Vintage Toronto Ads: Prime Time for Sports Fans

Originally published on Torontoist on January 24, 2012.


Maclean’s, November 27, 1989.

When management at Telemedia decided to switch CJCL’s phone-in sports commentary show to a magazine format in the fall of 1989, they looked to Canada’s public broadcaster for inspiration. Prime Time Sports was to be the athletic equivalent of As it Happens, a promise that Star sports media columnist Ken McKee felt placed “a large weight on the shoulders of those involved. As it Happens is only the best show of its kind in the country—and had been for eons” (though Don Cherry might disagree).

According to Telemedia’s Allan Davis, call-in sports shows drew too few callers, many of whom made it on air repeatedly. “How many times do you want to hear Montreal Jack from Oakville,” Davis told the Star. “Maybe Toronto is a city of elitists, I don’t know, but I do know there’s a ‘Don’t bore me’ message in response to talk radio.” CJCL’s call-in show, Talking of Sports, was also plagued by scheduling irregularities due to the length of Blue Jays or Maple Leafs games aired on the station. Host Bob McCown was retained to preside over the phone-outs for Prime Time Sports, which he still hosts nearly a quarter-of-a-century later.

Though CJCL had sports in its genes—the station was founded as CKFH by pioneer hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt in 1951—its non-sports programming during the 1980s and early 1990s fared poorly in the ratings. Attempts to build the rest of the day around talk (initially with former CFRB/future Metro Morning host Andy Barrie as the main draw), adult contemporary, big band, and oldies formats floundered. When the ratings improved after testing a daily seven-hour block of sports programming, CJCL switched to all-sports as The Fan 1430 in September 1992. The station moved to its current home at 590 AM after a frequency swap in early 1995.

Additional material from the September 29, 1989 edition of the Toronto Star.


The Fall of 81 Wellesley Street East

Originally published on Torontoist on January 20, 2012.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre–Rosedale) reached an agreement over the phone with a demolition company, to halt work that had begun that morning at the back of 81 Wellesley Street East. An hour later, as the equipment was moved to the front of the property, a hole was punched in the face of the 19th century building. That act was akin to the punched-in-the-gut feeling Wong-Tam experience when she first learned of the demolition earlier in the day.

The assault on Odette House and its accompanying coach house points to loopholes in City policies regarding demolition permits and heritage designations that have allowed long-standing buildings to fall.

For 20 years, the buildings at 81 Wellesley East housed the Wellspring cancer support centre. When Wellspring determined that the site required costly renovations and lacked space for future expansion of services, the buildings were placed on the market for $3.25 million. The real estate listing described 81 Wellesley Street East as a “rare boutique building”—a description that might have attracted a buyer who could have converted it into living, office, or retail space that blended with the neighbourhood. However, the listing also indicated that the site was “free of any historical designation/listing,” which signalled the opportunity to knock down the existing structures. The property was sold in September 2011 for $4.5 million, to a buyer that no one we talked to could identify. (Torontoist contacted the real estate firm that handled the transaction and was told that the buyer may or may not consent to their identity being known. At press time, the name of the buyer had not been released.)

While it is true that there wasn’t a heritage designation for the site at the time of the sale, it’s also true that one was in the works. On November 2, Wong-Tam submitted a request for designation that was unanimously approved by the Toronto and East York Community Council. While the approved request sat in the long backlog of proposed designations at Heritage Preservation Services (HPS), the property owners applied to the Building department for a demolition permit on December 1. While requests for residential demolitions are sent to councillors like Wong-Tam for feedback, those for commercially-zoned land like 81 Wellesley Street East do not require such input. Without a heritage designation or listing officially on the books, the permit was granted, as required under the Planning Act, 14 days later.

The loophole infuriates Wong-Tam, who told us yesterday that “the only thing stopping reckless development and demolition in the city is whether or not something has a heritage designation.” Because anyone can submit an application regarding commercial property, and HPS is “so grossly underfunded and understaffed,” Wong-Tam feels that “we are systematically destroying the urban fabric of our city.”

Demolition equipment from Lions Group appeared on the site Wednesday, with the initial wrecking work occurring at the back of the property. Among the nearby residents alarmed by the situation was Paul Farrelly of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association. “I noticed a post there 10 days ago talking about a demolition permit and I went to look around and took photos,” noted Farrelly in an email. “I did some searching and saw it had recently been vacated by Wellspring. But there was no physical notice or sign on the property.”

Residents quickly contacted Wong-Tam’s office to find out what was going on; one texter asked, “are developers pulling a fast one?” The councillor contacted the Building department, where she learned about the lack of input on commercial demolition permits. As she pieced together what had happened among various city departments, she grew angrier. “It was in this City’s hands,” she said. “That building came down because we issued a demolition permit, not knowing what the right hand and left hand was doing. There was a spectacular failure on the City’s part to do a good job of protecting that property and it was an enormous gap in communication and coordination at the City level.” Wong-Tam has requested that the Building department email all demolition requests in her ward, regardless of their zoning, to her attention. She has also scheduled a meeting with City planning officials to work through the loopholes: “we have to codify the behaviour and make it consistent so we can actually protect what heritage attributes we have left.”

Wong-Tam would also like to fix a related issue: situations in which demolition permits have been granted without a construction permit also being issued. So far, no development application has been submitted for 81 Wellesley Street East, though some suspect there are plans to build a condo. The lack of set plans for a site following building demolition has frequently resulted in the creation of surface parking lots in those locations—which owners may retroactively ask the City for permission to operate, such as one Wong-Tam cited at Jarvis and Carlton. Her ideal vision would see owners implement green streetscaping after the wrecking ball has stilled.

While the current half-demolished state of the property makes it a lost cause, 81 Wellesley Street East illustrates the problems of protecting older buildings around the city. A proactive, rather than reactionary, approach is required. More staff to clear the backlog of heritage designations and codifying better coordination between departments could alleviate the confusion that often is manifest now, and has seen historic buildings which might have remained viable parts of the local landscape reduced to rubble.

With a looming lockout of City workers that will further slow the designation process, it may soon be the case that there’s even more opportunity for developers who care more about bulldozing a site as quickly as possible to do just that, rather than consulting with the surrounding community or imaginatively working with existing structures.


Sure enough, the property would be promoted as a future condo project. Because, you know, Toronto and condos. A Google view from August 2017 showed the site was still a vacant lot, albeit one fenced off for future construction.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hobnobbing with Authors

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2012.


The Telegram, May 24, 1971.

There once was a time when newspaper book editors could relax on a tower of bestsellers, comforted by the knowledge that their section received full blessing from the bean counters.

As today’s ad notes, the revamped Telegram books page featured editor George Anthony’s column on general notes from the publishing world, a selection of current reviews, and columns dedicated to mystery, paperbacks, and children’s literature. Apart from the columnists, the reviewers were drawn from across the paper’s staff, ranging from entertainment writer Sid Adilman to newsman Peter Worthington.

One publication unimpressed by Anthony’s selection of friends to hobnob with was Books in Canada, which devoted a page of its debut issue to the revamp. That all of the headlining authors and books piled under Anthony were American stuck in the magazine’s craw. Even the book he was reading, The Sensuous Man (whose prime advice, according to its review in the Telegram, was to watch monkeys copulate at the zoo), was from south of the border. The article noted that the combined Canadian sales of the seven listed authors’ most recent books were less than Pierre Berton’s previous opus, The National Dream. With bookselling in Canada calculated to be more difficult than in the United States, “is it any wonder that Canadian publishers beat their heads against the wall when they see valuable newspaper space being devoted to the latest imports?”

The article’s parting shot:

We are left to speculate: will he move into a new social sphere where he might “hobnob” with Norman Mailer, William Gass, and Kate Millett, or, horror of horrors, might he find that Canadian writers like Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Margaret Laurence, Peter Newman, Leonard Cohen, not only sell more books in this country than do his American friends, but are also willing to hobnob with newspaper critics.

We browsed several of the Telegram’s book sections from the spring of 1971. Though Anthony’s column mixed gossip from both sides of the border and the genre columns often discussed Canadian books, few domestic titles were featured in the main review section. We suspect the primary reasons were reader interest in foreign books and limited room to fill (there was barely any white space on the pages we reviewed).

When the Telegram folded in late 1971, Anthony moved to the Sun, where he served as the tabloid’s original entertainment editor before beginning a long career in the television industry.

Additional material from the May 1971 edition of Books in Canada.


Here is the Books in Canada piece criticizing this ad campaign.

1971-05 6

And here’s a sample of what the Tely’s book page looked like, taken from the April 24, 1971 edition. Click on the image for a larger version.

tely 71-04-24 book section 1


Vintage Toronto Ads: A Very Special Birthday Party

Originally published on Torontoist on January 10, 2012.


Globe and Mail, January 1, 1969.

9:30 a.m., January 2, 1969: a group of police-escorted limos filled with three generations of the Eaton family arrived at their Queen Street department store. As two of President John David Eaton’s granddaughters opened the store with a gold-plated key, fireworks exploded from the roof. Blasts were fired every four seconds until 100 went off. Inside, the Eaton family was greeted by a children’s choir and over 1,000 past and present employees. The entourage proceeded to the statue of store founder Timothy Eaton to officially launch the company’s 100th anniversary celebrations.


Globe and Mail, January 2, 1969.

John David Eaton’s speech got off to a rough start when he mixed up his seasonal celebrations. “First of all a Merry Christmas…I mean a Happy New Year.” After a pause, Eaton joked “That’s a good way to start.” Though the slip was accidental, it may have signalled Eaton’s weariness with the duties he had been groomed for from a young age. After 27 years of running the company, Eaton retired from the presidency in August 1969.

Following a few more remarks, Eaton pushed a button which illuminated a six-foot “Eaton 100” logo. After the ceremony was over, a retired delivery man, whose association with the store dated back to the horse-and-buggy era, shook hands with Eaton. The teary-eyed man told Eaton, “I’m so proud.” Others in the crowd were less interested in greeting the owners—one woman asked “where are the shirts?”


Globe and Mail, January 2, 1969.

Centennial activities were held throughout the year, culminating in a celebration at St. Lawrence Hall in December that included a seven-foot high birthday card and the presentation of an illuminated scroll by Mayor William Dennison. Given the mistakes Eaton’s management made during the company’s 30 remaining years in business, it might have been one of the last times they accepted anything that was illuminating.

Additional material from The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1998) and the January 2, 1969 edition of the Toronto Star.


Maclean’s Super-Amazing Captain Toronto Section

Originally published as a “Historicist” column by Torontoist on January 7, 2012.


It’s common knowledge that Toronto isn’t the most popular city amongst the rest of the country. Something about a superior attitude or being the centre of the universe. It’s a long-held belief, and one that Maclean’s was willing to exploit when it devoted a section of its April 1972 issue to the city. While the headlines promised pages of full-on hatred for the city to attract readers looking for more reasons to despise Toronto, reading on revealed varying degrees of admiration for Canada’s fastest-growing city.


After reading Peter C. Newman’s editorial, a glowing portrait of Toronto didn’t appear imminent. “In this issue,” Newman wrote, “we devote nine pages to proving that, while it may be a great city to live in, Toronto is a terrible place to contemplate.” Most of Newman’s piece concerned the upcoming federal election, during which he believed that the rest of Canada would “comfort themselves with the realization that general elections can be great equalizers,” as the GTA was only represented by 24 of the 264 seats to be contested.

Under the headline “Keeping Toronto Hateful,” the special section’s introduction listed the city’s contradictions, including some that linger on:

Toronto, the city that Canada despises, spreads its arrogance over 240 square miles. It is the financial, fashion, art, industrial, communications and Muzak capital of the nation; not to mention the fastest-growing city in the world. It dispassionately dispenses pay cheques, trends, culture, praise, punishment, entertainment, success, cynicism, predestiny and other assorted imperishable goods to a nation that has to be grateful whether it likes it or not. More New York Times are sold on Sunday in Toronto than any other city in Canada. Yet the Toronto Telegram, the country’s fourth largest newspaper, was forced to fold. Toronto hates losers. Yet the Leafs and the Argos are classic losers. Toronto contains more Americans within its limits than any other city in the country and is the most American city outside of the United States.

Many of the decisions to sell domestic industry and natural resources to outside interests are made in boardrooms high above Lake Ontario. Yet Toronto is the birthplace of the New Canadian Nationalism. Toronto identified itself with the Big Apple more than any other centre in North America (including Chicago). Yet Toronto is still a bastion of English colonialism. Toronto is the most materialistic city in the country (its per capita Cadillac ownership is among the highest in the world), yet when Henry Moore’s Archer was unveiled 10,000 people turned out to cheer. Toronto is adding the equivalent of 11 football fields in new factory space every year. Yet the city’s welfare department is running out of funds. Torontonians foster the theory that Canadians have an inferiority complex. Yet people in Toronto are constantly terrified about losing their jobs. Toronto elected Mayor William Dennison twice in a row. Yet Toronto loves to say he is an embarrassment.

The question inevitably arises: how and why does any sensitive Canadian continue to live in such a rotten place?

Readers were advised that they would “know thy enemy.”


On the newsstands around the same time as this issue of Maclean’s: Incredible Hulk #152, with a cover pencilled by Captain Toronto artist Herb Trimpe and inked by John Severin.

Along the bottom of the following six pages were the adventures of Captain Toronto, which poked fun at the attitudes of some Torontonians toward the city’s reputation for cleanliness. Though no writer was credited, the strip was drawn by American comic book artist Herb Trimpe, then in the midst of a seven-year run illustrating the adventures of the Incredible Hulk.


The headline for the first article in the section, Bill Howell’s “End of the Road,” declared that Toronto was “the city of highest paid losers in Canada.” The piece failed to live up to that claim, despite noting that it took longer to escape Toronto by car than any other city in the country, and a lengthy description of new apartment towers (likely in St. James Town and the suburbs) evocative of recent fears of the future evolution of CityPlace:

They have tiny balconies, gestures that from a distance look like chest-of-drawer handles. They also have paper-thin walls, waiting rooms no one waits in, broken-down clothes dryers, exorbitant rents, Big Brother intercoms, and they’re built for New Torontonians, careerists who have come to the Big City to confront the Beast in its lair.

Howell admitted that he liked Toronto more every time he returned from an extended break. He appreciated the small pleasures the city offered, from a restaurant on Ossington that showed diners how to cook well to residents signing a petition to preserve trees downtown.


Next up was “The Bush League Complex” by Sun columnist McKenzie Porter. The article outlined Porter’s views on the Toronto high society types he had covered for years in the Telegram and their ability to shock other writers expecting primness by tossing around four-letter words without regret. Porter offered the following tips on climbing Hogtown’s social ladder, many of which are still useful in social situations:

Dress soberly and expensively. Be sexy with subtlety. Speak firmly and clearly. Never mumble. Be lighthearted and quick to laugh. Listen intently to other speakers and butt in only when you have something compelling to say. Flatter other speakers by asking them questions that prolong their own line of talk. Never be pushy for introductions. Intrigue important strangers by catching their eye for a moment and smiling courteously. Do not be afraid to say “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name.” Never try to assess a person’s status by asking him where he lives. Never talk about yourself until you are invited to do so with questions. Never drop names. Never gossip about anybody who is unknown to one or more persons in your immediate group. Never talk about children, travel, homes, or business unless somebody else opens the topic. Offer to work, if a suitable opening occurs, for cultural or charitable institutions. Buy all the tickets you can afford for the great society gatherings.

Porter’s final words of wisdom? “Do not feel ashamed of social climbing or attempt to conceal such ambitions. You are a primate.”


The final article, Barrie Hale’s “Welcome to the Middle-Class Capital of the World,” focused on Toronto’s attraction to the 10 million tourists who descended upon the city each year, specifically American visitors who loved Toronto for the reasons suburban Detroit resident Mrs. J. Rudniak outlined in a letter to the Star:

My husband and I have just returned from a trip to Toronto and feel we should take the time to write and compliment your Mayor, William Dennison, on his many fine achievements. We were truly impressed by the amount of building construction going on in the downtown area. Moreover, we were delighted to see the use of flowers, trees and water by everyone—whether city buildings, individual homes or businesses; the well-kept older homes and buildings; the cleanliness of all areas, new or old; the beaches along the lakeshore, easily accessible to everyone; and even more importantly, the number of people both young and old, of all ethnic backgrounds, strolling at night in all parts of the city. This is what makes a city live—when its inhabitants are out on a warm night enjoying their city. Keep up the good work; we look forward to our next visit.

To Hale, tourists like Mrs. Rudniak were comfortable in a city where the middle class didn’t feel threatened by the social decay they perceived at home. Toronto’s safety, prosperity, and progressiveness were reassuring—they could admire a Mies van der Rohe–designed building like the Toronto-Dominion Centre without the (justified or not) fear of a mugging while viewing his works in Chicago or New York, or explore an ethnic neighbourhood without worrying if a riot would break out.


As for the future, Hale touched on the fears expressed by urban affairs experts that continued construction of expressways and high-rises would destroy the mosaic of neighbourhoods that visitors enjoyed. The increased power of citizen groups and resident associations was noted, as was the support that still existed among some councillors to revive the Spadina Expressway. These were the concerns that dominated Toronto politics for the rest of the 1970s, especially after a large number of reformers were elected to city council in December 1972.


We’ll leave Captain Toronto at the bar, drowning his sorrows following the tragic combination of stepping in doggie-doo and missing a taping of Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date. None of his grumbling earned pity from the rest of the country.

Additional information from the August 19, 1971 edition of the Toronto Star.


Book City Closes a Chapter

Originally published on Torontoist on January 14, 2014.


Globe and Mail, November 3, 1979 (left), November 17, 1979 (right).

Another one bites the dust.

Yesterday afternoon, Book City announced that after a 38-year run, its flagship store at 501 Bloor Street West will be closing this spring. “The lease was up, and we agonized over the decision,” general manager Ian Donker told Quill & Quire, “but sadly it didn’t make much sense to continue.” It will be the second iconic Toronto book retailer to close this year, after the World’s Biggest Bookstore shuts its tills next month.

Born in the Netherlands, store founder Frans Donker came from a family that ran a publishing firm. “I am third generation in the book business if you count my grandfather Willem,” he told the Star in 2001. “He was a liberal Christian minister who wrote bad novels about poor farmers’ sons falling in love with the girl in the mansion.” Donker moved to Canada in 1969 and worked for the Classic Bookshops chain and publisher Fitzhenry and Whiteside before opening Book City with his wife Gini in 1976.

The store found its niche selling a wide variety of non-mainstream paperbacks and quality remainders. Early ads touted its selection of mystery and sci-fi titles, and deals that weren’t restricted to weekend specials. As one ad boasted, “You can come down to Book City and pick up an armful of bargains any day. Or any evening.” Spread across two floors connected by narrow staircases, browsers were pointed upstairs by a sketch of a dapper bearded gent. For a child discovering bookstores, it was fun to run across the creaky upper floor. For adults, the store provided a relaxing place to browse new titles and explore the latest cheap finds.

Book City also developed a reputation for supporting Canadian literature, through sponsoring prizes and stocking up-and-coming authors. In a 1992 interview, Donker described how the store marketed Nino Ricci’s The Lives of the Saints:

Nino Ricci had been in my store, a bit shy, but very likeable, telling us that his book was coming out. A small publisher came to us later and presented the book. I read a chapter, one of my buyers read a chapter, and we agreed, this is darn good stuff. So we decided to put ourselves behind the title, and instead of five books for the shelves, we bought 50 for the tables, and recommended it to people who came into the store. They too liked it and told friends, and it started to snowball. I completed the book, loved it, and promoted it even more. Sadly enough, not enough booksellers supported it.

To celebrate the store’s 15th anniversary in 1991, Donker commissioned a novella starring writer Howard Engel’s detective Benny Cooperman. Engel’s story, The Whole Megillah, included a scene in which the suspects met on the upper floor of Book City.


Globe and Mail, October 13, 1979 (left), October 20, 1979 (right).

During its first decade, Book City frequently violated provincial Sunday shopping laws. While David Mirvish sold remainders on the Lord’s Day thanks to Mirvish Village’s tourist designation, Donker was fined whenever he opened his doors. For a time in the early 1980s, Donker exploited a loophole that allowed businesspeople to declare Saturday as their Sabbath. The result: the main floor was open Monday through Saturday, while the upstairs became The Book Loft, and operated Sunday through Friday. Until the laws were fully relaxed, Book City received periodic warnings to play nice.

Book City became a chain when it opened its second location at 663 Yonge Street in 1984. The number of branches has varied over the years—at its height, six stores operated across the city, and regular warehouse sales took place in Leaside. The chain held its own during the onslaught of superstores like Chapters, while other independents folded. Donker prided himself on his close relationships with suppliers, and believes Chapters harmed itself by not cultivating such ties (they “destroyed publishers by demanding every last nickel”).

The chain’s three remaining locations at 348 Danforth Avenue, 1950 Queen Street East, and 1430 Yonge Street will stay open. Expect plenty of reminiscences over the next few months, as the Annex store joins the list of local bookstores that will live on in customers’ memories.

Additional material from the November 3, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 1992 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Business Journal, and the June 18, 1977, January 12, 1981, October 23, 1991, August 8, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.


As of early 2018, Book City is back up to four locations, adding one in Bloor West Village.


Lost Words

This post merges two pieces originally published on Torontoist on January 6, 2012 and January 12, 2012.

Ballenford BooksDavid Mirvish BooksPagesThis Ain’t The Rosedale Library. All established book stores that have closed within the past four years. With The Book Mark joining that list, Dragon Lady Comics shutting its physical store, and Glad Day Bookshop up for sale, it feels as if Toronto is experiencing a cycle of closures similar to the late 1990s.

Back then, blame initially fell upon big box stores like Chapters and Indigo; now it’s online retailers and e-books. In both cases these big bads were only part of the problem: increased rent appears to be a critical element of the current closure cycle, the exact opposite of the low-priced leases that aided the high number of bookstore openings during the 1970s. Cold commentators might say that technology is making bookstores obsolete, or that owners should only blame themselves when their business ends, but whenever any long-running store closes, it feels as if a reassuring piece of the local landscape has gone with it.

Here is a sampling of past bookstores that left their mark on Toronto and its readers.

Albert Britnell


Globe and Mail, December 15, 1979.

“Count yourself a Torontonian if Grandfather shopped here,” proclaimed Toronto Life in its November 1970 guide to local bookstores. This was no exaggeration, as the Britnell family had been involved in the city’s book trade since Albert arrived from England during the 1880s. Initially known for its selection of collectible Canadiana, the store later built its reputation on the special order system developed by Albert’s spats-wearing son Roy. Though the shop closed in 1999, its name still sits above the Starbucks that currently occupies the building.

Hyman’s Book & Art Shop


Ben-Zion Hyman in front of Hyman’s Book & Art Shop, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 78.

“The shop was open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day except Saturday and had a mimeograph machine, pop cooler, newspapers and a bar mitzvah registry. It sold Yiddish and Hebrew books, Judaica, tickets for the Standard Theatre, stationery and school supplies.”—Rosemary Donegan, Spadina Avenue (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985).

Located at 371 Spadina Avenue, Hyman’s (later known as Hyman and Son) operated for nearly 50 years.

North Toronto Book Store


North Toronto Book-Store, July 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 296.

Either the woman mailing the morning headline from the Globe is thrilled to be in front of the camera, or she’s frustrated with the photographer’s numerous requests to center the poster.



Lichtman’s News Stand, sometime between 1945 and 1966. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, Item 130.

From the moment he arrived in Toronto from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the age of 14, Sammy Lichtman was in the newspaper business. One account indicates that shortly after stepping off the train that brought him here, Lichtman was hawking papers on downtown streets. He eventually entered the distribution and newsstand business that evolved into a chain of book and magazine shops. As the big box stores cut into Lichtman’s business, debt mounted until ownership called it a day in 2000.



The Globe, November 3, 1934.

Before chains like Coles, Classic Book Shop and WH Smith, department stores were among the biggest booksellers in Toronto. There were even attempts, as this ad from Eaton’s shows, to promote Canadian authors.

SCM Book Room


Rochdale College, March 1971. Photo by Leo Harrison. York University Archives, Toronto Telegram Photo Collection, Citation 1974-002/168.

Given the chaos surrounding Rochdale College during its dying days, it’s tempting to believe that some of the craziness made its way to one of the building’s most well-respected tenants, the SCM Book Room. But by the end of 1974, disputes between executives of the Student Christian Movement and store manager Bob Miller over the mission of the store had grown nasty. Should, as some SCM members argued, the store take a stronger stand on social issues and better reflect the ideals of the organization, or, as Miller believed, should the store continue to manage its own affairs as it had for years?

For nearly 20 years Miller, a reverend in the United Church, built the business’s reputation as the go-to place in Toronto for academic and religious works. Forget bestsellers: as Miller told the Globe and Mail in April 1968, “we’re interested in the scholarly type of books less accessible elsewhere, books for which there’s a market, but not a mass market.” According to historian Ramsay Cook, “it would be impossible to estimate the contribution that Bob Miller’s SCM Book Room has made to the intellectual and cultural life not only of Toronto, but of the country at large.

Despite mediation by poet Dennis Lee, personality clashes worsened. Miller and nine of the SCM Book Room’s 15 employees left the business in the spring of 1975. Later that year Miller established his own book room further east on Bloor Street, which continues to operate. A store under the SCM banner carried on until at least the late 1980s.

Times Square Book Store


A later incarnation of the Time(s) Square Book Store, circa 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 198.

As Yonge Street slid toward the seedy reputation it earned during the 1970s, adult book stores began filling its storefronts. Frequently raided by the morality squad, who quietly asked customers to leave while arresting the clerks, shops like the Times Square(which appears to have dropped the “s” by the time this photo was taken) serviced patrons looking for thrills in the pages of titles like French Spice, Mr. Cool, and Sizzle. Browsers who didn’t find the selection titillating enough could always watch burlesque dancers elsewhere on the Yonge strip.

Times Square’s penchant for skirting Sunday shopping laws earned it a profile in the September 19, 1970 edition of the Star, which depicted a typical Lord’s Day afternoon at the store:

A young man with shoulder-length blond hair perches on a stool by the cash register. He takes a $5 bill from an older man with nervous eyes and slips a plastic-wrapped magazine called Swappers into a plain brown bag. “Every adult person should have the right to decide what he can and what he can buy, any day of the week,” the young man says after the customer leaves the store. “Sure we’re open Sundays, but we’re not keeping anyone away from church. We cater to a different crowd.”

About Books


Queen Street West, sometime between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 124.

During the 1970s, Queen West filled with used bookstores. The business offering “new books” at 280 in this photo was later occupied by About Books. Co-owner Larry Wallrich had been around: during the 1960s, he ran a shop in New York’s Greenwich Village that became a poet’s hangout then spent a few years selling books around Europe. Based on advice from a bookseller in Cleveland, Wallrich came to Queen West in 1976 and quickly fell in love with Toronto. In an interview with Books in Canada seven years later, Wallrich noted that the city had “more good, general second-hand book shops than there are in New York and London—and that’s of course totally economic because rents are still reasonable enough here than you can have good general book shops in the centre of town.” He also felt “more socially useful in Toronto as a bookseller than I’ve ever felt in my life before.”

Edwards Books & Art


Globe and Mail, October 31, 1987.

Edward Borins learned how to buy and sell high quality remainders at low prices while managing David Mirvish Books during the 1970s. Borins and his wife Eva established their own store at 356 Queen Street West in 1979, which eventually grew into a small chain. As Now noted in a March 1989 profile, the original location “opened just at the time when the area was being revitalized by a new wave of artists and businesses.”

The chain fought a lengthy battle with the provincial government over Sunday shopping laws that led to around 300 charges. Edwards ran into troubles with its suppliers that played a role into the chain’s demise in 1997 and, thanks to tighter credit limits publishers imposed in the aftermath, negatively affected other local booksellers. The Borinses moved to Santa Fe and ran Garcia Street Books for a decade before selling it in 2011.

The Book Cellar


Books in Canada, May 1971.

Despite its name, The Book Cellar only spent one year operating below street level when it opened in 1961. The store quickly gained a reputation for carrying the largest selection of magazines in the city, with titles ranging from TV Guide (one of their poorest sellers) to the Journal of the Institute for Sewage Purification. Store alumni included writers like Barbara Amiel and Paul Quarrington. Though there were several locations, the main one was 142 Yorkville Avenue, where browsers congregated between 1968 and 1997. The store’s demise was blamed on troubles receiving stock after publishers tightened credit limits following the end of Edwards Books & Art, and on declining street traffic in Yorkville.

A Map of Downtown Toronto Booksellers, 1974


Quill & Quire, May 1974.

A&A Books & Records


1960s postcard of Yonge Street. Image courtesy of Chuckman’s Other Collection.

While most people remember A&A as a music chain, the company’s flagship location at 351 Yonge Street began as a bookstore in the mid-1940s. While records became the focus of the business, the book section found its niche by selling textbooks to Ryerson students and those studying medicine at U of T.

Following the sale of A&A by founders Alice and Mac Kenner to Columbia Records in the early 1970s, drastic cuts were made to the section’s size and selection. The reductions were carried out poorly, leading to complaints from customers who couldn’t find the titles they wanted and publishers who received more returns than anticipated. By the time corporate decided to exit the book business in 1974, its sales were around 10 percent mass market titles, 90 percent textbooks.

The Children’s Book Store


Quill & Quire, October 1980.

During a quarter of a century in business, The Children’s Book Store received plenty of praise for its large selection of material for young readers. This ad gives a sense of the store’s programming following its move to 604 Markham Street in 1980. In its final years on Yonge Street in North Toronto, the store faced expanded children’s sections at recently opened branches of Chapters and Indigo to its south. When the store closed in January 2000, its library and wholesale divisions were sold to a company largely owned by Chapters.

Longhouse Books


Globe and Mail, September 25, 1979 (left), December 15, 1990 (right).

It was a concept predicted to fail in a hurry. Who was crazy enough to stock a bookstore with nothing but Canadian titles? Yet Longhouse Books proved the naysayers wrong when it opened at 630 Yonge Street north of Wellesley in 1972.

Partners Beth Appeldoorn and Susan Sandler opened the store out of anger. “There were Canadian books around, but they weren’t given the emphasis they deserved,” they told the Globe and Mail in a 1995 interview. “That little Canadiana section was insulting. We jumped in at the right time. But we did think about it, and we had good advice. We were not totally stupid, but we probably were crazy.”

Of the many launches held at Longhouse, the owners felt Margaret Laurence’s appearance to promote The Diviners was the most memorable:

Margaret had never done a launch in her life because she was always very nervous, and Margaret didn’t take crowds. But there was a crowd of people. Somebody came in and said, “What movie is showing?” We had to drag Margaret right away downstairs to the basement to give her a Valium. She never knew it was Valium. She thought it was an aspirin. But she was so shaky. She came back up and did a fabulous two hours of signing and talking. We put her behind a little table with chairs so she could hold onto the table.

Appeldoorn and Sandler sold the store in 1989, which promptly moved to 497 Bloor Street West. It closed six years later.

Tyrrell’s Book Shop


King Street East, looking east to Victoria Street, 1910. Tyrrell’s can be seen at the far right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7345.

When Tyrrell’s Bookshop was sold to British retailer W.H. Smith in 1958, one question was what would happen to the ancient clock that had been there since founder William Tyrrell’s early days in business? “It was probably not bought on the morn that the old man was born,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s William Arthur Deacon, “but it certainly was ‘ever his pride and joy.’” To relief of store staff, the new owners decided to maintain it.

William Tyrrell entered the bookselling world as a 16-year old clerk shortly after his arrival from England in 1882. Twelve years later he opened his first store on King Street East at Yonge Street. The store later moved to 820 Yonge, across the street from longtime competitor Albert Britnell. Tyrrell didn’t let friendship stand in the way of what he believed he should sell; reportedly he refused to stock books written by friends if the work’s political slant was not to his liking.

Following Tyrrell’s retirement during World War II, the store was run by Phyllis Atwood until the sale to W.H. Smith. Deacon noted that “her friends will all be glad that she is shedding her responsibilities and ensuring her own future.” The store operated for a few more years under the Tyrrell’s banner.

Village Book Store


Books in Canada, May 1971.

Deriving its name from Toronto’s “Greenwich Village” along Gerrard Street between Yonge and University, Martin Ahvenus opened Village Book Store in 1961. The shop gave strong support to Canadian poets—as Toronto Life noted in 1970, Ahvenus “encourages, amuses, and sells them, and they adorn his walls with graffiti.” It was also noted that the Village was “where the secondhand book dealers gather to talk shop on Thursday nights.” The store moved to 239 Queen Street West in the early 1970s and became one of the busiest used book stores along the strip.

Final owner Eric Wellington provided a long list of reasons for the store’s closure in January 2000: rising taxes, eroding profits, changing demographics of Queen West, chains, exhaustion from working every day, and a notice that TTC was going to repair the streetcar tracks. Wellington found that the Queen West crowd “has gotten much younger and they are a digital generation. They don’t read.”

Writers & Co


Now, March 27, 1986.

A pair of legacies for North Toronto-based Writers & Co.:

  1. When CBC Radio needed a title for a new literary show, it asked owner Irene McGuire for permission to use her store’s name. The choice worked, as the series is still on the air.
  2. The store’s original location was 2094½ Yonge Street. The number intrigued British author Julian Barnes. As longtime manager (and, later, owner) Winston Smith told the Star when the store closed in 1999, Barnes “told us he had never encountered a ½ address before and he was interested in the phenomenon.” The author was inspired by the address to title his next novel A History Of The World in 10½ Chapters.


Of the stores mentioned in the introduction, Glad Day is still in business. As the big box stores falter, smaller bookstores have revived here and there in Toronto, though there are closures for some of the reasons mentioned in this piece (for example, Eliot’s Bookshop on Yonge Street cited increased property taxes as a factor in speeding up its closure in 2017).

There are deeper looks at Albert Britnell and The Book Cellar in the “Past Pieces of Toronto” series I wrote for OpenFile, which will soon appear on this site.