The Road to SkyDome

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 13, 2009.

1985 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

The 1982 Grey Cup game was not a pleasurable one for Toronto football fans. The major disappointment was not that the Argonauts fell apart in the second half and lost to the Edmonton Eskimos 32 to 16—it was the bone-chilling, rainy weather. Downpours caused fans in fully exposed sections of Exhibition Stadium to risk injury in order to find shelter. Among the fifty-five thousand people in the stands observing the miserable experience were Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey and Ontario Premier William Davis. As the Globe and Mail observed, as Godfrey “surveyed the scene from his dry seat in Section 42 at the 55-yard line, the falling rain brought a twinkle to his eye. There must have been visions of a domed stadium dancing in his head.” While Davis sighed that the Argonauts “played well,” Godfrey told a Star reporter that “if you ever needed proof of the need for a domed stadium, this is your day.”

When asked later why he had pushed a dome for so long, Godfrey noted “I realized that, except for former Toronto mayor Allan Lamport, no one in Metro spoke for the sports fan. The wealthy and influential spoke for culture. Lots of people spoke for senior citizens and kids. But nobody spoke for the people who are middle Metro. Sports is their culture—and it’s mine.” Unlike his unsuccessful efforts a decade earlier, Godfrey would see his long-imagined dome become reality.

Proposed site of domed stadium in Downsview—the black lines are entrance routes from Highway 401 and Allen Road. Source: Domed Stadium Downsview Site Report(Toronto: Beinhauer/Irwin Associates/IBI Group, 1984).

As 1983 dawned, a large number of studies into potential dome sites were underway. While the provincial officials preferred a site near Lake Ontario, potential private investors looked to the suburbs, where it was felt there would be fewer problems with traffic and the weather. Anywhere north of Highway 401 would do, whether it was Richmond Hill (where a Meadowlands-like complex was proposed for Yonge Street and Highway 7) or Etobicoke (where the Ontario Jockey Club offered a parcel of land next to Woodbine Racetrack). One person who tired of being approached with one scheme after another was North York Mayor Mel Lastman, though his fatigue may have had as much to do with being interviewed during a Florida vacation as listening to pitches for stadiums in Downsview and at York University. “I wish they’d stop coming around because,” he told the Star, “unless they have answers to the questions I wanted answered, they are wasting their time and mine.” Lastman’s major concern was traffic spillage into residential neighbourhoods, especially around the York campus.

Mel Lastman and Hugh Macaulay, in front of drawing of proposed dome site in North York, 1984. Photo by Jeff Goode. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0064150f.

It didn’t take long for Lastman to change his tune. A provincial committee led by former Ontario Hydro Chair Hugh Macaulay issued a report in early 1984 that recommended Downsview as the ideal site. Lastman had buttons and signs printed that proclaimed North York “Home of the Dome.”

In April 1984, CN stepped forward with an offer to donate seven acres of land for a stadium. The proposed site next to the CN Tower had many attractive advantages, from the new convention centre to reasonable public transit links. As negotiations faltered and residential concerns over Downsview grew, there was a sense that Metro and provincial officials were leaning towards the CN site, much to the chagrin of Lastman, who warned of traffic chaos if the dome went downtown.

By the end of June, the province established the Stadium Corporation of Ontario, a crown committee whose members included Godfrey, Macaulay, and Ontario Treasurer Larry Grossman. A report released in November favoured the CN site and Woodbine as the leading candidates. Political squabbling was well underway, especially after Godfrey resigned as Metro chairman to become publisher of the Toronto Sun. The strong support Metro councillors had shown for a dome began to waver, with several threatening to reassess their approval of $12 million in funding if the stadium was built downtown. Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton and new Metro Chairman Dennis Flynn worried that the longer it took to choose and develop a site, the more interest among the public and fellow politicians would drop. Funding concerns weren’t relieved when new Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government went back on a campaign promise to dish up federal money.

1985 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Premier Davis set January 17, 1985 as a deadline for negotiations on determining a site. Deals were made up to the last minute—when asked if the deadline sped up the process, Davis smiled and said “who knows?” The winner was the CN site, which would be home to a $130 million stadium set to open by spring 1988. It was also announced that fourteen designs for a retractable roof, an element recommended by Godfrey after he learned during a conversation with Blue Jays catcher Buck Martinez that players preferred outdoor games, were being studied.

Private sector financing was to be put up by twelve corporate donors headed by Brascan CEO Trevor Eyton, nicknamed “The Sportsmen’s Club.” In exchange for $50 million in support, the corporations would receive exclusive advertising rights in the dome, preferred supplier status, use of the logo, “Founder’s Club” membership, a corporate box, and six parking spots. Their participation was contingent on holding 40% of the seats on the dome’s board of directors. These conditions upset Argonauts owner Carling O’Keefe, who wasn’t asked to become part of the consortium—likely because Brascan owned part of rival brewer/Blue Jays majority owner Labatt’s. Carling O’Keefe threw a fit and threatened to pull the Argos out of the dome. After several weeks of lobbying, the brewer was allowed to join.

“Digging for dome: Mayor Art Eggleton joyfully throws a spadeful of earth into the air today to break ground for the $243 million domed stadium near the CN Tower. Former Metro chairman Paul Godfrey and ex-premier William Davis look on apporvingly at left. Officials from the stadium corporation and the private consortium helping to finance the stadium also got spaded into the ground.” Photo by David Cooper, 1986. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0098121f. Larger version.

Setting a groundbreaking date took longer than expected, thanks to hold-ups among municipal governments and 288 objections submitted to the Ontario Municipal Board. Metro Council reconsidered its funding commitment several times once the site was settled, mostly due to concerns over its financial contribution, which had risen from $12 million to $30 million. These debates spilled into another outgoing gift from Davis to the city of Toronto, a three-foot strip of land south of Eglinton that would permanently thwart Metro’s dream of reviving the Spadina Expressway plan (Metro Councillors Esther Shiner and William Sutherland argued that Spadina would ease traffic jams for fans headed down to the dome). A mounting series of delays upped the total price tag to $242 million by the time the first shovel went into the ground on October 3, 1986. The groundbreaking ceremony looked set to be a dreary repeat of the 1982 Grey Cup, but the rain stopped by the time Davis, Eggleton, Godfrey, and half-a-dozen dignitaries turned the dirt.

1988 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Now that construction was underway, there remained the question of what to call the complex. A contest in April 1987 netted 150,000 entries and 12,879 suggestions for names that spanned the alphabet from “ABC Dome” to “Zues Stadium” (the curious can check the May 18, 1987 edition of the Star for the entire list, as long as you have a microscope handy). The most popular suggestion was “SkyDome,” which appeared on over two thousand entries. Those were entered into a barrel for the grand prize, lifetime tickets to all events in the stadium. The winner, drawn by Premier David Peterson on May 11, 1987, was Kellie Watson, 25, of Wallaceburg, Ontario. When asked why she submitted “SkyDome,” Watson said that “I tossed it around my head one night and picked the one that fit the theme. The retractable roof was the key to the name. I felt that was the special feature.” Watson and her husband Rob won tickets to all future events at the stadium. Echoing the bad puns scattered among the entries, Premier David Peterson and dignitaries sipped on “Dome Perignon” champagne during the announcement ceremony.

1989 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

When the ground was turned, the expected opening date for SkyDome was revised to April 1989. This estimate wasn’t far off, as the stadium officially opened on June 3, 1989. Mother Nature was in a playful mood that night, offering up one of the reasons SkyDome was built in the first place. When the dome was opened for the spectators, a sliver of the night sky appeared—and was followed by a downpour that, according to the Globe and Mail, “added an element of chaos and spontaneity—not to mention danger—to what otherwise promised to be a predictably hokey evening.” The show went on, though the performers risked slip-sliding away on the wet concrete floor.

After seven years and over $570 million in costs, what was a little rain?

Sources: 1985 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Like No Other in the World: The Story of Toronto’s SkyDome by Mike Filey (Toronto: SCV, 1989), and the following newspapers: the Globe and Mail, November 29, 1982, January 1, 1983, May 18,1984, November 16, 1984, January 18, 1985, January 25, 1985, and June 4, 1989; and the Toronto Star, November 29, 1982, and May 12, 1987.


Art Eggleton, Paul Godfrey, William Davis, and a pre-Grey Cup message to the Argonauts, 1982. Photo by Jeff Goode. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0093849f.

From the photo description: “That’s spelled D-A-V-I-S: Long-time Argonaut fan Premier William Davis adds his name to a huge telegram urging the Boatmen on to victory as Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton, left, and Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey look on. The telegram will be on display all week at City Hall and the mayor urges all citizens to come down and sign it. It will be presented to the Argonauts.”

Globe and Mail, March 19, 1984.

Globe and Mail, January 18, 1985.

Globe and Mail, January 25, 1985.

1986 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

1987 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Toronto Star, May 12, 1987.

Toronto Star, May 12, 1987.

1988 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Dreaming of Domes

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 30, 2009.

Riverdale Park—Senior Baseball, Opening, May 22, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 511.

A spring weeknight. A fan planning to go to that night’s Blue Jays game flips on the radio to check on the traffic heading to the ballpark.

Traffic and weather together on the twos…and it’s an ugly night on the roads this evening. You’ll want to stay away from the Gardiner due to the protest that has proceeded up onto the freeway at Spadina. As a result, both directions are closed from Jarvis to Jameson, while traffic on the southbound Don Valley Parkway is being diverted onto Richmond Street. Those of you headed to the ball game will find traffic much heavier than normal by the ballpark…expect lengthy delays on Bayview, Gerrard, Parliament and other streets around the Dome as game traffic mixes in with drivers trying to escape the DVP at River Street. If you can, walk, bike or take the subway to Castle Frank to get to the game…

On a parallel world, this report may have come in handy if a scheme to place a domed stadium in Riverdale Park had come to fruition. This was one of many sites, along with areas stretching from Downsview to Exhibition Place, that were targeted as potential spots for a multi-million dollar domed stadium in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Why Toronto doesn’t boast a “Metrodome” and why the Blue Jays played their first game in a snowstorm is a tale of local rivalries, rising political careers, financial disinterest from higher levels of government, and the quest to make Toronto a “world class city.”

Proposed stadium site, North York, circa 1965. Future North York Mayor Basil Hall is on the left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 91, Item 0003.

By the dawn of the 1960s, the hunt was on to improve professional athletic facilities in the region. Maple Leaf Stadium was considered inadequate to attract a major league baseball team, while CNE (later Exhibition) Stadium was felt to need sprucing up for the Argonauts. A proposal for expanded facilities was championed by City of Toronto Mayor Donald Summerville but failed to make much progress.

Then came the Astrodome.

Once the first indoor stadium opened in Houston in April 1965, officials from other cities lined up for an audience with developer Roy Hofheinz. With our unpredictable winter climate, it didn’t take long for Toronto developers and politicians to float dome proposals. Among the initial sites proposed by the City of Toronto’s Board of Control was the Don Valley Golf Course at Yonge Street and Highway 401. Controller William Archer was the proponent of this plan, noting that the planned subway extension along Yonge might disturb the site enough that it would no longer be suitable for a round of golf. During a November 1965 meeting, Archer pointed out that parking at the site could be used for commuters during the week. Opposition was voiced by future mayor William Dennison, who noted that the city had handed over the property specifically to Metropolitan Toronto for use as a golf course, even though the city had hoped to use the site for a zoo. He felt that golfers deserved consideration before sports fans who would only “sit on their fannies.” He also felt it was questionable for taxpayer money to be used for private sports, as the subject came up during discussions on a request for financial assistance from the Maple Leafs ball club. Dennison maintained his opposition to dome schemes during his mayoral campaign in the fall of 1966, when he knocked a forty-five million dollar proposal at the time as “far too expensive” and one the city would take a huge annual deficit on.

Another dome plan was unveiled in 1968 for the city’s bid for the 1976 Olympics. Situated on landfill south of Exhibition Place, this stadium was part of a proposal that included housing for ten thousand athletes at the foot of Bathurst Street and a subway along Queen Street. Montreal’s winning bid killed this plan, but on the bright side we didn’t wind up with the ever-unlucky Big O.

Borough of North York Council, 1967. Paul Godfrey is fourth from left in the back row, James Service is fourth from the left in the front row. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 264, Item 0001.

Up in North York, Mayor James Service unveiled a plan for a dome at the north end of the Downsview Airport lands in June 1969. Estimated to cost forty-nine million dollars, Service felt that the site was ideal due to its proximity to 401, the Spadina Expressway, and a proposed subway line. The difficulty was securing the land from the federal government and promises of funding from federal and provincial levels. Most of the North York Board of Control supported the plan, with much enthusiasm shown by an up and coming local councillor named Paul Godfrey.

In October 1969, Bramalea Consolidated Developments and Toronto Alderman Joseph Piccininni announced a plan to build a seventy-million-dollar closed stadium and adjoining hockey arena in Riverdale Park, which had long been a site for amateur baseball games. As plans were afoot to move the zoo out of the park within a few years, the site would soon become one of the largest open spaces in the core. If the proposal went ahead, Bramalea planned to ask for the creating of access to a parking structure from Bayview Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, as well as to provide its support for improved public transit in the area, including GO service from Hamilton and Oshawa. The plan met with some resistance from local residents and fellow councillors like Fred Beavis, who argued that the area should be preserved as a park. As Beavis noted, “everybody agrees we need a domed stadium, but every time a proposition comes up somebody tries to kill it.”

Globe and Mail, October 30, 1969.

The reaction from North York? “I’m not really disturbed,” said Service, “that another plan is being brought forward. In fact I’m rather amused.” Service decided not to run for re-election as mayor to help spearhead his city’s stadium plan and prevent it from becoming “a political football.”

The next year proved a rocky one for dome plans. A delegation from North York attended Major League Baseball’s winter meeting in December 1969, only to learn that Milwaukee and Buffalo were considered the next likely spots for franchises (Milwaukee didn’t have to wait long, as the Seattle Pilots moved there prior to the 1970 season). North York proceeded to form a “Mission Metrodome” citizens committee which included Loblaws President Leon Weinstein, comedian Johnny Wayne, and Paul Godfrey. The latter was critical of the slow pace and lukewarm enthusiasm for building a dome and hoped that the announcement of Montreal’s winning Olympic bid in May 1970 would budge local politicians out of their “short pants” approach to large scale projects and “jar some of them into action.”

Opponents made their views known in local newspaper opinion pieces, one of the loudest coming from athlete/then Ontario Treasury Board employee Bruce Kidd. In a letter published in the Star on January 28, 1970, Kidd stated that:

Toronto needs a domed sports stadium about as much as it needs the Spadina Expressway. Like not at all… The stadium’s very existence would satisfy politicians that Toronto’s sports needs have been met. As a result, they would be even more reluctant than they are now to approve spending on parks and facilities for physical recreation. And just to make it pay, every organization in the city—service clubs, church groups, unions, school student bodies—would be pressured to plan its activities around the stadium’s attractions…The real reason we’re being told we need a $100 million stadium is that it would make Toronto a Major League city.

The themes running through most opposing views were that amateur athletes would likely not wind up with their promised facilities, that support for baseball was dying in the city, and that the required funding could be better spent on housing, parks, and other elements to improve the everyday quality of life of Torontonians.

The quest for a dome gained new momentum after the 1970 Grey Cup game at CNE Stadium. During the match, TV cameras caught Montreal Alouettes quarterback Sonny Wade yanking a large chunk of the muddy field and tossing it aside in frustration. Wade later claimed that it had been the worst playing surface he had ever encountered. Godfrey was quoted as saying “it didn’t do our image any good. Imagine a city this size offering a field like that for the Grey Cup.” In December 1970, a five-man Metro Council committee headed by Toronto Alderman David Rotenberg that included Godfrey and former Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport was formed to push forward the dome, with Downsview as their primary site. Rotenberg was convinced that action had to be taken during 1971, with hopes that the federal government might send money to Toronto to compensate for all of the money being poured into Montreal. Plans to spend $16 million dollars to refurbish CNE Stadium were lambasted by the committee, unless they were treated as a stopgap measure before a dome. Suggestions of a lakefront site were dismissed due to the cost of operating pumps to keep water away from stadium walls sunk into the ground.

Map of proposed Downsview site, the Telegram, August 18, 1971.

In August 1971, a new forty-five million dollar Downsview plan was unveiled. As it seemed unlikely private enterprise would fund the stadium, the proposal called for 50% of funding to be covered by Ottawa, 30% by Queen’s Park, and 20% by Metro taxpayers. When East York Mayor True Davidson asked if the stadium would be put to a plebiscite, Rotenberg indicated that he saw “no reason to put it on the ballot.” This made the Globe and Mail uneasy, with an editorial noting that “it would appear the worst thing that could happen to the stadium issue would be to let it fall into the wrong hands. Those of the electors.” The Telegram felt a dome would be an opportunity for local Liberal MPs “to demonstrate whether they can truly do anything for their home town…the task of persuading the Government that it would be money well spent should not be too difficult even for the somewhat limited energies of our MPs.” Long letters for and against the dome were published, ranging from Humber MPP George Ben calling it “the most blatant con job I have seen in my lifetime…a laugh from start to finish—or would be if it did not seriously threaten your pocket and mine,” to Godfrey’s boast that “the Metrodome could become known as one of the greatest single advances in Canadian history with respect to professional sports as well as amateur athletics.”

As Davidson and the Globe and Mail feared, a plebiscite was never held, as Metro Council decided against a vote during a September 1971 meeting. They also voted not to hire an economist to study the exact costs of a dome, which did not ease the worries of those like North York controller Mel Lastman, who figured the price tag would be at least double the estimate. Both the federal and provincial governments showed no inclination to provide any funding. While figures like Piccininni and Rotenberg continued to investigate plans (including one for King Street across from the Royal Alex), dreams of a dome faded into the background.

It would take another Grey Cup game a decade later to revive dreams of a dome…but that’s a tale for another day.

Sources: the November 18, 1965, October 29, 1969, August 18, 1971, and August 19, 1971 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 24, 1966, August 9, 1968, December 12, 1969, January 28, 1970, May 13, 1970, January 9, 1971, August 21, 1971, and August 26, 1971 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 29, 1969 and August 20, 1971 editions of the Telegram.


Toronto Star, July 4, 1969.

Globe and Mail, July 5, 1969.

Toronto Star, December 8, 1969.

Toronto Star, January 28, 1970.

The dome proposal for Buffalo illustrated here was never built – instead, open-air Rich Stadium would open in 1973.

Toronto Star, July 7, 1970.

Toronto Star, November 18, 1970.

Toronto Star, January 9, 1971.

Globe and Mail, August 14, 1971.

Toronto Star, August 18, 1971.

Toronto Star, August 18, 1971.

Of the teams listed here, the Giants were close to moving to Toronto in 1976 before an injunction from San Francisco mayor George Moscone led to the team staying put.

The Senators would move after the 1971 season to Arlington, Texas, becoming the Texas Rangers. The major leagues wouldn’t return to Washington until the Montreal Expos became the Nationals in 2005.

The San Diego Padres nearly moved to the nation’s capital for the 1974, but stayed in place after McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc bought the team (though a few baseball cards depicting the move slipped out). Padres president Buzzy Bavasi’s son Peter would play a key role in the early years of the Blue Jays.

Globe and Mail, August 19, 1971.

Toronto Star, August 26, 1971.

Globe and Mail, September 3, 1971.

Toronto Star, September 15, 1971.

Fred L. D’Silva and Joe Piccininni looking at a sketch of the proposed domed stadium, 1972. Photo by Frank Calleja. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0098082f.

The description provided with this photo: “Toronto Alderman Joseph Piccinnini, who wants Toronto to build a domed stadium, questions Fred L. D’Silva (left) about the 875-foot-in-diameter covered stadium D’Silva says his company can build for $49.5 million, plus the cost of the land. It would accomodate football, baseball, soccer, dog racing, track and field, boxing, and conventions, seating 60,000 for football and 45,000 for baseball. Sixty acres would be needed for landscaping and parking for 10,000 cars.”

Last Browse at the Library Before Lockdown

When the provincial government announced its lockdown plan for Toronto on November 20, it was a natural to think about places I should slip in one more trip to before they closed for 28 days or more. Figuring that in-branch browsing would end for now, a trip to the library to stock up on random books would be my nerdy version of a panic run for toilet paper. Thinking of branches I hadn’t been to for awhile, I drove to Fairview that night.

I brought along my porcupine assistants, Qwilly and Qwillamina, as they love libraries as much as I do. They also look cuter in pictures than I do, and can pose easily in front of elements like this closed book return machine.

The pandemic hasn’t killed fun library displays, such as this one spotlighting yellow-coloured covers.

The TPL has used an attractive, consistent design for its pandemic signage, such as this one blocking off a computer.

The porcupines started their final browse for now with a display of cookbooks. They’re always up for fresh ideas.

Next: architecture, with Qwillamina climbing up to check books placed on their sides. As one of our clients deals with the architectural industry, we’ve been plowing through books lately to expand our knowledge, picking up a lot of cool ideas and inspirations along the way.

Of course there was a stop in the Toronto history section, to see if there were any titles not in our home library that might be useful over the next few weeks. See if you can spot the book I worked on sitting in this shelf (hint: it’s the perfect size for porcupines…).

Then it was time to start checking out our finds, beginning with our picks from the architecture section.

While in-branch browsing has ended for the moment, some in-person TPL services will continue, including picking up holds and limited computer use., and its expanded range of online services rolls along. As their website puts it, “we play an important role in the lives of many Torontonians, including vulnerable communities, and we need to ensure that we are equitably serving all residents across the city.”

All photos taken by Jamie Bradburn, November 20, 2020.

Past Pieces of Toronto: China Court

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally posted on July 1, 2012.

The Traveller’s Encyclopaedia of Ontario, 1979.

As the future of the ethnic shopping mall is debated in the media, one of the first to grace Toronto’s landscape is all but forgotten. A glance at the exterior of Chinatown Centre on Spadina Avenue gives no hint of its immediate predecessor, an attraction deemed worthy of mention in the provincial Traveller’s Encyclopaedia: “Constructed and decorated by craftsmen brought in from Hong Kong, this sparkling assortment of authentic oriental pagodas, gardens and Chinese boutiques makes a new focal point for the Chinese community in Toronto.” Despite such attention, China Court operated for only a decade—the victim of grander visions from its developers.

Once a private estate, the property at 208-210 Spadina Avenue was redeveloped during the 1920s and became a sales and service centre for General Motors trucks and coaches. By the early 1970s, the changing demographics surrounding Spadina made it an attractive site for developers targeting the Chinese community that was moving westward from its historical base around Dundas and Elizabeth Streets. A Chinese-themed shopping mall seemed like a winning prospect for one of the first new large-scale projects that would hit Spadina.

China Court’s opening on August 28, 1976 was marked by a parade of dancing dragons and lions that ran to City Hall and back. A newspaper ad declared that “China Court is an authentic Chinese shopping facility where you’ll find everything from fashions to delicately carved marble ornaments. Watch as experienced chefs prepare exotic delicacies in the Chinese Food Boutique. Or just enjoy a stroll in the Oriental garden.”

Toronto Star, August 24, 1976.

Food was one of the mall’s main attractions. According to a 1982 Globe and Mail profile, China Court’s ample parking lot was a huge draw, making it easily accessible for grocery shoppers on the run. The mall was considered friendly for newbies to Asian ingredients that weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now—they could “roam around and look at prices, produce and pickled eggs” at their own pace then relax afterwards with a pot of tea and pastries. Among those who enjoyed such post-shopping pleasures was CBC journalist Adrienne Clarkson, who found China Court and its main supermarket Chinamart a convenient one-stop source for items needed to make special meals.

On the other hand, China Court’s premiere restaurant, Jade Garden, was panned in a guide to Chinatown eateries. On the four-star scale Martyn Stollar used in his 1979 book Exploring Chinatown, the Jade earned half of one. While he felt much thought had gone into tastefully furnishing the premises, “one wished that half so much concern were evident in other areas of its operation.” Stollar found that drawing a server’s attention was a “full-time occupation” and that “the overbearing, inefficient and intrusive service is among the poorest I’ve encountered.” Food-wise, he felt it ranged from middling to awful, and not worth pricing that made it one of Spadina’s most expensive restaurants.

Barely half-a-decade into its life, China Court’s future appeared murky. Owner Manbro Land Holdings proposed replacing the modest-sized mall with a $25 million complex incorporating a department store, shops, restaurants and condos that would be more appealing to newer, wealthier immigrants. A murder in the parking lot in July 1981 earned notoriety when 150 people watched a man bleed to death after his throat was slashed with a broken drinking glass. In an unrelated development a month later, federal immigration officials decided to boot Manbro president Tim Sung Man out of the country in 1981. Man had lived in Canada on an extended visitor’s visa since 1976, and the suspicion was that officials were uncomfortable with an article in a Hong Kong tabloid several years earlier which appeared to link Man’s family with a drug lord (Man and his brothers sued the paper for libel).

Advertorial by Mary Walpole touting Chinatown Centre, Globe and Mail, February 16, 1988.

Man left the country, but later returned to push ahead with plans that some Toronto city planners described as the most ambitious project on Spadina since Casa Loma. The mall was closed in 1986 and the tourist-friendly gardens and pagodas were cleared to make way for the concrete and glass of the Chinatown Centre.

Sources: The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011), Exploring Chinatown by Martyn Stollar (Toronto: self-published, 1979), The Traveller’s Encyclopaedia of Ontario 1979 (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 1979), the January 27, 1982 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the August 24, 1976, July 13, 1981, August 12, 1981, and April 8, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.


Photo by Ron Bull, originally published in the August 30, 1976 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

The description provided with this photo: “Parading in comfort: Pearl Wong and her daughter, Rita, ride in a rickshaw pulled by Gordon Lem in a parade marking the opening Saturday of China Court, a $3 million assortment of pagodas, gardens and Chinese boutiques on Spadina Ave, south of Dundas St. Decoration of colorful bazaar was done almost entirely by craftsmen brought from Hong Kong by developers Manbro Investments.”

Globe and Mail, August 25, 1976.

Financial Post, April 5, 1980.

Globe and Mail, August 14, 1981.

Developer Tim Man (above) points to a model of Chinatown Centre, to be built by 1987. Photo by Rick Eglinton, originally published in the April 28, 1986 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0130417f.

Yorkdale’s Fifth Anniversary

Originally published on Torontoist on February 26, 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of Yorkdale.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened on February 26, 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre inspired generations of malls to come through its size, architecture, and carefully selected mix of tenants. By the time it turned five in 1969, the mall had lived up to its original promise of bringing downtown shopping to Toronto’s growing suburbs through familiar retailers like Eaton’s and Simpsons.

“Everything at Yorkdale is planned for you, the customer,” observed an advertorial in the Telegram. “And we like to think, after five years of service, we’ve proven a point: people do like to shop at Yorkdale…and for many good reasons.” Among those reasons were store concepts that wouldn’t be found in today’s Yorkdale (five-and-dimes like Kresge’s, general hardware stores like Aikenhead’s), and community services such as a branch of the North York Public Library.

The Star and the Telegram published special advertising sections on the eve of the mall’s anniversary: their pages were filled with ads, advice for navigating the mall, fashion tips, and plugs for a commemorative Chrysler auto show.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

The fifth anniversary saw the introduction of shopping carts to tote children around the mall. Yorkdale’s previous effort to provide strollers ended when many left the premises—sightings were reported at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Dominion supermarket was forced to “lock in” their carts due to accidents and theft. The mall’s new carts were available for 50 cents plus safety deposit.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Speaking of Dominion, it used Yorkdale’s anniversary to launch its Baker’s Oven line of bread and desserts.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Besides celebrating Yorkdale’s anniversary, Eaton’s marked its centennial in 1969. Eaton’s played a crucial role in the mall’s construction, refusing to commit unless Metro Toronto sped up approval of the neighbouring Spadina Expressway (now Allen Road).

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened in 1966, the community branch of the North York Public Library at Yorkdale provided the mall’s intellectual component. “Tiny tots are invited to bring along their mothers to special storytime programs,” an advertorial noted, “and students are encouraged to research school projects in the reference department. There’s a fine assortment of novels for the busy homemaker, not to mention a wide selection of current magazines and newspapers.” We’d agree with the advertorial’s assessment of libraries in general: “We don’t know of a better bargain…anywhere.”

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Given the mall’s upscale ambitions these days, it’s hard to imagine Yorkdale once housed a traditional five-and-dime like Kresge’s. Shoppers headed to the forerunner of K-Mart and the mall’s other stores were guaranteed that the interior temperature would always be a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, that the snow would always be cleared from the parking lot during winter, and that if traffic into the shopping centre was heavy, “Toronto’s men in blue are always on hand to guide and direct you in and out of Yorkdale.”

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

The mall’s fashion coordinator, Norma Wildgoose, was given space in the Star to review the season’s fashion trends. “Eeenie-meenie-minie-moe—the choice of a conglomeration of fashion looks—the 1969 woman never had such a diversified decision for spring. Whatever she decides is her look—she will be pretty,feminine, with fit, flare, and flattery,” Wildgoose declared. She saw navy, red, and white as the season’s favoured colour combination for women, followed by pastels. For the “sideburns and moustache department,” Wildgoose proclaimed the death of the Nehru jacket in favour of avant-garde designs. She also wondered if couples would the “his and her” pairing of flowery jackets and plaid trousers.


The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Checking my notes, one image was left on the cutting room floor. Here’s what would have been the accompanying text:

It appears Aikenhead’s Hardware believe you could run off the fumes of Groundhog Day for an entire month. Two years later, Molson bought the venerable Toronto-based chain and gradually shrunk it after acquiring Beaver Lumber soon after. The brand was revived as a big box chain in the early 1990s, but was purchased by Home Depot.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Ah, late 1960s catchphrases…

Yorkdale: The Instant Downtown Uptown

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 28, 2009.

Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 196.

Christmas shopping is upon us, which means it’s time for the claustrophobic to avoid approaching most of Toronto’s shopping malls. Yorkdale will be one of the busiest spots, as drivers try their best to avoid getting into a fender-bender with the twenty-seven other drivers fighting for a precious parking spot. The same scene probably played itself out when the mall opened as an attempt to bring the diversity of downtown shopping to the suburbs, complete with modern conveniences, even if the mall no longer contains tenants like five-and-dime chains, display space for bathroom fixture manufacturers, or grocery stores.

Once upon a time, a millionaire from British Columbia decided that he would like to buy some land north of Toronto to run a sleepy farm. Barrett Montfort purchased most of the property where Yorkdale sits in 1942 and claimed he never saw a development boom coming. “It just never occurred to me that something like Highway 401 would ever be built there. It was just an old farm when I bought it. It had been a good farm for many years.” By the mid-1950s, Eaton’s rented his property with an option to buy as the department store eyed potential sites for a suburban development. Corporate officials saw that Montfort’s land sat at a future transportation crossroads, thanks to a proposed extension of Spadina Road on the east side.

Exterior of Eaton’s Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 199, Item 1.

After four years of planning, Yorkdale was unveiled to the public at a press conference held at the Granite Club on October 16, 1958. Officials from Eaton’s and rival department store Simpson’s announced that the two companies were ready to open locations in the same shopping complex for the first time, in order to provide consumers “with the best suburban shopping facilities to be found anywhere in Canada.” Besides land acquired from Montfort, the development team also purchased property held for future use by General Motors to assemble enough space to build a twenty-five-million-dollar, sixty-two-store plaza.

Local officials and residents were giddy about the news—as long as property values rose and more businesses decided to settle in North York Township, why complain? “Every community should have one,” said Bert Egan, president of the Blackwater-Ranee Ratepayers’ Association. “I think this is the greatest thing in the world for any community. It’s a wonderful thing for North York’s commercial assessment, and it’ll make things a lot easier for the residential taxpayers.” Egan did not forsee any NIMBY-style reaction from those he represented, as long as the plaza was nicely landscaped. North York Reeve Vernon Singer felt Yorkdale was “the break-through we’ve been hoping for to open the door to further commercial and industrial development. It will prove what we’ve always claimed, that North York is at the centre of the Toronto area. Yorkdale will almost move the corner of Yonge and Queen to Dufferin and Highway 401.”

Simpson’s Court, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 198, Item 1.

North York officials hoped that Yorkdale would speed up the arrival of the Spadina Expressway, though the controversial road briefly proved an obstacle. Just as the preliminary architectural and engineering studies wound down in 1960, an offhand conversation with an official from the Ontario Department of Highways revealed that expansion plans for Highway 401 coupled with a massive interchange with Spadina would not include any direct access to the plaza. To add insult, the developers would also have to sacrifice a few acres for the good of Metro drivers. After negotiation, access was secured and the site studies were renewed.

Simpson’s Court, Yorkdale, date unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0014666f.

Once the Lawrence Avenue to Highway 401 stretch of the Spadina Expressway was approved by Metro Council, shovels went into the ground at the end of May 1962. Eaton’s and Simpson’s unveiled their store designs with promises of bringing shoppers the services they had grown accustomed to downtown with a modern flair. Each store’s restaurant would act as eye candy—the Vista at Eaton’s would provide diners with a view of the mall from a series of mushroom-shaped balconies, while the Court at Simpson’s would be accessed by a curving staircase. Simpson’s brought in pioneering mall designers Victor Gruen and John C. Parkin to work on their store and bring the excitement they had generated south of the border. “My purpose,” said Parkin, “has been to make a visit to Simpson’s a pleasant, almost European shopping experience rather than a visit to the clinical type of store.”

The opportunity for classy shopping couldn’t come fast enough for nearby residents during the excavation phase. Complaints were made to the township in July 1962 about dust clouds that forced residents to close their windows on hot summer days and thwarted attempts to hang laundry. Contractors were charged with anti-noise bylaw violations for operating trucks at all hours. Construction company representatives tried to assure residents that if work was allowed to continue twenty-four hours a day, the pain would be over in a month. This plea must have worked, as we found no evidence of a “Stop Yorkdale” campaign in the papers.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

The imminent arrival of Yorkdale and construction of the Spadina Expressway left the TTC in a tizzy. As the 1960s began, transit officials were always assured that the Spadina and its accompanying subway line down the middle were fifteen to twenty years away from reality. The TTC was unprepared to lay track along Spadina anytime soon and proposed to run an express bus service until demand warranted the subway. A 1963 plan called for the future subway platforms between Lawrence Avenue and Highway 401 to be built initially as bus depots, but this failed to materialize by the time Yorkdale was ready to welcome customers. Opening-day patrons without cars would find themselves crammed onto the Dufferin bus, which stopped in the parking lot every fifteen minutes.

During the first year of construction, other anchors were announced. Dominion announced plans for a “jet-age” supermarket located where Holt Renfrew now sits. Shoppers wouldn’t have to worry about lugging groceries around the rest of the mall thanks to an underground pickup station where orders sent down via conveyor belt could sit for several hours. Other services included an in-store deluxe microwave oven to cook roasts and other large slabs of meat on demand and a fish counter with “such delicacies as freshly caught West Coast salmon, oysters, Alaska crab and Arctic char flown to Toronto by jet aircraft.” Other food vendors were encourage to set up kiosks in a “food bazaar” in front of the store that planners insisted would bring a touch of the Middle Eastern shopping experience to North York, even if the products were as exotic as meat from local delis.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

Soon after Dominion’s announcement, Famous Players and Twentieth Century Theatres joined together to provide shoppers with a twin cinema—one screen for Hollywood blockbusters, the other for artier flicks. Filmgoers were promised a reversible escalator that would speed up their entry or exit (no need to linger around the concession stand when there’s shopping to do!). Among the other early tenants, one that caught our eye was a food stand operated by a familiar name. According to the Telegram, “the most unusual eating place is Mac’s, run by the owners of Mac’s Milk…Mac’s will serve just one main dish—roast beef, which a chef will cut to order from a 20 or 30 pound roast and put on the customer’s selection of seven varieties of hot bread and rolls.”
As opening day neared, Eaton’s added the final touches to its store, including one of the first automated entrances in Toronto, which was billed as an “air curtain.” Ontario College of Art student Suzan Fawcett was commissioned to create two “think pieces” out of metal to place in the foyer. As architect Elmore Hankinson noted, “We wanted to express our faith in our young, local artists. Canadian artists need encouragement but too often it comes after they have gained a reputation.” One of Fawcett’s works, Aurora Borealis Opus No. 1, was quickly dubbed “the harp” by construction workers for its arrangement of metal rods.

Toronto Star, February 26, 1964.

The Telegram sent two shoppers on a preview of Yorkdale. They were awestruck. “I’ve never seen so many stores in my life. It’s just like a city in itself,” said Marion Clancy. “It’s just as bright as being outdoors, but it’s far nicer. You don’t get your hair blown around.” The rest of the public had their first opportunity to check out the mall at 9:30 a.m. on February 26, 1964. Over one hundred thousand shoppers were estimated to have passed through that day, which created a scene that compared to the CNE midway. Barber John Folino later recalled that many of those wandering through “were all dressed up like they were going to church.” The official ribbon cutting took place at noon, followed by a lobster and cocktail lunch for VIPs. Plebeians made do with freebies from banks and stores, along with reduced prices on meals like the roast turkey special at Kresge’s one-hundredth Canadian location—for the princely sum of sixty cents diners received “savoury dressing, cranberry sauce, cream whipped potatoes, giblet gravy, buttered green peas, roll and butter” with their fowl.

The parade of people heading into “the instant downtown uptown” for opening day required fourteen police officers to direct traffic, though the traffic jam was nowhere near as bad as Yorkdale’s first Saturday of business a few days later. Maybe it had something to do with falling on Leap Day, as drivers found themselves in a jam running three miles on either side of Dufferin Street. All 6,500 parking spots were filled by 11 a.m. and police took two hours just to find an appropriate overflow location. Poorly marked underpasses didn’t help the situation.

A sampling of stores at Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 197, Item 1.

Architectural critics soon weighed in with their opinions. If the two critiques published in Canadian Architect magazine were any indication, they weren’t pleased. Ron Thom found the complex “sadly lacking,” with unimpressive entrances that didn’t stake out their significance, a parking lot that felt like it was designed by a computer and a lack of unified design. “Only the Simpson’s store…stands as a coherent statement of what it is. The remainder resembles a group of separate parts, each designed by an angry individualist, determined not only to outdo, but to undo all the other parts around—a sort of architectural salad.” He did like the court outside Simpson’s, where the impressiveness of the spiral staircase and fountain made it an ideal place for children to play and their parents to rest. Fellow critic Donovan Pinker felt that Yorkdale symbolized the fragmentation of the city, the sterility of the suburbs, and was generally too segregated from the “spice of urban life.”

Eaton’s Court, 1960s. Yorkdale Archives.

None of these views deterred shoppers, with more stores open and sales looking rosy as the 1964 Christmas season approached. Nearby shopping centres definitely felt an impact, with Lawrence Plaza reporting a 25% drop in sales since Yorkdale opened. Shoppers enjoyed the wide walkways of what for a short time was the world’s largest shopping centre until the expansion of Honolulu’s Ala Moana in 1966.

Sources: the June 1964 issue of Canadian Architect; the October 17, 1958, May 31, 1962, December 15, 1964, and February 21, 2004 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 25, 1964 and February 26, 1964 editions of the Telegram; and the October 17, 1958, June 3, 1960, May 31, 1962, July 10, 1962, November 24, 1962, April 3, 1963, February 21, 1964, February 25, 1964, February 27, 1964, and March 2, 1964 editions of the Toronto Star.


Let’s follow this fashionable explorer into the Globe and Mail‘s special advertising section published the day before Yorkdale’s grand opening…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The opening day map of the mall. As of November 2020, only Birks, Peoples and Scotiabank remain (though CIBC is represented by a bank machine, and the movie theatre evolved into the present-day Cineplex).

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The preview for Simpson’s. The chain’s first suburban Toronto store, located at Scarborough’s Cedarbrae Plaza, opened two years earlier.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Growing to nearly 80 stores at its peak, Calderone Shoes was bought by Aldo in the late 1990s and phased out the brand in the mid-2000s.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

According to the Star, Birks was “rich in mahogany panelling and opulent carpeting and draperies.” Perhaps shoppers could pick up some fancy jewels at Birks…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

…and show them off while shopping for groceries.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Somehow, wandering around Yorkdale in night attire never caught on.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

The Star‘s preview coverage included this guide on how to get to Yorkdale, and plenty of ads…

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

A much more detailed version of the Dominion ad. Let’s take a closeup at the innovations.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Given the choice between the two opening attractions, first ticket buyer Ralph Carveth chose To Bed or Not to Bed, which the Globe and Mail described as “a very silly title for a very clean little film about frank amorality.”

As for the main attraction, Seven Days in May is worth a watch in light of the post-election shenanigans south of the border.

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

Free boutonnieres from a well-established tailoring firm were among the giveaways and festivities surrounding the opening. Other highlights included a performance by vibraphonist Peter Appleyard at the Bank of Nova Scotia branch.

(Aside: check out A Tailored History of Toronto, Pedro Mendes’ book about the history of Walter Beauchamp, which I contributed research to.)

Globe and Mail, February 27, 1964.

In his biography A Store of Memories, G. Allan Burton reflected on how the Sinpsons-Eaton’s relationship had evolved by this point:

The successful conclusion of the Yorkdale deal only increased the mutual respect in which the age-old competitors…held each other. There was a time when Eaton’s, being considerably larger than Simpsons for many of the early years, regarded us with amused tolerance. Now we could, and did, deal as equals. Both of us were faintly amused at the backwardness of the Hudson Bay Company generally, and in particular their reluctance to go into shopping centres. Yet Eaton’s tried to dictate a maximum size for our store in Yorkdale, but I refused, saying I would build the size we wanted and if Eaton’s wanted to build more or less that was their prerogative!

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

‘Tis the Season for Christmas Windows at the Queen Street Hudson’s Bay

With Toronto going into COVID lockdown for the foreseeable future, the Christmas season will be different this year. As I’m writing this, the city is a day-and-a-half away from the latest restrictions going into effect, prompting a wave of panic buying and shoppers scurrying to suburban malls to stock up.

(Aside: while running some errands last night, I was amused that in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown announcement, people ran to their nearest liquor store, even though LCBO outlets and grocery stores will remain open. From the Beaches to Fairview Mall, lines snaked out the front doors, lines absent from every other business. Were they worried that the provincial booze supply would eventually be cut off? Were they trying to make up for poor home bar stocking practices? Did they need more drinks for their ongoing Doug Ford drinking game? Were they planning to ride out the lockdown by drinking away the pain? Were they just long line fetishists embracing an opportunity?)

Amid cancellations of public holiday gatherings and festivals, one tradition is still with us: Christmas windows at Hudson Bay’s Queen Street flagship. Concessions are being made to COVID, so rituals such as kids sticking their nose against the window are out this year.

You can take comfort that the toy soldiers are following protocols, and don’t endorse anti-maskers.

The main Hudson’s Bay display consists of five animated windows. If you start at the west end, the first window up is a computer analyzing children’s requests.

Next, a Christmas decoration production line…

…followed by gift wrapping.

Also on the production line: candy canes in HBC colours.

Finally, snowmen having fun making snow angels.

Over on Bay Street, Hudson’s Bay is going with “all the colours of the holiday.”

The windows on the Saks Fifth Avenue side of the building were less whimsical, more standard fashion ensembles not too different from the rest of the year. The exception was a nautical-themed Louis Vuitton display along Yonge Street.

Pictures taken by Jamie Bradburn on November 6 and November 13, 2020.

1195 Danforth Avenue (Allenby/Roxy Theatre)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 23, 2012.


Allenby Theatre lobby, 1936. Image courtesy Silent Toronto.

A suggestion for anyone hitting the town in their best Rocky Horror Picture Show finery this Halloween: Make a pit stop at the Esso/Tim Horton’s at Danforth and Greenwood. Walk through the restored front doors underneath the marquee of the old Allenby theatre. Buy some snacks to fuel an evening of time-warping. Take a look at the old ads in the showcase by the front doors and take a moment to pay tribute to the place where the movie became a Toronto cult favourite.

ts 83-05-09 last regular rocky showing

Toronto Star, May 9, 1983.

Debuting at what was then known as the Roxy in May 1976, Rocky Horror showings reached their peak in 1980, when audiences performed their routines twice a night on Fridays and Saturdays. The screenings drew a devoted following, with participants driving in from as far as Rochester and central Michigan. Friendships developed, romances blossomed, and some attendees even named their children after the ushers. Parties celebrating the anniversary of the first screening turned into grand occasions for fans—during a fifth-anniversary party, Debra Yeo and her friends rented a limo to take them from Castle Frank station (intentionally chosen as a play on Frank-N-Furter’s castle) to the Roxy where, she later recalled in the Star, “we confounded Jeanne Beker and a NewMusic film crew when they realized we weren’t VIPs.”

ts 36-06-17 allenby opening ad

Toronto Star, June 17, 1936.

Toilet paper wasn’t thrown down the aisles when the Allenby opened at what was then 1215 Danforth Avenue on June 18, 1936. Built by theatre architects Kaplan and Sprachman, opening ads claimed the Art Deco-inspired cinema offered “the newest in luxurious equipment” and was “scientifically air conditioned.” It remained a first-run theatre until 1970 when, renamed the Apollo, it switched to Greek films. Within months, it changed name and format again to become the Roxy rep house.

When a plan to run five months of top-quality Japanese films flopped, programming was handed over to three young film buffs, Robert Buchanan, Neil McCarthy, and Gary Topp. Billed as “The Original 99 Cent Roxy,” the theatre offered art films and classic double-bills that brought in older customers during the week, and rock-music films greeted with cheers by younger audiences on weekends. Live novelty acts were mixed in, such as a pianist who attempted to play for 110 hours straight.

ts 73-10-20 99 cent roxy

 Toronto Star, October 20. 1973. Click on image for larger version.

That vibe continued when Jon Lidolt took over programming in 1976. Under his watch, the theatre became one of the first in Canada to be equipped with a Dolby sound system. Besides Rocky Horror, the theatre frequently showed Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same. Midnight screenings of any film were accompanied by a haze of pot smoke. “The sweet smell gives the place a distinctive atmosphere,” the Star observed in 1977, “and the high sharpens the audience’s willingness to burst out in laughter or scream as some arch villain does his dirty work.”

ts 93-04-06 hollywood dinner closed

Toronto Star, April 6, 1993. Click on image for larger version.

After a brief spell as part of the Festival rep chain, the building was sold in 1987. The new owners turned the theatre into an after-hours club, which raised the ire of neighbours and police. While operating as the Hollywood Dinner Theatre, the site was host to 70 major incidents that required police attention between 1990 and 1993. Beyond infractions for drug dealing, teenage prostitution, and selling liquor without a licence, there were stabbings and shootings. One of the most gruesome incidents occurred in March 1992, when a pair of 15-year olds was arrested for partly scalping one teen and slicing the ear of another in half. Residents overcame their fears of recrimination and convinced City Council to unanimously pass a motion recommending to the Ontario Liquor Control Board that any future attempts to secure a liquor licence were not in the public interest.

Apart from brief periods as an Indian theatre and banquet hall decorated with air-brushed homages to Indiana Jones and Star Wars, the building remained vacant until it was purchased by Imperial Oil in 2006. As the site was on the City’s heritage inventory, the gas giant contacted historical property conversion specialists E.R.A. Architects. Rather than just preserve the façade, elements like the marquee and ticket booth from the Allenby days were recreated. Restorations were authentic, employing bricks from the original supplier in Pittsburgh and recreating the style of window that would have been used during the 1930s. The neighbourhood welcomed the project as an opportunity to spark a community revival, hoping that a touch of time-warp would redeem its reputation as a rough stretch of the Danforth.

Sources: the October 14, 2010 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the June 17, 1936, October 20, 1973, January 22, 1977, May 9, 1983, April 5, 1993, April 27, 1994, and October 1, 2005 editions of the Toronto Star.


ts 71-08-27 japanese festival at roxy

Toronto Star, August 27, 1971.

The headline on this story? “Japanese movies often demand patience.”

Some recent photos of the Allenby, taken November 2, 2020.

Bonus Features: “Just Have a Ball” (Debut of the Toronto Raptors, 1995)

Before reading this piece, check out my TVO article on the Raptors’ first game.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

As is usually the case on such momentous occasions, Toronto’s newspapers printed special sections welcoming the Raptors. Among the items the Star included was guide for basketball newbies. Among the tidbits of information: an NBA court is made from maple and is 94 feet x 54 feet; “a team that scores fewer than 100 points in a game often loses”; and “a player is ejected from the game if he fights, leaves the bench during an altercation, commits a flagrant foul or accumulates six fouls in a game.”

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Canadian Tire had plenty of merch items to keep fans happy.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Perhaps Cito Gaston also hoped the Raptors had a better season than the Jays did. Only two seasons removed from their second World Series title, and in a year which lost 18 games due to the 1994/95 players strike, the ’95 Jays had their worst winning percentage (.389) during Gaston’s tenure as manager.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Tickets from the large block Shoppers bought to help the team reach its season ticket target.

Globe and Mail, November 3, 1995.

The Globe and Mail ran a smaller preview section the next day.

Globe and Mail, November 3, 1995.

Besides a glossary of basketball terms, this diagram of the court floor was provided as a public service.

Some footage from the first game, including the emergence of The Raptor and the introduction of the home team.

The Rosie DiManno Star column I quoted from to describe the egg-hatching was bizarre right from its intro:


Pass out the cigars. (Just don’t try to light ’em. You will be shot.)

A fine, bouncing baby basketball team was whelped here last night, squawking and squealing in its first few hours of infancy, whilst thousands ooh-ed and coo-ed over the event.

Even DiManno realized she might have gotten carried away. “Oy, this prose is TOO precious,” she wrote. “But we will not spoil the party. We will be merry.” DiManno goes on to declare that discussing the Toronto Huskies at this time was “of significance primarily to dusty historians and geriatric newspaper columnists.”


She also declared that basketball felt too awkward for Torontonians, that it was “too flashy, too racy, too hyperbolic.”


If you want to groove to the music The Raptor hatched to, here’s Eumir Deodato’s version of “Also Spoke Zarathustra (2001).”

Sports Illustrated, November 13, 1995.

Sports Illustrated‘s preview. It turned out that the Milwaukee Bucks would finish seventh in the Central Division that season, with only four more wins than the Raptors (they were predicted to come in fifth). The Cleveland Cavaliers finished third in the division, but exited the playoffs quickly.

Photo credited to the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, November 4, 1995.

While researching the piece, I found the Financial Post a useful substitute for the Sun, given they shared writers at the time. There were also some great pictures, such as this one of two excited fans.