Commemorating the Battle of York

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2013. Not all photos from the original post have been used.

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In a documentary about the Battle of York that aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas last week, Sandra Shaul, project manager of the City’s War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations, noted she was “intrigued as to why the City of Toronto would want to commemorate a battle that we so badly lost.” She reflected that it might be our city’s nature to celebrate losers (“look at our sports teams”).

But even if the American invaders won on April 27, 1813, thousands of Torontonians turned out exactly 200 years later to show their respect for the British military units and First Nations warriors who took to the battlefield to defend what is now our home.

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Many of Saturday’s commemorations honoured the role the First Nations played in the battle. From the symbolic fruit samples distributed during a sunrise ceremony to a round dance at Fort York that closed the ceremonies, the native warriors who served as York’s first line of defence were saluted by their descendants. “We’ve waited for a long time for this moment,” observed Mississaugas of the New Credit Chief Bryan LaForme. “We will no longer be a footnote in Canadian history.” LaForme reflected that if it hadn’t been for the overall efforts of natives during the war, we would be “another star on the Red, White, and Blue.”

The military salutes began with the receipt of new colours by the Royal Canadian Regiment from its colonel-in-chief, Prince Philip. One of the largest military parades in Toronto history followed, with an estimated 1,700 members of the Canadian Forces marching from Queen’s Park to Fort York. (Military demonstrations and processions were once a staple of Toronto life—they figured in holiday celebrations during the Victorian era, and were used to send off deployments of troops during World War I.)

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While the parade wound through the core, over 500 people followed the path of the Battle of York during a two-hour walk from the Palais Royale to the fort. Heritage Toronto unveiled a new commemorative plaque at the American landing site, one of five stops where historians described the main stages of the battle.

Holding up a “Brown Bess” standard-issue British musket, Richard Feltoe used the backdrop of the Fort Rouillé monument to describe military equipment and techniques used during the battle. He explained how troops on both sides lined up in rows to fire volleys at each other, creating dense clouds of smoke. Bright uniforms and high hats allowed opponents to see each other amidst the fog of musket fire, ensuring continued carnage.

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At the site of the Western Battery near the Princes’ Gates, Ken Purvis talked about the antique equipment used by the British during the battle. The oldest artillery gun, which is displayed at Fort York, dated back to Oliver Cromwell and the English republic of the 1650s. (For perspective, imagine American Civil War equipment deployed in modern conflict.) Purvis also performed, on fife, the tune the advancing American forces played as they approached Fort York: “Yankee Doodle,” a song the British later used to taunt them while parading prisoners in Montreal.

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Also mentioned on the walk was the last letter American Brigadier General Zebulon Pike wrote to his wife Clarissa. Written the night before the invasion, Pike hinted that the battle might cause his demise: “I shall dedicate these last moments to you, my love, and tomorrow throw all other ideas but my country to the wind.” When Fort York’s grand ammunition magazine exploded, a boulder crushed Pike’s spine. It was reported that the dying Pike was presented with a captured British flag, which he used as a pillow. One source reported that upon receiving the flag, Pike whispered, “I die contented.”

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At Fort York, the public mingled with period re-enactors and modern military. Visitors perused displays of objects ranging from wampum belts to pre-painless-dentistry surgical instruments. The ceremonies included the unveiling of three plaques to be placed in a new visitor centre, scheduled to open next year: two were refurbishments of fading bronze plaques installed shortly after the fort converted to a museum in 1934, and the third was a new marker honouring the First Nations.

Additional material from Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Natives and the War of 1812

Originally published on Torontoist on April 15, 2013.

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Three of the last surviving Six Nations members who fought in the War of 1812, photographed in Brantford in 1882. Left to right: John “Smoke” Johnson, John Tutela, and Young Warner. Library and Archives Canada, C-085127, via Wikimedia Commons.

While no one agrees on who won the War of 1812, there tends to be consensus among experts regarding the loser: aboriginals on both sides of the border. Any power they held during the conflict was lost soon after, as they were shunted onto reserves or forced to move further west. Yet the complexities of the natives’ war experience left positive and negative consequences which linger into the present.

Recent celebrations surrounding the war, alongside a shift toward exploring the conflict from all perspectives, have created an opportunity for descendents of the Six Nations to discuss their ancestors’ roles and relate them to present concerns. Issues surrounding jurisdiction, land rights, and treaty matters remain unresolved two centuries later. Meanwhile, movements like Idle No More are tackling the war’s legacies. As Six Nations historian Rick Hill observes, “The conversation of congratulations just isn’t enough.”

Hill chairs the Six Nations Legacy Consortium. It’s a group, formed in anticipation of the war celebrations, that is dedicated to ensuring his community’s historical perspectives enter the public discourse.

Prior to the War of 1812, the American Revolution had scattered the Six Nations. Some members lived in upstate New York, while others had accepted a British offer to move west to a tract of land along the Grand River. In 1812, as war loomed once again, appeals to Six Nations members to support either of the main combatants led to calls for neutrality. This was followed by inter-tribal warfare as natives lined up behind the Americans or British, depending on who they felt would best look after their long-term interests or crush them the least. In Hill’s case, his paternal Mohawk ancestors from Grand River battled his maternal Tuscarora ancestors from New York. When the war ended, the Six Nations used what Hill calls “old cultural protocols” to broker peace among themselves. Hill finds it significant that there have been no internal wars since that time.

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Portrait of Major John Norton as Mohawk Chief Teyoninhokarawen, circa 1805, by Mather Brown. Yale Center for British Art, via Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to natives involved in the war, the public usually thinks of Tecumseh, whose Shawnee nation had uneasy relations with the Six Nations. In a lecture this Wednesday night on the role of the Six Nations in the conflict, Hill will spotlight lesser-known figures. “One of the problems with history,” Hill observes, is “it focuses on just a few individuals. There were countless other people who didn’t participate in the war, but were then part of the making of peace.” In an appearance on the Agenda last year, Hill noted that it’s easy to herald a fallen leader like Tecumseh, less so the nameless people who fought hard and worked to create a peace settlement which allowed their nation to survive. While some Six Nations figures like John Norton and John “Smoke” Johnson gained attention through their leadership skills, others are known only through oral histories or surviving council records from the early 19th century.

In the Battle of York, which celebrates its bicentenary next week, the Six Nations didn’t play a direct role. Three hundred warriors were ready to participate, but were held at bay by the British. When they heard the grand ammunition magazine explode, they assumed the Americans would hit Burlington Bay next and prepared themselves for a strike that didn’t happen. During the actual battle, an advance group of approximately 50 Chippawa, Mississauga, and Ojibwa warriors commanded by Major James Givins was sent to meet the first wave of American invaders west of Fort York. The warriors were outnumbered, which led to, as historian Robert Malcolmson put it, “a murderous game of hide and seek among the trees, and as the minutes went by, the warriors’ resolve slackened and then dissolved.” Up to eight warriors were killed. The only name recorded among the fatalities was Yellowhead, who is said to have been buried along Yonge Street. The rest joined the mass of nameless native casualties during the conflict.

Sources: The Iroquois in War of 1812 by Carl Benn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998) and Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Remembering the Aftermath of the War of 1812

Originally published on Torontoist on April 9, 2013.

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The Death of Brock at Queenston Heights, painted by C.W. Jefferys, circa 1908. Government of Ontario Art Collection, Archives of Ontario.

With all the hoopla over the bicentenary of the War of 1812, it’s easy to concentrate on the battles, the heroes who filled generations of school textbooks, and the idea that the conflict was an important part of establishing our national identity. The complexities of the war and its legacies aren’t as romantic or attention-grabbing, but they invite interesting questions about our notions of who we are and how we remember critical events in our history.

Perceptions of 1812: Identity, Diversity, Memory, the current exhibit at the Archives of Ontario‘s exhibit space on the York University campus, uses the archives’ holdings to provide a broader picture of the war and its enduring impact. The items and panels on display cover topics ranging from personal wartime correspondence to the role auto-based tourism played in preserving crumbling forts.

How many items related to the War of 1812 does the Archives have among its 100,000 metres of textual records? It’s hard to guess. “Although some documents are directly related to the conflict,” notes David Tyler of the Archives’ information department, “most of our related material documents life in Upper Canada at that time, providing the necessary context for studying the war. We also hold many items related to Ontario’s attempts to memorialize and commemorate the war over the past 200 years.” Tyler has noticed a significant increase in requests about the war over the past year, mostly from people living in areas affected by the conflict in southwestern Ontario and around the U.S. border. Many of these requests are followups to the Archives’ main online exhibit about the war. Tyler recommends that anyone looking for a general introduction to the Archives’ war-related holdings consult an online research guide, available in PDF format.

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Perceptions of 1812, at the Archives of Ontario. Image courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.

For Perceptions of 1812‘s curator, Ross Fair, the diversity of the material in the Archives made it easy to avoid duplicating existing online exhibits. Because most of the military records are held elsewhere, Fair had no choice but to focus on political and social issues that arose in the war’s aftermath.

Among the war’s effects was a noticeable change in the nature of the political divisions of the time, from national borders to the ideological boundary between the high Tories who formed the Family Compact and the Reformers who paved the path to responsible government. Another issue was “aliens,” migrants from the United States whom the colonial elites regarded suspiciously. Attempts to block the rights of those who migrated during or after the war raged until 1828, when those who arrived before 1820 were given full rights as British citizens, while those who arrived after could swear an oath of allegiance after seven years of residency. In other words, postwar Canada was far from perfect. “We celebrate the heroes who stood and defended this war,” Fair noted in a recent Heritage Toronto lecture, “but I suspect most of us wouldn’t want to live in the society that they envisioned Upper Canada to be.”

In an interview with Torontoist, Fair observed that the Archives has great photos of efforts to restore the remains of several War of 1812 forts, during the 1930s. The images on display show the shocking extent of the decay at these sites. Kingston’s Fort Henry, in particular, had practically disintegrated into rubble. The forts were restored, in part, because of their intrinsic historical value, but also because they were tourist attractions. Their roles as destinations for motorists—and as make-work projects during the Great Depression—shouldn’t be underplayed.

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Laura Secord, by Mildred Peel, 1904. Government of Ontario Art Collection, Archives of Ontario.

Romanticized illustrations of the war also played a role in keeping its memory alive. The work of C.W. Jefferys, in textbook illustrations and books like the three-volume The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, in some cases, gave faces to historical figures whose actual images were never recorded—like Laura Secord, now legendary for her brave trek through the woods. Perceptions of 1812 contrasts Jefferys’ depiction of the future candy-store icon with a portrait of an older Secord displayed for years in Queen’s Park—a portrait that x-rays later revealed had been painted over a depiction of Ontario Premier George Ross.

We asked Fair and Tyler which items in the exhibit were their favourites. Tyler chose a 1912 picture from celebrations at the Brock Monument, commemorating the centennial of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Among the depicted dignitaries is Dr. Alexander Fraser, the first Archivist of Ontario, whose kilt stands out from the rest of the crowd. Fair chose two items: a letter Isaac Brock wrote after the British victory at Detroit, which conveys the sense of the joy he experienced, and maps made by surveyor David Thompson to define the postwar border.

The Battle of York

Originally published on Torontoist on March 20, 2013.

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8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot cross-belt plate. City of Toronto Museum Services, 11FY10A2.54. The grenadier company of the 8th (King’s) regiment was the first British regular unit to oppose the American landing. This plate was excavated at Fort York and has a large dent in the left margin. This damage may stem from either the accidental explosion in the Western Battery or the intentional destruction of the Grand Magazine.

Next month brings with it a key point in Toronto’s commemoration of the War of 1812: April 27 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York. Though British forces and local militias failed to repel the invading American forces, their efforts didn’t lack for explosive fury.

It happened on April 26, 1813: British sentries posted at the Scarborough Bluffs spotted a fleet of American vessels approaching from the southeast. Using signal guns and various objects strung on a flagpole, they warned the citizens and soldiers of York that an invasion was imminent. By the next morning, the Battle of York was underway.

Tensions between Great Britain and the United States simmered before war was officially declared on June 18, 1812. The conflict was the result of a number of different things: British attempts to press-gang seamen on American ships, trade restrictions enforced by the British as part of the Napoleonic Wars, an American desire to expand north and west, and British support of natives who stood in the way of American expansion.

As 1813 dawned, American Major-General Henry Dearborn wanted to attack York, which was seen as easy pickings. He figured that capturing the under-construction warship HMS Sir Isaac Brock, which was docked there, would help tilt the naval balance of power on Lake Ontario in favour of the Americans. Dearborn thought he could then conquer Niagara, which would have allowed him to concentrate his forces on taking Kingston and Montreal. After some hesitation, the Americans adopted Dearborn’s plan in the hopes that quick victory at York could swing an upcoming New York State election in favour of the pro-war Democratic-Republican party.

A fleet of 14 vessels set sail for York from Sackets Harbour, New York on April 25, 1813. Once military officials in York had sighted the fleet, they began planning their defense. Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe intended to use a plan similar to one employed in Niagara the previous November: no opposition until the enemy was in firing range, retreat if things went badly, destroy any ammunition, provisions, or anything else that could aid the opposition. He ordered a group of First Nations warriors coordinated by Major James Givins to meet the landing party, and a troop of soldiers led by Aeneas Shaw to stand guard at Lot Street (present-day Queen Street) by Garrison Creek. Grenadiers were sent to the ruins of Fort Rouillé (present-day Exhibition Place), while Sheaffe waited for the militia to show up at Fort York.

Around 7 a.m. on April 27, waves of American troops rowed to shore. They had been blown slightly off course, so they landed near the present-day intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and Dowling Avenue. The First Nations warriors were pushed back into the woods, and the Americans made their way to Fort Rouillé, where they ran into some of Sheaffe’s forces. Steady firing on land and from schooners anchored in the lake lasted until 8 a.m., when the British retreated. Around 10 a.m. a mobile gunpowder magazine was accidentally set off at the Western Battery (near the present-day Princes’ Gates), which knocked over a gun and killed or wounded 30 troops. All the while, American forces led by Brigadier General Zebulon Pike inched toward Fort York.

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Bird’s-eye view looking northeast from approximately foot of Parkside Drive, showing arrival of American fleet prior to capture of York, April 27, 1813. Painted by Owen Staples, circa 1914. Toronto Public Library. According to historian Robert Malcolmson, Staples’ painting “distorts distance, proportion and the number of vessels in Chauncey’s squadron, but still presents a striking impression of the flow of the battle on land and lake.”

By 1 p.m., Sheaffe’s troops had withdrawn to Elmsley House at King and Graves (now Simcoe) Streets. Many of the militia had thrown in the towel. Back at the fort, Pike’s forces were within 400 yards of the grand ammunition magazine. The remaining British forces ignited the magazine, producing a fireball that blasted bits of ammunition, rocks, and timber out to a disance of 500 yards. The explosion created a boom that was audible at forts 28 miles away along the Niagara River. An estimated 39 American troops were killed, 224 wounded. Among the casualties was Pike, who depending on the source, either died after being struck by a rock in the forehead, or after suffering a crushed spine.

While Sheaffe marched his remaining regular troops to Kingston, a team consisting of Lieutenant-Colonel William Chewett, Major William Allan, and Reverend John Strachan negotiated capitulation terms with the Americans. The invaders were not amused when they noticed smoke rising from York’s dockyards, where Sheaffe had ordered the torching of HMS Sir Isaac Brock to prevent it from falling into American hands. Just after 11 a.m. on April 28, 1813, the surrender was ratified.

That evening, the Americans—and even some locals—began looting York. Dearborn showed little interest in controlling the occupying forces. Homes were cleared of items ranging from clothes to cutlery. Jails were emptied. The pillaging climaxed with the burning of the Parliament Buildings during the early hours of April 30, 1813. The Americans intended to depart on May 2, but strong winds kept the fleet at York until it could set off for Niagara on May 8.

As for the attack’s political ramifications, news of the victory may have helped pro-war incumbent Daniel Tompkins win the New York State gubernatorial race. Sheaffe was soon relieved of his duties. The British got revenge for the burning of York and other settlements when they set Washington D.C. ablaze in August 1814. The war ended when the United States ratified the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815, which restored the prewar boundary between the Americans and British North America. Who actually won the war will be an eternal debate.

Consulted materials include Historic Fort York 1793-1993 by Carl Benn (Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History, 1993) and Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Next on TVOntario, Doctor Who

Originally published on Torontoist on November 22, 2013.

The cover of Star Week’s 1976/77 fall television preview issue was loaded with bombs. The makers of featured TV series like Ball FourCosHolmes and Yoyo, and The Nancy Walker Show had little inkling their shows would quickly be scuttled by poor ratings. Other new series mentioned in the magazine had better long-term prospects, including a British import TVOntario had put in the timeslot before Elwy Yost‘s Saturday Night at the Movies.

How was Doctor Who—which celebrates its 50th anniversary this week—introduced to Toronto viewers that fall?

From Star Week:

A BBC-produced science fiction series which has been running in Britain since 1963, this half-hour weekly series stars Jon Pertwee (the third actor to take the role) as the title character, a Time Lord, one of an advanced race of beings from the planet Gallifrey with extraordinary intellectual and psychic powers. Dr. Who has travelled through time and space via a machine called the TARDIS to the planet Earth in the 20th century where, as a special advisor to UNIT (a United Nations intelligence group), he uses his powers to outwit an endless array of monsters and villainous forces.

So began a 15-year run on the province’s educational broadcaster. As the show, created by Toronto native Sydney Newman, celebrates its golden anniversary, here’s a look at how TVOntario handled the series that enticed (and scared) a generation of viewers with its eerie theme music and carnival of monsters.

TVO wasn’t the first Toronto channel to air the series. CBC purchased the show’s first 26 episodes in late 1964. “Now perhaps my Canadian in-laws will really believe me when I say I am an actress,” Jacqueline Hill, who played the Doctor’s original companion, Barbara, joked to the Globe and Mail while en route to Toronto to visit her husband Alvin Rakoff’s family. Following the BBC’s lead, CBC scheduled the show in a late Saturday afternoon slot for a six-month run, beginning in January 1965.

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Toronto Star, October 29, 1977.

TVOntario’s run of the show began with part one of The Three Doctors on September 18, 1976. To fulfill its educational mandate, the broadcaster issued a resource handbook with suggested discussion themes and reading lists. On air, each show ended with a segment that explored topics suggested by the episode. (This was better than the addition made by Time-Life Television for American syndication: annoying narration, provided by actor Howard Da Silva, inserted into the soundtrack. It referred to the title character, whose name is “the Doctor,” as “Doctor Who.”) Hosted by futurist Jim Dator, these pieces filled a three-to-eight minute gap. Wearing a “Dr. Dator” t-shirt, he discussed the Doctor’s childlike treatment of his companions or eulogize the demise of his third incarnation.

When TVOntario introduced fourth doctor Tom Baker’s episodes in 1978, you might say Dator also regenerated. He was replaced by writer Judith Merril, the namesake of the Toronto Public Library’s speculative-fiction special collection. Though the pay was low for television, it was better than what she earned freelancing. Merril served as the “Un-Doctor” in 108 segments over the next three years. “I like to take something that was said or happened on the show and add some new information to it or stimulate the audience’s critical centres in some other way,” she told the Star in 1980. Merril hoped her pieces encouraged viewers to think critically and question authority—always the Doctor’s modus operandi.

While Merril initially enjoyed the segments, changes behind the scenes led to disenchantment. Her final producer wanted to use ChromaKey green screen in the studio instead of shooting on location. He also wanted her to wear costumes and tighten her scripts. Merril later reflected on the end of her run:

We did a few good shows that year, but it was a lot more work. I decided I would need to get a hell of a lot more money to keep doing it the way he wanted. They responded, “You’re absolutely right. You should be getting twice as much. But we just had another budget cut. I think we’ll do without the extros altogether.” That was that for my career as a Doctor Who specialist.

One Doctor Who story arc Merril found particularly problematic was The Talons of Weng-Chiang. While often acclaimed as one of the top stories of the Tom Baker era, the serial, influenced by everything from penny dreadfuls to Pygmalion, includes actors in yellowface makeup. The Chinese Canadian National Council for Equality complained about the story’s stereotyping. Its president, Dr. Joseph Wong, observed that the story included “everything from an evil Fu Manchu character to pigtailed coolies and laundrymen who submissively commit suicide on their master’s orders.” The story was pulled prior to airing in November 1980. A TVOntario official admitted that the move was censorship, “but in a good cause.” The BBC’s Canadian rep apologized for offending anyone, but noted that the show was made for a British audience who, because of a different mixture of cultures, might not be offended by the same things.

Another consequence of Doctor Who’s run on TVOntario was the inadvertent preservation of some episodes of the series from permanent destruction. The BBC was in the habit of junking tapes during the 1970s. When TVO returned several Jon Pertwee episodes to the BBC in 1981, they served as colour replacements for the black-and-white film copies Auntie Beeb had retained.

For years, the show continued to send sensitive young viewers diving behind the couch in terror, and to convince fans to knit long scarves and dress like cricketers, until TVOntario lost the broadcast rights to YTV in 1989. The show briefly resurfaced on TVO in 1991 so the station could use up the remaining repeat rights associated with the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy stories. Doctor Who disappeared from the station for good following the final part of Delta and the Bannermen on September 26, 1991.

Sources: Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002); the October 29, 1964 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 11, 1976, October 1, 1980, and November 6, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 7, 1980 edition of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, October 29, 1964.

Like many Ontarians of my age, TVO was my introduction to Doctor Who. When I was very little, I was fascinated by the title sequence and weird music, then switched the channel. I dimly recall seeing Jon Pertwee (third doctor) episodes on Detroit’s WGPR (channel 62), and never saw any black and white installments until PBS stations within our range began airing the series – I’m pretty sure my introduction to Patrick Troughton (second doctor) came via fuzzy reception from Bowling Green, Ohio.

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Star Week helped nail down Doctor Who’s initial airdates on TVO. It also offered an interesting glimpse into Saturday night television at the dawn of the 1976-77 season.

None of the shows spotlighted on Star Week‘s cover had staying power. Clockwise from top left:

Bill Cosby – Cos. Sketch comedy/variety show. Cancelled November 1976.

Tony Randall – The Tony Randall Show. Sitcom about a widowed judge. The only show featured on this cover to last more than one season, surviving until March 1978.

Nancy Walker – The Nancy Walker Show. Sitcom about L.A.-based talent agent. Cancelled December 1976. Walker quickly resurfaced as the star of Blansky’s Beauties in February 1977.

Jim Bouton – Ball Four. Sitcom inspired by Bouton’s controversial best-selling book about life as a pro baseball player. Cancelled October 1976.

David Birney – Serpico. Drama inspired by the Al Pacino movie. Cancelled January 1977.

John Schuck and Richard B. Shull – Holmes and Yoyo. Sitcom about a cop and his robot partner. Cancelled December 1976.

Dick Van Dyke – Van Dyke and Company. Sketch comedy/variety show whose cast included Andy Kaufman. Cancelled December 1976.

Robert Stack – Most Wanted. Crime drama. A Quinn Martin production. Last wanted in August 1977.

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Here’s the full Saturday preview page.  

Doctor Who wasn’t the only British import TVO added discussion points to. As shown here, the 1968-70 ITV drama Tom Grattan’s War was supplemented with bonus material featuring Andrea Martin, then appearing on another show which debuted in September 1976: SCTV. I’d love to see how Martin illustrated particular points about a young Londoner’s adventures set against the backdrop of the First World War. I’m guessing Edith Prickley didn’t make an appearance.

What aired against the Time Lord’s TVO debut? For Toronto viewers, music, music, music. Hee Haw (channel 2) featured Tammy Wynette, The Waltons star Will Geer, and Kenny Price. CFTO (channel 9) ran Canadian Stage Band Festival, featuring big bands from schools and post-secondary institutions across the country. Dolly Parton’s short-lived Dolly! (channel 7) guest-starred “Captain Kangaroo” Bob Keeshan. Grandparents enjoyed champagne music with Lawrence Welk on channel 29, while the disco set grooved to a steady stream of dancers and stylin’ fashion on CITY-TV’s Boogie.

After the post ran, I received an email from a reader who passed on the story to Dr. Jim Dator, who clarified his association with TVO and Doctor Who. Dator was on a two-year absence from the University of Hawaii, and worked with the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (OECA, as TVO was originally known) on their contribution to Science Council of Canada’s Canada as a Conserver Society project [PDF]. Upon returning to Hawaii, he shot one year of extros there before Judith Merril took over.

While I did co-teach a course at New College, and was given a visiting professor title in UT Department of Industrial Engineering (of all departments) thanks to Arthur Porter, and was also affiliated with the Department of Adult Education of OISE, thanks to Roby Kidd,  it was OECA who paid my salary. The Dr. Who stint was the final TV production I did for OECA, and the clip you sent of my swan song was actually filmed in Honolulu.

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Toronto Star, November 6, 1980.

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Toronto Sun, November 7, 1980.

Coverage of TVO’s pulling of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Greeting Easter 1910

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 3, 2010.

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Toronto Sunday World, March 27, 1910.
A description of Easter 110 years ago, courtesy of the Globe:

When the world is beginning to awaken to the fact that spring with all its revivifying and gladdening influences is at hand, when the earth is delivered from the bondage of the iron hand of winter, it is appropriate that paeans of praise and thanksgiving should rise from every Christian church the world over. Yesterday afternoon in Toronto in nearly four hundred churches special choral services were held, and every pulpit spoke forth a message appropriate to the day. Toronto looked like a new city yesterday when Easter raiment and Easter hats, as though by the waving of a magician’s wand, changed the dull streets of a few days back into avenues full of life and colour. No other flower blooms into being quite so suddenly as that which decks the maiden’s hat on Easter Sunday, and none of the birds of spring make their appearance in quite the unheralded fashion of the one that sings his silent song from its perch amidst the foliage unknown to science that adorns some of the new spring creations. It will still be some time before the trees begin to leaf, the early flowers to peep above the sod, and when they do the process will be a gradual one, but the women of Toronto yesterday anticipated the process and bloomed forth into the raiment of spring in a single day.

The city’s newspapers that weekend were full of flowery prose, extensive listings of the songs heard at four hundred churches, and a few other stories we’re going to share.

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Muddy St. Clair Avenue West, east of Avenue Road, 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 19. A researcher’s note on the back of the photograph reads, “This photo appeared in the Toronto World, Sunday, May 15, 1910, under heading ‘Beautiful Toronto Street Much Favored by Horsemen, Cyclists and Pedestrians–Three Views of St. Clair-avenue.’” Based on this photo, we’re guessing the copywriter had their tongue firmly in cheek.

In its Good Friday editorial, the Globe wrote about the controversial widening of St. Clair Avenue from a two-lane road into an artery that could handle multiple lanes of traffic and a streetcar line. The sticking point was who would pick up the cost: the city or taxpayers?

Some of the property-owners say that they moved to the avenue to be far away from street cars, laden wagons, automobiles, and all the other dusty and noisy features of city life. They do not want to attract them by widening the street—largely at their own cost. The dreaded traffic will come, however, whatever the width of the street may be, for it is the only artery that serves an area which is being rapidly populated. If the traffic must come, willy-nilly, it is better for all concerned that the street should be made spacious enough now to make it adequate for all time to come.

Despite concerns that the project would be caught up in bureaucratic bungling (the impression given by the editorial is that city projects constantly sailed through various levels of government only to be stymied by one unhappy official or board), the widening eventually went ahead. Whether it was made wide enough is a question to ask anyone with an opinion on the St. Clair right-of-way project.

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The Telegram, March 28, 1910.

Speaking of streetcars, Toronto Railway Company general manager R.J. Fleming announced a series of new lines that looped around City Hall and crossed the Don River. Among the routes were two that began the process of connecting the many short streets that later formed the path of Dundas Street from Bathurst to Broadview. The eastern route along what was then Wilton Avenue and Elliott Street was hoped to relieve pressure on Queen Street as the number of commuters from Riverdale grew, as well as to allow a new crossing of the Don River to be built. The loops around City Hall were designed to lessen congestion created by the thousands of employees heading to work at Eaton’s and Simpson’s. According to the News, city council disagreed with the proposed line for University Avenue “for scenic reasons” and because of the noise it would create in front of the new site for Toronto General Hospital.

And now, a word from our sponsor…

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Mail and Empire, March 25, 1910.

The other major story from east of the Don was a coroner’s inquest into the death of laundryman Mah Yung from typhoid at the Don Jail. Yung was arrested on March 12 at his store on Parliament Street, where, according to the Globe, “other Chinamen” called the police when Yung “had gone out of his mind and was breaking up the furniture.” Though an autopsy determined Yung’s state was caused by a typhoid-induced delirium with symptoms resembling insanity, the arresting officer didn’t call a doctor, as Yung did not appear to be in any pain. Although a law passed a few years earlier indicated anyone suspected of mental illness shouldn’t be locked up with anyone charged or convicted of a criminal offence, that’s precisely what happened to Yung when he reached the jail. His condition varied over the next few days, with most accounts noting that he repeatedly got out of bed, put his clothes on, and then reversed the process. After nearly a week, Yung’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he was rushed to Toronto General Hospital, where he quickly succumbed to peritonitis that set into a ruptured bowel. The inquest determined that medical facilities at the jail were grossly inadequate and the physicians had not taken enough care in diagnosing Yung’s true ailment—insanity, partly determined by rumours heard by Yung’s friends that he might have spent time in an asylum in Vancouver. As a News editorial noted, “the fact that the victim was a Chinaman does not render any less satisfactory the breakdown of the medical machinery in connection with the Toronto prison system.” While the inquest was under way, local health officials downgraded a boiled water alert, as the count of bacteria in the city water supply that led to Yung’s condition had dropped.

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Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 192A.

On a lighter note, the News also provided an update on the reconstruction of recreational facilities at Hanlan’s Point that were damaged or destroyed by fire the previous summer—“the sound of hammer and saw and the general bustle and activity at Hanlan’s Point these days reminds one forcibly of the springtime scene in a young but growing town in the Prairie Provinces, where they sprout up and stretch out as if by magic.” The $250,000 of improvements made by the Toronto Ferry Company included a doubling of the capacity of the baseball stadium, improved fire protection, and the installation of a new roller coaster at the amusement park:

Two cars start off together on opposite sides of a platform, are hauled up the steep incline and then tear away on their mad course a mile and a half in length, including all the circuits and curves, which they cover in three and one-half minutes. The speed is that of a railway train, and if that, together with the up-jerks and down-jerks, is not enough excitement, a little more is provided by the apparent race with another racing car on a parallel course close by. The Racer Dips are specially strengthened and provided with side guards to prevent any possibility of a car leaving the course.

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The News, March 26, 1910.

If riding the Racer Dips was too much excitement for a leisurely activity, why not take part in a play? The News provided tips from Toronto Conservatory School of Expression director F.H. Kirkpatrick for budding thespians on how to properly run an amateur dramatic club. Most important: find a director or stage manager who “must be dominant, firm, tactful and possessed of an infinite degree of patience.” In terms of suitable material, “it is almost unnecessary to suggest that one cannot portray that which is without one’s experience. Consequently it would be wise to avoid dramas that call for the portrayal of deep and subtle emotions.” Fitzpatrick felt that “plays of simple plot, somewhat rapid movement, normal characterization and clear situations” were appropriate for non-professionals. Ideal genres included farce, situation comedies, and “plays of a simple heart-interest.” He also believed many clubs ignored the crucial elements of choosing the right pictures to post on the stage, which we suspect may have helped distract audiences from the cliched action in front of them.

Sources: the March 25, 1910, March 26, 1910, and March 28, 1910 editions of the Globe; the March 25, 1910 edition of the Mail and Empire; the March 26, 1910 and March 28, 1910 editions of the News; and the March 26, 1910 edition of the Telegram.

An Illustrated Business Quartet, 1893

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on January 23, 2010.

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Cover of Toronto Illustrated 1893 (Toronto: Consolidated Illustrating, 1893).

“Towering triumphantly on the northern shore of the majestic Lake Ontario, Toronto…presents in her commercial history a record of advancement, an epitome of industrial progress and a chapter in itself redundant of individual and collective instances of energy and enterprise to which few communities of the New World can rightly lay claim.” So opens the introduction to Toronto Illustrated 1893, a guide to merchants and service providers in the Queen City that offers insight into familiar and forgotten titans of industry. Following a background sketch of the city’s history and economic development, profiles of bankers, corset manufacturers, chewing gum distributors, doctors, hoteliers, industrialists, and not-so-starving artists fill out the book. The profiles are fawning and often contain generic information that could apply to anyone (“one of our most deservedly popular and successful business enterprises”) but provide an interesting glimpse of the local business community during the “Naughty Nineties,” including the four that follow.

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Parker’s Dye Works, 787-791 Yonge Street. Toronto Illustrated 1893.

The first business to merit a profile is among the few still in operation. Robert Parker established his first cleaning and dyeing operation in Ottawa in 1876, originally focusing on adding colour to ostrich feathers. The book noted that “Mr. Parker is an Englishman by birth and a young man of exceptional business ability who, by close application and carefully attending to the interests of his patrons, has built up a business of such magnitude that he finds it now almost impossible to keep pace with growing demands made upon him. Such a condition of affairs certainly speaks for itself.” By 1893, Parker’s Dye Works operated six locations around the city, plus branches scattered from London to Hamilton where one could have sung the company’s jingle “We Dye to Live.” The main office and processing facility took up several storefronts along Yonge Street where the Toronto Reference Library now stands. By the end of the decade, Parker’s was the second company in Toronto to use motorized delivery vehicles, an achievement recognized on a postage stamp a century later. The dyeing portion of the business decreased over time, though it might be amusing to watch the clerk’s reaction if you brought ostrich feathers in for dyeing at any current location of Parker’s Cleaners.

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John Abell Engine and Machine Works. Toronto Illustrated 1893.

Spectators of the wars between preservationists and developers may remember the battle during the 2000s over 48 Abell Street. Long before its use as a space for artists, the complex turned out boilers, engines, threshers, and other agricultural implements under the careful eye of John Abell. Born in England, Abell established his company in Vaughan Township in 1845 as the Woodbridge Agricultural Works. Despite the occasional hiccup, such as a fire in 1874 that nearly destroyed the business, Abell was highly regarded for the quality of his machinery and his community involvement. Before moving his operations to Queen Street in 1886, Abell served as a justice of the peace, the president of several agricultural societies, and, for a term, as the first reeve of Woodbridge. By 1893, the John Abell Engine and Machine Works employed 150 skilled workers whose toil included the boilers for Massey Hall and machinery sold to exotic locales like the Ottoman Empire.

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Portraits of John Abell and Elias Rogers. Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: The Mail Printing Company, 1891).

The Globe praised Abell’s personal qualities in an editorial published shortly after his death in 1903:

[He] was a man of singularly engaging personality. He had a strong scientific bent and exceptional mechanical aptitude. He was by nature an inventor and by temperament a student…His main interest in his work was not the amount of money he could make out of it, but the amount of good he could accomplish by relieving the toilers through the improvement of the implements with which they have to work…He was, in spite of his modesty, a charming conversationalist, because of his keen sagacity, intellectual originality, and generous sympathies. He was a conspicuous example of the enterprising capitalist who successfully resists the narrowing and hardening tendency of intense application to mechanical or commercial pursuits.

Abell’s company was purchased by two American interests shortly before his death and operated for another decade as the American Abell Engine and Thresher Company.

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Elias Rogers advertisement, The Toronto World, February 13, 1914.

For years, the Elias Rogers coal bucket and its promise of the “very best” in heating fuel was a familiar sight to Toronto newspaper readers. Born near Newmarket, Rogers entered the local coal business with his brother Samuel in 1876 after buying mines in Pennsylvania. Toronto Illustrated claimed that Rogers owned “the largest yards and the most improved facilities for handling coal in Canada,” used “one of the best arranged telephone systems in the city,” and compared his position in the coal trade to that of Macy’s in retail. By the end of 1890, Elias Rogers Coal operated a variety of offices and yards around the city and a pair of large docks along the Esplanade near St. Lawrence Market that could process 725 tonnes of coal a day.

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Elias Rogers Coal & Wood Co. – property, south side of Esplanade East (near foot of Berkeley Street), 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 30, Item 33 .

Rogers entered the political arena as a city councillor for the St. Lawrence ward in 1887. He was positioned as a reformist candidate for mayor later that year, but his campaign faltered after an attempt by teetotalling Quaker Rogers to tar opponent Edward Frederick Clarke‘s ties to the liquor industry. Clarke responded by accusing Rogers of being part of a price-fixing coal cartel. Rogers left the political realm after his defeat, but remained a key figure in local business organizations (including a stint as president of the Board of Trade in the 1890s). He sold his interests in the coal business to his son Alfred around 1912 and died eight years later.

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Wesley Buildings, Richmond Street side. Toronto Called Back From 1892 to 1847 by Conyngham Crawford Taylor (Toronto: William Briggs, 1892).

One of the oldest businesses in Toronto Illustrated was the Methodist Book and Publishing House, which first cranked up its press in 1829. By 1893, this branch of the Methodist Church was one of the country’s largest publishers, and its offices at Richmond Street West and Temperance Street pumped out educational, religious, and secular literature under the watchful eye of Reverend William Briggs. One of Briggs’ main policies was to use profits from foreign publications to fund the printing of Canadian authors like Charles G.D. Roberts and Catherine Parr Traill.

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Methodist Book Room, southeast corner of Queen and John streets, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 761.

By 1913 the church and book company (later known as Ryerson Press) required more space for its head offices; a facility was built at 299 Queen Street West, later the home of CITY-TV.

As for the future of Toronto’s business community, the anonymous author believed, “It is safe to predict that the historian of the industries of the future will be able to point back to those of today as the auspicious beginnings of a greater and brighter destiny.”

Additional material from the August 10, 1903 and April 12, 1920 editions of the Globe.