The Eglinton Subway We Almost Had

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid, which launched the series, was originally published online on March 20, 2012. As the original introduction put it, “introducing Retro T.O., a new series where we revisit key moments in recent Toronto history that still reverberate today.”

Sticklers may notice I’m not republishing these in any particular order. You may continue to stickle (which turns out to be a word!)

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Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, July 21, 1995.

To those assembled at the corner of Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue, August 25, 1994 was a great day for the future of Toronto transit. A group of shovel-wielding dignitaries led by Ontario Premier Bob Rae broke ground on the Eglinton subway, a project that had been discussed for nearly three decades. Rae, whose York South riding would be served by the 4.7-kilometre, five-station line running from Black Creek Drive to Allen Road, touted the thousands of construction jobs required to build the subway before its planned opening in 2001. City of York officials were all smiles, especially Mayor Fergy Brown, who told reporters he was “busting my buttons with pride” that the municipality finally had its own rapid-transit system. If all went well, the future promised an extension from Black Creek to Pearson International Airport.

Despite the enthusiasm of the line’s backers, opposition rose from the Eglinton West Subway Committee, a group of businesses dreading the impact of construction on their livelihoods. Their fears echoed those expressed in response to every large-scale transit project Toronto has ever built, such as the “St. Clair Disaster.” “We’ll have a loss of parking,” local resident Elaine Chee told the Star. Fearing “traffic jams, noise and dust,” Chee believed the disruption would create a “loss of business and loss of jobs.”

Though work moving utilities and digging Allen station caused some headaches, fears of a neighbourhood apocalypse were unfounded. On July 21, 1995, the new Progressive Conservative government announced $1.9 billion in cuts to education, infrastructure, job training, and social services. Among Minister of Finance Ernie Eves’ statements: “We will proceed with transit projects in a phased approach, beginning with the Sheppard line in Toronto. We are deferring the Eglinton West project until the province and Metro Toronto have sufficient funding to proceed.”

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Toronto Star, July 22, 1995. Click on image for larger version.

The preservation of the more expensive Sheppard line struck some observers as purely political, as if the Tories gave Rae the finger and punished City of York voters for rejecting the party at the polls. By contrast, voters along the Sheppard line provided the new government with its attorney-general, Charles Harnick. It didn’t hurt that Sheppard’s loudest booster, North York Mayor Mel Lastman, was a longtime Tory. Provincial officials who insisted that the Eglinton line was merely hibernating sounded as convincing as a dead parrot pining for the fjords.

The deferral sat poorly with recently elected City of York Mayor Frances Nunziata, whose municipality was left with a $50-million hole in the ground. With the support of councillors she usually fought with, Nunziata pressed the province to honour all existing contracts for the subway before mothballing it. Local coalitions that fought the subway gave way to groups working to save it, led by businesses worried about the impact of growing traffic jams along Eglinton.

While officials in York were livid, next door in Etobicoke, Mayor Doug Holyday took the cut in stride. Believing the cuts in general were a positive thing, he felt slashing Eglinton was a fact of life necessary to compensate for NDP overspending. “There is a time when we will want to see the subway go all the way to the airport,” he told the Star, that time being when money was available.

Little did Holyday know he’d wait almost two decades for that money to appear.

Additional sources: the August 25, 1994, August 26, 1994, and July 22, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, August 25, 1994.

Similar concerns have occurred over the course of the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, especially through Little Jamaica.

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Toronto Sun, August 26, 1994.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1994.

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Toronto Sun, July 21, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, July 21, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, July 22, 1995.

sun 95-07-22 editorial

You could play mad libs with this Toronto Sun editorial from July 22, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, August 4, 1995.

The Death of Benji Hayward

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on May 1, 2012. This article was assigned to me following the publication of an oral history of Degrassi Junior High. 

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“Gordon Hayward, right, father of drowning victim Benji Hayward who disappeared after a rock concert Friday, shown with family friend Henry Goodman, said his son’s apparent experiment with LSD should be a lesson to all parents: ‘Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids.'” Photo by Ron Bull, used on the front page of the May 19, 1988 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054093f.

May 13, 1988. Exhibition Stadium is packed for a Pink Floyd concert. Among the attendees is 14-year-old Benji Hayward. Despite warnings from friends, Hayward and a friend bought two pieces each of blotter paper sprinkled with LSD. Their drug use that night wasn’t isolated, as acid, coke, and crack were openly passed around the stands. As the concert closed, the friends separated in the crowd, each probably figuring the other would get home okay.

While his friend’s acid-induced wanderings resulted in a police pick up near Queen and Jameson, Benji headed toward the lake. He fell into the water near Coronation Park and drowned. His body was not discovered for four days, a period in which his parents, not satisfied with the relaxed pace the police adopted toward their missing-person request, organized a postering campaign to find their son.

After calls from politicians and community leaders for stronger drug-fighting tactics, a two-month coroner’s inquest was held that summer. Jurors learned that Hayward and his friend were warned by police on Yonge Street about drug possession two months before the concert, but due to regulations related to the Young Offenders Act of 1984, their parents were not informed. It was also revealed that, following the 1982 Charter of Rights, Metro Police turned over responsibility for searching concertgoers for drugs to promoters, who sometimes hired biker gangs involved in dealing to act as security. Hayward’s parents were frustrated at the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude demonstrated by law officials, but also admitted that they had a “not my child” attitude regarding the possibility of Benji using drugs.

As the inquest ended, Metro Police Inspector Julian Fantino admitted that mistakes had been made and the Haywards should have received more care regarding their concerns. He indicated that officers would resume contacting parents when their children had minor brushes with the law, that the procedures for missing person cases would be improved, and that police would launch a major anti-drug program that fall. He blamed the problems in the Hayward case on “the human element,” as officers found their hands tied by human-rights legislation and fear of the Public Complaints Act. Fantino also believed that an officer who had testified at the inquest was led “like a lamb to the slaughter.”

The jury issued 14 pages of recommendations when the inquest ended on August 13, 1988, three months to the day that Hayward disappeared. They urged all levels of government to declare war on drugs and drill drug education into students, even if took time away from other academic activities. Tougher sentencing and heavier police enforcement were needed, leading Fantino to announce a request for up to 90 extra officers and $6 million for an anti-drug campaign.

In an editorial three days later, the Star acknowledged the sincerity of the jurors but advised caution before implementing harsh, counter-productive measures that would further alienate youth. “Where trust is lacking,” the Star wrote, “how can young people feel comfortable discussing drug use openly with those who are trained to help them find equally attractive means of satisfaction in life?” The editorial agreed with a key message from the jury: “Please do not lull yourself into the misconception that living in suburbia and sending your child to a good school guarantees protection from this problem. This is not a problem of a few unfortunate families, the single parent, the poor, or your neighbor. This is your problem, this is my problem, this is our problem.”

The Hayward case inspired a storyline in a two-part episode of Degrassi Junior High (“Taking Off“) in February 1989, wherein Shane dropped acid under circumstances not unlike Benji Hayward’s. Unlike Benji, Shane survived a fall off a bridge but was left in a mentally-impaired state that served as a warning to anyone contemplating taking a hit.

Sources: the July 19, 1988, July 21, 1988, August 10, 1988, August 13, 1988, and August 16, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

Hotel Waverl(e)y

This installment of “Ghost City” was published online by The Grid on June 18, 2013.

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College and Spadina, looking northwest, May 13, 1927. The Waverley is in the background (click on photo for larger version). Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4888.

“If you really want the best, dine at the Waverley,” a person by the name of W.M. Canning advised a friend on the back of a postcard depicting a refined dining room at the Spadina Avenue establishment circa 1908. Hard to believe, but there was a time when the Waverl(e)y was considered a hotel worthy of formal dances, organizational lunches, and tourism offices.

Built by John J. Powell in 1900, the Hotel Waverley replaced a structure that once housed the local YMCA. For the next half-century, the hotel was operated by the Powell family, whose members were active in hospitality-industry associations—Egerton Powell served as president of the Ontario branch of the Greeters’ Association of America during the mid-1920s. That decade also saw the Waverley house the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association’s office and a Canadian Pacific ticket outlet.

Major changes came during the 1950s. The Powell family’s involvement appears to have ended following the 1954 death of Egerton’s widow, whose estate was battled over by 53 cousins. The hotel gained its first lounge licence the following year, then fell into liquidation in 1957. Newspaper ads in January 1959 proudly announced the opening of the “fabulous Silver Dollar Room,” whose debut act was “Canada’s Top Variety Group,” Tommy Danton and the Echoes. The venue soon settled into presenting local jazz musicians and bluesy singers like Olive Brown (whose selection of standards included venue-appropriate songs like “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”).

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Toronto Star, January 2, 1959.

However, in the ensuing years, the Waverley site acquired more dubious associations. During the early morning hours of November 17, 1961, a guest named Arthur Lucas made two telephone calls from his room to 116 Kendal Avenue. Just after 3:30 a.m., Lucas left the Waverley and headed north to meet Therland Crater, a drug dealer on the run from the Detroit underworld for working as an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. While Lucas claimed he was meeting Crater to discuss opening a bawdy house in Toronto, his true mission was murder. Lucas killed Crater and his wife Carolyn Newman, then returned to the Waverley around 6 a.m. to say goodbye to his roommate. He was captured in Detroit the following day. Lucas was convicted and hung alongside Ronald Turpin during Canada’s last execution in December 1962.

Another infamous killer was reputed to have checked into the Waverley during the 1960s. After assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, James Earl Ray spent part of his time on the lam in Toronto. Legend has it the Waverley was one of his stops, even though he told the Ottawa Sun that he spent his time ping-ponging between a pair of rooming houses in the Dundas-Ossington area. This didn’t prevent two men allegedly representing the American government from asking Waverley management in the mid-1990s about the hotel’s connection with Ray.

Corner of Spadina Ave. and College St., looking north-west

Corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street, looking northwest, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 55, Item 34.

If Ray enjoyed a drink at the Silver Dollar Room, he might have watched the entertainment Bill Cameron described in a Star profile that fall about Spadina Avenue. “The Silver Dollar Room,” Cameron observed, “is a bouncy rowdy little place with a busty tone-deaf singer and bored trio band and the greatest stripper I have ever seen, thin and not very pretty but with a splendid lascivious skill at detecting the rhythms of the house, of putting what she has just where it should be at precisely the right moment to get everybody there up just underneath the point of a riot.”

In 1970, poet Milton Acorn moved in for a long stay. “The Waverley Hotel was full of character and characters,” he noted. “It was a place for all sorts of strange but true types. People who were certainly down but not out.” The flophouse-like atmosphere suited the foul-smelling, highly-opinionated Acorn, who was named “The People’s Poet” by his peers soon after moving in. Acorn paid the daily rate rather than the monthly rent in case he ever decided to pick up and leave, and constantly changed rooms out of fear he was being bugged by the RCMP. Though he moved out in 1977, Acorn kept a writing room at the hotel until he left Toronto in 1981. His stay is commemorated with a small plaque.

ts 92-01-08 jonny vegas

Toronto Star, January 8, 1992.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the hotel was subject to periodic police raids and other woes. A bust in February 1978 netted 233 charges related to selling liquor to intoxicated persons. It was among the local bars hit by a two-week servers’ strike in September 1981, prompting the owners to personally serve trays of beer. A 1987 bust saw 16 people arrested for prostitution. Somewhere along the line, a new sign dropped the second “e” from the hotel’s name. Its rough atmosphere provided a great backdrop for Elmore Leonard, who set part of his novel Killshot at the Waverly. By the 1990s, management posted a sign reading “rooms should not be used for nefarious, wrongful or unlawful purposes.”

The Silver Dollar Room maintained a steady diet of blues and rock. For a time, it was home of the Elvis Monday music showcase. Around 1992, it changed its name to Jonny Vegas and briefly took down its signature sign. “I advised the new tenants against changing the sign,” property owner Paul Wynn told the Star. “I have a deal with them that, if the place fails, they’ll have to put up the Silver Dollar sign again.”

Time may be running out for the Waverly. The Wynn Group, which has owned the site since the mid-1980s, has released plans to replace the crumbling hotel with a 20-storey residential tower targeted to students that would include a gym and a rebuilt Silver Dollar Room. The project was criticized by Councillor Adam Vaughan, who called the plan “effectively a high-rise rooming house.”

Sources: East/West, Nancy Byrtus, Mark Fram, Michael McClelland, editors (Toronto: Coach House, 2000), Toronto: A Literary Guide by Greg Gatenby (Toronto: McArthur & Company, 1999), Milton Acorn: In Love and Anger by Richard Lemm (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1999), the June 12, 2013 edition of BlogTO, the December 12, 1923 edition of the Globe, the July 19, 1957, October 29, 1963, April 7, 1976, and April 7, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 28, 1955, January 2, 1959, October 12, 1968, February 2, 1978, September 2, 1981, December 4, 1987, January 8, 1992, and June 11, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The Silver Dollar Room received a heritage designation in January 2015. While city council rejected a demolition proposal in January 2014, the Waverly eventually had its date with a wrecking ball. The bar closed in spring 2017 and was demolished the following year.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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A pamphlet (uploaded by the Toronto Public Library) enticing travellers to stay at the Waverley, circa 1920. One can safely place College and Spadina into modern Toronto’s “congested traffic district.”

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1923.

gm 64-04-29 olive brown review

Globe and Mail, April 29, 1964.

227 Front Street East

This story was originally published as an online “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 7, 2013.

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Advertisement showing Consumers Gas Station A complex. Toronto’s 100 Years by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934).

For Consumers Gas, permission from the province in 1879 to produce gas for heating, appliance fuel, and industrial uses couldn’t have come at a better time. Its main business—providing gas extracted from coal for lamplighters to brighten the city’s street-lighting system—would soon be swept away by electricity. The resulting demand from businesses and homes for the fuel produced in its gasworks at Front and Parliament Streets, especially from areas recently annexed to Toronto, led to the company’s rapid expansion during the 1880s.

Consumers Gas purchased much of the land on the south side of Front between Berkeley and Trinity streets and quickly built a complex of processing facilities eventually known as Station A. Among them was a purifying house built in 1887 at the southwest corner of Front and Berkeley. Designed by the firm of Strickland & Symons, the building was styled to resemble a basilica. As architectural writer Patricia McHugh observed a century later, the building and its neighbouring facilities were “striking reminders of how architecturally accomplished utilitarian factories can be. Rows of great stone-capped piers, pinnacles, fancy brickwork, stepped gables—none of these were necessary to make gas, but they did announce corporate pride and confidence.”

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Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, File 124, File 3, Item 38.

The building processed gas until natural gas pipelines were connected to Toronto in the mid-1950s. Along with sites that eventually became 51 Division and Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre, the purifying house was one of very few parts of Station A to remain physically intact. Food manufacturer Dalton’s purchased the site in 1967, expanding its operations from the neighbouring building, a former woollen mill built in 1882 which Old City Hall architect E.J. Lennox reputedly had a hand in. Dalton’s specialized in maraschino cherries, pleasing cocktail drinkers and dessert lovers across the city. The combined structures became known as the Dalton Building.

The site was purchased in early 1984 by the Canadian Opera Company for offices, workshops, and rehearsal space. It would be the COC’s first permanent home—the company had relied on rentals around the city. Plans also called for a 400-seat performance venue to supplement the COC’s ongoing effort to build a permanent home, a quest which lasted until the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. Extensive renovations were boosted by a $1 million donation from the Tanenbaum family, which resulted in the facility being named the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. The complex opened in stages over three years.

ts 86-02-27 beggars opera review
Toronto Star, February 27, 1986.

The performance space, later known as the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, opened with The Beggar’s Opera on February 26, 1986. “The moral tone of Front Street E. went into precipitous decline last night,” Star critic William Littler cheekily opened his review, “when a perfectly respectable maraschino cherry factory yielded its address to a loud and unruly gaggle of thieves, cutthroats, strumpers, and procurers, otherwise known as the Canadian Opera Company.” Littler felt the space was “the ideal kind of ersatz opera house to accommodate history’s most famous send-up of that supposedly aristocratic form.” The moral tone of the area never recovered, to the delight of those who have toured the facilities or caught a performance there.

Additional material from A Tradition of Service: The Story of Consumers Gas (Toronto: Consumers Gas, 1993), Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989), and the November 11, 1984 and February 27, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

471 Bloor West (Hungarian Castle/BMV)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published online on September 18, 2012.

Bye Bye Black Hole of Bloor (1)

The Hungarian Castle undergoing renovations to transform into BMV, May 4, 2006. Click on image for larger version.

When it opened in 2006, the Bloor Street branch of BMV represented more than just a giant bookstore. Its bright blue exterior and large street-level windows removed an eyesore known to nearby businesses and residents as the “black hole of the Annex.” After nearly two decades of rot, any new owner or tenant occupying the former Hungarian Castle restaurant would have been greeted with open arms.

Why 471 Bloor St. W. appeared abandoned for so long is subject to rumours and urban legends. Elusive landlord Annie Racz didn’t provide answers during her lifetime. When she died in 2004, she left an estate consisting of millions of dollars worth of real estate centered around Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue, some of which remains empty under the stewardship of her heir. Despite high interest from potential buyers, Racz threw up barriers that months of negotiation couldn’t breach. Theories on why she hung onto these properties without maintaining them included attempts to prevent higher tax assessments, an inability to trust anyone, and sentimental reminders of her late husband.

True Patriotism

Toronto Star, January 14, 1915. W.J. Parks’ grocery at 473 Bloor West eventually became part of the Hungarian Castle/BMV building.

When Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan profiled Racz in 2003, he found that, after six weeks of trying to track her down, he didn’t feel any wiser than at the beginning of his investigation. He heard rumours that had her living anywhere from above By the Way Cafe to Richmond Hill, that she resembled a bag lady, and that her legs had been amputated. Annex Residents Association chair Eric Domville was so frustrated by Racz’s refusal to do anything with 471 Bloor that he began to wonder if she was “a figment of somebody’s imagination. Does she live in a cave, or in a secret hideaway like Lex Luthor?”

ts 73-12-03 hungarian castle ad platters

Toronto Star, December 3, 1973.

Racz hadn’t always been so shadowy or seemingly neglectful. Before she and her husband Leslie purchased the building, the site housed a variety of tenants. During the first half of the 20th century, it was occupied by several grocers, a drug company, and residents who enjoyed five-bedroom flats. After a succession of furniture stores operated there during the 1950s and 1960s, the Raczs spent two years transforming it into the medieval-styled Hungarian Castle. When the restaurant opened in 1972, it joined the large number of Hungarian eateries along the Bloor strip owned and patronized by fellow refugees who fled Hungary after the Soviet Union crushed the revolution in 1956. To make their eatery stand out, the Raczs hired Oscar Berceller, former proprietor of legendary King Street celebrity hangout Winston’s, as an advisor.

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Toronto Star, December 28, 1973.

During the years it operated, the Hungarian Castle was known for its kitschy decor and windows covered in wrought-iron crests and gates. A basement bakery drew praise from customers for its goodies and scorn from health officials for its filth. The upper floors housed a series of bars ranging from the Spanish-themed El Flamenco to student watering hole Annie’s Place.

Following her husband’s death during the 1980s, Racz closed the Hungarian Castle. Those interested in the space received calls from Racz in the middle of the night to meet her at doughnut shops. Book City owner Hans Donker’s enthusiasm to move his store a few blocks east dimmed after such encounters, along with Racz’s insistence that he retain the restaurant’s furnishings. When he toured the space with Racz circa 1990, he noticed that display cases were filled with rotting pastry.

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Toronto Star, June 11, 1978.

BMV owner Patrick Hempelmann was equally frustrated by his dealings with Racz. “We’d set up a meeting, come to a verbal agreement, and then she’d find some reason to pull out,” he told the Globe and Mail. When he purchased the building from her estate in September 2005, he found its interior resembled a horror-movie set. Liquor bottles still lined the bar and tables were set for dining. Pots were left on the stove and dishwashers were filled with plates. Grand pianos and raccoon corpses had rotted. The bakery was buried in four feet of water. It took three months, a crew of workers wearing ventilation masks, and 40 large dumpsters to clean the place out. Despite the decay, Hempelmann was relieved when the building was found to be structurally sound. A year after he bought it, book browsers filed in to spend hours looking for finds.

In some respects, the long decay of the Hungarian Castle mirrored the demise of the Hungarian community along Bloor West. Where it was once, as writer John Lorinc once termed it, “a veritable Budapest of eateries,” only the Country Style in the heart of the strip and the Coffee Mill in Yorkville survive. Perhaps the medieval warriors who graced the building’s exterior were fighting as best they could until they had to give in to the changing landscape.

Additional material from the February 27, 2003 edition of Eye Weekly, the August 28, 2004 and December 10, 2005 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 30, 1972 and June 11, 2006 editions of the Toronto Star. Since this article was originally published, the Coffee Mill closed in 2014.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, November 25, 1972.

 

 

 

1 Benvenuto Place

This story was originally published as an online “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 28, 2013.

Benvenuto, Avenue Road. - [1909?]

Benvenuto, circa 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 328A.

In a sense, Simeon Janes was already king of the hill. Regarded as one of Toronto’s sharpest real estate wheeler-dealers, he built a fortune during the 1880s by subdividing the land that became The Annex. When he decided to build a mansion in 1888, he settled on a property high up on Avenue Road with an expansive view of the growing city below.

Completed in 1891, Benvenuto lived up to English translation of its Italian name—“welcome”—as Janes entertained guests with feasts in its grand dining room and concerts in its conservatory. A contemporary account described the mansion as “a splendid piece of masonry, which puts to shame the flimsy ephemeral edifices, with their stuccoes and veneers, of modern house construction.”

Janes sold Benvenuto to Toronto Railway Company proprietor Sir William Mackenzie in 1897. Reputedly Mackenzie paid for part of the purchase in the pre-TTC streetcar operator’s stock, which was ironic given Janes backed an opposing bid when the city offered the transit contract to private concerns six years earlier. Mackenzie continued Benevenuto’s tradition of entertaining the rich while building a transportation empire which included the Canadian Northern Railway (the company responsible for developing Leaside).

Sir William McKenzie leaving Benvenuto. - [1910?]

Sir William Mackenzie leaving Benvenuto, circa 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1298.

Following Mackenzie’s death in 1923, the mansion fell into disuse. Parcels of the property were sold, resulting in the development of Edmund Avenue and Benvenuto Place. Developers who bought the remaining property in 1927 planned to demolish the mansion to make way for a deluxe apartment building. While the mansion was knocked down in 1932, several elements survived. The retaining wall along Avenue Road stayed put, while ornate gates Mackenzie shipped in from Italy moved west to their current location at 38-44 Burton Road.

Plans for an apartment complex remained in limbo until the early 1950s. Architect Peter Dickinson designed a flat-roofed, balcony-and-window-rich concrete structure which became one of Toronto’s first modernist buildings. Opened in stages between 1953 and 1955, 1 Benvenuto Place operated as a luxurious apartment hotel whose residents saw celebrities like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor pass through its lobby. The hotel service lasted through the late 1970s, after which it continued to offer some of the city’s priciest rental apartments.

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1 Benvenuto Place, 1955. Canadian Architectural Archives.

While there had been an onsite restaurant from the start, it didn’t make culinary waves until it transformed into Scaramouche in late 1980. Rising chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander handled the kitchen during its first two years, then Keith Froggett settled in for a run now heading into its 30th year. During the mid-’80s, pastry chef Joanne Yolles accidentally came up with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes after pondering the most blue-collar dessert she could make for a high-end eatery. The result: coconut cream pie. Soon after, a separate pasta bar offering $6 dishes created nightly lineups.

Talk of converting 1 Benvenuto Place into a condominium began in the mid-1980s, upsetting many residents. This may have been among the factors which led to the building’s addition to the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 1989. The conversion process finally went ahead in 2004, at which time monthly apartment rents ranged from $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $5,500 for a three-bedroom. Existing tenants had the option of continuing as renters or buying their apartments. For a time it appeared Scaramouche would be replaced with a single condo unit, but an agreement signed in March 2010 allowed the restaurant to continue serving diners.

Sources: Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: Mail Printing Company, 1891), The Railway King of Canada by R.B. Fleming (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1991), the July 2005 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 18, 1927, November 24, 1982, December 30, 1989, November 6, 2004, September 10, 2007, and March 12, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Drawing room of Benvenuto, early 1890s. Photo by Josiah Bruce. Toronto Public Library, 971-25-7.

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The Globe, January 4, 1897.

The sale to Sir William Mackenzie appears to have occurred in June 1897. The Star reported that it was rumoured he paid $100,000 for the property. Simeon Janes had paid $40,000 for the land, and $160,000 to build the home. Either Janes got a lot of Toronto Railway Company stock as further compensation, or Mackenzie picked up a bargain. Not until the end of October did the society columns indicate that the Mackenzies entertained guests at their new home.

Women in costume at Benvenuto. - [between 1912 and 1914]

Women in costume at Benvenuto, between 1912 and 1914. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, item 433.

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The Globe, June 18, 1914.

Despite lavish parties such as the one described here, things were turning sour financially for Mackenzie and his business partner Donald Mann. Factors ranging from reduced emigration from Europe to western Canada to market volatility to the outbreak of the First World War drove up the cost of completing their transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway. Though the last spike was driven in January 1915, trial runs wouldn’t begin until later that year. Within two years, the federal government acquired the railway, which would become one of the original components of Canadian National Railways. By 1921, he had divested his hydroelectric and streetcar interests, and left a relatively modest estate when he died in 1923. “His rapid rise to wealth and fame had the appearance of a meteor blazing a bright trail through the skies of the Canadian business world,” the Dictionary of Canadian Biography conlcluded, “but this meteor had burned itself out several years before Mackenzie’s body was committed to the earth near his home town of Kirkfield.”

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Toronto Star, January 18, 1927.

More on the early plans for an apartment “chateau” on the site.  The “Windsor” building mentioned here sounds like it evolved into the Windsor Arms Hotel (which opened later that year). The “Bloor Building” site now houses the Manulife Centre.

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Globe and Mail, January 29, 1954.

In a 1983 interview with the Globe and Mail, structural engineer and Scaramouche owner Morden Yolles described the process of building the apartment complex, which was one of his first major projects:

Meeting Peter (Dickinson) was very important. I wasn’t aware of architecture as such at school. In Toronto in the fifties, there was no contemporary architecture whatsoever. Peter was from England — he was the first to speak in terms of anything that could remotely be considered contemporary. He was a lively guy with a lot of drive. I went around the city with him looking for buildings of any interest. We were seeking new ways of expressing things. We began to break some new ground. There was nothing like Benvenuto around — it was being done in England at the time, and was close to the International Style. The building techniques were conventional, the structure was most unconventional.

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Globe and Mail, September 3, 1955.

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, July 11, 1959.

From the 1974 edition of Toronto Guidebook:

The Benvenuto is located in one of the city’s better residential areas. It’s quiet, dignified and understated, just like its neighbourhood. Most guests are there on a long-term basis, but 25 rooms are available for short stays, most of them equipped with kitchenettes. Air conditioning, free parking, colour TV, and excellent dining room and bar.

gm 81-01-28 opening of scaramouche

Globe and Mail, January 28, 1981.

Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry’s take on the opening of Scaramouche.

gm 1981-02-21 kates review of scaramouche

Globe and Mail, February 21, 1981.

In another review written two years later, Kates observed that some of “the affluent tenants of the blue-rinse set” were upset when the previous restaurant, which served up old school fare like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, was converted into Scaramouche.

gm 81-06-06 mary walpole

Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, June 6, 1981.

starweek 1983-05-21 jim white scaramouche review

Starweek, May 21, 1983.

Sources for additional material: Toronto Guidebook, edited by Alexander Ross (Toronto: Key Publishers, 1974); the March 19, 1983 and March 26, 1983 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the June 14, 1897 edition of the Toronto Star.

When Mel Freezes Over

As I no longer have a copy of this story as it originally appeared on The Grid’s website in early February 2013, this post is based on the draft I submitted for publication.

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Toronto Sun, January 15, 1999.

“It might have people across this country shaking their heads, even rolling their eyes,” Peter Mansbridge observed while introducing the January 13, 1999 edition of The National. To some Canadians, Mel Lastman’s plea for military assistance to help Toronto cope with a record-breaking month of snowfall confirmed their view of the country’s largest city as a magnet for spoiled, whiny wimps.

By the time Lastman requested help, Toronto had endured 84 cm of snowfall over the first two weeks of 1999, with 21 cm alone coming down on January 13. The deepening accumulation, combined with gusty winds and cold temperatures led to chaos. Clogged switches delayed GO service, drifting snow covered the third rail of exposed subway lines, and the Scarborough RT proved its uselessness in inclement weather. TTC chief general manager David Gunn recommended people stay home, as chances were “poor to nil” that closed subway sections would operate for several days. Snowplows barely made a dent on roads as the white stuff continued to fall.

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1999.

“I’m petrified of what could happen,” Lastman told the press. “You come to a point where you can’t push it back any more. Then no cars move. I want to have (the army) ready in case there’s 25 cm of snow.” Lastman had recent precedents: troops were called in for assistance during the Red River flood in Manitoba in 1997 and the ice storm that paralyzed eastern Ontario and Quebec in 1998.

The next morning, four Bison armoured personnel carriers arrived at the former Downsview military base from CFB Petawawa to await use as emergency ambulances. While reservists shoveled out bus shelters and fire hydrants, 420 regular troops were placed on standby. They spent most of their time relaxing around the old base by rehabbing an old gym basement bowling alley, playing cards, and practising snowmobile manoeuvres for a future Arctic posting. One officer who had assisted with the ice storm cleanup told the Star that “it’s kind of hard just sitting here when you want to help.” Lastman told the troops that “it’s better to be safe than sorry…I don’t believe you want to wait until people are possibly gonna die.”

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Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, January 15, 1999.

Torontonians coped with the situation in varying ways. Commuters stuck downtown booked hotel rooms and made Eaton Centre merchants smile. Cotton Ginny reported a run on nightgowns, while Shoppers Drug Mart was packed with people stocking up on bathroom essentials. Rentals at the Yonge-Wellesley Rogers Video more than doubled. Meals on Wheels provided extra food to clients in case they were forced to close. Municipal and transit employees racked up overtime, with some snow removal employees sleeping in temporary trailer camps. There were the expected idiots: one man was charged after being caught drunk snowmobiling along the Don Valley Parkway.

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Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

As the city dug itself out, several city councillors questioned Lastman’s actions and lamented that he didn’t consult them. Lastman didn’t call an emergency council meeting out of fear of the speeches his colleagues might make. “The press would have been there, and what they would have been saying I don’t know. Some of them would have been absolutely out of it.” The mayor believed he was the only person who cared about the welfare of the entire city instead of specific wards, He never regretted his actions. “We arranged it so that senior citizens could go around the corner to get milk,” he boasted to the Star a decade later.

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Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

By the time the month was over, Toronto endured a record-breaking 118 cm of snowfall. Councillor Jack Layton found the storm “a teaching lesson in municipal arrogance” due to the city’s complacency. Eye Weekly noted that the previous fall, council’s urban environment committee voted against budgeting an extra $28 million to clear windrows. Up to $70 million was spent on clean-up, more than double the annual $32 million snow clearing budget.

Eye columnist Donna Lypchuk had fun with the charges that Torontonians were wusses when it came to snow. “Torontonians get a little touchy the minute they see a snowflake,” she observed. “Like little robots, they go outside, see their cars covered with snow, make a phone call and then drop back into bed with complete resignation.” She felt the exhaustion of those battling the storm could have been avoided by just letting the snow melt on its own.

Lypchuk’s conclusion? “I think it’s time Torontonians familiarized themselves with important Canadian concepts, such as snow. During the winter, snow is going to fall from the sky. This is not a scary, unusual thing. It is normal. Respect the snow and be prepared.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1999.

Confession time: I’m drawing a blank as to what I did during the Snowmageddon of January 1999.

I definitely experienced it. I was living in Guelph, working at the campus paper. Given the regular dumpings Guelph received, the storm likely didn’t seem unusual. It was probably just another snowy day, albeit one with greater accumulation. My guess is that either I curled up with a pile of library books or headed over to the Ontarion office to work, surf the net, or play endless games of Civilization II. It was around this time that staff relations within the office settled into a permanent deep-freeze, sparked by deep disagreements about the cover of that week’s issue. The only story about the storm in the following week’s edition noted there were no plans to shut down the U of G campus, and that students were encouraged to take advantage of increased Guelph Transit service as parking lots turned into mountains of cleared snow.

As for Lastman’s call for the army—it was Mel. Given his bombastic style, it would have been hard not to expect anything else.

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Toronto Sun, January 16, 1999.

After hearing all the jokes made about the situation over the years, reading about the circumstances at the time makes it clear action was needed. The factor that seems to be forgotten is that Toronto was already buried under an unusually large amount of snow. The forecasts for the storm that prompted Lastman to call in the troops didn’t look promising, and city services were already strained. And he did have the examples of military involvement in other natural disaster over the previous two years. The laughs at Toronto’s expense seem partly a natural reaction against the centre of the universe, and partly out of little comprehension of how badly the city’s infrastructure, especially for commuters, was affected. I was really struck by CBC archival clip’s depiction of a Meals on Wheels run, where deliverers provided extra food to clients in case the service had to be suspended.

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

I also checked out the Sun’s coverage. The front page on January 14, 1999 bluntly echoed TTC chief general manager David Gunn’s advice: “STAY HOME.” It also introduced the paper’s method of measuring the snowfall: the “Mel freezes over” infographic, which used Lastman’s height as a yardstick for how much snow fell that month.

On the editorial page, a list of snow-related mottos was devised to replace the new official motto the paper loathed, “Diversity our strength.”

Toronto—The city under North York
Toronto—Home of the squeegee kid, until you need one.
Toronto—Our mayor shovels it better than your mayor.
Toronto—Beware of drive-by plowings.
Toronto—Don’t even think about parking here.
Toronto—Where snow melters go to die.
Toronto—Where snowballs have a chance.
Toronto—Apocalypse Snow.
Toronto—Home of the two-hour cab wait.
Toronto—It’s not as bad as Buffalo, but we’re working on it.
Toronto—Where “The Better Way” is walking.
Toronto—We’d rather be in Florida.
Toronto—The flake by the lake.
Toronto—As pure as the driven slush.
Toronto—Home of Pearson Airport—you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Toronto—Plow me.

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Cartoon by Dusan Petricic, Toronto Star, January 17, 1999.

Meanwhile, back over in the Star, it was interesting to read how angry councillors were over the lack of consultation from Lastman. Among the miffed was Frances Nunziata. “I sent a letter to the Mayor January 6 with a number of recommendations,” she told the paper. “I didn’t get any response, or even an acknowledgement.” According to Michael Prue, who represented East York, councillors were “taking all the crap because Mel Lastman tells (the public) that everything’s wonderful and everything’s being fixed and I get phone call after phone call that it’s not that way.”

Sources: the January 21, 1999 edition of Eye Weekly, January 19, 1999 edition of the Ontarion, the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, January 16, 1999, January 17, 1999, and January 11, 2009 editions of the Toronto Star, and the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, and January 16, 1999 editions of the Toronto Sun.