Forget Expo 67, It’s the ’67 Ex!

Part One: Advertising the ’67 Ex

Originally published on Torontoist as “Vintage Toronto Ads: Ex 67” on August 31, 2010.

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Globe and Mail, August 8, 1967.

The 1967 edition of the Canadian National Exhibition was not going to be an easy one to market to the public. How could it compete with the once-in-a-lifetime hoopla surrounding the year’s main celebration of Canada’s centennial, Expo 67? Would a trio of entertainers with Canadian roots help?

While the CNE rolled on with its traditional attractions in 1967, City officials who visited Montreal realized changes needed to be made for future editions of the CNE to make it feel less dowdy. Controller Fred Beavis proposed that beer and liquor sales should be allowed, while Mayor William Dennison pondered loosening restrictions that prevented the fair from opening on Sundays. In an editorial, the Star noted that these would be minor changes compared to what it felt the Ex really needed: a major freshening up and the creation of a greater sense of awe and wonder like that experienced at Expo 67 to bring it into the modern age.

It has settled into a rut, with no substantial change for generations. The visitor who goes through the gates each year knows in advance pretty much what he will see. There will be the same dull, unchanging buildings; the same masses of goods for sale—making some pavilions look like second-rate department stores; the same miles of booths with junky merchandise and dubious gambling games; the same bellowing pitchmen. There are, of course, better things than this at the “Ex” every year—but they are smothered in a sea of shoddy carnival gimmicks. This sort of thing may have been good enough 60 years ago, and indeed the CNE has a certain nostalgic charm for many people because it is so old-fashioned. But the CNE has no future as a big city country fair. That is not the way to attract younger people—especially when so many of them have seen “Expo” and know what a fair can be.

The paper recommended that older buildings be gradually replaced by modern structures that could be easily modified for different purposes, that the fair promote national artistic competitions, and do away with the “junk booths and ‘gyp’ shows” (conversely, a Globe and Mail editorial stated that, in a year where Charles DeGaulle gave fuel to separatist sentiments during his visit to Expo, “we should be thankful, in this shattering season, for something familiar and temperate”).

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Globe and Mail, August 14, 1967.

For the 1967 Grandstand spectacular, fair officials brought in three expats as headliners: Bonanza patriarch Lorne Greene, daytime variety show host Art Linkletter, and easy listening music maestro Percy Faith. This did not sit well with Globe and Mail columnist Dennis Braithwaite, who hoped any future reforms to the fair would eliminate “spurious Canadianism” as represented by importing talent that was more popular at the time south of the border. Braithwaite didn’t blame Grandstand programmer Jack Arthur, who had brought many popular performers from elsewhere in previous years despite being urged to use homegrown talent.

An invitation from Lorne Greene to visit the CNE in 1967. CNE Archives.

Greene, the one-time “voice of doom” for CBC, was recruited to help pitch the fair in a spot that is among the films placed onto YouTube by the CNE Archives.

Globe and Mail reviewer Blaik Kirby found Greene one of the highlights of a disjointed evening at the Grandstand. Despite one too many jokes about Bonanza, Greene proved to be “a first-class singer and an adept, relaxed comedian” who electrified the audience when he arrived onstage atop a white charger. As for the other headliners, Kirby felt Faith was engaging in his understated conducting of the CNE orchestra (even if the material was overly schmaltzy), while Linkletter was criticized for spewing “the worst of daytime audience participation TV fare onto the CNE stage.” To Kirby, the biggest mistake of the show was allowing the RCMP Musical Ride to be its finale, as the horses were kept too far away from the audience and showcased at too late an hour (after 11 p.m.).

Despite a sluggish start, attendance increased by 31,000 over 1966 to help break the three million visit mark for only the third time in the fair’s history.

Additional material from the July 31, 1967, August 14, 1967, August 21, 1967, September 5, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the August 2, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

Part Two: Moving, Grooving, and Redesigning the CNE

Originally published on Torontoist on August 19, 2011.

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Architect Harvey Cowan takes the CNE for a stroll. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

Amid the lines starting today for doughnut cheeseburgers and deep-fried cola at this year’s Canadian National Exhibition, you might hear an eternal argument: is the CNE a charming anachronism that has provided generations of Torontonians a final taste of summer fun, or an outdated relic that has little reason to continue?

Back in 1967, compared to the stylish, imaginative concepts on display at Montreal’s Expo 67, the CNE seemed so old-fashioned that it prompted one local media outlet to survey Toronto-based architects, designers, and filmmakers involved with Expo: how would they revitalize the old fair two weeks before it opened?

Flipping through the articles about the CNE in the August 5, 1967, edition of the Telegram, it’s clear both writers and interviewees weren’t impressed with the current state of the fair. Nearly all felt the CNE was a tatty, lowbrow, Victorian-era embarrassment lacking a compelling vision for the future. As architect Robert Fairfield (who designed the Festival Theatre in Stratford) noted, the CNE “failed to enter the 20th century, by clinging to the idea that it’s an institution. Like a beloved friend, it has been allowed to grow old, sentimental, eccentric, and untidy.” One major problem was finding solid financing to allow for innovative and interactive exhibits, especially from large industrial sponsors. Another issue was how to better utilize the grounds during the other 50 weeks of the year, with ideas ranging from a longer summer schedule of concerts and events to year-long exhibits. Restaurant designer Chet Borst proposed turning the grounds into a year-round restaurant district with eateries at all price ranges offering menus that represented all regions of Canada and themed after different Ontario cities or time periods (a rough-and-tumble bar from Windsor, a stately government house from Ottawa, a futuristic cocktail lounge, etc.).

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Had several of those interviewed by the Telegram had their way, the Princes’ Gates would not be greeting visitors this year. Car 305, leaving CNE grounds via Princes’ Gates, at start of CNE’s first marathon car rally, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5802.

For designer/Marshall McLuhan associate Dr. Daniel Cappon, the CNE should have moved forward as a national fair like Expo, not a northern version of Coney Island. “Use the psychedelic stuff of Expo, the participating stuff, and not just be passive and visual,” noted Cappon. “Involve the public in half an hour of playing soccer. Involve them with sculpture, with music. Install IBM machines, ask the people a lot of questions, get them involved in the answers. Let them know we’re interested in how they react.” Other suggestions from the interviewees ranged from tearing down the viewed-as-a-boring-gateway Princes’ Gates (which we think is one of the site’s highlights) to building internal transportation systems like monorails. One of the few people to admit liking the CNE was industrial designer Morley Markson, who enjoyed the energy of the midway and its pitchmen and wished the displays captured that excitement.

The Telegram also asked architect Harvey Cowan to write a two-page spread on what was wrong with the CNE (which he compared to an old lady on its deathbed) and how he would fix it. High among the liabilities: dismal streetcar stops that should have been sold to the nearby Canada Packers plant. “It should be inherent to the design of an arrival station that the space says ‘Welcome,’” Cowan noted. “The CNE stations say ‘Go home, who needs it.’” Cowan also found the existing buildings an aesthetic mishmash, the displays dull, the central location of the midway a bottleneck, the entrances mundane, and the formal restaurants displaying “all the gaiety and excitement of open house at the City Morgue.”

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Map of architect Harvey Cowan’s vision for improving the CNE. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

So how would have Cowan improved it? Via various methods that, had they come anywhere near reality, would have dramatically altered the western waterfront and made a few people unhappy. Cowan’s vision saw the demolition of all buildings at Exhibition Place except for the Grandstand. Their replacements would have included terraced, well-landscaped parking garages, a domed stadium, and a sports centre. Down by the water, an aquarium and Olympic pool would rise. Fort York would have been moved to the shore by the Western Gap, with a public marina beside it. Existing yacht clubs would have been relocated further west along the shoreline. Over on the Toronto Islands, Cowan envisioned the airport moved, with the help of infill, to what would have no longer been Algonquin and Ward’s Islands (at the time, Metro Toronto was determined to remove the remaining residents). The airport’s former location would become the main exhibition area, covered in a plastic, tent-like structure similar to the Ontario pavilion at Expo 67. The midway would have found a new home on Muggs Island. To handle visitors, the Yonge subway line would have extended along the railway lines to the new mainland sports facilities, with a stop at the foot of Bathurst that connected to a monorail service to the islands.

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A design proposal for the main exhibition space on the Toronto Islands. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

Some suggestions in the Telegram articles may have lingered in the minds of CNE officials. A master plan approved in 1971 called for the demolition of 12 major buildings to make way for new facilities for trade shows and conventions, though only a few, like the Shell Tower, were torn down. While the same year saw Ontario Premier William Davis announce provincial funding for a monorail or other public transit link between Union Station and the CNE, a permanent link didn’t exist until the Harbourfront streetcar line reached the grounds in 2000. Design ideas from Expo 67 were utilized for an exhibition and entertainment space close to the CNE grounds but not part of it: Ontario Place.

Despite the criticisms aimed at the CNE during 1967, the fair broke the three million visit mark for only the third time in its history. Though attendance has dropped to an average of around 1.3 million visitors per year over the past decade, and the fair now relies on gimmicks like novelty caloric nightmares to draw customers, something wouldn’t be right if the CNE wasn’t around as a nostalgic link to Toronto’s past or to argue about the quality of over time.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

After presenting its articles speculating on the CNE’s future, the Telegram presented a traditional preview of that year’s fair.

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The Telegram, August 15, 1967.

The Telegram also offered its own attractions at the fair, including tie-ins to its popular “Action Line” service and “After Four” teen section.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Balancing Act

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2008.

Vintage Ad #470: Watch Your Balance!

Maclean’s, April 16, 1955.

How will this space-age family’s future lose its balance?

  • Junior scares Father by having Teddy simulate a bear attack.
  • Rover, happy to see his master after a long session at the vet, jumps onto the ladder.
  • Mother relays the cost of the family’s latest insurance bill.
  • Father, overcome by a sudden burst of inspiration after reading an article about Jackson Pollock, tries to reach the yellow and blue paint cans.

The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company issued its first policy in 1887. The company’s first president was Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, though it is uncertain whether any policies were issued to cover his fondness for fermented beverages (though Macdonald was succeeded by distiller George Gooderham). After a spell in the King/Yonge area, its Toronto headquarters settled on Bloor Street East in the mid-1920s. The Manulife brand was adopted in 1971, a year before ground broke on the tower that bears its name at Bay and Bloor.

Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2008

Part One: After the Nativity Has Gone

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2008.

Nativity in Ruin

The post-holiday cleanup slowly continues across the city. Tree collection winds down this week, decorated lightposts grow patchier, and leftover sugar cookies are available for deep discounts alongside remaining Halloween candy.

Religious displays are not immune from the slow pace of cleaning, though we suspect that this nativity scene at St. Francis of Assisi Church at Grace and Mansfield also depicts an event that the Bible overlooked. Religious scholars debate if burlap, hemp, or Glad bags were the preferred choice of turn-of-the-era stable boys.

Part Two: Long Live Mediocrity!

Originally published on Torontist on January 31, 2008.

Long Live Mediocrity!

Drivers passing through the south end of Leaside on Millwood Road may have noticed commentary added to a Baxter’s Soup billboard. An anonymous critic with a penchant for exclamation marks has unleashed their critique of the petit bourgeoisie of the neighbourhood, chastising them for falling for the flattery of an instant meal that appeals to their yuppie pretensions and expensive jeans.

It might also be the work of a disgruntled diner who thought that the can of butternut squash and red pepper soup they bought on sale last week only rated two-and-a-half stars out of five.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hockey Night in the 1930s

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2008.

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1937 (left), December 6, 1937 (right).

The rumour mill is swirling around the Maple Leafs this week, as a less-than-stellar season and mixed signals from club ownership lead to daily reports about the fate of the team’s management and captain. With all signs pointing to a third straight early vacation at season’s end, the team’s followers are steamed.

Fans 70 years ago may also have been frustrated with the club, though in their case the problem was a team that usually reached the Stanley Cup finals but couldn’t quite win Lord Stanley’s silverware. At least if the team lost, the TTC was there to offer a cheerful bow before a warm trip home.

Under the stewardship of coach Dick Irvin, the 1937/38 edition of the Leafs finished first in the Canadian Division, eight points ahead of the New York Americans. The NHL would drop its divisional structure after the season, when its active membership fell to seven teams after the Montreal Maroons suspended operations (the franchise initially asked for a year off, tried to relocate to St. Louis and officially folded after the 1938/39 season). The existence of the Maroons explains why the Montreal Canadiens are billed by their nickname in today’s ad, as other period game notices indicated the city the Leafs were up against.

The game in question resulted in a 3-3 tie, highlighted by a stick-swinging fight initiated by future Habs coach Toe Blake. The Toronto Daily Star’s headline two days later read “Leafs Draw With Canucks But Lose to Tough Mick.”

The major hiccup during the season was the loss of captain Charlie Conacher in November, due to a dislocated shoulder. Doctors urged Conacher to retire—he sat out the rest of the season, but would return to action with the Red Wings the following year. Leading scorers for the Leafs, and the league, were right winger Gordie Drillon (26 goals, 52 points) and center Syl Apps (21 goals, 50 points).

TTC conductors would have had a busy playoff season, as the Leafs fought their way past the league-leading Boston Bruins into the Stanley Cup finals. Transit authorities didn’t have to worry about a mass victory celebration as the Leafs lost the Cup on the road to the Chicago Black Hawks, a team that still holds the record for the lowest regular season winning percentage by a Cup holder (14 wins, 25 losses, 9 ties). The Leafs may have tempted the fates by rejecting calls for goaltending assistance by Chicago after Mike Karakas suffered a broken toe—legend has it that the Black Hawks approached veteran minor leaguer Alfie Moore while he was drinking in a Toronto bar. It was the fourth time the Leafs had gone down in the Cup finals since their last championship in 1932 and they would lose twice more before hoisting the Cup in 1942.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Disco, Yorkville Style

Originally published on Torontoist on January 8, 2008.

Vintage Ad #463: Disco Checkers

Toronto Life, January 1978.

After reading today’s ad, Torontoist is certain of one thing—modesty was not a key element of the “Yorkville style,” especially when it came to attracting dancing queens and boogie kings looking for a place to strut their stuff. The neighbourhood had a cluster of disco floors waiting for John Travolta wannabes to demonstrate their dance skills and soak in the attitude. One might have been lucky enough to see celebrities like Sonny Bono indulge in the Yorkville way of life!

Nearly all elements of 1960s hippie Yorkville had been extinguished by the time Checkers opened on the second floor of Cumberland Court in early 1977. The last of the old coffeehouses, the Riverboat, remained in business for another year while upscale boutiques and dining spots set up shop around it. In an interview with the Toronto Star, a tourist from Winnipeg summed up the change in atmosphere. “Last time I was here in ’69, everyone was into pot. Now they’re into money.”

In a review for the Toronto Star, Bruce Kirkland noted that “the game Checkers plays is to create the illusion of sophistication—through luxury sofas and chairs set around classy wooden tables, better and more varied music than you find in routine discos, and the cultivation of a self-appointed chic crowd of straight couples and singles looking for excitement. Yet the service was slow and unreliable, albeit friendly, and the supposed main focus of a disco, the dance floor, was smaller than a subway washroom and about as atmosphere-laden.” He also felt that while drink prices were reasonable, a “nondescript” cup of coffee was a ripoff at $1.

In a survey of Toronto disco floors, the Globe and Mail was equally unimpressed with the size of the dance area. “The dance floor is located in front of a plate-glass window at the entrance, an arrangement that gives the unpleasant sensation of dancing in a fishbowl.” The neighbourhood competition included Mingles (“the place has all the warmth and charm of a sound stage”), Arviv’s (“much more pleasant to be seen sipping wine than working up a sweat”), Dinkels (“inhabitants of the dance floor range from 20-year-olds in Fairweather disco dresses to refugees from the Four Seasons in polyester leisure suits”), and Fingers (“it’s a place for intimate conversation and there’s a Latin twist to the music, an unusual and refreshing change”).

Patrons eventually got together someplace else as references to Checkers disappeared from local newspaper entertainment guides after the 1981 holiday season. Cumberland Court still exists and is home to the venerable Coffee Mill restaurant, which moved there in the mid-1980s.

Additional material from the June 17, 1977 and July 25, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star, and the December 16, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail.

UPDATE

After a long run, the Coffee Mill closed in 2014.

Saluting Saturday Night at the Movies (and Magic Shadows) with Elwy Yost

Part One: Saturday Afternoon with the Tow Truck

Originally published on Torontoist on January 2, 2008.

Vintage Ad #439: Saturday Afternoon with the Tow Truck

Toronto Life, December 1985.

Nobody likes to be stranded during the holiday season due to car trouble. Whether it’s a dead battery, unexpected snowfall, or executing a 180-degree spin into the ditch alongside the 401 on the way back to the city, inclement weather and Murphy’s Law often combine to make this a busy time of the year for auto clubs like CAA. Even beloved weekend movie hosts occasionally require their assistance.

Before gaining fame as a movie host, Weston native Elwy Yost’s occupations included stage actor, high school English teacher, employee in the personnel department of A.V. Roe during the Avro Arrow controversy, and television quiz show panelist. Yost’s first film show was Passport to Adventure, a mid-1960s CBC series in which features were presented in a serialized format alongside interviews with performers. When Yost began his film-hosting duties for TVOntario in the 1970s, he utilized the serial format for Magic Shadows on weeknights, while a rich archive of interviews with filmmakers and critics provided the context for the feature presentations on Saturday Night at the Movies. The bubbling enthusiasm he displayed for films during his 25-year run on TVOntario helped inspire a generation of film geeks. For his final broadcast in 1999, Yost screened Speed, written by one of those he inspired, his son Graham.

While waiting for his vehicle to be pulled out of the snow, one wonders if Elwy and the driver discussed movies with well-framed towing sequences.

Part Two: Curtains Fall on Saturday Night at the Movies

Originally published on Torontoist on November 13, 2012.

When the phrase “plan that looks to future” sits atop a press release, it’s often code for cutbacks or reallocation of resources. So it is with a missive released today by TVO, which buries the axe amid plans to direct reduced provincial funding into digital children’s and current affairs programming. Not until paragraph six does the bombshell hit: Saturday Night at the Movies (SNAM), currently the longest running movie program on television, will soon load its final reel.

According to TVO CEO Lisa de Wilde, “When Saturday Night at the Movies began almost 40 years ago, it broke new ground but now entire TV networks and web services are dedicated to movies.” While this may be true, those other services lack the extensive archive of interviews TVO has built up since SNAM debuted in March 1974. Those other services offer studio-produced puff pieces and PR junket quality featurettes on movies, but they don’t reach into the mechanics of filmmaking as SNAM’s conversations do. Since the late 1990s, the series has been included in York University’s film curriculum.

Beyond fulfilling TVO’s mandate as an educational broadcaster SNAM, especially during Elwy Yost’s quarter-century run as host, turned a generation of viewers into film connoisseurs. As Torontoist’s Christopher Bird noted in his obituary for Yost last year, “He was the friendliest man on television who wasn’t Mister Rogers, because he had the best job ever: he got paid to talk about movies, and movies deserved better than cynicism and snark to someone like Elwy Yost.” His manner and the show’s excellent programming choices helped the series become the network’s highest-rated series.

To a child growing up in a pre-cable household during the 1980s, SNAM was a gateway to classic movies that weren’t regularly shown on television. Under Yost’s warm guidance, it was a place to discover films that they only knew through stills in picture books, to understand who Groucho Marx was beyond the inspiration for gag glasses, spot Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos, and crack the mystery of “Rosebud.”

Besides SNAM, TVO also announced that it is ending Allan Gregg in Conversationafter 18 years. While Big Ideas is being cancelled as an ongoing series, the network indicates the lectures will reappear as an occasional segment of The Agenda with Steve Paikin. The total cuts announced today will save TVO $2 million and axe up to 40 jobs. But amid the carefully vetted talk about fiscal realities and leveraging efficiencies, a little magic has been lost.

Part Three: More Than Turning On a Projector

Originally published on Torontoist on November 20, 2012.

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Globe and Mail, November 5, 1975.

Last week, we reported that TVOntario is cancelling Saturday Night at the Movies after almost 40 years on the air. Today’s ad from the show’s early days sums up the things that made it a hit: an enthusiastic host, smart programming choices, and the use of the medium as “a springboard for discussion, ideas, feelings and—education.”

Saturday Night at the Movies was prominently featured in the network’s “TVOntario opens eyes” print advertising campaign during the mid-1970s. Today’s ad gives a feel for the range of films the series was showing at that time: Hitchcock thrillers, swashbuckling adventures, and Cold War–paranoia sci-fi.

Sharing space in this ad is host Elwy Yost’s weeknight gig, Magic Shadows. To fit the half-hour slot, movies were split up, serial style, and curated by Yost in a less formal manner than the Saturday-night feature bills. The show featured an imaginative—if slightly frightening to children—animated opening sequence.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here’s a sense of what Magic Shadows was like, via a series of intros from its presentation of The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

TVO’s online archive includes several episodes of Talking Film, which thematically compiled Yost’s interviews (and was another series I ate up as a kid).

Combined, all of Yost’s TVO film shows, combined with the guidance of my father and devouring many library books, helped me develop an appreciation for cinema that remains today. The few times I watched the series after Yost’s retirement, it always felt like something was missing. I think it was his sense of infectious enthusiasm, mixed with a deep appreciation for film history, that made the package work.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Danforth Rising

Originally published on Torontoist on November 27, 2007.

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Toronto World, March 11, 1921.

As the 20th Century dawned, Danforth Avenue was a muddy road that served as the northern boundary for the eastern portions of the city of Toronto. Between 1909, when the city made its first major annexation on the north side of Danforth, and the appearance of today’s ads in 1921, the area we now know as “The Danforth” rapidly changed from a semi-isolated mix of farmland, villages and church reserves to a series of residential neighbourhoods well connected to the rest of Toronto.

Two key factors that spurred growth were the implementation of streetcar service along a newly paved Danforth in 1913 and the opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct five years later. Market gardens that had filled the area were quickly replaced with homes, while businessmen such as Joe Barnes set up shop along Danforth (though we have no record of how many young men and their fathers were happy to shop for suits together). Names of landowners, such as the Playter family, lived on in streets and neighbourhoods.

Today’s advertisers were among the businesses and real estate companies featured in a special advertising section spotlighting the neighbourhood in the long-defunct Toronto World. With slight modifications, the following introduction could easily apply to condo or subdivision projects 85 years on:

Toronto’s growth in the last twelve years could not be more strikingly illustrated than by the phenomenal development of the Danforth district. Twelve years ago one or two stores only stood isolated along the Danforth highway; today the same highway is a bustling business street fully two miles in length, with the reputation of being one of the best shopping districts in the city, a claim well substantiated by a large and continuous patronage from outside points. Danforth is a residential district and promises to maintain that distinction. Sub-divisions offering the most attractive home-sites in the city are now being put on the market and these will prove highly remunerative investments, either for homes or for speculative purposes, for Danforth is the vanguard of Toronto’s progress. Last week $40,000 in home-sites was the turnover of one land agency on Danforth Avenue. People are seeking to establish homes where land values are now reasonable and where they have the advantages of such a convenient shopping district as Danforth Avenue.