One Fine Holiday Season in 1887

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Globe, December 23, 1887.

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

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

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Evening Telegram, December 20, 1887.

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

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

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The News, December 24, 1887.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Editorial item, The Globe, December 21, 1887.

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

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

Toronto Illustrated ’57

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

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Toronto from Lake Front.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween Hijinks

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

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The Telegram, October 29, 1949.

 

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

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1929.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Telegram, October 27, 1959.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notes from the paper:

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

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

The Mark of Edward VIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

Living the Towne & Countrye Square Life

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on January 19, 2013.

20130119enterprisebanner  Following the opening of Lawrence Plaza in 1953, North York went shopping plaza mad. As the once-rural township transformed into postwar suburbia, farms gave way to large retail structures and their accompanying parking lots. From small neighbourhood strip malls to major shopping centres like Don Mills and Yorkdale, North York residents could do most of their shopping near home. Among the participants in this boom was the oddly spelled Towne & Countrye Square. When it opened at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Steeles Avenue in June 1966, it touted itself as “Sophisticated ‘Downtown’ Shopping in a Country Club Atmosphere.” Although one would be hard-pressed to find any resemblance between a genteel golf course and the shopping centre’s present-day incarnation as Centerpoint Mall, credit the opening day ad writers for their imagination. As was typical of the era, the mall was greeted with several advertorial pages in the community newspaper, the Enterprise.

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Globe and Mail, November 16, 1961.

The oldest component of Towne & Countrye Square was Sayvette, which opened in November 1961. It was the second location for the discount department store chain, which had launched five months earlier in Thorncliffe Park. Management’s dreams of quickly building a Canada-wide chain crashed after the chain sustained a $1.5 million loss in 1962. By the time Towne & Countrye Square was built, Sayvette was supported by a mysterious saviour who eventually turned out to be Loblaws.

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Mall developer Marvin Kratter was one of Sayvette’s initial investors before withdrawing his shares within a year of the chain’s launch. The New York City-based real estate investor briefly owned Ebbets Field in Brooklyn then built the apartment complex which replaced the legendary baseball stadium after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. When Towne & Countrye opened, Kratter owned the Boston Celtics basketball team, who had just won their eighth consecutive NBA title. His New York Times obituary noted that Kratter viewed the team as a vehicle to promote one of his other investments: Knickerbocker Beer.

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

The mall’s unusual name was the result of a “Name the Centre” contest which drew 18,000 entries. The winner was Harry Wong, described by the Enterprise as “a semi-retired chemical engineer, of 62 Elm St., Toronto.” Wong received $1,000 and a return trip for two to Bermuda via Air Canada. There was no explanation why Wong added an extra “e” to “town” and “country”—we suspect it was to lend an antiquated, rustic air to the enterprise, a la “ye olde.”

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Anchors Sayvette and Super City were not directly attached to the main mall. Instead, they were linked by covered patios. A giant fountain was installed in the centre court. According to the Enterprise, “this huge floor-to-ceiling fountain ‘drops’ curtains of rain in three big circles within the fountain, while sprays add to the attraction around the base, and coloured lights enhance the effect.”

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Toronto Star, May 25, 1966.

Ads for Towne & Countrye Square began appearing in local newspapers a week before the official opening on June 1, 1966.

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Toronto Star, May 30, 1966.

Management tried to draw every demographic to the new shopping centre, including toddlers mutated into giants by atomic radiation.

The Telegram, May 31, 1966.

Among the amenities not mentioned in this ad: an auditorium, banquet space for up to 400, and a Tuesday night jazz concert series.

Indoor suburban shopping centres were still a novelty in 1966. “A completely enclosed shopping mall,” the Enterprise advertorial noted, “is like a building turned inside out. The entrances are on the inside and the outside is actually the backs of stores.” Designers used touches like quarry tile flooring, light filtered through skylights, plants, park benches, and street lights to create an illusion of being outside.

The Enterprise noted that Towne and Countrye’s stores preferred hiring local employees. “We are a part of the community and want to contribute more than just real estate and merchandise,” a mall spokesman noted. “By hiring our employees from the area, we are augmenting the basic income potential of the people who live there—our neighbours. This policy will be a sound addition to the economy of the area and play a major part in the future growth of the Towne & Countrye Square complex.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Reitman’s PR department was eager to tout the clothing retailer’s 209th store. An accompanying article noted that like its other locations, the Towne & Countrye store emphasized service and comfort: “Wide aisles, air-conditioning and restful lighting are installed with careful consideration for customers.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

It may seem odd that Bata didn’t bring in a Maple Leaf to open their Towne & Countrye location, but Detroit Red Wings goalie Roger Crozier was a good choice to draw in hockey fans. Despite suffering a bout of pancreatitis at the start of the 1965-66 season, Crozier led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup finals. Though the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the cup, Crozier was rewarded for his efforts with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Bata also tried to exploit Batmania, though it was a year ahead of the Adam West TV series when the shoe store unveiled its version of “Batman’s Girl.” While a short-lived “Bat-Girl” served as a romantic interest for Robin in early 1960s comic books, this female caped crusader could almost be a prototype of the better-known Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Super City Discount Foods was Loblaws’ lower-price banner during the 1960s, though management refused to publicly confirm or deny the grocery giant’s involvement. In the annual corporate report, Loblaws listed sales derived from Super City among other unidentified subsidiaries like National Grocers and Pickering Farms. By the time the connection was acknowledged in the late 1960s, Super City was merged with another Loblaws-owned budget chain, Busy-B.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

In its Enterprise advertorial, Super City promised customers “an exceptionally fast check out system, with extremely courteous cashiers.”  The piece also boasted about attractively displayed produce that was so fresh “it’s almost like picking them yourself.”

Toronto Star, June 3, 1966.

If this customer made up for missing opening day by becoming a regular patron of Towne & Countrye Square, she would have witnessed many changes in the years to come. Later additions included a movie theatre and a Bay department store, while Sayvette was replaced first by Woolco, then a succession of Loblaws-owned banners.

Toronto Star, November 29, 1990.

During the 1990 Christmas shopping season, newspaper ads announced a new identity for Towne & Countrye Square: Centerpoint Mall. The new name bothered Willowdale resident Gordon Allen, who complained about the American-style spelling to the Star:

“Strange! Did the shopping ‘centre’ people hire Americans to do this material and rename their ‘centre?’ Or are we really becoming so much Americanized that even these subtle Canadian differences are to disappear completely? I know that publications have for years left out the “u” in words like labour and favour in order to save space. But, frankly, it still sends shivers through me to see theatre spelled theater, labour and favour as labor and favor, and NOW THIS! Just curious.”

Additional material from the June 1, 1966 edition of the Enterprise, the October 19, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the December 9, 1999 edition of the New York Times, and the March 28, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

Happy 50th Birthday, North York!

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

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

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

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Photo: Doug Hyatt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

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Click on image for larger version.

A collection of North York historical landmarks.

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The accompanying map.

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

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

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Toronto Star, June 13, 1972.