Vintage Toronto Ads: Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso

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Globe and Mail, January 12, 1970.

So I’m in the middle of research the other night. Browsing the Globe and Mail’s archives, I came across a roundup of what entertained New Year’s revelers as 1969 gave way to 1970. The accompanying photo showed a woman with a large headdress and two faces on her bosoms.

The caption? “Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso: vaudeville revived.”

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Globe and Mail, January 1, 1970.

Turned out she was a ventriloquist whose dummy heads were “mounted on her well-clothed breasts.” The type of act one could really appreciate after a few drinks to end the old year.

Naturally I had to share my discovery with my partner-in-crime.

“Hey, how’s this for an act? Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso!”

She thought about this mind-blowing concept for a second.

“Sounds like a drag queen.”

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1969.

This wasn’t a bad guess, as the Blue Orchid (the present-day Lee’s Palace) had recently featured the “Jewel Box Revue” of female impersonators.

Ms. Faye and her babbling bosoms required deeper digging.

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Binghampton Press, February 28, 1945.

It appears Ms. Faye (born, according to a copyright notice, as Doris Firkser) began her ventriloquism career toward the end of the Second World War. The Paterson, New Jersey Morning Call praised her talent when she participated in a vaudeville style bill in October 1945:

Doris Faye, meeting her dummy boy friend offers an example of ventriloquism at its best. Not only does this gal give off with light-hearted dialogue, but she sizzles with a dramatic thunderbolt in a scene from the movie Gaslight.

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1947.

While it’s hard to say for sure, since the ad doesn’t specify her talents other than “just patter,” it looks like Ms. Faye may have performed in Toronto as early as the late 1940s. It definitely appears that by the end of that decade she was touring nightclubs and theatres when she wasn’t performing in New York City.

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Bronxville Review Press-Reporter, July 14, 1960. Would the photo used in the ad at the top of this post have been taken during this photo session?

By the late 1950s, Faye was appearing as a ventriloquist on children’s television shows in the Big Apple, including a brief stint co-hosting the long-running series Wonderama. She moved on with her co-host Bill Britten when he became New York’s Bozo the Clown, appearing in Indian maiden garb as “Princess Ticklefeather” through the early 1960s.

Around 1967 Faye and her husband, multilingual tenor Nino Tello, toured with a vaudeville-style show running under names like Fun City Revue and Fun City Varieties. The Pittsburgh Press described their acts:

Miss Faye sings, chatters, turns in an interesting ventriloquism act with her pal “Tyrone” and is well steeped in show business. She keeps moving along at a merry pace. Nino Tello contributes a number of songs in both Italian and English with plenty of gusto. His repertoire runs the gamut from today’s hits and show tunes to the familiar classics. Nino and Faye wrap up a couple of duets and join in the production numbers as well.

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Globe and Mail, December 29, 1969.

By the time the revue reached Toronto in December 1969, it was known as Funs-A-Poppin’, playing off the 1940s Olsen and Johnson hit Broadway revue and film Hellzapoppin’. It fit nicely into a general revival of old-timey entertainment in the city and across North America, when traditional burlesque acts took stages and honky tonk pianists found roosts in local bars. This also fit into a growing trend of testing restrictions surrounding the degree of raunchiness and nudity allowed in public venues. During Faye’s stint in town, police kept their eye on the Royal Alex as previews began for the Toronto production of Hair.

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Desert Sun, February 15, 1974.

A 1974 feature in the Palm Springs Desert Sun summed up how the Talking Torso fit into changes in societal attitudes:

Her body, known as the “Talking Torso,” is not only eye-appealing and unique, but hilariously funny and clever. The “Talking Torso” is an intended comedy spoof, satire, and commentary on society’s present-day sexual attitudes toward the female body, which has been made to do everything but talk.

Faye and Tello (sometimes billed as “America’s Night Club Caruso”) continued to perform into the 21st century. The latest I traced her was a 2009 blog post discussing her determination to continue performing after hip surgery, where you get the sense that she was somebody who loved entertaining others. According to a ventriloquist website, Faye passed away in 2012.

Sources: the February 15, 1974 edition of the Desert Sun; the October 16, 1945 edition of the Morning Call; and the October 10, 1967 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.

World Events: The Atomic Bombings of 1945

This series looks at how Toronto’s press has covered major world events.

star 1945-08-07 front page atom bomb hiroshima Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

In the midst of a federal-provincial conference session in the House of Commons on August 7, 1945, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King made a statement. “I believe this is the most important announcement that has ever been made,” he told his audience before relaying the role that Canada had played in developing the atomic bomb that had just been dropped on Hiroshima. He was optimistic that the terrible new weapon would finally bring the Second World War to an end.

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Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

Much of the initial coverage of the bombing in the Globe and Mail and the Star focused on what the atomic bomb was, how Canadian research and uranium supplies had aided its development, and the federal government’s plans to expand its research and production lab in Chalk River.

There were also numerous comparisons to the most comparable wartime Canadian event that readers could relate to: the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Initial estimates compared the destructive force of the bomb to seven Halifaxes.

Headlines throughout the papers suggested the Japanese should surrender…or else. For example, one Star headline read “the atomic bomb offers the Japanese annihilation if they don’t surrender unconditionally–and quickly.”

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Both papers used this diagram, which appeared across North America. The descriptions below it varied, from giving a basic description of what an atom is to providing tons of statistics.

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St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 7, 1945.

Here’s an example of how the diagram was used on an American front page.

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Editorial, Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

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Editorial, Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

While there were concerns about the future destruction atomic weaponry could unleash, there were also many stories dedicated to depicting the potential future benefits of atomic power. “Uranium can end the war quickly by destroying Japan,” a Star headline observed, “but in peace it offers unheard of power for good.” Visions were presented of uranium-fueled cars, ocean liners, and trains providing speedier travel options. Future generations might look back to the bombing as the moment that hydroelectric generators like Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls would become obsolete in the face of Old Man Atom.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Local experts were asked for their opinions on the development and potential of atomic power.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

A Star editorial provided thoughts on the situation of Japanese Canadians and attempts to “repatriate” them back to Japan. In the following years, the nature of their internment would gain greater public knowledge, leading to the federal government’s official apology in 1988.

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

The front pages on August 8 highlighted the extent of the damage to Hiroshima. In the Star‘s case, page one also included more fantasies about the positive potential of atomic energy in reshaping the environment of the Great Lakes.

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

An excerpt from a vision of warmer winters in the Great Lakes. Note the potential effects that sound frightening with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 75 years regarding melting ice caps and climate change. Other British scientists suggested that Canada should become “the centre of the atom-smashing industry.”

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

In case you were curious glancing at that day’s front page, here’s the story about Mayor Robert Hood Saunders’ ire at provincial liquor officials for allowing children to deliver beer for pocket change.

I wonder if people were stocking up on as much beer as possible (and giving potential juvies plenty of booze-running gigs) in anticipation that the end of the war was inching closer to reality.

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Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 9, 1945.

While the front pages mentioned the Nagasaki bombing on August 9, the main headlines were devoted to the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan.

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  • Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 10, 1945.

By August 10, both papers expressed hopes in their headlines that, amid the destruction left by the bombs and the entry of the Soviet Union, that the Japanese were preparing to surrender. The city announced that there would be an official public holiday the day after the war officially ended.

Those celebrations were less than a week away…

A sampling of front pages from elsewhere:

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New York Post, August 6, 1945.

Buffalo NY Evening News 1945-08-06 front page

Buffalo Evening News, August 6, 1945.

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Brooklyn Eagle, August 7, 1945.

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New York Daily News, August 7, 1945.

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PM (New York), August 7, 1945.

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Front page cartoon, Washington Star, August 7, 1945.

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Windsor Star, August 7, 1945.

Note: Due to COVID-19 related closures, issues of the Telegram were unavailable for the post.

Balmy Beach Club

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on April 23, 2013.

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Photo taken April 2013.

When prominent jurist and one-time Mayor of Toronto Sir Adam Wilson partitioned his property along Lake Ontario in January 1876, he set aside a portion for use as a public “promenade and recreation grounds.” Within a few years, the community of Balmy Beach grew around Wilson’s lands, which sat amid the growing amusement parks and cottages that spurred the development of The Beach.

In 1903, the commissioners overseeing the parkland Wilson set aside were approached by the Beach Success Club, an all-male debating society that was branching out into athletic activities. The club applied to build a members-only clubhouse and lawn-bowling green at the foot of Beech Avenue. When the plan appeared bound for approval in August 1903, the Star reported that “this new move has made more people look towards Balmy Beach” as a place to purchase property.

Ladies' paddling team, Balmy Beach Club. - [ca. 1920]

Ladies’ paddling team, Balmy Beach Club, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 215.

Opened in August 1905, the Balmy Beach Canoe Club’s first clubhouse included a grand second floor porch from which members gazed out into the lake. It became a gathering spot for the area’s finest athletes, who competed in sports ranging from rugby to squash. A fierce canoeing rivalry developed with Kew Beach. The skills of its members were exhibited by the six medals canoeist Roy Nurse won during the 1924 Summer Olympics and its football squad’s Grey Cup victories in 1925 and 1930.

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The Telegram, February 8, 1936. 

Around 7:30 p.m. on February 7, 1936 members playing their weekly bridge game noticed smoke seeping from the ground floor. Their first thought was to save the numerous trophies the club had collected—the John W. Black Trophy for junior fours in canoeing was given the highest priority. Its survival seems to have been placed higher than that of caretaker James Coombe. According to the Globe, “nobody thought to warn the Coombe family upstairs of their peril, and it was only when smoke came belching up the staircase that the Coombes, with the exception of Bert, aged 25, became aware of the fire and rushed downstairs.” Bert was cut off by the blaze and had to escape via the roof and a balcony. The Coombes family lost all of their belongings, while the club lost most of its trophies and over 100 boats.

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Balmy Beach Club, June 1953. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, R-5451.

A replacement clubhouse opened the following year. Among its attractions was a dance floor that played host to big bands led by locals like future media and sports mogul Jack Kent Cooke. A unique two-step dance popularized at the club, “the Balmy,” became popular across the city. An addition built in the late 1940s offered fireproofed protection for the club’s canoes.

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The Telegram, March 4, 1963. Click on image for larger version.

This proved a wise move, as fire struck again on March 3, 1963. As the last stragglers from a fundraising dance departed during the early morning hours, they smelled smoke. The fire began in the storage room, swept through the first floor, destroyed many trophies, and gutted the second floor dance hall, meeting rooms, and snack bar. Unlike the earlier blaze, the building wasn’t entirely destroyed thanks to cement wall reinforcements added the previous year. “It does hurt a bit today,” long-time club member Ted Reeve reflected in his Telegram sports column the following day, “but it’ll be up again.”

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Globe and Mail, November 25, 1967.

And it was. The club rejected a private promoter’s plan to turn the space into a country club featuring a curling rink, tennis courts, and bowling alleys. “We don’t want a restrictive atmosphere,” club president John Sillers told the Globe and Mail. “Our primary aim is to get young people who will participate in wholesome recreation—not just people who just want to sit and look at the lake.” City Council agreed to underwrite two mortgages to rebuild the club, which reopened in 1965. A wall of plaques commemorating achievements recognized by the lost trophies was unveiled by Reeve during a 1967 ceremony attended by at least one original club member.

Today, the clubhouse provides spaces for members to stay fit and relax over a beer. A mural facing the boardwalk gives strollers a glimpse into its many athletic accomplishments.

Sources: The Beach by Glen Cochrane and Jean Cochrane (Toronto: ECW, 2009), the February 8, 1936 edition of the Globe, the March 4, 1963, June 10, 1963, and November 25, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail, the August 15, 1903, February 8, 1936, and March 4, 1963 editions of the Toronto Star, the February 8, 1936 and March 4, 1963 editions of the Telegram, and the July 2003 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, August 15, 1903.

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The Telegram, February 8, 1936. Click on image for larger version.

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The Telegram, March 4, 1963.

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Wall along the beach, August 1, 2020.

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Club entrance, August 1, 2020.

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Lawn bowling area, August 1, 2020.

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Lawn bowling area, August 1, 2020. 

696 Yonge Street (Diamond Building, Brothers Restaurant, Some Organization I’d Prefer Not to Mention in the Title)

Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on January 29, 2013.

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Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.

The Church of Scientology’s Toronto headquarters are in the midst of an “Ideal Org” makeover—signalled, last month, by boards nailed to the Yonge Street high-rise. While it remains to be seen whether the move will fracture the controversial faith’s local followers as similar, costly refurbishings have in other cities, the plans are less than modest, indicating a colourful new façade will be placed on the almost-60-year-old office building, along with a new bookstore, café, theatre, and “testing centre” inside.

Built around 1955 in the International style of architecture, 696 Yonge’s initial tenant roster included recognizable brands like Avon cosmetics and Robin Hood flour. They were joined by an array of accounting firms, coal and mining companies, and the Belgian consulate, along with a number of construction and property management companies run by Samuel Diamond, whose name later graced the building.

By the 1970s, The Diamond companies were among the few original tenants remaining. Movie studio MGM settled in for a long stay, while the Ontario Humane Society teetered on the verge of financial ruin during its tenancy. There was a temporary office for a federal committee on sealing, which released a 1972 report recommending a temporary moratorium on seal hunting while solutions were sought to halt a population decline. The building even enjoyed a brief taste of religious controversies to come when the Unification Church—a.k.a. the “Moonies”—briefly opened an office, prompting questions about indoctrinated converts, growing wealth, and cult-like practices mirroring those later asked about the Church of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard’s religion, meanwhile, had shuffled around various sites in the city since the late 1950s, from meetings on Jarvis Street to a townhouse on Prince Arthur Avenue. The church’s reputation for defending itself grew as quickly as its membership—by the 1970s, official church statements were guaranteed to appear in the letters section within days of any faintly critical newspaper article. The Church of Scientology bought 696 Yonge in 1979.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1983.

Around 2:30 p.m. on March 2, 1983, three chartered buses pulled up to the office tower. More than one hundred OPP officers, equipped with recording equipment, axes, sledgehammers, and a battering ram, rushed into Scientology’s offices. Acting on the findings of a secret two-year tax-fraud investigation of the church, they removed 900 boxes of material, among them illegally obtained confidential documents from government, medical, and police agencies. The church initially claimed the raid was spurred by attacks from the psychiatric community and believed it was entitled to Charter of Rights protection.

Hiring Clayton Ruby as its lawyer, Scientology pursued a decade-long fight against the raid and the charges that resulted from it. Some of its efforts were comical: in July 1988, the church offered to donate considerable sums to agencies working with drug addicts, the elderly, and the poor so long as theft charges were dropped. Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott rejected the offer, saying that “there’s no immunity that permits a church or anyone else to commit crimes in the country.” Ruby argued that the legal prosecution of a small religion like Scientology threatened the freedom of all faiths, and that while individual members may be guilty of offences, the whole church should not be held at fault.

The legal battle appeared over by 1992. When the seized boxes were returned that January, church members celebrated on Yonge Street. While a banner declaring “Scientology Wins after 9-year Battle” was draped across the building, a human chain passed the boxes back inside from a rented truck. Jubilation was short-lived: though acquitted of theft charges, the church and three of its members were found guilty of breach of trust. Related cases lingered for a few more years, including a libel case that earned crown attorney Casey Hill a then-record $1.6 million award from the church and one of its lawyers.

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Now, September 2, 1999. The main article on cheap eats featured on this page was for New York Subway on Queen Street.

Even in the midst of its legal battles, the church gradually expanded its presence in 696 Yonge, filling space as other tenants departed. One of the last to go was the Brothers Restaurant and Tavern, which filled a streetfront space with vinyl booths and formica from 1979 to 2000. Operated by two brothers whose last names differed because of the phonetic spelling a government official wrote for one when they moved to Canada, Angelo Sfyndilis and Peter Sfendeles catered to a diverse clientele who appreciated their generous portions of comfort food. As Toronto Life noted in its obituary, “wherever you come from, wherever you’re going, Brothers has been a second home, a sheltering piece of smalltown Canadiana on a big, harsh anonymous street, in the middle of a big, harsh, anonymous city.” The Star praised Brothers’ “honest chicken sandwich,” while Now included it in its student survival guides for meals like the Little Brother Platter, which contained “eight thick slices of pastrami, eight of roast beef, four slabs of Canadian cheddar, a mound of potato salad, a mess of oil-and vinegar-drowned iceberg lettuce, a quartered dill pickle, and rings of pickled peppers.” When the lease was not renewed in 2000, deli items were replaced with copies of Dianetics.

Sources: the January 25, 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail, the September 2, 1999 edition of Now, the May 2000 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 10, 1982, March 3, 1983, December 20, 1984, July 27, 1988, August 29, 1988, September 20, 1990, January 28, 1992, June 26, 1992, July 13, 2008, and January 24, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As of July 2020 the building is rotting away, as various makeover plans by the Scientologists have not materialized. Over the years, the organization has battled the city over tax bills.

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

You can trace the saga of 696 Yonge over recent years by checking out this thread on Urban Toronto.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I moved to Toronto around the time of the Now excerpt posted above. Always a fan of decent cheap eats, I checked out The Brothers. The paper wasn’t kidding when it said the portions were huge, providing plenty of fuel for long downtown strolls.

(Memory tells me it was frequently mentioned in Now, and may have run a few ads, but the current search function for their online archives is next-to-useless).

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National Post, January 15, 2000.

The Star published the Brothers’ rice pudding recipe twice: in 2000 after it closed, then in 2006 thanks to reader demand. “The food was bettered only by their dear personalities and quintessential charm,” one reader recalled. Food writer Amy Pataki noted that staff called the dish rizogalo, and that cook Tony Polyzotis called its preparation “easy.”

If this inspires you to make this recipe from the July 26, 2006 Star, send it pictures and I’ll add them to this post.

Brothers Rice Pudding
Tempering the beaten egg with hot liquid prevents it from coagulating.

4 cups or more whole or 2 per cent milk
1 cup converted white rice, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp raisins (optional)
Ground cinnamon

In medium, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 4 cups milk to simmer over medium heat. Add rice and sugar. Cook, uncovered, at gentle boil, stirring frequently, until rice is almost cooked through but still a little chewy, about 30 minutes. (Rice will continue to soften as it cools.)

In heatproof cup, whisk egg with vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons hot cooking liquid. Whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Stir into rice mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add raisins (if desired).

Cool pudding uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up skin as it forms on surface. (Pudding will thicken on standing; thin with more milk as desired.) Sprinkle generously with cinnamon before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Threatening the Toronto Public Library

Originally published on Torontoist on July 21, 2011.
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An uncommon sight in the future? Sod-turning ceremony for the Forest Hill Village municipal offices and library building, Eglinton Avenue West at Vesta Drive, November 13, 1960. Photo by Geoffrey Frazer. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 207, Series 1251, Item 146.

Earlier this week, Torontoist reported that Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) was dismayed because he perceived there to be more library branches in his area of Etobicoke than Tim Hortons. Though the actual numbers don’t support Mr. Ford’s claim, would it be horrible if it was true? Through collections and outreach programs, the Toronto Public Library’s 99 branches provide more brain food than all of the double-doubles and boxes of Timbits sold throughout the city.

Yet curtailing access to the library, through reduced hours or branch closures, is among the recommendations KPMG provided in today’s portion of the Core Services Review. Based on past experience, attempts to implement such advice, to force reduced hours or closures onto local libraries, will be met with stiff opposition, and politicians will either back down or tone down the degree of service reduction.

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The Toronto Public Library in its original location in the former Toronto Mechanics’ Institute, July 1, 1884. Toronto Public Library, Item X 71-16.

Though a limited form of library via the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute was available as far back as 1830, it wasn’t until the early 1880s that city officials seriously set out to to create a free public library. Championed by Alderman John Hallam, a bylaw to create a public library was placed on the January 1, 1883, municipal ballot. Detractors argued that books were so plentiful and cheap that there was little reason for taxpayers to fund a library. That argument was countered in many newspaper editorials: “We wonder,” wrote the Mail on Christmas Day, 1882, “if those who say so ever put themselves in the artisan’s place, and calculated how much he could spare in a year, after supporting his family, for books. For a quarter of a dollar in taxes, or less, the library will give him use of, or choice from, thousands of volumes.” The bylaw passed by a landslide.

After a brief search for sites, the Mechanics’ Institute agreed to turn over its collection and property. Following renovations, the TPL officially opened its doors at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide streets on March 6, 1884. Though it quickly became popular, critics felt the collection contained too much mind-corrupting fiction and needed more dry reference works. Hallam noted that he learned far more from the likes of Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Sir Walter Scott than nine-tenths of the published sermons that Torontonians considered “good” literature.

Those who considered the TPL a passenger on the Victorian equivalent of the gravy train—such as the author of the following verse that appeared as a letter to the editor of the Toronto World—continued to air their beefs in public forums:

What is this building, father?
This, my son, is the celebrated free library.
Why is it called a free library, father?
Because everybody is compelled to subscribe.
What was the origin of it?
Ex-Ald. Hallam’s vanity.
What good is it, father?
To increase the taxes and circulate sensational novels.
What are sensational novels?
Tales where shop-girls marry lords.
What is the use of reading them?
They make people discontented and negligent.
Has the library any other purpose?
Yes, my son, it provides some good fat berths.
Do the subscribers manage it?
Nominally they do, but really they do not.
Who does, then?
Some people who pay very little towards it.
Is it very popular?
Wait until the tax bills come in.
How are the public benefitted by it?
Ask the trustees, my son.

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Metropolitan Toronto Central Library, northwest corner of College and St. George streets; the predecessor of the Toronto Reference Library, it was built with Carnegie money. Photo taken May 15, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 307.

For the rest of the 19th century, library officials were frustrated by the city’s refusal to provide the full amount of funding it was allowed under provincial law. Branch closures were frequently threatened but never carried out. City council continued to cut funding until it made one reduction too many in 1900. The library board sued for the lost funds and won. Funding stabilized after that point, thanks largely to Carnegie grants that began a few years later.

After the library systems in Toronto and its suburbs experienced years of growth, threats to services became common from the mid-1980s onward as municipalities attempted to cut costs. The mere threat of a library closure was enough to spur neighbourhood activists into action—among the small branches frequently used for target practice were Mount Pleasant, Queen-Saulter, Silverthorn, Swansea, and Todmorden. The Toronto Reference Library (and its predecessor, the Metro Reference Library) incurred reduced hours and closures for a week at a time during the late 1990s. Mayor Ford’s favourite branch, Urban Affairs, was recommended for closure in 1996 in anticipation of cuts.

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Eastern Branch Public Library (now Main Street branch), July 17, 1939. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 828.

Perhaps the most decimated branch was City Hall, which was supposed to be scrapped in October 1995 in order to save $640,000. Politicians figured it would be an easy cut, since there wouldn’t be opposition from ratepayer groups as there was in neighbourhoods where other branch closures were announced, and the space could easily be rented out for a restaurant or other commercial uses. Globe and Mail columnist Colin Vaughan pointed out the faultiness of the library board’s argument, which said that most of the branch’s users lived outside pre-amalgamation Toronto:

One reason given for closing the City Hall branch over, say, the less-used Beaches branch was that many of the users are business folk from the suburbs, as opposed to the local residents who frequent neighbourhood libraries. Perish the thought that Toronto should serve as a clearing house for the edification of the barbarian hordes. What next? Bar suburban patrons from attending those free lunch-time concerts in Nathan Phillips Square?

The branch remained open but saw its holdings reduced from 75,000 items to 25,000 and its operating time shrunk from nine-and-a-half to three hours a day.

In September 1999, the post-amalgamation TPL recommended closing 12 branches over the next five years. Of those listed, only one, Niagara, bit the dust. Protest against the proposals was loud, especially for the Mount Pleasant and Swansea branches. Noting that the report that recommended Mount Pleasant’s closure was called “Reinvesting in Our Future,” Councillor Michael Walker snarled, “That sure as heck isn’t reinvesting in any future…This library only opened about 10 years ago. There was a clear shortfall of library services in this neighbourhood then.” Down in Swansea, Councillor David Miller reminded the library board that the branch there was as much a monument to fallen soldiers as a library. “The original collection was donated by the residents of Swansea as a living memorial for 22 boys who didn’t return from World War I,” Miller noted. “It’s just as much a memorial as a statue in a park. I think the city has the same moral and ethical obligation to uphold that memorial.”

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Runnymede Public Library, July 17, 1939. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 827.

As mayor, Miller later saw the library board eliminate Sunday operations at 16 branches in September 2007 in reaction to a city budget crisis that Miller blamed on the deferment of votes on new land transfer and vehicle registration taxes. An arbitrator ruled the following month that the board was wrong to act so quickly, which led Miller critics like Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) to gloat over how ineptly the incident was handled. “It was a very cruel decision to force the closures of the library branches, and to see that there are no savings that are going to be accumulated makes it even crueller,” Minnan-Wong told the Star.

But will he have the same reaction if the current council follows KPMG’s recommendation and pushes for library branch closures that will provide, at best, middling savings? Or, if such an event comes to pass, will he tell users of targeted locations that, rather than a cruel blow to their neighbourhood, the loss of a library branch is merely a sacrifice needed to right the financial health of the city? Even if all that happens is a reduction in service hours, we know that defenders of Toronto’s libraries are preparing to protect an institution we should all be proud of.

Additional material from A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883–1983 by Margaret Penman (Toronto: Toronto Public Library Board, 1983), Free Books for All: The Public Library Movement in Ontario 1850–1930 by Lorne Bruce (Toronto: Dundurn, 1994), and the following newspapers: the July 10, 1995 edition of the Globe and Mail; the December 25, 1882 edition of the Mail; the September 21, 1999, September 22, 1999, and October 16, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star; and the January 30, 1884 edition of the Toronto World.

UPDATE

The Ford brothers’ attempts to shrink the Toronto Public Library were met with public backlash, notably from Margaret Atwood. While the in-the-works closure of the Urban Affairs branch at Metro Hall went ahead (which led to confusion in accessing its holdings for years as its collection was integrated into the Toronto Reference Library), the other branches remained open. The TPL expanded in the years that followed, with new branches serving the Fort York neighbourhood and Scarborough Civic Centre.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ookie Dookie

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Toronto Life, August 1989.

It’s 1989, and you’re flipping through the summer issue of Toronto Life. In the front, there are a series of short bits about the city, including legendary Buffalo TV news anchor Irv Weinstein’s opinion on his Golden Horseshoe counterparts. He felt most were stiff, with the exception of CHCH Sunday show host Dick Beddoes (“I was mesmerized by him–you know, the same way you’re mesmerized by a guy with one eye in the middle of his forehead”). On page 29, a piece on activist Dudley Laws and the strained relationship between the city’s black community and the police. You pause for a moment, contemplate, and figure things will mended between the two groups by, say, 2020.

Next, you read some tips on how to cycle in style. Fools, you think. This city is built for motorists–why bother spending a ton on a fancy bike?

You settle into a comfy chair with the special fiction section, featuring short stories from home (Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findlay) and abroad (Isabel Allende, Graham Greene), along with a sprinkling of Leonard Cohen poems.

Next, a new bar-and-club guide. Ah, but you’re too old for that sort of thing. You continue flipping until you hit the “Taste of the Town” restaurant guide. One ad catches your eye, with its splashes of bright yellow and checkerboard pattern.

You read it.

You scratch your head.

“Ookies?”

Are your fellow earthlings going wild over some store you’ve never heard of in Forest Hill? It’s possible. Or not.

You sigh and continue on with the restaurant reviews. None of them mention ookies.

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Toronto Star, April 12, 1989.

After digging through the Star and Globe archives, the only story I found about C.C. Ookies was this one about their matzo meal cookies.

Did the Queen’s Quay location ever pan out?

Why was combining initials and parts of words such a long, complicated story?

So many questions…

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“All in the Family,” House of Mystery #204, July 1972. Story by Mary Skrenes, art by Bernie Wrightson.

Perhaps the true story of the ookie, and the reason they never caught on, is that they were actually sentient blobs with a taste for humans. Blobs who insisted the proper spelling of their species was “Ookey,” and required plenty of Alka-Seltzer for proper digestion.

10 Scrivener Square (North Toronto Station, Summerhill LCBO)

Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on May 14, 2013.

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The Globe, September 10, 1915.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was tired of arguing. Negotiations with government bodies over the development of a replacement for the existing Union Station were heading nowhere fast. Fatigued by squabbling, in 1912, the CPR moved several passenger routes from downtown to a line it controlled in the north end of the city. While a train station already existed on the west side of Yonge Street near Summerhill Avenue, it hardly matched CPR executives’ visions of grandeur.

Fresh off designing the railway’s office tower at King and Yonge, architects Frank Darling and John Pearson were assigned to create a new North Toronto station. The centrepiece of their plan was a 140-foot clock tower inspired by the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The clock would be synchronized via telegraph signals from the CPR’s Windsor Station in Montreal. Also included was a grand waiting room with a three-storey high ceiling and marble facing.

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The Globe, June 15, 1916.

When Mayor Tommy Church laid the cornerstone on September 9, 1915, he praised the CPR for being “the first railway company to give Toronto proper recognition.” He hoped the station would be the first of a series of railway gateways to the city, improving inter-city commuting. When passenger service began on June 4, 1916, destinations included Lindsay, Owen Sound, and Ottawa. The most popular route was Montreal, which attracted wealthy businessmen who lived nearby.

Old and new CPR North Toronto Stations. - [ca. 1920]

Old and new CPR North Toronto stations, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1748.

The station’s demise began when the new Union Station finally opened in 1927. Passengers found transfers easier downtown, while the streetcar ride between the two stations grew longer as vehicular traffic increased along Yonge Street. The final four passenger routes were scrapped in September 1930, though freight trains continued to use the facility. The station was pressed into service for the arrival of King George VI’s train during the May 1939 royal visit, and for unloading returning troops at the end of the World War II.

In the interim, the building’s long association with alcohol began. Brewers’ Retail opened a store on the north side of the station in 1931, while the LCBO settled into the south side in 1940. Not until late 1978 could liquor-store customers pick their own bottles instead of filling out forms fussed over by judgmental staff. “Often, a clerk would smugly inform you that the cheap sherry you wanted was O/S (out of stock),” Toronto Life recalled in 2003. “Another clerk might confide that the guy who just waited on you had been a teacher but had suffered ‘a nervous breakdown.’ You knew that every one of the staff had been voting Tory since before that Benedictine monk invented champagne.” Adding to the institutional feel was the lowering of the ceilings and covering up of many of the station’s grandiose touches.

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Ticket area, circa 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 930.

Talk of site redevelopment went on for years. Proposals alternated between providing improved retail space and returning to its railway origins as a GO station. Developers who talked of building homes and apartment towers on land adjacent to the building ran into neighbourhood opposition. No plan stuck until the liquor store closed in December 2001 for extensive renovation work undertaken by Woodcliffe. False ceilings were removed and wood paneling was torn off to reveal the marble underneath. New blocks of limestone were produced by the Manitoba quarry that provided the originals. The tower clock resumed service after half-a-century. What was already the busiest LCBO store in the province expanded by a factor of eight to provide 21,000 square feet of shopping space for booze connoisseurs. During the grand reopening ceremony in February 2003, Ontario Consumer and Business Service Minister Tim Hudak tipped his hat to the building’s transportation origins, promising shoppers “a journey of discovery of the world of beverage alcohol.”

While stocking up on your drinking needs, take a moment to observe the station’s railway heritage. Look up to the ornate ceiling covering the domestic and Italian wine selections. See the ticket booths nestled among the Chilean wines. While walking through the western portion of the Vintages section, imagine strolling along a walkway to your train platform. Ponder if the bottles on the shelves of the “Vins de Table” section are fine beverages or deserve to be dumped down the toilets like those which graced this portion of the station.

Sources: Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles (Charleston: Arcadia, 2009), Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986), the February 4, 2003 edition of the Canada News Wire, the September 10, 1915 edition of the Globe, the June 2003 edition of Toronto Life, and the June 3, 1916, November 26, 1978, and January 19, 2002 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, September 10, 1915.

Besides Mayor Tommy Church, at least two other people spoke during the September 9, 1915 cornerstone ceremony for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s new North Toronto station. CPR general manager A.D. MacTier thanked everyone for their assistance in initializing the project: “I hope that through this gathering I may be able to get to know your city officials, businessmen and the public generally, believing as I do that only by much personal friendship and knowledge of each other’s aims and needs can that mutual understanding and respect be created, without which the proper amicable relations between a large public utility and the people of a great city can neither be created nor maintained.”

Also speaking was jurist William Mulock, who referred to the ongoing conflict in Europe. According to the Globe, Mulock “observed that the Empire was engaged in a gigantic struggle, but ultimate victory for Britain and her allies was certain. The action of the CPR showed that they had confidence in the future, which had in store greater things for Canada and for the whole British Empire.”

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Toronto World, September 10, 1915.

A time capsule was placed inside the cornerstone. Its contents?

  • A city map
  • Plans showing location of station and tracks
  • CPR annual report
  • CPR shareholders report
  • A complete set of Canadian coins and stamps
  • City of Toronto annual report
  • Copies of that day’s newspapers
  • Plans and elevation of station
  • Guest list of those attending the ceremony

The time capsule was opened on schedule in September 2015.

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Summerhill LCBO, 1983. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0114596f.

An amusing side story I stumbled upon while researching this story involved an LCBO sale on unpopular items. The Globe and Mail reported on September 14, 1977 that “most customers at three downtown outlets weren’t even giving a second glance to discontinued brands of wines and spirits—both domestic and imported—selling at up to 50 per cent off until they’re sold out.” A grinning LCBO cashier at Summerhill told the paper that “you wouldn’t buy it either if you saw what was on sale.”A television director shopping for red wine agreed, scoffing that he “wouldn’t touch that stuff.”

Among the items which didn’t entice customers: Red Cap sparkling wine from France, and South African Paarl Cinsaut. The Queen’s Quay outlet noted scotch was still sitting on the shelf 24 hours after its price was reduced.

ts 92-01-18 redevelopment scheme Toronto Star, January 18, 1992. Click on image for larger version.

One of the visions for the site over the years.

“The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland”

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 9, 2016.

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View of Canada’s Wonderland main entrance, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 1.

“Must we trade all that is good in our community for the artificial plastic world of profit-motivated developers?” Letter writer Elaine Ziemba’s complaint to the Star in early 1976 was far from the only one expressing fear about the impact a proposed amusement park would have on Maple. Divisions quickly emerged between proponents, who felt it would boost the economy of the then Town of Vaughan, and those who felt it signalled the demise of their quiet community.

In July 1975, Family Leisure Centres, a division of Taft Broadcasting, announced that it planned to turn 320 acres of farmland it had bought two years earlier at Highway 400 and Major Mackenzie Drive into a $50 million amusement park. To win over the locals, Family Leisure Centres filled a charter flight a month later with local officials (who paid their way) and residents, and gave them a tour of Kings Island, near Cincinnati. Vaughan Mayor Garnet Williams was impressed. “That was a great public relations thing for them to do,” he told The Globe and Mail. “They even had the plane wait for us on the runway and we could leave our coats there and everything.” He was especially wowed by the youth working there, noting they were a great PR tool and that “they had to have their hair short.”

Less enticed was Vaughan councillor Jim Cameron, who thought there were too many trinkets from Hong Kong for sale. He also worried about repercussions ranging from increased pressure to rezone agricultural areas as commercial to residents with visions of earning millions from future developments dancing in their heads.

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Globe and Mail, May 22, 1981.

Opposition soon arose elsewhere. In Toronto, the Canadian National Exhibition board looked nervously at the proposal, yet hesitated to publicly oppose the park until more information was available. One board member unwilling to keep mum was city councillor John Sewell, who felt that “we should do everything possible to discourage this proposal.” In a letter to Cameron, provincial treasurer Darcy McKeough fretted about the impact on local attractions like the CNE, Harbourfront, and Ontario Place. He also noted that Family Leisure Centres reps met with provincial planning officials, and were twice told the area was unsuitable for a midway. A report from within McKeough’s ministry, produced in January 1976, indicated that hundreds of millions of dollars would be required to handle increased traffic from the projected two million visitors per year, and that by 1986 Highway 400 would be permanently gridlocked.

Despite the efforts of opponents like Sensible Approach to Vaughan’s Environment (SAVE), concerned about noise, pollution, and traffic, the project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in March 1978. Its 32-page report recommended that the provincial ministry of culture and recreation should force the park to maintain a high level of Canadian content. By this point, previously antsy officials like McKeough warmed to the park. When he was grilled for his change of heart by Beaches-Woodbine MPP Marion Bryden during question period, Premier William Davis entered the debate, asking Bryden “are you against children having fun?”

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1979.

Davis was on hand for a musical preview of the park, now dubbed Canada’s Wonderland, at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1979. The one-hour show featured appearances by Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear, and talk show host/Spider-Man voice Paul Soles. Davis was there to, according to the Star, “symbolically trigger a ground-breaking explosion at the site.” The province hailed the park’s owner for its speedy construction schedule, with plans to welcome the first visitors within two years.

Opponents continued to voice concerns about Canada’s Wonderland, as well as other signs of suburban encroachment, such as the Keele Valley Landfill. “Resignation has been the real response of the people,” SAVE representative told the Star in 1980. “It means we’ll be living between two dumps. The thing that really bothers me is that they didn’t consider the impact of the two projects together; they were dealt with separately.” Vaughan councillor and future mayor Lorna Jackson felt that “unless we want to turn Maple into a row of touristy boutiques, I can’t see the park doing much for local businessmen.” On the other hand, Williams touted the summer jobs for students, and felt “people will be spending their money here rather than going to Florida.”

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View of carousel and surrounding flower beds at Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 5.

The initial plan divided the park into five areas: Frontier Canada, Hanna-Barbera Land, International Street, Medieval Fair, and World Expo 1890. As construction proceeded, the decision was made to delay the Canadian section until the park’s second season (it was later reported that when budget numbers were crunched, either it or the Hanna-Barbera characters would go). That move incensed critics like Cameron, who may have overreached with the comparison he used. “You could pick this thing up, lock stock and barrel, and move it to Pretoria and call it South Africa’s Wonderland. There is nothing Canadian about it at all,” he told the Globe and Mail. Public relations manager Mike Filey pointed out elements from the true north strong and free in the park, including employing local workers, lining the grounds with cobblestones once used to surround Toronto’s streetcar tracks, planting over 1,200 trees bought from a Pickering farm, installing a vintage carousel imported from Vancouver, and that Canadian-based Great West Life owned a quarter of the partnership running the place. As PR officer Connie Robillard told the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s Wonderland just means a wonderland in Canada.”

Not sourced from Canada were the park’s costumes, which were produced by Cincinnati-based King’s Productions. Designer Katie Leahy was challenged to account for cooler spring and fall weather. “I made the costumes roomy enough to wear a turtleneck sweater underneath and designed nylon-hooded jackets to wear with most of the outfits,” she told the Star. While simple costumes like jester outfits were remedied, those dressed as Hanna-Barbera characters experienced little relief from heat at any time in their acrylic fur and cloth get-ups. “None of the characters can walk around for more than 15 minutes,” Leahy observed. Overall, the costumes took two years and $500,000 to design.

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1981.

Auditions for park entertainers began in February 1981. The first day drew over 200 hopefuls to York University’s Burton Auditorium. “This could be really be a stepping stone for me,” 18-year-old singer Leanne Mitchell told the Star. “Canada’s Wonderland is new and I’d like to be part of it.” For her two-minute tryout, Mitchell had spent 15 hours on the road driving in from South Porcupine near Timmins. The ride down wasn’t without a hitch—a jack-knifed tanker near New Liskeard forced a lengthy detour. The paper reported that Mitchell was invited back for round two of tryouts. Hiring students to perform drew the ire of Canadian Actors Equity and the Toronto Musicians Association, who placed the park on their “unfair lists” for not employing union talent.

As opening day approached, an ad blitz was planned for a 200-mile radius of Toronto. Six television spots were built around the theme “The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland.” The opening ticket package settled at $11.95 for general admission and access to 18 attractions.

During media previews, the Star sent reporter Kevin Scanlon to test the roller coasters. “The Dragon Fyre gave me a sensation I hadn’t felt since rolling a speeding Volkswagen Beetle four times in a Perth County ditch,” Scanlon noted. On a scale of 10, he gave that coaster an eight, docking points for its short duration. By comparison, the Wilde Beast earned a nine (exhilarating, but it gave him bruised elbows), and the Mighty Canadian Mine Buster a perfect rating (high drop, speed up to 83 km/h). Food critic Jim White was pleased by the quality of the dining options, which ranged from open-face Scandinavian sandwiches to paella, but suspected diners would grumble over the limited seating. He also noticed the lack of universal hamburger and hot dog stands, which might be refreshing to some but frustrating to parents with cranky kids who only ate those foods.

Forecasts for opening day anticipated 40,000 visitors. By the time the gates closed on May 23, 1981, only 12,000 had shown up. General manager Michael Bartlett wasn’t fazed, noting that parks generally had low turnouts during their debut. Traffic jams failed to live up to doomsday scenarios that may have kept people away. It was also Victoria Day weekend, which meant many potential customers were out of town.

During the opening ceremony, a skydiver landed on stage and handed Premier Davis a red rose. Before flipping the switch to turn the water on the park’s man-made mountain, Davis boasted his pride in the park, calling it “one of the things which bring us together as Canadians, to have fun and to better understand ourselves.” Not so happy were members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, whose picketers protested the below-scale wages paid to non-union staff.

One habit among visitors was quickly corrected—“Metro Toronto residents,” the Globe and Mail observed, “accustomed to the enlightened parks policy that encourages people to walk on the grass, will find themselves politely but firmly rousted if they venture on to the scattered stretches of green among the expanses of interlocking brick that cover the area.” Among those impressed by the park was CNE assistant general manager Howard Tate, who noted “the cleanliness is terrific, lots of parkland, lack of commercial signs, nice staff. We’re different kinds of places, but I’ll say this is like a 1982 Cadillac; CNE’s a ’59 Ford.”

Around 2.2 million visitors checked out the debut season of Canada’s Wonderland. Though exact numbers weren’t revealed, park officials boasted that they turned “a tidy little profit.” To prepare for 1982, $5 million was spent upgrading dining facilities, drinking fountains, and street furniture. To the heartbreak of the staunchest nationalists, Frontier Canada was never built. Over the ensuing years, suburbia continued to creep toward Maple, and generations of visitors have enjoyed the park’s evolving attractions.

Additional material from the October 20, 1975, October 31, 1975, May 9, 1978, September 10, 1979, April 1, 1981, April 4, 1981, April 18, 1981, May 25, 1981, and September 28, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the January 26, 1976, February 5, 1976, March 17, 1978, June 14, 1979, April 7, 1980, February 6, 1981, May 9, 1981, May 18, 1981, May 20, 1981, and May 24, 1981 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This article expanded upon an earlier piece I wrote for The Grid about the birth of Canada’s Wonderland. Comparing the two, it makes little sense to add that story here, other than noting some local critics referred to the park as “Plasticland.”

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Grounds of Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 70.

Once again, Harvey R. Naylor came to the rescue when preparing this story.

His collection of photos (currently held by the City of Toronto Archives) showcasing the city, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a valuable resource for illustrating how Toronto evolved into its current shape. His images have saved the bacon of many online historians looked for great period colour images.

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Slight overhead view of roller coaster tracks at Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 66.

Here’s a brief bio from the Archives’ site:

Harvey R. Naylor, film and sound technician, was a lifelong Toronto resident who worked at some of the larger film production houses in Toronto, such as Jack Chisholm Film Productions and Media Communications Services, Ltd. He was also an amateur photographer with a personal interest in Toronto’s local history. He practised photography for several years using second-hand cameras and experimenting with various types of film. However, once Naylor purchased a new Leica IIIF camera in 1956, he used it exclusively over the next 28 years to produce over 50,000 35mm Kodachrome colour slides of Toronto buildings, streets, TTC facilities and TTC vehicles. A well-known transit enthusiast, Naylor belonged to the Upper Canada Railway Society (UCRS), and was active with the Halton County Radial Railway (HCRR) and Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association (OERHA).

Over 8,400 slides created by Naylor await your browsing pleasure.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1978.

ts 80-04-07 maple resigned to progress Toronto Star, April 7, 1980.

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Globe and Mail, November 7, 1980. Click on image for larger version.

A series of articles on the approval of the park, and other issues surrounding the growth of Vaughan as it began its evolution from largely rural community to “the city above Toronto.”

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Toronto Star, April 9, 1980. Click on image for larger version.

As the debates about Vaughan’s future swirled, construction rolled along.

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“150 pounds: Chef Michel Cozis shows his creation; a reproduction of Wonder Mountain at Canada’s Wonderland – it opens at Maple next month. He sculpted it in a neighbor’s basement.” Photo by Colin McConnell. Originally published in the April 22, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0021136f.

As opening day neared, oddball stories such as this one peppered Toronto’s media landscape. In this case, chef/sculptor Michel Cozis received 150 pounds of Jersey Milk chocolate donated by Neilson to build the 4-by-6 foot model of Wonder Mountain. It was scheduled to be displayed at the Toronto-Dominion Centre and the Simpsons Court at Yorkdale (now the court outside Hudson Bay) in early May 1981. Cozis’s main concern was getting the sculpture out of his neighbour’s basement, though he did leave a three inch clearance for doors.

“Most men are asked why they scaled a certain mountain,” wrote Star food columnist Jim White. “I asked him why scaled-down a certain mountain. His reply was not unlike that which you get from mountain climbers: ‘Because it was there.'”

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1981. Click on image for larger version.

More details on the creation of the Wonderland’s costumes. I imagine the Wilma head would have freaked out my five-year-old self had I visited during opening weekend.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

The front page of the Star‘s special section commemorating Wonderland’s opening. Hands up who thinks Quick Draw McGraw should have been the park’s official mascot.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981. Click on image for larger version.

Among the goodies in the Star‘s preview was this cartoon map of the park’s layout.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1981.

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Toronto Star, June 13, 1981.

The public cheers and jeers…though in fairness, what was the guy with 10 kids expecting?

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Tip Top Man of the Class

Originally published on Torontoist on June 15, 2010.

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Goblin, January 1924.

While all of the other attendees resemble grotesques from the funny pages, the Tip Top customer is dripping with 1920s sophistication. With his pencil-thin moustache, slicked hair, stylish tuxedo, and elegant cigarette holder, this fellow could have stepped out of a Noël Coward play.

Cartoonist Lou Skuce (1886–1951) was one of Toronto’s busiest artists during the first half of the twentieth century. His work, often sports-related, graced the pages of many local newspapers and publications. Skuce also toured theatres with a contraption called the Cartoonagraph, which he used to project drawings as he worked on them. Among the achievements singled out in obituaries for Skuce was a series of murals he produced for the Toronto Men’s Press Club that humorously depicted the organization’s activities and the evolution of the printed word from the Stone Age onward.

Refined elegance had long departed 245 Yonge Street by the 1970s. The address gained infamy during the summer of 1977 when the body of Emanuel Jaques was found on the roof of the Charlie’s Angels “body rub parlour.” The gruesome murder of the twelve-year-old shoeshine boy led local officials to crack down on the adult businesses that occupied the storefronts once inhabited by more respectable retailers like Tip Top.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Goblin, March 1924.

Flipping through the pages of Goblin over the rest of 1924, Lou Skuce’s art appeared in a series of ads for General Motors.

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Goblin, April 1924.

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Goblin, May 1924.

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Goblin, June 1924.

Loring-Wyle Parkette

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

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“Young Girl,” Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005.

They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

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Moore Park Loop, looking north, June 7, 1926. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4339.

The Moore Park Residents’ Association appreciated their legacy. In the early 1980s, it was proposed that an inactive streetcar loop at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and Mount Pleasant Road be turned into a small park honouring the sculptors. The Moore Park loop was built to serve the St. Clair line when it was extended east to Mount Pleasant in December 1924, then Eglinton Avenue a year later. The tracks were abandoned after a short-lived Mount Pleasant streetcar route switched to trolley buses in 1976, but the path of the rails is still visible in the middle of the St. Clair-Mount Pleasant intersection.

Opened in 1984, the Loring-Wyle Parkette sits a block north of the combined home and studio Loring and Wyle shared for nearly half a century. The house at 110 Glenrose Avenue was known as “The Church” because it was originally the Sunday schoolhouse for Christ Church Deer Park. The structure was moved east from Yonge Street several years before the pair purchased it in 1920. It became a centre of Toronto’s artistic community, where peers like the Group of Seven relaxed, discussed projects, and organized groups like the Sculptors Society of Canada. The Girls held regular Saturday night parties where guests enjoyed treats like scotch mixed with fresh snow and Wyle’s hog-calling demonstrations. The parties drew “a crowd of congenial people enjoying themselves in distinctive surroundings,” according to biographer Rebecca Sisler. “They were made particularly convivial and lively by the warmth and undemanding friendliness of The Girls. Those who attended the parties still claim they were the best in the country.”

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Frances Loring and sculptor Florence Wyle standing among statues, January 21, 1950. Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Archives of Ontario, C 3-1-0-0-666.

Loring and Wyle met as students learning neoclassical sculpting techniques at the Art Institute of Chicago around 1906. Five years later they established a studio in the Bohemian heart of America, Greenwich Village. While Wyle’s family objected to her career choice, Loring’s father, a mining engineer, provided financial backing and felt Wyle would be a steadying influence on his daughter. He was responsible for their move to Toronto around 1913, after shutting down The Girls’ studio while they were on vacation—he felt they were making little money and was never comfortable with the unconventional atmosphere of their new home. Loring moved to Toronto, theoretically to take care of her mother, and Wyle followed soon after. Perhaps making amends for his actions, Loring’s father funded their first local studio, above a carpentry shop at Church and Lombard Streets.

Among the projects the pair collaborated on was the Lion Monument, which served as the gateway for the Queen Elizabeth Way at the Humber River. Loring chose a “snarling, defiant, British lion, eight feet high!” as the focal point to symbolize Great Britain’s readiness to fight at the start of World War II, while Wyle worked on a portrait of King George VI and the future Queen Mother. The monument remains one of their most visible works, even if freeway expansion forced its move to nearby Sir Casimir Gzowski Park in 1975. Loring also created public works like the statue of Sir Robert Borden on Parliament Hill and a relief on the south wall of Exhibition Place’s Queen Elizabeth Building. Hundreds of their works are currently held by the Art Gallery of Ontario, on whose collection committee Loring sat during the 1950s.

The pair remained partners until their deaths within a month of each other in 1968, though their biographers question whether, despite sharing a bedroom for years, their relationship was physical. “Whether or not The Girls were lovers,” Elspeth Cameron wrote in her Loring-Wyle bio And Beauty Answers, “theirs was the closest emotional relationship either of them ever had. In Platonic terms, they were soulmates, as complementary to each other as Yin and Yang.” Their deep bond is reflected by the busts they crafted of each other early in their partnership, which stand today in their park.

Sources: And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron (Toronto: Cormorant, 2007), The Girls by Rebecca Sisler (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1972), and the May 9, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

From the CBC archives, a look at Loring and Wyle in their studio.

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Toronto Star, November 27, 1920.

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Star Weekly, November 6, 1926. Click on images for larger versions.