Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 15, 2008.

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Santa Claus Float, Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, Toronto, 1930. Archives of Ontario Reference Code: F 229-308-0-814

From its beginnings as a short trek from Union Station sponsored by Eaton’s department store, the Santa Claus Parade has grown into a tradition for the five hundred thousand spectators on the route each year.

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Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, 1918, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Wikimedia Commons.

The first parade was held on December 2, 1905, when Santa arrived from the North Pole at Union Station via train and was greeted by Timothy Eaton. Santa hopped into a horse-drawn truck and rode up to Eaton’s Queen Street store, tossing out candy, toys, and other gifts from his sack to children lined up along the way. For most of the parade’s first decade, Santa ended his journey at Massey Hall, where a court was built to hold youngsters eager to give their gift requests. Towards the end of World War I his destination moved to the store, though as Patricia Phenix described in her book Eatonians, his grand entrance at the end of the parade was not always so smooth:

Any employee who assumed the role of Santa had to face the daunting task of hoisting his padded belly up a fire ladder from the float to the store’s second floor Eaton’s Toyland window, located above Albert Street. More often than not, as “Santa” stumbled, frequently cursing, through the window he was resuscitated by swigs of “Seagram’s medicine,” provided by sympathetic store managers.

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Eaton’s advertisement, Toronto Star, November 14, 1930.

Several of the floats mentioned in this ad touting the 1930 parade would not pass muster today. This was also one of the first parades to feature licensed characters, including tributes to radio shows (Amos ‘n’ Andy) and comic strips (Toonerville Trolley).

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Mary Quite Contrary Float, Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, Toronto, 1930. Archives of Ontario Reference Code: F 229-308-0-814.

Fairy tale characters were the usual focus of the floats, such as this one based on “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” Floats and costumes were made in-house by Eaton’s, providing steady work year-round for carpenters and seamstresses. When company president Fredrik Eaton withdrew the store’s sponsorship in 1982 (citing reasons such as the recession and criticism from city officials on the parade’s timing), six full-time craftsmen were laid off after having completed eighty percent of the work on that year’s floats. The stunned workers, some of whom had worked on the parade for over thirty years, locked themselves in the workroom. One lamented to the a Star reporter on the other side of the door that “it would have been a beautiful parade.” He received his wish in December when the parade carried on, thanks to a non-profit group quickly organized by local business leaders and civic officials. At a press conference that announced the parade’s rescue, McDonald’s of Canada president George Cohon declared that, despite the view of the Eaton family, Santa Claus “is recession-proof.”

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The Globe and Mail, November 14, 1969.

Those playing Santa over the years have required varying levels of stamina depending on the parade route. The longest treks occurred between 1910 and 1912, when the parade was a two-day affair that headed downtown from Newmarket, with an overnight stop at York Mills. We suspect that Santa required a lot of “Seagram’s medicine” to survive the cold of those journeys. Yonge and Eglinton was the starting point for several years before the company settled on the Dupont and Dovercourt area, as seen in the 1969 route map above.

Additional material from the August 11, 1982 and August 20, 1982 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Life, November 1975.

For a couple of years, I handled Torontoist’s coverage of press day for the Santa Claus Parade. Here’s my story about the 2011 parade, originally published on November 3, 2011 – follow this link for images.

For drivers heading onto the Highway 400 ramp from the eastbound collector lanes of Highway 401, the warehouse on the right doesn’t stand out. Just another non-descript suburban light industrial building, one of the dozens that line the highways.

Except, this one serves as the secret headquarters of a jolly old elf.

Pass through the main doors into the warehouse and you’ve entered a space few children or adults would resist running around—past the racks of animal costumes and clown suits, below walls lined with blank stares from moulded masks, around shelves of white mini-cars, and right over to the nearly 30 floats waiting to dazzle spectators along the streets of downtown Toronto.

Amid tuxedoed candy mascots riding waves of a caramel ocean, and classic cartoon characters awaiting their final touch up, the organizers of the Santa Claus Parade announced their plans for the 107th edition of the holiday tradition at a press conference yesterday.

The biggest change spectators will notice on November 20 is a new route. While the parade will depart at 12:30 p.m. from its usual starting point at Christie Pits and head east along Bloor Street, Santa won’t be greeting youngsters along Yonge Street. Instead, the parade will turn right at the ROM and proceed south on University Avenue to Wellington Street, then make a left and continue to St. Lawrence Market. Organizers feel that University’s width will accommodate more spectators than the limited space on other downtown routes. Santa Claus himself has endorsed the new route, noting that “you don’t get as much wind coming down the tunnels of the other streets.”

Santa was also proud to introduce a permanent addition to the parade: his wife. For the first time in the event’s history, Mrs. Claus is headlining her own float, which will immediately precede her husband’s. After years of staying home to watch the parade on television with the elves, she feels it’s time to observe the festivities first-hand. Her float will be a replica of the rustic Claus manor.

Mrs. Claus discussed one of the festival’s tie-in activities, a downloadable colouring book that teaches kids about volunteerism. The book can be construed as a recruitment guide for future parade volunteers, which would please its officials. As co-chair Ron Barbaro described the costumed children on hand at the press conference, “this is probably the first time they’ve volunteered for anything. They’re going to be in the parade. They’re going to wave at people and they will get instant payback.” Barbaro hoped that as a result of their participation, “the children will go on to be sitting out there as sponsors and volunteers for everything in their community.”

Children who aren’t officially walking in the parade will see if Santa catches a glimpse of them as he rides by thanks to a “Santa Cam” attached to his float. The camera will snap still photos along the route, which will posted online for anyone to download and, as parade officials suggested, stick on their fridge. (We hope that any kids who go to the parade and fail to be photographed won’t be teased for being ignored by Santa.) Some children in the pictures will sport red noses sponsored by the Emery Village BIA that will be sold along the route to benefit the parade and the Air Cadets; kids wearing the noses will ride free on the TTC parade day.

Meanwhile, the assemblies of paint, Styrofoam, and wood will be given their final inspections over the next three weeks before they leave the warehouse and fulfill their annual role of kicking off Toronto’s holiday season.

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Evening Telegram, November 20, 1926.

And here’s the following year’s story, originally published on November 5, 2012.

During a drive along the 401 to the Toronto branch of Santa’s Workshop on Friday, there was a sign that Santa Claus was bringing a touch of the holiday season with him for his preview of the 108th Toronto Santa Claus Parade: gentle snow flurries skated across our windshield.

At the workshop, Santa appeared fit and trim amid the floats-in-progress, presumably because of a strict diet and exercise regimen developed by Mrs. Claus and the elves. This should ensure an energetic appearance when he rides his float through downtown streets on November 18. His route, which parade president Peter Beresford described as “six and a half kilometres of smiles and fun,” will be the same as last year. The procession will begin at 12:30 p.m. at Christie Pits, then head east on Bloor Street, south on Queen’s Park/University Avenue, east on Wellington Street, and wrap up at St. Lawrence Market.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Santa Claus Parade’s existential crisis, in 1982. Then, the event was rescued by the downtown business community after its original organizer, Eaton’s department store, decided it was too costly to fund during a recession. Several speakers mentioned this during the preview. They praised all of the donors and volunteers who have kept this seasonal tradition alive.

The parade coincides with the start of the week-long festivities for the 100th edition of the Grey Cup. The game will be saluted with a float carrying a 14-foot replica of the cup, as well as a real-life Toronto Argonauts executive, Pinball Clemons.

Several blasts from the past will evoke nostalgic memories for parade veterans. McDonald’s is sponsoring a replica of a “Farmer in the Dell” float, which appeared in the 1951 procession. It’s intended to be the first in an annual series of throwback floats. The parade website offers a downloadable reprint of a 1952 Eaton’s colouring book, which introduces a new generation of kids to Punkinhead, the defunct department store’s one-time holiday mascot.

The website also offers a downloadable app, which will transform iPhones into jingle bells for onlookers to shake as the procession rolls by. Kids can enter an online draw for four seats on Mrs. Claus’s float. Also, three days after the parade, crowd photos taken from a “SantaCam” affixed to Santa’s float will be available for viewing—and for use in embarrassing anyone caught mugging for the camera.

Red noses are currently available at 30 Canadian Tire locations in the GTA for two dollars apiece. Proceeds will be split between Canadian Tire Jumpstart, which funds recreational sports for low-income children, and the parade. For a donation of $100 to the parade, the organizers will put a child’s name on a banner attached to the 12 Days of Christmas float. Organizers are also aiming to raise $150,000 in toy donations for remote Northern communities, part of the parade’s Toys for the North program.

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Evening Telegram, November 20, 1926.

For some vintage coverage of the parade, here’s the Telegram’s account of the 1926 edition.

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Evening Telegram, November 20, 1926.

Toronto’s Holiday Misdemeanours of 1909

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 26, 2009. The original artwork has been replaced with public domain illustrations from late 19th century books found at Old Book Illustrations.

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“Stealing.” Illustration by Louis Rhead. The life and death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan (New York: R.H. Russell, 1900). Old Book Illustrations.

Crime knows no vacation. While many of us look to the holiday season for peace and good cheer, others find themselves on the wrong side of the law. For as long as inebriates have been hauled in for disturbing the peace or thieves have secured deeper-than-advertised discounts on Boxing Day specials, the police blotter has rarely rested during the closing weeks of the year. While the most sensational crimes garner headlines today, a century ago most of Toronto’s six battling daily newspapers published lengthy accounts of court proceedings no matter how small or unusual the charge. Fined a dollar for failing to secure your horse? Clumsy cab driving? Swearing in public? All of these misdemeanours earned you fifteen seconds of press infamy in 1909.

But we’re not interested in petty offenders. Give us illegal partridges, turkey liberationists, and cannibalistic ruffians.

A partridge in a pear tree—the ideal gift from your true love during the holiday season? Maybe, but anyone who intended to provide his or her sweetie with a full complement of gifts from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in 1909 required black market birds. Clothing merchant Abraham Hadis learned all he ever wanted to know about partridge regulations when he was hauled into court for possessing the birds outside of their proper season. Trouble began when a provincial inspector caught his son with two cases containing sixty-four partridges, which father and son claimed were brought to their store at 155 Queen Street West by “a man from the country” who hoped to earn a commission on any sales. Hadis was brought up on twenty charges of violating game laws and made no attempt to evade responsibility. When lawyer J.W. Curry approached the bench and entered a guilty plea, the judge replied, “Well, I can’t do anything else than fine you on each charge; it will be ten dollars and costs, or five days in jail on each case.” Curry commented, “That’s a lot of time for a few partridges,” to which the judge replied, “Yes, but I still can’t help it.” Curry felt his client would rather go to jail than pay the fine, as “it seems like a case of the wealthy against the poor; this man is not well fixed.”

Hadis’ real problem may have been possessing too many birds. Overindulgence is a common side effect of the holidays, whether it’s downing one glass of booze-enriched eggnog too many or a sudden attack of gluttony at the dinner table. The Star guessed that the latter may have resulted in an embarrassing end to one Toronto resident’s Christmas:

A Christie Street citizen, whose name the police refuse to disclose, ate too much turkey and pudding on Christmas Day, and for half an hour after midnight he was found, clad only in his nightie, running along Van Horn Street [now Dupont Street], shouting for Shrubb to come and race him.

He was in a dream or trance or something of that sort, and ran all the way from Christie Street along Van Horn to Dovercourt Road before his cries attracted the attention of Acting Detective Mahony. The officer at first thought he was crazy, but when the man was wakened he seemed rational enough and thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mahony helped him to secure some much needed clothing and then the citizen went home. He’ll dine more wisely next Christmas.

A far more painful walk was endured by milkman Albert Atwell, who fell into a hole in the front yard of William Cooper at 15 Avenue Road and cracked three ribs after landing on an iron pipe at the bottom of the pit. Atwell sued Cooper for sixty dollars and made his case at what proved to be a brief court hearing on December 23. Both the Star and the Telegram provided the play-by-play as Atwell and Judge Morson took centre stage:

Judge: Did you walk on the lawn?
Atwell: Yes.
Judge: Was there a sidewalk?
Atwell: Yes, your honour.
Judge (after brief conversation with Atwell’s lawyer): Non-suit, without costs.

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Drawing of a wild turkey by an unknown artist. Bilder-atlas zur Wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Vögel in ihren sämmtlichen Hauptformen by Leopold Joseph Franz Johann Fitzinger (Vienna: K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1864). Old Book Illustrations.

Not every case was dismissed so easily. Shoplifting a turkey might not merit more than a sentence or two in a modern newspaper, but back in 1909 such a crime allowed the imagination of the News’ court reporter to run wild. It wasn’t just a theft—it was an act of animal liberation:

Turkee Gobler, poor old chap, was condemned to hang on December 24, the place of execution being W.J. Nichol’s store at 252 Queen Street East. His heart burning with pity, Robert Bastine, of 108 Oak Street, swore to affect a rescue. As the shades of sunset crept over the street, he emerged from his hiding place, and while the careless crowd passed the scene of execution, stealthily advanced to the rescue. With a fell swoop he cut the halter and as Gobler came to earth, deftly caught him in his arms and bore him off. But the doughty knight lived not happily ever afterward, for the law cast him into a dungeon, and charged him with theft.

This act of holiday terrorism earned Bastine three days in the slammer.

While eating poor Mr. Gobler is an accepted holiday dining tradition, sampling a savoury bite of a neighbourhood cop is not. As a Star headline proclaimed on December 23, “Martin Donaghue Learns That It Is Unsafe to Feast on Police.” The trouble began the night before when Police Sergeant McDonald encountered an intoxicated, stumbling “Sykes” Donaghue walking along College Street near Clinton without a hat. The officer, who most accounts indicate wasn’t a popular figure in the neighbourhood, asked Donaghue where his headgear was. “Down the street someplace,” replied Donaghue. “The wind blew if off. I don’t care. I’ve got lots o’ money to buy twenty hats.”

When McDonald told Donaghue to go home and behave himself, the officer received a steady stream of obscenities. As the Star put it in more genteel terms, “Donaghue became indignant and owing to the befuddled condition of his brain didn’t use proper discretion in his selection of language.” Result: an arrest for disorderly conduct. By now, a crowd had gathered to witness the mounting tension between the two men, which exploded into a fight after Police Constable Joseph Baird arrived at the scene and Donaghue launched into another cursing fit. Witnesses were unable to determine who struck the first blow—the Mail and Empire claimed Donaghue kicked McDonald in the thigh, while the Star claimed that the officer hit his prisoner in the mouth and bloodied his nose while Baird repeatedly hit the prisoner’s arm with his baton. Donaghue asked for help from the crowd, which arrived in the form of “little fellow” Herbert “Red” Evans, who promptly slugged Baird in the jaw. In the midst of this new development, Donaghue sank his teeth into McDonald’s wrist, which caused the officer to later seek medical attention. Donaghue and Evans, both described as having poor reputations in the neighbourhood, were hauled into court the following morning. According to one lawyer, “I don’t know why he should want to eat one of our new patrol sergeants. He’s been here before for this kind of thing.” Described by the Telegram’s court reporter as “the man with the cannibal appetite,” Donaghue received six months hard labour for his snack, while Evans’ father paid a ten-dollar fine for his son’s actions.

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“Cheap Wine.” Illustration by George Du Maurier. Trilby by George Du Maurier (New York: Harper & Row, 1895). Old Book Illustrations.

Arrests of inebriates like Donaghue over the holiday season were fewer in 1909 than previous years. Christmas Day saw one hundred and thirty people taken into custody for public drunkenness. As the Mail and Empire noted, “Most of them were treated leniently on account of the season, and the inspectors allowed them to go as soon as they could find their way home…only in the aggravated cases were fines imposed, and the majority of the prisoners formed a procession out of the dock, and will be in line for the New Year’s celebration.”

Additional material from the December 23, 1909 and December 28, 1909 editions of the Mail and Empire; the December 24, 1909 and December 27, 1909 editions of the News; the December 23, 1909, December 24, 1909, and December 27, 1909 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 23, 1909 and December 24, 1909 editions of the Telegram.

One Fine Holiday Season in 1887

Originally published as a “Historicist’ column on Torontoist on December 22, 2012.

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A Toronto-penned carol from 1887 you can play at home this season. The News, December 24, 1887.

In some ways, the holiday season that brought 1887 to a close was similar to today. People rushed around the city to pick up their Christmas gifts. Plenty of booze was downed. Discussions and editorial pages focused on the future of Toronto’s mayoralty. Digging beyond the surface, similarities via the city’s legion of newspapers shows a season that was equally celebratory and cringe-inducing.

Mail columnist H.H. Wiltshire (aka “The Flaneur”) provided the best-written observation of the state of Christmas:

Latterly the question has been often asked as to what is the meaning of the tendency everywhere during the last few years for a much more general observance of the Christmas festival. In some quarters it is attributed to increased reverence, in others to sentimentality, while we are also told that it is only seized upon as an excuse for idleness and gluttony, under the cover of hospitality. Without staying to consider how far any of these views are correct, may we not suppose that one very natural reason is the necessity we all feel for a little rest and enjoyment! Unquestionably there is more work done now in a shorter time than was ever the case before; this must cause a reaction in some form, and this season of the year has appeared most convenient because it is the nearest approach to a recognized universal holiday-time throughout the civilized world. A simple answer to the enquiry is given in the fact that that overworked humanity wants rest.

All of us with healthy minds in healthy bodies enjoy holidays and amusement, and custom, if nothing else, has made both seem especially appropriate to this time of the year. One of the best associations of Christmas undoubtedly is the increasing fondness for family and friendly re-union, when many feuds are healed and words and acts of temper are forgiven; also the inculcation and practice of the truth that there are none of us so poor in ability or in purse but that we can, by merely doing “the duty nearest hand,” make the load lighter and the day more bright for some among those whom sickness or sorrow, misfortune or folly, entitle not only to our kindness and sympathy, but also to be the unsoliciting recipients of practical and generous aid.

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The Globe, December 23, 1887.

The rest Wiltshire extolled wasn’t present on Christmas Eve 1887, as downtown streets filled with shoppers in a rush. Though shop windows were filled with joyful displays, those entering stores to purchase gifts were, according to the Globe, hardly in a celebratory mood. “Almost everybody one met seemed to have a parcel or to be in a hurry to get one,” the paper noted. “To judge by the expression of face and the words caught in passing, the getting of the parcels seemed rather to hinder than to help the feeling of joyousness.”

The papers were filled with holiday-inspired doggerel and Christmas stories which would not be published under any circumstances today. The worst offender was a lengthy illustrated tale published in the News on Christmas Eve whose anonymous author reminisced about the glorious celebrations enjoyed by plantation slaves in the southern United States prior to the Civil War. Every imaginable derogatory term was used in a story filled with pidgin English, stock stereotypes, dancing galore, and “the wild hilarity of a negro gathering.”

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Evening Telegram, December 20, 1887.

Because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, good upstanding Torontonians were expected to observe the usual pieties that created Toronto’s reputation as a place not to have any fun on the Lord’s Day for decades to come. Not that the day was devoid of pleasure—when evening rolled around, carollers hit the streets, along with impromptu brass bands playing tunes on battered instruments.

There was a sad note Christmas morning when the body of Maria Green was found in a stable behind 40 Elizabeth Street. Rather than provide any sympathy for her death from exposure, the press went into full moralizing mode. The Globe depicted Green as “an elderly woman employed as cook in a house of ill-fame on Albert Street,” while the Mail described her as “a woman of about fifty years of age, and the greater part of her life had been spent in infamy. Christmas brought to her not peace but an excess of drunkenness and debauchery with her tragic death as a wind-up.”

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The News, December 24, 1887.

The delay of most public Christmas activities to December 26 appeared to create a pent-up thirst among Torontonians, as people went wild when the bars reopened that morning. “’Moral’ Toronto Spends a Very Liquid Christmas” screamed a headline above the World’s account of “the drunkenest day that Toronto has seen for years.” Sleighs overflowed with “more young men than is allowed by the law regarding cruelty to animals.” People who claimed to have never touched a drop of alcohol were among those found in packed saloons. Some establishments closed early to avoid a steady stream of barroom brawls and police visits. “The ordinary drinking public dropped into their usual haunts and were surprised and disgusted at what they saw,” the World reported. “By 6 o’clock there were so many places closed that a usual question was ‘well, where can we go to get a drink?’” Police handled the chaos by making arrests only when necessary. The Globe theorized that the drinking orgy was due to liquor vendors attempting to demonstrate that tougher temperance laws would increase the abusive effects of booze, especially a set of bylaws on the upcoming municipal election ballot.

Alcohol control played a key role in the mayoral campaign that holiday season. On November 3, 1887, Mayor William Holmes Howland announced he would not run for a third term. While Howland spoke to Christian and temperance groups in other cities to extol the effects of his campaigns to reduce the availability of alcohol, the question arose as to who would continue his moral crusade and efforts to curb corruption at City Hall. The favoured candidate among the reformer set was rookie alderman Elias Rogers, a Quaker pro-temperance activist who was one of Toronto’s largest coal merchants.

Two other candidates emerged. Edward Frederick Clarke was a rookie Conservative member at Queen’s Park who published the Orange Sentinel newspaper. Unlike many Orangemen of the era, Clarke was seen as a broadminded man due to actions like allowing Irish Catholic activists to speak at the organization’s hall. Because he wasn’t a fervent temperance advocate, he was depicted by opponents as a friend of the saloon. Daniel Defoe was a veteran alderman who touted his long council experience but was handicapped by his Catholic faith in a very Protestant city—the best he could hope for was a spoiler role. Whoever became mayor needed to be, according to a Globe editorial, “a level-headed, painstaking, conscientious man of marked business ability.”

The campaign was well underway when official nominations were made during a raucous meeting at City Hall (now incorporated into the south St. Lawrence Market) on December 26. The loudest members of the overflow crowd were Clarke supporters, who jeered the other candidates and their nominators. Rogers received most of the verbal abuse, some of it deserved. Female electors were still a new concept—Ontario had granted spinsters and widows the vote in municipal elections in 1884—so Rogers pointed out those in attendance and indicated they were on his side. When a heckler yelled “How do you know they are?,” the Telegram noted that Rogers “knew they were on his side because the ladies were always on the right side.”

More troubling for Rogers were reports that he was the head of a “coal ring.” A series of exposes in the News written by Clarke ally and York West MP Nathaniel Clarke Wallace portrayed Rogers as the leader of a cartel who artificially inflated the price of coal in Toronto, failed to pass savings onto consumers after the federal government removed tariffs on the heating fuel, and conspired to drive competitors out of business. Rogers painted himself as a victim via a complicated explanation involving American coal combines, merciless railway companies, and forming his own ring as a protective measure.

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Cartoon depicting Elias Rogers and Edward Clarke, The News, December 31, 1887.

Despite increasingly lengthy explanations about the coal ring which convinced few voters, city churches and most of the press endorsed Rogers. Endless ink was devoted to depicting him as the best man to uphold Howland’s policies and continue the moral crusade against corruption and liquor. Papers like the Telegram were smug in their certainty of a Rogers victory, declaring that the defeat “will simply be extraordinary.”

The extraordinary happened. As the votes were tallied on January 2, 1888, Howland waited for the results at Rogers’ HQ and kept the crowd pepped up. When the early results showed Clarke in the lead, Howland urged people not to leave. By 9 p.m. the race was over—Clarke defeated Rogers by nearly 1,000 votes. Clarke appeared at the window of the News’ newsroom and gave his victory speech, where he declared his win as “not a triumph of the saloon, but a triumph of the moderate over the intemperate party.”

Clarke captured two key groups that Rogers’ backers had looked upon with condescension: labour and women. He pointed out his participation in and arrest during the printer’s strike of 1872 and utilized female canvassers. There were also signs that Torontonians were tiring of heavy-handed, puritanical laws enacted by the Howland administration, such as preventing the hiring of horses on Sundays. In his recently launched paper Saturday Night, E.E. Sheppard observed that people were exasperated by the increasing self-righteousness of Howland’s allies and by “sumptuary laws more arbitrary and intolerant than those which already exist and have been found unworkable.”

Besides Rogers, voters rejected the temperance bylaws on the ballot. They also rejected a ballot proposal to fund construction of a trunk sewer to improve city sanitation, a vote which falls into the great Toronto tradition of balking at spending money on needed infrastructure projects.

Additional material from Mayor Howland The Citizens’ Candidate by Desmond Morton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1973), Mayors of Toronto Volume 1 1834-1899 by Victor Loring Russell (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1982), and the following newspapers: the December 23, 1887, December 26, 1887, and December 29, 1887 editions of the Globe; the December 24, 1887, December 26, 1887, and January 3, 1888 editions of the Mail; the December 24, 1887 edition of the News; the December 10, 1887 edition of Saturday Night; the December 27, 1887 and December 29, 1887 editions of the Telegram; and the December 27, 1887 edition of the World.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Editorial item, The Globe, December 21, 1887.

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The Evening Telegram also weighed in on what clergymen in Boston felt about Santa.

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A poetic attempt to use jolly old St. Nick to sell some merchandise, as found in the December 21, 1887 edition of the News.

Toronto Illustrated ’57

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on December 11, 2010.

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Toronto from Lake Front.

Toronto, “The Queen City,” has many attractions for its citizens as well as for the thousands of tourists and others who visit it each year. It occupies a fine site by the shores of Lake Ontario, has beautiful residential areas and public parks, many handsome financial and industrial buildings, a good transportation system and a wide range of high-class retail stores, equal to the best found anywhere. It has an abundant supply of cheap hydro-electric power and natural gas and a large airport with worldwide connections. It is also a centre of cultural life with its churches, University, colleges, museum, art gallery, Conservatory of Music and technical schools. Its social service organizations receive generous support of the citizens each year.

With those words, editor James Cowan introduced the 1957 edition of Toronto Illustrated, an annual guide for visiting businesspeople and tourists. Following greetings from Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner and Mayor Nathan Phillips, the guide provides a heavily illustrated selection of noteworthy events and sites around town.

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The cover features a northward view along University Avenue, with Richmond Street along the bottom.

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Pre-9/11, the United States Consulate on University Avenue seems bare without its concrete barriers and security precautions.

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Continuing north, the newest attraction at the Royal Ontario Museum was a presentation of the story of creation in the geology gallery (seen above on the right; the Ming Tomb is on the left). Access was far more affordable than now: free, except on Wednesdays and Fridays when it cost a quarter to get in.

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The lone map in the guide points out the locations of local attractions and landmarks, including many that have faded into history. Given special attention is the three-year-old subway line, which is described as “the world’s newest and most modern.”

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Break time! Care for shopping and entertainment along Yonge Street near Dundas Street? For those looking for modern touchstones, the Imperial is now the Ed Mirvish Theatre, while the southwest corner of Yonge-Dundas Square occupies the site of the Downtown.

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A view of the western harbour, featuring sites still around (the Tip Top factory, the Island airport) and long demolished (Maple Leaf Stadium). Absent, but not for much longer, is the Gardiner Expressway: the section between the Humber and Jameson Avenue opened the following year and was extended to York Street by 1962.

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Quick, name the first ongoing Shakespearian festival in Canada. Stratford? Nope. Try the yearly selections of the Bard’s works staged outdoors on the grounds of Trinity College, presented by Earle Grey and his wife Mary Godwin. Actor/director/producer Grey staged his first production (Twelfth Night) at what is now the north end of the quadrangle at Trinity in 1946. The festival officially began three years later and featured a mix of experienced British actors and rising local talent—among the Grey company’s alumni were Timothy Findley, Lorne Greene, Don Harron, and William Hutt. The magazine notes that “it is a joyous and unforgettable experience to pass an evening watching one of these great plays being performed under a starlit sky, while a sly moon peeps over tower or turret.” Grey’s slate for 1957 included The Tempest (whose opening night was marred by rain and faulty lighting in the backup venue), The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.

Despite the higher prestige of the Stratford Festival, Grey’s festival appeared to have a promising future. The following year, funding was secured via grants from the city, province, Canada Council, and the Atkinson Foundation, and a new three-level stage was constructed on the west side of the quad. The promise of productions to come didn’t last long—following the death of Trinity College rector and longtime supporter R.S.K. Seeley, his successor declined further use of the site for productions. After an unsuccessful search for a new site, Grey and Godwin returned to their native England.

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Also spotlighted was the new home of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind on Bayview Avenue. The site’s mix of libraries, offices, and residences had been officially opened by Governor-General Vincent Massey the preceding April. Tenants of the Clarkewood residence were relieved to have private bedrooms after having lived in dorms in the CNIB’s former residence on Sherbourne Street. Among the amenities was a ‘Garden of Fragrance” that included metal Braille plates to identify the flora in the flower beds. The new facilities were judged to be “a fine tribute to the noble cause which they represent.”

After brief surveys of the city’s past and present, the editorial staff looked ahead to Toronto’s future:

At no former period in its history has Toronto witnessed such rapid development as at present. The central area is undergoing great changes, old office buildings are giving place to large modern structures, commercial buildings are moving out to the suburbs or are undergoing “face lifting”; family residences, with their lovely gardens, places of gracious living in Victorian days, are being replaced by apartment blocks of strange design—the city is changing with the times. Other developments planned include the following: the creation of a large civic square, adjacent to the present city hall, to be flanked with a large modern civic building, court house and other public buildings; an up-to-date civic auditorium at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets; completion of the Regent Park Housing development providing 1,289 units of modern sanitary housing; the extension of Eglinton Avenue East to connect with Scarboro Township; an extension of the present subway on the line of Bloor Street; an expressway across the southern part of the city near the lake front; diagonal highways to connect with the north-eastern and north-western areas of the city…in addition, the opening up of the St. Lawrence Seaway to permit the entrance of ocean-going ships to the upper lakes will greatly increase shipping and call for the enlargement of the Port of Toronto.

Additional material from the Summer 2005 edition of Trinity Magazine and the February 21, 1956 edition of the Toronto Star. All illustrations derived from Toronto Illustrated.

Halloween Hijinks

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 31, 2009.

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The Telegram, October 29, 1949.

 

Halloween has long provided an excuse for Torontonians to relax and cut loose their stiffer qualities for at least one day. Whether it’s infants dressed as garden vegetables and insects or downtown revellers dressed in outfits that can’t be mentioned in family publications, Toronto has long loved assuming disguises and participating in all of the accompanying rituals that go along with today. A flip through old local newspapers shows that pranks played a large role in past Halloweens, from harmless showoffs to destructive blazes. For better or worse, tricks were as equally important as the treats.

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1929.

Halloween 1929 was marked by the usual sorts of hijinks city officials had come to expect from naughty revellers. As the Star noted, “As long as there is a Halloween to celebrate, boys will pull fire alarm boxes and set vacant houses on fire with an utter disregard of property.” This meant a long night for Fire Chief William Russell who, according to the Globe, was “sitting at home with one eye cocked on the recorders on which all box alarms are relayed to his house.” Russell “said he spent a large part of the evening, when he wasn’t out at real fires, winding up his gong-box on the wall as false alarms poured in one after another.” His box had a healthy workout, as around fifty calls came in.

One of the few legitimate alarms came from Boulton Drive and Poplar Plains Road, where a group of small children were blamed for setting a blaze that destroyed one and damaged two luxury homes that were nearing completion. Firefighter James Bell suffered severe injuries to his legs and ribs, falling eight feet to the concrete basement of 12 Boulton Drive after the main floor gave way. Damage from the night’s most “expensive bit of fun” was estimated at twelve thousand dollars (almost $150,000 in today’s currency).

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Excerpt from a Eaton’s advertisement. Mail and Empire, October 18, 1929.

While the fire department was busy that night, police felt that they dealt with fewer incidents than an average Halloween. Newspapers received plenty of false crime tips—the Mail and Empire reported that “two naïve jokesters” phoned in “with frantic word of desperate and bloody holdups in widely separated parts of the city.” The paper couldn’t resist bragging about their ability to smell a phony or taking a jab at competitors, noting “what success their playfulness met with among the other papers could not be learned, but Mail and Empire reporters were not, of course, taken in.”

On the lighter side of trickery, the Mail and Empire also reported that “there was a crowd in a downtown one-arm lunch, when a masked woman entered, followed closely by a man in a silk castor. Finally they embraced each other in the screen manner of the moment. It got so that some people began to look the other way. Others laughed or ridiculed. But when the woman removed her domino, ‘she’ was a man.” We imagine such an incident now would cause half the restaurant to continue eating without batting an eyelash.

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TTC employees at a party at head office, October 29, 1934, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 10678.

Four decades later, parents and community leaders were very concerned about some of the tricks children received in their pillowcases and plastic jack o’lanterns. The late 1960s saw a sharp increase in the number of apples and candies that had been tampered with. Metropolitan Toronto police received over 170 reports during the 1968 Halloween season from parents who found glass, razor blades, poisons, stick pins, and other hazardous items in their children’s treats. The following year saw an increase in neighbourhood patrols and a pitch to trick-or-treaters to approach any officer at the slightest hint of trouble. Parents came up with various methods of keeping their children safe and out of mischief. Among the oddest was one employed by Garr Hamilton of Blythehill Road, who placed an alarm clock in her children’s bags. “It’s set to the time I want them home,” she told the Telegram.

Despite the fears from kooks and other dangers, local columnists looked back fondly on past Halloweens, such as the Telegram’s Scott Young’s memories of how his son Neil handled his first Halloween in Omemee at the tender age of five:

He was full of enthusiasm until the instant he found himself outside. Then he refused to budge off the top step of the veranda as he listened to the cries in the night around him. In a minute or two, he abruptly bolted back in to safety, stating as an obvious afterthought “I have to go to the bathroom.” It was only when I found a crowd of children he knew, fellow perch-fishermen and turtle-hunters, and unmasked a few for his relieved inspection, that he went out again. Before long he was enjoying it as much as the others, and returned home an hour later with his pillowcase laden with the standard collection of peanuts, fudge, apples, Chiclets, cookies, dog hairs, dry leaves and gum drops, all cunningly stuck together with jellybeans.

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The Telegram, October 27, 1959.

Young struck an optimistic note at the end of that column that could easily be on the minds of parents taking their children out this Halloween:

That was Halloween, man, and there is a natural temptation to believe that it will never be the same again. But really, I know better. The little kids out tomorrow night will be just as scared, just as excited. And their parents, lurking watchfully in the background, will be storing up memories for the future, as all of us who went before have done.

Additional material from the November 1, 1929 editions of the Globe, the Mail and Empire, and the Toronto Star; and the October 30, 1969 and October 31, 1969 editions of the Telegram.

One Fine Toronto Weekend in 1908 (According to the Toronto World)

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on September 20, 2008. This is one of the first examples of Historicist columns I’d write in a hurry if the topic I was working on fell apart or required more research before deadline.

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Queen Street West and James Street, looking northeast. William James Sr., 1908. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the easiest way to grab a snapshot of Toronto’s past is to find the nearest microfilm reader (or online archive) and browse any of the newspapers that have chronicled the daily adventures of the city. For a taste of what was going on a century ago this weekend, we dive into the pages of one of Toronto’s long-defunct morning papers.

The Toronto World was launched in August 1880 by reporters William Findlay Maclean and Albert Horton to support a Liberal candidate in a by-election. Maclean (1854–1929, pictured on the right) bought out Horton a year later and ran the paper as a populist daily, specializing in exposing civic corruption. Among the causes the paper successfully backed were Sunday streetcar service and municipal ownership of the hydro utility. The World served as a training ground for influential editors like Joseph Atkinson (Toronto Star) and Hector Charlesworth (Saturday Night). Maclean served as a local MP from 1892 to 1926, sitting as a Conservative or “independent Conservative” depending on how well his maverick nature meshed with party brass—usually it didn’t. Perennially on the brink of bankruptcy, Maclean sold the paper to the Mail and Empire in 1921.

The most scandalous front page story involved allegations in a rival paper (likely the Star or the Telegram) that city aldermen had abused their free pass privileges at the Canadian National Exhibition and performers at the CNE Grandstand were blackmailed into purchasing clothing from fair officials. An investigation was launched by the city into a number of complaints instigated by disgruntled former employees of the fair, who claimed that one official allowed 30 to 40 friends in for free on a single day.

The World’s reporter lashed out at the paper’s rivals, noting, “This sort of thing only gives outside newspapers to knock Toronto, and there is no sense and reason in it. Why do the evening newspapers try to stir up trouble so as to make it impossible for men to act on the exhibition board?” Alderman (and future mayor) Samuel McBride felt that gate staff had exercised proper strictness, noting that he had seen a director turned away for not wearing his badge.

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R. Simpson Building under construction, Richmond Street West, looking northeast, 1908. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, item 7037.

In an editorial titled “Perceive the Larger Toronto,” The World praised the Robert Simpson department store for expanding its building at Yonge and Queen. The structure was seen as one of many recently built or in the planning stages that bode well for the city’s future, despite a recent economic depression:

Take your stand on the corner of James and Queen [S]treets. Look southeast and you will see the magnificent new building of the Robert Simpson Co. Limited, a structure not yet fully completed, but beautiful in design and ornamentation, immense in size, and boldly suggesting not only a Greater Toronto, but also the Greater Canada to be. Now turn and look northwest, where stands the city hall, which, architecturally viewed, is one of the most beautiful and imposing municipal buildings on the continent, and of which the citizens of Toronto should be justly proud.

When you thus observe these magnificent structures from the vantage point mentioned…there must dawn on you the thought that they stand and call “Plan with the wider vision; build boldly after the progressive spirit which gave us being; and build with the expansive, unerring faith that a great city, as ours shall be, must have noble, imposing structures, commensurate with its greatness.”

We have used these reflections only because we learned from their coursings thru our mind that a duty lies on Toronto’s citizens positively to realize that to build as if the city was to have no future, no greater extent, and no larger place in the development of Canada, is to be untrue to both the municipality and to the Dominion.

Physical expansion of the city was also in the news, as a hearing was announced for September 29 to listen to the town of East Toronto’s push to be annexed by Toronto. The town’s main reservation was that the proposed terms did not include the formation of a separate ward for the area, as West Toronto had received during its negotiations earlier in the year.

Other notes from the paper:

  • The city’s board of control produced a report with “rather important recommendations” on hiring and salaries of civic employees. New qualifications for positions above junior clerk were laid out, which included an exam if applicants did not hold a junior matriculation certificate or were unable to prove that they were taking classes at the Toronto Normal School. Among the new recommended maximum annual salaries were $780 for a jail guard, $900 for a fireman, and $2,200 for a chief accountant.
  • A meeting was held in North Toronto’s town hall to discuss the town’s overcrowded schools. The proposals put forward eventually led to the establishment of North Toronto Collegiate Institute and Bedford Park Public School.
  • Federal Conservative leader Robert Borden announced his itinerary for a tour around the province, including a stop in Toronto on September 23.
  • Officials of the Ontario Rugby Football Union gathered to celebrate its silver anniversary and organize its upcoming season. One of the first organized football leagues, the ORFU sent senior-level teams to the Grey Cup through the early 1950s.
  • A touch of marital discord in the classified section: “My wife, Elizabeth Stephen, having left my bed and board, I will not be responsible for any debts incurred by her. John Stephen, Deer Park P.O.”
  • From the dissatisfied customer department: “Patrick McIntyre, 32 years, married, 96 Shuter Street, strolled into Arthur Bellman’s quick lunch at 34 East Queen Street. He had ordered beef, but when it was served he was displeased and refused to pay. At the Agnes Street police station his clothes contained $6.13, but he still refused to pay and was held for theft of a meal.”

Photo of William Findlay Maclean, owner of Toronto World , c. 1909, from City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, Item 1296. All quotes from the September 19, 1908 edition of The Toronto World.

The Mark of Edward VIII

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 3, 2008.

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The southwest corner of Yonge Street and Montgomery Avenue is rich with history. Montgomery’s Tavern, the spot where William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers launched the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, is honoured with a plaque. Oulcott’s Hotel served customers and community groups in the late 19th century. The current occupant, Postal Station K, threw open its doors a century after Mackenzie’s march under a royal insignia that would prove unique to the city’s government buildings.

Welcome to one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the mark of the brief reign of King Edward VIII (1894-1972). His 11-month reign ended in December 1936 when he resigned from the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love.” Outrage over the abdication crisis led to a proposal to replace the insignia on Station K with that of Edward’s successor George VI, which never came to pass. Edward soon assumed the title of the Duke of Windsor, was suspected of pro-Nazi leanings, briefly served as governor of the Bahamas, and spent his remaining days in retirement in France.

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Edward had better press during his quarter-century as Prince of Wales, to the extent that his two visits to Toronto resulted in a pair of local landmarks being named in his honour.

His first tour began on August 25, 1919 with a quick visit to Queen’s Park, followed by the formal opening of that year’s Canadian National Exhibition. The editors of The Globe welcomed the prince in that day’s edition:

Prince Edward is doubly welcome to a Dominion which has cast off the fetters of colonialism and boasts of a freedom as wide as that exercised by a sovereign nation. He is welcome as the heir to a Throne to which we yield voluntary allegiance because it is based on the will of the people, and is a link which binds us to other Dominions and the Mother Country in a common purchase and destiny. We welcome him also because he is a Prince worthy of the lofty station and solemn responsibilities which he will inherit…all reports agree that he is a clean, wholesome youth with courage, industry and a high sense of duty. Elastic spirits and a winning manner add to his personal attractiveness. May he find much in Canada to interest and entertain him as a reward for the ceremonial fatigue inseparable from his tour.

Mobbed by crowds in his public appearances, much of Edward’s trip was spent visiting wounded World War I veterans (those who “did the dirty work in war,” screamed a Globe headline). On August 27, he was driven around the city in Sir John Craig Eaton’s Rolls Royce to mingle with Torontonians, which led The Globe to proclaim that “he must have felt at home here…it was no mere mechanical performance with him; there was nothing stiff or formal about it. He stood up on the seat of his motor car and waved his hat with the abandon of a schoolboy in acknowledgement of the cheers of the citizens.”

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Traffic on Bloor Viaduct opening, October 18, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Item 0872.

The route included a trek over the bridge connecting Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, open to vehicular traffic for less than a year. The week after Edward’s visit, the span was officially proclaimed the Prince Edward Viaduct.

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Edward, Prince of Wales, at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8140.

Edward returned to Toronto eight years later, this time with his brother George (later the Duke of Kent). Despite morning rain, Edward cut the ribbon for the new eastern entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds on August 30, 1927, which was named the Princes’ Gates in honour of the visitors. Memories of the war lingered on, as over 13,000 veterans marched behind the royal motorcade.

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Material excerpted from the August 25, 1919 and August 28, 1919 editions of The Globe. Photos of Postal Station K and Princes’ Gates by Jamie Bradburn.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Four years after this story was published, I covered a protest regarding plans to turn the Postal Station K site into a condo. Originally posted on Torontoist on July 31, 2012, here’s “Rebelling Over Postal Station K”

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One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

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Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

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If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

UPDATE

The front and forecourt of Postal Station K was integrated into the base of the Montgomery Square retail/condo project. The surrounding neighbourhood is in the midst of a condo tower boom, building up density as Yonge and Eglinton prepares to grow into even more of a transit hub with the construction of the Crosstown LRT.