Bonus Features: Why 1971 Was a Big, Boozy Year for Ontarians

Before diving into this post, read my TVO feature on the lowering of the age of majority in Ontario in 1971.

Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones, the Telegram, July 13, 1971.

This post marks a major milestone for me: yesterday, for the first time since COVID restrictions first went into place in Ontario in March 202o, I spent time scrolling through microfilm in the basement of the Toronto Reference Library. While I have cranked out plenty of work over the -past year-and-a-half thanks to improving online resources, there were many times when I wished I could access material locked away in archival resources for different points of view and the little details you never expect to find.

It’s a major professional boost, and a psychological breakthrough that is helping cut through my COVID-era brain fog.

So here are a few sources and stories that weren’t available when I researched this story. Let’s start off with an editorial from the Telegram

The Telegram, July 29, 1971.

The Telegram, July 28, 1971.

The Tely‘s roundup of Toronto bars that evening found that, as in other places, the crowds were modest. One exception was the Mynah Bird in Yorkville, which continued to deny entrance to anyone under 21, allegedly because the owner hadn’t told staff what to do. “None of the new adults,” the paper reported, “were making any efforts to storm the establishment’s ramparts.” Perhaps the kids were wise to the Mynah Bird’s constant efforts to grab attention through titilating means such as racy movies and nude performers.

Over on Yonge Street, Colonial Tavern manager Robert Steele suspected it was only a matter of time before the newly legal drinkers would fill his beer garden. “It’s summer after all and a lot of the youngsters are away.” One patron, 18-year-old Peter Martin, told the Tely that when he bought beer at Brewers Retail for the first time earlier that day, it “really seemed strange.”

On the Tely‘s opinion pages, columnist Dennis Braithwaite wondered if the new age of majority would shake up the labour force, allowing workers to retire earlier and their younger peers to advance sooner. “Give youth all the power and the headaches,” Braithwaite concluded. “Give the rest of us a little time at the end to find contentment, peace, and maybe even God.”

And now a word from our sponsor…

The Telegram, July 29, 1971.

Let’s go west to Hamilton…

hs 1971-07-29 taverns welcome mature youths

Hamilton Spectator, July 29, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

…and further on to London.

lfp 1971-07-29 young drinkers

London Free Press, July 29, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

And now back to material I previously collected for the piece…

Barrie Examiner, July 20, 1971.

There were plenty of streeters among the age of majority coverage, including this sampling of public opinion from Barrie.

Cartoon of Stephen Lewis and William Davis by James Reidford, accompanying an editorial in the July 13, 1971 edition of the Globe and Mail.

Toronto Star, July 13, 1971.

Windsor Star, July 14, 1971.

Note the John Robarts bookends on the desk.

Globe and Mail, July 29, 1971.

Windsor Star, July 29, 1971.

Toronto Star, July 29, 1971.

Excalibur, October 7, 1971.

From that fall’s provincial election, an ad targeted at the youth vote. Groovy, man.

The Varsity, September 27, 1971.

One element I left out of the article was concerns regarding where newly eligible post-secondary students would vote. Initially, the province wanted them to cast ballots in the riding that was their permanent address, which generally meant wherever their parents lived.

The Varsity wondered if part of the government’s hesitation in allowing students to vote where they attended school had to do with the fact that two cabinet ministers – Attorney-General Allan Lawrence and Minister of Trade and Development Allan Grossman – represented ridings with large concentrations of University of Toronto students who might boost other parties. “To deny students the right to vote in their university home,” an editorial observed, “is to deny any idea that students and the university are a part of the community.” There was further confusion when Chief Election Officer Roderick Lewis issued a letter indicating that enumerators should take students at their word as to where they considered their home to be. In the end, Lawrence easily retained his seat in St. George, while Grossman had a narrow win over NDP candidate/future Toronto city councillor Dan Heap in St. Andrew-St. Patrick.

Bidding for the Summer Olympics

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2015.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990.

As the 1952 Summer Olympics wound down in Helsinki, Canadian Olympic Association (COA) president A. Sidney Dawes believed our country was nowhere near ready to win the games. Beyond lacking international grade facilities, Dawes believed pitching was pointless until the Canadian public demonstrated greater interest in amateur sport.

Dawes’s concern would echo through time as a factor cited in Toronto’s multiple failures in securing the Summer Olympics. But our five bids have been plagued by other issues, including disorganization, social justice activism, and not being obsequious enough to International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials. Above all, our bids reflect not so much our desire to spotlight athletic glory as to figure out what to do with Toronto’s waterfront, and to massage worries about being perceived as a world class city.

As academic Robert D. Oliver observes, “If forced to draw a single conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that Toronto has developed a legacy of Olympic begging, a situation that reveals quite a bit about the practice of politics in Toronto.”

1960: Communication Breakdown

Letter supporting Toronto’s bid for the 1960 Summer Olympics from Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto’s Summer Olympics bid emerged from losing the 1954 British Empire Games to Vancouver. The charge was led by Mayor Allan Lamport, who had been instrumental in thawing laws outlawing Sunday sports in the city, and former mayor/IOC membership nominee Robert Hood Saunders. “We sincerely feel that Toronto’s size and population, fine athletic facilities, the warm hospitality of its people, and its convenient geographic location,” Lamport wrote in the official invite he composed in April 1954, “would contribute to the success of the Games and merit your kind consideration in the selection of the site for the 1960 Olympiad.”

Estimates showed $6.3 million in costs and $4 million in revenues. Ceremonies would occur in an expanded CNE Grandstand, while existing venues such as Maple Leaf Gardens, Maple Leaf Stadium, Riverdale Park, and Varsity Arena would hold competitions. A pool would be built in an unspecified location.

When Lamport and Saunders attended the IOC’s annual meeting in Athens, they learned that invitations were only received every four years, the next opportunity being the next year’s gathering in Paris. A mandatory questionnaire was sent in October 1954 to Saunders, who became the point man for all material received from the IOC.

That questionnaire went unanswered. Following Saunders’s death in a plane crash in January 1955, confusion reigned over the state of the bid. When the city failed to return the questionnaire by the March 1 deadline, Toronto was automatically removed from consideration.

Canadian Olympic Association reception at Mayor Nathan Phillips’s Office, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 3, Item 2.

Except the IOC didn’t immediately inform Toronto officials that the bid was toast. Anyone with an inkling of what had happened kept quiet as planning rolled along. An Olympic committee formed in late March 1955 to advise new mayor Nathan Phillips. The Board of Control authorized Phillips to send someone to deliver the official invite to the IOC in Paris in May. The mayor preferred handing the duty to the Canadian ambassador to France—Phillips was informed earlier in the month by CNE sports committee chairman Harry Price that Dawes believed the city shouldn’t send anyone, as a Toronto victory would be the second in a row for a British Commonwealth country.

The April 14 city parks and recreation committee meeting revealed a phone discussion between Dawes and Price nearly a month earlier. Dawes has asked about the missing questionnaire, then handed Price the bad news. Beyond missing the deadline, Dawes indicated that the city had not buttered up IOC officials enough:

Mr. Dawes also suggested that any publicity material on the City of Toronto should be forwarded to each member of the IOC, and he also suggested that a very nice gesture would be for the City to send a souvenir lighter with the City of Toronto crest on it, to each member of the IOC. Mr. Dawes stated that over the years he has been regularly receiving very attractive souvenirs from cities contemplating Olympic invitations.

Phillips, who was in Miami Beach, was stunned. He knew nothing about the questionnaire, believing the city could wait until Paris to make its move. “If I thought for one minute that it would enhance our chances, I would either go or suggest that someone else go to represent the city,” he told the Telegram. “But I’m averse to spending the taxpayers’ money on what might be a wild goose chase.”

1964: The Phantom Bid

Letter from International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage to Nathan Phillips, July 20, 1955. City of Toronto Archives.

Despite the collapse of the 1960 bid, city officials were immediately urged to try for the 1964 games. Dawes noted that the city required “considerable propaganda work” to succeed. “Canada’s prestige today is very great all over the world and I believe this can also be said about her standing in Olympic affairs,” Dawes wrote to city councillor Joseph Cornish in June 1955.” When Toronto’s bid is put in, my present thinking is that the decision may rest between Lausanne and Toronto.”

Cornish recommended that Phillips write a letter to the IOC stating Toronto’s intentions for 1964. The mayor received a response from IOC President Avery Brundage, who indicated that invites wouldn’t be accept for a few more years, and that the best course was to stay in touch with Dawes. Translation: leave us alone for the near future.

With that, the city’s 1964 Olympic plans fall into the realm of amateur Sherlocks. In its roundup of Toronto’s bids, the Star claims it can’t find any stories to back it up. Our search turned a passing recommendation to bid from an English sports consultant published in the Globe and Mail in October 1958. Oliver observes that there was unease over the lack of international grade facilities, and continuing questions on how a bid would improve the waterfront.

Holding the Summer Olympics in the Great Lakes region was not in the cards for 1964. Detroit, who bid for the Olympics six times following the Second World War, finished a distant second behind Tokyo.

1976: Favouring Montreal

Toronto Star, August 9, 1968.

Toronto’s next bid attempt launched in September 1967, when Mayor William Dennison authorized the creation of a joint city-Metro Toronto committee. Chaired by Lamport, it included political heavyweights like Metro Chairman William Allen and Metro Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson. Montreal was already favoured based on the success of Expo 67. Lamport intended to ask Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau to back Toronto’s bid, given that we had supported their effort to land Expo.

Suburban councillors wanted Metro to control the bid. For some, like North York councillor Paul Godfrey, the bid process also presented an opportunity to investigate luring professional sports franchises to the region. Lamport supported passing his duties to Allen. By the end of November 1967, all five Metro boroughs, along with Hamilton, Oakville, Oshawa, and St. Catharines, supported a letter of intent to the COA. “Our job is to move ahead as fast and effectively as we can.” Allen observed. “We will make mistakes, but we will make decisions.”

A 55-page invite released in July 1968 proposed construction of a domed stadium and pool on the site of the recently vacated Maple Leaf Stadium, with the Harbour City waterfront redevelopment project serving as the Olympic Village. A backup site was proposed for land to be created around Ashbridge’s Bay and Woodbine Beach. New transportation infrastructure included reviving the age-old plan for a Queen Street subway line (estimated cost: $200 million), a monorail through Harbour City, and the replacement of Union Station. There were promises to make Toronto Canada’s national amateur sports capital through administrative offices, training facilities, and a series of annual “mini-Olympics” designed to raise our competitive level.

Globe and Mail, August 1, 1968.

The plan was coolly received in Hamilton, which prepared its own bid based on a site near the Burlington Skyway. Mayor Vic Copps dismissed the Toronto plan as a “fantasy.”

At the final presentation to the COA, bid officials stressed two points in favour of Toronto: financing which depended less on taxpayers than opposing bids, and the ability to house all athletes within five minutes of the major venues. But the odds seemed stacked in Montreal’s favour. Drapeau’s team was better at schmoozing, and it didn’t hurt that the majority of COA voters represented Quebec.

The first ballot cast on September 7, 1968 saw Montreal earn 18 votes, Toronto 16, Hamilton 2. On the second ballot, the Hamilton votes split, giving Montreal a 19-17 victory. The decisive vote was COA treasurer Bill Parish—as Telegram sports editor Charles McGregor put it, “Bill’s from Hamilton, and there’s a great rivalry between the two cities. A stupid rivalry. “

Civic officials in Toronto blamed the loss on the stacking of the COA. Lamport blasted Allen for running a cheap, one-man show. Allen wanted to press on with plans for a dome and amateur sports facilities, but the municipalities within Metro squabbled about stadium sites within days of losing the bid. “At times,” a Star editorial noted, “the parochialism of some of our Metro politicians is enough to make even the most loyal citizen wince in embarrassment.” The disunity seen immediately after the bid flopped made some observers wonder if full amalgamation of Metro wasn’t a bad idea.

Asked if Toronto would soon try again, Allen noted that if Montreal won the games, “that’s the end of Canada hosting the Olympics for this generation. There’s no guarantee that a second run would produce any different results than the first one.”

1996: Panis et Circenses

Toronto Star, August 21, 1986.

A frequent clarification during the early days of the 1996 bid: Toronto Ontario Olympic Council CEO Paul Henderson was not the hockey hero of the 1972 Summit Series. This Paul Henderson was a former Olympic sailor whose networking skills produced an impressive roster of backers. “He’s the kind of guy,” Metro Chairman Dennis Flynn told the Star in 1986, “who tackles something and doesn’t let go until he has what he wants.” That tenacity helped and harmed Henderson over the five-year evolution of the bid.

Launched in 1986, the bid stressed points such as the region’s multicultural identity as a reflection of Olympic ideals, cultural riches, strong transit system (“the TTC being one of the cleanest, most efficient and comprehensive urban transit systems in the world”), and creating an environment of amateur sports excellence a la William Allen’s dreams during the 1960s. It also served as the latest blueprint for waterfront redevelopment, focusing on the area between Ontario Place and the recently-built SkyDome. The Olympic Village would consist of 20 low-rise residential buildings located in the former railway lands currently occupied by CityPlace. A new 80,000 seat replacement for Exhibition Stadium would be reduced to 30,000 after the games for use as a cheaper, multi-use alternative to SkyDome. An aquatic centre would rise by Ontario Place. Outside the core, Etobicoke’s Centennial Park would receive a velodrome, while basketball matches would take place in the Canada Coliseum, a new arena already planned for land the Weston family owned in North York. Events would stretch as far as preliminary soccer matches in London and Sudbury. The final bid book, issued in February 1990, was a colourful celebration of the city which would have made a decent commemorative item.

Given the financial disaster of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, organizers promised debt-free games through, as a 1989 report put it, “moderate and strategic capital investment.” This would depend on maximizing corporate contributions, and limiting government input to elements like human resources and security. Estimates showed a cost of $1.053 billion and a profit of $10 million. A city report prepared in January 1990 showed that when estimates of indirect costs were factored in, the games would cost over $2.5 billion and produce a $90 million loss. As “As with any public budget,” bid board member Bruce Kidd noted, “there is a lot of deliberate mystification.”

Toronto Sun, September 17, 1990.

That response would have irritated the loudest opponent of the bid, the Bread Not Circuses (BNC) coalition of social activist groups. BNC raised the level of debate surrounding community benefits, asking for provisions regarding affordable housing and fiscal responsibility. “We’re saying that we want a better Toronto,“ claimed BNC spokesperson Michael Shapcott. “We don’t think that the Olympics can be stretched and pulled and pushed and manipulated enough to achieve that kind of vision.” Ignoring urgings from Henderson not to, the group sent its concerns to the IOC. BNC became a wedge, dividing public opinion on the merits of the bid.

That split filtered into tense debates at Toronto City Council. Mayor Art Eggleton and other bid backers raised temperatures by demanding unanimous support. By April 1990 most councillors were ready to kill the bid unless their conditions were met. Several wanted guarantees on the amount of social housing built. Others were persuaded when CN agreed to turn over the railway lands without demanding concessions on projects elsewhere—in Michael Walker’s case, this also involved turning over part of the Belt Line pathway to the city.

The final vote was 12–4. Three remaining opponents had NDP connections: Marilyn Churley, Elizabeth Amer (unhappy with financial risk despite provincial promise to cover losses), and Jack Layton (who wanted more social housing units). You can imagine the seizures Sun columnists suffered.

Globe and Mail, September 7, 1990.

Such opposition angered Henderson, who vilified anyone who didn’t think the bid was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He alienated some people through statements such as his admission during an interview with a York University student that half the profits would go to the COA, who could “piss away on whatever they do with it.” There was also a sense Henderson’s sales techniques went overboard, such as his declaration that the Toronto Islands were “a true island of peace” (which caused the Globe and Mail to observe he ignored harbour pollution).

One figure missing from the delegation sent to Tokyo in the run up to the final announcement in September 1990 was Ontario premier David Peterson, who had just lost his job to Bob Rae. The new premier supported the bid, but, feeling that he wasn’t fully up to speed, sent Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander in his place. Opponents accused Rae of casting his lot with BNC and Layton.

BNC sent two representatives to Tokyo to make their final pitch to IOC members. They made a splash on Japanese television when they were thrown out of the media’s hotel. Back home, they were criticized by the likes of Sun columnist Christie Blatchford, who tried to demonstrate their awfulness by depicting Shapcott as a hypocrite for having no problem with paying more for his co-op unit than Layton and Olivia Chow did.

Toronto Sun, September 18, 1990. Also in picture are Lincoln Alexander and Art Eggleton.

Around 4,000 people mulled around Skydome on September 18 to hear the result: Toronto placed third, behind sentimental favourite Athens and the winner, Atlanta. The blame game began immediately, and it wasn’t pretty. Henderson criticized BNC for being anti-Canadian and anti-Toronto. Councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski blamed Layton, citing BNC as a puppet front for his colleague. Layton felt the corporate power centred in Atlanta secured its victory. The Sun sneered at “socialists” who deprived the city of economic and social benefits. Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot blamed several factors, ranging from the failure to build SkyDome as an Olympic-sized venue to Henderson’s individualistic campaigning style. (“Too much hung on his credibility as a self-styled Mr. Toronto.”)

“It is rather ironic that Toronto’s 1996 bid promoted the Olympics as an opportunity for diverse groups in the city—and beyond the municipality—to resolve differences and act as a catalyst for consensus, because the bid itself seemed to produce a social-psychological wound,” academic Robert D. Oliver later noted. “To an international audience Torontonians must have appeared as passionate sulkers.”

2008: Runner-up

Cartoon by Brian Gable, Globe and Mail, August 31, 2000.

Buried in a box in the City of Toronto Archives is a binder containing the master plan for the 2008 Olympic bid and related city staff reports. The binder belonged to veteran councillor Anne Johnston, who left some handwritten notes. Below a section of the staff report outlining why Toronto was a worthy host, Johnston wrote “Negativism is the only thing that will kill it!”

To counteract opponents, bid organizers reviewed mistakes made by the previous bid. The initial public face was a respected one: former mayor David Crombie, who felt the Olympics would, besides the eternal waterfront revitalization component, cheer up a city suffering from post-amalgamation blues. “This is about city building for me,” Crombie told the Star in March 1998. He also believed all three levels of government had to work together to ensure success.

Also key was a social contract to appease naysayers. As it evolved, the bid included promises of up to 2,000 low income housing units, protection of the rights of the homeless, and policies to ensure no displacements of residents or major impositions on neighbourhoods.

When the COA approved Toronto’s bid later that year, it quietly imposed conditions which prevented Crombie from being the sole person at the reins of what was now known as TO-Bid. Crombie continued on as chairman, while John Bitove Jr. was named president and CEO. Bitove was seen as someone who got things done (such as the timely construction of the Air Canada Centre) and possessed strong connections at all levels of government. Chief operations officer Bob Richardson garnered good press for the bid, and was unapologetic about pushing the limits on rules regarding currying favour with IOC officials.

Cover of TO-Bid’s 2008 Master Plan. City of Toronto Archives.

TO-Bid made a list of infrastructure projects ranging from urgent temporary measures to long-term projects which would benefit the games. Note how many of the following projects materialized or are still under consideration:

  • Upgrades to Union Station, including a second subway platform
  • Construction of Fort York Boulevard (with a suggested alternative name of Nelson Mandela Way)
  • Extension of Queens Quay west to Ontario Place, and east to the Port Lands
  • Extension of Front West to the west
  • Underpass for Simcoe Street south of Front Street
  • Grade separation for Strachan Avenue
  • Elimination of the Dufferin Street jog
  • LRT service on Queens Quay East
  • Temporary GO station at Cherry Street
  • Soil remediation and realignment of the Don River in the Port Lands

The role of waterfront redevelopment made some observers wonder if the city wasn’t so much going for the Olympics as a spectacle as much as a lever to finally fix the age-old problem. The Waterfront Revitalization Task Force headed by Robert Fung ran concurrently with the major stages of the bid. When all three levels of government agreed to fund the games, they also promised to back waterfront renewal regardless of TO-Bid’s success. This ultimately led to what some might argue is the 2008 bid’s permanent legacy: Waterfront Toronto.

Had we won, an Olympic stadium, aquatics centre, and athletes’ village would have risen in the Port Lands, while the media would have been housed in the West Don Lands. Most events would have clustered into three hubs termed as “rings”: Exhibition Place/Ontario Place, downtown, and the Port Lands.

One loose cannon was Mayor Mel Lastman. Weeks before the final vote, Lastman told the press he wasn’t eager to visit IOC delegates in Kenya:

What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa? Snakes just scare the hell out of me. I’m sort of scared of going there, but the wife is really nervous. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.

While Lastman apologized for viewing Africa through the lens of old racist cartoons, TO-Bid officials hoped his ignorant remarks wouldn’t sink their pitch.

They needn’t have worried. As many commentators pointed out after Toronto’s distant second place finish was announced on July 13, 1991, the fix was in for Beijing. It didn’t matter how technically strong Toronto’s bid was (even with hazy financial numbers), how outlandish Lastman was, or how many concerns there were about civil rights in China: IOC members believed that, having failed to win the 2000 games in a close vote, it was Beijing’s turn. There was great disappointment in the perceived failure of Canadian IOC representative Dick Pound to boost the bid. “We were there as window dressing, to fool the world into believing that every plucky underdog has a chance. We mostly fooled ourselves,” noted Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

While egos were deflated, there doesn’t seem to have been as deep a sense of divisiveness as accompanied the 1996 bid.

Toronto Sun, July 14, 2001.

If a bid is pursued for 2024, organizers could look to the best elements of past attempts, and build an aspirational pitch whose long-term effects will truly benefit city residents in terms of infrastructure and socially-conscious legacy projects. Or, as Metro’s Matt Elliott suggested, we could pursue a “Fakelympics” to bring about all the civic pride promised by an Olympic bid without the economic and moral costs of dealing with the IOC.

Sources: Toronto’s Proposal to Host the 1996 Olympic Games (report, issued June 1989); Toronto’s Proposal to Host the Games of the XXVIth Olympiad (report, issued February 1990); Toronto 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games Master Plan (report, issued November 1999); Toronto’s 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games Bid (City of Toronto Staff Report, February 11, 2000); “Toronto’s Olymoic Ambitions: An Investigation of the Olympic Bidding Legacy in one Modern City” by Robert D. Oliver (dissertation, 2011); the August 1, 1952, September 28, 1967, October 12, 1967, November 7, 1967, November 25, 1967, July 31, 1968, August 1, 1968, June 3, 1989, April 13, 1990, September 19, 1990, March 31, 1998, and July 14, 2001 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 13, 1990 edition of Maclean’s; the July 14, 2001 edition of the National Post; the September 5, 1968, September 9, 1968, September 11, 1968, October 5, 1986, September 11, 1990, and September 19, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star; the September 18, 1990, September 19, 1990, and July 9, 2001 editions of the Toronto Sun; the April 15, 1955 and September 9, 1968 editions of the Telegram; and correspondences held by the City of Toronto Archives.


Globe and Mail, August 1, 1952.

Toronto Star, April 15, 1955.

Some things, like IOC corruption, are eternal.

Toronto Star, September 9, 1968.

The Telegram, September 9, 1968.

Front page opinion piece, The Telegram, September 9, 1968.

The Telegram, September 9, 1968.

The Telegram, September 9, 1968.

Toronto Star, June 18, 1987.

Toronto Star, September 23, 1988.

Toronto Star, January 23, 1990.

Globe and Mail, February 1, 1990.

Toronto Star, September 19, 1990.

Toronto Star, September 19, 1990.

Globe and Mail, September 19, 1990.

Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990.

It should be noted that in the closing days of the bid race, the Sunshine Girls essentially became scantily-clad ads for the bid.

Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990.

Toronto Sun, September 19, 1990.

Of all the Sun pieces griping about Toronto’s defeat, this one feels the most stereotypical and the most bordering on self-parody. Which must have given me an idea back when I wrote this piece – why not turn MacDonald’s venting into a Mad Libs game?

Have fun!

A New Home for Coaches (Opening of the Gray Coach Terminal, 1931)

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 26, 2011, which itself was based on a Spacing post published on February 26, 2009.

Acting Premier, Attorney-General W.H. Price, severing silk tape that officially dispatched the first coach from the Bay Street motor coach terminal, December 19, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9028.

The gold scissors were ready. The red, green, and gray ribbons on the platform were taut for the ceremonial cut. Standing in for Ontario Premier George Stewart Henry, Attorney General W.H. Price finished addressing the crowd in the waiting room. At 12:30 p.m. on December 19, 1931, Price took the gilded shears, snipped the tri-coloured ribbon, and officially opened the new Gray Coach Lines Terminal. Onlookers witnessed the culmination of several years of effort to improve the comfort of coach operators and bus passengers passing through Toronto, just in time for that year’s Christmas rush.

Eighty years on, the structure we now know as the Toronto Coach Terminal may not be, as the Globe hailed it, “the latest advance in the progress of rubber-tired transportation,” but it still functions as a gateway to the city.

Motor coach #503, taken at a distance of 30 feet, with Bay Street in the background, May 21, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7662.

During the 1920s, buses appeared to be the future of passenger travel. When the TTC added motor vehicles to enhance its streetcar service within Toronto, it also launched coach service to suburban destinations. As the decade wore on, the coaches gradually supplanted the radial railways that serviced outlying areas and routes were extended as far as Buffalo and Muskoka. Service expansion was aided by the development of Ontario’s provincial highway network, which was viewed as an important method of stimulating growth outside of cities by reducing social isolation, transporting agricultural products, and encouraging tourism. Coach service was touted by route operators as an affordable way for travellers who lacked automobiles to see the countryside via the new roads. By 1927, the TTC spun off its intercity and local sightseeing routes into a new company, Gray Coach Lines.

Gray Coach Lines Terminal during its open air period, June 11, 1928. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 5917.

Facilities equipped to handle coaches correspondingly appeared in Toronto. Until the mid-1920s, operators had to load and unload passengers either along streets or in bare-bones terminals. The TTC had facilities behind its headquarters at the northeast corner of Yonge and Front that were expanded in 1928, but the site was primarily for local and sightseeing needs. Intercity routes found a home when the TTC signed a contract with Trinity College in 1927 to rent land for a terminal at Bay and Edward. A ticket office and waiting room were opened on the site, but passengers had to board buses from open-air wooden platforms, which would have been unpleasant in bad weather. Such drawbacks didn’t deter passengers—between June 1928 and June 1929, Gray Coach traffic rose by 350 per cent.

Faced with lacklustre facilities and increasing demand, the TTC decided to, in its words, “march with the times” and construct a new intercity terminal with modern amenities at the Bay-Edward site. As work was about to commence in July 1931, the TTC boasted that the terminal would provide jobs to construction workers and tradesmen hit hard by the Great Depression.

Model of the Gray Coach Lines Terminal on display at the Canadian National Exhibition, September 13, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8868.

The transit agency provided a detailed preview of the terminal’s interior in the June 1931 edition of the TTC’s newsletter, The Coupler:

The central portion of the terminal building will be occupied by a commodious waiting room extending to the full height of the building. Its walls will be finished in Travertine stone with an ornamental ceiling light and with an open mezzanine gallery on all sides, access to which will be provided by a staircase at the west centre. All fittings and metal work generally will be aluminum or monel metal, and the general effect should be pleasing and serviceable.

Along the north side of the waiting room there will be located information, ticket counters, baggage room and other facilities for the passenger service. Adjacent to this will be the offices for the Superintendent and Clerical staff, together with a drivers’ reporting room. On the second floor of the north wing there will be a drivers’ rest room and lavatory and several offices that may be rented to outside firms.

The ladies’ rest room will be on the south side of the main waiting room and the men’s lavatory and shoe shine facilities will be in the basement. A large store site which will probably be rented to a drug store with lunch counter facilities and with a news stand opening on to the waiting room. The corner of Bay and Edward Streets has also been reserved for a store site and both these stores will have store windows and entrances from the waiting room. The upper floor of the south wing will be available for rental to outside firms for show rooms or offices.

Gray Coach Lines Terminal waiting room, looking east, December 19, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9031.

Passengers entered via Bay Street, then proceeded out to the covered concrete platforms that stretched along Edward Street to Elizabeth Street. Beside spaces for the Gray Coach fleet, the TTC rented space to competing lines. Officials expected that the combined rent from other operators and from other businesses inside the main building would make the terminal financially self-sufficient.

Sign erected on site of Gray Coach Lines Terminal building, Bay and Edward Streets, September 17, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8882.

By September 1931, a sign at the construction site promised occupancy by December 15. The prediction proved relatively accurate—W.H. Price cut the ribbon four days after the target date. Just before the ceremonial snip, Toronto Mayor William James Stewart purchased the first ticket, a return trip from Hamilton. Following half an hour of speeches, passengers boarding the first coach to depart the terminal were seen off by Price. “It must have been a surprise,” noted the Globe, “to see a gentleman poke his head into the coach and on behalf of the province of Ontario wish all and sundry a Merry Christmas and add that he hoped their lives would be as pleasant as the bus and last as long as the new terminal.”

Gray Coach Lines Terminal, covered loading area, looking east, December 19, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9038.

Before the coach began its journey to Hamilton, Mayor Stewart and TTC chairman William C. McBrien briefly boarded it. According to the Globe, “the wide-eyed and disconcerted passengers were about to comment on this new policy of the Queen City in giving a big send-off to visitors, the bus lurched forward and the crowd of city fathers and leading citizens without burst into a mighty cheer. And the passengers lapsed back into silent awe, wondering if Rudy Vallee was in their midst. He wasn’t. Neither was Babe Ruth.”

Dignitaries boarded another bus bound for a roof-garden luncheon at the Royal York Hotel. The head table resembled a miniature highway, complete with buses and road signs. McBrien opened the lunch with a thanks to city council for its support of the project, noting how development had been free of political rancor:”You have treated us as men and we appreciate it very much.” Stewart noted how proud he was to call McBrien a friend: “You have given fearless and sane administration. While it has been my privilege to be a friend of yours, you have not endeavoured to use friendship to dictate actions to me.” Price admitted his initial opposition to the TTC’s control of the terminal, due to fears of a monopoly, and urged co-ordination between all agencies running the modes of transportation used in the city, especially between coach lines and railway operators.

Sketch of Gray Coach Lines Terminal, Edward and Bay streets, Toronto, December 9, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9003.

The terminal maintained its original size, if not its original stature, until 1968 when loading areas were added west of Elizabeth Street. Later renovations reconfigured the interior, replaced the original platforms, and added a tunnel to Atrium on Bay, but the Queenston limestone façade remained and continues to be a Toronto architectural landmark to this day.

Sources: 1921-1931 Ten Years of Progressive Service (Toronto: Toronto Transportation Commission, 1931); the June 1931 edition of The Coupler; the December 21, 1931 edition of the Globe; the December 21, 1931 edition of the Mail and Empire; and the December 19, 1931 edition of the Telegram. 


A few months short of its 90th anniversary, passenger service wound down at the Toronto Coach Terminal in July 2021. I was interviewed by the Star about its impending demise.


The Globe, December 21, 1931.

The March to Pride

Originally published on Torontoist on June 20, 2014.

Gay Pride march, 1972. Photo by Jearld Moldenhauer. The Body Politic, Autumn 1972.

It was a simple poster, one that asked people to bring food, drink, and music to Hanlan’s Point on August 1, 1971. Around 300 people followed the poster’s directions to what was billed as “Toronto’s first gay picnic”—the first of a series of events held throughout the 1970s that served as precursors to the current annual Pride celebration, established in 1981.

The organizing of the picnic grew from the gay liberation movement that was rapidly developing in Canada during the early 1970s. As Tom Warner notes in his book Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada,

In the short period between 1970 and 1974, the new ideology blossomed on several fronts; breaking through isolation and loneliness; rejecting the notions of sin, sickness, and criminality that previously defined homosexuality; fighting against oppression, discrimination, and harassment; asserting pride in same-sex sexuality as good and natural; engaging in aggressive public advocacy for social and legislative reform; and building both a community and a culture based on a commonly shared sexuality. Visibility and organizing became the objectives through which liberation would be attained. “Out of the Closets and into the Streets,” “Gay Is Just as Good as Straight,” and “Better Blatant Than Latent” were among the rallying cries. It was an amazing time of exuberance, optimism, astonishing innovation, and sometimes breath-taking courage—characterized by impatience and a willingness to confront all oppressors.

One of the first catalysts for the creation of this movement was the decriminalization of homosexuality for adults 21 and over under a reformed federal criminal code. Introduced by Minister of Justice Pierre Trudeau as part of an omnibus bill in December 1967, the reforms were among those that provoked his famous quote: “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Two months after the legislation came into effect in August 1969, an ad placed in The Varsity by Jearld Moldenhauer resulted in the formation of Toronto’s first post-Stonewall homosexual activist group, the University of Toronto Homophile Association. The group’s constitution stated that it was “dedicated to educating the community about homosexuality, and bringing about social and personal acceptance of homosexuality.”

The Body Politic, July-August 1972.

Over a year later, the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) formed to provide social services to the gay community. It also offered assistance to anyone arrested or harassed by police, who still viewed homosexuals as “incipient criminals.” Groups with a stronger activist mandate, such as Toronto Gay Action and the Gay Alliance Toward Equality, soon emerged. While male-dominated groups tended to focus on human rights issues, female-dominated associations looked more at creating spaces free of homophobia and sexism. This period also saw the fall 1971 launch of The Body Politic, a publication whose collective (which evolved into Pink Triangle Press, which later published Xtra) aimed to mobilize the community to fight its oppressors.

The first Toronto event dubbed “Gay Pride Week” occurred from August 19 to 27, 1972, and was timed to coincide with the anniversary of decriminalization. Based out of CHAT’s office at 58 Cecil Street, the festivities were listed in the Globe and Mail’s “Around Toronto This Week” section. On opening night, CHAT director George Hislop read supportive letters from Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis and City alderman William Kilbourn. He also read a note from an aide to Mayor William Dennison indicating there would be no official declaration. “Since the mayor refused to acknowledge 10 per cent of the citizens,” Hislop told his audience, “I’ll do it for him.” Film screenings included Kate Millett’s documentary Three Lives, which bored Star critic Clyde Gilmour; he declared that the film proved women had “as much right to make a dull, amateurish movie as any group of males” (the New York Times was much kinder). Other events included panel discussions, a picnic, and a 200-person march to Queen’s Park to demand recognition under the Ontario Human Rights Code (which wasn’t achieved until 1986). The week was, according to the Body Politic’s Hugh Brewster, “a greater test of our gay pride than one could have possibly foreseen.”

The Gay Pride Week of 1973 coincided with similar events across the country. All called for the various provincial legislatures to protect sexual orientation in their respective human rights codes. “By publicly demonstrating pride in our sexuality we assert our right to live that lifestyle we choose,” observed a Body Politic editorial, “not as a grant of liberal largesse, but as a matter of course.” Two months later, Toronto’s city council became the first in Canada to ban discriminatory municipal hiring based on sexual orientation.

“About 500 pickets from Toronto’s homosexual community turned out yesterday to protest the visit of Anita Bryant, known for her Florida orange juice commercials and her crusade against homosexual rights. The pickets, armed with a permit for their demonstration, gathered across from the Peoples Church, where Miss Bryant spoke to overflow crowd of more than 2,500 people.” Photo by Frank Lennon, Toronto Star, January 16, 1978.

Pride-style events continued off and on throughout the rest of the 1970s. The largest was 1978’s Gaydays, which was conceived as a positive celebration of the community after a series of controversies, heightened by a 1977 tragedy. In July of that year, the sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Yonge Street shoeshine boy Emmanuel Jaques by three men contributed to a hostile climate for homosexuals. An article in the Body Politic’s December 1977 issue, “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” also prompted an increase in mainstream media articles equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and prompted a police raid on the Body Politic’s office, the aftermath of which kept lawyers busy for years. Newspaper editorials argued against “aggressive homosexuals.” An article that appeared in the Star in July 1977 argued that “homosexuals should be guaranteed full civil rights, but with reservations to guard against the promotion of homosexuality.”

And a visit by American anti-gay activist Anita Bryant to the Peoples Church in North York—organized by Christian fundamentalists Renaissance International—prompted North York Mayor Mel Lastman to consider a councillor’s suggestion that Bryant be given an honorary medal for her activism, but the idea was vetoed. The gay community rapidly organized a rally at St. Lawrence Market on January 14, 1978 (the eve of Bryant’s appearance), and a march to Nathan Phillips Square that drew around 1,000 people. As one marshal put it, “Anita Bryant probably doesn’t know it, but she’s doing us a favour.” The next day, a group protested outside the Peoples Church.

In April 1978, representatives from several gay organizations formed a group called Liberated Energy to run Gaydays. The aim was to appeal to a broad range of people by marketing it as a social event instead of a political one, and to demonstrate that gays and lesbians could mix together. “I wanted any half-closeted lesbian wandering through Queen’s Park to feel that she had something to come out for,” noted organizer Val Edwards, who also belonged to the Lesbian Organization of Toronto. “Liberated Energy drew out a lot of people who have never been politically involved … It especially got people to do a lot of public things, leafleting, postering—things which can be considered pretty daring for people just coming out.” Promotional efforts spread as far as New York City, where flyers were passed out during that city’s Pride celebrations.

A crowd enjoying Gaydays. The Body Politic, October 1978.

Running from August 23 to 27, 1978, Gaydays included an opening gala, panels, concerts, and a picnic at Hanlan’s Point. A day-long fair at Queen’s Park featured booths for 35 local gay organizations. People who had arrived early to set up booths but then planned to leave to avoid being seen at the event wound up staying the entire day. St. Lawrence Market hosted what was billed as “The Biggest Gay Dance in the History of Toronto,” which drew 1,400 people and turned more away. The dance’s drawing power was demonstrated by a midnight raffle for a trip to San Francisco, which was won by a guy from Detroit.

Gaydays received little coverage in the mainstream press, apart from a vicious piece by Sun Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy. The tone of the piece was set by its title (“Fight this perversion”) and subhead (“Gaydays are sad days for Metro”). Hoy, who was never kind to homosexuals at the best of times, lashed out: “Why they would celebrate their degeneracy is difficult to ascertain, unless perhaps you feel that if you surround yourself with sick people you may begin to convince yourself that you’re normal.”

Asked if Gaydays would return the following year, organizer Gordon Montador reflected, “We didn’t want to create an institution, we just wanted to have a festival.” Another organizer, Harvey Hamburg, believed the event made “our community’s mental health much better than a year ago.”

“Anti-cop protests now a gay habit?” The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence participate in the 1981 Pride parade. Photo by Chris Schwarz, Toronto Sun, June 29, 1981.

The good feelings were short-lived. The community was the target of anger and ridicule from social conservatives during the 1980 municipal election—Mayor John Sewell’s support of the gay community proved a factor in his loss to Art Eggleton. The next year was marked by an event sometimes called Toronto’s Stonewall—the police raids conducted on four bathhouses on February 5, 1981. The outrage over the 286 men charged during “Operation Soap” provoked angry protests that demonstrated the community wouldn’t accept any more abuse. Further raids in June 1981 prompted violent clashes between protestors, police, and harassers. Calls for an end to police bigotry and intimidation grew louder.

In the midst of this, a Lesbian and Gay Pride Day was arranged for June 28, 1981. The date was chosen to be more in line with international celebrations. Held in Grange Park, the six-hour event was advertised as “an afternoon of fun and frolic.” Though lingering fears caused by the raids made some entertainers shy away, around 1,000 people showed up for music and dancing. The accompanying march, led by the Amazon Motorcycle Club, drew 500 people. During a brief pause in front of 52 Division, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence performed an exorcism on the station, drawing looks of disbelief from the guards. Thanks to the decision of the event’s organizers, the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee (LGPDC), to proceed with annual celebrations, 1981 is currently treated as the first official edition of Pride.

The Body Politic, July-August 1981.

There were complaints from neighbours around Grange Park when LGPDC sought a permit for 1982. One letter sent to city council noted that participants were “too noisy and their actions are confusing our children who are at a learning age of what’s wrong and what’s right.” Alderman John Sewell briefly wavered in his support for the location, arguing that Pride, being a regional event, deserved a larger space like Queen’s Park. “One does not win friends by foisting on a community an event which is too large for the facility,” Sewell wrote in a letter to the Toronto Gay Community Council. In the end, Sewell and fellow Ward 6 alderman Gordon Chong supported the permit, which was approved by council in a 14 to 6 vote. Attendance for the June 27 event doubled.

Pride continued to grow, moving to King’s College Circle in 1983, and then to its current heart on Church Street in 1984. The fight for equal rights was far from over, but Pride had arrived as an annual Toronto tradition.

Sources: Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada by Tom Warner (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); the November-December 1971, Autumn 1972, Autumn 1973, February 1978, October 1978, July-August 1981, September 1981, and May 1982 editions of The Body Politic; the August 21, 1972 and January 16, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 24, 1972, June 15, 1977, July 22, 1977, May 21, 1982, June 21, 1998, and June 16, 2005 editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 25, 1978 edition of the Toronto Sun.


The classified section featuring the ad which led to the establishment of the University of Toronto Homophile Association

The Body Politic, Autumn 1972.

A double-page spread covering 1972’s Gay Pride Week.

It’s easy to understand why, beyond the standard negative attitudes towards homosexuality during this era, the mainstream press may have felt a little queasy about an earlier BP article mentioned here about same-sex attraction to youths. As more revelations emerge from various quarters about past abuses, regardless of sexuality, penning lines treating eroticization of children as “revolutionary activity” feels even more disturbing and unsettling today.

Toronto Star, January 4, 1978.

Anita Bryant’s appearance at the People’s Church in 1978 will probably receive its own post at some point – it was one of those stories that I had enough material filed away to potentially use for a Historicist column.

As for Bob Yuill, his well-annotated Wikipedia entry lists off all sorts of things that may induce groaning among some readers.

Yuill was a fiscal conservative. He opposed plans for Metro Toronto to provide financial aid to university students, and once described a proposed 34% raise for Metro managers as “baloney”. He also supported an extension of the Spadina Expressway to downtown Toronto, arguing “Suburbs were designed for cars”. He also held socially conservative views on some issues. During the 1970s, he recommended that North York Mayor Mel Lastman give a Mayor’s Medallion to anti-gay rights advocate Anita Bryant during her visit to the city. Lastman declined. In 1985, he tried to convince Metro Council to cancel its grant to the Toronto Counselling Centre for Lesbians and Gays. Yuill also supported an early workfare scheme in 1979, which was rejected by the Metro Council. In 1988, he supported a ban on Now Magazine from parts of city hall as a response to the journal’s adult-themed personal ads. He also argued that Toronto’s police should be allowed to use “strong-arm tactics” to combat the city’s drug problem. He opposed the extension of Sunday shopping, and was skeptical of affirmative action. In 1986, he was one of seven Metro Councillors to oppose a boycott of goods from South Africa. Yuill opposed the construction of the Skydome in downtown Toronto, arguing that its location would lead to increased traffic jams.

Body Politic, September 1981.

The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015, as part of the column’s marking of National Aboriginal History Month.

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.

Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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

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.”

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.

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.

Burning Down the Jailhouse

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on January 10, 2009.


Don Jail, 1860s. Wikimedia Commons.

It was 2 a.m., Sunday, January 19, 1862. Cooney, the caretaker for the soon-to-be completed new city jail overlooking the east side of the Don River, was awakened by the reflection of light on the window of his cottage near the building site. Rushing over to the jail, he noticed that the lock on the main entrance had been violently removed. Pushing the door open, he attempted to run up the stairs but was stopped by a cloud of dense smoke. He rushed away from the building and, in the midst of heavy snowfall, ran towards the city, yelling, “Fire at the new jail!” as he made his way to the fire station on Berkeley Street.

Bad luck plagued the construction of the Don Jail from the time it was commissioned in 1857, as if, in the words of the Leader, “a strange fatality” had attached itself to the building. It was intended to replace a prison that had operated at the southeast corner of Front and Berkeley since the late 1830s, which had quickly become run down and overcrowded—the facility was designed by John Howard to hold 40 inmates, but held 180 by 1857. The design contract was given to William Thomas, whose other notable buildings around the province include St. Lawrence Hall and Guelph City Hall. The original contractors, said to be favoured by Mayor William Henry Boulton, proved inept and tried to cover their behinds by having Thomas replaced with a friendlier engineering firm, a move that failed. With Thomas retained and a new set of contractors, the cornerstone was laid on October 29, 1859. Further design changes and delays ensued over the next three years, including cost overruns, the elimination of two of the four proposed wings and Thomas’s death in 1860. By January 1862, all that remained to be done was minor touch-up work, mostly plastering in the staff offices and quarters. Officials were confident that the first prisoners would arrive within two months.

Accounts of the fire-fighting effort once Cooney alerted the fire officials sound like a comedy of errors. The chief fire engineer initially turned back a steam engine dispatched to the jail around 3 a.m. when he was unable to observe any flames rising from the site. An hour later, the engine went back out, only to have a slow trudge eastward due to the snowstorm. Attempts to cross a bridge across the Don River were stymied when the engine lodged itself in the snow, which required a team of horses to tow it out. Once it reached the jail along with smaller hand-pump engines, firefighters discovered they did not have enough hose to reach the jail from the pumping site along the river. By the time intense hosing of the fire began at 7 a.m., the centre block was considered a lost cause and all efforts were focused on preserving the outer wings. A backup steam engine had to be brought in when the first one broke down after a few hours.

By the time the fire was extinguished at 1 p.m. the roof and upper stories of the centre block, including the chapel, were destroyed. The concrete and stone construction of the wings prevented heavy structural damage in those areas. Damage was estimated at thirty thousand dollars. The Leader praised the efforts of the firefighters, though it was noted “that some of them got intoxicated during the afternoon and behaved in a rather unruly manner.”

Theories on the cause of the blaze ranged from arson to careless workmen who had not fully extinguished fires lit to keep themselves warm during the working day. One bone of contention was Cooney’s assertion that the chapel floor was strewn with wood shavings, which prompted a letter in the Leader two days after the fire:

SIR – In your report this morning of the fire at the New Jail, you state that “the flames had apparently commenced in the chapel on the second story, and were fed by the large quantity of shavings the workmen had strewn about the room.” Permit us, through the medium of your journal, to inform the public that we were the last persons to leave the chapel on Saturday evening, and there were not any shavings on the floor at that time, because all the shavings had been burned about four o’clock the person appointed for that purpose by Mr. Walsh, the contractor.

Patrick Egan, John Reilly, Thomas Sayer

Construction resumed after the fire and the Don Jail housed its first prisoners two years later.

Sources: the January 20, 1862 edition of the Globe, the January 20, 1862 and January 21, 1862 editions of the Leader, and Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1986).

Bonus Features: “The Streets Belong to the People” (Cancellation of the Spadina Expressway)

Before diving into this post, check out my TVO story on Premier William Davis’s decision to suspend the Spadina Expressway in June 1971.

“The Spadina is stopped: Unpaved roadbed waits for some kind of use between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues.” Photo by Reg Innell, 1971. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115089f.

Let’s dive into the June 3, 1971 listing in the Ontario Hansard for Davis’s full speech and the opposition’s reaction:

Globe and Mail, June 4, 1971.

Cartoon by James Reidford, Globe and Mail, June 4, 1971.

Globe and Mail, June 4, 1971.

“Toasting the victory, architect Colin Vaughan, the mastermind of the Spadina Review Corporation, hoists a stein of beer with his wife, Annette, last night on the Yonge Street mall after hearing that the Ontario cabinet had rutled against continuing construction on Metro’s controversial $237 million Spadina Expressway.” Photo by Frank Lennon, originally published on the front page of the June 4, 1971 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0087522f.

The Spadina Review Corporation was the entity established by the various anti-Spadina groups to represent their views at the OMB hearings earlier that year.

Star reporter Margaret Daly asked Vaughan for his thoughts on the decision:

It’s clear that there was a great deal of technical input to the cabinet, and of course our own case was based totally on presentation of factual information. But I believe a major factor in the decision was that the cabinet did recognize that a majority of people did not want the expressway. That is the change I see this decision as signifying. Governments in the future are going to have to be totally representative. At one time people may have been content to send their elected representatives off and let them make all the decisions and vote again in three years. But no more. You have a better educated, better informed public. People will want to be part of government; they will insist on it.

On the other side, Metro chief planner Wojciech Wronski wrote an op-ed in the Star blasting the decision, believing the province had dissolved its partnership with Metro and created a vacuum in transportation planning. He felt that building the subway line through the Cedarvale and Nordheimer ravines would cause as much damage as the expressway and required an accompanying Queen Street line. “The Ontario government’s apparent support for a comprehensive subway network,” Wronski observed, “not only disregards actual needs, but is based on the mistaken assumption that such a network would contribute to the stability of neighbourhoods.” He also worried that widening other north-south arterial roads to handle more traffic would worsen air pollution.

Toronto Star, June 4, 1971.

Toronto Star, June 4, 1971.

The tent city referred to at the end of this article was an idea to temporarily house youth expected to drift into the city over the summer of 1971. It’s one of many side stories that I fell into a research rabbit hole while working on this story, and will probably cover at some point.

Windsor Star, June 8, 1971.

Something else for a future time: coverage from the Telegram, due to COVID-related closures of archival resources. They published Dalton Camp’s thoughts on Davis’s decision (his involvement in which was not publicly known for a year), which also appeared in other papers.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 4, 1971.

This piece from south of the border provides more hints about the Tely‘s coverage. George McCue was the Post-Dispatch‘s art and urban design critic; later that month he wrote a piece which offered deeper analysis of how Metropolitan Toronto, which was comparable in size to the St. Louis area, was organized, governed, and funded.

Cartoon by James Reidford, Globe and Mail, June 7, 1971. Left to right: North York councillors Irving Paisley and Bill Sutherland, Toronto mayor William Dennison, Metro Toronto chairman Albert Campbell, Toronto councillors David Rotenberg and Fred Beavis.

A week after the decision, during the annual meeting of the Central Ontario Regional Development Council, Metro Toronto chairman Albert Campbell outlined a series of controls he felt were required to prevent traffic chaos and “make car ownership in the city a burden.” Among these were a hike in the provincial gas tax, closing some streets to traffic, higher parking fees, restrictions on the number of parking spaces at downtown office buildings, special vehicle taxes, permits for use downtown, and checkpoints on the edge of the core, and a stiff tax on all car sales.

What these ideas really translated into: build Spadina.

Weston-York Times, June 10, 1971.

Some thoughts on the decision from Donald MacDonald, who had retired as provincial NDP leader the previous year.

Richmond Hill Liberal, July 8, 1971.

Out in suburbia, a pro-Spadina view from Liberal Don Deacon, who represented York Centre from 1967 to 1975. In later life, he was a major proponent of the Trans Canada Trail.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, June 20, 1971.

Rochester was wrestling with its own expressway controversies. In 1973, in the wake of cancelling a planned extension of the Genesee Expressway (I-390) into Rochester’s core, the Democrat-Chronicle published a three-part series on the aftermath of Spadina’s demise, which included plenty of shots of the Spadina Ditch.

The Canadian, September 4, 1971.

A sampling of ideas from across the country on what to do with the Spadina Ditch…

The Canadian, November 6, 1971.

…and a few ideas from the public.

Regina Leader-Post, October 15, 1971.

While the anti-Spadina protests spawned or furthered plenty of political careers and became, as the Star‘s Edward Keenan observed in 2015, a “founding myth of urbanist politics,” the pro-Spadina side created its own figures. One of the most determined was Esther Shiner, who became politicized after traffic began congesting by her home on Wenderley Drive near Lawrence Avenue after the first phase of the expressway opened in 1966. To Shiner and her neighbours, the cancellation meant years of traffic nightmares to come. “It’s sickening,” she told the Star after the decision was announced. “My family are all disillusioned that politicians can do something like this.” Soon, she was participating in pro-Spadina demonstrations.

“Traffic jams give drivers plenty of time to study a billboard on Keele St. near Wilson Ave.; one of two put up by Esther Shiner’s Go Spadina Committee to catch the eyes of the Italian-Canadian construction workers. Mrs. Shiner; a North York alderman; says the area has traffic jams all day long; not just in rush hours.” Photo by Don Dutton, 1974. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0003801f.

Elected to North York council in 1972, Shiner continued her pro-Spadina crusade, which included buying billboard space to remind drivers that Davis deserved the blame for the constant traffic jams. When the Spadina Ditch opened to traffic on September 8, 1976, Shiner’s Ford Galaxy was the first vehicle to use the road. Later that night, she held a celebration in her backyard. By the 1980s, her obsession with reviving the expressway seemed comical, as time and time again she failed to secure public plebiscites she was convinced would lead to its completion.

Toronto Star, October 28, 1986.

Today, Shiner’s name lives on via Esther Shiner Boulevard, which connects Leslie Street to the North York IKEA. When it opened in 2008 her son David, by then a Toronto city councillor, told those assembled for the opening ceremony that “it’s not a small little road. It’s a beautiful new road that is wonderfully landscaped.” The old Ford Galaxy was brought out to mark the occasion.

Sources: the December 5, 2008 edition of the National Post; and the June 5, 1971, June 10, 1971, and April 16, 2015 editions of the Toronto Star.

Ontario Place: Water Wonderland

All images from the July-August 1971 edition of Architectural Forum.

Given its creative architecture, it’s not surprising that Ontario Place received plenty of international press when it opened in May 1971, including the eight-page spread in Architectural Forum featured in this post.

Architectural Forum began in 1892 as The Bricklayer, a journal dedicated to the American brick industry. Over time the publication broadened its scope, until it adopted its longest-lasting name in 1917. it was owned by Time Inc. from 1932 to 1964, suspended publication for nearly a year, then carried on under several owners until dying for good in 1974. Though an American magazine, Architectural Forum published many features on projects north of the border, some of which I’ll use as sources for future posts. USModernist has posted most issues as part of its extensive collection of architectural publications.

Though most of the feature is included here, I didn’t post a map of the park, which reproduced poorly – any newspaper from the era will provide you with a cleaner version.

Let’s start exploring…

The original caption for this photo: “Located just off the shore of downtown Toronto, adjoining the Canadian National Exhibition grounds (far left), Ontario Place includes a variety of exhibition and recreation facilities, shops, and dining places, built on 96 acres of water and landfill.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the opening of Ontario Place, check out my 50th anniversary feature published by TVO and its accompanying bonus material.

Bonus Features: Ontario Place’s Opening Weekend

Before diving into the post, read my TVO story on the opening of Ontario Place in May 1971.

Globe and Mail, March 11, 1969.

Coverage of the press conference which introduced “Ontario Showcase” (as it was originally known) to the world.

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Toronto Star, March 11, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

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AF-1970-10 ontario place 30-31

A four-page preview from the October 1970 edition of Architectural Forum. Click on the images to view larger versions.

Architecture Canada, August 10, 1970.

Globe and Mail, May 21, 1971.

Toronto Star, May 21, 1971.

The Telegram, May 22, 1971.

The caption: “Ontario Place carpenter Jim Rimmer discovers he has a secret admirer as he takes a coffee break during the final cleanup in Pod 5. The lady to the left is part of a display that Rimmer is working on.”

Globe and Mail, May 22, 1971.

Thoughts from architect Eb Zeidler, Canadian Architect, June 1971.

Canadian Architect, June 1971.

Windsor Star, May 25, 1971.

From the opening ceremony, Premier William Davis speaking in front of guards from Fort York.

Globe and Mail, May 24, 1971.

The Telegram, May 24, 1971.

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The Telegram, May 24, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

Toronto Star, May 24, 1971.

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Windsor Star, May 26, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

Surveying the Sam’s Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on November 16, 2013.

The first thing we noticed while gazing upon the Sam the Record Man sign for the first time in half a decade was the neat organization of its components. Around 1,000 segments of the former Yonge Street icon are labelled with brown tags, outlining where each piece will fit whenever (if ever?) the sign is reassembled, right down to row and sector numbers.

The tags indicate where these neon tubes would be placed when the sign was remounted.

“It’s our responsibility to Ryerson and the people to make sure that it’s not being mishandled and treated wrongly,” notes David Grose, the national sales manager of Gregory Signs. His firm supervised the dismantling of the sign following the 2008 edition of Nuit Blanche, and periodically checks in at its current home in a nondescript industrial park north of the city.

The general storage area looked slightly less ramshackle than Sam’s itself used to be. The plastic store nameplates line the walls, and custom-built racks hold the neon tubes, which are mounted onto sliding backboards. Because the original specifications of the north disc no longer exist, an engineer climbed behind the sign while it was still mounted to measure and photograph its rear structure.

A collection of transformers. The white-coloured ones were installed when the sign was turned back on during Nuit Blanche in 2008.

Since its disappearance from public view, the sign’s fate has been mired in controversy. Ryerson showed little eagerness to remount it on the Student Learning Centre rising on the Sam’s original site, suggesting alternate sites like the school library. In August, council considered a proposal to permit the university to create a substitute set of interpretative materials, including plaques and a replica of the sign embedded in the sidewalk—a proposal that was rejected. Public outcry has manifested itself in a Facebook group; meetings between sign preservationists, Ryerson, and the City; and calls from musicians ranging from Feist to Gordon Lightfoot to remount the sign. Rumours that the sign had been destroyed were muted after Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) recently tweeted an image of its current condition.

Transformers sitting atop disc rails.

Remounting the sign, if a location is ever settled on, will be laborious. Each component will need to be tested to determine its functionality, for starters. (When the sign was relit during Nuit Blanche, 25 per cent of the transformers and 30 per cent of the neon tubes were replaced—and that was after only a short period of inactivity.) Grose highlighted some features that will require updating, such as new connectors between the tubes and power supply, which will reduce corrosion. It’s not just the sign itself that will need to be tested—its location will also. Any new home will need to be assessed, to determine if it can support the sign’s weight and if it can supply the 200 amps of power currently required to light the fixture.

Whenever the go-ahead is given, portions of the sign will be assembled into several sections for mounting. Then the tubing will be placed on top and given a final test.

Neon elements of the sign were mounted on frames that slid in and out of custom-built racks.

Grose suggested that technological advances offer greater flexibility for the sign’s future use. He noted that the original mechanism which made the discs “spin” is outdated, and could be replaced with a programmable piece called an electronic flashing unit. The original patterns could be recreated by studying videos of the original discs in action. The technology could also be used to program different patterns, such as the independent lighting up of each tube.

“It’s an important part of putting the sign back up,” Grose notes. “People want to see that animation. It’s part of what people remember.”


The signs were restored, then remounted above Yonge-Dundas Square in late 2017. During its exile near Woodbridge, the “storage area” referred to in the piece was a truck trailer, which legitimately was less ramshackle than Sam’s.