“The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland”

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

20160409entrance

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

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

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

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

20160409wonderlandad

Globe and Mail, May 22, 1981.

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

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

20160409modelofmountain

Globe and Mail, September 10, 1979.

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

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

20160409merrygoround

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

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

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

20160409costumes

Toronto Star, May 9, 1981.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

20160409pirateship

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

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

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

20160409cars

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

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

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

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

star 1978-03-17 park approved

Toronto Star, March 17, 1978.

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

gm 1980-11-07 fight over growth in vaughan

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

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

ts 80-04-09 construction

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

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

tspa_0021136f_640px

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

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

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

ts 81-05-09 150 costumes

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

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

ts 81-05-21 special section 1

Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

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

ts 81-05-21 wonderland map

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

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

ts 81-05-21 loblaws ad

Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

20160409openingday

Toronto Star, May 24, 1981.

ts 81-06-13 letters

Toronto Star, June 13, 1981.

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

Canada, Day One

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 28, 2008. Note that the first paragraph from the original story might make some readers feel a little melancholy in the midst of the COVID pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

2008_06_28 confed announcement

Canada Day weekend is upon us, with the nation’s birthday serving as the perfect excuse to celebrate the start of summer. Fireworks, public meals, outdoor concerts—Torontonians will be out in force for these events over the next few days, much as they were on the day our nation gained status as a dominion.

From 6 a.m. onwards, the smell of roast ox filled the area at the foot of Church Street (now the St. Lawrence Market Green P lot). The roast went on all day, with the meat distributed to the city’s poor. A few blocks north on Church at Adelaide Street, those wishing to deliver a religious blessing on the new nation attended a service sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance at the Mechanics’ Institute (an ancestor of the Toronto Public Library).

Over at The Globe, editor George Brown spent all night working on a lengthy essay on the history of the new country. Copies of the paper were quickly snapped up once it rolled off the press at 7 a.m. Brown’s editorial raised an issue that still affects Canada, western grievances (even if the “west” in this case is Ontario).

So far as the people of Upper Canada are concerned, the inauguration of the new constitution may well be heartily rejoiced over as the brightest day in their calendar. The Constitution of 1867 will be famous in the historic annals of Upper Canada, not only because it brought two flourishing Maritime States into alliance with the Canadas, and opened up new markets for our products, but because it relieved the inhabitants of Western Canada from a system of injustice and demoralization under which they had suffered for a long number of years.

As for what ills might plague the new nation, one reading between the lines might detect a swipe at Brown’s political rivals/former coalition partners in the run-up to Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Conservative party:

The only danger that threatens us is, lest the same men who have so long misgoverned us, should continue to govern us still, and the same reckless prodigality exhibited in past years should be continued in the future; but this we do not fear. We firmly believe that from this day, Canada embarks on a new and happier career, and a time of great prosperity is before us.

2008_06_28mechanics

Mechanics’ Institute, William Notman, 1868. Wikimedia Commons.

As the day went on, the city filled with revelers. Steamships from Hamilton and St. Catharines were packed with tourists coming for the celebrations, while trains brought in those from surrounding towns and villages. Many assembled at parade grounds west of Spadina Avenue around 10:30 a.m. to catch three hours of military reviews which, according to the next day’s edition of The Leader, were a popular spectator activity.

It would seem as if the citizens of Toronto and the residents of the surrounding country would never become tired of witnessing reviews of the troops. It is only necessary to announce that a review is to be held to secure the attendance of thousands of spectators, from the babe in swaddling clothes to the hoary-headed and infirm old man.

The paper went on to provide detailed of each regiment’s drill, complimenting each on their regalia and discipline. Sunny skies and a cool breeze off the lake made for a comfortable afternoon for the spectators. The soldiers were rewarded for their three-hour show with free ale paid for by contracting magnate Casimir Gzowski.
If military activities weren’t one’s taste, there was a fundraising picnic to aid the construction of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, completed three years later (and now known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on St. Patrick Street). A crowd of around 3,000 attended.

2008_06_28postoffice

As night fell, light displays decorated city buildings. The central post office on Toronto Street (later the headquarters of Argus Corporation, where Conrad Black was videotaped removing documents in 2005) featured gaslights arranged to spell “VR” (in honour of Queen Victoria) and “Dominion of Canada.” Most of the night’s activities took place in Queen’s Park, whose decorations The Leader described as “a most enchanting appearance in consequence of the large number of Chinese lanterns that were suspended from the trees and in front of the private residences on the east side of the park.” Fireworks were provided by a Rochester, New York firm and divided into 14 themed segments, including the city motto of “Industry, Integrity, Intelligence”, exotic locales like Tripoli and a rousing finale of “God Save the Queen”, all accompanied by two military bands.

Surrounding villages saw their share of celebrations, the most prominent being Yorkville’s. A flag-draped arch was erected at Yonge and Bloor, bearing the words “Dominion of Canada Our Home.” A fireworks display was held on a common west of Scollard Street, where the likely fireworks in 2008 would be a bite into a hot pepper at Whole Foods.

Sources: the July 1, 1867 edition of the Globe and the July 2, 1867 edition of the Leader.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I would include the entirety of George Brown’s editorial, except that surviving scans are missing chunks of its final paragraph.

Since my access to other Toronto newspapers of this era is limited, let’s take a look at some of the happenings (and poetry) marking the birth of the dominion in the new province of Ontario…

newmarket era 1867-06-28 our country and our government

Newmarket Era, June 28, 1867.

dfp 1867-07-02 front page celebrations in windsor

Coverage of Windsor celebrations, Detroit Free Press, July 2, 1867.

huron signal 1867-07-04 celebrations in goderich 600

Coverage of Goderich celebrations, Huron Signal, July 4, 1867.

oc 1867-07-05 how dominion day was celebrated in ottawa 250

Ottawa Citizen, July 5, 1867.

Other highlights from Ottawa: the ceremony to install governor-general Lord Monck; a military display at noon; a fireman’s picnic; and an assortment of athletic competitions. Many buildings were illuminated that night, and the day ended with a giant bonfire and fireworks.

“The orderly state of the city during the whole day, despite the great influx of strangers and the general excitement going on, must be a subject of congratulation to all parties, and we hope that all things connected with the Dominion will be conducted by the people with the same good feeling and promote as much happiness as did its inaugural celebration on Monday last.”

A few editorial observations on the new dominion from south of the border…

ny herald 1867-07-02 editorial

New York Herald, July 2, 1867.

ny times 1867-07-02 editorial 250

New York Times, July 2, 1867.

ny tribune 1867-07-02 editorial

New York Tribune, July 2, 1867.

niagara falls gazette 1867-07-03 editorial

Niagara Falls Gazette, July 3, 1867.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 17, 2008.

2008_05_17shustercovers

Selection of covers drawn by Joe Shuster: Superman #1 (1939), Superman #6 (1940), Adventure Comics #103 (1946).

For a 70-year old, Superman looks good for his age. Since his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, the Man of Steel has stood as one, if not the key, icon of the fictional genre his success spawned. His appeal has been summed up as the fight for “truth, justice and the American way.”

Yet his origins have a Toronto twist.

2008_05_17s&s-caricature

Joe Shuster (1914-1992) spent the first decade of his life living in a number of locations surrounding Kensington Market, as family finances dictated a succession of moves. From an early age, he was interested in the comic strips that his father, a tailor, read to him. By the age of 9, Shuster brought in money as a newsboy for The Toronto Star. The family moved to Cleveland in 1924, though many relatives stayed in Toronto. One was Joe’s cousin Frank, who later earned fame as one half of Canadian comedy institution Wayne and Shuster.

During high school, Shuster became friends with Jerry Siegel, an aspiring writer and fellow fan of pulps, comic strips and the emerging genre of science fiction. The pair, who several accounts depict as the Depression-era equivalent of nerds, published their own magazine and attempted to sell a number of ideas to strip and pulp syndicates, including prototype versions of Superman. After half-a-decade of development and failed sales pitches, the character was picked up by National Comics (soon identified by their “DC” logo). In a decision both later regretted, ownership rights to Superman were sold to National for $130.

f1257_s1057_it0842-star-building-small

Drawing of Toronto Star Building, circa 1928. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 842.

Toronto left a lingering impression on Joe that he incorporated into his sketches for Superman, which he noted in a 1992 interview with his former employer.

Cleveland was not nearly as metropolitan as Toronto was, and it was not as big or as beautiful. Whatever buildings I saw in Toronto remained in my mind and came out in the form of Metropolis. As I realized later on, Toronto is a much more beautiful city than Cleveland ever was…I guess I don’t have to worry about saying that now.

The Star even found its way into the strip. “I still remember drawing one of the earliest panels that showed the newspaper building. We needed a name, and I spontaneously remembered the Toronto Star. So that’s the way I lettered it. I decided to do it that way on the spur of the moment, because The Star was such a great influence on my life.” Not until 1940 would Clark Kent’s employer suddenly switch its name to The Daily Planet.

The popularity of the character translated into a high volume of work. Combined with vision problems that affected Shuster’s drawing, the pair opened their own studio to produce a steady stream of Superman stories for National. Dismayed by how much money they could have made had the initial rights not been sold so cheaply, Siegel and Shuster served National in April 1947 with a lawsuit for $5 million and the return of ownership rights for Superman. A year of litigation resulted in a ruling against the claim. Both agreed to an offer where National would pay $100,000 as long as the pair surrendered all future claims to ownership of Superman and the recently-introduced Superboy.

2008_05_17joeshusterway

After the settlement, the pair attempted to launch a new character, Funnyman, which flopped quickly. The studio soon dissolved and both found work sparse in the 1950s. While Siegel returned to writing the Man of Steel in the early 1960s (as long as he didn’t acknowledge his part in the character’s creation), Shuster’s increasing eye problems curtailed his career. He became a source of urban legend in the comics community about the level of poverty he had fallen to, as he worked odd jobs to support other members of his family.

Siegel and Shuster were finally able to receive some compensation for their creation in the mid-1970s. Aided by industry peers, the pair capitalized on the hype around the upcoming Superman movie by publicizing their cause. The result was a comfortable pension from the corporate parent of DC Comics and a “created by” credit in future uses of Superman. Shuster spent his later years in California and rarely granted interviews, though he appeared with Siegel in a 1981 BBC documentary.

In 2005, the city honoured Shuster by endowing his name on the main side street of a residential development at King and Dufferin. Joe Shuster Way offers great photographic views of the Gladstone Hotel and the downtown skyline. One can imagine the Man of Steel zooming by the CN Tower while on patrol…

Picture of Joe Shuster Way by Jamie Bradburn. Shuster interview excepts from the Toronto Star, April 26, 1992 edition.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1940-03-14 profile of joe shuster

Toronto Star, March 14, 1940.

star 1939-12-18 superman comic strip

Toronto Star, December 18, 1939.

The first installment of the daily Superman comic strip, illustrated by Shuster, as it appeared when the Star began carrying it in December 1939. With art soon taken over by his studio, the strip ran under various writers and artists through 1966.

The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

20150506artcentre1936

Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

20150506eatonsad

Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

20150506ida

Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

20150506artcentre1934

Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

20150506singsong

Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

20150506indianproject1936

Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

20150506cne1956

Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen's Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand. - June, 1910

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

f1257_s1057_it6771_ice capades

Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

globe 1921-12-28 indian storyteller

The Globe, December 28, 1921.

globe 1925-12-05 ROM our indian friends

The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

star 1932-12-03 indian girl plea 1

Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

star 1966-05-24 teachers college pow wow

Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

Icy Discrimination

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on March 6, 2010.

20100306saunders

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mayor Robert H. Saunders at Cenotaph at Old City Hall, January 12, 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2903.

One day in early November 1945, fifteen-year-old Harry Gairey Jr. went with five friends to the private Icelandia skating rink on Yonge Street in North Toronto, despite his father’s warning that the venue was not known to treat black customers kindly. Gairey Jr. went ahead and hoped the afternoon would provide a good opportunity to help a friend improve his skating skills. While his white companions were allowed into Icelandia, Gairey Jr. was notified by rink manager Bedford Allen that “no coloured boys can come in here.”

Harry’s friends saw what happened, turned around, and asked for a refund. Incensed by the treatment shown to his son, Harry Gairey Sr. contacted his local alderman and arranged for an audience with the city’s Board of Control on November 14. With tears in his eyes, Gairey Sr. offered apologies for taking the council’s time, to which Mayor Robert Saunders replied, “I don’t know that we have anything more valuable on which to spend our time than looking into a matter like this.” Gairey Sr. related the incident, which he found disgraceful, then offered additional thoughts that he later recalled in A Black Man’s Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey:

Now it would be all right if the powers that be refused my son admission to the Icelandia, I would accept it, if when the next war comes, you’re going to say “Harry Gairey, you’re black, you stay here, don’t go to war.” But your Worship, and Gentlemen of the Council, it’s not going to be that way, you’re going to say he’s a Canadian and you’ll conscript him. And if so, I would like my son to have everything a Canadian citizen is entitled to, providing he’s worthy of it.

The Telegram also noted part of his address:

We have heard so much about democracy, and we have just gone through a war for it, but this is an example of everything not democratic. If we are to have democracy it must start in our city, in the homes, on the streets. If we are to be divided into racial and colour groups, each to receive different treatment, there is little to live for.

20100306pickets
The picket line outside Icelandia. The Telegram, November 23, 1945.

A week later, a group of University of Toronto students with ties to the campus Labor-Progressive Club organized two days of protest outside Icelandia. The owner refused to comment, but an assistant claimed there weren’t any race restrictions. After over 150 picketers bearing placards with slogans like “no discrimination” showed up on the second day, police were called in to break it up. Southern Ontario B’nai B’rith director Al Zimmerman visited the operators of Icelandia and saw little sign of compromise, which resulted in a boycott. “We asked if the discrimination would continue,” he told the Star in 1947, “and were told that the rink would continue to bar Negroes but not Jews. But the barring of Negroes was sufficient to satisfy us that intolerance would be continued and we decided among ourselves not to patronize the rink.”

Business suffered briefly at Icelandia after the Gairey incident but the furor soon blew over. It didn’t take long for management to prove it wasn’t just blacks with whom they took issue. In early January 1947, a Jewish girl was denied entry, which revived accounts of Gairey Jr’s treatment in local papers. In his January 10 column in the Globe and Mail, Jim Coleman noted the crushing effects that being separated from their peers had on both youths and cynically wrote:

The proprietors of Icelandia are at least consistent in their attitude, and we presume that, when the occasion arises, they will bar Communists, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists—in fact, all those who don’t noisily swear allegiance to the most orthodox branches of the Christian faith… If you go to Icelandia, be sure to take a letter from your pastor—the gateman may look suspiciously at the curve of your nose.

Coleman soon received many letters, among which he found “a heartening percentage of readers abhor racial discrimination.” A fresh boycott against Icelandia was launched by the United Electrical Workers Union and picketers returned. Various labour and educational groups called on city council to enact tougher anti-discrimination laws. Community papers like the North Toronto Heraldurged clergymen to denounce Icelandia during Sunday sermons. By mid-January, a legislation committee that included future mayor Nathan Phillips drafted an amendment to the licensing bylaws that required passage by the Toronto Police Commission.

20100306coleman

James “Jim” A. Coleman, columnist for the Globe and Mail, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2473.

If you thought Icelandia might have cooled it in the face of public anger, the rink’s management quickly revealed their true colours yet again. In his February 1 column, Coleman noted a fresh incident of discrimination against a Greek skater. A scuffle ensued and Coleman’s tone indicated that he was happy to hear that the rink staffer wound up splayed on the ground. The rink used its ad in the Globe and Mail two days later to threaten Coleman with legal action…which happened to be the same day city council approved its anti-discrimination resolution.

On February 22, newspaper front pages announced that the police commission approved the new bylaw. The Globe and Mail printed the new rules in full:

(1) Every license issued to the owner or keeper of an exhibition, theatre, music hall, moving-picture show, public hall or any place of amusement shall be subject to the condition that no discrimination on account of race, creed or colour shall be shown against any member of the public who seeks admission to the premises in respect to which the license is issued and every such license shall bear a written or printed endorsement to the forgiving effect.
(2) No person licensed as the owner or keeper of an exhibition, theatre, music hall, moving-picture show, public hall or place of amusement shall discriminate against any member of the public who seeks admission to the premises in respect to which the license is issued because of the race, creed or colour of such member.

20100306mapleleaf
Article on Harry Gairey Jr. The Maple Leaf, December 1, 1945.

In the long run, the skating deities were kinder to the Gairey family than Icelandia. Besides battles over its discriminatory practices, the rink got into trouble with the city over its attempts to facilitate hockey games on Sundays. Frustration and prodding from the press spurred efforts to build a public skating rink in North Toronto. Icelandia barely survived into the 1950s—its site at 1941 Yonge Street is now occupied by a liquor store. Harry Gairey Sr., who was proud that his speech had made officials begin to think about changing laws, received many honours for his activism and community involvement. Within three years of his passing in 1993, the outdoor skating rink at Alexandra Park was named in his honour.

Sources: A Black Man’s Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey, edited by Donna Hill (Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1981) and the following newspapers: the January 10, 1947, January 11, 1947, January 14, 1947, January 18, 1947, February 1, 1947, February 3, 1947,and February 22, 1947 editions of the Globe and Mail; the January 17, 1947 edition of the North Toronto Herald; the November 14, 1945, November 23, 1945, January 11, 1947, March 19, 1947, and September 27, 1947, editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 14, 1945, and November 23, 1945, editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1945-11-23 student pickets photo

Globe and Mail, November 23, 1945.

star 1945-11-23 student pickets

Toronto Star, November 23, 1945.

gm 1945-11-24 police disperse pickets

Globe and Mail, November 24, 1945.

varsity 1945-11-26 police action called illegal by students small

The Varsity, November 26, 1945.

varsity 1945-11-27 editorial 400px

The Varsity, November 27, 1945.

gm 1945-11-29 icelandia ad promising strict discipline

Globe and Mail, November 29, 1945.

I wonder if the “strict discipline” referred to in this Icelandia ad refers to the guidance offered by its pro skaters, or to prevent any more protests.

gm 1947-01-10 coleman column

Globe and Mail, January 10, 1947.

The column that exposed Icelandia’s continuing discriminatory issues…

gm 1947-01-11 anti-coleman icelandia ad

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1947.

…and Icelandia’s response. At this time, the rink ran short “Ice News Bulletins” in Toronto newspapers that usually pitched the latest events, reprinted congratulatory letters from its clients, or offered lousy verse about enjoyed its facilities.

gm 1947-01-11 editorial

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1947.

The G&M‘s editorial page was not amused, referring to the latest incident and what had happened to Gairey.

gm 1947-01-14 coleman column

Globe and Mail, January 14, 1947.

Other journalists sent Coleman their thoughts about Icelandia.

varsity 1947-01-14 picket 350px

The Varsity, January 14, 1947.

varsity 1947-01-15 editorial 300px

The Varsity, January 15, 1947.

gm 1947-01-17 coleman column

Excerpt from Jim Coleman’s column, Globe and Mail, January 17, 1947.

gm 1947-01-18 icelandia ad

Globe and Mail, January 18, 1947.

This ad tries to attract a lawn bowler (or is “Henry” a reference to another poet or an enemy of the rink?). The poet is dishonest when they claim “we do not seek to harm or maim.”

star 1947-01-20 rabbi feinberg attacks iceland policy

Toronto Star, January 20, 1947.

gm 1947-02-01 coleman more discrimination

Globe and Mail, February 1, 1947.

The nationality in question was Greek, a community which had long faced discrimination in the city, most infamously during the Anti-Greek Riot in 1918.

gm 1947-02-03 icelandia ad threatening legal action against coleman

Globe and Mail, February 3, 1947.

A month later, Icelandia served Coleman and G&M general manager Harry Kimber with a libel notice. I have not found any subsequent coverage, leading me to believe it was unsuccessful.

gm 1947-02-03 council gets proposal to bar licenses

Globe and Mail, February 3, 1947.

varsity 1947-02-04 mr allen of icelandia 350

The Varsity, February 4, 1947.

varsity 1947-02-13 pickets 200

The Varsity, February 13, 1947.

For more on the 1944 Anti-Discrimination Act, check out my TVO piece on its 75th anniversary.

Searching for more stories of people affected by Icelandia’s icy attitude towards others, I came across this account from actor Al Waxman. In his autobiography That’s What I Am, Waxman described a youthful incident where his hockey teammates unanimously elected him captain. The coach quickly vetoed the team’s decision, as Waxman was the only Jew.

I waited until everyone left, then, sitting alone in that locker room at Icelandia, where Jews were not welcome, I cried. I had been hit by flying pucks, slapped in the face by swinging sticks, smothered in scrambles around the net, but had never cried before.

gm 1947-03-13 icelandia ad attacking mayor saunders

Globe and Mail, March 13, 1947.

Some sour grapes after a parade honouring champion skater Barbara Ann Scott failed to go past Icelandia. The rink’s ads frequently boasted that Scott had skated there. Management may have also been angry at Mayor Robert Saunders over attempts to prevent the rink from operating fully on Sundays, a battle which took up plenty of court time throughout the rest of 1947.

The city considered buying Icelandia in 1950 but decided the asking price of $115,000 was too high, especially for a building that required an addition to bring the ice up to standard. With no fanfare, it appears the rink closed its doors the following year. As of June 2020, its site is a surface parking, likely awaiting future redevelopment.

tspa_0048893f_gaireyjr

Harry Gairey Jr. and Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall. Photo by Boris Spremo, originally published in the January 25, 1996 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0048893f.

star 1996-01-25 gairey rinkToronto Star, January 25, 1996.

When he died in 2015, Gairey Jr. was remembered for his half-century as a basketball referee in the city. “He had a far-reaching impact on everybody,” fellow ref Al Northcott told the Star. “He never answered a harsh word with a harsh word himself.”

An Exhibition in Crystal

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on August 23, 2008.

2008_08_23crystal1871

Crystal Palace, 1871. Exhibition Place & CNE Archives.

Once upon a time, the consort of a queen whose empire stretched across the globe was the president of a society that encouraged the promotion of the finest arts, commercial enterprises, and industrial discoveries in his domain. With other major figures, he organized a grand exhibition housed in a magnificent palace made of crystal. The palace inspired observers so much that cities across the ocean built their own versions to raise the same level of excitement that the consort’s fair generated. All went well with these buildings, except for their penchant for eventually catching fire…

Using Sir James Paxton’s design for the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a model, two incarnations of Toronto’s Crystal Palace served the public as a primary exhibition space for half a century while rotating provincial fairs gave way to the Canadian National Exhibition.

The first Crystal Palace, officially named the Palace of Industry, was built in 1858 on grounds northwest of King and Shaw Streets, south of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. Designers Sandford Fleming (the inventor of standard time) and Collingwood Schreiber based their plans on Paxton’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park but incorporated more cast iron into the framework to withstand Toronto’s climate (which sounds like the 1850s equivalent of the construction of the Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum). A contemporary account felt the structure “look[ed] very low, and as if crushed down by the superincumbent mass of roof.” The building was designated Toronto’s first permanent exhibition hall and was inaugurated with the annual provincial agricultural/industrial exhibition that had rotated among several cities in Canada West since 1846.

The building was officially opened by Governor-General Sir Edmund Walker Head on September 28, 1858. Attendees of the event were led in prayer by Bishop John Strachan, then treated to a recital by the Metropolitan Choral Society. Among the prize-winning exhibitors was author Catharine Parr Traill, who was honoured for bringing “the best collection of native plants dried and named.” The site would see four more provincial fairs, house the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) during his 1860 tour of Canada, and provide quarters for troops heading west to put down the Red River Rebellion in 1870.

2008_08_23crystal1906

Crystal Palace, c. 1906. Exhibition Place & CNE Archives.

By the time Toronto was awarded the 1878 provincial fair, the city had deemed the site inadequate to handle increasing crowds. After considering High Park, Bloor and St. George and Woodbine Park as potential sites, the city struck a lease with the federal government in April 1878 for a western segment of Fort York’s garrison reserve that formed the beginning of Exhibition Place. The Crystal Palace was dismantled and most of the ironwork was incorporated in a new main building east of Dufferin Street. The design was maintained with some alterations (an additional story, raised skylights and a cupola). The old site was sold to the Massey Manufacturing Company.

As had been the case two decades earlier, the Governor-General was on hand to open the new Crystal Palace. Lord Dufferin’s speech urged the crowd to draw the nation closer to Great Britain, “live in generous rivalry” with the United States, and to keep a close eye on politicians to ensure their actions rose above partisan shenanigans. The Telegram overheard a visitor declare the new Crystal Palace “ain’t no slouch.” The paper agreed, describing the site glowingly:

The main building is large enough to accommodate the inhabitants of an ordinary township. The buildling, as a building, is admirably adapted for exhibition purposes, being light and airy in appearance and of considerable strength. The internal arrangements are such that no exhibit suffers from want of space or light. When the Philharmonic Society sang at the opening, the acoustics were found to be excellent.

City officials hoped that the Crystal Palace and its surrounding new buildings would convince provincial exhibition officials to keep the fair in Toronto for the next few years. When organizers awarded the 1879 edition to Ottawa, politicians and business leaders mobilized to establish a permanent annual exhibition for Toronto. The first Toronto Industrial Exhibition was held in September 1879 and grew steadily over the next quarter-century. By the time the fair’s name was officially changed to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1904, the Crystal Palace was officially known as the Transportation Building.

2008_08_23crystalfire

The Telegram, October 19, 1906.

Crystal palaces elsewhere had proven highly susceptible to fire. Toronto’s seemed to be holding up well until October 18, 1906. Just after 10 p.m. a blaze broke out in the wooden grandstand and, despite heavy rainfall, quickly spread to neighbouring stables. The Mail and Empire described the dramatic events that unfolded around 11:30:

A cry arose from the crowds…that the Transportation Building was alight. A spark had found a lodgment directly under the eaves of the east front. It had gradually eaten into the dry wood of the structure…the old Crystal Palace was soon alight and blazing merrily…all efforts to save it were fruitless, for the numerous panes of glass in the walls broke with resounding cracks and served as draughts to fan the flames.

The old building…furnished to the drenched onlooker a much more striking picture in its destruction than ever before in its history. Every window, and they are legion, was outlined in black against a background of fire. As the flames seized upon the roof they leaped high in the air, scattering embers in every direction, and making a fearsome pyrotechnic display. Finally dull crashes were heard, and the roof began to fall, the girders sank to the ground, and all that remained was a number of scattered black pillars of iron, like giant arms stretched imploringly to the scarlet sky.

Arson was suspected, thanks to two unusual encounters Park Commissioner John Chambers had with a cyclist roaming the grounds during the blaze. Chambers told The Daily Star that a man “with a peculiar foreign accent” approached him from the grandstand area and told him that “the whole place [was] going to be burned.” After Chambers assisted firefighters in saving the Fruit Building, the cyclist reappeared to tell Chambers, “[I]t is no use to save any of these buildings. You might as well leave your hose alone, because you can’t do any good.” When Chambers asked the cyclist to help fight the blaze, the man cursed at Chambers (“oh, go to —-“) and vanished into the night.

The Crystal Palace site did not remain empty for long. G.W. Gouinlock’s dome-topped Horticulture Building was erected the following year. As for the building that provided the initial inspiration, London’s Crystal Palace went up in flames in 1936.

Additional material from the September 25, 1878 edition of The Telegram and the October 19, 1906 editions of The Mail and Empire and The Toronto Daily Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

pictures-r-2883_640px

Crystal Palace, date unknown, used in Landmarks of Toronto Volume 5. Toronto Public Library, JRR 552 Cab.

sketches of toronto crystal palace 1

sketches of toronto crystal palace 2

Sketches of Toronto by Alfred Sylvester (Toronto: Rossin House News Depot, 1858).

pictures-r-3954_640px

Crystal Palace, looking north, with Dufferin Street Wharf in the left foreground. Photo of wood engraving based on a drawing by William T. Smedley, 1881. Toronto Public Library, JRR 2729 Cab. Click here for larger image.

sketches of toronto crystal palace 3

sketches of toronto crystal palace 4

Sketches of Toronto by Alfred Sylvester (Toronto: Rossin House News Depot, 1858).

pictures-r-4107_640px

Crystal Palace, 1884. Toronto Public Library, E 9-189 Small.

grumbler 1858-10-09 crystal palace small

A negative review of the Crystal Palace, The Grumbler, October 9, 1858.

pc33_640px

Postcard by Walter M. Lowney Co. of Canada, Limited, 1905. Toronto Public Library, PC 33. Click here for larger version

globe 1906-10-19 crystal palace fire 1

The Globe, October 19, 1906. 

Greeting Easter 1910

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 3, 2010.

20100403worldcover

Toronto Sunday World, March 27, 1910.
A description of Easter 110 years ago, courtesy of the Globe:

When the world is beginning to awaken to the fact that spring with all its revivifying and gladdening influences is at hand, when the earth is delivered from the bondage of the iron hand of winter, it is appropriate that paeans of praise and thanksgiving should rise from every Christian church the world over. Yesterday afternoon in Toronto in nearly four hundred churches special choral services were held, and every pulpit spoke forth a message appropriate to the day. Toronto looked like a new city yesterday when Easter raiment and Easter hats, as though by the waving of a magician’s wand, changed the dull streets of a few days back into avenues full of life and colour. No other flower blooms into being quite so suddenly as that which decks the maiden’s hat on Easter Sunday, and none of the birds of spring make their appearance in quite the unheralded fashion of the one that sings his silent song from its perch amidst the foliage unknown to science that adorns some of the new spring creations. It will still be some time before the trees begin to leaf, the early flowers to peep above the sod, and when they do the process will be a gradual one, but the women of Toronto yesterday anticipated the process and bloomed forth into the raiment of spring in a single day.

The city’s newspapers that weekend were full of flowery prose, extensive listings of the songs heard at four hundred churches, and a few other stories we’re going to share.

20100403stclairmud

Muddy St. Clair Avenue West, east of Avenue Road, 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 19. A researcher’s note on the back of the photograph reads, “This photo appeared in the Toronto World, Sunday, May 15, 1910, under heading ‘Beautiful Toronto Street Much Favored by Horsemen, Cyclists and Pedestrians–Three Views of St. Clair-avenue.’” Based on this photo, we’re guessing the copywriter had their tongue firmly in cheek.

In its Good Friday editorial, the Globe wrote about the controversial widening of St. Clair Avenue from a two-lane road into an artery that could handle multiple lanes of traffic and a streetcar line. The sticking point was who would pick up the cost: the city or taxpayers?

Some of the property-owners say that they moved to the avenue to be far away from street cars, laden wagons, automobiles, and all the other dusty and noisy features of city life. They do not want to attract them by widening the street—largely at their own cost. The dreaded traffic will come, however, whatever the width of the street may be, for it is the only artery that serves an area which is being rapidly populated. If the traffic must come, willy-nilly, it is better for all concerned that the street should be made spacious enough now to make it adequate for all time to come.

Despite concerns that the project would be caught up in bureaucratic bungling (the impression given by the editorial is that city projects constantly sailed through various levels of government only to be stymied by one unhappy official or board), the widening eventually went ahead. Whether it was made wide enough is a question to ask anyone with an opinion on the St. Clair right-of-way project.

20100403newstreetcarroutes

The Telegram, March 28, 1910.

Speaking of streetcars, Toronto Railway Company general manager R.J. Fleming announced a series of new lines that looped around City Hall and crossed the Don River. Among the routes were two that began the process of connecting the many short streets that later formed the path of Dundas Street from Bathurst to Broadview. The eastern route along what was then Wilton Avenue and Elliott Street was hoped to relieve pressure on Queen Street as the number of commuters from Riverdale grew, as well as to allow a new crossing of the Don River to be built. The loops around City Hall were designed to lessen congestion created by the thousands of employees heading to work at Eaton’s and Simpson’s. According to the News, city council disagreed with the proposed line for University Avenue “for scenic reasons” and because of the noise it would create in front of the new site for Toronto General Hospital.

And now, a word from our sponsor…

20100403hats

Mail and Empire, March 25, 1910.

The other major story from east of the Don was a coroner’s inquest into the death of laundryman Mah Yung from typhoid at the Don Jail. Yung was arrested on March 12 at his store on Parliament Street, where, according to the Globe, “other Chinamen” called the police when Yung “had gone out of his mind and was breaking up the furniture.” Though an autopsy determined Yung’s state was caused by a typhoid-induced delirium with symptoms resembling insanity, the arresting officer didn’t call a doctor, as Yung did not appear to be in any pain. Although a law passed a few years earlier indicated anyone suspected of mental illness shouldn’t be locked up with anyone charged or convicted of a criminal offence, that’s precisely what happened to Yung when he reached the jail. His condition varied over the next few days, with most accounts noting that he repeatedly got out of bed, put his clothes on, and then reversed the process. After nearly a week, Yung’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he was rushed to Toronto General Hospital, where he quickly succumbed to peritonitis that set into a ruptured bowel. The inquest determined that medical facilities at the jail were grossly inadequate and the physicians had not taken enough care in diagnosing Yung’s true ailment—insanity, partly determined by rumours heard by Yung’s friends that he might have spent time in an asylum in Vancouver. As a News editorial noted, “the fact that the victim was a Chinaman does not render any less satisfactory the breakdown of the medical machinery in connection with the Toronto prison system.” While the inquest was under way, local health officials downgraded a boiled water alert, as the count of bacteria in the city water supply that led to Yung’s condition had dropped.

20100403hanlans

Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 192A.

On a lighter note, the News also provided an update on the reconstruction of recreational facilities at Hanlan’s Point that were damaged or destroyed by fire the previous summer—“the sound of hammer and saw and the general bustle and activity at Hanlan’s Point these days reminds one forcibly of the springtime scene in a young but growing town in the Prairie Provinces, where they sprout up and stretch out as if by magic.” The $250,000 of improvements made by the Toronto Ferry Company included a doubling of the capacity of the baseball stadium, improved fire protection, and the installation of a new roller coaster at the amusement park:

Two cars start off together on opposite sides of a platform, are hauled up the steep incline and then tear away on their mad course a mile and a half in length, including all the circuits and curves, which they cover in three and one-half minutes. The speed is that of a railway train, and if that, together with the up-jerks and down-jerks, is not enough excitement, a little more is provided by the apparent race with another racing car on a parallel course close by. The Racer Dips are specially strengthened and provided with side guards to prevent any possibility of a car leaving the course.

20100403musicdrama
The News, March 26, 1910.

If riding the Racer Dips was too much excitement for a leisurely activity, why not take part in a play? The News provided tips from Toronto Conservatory School of Expression director F.H. Kirkpatrick for budding thespians on how to properly run an amateur dramatic club. Most important: find a director or stage manager who “must be dominant, firm, tactful and possessed of an infinite degree of patience.” In terms of suitable material, “it is almost unnecessary to suggest that one cannot portray that which is without one’s experience. Consequently it would be wise to avoid dramas that call for the portrayal of deep and subtle emotions.” Fitzpatrick felt that “plays of simple plot, somewhat rapid movement, normal characterization and clear situations” were appropriate for non-professionals. Ideal genres included farce, situation comedies, and “plays of a simple heart-interest.” He also believed many clubs ignored the crucial elements of choosing the right pictures to post on the stage, which we suspect may have helped distract audiences from the cliched action in front of them.

Sources: the March 25, 1910, March 26, 1910, and March 28, 1910 editions of the Globe; the March 25, 1910 edition of the Mail and Empire; the March 26, 1910 and March 28, 1910 editions of the News; and the March 26, 1910 edition of the Telegram.

An Illustrated Business Quartet, 1893

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on January 23, 2010.

20100123ticover

Cover of Toronto Illustrated 1893 (Toronto: Consolidated Illustrating, 1893).

“Towering triumphantly on the northern shore of the majestic Lake Ontario, Toronto…presents in her commercial history a record of advancement, an epitome of industrial progress and a chapter in itself redundant of individual and collective instances of energy and enterprise to which few communities of the New World can rightly lay claim.” So opens the introduction to Toronto Illustrated 1893, a guide to merchants and service providers in the Queen City that offers insight into familiar and forgotten titans of industry. Following a background sketch of the city’s history and economic development, profiles of bankers, corset manufacturers, chewing gum distributors, doctors, hoteliers, industrialists, and not-so-starving artists fill out the book. The profiles are fawning and often contain generic information that could apply to anyone (“one of our most deservedly popular and successful business enterprises”) but provide an interesting glimpse of the local business community during the “Naughty Nineties,” including the four that follow.

20100123parker

Parker’s Dye Works, 787-791 Yonge Street. Toronto Illustrated 1893.

The first business to merit a profile is among the few still in operation. Robert Parker established his first cleaning and dyeing operation in Ottawa in 1876, originally focusing on adding colour to ostrich feathers. The book noted that “Mr. Parker is an Englishman by birth and a young man of exceptional business ability who, by close application and carefully attending to the interests of his patrons, has built up a business of such magnitude that he finds it now almost impossible to keep pace with growing demands made upon him. Such a condition of affairs certainly speaks for itself.” By 1893, Parker’s Dye Works operated six locations around the city, plus branches scattered from London to Hamilton where one could have sung the company’s jingle “We Dye to Live.” The main office and processing facility took up several storefronts along Yonge Street where the Toronto Reference Library now stands. By the end of the decade, Parker’s was the second company in Toronto to use motorized delivery vehicles, an achievement recognized on a postage stamp a century later. The dyeing portion of the business decreased over time, though it might be amusing to watch the clerk’s reaction if you brought ostrich feathers in for dyeing at any current location of Parker’s Cleaners.

20100123abellfactory

John Abell Engine and Machine Works. Toronto Illustrated 1893.

Spectators of the wars between preservationists and developers may remember the battle during the 2000s over 48 Abell Street. Long before its use as a space for artists, the complex turned out boilers, engines, threshers, and other agricultural implements under the careful eye of John Abell. Born in England, Abell established his company in Vaughan Township in 1845 as the Woodbridge Agricultural Works. Despite the occasional hiccup, such as a fire in 1874 that nearly destroyed the business, Abell was highly regarded for the quality of his machinery and his community involvement. Before moving his operations to Queen Street in 1886, Abell served as a justice of the peace, the president of several agricultural societies, and, for a term, as the first reeve of Woodbridge. By 1893, the John Abell Engine and Machine Works employed 150 skilled workers whose toil included the boilers for Massey Hall and machinery sold to exotic locales like the Ottoman Empire.

20100123abellrogers

Portraits of John Abell and Elias Rogers. Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: The Mail Printing Company, 1891).

The Globe praised Abell’s personal qualities in an editorial published shortly after his death in 1903:

[He] was a man of singularly engaging personality. He had a strong scientific bent and exceptional mechanical aptitude. He was by nature an inventor and by temperament a student…His main interest in his work was not the amount of money he could make out of it, but the amount of good he could accomplish by relieving the toilers through the improvement of the implements with which they have to work…He was, in spite of his modesty, a charming conversationalist, because of his keen sagacity, intellectual originality, and generous sympathies. He was a conspicuous example of the enterprising capitalist who successfully resists the narrowing and hardening tendency of intense application to mechanical or commercial pursuits.

Abell’s company was purchased by two American interests shortly before his death and operated for another decade as the American Abell Engine and Thresher Company.

20100123rogersworldad

Elias Rogers advertisement, The Toronto World, February 13, 1914.

For years, the Elias Rogers coal bucket and its promise of the “very best” in heating fuel was a familiar sight to Toronto newspaper readers. Born near Newmarket, Rogers entered the local coal business with his brother Samuel in 1876 after buying mines in Pennsylvania. Toronto Illustrated claimed that Rogers owned “the largest yards and the most improved facilities for handling coal in Canada,” used “one of the best arranged telephone systems in the city,” and compared his position in the coal trade to that of Macy’s in retail. By the end of 1890, Elias Rogers Coal operated a variety of offices and yards around the city and a pair of large docks along the Esplanade near St. Lawrence Market that could process 725 tonnes of coal a day.

20100123rogerscoal

Elias Rogers Coal & Wood Co. – property, south side of Esplanade East (near foot of Berkeley Street), 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 30, Item 33 .

Rogers entered the political arena as a city councillor for the St. Lawrence ward in 1887. He was positioned as a reformist candidate for mayor later that year, but his campaign faltered after an attempt by teetotalling Quaker Rogers to tar opponent Edward Frederick Clarke‘s ties to the liquor industry. Clarke responded by accusing Rogers of being part of a price-fixing coal cartel. Rogers left the political realm after his defeat, but remained a key figure in local business organizations (including a stint as president of the Board of Trade in the 1890s). He sold his interests in the coal business to his son Alfred around 1912 and died eight years later.

20100123methodist1892

Wesley Buildings, Richmond Street side. Toronto Called Back From 1892 to 1847 by Conyngham Crawford Taylor (Toronto: William Briggs, 1892).

One of the oldest businesses in Toronto Illustrated was the Methodist Book and Publishing House, which first cranked up its press in 1829. By 1893, this branch of the Methodist Church was one of the country’s largest publishers, and its offices at Richmond Street West and Temperance Street pumped out educational, religious, and secular literature under the watchful eye of Reverend William Briggs. One of Briggs’ main policies was to use profits from foreign publications to fund the printing of Canadian authors like Charles G.D. Roberts and Catherine Parr Traill.

20100123methodistqueenjohn

Methodist Book Room, southeast corner of Queen and John streets, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 761.

By 1913 the church and book company (later known as Ryerson Press) required more space for its head offices; a facility was built at 299 Queen Street West, later the home of CITY-TV.

As for the future of Toronto’s business community, the anonymous author believed, “It is safe to predict that the historian of the industries of the future will be able to point back to those of today as the auspicious beginnings of a greater and brighter destiny.”

Additional material from the August 10, 1903 and April 12, 1920 editions of the Globe.

A Handbook to the Royal Ontario Museum, 1956

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on July 9, 2011.

20110709cover

Cover of The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956), designed by Claire Wheeler.

“A museum is a home of muses and in Canada, far enough from the slopes of Mount Helicon in space and time, those traditional patrons of the arts and sciences have their worthiest habitat in the Royal Ontario Museum.” Whoever wrote the 1956 edition of The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook felt these were appropriate words to introduce visitors to the wonders within.

20110709mainfloor

Map of the main floor.

A few years earlier, in their travel guide Ontario in Your Car, John and Marjorie Mackenzie had kind words to say about the museum:

Some American naval friends of ours, who had spent many years in the Orient, said that they thought the Chinese Art Exhibition at this museum was the finest they had ever seen. But this is only one of the many and varied exhibits which are housed here. It is, indeed, “the record of Nature through countless ages; the arts of man through all the years.” If you have children with you, they are sure to be entranced by the huge skeletons of the Dinosauria, and by the Indian figures, arranged in life-like family groups.

The ROM of 1956 was an H-shaped building consisting of the original wing along Philosophers Walk opened in 1914 and an addition one built along Queen’s Park that welcomed its first visitors in 1933. The museum operated as a branch of the University of Toronto, an arrangement that lasted until 1968. It was open daily except on Mondays—we imagine the educational nature of the institution redeemed it in the eyes of all but the most zealous no-fun-on-Sunday types. Anyone desperate to wander in on Monday could catch a small glimpse of the exhibits on their way to the coffee shop that remained open. Admission was free except on Wednesdays and Fridays, when adults paid a quarter. The same admission fee applied for any of the seven “open nights” held throughout the year, where visitors could linger until 10 p.m. in the exhibit areas and enjoy guest speakers. For annual fees of either $5 (for Ontario residents outside of Toronto) or $10 (locals), members enjoyed perks like free admission, invitations to previews of special exhibits, guided tours for up to 10 people, two event calendars per year, an annual report, and discounts on U of T extension courses offered through the museum.

20110709kidney

Kidney iron ore: not so tasty with steak in a pie.

The handbook’s gallery coverage was split into three main sections: the Earth (rocks and minerals), life (animals), and the “arts of Man.” Among the curios shown in the first section was a rock that resembled a cluster of kidneys.

20110709geologyentrance
Entrance to the Geology gallery.

The geology galleries enticed visitors with displays that included discoveries made during construction of the original Yonge subway line and a showcase on a site now associated with green space and a weekend market:

The west gallery is entered through a foyer, where photo-murals and specimens are displayed in an attractive manner. Three of the photographs depict geologists at work, while others pointedly illustrate many of the topics explained in the exhibits throughout the gallery. Of special interest is a plaque of the colourful building stones used decoratively throughout the museum building. The main displays follow in a series of alcoves, each alcove having a central theme. The first of these units depicts some of the rocks, and the geological history of southern Ontario, while other exhibits illustrate the geological information revealed by the excavations for the Toronto subway. The west wall of the alcove is dedicated to the Don Valley brickyard, where the sands and clays are the evidence of an extremely varied climate in the Toronto area during the past several hundred thousand years.

20110709duckbilldino

Duck-billed dinosaur.

Then as now, dinosaurs were a children’s favourite. Most of the museum’s collection originated in the badlands of Alberta. Specimens were divided into five simple streams: duck-billed, horned, armoured, carnosaurs, and ostrich-like. Duck-billed dinosaurs like the one depicted in the guide were described as “probably inoffensive, herbivorous dinosaurs normally walking on four legs but capable of rapid motion on their hind legs when pursued.”

20110709housefly

“House Fly: enlarged models tell the story of its unwholesome relations to Man.”

One exhibit the handbook described at length but didn’t show was a tribute to the passenger pigeon. The exhibit attempted to re-create the extinct bird’s habitat at Forks of the Credit during the 1870s:

In the background looms the blue-grey mass of the escarpment. In the middle distance lies a pioneer clearing in which stands a log cabin, and the foreground is the edge of a fine, old, beech-maple wood. The migrating pigeons, in their hundreds of thousands, stream across the sky and some are alighting to feed in the fields and at the edge of the wood. One drinks from a sap bucket while perched on the spile driven into a sugar maple. On the ground a male and female are billing in the fashion of domestic pigeons.

20110709muskrat

“From Muskrat to Hudson Seal, an Economic Exhibit telling the story of a fur coat.”

But the handbook did contain a nice picture of a display that would displease anti-fur activists: how a muskrat became a Hudson Seal coat.

20110709woodenhead

“Wooden head covered with skin, African, from Calabar, Nigeria.”

In the transition from describing Eurocentric antiquities to those from the rest of the world in the “Arts of Man” section, the author made a statement about Western culture that surely would never be allowed in current museum literature.

Although the mechanical achievements of the European peoples have probably excelled all others, their civilization is, after all, that of only a small portion of mankind, and it is fitting in a Museum such as this that the fact should be clearly recognised. The ground floor has been given over, therefore, to the exhibition of the arts and crafts of aboriginal America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.

20110709teachingobjects
Gathering around a totem pole as an example of “teaching with objects.”

The handbook ends with a section on the museum’s education services. “For child and adult alike,” the author noted, “the experience of seeing and learning about real things makes history live and develops a better understanding of the relationship of man and nature throughout time and space.” The school group clustered around the totem pole likely came from within 250 kilometres of the museum. Before visiting, they would have been asked to figure out which areas of the museum they were most interested in, as long as those subjects matching up with their school’s curriculum.

20110709schoolkids

Toronto Star, January 25, 1956.

As for students in remote areas, museum staff armed with suitcases full of exhibits travelled to them. One trip earlier in the year was spotlighted in the Toronto Star:

History is being taken to Ontario school children in suitcases. Royal Ontario Museum teachers are taking historical items to Northern Ontario schools for pupils to study. Julia Laronde, North Bay, holds a snowshoe and an Indian hammer. Sharon Shore is all decked out like a fur trapper. This year marks the eight annual “expedition” of museum teachers to the northland. The teachers carry over 150 objects with them during their trips to Northern Ontario schools. Dennis Jeanneault is shown all dolled up in the breastplate of an Elizabethan page boy. Different areas of the northland are visited each year by the instructors, to show relics to pupils who are unable to travel to a museum…Trips last five weeks and last year teachers visited 267 schools and talked to 9,300 students.

We wonder how many of those students eventually visited the museum in person.

Unless noted, all images taken from The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956). Additional material from Ontario in Your Car by John and Marjorie Mackenzie (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1950) and the January 25, 1956 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

second floor map

third floor

The original piece did not include these maps of the upper floors.

IMG_3977a

The old wing names are still visible if you into the rotunda next to the Queen’s Park entrance. Here’s one side of the first floor, as seen in February 2020…

IMG_3966a

IMG_3974a

…and both sides of the second.

Holiday-September-1955 500px

ts 55-08-16 holiday magazine ad

Toronto Star, August 16, 1955.

Around this time, the ROM received a shout-out in Holiday magazine’s salute to the city.

ts 56-10-20 isho robes

Toronto Star, October 20, 1956.

An example of how exhibits were described by the press in the mid-1950s.

Souvenir Views of Toronto, Canada

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 2, 2010. Because the original links to the postcards vanished from Torontoist following a site redesign, and because I don’t appear to have any related Word documents, I have no idea if any text other than subject identification appeared under these images, nor what order they were originally presented in. Comments written under the postcards were written in 2020.

20100930Frontofpackage

Usually when preparing Historicist, we dig through local archives and libraries to find the pieces of Toronto’s past that are brought to you every weekend. Sometimes the material finds us, as is the case with today’s gallery of postcards submitted by reader Todd J. Wiebe.

The postcards were among a large collection of items donated by the estate of fine art scholar Richard Wunder to the Van Wylen Library at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where Wiebe works as a librarian and assistant professor. “It is a very large collection,” says Wiebe, “and this past summer was the first we really got around to going through it.” As the materials were being processed and appraised, a worker in the library found the postcards and passed them on to Wiebe “because I’m from Southern Ontario.”

The set contains twenty-two postcards attached to each other accordion-style. They were produced by the Canadian branch of Scottish postcard maker Valentine & Sons. Based on the age of the landmarks depicted, we’re guessing that this package was produced in the mid-to-late 1920s due to the presence of Union Station (opened in 1927, though it had stood largely completed since 1920) and, given the presence of the city’s tallest buildings in the set, the lack of postcards for the Royal York Hotel (opened in 1929) and Commerce Court (opened in 1931).

20100930BloorStreetViaduct

Streetcars carried commuters over the viaduct until the Bloor-Danforth subway line opened in 1966.

20100930CasaLoma

That Casa Loma is referred to as Henry Pellatt’s residence makes me wonder if some or all of this series was produced in the early 1920s, as Pellatt was forced to leave the premises in 1923.

20100930CentralTechSchool

Judging from this view, it appears Lippincott Street was open to traffic in front of Central Tech.

20100930Churches

All five of these churches remain active as of 2020, though the landscapes around them have changed radically.

20100930CityHall

Opened in 1899, City Hall was the heart of Toronto’s municipal dramas until city council moved across Bay Street in 1965.

20100930CPRKingYonge

Completed in 1913, the Canadian Pacific building is currently used for office space.

20100930CPRStation

North Toronto station closed in 1930. It became the Summerhill LCBO.

20100930Dominion-Bank

Built in 1914, the building at the southwest corner of King and Yonge was the headquarters of the Dominion Bank until it merged with the Bank of Toronto in 1955. In 2020, it houses the One King West Hotel & Residence.

20100930GeneralHospital

Toronto General moved to College and University in 1913. As of 2020, portions of the building fronting College Street houses MaRS.

20100930GovernmentHouse

Chorley Park, 1915-1961.

20100930KingEddy

Originally opened in 1903, the King Eddy gained its tower in 1922.

20100930King-Yonge

Several of the buildings in this postcard series seen together.

20100930NiagaraSteamerCayug

The Cayuga was one of several steamers owned by the Niagara Navigation Company. It was retired in 1957 and scrapped four years later.

20100930NormalSchool

Located in St. James Square, the Toronto Normal School trained several generations. Its site served as an incubator for OCAD, the ROM, and Ryerson University. Most of the building was demolished by 1963.

20100930OsgoodeHallLaw-Cour

Not pictured: the iron gates. Or cows.

20100930ParliamentBuildings

Two premiers presided over the proceedings at Queen’s Park during the 1920s – E.C. Drury’s UFO (United Farmers of Ontario) government gave way to Howard Ferguson’s Conservatives in 1923.

20100930RedEnsign

This appears to be an artistic interpretation of the Red Ensign, used as Canada’s flag through 1965.

20100930RoyalBank

Opened in 1915, the Royal Bank Building still stands at 2 King Street East.

20100930UnionStation

Was the front of Union Station ever this serene during the day?

20100930University

“University College” would be a more appropriate description for this postcard. Major additions to the U of T campus during the 1920s included Trinity College and Varsity Arena.

20100930View-from-Parliamen

University Avenue was still a genteel, tree-lined street south of Queen’s Park when this postcard was produced. Laid out in 1829, it was originally conceived as a genteel park boulevard which would lead up to the intended site for the King’s College campus. It was closed to commercial traffic, and no streets were allowed to cross its path. The road was opened up for full use in 1859, and expanded south of Queen Street.