Bonus Features: “Are we over-reacting?” (Halloween 1982)

Before diving into this post, check out my recent TVO post about how Halloween was under threat in Ottawa in 1982.

Ottawa Citizen, October 27, 1982.

If you’re still feeling like making treats on this strange Halloween, why not serve caramel apples a la Rideau Hall?

Ottawa Citizen, November 1, 1982.

These candy apples come Prime Minister approved! Just don’t tell the haters where the recipe came from…

Windsor Star, September 28, 1982.

Like Ottawa, Windsor decided to keep trick-or-treating on its traditional date instead of moving it to Saturday the 30th. Fun Partying 1, Old Time Morality 0.

Windsor Star, October 23, 1982.

Inevitably, there were people who were going to complain that, like shopping or pretty much any normal activity, trick-or-treating on a Sunday was blasphemous. The success of Ms. Morency’s campaign may be measured by the fact that I didn’t find any follow-up articles from riled-up ministers or other Windsorites. This doesn’t surprise me – I think one of the benefits of Windsor being closer geographically to Detroit than Toronto was a more laid-back attitude toward such matters, with far less of the lingering “Toronto the Good” uptightness.

Nearby, my sister and I would have gone out trick-or-treating on the 31st, as Amherstburg also stuck with the traditional date. Police throughout Essex County reported a quieter-than-usual night. “It’s the best Halloween since I’ve been here,” Tilbury staff-sgt. Bob Cartier told the Windsor Star. “The kids enjoyed themselves and the pranksters were down to a minimum. There wasn’t even any egg throwing.”

Toronto Star, November 1, 1982.

How Halloween went down in Toronto and Peel Region. Like Essex County, things were calm.

Toronto Star, November 1, 1982.

Some Torontonians spent their Halloween climbing up the stairs at the CN Tower. Despite what the headline may lead you to believe, none of the participants dressed as the Big Bad Wolf and blew the tower down.

Toronto Star, October 31, 1982.

For those who decided to dress up despite the atmosphere of fear, E.T. was one of the year’s most popular costumes. Of the papers I conducted research in, this was the only photo showing an E.T. next to a phone.

Monsters of the Movies: The Invisible Man

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. For nearly 90 years, the classic lineup of Universal monsters has provided a set of iconic characters that have thrilled and inspired generations of film lovers. This Halloween, let’s discover how Toronto’s press and theatres introduced these classic films.

Eerie, stylized rays shooting out of the Invisible Man’s eyes, Toronto Star, November 30, 1933.

The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; the snow had piled itself against his shoulders and chest, and added a white crest to the burden he carried. He staggered into the “Coach and Horses” more dead than alive, and flung his portmanteau down. “A fire,” he cried, “in the name of human charity! A room and a fire!” He stamped and shook the snow from off himself in the bar, and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain. And with that much introduction, that and a couple of sovereigns flung upon the table, he took up his quarters in the inn.

H.G. Wells, opening paragraph of The Invisible Man, 1897.

Preview, Toronto Star, November 27, 1933.

Preview, The Globe, December 2, 1933.

The following year, Claude Rains would appear in the film version of The Man Who Reclaimed His Head. One fact to quibble with: Rains had appeared in one British silent movie, 1920’s Build Thy House.

Rains had appeared on Toronto stages as early as December 1913, when he appeared in a touring production of George Bernard Shaw’s Fanny’s First Play at the Royal Alex. While’s Rains’s performance isn’t mentioned, Globe theatre critic E.R. Parkhurst felt that while there were some typically good Shavian satirical jabs, “the weakness of the comedy is its diffuseness, which becomes slightly tiresome towards the close.”

Review by Lawrence Mason, the Globe, December 2, 1933.

Toronto Star, December 1, 1933.

Of the added attractions, Jack Arthur was the music director for the Famous Players chain – more about him over at the Canadian Encyclopedia. Aileen Stanley was a popular American singer in the early 1920s whose career shifted to England in the 1930s. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the “Russian Revels” were, as the PR flacks gave few hints.

The Invisible Man is the only one of the classic Universal monsters I ever dressed up as for Halloween, for a party during my university daze . In concept it was great: tensor bandages, sunglasses, a nice coat with shirt and tie. It looked good. For the first few minutes, everything was fine, other than my glasses constantly fogging up. Kind of like dealing with masks in the COVID age, but even more annoying. By the time I got to the party, I was sweating like crazy. I’m not particularly claustrophobic, but this outfit was getting stuffy and uncomfortable. After a few minutes of not being able to see anyone and feeling a little fuzzy, I tore the bandages off. If memory serves, I drew on a pencil-thin moustache and spent the rest of the night as a 1930s actor after their audition for The Invisible Man.

Sources: the December 2, 1913 edition of the Globe.

Monsters of the Movies: The Mummy

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. For nearly 90 years, the classic lineup of Universal monsters has provided a set of iconic characters that have thrilled and inspired generations of film lovers. This Halloween, let’s discover how Toronto’s press and theatres introduced these classic films.

Toronto Star, February 24, 1933.

From the Globe‘s preview:

Dead 3,000 years—alive again!—the crumbling mummy of yesterday, becomes the fighting man of today—battling modern science with the black art of a buried past in his frenzied search for his long lost love.

Review by Lawrence Mason, the Globe, February 25, 1933.

The press agent reports noted that Karloff supposedly “closeted himself in his country home for two months previous to the production fate, reading over 25 books on the subject of ancient Egyptian religion and history. So well versed was he when filming time arrived that he acted in the capacity of technical adviser in many instances.” When he might have had time to do this, if this wasn’t a story concocted by a press agent (which it probably was), is a good question, as Karloff appeared in nine films in 1932, most notably The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Old Dark House, and Scarface.

The Globe, March 5, 1932.

As far as I can tell, there were no tie-ins with any mummies displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum. Digging through the Globe and Star archives, the only story I found was a letter published the previous year in the Globe‘s “Circle of Young Canada” section from a girl attempting to write a sonnet about her recent encounter with a ROM mummy.

I’m surprised they didn’t report on the makeup process required for the scene where Karloff was in full-on mummy mode. Universal makeup genius Jack Pierce worked on the actor for eight hours, covering his face with collodion, cotton, and spirit gum, his hair with clay, and his body with linen treated to look decayed. Two painful hours were required to remove the makeup.

For its debut at the Imperial, The Mummy was presented with a short starring radio comedian Jack Pearl and a live revue, Girl Trouble, which was described as “a gay musical comedy” and headlined by comedian Chester Fredericks. The Star praised three brunette gymnasts as “outstanding” and noted that “the costume tableaux is also good.” Ads mention “5 thorobreds,” which makes me wonder if live horses were hauled on stage, some actors were dressed in wacky pantomime horse costumes, or it’s just another 1930s term for eye candy.

The Globe, February 9, 1933.

Also at the Imperial was Carnival on Skates, shot a few weeks earlier during rehearsals for the 1933 edition of the Toronto Skating Carnival presented by the Toronto Skating Club at Maple Leaf Gardens. “There are some smart shots,” the Star‘s “Over the Tea Cups” column observed, “some taken from above and some from below, with one in particular, when the chorus of the ballet passes directly over the camera itself.” The ice spectacular was officially opened on February 23 by Governor-General Lord Bessborough. Perhaps his presence inspired the Globe to publish an editorial praising the club’s effort, noting that the organization “is doing a notable work in popularizing, and revealing the possibilities of, a delightful, health-giving winter pastime.”

Next: The Invisible Man

Sources: the February 20, 1933, February 23, 1933, and February 25, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the February 23, 1933 and February 25, 1933 edition of the Toronto Star.

Monsters of the Movies: Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. For nearly 90 years, the classic lineup of Universal monsters has provided a set of iconic characters that have thrilled and inspired generations of film lovers. This Halloween, let’s discover how Toronto’s press introduced these classic films.

Toronto Star, January 4, 1932.

The Globe, January 1, 1932.

One classic 1930s horror film replaced by another. At this time, American movies reached Toronto within a month or two of their opening south of the border. In Frankenstein‘s case, the movie premiered in November 1931, went into US wide release in December, and showed up here after New Year’s.

Before reaching Toronto, Frankenstein had wowed American critics. The New York Times’s Mordaunt Hall named it one of the 10 best movies of 1931, calling it “a most impressive piece of work in which the gruesome is overshadowed by the dramatic suspense.” By contrast Dracula didn’t make his “Other Worthy Films” list, which isn’t surprising if you’ve seen how creaky that film is compared to Frankenstein or other movies on Hall’s lists that still hold up, such as Chaplin’s City Lights and the pioneering gangster movie tandem of Little Caesar and The Public Enemy.

In his short review, the Globe’s Lawrence Mason was happy that some of the filmgoing public was banned from seeing the film:

It was pleasing to see children being turned away from the Tivoli box office yesterday, for the talking picture now being shown in that playhouse would be too rightly severe a nightmare for the little people…The picture has been somewhat softened and has been given a happy ending, but it is horrifyingly ghoulish in all conscience, even for taste hardened by Lon Chaney’s gruesome thrillers and Dracula. The main part, setting forth a student’s creation of an inhuman monster which throws off his control and wages war upon humanity, is as effective allegory warning us that the scientific inventions of which we are so proud may eventually be our ruin.

Toronto Star, January 2, 1932.

Notes from the PR flacks:

Extensive use of the term “picturized,” as in “picturized on the immense scale which the importance and scope of the subject demands.

Colin Clive was praised for giving a “restrained, magnetic performance that is uncanny and fascinating” as Dr. Frankenstein. “But it is Boris Karloff who holds your undivided attention. You will be fascinated, shocked, even unnerved. Yet you are bound to acclaim him for his uncanny skill, his brilliance and his keen, dramatic sense of the unusual.”

Director James Whale on how he told Clive to play the doctor: “I see Frankenstein as an intensely sane person, at times rather fanatical, and in one or two scenes a little hysterical.”

Accompanying Frankenstein was Close Farm-ony, a musical short featuring the Boswell Sisters. PR flacks called it “another Tivoli triumph.”

Toronto Star, May 10, 1935.

Three years later, Karloff, Clive, and Whale returned with the delightful Bride of Frankenstein.

Review by Lawrence Mason, the Globe, May 10, 1935.

Nice to see a shout-out to Una O’Connor, who’s always a hoot to watch in movies from this era.

The Mickey Mouse cartoon mentioned here was Mickey’s Kangaroo, while Flying Down to Zero was the next-to-last short the comedy duo of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough made before McCullough, recovering from a spell in a sanitarium, killed himself the following year.

The Globe, May 14, 1935.

Notes from the PR flacks:

The movie was frequently referred to as the screen’s “strangest drama.” It is also noted for showing “an exceptional array of highly artistic setting filled with sombre beauty.”

Karloff was praised for bringing humanity to his second outing as the monster. He “gives a truly remarkable characterization of the menacing, lumbering brute, savage and yet filled with misunderstood kindness. In spite of his ruthless crimes, he is at all times an object of sympathy and pity.”

Toronto Star, May 29, 1935.

After opening at the Uptown, Bride of Frankenstein moved on to the Tivoli. The boxing match “exclusive” was one of three welterweight championship bouts over the previous year between Jimmy McLarnin and Barney Ross. The final match took place in Seattle the day before this ad was printed, so either film was rushed to theatres, or older footage was used. If it was the last round, Ross won the title, which he held until May 1938.

Next: The Mummy

Sources: the January 2, 1932, January 4, 1932, January 7, 1932, January 14, 1932, May 11, 1935, and May 13, 1935 editions of the Globe; the January 3, 1932 edition of the New York Times; and the January 7, 1932 and May 11, 1935 editions of the Toronto Star.

Monsters of the Movies: Dracula

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. For nearly 90 years, the classic lineup of Universal monsters has provided a set of iconic characters that have thrilled and inspired generations of film lovers. This Halloween, let’s discover how Toronto’s press introduced these classic films.

Los Angeles Evening Express, March 26, 1931. Sadly, no ad this good promoted Dracula during its initial Toronto run.

First tip when researching movies in Toronto newspapers published prior to the Second World War: don’t expect anything resembling insightful, thoughtful, deeply considered film criticism. Expect rehashed PR releases, the occasional piece of advice from whatever theatre the film opened at, and no more than a sentence or two of opinion from whoever was on the film beat.

Dracula is a prime example of this. Take this sample preview from the April 11, 1931 edition of the Globe:


Count Dracula is a vampire who apparently died 500 years ago but who retains the power, since he is buried in his own home soil, to rise from the grave each night and to assume several forms. He is one of the terrifying “undead”…Emerging at night, his terrible advances drive the entire crew to insane suicide. You’ll get the thrill of your life at the Tivoli Theatre when this amazing production is shown. Watch for it.

Toronto Star, April 18, 1931.

The Star ran its rehashed PR copy in its “What Press Agents Say About Coming Events” column. Here’s what the flacks had to say about good ol’ Drac in the April 9, 1931 edition:

If you have read Dracula, Bram Stoker’s fantastic and weirdly thrilling novel of vampires, you will be interested to know that this strange take has been dramatized on the talking screen by Universal. As you know, Dracula tells the story of a deathless vampire, a man dead more than five hundred years, who between the hours of sunset and sunrise, comes to life, wreaking vengeance on all who cross his path. So, if you have been looking for thrills, your chance has come.

Later PR releases compared the story to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and praise the makeup job on Bela Lugosi.

The Globe, April 22, 1931.

Dracula debuted at the Tivoli theatre, which Famous Players operated under that name at Richmond and Victoria from 1923 to 1964. Those going to the fright-fest were assured by the Globe that Tivoli management would provide “all the assurance necessary to those who might be inclined to take Dracula seriously—or rather, too seriously” by providing “attentive attendants, restful rest rooms, open doors.”

There are no reports in either paper of whether the sweet music made by the children of the night sent patrons screaming out of the theatre.

The Globe, September 8, 1931.

Later that year, a touring version of the stage play which the film adapted opened the Royal Alex’s 1931/32 season. Unlike films, live theatre received more critical attention, as this review shows. The Star‘s review noted that Dracula was “not a family play” thanks to a spooky mystery where “one woman back at the door screamed higher than a wildcat at the human vampire.”

Next: Frankenstein.

Sources: the April 11, 1931 and April 13, 1931 editions of the Globe; and the April 9, 1931, April 16, 1931, and September 8, 1931 editions of the Toronto Star.

Tales of G20 Weekend

During the last weekend of June 2010, Toronto held the G20 economic summit. In the weeks leading up to it, the core of the city gradually transformed into a fortress, and business prepared for the worst if clashes between protesters and police broke out. I decided to tie Historicist into the feeling civil liberties were going to be tossed by the wayside by writing a column on how an earlier suspension of rights, the October Crisis, affected the city.

Two days before this piece was published, I gathered my thoughts about the prelude to the G20 on my blog:


So here we are. A billion bucks worth of security that has left many Torontonians unhappy to have a police state thrust upon them for an early summer weekend. A city presented to foreign dignitaries and media with phony lakes. A city with businesses and institutions normally viewed as showcase attractions to outsiders that have been shuttered out of fear of potential riot damage. These elements, and many others surrounding the G20 summit, have prompted severe fits of headscratching. At last check, admissions to local hospitals due to extreme scalp damage have gone up 600% over the past month.

Thanks Stephen…heck, you even caused the Eternal Flame of Hope to flame off.


Curiosity prompted me to walk along King Street last night to see how preparations were going for the G20 summit before the craziness kicked into full gear. Civilians were few amid the packs of police officers. Most of the law enforcement officials I passed were in groups of eight to ten and were either chatting normally amongst themselves or trading jokes with tourists. Near the Royal Alex, I overheard a young female tourist with a heavy British accent tell an officer “if I come back for the protests, maybe I’ll run into you!” Everyone laughed.

Based on the riot helmets each officer carried, I doubt there will be much more light-hearted interaction with civilians for the rest of the weekend.

The lack of the usual Thursday night hustle and bustle around the Entertainment District was eeriest near Bathurst Street. All bars and eateries were dark along King and the lack of people made me feel like I had survived an apocalyptic event and was on the prowl for others who escaped the catastrophe.

Security guards I passed wore “why me” expressions on their faces, especially those on the fringes of the security perimeter. They clearly wished they were elsewhere or had something to read. One poor fellow at King and Yonge shrugged as I wandered by his window.


As I got off the bus this morning, I noticed two guys in newsboy-style costumes holding up “newspapers” with a large monetary figure as the headline. I was too far away to make out what they were yelling, so I assumed they were G20 protestors making their case outside the subway entrance at the southwest corner of Yonge and Eglinton. As I drew closer, my camera was on standby to chronicle a protest so far away from the main action of the day.

The opportunity to be a frontline news reporter evaporated quickly. These newsies weren’t delivering their views on the controversies surrounding the summit. They weren’t pitching satirical attacks against the man. These dudes weren’t even protesting.

They were pushing a $50 million lottery draw.

The only battle was a struggle for sidewalk space with commuters and orange bib-clad distributors of 24 Hours who have manned the intersection all week. Given Yonge and Eglinton’s cluster of office buildings and residential towers, the intersection is a natural magnet to anyone eager to hand out any slip of paper for a health club deal, new food product, newspaper, religious tract, etcetera, to innocent pedestrians.

I mentioned the lottery newsies to a coworker who had also seen them on their way into work and who shared the same initial reaction. Their disappointment ran deeper, thanks to the newsies’s waste of a few good trees.


Speaking of handouts at Yonge and Eglinton, there were many smiling people out today. One set of green shirts wished to educate the public about TD Canada Trust services, while another forced people to smile for the camera for a free sample of Greg’s vanilla ice cream. One batch of hander-outs, if positioned further downtown, could have posed a security risk: for the second time in recent weeks, bottles of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce were being given out gratis. Think of the following scenario: an angry protestor gets their hands on a bottle, breaks off the cap, tosses tasty mix of cayenne peppers and vinegar into eyes of unprepared officer during demonstration. Chaos ensues.

(We would like to thank the media and government officials for leading innocent minds to imagine such situations)


This week’s Historicist column (which I’ll be cranking out tonight) just received a boost from the news this morning that the province quietly gave the go-ahead to law enforcement to arrest more freely near the security zone. This isn’t the first time that a stronger hook for a piece I’m writing has fallen from the sky late in the writing process…and this one fits so well. Watch for the column on Torontoist tomorrow, along with ongoing G20 coverage all weekend.

My attention that weekend was divided between finishing the column and listening to the G20 chaos unfold on CBC Radio. I wrote most of the column at my then-girlfriend’s place just off Roncesvalles, well away from the action. Later, when a wall appeared in Kensington Market for people to share their G20 stories, I wrote a blog post sharing ours.


Scene: Roncesvalles Village. I was working frantically in Sarah’s kitchen on that weekend’s installment of Historicist, fretting that I needed to write a perfect piece on the War Measures Act in light of the high-traffic that Torontoist expected to receive from readers updating themselves on summit-related events. My frantic mood wasn’t helped by a week where fatigue and other factors had hit me hard. I had my aunt’s old radio tuned to CBC so that we could hear if anything was going down to the east of us. The plan was to finish the article, rest a bit, then drive over to a friend’s barbecue party north of St. Clair. My biggest worry wasn’t being caught in any G20-related chaos, but determining where between Roncesvalles and our destination soccer-loving drivers would screw up traffic to express their national pride to all.


As the chaos downtown unfolded, we were glued to the radio and each of our computers. Updates were relayed between the kitchen and the living room. Work on the article continued sporadically as each new tidbit floated across the airwaves or Twitter.

Windows were smashed along Yonge Street and Queen West. Police cars burned. Public transit screeching to a halt.

We were so caught up in the drama that we delayed our departure to the evening’s soiree.


The highlight of the drive to the barbecue had nothing to do with the G20. While waiting for a left turn light at St. Clair and Dufferin, a lone man in colorful garb stood at the southwest corner…no, make that “slowly flailed at the southwest corner.” He waved his arms in the air with motions that were feeble enough to suggest that he really wanted to show the world his joy and enthusiasm, but the body wasn’t quite willing to. We figured this was his way of celebrating Ghana’s victory.

At the party, the day’s events weren’t far from most people’s minds. Updates were tracked on mobile devices.

The Historicist column was finished by Sunday morning. As we continued to keep tabs via radio, web, passenger pigeon, etcetera, I joked about heading downtown that afternoon to see what was happening. Sarah sternly advised me not to let my curiousity (and semi-conscious desire to be in the middle of the action) overwhelm me…which proved a smart decision for my personal well-being in light of what went down on Queen Street.


Still, I couldn’t resist driving by affected areas on my way home. The only incident I witnessed was the raid on a student residence just off of Spadina Crescent—I knew something was up when I saw a long line of news vans parked along the east side of Spadina as I headed south from Bloor Street. Heading west along College, I noticed one guy kneeling on the ground while talking to police, though I passed by too quickly to determine if handcuffs were involved. While waiting at stop lights along Yonge Street, I watched pedestrians stare at the smashed and/or boarded up windows.

Our sympathies varied during the weekend. During Saturday’s smash-a-thon, we admired how restrained law enforcement was while the anarchist fringe had a smashing good time on the town (I wondered how many of those involved had ties to Guelph). This ebbed as the first reports of conditions in the detention facilities came in, and evaporated when the forces dropped their reserve on Sunday and went after anyone in the way. The fiasco many had predicted had come to pass and we weren’t feeling good about it.

Several months on, the fallout from that weekend occasionally bubbles up in the headlines. Outstanding charges, though dwindling, remain. Lawsuits have been filed. Lingering jokes about the cost to recreate the comforts of Muskoka for dignitaries. Egg that hasn’t slid off the faces of the mayor and police chief.

Thanks federal government. Thank you.

My anger as what unfolded manifested itself in the follow-up Historicist column, which covered the Bill 99 fiasco of 1964. Several years later, I covered (and wound up participating in onstage) a play written by one of the people kettled on Queen Street, You Should Have Stayed Home. Here’s my piece on that experience, published by Torontoist in October 2013:

g20_praxis 1

Image courtesy Praxis Theatre.

What’s the trickiest part of volunteering to play a Toronto G20 detainee during the current remount of You Should Have Stayed Home? Donning the plastic zip-tie handcuffs used on those who wound up at the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre three years ago. If you lack nimble fingers, or have a tendency to wear things the wrong way, ask one of your fellow detainees to fix the strips so that they’ll stay on during the performance, and won’t require a pair of scissors for removal.

Finding volunteers for Praxis Theatre and The Original Norwegian’s five-city tour of Tommy Taylor’s account of his detention experience during Toronto’s G20 summit has not been difficult. Some participated in the show’s debut run during Summerworks in 2011. Others were inspired in different ways. “We had a guy in Vancouver come and see the show, not knowing anything about it,” says Aislinn Rose, artistic producer of Praxis Theatre. “He came to see the show with his wife. The words he said to me were, ‘I heard Tommy tell his story and I knew I had to stand up with him.’” He wound up volunteering for most of the remaining performances.

Playing a detainee is simple, as we discovered during a performance this weekend. Email Praxis to work out the details. Show up for a rehearsal one hour before the performance begins. Your props are a pink wristband akin to those worn by the real detainees, the plastic “handcuffs,” and a Styrofoam cup. During your 12 minutes on stage in the cage, you’ll pose in several tableau positions. You’ll also scream for water, a moment where the cruelty of the situation caused our internal temperature to rise. The trick is not to break character by watching Taylor’s engaging performance.

g20_praxis 2

Image courtesy Praxis Theatre.

Those who volunteered at the performance we attended were drawn by the show’s reflections on Toronto’s G20 weekend. All wanted to do their part to publicize what happened to the detainees. One said that if it wasn’t for the fact that she couldn’t find a sitter for her son, she would have checked out the protests and probably would have been arrested. Another volunteer admitted she only knew the basics of what happened during the G20 weekend, and was so appalled and compelled by Taylor’s account that she felt the need to participate.

Rose finds that audiences and participants are drawn by Taylor’s focus on the human damage done during the G20 weekend, rather than the smashed windows and torched police cars. “There’s a lot of people who were traumatized and don’t want to talk about this story,” Rose observes. “The fact he can tell this story opens the door to a larger conversation about the people in our society who experience this kind of behaviour from police on a regular basis.” She finds that audience response has grown more emotional with the passage of time, because, she thinks, people feel little was done to address the mistreatment of detainees. Taylor’s account is one she feels is “so important.”

Measures of War

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 27, 2010, in the midst of the G20 summit chaos in Toronto (hence the references to the events of that week).

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau utters three famous words while questioned by CBC reporter Tim Ralfe three days before the enactment of the War Measures Act in October 1970. CBC Archives.

Watch him we did…

The revelation that the Ontario government quietly invoked the Public Works Protection Act earlier this week to provide law enforcement with freer rein to question and arrest anyone venturing toward the protected zones around the G20 summit and protests has led some civilians to reflect on past instances where civil liberties were temporarily suspended in the name of public security. One of the most powerful weapons in the federal government’s arsenal was the War Measures Act, which was invoked three times (two of which were for World Wars) between 1914 and 1970. Though its final usage mostly affected Quebec in the wake of the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) in October 1970, Toronto was not immune from arrests, debates, and protests during the October Crisis.

After the federal government invoked the act without parliamentary debate on October 16, Toronto’s evening newspapers swung into multiple-edition mode. Each successive copy of that night’s Star and Telegram featured the day’s debates in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park, along with the evolving responses of local law enforcement officials. Early editorials backed parts of the act that were absolutely necessary to maintain calm and curb the FLQ and wished for a speedy revocation. While all of the papers expressed reservations about rights suspension, the Star was the most critical in its views, as it believed that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau should have gone to the House of Commons first and provided a full explanation as to why his tactics suddenly changed from strict negotiations over the release of the hostages to bringing in the act. The general reservations among local media were summed up at the end of the Globe and Mail‘s editorial the following day: “It will be up to the government now to prove that it invoked the War Measures Act in order to eliminate a gang of terrorists and not to destroy its political enemies.”

At Queen’s Park, Ontario Premier John Robarts was quickly provided with round-the-clock guard in the wake of statements from a group of prominent Quebeckers that urged him to keep his nose out of Quebec’s affairs after he commented that the FLQ was a national concern. Robarts indicated that he had been consulted before the act was imposed and, while conceding its powers could be harmful if misused, felt full confidence in the federal government. On the opposition benches, the Liberals raised no fuss, while NDP leader Stephen Lewis felt the act was unnecessary unless Trudeau could prove that an armed insurrection was imminent and asked for daily reports on any arrests that were made in the province. Ontario Attorney General Arthur Wishart refused any comment until it was clear what, if any, responsibilities local police forces and the OPP had to enforce the emergency measures.

Protesters demonstrating against the War Measures Act at Nathan Phillips Square on October 17, 1970. The Telegram, October 19, 1970.

Civil liberties activists quickly mobilized against the act, the provisions of which allowed police to search homes without a warrant and hold suspects for up to ninety days. A group of lawyers under the banner of the Law Union organized a rally at noon on October 17 to protest the act. Around six hundred protesters showed up to listen to speakers like Clayton Ruby decry the federal government for overreacting and turning Canada into “an automatic police state.” More anti-act rallies and debates were in the offing…until bulletins that night reported the murder of Laporte.

The news proved an irritant to the several hundred viewers of a World War II drama on CBLT who flooded the station with angry calls. Showing little awareness of the situation at hand, some of those callers expressed their displeasure with the interruption of the movie by threatening to bomb the station. As far as we can tell, nobody was arrested for being an idiot—in this case.

Far more appropriate was the response of football fans the next day at CNE Stadium, where the sold-out crowd observed a moment of silence. Before the Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes took the field, announcer Ken Foss told the spectators that “without going into any formal details, we would ask you to sing our national anthem louder than you’ve ever sung it before.” The crowd respected his request then watched the Argos go on to a 16–13 victory.

Two reporters from Montreal covering the game were among the handful of people arrested by the RCMP for questioning due to suspicion of FLQ connections. Taken into custody that night was American army deserter and social worker Christopher Ewing, whose past as an army demolition expert and time spent in Montreal before moving to Toronto raised eyebrows. Ewing’s lawyers were prepared to mount a constitutional challenge, but he was released after eighteen hours.

Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones, the Telegram, October 19, 1970.

Local leaders voiced their outrage and disbelief at Laporte’s fate as flags flew at half-mast across the city. Stephen Lewis was grasping for words to express his shock. “You’re not dealing with revolutionaries in a classical sense—you’re dealing with psychopaths…Pierre Laporte is dead and how now does one speak of it?” Toronto Mayor William Dennison hoped that Canadians would “react with determination to show the FLQ, the murderers, the anti-social groups and those who associate with them, that no country can tolerate them.” In the eyes of typical Trudeau opponents, like the editorial writers of the Telegram, the Prime Minister suddenly became a leader who understood when firm, decisive action was required.

At York University, students sent telegrams to Trudeau and Quebec premier Robert Bourassa:

We as Canadian university students wish to show our faith in a united Canada. We have confidence in the ability of the federal and Quebec governments in this crisis and wish to express our very grave concern with the action that the government was forced to take.

A rally on October 19 to show support for the government drew two thousand York students outside the Ross building. Most of the speakers delivered praise, but some, including historian J. L. Granatstein, offered cautionary notes:

In my memory I was the only one to oppose the government’s actions forthrightly. I cannot remember my exact words, but I suggested that the imposition of the War Measures Act was a direct attack on the civil liberties of all Canadians, that it was using a mallet to kill a flea, and that, under its terms, not only the (FLQ) terrorists but activists, hippies, Vietnam draft dodgers, and troublemakers could be arrested anywhere in Canada…I have never before or since been afraid of a crowd, never feared being torn limb from limb, but that day I was frightened. The shouts from the students that interrupted my speech were frequent and hostile; the visceral hatred of the FLQ kidnappers and murderers, and, as I interpreted it, of all Quebecois, was palpable. I was very pleased to get off that platform and into my office before I was attacked and beaten.

Years later, Granatstein’s views toward the War Measures Act were closer with those who jeered him that day.

While there wasn’t a mass rally at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, several of its students went to Nathan Phillips Square the same day to shout down anti–War Measures Act demonstrators from Rochdale College. Clad in school jackets, the Ryerson contingent waved flags and pictures of Trudeau while calling out points made by the Rochdalians in back-and-forth volleys that, when reading the account in the Globe and Mail, sound like an argument between primary school pupils (including cries for the Rochdalians to take a bath, names like “white honky” tossed around, comparisons to abortions, and debates as to time protesters spent in Quebec).

Two scenes from Nathan Phillips Square. Left: pro-government supporters drowning out protesters from Rochdale College on October 19, 1970. Photo by Ray McFadden. Right: The memorial service for Pierre Laporte the following day. Photo by Bruce Reed. Both pictures from the Telegram, October 20, 1970.

The scene at Nathan Phillips Square was more solemn on October 20 when two thousand people paid their respects at a service for Laporte. Among the attendees was Betty Brown of Willowdale, who told the Telegram that “I’m an old lady and I just came to pay my respects. It somehow seems more appropriate than going alone to my church.” In churches around the city, services ranged from sermons to a ten-hour peace vigil at Adath Israel Synagogue in Downsview. Trustees from local school boards proposed naming a school in honour of Laporte, which came to pass when Pierre Laporte Middle School opened on Wilson Avenue three years later. York Mills Collegiate Institute created a memorial scholarship to allow up to four students go on exchange with a Quebec high school.

Over the month that the War Measures Act remained in effect, most incidents related to it in Toronto were either debates or problems with the printing and distribution of publications that included FLQ manifestos, as the Varsity discovered in early November. When the paper’s printer refused to touch one offending article, the editors replaced it with a photo of gagged man with “censored” written across the tape, captioned “guess what folks.” On a visit to Oakwood Collegiate around that time, federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield was confronted by a student who felt Stanfield’s initial questioning of the act hadn’t helped the country. Stanfield admitted he was a “little disturbed” by the depths of the lack of regard for civil rights suspended by the act.

The editorial staff of the Don Mills Mirror were similarly troubled after constituents at a mid-November community meeting held by MP Robert Stanbury (Liberal, York-Scarborough) wished to have the act in effect permanently to lock up anyone they didn’t like, such as draft dodgers:

They have apparently not considered Stanbury’s argument: that having stopped one idea at the border, where do you draw the line? They haven’t recognized that in trying to avert one threat to Canada, they themselves may be becoming an even greater threat. If they destroy freedom of speech and ideas, there won’t be much left to distinguish Canada as one of the best of the world’s democracies.

Sources: Trudeau’s Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, edited by Andrew Cohen and J.L. Granatstein (Toronto: Random House, 1998) and the following newspapers: the October 28, 1970 and November 18, 1970 editions of the Don Mills Mirror; the October 17, 1970, October 20, 1970, November 10, 1970 and November 11, 1970 editions of the Globe and Mail; the October 16, 1970, October 17, 1970, October 19, 1970, October 20, 1970 and October 21, 1970 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 16, 1970, October 19, 1970, and October 20, 1970 editions of the Telegram.


WARNING: There is a lot of extra material here, covering the week after the implementation of the War Measures Act. You may want to book off some quality reading time to get through the rest of this post.

The Telegram, October 16, 1970.

Toronto Star, October 16, 1970.

Cartoon by James Reidford, Globe and Mail, October 17, 1970.

Globe and Mail, October 17, 1970.

Globe and Mail, October 17, 1970.

Toronto Star. October 17, 1970.

The Telegram, October 17, 1970.

Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones, the Telegram, October 17, 1970.

Front page editorial, Toronto Star, October 19, 1970.

Toronto Star, October 19, 1970.

Toronto Star, October 19, 1970.

The Telegram, October 19, 1970.

The Telegram, October 19, 1970.

The Varsity, October 19, 1970.

Globe and Mail, October 20, 1970.

Globe and Mail, October 20, 1970.

Globe and Mail, October 20, 1970.

Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones, the Telegram, October 20, 1970.

The Telegram, October 20, 1970.

Don Mills Mirror, October 21, 1970.

The Telegram, October 21, 1971.

The Varsity, October 21, 1970.

The Varsity, October 21, 1970.

The Varsity was one of a number of post-secondary newspapers who had issues with their printers or local officials over October Crisis-related material throughout October and November 1970. For example, a special edition of the University of Guelph’s Ontarion (my training ground), was seized by local police for printing part of an FLQ manifesto. An attempt by The Varsity to print an FLQ statement on the front page of its November 9, 1970 edition was censored by its printer.

Toronto Star, October 22, 1970.

A Theatrical Princess

Originally published as a “Historicist” column  on Torontoist on April 18, 2009.


Princess Theatre fire, May 10, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 367.

Looking for entertainment at the intersection of King Street and University Avenue? By day, there is the parade of suits heading into the financial district, the steady stream of traffic at rush hour, and the occasional panhandler. By night there are the antics of revellers who have had one drink too many in the entertainment district or the occasional theatregoer warbling a tune from a show at the Royal Alexandra or Princess of Wales as they head to the subway. What is now the south side of this intersection was for forty years the home of one of Toronto’s most popular theatres, one whose incarnations were divided by a destructive fire. A spot where drivers may curse rush hour traffic was once a place where theatrical legends like Henry Irving and Ellen Terry mounted the stage of the Princess Theatre.


Princess Theatre, November 14, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 64.

The Princess opened around 1890 as the Academy of Music, which was notable for being the first building in the city to be fully electrified. Various activities were run under its roof, from acting schools (among whose students was Walter Huston, the patriarch of a Hollywood dynasty) to political rallies (such as one during the 1891 federal election campaign where John A. Macdonald uttered “a British subject I was born, a British subject I will die”). Around 1895 the name was changed to the Princess and the venue served as the Toronto base for touring productions operated by the powerful Klaw and Erlanger theatrical syndicate. A rivalry developed between the Princess and the Royal Alexandra further west on King Street, as the latter saw productions brought in by the rival Shubert Organization.


Princess Theatre ruins after fire, May 10, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 142.

Just after 2 a.m. on May 7, 1915, a police constable strolling along King Street noticed flames coming out of the offices of the Metropolitan Racing Association, located above the entrance of the theatre. Firefighters were quickly summoned and spent the next three hours battling the blaze. The Toronto News described the spread of the fire through the building:

The fire was a puzzling one, for when the firemen appeared on the scene, it appeared as if only the offices of the Metropolitan Racing Association were on fire, and the firemen confined their efforts to this part of the building. The hall on the first floor where boxing contests are usually held was completely gutted before the blaze in this part of the building was got under control.

It was thought that the fire was practically out when suddenly flames were seen playing about the ceiling of the theatre and on top of the stage. The fire had crept up the ceiling of the Metropolitan Racing Clubrooms to the back of the gallery, which is directly behind the roof of the clubrooms, and had then shot along the ventilator between the ceiling and roof of the theatre and ignited the ropes and scenery on stage.

Princess Theatre ruins after fire, May 10, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 139.

Around 3:30, the ceiling started to crumble and firefighters were told to clear the area. “Hardly had the warning gone forth.” noted the News, “when there was a tearing, rending sound and with a roar the whole roof of the theatre caved in, carrying parts of the gallery and balcony with it.” Four men narrowly escaped being crushed.

The blaze was contained within the Princess—it was said that patrons in neighbouring hotels didn’t notice anything amiss until they sat down for breakfast later that morning. The city architect quickly appeared on the scene once the flames died down and noted to reporters that the theatre had been operating under a conditional license on the promise to fix inadequate fire doors. It was determined that the southeast corner of the building had to be demolished quickly before it collapsed. Total damages were estimated to be between $100,000 and $130,000, of which $12,000 worth of scenery and costumes were lost by a touring production of Daddy Long-Legs. Newspaper coverage of the blaze was overshadowed by the major story of the day, the sinking of the Lusitania.


Toronto Star, May 10, 1915.

Theatre officials acted quickly to find a new home for the next scheduled production, Victor Herbert’s operetta Sweethearts. Star Christie MacDonald was supposed to have performed in a production the year before but illness caused an understudy to take care of that run. As she wired to her manager, “you must get me a theatre, because I am determined to play Toronto, fire or no fire.” The Gayety Theatre on Richmond Street was procured and the show went on. Staff from the Princess also set up a temporary office on King Street to handle refunds for future presentations.

Upon hearing word of the fire, theatre operator Bertram C. Whitney sent a telegram from his office in Detroit to Princess manager O.B. Sheppard, instructing him to “make [an] announcement immediately that we intend [on] building in Toronto the finest theatre in Canada.” Among those Whitney consulted with on designs for the new Princess was C. Howard Crane, who went on to design many of the theatres in downtown Detroit. After contemplating other sites, the new theatre was built on the same site and held its grand opening on October 1, 1917.


Princess Theatre, King Street opposite end of University Avenue, November 18, 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 621.

The Princess carried on for just over a decade. A decline in the number of road shows and the popularity of movies cut into its audiences, but its fate was determined by the city’s plan for a southern extension of University Avenue that the theatre was in the path of. The final production was staged in November 1930, when “Yankee Doodle Dandy” George M. Cohan performed in his play The Tavern. The city was prepared to offer the owners of the Princess just under four hundred thousand dollars for the property, which resulted in lengthy debates in city council over the high cost and various lower sale offers made for the theatre in recent years. The matter wound up in arbitration.
The wreckers were finally able to dismantle the Princess in the spring of 1931. The Globe was in a theatrical mood when they wrote an editorial about the venue’s demise:

And now “the scene is changed.” Appear men in overalls, armed with picks and crowbars, men careless of their exits and their entrances, indifferent to the spotlight, their parts unrehearsed, bent only on destruction. The theatre must yield to a city’s progress; new actors are on the stage—tearing it apart, disconnecting the footlights, ripping up the boards. Perhaps there is no tugging at the heartstrings of these crude but effective actors as the old stage is carried out piece by piece; but those who love the drama and the opera, and who admire the work of great artists, will recall pleasant evenings spent in the old Princess Theatre and regret that it must disappear.

Sources: the June 2, 1931 edition of The Globe, the May 8, 1915 edition of The Mail and Empire, the May 7, 1915 edition of The Toronto News, the November 15, 1930 edition of The Toronto Star, and the May 9, 1915 edition of The Toronto World.


Toronto World, May 8, 1915.

Toronto Star, November 15, 1930.

Toronto Star, November 15, 1930.

The Globe, November 21, 1930.

How the Peninsula Became the Island

Originally published as a “Historicist” column  on Torontoist on July 12, 2008.


“La baie et l’île de Toronto” (“Toronto Bay and Island”), Robert Irvine, c. 1815. Wikimedia Commons.

The Toronto Islands have long been a popular destination for city dwellers to make a short escape. Even when they were physically connected to today’s eastern port lands via marshes and a long sandbar, the islands felt a world away. The story of how they were permanently detached over 160 years ago involves abuse of natural resources and the destruction of an early leisure spot.

Long used as a fishing site for natives and early settlers, the first permanent structures on the peninsula were military storehouses erected in the mid-1790s. By 1809, the lighthouse at Gibraltar Point was put into operation, guiding vessels for the next century-and-a-half. The difficulties of getting to the peninsula by land (due to the problems of building bridges across the meandering Don River) and its distant appearance across the harbour from the main settlement caused early residents of York to refer to it as “the Island” long before this was physically true. The feeling of remoteness, coupled with little development (for most of the early 19th century, the only permanent residents were the lighthouse keeper and their family), made it an ideal location for recreational hikes and horse riding. This proved ideal for the likes of Upper Canada governor Sir Francis Bond Head, who escaped from his inept daily management of the colony to ride along the peninsula like the gaucho he had been in South America.

By the 1830s ferry services were running and the first hotels appeared. The largest of the early accommodations was the Peninsula Hotel, opened by Louis Privat in 1843. Along with his brother Louis Joseph, Privat gradually expanded the hotel’s scope into a full resort with its own ferry service (operating from the foot of Church Street) and an amusement area that included swings, a merry-go-round, a ten-pin bowling alley and a small zoo. The Privats sold the hotel to John Quinn in 1853, who further expanded the frequency of ferry services. Soon renamed Quinn’s Hotel, among the perks offered was an early morning bath service for local businessmen, who could hop on a steamer at 5:30 a.m. and be back in the city fully refreshed 75 minutes later.

As the peninsula was a sandbar it proved attractive to city contractors, who carted away large quantities of sand from the 1830s onwards to build the growing city. Combined with erosion from the lake, city officials worried about how secure the land was and made unsuccessful attempts to curb the outward flow of sand. The eastern narrows near Quinn’s Hotel were a great concern, especially after a storm produced the first major breach of the peninsula in February 1853. Over the next five years, temporary breaches were filled back in, while city harbour commissioners dithered over providing permanent protection or letting nature take its course to produce an eastern entrance to Toronto Harbour. While a weak breakwater wall was erected on the south side of the peninsula, Quinn sensed that disaster might happen to his property. After extensive storm damage in 1856-57 that washed away the back half of the hotel and permanently submerged the bowling alley, he undertook renovations and built a separate storage shed in case evacuation was ever necessary.


Engraving of Louis J. Privat’s House (the Peninsula Hotel), prepared for Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Volume 2 (1896)

On April 13, 1858, the Quinn family was preparing for a party that evening for the workmen who had rebuilt the hotel. A severe storm approached and Quinn, accompanied by his seven-year old daughter Jenny, ferried the workers back to the mainland. The ferocity of the storm made a return difficult; by the time John and Jenny arrived back at the hotel, they found the rest of the family clinging to boards amidst rising waters.

The Globe filed a report on what happened:

A disaster for which some time has been anticipated, occurred yesterday morning, viz, the washing away of Mr. Quinn’s hotel on the Island. The storm commenced early on the afternoon of the previous day and towards night the breeze freshened, and continued blowing steadily from the north-east. Such was the fury of the tempest on the bay that serious fears were entertained that the hotel would be blown down, but it withstood the violence of the hurricane. Towards morning the waves were breaking on the beach in rear of the house, and about five o’clock the water made a complete breach over the island, undermining the house and leaving it a total wreck, and at the same time, making a channel four or five feet in depth, which will make a convenient eastern entrance to the harbour for vessels of light draught. Mr. Quinn, who was anticipating the catastrophe, succeeded in removing his family, and the greater part of his furniture to a small dwelling which he had erected a short time ago, a little to the west of his late residence.

No lives were lost during the incident, though the shock affected Mrs. Quinn for the rest of her life—Jenny was sent away to live with relatives in Rochester for a year while her mother convalesced.

The breach proved permanent. By the end of May steamers were able to pass through the new eastern gap. Though plans have been put forward to physically link the islands to the mainland by tunnels or bridges, they remain a recreational outpost in the harbour.

Sources: More Than an Island: A History of the Toronto Islands by Sally Gibson (Toronto: Irwin Publishing 1984), and the April 14, 1858 edition of the Globe.