because it brought two flourishing Maritime States into alliance with the Canadas, and opened up new markets for our products, but because it relieved the inhabitants of Western Canada from a system of injustice and demoralization under which they had suffered for a long number of years.

As for what ills might plague the new nation, one reading between the lines might detect a swipe at Brown’s political rivals/former coalition partners in the run-up to Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Conservative party:

The only danger that threatens us is, lest the same men who have so long misgoverned us, should continue to govern us still, and the same reckless prodigality exhibited in past years should be continued in the future; but this we do not fear. We firmly believe that from this day, Canada embarks on a new and happier career, and a time of great prosperity is before us.

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Mechanics’ Institute, William Notman, 1868. Wikimedia Commons.

As the day went on, the city filled with revelers. Steamships from Hamilton and St. Catharines were packed with tourists coming for the celebrations, while trains brought in those from surrounding towns and villages. Many assembled at parade grounds west of Spadina Avenue around 10:30 a.m. to catch three hours of military reviews which, according to the next day’s edition of The Leader, were a popular spectator activity.

It would seem as if the citizens of Toronto and the residents of the surrounding country would never become tired of witnessing reviews of the troops. It is only necessary to announce that a review is to be held to secure the attendance of thousands of spectators, from the babe in swaddling clothes to the hoary-headed and infirm old man.

The paper went on to provide detailed of each regiment’s drill, complimenting each on their regalia and discipline. Sunny skies and a cool breeze off the lake made for a comfortable afternoon for the spectators. The soldiers were rewarded for their three-hour show with free ale paid for by contracting magnate Casimir Gzowski.
If military activities weren’t one’s taste, there was a fundraising picnic to aid the construction of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, completed three years later (and now known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on St. Patrick Street). A crowd of around 3,000 attended.

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As night fell, light displays decorated city buildings. The central post office on Toronto Street (later the headquarters of Argus Corporation, where Conrad Black was videotaped removing documents in 2005) featured gaslights arranged to spell “VR” (in honour of Queen Victoria) and “Dominion of Canada.” Most of the night’s activities took place in Queen’s Park, whose decorations The Leader described as “a most enchanting appearance in consequence of the large number of Chinese lanterns that were suspended from the trees and in front of the private residences on the east side of the park.” Fireworks were provided by a Rochester, New York firm and divided into 14 themed segments, including the city motto of “Industry, Integrity, Intelligence”, exotic locales like Tripoli and a rousing finale of “God Save the Queen”, all accompanied by two military bands.

Surrounding villages saw their share of celebrations, the most prominent being Yorkville’s. A flag-draped arch was erected at Yonge and Bloor, bearing the words “Dominion of Canada Our Home.” A fireworks display was held on a common west of Scollard Street, where the likely fireworks in 2008 would be a bite into a hot pepper at Whole Foods.

Sources: the July 1, 1867 edition of the Globe and the July 2, 1867 edition of the Leader.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I would include the entirety of George Brown’s editorial, except that surviving scans are missing chunks of its final paragraph.

Since my access to other Toronto newspapers of this era is limited, let’s take a look at some of the happenings (and poetry) marking the birth of the dominion in the new province of Ontario…

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Newmarket Era, June 28, 1867.

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Coverage of Windsor celebrations, Detroit Free Press, July 2, 1867.

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Coverage of Goderich celebrations, Huron Signal, July 4, 1867.

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Ottawa Citizen, July 5, 1867.

Other highlights from Ottawa: the ceremony to install governor-general Lord Monck; a military display at noon; a fireman’s picnic; and an assortment of athletic competitions. Many buildings were illuminated that night, and the day ended with a giant bonfire and fireworks.

“The orderly state of the city during the whole day, despite the great influx of strangers and the general excitement going on, must be a subject of congratulation to all parties, and we hope that all things connected with the Dominion will be conducted by the people with the same good feeling and promote as much happiness as did its inaugural celebration on Monday last.”

A few editorial observations on the new dominion from south of the border…

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New York Herald, July 2, 1867.

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New York Times, July 2, 1867.

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New York Tribune, July 2, 1867.

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Niagara Falls Gazette, July 3, 1867.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 17, 2008.

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Selection of covers drawn by Joe Shuster: Superman #1 (1939), Superman #6 (1940), Adventure Comics #103 (1946).

For a 70-year old, Superman looks good for his age. Since his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, the Man of Steel has stood as one, if not the key, icon of the fictional genre his success spawned. His appeal has been summed up as the fight for “truth, justice and the American way.”

Yet his origins have a Toronto twist.

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Joe Shuster (1914-1992) spent the first decade of his life living in a number of locations surrounding Kensington Market, as family finances dictated a succession of moves. From an early age, he was interested in the comic strips that his father, a tailor, read to him. By the age of 9, Shuster brought in money as a newsboy for The Toronto Star. The family moved to Cleveland in 1924, though many relatives stayed in Toronto. One was Joe’s cousin Frank, who later earned fame as one half of Canadian comedy institution Wayne and Shuster.

During high school, Shuster became friends with Jerry Siegel, an aspiring writer and fellow fan of pulps, comic strips and the emerging genre of science fiction. The pair, who several accounts depict as the Depression-era equivalent of nerds, published their own magazine and attempted to sell a number of ideas to strip and pulp syndicates, including prototype versions of Superman. After half-a-decade of development and failed sales pitches, the character was picked up by National Comics (soon identified by their “DC” logo). In a decision both later regretted, ownership rights to Superman were sold to National for $130.

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Drawing of Toronto Star Building, circa 1928. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 842.

Toronto left a lingering impression on Joe that he incorporated into his sketches for Superman, which he noted in a 1992 interview with his former employer.

Cleveland was not nearly as metropolitan as Toronto was, and it was not as big or as beautiful. Whatever buildings I saw in Toronto remained in my mind and came out in the form of Metropolis. As I realized later on, Toronto is a much more beautiful city than Cleveland ever was…I guess I don’t have to worry about saying that now.

The Star even found its way into the strip. “I still remember drawing one of the earliest panels that showed the newspaper building. We needed a name, and I spontaneously remembered the Toronto Star. So that’s the way I lettered it. I decided to do it that way on the spur of the moment, because The Star was such a great influence on my life.” Not until 1940 would Clark Kent’s employer suddenly switch its name to The Daily Planet.

The popularity of the character translated into a high volume of work. Combined with vision problems that affected Shuster’s drawing, the pair opened their own studio to produce a steady stream of Superman stories for National. Dismayed by how much money they could have made had the initial rights not been sold so cheaply, Siegel and Shuster served National in April 1947 with a lawsuit for $5 million and the return of ownership rights for Superman. A year of litigation resulted in a ruling against the claim. Both agreed to an offer where National would pay $100,000 as long as the pair surrendered all future claims to ownership of Superman and the recently-introduced Superboy.

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After the settlement, the pair attempted to launch a new character, Funnyman, which flopped quickly. The studio soon dissolved and both found work sparse in the 1950s. While Siegel returned to writing the Man of Steel in the early 1960s (as long as he didn’t acknowledge his part in the character’s creation), Shuster’s increasing eye problems curtailed his career. He became a source of urban legend in the comics community about the level of poverty he had fallen to, as he worked odd jobs to support other members of his family.

Siegel and Shuster were finally able to receive some compensation for their creation in the mid-1970s. Aided by industry peers, the pair capitalized on the hype around the upcoming Superman movie by publicizing their cause. The result was a comfortable pension from the corporate parent of DC Comics and a “created by” credit in future uses of Superman. Shuster spent his later years in California and rarely granted interviews, though he appeared with Siegel in a 1981 BBC documentary.

In 2005, the city honoured Shuster by endowing his name on the main side street of a residential development at King and Dufferin. Joe Shuster Way offers great photographic views of the Gladstone Hotel and the downtown skyline. One can imagine the Man of Steel zooming by the CN Tower while on patrol…

Picture of Joe Shuster Way by Jamie Bradburn. Shuster interview excepts from the Toronto Star, April 26, 1992 edition.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, March 14, 1940.

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Toronto Star, December 18, 1939.

The first installment of the daily Superman comic strip, illustrated by Shuster, as it appeared when the Star began carrying it in December 1939. With art soon taken over by his studio, the strip ran under various writers and artists through 1966.

A Pandemic Day’s Wanderings: An Afternoon Downtown

All photos in this post taken by and copyright Jamie Bradburn, 2020.

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Before setting out on my latest long walk, a quick stop on the way to the subway. The local Little Free Library was stocked with plays, including these titles. The boxes in my neighbourhood have been overstuffed lately, making me wonder if people have now moved into the book-culling phase of the pandemic. With traditional fundraising book sales being cancelled for this year, I’m expecting full boxes for awhile.

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On the front window of Greenwood station, a TTC-produced poster showing how to make simple face coverings. I’d say about half the riders were masked, perhaps enjoying their last moments of facial freedom before July 2, when masks become mandatory on the TTC.

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On the platform, social distancing is now marked with these stickers.

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At Yonge and Bloor, the TTC’s poster for COVID self-screening.

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Some mixed feelings shared on the window of the old Payless Shoe Source store at Yonge and Charles. It’s OK to share this during these times, as everyone sorts out their feelings.

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The old St. Charles Tavern clock tower, isolated for the moment.

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A message looking forward to the day we can enjoy theatre again, flashed outside the Ed Mirvish.

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I wandered into the Eaton Centre for the first time since winter. It was quiet, and most people looked more interested in walking around than checking out the open stores. Plenty of safety signage, starting with their self-assessment guide.

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Pedestrian traffic was directed similar to a divided highway, with northbound and southbound lanes.

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Too bad this wasn’t playing in the background…

Maybe Aerosmith and Run DMC should reunite to do a safety video on proper pandemic-era walking.

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The walkway over to Hudson Bay/Saks was also open, leading me towards my first trip into the PATH in months.

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There was a sense of being watched in the Bay-Adelaide Centre. This was one of the few sets of eyes I encountered, as the PATH was in its dead weekend mode.

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The first of many “returning to operations” plans posted through the PATH.

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A sense of how quiet Scotia Bank was around 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.

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Still no shoeshines for a while, though the note indicated they’d be back as soon as possible.

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Commerce Court.

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Something I had never noticed before in Commerce Court: this old school mailbox.

Something else I hadn’t noticed, and only took a blurry shot of: throughout the PATH, the buttons with the wheelchair logo used to open doors have been replaced with sensors activated by hand wipes.

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Like other museums around the city, the Hockey Hall of Fame is preparing to welcome visitors under pandemic conditions. The signage appears to be ready.

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Gordie Howe approves.

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Coming up the escalator in Brookfield Place, Santiago Calatrava’s Allen Lambert Galleria is still one of the most beautiful architectural sights in the city. It’s even more amazing when you have it almost all to yourself.

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Where the Movenpick/Richtree restaurant used to be, passers by could pretend they were walking through a European streetscape.

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No, thank you.

Though the quiet throughout the PATH was eerie in spots, by the time I exited I was feeling hopeful. Most of the few people out were taking health and sanitation suggestions seriously, and spaces were making decent preparations to welcome back the public. It felt like a corner was turning, and that while life still won’t be going back to the old normal anytime soon, it will feel more familiar. I felt a sense of possibility more than doom.

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Meridian Hall, the latest guise for the facility formerly known as the O’Keefe Centre, Hummingbird Centre, Sony Centre, and Fill-in-the-Blank Centre. Any bets on when it will change it name again?

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Umm…okay…

The latest in weird sandwich board sign messages along Front Street west of St. Lawrence Market.

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Traffic management sign, courtesy of Metrolinx, in Union Station.

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A reminder from GO Transit.

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Art project, or pedestrian signal hiding in the hoarding? (York Street)

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A mixture of protests at Nathan Phillips Square – a tent city calling for improved housing, and chalk/paint messages to defund or abolish the police. The next three photos speak for themselves.

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Back in the subway, my assistant Qwilly followed the seating spacing regulations.

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Some final reminders from the TTC on the way home.

Tip-Toeing Around Tipping

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on August 14, 2012.

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Toronto Star, July 11, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

“Tipping is a questionable practice,” began a July 1979 Star editorial, “but as long as it remains a factor in determining the wages of restaurant employees in Ontario, everything should be done to ensure they receive the tips they’re entitled to.” Issues surrounding tipping—including surveys regarding the public’s bill-topping habits and concerns among servers about proper tip distribution—were highlighted by the paper that month, though many of the issues discussed remain contentious. The spring of 1979 saw several labour grievances launched by angry servers at downtown bars and restaurants. Arbitration ended the El Mocambo’s policy of requiring bartenders to pay back one per cent of total booze sales during their shift to their managers; less successful were waiters at Noodles restaurant at Bloor and Bay and the Courtyard Café in the Windsor Arms Hotel. The sister eateries employed a percentage-of-sales tip distribution system where waiters paid two-and-a-half per cent of the night’s sales to the maître d’, up to two per cent to busboys, and five dollars a week to the bartender. Servers filed a grievance through the Canadian Food and Associated Services Union, objecting to the maître d’s cut, which often wound up being 20 per cent of the tips they would have received. Management countered that the front-of-house staff were essential to good service by setting the tone, greeting guests, and providing general assistance. According to Windsor Arms food and beverage manager Frank Falgaux, “when you tip you feel you are paying the waiter. But if everything was good then all those people contributed. A tip is really for the team that makes the whole dining room.” The arbitrator agreed with management.

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1979.

Servers at some establishments also found themselves saddled with the responsibility for paying credit-card transaction fees that their bosses wouldn’t absorb on their own. Management at Sherlock’s on Sheppard Street explained that the practice allowed the server to pay their part of “the expenses involved in collecting for the charge account” rather than passing the fee directly onto customers. Combined with other cuts, Sherlock’s waitress Sybil Walker estimated that, out of a weekly gross of up to $300 she earned in tips, up to $120 was passed on to others—a significant loss given that minimum wage for servers back then was $2.50 per hour.

While many diners automatically paid the standard 15 to 20 per cent tip during the summer of 1979, Bardi’s Steak House owner and Canadian Restaurant Association president Alex Manikas suggested they should be more discerning. “A waiter who greets you cheerfully and is genuinely attentive warrants a bigger gratuity than the cold, proper automaton in white gloves,” he told the Star. But that philosophy didn’t occur to difficult customers. In an incident at the Peter Pan on Queen Street West, a customer who occupied a prime table during peak dining hours with his girlfriend to enjoy a bottle of wine and carrot cake left the change he received from server Hillary Kelly for his $9.98 bill—two pennies. When she asked why he was “so tight,” he responded, “because I’m a socialist. I don’t believe in tipping.” Kelly told him that she was a worker and he had insulted her efforts. She threw the tip back at him and the rest of the restaurant cheered as he departed in a huff.

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Toronto Star, August 23, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

As for the secret of receiving generous tips, Fran’s waitress supervisor Jessie Logan suggested “catering to the whims of a regular customer, no matter how eccentric they may seem.” She recalled a diner at the chain’s St. Clair location, “a quiet, well-dressed man in his 30s,” who dropped by nightly to order a meal current health authorities would pounce on in a second: a raw hamburger accompanied by a glass of milk with a whole egg (including the shell) placed in it. “The bill would come to less than two bucks. You know what he would tip me? No less than $5 and up to $35 per night. They don’t make great, loony tippers like that anymore.”

There had been an effort to form a waiters association to replace tipping with a flat 15 per cent service charge a la several European countries, but it fizzled when employers balked. Not that all restaurant owners were opposed—La Cantinetta owner Luigi Orgera, who had servers at his King Street restaurant place their tips in a pool, felt a service charge would allow waiters to receive higher pay and equalize generous and miserly tippers. He believed that “the pay would be better so we could attract a better staff.”

But tipping—and the controversies surrounding it—remain with us, as demonstrated by a recent private member’s bill from Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue to forbid management from taking a share of tips.

Sources: the May 15, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the July 11, 1979 and July 16, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The practice of management taking a share of tips given to servers was banned in Ontario in 2015.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Editorial, Toronto Star, July 16, 1979.

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Toronto Star, July 17, 1979.

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Toronto Star, July 26, 1979.

Past Pieces of Toronto: The Odeon Hyland

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally posted on December 30, 2011.

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Opening ad for the Odeon Hyland, Toronto Star, November 17, 1948.

It was a dicey proposition: testing out a brand new movie theatre, and the Shakespearian adaptation that was its opening attraction, by filling the first showing with high school students. It was especially dicey after rowdy teens had recently disrupted a recent festival honouring the Bard at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu). But Odeon Theatres officials felt that filling the new Hyland theatre with students from Northern Vocational High School (now Northern Secondary) for the afternoon presentation of Sir Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet on November 22, 1948 was worth any potential mishaps.

According to the Star, the kids were alright:

The kids at the showing were well-behaved, far from rowdy, and occasionally spell-bound. But they also chose to laugh in the wrong places and spoiled, for some of us, the complete beauty of many performances…Incomplete understanding of the drama rather than any intended rudeness was undoubtedly responsible for these unfortunate outbursts.

We’re certain many other patrons laughed at the wrong time during the Hyland’s half-century of operation at 1501 Yonge Street. When the theatre closed in February 2001, the experience of moviegoing at Yonge and St. Clair vanished with it.

Opening the Hyland faced greater challenges than pleasing teenagers. During the fall of 1948, the city instituted daily blackouts due to power shortages. As opening day neared, power cuts increased to twice daily during the working week—one in the morning, and a 45-minute blackout starting at 7 p.m. These cuts affected the final stages of construction, including the installation of kitchen equipment and sales of advance tickets to Hamlet. With the front of the house not ready, ticket sales were moved to a nearby drug store which, as the Star reported, confused one customer:

A lady, who doesn’t believe in signs, joined a queue in front of the theatre, in hope of getting reservations for Sir Laurence Olivier’s screen masterpiece. Finally she got to the head of the line and was most provoked to learn that she’d wasted a half hour to be interviewed for a job as usherette.

Despite these problems, tickets for Hamlet sold quickly. By the beginning of December, the house was booked solid through Christmas.

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Toronto Star, April 12, 1950.

One of the Hyland’s greatest assets in its early years was manager Vic Nowe. His promotional skills drew people to see both the feature attraction and the award-winning tie-ins he devised. A lobby display of Victorian wallpaper designs during the run of Oliver Twist in 1949 was so popular that it toured other Odeon locations. To promote Tight Little Island the following year, Nowe saluted the film’s Scottish setting by covering the theatre’s entrance in plaid and offering performances in the lobby by highland dancers and bagpipers. When The Lavender Hill Mob ran in late 1951, the Hyland let the first 50 men wearing bowler hats a la star Alec Guinness in for free.

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Lobby of the Odeon Hyland. Archives of Ontario. 

As British cultural influences waned in Toronto, the near-exclusive programming of films from the mother country at the Hyland gave way to Hollywood blockbusters. When the theatre was split into two screens in the early 1970s, it followed a trend that affected several of the city’s remaining large single-auditorium cinemas.

By 1999, declining attendance led Cineplex Odeon to convert the Hyland into a showcase for art films. The theatre was still capable of drawing people—it grossed over $50,000 in three days in December 2000 as one of a trio of cinemas that carried the initial run of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—but the move was seen as a sign its days were numbered. When Cineplex Odeon was granted interim bankruptcy protection two months later, the Hyland was closed immediately. Anyone who attempted to phone the theatre for the day’s bill on February 16, 2001 was greeted with a generic recorded message: “We are honoured to have had the opportunity of serving your community. Thank you for your patronage and support.” Those arriving at the theatre in person were advised to head to the Varsity.

Demolished in 2003, the site of the Hyland is now the entrance to a Green P lot and a walkway named after another former Yonge and St. Clair landmark, longtime CFRB morning show host Wally Crouter.

Sources: the November 19, 1948, November 23, 1948, and February 17, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, September 16, 1959.

During the late 1950s, the Hyland served as a venue for several local film societies, including the A-G-E Film Society of Toronto, the French Cine Club, and the Toronto Film Society. Until voters approved general Sunday screenings in 1961, the offerings of these societies were among the few legal ways to see a movie on the Sabbath.

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Boxoffice, October 16, 1972. 

The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

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Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

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Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

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Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

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Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

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Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

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Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

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Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen's Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand. - June, 1910

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

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The Globe, December 28, 1921.

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The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

Golden Mile Plaza

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 26, 2013.

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954.

Following World War II, Scarborough Township was in dire financial straits. “We didn’t have enough money to meet our weekly payroll,” reeve Oliver Crockford recalled years later. Crockford placed his hopes on a 255 acre parcel of federal land along Eglinton Avenue east of Pharmacy Avenue that the township purchased in 1949. Industrial development quickly ensued, with major companies like Frigidaire and Inglis opening along what was soon dubbed the “Golden Mile.”

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Toronto Star, October 16, 1952. Click on image for larger version.

Developers saw potential in turning nearby farms into commercial and residential properties. Among them was Robert McClintock, who purchased a 150-acre farm at the northeast corner of Eglinton and Victoria Park in 1950. After building apartments and homes, he realized he wasn’t equipped to handle a major commercial development, so he sold a chunk of land to Principal Investments in 1952.

The new owners proceeded to build one of the new “one-stop shopping” plazas that were starting to define suburban North America. Retail chains saw such developments as key to their future. “The rate at which Toronto is growing internally and on its fringes,” Fairweather treasurer Benjamin Fish told the Telegram, “makes it imperative that the merchants give it the room and facilities it deserves.”

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

Fairweather was among the tenants who welcomed shoppers when the first phase of Golden Mile Plaza opened on April 8, 1954. Visitors who filled the 2,000 free parking spots were treated to a circus-like atmosphere complete with acrobats, clowns, high divers, and pipe bands. The largest Loblaws in Canada gave away 2,000 pounds of Pride of Arabia coffee. A draw offered a top prize of a 1954 Ford Skyliner, followed by appliances built on the Golden Mile by Frigidaire. By the time the plaza was fully opened in late 1954, its tenants included Bata, Hunt’s Bakery, Tamblyn Drugs, Woolworth’s, and Zellers.

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Toronto Star, June 27, 1959. Click on image for larger version.

The plaza reached its pinnacle on June 30, 1959. Following a tour of Sunnybrook Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II stopped by Golden Mile for a 10-minute visit. She surprised her RCMP handler and municipal officials by making a quick stop at Loblaws. It was not reported if she purchased any of the week’s specials.

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Toronto Star, September 22, 1983. Click on image for larger version.

Like the rest of the Golden Mile, the plaza lost its shine during the 1970s and 1980s. The factories that spurred the area’s development closed. New enclosed malls like Fairview and Scarborough Town Centre stole business. Plaza owners failed to properly maintain the property. A flea market became a major tenant. Scarborough officials viewed it as an eyesore and began dreaming of the property’s potential for mixed commercial, office, and residential use. Amid the calls for a classier redevelopment, pictures in newspaper articles depict stores that would fit the multi-ethnic plazas that are now part of the Scarborough landscape.

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Toronto Star, April 16, 1986. Click on image for larger version.

Reactions among Scarborough city councillors were mixed when Loblaws proposed one of its new Super Centre hypermarkets for the plaza site in 1986. While some were happy to see any replacement, others thought a giant supermarket was an inappropriate gateway to the city. “This may be what Scarborough has grown up on,” councillor Joyce Trimmer noted, “but it’s not good enough today. The first thing people will see on coming into Scarborough will be a big parking lot.” The development was approved. The plaza’s demolition was marred by a fire on December 15, 1986 that forced the closure of a few lingering stores which had hoped to remain open through Christmas Eve. The plaza would be memorialized via a photo gallery inside its replacement.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1988.

For a time, the Super Centre revived old retail traditions like a fleet of floor employees equipped with roller skates to retrieve merchandise. When Loblaws phased out the Super Centre concept, they reduced the size of the store and converted it to a No Frills. A spokesperson told the Star in 1999 that Loblaws was happy with the site, as “the Golden Mile name has a certain cachet.” The remaining Super Centre space was initially a Zellers then further split into the present combination of a dollar store, discount gym, and Joe Fresh.

Sources: the September 22, 1983, April 16, 1986, August 29. 1986, and July 12, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star, and the April 7, 1954 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953.

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen

Originally published on Torontoist on February 6, 2015.

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Toronto Star, February 27, 1963.

According to her corporate website, Aunt Jemima stands for “warmth, nourishment and trust—qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families.” Yet no amount of facelifts, bandana removal, or cultural diversity pitches can erase past depictions of its pancake-making pitchwoman as the ultimate stereotypical southern mammy.

Aunt Jemima’s image has long been problematic. Created in 1889 to promote an early pre-mixed baking mix, the brand was reputedly inspired by a minstrel show where a white performer sang as “Old Aunt Jemima” in blackface and drag. In 1893 Nancy Green, a former slave, was hired to portray her for cooking demonstrations at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Marketers developed a back story steeped in the mythology of the old South, including a benevolent plantation owner named Colonel Higbee and the large black woman working in the kitchen to please her white employers and aid the Confederacy.

Green’s successful appearance in Chicago led to tours where she or other women donned what was effectively slave garb. Toronto was among the stops. For a week of cooking demonstrations at Simpson’s department store in March 1902, ad writers felt the best way to illustrate Aunt Jemima’s place in society was to translate her pitches into pidgin English:

Aunt Jemima has fried pancakes all over the United States. Her record is 9,000 cakes a day. She is “demonstrating” the high and mighty art of turning pancakes in our grocery department this week, and, judging by the crowds, her ideas is regard to pancakes are of great and exceeding value.

“No buttah. No la’ad. Jus’ a bit o’ salt powk tied up in a piece o’ clean cheesecloth bought fo’ dat puhpus.” That is one of Aunt Jemima’s principles, which at first blush might seem a trifle revolutionary.

“One pint watah, one pint milk, one teacup o’ de flour makes cakes for six puhsons.”

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Don Mills Mirror, May 6, 1964.

In 1955, Aunt Jemima owner Quaker Oats opened a southern-themed family restaurant at Disneyland. By 1962, after serving over 1.6 million customers at the theme park, Quaker expanded the concept into a North American pancake house chain. Metro Torontonians downed their first Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen flapjack on February 27, 1963, when a location opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Bellamy Road in Scarborough. Opening day ads reinforced the mythology of the genteel, relaxed southern plantation the restaurant hoped to evoke, and promised a personal appearance from Aunt Jemima herself.

Quaker’s choice of Scarborough to debut the concept complemented other food franchisers who saw the suburb as an ideal testing ground. “The area has a very high ratio of cars to population, a good standard of living, and is having growing pains,” observed Harold Schner, a franchiser for Mister Donut and Red Barn. “Since there are few good restaurants in Scarborough, a community with young families dependent on automobiles for transportation to a great extent, it is a good area.”

In her Globe and Mail advertorial dining column, Mary Walpole played along with the cringe-inducing stereotypes. “The décor is beautifully done, warm and friendly as a southern plantation,” Walpole gushed, “and not without reason for the Aunt Jemima name is a carefully guarded thing and all must be perfect before they hang out the sign of her smiling dark face.” Walpole also played upon old fashioned notions of patriarchy, noting that when ordering the Family Platter, it was the father’s duty to serve the scrambled eggs and meat.

While Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen added a second location at Bayview Village in 1964, both brand and chain faced increasing criticism as the civil rights movement aimed at what the smiling cook represented. Black consumers had rarely been consulted for their thoughts about Aunt Jemima; when they were, the feedback was negative. The NAACP called for a boycott. Delegates at an August 1966 American Federation of Teachers convention in Chicago adopted a resolution condemning a nearby Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen for demeaning employees by making a black woman wear an Aunt Jemima costume. A boycott was launched until management allowed the employee to wear contemporary hostess clothing. Quaker Oats promised costumed Aunt Jemimas would be phased out from their five Chicago locations, a pledge fulfilled across the chain when the last one was pulled off the road in 1967.

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Globe Magazine, March 25, 1967.

The chain soon declined. Its flagship Disneyland location closed in 1970. Toronto was abandoned two years earlier—toward the end, the Bayview Village location decreased its selection of fancy pancakes from 37 to 23.

While efforts were made to modernize the brand—most significantly the removal of her headwear in 1989—the baggage remains. In his book Slave in a Box, M.M. Manring draws the following conclusion as to why Aunt Jemima endures:

Aunt Jemima lives on because white Americans like having a mammy. Quaker Oats can move her off her plantation, take off her bandanna, and tint her hair; it makes little difference. If times change, they might even be bold enough to put the bandanna back on her head. Aunt Jemima and mammy are tools used to interpret our legacy of racism, sexism, and slavery, either approvingly or disapprovingly. Keeping her around, spinning superficial explanations for her continued presence on that box, doesn’t help us overcome that legacy.

Sources: Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998); the April 20, 1963, May 18, 1963, and May 31, 1963 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 26, 1966 edition of the New York Times; and the March 25, 1902 edition of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

In June 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima branding would be dropped.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, March 28, 1902.

Another ad from Nancy Green’s stint at Simpson’s in 1902.

brantford expositor circa 1906 pancake booth

It’s probably a relief that the low quality of this scan of a pamphlet for a 1906 fundraising fair for Brantford’s John H. Stratford Hospital blots out the chef’s features (likely the “real pickaninny”), especially if he was wearing stereotypical blackface makeup of the era. The facility was renamed Brantford General Hospital in 1910.

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Canadian Grocer, Septemeber 17, 1909.

A series of Aunt Jemima rag doll premiums available to grocers perpetuated racist stereotypes and passed them on to children. The local Toronto agent for the mix was MacLaren Imperial Cheese, whose name lives on in a cold pack cheese spread that’s still available on Canadian grocery shelves as of 2020.

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Canadian Grocer, October 10, 1913.

I’m afraid to know what the “dandy advertising campaign” involved.

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Canadian Grocer, November 20, 1914.

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Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1923.

Nancy Green’s obituary. Even in death, her words were translated into pidgin. At least there’s no backstory of glorious plantations here, though one wonders how similar wealthy Chicago families were.

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Dawn of Tomorrow, September 15, 1923.

A more dignified obit for Green was presented in the Black press – this clipping is from the London, Ontario based Dawn of Tomorrow.

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The Globe, October 23, 1923.

How Aunt Jemima was advertised by the 1920s. Usually the mammy image was included…

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The Globe, December 26, 1923.

…sometimes not (though the pidgin-English slogan remained).

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Globe and Mail, April 20, 1963.

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Globe and Mail, May 18, 1963.

A pair of Mary Walpole’s advertorials about Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen. I’m imagining a steady soundtrack of Stephen Foster songs.

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Globe and Mail, May 31, 1963.

An article on how Scarborough was seen as an ideal place to test franchising concepts during the 1960s.