Happy 50th Birthday, North York!

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 12, 2012.


Cover of The Mirror Special Jubilee Edition, June 1972. All images in this article are taken from this publication.

The summer of 1972 was a momentous one for the Borough of North York. The growing suburban municipality celebrated its 50th anniversary that year with a series of special events throughout that spring and summer. Among the souvenirs was a special edition of the Mirror newspaper which traced North York’s past, present, and future.


Photo: Doug Hyatt.

The Borough of North York Council enjoy a ride at Black Creek Pioneer Village after rehearsing a planned re-enactment of the first council meeting in 1922 (the councillor in the white coat and red scarf might be Mel Lastman, while Paul Godfrey may be third from left in the front row). North York was born out of a farmers’ revolt over their lack or representation on York Township council. During the early 20th century councillors were voted on by the entire township, which increasingly meant all of the representatives came from the southern, urban end of York Township. A petition was launched to separate the rural northern area, which was taken door-to-door by Roy Risebrough in his 1917 Model T. The petition succeeded: a bill establishing the Township of North York was passed by the Ontario legislature on June 13, 1922.


Likely as a reward for his work in establishing the Township of North York, Roy Risebrough was named its first police constable. When he noted that he knew nothing about police enforcement, officials told him “you’ll learn soon.” In his 34 years as North York’s chief constable he never carried a gun and knew most of the township’s early citizens by name. Outside of occasional gas station robberies (which were mostly committed by Torontonians), crimes tended to be minor. “Ninety percent of the cases were settled out of court,” he told the Mirror.” I used to go round to the house and talk to the people. It was different in those days. Instead of taking them to court, you gave them a tongue-lashing. And in a month, they were good friends again.” In many ways, Risebrough was the stereotypical small town law enforcer, to the extent that at least one long-time resident believed he never wore a uniform so that he could slip away for a few hours to fish.

Make that almost never wore a uniform. When George Mitchell campaigned for reeve in 1941, he promised to make Risebrough wear official clothing. After his election, Mitchell took Risebrough to Tip Top Tailors to be measured. When the uniform was ready, Mitchell had Risebrough put it on before both men made an evening drive from Willowdale to Hogg’s Hollow. Mitchell said “Now I’ve fulfilled my campaign promise, Roy. You can do what you damned well like.” Risebrough never wore the full uniform again.


North York’s planning department prepared a series of maps tracing the municipality’s growth. The following description was provided for the 1922 map (population: 6,000):

North York’s population in 1922 was scattered in small farm-based communities centring along Yonge. It continued the development spine of the city of Toronto. Various villages thrived along the Yonge axis—York Mills, Lansing, Willowdale and Newtonbrook. Many of the borough’s historic sites are located in the bygone villages—Gibson House, C.W. Jeffery’s home, the Jolly Miller Tavern, and the Hogg store, Dempsey Brothers’ store, York Cottage and the Joshua Cummer house. A population nucleus existed in a strip development at Humber Summit on Islington, on the road leading to Woodbridge. A small development existed at North West, at Wilson and Weston Rd.


By 1945, the population had spread from both sides of Yonge. Most of the growth was in the area south of Wilson, between Yonge and Bathurst. By this time, Lawrence Park, was largely developed to its present extent. Humber Summit expanded more towards the Humber River and became largely a community of summer cottages. These were soon winterized for year-round occupation. North Weston expanded further to merge with the Pelmo Park area to its east.


This map shows the vast population growth which occurred in the decade. It took place largely in the area west of Bayview. East of Bayview the township remained largely in farm use. With the exception of a few pockets, development took place south of Sheppard and west of Bathurst. It went as far north as Steeles between Bathurst and Bayview. Why the growth? New family formations brought the need for single-family homes. Unified water and sewerage in Metro helped speed development. The growth of car ownership brought people to the suburbs, starting in 1949. North York’s 1948 official plan helped planning and the comprehensive zoning bylaw of 1952 showed permitted land uses. By 1955 the Yonge St. villages had merged into the community today known as Willowdale. But only a small population had moved to Don Mills by 1955.


It was during the decade 1955 to 1965 that North York changed from being a dormitory community for Toronto’s labour force. It became a more integrated urban community with the introduction of industrial and commercial developments and the jobs these provided. By 1965 Don Mills was developed to its present extent. Yorkdale Shopping Centre had been opened in the western half of the borough. Development had almost reached the northern limits of the municipality at Steeles and left a few remaining pockets of undeveloped land south of Finch, such as Windfields Farm.


With the notable exception of Windfields Farm, the filling in of large subdivided tracts of land is now almost completed. What remains in the borough? There are vacant single-family and apartment building lots. Also, not all land is at its full potential use as, for example, where single-family homes stand on land planned for apartments. The planned population of the borough, according to the district plan program is 734,000 people. North York is expected to reach this figure sometime after 1990. During the 1966–71 period the major developments in North York include the Ontario Science Centre, Flemingdon Park and Fairview Mall Shopping Centre.


During the debate over the Spadina Expressway, some North York residents protested in favour of the controversial roadway. Director of traffic operations S.R. Cole professed an open mind toward Spadina in his contribution to the Mirror special. “I simply note that if we had left the Lake Shore Blvd. as it was in 1945 and not built the Gardiner Expressway or the Don Valley Parkway, downtown Metro might be like some downtown areas in other cities—deteriorating, lacking in development. There might be no North York as we know it today. North York needed a downtown core to grow as it has.” Cole also believed that rapid transit on Eglinton Avenue was needed “sooner than the Toronto Transit Commission will likely propose it.”


Sheppard Avenue, facing east towards Leslie Street. Photo by Doug Hyatt.


Borough councillors were asked to write about the biggest challenges facing the municipality. Mayor Basil Hall thought traffic problems due to massive construction projects like the Yonge subway extension were the biggest concern in the present, while redevelopment to prevent urban decay would be required in the future. Controller Mel Lastman targeted municipal strikes and inadequate TTC service as his beefs, while fellow controller Paul Godfrey was determined to protect North York’s ecology.


York University had existed for just over a decade, and operated from its main campus for seven years when North York celebrated its golden jubilee. The school’s first president, Dr. Murray Ross, noted the best course for York’s continued progress:

The only possible problem which could adversely affect York’s development is the kind of confrontation found frequently on other campuses in North America. We have avoided such difficulties at York thus far. It is not conflict of view which is inevitable in all families and organizations, but the manner in which conflict is resolved that is important. We have been able so far to work out our difficulties and differences in discussion and debate. If we are able to continue to do so, York’s future is assured. I predict, and I believe sincerely, that in the future York will enhance its already established reputation.


When it opened in 1970, Fairview Mall was the first multi-level shopping centre in Metropolitan Toronto. Among its early attractions was the lengthy movator, which was removed during the 1980s.


One of the many ads found in the Mirror special from North York’s major corporate citizens. The IBM complex at Eglinton Avenue and Don Mills Road is currently home to Celestica.


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The municipal ad on the back cover. “The astonishment of North York,” according to writer Robert Moon, “lies not so much in its multi-billion-dollar construction since the Second World War, which is profound in time and space, but in the creation of a quality place to live and work for 520,000 people, which is simple and grand in concept.”

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Click on image for larger version.

A collection of North York historical landmarks.

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Click on image for larger version.

The accompanying map.


Some scenes in North York never change, such as the eternal traffic jam on the northbound Don Valley Parkway around Lawrence Avenue.


While some of the corporate offices and landmarks shown in this ad are still present in Flemingdon Park (Foresters, Ontario Science Centre), others are long gone. As of 2018, Inn on the Park is a car dealership, IBM is Celestica, the Imperial Oil property is Real Canadian Superstore, while the Bata and Shell properties are now the Aga Khan Museum. The spotlighted property, the Ontario Hospital Association and Blue Cross building, is now bannered with ICICI Bank.

ts 72-06-13 north york at 50

Toronto Star, June 13, 1972.


Post-ing About Toronto

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 4, 2012.


How would you open a profile of Toronto for one of the U.S.’ most popular general interest magazines? Well, if you were the Saturday Evening Post 60 years ago, you would start with a joke that originated in a rival city, Montreal: a Toronto magnate was summoned to appear in court. On the appointed day his doctor appeared in his stead, claiming the businessman had lapsed into a coma. An attorney asked, helpfully, “Did you try showing him some money?”

So began that magazine’s look at Toronto in its March 22, 1952 issue. Our city was profile number 116 in the magazine’s “The Cities of America” series, which spotlighted the continent’s most colourful urban areas. After reading the article, a reader might have concluded that Toronto possessed a boastful attitude and an obsession with money.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive a Norman Rockwell cover to go with it.


That the article started with a joke from Montreal may not have been just an illustration of the rivalry between the two cities. Author Leslie Roberts was considered the dean of Montreal journalism, at least in the eyes of the Montreal Gazette, when he died in 1980. Long a commentator for CJAD radio, Roberts had been a correspondent for Harper’sReader’s Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post during the Second World War. An opponent of Quebec nationalism who promoted the “No” option during the lead-up to the first vote on sovereignty, Roberts’ last words to his wife were “make sure I vote in that referendum.” He died five days before the ballots were cast.


“Torontonians assume,” he wrote, “with considerable accuracy, that Montrealers are disturbed by Toronto’s threat to their city’s pre-eminence as the Canadian banking-and-financial center, by the fact that the capital of Ontario has already become Canada’s greatest industrial producer, and because Toronto is rapidly catching up in the census figures.” The Torontonians Roberts talked to took the pot shots in stride, acting “as if the laugh really were on the originators.” They pointed out that Torontonians donated more to charity than other Canadian cities, volunteered in larger numbers for military service, and “cheerfully vote[d] for community improvements without much caring what they cost.” Money was something used to unashamedly build civic pride, which provides a sharp contrast to the views of certain members of the current city administration.


According to Saturday Night editor R.A. Farquharson, Toronto’s pursuit of wealth was fuelled simply by the desire to meet its own growing needs. If an institution like the Hospital for Sick Children required a new wing, for instance, fundraising teams would quickly raise the necessary monies. A combination of taxes, endowments, and public subscriptions allowed institutions like Sick Kids, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Public Library, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to develop. Farquharson believed that these institutions, combined with a reverence for old traditions, reflected the city’s “conservative-progressive” spirit.

And, according to the article, these successes prompted Torontonians’ passion for boasting to visitors about our accomplishments, which seems to indicate a self-confidence our citizens are now often accused of lacking. Instead of shrugging off or appearing self-conscious about Toronto’s achievements, people were eager to boast of our discoveries, such as insulin, or large-scale buildings and events. The Royal York wasn’t just a luxury hotel—it was the largest in the British Empire. The Canadian National Exhibition billed itself as “The Biggest Annual Fair in the World.” Roberts observed that “When bigness or uniqueness is under discussion, everybody in Toronto, everybody gets into the act.” Among our greatest braggarts was Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe. Having won six Stanley Cups since 1942, Smythe’s boast that perennial baseball champions the New York Yankees were “the Toronto Maple Leafs of baseball” was not without merit. Smythe also claimed that “every boy in Canada who owns a pair of skates hopes to play for Toronto when he grows up—and most of the good ones do!” We can think of at least one child in Quebec who didn’t share Smythe’s world view.


Roberts observed that citizens born outside Toronto were among the city’s loudest boosters. “So heady is Toronto’s missionary spirit,” Roberts wrote, “that it often leads the immigrant who has been around for a mere decade or so to talk as if his ancestors founded the community.” Such was the case with Mayor Hiram McCallum, who discussed the city’s “most favoured fragment of historic folklore,” the American invasion and occupation during the War of 1812. When Roberts asked McCallum if he was a Toronto native, the mayor replied “Bless you, I don’t belong around here. I’m just a western boy who had the good sense to move to an up-and-coming city!”

Among old line Toronto families mentioned in the article, the Eatons were treated with admiration bordering on worship. Citizens loved telling outsiders how wonderful the retailing family was, from overseeing the highest annual merchandise turnover in the British Empire to, despite customer complaints, upholding marketing practices initiated by Timothy Eaton such as refusing to sell tobacco and covering display windows with shades on Sundays. People often repeated a quote uttered by Sir John Craig Eaton when he was asked to place a price tag on the business: “There is not enough money in the world to buy my father’s name!” According to Roberts, “Toronto considers this the finest sentence ever uttered by mortal man.”


Much of the wealth flowing through the city during the early 1950s derived from mining, whose participants Roberts frequently encountered deep downtown:

Gaudy Mackinaw shirts and knee-high boots—the uniform of the bush—stir no greater excitement in the lobbies, bars and elevators of the Royal York, or the nearby King Edward, than a ten-gallon hat does in Texas. Geologists, mining engineers and prospectors, out from the mining country, hustle around the business district, and those who don city clothes for their stay in town are identifiable by the uneasy air they put on with them. The morning coffee drinkers in Childs’ or the lunchers at the next table to you in the Savarin spin fancy tales of new strikes out in the Northwest Territories, or of gold up yonder in Quebec province. They talk the romantic lingua franca of a new wilderness empire. But no Torontonian, overhearing it, pays much attention. The mining argot is as common hereabouts as wheat talk in Winnipeg or cow talk in Cheyenne.

Mining represented a frontier spirit that, according to Toronto Industrial Commission manager T.H. Bartley, inspired business magnates old and new. “The old barons were tough,” Bartley noted, “but they taught us the value of the frontier. As long as we remember, and Canada has frontiers, this town will boom.” For Bartley and industrialists of the early 1950s, the frontier was the farmland surrounding the city that was quickly being bought for developments like Don Mills, the Golden Mile, and Rexdale.


That people came to Toronto and its hinterlands strictly for business prompted Roberts to examine the saying that “nobody ever moved to Toronto for the scenery.” He suggested that our citizens took on the task of creating beauty themselves. While the article advises that one had to head north to Lake Simcoe, Muskoka, or Georgian Bay to experience true scenery, the city’s ravines were seen—as they still are today—as a refuge from the roar of traffic, while a road like Highway 2 (encompassing portions of present-day Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road) took advantage of the contour of Lake Ontario. As for downtown, “Few North American cities can boast a finer view than that seen up the broad mall of University Avenue, faced by the rugged dignity of the provincial Parliament Buildings,” Roberts noted. “The avenue is flanked by new skyscrapers, clubs, publishers’ offices, armories, hospitals, and a row of dwellings, in one of which Mary Pickford was born. It is a graceful eight-lane boulevard, with grass down the center and a flower display which would do credit to a city in the gentle Pacific coast climate.”


What the article captures is the end of an era. The 1950s were the beginning of the end of Toronto as a fiercely loyal outpost of Great Britain, an era when Sunday restriction began to loosen and the influence of organizations like the Orange Order waned. While Roberts notes that Toronto was seen to be both Canada’s most British and most American city, our southern neighbour began wielding a stronger influence. The old frontiers vanished with the growth of suburbia and the worship of icons like the Eatons became less devout and more irreverent. The flow of new arrivals continued, but diversified to include draft dodgers, Cold War refugees, and immigrants from the other side of the globe. To the rest of the country, our pursuit of wealth and the stereotype of the world revolving around Toronto still resonate, even if other regions are rolling in more resource-derived money than we are.

Roberts’ final thoughts on our fair city?

Toronto, admittedly, is not beautiful in the sense that San Francisco is, nor as colourful as its rival, Montreal. But the townsman cheerfully shrugs off belittling comparison. Toronto may lack the scenic charm and heady atmosphere of the French-speaking metropolis, but it has more tourists and is away out in front as a convention city—the “biggest,” of course, in Canada. It may be likened to a plain but clever woman, who has studied her good points and made the most of them. And, like the woman who has given intelligent aid to Nature, Ontario’s capital may be fairly called a handsome, as well as a prosperous, up-and-coming town.

Additional material from the May 17, 1980 edition of the Montreal Gazette. Unless noted, all images photographed by Ivan Dmitri and published in the March 22, 1952 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

Maclean’s Super-Amazing Captain Toronto Section

Originally published as a “Historicist” column by Torontoist on January 7, 2012.


It’s common knowledge that Toronto isn’t the most popular city amongst the rest of the country. Something about a superior attitude or being the centre of the universe. It’s a long-held belief, and one that Maclean’s was willing to exploit when it devoted a section of its April 1972 issue to the city. While the headlines promised pages of full-on hatred for the city to attract readers looking for more reasons to despise Toronto, reading on revealed varying degrees of admiration for Canada’s fastest-growing city.


After reading Peter C. Newman’s editorial, a glowing portrait of Toronto didn’t appear imminent. “In this issue,” Newman wrote, “we devote nine pages to proving that, while it may be a great city to live in, Toronto is a terrible place to contemplate.” Most of Newman’s piece concerned the upcoming federal election, during which he believed that the rest of Canada would “comfort themselves with the realization that general elections can be great equalizers,” as the GTA was only represented by 24 of the 264 seats to be contested.

Under the headline “Keeping Toronto Hateful,” the special section’s introduction listed the city’s contradictions, including some that linger on:

Toronto, the city that Canada despises, spreads its arrogance over 240 square miles. It is the financial, fashion, art, industrial, communications and Muzak capital of the nation; not to mention the fastest-growing city in the world. It dispassionately dispenses pay cheques, trends, culture, praise, punishment, entertainment, success, cynicism, predestiny and other assorted imperishable goods to a nation that has to be grateful whether it likes it or not. More New York Times are sold on Sunday in Toronto than any other city in Canada. Yet the Toronto Telegram, the country’s fourth largest newspaper, was forced to fold. Toronto hates losers. Yet the Leafs and the Argos are classic losers. Toronto contains more Americans within its limits than any other city in the country and is the most American city outside of the United States.

Many of the decisions to sell domestic industry and natural resources to outside interests are made in boardrooms high above Lake Ontario. Yet Toronto is the birthplace of the New Canadian Nationalism. Toronto identified itself with the Big Apple more than any other centre in North America (including Chicago). Yet Toronto is still a bastion of English colonialism. Toronto is the most materialistic city in the country (its per capita Cadillac ownership is among the highest in the world), yet when Henry Moore’s Archer was unveiled 10,000 people turned out to cheer. Toronto is adding the equivalent of 11 football fields in new factory space every year. Yet the city’s welfare department is running out of funds. Torontonians foster the theory that Canadians have an inferiority complex. Yet people in Toronto are constantly terrified about losing their jobs. Toronto elected Mayor William Dennison twice in a row. Yet Toronto loves to say he is an embarrassment.

The question inevitably arises: how and why does any sensitive Canadian continue to live in such a rotten place?

Readers were advised that they would “know thy enemy.”


On the newsstands around the same time as this issue of Maclean’s: Incredible Hulk #152, with a cover pencilled by Captain Toronto artist Herb Trimpe and inked by John Severin.

Along the bottom of the following six pages were the adventures of Captain Toronto, which poked fun at the attitudes of some Torontonians toward the city’s reputation for cleanliness. Though no writer was credited, the strip was drawn by American comic book artist Herb Trimpe, then in the midst of a seven-year run illustrating the adventures of the Incredible Hulk.


The headline for the first article in the section, Bill Howell’s “End of the Road,” declared that Toronto was “the city of highest paid losers in Canada.” The piece failed to live up to that claim, despite noting that it took longer to escape Toronto by car than any other city in the country, and a lengthy description of new apartment towers (likely in St. James Town and the suburbs) evocative of recent fears of the future evolution of CityPlace:

They have tiny balconies, gestures that from a distance look like chest-of-drawer handles. They also have paper-thin walls, waiting rooms no one waits in, broken-down clothes dryers, exorbitant rents, Big Brother intercoms, and they’re built for New Torontonians, careerists who have come to the Big City to confront the Beast in its lair.

Howell admitted that he liked Toronto more every time he returned from an extended break. He appreciated the small pleasures the city offered, from a restaurant on Ossington that showed diners how to cook well to residents signing a petition to preserve trees downtown.


Next up was “The Bush League Complex” by Sun columnist McKenzie Porter. The article outlined Porter’s views on the Toronto high society types he had covered for years in the Telegram and their ability to shock other writers expecting primness by tossing around four-letter words without regret. Porter offered the following tips on climbing Hogtown’s social ladder, many of which are still useful in social situations:

Dress soberly and expensively. Be sexy with subtlety. Speak firmly and clearly. Never mumble. Be lighthearted and quick to laugh. Listen intently to other speakers and butt in only when you have something compelling to say. Flatter other speakers by asking them questions that prolong their own line of talk. Never be pushy for introductions. Intrigue important strangers by catching their eye for a moment and smiling courteously. Do not be afraid to say “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name.” Never try to assess a person’s status by asking him where he lives. Never talk about yourself until you are invited to do so with questions. Never drop names. Never gossip about anybody who is unknown to one or more persons in your immediate group. Never talk about children, travel, homes, or business unless somebody else opens the topic. Offer to work, if a suitable opening occurs, for cultural or charitable institutions. Buy all the tickets you can afford for the great society gatherings.

Porter’s final words of wisdom? “Do not feel ashamed of social climbing or attempt to conceal such ambitions. You are a primate.”


The final article, Barrie Hale’s “Welcome to the Middle-Class Capital of the World,” focused on Toronto’s attraction to the 10 million tourists who descended upon the city each year, specifically American visitors who loved Toronto for the reasons suburban Detroit resident Mrs. J. Rudniak outlined in a letter to the Star:

My husband and I have just returned from a trip to Toronto and feel we should take the time to write and compliment your Mayor, William Dennison, on his many fine achievements. We were truly impressed by the amount of building construction going on in the downtown area. Moreover, we were delighted to see the use of flowers, trees and water by everyone—whether city buildings, individual homes or businesses; the well-kept older homes and buildings; the cleanliness of all areas, new or old; the beaches along the lakeshore, easily accessible to everyone; and even more importantly, the number of people both young and old, of all ethnic backgrounds, strolling at night in all parts of the city. This is what makes a city live—when its inhabitants are out on a warm night enjoying their city. Keep up the good work; we look forward to our next visit.

To Hale, tourists like Mrs. Rudniak were comfortable in a city where the middle class didn’t feel threatened by the social decay they perceived at home. Toronto’s safety, prosperity, and progressiveness were reassuring—they could admire a Mies van der Rohe–designed building like the Toronto-Dominion Centre without the (justified or not) fear of a mugging while viewing his works in Chicago or New York, or explore an ethnic neighbourhood without worrying if a riot would break out.


As for the future, Hale touched on the fears expressed by urban affairs experts that continued construction of expressways and high-rises would destroy the mosaic of neighbourhoods that visitors enjoyed. The increased power of citizen groups and resident associations was noted, as was the support that still existed among some councillors to revive the Spadina Expressway. These were the concerns that dominated Toronto politics for the rest of the 1970s, especially after a large number of reformers were elected to city council in December 1972.


We’ll leave Captain Toronto at the bar, drowning his sorrows following the tragic combination of stepping in doggie-doo and missing a taping of Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date. None of his grumbling earned pity from the rest of the country.

Additional information from the August 19, 1971 edition of the Toronto Star.


Tourism Tips, 1867

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on June 11, 2011.


How we imagine a tourist magazine cover might have looked in 1867.

In June 1867, Toronto was weeks away from becoming the capital city of the province of Ontario in the newly formed Dominion of Canada. Then, as now, the summer tourist season was underway, though the preferred methods of arrival were train or steamship. We recently thumbed through a travel guide published that year, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, which provides both brief highlights for visitors to our fair city and criticizes the lack of natural wonders. Which got us thinking…what would tourist literature akin to modern publications like Where Toronto have looked like during the Confederation year?

Here’s our attempt.


Normal School building, Gould Street, north-side east of Yonge, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 8.

Summer is upon us and there are few better times to take a day’s visit or a week’s excursion to Toronto. Pay no heed to the authors of a recent travel guide who contend that our city has too many brick buildings (due to the absence of local stone quarries) and utterly lacks beautiful scenery and scenic drives. A city like ours has many aspects to appeal to any traveller, with which we hope to enlighten you.



St. James Cathedral, between 1885 and 1895. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 23.

Toronto treats piety with the utmost seriousness. If your visit coincides with the Lord’s Day, there are many handsome churches that will satisfy your spiritual needs. If you are of the Anglican persuasion, attend a service at St. James Cathedral at the corner of King and Church streets. If you are a devotee of the papacy (which we generally do not advise visitors to openly display on Toronto’s streets, especially those of Irish extraction, unless brawling is on your itinerary), then slip into a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. Though both of these buildings of high worship have yet to be completed, we are assured that once their spires are finished they will provide much to the city’s appearance from a distance.


University of Toronto, 1859. Painted by Sir Edmund Walker. Wikimedia Commons.

The city’s institutes of higher learning provide more than space to train the nation’s future leaders—these are sites for tourists who wish a sense of Toronto’s philosophy, the city’s aesthetics. Deep thought has gone into their architecture and aesthetic surroundings which make them ideal locations to spend an afternoon. The University of Toronto offers a beautiful botanical garden on its grounds, along with a main Norman-styled building made of the finest white stone from Ohio. On Queen Street, Trinity College offers 20 acres of lush parkland that we are certain future generations will enjoy on days resplendent with sun. The Normal School at St. James Square is said to the largest building in America designed to train future educators.



Right wing of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 1868. Photo by William Notman. McCord Museum, Item I-34480.1.

A recently published guidebook, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, highlights one of the most enlightening experiences in which any visitor to Toronto can partake, one that reinforces the frailty of human existence:

The Provincial Lunatic Asylum, at the western extremity of the city, is well worthy of a visit by the curious in such matters. It is kept in admirable order; and though it is a painful sight at all times to be brought in contact with “humanity so fallen,” it is pleasing to see the degree of comfort many of the patients seem to enjoy. There is no difficulty in obtaining permission to view it.


The Globe, June 12, 1867.

Were a carnival of “fallen humanity” not diversion enough, visitors in July will have the opportunity to enjoy one of America’s finest travelling circuses, operated by veteran showman L.B. Lent.


william armstrong painting of union station tpl jrr291


Union Station (1858-1871), waterfront, west of York St., Toronto, Ont. Water colour, pen & brown ink over pencil. William Armstrong, 1859. Toronto Public Library, JRR 291 Cab III.Union Station, circa 1860.

Travellers arriving from the north have a new train station to disembark from in the vicinity of City Hall and St. Lawrence Market. Operated by the Northern Railway, this wonderful new facility on the Esplanade west of Jarvis Street was recently described in one of the city’s finest newspapers, the Globe, as being “a much more ornamental and commodious structure than is generally imagined…It is in the Italian style, with heavy bracketed cornice, circular-headed windows and doors, glazed with ornamental ground glass.” No less a figure than John A. Macdonald (who we suspect will become leader of the new Dominion next month) was on hand for the opening ceremony to praise the future possibilities of extending the line beyond Barrie into Grey County and other points north.


King Street East, south side looking west, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 1.

For the finest in dry goods and seasonal fashions, King Street east of Yonge offers high class shopping to rival that found in older cities. It is a district for the chattering class, as one writer has noted:

The buildings on King Street are greater and grander than their neighbours on Yonge; the shops are larger and dearer; and last but not least King Street is honoured by the daily presence of the aristocracy while Yonge Street is given over to the business man, the middle-class and the beggar. Amid the upper classes there is a performance that goes on daily that is known among the habitués as ‘doing King.’ It consists principally of marching up and down a certain part of the street at a certain hour, performing, as it were, ko-tou [sic] to the goddess of Fashion, and sacrificing to her sister divinity of Society.

At three o’clock in the afternoon the first stragglers appear on the scene, which extends perhaps a quarter of a mile. These consist primarily of young ladies, whose proper place should be at school, and young men attired in the height of fashion. By the time these ardent devotees have paraded a few times, the regular habitués make their appearance, and till six o’clock in the evening one side—for one side only is patronized—is crowded to excess.


Advertisement spotlighting the Golden Lion, 1872. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1662, Item 14.

Among the finest of King Street’s merchants is the establishment of Robert Walker and Sons, colloquially known as the “Golden Lion” due to the jungle lord that gazes down upon patrons entering the store. Founded around 1836, the business has been in its present location for the past two decades. Current renovations to the handsome cast-iron building will make it the largest retailer in Canada West/Ontario. When finished, the store will consist of a four-storey frontage along King Street and a two-storey section stretching back to Colborne Street that will include a large dome to provide beautiful natural lighting to heighten customer appreciation of the goods for sale.

Additional information from The Canadian Handbook and Tourists Guide (Montreal: M. Longmoore & Co., 1867), Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978), Toronto by Bruce West (Toronto: Doubleday, 1967), and the June 11, 1867 edition of the Globe.



The cover of the Coles Canadiana Collection edition of The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, published in 1971. Given its focus on modern-day Ontario and Quebec (then Canada West and Canada East), the book was likely prepared prior to Confederation.

From the introduction:

The nooks and corners of Canada, and more especially of the Lower Province, in addition to the interest they awaken as important sources of Commercial and Agricultural wealth, are invested with no ordinary attraction for the Naturalist, the Antiquary, the Historian, and the Tourist in quest of pleasure or of health. We have often wondered why more the venturesome spirits amongst our transatlantic friends do not tear themselves away, even for a few months, from London fogs, to visit our distant but more favoured clime. How is it that so few, comparatively speaking, come to enjoy the bracing air and bright summer skies of Canada?

Here is a Vintage Toronto Ads column about the Golden Lion department store, which was originally published on Torontoist on April 8, 2015.



The Globe, September 7, 1858.

During the late 19th century, several downtown Toronto dry-goods merchants developed the potential to grow into major department stores. While Eaton’s and Simpsons evolved into national retailers, their competitors either couldn’t tackle the two giants or fell by the wayside for other reasons. One could-have-been-a-contender was Robert Walker and Sons, a.k.a. the Golden Lion, which was considered the largest retail business in Ontario in the late 1860s.

A native of Brampton, England, Robert Walker moved to Toronto in 1829, where he quickly entered the local clothing business. Around 1836, he formed a partnership with Thomas Hutchinson and operated a store on King Street east of Yonge. Around 1847, Walker opened up his wallet and spent a spectacular amount for the time period ($30,000) to build a stone structure at 33-37 King Street East to house his business. Two years later, the store adopted a golden lion as its symbol.

The intense competition between dry-goods sellers led to bloodthirsty ad copy. Take the following spot Walker prepared in January 1858:

The remains
of the late stocks of
to be
for cash


The Globe, March 19, 1881.

The Golden Lion became a key component of one of the city’s most fashionable shopping blocks. Its success prompted a major expansion built in 1866-67 which utilized cast iron columns to free up floor space previously occupied by thick masonry. The new four-storey front on King Street included a 30-foot-high glass window, while a two-storey back section stretching to Colborne Street utilized a 12-foot-wide glass dome for improved natural lighting. Topping the store was a 12-foot-high stone lion. The result, the Globe declared, excelled “anything before seen in this city, or perhaps any other part of Canada.”

Walker was active in the community, serving as a firefighter and on the board of the Necropolis cemetery. He was a devout Methodist who acted as a Sunday school superintendent and donated the land to build the Parliament Street Methodist Church (later demolished to build the Regent Park housing project). Walker retired from the business in 1870; when he died in 1885, the Globe called him “an energetic and upright merchant, a Christian who lived up to his creed and was not afraid to be known as a Christian—Mr. Walker was one of whom Toronto was, and had a right to be, proud.”


Toronto Star, September 25, 1895.

Though the store doubled in size again in 1892, by 1898 no one was left in the Walker family to run it. Unlike its competitor Simpsons, where founder Robert Simpson’s sudden death in December 1897 prompted his survivors to sell out, the Golden Lion closed its doors. Subsequent occupants included another short-lived department store and a Liberal campaign office during the 1900 federal election.

After the stone lion was removed on April 6, 1901, the store was demolished to make way for a prominent new development. “In Toronto,” the Hamilton Herald observed, “they are pulling down the old Golden Lion to make room for a new White Elephant in the form of a palace.” The store’s replacement has stood the test of time as a downtown landmark—the King Edward Hotel.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978); the January 19, 1858, February 23, 1867, and October 6, 1885 editions of the Globe; and the April 12, 1901 edition of the Toronto Star.


Over the years of writing Historicist, I developed a bad habit of finishing columns while I was supposed to be on vacation. Entries were finished everywhere from cozy hotels in Montreal to large chain suites near LAX. This entry was written during the first part of a roadtrip to Boston – part of it was written in Syracuse, while the finished product emerged in Beantown.

I was running so far behind on this one that I brought along a Toronto Public Library bag filled with research items. This sparked the curiosity of the border guard who checked my trunk when I crossed at the Rainbow Bridge. I think she was convinced I was trying to sneak into an academic conference or was seeking work stateside. She pondered the contents for several moments, and repeatedly asked why I was bringing so many books with me.

Finally convinced of my true intentions, she let me go…but not before locking my keys in the trunk.

While she laughed, I gritted my teeth. At least I learned where the panic button was in that car. I may have yelled an obscenity once I was safely past security. After that, I made sure to always have the column wrapped up before crossing the border.


If you click on the original Torontoist link, you’ll notice the images are broken. During one of the site’s revamps, images published on posts I wrote during mid-2011 vaporized. Several were fixed, usually when I needed to link to them, while others remain broken. It didn’t help that my computer died during this period, before I was able to backup some files.


The Cheesiest Poet of All

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 2, 2011. Cheese poets don’t get enough credit in this world…but, seriously, this was a fun column to work on. If you catch me in a good mood, I’ll happily recite “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.”


Portrait of James McIntyre, Poems of James McIntyre (Ingersoll: Ingersoll Chronicle, 1889).

It’s a safe bet to declare that James McIntyre was the cheesiest poet of all time. And not just because his verse is, shall we say, not among the most spectacular examples of the poetic form written during the 19th century. No, McIntyre’s poetry was cheesy due to one of its frequent subjects: cheese. As the Ingersoll-based bard noted in the preface to the “Dairy and Cheese Odes” section of Poems of James McIntyre, “as cheese making first began in this county and it has already become the chief industry of many counties, it is no insignificant theme.” Of the verses he dedicated to cheese, perhaps the best known, or most mocked, is an ode to a seven thousand pound wheel of pressed curd that Torontonians observed with amused awe during the Provincial Exhibition of 1866.

We encourage you to indulge in your favourite fromage while reading “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.” For added enjoyment, read the following lines aloud in your finest Scottish accent:

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world’s show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.
We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

We’re unaware of any reports of anyone physically crushed by the mammoth cheese while it was showcased on both sides of the Atlantic during 1866 and 1867, though there were rumours that several ports in England refused to accept it due to the crushing smell caused by lack of refrigeration.

Mammoth Cheese made at Ingersoll, Canada West, 1866. Library and Archives Canada, R7244-0-0-E.

The genesis of the mammoth cheese was in Oxford County, where the dairy industry experienced rapid growth during the mid-19th century. By 1866, the county’s major cheese producers looked for new markets to sell their products and saw an opportunity when the aftermath of the Civil War in the United States hampered American exports of cheese to England. An attention-grabber to impress the English was required, so work began on a massive wheel of cheese at James Harris’s factory south of Ingersoll in June 1866. At least three factories provided the raw ingredients to produce a wheel that was approximately three feet thick, seven feet in diameter, and boasted a circumference of 21 feet. When the finished product arrived at the Great Western Railway station in Ingersoll to be shipped to its first destination on August 23, the town celebrated a public holiday. It was amid the speeches by local dignitaries that McIntyre publicly debuted “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.”

The cheese’s first major showing was at the New York State Fair in Saratoga. Harris was offered $6,000 to part with the cheese, but refused. He also refused to accept $500 to show it as a separate attraction at the upcoming Provincial Exhibition (the forerunner of the Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto. Rather than charge visitors an extra fee to see the monstrosity, Harris preferred to display it alongside other major attractions in the Crystal Palace or with entrants in the dairy competition. A team of four horses was required to haul the cheese into the Crystal Palace for setup on September 22. When the fair officially opened a few days later, the Globe observed that “no object in the Exhibition arrested more general attention than this. It is visited throughout the day by a crowd of interested spectators, by many of whom the most amusing opinions are expressed.” Harris and fellow mammoth cheese contributor Hiram Ranney left the fair with third place prizes in the “best factory cheese, not less than 50 lbs each” category. After Toronto, the cheese made its way across the Atlantic, where its use as a promotional stunt proved effective. The cheese met its final fate when the remnants were divided among Oxford County farmers who had contributed to its production.

Though not a farmer, James McIntyre deserved some of the leftovers due to his deep admiration for the work of dairy producers. He was born in Forres, Morayshire, Scotland in 1827, where his neighbours included future Canadian Pacific Railway last spike driver Donald Smith. McIntyre immigrated to Canada in his early teens and, after a long series of odd jobs, settled in Ingersoll and established a furniture/undertaking business. McIntyre’s other interests included serving as an official in the Liberal party and his duties as a Mason and Oddfellow. During his lifetime, McIntyre’s poetry was published in the Globe and, according to notes at the front of Poems of James McIntyre, received praise from the likes of Globe editor Sir John Willison (“the gem of the table”), Toronto Police Magistrate George Taylor Denison III (who “found many most interesting pieces on Canadian subjects”), historian Henry Scadding (who felt a poem about one pioneering cheese maker “had the ring of a fine old ballad about it”), and Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat (who was impressed with McIntyre’s patriotic spirit). One wonders if, in the case of fellow Liberals like Mowat, political allegiances shaped the praise.


Man and woman fishing in the Credit River, July 1, 1902. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1430.

Occasionally McIntyre mentioned Toronto in his poems. “Credit Valley Trip” arose when McIntyre was among a delegation visiting Toronto on a train provided by the Credit Valley Railway Company. While McIntyre seems to have enjoyed the sights he saw out the train window, and makes reference to Toronto sporting legend Ned Hanlan (despite misspelling his name), in the end he and his companions agreed that while Toronto was a nice place to visit, they wouldn’t want to live here.

Whenever we take a tour abroad
We love to travel o’er new road,
When scenery to us is new
And landscape pleasing to the view,
When invited for to rally
And take a trip on the Credit Valley,
We resolved for to afford
A day with Council and School Board,
For to view the rural charms
Of hills and dales and fertile farms,
With joy we saw the sunbeams gleam
On Grand River beauteous stream,
And those perpendicular walls
Of rock, like old baronial halls,
We saw the great lake ebb and flow
And queen city of Ontario.
While some enjoyed the genial smile
Of Hanlon on his lake girt isle,
Returning home each one exclaims
“Happiest spot is banks of Thames.”

When McIntyre died in 1906, an editorial in the Star set the tone for future critical evaluation of his poetic skills:

Mr. James McIntyre, whose death is announced, had a harmless hobby, the turning of familiar topics into verse. His muse was not too proud to notice a big cheese, or to describe those methods of intensive farming by which Ontario has grown rich. It cannot be said that it was good poetry, and many of us must plead guilty to making it the theme of comment of a more or less humorous character. When the body of a young man was found in Toronto Bay, and was identified by the buttons on his clothing, Mr. McIntyre celebrated the event in verse, of which we recall the lines, “Buttons gave no clue he did desire, Showed suit was made by McIntyre.” There have been better poets whose hearts were not as sound or whose natures as kindly and gentle as McIntyre’s.

Cover to the 1974 edition of The 4 Jameses. McIntyre is second from the right.

Much of McIntyre’s posthumous notoriety is due to William Arthur Deacon’s 1927 book The 4 Jameses, which playfully lumps in McIntyre’s verse with three other well-intentioned poets who happened to be named James (Gay, Gills, and MacRae). The book spun out of a series of articles Deacon (often regarded as Canada’s first full-time professional book reviewer) wrote about lousy Canadian poets for Saturday Night in the mid-1920s. Throughout The 4 Jameses, Deacon offers ironic commentary on the featured authors and works and blows their historical importance out of proportion—in the case of McIntyre, tying his Scottish hometown to Macbeth’s slaying of King Duncan and noting that both McIntyre and Donald Smith would “play significant parts in the upbuilding of the Dominion of Canada.” Deacon also noted that “McIntyre must have immersed himself in cream, and made cheese his chief mental diet, for years. To the new gospel of dairying, he was a convert so ardent that he barely missed becoming fanatical.” Though it was a poor seller upon its initial release, The 4 Jameses became, as George Fetherling noted in the forward of a 1974 reprint, “that rare thing in Canadian literature: an underground classic,” as it grew fans through word of mouth.

Despite the humour made at the expense of McIntyre’s work, Deacon ultimately found that the cheese poet and his brethren deserved respect for trying:

When the limitations of an old warrior like McIntyre are apparent, it is sanity and not sacrilege to smile at them; but it should be done kindly, remembering always their inescapable disadvantages, their valour and their chivalry…Their aspirations, their will to universal betterment, and their intuitive reach beyond the measure of their grasp is easily traceable through their writings, like the proverbial thread of gold. By these shall they be judged and not by flaws in the pattern. The more their work is pondered, the greater one’s affection for them, the greater his admiration for their honest efforts to noble expression and the greater his tolerance for mistakes growing out of inevitable limitations of opportunity, and creating the human, personal touches that first attract readers to them. Who sees not this, has lost the better, sweeter half of their message, and is himself to blame.

Additional material from The 4 Jameses by William Arthur Deacon, third edition (Toronto: Macmillan, 1974), Poems of James McIntyre by James McIntyre (Ingersoll: Ingersoll Chronicle, 1889), William Arthur Deacon: A Canadian Literary Life by Clara Thomas and John Lennox (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), and the following newspapers: The September 26, 1866 edition of the Globe; the September 24, 1866 edition of the Leader; and the April 3, 1906 edition of the Toronto Star.


More context for poets like McIntyre, from Heather Menzies’s book By the Labour of Their Hands: The Story of Ontario Cheddar Cheese (Kingston: Quarry Press, 1994):

He wasn’t trying to write Great Poetry. He wanted to honour the achievements of people like himself, who had come to this country with little or nothing, hoping to make new lives for themselves in British North America. Parochial poetry, published in the local paper, was one of the most accessible local media for doing this.

This “folk poetry,” as it’s called, helped interpret the rural community to itself and bind it together in a shared world view and ethos. As such, McIntyre and others like him made important contributions to Canadian folk culture through their verses. For folklore historian Pauline Greenhill, folk poetry is not meant to be separated from the context of a particular local community. Also, it must be understood as process as well as product: a sort of ongoing dialogue between the poet and the community, in which the poet brings order out of the minutiae of everyday life through verses. By the title and content of the poems, the folk poet implicitly names what is “appropriate” and symbolically important to readers.

Menzies concludes that McIntyre viewed the mammoth cheese as “the ultimate symbol of progress, combining local hand labour and scientific technology in the modern pursuit of ‘industry.'”


Ghosts of Christmases Past

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 25, 2010.

This holiday edition was, as the introduction noted, “a sampling of a century’s worth of Christmas advertisements, illustrations, pictures, and stories. Light up a Yule log (real or video), sit back and enjoy.”

For this edition, I’m not using the original gallery format, deleting some archival photos, and adding in some material that didn’t make the final cut. I am also merging in ads originally featured in a post for the 2014 holiday season.

globe xmas1885

Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1885. Library and Archives Canada.

In its Christmas Eve 1885 edition, the Globe reprinted the “Story of the Mistletoe” from Youth’s Companion. While much of the piece drones on about mistletoe’s role in Norse mythology and its use by Druids, it includes these nuggets about its contemporary sources and uses, in as non-romantic terms as possible.

It used to be brought over by friendly foreign steamers, but is now found in Virginia and in most of the Southern States, and is largely used for holiday decoration…The American mistletoe is not the genuine English article, although it strongly resembles it. The botanists have given it a new name, phoradendron, which signifies “a thief of a tree.” It is, however, a true parasite. The mistletoe is now so seldom found growing on the oak that when it is found there it is a great curiousity. It frequents apple trees chiefly, and is propagated by birds wiping their bills on the boughs and thus leaving some of the viscid pulp and seed, and if the bark happens to be cracked there it takes root.


Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1889. Library and Archives Canada.

Little does the turkey suspect that the young lady who visited each day with yummy treats was secretly fattening him up for her family’s holiday feast. Speaking of turkeys…

globe 1890-12-20 live turkeys

The Globe, December 20, 1890. 


The News, December 22, 1894.

If you couldn’t slaughter a turkey, you could always check out a “slaughter sale” of fine reading material.

news 85-12-22 ads

The News, December 22, 1885.

The News also provided “practical hints for the benefit of West End residents and others” as it named off a variety of Queen West merchants. Among the highlights: a free set of tableware with every purchase of a pound of tea at Laut Brothers (420 Queen West); a stock of nuts “not surpassed in the city” at Mara & Co. (280 Queen West); bargains among the jewellery and other goods damaged in a recent fire at J.I.S. Anderson (294 Queen West); and “beautiful villa sites overlooking High Park and Humber Bay” free of city taxes that went for one dollar per square foot at the real estate office of R. McDonnell at Queen and Gladstone.

me 97 xmas cover

Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Mail and Empire, 1897. Library and Archives Canada.

Underneath the colour cover of this supplement was a collection of seasonal art, stories, and other diversions for the entire family.

20141224xmascardsThe Mail, June 27, 1881.

Even back in the Victorian Age, saving a buck on Christmas supplies like cards was as important as aesthetic considerations.


The Empire, December 22, 1894.

An excerpt from the Empire’s Christmas Day 1894 editorial: “To the mind of the child this is the glorious season of the year when there is no cloud in the sky to dim the sunlight of pleasure in which infantile natures rejoice; but to the mature it is a period, apart from its spiritual associations, the delights of which are tempered by gravity and the joys of which are tinged with sadness, for as men grow memories gather. Looking back upon the Christmases of the past, who is there among us who does not feel that change and decay have wrought their mysteries as the years rolled on, taking here a friend and there a companion and leaving gaps in the ranks more significant and impressive at this time than at any other, so that even at the feast, and where rejoicing reigns, the heart stops for a moment that sorrow may supply its chastening touch.”

news 10-12-24 xmas cartoon

Front page, the News, December 24, 1910. 


Illustration by Lou Skuce, Toronto World, December 25, 1910.


Toronto World, December 22, 1912.

From an editorial on holiday charity: “People are giving freely now, who keep their hearts and pockets closd ’till next Christmas. Why? There is need always as at Christmas time. It is simply that we are moved now by an unusual sentiment–an impulse to kindliness.”


The News, December 23, 1914.

The Copland Brewing Company’s Toronto roots stretched back to 1830, when William Copland opened a brewery along Yonge Street shortly after arriving in Upper Canada. By 1914, most of its products were brewed at its plant on King Street between Ontario and Berkeley Streets. Bought by Labatt in 1946, the site was later occupied by the Toronto Sun.


Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

An editorial note from the second holiday season of the First World War:

Above all, the call of Christmas is ‘Peace on Earth.’ In the present grievous crisis of the world there is significance in this call beyond that of any crisis mankind ever before was called to read. That war has darkened Christmas for so much of the world may well seem, at the moment, the crushing condemnation of all such conflicts.”



Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

As the war staggered on over in Europe, World cartoonist Lou Skuce reminded readers of where the battlelines were usually located on Christmas Eve.


Toronto World, December 25, 1916.


Toronto World, December 25, 1918.

A pair of First World War-themed ads from Eaton’s.


Mail and Empire, December 25, 1920.

With the shadow of the First World War fading, Eaton’s ad held the promise that life was returning to normal for its customers, and that Christmas was a time to rejoice in youthful spirit.


The Telegram, December 19, 1923.

Given that the establishment of Sick Kids was a pet project of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson, the paper took every opportunity during the holiday season to solicit donations for the hospital. Heart-tugging stories to invoke contributions were printed in the Tely around Christmas, bearing headlines like “CHILD SWALLOWS LYE THROAT BADLY BURNED” (December 19, 1923).


The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

A sample of a Sick Kids ad from a decade later.


Toronto Star, December 24, 1924.


Mail and Empire, December 25, 1930.

Simpsons centred its 1930 holiday ad around verse from poet Bliss Carman, who died the previous year.


Mail and Empire, December 20, 1933.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Mail and Empire urged its readers to light up the city at Christmas time. We doubt any displays inspired by this contest were accompanied by a menagerie of front yard inflatables.


Mail and Empire, December 22, 1933. 

Years before teaching the world to sing, or employing polar bears as pitchmen, Coca-Cola offered an economical solution for holiday entertaining during the Great Depression.


The Telegram, December 23, 1933.



Weston Times and Guide, December 14, 1934.

The 1930s equivalent of the slightly naughty gift ads found decades later in alt-weeklies like eye and Now?


Toronto Star, December 23, 1939.


Weston Times and Guide, December 13, 1945.

Relieved that the Second World War no longer interfered in his annual delivery run, Santa relaxed a little in 1945. He found time to stop in Weston for a luscious roast bird. Note the slightly scary look in his eye, as if he’s daring the artist to take the plate away from him.


The Telegram, December 23, 1950.

The poet of Toronto’s sports pages, Telegram columnist Ted Reeve, penned an ode to holiday shopping based on one of the big musical hits of that season, “The Thing“:


As we were walking north on Church, no Xmas shopping done,
We went into McTamney’s to maybe buy a gun.
The clerk behind the counter there let out a mighty roar:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and don’t come back no more.”

We hadn’t done our Christmas cards when reaching work today,
We asked the office girls if they would get them on the way.
They turned on us with a vicious yell as fierce as any blow:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and you know where to go.”

We’ll get to Kresge’s Christmas Eve and in a final dash
We’ll try to get the presents bought unless they want some cash.
The chances are the manager, while tearing up our cheque,
Will heave us out with our boom-boom-boom and land us on our neck

There’s only three more days to go, we haven’t bought the tree,
It is a most perplexing week, we think you’ll all agree.
And if we don’t get anything done we’ll just let Xmas pass
And take that terrible boom-boom-boom and hide it in the grass.


Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1960.

Either the caption writer was ordered to devise a happy sentence without seeing this picture, or somebody decided to play a cruel joke at the expense of the exhausted Santa at the Don Mills Centre. His arrival by helicopter in late November prompted ten thousand people to greet him at the shopping centre, doubling the number that greeted him the year before. Santa’s trip was delayed ten minutes due to fog and low-flying planes landing at Malton airport. Once the chopper landed, Santa hitched a ride on a fire engine, which took him to his seat at the centre of the complex. With over four-and-a-half thousand kids mounting his lap that day, no wonder Santa looks like he can’t wait to escape back to the comfort of the North Pole.


Weston Times and Guide, December 22, 1960.

Wonder how many diners around that time hummed Marty Robbins’s 1959 smash hit about the west Texas town while eating their delicious young turkey dinner.


Maclean’s, December 9, 1961.

From 1912 to 2006, Kodak’s Canadian division called Mount Dennis home. Its large campus near Eglinton Avenue West and Black Creek Drive is being redeveloped and will service the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Whenever that line begins service, perhaps someone who received a Kodak camera under the tree will be inspired by the site’s history to haul it out and shoot the opening ceremony.


Weston Times-Advertiser, December 22, 1964.

Politicians love sending seasonal greetings, and Alan Eagleson was no exception. Before he achieved fame in the hockey world for forming the National Hockey League Players’ Association and infamy for his criminal actions regarding pensions and disability claims, Eagleson sat as a Progressive Conservative MPP for Lakeshore from 1963 to 1967.



Willowdale Enterprise, December 8, 1965.


Willowdale Enterprise, December 22, 1965.

Santa and the reindeer might have needed a map when a widened Highway 401 between Highway 400 and Hogg’s Hollow fully opened to to traffic on December 16, 1965. The expansion of the freeway from four to twelve lanes included the introduction of the express/collector lane system.



Toronto Life, December 1966.

Toronto Life celebrated its first Christmas by asking Gordon Sinclair to describe how he really felt about the holiday? His verdict? Despite not being a fan of organized religion, Sinclair felt it was “the best and friendliest of all family celebrations when we are with kinfolk; the ones of our blood who accept us for what we are. Not what we should be, or could be, but what we are.” He also described Christmas was the worst day of the year to be alone, a situation he experienced while reporting from Shanghai in 1938. That day he wandered through clubs and pubs “looking for someone to feel sorry with” but found only a black eye (a present given by an American when Sinclair declined to have a drink with him) and a crying fit (after returning to his hotel to find “wish you were here” cablegrams from Canada). There was only one thing he would have changed about Christmas: “that stupid abbreviation, Xmas.”


The Enterprise, December 20, 1967.

An excerpt from the Enterprise‘s December 13, 1967 holiday editorial, which criticized the trend toward war toys like G.I. Joe, which kids might have asked Miss Suzie for as they received a candy cane.

War toys are not going to make a killer out of a child, but they do instil an acceptance which lasts into adult life. In other words, war toys are a marvellous propaganda instrument…The only way to counteract war toy propaganda is for the consuer public to boycott any kind of violent toy–and encourage manufacturers to produce just as interesting toys who emphasis is not military.


Globe and Mail, December 25, 1970.

A stylish seasonal ad from a fashionable Kingsway-area women’s clothier. Two weeks earlier, Lipton’s published a gift certificate order form in the Globe and Mail, positioning it as “great trim for any tree.”


Toronto Life, December 1974.

While CHUM-FM offered a slender Santa for the holidays, its AM sibling distributed its usual CHUM Chart. Topping the Toronto hit list on December 21, 1974 was Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting.”


Toronto Sun, December 16, 1975.

Unfortunately for eager carolers, the Sun-sponsored musical celebration of the season was cancelled due to the first blizzard of the season. High winds coupled with around 20 centimetres of snow resulted in a record number of help calls to the Ontario Motor League (now CAA), severe TTC service delays and the cancellation of a Toronto Marlboros hockey game. The storm did not deter holiday shoppers, as Simpsons reported a minor decrease in the usual last Saturday before Christmas crowd at their Queen Street flagship.


The City, December 3, 1978.

Simpsons felt a little punny during the 1978 holiday season. It was a time of change for the retailer–Hudson’s Bay Company had launched a bid to acquire the department store chain in November, while shoppers at its Queen Street flagship would have seen the south end of the Eaton Centre near completion.


Toronto Life, December 1985.

Because this article needs a touch of 1980s Christmas style.


The War is Over

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 12, 2011.


Family reads Armistice Day headlines, November 11, 1918. Pictured left to right: Mrs. J. Fraser, Jos. Fraser Jr., Miss Ethel James, Frank James, and Norman James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 892.

2:50 a.m., November 11, 1918, the office of the Telegram newspaper on Melinda Street. An early morning full of anticipation as workers there and at Toronto’s five other daily newspapers waited for word sometime during the day that an armistice ending the First World War would be signed.

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Within 20 minutes of the wire notice, special editions of the Telegram and the other papers hit the streets of the city, ready for citizens roused from their slumber by church bells, fire sirens, factory whistles and other loud noisemakers. The war was over and, as the News noted, “Toronto went mad with glory.”


The News, November 11, 1918.

The city needed to let loose after a recent spell of bad news. The influenza pandemic that ravaged the world hit Toronto hard in October 1918. Companies like Bell Telephone lost up to a quarter of their staff due to illness or care giving. Churches, entertainment facilities, libraries, and schools were closed, public gatherings were curtailed, and visitors were not allowed in hospitals. During the pandemic’s peak in mid-October, an average of 50 people a day succumbed to the flu, which ultimately killed around 1,300 Torontonians that month. Combine this with daily reports of the mounting casualties during the final month of battle in Europe and it’s easy to see how Toronto was ready to party.


The Telegram, November 12, 1918.

News of the armistice spread quickly throughout the city. In the east end, residents along Bain Avenue were awakened around 3:40 a.m. by a trumpeter. Half-a-dozen windows opened and an equal number of heads stuck out, asking each other what was going on. “The armistice is signed,” somebody shouted. “The war is over—no fake this time!” Within 10 minutes, most homes in South Riverdale were lit up and pyjama-clad neighbours congratulated each other on the good news. By 4 a.m., as the News reported, “the streets, as a rule deserted and silent at the hour of coming dawn, were filled with quick-marshalled companies of girls and boys, all marching with waving flags and all equipped for carnival.” Traffic jams of cars formed as some revellers decided to head downtown.

The Telegram sent a car around the city to survey how celebrations were breaking out. Everywhere they found scenes similar to those in South Riverdale: people on the streets dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, clanging tin cans, and gathering in their nightclothes and raincoats around impromptu sidewalk bonfires. Streetcars were so packed that passengers sat on the roof.


Streetcar on Spadina Crescent, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7110.

By dawn, streetcar service, apart from a few suburban routes, ground to a halt as conductors and operators abandoned their vehicles to join the festivities. Any driver who attempted to continue to head into the city was met with opposition by their fellow employees, as one determined Queen streetcar operator learned. Shortly after setting out on an eastbound course from Roncesvalles, he encountered a procession of 100 fellow Toronto Railway Company workers led by a Highland piper. When he failed to stop, the procession pulled off the streetcar’s pole and smashed its windows. Without streetcars, people wishing to head downtown jumped onto any automobile—the Telegram reported seeing as many as 28 people sitting in and hanging off one car.

Work was hardly on anyone’s mind that day. Few went to the office, and those who did didn’t stay long. City workers were told to take the day off. Bankers were obliged to stay on the job, but the only ticker tape flowing out of most financial institutions headed out windows onto the streets below. Courts were in session, but Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford gave clemency to anyone up on charges of drunkenness, gambling, speeding, or other minor offences. “This is not a day for punishment,” Kingsford told those assembled in police court. “It is a day for amnesty and pardon.”


Girl celebrating Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 905.

Out in the streets, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. People draped in Red Ensigns, Union Jacks, and other Allied flags were among those who descended by the thousands onto Yonge Street and other crowded downtown arteries. Some descriptions paint a scene similar to Church Street on Halloween with revellers, in the words of the Mail and Empire, “bedecked themselves in the most grotesque costumes with false and painted faces.” One person dressed as the recently-abdicated German emperor wore a sign which read “I am the Kaiser, kick me.” Knowing people might deliver four years of pent-up frustration against him, the man padded his posterior to soften any swift kicks. Hopefully he wasn’t mistaken for the numerous effigies of the Kaiser burned with glee across the city.



Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 891.

Celebrants along Yonge Street between Shuter and King found themselves in a war zone. The Mail and Empire reported that “for several hours the main thoroughfare presented the appearance of a region that had been subjected to a gas attack, because of the battle of talcum powder by the boys and girls who waged it with little relaxation.” Anyone who objected to being doused in powder was, with the approval of bystanders, showered with a double dose. Despite a few people who were hit square in the eye, people were generally amused by the battle or rolled with it. They had little choice—according to the News: “the crowds were so dense that escape was impossible, and the victims soon purchased and used supplies of their own.” Police directing traffic took the powder showers in stride, even if they “looked more like millers than officers of the law.”


Float representing “In Flanders Field” at Victory Loan Parade, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1583, Item 161.

Officially sanctioned ceremonies began at noon on the steps of City Hall (now Old City Hall), where Mayor Tommy Church issued a proclamation. Following that was a previously scheduled Victory Loan parade that became a general celebration. Over 200,000 lined the route along University, Queen, Simcoe, King, Jarvis, Carlton, and College to watch the procession of soldiers and bond-promoting floats. Wounded hospital patients were chauffeured in automobiles. Airplanes dropped pamphlets urging spectators to “lend” to the loan drive. Music was provided by groups ranging from ragtag marching bands to the United States Navy Band led by, in possibly his only personal appearance in Toronto, John Philip Sousa. Of the floats, the most poignant was a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The women’s page of the News described the scene portrayed: “There was the grass of the fields, the vivid scarlet poppies and the charred crosses of the men who had fallen. A man in khaki standing looking down at the crosses carried out the picture in its last detail.” When the parade returned to its starting point at Queen’s Park, it was followed by a religious service.


John Philip Sousa, University Avenue, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2576.

The partying continued well into the night. Sousa conducted a concert at Queen’s Park. Dances were held at the King Edward Hotel and other venues across the city. Bonfires burned on, including a large one fuelled by old wagons across from the Albert Britnell bookstore at Yonge and Bloor. A parade through Chinatown (then centred around Dundas and Elizabeth) saw a truck carrying smiling deities wielding gongs. The Star, then based on King Street, ran movies and bulletins on the side of a neighbouring building. Amid the jovial spirit, the News noted that some members of the crowd remembered the costs of the battle just ended: “Mingling with the wild abandon of youthful rejoicing was the note of sadness among those who recalled all too vividly the poignant sacrifice of war, and here and there in the swirling, gleeful crowds were lonely individuals who looked at the people but saw a grave in Flanders.”

The next day, tired Torontonians dragged themselves back to work and settled back into routine. The city estimated clean-up would cost $1,000. Little damage was done, and few arrests were made during the celebrations (it seemed even pickpockets had taken the day off). As the week unfolded, the Victory Loan drive wrapped up and the first postwar contingents of veterans returned home. The uncertainties of what peacetime would hold were pushed aside as the afterglow of the armistice celebrations lingered on.

Additional material from Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War by Ian Hugh Maclean Miller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002) and the following newspapers: the November 12, 1918 edition of the Globe; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Mail and Empire; the November 11, 1918 and November 12, 1918 editions of the News; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Toronto Star; and the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.


This subject was also covered in an earlier installment of Vintage Toronto Ads, originally published on November 11, 2008.

Vintage Ad #653: Armistice Day, 1918

The Globe, November 11, 1918.

November 11, 1918: eager Torontonians, having seen several days of stories in the local dailies that the end of World War I was imminent, waited for word from Europe of the armistice that would bring loved ones home. The newspapers stayed close to their wires to put the presses into motion once the armistice was official. The Telegram described the wait:

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Nicol received the wire at 2:50 a.m. The first edition of the Telegram hit the streets 20 minutes later. The paper used their speediness to take a potshot at the Star, who, “first in fake but last in reliability, put in a tardy appearance with the same news, accompanied by the morning papers.” Eaton’s used their regular advertising space to publish the official announcement and a blessing.

Vintage Ad #657: Drink to the Health of the Allies!

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

O’Keefe’s ad may have appealed to one group who welcomed the armistice, local drunks. The Telegram reported that inebriates around the city were “happy as larks” that not only was the war over, but that the city magistrate had declared a one-day amnesty on charges of public drunkenness, gambling, speeding, and other minor offences. The magistrate’s explanation for his actions? “We are doing it for our country.”

Vintage Ad #655: My Boy

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

Though the war was over, ads for Victory Bonds were published that day. Pitches soon switched from helping Canadians fight on to aiding returning soldiers and the citizens of countries devastated by the conflict. The city declared a half-day holiday for a bond drive, which quickly turned into a general celebration.

Additional material from the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.