“The Bull in a China Shop Had Nothing on This Cow”

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on December 17, 2016.

Map of the cow’s trek across town. Toronto Star, June 16, 1913.

It was the kind of story that spurred the imagination of headline writers:


We’d include one from Toronto’s other daily newspaper in 1913, but it seems reporting the exploits of a cow exploring the city on a Sunday morning was beneath the dignity of the Mail and Empire. Perhaps they were offended by the cow’s willful transgression against any form of entertainment other than houses of worship on the Lord’s Day.

Milking cow on D.D. Reid farm, North Toronto, 1908. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1984.

We suspect Moses Granatstein had little inkling of the adventure to unfold when he let his cow out of her stable at the rear of his home at 488 Wellington St. W for her morning drink on June 15, 1913. Granatstein was among the dwindling number of residential cattle owners in the city. A series of nuisance bylaws, starting shortly after Toronto’s incorporation in 1834, curtailed the free-roaming days of cattle, pigs, and sheep found in the streets of Muddy York. By the time the “cow gate” was erected around Osgoode Hall during the 1860s (which probably wasn’t built to keep out cattle), animal pound keepers were allowed to capture any cattle on the loose, and by 1876 all free-range animal husbandry was banned within the city. The number of dairy cows kept by residents declined from just over 1,100 in 1861 to 500 in 1891 to only 29 counted during the 1911 census. Beyond laws restricting how they roamed, this decline could also be attributed to the difficulty of keeping large animals in ever-shrinking spaces, the general growth of the city, and the industrialization of the dairy and meatpacking industries.

Maybe the cow’s genetic memory recalled the days when her kind wandered the streets undisturbed. Maybe she’d had a lousy night’s sleep. Maybe it was the heat that morning. Whatever it was, the cow ignored her thirst and gave into wanderlust. Granatstein, according to the News, “was horrified when that usually quiet beast became suddenly possessed with some strange demon.” Instead of slurping water from a tap at the side of the house, the Telegram reported that she “went mad before obtaining it, therein differing somewhat from the human thirsty one, who first gets a drink and then goes mad.”

The cow threw her tail to the air and raced off, heading east before turning north along Spadina Avenue. At King Street, she indulged in window shopping and contemplated sightseeing further east. “Her reflection in the glass, and the heat of the day maddened her,” the Globe noted. “She would have preferred to journey down King Street to see the new C.P.R. building, but the crowd headed her off.”

But the cow defiantly continued her wandering. “The cow commenced the turkey trot up the broad roadway of Spadina Avenue,” the Telegram observed. “The churchgoers near the corner of College Street and in the vicinity of Knox College (now U of T’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design) were sufficiently numerous to make Mrs. Cow consider again for a minute what she had best do. Her decision was to bolt the crowd, narrowly missing many women and children in her rampage.”

Postcard showing the City Dairy on Spadina Crescent, 1910. Toronto Public Library.

At City Dairy’s plant on Spadina Crescent, the cow either contemplated enjoying an ice cream (Telegram) or took umbrage at the building’s red front (Star). Either way, she briefly munched on some grass before resuming her trek northward. Attempts to subdue her failed miserably.

She decided to take a closer look at The Annex. When she turned west onto Bernard Avenue, the cow toppled a male cyclist. “She rolled him with her head and pawed him with her feet,” the Globe reported. While rumours the cyclist were gored were unfounded, since she lacked horns, his injuries were severe enough to require medical attention. The Telegram employed baseball analogies to describe this incident, comparing the cow’s ability to connect with the cyclist with the skill of New York Giants pitching ace Christy Mathewson.

By now, a large crowd trailed the cow to see where she would wind up. “The Brunswick-Wells-Kendal district attends church as a rule,” the Star noted. “If some of the five hundred residents witnessing the antics of the sorrel cow forgot the services for an hour or so—well, it was a sensational period.”

Upon entering Kendal Square (present-day Jean Sibelius Square), the cow toyed with anyone in her path, including police officers trying to end her adventure. The Star compared her actions to a dancer showing off their portfolio of moves: “Policeman Samuel Todd remonstrated with this suffragette cow, and she performed a turkey trot, a tango, the hootchie-coo, and kindred dances, in the foliage and the bloom. She saw a lady with a red parasol, and charged both. An elderly lady was in her path, and, stepping aside, strained her foot. The patient was taken to her home in a motor car.”

Todd’s attempt to corral her via bicycle failed when she knocked him over. He tried to defend himself with a baton, but the cow knocked it and his helmet out of the way. He fled to a tree.

Settling into a geranium bed planted the week before, the cow fended off anyone disrupting her appreciation of neighbourhood gardening, including the daughter of a local florist. Attempts by police and Granatstein to lasso her only fueled her ire, sending her out onto Wells Street. “The way of the transgressing cow is hard,” the Telegram noted. “It was also hard for the police, several of whom, pulling on a long rope, gave the huge crowd that had gathered a merry time.”

Oddly, the previous day’s edition of the Telegram featured a cattle-centric cartoon by George Shields, which also depicts future Toronto mayor Thomas Foster. June 14, 1913.

The crowd, the Star observed, split between those attempting to bring the situation under control and sideline pundits dispensing advice on how to do so:

“That cow is mad,” declared one man, who heard of a cow once or twice, but scarcely knew one by sight. “Shoot her.”

“Mad nothing,” scoffed another. “I was brought up on a farm, and I know. If the cops would chase the crowd and give the poor animal a chance to cool down there would be less trouble.”

Among those on hand was former inspector of police detectives Walter Duncan. Bemused by what he watched unfold, he told the press that bullfighting might attract as many Torontonians as lacrosse, and deduced that attendance at nearby churches was on the low side.

The cow was finally subdued near Brunswick Avenue. As the News put it, “she became entangled in a mesh of ropes which were distributed from her nose to her left hind hoof.” While being trussed up like poultry, one of her capturers caressed her cheek to restore calm. A horse ambulance Granatstein ordered from the Ontario Veterinary College (then located downtown; it would move to its current home in Guelph in 1922) came to transport her home.

Toronto Star, June 16, 1913.

Summing up the incident, the Star observed that “it is only fair to the modest animal to admit that she created almost as much excitement as the justly celebrated bovine that kicked over the lamp that burned Chicago.”

The next day, Granatstein reported that the cow had recovered from her excursion. “She is just as quiet as quiet can be,” he noted.

Sources: “Living and Working with Domestic Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto” by Sean Kheraj, from Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region, L. Anders Sandberg, Stephen Bocking, Colin Coates, and Ken Cruikshank, editors (Hamilton: L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History, 2013); and the June 16, 1913 editions of the Globe, News, Star, Telegram, and World.


For your reading pleasure, here are all of the original press accounts of the cow’s adventure. My vote goes to the Telegram for the goofiest coverage and the one most requiring historical footnotes, as it tosses in baseball analogies and a passing reference to Ontario Premier Sir James Whitney.

The Globe, June 16, 1913.

The News, June 16, 1913.

star 1913-06-16 militant cow on the warpath at kendal avenue and wells street

Toronto Star, June 16, 1913. Click on image for larger version.

Evening Telegram, June 16, 1913.

Toronto World, June 16, 1913.

The Assassination of George Brown

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on May 2, 2009. This version is based on a reprint published on March 31, 2012.

Illustration by Henri Julien, the Canadian Illustrated News, April 10, 1880.

Late afternoon, Thursday, March 25, 1880. The front page of the 5 p.m. edition of The Evening Telegram bore breaking news occurring at a rival newspaper that had been the subject of quickly spreading rumours over the past hour.

We stop the press to record one of the most dastardly and daring acts of violence and attempted murder ever perpetrated in this city. This afternoon, about 4:10 o’clock, an ex-employee of the Globe, named George Bennett, entered the GlobeOffice and met the Hon. George Brown and shot him with a revolver. Mr. Brown is at the present writing lying in the Globe office with physicians attending him.

So would mark the beginning of the end for a man whose life encompassed such roles as newspaper editor, political leader, and Father of Confederation. The assassination of George Brown was essentially a case of the victim being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a lesson on how not to handle an agitated former employee.


Left: Globe Office, 1877. Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, J. Timperlake, Toronto: Peter A. Gross, 1877. Right: Illustration of George Bennett, Evening Telegram, March 27, 1880.

George Bennett (born Dickson) had worked in The Globe’s engineering department for five years. Initially regarded as a sober, upstanding employee, within a few years he gained a reputation for frequently hitting the bottle and engaging in domestic disturbances with a woman who may or may not have legally been his wife. March 25, 1880 found him hanging around The Globe offices in a drunken state after having been fired shortly before for “intemperance,” as well as being out on bail after his spouse charged him with neglect. He was seen with the paper’s chief engineer around 2:30 p.m, who he called an enemy for, among other things, being subpoenaed in his court case. An hour later Bennett was found rambling in the press room, where the head of circulation informed him that strangers were not allowed on the premises. Bennett proceeded to rattle off his list of grievances, ran up and down from the basement several times in an agitated state, then briefly passed. Unbeknownst to anyone, Bennett carried in his pockets a pistol and a packet of letters outlining his grievances towards fellow employees he felt had wronged him and plans of revenge on them worthy of a modern school shooter, mostly threats to chop others up violently.


Hon. Geo[rge] Brown. Archives of Ontario, C 133-0-0-0-4.

Sometime after 4 p.m., Bennett made his way to George Brown’s private office. He knocked on Brown’s door, entered, then closed it behind him. He pressed a letter indicating the length of his employment at the paper upon Brown, urging the paper’s proprietor to sign it. Brown refused, urging Bennett to have the head of the engineering department do so. Bennett indicated this wasn’t possible, so an increasingly irritated Brown suggested that he go to the head of the treasury, who had all of the employment records. Bennett refused to go and urged Brown to “sign it, sign it.” As historian J.M.S. Careless noted in the biography Brown of The Globe, “Brown was impatient. He did not know the man, He did not know Bennett’s record of drunkenness, neglect of duties, and wife-beating, or that he was now out on bail after being arrested for non-support…the one thing Brown did know was that he had been needlessly disturbed by this unprepossessing creature, who had no doubt got what he deserved.”

Brown then noticed Bennett’s hand moving towards the pistol and thought “the little wretch might be meaning to shoot me.” A scuffle ensued, the results of which were reported in The Globe the following morning:

Yesterday afternoon one of the most seditious and dastardly attempts at murder ever made in this city took place in the private office of the Hon. George Brown in the Globe Building. Fortunately, owning mainly to Mr. Brown’s presence of mind and superior physical strength, the attempt was unsuccessful, the only results being a severe flesh wound to the thigh and the nervous prostration which is the inevitable result of such an encounter. Had the miscreant who made the murderous assault been a little more prompt in taking his aim, or had the pistol been of a different construction, the attempt could hardly have resulted so favourably, for he persisted in his efforts to effect his bloody purpose until he was overpowered and the weapon was wrenched from his grasp.

Other employees quickly rushed in to separate the two men. Police arrested Bennett, who was initially silent then indicated “I don’t know anything about it.” At the police station, he threatened an officer with “I’ll get even with you yet.” Globe staff temporarily closed the office as Torontonians rushed down to confirm rapidly spreading rumours and offer their best wishes to Brown. As the paper noted, “the effect upon the community was to create a general feeling of indignation. All condemned the cowardly and murderous attack. This feeling of condemnation was intensified when all the circumstances surrounding the affair came to be known, and when it was learned how little ground there was for so bloodthirsty an attempt to take life.” Other papers, including those who opposed Brown’s Liberal politics, offered their best wishes and played up Bennett’s mixed-blood background—The Evening Telegram noted he was “as dark as an octoroon.”


George Brown House, corner of Beverley and Baldwin Streets. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

Initially Brown’s wound was treated as non-threatening and he continued business from his home at the corner of Beverley and Baldwin streets. He took the incident in stride, treating the wound as “trifling” and laughing at “the solicitude of those near him.” The first signs of infection appeared four days after the attack, which didn’t stop Brown from holding court at the paper’s annual shareholder meeting. As The Globe later noted, “very soon troublesome symptoms appeared. The nervous system became very much deranged, inflammation set in, the thigh swelled, and abscesses were formed in the region surrounding the wound. Three incisions were made, and the discharge was copious and continued till nearly the end of the illness.” Regular bulletins on Brown’s condition reflected the optimism of the doctors that he would recover. The battle took its toll on Brown and by May 7 his condition was rapidly deteriorating. At 2 a.m. on May 9, Brown died at the age of 61.

The following day’s edition of The Globe saw every column outlined with a thick black line and offered the following conclusion about its deceased proprietor:

He loved his country and laboured for her good; the objects he set before him were high, the plans he formed vast, and when he failed it was from no lack of courage or self-sacrifice on his part. The bed of death calls for other consolations than the praise of men, but it may be that his passing spirit was cheered by the thought that in the estimation of his fellow countrymen he had not lived altogether in vain.

An inquest into Brown’s death was quickly launched and Bennett was charged with murder. The case went to trial on June 22 and after two hours of deliberation the jury came back with a guilty verdict. When asked for comment before sentencing, Bennett replied, “I have only to say that I have not willfully committed this crime.” Sentenced to hang, Bennett treated his fate flippantly, which observers felt was a sign that he was tired with life and ready to die. When brought to the scaffold at the Toronto Gaol on July 23, Bennett spoke his final words clearly and firmly and seemed to pin responsibility for Brown’s death on the deceased:

He has gone to his death through an oversight on my part. It was a foolish thing for me to have drawn the revolver, but I was in liquor or I would have never done it. I could not control the event. I went there purely on a matter of business and my business was very simple and very plain. The result was as it was. I am prepared to die.

The execution took place at 7:50 a.m. The Globe reported that “the arrangements were thorough and the ceremony was carried out without any of those terrible hitches which too often occur to intensify the horror which must necessarily attend an execution. Death was painless and easy.” His final letters warned young men against the dangers of temptation and thanked jail officials for their hospitality.


George Brown’s grave, the Necropolis. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As for Brown, his funeral procession took place on May 12. The route started at his home and wound its way along Beverley, College, Yonge, Carlton, Parliament, and Winchester before arriving at his final resting place in the southwest end of the Necropolis.

Sources: the March 26, 1880, May 10, 1880, June 23, 1880, and July 24, 1880 editions of the Globe, the March 25, 1880 and March 27, 1880 editions of the Telegram, and Brown of The Globe by J.M.S. Careless (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963).


Montreal Daily Witness, May 10, 1880.

As a major public figure, there was no shortage of coverage surrounding the shooting and Brown’s death outside of Toronto. Here is a sampling of those ilustrations and editorials.

Kingston Daily News, March 27, 1880.

Ottawa Citizen, March 27, 1880.

Daily British Whig (Kingston), March 29, 1880.

The hyperpartisanship of newspapers from this era is very evident here.

Ottawa Citizen, May 10, 1880.

Montreal Herald, May 10, 1880.

The heavy black lines printed here were used to mark all columns on a page in many Canadian papers covering Brown’s passing, which was a standard convention when a major death occurred during the late 19th century. Sometimes the black lines remained for days, as was the case for some Conservative-leaning papers when Brown’s rival John A. Macdonald died in 1891.

Daily British Whig, May 10, 1880.

An editorial using the death of Brown as proof of the ned to uphold and enforce stronger gun control laws.

Montreal Daily Witness, May 10, 1880.

Buffalo Express, May 11, 1880.

On May 10, Buffalo city council discussed Brown’s passing, and unanimously agreed to lower the flag in front of city hall, as would many Canadian communities.

More reactions from the United States:

No man in this generation has lived who has made a deeper mark upon the politics and history of Canada, and he is a man whom the people of the United States will remember with respect and honour. He was a statesman rather than politician. He was a Gladstone rather than a Beaconsfield. He had no plastic or convenient convictions. He was a man whose position on every public question was perfectly well understood. – editorial, Brooklyn Union and Argus, May 10, 1880.

It may be doubted if there is today in Canada a man whose career promises to be as conspicuous or as useful as that of the deceased statesman and editor; and it is lamentable, indeed, that so valuable a life should have been ended by so wanton and useless a sacrifice. – editorial, Detroit Free Press, May 11, 1880.

Pall Mall Gazette, May 12, 1880.

Reaction from England on Brown’s passing.

Grey Review (Durham, Ontario), May 13, 1880.

A poem written in Brown’s honour from rural Ontario.

More reactions from Canadian editorial pages:

Mr. Brown had his faults, and his very force of character made these more prominent than they would have been in any other man. But few men have exercised in their day greater control by the mere force of character and will than has Mr. Brown over the destinies of his party during the last quarter of a century. The manner of his death has excited for him and his family the most intense sympathy on the part of all classes of the people, and as he is followed to his last resting places, thousands, irrespective of political opinion, will feel that a great man has passed away. – editorial, Montreal Gazette, May 10, 1880.

In his private life he was a most estimable and lovable man. He had certainly strong prejudices and likes and dislikes, but that, if a fault at all, was the fault of a sterling character cast in the mould from which only manly characters come. He was frank in manner, candid in speech, and a true friend. He was decidedly aggressive in disposition and true to his convictions. This, in public life, made him many enemies and at times unpopular, but he outlived all that and now he is no more, many a tear will be shed by his old antagonists over his too sad fate. – editorial, Canadian Statesman (Bowmanville), May 14, 1880.

The Trouble With O’Brien

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on February 16, 2013.

The News, May 4, 1887.

Just after 9 p.m. on May 3, 1887, a train carrying Canada’s Governor General rolled into the North Toronto Canadian Pacific Railway station. Accompanied by municipal officials, Lord and Lady Lansdowne led a procession of carriages south along Yonge Street toward Government House at King and Simcoe Streets, where the couple would reside for the next three-and-a-half weeks. While there was an enthusiastic turnout to watch the procession, there were also fears that Lansdowne’s presence would prompt one of the periodic riots between Orangemen and Irish Catholics that had marred the city since Confederation.

These fears were sparked by William O’Brien’s vow to visit Toronto while Lansdowne was in town. A journalist who represented East Cork in the British Parliament, O’Brien was a fiery Irish nationalist who loved to stir things up. One of his main causes was supporting Irish tenant farmers who were being evicted by their landlords due to sharp rent increases. Lansdowne’s Luggacurran estate was a flashpoint, as he reputedly refused to work with tenant representatives to reduce their rent to affordable levels. As evictions occurred, O’Brien vowed to visit Canada to turn popular opinion against the Governor General and paint him as “a most cruel and wanton man.” O’Brien scheduled a North American tour, bringing along evicted tenant Denis Kilbride to arouse sympathy.

“The Ass and the Figure-head; or O’Brien kicking at the wrong Lansdowne.” Cartoon by J.W. Bengough, Grip, May 21, 1887.

From the start, prominent members of the Toronto Catholic community urged O’Brien to stay away. Leaders, like Archbishop John Joseph Lynch, knew from experience that the incendiary nature of O’Brien’s platform could easily cause a riot. Battles between ultra-Protestant Orangemen and local Irish Catholics earned Toronto a reputation as the Belfast of North America. Triggers ranged from celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day and the Battle of the Boyne to an appearance by Fenian leader O’Donovan Rossa in 1878.

O’Brien ignored the warnings. He faced outright hostility from fellow passengers during a tense voyage on the ocean liner Umbria. When dense fog delayed its landing in New York City, a tugboat pickup was arranged so that O’Brien could keep his first speaking engagement. As he disembarked, alternating shouts of “God Save the Queen” and “God Save Ireland” were heard on the Umbria. The hawser on the rope ladder leading to the tugboat snapped, and O’Brien was barely saved from falling into the water. While there were suspicions that the rope was purposely cut, O’Brien assured the press it had been an accident.

As Toronto awaited O’Brien’s appearance, local papers obsessed over what might happen. The Telegram was prepared to let him talk in the name of free speech, but felt that it was “in execrable taste for an outsider to come among the citizens and abuse their guest.” The News hoped that “Mr. O’Brien will doubtless learn before his coming that an intolerant faction proposes to make trouble, and for the sake of peace will stay away.” Lansdowne was portrayed by the press as an upstanding representative of the Crown, whose personal matters in Ireland had no bearing on his duties in Canada. Papers went to extremes to depict Lansdowne in a positive light, such as the Telegram’s unearthing of 20-year-old accounts of good relations with his tenants. The News amusingly observed that “it is very noticeable that the newspapers which have protested most strongly against his visit have harped most unceasingly upon the theme, and by their windy and reiterated articles on the subject have given it a degree of prominence which it could not otherwise have assumed.”

“O’Brien’s Wild-Goose Chase.” Cartoon by J.W. Bengough, Grip, June 4, 1887.

At City Hall, nervous politicians denied O’Brien permits to use any local halls, which prompted local Irish nationalist organizations to threaten legal action. Mayor William Holmes Howland organized a public meeting at Queen’s Park for May 14, 1887, to discuss the propriety of O’Brien’s visit. When O’Brien wired, from Montreal, a demand to appear at the meeting to explain his motive, Howland sent a sharp reply on May 12:

We understand your object in coming is to attack the representative of her Majesty, at present our guest, on personal grounds, as to the truth of which, as matters of fact, we cannot and should not be called upon to be judges. Our sense of fair play here will not justify the attack on the public platform of a gentleman who by reason of high office he holds is not privileged to meet and answer his accuser in like manner. If you persist in coming I shall have to afford you the protection which the law allows, but I would advise you to accept the decision of Saturday’s meeting, which I believe will express the true sentiments of all classes in this city.

As Howland assembled a speaking list of local clergy, intellectuals, and politicians, Lansdowne authorized the Globe to print his wish that nothing should prevent O’Brien from speaking in any Canadian city.

Cartoon by J.W. Bengough featuring the telegram William Holmes Howland sent to British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (far right) following the anti-O’Brien Queen’s Park meeting. The “grand old friend” on the left is Irish Home Rule supporter and intermittent British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. Grip, May 28, 1887.

Four resolutions were discussed at the meeting, including a reprobation of O’Brien’s visit for “exciting hostile feeling” against Lansdowne and a vote of confidence in the British Parliament’s ability to resolve its Irish issues. A crowd estimated to be between 6,000 and 15,000 spent the afternoon listening to the speakers, though rumours that O’Brien might be in the vicinity briefly caused a panic—according to the Globe, a large chunk of the audience “incontinently turned and fled helter-skelter across the park.” Howland good-humouredly calmed the crowd down before the remaining speakers took the Union-Jack-strewn stage. Praise in the press was overblown; “Such a scene was there presented as man may live a lifetime and never see again,” the Mail observed. “One of those occasions had arrived when the people, actuated by one impulse, reach a climax of enthusiasm grand and irresistible.” Editorial pages continued to urge O’Brien to reconsider his visit.

He didn’t. At the last minute, his organizers secured Queen’s Park for a public lecture on May 17. His entourage included reporters from pro-Irish American newspapers who, according to the New York Tribune, were “so thoroughly prepared for a riot in Toronto that they will be disappointed if it should not come off.” O’Brien was greeted enthusiastically at Union Station that morning before proceeding to the Rossin House Hotel at King and York Streets. He believed that, given a fair hearing, he could still turn the minds of Canadians who seemed increasingly hostile to his cause.

The World advised its readers to “keep away from the meeting” to preserve the peace. But people didn’t. Up to 15,000 may have attended the session, which began around 4:30 p.m. Speakers were barely over the din of those attempting to drown them out. Accounts of the afternoon varied wildly, ranging from Toronto papers claiming police had the crowd under enough control so that only a couple of fights broke out, to proclamations from the New York press of O’Brien braving “the terrors of a Toronto mob.” Nobody denied there was a jeering section, made up of pro-Orange Order bank clerks allowed a day off work and University of Toronto students. The New York Sun observed that “most of them carried great canes, which they shook in the faces of the Irishmen with profane and obscene expressions, daring them to fight.” According to the New York Tribune, one heckler got his just desserts when a woman waving a green branch shoved it down his throat. She was saluted with cries of “God Save Ireland” and provided full protection when others tried to attack her. “The Nationalists,” the Tribune reported, “used their fists effectively and many Orangemen’s red blood spouted out profusely and stained the green turf in several places.” Despite many interruptions, O’Brien passionately spoke for the poor of Ireland in an hour-long speech. He urged Canadians to demand a response from Lansdowne regarding the tenant situation, claimed “nineteen-twentieths” of Canadians supported his cause, and challenged local opponents to an open discussion.

Cartoon by J.W. Bengough parodying a similar cartoon depicting O’Brien (left) and Lansdowne (right) published in Ireland. Grip, June 11, 1887.

Where was Lansdowne in the midst of the ruckus? He was carrying on with engagements like visiting factories and enjoying local entertainment. A large crowd greeted him and his wife when they emerged from the Grand Opera House that evening. They followed his coach to Government House, where he thanked them for their support: “We have received a great deal of kindness from your city, but this is the crowning point of all.”

The next day, O’Brien took care of some personal housekeeping matters and visited a school. He was scheduled to leave from Union Station that night, but decided to stay overnight. Police weren’t informed of his change of plan, which left a large force waiting for nobody at the station. O’Brien and several colleagues made a stupid move—around 7:30 p.m., with barely any police guard, they took an evening stroll. They encountered young opponents, later portrayed as bored rich kids, whom O’Brien told to keep back. A growing crowd followed the strollers east along King Street, yelling taunts like “to hell with the Pope and O’Brien.” When O’Brien tried to turn around at Bay Street, the mob hurled eggs and rocks at his entourage. The melee moved south along Bay, then west along Wellington Street. A Tribune reporter was knocked out by a large stone. Looking for shelter, they ran into Thomas Lalor’s bicycle shop, where the furious mob caused $500 worth of damage. O’Brien and his friends ducked out the back door and hid in a nearby tailor shop for an hour before police escorted them to the back of the Rossin House. The mob sensed what was going on and pelted them with debris as O’Brien’s group scaled a 10-foot wall to return to their rooms.

O’Brien met with reporters and claimed he was fine despite being struck by stones at least three times. He was determined to leave the city in an open fashion. “If they murder us,” he told the Mail, “they will place a stain upon the reputation of Toronto that the city will never get rid of.” Later that night, around 100 Irishmen from the city’s west end accompanied by a fife-and-drum band paraded outside the hotel to show their support.

Cartoon by J.W. Bengough. Toronto Mayor William Holmes Howland is second from left. Grip, June 4, 1887.

The incident was swiftly condemned on both sides of the border. The Globe attacked the police, whose lax enforcement during the Queens Park gatherings may have convinced some that there were no consequences for acting violently against O’Brien. “Lord Lansdowne,” an editorial remarked, “has been, without any foolish action of his own, compromised by zealous idiots.” The Telegram criticized Canadian politicians for approving relief to the Irish in the past and sticking their heads into a domestic British matter. The New York Sun observed that “people of Toronto in their hearts approve of the disturbance.” It felt Lansdowne should be recalled, and that while the paper supported discussions at the time of a union between the United States and Canada, if the rioters were examples of aristocratic Toronto, “we want that town kept out of the American Union, at least until decent folks begin to live in it.” The New York Times noted that “the cowardly and brutal riot” was “not needed to show what a disgrace to mankind the Orangeman is either on or off his native soil.”

O’Brien departed Toronto on May 19, briefly thanking his supporters for their kindness before departing for Kingston. He ran into trouble with mobs at his remaining Canadian stops, including a possible assassination attempt in Hamilton. He discovered he broke a rib during his foolish evening stroll, which he used as a sympathy point during stops in the United States. O’Brien continued to agitate for change in Ireland, and ended 1887 in a jail cell. He remained a key figure in the Irish independence movement until his death in 1928.

Meanwhile, the press split into those papers which continued harping on the fallout from O’Brien’s visit and those, like the World, who wanted to “hear no more of him.” The Mail feared that O’Brien left behind “a legacy of discord and bad blood, the effects of which, we greatly fear, Irish Catholics will feel for many a day in their business and social relations with the rest of the community.” Though tensions remained for years, the frequency of violent clashes between Orangemen and Irish gradually declined.

“O’Brien’s Side-Show, as exhibited in the principal cities of the United States.” Cartoon by J.W. Bengough, Grip, June 18, 1887.

Lansdowne light-heartedly addressed the subject on May 24, during a dinner at the National Club:

During our visit a slight touch of electricity has been perceptible in the atmosphere, and certain stars have shot madly from their spheres into your quiet firmament. They have experienced the fate which usually overtakes such erratic constellations. The disturbance has been brief and inconsiderable. I trust that it will leave no traces behind it. As far as I am concerned I may say that owing to your kindness this incident has not for an instant interfered with my happiness or convenience. I might add that it is to the fact that we were not the only visitors of distinction to Toronto that we owe the extraordinary demonstrations of loyalty and good will which we have experienced. Your conduct has, in fact, once and for all, established that the Queen’s representative in Canada, so long as his conduct in his official capacity has not been impugned, so long as his conduct in any other capacity has not been called in question by the constitutional methods in the Legislature either of Canada or of his own country, may safely leave his public or private reputation in the custody of your people. It has shown your abhorrence for the methods of those who seek to achieve by intimidation and persecution what they know could not be obtained by legitimate courses.

Lansdowne’s name lives on via Lord Lansdowne Public School and Lansdowne Avenue.

Sources: The Life of William O’Brien by Michael MacDonagh (London: Ernest Benn, 1929), The Waning of the Green by Mark G. McGowan (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), and the following newspapers: the May 4, 1887, May 16, 1887, May 18, 1887, May 19, 1887, May 20, 1887, and May 23, 1887 editions of the Globe; the May 16, 1887, May 19, 1887, and May 23, 1887 editions of the Mail; the May 7, 1887, May 12, 1887, and May 13, 1887 editions of the News; the May 18, 1887, May 19, 1887, May 20, 1887, and May 25, 1887 editions of the New York Sun; the May 19, 1887 edition of the New York Times; the May 13, 1887, May 14, 1887, May 18, 1887 editions of the New York Tribune; the December 12, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star; the May 4, 1887, May 10, 1887, May 12, 1887, May 14, 1887, and May 20, 1887 editions of the Telegram; and the May 17, 1887, May 20, 1887, and May 23, 1887 editions of the Toronto World.

The Battle of the Belles: The 1966 East York Mayoral Race

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on July 19, 2014.

“Beth Nealson, left, and True Davidson smile now in anticipation of their battle for new job.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the October 11, 1966 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photograph Library, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0070483F.

Always good for a colourful quote, East York Reeve True Davidson didn’t disappoint when the province announced in January 1966 that it would merge her township with the Town of Leaside, which was headed by Mayor Beth Nealson. “I think the real reason the Government decided to amalgamate our two municipalities,” Davidson observed, “is that the men didn’t want so many women around in politics and decided to get rid of one lady mayor.” The ensuing contest between the two female incumbents that December was, as the Star termed it, “a bombastic, free-wheeling affair.”

Following the Second World War, women ran for municipal office across what became Metropolitan Toronto in increasing numbers. None held the highest office in their municipalities until the 1953 elections, when Marie Curtis became reeve of Long Branch and Dorothy Hague won the same office in Swansea. Local media periodically addressed the growing number of women entering the fray, even if those articles bore titles like the Globe and Mail’s contribution to the 1962 campaign, “Women: The Reluctant Politicians.”

“The question that perplexes the handful of women on municipal governments in Metropolitan Toronto most,” reporter Margaret Cragg observed, “is not concerned with high finance or interpretation of legal matters but why more women are not in politics. The experience is exhilarating, they agree, and the opportunities for intelligent women capable of working hard are almost unlimited.”

Among those who admitted enjoying that exhilarating feeling in 1962 was Leaside councillor Beth Nealson, who became the town’s first female mayor that year. Urged to enter politics by colleagues in the local branch of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, Nealson won a seat on the Leaside Board of Education in 1951. Seven years later, she was elected to town council. At first it appeared she lost her 1962 mayoral campaign to Lloyd Dickinson by 14 votes, but a recount gave her a five-vote victory (Dickinson immediately declared he was done with politics, complaining he’d sacrificed up to $25,000 a year from his plastics business. His vow was short-lived, as he lost a 1964 rematch). Nealson, a.k.a. “Mrs. Leaside,” claimed she faced little discrimination in office: “With some of my colleagues there was never any difference,” she told the Star in 1964. “With others, everything was fine as soon as they got to know me and I established a reputation.”

Globe and Mail, December 28, 1962.

In neighbouring East York, True Davidson’s political career stretched back to activism within the CCF (the forerunner of the NDP) during the 1930s. After opening a private kindergarten, parents suggested she run for the township’s board of education in 1948 to campaign for similar publicly funded services. Within a year of her election, six kindergarten classes were launched in East York schools. She became the board’s first female chair in 1952. When she ran for council in 1958, Davidson believed the township required a master plan for its zoning bylaws. “East York should have planned development such as they have in European cities,” she observed. “We are small, compact and cohesive, and we could do a planning job that could be the envy of Canada.”

After her election as reeve in 1960, Davidson developed a reputation for sound bites. She wasn’t afraid to brutally criticize her colleagues. As one victim of her tongue, councillor Richard Horkins, noted, words poured out of Davidson “as hard as cannonballs. She always came right to the crunch point.” While many of her peers fought with Davidson, they respected her dedication to details and her intelligence.

At a speech she gave to the Association of Ontario Mayors and Reeves in 1962, Davidson, mixing quotations, humour, and her flair for poetry (she published a volume of work in her younger days), urged municipal politicians to use their oaths of office as positive motivation. One section of her speech remains relevant for current Toronto politics:

Perhaps we seek popularity, yield to flattery, hunger for power, bask in public notice and acclaim, or are blinded by our own self-importance . . . Some of us can be cowed by threats . . .Some of us are influenced by racial or religious predispositions . . . All of these constitute conflict of interest which can never be reached by the long arm and probing finger of the law. Only we can spot them, and at that only if we scrutinize our own conduct as severely as we scrutinize the government . . . Insofar as our ideals are high, we lift our municipalities with us. If they are low, we drag them down.

Both Davidson and Nealson fought against amalgamation plans proposed for Metro Toronto during the mid-1960s. Initially, a Royal Commission report issued by H. Carl Goldenberg recommended that Metro’s 13 municipalities shrink to four (Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and Toronto). Davidson lobbied hard to preserve East York, to the extent of quoting Jane Jacobs on how smaller entities could better fight City Hall. When the province released its final plan in January 1966, it included an enlarged East York as one of the five suburban boroughs alongside the City of Toronto.

Metropolitan Toronto Council, 1965. Beth Nealson is third from left in the second row; True Davidson is second from right in the back row. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 283.

Despite Davidson’s prediction that she and Nealson would smoothly integrate Leaside into East York before the new borough’s official birth on New Year’s Day 1967, there were a few bumps. “Women are the peace makers of the world,” Davidson told the Star. “If there is any trouble in my council I always apologize.” One sticking point that Nealson won was how councillors would be elected—Davidson wanted them voted at large, while Nealson preferred a ward system.

For several months, it was unknown if the two officials would face off to become the borough’s mayor. When amalgamation was announced, Davidson hinted at a gentleman’s agreement where she would be chief executive, while Nealson would run for council and sit as a representative on Metro Council. This played into one of Davidson’s weaknesses, which her biographer Eleanor Darke defined as a growing sense that “she began to care too much about remaining mayor.”

Nealson ended the suspense when she launched her mayoral campaign on October 5, 1966. Municipal planning was the backbone of her platform, which seemed unavoidable after a recent fight over a $20-million apartment project on the boundary of East York and Leaside. Nearby residents fought the development on Mallory Crescent all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board, where the proposal was rejected. Nealson echoed ratepayer groups in vowing to “protect single-family home areas from undesirable intrusion by high density apartments.” Davidson’s support for the development led to complaints from Leaside residents that she was arrogant, ignored ratepayer groups, and wielded power with an iron fist. They also feared that amalgamation would raise taxes and weaken infrastructure services. A third mayoral candidate, East York councillor Royden Brigham, hoped to coalesce anti-Davidson votes.

The media played up the contrasts between the female front-runners. The Globe and Mail observed that Davidson “conducts herself with the decorum of an empress,” while Nealson “fosters somewhat of a little-girl-lost air but her opponents know her as an able and shrewd politician.” (Brigham, for the record, was “a bespectacled stick of dynamite with a delayed fuse.”) The Star compared their breakfast habits and fashion sense: Davidson’s love of fancy hats (“I never throw them away. I retrim them”) and Nealson’s preference for suits and two-piece dresses (“I’m just not comfortable in a one-piece dress at a meeting”).

The campaign saw Davidson tear into her opponents. Things were particularly heated during a debate at William Burgess Elementary School on November 28. Davidson called Nealson “a wishy-washy prissy little sweetheart” who was dominated by her department heads. As for Brigham, who was a lawyer, she beamed that the borough had a job ready for him: “[O]ur solicitor needs a junior to assist him.” When the audience thought both women were too harsh toward Brigham, who believed he had been “clawed,” he was given extra rebuttal time. “Well, he is a defenseless man,” Davidson noted sarcastically. “All men are, you know.”

The next evening, at East York Collegiate, Davidson told voters that Nealson would win if the election was a beauty contest. “If you want someone beautiful and elegant or glamorous,” she joked, “I’m not that.” Davidson was helped to the platform and cut short her speech when she ran short of breath. She spent the rest of the campaign in room 126 of Toronto East General Hospital. While reports indicated she was suffering from “strain and a virus infection,” at least one later account attributed her hospitalization to a heart attack. Whatever happened was serious enough to have her isolated in intensive care. Brigham curtailed his campaign, while Nealson pressed on. “The ratepayers fill the rooms to hear the candidates and to deny them this would be entirely unfair,” noted Nealson. “I won’t make any critical comments about True, but then I never have.” Nealson had her own health issues, as she spent six weeks on antibiotics to combat a bronchial infection, which sapped her energy at several debates.

Picture of True Davidson from the cover of her book The Golden Strings (Toronto: Griffin House, 1973).

Voters went to the polls on December 5. Davidson sat in her hospital room surrounded by bouquets of chrysanthemums, including one sent by Nealson. Doctors had ordered quiet rest for Davidson, and prevented her from following results on radio and television. Inevitably, the count trickled in to her. Having told voters “I have nothing to give you but love,” the electorate responded in kind. Though Davidson’s support of the Mallory Crescent project cost her in Leaside, she won by a 4,000-vote margin over Brigham. Nealson finished third, less than 200 votes behind Brigham.

The phone in Davidson’s room was hooked up to the loudspeaker system at East York’s municipal’s offices, where a crowd of 70 waited to hear her. “Do any of you people really know how deeply touched I am by all of this?” she noted. As photographers entered her hospital room, Davidson applied lipstick and put on a pair of earrings. “Don’t think that just because I’m sick and feeble you’re going to get over there and shoot me from my bad side,” she joked. “I look like a ghost.” Brigham and Nealson also participated in the hookup—Brigham observed “the race was not too bad for a defenseless male,” while Nealson offered her help in launching the new borough.

During her recovery, Davidson tried to ease fears among Leaside residents and ratepayer groups that they would be totally subjugated by East York (“we don’t have the same chicken-swallowing tendency Toronto has”). As municipal employees were reassigned with the merger, so was office furniture, as Davidson wound up with Nealson’s old desk. Davidson remained mayor until 1972, after which she pursued a PhD in literature and Canadian history at York University and wrote a column for the Toronto Sun. When she died in 1978, the Star remembered her as “flamboyant but never frivolous.”

As for Nealson, she worked in PR for Metro and as a publicity co-ordinator for the Toronto Citizens’ Centenary Committee. She testified in front of East York Council in 1976 on the decaying state of the Thorncliffe Park apartment building she resided in, and blamed the neighbourhood’s decline on municipal neglect, poorly maintained parks, vandalism, and absentee landlords. When she died in 1994, her daughter admitted that Nealson had faced a rough time from male colleagues during her time in office. The Star’s obituary referred to the 1966 election campaign as the “Battle of the Belles.”

A street for Beth Nealson. East York Mayor True Davidson presents shears to Beth Nealson, the last mayor of Leaside before it was absorbed by East York, to open the drive named for her, Metro Roads Commissioner Sam Cass holds umbrella in yesterday’s rain. Photo by Boris Spremo, dated October 6, 1972. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0070479F.

Both women are honoured with streets named after them, while Davidson’s name was bestowed upon a seniors residence.

Asked in 1962 what qualities women needed to succeed in politics, Davidson offered the following advice:

Any quality that makes for success in the home or the world of business is useful in public life. There is no experience that is not of value. I think a woman should like people, be articulate, have a public conscience, common sense, courage to try things and to have had a share of both pain and pleasure, being neither too sheltered nor embittered.

Sources: Call Me True by Eleanor Darke (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 1997); the November 29, 1962, December 28, 1962, January 11, 1966, October 12, 1966, November 29, 1966, November 30, 1966, December 2, 1966, December 6, 1966, and December 9, 1966 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the December 3, 1964, March 4, 1966, October 5, 1966, October 11, 1966, November 29, 1966, December 1, 1966, December 2, 1966, December 6, 1966, May 18, 1976, September 19, 1978, and January 15, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star.


From the December 3, 1964 Star, profiles of Davidson and Nealson that were part of a feature on women running for office in Metro Toronto in that year’s municipal elections. Also spotlighted were Helen Begg (who finished second in the race for reeve in Swansea) and Margaret Campbell (who was elected to Toronto’s Board of Control).

Toronto Star, October 11, 1966. Click on image for larger version.

Toronto Star, November 16, 1966. Click on image for larger version.

Globe and Mail, December 6, 1966.

Globe and Mail, December 6, 1966. Click on image for larger version.

The Wreck of the Resolute

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on July 23, 2011.

The Telegram, November 22, 1906.

As the steam barge Resolute wound down its shipping season in November 1906, it faced one of the deadliest months the Great Lakes had ever seen. A series of storms from Superior to Ontario that November resulted in numerous shipwrecks. The gales that seamen faced on November 21 and 22 resulted in at least 23 deaths. Six of those casualties occurred near the Western Gap of Toronto Harbour when the Resolute, which had shipped timber and coal throughout the Great Lakes for three decades, sank. Tragedy might have been averted had long-standing calls to deepen the shallow waters of the gap been heeded.

The News, November 24, 1906.

The Resolute began its fateful journey with partner schooner P.B. Locke in Erie, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1906, where it was loaded with a shipment of coal destined for the Toronto Electric Light Company. Both ships arrived at the Eastern Gap around 4 a.m. on November 21, where they encountered stormy weather that prevented a safe passage of the Eastern Gap. The Resolute sailed to the western sandbar of Toronto Island and moored in the ice until conditions improved. That afternoon, Captain John Sullivan went ashore to discuss the best course of action with harbour officials. Given that the Western Gap was a foot too shallow for either ship to navigate, Sullivan was told to continue waiting. Before returning to the Resolute, he cheerfully told officials from boat owners Haney & Miller that he would “go back and watch her. She’ll be all right.”

All was fine until the wind shifted around midnight. There was a second attempt to navigate the Eastern Gap, but conditions forced the ship back to its earlier resting spot. During this voyage, the ship began leaking and the load shifted. As the Resolute returned to the western end of the island, waves began washing the coal away. Around 2 a.m., the firehole filled with water and the steam pipes burst. As the ship listed, the crew rushed to the Resolute’s two lifeboats.

They had to act fast, as the ship began sinking. Within 50 yards of the ship, the first lifeboat capsized, sending its five occupants to a watery grave. Remaining crew members, like cook Lizzie Callahan, were quickly placed in the second lifeboat, regardless of how well they were prepared for the elements:

I didn’t have time to put on my shoes, and I was drenched to the skin. Captain Sullivan came to me and hurried me to the upper deck in order to get into the boat. Something seemed to have given away and the captain said I’d have to jump. I did so, and one of the men put a life belt around me, and I was placed into the boat. I was so numbed with the cold that I couldn’t move. I don’t know where we landed. I hardly remember anything about it. We had a hard voyage across the lake, and the sea swept all the coal off the Resolute’s deck.

Callahan vowed that after this experience, she was done with the sea.

Headlines from the November 22, 1906 Toronto Star.

Resolute mate and Buffalo resident Michael Haney almost died when he was struck in the neck by one of the ship’s davits. Pulled onto a lifeboat by a crewmate, he was angered by the reception the survivors received after a treacherous 20 minute voyage to shore:

When we landed they refused to take us in and if the lighthouse keeper hadn’t taken the woman [Callahan] she would have been a goner from the cold. I never saw such a country as this. No appliances for saving life in a city like this. Here I was drenching wet and no place to poke my head into or get a dry stitch. When I came out of the harbourmaster’s house I heard a man crying for help in a heart-breaking way and I took the boat and went out to the spot where Capt. Sullivan was calling for help in an exhausted condition. He was picked up and brought ashore… They don’t do things this way in my country. Had this been in Buffalo or any port in the United States the crew would have been furnished with dry clothes. I was a lucky man to land with 25 cents in my pocket.

As the second lifeboat was about to be cut off the ship, Sullivan was washed overboard. He saw the remnants of the top of the cabin and grabbed onto its fragile canvas. He was soon joined by second engineer Thomas Topping. As both men floated to shore, the difference in their attitudes was stark. While Sullivan tried to remain optimistic about his chances of survival, Topping, as the Telegram noted, “seemed to lose courage from the first.” Sullivan tried to keep his crewmate’s spirits up, but later told the News that Topping “was drowned before he left the Resolute.” Both men held on until they hit the breakers near the shore. “I tried to grasp him to hold him on,” Sullivan told the World, “but a big breaker struck us, and I clutched hard for my own life. Tom dropped and was washed away on the breakers.” Topping’s body was discovered by an ice-breaker the following March.

Illustration of Captain John Sullivan, Toronto Star, November 22, 1906.

Just after Topping drowned, Sullivan hit an eddy and was carried through the Western Gap to the shore, where he washed up near the foot of Portland Street around 5:25 a.m. Had he not hit the eddy, he likely would have been pulled down by the undertow around Toronto Island. He yelled for help for some time before being found—he later noted that it felt like no one was around. The Telegram observed that “Captain Sullivan’s escape was probably the narrowest and most thrilling through which even that hardy mariner has ever passed.”

Compared to the crew of the Resolute, those on the P.B. Locke had a far less frightening experience as it sat off Toronto Island. Though tossed around by the waves, the ship didn’t break up. A rescue team picked up its crew, along with those aboard another coal-bearing schooner caught in the storm, the St. Louis. By late morning, wreckage from the Resolute began washing up on the mainland. The compass settled in an ironic location: near the offices of owners Haney & Miller at the foot of York Street.

The Globe issued a harsh editorial on the front page of its November 23, 1906 edition:

The appalling loss of life through the wreck of the Resolute is the more affecting because it happened at our very doors, though to the sailorman in distress our threshold is no more hospitable than the iron shores of Lake Superior, and for all the difference in the means of assistance the Resolute might as well have gone to pieces off Silver Islet as on the sands of the summer resort of the second city in Canada. Within sight and sound of this great city, these men perished for lack of the least share of that concern freely expended in many directions in the interest of those who need is nothing compared with that of the toilers of the unsalted seas. They died because of the callousness with which the responsibility of providing an efficient life-saving service has been shifted from one quarter to another, and their beaten and disfigured bodies cast up on the beach cry aloud, not like Caesar’s wounds for justice, but for common humanity for those who have escaped this storm only to face the next. The fury of the great gale of the lakes no man may describe, for he who has seen its full terror comes not back from the doors of death.

Western Gap and harbourmaster’s house, circa 1907. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 187A.

Most of the blame for the conditions that led to the wreck was placed on successive federal governments for their “criminal neglect” to improve the gateways to the harbour. The excuse often used was that Ottawa was waiting for the city to stop dumping its sewage into the harbour before acting. Beyond pointless partisan bickering in the press, all newspaper commentators agreed that the feds needed to provide the $150,000 estimated cost of blasting the rocky bottom of the Western Gap.

Illustration of figures involved in the Resolute inquiry. Toronto Star, December 4, 1906.

An inquiry determined that the Resolute was seaworthy prior to the wreck and absolved the crew of any blame for the disaster. Captain Sullivan, who only suffered a few days of weary legs after washing ashore, was praised highly for his efforts—it was noted that had he not been washed overboard, he probably would have saved more of his fellow crew members. Two years passed before any work was undertaken to fix the Western Gap, but by 1908 ships of a similar size to the Resolute could pass through, which reduced the odds of similar tragedies at that location in the future.

Sources: More Than an Island by Sally Gibson (Toronto: Irwin, 1984); the November 23, 1906 and December 25, 1906 editions of the Globe; the November 22, 1906 and November 23, 1906 editions of the News; the November 22, 1906 edition of the Toronto Star; the November 22, 1906 and November 23, 1906 editions of the Telegram; and the November 23, 1906 edition of the Toronto World.


Editorial, the Telegram, November 22, 1906.

Winston’s—Where Celebrities Meet to Eat

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on August 6, 2011.

Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Durante, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 9224.

One example of how far Winston’s restaurant went to please their clientele of entertainers and business establishment figures: when comedian/musician Jimmy Durante’s manager contacted the restaurant prior to a visit in 1946, he noted that the entertainer was on a strict diet of unseasoned charcoal-broiled steak. Owner Oscar Berceller had never served a slab of meat cooked via that method, which was all but unknown in Toronto at the time. Many inquiries ensued before a suitable filet was found in Kingston, but the search and shipping costs proved pricier than anticipated. When Durante, pleased with his meal, requested the bill, Berceller indicated there wasn’t one. “Mr. Durante, the steak you just enjoyed cost me a little over $400,” said Berceller. “How could I present you with a bill that big?” The restaurateur told Durante about the province-wide search for a steak worthy of a beloved entertainer. Durante thanked the effort that went into the meal by dedicating the last song of his next performance to Berceller.

For half a century in two downtown locations, Winston’s prided itself on providing superior service and, as Gourmet magazine put it, “the most superb food on the North American continent” to well-heeled patrons. Whether it was the theatrical crowd favoured by Berceller in the 1940s and 1950s or the power elite catered to by John Arena in the 1970s and 1980s, the critical factor in Winston’s success was making its patrons feel comfortable.

The high degree of customer care helped when mistakes were made, such as the time Sarah Churchill, daughter of the restaurant’s British prime ministerial namesake, almost didn’t make it past the front door. Staff knew that Churchill would enjoy a meal while in Toronto to perform in The Philadelphia Story at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in December 1949. Upon arrival at Winston’s, the maître d’ not only failed to recognize her, but tried to turn her away for the sin of wearing slacks on an evening a special guest was expected. When Churchill asked who the dignitary was and discovered it was her, she replied “Really! Well, I happen to be Sarah Churchill.” Berceller stepped in and smoothed the situation. “Miss Churchill couldn’t have been more generous about it,” he recalled. “In fact, she embarrassed me with her humility… it took a really big person to tolerate a misunderstanding of that kind.” On future visits to Winston’s, Churchill arrived in an evening dress.

Illustration of the restaurant’s namesake, Winston Churchill, along with King George VI and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a banner over the entrance of the CNE Press Building, 1940s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5683.

Enforcing a dress code was a long way from Winston’s origins as a greasy spoon purchased by Hungarian émigrés Oscar and Cornelia Berceller around 1940. Initially specializing in hamburgers, the diner at 120 King Street West was named after Winston Churchill to appeal to diners who barely trusted anything that wasn’t British. The restaurant quickly attracted customers from the theatrical world passing through the Royal Alex and from next-door neighbour/landlord the Globe and Mail. The newspaper’s publisher, George McCullagh, encouraged the Bercellers to expand their menu and establish a fancier restaurant that would counter raucous, prostitute-riddled nearby bars like the Metropole and Prince George hotels. McCullagh provided funding for renovations, the results of which were described by Globe and Mail columnist Dofy Skaith in 1946:

The light-hearted little restaurant of Oscar and Cornelia Berceller has blossomed into a beautiful, grown-up “glamour job” that would make New York look several times. It has a trim, white, modern facade with a massive, but tempting, door opened by a huge brass knob in the centre. Plump evergreens in tubs march across the front. Inside, what used to be one narrow room warmed into being by Oscar and Cornelia’s hospitality, is now two gracious rooms divided by a half-way up wall—the rest open, supported by stylized pinkish white columns. The walls are a delicious crushed strawberry pink-red you could eat with a spoon.

McCullagh may have inspired one of Berceller’s most successful gimmicks: key access. One possible origin of the keys was McCullagh’s desire to keep the public away from his private parties. Another was a complaint to Berceller after being approached inside Winston’s by a prostitute who had wandered in after the bars closed. Regular customers and celebrities received keys that were technically useless—because Winston’s didn’t qualify as a private club in the city’s eyes, the restaurant couldn’t place a special lock on the door to control access—but had great symbolic value as a gateway to an increasingly exclusive establishment. More than 1,000 keys, some gold-plated, were handed out over a 15-year period. The keys proved handy to doormen who easily turned away undesirable diners who lacked them (prior to the key system, Winston’s showed off its snobbier side by serving punier portions).

Advertisements, (left) the Globe and Mail, April 5, 1955, (right) the Globe and Mail, March 20, 1962.

Serving a theatrical crowd, Berceller couldn’t resist being a showman, to the point of composing a Winston’s theme song. Opinions about his musical abilities were mixed—when he asked composer Moss Hart to evaluate an after-dinner original tune, Hart replied “Oscar, I must tell you that the results are much better with your composed food than with your composed music.” Less humorously, in October 1960 Pierre Berton accused Berceller of trying to buy him off when the Toronto Star columnist received an unmarked envelope containing six $20 bills after Berton criticized a fellow restaurateur on a recent radio broadcast. Berton was disgusted by the possibility of received a payoff and wondered if all the positive press Winston’s had received was spurred by similar envelopes. “To what depths,” Berton wrote in an “open letter” to Berceller, “has the noble calling of journalism sunk when the town’s leading restaurateur blandly assumes that a columnist—any columnist—will cheerfully pocket $120 cash as a result of giving his restaurant a free mention?”

But perhaps Berceller then needed to buy publicity as Winston’s reputation declined in the early 1960s. New theatrical venues elsewhere in the city like the O’Keefe Centre and the Crest Theatre sent patrons and crews to other dining spots. Ed Mirvish bought the Royal Alex and developed his own neighbouring restaurants. Winston’s became shabbier as Berceller, believing change would destroy the room’s charm, resisted renewing the decor and menu. Months after suffering a heart attack in 1962, Berceller sold the restaurant to a consortium of local businessmen. He retained a small interest and stayed at the helm for awhile, but business sank until Winston’s nearly went bankrupt.

John Arena, 1970. Photo by Frank Teskey. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0029616F.

Enter John Arena to launch the next phase of the restaurant’s life. A native of Italy, Arena was supervising the food at the Rosedale Golf Club in 1966 when a Winston’s partner asked if he wanted to purchase the restaurant for two dollars. After Arena bought Winston’s and took on its debts, he quickly reshaped the restaurant from an evening destination for the theatre crowd to the lunch spot for Toronto’s business elite. Renovations brought in an Art Nouveau theme, along with red velvet chairs and Tiffany lamps. The menu leaned toward French-inspired fare heavy on the cholesterol. Cards were sent to patrons of Arena’s previous employers and to secretaries at the Toronto-Dominion Centre across the street. Arena’s hustling resulted in a 350 percent jump in sales during his first year. When the block was slated for redevelopment in 1973, Arena moved Winston’s a short distance north to 104 Adelaide Street West, next to the Concourse Building. In an eerie coincidence, the day the wrecking ball went to work on the old location in January 1974, Oscar Berceller died of a heart attack.

A golden version of the Winston’s logo used on the cover of Winston’s: The Life and Times of a Great Restaurant by Herbert Whittaker and Arnold Edinborough (Toronto: Stoddart, 1988)

By the early 1980s, Winston’s was the dining place for Peter C. Newman’s fabled “Canadian Establishment” of power brokers. Newman gave a sense of the lunchtime crowd served by waiters whose fingernails were inspected by Arena each morning:

The standard Winston’s two-hour lunch is a daily convention of the Establishment’s illuminati (not a high-tech microchip carver in the bunch) who want to remain within frequent sight and range of those who make the decisions that count—in other words, one another…Nodding their heads sagaciously like wise turtles, they sip their Meursault, aware that for them fame and fortune is not a one-night stand. They have chosen this restaurant as a stage on which to parade themselves and their egos.

To satisfy those egos, regulars were welcomed by Arena’s genial presence and remarkable memory. Advertising executive Jerry Goodis felt Arena made people “feel important, very special, and even very loved. He exudes a real joy that you have come to visit him. When you go to Winston’s, it’s like going home.” According to Conrad Black, “John is very astute and certainly takes good care of his clients if he’s of the view that they have some prominence.” Newman believed Arena was a lay therapist, there for his customers to unload their problems onto. Arena also knew how to arrange diners so that those who required privacy were left alone and those with simmering conflicts were kept far apart.

A sample menu from the John Arena era. Toronto à Table (Montreal: Clare Taylor and Bernard Moscovitz, 1977).

Of Winston’s 23 tables, up to 13 were permanently booked. A select number of patrons, notably politician John Turner, had private phone lines installed at their tables. Next in the pecking order were regulars, then anyone else. Booking a table wasn’t easy, as an average of 50 callers a day were turned away and given recommendations for other high-end eateries. Some patrons were placed in the 45-seat Game Room downstairs, which, despite the high quality farm-raised game birds on Winston’s menu, Newman described as “the Establishment’s gastronomic purgatory, reserved for clubwomen, faceless out-of-towners, and shopping centre developers who wear triple-knits thick enough to stop bullets.”

John Arena and chef Rolf Romberg. Photo by Keith Beaty, originally published in the October 22, 1988 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0029619F.

But as time had passed it by once before, Winston’s fortunes declined after Arena sold the restaurant to a hospitality group in 1989. Nothing worked well during the restaurant’s last decade under various owners who struggled with bankruptcy, departing regulars, lower corporate lunch tabs, and the public’s drift away from heavy, artery-clogging cuisine. Reviews of later incarnations criticized inattentive service that a perfectionist like Arena would have never tolerated. Like its first home, the second site of Winston’s was bulldozed, leaving no trace of the restaurant where theatrical and business stars were treated royally.

Sources: The Canadian Establishment Volume 2: The Acquisitors by Peter C. Newman (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981), Winston’s: The Life and Times of a Great Restaurant by Herbert Whittaker and Arnold Edinborough (Toronto: Stoddart, 1988), the October 22, 1946 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the October 8, 1960 and October 25, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.


Globe and Mail, October 22, 1946.

Globe and Mail, April 26, 1956.

Toronto Star, October 25, 1960.

On the backside of the sample menu published in Toronto à Table, a few late 1970s recipes from Winston’s. 

ts 88-10-22 review and book

Toronto Star, October 22, 1988. Click on image for larger version.

Globe and Mail, November 14, 1998. Click on image for larger version.

One of the final reviews published about Winston’s. It was the second time Joanne Kates covered the restaurant that year – her earlier review, published on January 31, ran under a headline which paid homage to an old cigarette slogan (“Winston’s tastes good, like a restaurant should”). At that time, she concluded that “this is a dazzling restaurant, a one-of-a-kind artwork. Will Toronto understand it? It’s out of style, expensive, and wonderful. We fear for its survival.”

Making Yonge Street More of a Fun Street

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on August 7, 2010, with a few additions sprinkled throughout the text.

Sketch of proposed streetscape along Yonge Street, looking north from Gould, circa 1982. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 1.

“Yonge Street is Fun Street” boasted the sign that long graced the Funland Arcade at Gould Street. But during the 1970s, the Yonge strip seemed like anything but fun for many Torontonians, unless getting out your kinks was your kind of fun. By mid-decade, media, police, and politicians decried the number of adult cinemas, dirty bookstores, prostitution dens, and rub-and-tug parlours that had set up shop along Yonge, especially south of College. The combination of a police task force and public outrage over the murder of shoeshine boy Emmanuel Jaques in 1977 led to a decline in adult-centric businesses. Around the same time, the city commissioned a report to propose streetscape redesigns that would improve Yonge in ways that previous attempts like a pedestrian mall had faltered. Though many of the ideas never progressed beyond models and sketches, many improvements were made to Yonge Street during the late 1970s and early 1980s with varying degrees of longevity. Photos taken by the City of Toronto Urban Design department documented the construction and provide a time capsule of Yonge during this time period, especially between Dundas and College.

Music World store at southeast corner of Yonge and Gould. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 18.

Our trip begins at Yonge and Gould, where several record store chains reigned. On the southeast corner, the one-time Empress Hotel was years away from a wall collapse when it housed Music World. Of the record labels shown on the side of the building, the one that wasn’t considered a major is Pickwick, which was primarily known for its budget reissues (it wasn’t unusual for tracks to be dropped from the original release) and soundalike recordings. Given Yonge Street’s reputation for cheapness, Pickwick fit right in.

“Yonge” canopy along Gould Street. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 9.

Across the street was Sam the Record Man, which hadn’t yet expanded into the neighbouring Bank of Commerce. Added alongside the bank was a “Yonge” canopy designed to protect purveyors of jewellery, watches, and other street goods.

Chess match outside Sam the Record Man. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 59.

Besides the canopy, chess tables were added to the sidewalk along Gould. The corner became a mecca for chess players partly due to the reputation of Josef Smolij. The Polish native earned himself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest chess player, often destroying hopefuls who paid fifty cents to take him on within fifteen minutes. After being fired from a machinist job because he wasn’t allowed to set up a board next to his post, Smolij set up his board on the streets of downtown. His initial hangout was Allan Gardens, where he quickly drew crowds entertained by his skill and antics. As a 1978 profile in The Canadian noted:

Seldom does he lose (maybe once a week, more likely once every two weeks) and with each gambit and eventual checkmate that occurs, he unleashes a barrage of Polish-accented bravado that infuriates his opponent and entertains those who have stopped to watch. When the opposition makes a particularly bad blunder, Smolij lets him have it. “In Russia,” he will boldly state, “they send you to Siberia for that one. Yes, is true. Player scared to make bad moof [sic] in Russia.”

Josef Smolij, May 1984. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0008032F.

Smolij moved from Allan Gardens to Yonge Street after police noticed the crowds he drew and assumed that so many people couldn’t be fascinated by chess—the man with the massive grey beard had to be a drug front! By the early 1980s, Smolij set up his board every night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Gould Street, ready to take on anyone, though inflation caused his games to rise to a dollar. The games provided his sole source of income, which scarcely fazed Smolij, whose motto was “I am poor in the pocket but rich in the mind.” He failed to miss a single game of street chess from April 1978 until February 1985, when he was admitted to Wellesley Hospital suffering from severe gall stones and hyperthermia. Some brain damage resulted, but he scarcely lost his ability to speed through chess matches. After spending several years in a city nursing home, Smolij was reunited with a sister he hadn’t seen since World War II and moved to Berlin in 1992 to live with her.

Chess in the shadow of Funland. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 41.

Chess matches continued on at Yonge and Gould, which was named Hacksel Place in honour of another enthusiast, until 2003.

A&A and the Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine viewed from Elm Street. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 15.

Taking a look from Elm Street, we see Sam’s long-time rival A&A. The store was founded by Alice and Mac Kenner in 1946—according to Mac’s obituary in the Toronto Star, he chose the name so that the store would be listed first in the Yellow Pages. The rivalry with Sam’s began after the Record Man moved from College Street in 1961. After the Kenners sold out in 1971, the company went through several owners over the next two decades, including Columbia Records. By 1991, the combination of over-expansion, recession, increased competition, and poor business decisions led the by-then 260-location chain to declare bankruptcy. New owners slimmed down A&A, but the flagship was among the casualties of a second bout with bankruptcy in 1993.

A portion of the Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine sign, circa 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 609, Item 11.

Also visible is the Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine, a short-lived chain which claimed to be the creator of the cookiegram. A lucky recipient would be greeted with a twelve-inch-wide chocolate chip cookie with any (non-vulgar) message. “We’ve been very well received,” manager Marsha Solnicki told the Globe and Mail in 1978. “It has been a very exciting, warm experience. We haven’t had any trouble at all. People have not abandoned Yonge Street.”

By the time parallel street improvements on Elm Street were done…

A later view from Elm Street. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 23.

…so was the Cookie Machine. While this pedestrian would be denied a treat, he could figure out how to spend his evening by consulting one of several “City Nights” information kiosks rolled out just off of Yonge.

There’s very little about Falafel Burger in old newspapers, other than a humorous poke at it in a 1979 Toronto Star look at the revitalization efforts by writer Lynda Hurst and activist Lynne Gordon. “Everything thing from fellatio [referring to the Cinema 2000 adult cinema] to falafel in one block, we giggled. And at $1.60, the falafel is more expensive.”

Northwest corner of Yonge and Elm. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 7.

Before leaving Elm Street, let’s pause and look at the northwest corner and take in several business long gone from this location.

McGill Street before it was closed off at Yonge. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 36, Item 98.

One long-lasting decision was the closure of McGill and Granby Streets at Yonge.

Model of proposed redesign for Granby Street. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 36 , Item 6.

Models were built featuring archways bearing each street’s name.

Proposed archway for McGill and Granby streets, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 36, Item 53.

Only McGill Street received an arch, and it wasn’t a freshly-built piece of architecture. The structure that was used was salvaged from St. Andrew’s United Church on Bloor Street after it was demolished in 1981.

Sketch of proposed streetscape on Yonge Street looking north toward College Street, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 21, Item 8.

Up at College Street, the improvements included the island in the middle of Yonge Street shown in this design sketch.

College Park Shops. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 21, Item 13.

The physical landscape wasn’t the only thing to change at Yonge and College as the 1970s drew to a close. Two years after Eaton’s closed its art deco department store to consolidate its downtown operations at the Eaton Centre, the structure reopened on March 22, 1979 as College Park. A consortium led by A. E. LePage realtors determined that the store could be converted into a mixed-use facility with a retail emphasis on mid- to high-end furniture (tenants in the first phase included DeBoers and Roche-Bobois). While most of the building had been rented by opening day, the fate of the Eaton Auditorium and Round Room on the seventh floor was left up in the air—both spaces fell into disrepair and were threatened with demolition before they were restored and reopened as the Carlu event space in 2003.

S. S. Kresge store, southeast corner of Yonge Street and Carlton Street, circa 1979. Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 21, Item 36.

On the southeast corner, the Kresge five-and-dime store soon passed into history. This location closed around the same time the Canadian division of the Kmart Corporation (which had recently changed its corporate name from S. S. Kresge) celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 1979 by moving its head office from above this store to Brampton.

How the scene shown at the beginning of this post turned out. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 19, Item 20.

Despite the efforts at physical improvement, the Yonge Street strip remained a sore issue among civic officials. When the sex shops faded away, their low-end bargain store replacements did little to alleviate the street’s image as a tacky place to be. Shoppers stayed inside the Eaton Centre. More plans to revitalize the street came and went, resulting in projects such as Dundas Square and 10 Dundas East (which many thought would remain an eternal monument to the hoarding industry).

Funland or U Land? Photo circa 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 609, Item 9.

Despite all the complaints, we continue to recognize Yonge as our main street and, even in tiny ways, recognize it still has potential to live up to Funland’s boast.

Sources: the June 28, 1978 edition of The Canadian; the April 1, 1978 and March 24, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the March 23, 1979, October 5, 1979, January 9, 1980, October 10, 1982, September 14, 1985, October 21, 1988, and November 11, 1992 editions of the Toronto Star.


star 1979-10-05 yonge street shedding its sleaze

Toronto Star, October 5, 1979. Click on image for larger version.

Sports Illustrated, September 3, 1979.

The Loyal Orangeman Versus the Mayor of All the People

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on September 18, 2010.

Toronto Board of Control, 1956. Left to right: Leslie Saunders, Ford Brand, Nathan Phillips, Joseph Cornish, William R. Allen. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1258.

For the first half of the twentieth century, one prerequisite to be a serious contender for the mayor’s chair in Toronto was membership in good standing with the Orange Order. As 1954 dawned, it didn’t appear that the situation would change much: Orangeman Allan Lamport had won a third term and the challenger most likely to run against or in place of him that December, Leslie Saunders, was a high-ranking official in the Order. Yet 1954 wound up being the beginning of the end of Orange dominance over civic affairs, thanks partly to a series of snafus by Saunders. The municipal election of 1954 not only proved a key element in breaking the Order’s hold, but showed that antagonizing the press wasn’t a good idea and that you didn’t have to be Protestant to take the mayor’s chair, even if it took you three efforts.

Cartoon depicting Allan Lamport, The Telegram, June 24, 1954.

Our story begins at the Toronto Transit Commission, where the combination of an expanded administrative board and the death of Chairman W.C. McBrien left several key vacancies. Sensing the prospects of steadier employment with the TTC than at the whim of voters, Mayor Lamport resigned from office in June to make himself available as a candidate for McBrien’s job (he wound up as Vice-Chairman when William G. Russell won the top spot). On June 29, Saunders, a veteran member of the Board of Control who was serving as president of City Council, assumed the mayoralty amid general respect for his abilities as an administrator.

Saunders’s honeymoon was short-lived. Shortly after assuming office, Saunders was also named Deputy Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, just in time for the annual Orange parade in early July to celebrate William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Saunders decided the parade would be the perfect opportunity to issue a statement to Torontonians “reminding them of their British heritage” by stressing how important that the battle was as a victory for democratic and religious freedoms for all (even if some of faiths were deemed less worthy than others). Amid its glorification of the Orange Order, the statement requested citizens “to thank God for those whose courage against wrong hastened the dawn of freedom,” and compared the triumph of Protestants over Catholics to more recent victories against “the Hun, the Nazi and the Fascist.” One problem: Saunders issued the statement on official city stationery.

To Catholic councillors and other Orangemen in the city government whose views were less fervent than Saunders, the statement was received like an intolerant slap against citizens who weren’t connected to the Order. Controller David Balfour felt that the mayor should represent all faiths; in response, local Orange Order Secretary B.G. Louden challenged the Catholic Balfour to run for mayor. Saunders did not apologize for issuing the statement. “I’m proud,” he said, “to be able to make a statement of this kind to the people of Toronto on this great day in Orange history.” His statement did not find favour among the press, whose views were best summed by an editorial in the Telegram which noted that “the only rivers that Leslie Saunders is expected to concern himself with as Mayor of Toronto are the Don and the Humber.”

The Telegram, December 4, 1954.

Watching from the sidelines was former city councillor Nathan Phillips, who was taking a rest from elected office after a quarter of a century as an alderman and two unsuccessful mayoral runs against Lamport in 1951 and 1952. As controversy about Saunders’s statement grew, Phillips was contacted by Star reporter Bob McDonald to see if he would consider a third run for the mayor’s chair. Phillips decided he would, but only if his wife supported another run (she did) and if he could secure more newspaper support beyond the Star, which had backed his previous campaigns. He contacted Telegram publisher John Bassett, who indicated that Phillips could soon tell anyone he “damned well pleased” that he had Bassett’s full support. That Phillips was Jewish would make for an interesting angle in editorials in all of the city’s papers criticizing Saunders for trying to provoke religious strife. Upon hearing of Phillips’s entry, Saunders told the press on July 10 that when all the ballots were counted, he would be “be sitting right where I am now.”

Phillips’s entry into the race was timed well, as Saunders bounced from one fiasco to another. The mayor’s relations with the press were frosty at best when he had a confrontation with three reporters who entered a Board of Control meeting on July 14. The meeting was supposed to be held in private out of respect for any candidates named as potential successors for outgoing Parks Commissioner Oscar Pearson. The reporters from the Star and Telegram refused to leave due to their editors ordering them to be there. Much yelling ensued, mostly from Saunders. He was reported to have said “You’ll obey me! The newspapers aren’t going to tell me what to do!” Then Saunders chastised the reporters for not being good gentlemen by ignoring his requests to leave. The Mayor’s tactics appeared to outrage half of the four-person board, as Balfour and fellow Controller Roy Belyea stormed out of the room and accused him of being an autocrat.

Once again, Louden challenged somebody to run for mayor, but this time it was fellow Orangeman Belyea, who Louden warned to watch his tongue if he didn’t want to lose the up to ten thousand potential votes the Order could deliver. Saunders invoked a press ban at City Hall, which was the cue for the media to write editorials echoing the complaints of the controllers. The ban lasted for a day before Saunders reversed himself and declared that he would no longer have any private meetings with city councillors. As revenge, Saunders attempted to blacken Belyea’s reputation by questioning why the controller hadn’t served his country proudly during World War I, after Belyea stated that “dictators are being fought all over the world. Now is the time to fight them at home.” The electoral silly-season had kicked into high gear.

Amid these antics, both the Star and Telegram printed their endorsements of Phillips before the month was over. Both papers praised Phillips for his long public service record and for his dignified bearing,the antithesis of Saunders’ increasing irritability. As the Star noted, Phillips “possesses tact and natural friendliness and by these qualities, as well as by cogent arguments, he will, we think, improve Toronto’s standing in the Metro council, and represent her well in his contacts with municipalities outside this area.” For his part, Phillips vowed to run a campaign based on tolerance for all regardless of their religious affiliation.

The Telegram, December 4, 1954 (left), December 1, 1954 (right).

The question of who the Globe and Mail would support remained in the air for awhile, as neither of their favoured candidates could decide if they would run. Press speculation was that if Belyea didn’t run, former Toronto Board of Education Chairman Arthur Brown, who was defeated by Lamport the year before, would make a second attempt to become mayor. Belyea dithered for several months until he decided in late September that he would run again for the Board of Control. A few weeks later, Brown declared his intentions and the Globe and Mail printed their endorsement (while the paper found Phillips an agreeable person, they felt he never shown any signs of leadership or innovative thought). Saunders responded to the news by saying Brown was “wasting his time. I’ll lick him just as easily as anyone else. He’ll be pie.”
Over in the Phillips camp, the former councillor had an inkling that the campaign might be turning in his favour.

My campaign ran smoothly. I sensed that support was coming to me from every part of the city. I didn’t hear much said either for or against Brown, but there certainly was a rising tide against Saunders. As I look back, I don’t think it was so much a case of the people voting for me as it was of the people voting against Saunders. People do not often vote new governments into office. They vote old governments out.

Globe and Mail, November 26, 1954.

Among the crucial endorsements Phillips received was one from the Sunday Sports Committee headed by former controller Fred Hamilton, an old enemy of Saunders who was certain the incumbent candidate would reopen the issue of allowing sporting activities on Sunday and find a way to ban them again. An ad produced by Hamilton showing a collage of anti-Saunders articles left the Mayor fuming.

But this was only one of the image problems plaguing the Saunders camp. An attempt to ban municipal candidates from appearing before the Board of Control during the campaign, which appeared to be aimed at Phillips, backfired when the majority of the Board of Control opposed it. An ad listing prominent Torontonians who supported Saunders’ campaign was questioned when it appeared that some of those listed were unaware their names would be used in such a way. Three days before the election, Brown condemned the mayor for reportedly allowing a suite in the Royal York Hotel to be used for secret meetings of city council executives and to lavishly entertain visitors. The rumours of a secret clique running were too enticing for newspapers to resist running headlines decrying extravagances. Phillips demanded an investigation into the suite, which ultimately revealed that there wasn’t anything too shameful going on.

Globe and Mail, December 2, 1954.

Saunders felt confident of his chances on election day, believing the righteous citizens of Toronto would see through the “lies” in the press and cast their ballots in their usual fashion. He felt it was impossible that he would be unseated on December 6, especially to previous losers like Brown and Phillips. As the results came in, he maintained a positive face.

I had no idea that I could be defeated. We carried on an active campaign over radio, press and an 110,000 distribution of election literature through an agency. A victory party was arranged in Victoria Hall. As I listened, on my radio in my car, I was well down. My driver encouraged me, remarking that there were several polls to hear from, but I knew that I could not gain sufficiently. I listened until I had passed Arthur Brown, whose purpose in the running could only have been to split the Church and Gentile vote…Then I went up to our headquarters knowing I was defeated. At least I could walk with my head up, despite the unprecedented campaign waged by the three papers, Hamilton, et al.

Ett Phillips relaxing at home. “Did you ever see a dame like that?” her husband observed when this photo was taken in November 1962. Photo by Reg Innell. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0073605F.

Phillips had greater worries during election day than the results. The night before, his wife Esther (“Ett”) began preparations for the post-results party. On her way down to the basement to retrieve a turkey, her foot caught on a metal strip and she fell down the staircase. Mrs. Phillips was rushed to the hospital and underwent brain surgery. The candidate got little sleep that night and stayed in constant contact with the hospital during what Phillips later called “the longest day” of his life. He barely thought about what he would say after the votes were tallied until an editor from the Telegram called him around 10 p.m. to indicate that he had likely won in a very tight race (less than four thousand votes separated Phillips from Saunders, with Brown just over a hundred votes behind the incumbent). Phillips took fifteen minutes to draft a speech, in which he thanked the voters and discussed what really mattered to him at that moment.

As I speak to you, my heart is filled with sadness because my wife suffered a serious accident last night as a result of which she is in the hospital. She is still not out of danger and I appear before you now to express our thanks and gratitude because I know she would want me to. I have been deeply touched by the many inquiries during the day and the prayers offered for my wife’s recovery. I believe in prayers, and I ask you to continue to pray for her, because if I ever needed her, I need her more than ever now. Mrs. Phillips has in her the inspiration a husband needs to help him carry on.

Mrs. Phillips went on to make a full recovery, though her memories of the accident and the following days never returned.

Phillips then touched on the general nastiness of the campaign and expressed his pride at Toronto voters for rejecting the tactics from the Saunders camp.

Every person should be proud of his ancestry, and I am proud of the blood that flows in my veins. I am sure that every other citizen is proud of the blood that flows in his veins. I shall represent all the people, and I mean all the people in the broadest sense, fairly and without discrimination. I shall cut intolerance, I will try and be you, all the people of Toronto, and reflect your aims, ideals, aspirations and ambitions.

The Telegram, December 7, 1954.

The speech earned Phillips the nickname “Mayor of All the People,” a title he tried to live up to during his tenure. Third-place finisher Brown offered his congratulations and seemed at ease despite his loss…which was something that could not be said for Saunders. He refused to offer a formal concession to Phillips and never stopped blaming the press and non-Orangemen for engineering his defeat. His statements after the election lacked even traces of graciousness amidst his utter disbelief that the voters didn’t rally for him (“This is hardly the reward a person should receive for that type of service. No man has served Toronto better than I.”), and he never got over how the press turned against him, having had praise heaped on him before becoming mayor.

Having lived in East York for several years, Saunders eventually turned his political attentions to that municipality. As in Toronto, Saunders would serve as interim Mayor of East York in 1976, but with far less controversy. He never apologized for his fervent Orange beliefs or any actions he took during the 1954 election campaign. Yet the zealousness of his actions and his apparent ability to think only in terms of black and white, in contrast with the growing multicultural makeup of the city, helped spark the demise of the Orange Order’s hold on power in Toronto. The parades no longer draw the crowds they once did, and no mayor since the retirement of William Dennison in 1972 has been a member.

Sources: Mayor of All the People by Nathan Phillips (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), An Orangeman in Public Life: The Memoirs of Leslie Howard Saunders by Leslie Saunders (Toronto: Britannia Printers, 1980), and the following newspapers: the July 10, 1954, July 15, 1954,and November 18, 1954 editions of the Globe and Mail; the July 29, 1954, and October 5, 1954 editions of the Toronto Star; and the July 10, 1954, July 13, 1954, July 14, 1954, July 16, 1954, July 21, 1954, and December 7, 1954 editions of the Telegram.


Globe and Mail, June 29, 1954.

Globe and Mail, July 12, 1954.

Toronto Star, July 15, 1954.

The Telegram, July 15, 1954.

The Telegram, October 6, 1954.

The Telegram, November 17, 1954.

Globe and Mail, November 22, 1954.

The first of several editorials in the G&M backing Arthur Brown. While Phillips, Saunders, and Brown had a tight race, the only other mayoral candidate finished far behind, with just under 5,000 votes: former Bellwoods MPP A.A. MacLeod, a member of the Communis…erm…Labor Progressive Party and the uncle of Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine.

Globe and Mail, November 27, 1954.

Globe and Mail, November 29, 1954.

Globe and Mail, November 29, 1954.

Toronto Star, November 29, 1954.

The Star’s endorsement of Phillips.

Toronto Star, December 3, 1954.

The Telegram, December 3, 1954.

The Telegram, December 4, 1954.

The Telegram, December 4, 1954.

Toronto Star, December 7, 1954.

The Telegram, December 7, 1954.

The Telegram, December 9, 1954.

Two Days With the Queen

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on March 16, 2013.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip riding down Bay Street, June 29, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4986.

As Toronto prepared to welcome Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in the weeks leading up to the couple’s two-day visit in June 1959, press on both sides of the Atlantic debated whether Canadians suffered royal tour fatigue. The upcoming tour would be Elizabeth’s third of the decade, and the first to pass through Toronto since 1951, when she was still heir to the throne. Other royals, such as Elizabeth’s sister Margaret and aunt Mary, Princess Royal, conducted their own tours. What had been a rare experience was becoming less so.

Controversy exploded when Joyce Davidson, one of the hosts of CBC-TV’s Toronto-based newsmagazine Tabloid, headed to New York City for a featured guest stint on Today. When host Dave Garroway asked Davidson on June 18, 1959, about the Queen’s visit, she surprised him by saying “we’re still annoyed at still being dependent on a monarchy.” She declared most Canadians expressed “indifference” to the Queen because their backgrounds were not British. Davidson tried to cover her tracks by indicating her remarks did not necessarily represent her own opinion.

Joyce Davidson on the front page of the Telegram, June 20, 1959.

That point was lost when the news hit Toronto. Phone lines at the CBC and daily newspapers were flooded with outraged callers incensed by the gall of Davidson to suggest anti-monarchist thoughts. Mayor Nathan Phillips demanded an apology, stating that Davidson “doesn’t represent Canadians or the people of Toronto.” Ethnic organizations declared their loyalty to the crown. Though more politely written, letters and statements condemning Davidson displayed an underlying tone of ugliness towards her familiar to anyone visiting online comment sections recently—a Telegram editorial declared “Joyce is no brain” and that she was “posing, as some Canadians do when absent from Canada, as superior to things Canadian and thought she would show Mr. Garroway just how emancipated she is. La-de-da-da-da.” Davidson’s two young daughters, who were being watched by their grandmother in Toronto, were taunted as “traitors” by playmates.

Initially, Davidson refused to apologize. Interviewed on Tabloid that evening, she told co-host Percy Saltzman, who admitted he would have internalized similar thoughts, that “nothing I said had any reflection against the Queen… or anyone in her entourage.” During her final appearance on Today the following morning, she joked that when she returned to Toronto, “they’ll probably shoot me when I get off the plane.” She wrote a piece for the Telegram where she expressed her astonishment at the vitriol she unleashed over “a mild opinion from a mild girl.”

Discussions with CBC brass determined that Davidson would not return to Tabloid until the furor died down. In a second Telegram piece, she apologized for distressing people. Calls to media outlets continued, but opinion started to favour Davidson. CBC, which was experiencing unrelated troubles with the federal government, was criticized for pulling her off the air. Star columnist Pierre Berton doubted a similar stir would have arisen had she declared herself an atheist. He believed Canadians generally were indifferent to royal visits and that “if this be treason, make the most of it.” Davidson took her daughters to watch the royal procession when it arrived in Toronto and returned to the air a week after the Queen departed. Within a couple of years, she moved south of the border and married TV talk show host/producer David Susskind.

The Telegram, June 29, 1959.

While the Davidson furor died down, another tour-related controversy flared briefly at city council. Mayor Phillips’ eight-year-old granddaughter Linda was designated to present the official city bouquet to the Queen at City Hall, as she had for Princess Margaret a year earlier. While some aldermen had no problems, others felt the choice should have been made from local schools or children’s hospitals. Future mayor William Dennison thought that at least Linda should have an assistant who was “a crippled child or an orphan.” Phillips stuck by his choice.

The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in Toronto Harbour aboard the royal yacht Britannia around 9 a.m. on June 29, 1959, accompanied by an entourage of royal naval ships, RCMP patrols, and harbour police. Temporary stands were filled when the royal couple stepped onto land near Queens Quay and Yonge Street around 9:30 a.m. Military guards and musicians were dressed in heavy ceremonial garb ill-suited for temperatures hovering around 33 degrees Celsius. At least three collapsed during the ceremony, the first of many guards and spectators who crumpled from the heat over the course of the day.

After dedicating docks named in her honour, the Queen and Prince Philip loaded into the open-air royal car. They headed east to Kew Beach to meet Beaches residents and physically challenged children. Greeting them was Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe, who joked that he wanted to “give the Queen a tip” for the following day’s Queen’s Plate horse race, preferably for Smythe’s entry, Major Flight. Instead, he introduced her to that year’s Easter Seals “Timmy.”

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Nathan Philips at civic reception at Old City Hall, June 29, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4980.

The royal party arrived at Old City Hall at 11:30 a.m., 15 minutes early. Despite strong winds which nearly blew away his speech, Mayor Phillips officially welcomed the Queen at a ceremony which drew 6,000 spectators. “There is probably not a member country of the Commonwealth which is not represented in this vast concourse of citizens assembled here,” Phillips noted. He invited the couple to “come again when we can promise an entirely new batch of sites.” One of those future attractions caught Prince Philip’s eye: a model of the new City Hall, which reminded him of a boomerang. He asked how to contact architect Viljo Revell.

After receiving a painting of the waterfront by Manly MacDonald, the Queen thanked Torontonians for “a demonstration of love and loyalty which has touched us beyond measure.” The royal motorcade received the ticker-tape parade treatment as it proceeded south along Bay Street before heading back to the Britannia. Following lunch, the couple visited the Redpath sugar refinery. Photographers trailing the Queen for American and British newspapers balked when told they would have to walk up many flights of stairs to follow the royal party, which had exclusive use of the freight elevator. These photographers sulked in a nearby bus, while their local counterparts braved the stairs. They were rewarded with shots of the Queen quizzing Redpath officials about sugar and the prince demonstrating his refining knowledge.

Maps of the royal tour routes, the Telegram, June 27, 1959.

Next stop was High Park, where the royals viewed floral displays, took tea with the mayor, and presented awards to Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. As he returned to the car, Prince Philip glanced at Grenadier Pond and announced that he would go for a swim. A nearby Scout warned him the water was polluted. “If we both went in,” Philip responded, “it would be more polluted.” A stop at the CNE Grandstand for a military review featuring the 48th Highlanders followed. The crowd of 20,000 roared when she closed her parasol as the car entered the stadium.

The evening was spent with 1,500 dignitaries at the Lieutenant-Governor’s gala dinner at the Royal York Hotel. Over a meal of Lake Erie pickerel, avocados, strawberries, and domestic champagne, the royals chatted with Premier Leslie Frost, who had been present during opening ceremonies for the St. Lawrence Seaway days earlier. Frost told the audience that the Queen consented to bestow her name on a provincial scholarship program. The Queen told her fellow diners that she and Philip felt at home in Canada. “Each time I come here,” she observed, “I am fascinated by your way of life, your homes, your work, your games and recreation.” They are at once so familiar yet so different that I always want to know a bit more about them.”

Some people could be overly zealous about showing respect to the Queen, as this story from the June 26, 1959 edition of the Telegram demonstrates.

The next day the royals headed off on separate itineraries. Prince Philip attended the annual general meeting of the Canadian Medical Association at the Royal York, where he was named the organization’s president. He viewed the session as “a perfectly marvellous opportunity to do a little preaching” and urged members to combat the decline in Canadian physical fitness. His suggestions included more physical education programs in schools, recreational facilities, and expanding the role of youth organizations.

Meanwhile, the Queen made numerous stops around Metro Toronto. She started at the O’Keefe Centre construction site, when she spent an extra 10 minutes asking questions about the performing arts centre and its future users. She visited seniors at the Arthur Meighen Salvation Army residence on Davisville Avenue then greeted onlookers at the Golden Mile Plaza. Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner presented her with a $5,000 cheque in her name to the Canadian Cancer Society, while other local dignitaries gifted her with heavy wool cardigans for Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Scarborough Reeve Albert Campbell invited her to shop at the strip mall’s Loblaws, but the tour had to move on. “I’d like to go shopping in it,” she told a Loblaws official, “but unfortunately I don’t have the time.” Later accounts suggest she might have briefly roamed the store.

Heading back west, the Queen stopped along Bayview Avenue at the Canadian Institute for the Blind, where she took extra time to talk with those welcoming her. At Sunnybrook Hospital, the Queen prevented an RCMP handler from stopping a war veteran from approaching her in his wheelchair. She also surprised veteran Walter Crossmith when she recognized his medals as Boer War vintage. After reuniting with Prince Philip, the couple stopped at the Etobicoke municipal officials for a meet-and-greet with local officials led by Reeve H.O. Waffle. The Globe and Mail called it the most formal presentation of the entire visit, “perhaps caused by the fact that all of the dignitaries were done up in toppers and such finery.”

Prince Philip, jockey Bobby Ussery, Queen Elizabeth II and E.P. Taylor at the Queen’s Plate, June 30, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4997.

Like the royals, these snappy dressers made their way to the new Woodbine Racetrack for the 100th running of the Queen’s Plate. When the royal party was over half an hour late, jokes flew that the entourage visited the old Woodbine track by mistake. While temperatures had dropped 10 degrees, the threat of rain reduced the expected crowd from 35,000 to 25,000. After a ceremony featuring the Governor-General’s Horse Guards, the Queen and Prince Philip joined business tycoon E.P. Taylor in the royal box. He was good company for the couple, as his horse New Providence won. Signs hadn’t boded well for the horse: he had won once in 13 starts that year, while his usual jockey, Hall-of-Famer Eddie Arcaro, was injured during the Belmont Stakes. Replacement jockey Bobby Ussery called his victory “the second biggest thrill of my life. The first was when I won my first race.” Smythe’s Major Flight finished second, while race favourite Winning Shot placed third.

The royals departed for Ottawa via an RCAF VIP plane from Malton Airport at 6:18 p.m. Before they left, Premier Frost observed that the Queen’s reception during her two days in Toronto was the opposite of indifference. An estimated 500,000 people came out to see the royal visit. Unlike past tours, the couple seemed to reach out more to their subjects, going over allotted time at many stops to talk to them about their lives and their city. Conversely the experience, combined with the Seaway opening and the city’s 125th birthday, provided, as a Star editorial noted, “an occasion for Toronto and Torontonians to celebrate themselves.”

Sources: the June 19, 1959, June 30, 1959, and July 1, 1959 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 18, 1959, June 20, 1959, June 22, 1959, June 27, 1959, June 29, 1959, and June 30, 1959 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 19, 1959, June 20, 1959, June 26, 1959, June 27, 1959, June 29, 1959, and June 30, 1959 editions of the Telegram.


Maclean’s, May 23, 1959.

Toronto Star, June 18, 1959.

The Telegram, June 19, 1959.

The Telegram, June 24, 1959.

Toronto Star, June 22, 1959.

Globe and Mail, June 26, 1959.

Toronto Star, June 27, 1959.

The Telegram, June 29, 1959.

Globe and Mail, July 1, 1959.

The Telegram., June 30, 1959. In fairness, Frederick Gardiner (at the far right) often looked sulky in photos from this era. Perhaps he was afflicted with RBF.

Come Out to Caribana ’67

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on July 27, 2011.

“Laughing girls in leopard skins dance along Bloor St in Saturday’s Caribana ’67 parade. Toronto’s 8,000 West Indians are throwing a week-long centennial party on Centre Island and inviting the rest of the city to join in the fun.” (The Telegram, August 8, 1967.) Photo by Lee Harrison.

Festival fever was in the air in 1967. Canada was in a celebratory mood during its centennial year and while most of the action was at Expo in Montreal, the federal government encouraged ethnic groups across the nation to showcase their contributions to a country starting to embrace its multicultural makeup. One such group was Toronto’s Caribbean community, who determined it was time to infuse the city with the colour and spirit of carnival. With less than a year of preparation, and long before there were any squabbles over management, financing, and name proprietorship, the first edition of Caribana was quickly embraced as a highlight of Toronto’s summer.

“Mayor (William) Dennison enjoys some West Indian culture.” The Telegram, August 11, 1967.

The first discussions for a West Indian–themed festival occurred in a downtown fire hall in late 1966. Organizers felt the one cultural expression found on every Caribbean island was the colourful tradition of carnival, with the pre-Lenten celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago serving as a model to follow. The August long weekend was ideal for a celebration due to its close approximation of tropical heat and low risk of rain. Centre Island was chosen as the focal point for activities, though this would affect how much profit the festival could make due to municipal regulations which restricted admission fees on park property to 50 cents or less. The festival’s name, Caribana, was devised to convey notions of Canada, the Caribbean, and all-around fun. Packed volunteer meetings dealt with issues like muting the raunchier aspects of carnival so as to not offend Toronto’s prudish tastes (answer: discourage explicit dancing and public drunkenness). By the end of July 1967, an official organizing body (the Caribbean Centennial Committee, later the Caribbean Cultural Committee) was in place and volunteers geared up to prepare events ranging from balls to a book exhibit spotlighting the works of Austin Clarke.

“A calypso band supplies the throbbing beat to make the big day swing for the Caribana parade.” The Telegram, August 8, 1967.

The first Caribana parade was scheduled to begin at Varsity Stadium at 9 a.m. sharp on Saturday, August 5, 1967. But as organizer Dr. J. Alban Liverpool told the Telegram, “West Indian time is different than North American time.” Ten floats and over 1,000 participants didn’t leave the stadium until 11:30 a.m. Mounted police assigned to guide the parade were occasionally shocked to find nobody behind them, as participants moved in circles instead of a straight line (several years passed before police accepted that they couldn’t pace the Caribana parade with the military precision of the Santa Claus Parade). The inaugural route went east on Bloor Street, south on Yonge Street, then west on Queen Street to the still-new City Hall. The designated route was a symbolic one for festival organizers, who wanted to demonstrate that a minority group with little political clout belonged on major city arteries, while the backdrop of City Hall would show that the community was an integral part of the new Canada. Several participants noted that although the parade attracted 50,000 spectators, the cold reserve Torontonians were known for led to one of the quietest carnival celebrations they had ever seen.

Globe and Mail, August 7, 1967.

While a concert in Nathan Phillips Square followed the official greeting from Mayor William Dennison, many ferried over to Centre Island after the parade to take in the main festivities. During the opening weekend, Caribana officials estimated over 35,000 people checked out the festival’s music, food, and exhibitions. Among the praise that poured in was a glowing editorial in the Telegram:

Here’s a toast in a planter’s punch, or in pop if you prefer, to the West Indian Centennial Committee for the swingiest, gayest, jauntiest party in this old town all this week at Centre Island. “We appreciate Canada,” said Eric Lindsay, business manager of the Caribana Committee, and the West Indians of Toronto are singing it in the hauntingly beautiful rhythms of their islands and expressing it in their dances and in the radiant colours of their native costumes—a festival for which they have expended $40,000, no small feat for the smallest ethnic group in the city. “Thank you,” Toronto says for this delightful treat, and may Centre Island continue to pulse with the warm hearts of this city to enjoy it.

Even when disaster loomed, things went right for the first Caribana. Little seemed promising for the Trinidad and Tobago show brought in from Expo 67 on August 9. The troupe had no rest from their routine of four sold-out shows a day in Montreal. Rain half-an-hour before the main performances didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of an audience, huddled under umbrellas, who yelled “More! More!” to the warm-up steel band. When the lights short-circuited, the band played three more songs without missing a beat. A Caribana official mopping the stage received roaring applause when the lights came back on. The rest of the evening went off without a hitch.

Advertisements, (left) the Telegram, August 11, 1967, (right) the Toronto Star, August 12, 1967.

By popular demand, Caribana was extended one day to end on August 13. The move was a wise one, as closing day crowds helped set a one-day record for ferry use. The day also included a surprise visit from Sir Clifford Campbell, the Governor General of Jamaica, who was on his way back to the Caribbean from Expo 67. As the festival wound down, Mayor Dennison indicated to festival organizers that he would support making Caribana an annual event.

Despite the difficulties which have threatened to derail the festival over the years, the core celebratory spirit that infused Caribana in 1967 should be on display during this year’s Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival, along with outfits that would shock the quiet, repressed, upstanding Torontonians who lined the route of that first parade. Perhaps one of the key goals the festival has aimed for throughout its history was best summed up by one of its early officials, businessman Trevor Clarke: “Integration is something that can only be effected when people can give as well as take. Culture could be the beginning of this. Unless I can project myself into your culture and you into mine, we are not equal. Caribana ’67 is showing people that it is more pleasant not to disregard us.”

Sources: Caribana The Greatest Celebration by Cecil Foster (Toronto: One World, 1995); the August 8, 1967, August 10, 1967, and August 14, 1967 editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 5, 1967, August 8, 1967, August 9, 1967, and August 11, 1967 editions of the Telegram.


“Twirling and spinning; gaily costumed dancers cavort to the pounding beat of musicians from the Trinidad and Tobago show at Expo; in Toronto as part of Caribana ’67. Despite a summer rain storm and a brief power failure; some 8,000 persons flocked to Centre Island for last night’s show and most ended up singing and dancing along with the performers.” Photo by Frank Lennon, originally published in the August 10, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0102988F.

Once in awhile, I irritate readers. One, using a pseudonym based on an early 1960s Jack Lemmon/Shirley MacLaine movie was not happy with a characterization I made near the end of this piece when it was republished in 2015.

“the quiet, repressed, upstanding Torontonians” Just out of curiosity, how do you know that Torontonians were particularly quiet or repressed? I’ll bet you weren’t even alive back here then, were you? Why do people make these blanket statements? Does anyone really think the people here were any more quiet and repressed than Vancouverites or Montrealers when it came to Caribbean parades, or has it just become a habit amongst everyone assuming they know what life was like back then?

The next day, under the alias “I. Give Up,” they were miffed that Torontoist was ignoring their complaint.

I give up on Torontoist. I wrote a perfectly valid question yesterday as to why the author was so quick to condemn Toronto as being any more cold, prudish, etc… than any other Canadian city, but apparently it was not sycophantic enough to be printed. People who write these articles weren’t even here back then and are simply re-writing history as they believe it should be. Shame on Torontoist for only printing comments that agree with them; that is what the Sun newspaper does.

My editor provided a great response.

We have had a big uptick in spam over the past few months, and your comment got caught up in that filter. It has now been published–our apologies for the delay.

We hope you enjoy reading Historicist.

Answering their charges after all these years: no, I wasn’t alive in 1967. No, I’m not looking for sycophantic comments. But I’ve read enough material from that era both depicting and poking fun at the stiff image of Torontonians – including that year’s Caribana coverage (I had already discussed concerns organizers had about offending prudes) – that it seemed like a good line to use. That the complainant chose to use two aliases while leaving their comments and compared the perceived slight to Toronto Sun editorial page policy indicated that neither me nor my editor needed to take them seriously.