The Cheesiest Poet of All

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 2, 2011. Cheese poets don’t get enough credit in this world…but, seriously, this was a fun column to work on. If you catch me in a good mood, I’ll happily recite “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.”

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Portrait of James McIntyre, Poems of James McIntyre (Ingersoll: Ingersoll Chronicle, 1889).

It’s a safe bet to declare that James McIntyre was the cheesiest poet of all time. And not just because his verse is, shall we say, not among the most spectacular examples of the poetic form written during the 19th century. No, McIntyre’s poetry was cheesy due to one of its frequent subjects: cheese. As the Ingersoll-based bard noted in the preface to the “Dairy and Cheese Odes” section of Poems of James McIntyre, “as cheese making first began in this county and it has already become the chief industry of many counties, it is no insignificant theme.” Of the verses he dedicated to cheese, perhaps the best known, or most mocked, is an ode to a seven thousand pound wheel of pressed curd that Torontonians observed with amused awe during the Provincial Exhibition of 1866.

We encourage you to indulge in your favourite fromage while reading “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.” For added enjoyment, read the following lines aloud in your finest Scottish accent:

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world’s show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.
We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

We’re unaware of any reports of anyone physically crushed by the mammoth cheese while it was showcased on both sides of the Atlantic during 1866 and 1867, though there were rumours that several ports in England refused to accept it due to the crushing smell caused by lack of refrigeration.

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Mammoth Cheese made at Ingersoll, Canada West, 1866. Library and Archives Canada, R7244-0-0-E.

The genesis of the mammoth cheese was in Oxford County, where the dairy industry experienced rapid growth during the mid-19th century. By 1866, the county’s major cheese producers looked for new markets to sell their products and saw an opportunity when the aftermath of the Civil War in the United States hampered American exports of cheese to England. An attention-grabber to impress the English was required, so work began on a massive wheel of cheese at James Harris’s factory south of Ingersoll in June 1866. At least three factories provided the raw ingredients to produce a wheel that was approximately three feet thick, seven feet in diameter, and boasted a circumference of 21 feet. When the finished product arrived at the Great Western Railway station in Ingersoll to be shipped to its first destination on August 23, the town celebrated a public holiday. It was amid the speeches by local dignitaries that McIntyre publicly debuted “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.”

The cheese’s first major showing was at the New York State Fair in Saratoga. Harris was offered $6,000 to part with the cheese, but refused. He also refused to accept $500 to show it as a separate attraction at the upcoming Provincial Exhibition (the forerunner of the Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto. Rather than charge visitors an extra fee to see the monstrosity, Harris preferred to display it alongside other major attractions in the Crystal Palace or with entrants in the dairy competition. A team of four horses was required to haul the cheese into the Crystal Palace for setup on September 22. When the fair officially opened a few days later, the Globe observed that “no object in the Exhibition arrested more general attention than this. It is visited throughout the day by a crowd of interested spectators, by many of whom the most amusing opinions are expressed.” Harris and fellow mammoth cheese contributor Hiram Ranney left the fair with third place prizes in the “best factory cheese, not less than 50 lbs each” category. After Toronto, the cheese made its way across the Atlantic, where its use as a promotional stunt proved effective. The cheese met its final fate when the remnants were divided among Oxford County farmers who had contributed to its production.

Though not a farmer, James McIntyre deserved some of the leftovers due to his deep admiration for the work of dairy producers. He was born in Forres, Morayshire, Scotland in 1827, where his neighbours included future Canadian Pacific Railway last spike driver Donald Smith. McIntyre immigrated to Canada in his early teens and, after a long series of odd jobs, settled in Ingersoll and established a furniture/undertaking business. McIntyre’s other interests included serving as an official in the Liberal party and his duties as a Mason and Oddfellow. During his lifetime, McIntyre’s poetry was published in the Globe and, according to notes at the front of Poems of James McIntyre, received praise from the likes of Globe editor Sir John Willison (“the gem of the table”), Toronto Police Magistrate George Taylor Denison III (who “found many most interesting pieces on Canadian subjects”), historian Henry Scadding (who felt a poem about one pioneering cheese maker “had the ring of a fine old ballad about it”), and Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat (who was impressed with McIntyre’s patriotic spirit). One wonders if, in the case of fellow Liberals like Mowat, political allegiances shaped the praise.

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Man and woman fishing in the Credit River, July 1, 1902. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1430.

Occasionally McIntyre mentioned Toronto in his poems. “Credit Valley Trip” arose when McIntyre was among a delegation visiting Toronto on a train provided by the Credit Valley Railway Company. While McIntyre seems to have enjoyed the sights he saw out the train window, and makes reference to Toronto sporting legend Ned Hanlan (despite misspelling his name), in the end he and his companions agreed that while Toronto was a nice place to visit, they wouldn’t want to live here.

Whenever we take a tour abroad
We love to travel o’er new road,
When scenery to us is new
And landscape pleasing to the view,
When invited for to rally
And take a trip on the Credit Valley,
We resolved for to afford
A day with Council and School Board,
For to view the rural charms
Of hills and dales and fertile farms,
With joy we saw the sunbeams gleam
On Grand River beauteous stream,
And those perpendicular walls
Of rock, like old baronial halls,
We saw the great lake ebb and flow
And queen city of Ontario.
While some enjoyed the genial smile
Of Hanlon on his lake girt isle,
Returning home each one exclaims
“Happiest spot is banks of Thames.”

When McIntyre died in 1906, an editorial in the Star set the tone for future critical evaluation of his poetic skills:

Mr. James McIntyre, whose death is announced, had a harmless hobby, the turning of familiar topics into verse. His muse was not too proud to notice a big cheese, or to describe those methods of intensive farming by which Ontario has grown rich. It cannot be said that it was good poetry, and many of us must plead guilty to making it the theme of comment of a more or less humorous character. When the body of a young man was found in Toronto Bay, and was identified by the buttons on his clothing, Mr. McIntyre celebrated the event in verse, of which we recall the lines, “Buttons gave no clue he did desire, Showed suit was made by McIntyre.” There have been better poets whose hearts were not as sound or whose natures as kindly and gentle as McIntyre’s.

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Cover to the 1974 edition of The 4 Jameses. McIntyre is second from the right.

Much of McIntyre’s posthumous notoriety is due to William Arthur Deacon’s 1927 book The 4 Jameses, which playfully lumps in McIntyre’s verse with three other well-intentioned poets who happened to be named James (Gay, Gills, and MacRae). The book spun out of a series of articles Deacon (often regarded as Canada’s first full-time professional book reviewer) wrote about lousy Canadian poets for Saturday Night in the mid-1920s. Throughout The 4 Jameses, Deacon offers ironic commentary on the featured authors and works and blows their historical importance out of proportion—in the case of McIntyre, tying his Scottish hometown to Macbeth’s slaying of King Duncan and noting that both McIntyre and Donald Smith would “play significant parts in the upbuilding of the Dominion of Canada.” Deacon also noted that “McIntyre must have immersed himself in cream, and made cheese his chief mental diet, for years. To the new gospel of dairying, he was a convert so ardent that he barely missed becoming fanatical.” Though it was a poor seller upon its initial release, The 4 Jameses became, as George Fetherling noted in the forward of a 1974 reprint, “that rare thing in Canadian literature: an underground classic,” as it grew fans through word of mouth.

Despite the humour made at the expense of McIntyre’s work, Deacon ultimately found that the cheese poet and his brethren deserved respect for trying:

When the limitations of an old warrior like McIntyre are apparent, it is sanity and not sacrilege to smile at them; but it should be done kindly, remembering always their inescapable disadvantages, their valour and their chivalry…Their aspirations, their will to universal betterment, and their intuitive reach beyond the measure of their grasp is easily traceable through their writings, like the proverbial thread of gold. By these shall they be judged and not by flaws in the pattern. The more their work is pondered, the greater one’s affection for them, the greater his admiration for their honest efforts to noble expression and the greater his tolerance for mistakes growing out of inevitable limitations of opportunity, and creating the human, personal touches that first attract readers to them. Who sees not this, has lost the better, sweeter half of their message, and is himself to blame.

Additional material from The 4 Jameses by William Arthur Deacon, third edition (Toronto: Macmillan, 1974), Poems of James McIntyre by James McIntyre (Ingersoll: Ingersoll Chronicle, 1889), William Arthur Deacon: A Canadian Literary Life by Clara Thomas and John Lennox (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), and the following newspapers: The September 26, 1866 edition of the Globe; the September 24, 1866 edition of the Leader; and the April 3, 1906 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

More context for poets like McIntyre, from Heather Menzies’s book By the Labour of Their Hands: The Story of Ontario Cheddar Cheese (Kingston: Quarry Press, 1994):

He wasn’t trying to write Great Poetry. He wanted to honour the achievements of people like himself, who had come to this country with little or nothing, hoping to make new lives for themselves in British North America. Parochial poetry, published in the local paper, was one of the most accessible local media for doing this.

This “folk poetry,” as it’s called, helped interpret the rural community to itself and bind it together in a shared world view and ethos. As such, McIntyre and others like him made important contributions to Canadian folk culture through their verses. For folklore historian Pauline Greenhill, folk poetry is not meant to be separated from the context of a particular local community. Also, it must be understood as process as well as product: a sort of ongoing dialogue between the poet and the community, in which the poet brings order out of the minutiae of everyday life through verses. By the title and content of the poems, the folk poet implicitly names what is “appropriate” and symbolically important to readers.

Menzies concludes that McIntyre viewed the mammoth cheese as “the ultimate symbol of progress, combining local hand labour and scientific technology in the modern pursuit of ‘industry.'”

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Preserving Parkdale

Originally published on Torontoist on April 28, 2011.

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It’s a Tuesday night in a Parkdale church basement. Sixteen people are sitting in a circle. An ice-breaking exercise reveals that most of those attending are in their 20s, purchase their food within a mile of home or work, and have never undertaken the activity they will learn about this night. In the kitchen behind them, prep work for the evening’s task is well underway. Apples, spices, and other ingredients for fruit butter and sauce sit on a table.

Welcome to a workshop on making preserves.

Groups like the West End Food Co-op are rekindling interest in an art that we usually associate with our parents or grandparents. “Canning and preserving give individuals tools to control and know more about what they are eating, choose whole healthy foods, purchase foods in their raw and/or whole (often more affordable) form, and contribute to people learning how to cook for themselves,” says WEFC operations co-ordinator Ayal Dinner. “It is also a perfect group or community activity—contributing to breaking down social isolation and building links for people with others in their community.” The workshop we observed last week at Parkdale Neighbourhood Church is one of a series WEFC plans to run this year, with sessions targeted to the public, partner organizations, and low-income local residents.

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Last year, WEFC and the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre collaborated on a community cannery in Parkdale. More than 100 people participated in the pilot project, which created more than jars of food. “We found that participants really enjoyed the time working in the kitchen together and there were definitely bonds made,” notes Dinner. Based on what they learned from last year’s program, WEFC has assembled a 120-page community canning toolkit for groups interested in producing their own preserves. The toolkit (available upon request from WEFC) provides stories about canning projects across North America and outlines how to budget, fundraise, run workshops, and source food for local canning operations. While most inquiries about the toolkit have come from community groups and health agencies across Canada, WEFC has heard from Australia and an “eco village” in Ireland.

In the kitchen, the participants gather around the ingredient table. Some don aprons as they prepare to slice apples provided by Two Century Farm, one of the regional growers from which WEFC has arranged to receive surplus product. Besides producers, WEFC has worked with groups like Not Far From the Tree to harvest fruit. Says Dinner: “For organizations working on issues related to food security, preserving, including canning, is a great tool for using resources that would otherwise go to waste, and providing another way to get good food to people in this community.”

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The cut apples are crushed in a press, then mixed with other ingredients in large pots on the stove. When the first batch of apple butter is ready, it goes into jars that were partially sterilized in the oven. Tips are given on how to avoid the risk of nasty surprises, such as botulism, from improper preparation. (Advice: stick to recipes and techniques provided by cookbooks and canning equipment manufacturers like Bernardin.) The smell of the fresh spread is homey, a scent that one hopes will be present when WEFC opens its community food store, which is being planned for east Parkdale later this year (they are currently scouting a location near Queen and Dufferin streets). Besides selling canned items, the store will have a kitchen for members and community groups to make their own preserves. Dinner hopes the store will solve the logistical problems WEFC has had with growers: “Transportation and storage are barriers, and once we have an operating store and kitchen it will be more worthwhile for producers to deliver to us. We will have the space and resources to increase how much we can purchase, what we can get, and who we can work with.”

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Checklist for Discriminating Voters

Originally published on Torontoist on April 26, 2011.

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The Telegram, June 8, 1957.

As the federal election campaign hits its final week, one of the big stories is a series of polls that shows a rise in the NDP’s popularity. Whether the party will retain its current momentum and wind up with a substantial increase in seats remains to be seen. Digging around for old party election ads, we discovered a “checklist for discriminating voters” that the NDP’s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) provided for electors back in 1957. While there was a crest of support for an opposition party that year, the tide went with John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives.

By the 1950s, the CCF wielded influence on social welfare policy that far outweighed its representation on Parliament Hill, and the party was not shy taking credit for inspiring legislation passed by the Liberal administrations of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent. During a party convention in Winnipeg in 1956, the delegates updated parts of the Regina Manifesto to reflect current realities and to make these policies less scary to voters who thought the CCF were no better than Communists: threats to eradicate capitalism were changed to policies supporting public ownership wherever most appropriate.

One claim leveled at the CCF during the 1957 campaign is one which still plagues the NDP (or did until recently, perhaps): that a vote for the party is a wasted ballot. Though aimed specifically at voters in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, a press release from Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas could have applied to dithering voters in Toronto too:

In this constituency you are being told that you will be wasting your vote by voting CCF. The fact remains that over the past quarter of a century every important economic reform and every piece of progressive social legislation has been popularized by the CCF and has been forced upon a timid and reluctant government. The Liberal Party does not need a bigger majority. What it needs is to be shaken out of its complacency and indifference.

With limited resources to run a federal campaign, the CCF relied more on dedicated volunteers than hired staff. Newspaper ads such as today’s featured item appeared in conjunction with one of the party’s few CBC radio and television spots. Maybe the party should have plastered each candidate’s photo in this ad, as the other major parties did: the best results local CCF candidates mustered were second-place finishes in Danforth and Greenwood. The party lost the only local seat it won in the previous election (York South, where MP Joseph Noseworthy served until his death in March 1956) and would not win again federally until future party leader David Lewis recaptured it in 1962.

Nationally, the results were slightly brighter: the CCF gained two seats for 25 overall. The party’s most stunning performance in Ontario was in Port Arthur, where schoolteacher (and future Telegram and Sun parliamentary columnist) Douglas Fisher knocked off “minister of everything” C.D. Howe.

Additional material from The Canadian General Election of 1957 by John Meisel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962).

The Black Bull of Yore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 23, 2011. Additional images have been included.

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Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894).

Patio denizens and motorcycle enthusiasts may be relieved to hear news reports that fire damage at the venerable Black Bull was largely confined to the upper apartments and that the bar will reopen today. Had the three-alarm fire spread, Toronto would have lost what is debatably its oldest watering hole: drinks and hospitality were first served at the Black Bull in, depending on the source, 1833 (a year before York became Toronto) or 1838 (a year after William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion).

Based on a portrait of the bar in Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, even in its early days the Black Bull attracted a parking lot full of hogs…of the animal variety.

York was a hospitable place in the old days, for the places of entertainment in every section of town were very much more numerous, when compared to the population, than they are now. Up to a recent period, when it was succeeded by a brick building, bearing the same name, however there stood at the north-east corner of Queen and Soho streets the antique-looking inn, shown in the illustration, with a swinging sign and wooden water trough and pump in front. This was the Black Bull Hotel, a favourite stopping place for farmers on their way to town from the west and north-west.

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The Globe, July 14, 1858.

The property was originally purchased by Peter Russell, for whom nearby Peter Street was named, in 1798 and was initially used for farming. Other illustrious families whose names remain on downtown streets (Baldwin, Willcocks) were owners of the property at Soho and Queen West over the first half of the 19th century. According to Robertson, the first landlord of the Black Bull Hotel was a Mr. Mosson. Between 1886 and 1889, the building was bricked and expanded.

Being a bar, it’s inevitable the Black Bull would eventually land in the police blotter. In a court case reported in the December 7, 1895 edition of the Globe, proprietor Richard Allcock and bartender Charles Bates were sued by carriage builder William Potter for $200. The plaintiff went to the Black Bull for a drink with a friend that September, but “while there a number of others congregated and had a drink at his expense.” When Bates demanded payment, Potter refused and a fight ensued. As Bates threw Potter out of the bar, the bartender struck Potter with such force that he lay unconscious for a week and was bedridden for a further five. The defendants denied the charges.

According to a 1903 classified ad, the Black Bull offered anyone looking for a place to stay a “large comfortable room, en suite or otherwise, for rent, with or without board.” That the ad didn’t use “quiet” as an adjective may have been due to incidents such as one that occurred on March 10, 1904. Four rowdy young men caused a ruckus in their room that night, during which they ignored the bartender’s attempt to quiet them down. When proprietor William Seager went up to the room, the men pounced and broke his leg. Two months later, when the incident went to court, Seager hobbled his way to the stand on crutches. His attackers received sentences ranging from 60 days to six months.

Corner of Soho St. and Queen St., looking north-east

Clifton House, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 48, Item 26.

For much of the 20th century, the premises operated as the Clifton House, a name it shared with an east end home for boys where beer was the only drink available in its beverage room. Articles published after the name reverted back to the Black Bull in 1977 indicated that it was “pretty rough” during its Clifton days. All we were able to ascertain about the Clifton was that it was among the 68 venues licensed to sell beer in Toronto in 1934. By the early 1980s, when the bar was owned by retired football players Bobby Taylor and Jimmy Hughes, the Star reported that “the only reminder of its past are the colourful residents who patronize the pub, along with Ontario College of Art students and a full range of athletic types.”

Additional material from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto by John Ross Robertson (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894); the December 7, 1895 edition of theGlobe; and the December 23, 1903, May 26, 1904, November 1, 1934, and November 18, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Scenes of Toronto: The Sign Lives On at Consumers Distributing

Originally published on Torontoist on April 21, 2011.

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Behind the gloss of the Shops at Don Mills, a few office buildings and plazas that haven’t experienced redevelopment still line the southwest quadrant of The Donway. A passing glance at the tenants of 49 The Donway West reveals an exiled anchor of the old Don Mills Centre (Home Hardware), service-based merchants (Cadet Cleaners, The Beer Store), and vacant space temporarily filled by the campaign office of the local Conservative candidate. It’s when you hit the western back corner of the plaza that you encounter one store banner in disbelief: Consumers Distributing. Disbelief, because it’s been 15 years since anyone ordered from a Consumers catalogue.

To a kid, the Consumers Distributing catalogue, along with the doorstop Sears dropped on the front step, was like a religious text. One could dream for hours about playing with any of the showcased games, toys, and video systems. Needed to show your parents what you wanted Santa Claus to bring on his sleigh? The catalogue provided a visual guide to pass on to the Jolly Old Elf. Whenever a new catalogue came out, the old one could be hacked up for cut-and-paste school presentations.

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From one location that opened in 1957 on a site now occupied by Eglinton West subway station, Consumers Distributing grew to more than 200 stores across Canada and a few south of the border. The model was simple: flip through the catalogue, choose an item, go to a store, fill out a form, and pray the item was in stock. Despite supply-chain hiccups, the model worked for four decades. By the mid-1990s, the combination of the refusal of its foreign owner to inject more money into the business in light of a couple of poor seasons, a new superstore model that didn’t perform to expectations (which included touch-screen computers for ordering), the decline of the catalogue-store business across North America, and competition from Wal-Mart and other new big-box stores caused the chain to go bankrupt. As 1996 closed, so did the last Consumers stores.

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How did this sign survive in pristine condition? Being hidden under a Blockbuster Video sign didn’t hurt. At first glance, the site appears vacant apart from a sign directing customers to a relocated dry cleaner. A small whiteboard with faded writing inside the door reveals the store’s current use as a dog-training facility.

UPDATE

As of 2017, the building has been demolished.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Rise and Fall of a Diefenbaker MP

Originally published on Torontoist on April 19, 2011.

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Don Mills Mirror, June 6, 1957.

If you think we’ve headed to the polls one too many times to elect a federal government over the past decade, then you’ll feel a twinge of sympathy for the average Canadian voter who had the opportunity to exercise his or her democratic privilege five times between 1957 and 1965.

The unifying figure through all of those elections was Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker and his roller-coaster ride of popularity. Running alongside him: a Metro Toronto candidate whose fortunes mirrored those of Dief the Chief.

And so, a chronicle of five elections in five election ads…

1957: Frank McGee had politics in his blood. One grandfather served as an MP for eight years, while another was the longest serving Clerk of the Privy Council in Canadian history. His great uncle was assassinated Father of Confederation D’Arcy McGee. His father-in-law was Senator Grattan O’Leary. Shortly before his 32nd birthday, department store merchandise buyer McGee was chosen to carry the Progressive Conservative banner in York-Scarborough. During the February 25 nomination meeting, McGee promised to hold Liberal incumbent Frank Enfield accountable on the government’s role in the pipeline debate and the Suez crisis. The vigour of the national Tory campaign, as opposed to the stay-the-course mode the Liberals adopted, must have left an impression on York-Scarborough voters, as McGee received the largest personal majority in the country on June 10 (just under 20,000 votes more than Enfield).

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Don Mills Mirror, June 13, 1957.

Of the 18 seats in Metro Toronto, the Tories captured all but one (rookie Liberal Stanley Haidasz won Trinity). Twenty-two years of Liberal rule was replaced with a Diefenbaker-headed minority government.

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Don Mills Mirror, March 13, 1958.

1958: McGee and Diefenbaker experienced a record-breaking election night. When the ballots were counted on March 31, the Tories captured a record number of seats—with 208 seats out of 265, they still hold the federal record for the highest seat percentage in an election. Every seat in Metro Toronto went blue. York-Scarborough voters did their part by giving McGee the largest majority ever received up to that time in a single riding as he defeated Enfield by 35,377 votes (the current record holder is Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who crushed his closest opponent in York North by 51,389 votes in 1993). During the 24th Parliament, McGee introduced a private member’s bill to abolish capital punishment. Though McGee’s proposal met the fate usually meted out to such bills, it helped pave the way for the eventual abolition of the death penalty.

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Toronto Star, June 13, 1962.

1962: It didn’t take long for internal squabbling and Diefenbaker`s penchant for nursing grudges to cause rancor within the Tories. As John Duffy summed up in his book Fights of Our Lives, by 1962 “John Diefenbaker was already the doomed Tory hero, wrapped in a Union Jack and battling alone against the dragons of Americanization, big business, and technology itself.” Diefenbaker’s government was reduced to a minority, thanks to a resurgent Liberal party and the success of Social Credit in Quebec. Of the 20 candidates shown in this ad, only McGee and six others headed to Ottawa to take their place in Diefenbaker’s minority government. Our man’s margin of victory dropped to just over 5,000 votes over the resurgent Liberals. In the short-lived session that followed, McGee served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration.

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Don Mills Mirror, April 3, 1963.

1963: Shortly before Diefenbaker’s minority government fell amid disarray over nuclear defence policy, McGee was made a minister without portfolio. By this point, he was campaigning on his own merits without comparisons to Diefenbaker. Voters decided that McGee wasn’t a good enough MP as he lost to Liberal Maurice Moreau by 21,500 votes. He wasn’t the only Tory out of a job; Diefenbaker lost the reins of power to Lester Pearson. Following his defeat, McGee became a political columnist covering the Conservative point of view for the Toronto Star and hosted a public affairs program on CBC Television.

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Don Mills Mirror, October 27, 1965.

1965: When another election loomed, McGee left his media gigs in an attempt to regain his old seat. There’s no mention of Diefenbaker in McGee’s ad, which may reflect the ever-increasing animosity within the party toward the former PM. Local officials blamed Diefenbaker for turning local voters away from McGee, who was tied with Liberal Robert Stanbury for a time before losing by just under 4,000 votes. Still, it was a slight improvement on McGee’s performance in ’63, just as the Tories modestly upped their standing in the House of Commons by a couple of seats.

McGee came oh-so-close to returning to office during his final political run in the suburban riding of Ontario (which included parts of present-day Durham Region stretching from Pickering to Uxbridge) in 1972, but lost to the Liberals by four votes in a recount. Before his death in 1999, McGee also served as an executive at a public relations firm, a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and a citizenship judge in Toronto.

Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002), the November 10, 1965, edition of the Don Mills Mirror, and the February 26, 1957, edition of the Toronto Star.

The Roar of Greasepaint, The Smell of Gunfire

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2011.

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“Hundreds of onlookers thought they were witnessing an actual bank holdup and police-desperado gun battle at Yonge and Grosvenor today as these phoney [sic] officers raced onto the scene as part of the filming of a TV drams.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Wednesday morning, downtown Toronto. As a bank robbery unfolds a desperate man, hiding his identity underneath clown makeup, threatens to blow up the financial institution and anyone within it if his demands are not met. Outside the police prepare to swoop in—their every step monitored by a television camera crew filming the scene for an upcoming police drama.

While such a scene wouldn’t faze citizens used to seeing crime shows like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue filmed on Toronto’s streets, the reaction from passers-by was far different during the first decade of local television production. When a CBC crew filmed Power to Destroy at the Bank of Montreal branch at Yonge and Grosvenor Streets (now an A&W) on September 10, 1958, some of those who gawked believed they were witnessing an actual crime scene. As the Telegram reported in that evening’s edition, “for a hectic hour today the corner was the scene of what will probably go down in history as the most confused bank robbery staged in downtown Toronto.”

Based on an incident that happened in Montreal, Power to Destroy was chosen to lead off a new season of CBC’s Sunday night drama showcase General Motors Theatre. The cast included Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey) as the clown-faced robber, John Drainie (veteran radio actor and an original co-host of This Hour Has Seven Days), and, as a cop, James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek). The bank robbery sequence shot on the morning of September 10 was to be mixed in with live studio performances when the program aired 11 days later.

Given how the shoot went, it’s a good thing the robbery wasn’t transmitted live.

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“Despite the generous co-operation of real Metro officers, some of whom are seen here, director Paul Almond had to shoot the scene several times before he was satisfied. Traffic piled up and there was one collision as unknowing onlookers gaped.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Despite having genuine Metropolitan Toronto police direct traffic around the intersection of Yonge and Grosvenor, so that actor cops could rush into the bank, the outside world had a habit of interfering. One motorist who stopped to inspect the hubbub outside the bank blocked the way for a fake cop car, causing the actors inside the obstructed vehicle to stop 100 yards from the shoot.

Filming resumed as an ever-increasing crowd of onlookers tried to figure out what was going on. The Telegram reported that “the shooting of the bank robbery scene had such authenticity that a crowd of more than 200 gathered open-mouthed on the street, waiting for the worst to happen.”

The “worst” turned out to be outside drivers and other bystanders:

A woman driver tried to turn the corner and watch the officers in action. Her car ran into the rear of a car driven by another woman. As both argued, a middle-aged woman suddenly screamed at her husband. “I told you not to stand there. He’s inside the bank armed. Get back, Henry, get back.” A drunk wobbled onto the scene and warned all who would listen: “I know the guy that’s in there and he means business. They won’t get him without some shooting.” An elderly man turned to his wife and said “I don’t think he can get out of there with all these officers around. But we’d better move on anyways.”

By this time, bystanders who clued in to what was going on teased anyone walking by who was unaware of the situation—when one woman asked what was up and was told a bank robber had been shot, she replied “heavens, oh heavens.” As the morning wore on, the Telegram noted that the actors playing police officers “were shot over and over again, but their only wounds were sore feet from continuous running outside the Bank of Montreal.” Their fatigue wasn’t helped by incidents like a re-shoot caused by a traffic jam on Yonge Street. When the final scene was shot at noon, “a confused little man, hobbling on a cane, got in the way of the cameras. Befuddled by shouts to move on he tried to move in all directions at once and almost fell in front of two ‘policemen’ sneaking up on a bank window.”

The finished product was reviewed by the Star’s Gordon Sinclair, who felt Power to Destroy “was no world beater but it had some merit.” He praised the way the filmed sequences were spliced into the live drama, but criticized the high volume of background noise in scenes set in the bank and police station.

Additional material from the September 10, 1958 edition of the Telegram and the September 22, 1958 edition of the Toronto Star.