Dora Hood’s Book Room

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on March 3, 2012.

Dora Hood and her daughter Glen. The Side Door (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958).

“It was by chance rather than design that I became a bookseller,” Dora Hood wrote in the opening line of her autobiography, The Side Door. Forced to support herself and her two children after being widowed, Hood applied skill and luck to build one of the largest mail-order book businesses in Canada. After she retired from the trade in 1954, Dora Hood’s Book Room was a cornerstone of Toronto’s bookselling community until its closing in the early 1980s.

Born in Toronto in 1885, Dora Hood (née Ridout) was the great-granddaughter of early Upper Canadian political figure Thomas Ridout. Several months after her husband, Frederick, a doctor, died in 1927, she was dining with her friend Jeanette Rathbun, who wanted out of a small mail-order book business she ran in her spare time. Hood asked to see Rathbun’s books, which were out-of-print Canadian titles, then peppered Rathbun with a string of questions. Rathbun was abandoning the business due to time constraints that wouldn’t allow her to seek out high-quality titles. As Hood later noted:

I stayed late but finally tore myself away and stepped out into the windy March night. I liked what I had seen of that small book business. It had a powerful appeal to me and I thought of nothing else all the way home. Suddenly, as I neared my house I found myself saying out loud to the swaying elm trees “That is what I want to do! I’ll make her an offer.” By the time I had turned the key in my door, I had taken the first steps on a journey which was not to end for twenty-six years.

When choosing a name for the business, Hood reasoned that “as books are a commodity of individual taste,” buyers would prefer dealing with a person rather than a company name. “Since men use their own names in business,” she noted, “why should I not use mine?” Hood felt using a “Mrs.” prefix was old-fashioned, so Dora Hood’s Book Room it was.

Pages from Dora Hood’s first catalogue, issued February 1929. Toronto Public Library.

Hood ran the business out of her home at 720 Spadina Avenue, which occasionally meant intrusions from her children. Once, she found her seven-year old daughter, Glen, displaying an illustrated book to a customer, assuring him “Now this is a very nice book!” As a young adult, Glen worked as her mother’s chief cataloguer until she left home to marry.

The first Dora Hood Catalogue of Canadiana and Americana, which consisted of 500 items ranging in price from a quarter to 60 dollars (for a complete six volume set of Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto), was issued in February 1929. Published up to three times per year, the catalogues were mainly used by serious collectors and by academic librarians stocking their Canadian sections.

Checking letters from catalogue users and other customers was among the highlights of a typical day at the store:

There was little monotonous regularity about our business day, The morning post invariably provided some surprises: a letter from someone in Bechuanaland [now Botswana] asking for a geological memoir on our Haliburton district; a polite request from a Japanese professor for a list of publications dealing with Arctic ice; an order from an important United States university whose librarian has been asked to build up the Canadian section; a friendly letter from an old customer after a lapse of years giving his new address.

Hood noticed few women among the collector set, finding that they bought old books when fulfilling needs like researching a particular period, aiding their hobbies, or helping to trace their ancestry. “Women,” Hood noted, “rarely possess that irresistible, consuming passion to possess books that has led men through the ages to build up priceless collections.”

Marion Robertson and Frederick Banting on their wedding day, June 4, 1924. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 2795.

The title mix drew more attention from buyers outside the city. “It was evident,” Hood wrote, “that the farther away they lived the more eagerly they sought my wares for, with the exception of a few ardent collectors, I remained unvisited by my own townsmen for some time.” Among the locals who did drop by was Dr. Frederick Banting, one of many doctors who bought books from Hood—she later discovered that many medical professionals became book collectors in order to develop a hobby that relieved the strain of their work. Banting favoured expensive volumes on exploration and early fur traders, along with books on Northern Ontario and Quebec that aided his painting of scenery from those regions. According to Hood, Banting ceased to collect these items following his divorce from his first wife.

Humourist Stephen Leacock was another prominent customer. Among his orders was a book he had edited, Lahontan’s Voyages, which he had never been paid for or received a copy of. Leacock had taught several members of Hood’s family when he worked at Upper Canada College, which prompted several warm letters. Hood doesn’t seem to have been the biggest champion of his work—noting that Australians were drawn to Leacock’s books, she suggested, “we need not be ashamed of this choice, even if his humour is apt to run in a groove.”

Where Hood appreciated a groove was her ability to price personal libraries. Early on, the effects of the Great Depression made many collections available. She enjoyed the thrill-of-the-hunt aspect of finding gems buried in bookshelves. Her method of pricing large collections began with a quick scan for titles she was familiar with, to get a feel for the library. She scribbled an initial estimate of what she might pay, then stuffed it in her briefcase. A thorough examination of the collection followed, where she wrote titles down in two columns: one for highlights, the other for run-of-the-mill titles. After totalling both columns, she compared the price to the figure she wrote down earlier. Around 90 per cent of the time, her first guess was off by 10 dollars or less. She then offered the seller the higher of the two figures.

Hood offered three pieces of advice for anyone selling collections, which remain valuable to anyone planning to dispose of their books through a dealer:

1. Try to arrive at a price before you offer your books, keeping in mind that the dealer must make a profit and that he will have to dispose of the books one by one, while you are to get cash for all without further effort on your part.

2. Make a careful list of your books, giving author, title, date and place of publication and exact condition, being sure to find out if all plates and maps are present. Have several copies made and send them simultaneously o the dealers in the community, asking them to quote a price on the lot. Then accept the best. It is not playing the game to withdraw books from the list after sending it out.

3. Go to a dealer you know and trust him if he offers to buy the entire library. This is much less trouble and will probably give you the best return.

Photo of location of 720 Spadina Avenue, where Dora Hood’s Book Room once stood, taken during the winter of 2012. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

When customers received the June 1954 edition of the catalogue, they were greeted with an announcement on the front cover that Hood was retiring and passing the business onto former University of Toronto librarian W. S. Wallace. Hood, who was partly deaf, devoted much of her time afterward to working with organizations like the Canadian Hearing Society. She also wrote two books before her death in 1974: a biography of paleoanthropologist Davidson Black (who named Peking Man) and The Side Door, an account of her adventures in the book trade.

Saturday Night, June 1978.

The store that bore her name remained on Spadina Avenue until 1962, when it moved to 34 Ross Street. It maintained its high reputation under several owners until a combination of high interest rates, erratic postal service, and tighter library budgets contributed to its closure in 1981.

When asked if she missed the book business, Hood responded, “Not the work. But my morning mail is not now as exhilarating as it was in the Book Room days.”

Sources:  The Side Door by Dora Hood (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958); the March 11, 1974 and December 21, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Globe and Mail, December 21, 1981.

The Toronto Patty Wars

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 5, 2011. The original images (mostly newspaper headlines) have been replaced with material that has become available since the original piece – one of the most popular installments of Historicist I wrote – was published.

“His beef: Michael Davidson of the Kensington Patty Palace holds a stack of what he has known all his life as patties – but which authorities now have told him are meat pies.” Photo by Ron Bull, originally published on the front page of the February 16, 1985 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0126464f.

Start with a filling, usually beef. Add varying degrees of spiciness. Cover with golden, flaky pastry. Result: a staple of Jamaican cuisine. Whether you buy one that’s been sitting under a heat lamp at a newsstand or grab a fresh one wrapped in cocoa bread from a bakery, the patty offers a quick, savoury bite for people on the go. It’s hard to confuse the humble patty with other beef patties that are grilled and thrown on a bun, yet some federal officials a quarter of a century ago felt the similarity in names was too much for Canadian consumers to handle. Only one product deserved to be officially recognized as a “beef patty” and it wasn’t going to be the foreign interloper.

The debacle began in early February 1985, when several patty vendors around Metropolitan Toronto received notices and visits from federal food inspectors from the department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (CACA). The inspectors were dismayed to find, as they did during an investigation in Western Canada that blew the lid off a cruel deception perpetrated on innocent consumers, that the turnover-like products sold in Toronto as “beef patties” did not match the technical definition of that term under the Meat Inspection Act. An item sold as a “patty” could only contain meat (fresh or cooked), salt, seasonings, and flavour enhancers.

beef patty had to contain at least 10 per cent protein and no more than 30 per cent fat. It could not contain fillers like breadcrumbs, oats, or whatever is stuffed into fast-food tacos. It could not be enclosed in dough or pastry. According to food inspector Sherry Brumwell, “the product in question doesn’t meet the standards, because the common name for patty specified in the regulation says no flour can be added to the meat…if the product doesn’t meet the standard it can’t be called a patty. We are asking for a correction.” Brumwell offered the offending vendors three months to rename their product. If they continued to sell “beef patties” after the grace period, they would face fines of up to five thousand dollars. As fellow inspector Barbara Hutton told Share, “we are not dictating they adopt a specific name, but we welcome suggestions to set up a change.”

Kensington Patty Palace, then located at Kensington Avenue and St. Andrew Street, circa 1978. Archives of Ontario. This image was also used in the Kensington Market Historical Society’s oral history project.

The inspectors may not have suggested a new moniker, but they did tell patty vendors that “beef patty” must be removed from all advertising, bags, and packaging. Kensington Patty Palace manager Michael Davidson was not amused. His family had made beef patties in their store on Baldwin Street since the late 1970s and sold an average of four thousand of the sixty-five-cent treats every week. “Patties are part of our heritage,” he told Share, “and if I called them anything else, my Jamaican customers wouldn’t know what I was selling.”

Unsurprisingly, at least one lawyer suggested all the patty vendors should join together to make a case for their product.

The furor over patties quickly made its way onto the front page of the Toronto Star, where reporter Rosie DiManno led off her story on February 16 with a popular mid-1980s catchphrase: “Where’s the beef? Answer: In the beef patty, dummy. Pretty simple, huh? Well, not in Canada.” She recounted the visit Davidson received from “the patty-wagon police” who told him the patties had to be advertised as beef pies or else he and other patty vendors risked fines of up to five thousand dollars. She also interviewed CACA food specialist Peter Haidle about the regulations governing patties. He seemed especially peeved by the low protein content in the crust of the offending patties. His defence of the crackdown was stereotypically bureaucratic: “When you have a standard, you have to comply with it or the whole system breaks down.” To prevent the utter destruction of the Canadian food chain, Haidle suggested snappy new names like “Caribbean-style beef pies.” He wasn’t without mercy—his department would allow vendors to use up their remaining stock of bags and other packaging bearing the offending wording.

The Star spent that day interviewing customers at the Kensington Patty Palace and fellow Baldwin Street patty seller Patty King. All agreed the inspectors were being too picky and had too much time on their hands. Echoing Pierre Trudeau’s comment on consenting adults, one customer noted “the government has no business in the bakeries of the nation.” Patty King owner George Chong, whose business sold six thousand patties per week, was ready to fight the bureaucrats for the expenses he would incur with a name change—he figured if they were so worked up about the name, they should have pounced on vendors when patties were introduced to Toronto palates in the 1960s.

By February 17, the controversy took on international proportions when the headline on that day’s edition of Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner bore the headline “Canada bans the patty.” Observers wondered if the issue would sneak onto the agenda of an upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Jamaican counterpart Edward Seaga.

“Patty break: Provincial Liberal leader David Peterson dropped in at the Kensington Patty Palace on Baldwin St. for lunch yesterday and ordered five beef patties for himself and members of his staff. He thought they tasted just great.” Photo by Tony Bock, originally published in the February 19, 1985 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0073309f.

Back in Toronto, local politicians couldn’t resist weighing in. Ontario opposition leader David Peterson dropped by the Kensington Patty Palace for lunch on February 18 to lend his support to the patty vendors. While munching on a patty (which was “just great”), Peterson told onlookers that he was “furious” when he read about the affair. “It’s just crazy, a bureaucracy gone wild, with some little bureaucrat trying to change reality. It’s ridiculous in the extreme and I’m amazed at the whole thing.” Later that day, Peterson issued an official statement which called CACA’s decision “inane…While the Caribbean patty has been in existence longer than any arbitrary definition of a meat patty set by federal regulations, federal officials have outdone themselves in insisting that this traditional snack be renamed Caribbean-style beef patties [sic].” In the wake of Peterson’s statement, Haidle was willing to compromise by suggesting the vendors could use the word “patty” with no further description or call it a “Jamaican patty.”

The absurdity of the situation, and its potential consequences, was not lost on Share columnist Abdur-Rahman Slade Hopkinson:

All over the exquisitely varied world, Jamaicans must find themselves between two urges: to laugh their heads off, and to erupt into the thundering profanities in which their dialect is so rich…The federal government has set itself on a perilous course. This may well be the thin edge of the linguistic wedge. Is the development of a language no longer to be a natural flowering? Is it not to be the result of its use by people in their daily lives, with its ultimate refinement, power and beauty being in the hands of the poets, novelists and essayists of the language, women and men with a special feeling for what is at the same time clear, precise, trenchant, pungent and colourful in verbal usage? Is linguistic appropriateness now to be decided by bureaucrats, of all people, a class that has been notorious throughout all history and all cultures for its love of the fuzzy, the fussy, and the elephantine in speech and writing?

Hopkinson wondered what foods would be targeted next; might a dedicated bureaucrat decide that sugar cane needed a new name so no one would confuse it with a walking cane?

Toronto Star, February 20, 1985.

With increasing attention in the press to the “Toronto Patty Wars” and threats of lawsuits in the air, a patty summit was held on February 19 to devise a solution. The meeting included federal officials, Jamaican consul-general Oswald Murray, lawyer/self-described “Patty Guardian” Lloyd Perry, and Davidson. Perry was approached by the local Caribbean community and the Jamaican government to intervene after the Jamaican consulate in Toronto was flooded with calls and Canadian offices in Jamaica heard from locals concerned about the disrespect shown toward patties. After much negotiation, vendors were allowed to continue calling patties by that name as long as they weren’t simply described as a “beef patty.”

To celebrate the victory, a patty festival was held in Kensington Market on February 23, where celebrants could enjoy a patty and ginger beer for a dollar. Food inspectors were likely not on the invite list.

Sources: the February 14, 1985, and February 21, 1985, editions of Share; the February 16, 1985, February 17, 1985, February 19, 1985, and February 20, 1985, editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 18, 1985, edition of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Share, February 14, 1985.

Toronto Star, February 16, 1985.

Toronto Sun, February 18, 1985.

Toronto Star, February 19, 1985.

Share, February 21, 1985.

Toronto Star, February 20, 1985.

Bonus Features: Leonard Braithwaite

Before diving into these extras, read my TVO piece on Leonard Braithwaite, Ontario’s first Black MPP.

Toronto Star, December 6, 1960.

Toronto Star, December 4, 1962.

Toronto Star, August 23, 1963.

While researching this story, one common misconception kept popping up: that Jack White ran in the 1959 provincial election along with Stanley Grizzle. I suspect the problem stems from White being the second Black to run in Ontario and overlooking the actual election records.

Globe and Mail, August 30, 1963.

The placement of the Social Credit Action story here is a little infuriating from a modern perspective, given that this fringe party welcomed anti-Semitic neo-Nazis.

Toronto Star, August 30, 1963.

“Liberal Leader John Wintermeyer talks over election selection with Leonard Braithwaite, the party’s candidate in Etobicoke riding.” Photo by Frank Lennon, 1963. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0089771f.

Wintermeyer would lose his seat in Waterloo North and resign as provincial Liberal leader following the election. His successor: Andrew Thompson, who defeated Jack White in Dovercourt, and was infamous decades later for his spotty attendance record as a Canadian senator.

Speaking of attendance, political writers from the late 1960s until Braithwaite was defeated in 1975 were occasionally obsessed with Braithwaite’s reputedly poor record of showing up, especially for committee meetings – Globe and Mail columnist Norman Webster felt that “no election” which saw the political demise of Braithwaite and three other MPPs (Bernt Gilbertson – Algoma, Ed Havrot – Timiskaming, and Tom Wardle – Beaches-Woodbine) “can be all bad” (September 20, 1975).

Given that I didn’t see similar complaints during Braithwaite’s stint as a municipal councillor during the 1980s, and given the long list of organizations he was involved with, I have this nagging thought: was highlighting his attendance deemed a safe way to criticize Braithwaite without coming off as racist?

Toronto Star. September 26, 1963.

Windsor Star, March 2, 1965.

Globe and Mail, March 3, 1965.

Windsor Star, March 3, 1965.

It’s interesting to compare this editorial…

Windsor Star, March 3, 1965.

…to this Queen’s Park column further down the page, which suggested such comments might be seen as a “compliment” to Braithwaite.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Is This Apartment Building Absolutely Free?

South Peel Weekly, November 26, 1969.

It’s late 1969, and you’re looking for an apartment in suburban Toronto. Flipping through a local weekly, this ad catches your eye. The amenities sound good. The shops of downtown Port Credit are within walking distance, as is the local station for this newfangled thing called GO Transit. And, if the dude in this ad is any indication, the neighbours are hip and groovy.

But wait…

This guy looks familiar…

(Consulting record collection)

Gatefold album cover of Absolutely Free, Mothers of Invention (Verve 1967)

There may be some irony in that a middle class suburban development uses an image inspired by an album that blasts, among other things, middle class suburban life.

Toronto Star, December 23, 1967.

I’m guessing none of the tracks from Absolutely Free were available on the piped-in FM music – my guess is that, if the dial was fixed, it was set to the “candlelight & wine” sounds of CHFI.

The closest to a supporting gig that the Mothers made for Absolutely Free in Toronto was a concert at Convocation Hall in January 1968. Reviews were mixed: the Globe and Mail‘s Marilyn Beker felt the performance was too mean-spirited for those who paid to attend only to endure insults (the audience was referred to as “cretins”) and too much tomfoolery onstage, while the Star‘s John Macfarlane felt that the show was so good in terms of music and theatrics that he wished it had lasted a few more hours. The Varsity felt the show meandered, and, based on the group’s reputation for criticizing North America society, “either they’ve mellowed, or the words were lost.”

Mississauga News, October 29, 1969.

While the Mariner Apartments offered more conventional ads to attract renters…

Mississauga News, December 17, 1969.

…the Zappa-inspired ad wasn’t alone in trying to draw a hipper crowd. This was the era when, back in Toronto, the new apartment blocks in St. James Town attracted the swinging single demographic.

Mississauga Times, December 3, 1969.

This ad may have appealed to the coffee house set. It feels like it was inspired by an album cover or promotion photo – any ideas?

Mississauga Times, December 17, 1969

1969’s series of trippy Mariner ads ended with this one of a family gradually merging into one being.

The apartment complex still stands in downtown Port Credit.

Sources: the January 29, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and The Varsity.

Next Stop, Scarborough!

This post is based on a gallery post originally published on Torontoist on September 25, 2013. Nearly a decade after this appeared, the opening paragraphs remain relevant, as, thanks to delays and political politcalness, the public transit situation in Scarborough remains hazy in the early 2020s.

Overhead view of McCowan Scarborough RT station, 1985. Photo by Alan Dunlop. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115590f.

If keeping track of the latest developments in the debate over public transit in Scarborough is making your head spin, we understand. The constant reversals (first light rail, then subways, then light rail again, then different subways) may be dizzying, but they’re nothing new. Arguments over how to provide service to residents east of Victoria Park Avenue have raged for years.

Since the TTC assumed responsibility for public transit in Scarborough during the mid-1950s, area politicians and residents have complained about not receiving the level of transit service they feel entitled to. Some complaints have been justified, while others have been characterized by divisiveness, fear, pandering, and hot air.

Danforth Bus Lines, bus #64, in front of garage, Danforth Avenue., south side, between Elward Boulevard and August Avenue; looking north across Danforth Avenue, 1954. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library.

Prior to the formation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954, several private operators provided bus service to the suburbs. Danforth Bus Lines began serving Scarborough via a route running from the Toronto city limit at Danforth and Luttrell Avenues to Birch Cliff in 1926. During the Second World War they were joined by East York-based Hollinger Bus Lines, which offered a route to serve the growing industrial area along Eglinton Avenue.

Globe and Mail, June 23, 1954.

When Metro Toronto was created, the TTC was directed to absorb the independent suburban bus lines. As the TTC prepared to operate in its newly acquired territory, it irritated suburban politicians by announcing a zone-based fare system in May 1954. Scarborough Reeve Oliver Crockford accused the transit provider of “gross ignorance” in charging his citizens more to ride into the city (as much as 22-1/2 cents to head into the central zone, compared to the regular 10 cent fare). “It’s about time Metropolitan Council got up on its haunches and told TTC officials they can’t dominate suburban citizens the same way they have citizens of Toronto,” Crockford told the Globe and Mail. “Eventually the TTC will get fares so high that it will be cheaper to take taxis from the suburbs.”

Countering Crockford’s hyperbole was the Star’s editorial on fare zones. “There are suburbanites who favoured ‘metropolitanization’ with an altogether too hopeful idea of advantages which would accrue to them in transportation and other services. There is no magic in the word ‘metropolitan’ to make it possible to provide services at less than cost.”

The TTC maintained use of fare zones until the early 1970s.

Map of TTC service changes, Toronto Star, June 8, 1954.

The TTC made numerous adjustments when it assumed control of its new suburban routes on July 1, 1954. Scarborough saw the longest route cut: the municipality lost service along Eglinton Avenue between Brimley and Kingston Roads due to underdevelopment.

Generalized form of rapid transit extensions projected for Metropolitan Toronto area, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 49.

You may recognize a few still-unrealized lines on this map. These projections suggest that Scarborough’s transit future possibilities included an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line and the northeast track of a prototype Downtown Relief Line.

Opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway extensions at Warden station, May 10, 1968. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567. Series 648, File 244, Item 1.

Strike up the band—subway service arrives in Scarborough! Around 1,000 VIPs rode the Bloor-Danforth line during special runs on May 10, 1968 to celebration the opening of two extensions: Keele to Islington in the west, Woodbine to Warden in the east. The TTC estimated that the average commute from Warden and St. Clair to Queen and Yonge dropped from 45 minutes to 24.

Opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway extensions at Warden station, May 10, 1968. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567. Series 648, File 244, Item 46.

Regular service began on May 11, 1968. There were hiccups—the commuter parking lot at Warden wasn’t ready for prime time—and some riders complained about overcrowding at Bloor-Yonge station during the extended line’s first rush hour. But others were pleased. “I’ll save the time and money I would have spent for gasoline,” commuter Gordon Morton told the Globe and Mail. “I’ve waited a long time for this.”

Map of proposed Scarborough rapid transit line, Toronto Star, January 29, 1975.

Among the recommendations of a January 1975 report issued by a joint provincial-Metro task force on the region’s transportation needs was a high-speed streetcar line running from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern, and the proposed Seaton development at the north end of Pickering. Scarborough officials envisioned the recently developed Scarborough Town Centre area as a transit hub that would spur development and bring in up to 25,000 jobs. Local officials favoured streetcars akin to an LRT system, but feared construction would occur too late to solve increasing road congestion.

Premier William Davis proposed using Scarborough as a test case for elevated trains run via magnetic levitation (maglev), foreshadowing the province’s desire to use the suburb for its transit experiments.

20130925kennedyopening

Toronto Star, November 20, 1980. Click on image to see larger versions.

Construction on the subway extension to Kennedy proceeded. The station opened in tandem with Kipling on November 21, 1980. Despite what the ad says, Premier William Davis was not on hand due to his attendance at Conn Smythe’s funeral. Minister of Consumer and Commercial relations Frank Drea stood in to help Scarborough mayor Gus Harris open the station. Some TTC officials were angered by politicians who attended the inaugural ride to improve their chances of landing commission seats the following month. Things were quieter at Kennedy than at the other end of the line, where several high school students protested a bus route change that lengthened their trip to Sherway Gardens.

Scarborough RT departing from Midland station, December 6, 2009. Photo by Alex Resurgent from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Though the Ontario Municipal Board approved construction of a new Scarborough line in September 1977, progress crawled. By 1981, the choice was down to two systems: an LRT line using the recently introduced CLRV streetcars (an option a TTC staff report favoured), or the Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) developed by the province.

Gus Harris thought there was “something screwy” when the TTC decided in favour of ICTS in June 1981. He suspected heavy provincial interference, as a way of demonstrating their transit baby to the rest of the world. Despite Harris’s reservations, Scarborough council voted 11-5 in favour of ICTS after a six-hour debate. Following a contest, the new line was dubbed the RT. Attempts to nickname it “Artie” failed to catch on.

Among those who foresaw problems with “Artie” was transit advocate Steve Munro. “A decision to proceed with the Scarborough ICTS places Toronto on a dangerous path,” he wrote in a September 1982 Globe and Mail article. “Once the network is begun, the impetus to continue will be great, even at high cost. The political will not to be proved wrong cannot be ignored.”

“Test run: Passengers enjoy a test run on Scarborough’s new rapid transit system during trials last month. Each car seats 30 passengers; but with standing room can handle up to 107 commuters during the rush-hour crush.” Photo by Alan Dunlop, 1985. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115589f.

Problems plagued the RT from the start. The first four test vehicles were returned to the manufacturer when they developed uneven wheels. Control panel lights didn’t work properly and keys were difficult to turn. Winter testing revealed snow removal issues. The vehicles would be run by humans instead of computers. Late delivery of vehicles was blamed for suspending service after 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday.

Crowd at Kennedy Scarborough RT station, 1985. Photo by Alan Dunlop. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115586f.

Nevertheless, the RT opened to great fanfare on March 22, 1985. Former critic Gus Harris called the occasion the “greatest day in the history of Scarborough.” The public enjoyed free rides the next day.

The line’s honeymoon was short-lived. Neighbours who complained about the noise wound up with tax breaks. Despite early claims the line would be cheaper than a subway, rising costs killed plans to extend the line to Malvern. The line was completely shut down for over two months in 1988 to reduce noise and replace the turning loop at Kennedy.

In October 1987 Scarborough controller Kenneth Morrish introduced a motion at Metro Council to ask the TTC to study the cost of replacing the RT with a subway. Morrish was irritated that a proposed line for Sheppard Avenue linking the centres of North York and Scarborough would be subway instead of other forms of transit. “If we don’t change to a subway,” Morrish noted, “we can’t complete a subway loop. I don’t like the idea of having to transfer from the Sheppard subwat to the RT and then transfer back to the subway.”

Morrish was not pleased when a TTC report revealed that it would cost $350 million to convert the $196 million RT to subway.

Map of the Let’s Move transit plan, published as part of the Sheppard Subway Environmental Assessment, 1992.

Speaking of the Sheppard Subway, it appeared well on its way to being part of Scarborough’s future at various points in time. Portions of the line were included in the Network 2011 plan of the mid-1980s and Let’s Move in the early 1990s. Phase one should have been built to Victoria Park, but was pared back to Don Mills. Lobbying by North York mayor Mel Lastman—who ironically slammed the proposed Scarborough transit line in the late 1970s as a selfish act by Metro’s eastern municipality—saved the remnant of the line from the fate Premier Mike Harris’s government dealt the Eglinton West subway, which was abruptly cancelled.

Mockup of Bombardier Flexity Freedom LRT vehicle on display in Kitchener, July 2013. These were seen at various events in Toronto that year. Wikimedia Commons.

Adding LRT lines in Scarborough was a key component of the Transit City plan revealed by mayor David Miller and TTC chair Adam Giambrone on March 16, 2007. Under the initial proposal, new services were slated for Sheppard Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, and along a route extending east of Kennedy station via Kingston Road and Morningside Avenue to Malvern. Later revisions planned an LRT replacement for the aging RT.

The Star’s Jim Coyle called the proposal “probably the first announcement since amalgamation 10 years ago to genuinely treat the megacity as an entity and to assume that citizens in all of Toronto’s nooks and crannies—in farthest Etobicoke or Scarborough—are entitled to equal and adequate transit service.”

Coyle also accurately predicted that history, money, and politics would prove Transit City’s downfall in Scarborough.

Cover of Summer 2012 issue of Spacing, illustrated by Steve Murray (aka Chip Zdarsky).

During his first official press conference as Toronto’s mayor on December 1, 2010, Rob Ford declared that Transit City is “a project we do not need anymore…I was elected with quite a large mandate to deliver subways, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” With that, the unravelling of Transit City in Scarborough began in earnest.

Ford’s message of “subways, subways, subways” struck a chord among some Scarborough residents. Transit town hall meetings included some angry souls declaring their part of the city deserved subway extensions, raising the anti-LRT bogeyman of the “St. Clair disaster.” Over time, both sides of the LRT/subway argument found opportunities to declare victory as city council and higher levels of government bounced from one rejigged plan to the next.

Scarborough Centre Scarborough RT station, during the 2019 edition of Nuit Blanche. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

City council approved a three-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line in October 2013, with a projected opening of 2023. Proponents argued that, unlike many of the LRT proposals (which would have utilized buses during the construction period), the Scarborough RT could continue operating while a subway was being built. Rising cost estimates led to a revised one-stop plan in 2016, but three years later Premier Doug Ford revived the three-stop plan.

But, as with many transit projects, progress has been slow. To date, full funding has not, and to date the Scarborough . In February 2021, a TTC staff report recommended that the aging RT be closed in 2023, with buses filling the gap until the subway opens (currenly projected for 2030).

Amid the eternally heated rhetoric, we can be sure of two things: map makers will stay busy drawing up the latest Scarborough transit scheme, and residents will continue to wait for improved service.

Sources: the February 26, 1953, May 28, 1954, May 13, 1968, September 2, 1982, October 12, 1987, and January 13, 1988 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the May 28, 1954, June 8, 1954, January 29, 1975, November 20, 1980, November 22, 1980, June 17, 1981, March 23, 1985, and March 17, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star.

Raiding the Bathhouses

Originally published on Torontoist on June 26, 2011.

“On the rampage: Demonstrators taunted police in a late-night march Friday comparing the raid of four Toronto steam baths to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany; but deputy police chief Jack Marks said “We felt the action was justified.” Photo by Frank Lennon, originally published in the February 8, 1981 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0011838f.

February 5, 1981, 11 p.m. Patrons of four bathhouses in downtown Toronto (The Barracks, The Club, Richmond Street Health Emporium, and Roman Sauna Baths) were surprised by 200 police officers in a series of coordinated raids. Law enforcement officials claimed that the raids were the result of six months of undercover work into alleged prostitution and other “indecent acts” at each establishment. Those inside the baths were subjected to excessive mistreatment by police, especially when it came to verbal taunts about the sexuality of those assembled at the four bathhouses. The raids marked a turning point for Toronto’s gay community; as the protests that followed indicated, people weren’t willing to endure derogatory treatment deriding their lifestyle from the police or from any others in spheres of influence.

The damage inside one of the baths and other images from the night of the raids. Photos by Gerald Hannon and Norman Hatton. The Body Politic, March 1981.

Relations between the gay community and the police had been deteriorating for some time. Bathhouse owners who once had tacit approval of their businesses from the morality squad were no longer informed of upcoming police actions. As one owner noted, “If they had wanted us to change our operation, they should have talked to us first. They always have in the past.” A series of small raids, starting with a roundup at the Barracks in December 1978 and a monitored washroom at Greenwin Square throughout 1979 created unease. Police literature didn’t help matters: in the March 1979 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association newsletter News & Views, an officer contributed an essay on “The Homosexual Fad” that, in its mix of religious fervour and paranoia about moral decay, portrayed gays as arrogant, militant deviants who recruited innocent children into their lifestyle. This highly moralistic view was found among many officers by Arnold Bruner when he wrote a report on gay/police relations several months after the raids, which he summed up as “stereotyped notions of the homosexual man as an uncontrollable sexual libertine who commits crimes of lust, prostitutes himself, who is capable of infecting those with whom he comes in contact with by spreading homosexuality or venereal disease.”

In a report on the raids submitted by Aldermen Pat Sheppard and David White to Toronto city council three weeks after the raids, 20 of those arrested provided anonymous accounts of their experience. Why the anonymity? According to the report:

Most of those charged fear retaliation from the police if they speak out publicly. In this respect it is interesting to note that it is alleged that the police compiled an extraordinary amount of information from most of the found-ins including place of employment, immediate superiors’ names and phone numbers and in the case of married men, their wives’ names and phone number. All of those charged are aware that in the past police have made “concerned citizen” calls to employers in cases where homosexuals have been charged.

Cover, The Body Politic, March 1981.

The stories included in the report list incidents ranging from humiliation of those about to be charged to stomach-churning remarks from the arresting officers. Some samples:

One particular officer we nicknamed “The Animal.” If it weren’t for the presence of a few benevolent officers, things could have been much worse. “The Animal” said at one point, “That guy at the end (pointing to one of the arrested people) looks German. Doesn’t he look German to you? You guys are lucky this isn’t Germany.”…He was particularly vicious towards people who wore wedding rings. He would say to them “This is going to be the biggest fucking mistake of your life.”

One of them grabbed my hand and wrote my room number on it. He told me it was indelible ink and would take months to come off.

The door was being kicked in and I yelled “Stop, I’ll open it.” They said, “It’s too late now,” and kept on kicking.

One policeman said, in the shower room while we were lined up against the wall, “I wish these pipes were hooked up to gas so I could annihilate you all.”

The cops referred to my bathing suit as “ladies panties.” When I asked them why they wanted to photograph me nude, they said “We’re strange people. We like pictures of kinky things.”
If you looked anywhere but at the wall one of the cops would come over and push your head into the wall and tell you not to look at anything else. I had to stand that way with my arms up for one hour and 20 minutes.

I was led out of the holding area and taken in to see a policeman at the desk. I was still naked and asked if I could have my clothes. He said, “No, turn around, bend over and spread your cheeks. I said spread your cheeks. Don’t tell me you haven’t done that before.” I finally felt I had to bend over.

Inside the baths, police took crowbars to lockers, which were among the $50,000 worth of damaged items. Undercover cops wore red dots to show, according to one officer, “who are the straights.” When the night was over, 286 men were charged for being “found-ins,” while 20 were charged for operating a bawdy house. No incidents of prostitution were uncovered.

“Metro’s finest received Nazi salutes and shouts of ‘pigs!’ from angry protestors at 52 Division.” Toronto Sun, February 8, 1981.

The following evening, a midnight march starting at Yonge and Wellesley was organized to protest police brutality. Writer Burke Campbell provided his observations of the protest to the gay publication Body Politic:

The bars emptied into the streets. Thousands of well-dressed faggots have had enough. “Stop the cops! Stop the cops!” The chants continue, build, and go on and on. A lot of us have whistles and the piercing screams travel like sound bullets through the cold night air. Faces. I recognize so many. A crowd of friends. “We should do this all the time,” says one beautiful woman. I laugh. We’re in control of the city. The police can’t do anything…

The procession, which peaked at over 3,000 angry marchers, made its way south to 52 Division on Dundas Street. As protesters yelled “No more cops!” and “Fuck you, 52!,” a small group of mostly teenaged counter-protesters yelled back “Fuck the queers” and unsuccessfully attempted to block University Avenue. Once at the police station, the protest encountered a human barricade of 200 officers. As Body Politic reported, “Our line surges up and slaps up against theirs but theirs doesn’t break—even when the crowd gives them the Nazi salute, even when the crowd spits in their faces.” From there, the protest headed north to Queen’s Park, where it hammered on the doors of the legislature. Violence between police and protesters broke out, which caused organizers to urge the crowd to disperse. Police tactics such as that in which officers who remove their ID numbers eerily echo the measures used to handle the G20 protests last year. A group of around 400 headed back to Yonge Street, where, following a further reduction in numbers, they faced insults and more violence. At the end of the night, the toll was 11 arrests, one injured police officer, one damaged police car, and four smashed windows in a streetcar.

Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0008491f.

For marchers like Body Politic columnist Ken Popert, the protest was a means to let out the anger building inside of them:

I know that something got into people, because it got into me…Friday night was different. I screamed and chanted until my throat was raw. I wanted to destroy, to injure, perhaps to kill. What got into me last Friday night was my own anger, anger which I’ve become accustomed to thrusting away from myself because it’s too big to deal with, too frightening to acknowledge…What got into me was my own anger over living in a society which finds my existence inconvenient. What got into me was my own anger over harassment on streets that are never safe for me. What got into me was my own anger over the unrelenting stream of taunts and insults from the media, coolly calculated to undermine my self-respect with every passing day…What got into me was my own anger over city aldermen for whom I campaigned not three months ago and who are now silent while gay people are robbed of what little freedom and safety we have. Friday night was a warning. I finally got angry. And I’m still angry now. Anger is what got into me and a lot of other people that Friday night, an anger which stands for hate returned full-measure. As long as society continues to demand us as its victims and its human sacrifices, that anger is going to be there, waiting to get into us, again and again. It’s not going to go away for a long, long time.

Though police officials claimed that the raids were just a bust that wasn’t intended to intimidate the gay community, the outcry against police brutality grew in the following days. Commentators that were generally pro-cop, like CHUM radio news director Dick Smyth, were outraged. Smyth criticized the force for “ham-handed brutality and lunk-headed vandalism,” and called them “pigs” on air. Outrage outside the gay community was well represented when the Globe and Mail came out swinging in an editorial on February 9:

There have been no such raids on other private clubs in Metro Toronto. There have been no such raids on heterosexual bawdy houses in Metro Toronto. Even in the days when there were raids on heterosexual bawdy houses, few charges were laid against found-ins. The impression upon the public cannot fail to be that the police are discriminating against homosexuals, knowing that the relatively minor charges which have been laid against so many people may give them major problems in their private lives—hurting them in their jobs and families, exposing them to the abuse of those who would deny homosexuals any rights…The Metro Toronto Police claim to be understaffed. Yet they have been able to waste men on six months of investigation, on a 150-man raid, on policing the ensuing reaction, on the court work that will result. And all for suspicion of conduct which is legal between two consenting adults in private. Other minorities must wonder if so gross an action against so many citizens by such a large group of policemen, with the support of the Chief of Police (and can it have occurred without the consent of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission) means that no minority is safe from harassment in a city where it could happen.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, February 11, 1981.

That editorial was attacked by the Sun two days later. The tabloid accused its competitor of “spouting editorial nonsense that homosexuals are being picked on.” Concerns about harassment of other communities were dismissed (“What tripe to compare homosexuals with blacks, Asians, Boat People, Jews, etc. Wonder who wrote that editorial!”). But then, “The Little Paper That Grew” had never shown much sympathy toward homosexuals. In an interview with CBC, editor-in-chief Peter Worthington indicated that gays had become too flaunty for their own good—he believed that “a person’s sexual orientation or preferences should remain in the closet.” When asked about his threat to reveal the names of found-ins after future raids, Worthington felt that such a tactic would be a good deterrent for anyone considering a future visit to a bathhouse. Over the following months, every time a report looking into the raids or gay/police relations was released the Sun took the low road in its coverage and refused to acknowledge that such a community existed, let alone deserved any protection of its rights.

But it was homophobic drivel from the likes of the Sun that drove the anger that refused to go back into the closet. Time has shown that the events of early February 1981 can be considered Toronto’s Stonewall moment. Future bathhouse raids were met with loud protests. The trials for the found-ins dragged out for over a year, with most found innocent of the charges (The Body Politic kept a running tally of wins and losses). Pride celebrations gradually grew in size despite efforts by municipal officers to curb their public celebration time. Though a full inquiry into the raids never materialized, reports like the one prepared by Arnold Bruner paved the way for slow improvements in the relationship between police and the gay community. Though Rob Ford’s non-presence during this year’s Pride celebrations is a throwback to the unease Art Eggleton felt toward the gay community during the fallout from the raids and throughout his mayoral tenure, the public reaction from people of all sexualities shows that many Torontonians won’t accept such disregard anymore.

Sources: Out of the Closet: Study of Relations between the Homosexual Community and the Police by Arnold Bruner (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1981), Report on Police Raids on Gay Steambaths prepared for Pat Sheppard and David White (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1981), the March 1981 edition of the Body Politic, and the following newspapers: the February 9, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail; the February 6, 1981 and February 7, 1981 editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 8, 1981 and February 11, 1981 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Track Two, a documentary about the raids.

Editorial, The Body Politic, March 1981.

“Crowd estimated at 3,000 converged at Yonge and Wellesley Sts. yesterday crusade for homosexual rights after police raids on four steambaths.” Photo by Ivaan Kotulsky, Toronto Sun, February 8, 1981.

The full Ken Popert column from the March 1981 edition of The Body Politic.

Globe and Mail, February 9, 1981.

Toronto Star, February 1o, 1981.

Toronto Sun, February 11, 1981.

Toronto Sun, February 11, 1981.

I do not have Claire Hoy’s column from that day’s Sun, but I have little doubt it was excruciatingly homophobic.

Toronto Sun, February 12, 1981.

Toronto Sun, February 27, 1981.

The Sun published letters that criticized the raids, which received the paper’s signature one-liner responses. A.A. Bronson’s letter also appeared in the Star the next day, without any additional comment.

Toronto Star, February 15, 1981.

The response, Solway noted in his February 22, 1981 column, was the largest he had received in three years and slightly favoured the police. “Some were intemperate and hysterical, including a suggestion that all those caught in the raid be lined up in City Hall Square and publicly executed. So much for the lunatic fringe.” He ran a larger-than-normal sampling of letters, nearly all of which criticized the raids. Among the highlights:

  • “The bawdy house laws were devised in a bygone century and they are dusted off today specifically for this kind of harassment…Gay politics is not going to be a joke in the city any longer.”
  • “The raids represent a reckless abuse of authority and a sinister subversion of the 1969 law, by those sworn to uphold that law.”
  • “Instead of protecting the community against our ever-increasing crime rate, the last thing we expect to hear about is unnecessary damage to property caused by police.”
  • “The real problem occurs if non-gays don’t recognize the significance of the police action…If one group’s rights are limited then who will be next?”
  • “The homosexual must be returned to the closet once and for all. I believe our rights should be protected against all unlawful acts and it is about time society stopped protecting the perverted segment.”

Globe and Mail, September 9, 1981.

Racism and Homophobia in the Pages of a Police Magazine

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 4, 2016 with some additional material integrated into the main text.

Cover of the March 1979 edition of News & Views.

“This sickness or aberration should never become a right.”

Highlighted in bold, the introduction to Staff Sergeant Tom Moclair’s article “The Homosexual Fad” in the March 1979 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association’s (MTPA) newsletter News & Views seemed to confirm that prejudice toward the city’s gay community thrived amongst its cops. The article exacerbated the hostility felt throughout the previous two years in the wake of the murder of Emanuel Jaques on Yonge Street, the charges filed against The Body Politic magazine for distributing an article about man/boy love, and a raid on the Barracks bathhouse.

The inspiration for Moclair’s diatribe occurred just three days into 1979. Recently elected mayor John Sewell appeared at a rally supporting The Body Politic at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education building. In front of over 600 attendees, Sewell stressed freedom of the press and that it wasn’t illegal to be homosexual. “Sometimes the actions of the police and other law enforcement agencies seem structured so as to suggest to the public that a specific should be generalized—that one particular act within the gay community is a reflection of all members of that community,” Sewell observed. “Such an impression should not be allowed to stand. The police must be very careful to ensure that their actions are interpreted as narrowly as possible. Unfortunately the opposite seems to be the case.”

Sewell expressed his disgust at the police seizure of The Body Politic’s mailing list, and reassured the audience that city council enacted a policy ensuring that City Hall wouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals. “We know it’s not illegal to be gay. We should take the next step and make it clearly legitimate to be gay.”

Globe and Mail, January 4, 1979.

Criticism of Sewell’s speech was swift. By the end of the business day on January 5, over 1,000 irate calls regarding Sewell’s appearance flooded the City Hall switchboard, ranging from cries of “homosexual pervert” to demands for his resignation. Some councillors and media outlets questioned Sewell’s timing, especially as The Body Politic case was still in the courts. Sewell felt he had acted appropriately, noting that “the gay community felt itself under attack and I believe it was under attack. I have no regrets.”

The mayor promptly turned down an invitation from evangelist Ken Campbell to attend a “prayer session” at Nathan Phillips Square a few days later. Campbell, who presented the invite on 100 Huntley Street, claimed the rally would be “pro-children,” which some observers took as code for “anti-gay.” On the same show, host David Mainse told viewers to call Sewell and tell him “there is a petition coming in response to what happened last night.”

star 1973-01-10

Toronto Star, January 10, 1973. Larger version.

Among those who felt Sewell went too far was Tom Moclair. The 22-year veteran of 14 Division was inspired by an opinion piece by York University psychiatry professor Daniel Cappon published by the Star in January 1973. Titled “The Homosexual Hoax,” Cappon claimed the public, falling prey to “gutless permissiveness,” was being tricked by whiny gays suffering from a corruptive emotional sickness which compelled them to convert innocent youth to their depravity. The piece provoked piles of letters to the editor. Supporters of Cappon commended him for his bravery in speaking out, while critics included 57 faculty colleagues who rejected his stance (“Cappon’s views represent those of only one psychiatrist, and certainly not one of the more humane”).

Moclair was blunt about how he felt about homosexuals:

I was saddened and desolated that the Mayor of Toronto recently sanctioned acts of perversion which symptomize the decadence of our society in his liberal and flippant show of appreciation to a few hundred homosexuals who helped him get elected. These “weirdos” may need our tolerance and acceptance, but certainly not our approval to continue their psychological sickness in foisting their acts of depravity on the long-suffering public.

Segments of our society suffering from homosexuality which calls itself “homophile,” “gays,” “fags,” and “fruits,” etc., provide us with a vivid example of how far we in Canada have gone down the “road to debauchery.” Just look at them; victims of emotional sickness, misfits of their environments, attempting to turn their aberration into a right, as well as a virtue.

Just listen to them talk (if you can stomach them); and they sure like to talk, because talk is a penchant of homosexuality especially in the physically deprived and cowardly male. If you were ignorant of what they are and what they represent, you would think that their type of deviance was a valuable asset. But let us remember that homosexuality is nothing new. Many cultures throughout history have dealt with them almost universally with disdain, disgust, abhorrence, and even death.

And that’s just the first three paragraphs.

News & Views, March 1979.

Over the next page and a half, Moclair frothed about arrogant militants out to seduce boys, how Canadians were aghast at Pierre Trudeau’s promise to keep the government out of the nation’s bedrooms, how taxpayer money was wasted on educating the public about homosexuality, that the concept of sexual preference was bunk, and that the public needed to show more reverence to God. Through much of the piece, Moclair comes close to plagiarizing Cappon’s diatribe.

Homosexuals weren’t the sole targets of vitriol in this particular issue of News & Views. Retired officer Ken Peglar’s “Pensioners News” column mixed tidbits for fellow retirees with the musings of what now seems like an antiquated blowhard and his unfiltered id. The March installment began with a mild potshot at Catholics and uniting churches.

Then Peglar really got rolling.

I sometimes wish I were a black man or a Pakistani or Jewish…or something along those lines: someone with a problem. Take me (for the purpose of this discussion, you must, you know). Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m fairly decent have a bit more on my mind than the Tuesday morning bowling. I’m being bombarded on all sides by inflation, unemployment, the falling dollar, juvenile delinquency, the crime rate, prison conditions, womens lib, neglected children, doctors leaving the country, my family, families of friends, the Star Fresh Air and Santa Claus Funds…I’ve got my own problems…and that’s just a few I happened to be able to think of on the spur of the moment. I’m a WASP, so these things are of concern.

But nobody expects a black man to think of anything but his colour or a Jew to concern himself with anything but his Jewishness.

And you know something, they seldom do.

Word of both articles spread quickly beyond the circulation of News & Views, hitting Toronto’s daily newspapers on March 20, 1979. Sewell vowed to tell MTPA president Mal Connolly to use better judgment in future issues. Alderman Allan Sparrow felt the pieces marked “one of the darkest days in the history of police-community relations in Toronto.”

A Globe and Mail editorial feared that Moclair’s piece did little to reassure fears regarding prejudice among police. Gay activist George Hislop challenged the police department to charge the publication with publishing “indecent, immoral or scurrilous material”—the same charge brought against The Body Politic. Other activists called meetings to discuss further actions, such as distributing copies to officials at all levels of government.

The authors defended their articles. Moclair, painting policemen as a minority group, claimed that his views on homosexuals didn’t interfere with his job. When a Star reporter contacted him, Moclair fretted that they would publish a piece about his story. “This was for an internal publication,” he noted. “It’s unfortunate for me, grief to me, because I’m sure the department won’t like me to be embarrassing them.”

Peglar, who spent nearly 40 years as an officer, confessed that while he had no personal experience with Black people, he attended school with Jews. “I’m not perfect,” he told the Star, “it’s just a comment by a senior citizen.” He reflected that half a century earlier the “yellow peril” made people uptight, and that when he was active there were few of “these ethnic problems.”

Cartoon by Andy Donato, reprinted in the August 1979 edition of News & Views.

Metro Police Commissioner (and former mayor) Phil Givens was vacationing in Florida when the controversy struck. He promised to launch an investigation upon his return a week later. Police chief Harold Adamson, away on business in Ottawa, said that Moclair was entitled to his opinion as long as it didn’t affect his work. Deputy chief Jack Ackroyd felt it would have been in the force’s best interest that Moclair’s article had not published. He also noted that a scan of Moclair’s background showed no overt acts of bigotry, and that the article did not contravene police rules. Connolly found Moclair’s piece well-written, but quickly denied an initial comment to the Globe and Mail where he agreed with the content.

When Adamson returned to Toronto, he met with Moclair for half an hour. “Moclair has deep religious convictions, which apparently were what prompted him to write the article,” Adamson told the press. While the chief didn’t feel the article aided community relations, no immediate action was taken.

In a March 25, 1979 editorial, the Star observed that “much of the good work the department has done in gaining the confidence and cooperation of minority groups in Metro is likely to be undone.” Columnist Stephen Lewis felt Ackroyd and Adamson’s reactions were “so namby pamby that any homosexual would have the right to interpret them as turning a blind eye to harassment,” and that the articles fit a reactionary phase among police forces in their views toward minorities, rape, and capital punishment. “When those who uphold the law have so little appreciation of its spirit,” Lewis concluded, “it does damage to the whole community.”

Toronto Star, March 27, 1979.

The following evening, Reform Toronto, a left-leaning lobby group, held a meeting at City Hall led by lawyer Clayton Ruby which brought together community leaders and rights activists from a variety of minority groups. Civil rights lawyer Charles Roach called for the firing of any officials known to be bigots. Brent Hawkes, representing the Right to Privacy Committee formed in the wake of the 1978 Barracks raid, urged the disparate groups to stand together and be wary of homophobic organizations. Resolutions included calls for a public apology, an inquiry into racist attitudes within the force, a independent, citizen-controlled complaint bureau, and giving Metro Council full authority to appoint all five members of the police commission (at the time, the province picked two seats).

On March 28, Adamson and Connolly succumbed to pressure and issued public apologies. Adamson admitted that remarks like Moclair’s adversely affected how police did their job, while Peglar’s ramblings “had an unsettling and disturbing effect on many people in this community.” He reiterated that there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a charge against Moclair under the Police Act—“You just can’t fire people these days.”

Connolly said that the MTPA didn’t condone prejudicial attitudes, and that News & Views‘s content would be watched more closely by the MTPA. “Unfortunately, both articles have been wrongly perceived to reflect on the way in which we as police officers carry out our duties,” he noted in a subsequent News & Views editorial. “We will continue to permit authors to freely express their own personal views but at the same time, exercise more editorial control to keep articles within the bounds of good taste and propriety.”

“The incident can now be considered closed. It shows that we have a fine force in Metro whose members take their work seriously and are earnestly trying to improve their relationship with all minorities in the city,” concluded a March 29 Star editorial. At best, this was a hopelessly naïve statement, as the fury was anything but over.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, March 29, 1979.

On April 2, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to condemn the MTPA for publishing the articles. Initially, councillors were divided over taking action, until Allan Sparrow produced Peglar’s December 1978 column. A small sampling, starting with some complaints about the Italian community and the forthcoming Columbus Centre:

I think it’s about time somebody did something to protect us WASPs from all these other ethnic groups in Metro. After all, we’re a minority group now. The west side of Dufferin and Lawrence is dominated by Italian Roman Catholics…Now that they’ve elected a Polish Pope, we can look to lots of co-operation between the Communists and the Vatican. They both have the same ambition: world domination.

There’s a church, a convent, two schools, an old folks home and several other buildings. Pretty soon there’s a good chance there will be a community centre. At least two giant signs say “the site of an Italian Canadian Centre.” Notice the Italian Canadian; not Canadian Italian. People come from all over Metro to attend these places and when they’re going good, us Anglos can’t get on a bus or walk on the sidewalk.

Then there was this charming observation about Jewish drivers in North York:

And, if you want a laugh, drive over to Glencairn and Bathurst and see the Jews, their Oldsmobiles. It’s better than a Frank Sinatra special. Nobody is going more than 5 or 6 miles an hour, or it would be tragic. The only place a normal driver is safe is beside them. They haven’t figured out how to drive sideways.

Alderman Joe Piccininni was among those whose minds were swayed by the new evidence. “You’d think that this was impossible, that this came out of a comic magazine, but it’s from Toronto’s finest,” he noted. “They allow themselves to put out this as if it’s the gospel from this pensioner.” Sewell felt it was becoming a war of words, with few concrete actions being taken.

Front page photo, Toronto Sun, April 4, 1979. Given the timing during the midst of the controversy over Peglar’s writing, it’s hard not to be cynical about why this greeted readers picking up their paper.

The Sun’s Mark Bonokoski attempted to defend Peglar, by reminding readers of his column that Sparrow was found to have libeled two cops the previous year. Peglar’s musings were presented as being tongue-in-cheek. The column reads as if accompanied by mournful violins. “If I’ve offended any of the ordinary folk in this city, I am truly sorry,” Peglar reflected. “But there isn’t a bigoted bone in my body. I’ve taken shots at everyone. The Irish, the Welsh, the Americans. Maybe I’m a complete bigot because I even take shots at myself.”

One of Peglar’s colleagues, News & Views contributor Gordon Henderson, observed that Peglar thought the magazine was bland and needed to be stirred up. “Unfortunately,” he told the Globe and Mail, “it has gone beyond the membership.” At first, the MTPA announced Peglar’s columns would undergo tighter editorial scrutiny. But then Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes dug deeper into Peglar’s archive, finding shots taken at French Canadians, women, and homosexuals. The Star opined that the MTPA gave “no thought to the harm Peglar’s propaganda could do to law and order. Why should an Italian, a Pole, or a Chinese trust the fairness and objectivity of a Metro policeman, why should they come forward with information when they a subject of contempt in the policemen’s magazine?”

By June 1979, Peglar was shuffled off the pensioner beat, though he later contributed some book reviews.

Meanwhile, the police commission heard deputations on April 5 about force attitudes toward homosexuality and race. Among the items discussed was a call from the Right to Privacy Committee to dismiss Sergeant Gary Donovan for informing three school boards that teachers they employed were arrested at the Barracks. One speaker defined the relations between the gay community and police as “gloomy.” Speakers repeated called for disciplinary action and the implementation of a civilian review board. Givens made assurances that the issues raised would be dealt with quickly.

Ad for Metropolitan Toronto Police Association, Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

Only they weren’t. By mid-May, activists were growing impatient. The police commission was accused of stalling on items such as making a clear statement on the force’s stance on sexual orientation. Givens urged patience until the commission issued a report on May 31, one which gay activists found too generic to address their concerns. The commission also declined to fire Moclair or Donovan, as neither violated police regulations.

Right to Privacy Committee member Peter Maloney felt the report avoided addressing the tense relationship between homosexuals and the police, providing further fuel for bitterness and hate. He also claimed that police were stepping up their actions against homosexuals. Over the next few months, The Body Politic reported on increases in verbal abuse from officers, as well as entrapment operations at washrooms in Greenwin Square and Shoppers World Danforth. Those harassed were encouraged to call the magazine with their accounts. They advised readers to avoid angry exchanges and take down vital information such as badge numbers, license plates, and exact time of the incident.

At its June 28 meeting, the police commission refused to add sexual orientation to a “declaration of concern and intent” drawn up a month earlier, despite motions from city and Metro councils to include an explicit statement. Deputations at the meeting, which included a teen who was charged with two counts of possessing illegal weapons for wearing a punk-styled combo of chain belt and spiked collar and taunted by officers with statements like “are you gay?” and “do you give blow jobs?” were practically ignored as commissioner/Metro chair Paul Godfrey presented a pair of pre-typed resolutions which stated that the force was anti-discriminatory in public dealings and that there would be no unauthorized disclosures of arrests without the chief’s permission.

Tensions continued to rise over the summer. Failed attempts were made by the Right to Privacy Committee to meet with Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry over a raid on the home of a teacher accused of keeping a common bawdy house and the seizure of the NDP’s gay caucus membership list. This culminated in a sit-in (or, as Sun Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy put it, a “mince-in”) outside McMurtry’s office in late August. In late July, an Ontario Police Commission report rejected demands for public inquiry on the force’s dealings with minorities, and declared that further review of Moclair’s article was useless.

Cardinal Carter (left) and John Sewell (top). Cartoon by Andy Donato from the Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

The shooting of Jamaican immigrant Albert Johnson after police responded to a disorderly complaint at his home on August 26, and the subsequent special investigations, intensified the anger felt by minorities. Relations between all groups concerned deteriorated so badly that Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter was called in by Godfrey in early September to act as a mediator.

While Carter met daily with activists, community members, and officials, the MTPA tried to boost sagging officer morale with an ad campaign to awaken public support for the force. Connolly claimed that if public confidence continued to dive, the force may as well disband. “The men are asking if anybody cares or even knows about the job they are doing,” he told the Globe and Mail. “They are fed up with seeing themselves presented as machine-gun-toting brutes in jackboots and helmets going round gunning people down.” The desired effect was, for the moment, achieved, as hundreds of supportive calls were received, and some stations received floral bouquets.

Cardinal Carter discussing his report on rebuilding relations between police and visible minorities, 1979. Photo by David Cooper. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0036693f.

Carter issued his report on October 29, 1979. Regarding homosexuality, he was upfront about the juggling act of where the Roman Catholic Church stood on sexual orientation versus respect for civil rights.

One of the groups which I interviews, and which is hardest to categorize, is the self-avowed homosexual community. In my discussion with them I made it very clear that it was not my intention to compromise my position in regard to the practice of homosexuality. But my role here is not directly theological and my position is taken on the basis of civil and human rights.

No one will reasonably expect homosexuals who break the law to have any species of immunity. Nor do they, in my judgement, constitute a community which may legitimately demand special consideration. But neither should they be the object of vilification, harassment or an excess of zeal in pursuing them with more fervour and perhaps relish than other citizens or groups of citizens. Being a homosexual does not constitute an offence either against the moral order or the civil law. Practicing homosexuality does, in the judgment of many, constitute an offense against the moral order. But if limited to a private dimension, this practice is hardly a concern of the police force which has or ought to have many more urgent preoccupations.

He noted that verbal abuse was too prevalent, urging the chief to instruct officers to cut it out. The report urged people to beware agitators amidst minority groups who promote further divisiveness. Overall, the report encouraged closer ties with communities though increased foot patrols and a general liaison committee, and better education of officers to combat prejudice and racism.

Carter was horrified by the content of News & Views:

I recognize that the police authorities have no jurisdiction in this regard but when one sees racist articles being written by men who were for a long time police officers one must arrive at the conclusion that when they were exercising their authority in the streets of Toronto they were also racists. One does not become a racist upon resigning from the force. One grows up in that condition. This in itself is a serious black eye to the Police Association and to the members of the force, so many of whom do not deserve it.

Cartoon by Andy Donato from the Toronto Sun, October 31, 1979.

Godfrey termed the report “a masterpiece.” Others, like Dick Beddoes, felt Carter reiterated complaints heard all along which, had they been submitted by, say, Sewell, “might have been dismissed by the hierarchy of the Metro force and police union as a rabble-rousing document.” Connolly felt the report was generally positive toward police, but was ultimately insignificant. Association of Gay Electors president Tom Warner felt it barely tackled the gay community’s complaints. “Considering the extent of police harassment of gays in the past few years,” Warner noted, “I think the report should have specifically recommended police education on gay issues, and the establishment of a liaison committee with the gay community.”

Relations between police and the gay community continued to deteriorate, as did the relationship between the police and the mayor. As Carter prepared his report, the MTPA declared a non-confidence motion regarding Sewell. His antagonism with the police and support of the gay community were critical factors in his defeat in the 1980 municipal election. News & Views continued to poke people its writers didn’t like—the appointment of openly gay George Hislop and Black Trinidadian Margaret Gittins to the city planning board in 1980 was eyed with skepticism. Continuing police harassment would culminate in the furor and general outrage that followed the bathhouse raids in February 1981.

Sources: Report to the Civic Authorities of Metropolitan Toronto and Its Citizens by Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter (Toronto, October 29, 1979); the March-April 1979, August 1979, September 1979, October 1979, and December 1979 editions of The Body Politic; the January 5, 1979, March 21, 1979, March 22, 1979, March 27, 1979, March 29, 1979, April 3, 1979, April 4, 1979, April 5, 1979, April 6, 1979, May 18, 1979, July 28, 1979, September 7, 1979, and October 30, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1979, April 1979, June 1979, November 1979, and February 1980 editions of News & Views; the January 10, 1973, January 5, 1979, January 6, 1979, March 20, 1979, March 23, 1979, March 25, 1979, March 27, 1979, March 29, 1979, April 3, 1979, April 8, 1979, June 1, 1979, September 8, 1979, September 17, 1979, September 18, 1979, and October 29, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star; and the April 4, 1979 edition of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1973-02-22 davis transportation cartoon

Toronto Star, February 22, 1973. Larger version.

A rebuttal to Daniel Cappon’s opinion piece.

Apologies if the alignment of some of these clips is annoying – the last revamp of WordPress has issues with embedding images stored on Flickr.

Globe and Mail, March 21, 1979.

Globe and Mail, March 21, 1979.

The Globe and Mail‘s Dick Beddoes wrote several columns skewering Moclair and Peglar, as well as the weak actions of the police. This was the first of them.

Globe and Mail, March 24, 1979.

Among the many letters printed over the News & Views furor was this one by playwright John Herbert.

Toronto Star, March 25, 1979.

Toronto Sun, March 29, 1979.

The Sun‘s editorial on the whole matter seems as much an opportunity to take shots at one of the paper’s least favourite lawyers as to slip in a comment that Moclair’s piece possessed “a certain crude validity.”

Globe and Mail, April 5, 1979.

Beddoes uncovered more lovely emissions from Peglar’s brain over the previous year. What this material actually had to do with pensioners is a good question, unless it was an attempt to recreate a shooting-the-shit-over-a-couple-of-beers session.

News & Views, May 1979.

Call this the “damage control” column, where the police association’s priests reminded the readership of the good deeds performed over the years.

News & Views, June 1979.

The announcement that Peglar would no longer write the Pensioners News.

News & Views, August 1979.

News & Views sports columnist Ed Pearson offered this tribute to Peglar.

Toronto Sun, September 13, 1979.

In the period between the shooting of Albert Johnson and the release of Cardinal Carter’s report, the Sun printed this “encouragingly sensible” letter. My suspension of disbelief was tested while reading this, from the pen name “C. White” (c’mon, really?) to the “go back to your homeland” attitude presented.

News & Views, November 1979.

At the City Council meeting MTPA president Mal Connolly was so digusted by, councillors voted 13-9 in favour of a motion of non-confidence (brought forward by Gordon Cressy, father of current councillor Joe Cressy) in the Metro Police Commission in the wake of the Albert Johnson shooting. At the same time, council voted 12-10 in favour of advising Sewell to tone down his rhetoric. All of the councillors voted their support for Police Chief Adamson and his officers, noting that despite all the recent controversies, members of the force were “carrying out a difficult job.”

After the session, Connolly told the Star that it was “a complete joke. God help the City of Toronto if that’s what’s governing it.”

News and Views, November 1979.

And so the battle lines were emerging for the ugliness of the 1980 municipal election campaign.

The Inn on the Park 2: Grand Opening Coverage

Don Mills Mirror, May 1, 1963.

For more on Inn on the Park’s development, go to the first post in this series. There isn’t much for me to add, so I’ll let the primary material do the talking in this post.

Mary Walpole advertorial column, Globe and Mail, May 4, 1963.

Globe and Mail, May 7, 1963.

Don Mills Mirror, May 8, 1963.

Don Mills Mirror, May 8, 1963.

Don Mills Mirror, May 8, 1963.

World Events: Hank Aaron’s 715th Home Run

This series looks at how Toronto’s press has covered historical events. This post is presented to mark the passing of baseball hall-of-famer Hank Aaron. Due to COVID restrictions, access to the Toronto Sun’s coverage is unavailable at this time.

Toronto Star, April 9, 1974.

It was the baseball story everyone had trailed for the past year – when would Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs? Entering his 21st season with the Atlanta Braves in 1974, he had been forced to play the team’s opening series in Cincinnati after baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn caught wind of plans to bench Aaron so that he could break the record at home in Atlanta.

Fate determined Aaron would hit #715 in Atlanta on April 8. Kuhn was not among those on hand.

Star columnist Milt Dunnell discussed the detours Aaron had faced over his long career:

The real measure of Aaron’s accomplishment is not that he finally eclipsed the most honored record in baseball – but that he got close. There were so many detours along the way.

When he attended high school, he played softball. The board of education at his black school had more urgent needs for its funds than the purchase of baseball gear.

He joined the Mobile Black Bears [a Negro League team] on graduation. Apparently, nobody bothered to tell him a cross-handed batter would wind up with the Indianapolis Clowns [another Negro League team whose antics bordered on those of the Harlem Globetrotters] – which was exactly what happened.

Even when he got to the Braves, you could say he was mishandled – if you want to be blunt. They used him at shortstop, second base, the outfield, and back to second. He never complained, although he did observe, somewhat wistfully, that he envied players who knew what their position was going to be.

Globe and Mail, April 9, 1974.

Compared to the Star’s staid coverage, the Globe and Mail‘s Louis Cauz tried to inject some life into his game summary.

His first swing at home in the fourth ining produced undoubtedly the most memorable moment that will occur this season. He had walked on five pitches in the second inning.

The powerful swing by the Braves’ 40-year-old slugger sent a towering drive to left centre. It was a a majestic smash.

The ball soared high through a misty Georgia sky as outfielders Jim Wynn and Bill Buckner raced back to the fence at the 385-foot sign.

But the ball was well over their heads and the fence as it bounced against a sign which said “Think of it as money – First National Bank.”

The ball Aaron smashed into a wind blowing from left to right was thrown by Los Angeles lefthander Al Downing.

Atlanta Constitution, April 9, 1974.

While small photos of Aaron celebrating his home run were printed on the front pages of the G&M and the Star, full front page coverage was provided in Atlanta.

Aaron wasn’t the only front-page sports story in Toronto that day. The Star reported that Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey had failed to convince the federal government to allow a World Football League franchise to operate in the city. The feds felt the upstart league would prove a threat to the CFL. Decades on, Godfrey still occasionally muses that one of his unfulfilled dreams is to bring a professional American football franchise to Toronto. Dream on, Paul…

“Pursuing subject they share in common are Jeffrey King, this year’s Timmy, and Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king, at Sports Celebrities Dinner at Royal York Hotel last night. Jeff, who was given baseball and bat by Aaron, is a pitcher despite loss of right arm from cancer. He also plays goal in hockey.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the February 14, 1975 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0028572f.

After the 1974 season, Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, the city which had served as the Braves’ home during the first 12 years of Aaron’s major league career. During the offseason, he attended the Sports Celebrities Dinner in Toronto, an annual fundraiser for the Ontario Society for Crippled Children (now Easter Seals Ontario).

Aaron told Star columnist Jim Proudfoot that he found all the press attention which had surrounded the record breaker was ironic.

For 20 years, I was a mediocre player and the press never bothered with me. Suddenly, I was giving three press conferences a day. I’d remind them I didn’t start hitting home runs five years ago. I’d been hitting them since 1954. They used to speculate whether Mickey Mantle or Harmon Killebrew or somebody would break Babe Ruth’s record and then they’d say that oh, yes, that fellow in Atlanta, he may have a chance too.

Aaron also commented on the race factor in the volume of endorsements and economic benefits his record brought him. “I think it’s fair to say that if I was white and playing in New York, this record would have been worth another $5 or $6 million to me.”

Sources: the April 9, 1974 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 9, 1974 and February 14, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.

Parliament Will Soon Be In Session

Originally published on Torontoist on June 24, 2011.

Glen Murray (MPP, Toronto Centre, and Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation), Michael Chan (Ontario Minister of Tourism and Culture), and the design for Parliament, the interpretive centre commemorating both the site of Ontario’s first parliament buildings and the War of 1812. Photo by Jamie Bradburn, June 2011.

If only an army officer with a taste for curios hadn’t sent an Upper Canadian government clerk a scalp in the mail.

According to an account recorded by 19th century local political activist Robert Gourlay, the legislators who received the scalp and its accompanying letter were not amused by their “present” and tossed it aside. Legend has it that during the siege of York in late April 1813, a group of invading American sailors found the scalp hanging like a trophy inside one of the Ontario parliament buildings, at the southeast corner of Front and Berkeley streets. The sailors were offended by what appeared to be an act of British barbarism committed against an unfortunate countryman. Though it’s possible that orders came from above, the most likely scenario is that the sailors acted like unhappy Vancouver hockey fans and torched the joint (which we avenged by torching Washington, D.C. the following year).

Flash forward two centuries. The last smoke seen coming from a building at that corner emerged from the tailpipe of a Porsche, and the last torn scalp belonged to a bureaucrat tearing their hair out during the long, unfinished process of acquiring that block, running along the south side of Front to Parliament Street. But now, thanks to the efforts of local preservationists and the provincial government, the former car dealership at 265 Front Street East will soon be celebrating Ontario’s first parliament buildings and the conflict that led to their fiery demise.

Design concept for Parliament. Image courtesy of the Ontario Heritage Trust.

At a press conference held on site yesterday afternoon, Ontario Minister of Tourism and Culture Michael Chan and Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) Chairman Dr. Thomas Symons unveiled the sketch of Parliament, an interpretive centre that will be among the $32 million of projects funded by the province to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Scheduled to open on February 17, 2012, the front of the OHT-operated centre will include historical displays and exhibits, as well as providing space for educational activities and special events. We imagine there will be references to the archaeological dig conducted in 2000, which uncovered remnants of the original foundations and burnt floorboards. To assist with operating costs, part of the building will be leased out to commercial tenants.

Several speakers hinted at the “interim” nature of the centre—hopes were expressed that long-running negotiations with other property owners on the east end of the block will result in an enlarged commemorative site in the future. According to the Star’s Christopher Hume, at least two larger proposals have been made: one envisioning a large public space that includes a library and further digging in the ground, the other keeping some public space alongside a 57-storey condo. (Guess which one Hume prefers.) The centre’s current design screams temporary, especially the wraparound sign that resembles those found on construction hoarding.

A sketch of the first parliament buildings. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by John Ross Robertson (Toronto: John Ross Robertson, 1894).

The site was chosen for the seat of government by John Graves Simcoe in 1793. The government operated temporarily out of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) until the buildings were officially opened in 1797. According to historian Henry Scadding, the buildings were “humble but commodious structures, of wood” that consisted of “two elegant halls, with convenient offices for the accommodation of the Legislature and the courts of justice.”
Following the fire, the remaining brick walls were patched up and used as barracks during the rest of the war. New government buildings on the site opened in 1818, but they met with an accidental fiery demise six years later. At that point legislators gave up on the site and eventually settled in a new home further west on Front Street, in the block where CBC now sits. Later occupants included a jail, a gasworks, and various automotive-related businesses.
The sentiments expressed about the site’s significance at yesterday’s opening echoed those made by Scadding in the 1870s:

Objectionable as the first site of the Legislative Buildings at York may appear to ourselves, and alienated as it now is to lower uses, we cannot but gaze upon it with a certain degree of emotion when we remember that here it was the first skirmishes took place in the great war of principles which afterwards with such determination and effect was fought out in Canada. Here it was that first loomed up before the minds of our early lawmakers the ecclesiastical question, the education question, the constitutional question. Here it was that first was heard the open discussion—childlike, indeed, and vague, but pregnant with very weighty consequences—of topics, social and national, which at the time, even in the parent state itself, were mastered but by few.

Sources: Toronto of Old by Henry Scadding, edited by Frederick H. Armstrong (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1966) and The Battle of Little York by C.P. Stacey (Toronto: Toronto Historical Board, 1977).

UPDATE

Upper Canada Gazette, July 10, 1794.

The Parliament site was a temporary set-up, operating for about a year. The City of Toronto purchased the block bounded by Berkeley, Front, Parliament, and Parliament Square Park in 2012. In recent years, the First Parliament Project has looked into the site’s future use.

In January 2021, Metrolinx initiated expropriation proceedings on some of the land for future construction of the Ontario Line. The timing of this announcement, on the heels of the province’s questionable bulldozing of the nearby Dominion Foundry site, has raised some eyebrows. Expect future updates to this post.