The Story of Mr. Croft

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 31, 2008.

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One of the most eyecatching murals on display in Toronto is the colourful piece that acts as a gateway to Croft Street near College and Bathurst. The Monty Pythonesque design may provoke chuckles but the story it relates is a serious one, as the work honours the street’s namesake, the only recorded fatality associated with the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.

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On the evening of April 19, 1904, a nightwatchman noticed flames in an elevator shaft of the E&S Currie Building at 58-60 Wellington Street West. Unfortunately, most of its neighbouring buildings were made of highly flammable wood and designed in ways that fueled fires. The blaze quickly spread and cut a 12-hour path of destruction roughly bounded by Simcoe, Melinda, Yonge and the rail lines. Firefighters from as far as Buffalo assisted Toronto firefighters, with teams from London and Peterborough arriving too late to battle the flames. By 4:30 a.m., the fire was declared to be under control.

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Front Street looking east from Bay Street, April 1904. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 2.

Insurance companies and city inspectors quickly assessed the condition of the damaged buildings and prepared a list of properties deemed too unsafe to remain standing. Property owners received notices asking them to bring down their walls immediately or allow the city to demolish the structures. No objections were received.

Over the next few weeks, safecrackers were hired to rescue important documents from the ruins, followed by demolition teams equipped with dynamite. Among the men hired for the demolition was Parliament Street resident John Croft, a recent immigrant from England who had occasionally assisted dynamiters in coal mines in his native land. He was assigned to the W.J. Gage Building at 54-58 Front Street West. His team was not given a storage battery to set off the dynamite and had to resort to lighting long fuses then running for cover (an image associated with modern cartoon gags—a possible inspiration for the mural design?). This worked for the first two explosions that were set on May 4th. The third try proved unlucky for Croft.

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The following morning, The Globe reported on the incident and Croft’s condition:

Croft, with two assistants, William Goudge and A. Ramsden, had set off 30 blasts yesterday morning and at 1 o’clock placed three charges under of portion of the W.J. Gage & Co. wall. Two were exploded safely, but the third fuse, set for a minute and a half, was slow. After waiting for some time, Croft went up the wall to investigate, and as he did the blast went off. The flesh on his right arm was torn to shreds, and he sustained a severe scalp wound and a broken rib. The sight of the left eye was destroyed.

Later that morning Croft died from the shock, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Four years later, the former Ulster Avenue was renamed in his honour. The mural was created a century later, followed by a plaque from Heritage Toronto.

Photos of Croft Street by Jamie Bradburn. Additional material from the May 5, 1904 edition of The Globe.

UPDATE

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Croft Street mural and Heritage Toronto plaque, January 12, 2020. 

The mural honouring John Croft on the street named after him was one of my favourites in the city. It was well illustrated, told its story well, and had a funny, bordering on Monty Python-esque sensibility to it. It deserved to be well taken care of.

Over the years, people have had other ideas.

It’s a problem which has also affected street art on the garages further north along Croft Street. Lovely artwork and creative grafitti are ruined by amateurs or those who don’t care about the work of others. One can argue its the cycle and nature of such things, but it feels like an insult to those who invested time in these projects.

Would it be worth commissioning artists to create a new spin on Croft’s story on this wall (as has happened with other murals in the city, such as the depiction of Leslieville at Queen and Jones), or would that fall into ruin quickly?

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The Heritage Toronto plaque has also been poorly treated. Beyond the defacing of the photo, whoever recently sprayed over the plaque may have thought it was part of the wall. Perhaps they left their sunglasses at the scene of the crime.

The sad part?

The plaque was cleaned up a few weeks ago.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The Globe, May 5, 1904 (left) and May 6, 1904 (right).

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Photoplay Palace Turns Ninety

Originally published on Torontoist on August 18, 2009.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1919 (upper left); Toronto Star, August 18, 1919 (the rest).

It was ninety years ago today that east-enders were first able to enjoy fine entertainment at the theatre that underwent numerous name changes between its opening as Allen’s Danforth and its current incarnation as the Music Hall. Growth in what was considered suburbia in 1919, along with the ease of reaching Danforth Avenue via the recently opened Prince Edward Viaduct, persuaded the Allen’s cinema chain to build a high-quality theatre in the neighbourhood.

The Mail and Empire provided a preview in its August 16, 1919 edition:

After having traced them half-way across the United States and a large portion of Canada, Messrs. Jule and Jay J. Allen received with great relief yesterday the news of the arrival of the 1,800 seats for their new Danforth theatre, which will be opened on Monday evening. The handsome structure is entirely complete and it is promised that it will show the people of Toronto something new in the way of cinema house construction. Although this house has been built largely for the convenience of the residents of the Danforth and Rosedale sections of the city, it is one of the largest motion picture houses in Toronto and among the most modern. There will be no formalities for the Monday evening performance, but the theatre will be open to the general public.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Music Hall, March 30, 2010. My notes indicate Toxie hadn’t been on the premises for awhile. The poster slots are currently filled with upcoming listings deep into 2020. Click on image for larger version.

The theatre marked its 90th with a plaque presentation by Heritage Toronto, followed by a silent feature with live piano accompaniment. As the opening night film exists in fragments, viewers saw another Madge Kennedy vehicle, 1920’s Dollars and Sense. The admission price was sensible—only one thin dollar. It was a fun evening, despite a few technical hiccups.

The Music Hall is still a busy concert venue, marking its 100th anniversary in 2019.

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Photoplay, May 1920.

From the Toronto Star‘s August 7, 1919 description of Through the Wrong Door:

Through the Wrong Door is playing to capacity houses at the Allen this week, and the exvellent feature which is offered more than justifies the large crowds. Light, gay, and amusing, Through the Wrong Door is frankly composed to chase dull care away, and it is so well interpreted by Madge Kennedy and the cast in general that the effect is a very pleasant one. She softens and beautifies by some very fine acting the role of a bright young girl who throws over her fiance abd elopes with a man she scarcely knows. In the new dignity of one who sympathizes with the man her own father has deliberately tried to ruin, who she is assisting to achieve natural justice, she plays the part so convincingly that the sudden change of mind and heart is not only excused, but approved most cordially.

Motion Picture World, June 5, 1920.

Across This City With Stompin’ Tom

Originally published on Torontoist on March 7, 2013.

“People say Stompin’ Tom’s sound ain’t culture, and I say it’s real,” Toronto Mayor David Crombie declared when he handed the Canadian music icon the Best Male Vocalist award at the 1973 Juno Awards. While some critics found Stompin’ Tom Connors corny, devoted fans like Crombie were drawn by his colourful, good-humoured songs and relatable lyrics. For Connors, who passed away yesterday, 1973 was a banner year, with many of its highlights occurring in Toronto.

“If you can’t identify with one of Connors’s work songs because you’ve never picked potatoes or crewed on a coal boat,” Robert Martin observed in the Globe and Mail following a January 20, 1973 Massey Hall concert, “he’ll get you with one about that small town you grew up in or lived in for awhile.” Connors’s work could also evoke big-city life, as in songs like “To It and at It” (later used for SCTV’s classic parody of Goin’ Down the Road) or “TTC Skidaddler.”

Connors spent the early part of 1973 waiting for confirmation of a proposed Labour Day headlining show at the CNE Grandstand. One problem: the CNE board of directors had to approve performers, and half of them had never heard of Connors. As he waited, Connors turned down other potentially conflicting gigs, including a telethon. Depending on the source, in April he was offered either a “Maritime Day” show on August 17 at the CNE Bandshell or the opening-act slot for American country star Charley Pride on August 29. Either way, he would receive $3,500, nearly 10 times less than Pride was getting.

“I must decline this offer as a protest of the way the Canadian entertainers are treated by the CNE and other exhibitions in Canada,” Connors told the press on April 24. “It means something to every Canadian performer to appear at the CNE, but there are a lot of fogeys around who listen to one kind of music. They should make it their business to know what’s going on.” His action signified his ongoing support for Canadian musicians, another aspect of which was his Boot record label, which existed in an office above Gryfe’s Bakery on Bathurst Street.

Two weeks later, Metro council’s executive committee asked the CNE to present 60 per cent Canadian headliners. CNE management claimed that its entertainment was as much as 95 per cent CanCon, but that total encompassed all forms of live performance. The political pressure and Connors’s stance worked. That fall, CNE officials agreed to place more emphasis on domestic headliners.

Meanwhile, a series of concerts Connors played at the Horseshoe Tavern in mid-May were filmed for the documentary Across This Land With Stompin’ Tom. The film captured the strong rapport he’d developed with his audience, and was sprinkled with guest acts, animation, and vintage footage of TTC streetcars. Ontario Place audiences caught Connors in IMAX during a segment of Catch the Sun at the Cinesphere, or in person during an August performance at the Forum.

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The televised wedding of Lena Welsh (being interviewed by Elwood Glover) and Stompin’ Tom Connors, November 2, 1973. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0039988f.

In early September, Connors announced that he was getting hitched to long-time girlfriend Lena Welsh. The ceremony aired live on CBC television during the November 2 edition of Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date. Around two million viewers watched the wedding, which was broadcast from the basement of the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Street. Connors wrote a song for the occasion, “We Traded Hearts Today.” Guests included Polaroid-snapping New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield and Gaet Lepine, the Timmins bartender who launched Connors’s career in 1964 when he asked the performer to sing to pay off a nickel beer debt. Following a lobster buffet, the wedding party went to the Imperial Six cinema on Yonge Street (now the Ed Mirvish Theatre) for the premiere of Across This Land With Stompin’ Tom. The party moved to the Holiday Inn on Chestnut Street (now a University of Toronto residence) before the newlyweds departed for a 10-week honeymoon. The marriage endured until Connors’s passing.

Sources: the January 22, 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the January 20, 1973; March 14, 1973; April 18, 1973; May 9, 1973; May 16, 1973; September 3, 1973; and November 3, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

From Simpsons to The Bay to Saks

Originally published on Torontoist on January 28, 2014.

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Photo taken from the skywalk between the Eaton Centre and Hudson’s Bay/Saks Fifth Avenue, December 13, 2019.

For years, the crosswalk between Simpsons and Eaton’s on Queen Street was nicknamed “the cattle crossing” because of the high volume of shoppers flowing between downtown Toronto’s rival department stores. By the end of next year, those pedestrians (along with those using the skywalk above) may be shuffling between Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.

Less than two weeks after Nordstrom announced it would replace Sears, Hudson’s Bay Company announced that it will be selling its landmark store at Queen and Yonge and the adjoining Simpson Tower to Toronto Eaton Centre owner Cadillac Fairview. Under the $650-million deal, HBC will continue to lease the site for the next 25 years.

Shoppers will notice a major change by fall 2015: a fifth of the 750,000 square foot store will become Canada’s first Saks Fifth Avenue location. HBC, whose corporate parent bought the high-end American department store last year, previously indicated that the Hudson Bay store at Bloor and Yonge would be converted into Saks. According to the Star, Cadillac Fairview CEO John Sullivan convinced HBC CEO Richard Baker that, with Nordstrom coming to the Eaton Centre, Saks would be a good fit for the mall.

The changes announced this morning mark the latest chapter in the site’s history as a department store. Robert Simpson launched a dry goods business on the west side of Yonge Street a few doors north of Queen in 1872, then moved a block south in 1881. Simpson’s new store quickly burst out of its confines, and for nearly a century, the company bought adjoining properties to allow for its continued expansion.

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Robert Simpson Co. department store, aftermath of fire, March 1895. Toronto Public Library, E 9-242.

Unlike his rival, Timothy Eaton, Simpson was interested in boosting his store’s image through grand architecture. In the 1890s, he hired Edmund Burke to design a new store at the southwest corner of Queen and Yonge inspired by the wide-open interiors of American retailers like Marshall Field. Burke’s design produced what was one of the first commercial structural steel buildings in Canada when it opened for business in December 1894. Unfortunately, the building was not fireproofed, a flaw that led to its destruction during an early morning blaze on March 3, 1895. Only the ground floor piers, which had been encased in stone, were left standing. Simpson and fire officials suspected arson—a security guard reported hearing glass shatter before the blaze was called in. The noise from the collapsing walls was heard as far as College Street.

Simpson was devastated by the blaze. “The loss is the more felt because we were just beginning to settle down in our new building and getting everything into good running order,” he told the Globe. “Fire can’t kill this business. It was built by its own workers and it will be built again.”

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Mail and Empire, January 18, 1896.

And it was: ten months after the blaze, the store reopened on January 18, 1896. Burke’s design was retained, although this time around, it featured added touches like terra cotta mouldings and critical fixes like proper fireproofing.

Just as rival Eaton’s expanded rapidly on the north side of Queen Street, Simpsons built numerous extensions that stretched the store west toward Bay Street. The poshest expansion was a nine-storey, art deco–inspired addition that opened in 1929. Its centrepiece was the Arcadian Court restaurant, which Simpsons officials added to retain the lunch trade the store feared losing to the recently opened Royal York Hotel and the Eaton’s store under construction at Yonge and College (now College Park).

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Luigi von Kunits and orchestra at Arcadian Court, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 5.

Early ads for the Arcadian Court touted its architectural wonders:

Vaulted arches and lofty, Byzantine domes tell of a classic beauty that breathes of Grecian temples and far eastern mosques. Decorative columns and ornate friezes catch the dynamic spirit of Art Moderne. It’s framed in silver, brilliantly lacquered silver, the colour born of modernist art; with it, there is violet, wondrous deep-toned violet, the shade that has coloured a thousand romances.

It’s certainly possible that romances bloomed during the many events held at the Arcadian Court over the years—perhaps over servings of the restaurant’s signature chicken pot pie.

Simpsons finally acquired the entire block between Yonge and Bay in the 1960s and built the 33-storey Simpson Tower office complex at the west end of the site. Plans called for the entire store to be reclad in metal panels to match the tower’s base. Preservationists were relieved when officials in the late 1970s decided instead to restore the exterior, retaining its 19th-century appearance for future generations.

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View of Simpson’s with holiday decorations, Yonge Street and Queen Street West, November 22, 1973. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 17, Item 1.

In December 1978, Hudson’s Bay Company purchased Simpsons. Attempts to make the Yonge and Queen store more upscale didn’t pan out, as suburban locations maintained a middlebrow merchandise mix. The greatest impression the store may have made during the 1980s was among young viewers of TVOntario’s Today’s Special, which used Simpsons as a backdrop. How many children wandering through the store wondered where Jeff the mannequin hid during the day?

After enduring for nearly 120 years, the Simpsons brand was retired in 1991. “It was a judgement call,” noted HBC owner Ken Thomson. “We decided it was better to join the momentum of the Bay and start with a clean slate.” Ideas for revitalizing the store came and went over the years—from a giant food court in the basement to a pharmacy whose product lines smacked of HBC’s discount Zellers chain. In recent years, the store has remade itself through renovations, farming its restaurants out to Oliver & Bonacini, and giving space to retailers ranging from Topshop to the Drake General Store. Where Saks will fit into the store remains to be seen.

Sources: A Store of Memories by G. Allan Burton (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986), Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986), The Simpsons Century (Toronto: Toronto Star, 1972), the March 4, 1895 and March 9, 1929 editions of the Globe, and the June 6, 1991 and August 22, 1991 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

Saks Fifth Avenue opened in February 2016, occupying the northeast corner of the building. We Work moved into portions of the 6th and 7th floors in 2019.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Front page illustration, Evening Star, March 4, 1895. 

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Mail and Empire, February 17, 1896.

The modest text which headlined Simpson’s grand reopening ad on February 18, 1896:

Events are relative in their value. What’s locally important to a small community has little importance to the world at large. A big fire in a small town is a small affair compared with a big fire in a big town. The great fire of March last in Toronto was an event of intense interest the Dominion over because it occurred in the second to largest city in Canada, and told of the destruction of the finest retail store that up to that time had been erected in Canada, owned by one who for 25 years had stood at the head of the retail trade of the Dominion, and whose record of success was known to the commercial world of two continents.

Apply this rule of proportion in values and it will be understood why the opening of R. Simpson’s Great Modern Departmental Store on the old familiar corner, SW. cor. Yonge and Queen Streets, is an event in which only 225,000 people in Toronto–men, women, and children–take the liveliest interest, but where the people of all Canada are enthusiastically interested.

Beyond any question, from whatever standpoint the business is viewed, it stands without a rival in all Canada. “We make way for the man who boldly pushes past us.”

The present is not an occasion for a letter-press description of the building. The time is for seeing with your own eyes. But more, the time is to learn of the great generalship of buying and selling that brings to you real bargain-giving, that, like the store and all its equipment, is unapproachable.

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Detail from advertisement for the opening week daily fashion shows at Arcadian Court, the Globe, March 9, 1929.

The teaser which accompanied this illustration:

The dream of years is nearing realization. Simpson’s Spring Fashion Revue is to be presented in the magnificent new Arcadian Court. And what a superb setting it is! Vaulted arches and lofty, Byzantine domes tell of a classic beauty that breathes of Grecian temples and far-eastern mosques. Decorative columns and ornate friezes catch the dynamic spirit of Art Moderne. It’s framed in silver, brilliantly lacquered silver, the colour born of modernist art; with it, there is violet, wondrous deep-toned violet, the shade that has coloured a thousand romances. In this background of beauty, the new mode of Spring will be presented in all its glorious chapters of fabric, fashion ans colour. There will be a promenade of fashion and tea will be served each afternoon.

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Globe and Mail, December 24, 1968.

Opening the Eaton Centre

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 11, 2017.

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Toronto Star, February 10, 1977.

9:10 a.m., February 10, 1977. Chaos reigned on the platforms of Dundas station, which was jammed beyond capacity with people eager to attend the opening of the Eaton Centre. “Passengers got close to hysteria as they were dumped out into dense crowds that couldn’t get through the single open exit fast enough,” the Globe and Mail reported.

Up above, by the entrance to Trinity Square, around 4,500 gathered for the official opening ceremony. A group of trumpeters descended from a balcony, along with 16 costumed representatives of the city’s ethnic communities. Pipers from the Toronto Scottish Regiment led in the official party, then the 48th Highlanders escorted Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon, who received the loudest cheers from the crowd. McGibbon, Mayor David Crombie, and other dignitaries cut a red ribbon with scissors presented on blue velvet cushions by Girl Guides. A planned salute to the new mall by the Fort York Guard was scratched when, following a rehearsal, it was felt musket fire would frighten elderly patrons.

The Eaton Centre was still a work in progress. The festivities marked the opening of its first phase, which consisted of an office tower on Dundas Street, Eaton’s new flagship store, and a glass-covered galleria stretching from the store south to Albert Street. The next phase, which would extend the mall to Queen Street, link it to Simpsons, and toss up another office tower, would soon begin with the demolition of Eaton’s old main store.

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One version of the 1960s Eaton Centre, which in this case retained the Old City Hall clock tower. The Eaton Centre: a project dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Toronto. (Toronto: c.1966).

For Eaton’s executives, the day culminated two decades of controversy surrounding the $250 million complex’s development. A mid-1960s plan aroused public opposition when it proposed demolition of Old City Hall. For a time, the idea was scrapped entirely. There were two years of negotiation with Church of the Holy Trinity before an agreement was reached between the congregation and developers to protect the historic church’s access to sunlight. City Council placed several conditions on its approvals for the project, from timeframes for when construction had to begin to ensuring cars parked in the garage weren’t visible to pedestrians along Yonge Street. There were some councillors who didn’t warm to the Eaton Centre—Elizabeth Eayrs called it “a plastic temple of consumerism,” while John Sewell didn’t want to give the developers too much leeway. ”It’s the old question of who is running this place—Eaton’s or council,” Sewell noted in February 1974.

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Globe and Mail, November 24, 1972.

When the building permits were finally approved a month later, Crombie reminded councillors that they should abide an earlier agreement with developer Cadillac Fairview that discouraged a shopping list of design changes. “Some want it black and others want it green,” Crombie noted. “I worry about that sort of thing after watching what has happened in this debate.” Construction pushed ahead, with shovels in the ground by the end of spring.

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“In front of statue of Timothy Eaton, the store’s founder, the Eaton brothers discuss their store’s future. They’re in the foyer of new Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas Sts. From left: John Craig, 39, Thor, 34, Fredrik Stefan, 38, and George, 31. Once a week, formally, they meet in Fred’s office to discuss business. They’re among Canada’s wealthiest men, just how wealthy they are is moot. Eaton’s is a private company. Its balance sheets are not for public scrutiny.” Photo by Jeff Goode, 1977. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0045241f.

As opening day neared, Eaton’s chairman of the board John Craig Eaton told a press conference that the new store would be “the model for all department stores that will be built over the next 20 years.” An ad published in January 1977 whetted shoppers’ appetites with a lengthy guide to the new store’s nine retail floors. At the bottom was 3 Below (the current food court), which catered to youth via fashions, records, live performances, pizza, and subs. While the lower subway level offered a marketplace, the upper subway floor promised “male liberation” with stereotypically manly services, including a barber shop and Sir John’s, described as “a thoroughly masculine steak-style self-serve restaurant licensed under the L.L.B.O.” After two floors geared to women, the third featured an event space. The sixth floor included the largest of the store’s six eateries, the 1,000 seat Marine Room.

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View of exterior of Eaton Centre construction site, with sign. The Queen Street Eaton’s store can be seen in the background. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor, April 18, 1975. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 84, Item 60.

To prepare for the big day, two-week closing sales were held at Eaton’s Queen Street and College Street (now College Park) stores. Past and present employees previewed the new flagship on February 6. “My God, it’s huge,” noted retiree Alf Ryan. “You need a compass to get around. I think I like it. There were all kinds of memories in the old place but I suppose after a few Christmases, this store will look more lived-in. You gotta keep up with the times, I guess.” A two-day soft opening followed, allowing staff to familiarize themselves with the space.

At the opening ceremony, emcee William Davis joked to the audience that he and the provincial treasurer were eager for Eaton’s new store to open so that they could begin collecting sales tax. The premier got his wish at 10 a.m., when the doors slid away. Salespeople were, according to the Globe and Mail, “decked out as if for a birthday party” with many female employees wearing “braver makeup than they were accustomed to.”

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Globe and Mail, January 1, 1977.

Public reaction was positive. “It’s very easy to shop here if you just follow the instructions they gave in their advertisement,” shopper Isabel Ferguson told the Sun. “I’ve shopped at Eaton’s for 20 years but that’s no reason to get nostalgic about the old store, because looking in the past can cause you trouble.”

Out in the mall, shoppers received giveaways ranging from bags to shoe horns. Of the 150 spaces available in phase one, 120 were leased. Around 25 stores had to miss opening day while conducting appeals related to new federal quotas on clothing imports, which affected their inventories.

The three levels of the main galleria were themed by offerings, as one ad outlined.

Level One will feature fast turnover items, such as records, books, stationery, drugs, food, and impulse buys, as well as banks and other services. Level Two is primarily fashions and accessories. Level Three is made up of specialty shops, fashion boutiques and the better quality outlets of Canada’s major chains.

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“Pipers parade in dignitaries down esclators watched by hundreds in Galleria balconies.” Photo by Dick Loek, originally published in the February 10, 1977 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109998f.

The Sun sent over writer Margaret Haddrick to provide the female perspective on the mall:

From pre-teens to grandmothers, they’re all there, leaning against the white iron rails, waiting expectantly for the fountain to do its number. Whoosh. Suddenly, up like a geyser shoots a jet of water 45 feet high, splattering it on the stone and glass surfaces around it. The spectacle is brief. The crowds move away and get back to the business of shopping at the Toronto Eaton Centre. Fountain-watching rivals people-watching at the centre. Third subject of study is the mass of exotic plants bathed in sunlight and artificial light. Why, in that warm, bright atmosphere, the philodendron might have a baby leaf by the time it takes to climb from the subway level to the top of the galleria.

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Previewing the Eaton’s store design, Toronto Sun, February 4, 1975.

The paper also provided a male perspective from Ken Becker:

Whether you’re a serious shopper, a browser, a bargain-hunter, or merely one who likes to gaze at pretty sights, the new Eaton Centre has something for you. If you’re looking for a five-foot-two brunette, or a six-foot blonde, you can’t go wrong there. For the new giant climate-controlled city-within-a-city may be the largest single hangout for beautiful women this side of the beach at Rio de Janeiro. The place is lousy with them. They’re hanging over the railings in the multi-levelled mall, sitting at the fountain, sipping coffee in the cafes. And they’re strolling. Always strolling. The stream seems endless.

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Interior view of tables and some stores in new Eaton Centre. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor, May 25, 1977. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 92, Item 5.

The architecture drew notice. Designed by the Zeidler Partnership, its highlights included the 90-foot-high glass galleria, sunken gardens, and the exposure of its internal building and environment infrastructure. “It responds, with the materials of the seventies, to a long-felt public reaction against the severe, monumental buildings produced in the so-called international style during the sixties,” James Purdie observed in the Globe and Mail. “Zeidler’s solutions are mixture of innovation and proved suburban shopping centre technology.”

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Photo by Dick Loek, 1977. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0110001f.

While the Eaton Centre quickly proved itself a financial success and a tourist magnet, it compounded the decline of its adjoining stretch of Yonge Street. The outdoor pedestrian mall had fizzled out a few years earlier, and the new Eaton Centre “protected” some shoppers from the tinge of sleaze they felt was descending onto Yonge. Some retailers, like Birks, abandoned the street for the mall. It didn’t help that little of the Eaton Centre’s Yonge Street frontage provided access from the outside. “All the razzle dazzle that should be outside is hermetically sealed inside,” Sun columnist Joey Slinger noted on the eve of the grand opening. “Outside, pedestrians, neighbouring shops, the life that ought to be rocking and rolling on Yonge Street is all alone and feeling blue, stranded under Fort Commerce’s pitiless façade.”

Sources: The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999); the January 14, 1977, January 15, 1977, February 11, 1977, and February 12, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 19, 1974, March 5, 1974, February 7, 1977, February 8, 1977, and February 10, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 9, 1977 and February 11, 1977 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, June 21, 1974. Click on image for larger version.

Based on the following description published in the November 24, 1972 Star, the Eaton Centre replaced what was then a barren stretch of Dundas Street.

The south side of Dundas between Bay and Yonge at present offers one of the more dismal views downtown. Two Italian restaurants are the only bright spots on a block made up chiefly of parking lots and a rent-a-car lot and garage. The vista through the parking lots is of Eaton’s drab box-like warehouses.

The same article mentioned an interesting land trade that didn’t happen, which some people might interpret as an early 1970s example of “the war on the car” and definitely indicates the regular tension between the city and Metro levels of government. Parkland that was set aside near Trinity Square could have been somewhere else on the property…

The developers had originally offered the city a strip of land along Dundas, but the city rejected the proposal because this land would simply have been acquired by Metro Toronto (which controls Dundas St.) to widen Dundas to six lanes. Metro planners had called for the street widening to support the increased traffic Eaton Centre might be expected to generate; but the city objected, because a widened Dundas on the other side of Bay would have wiped out Chinatown.

(Chinatown moved west along Dundas to Spadina over the next few years, but that’s another story…)

In a victory for the city, Metro reversed itself and Dundas will only be widened 14 feet along the Eaton Centre stretch, to provide one extra turning lane for cars entering the development’s parking garage. On the insistence of Alderman John Sewell, the city also required Fairview to set its buildings back 10 feet from the street, so that the sidewalk can be widened.

gm 1977-01-08 eatons ad Globe and Mail, January 8, 1977. gm 1977-01-11 eatons ad

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1977.

gm 1977-01-13 eatons ad Globe and Mail, January 13, 1977.

A sampling of the ads Eaton’s published in the weeks leading up to the opening of their new flagship store. gm 1977-01-15 eaton store preview ad

Globe and Mail, January 15, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

A guide to the new Eaton’s store, floor by floor. There would be some tinkering; the “Annex 7” floor opened in October 1977 to clear out items a la the old bargain store behind Old City Hall. The space, which had been buying offices, was converted, as a store executive put it, into “an adventure area for bargain hunters” that included opportunity buys and scratch-and-dent items.

I’m not sure at what point 3 Below (which was located where the food court currently sits) closed. I don’t recall ever going into it as a kid in the late 1970s/early 1980s (eager-beaver me would have wanted to visit every floor), and dimly recall signs indicating it was an employee-only area.

gm 1977-02-09 photo Globe and Mail, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

sun 1977-02-09 eatons opening ad

Toronto Sun, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

The next series of images are taken from a 12-page advertising supplement published in the Star on February 8, 1977, two days before the grand opening. For ease of reading, I’ve merged the diagrams which were pages 6 and 7 of the original version.

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p1 star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p2 credits for who built the store

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p3 star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p4

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p5 star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p6-7

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p8 great pic headline star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p9

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p10 star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p11

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p12

Vintage Toronto Ads: Coming Christmas Day—The Odeon York!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 20, 2011.

20111220york

Toronto Star, December 24, 1969.

Things opened on Christmas Day: presents under a tree, cards from dear friends, bottles of wine at the dinner table, old family wounds, and movie theatres.

Yes, movie theatres.

Catching a film on December 25 is a tradition for lonely souls eager to escape painful reminders of the holidays, for families and friends to flee chaotic Christmas celebrations for a few hours, and a shared cultural experience for those who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place. With a large pool of customers to draw upon, especially on a day when few other businesses are open, why not use Christmas to debut a splashy new cinema?

Parents may have welcomed the York Theatre’s opening bill on December 25, 1969, since neither of the main attractions was suitable for younger audiences. We suspect kids were content to stay home and play with Santa’s deliveries. Viewers could take the theatre’s spiral staircase to see a farce (Cactus Flower) or a foursome (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice).

Blockbusters graced the screens of the York until 2001. After operating as an event venue and fitness club, the site became the Madison condo project.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1984-09-19 amadeus ad

Toronto Star, September 19, 1984.

The York occupies a sentimental spot in my heart, as it was the first place I saw a drama intended for grown-ups, as opposed to family-friendly blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. We ate dinner at Harvey’s on the northeast side of Yonge and Eglinton, then walked over to see Amadeus. Nine-year-old Jamie was impressed, following along without being bored.

Best of all, I was a big boy now! Bring on the non-kiddie films!

(I went to kid-friendly flicks for a few more years)

I wonder if my father thought it might spur me to share his love of classical music. If so, it didn’t, though I briefly explored his Mozart records when we returned home.

Given the timing of Amadeus‘s release, this may have occurred either on my last trip to Toronto before my grandmother moved down to Amherstburg or the first visit there after she left the city.

By the time I moved to Toronto in 1999, the York was nearing its end. At the time, the few remaining non-rep house single or double screen cinemas in the old City of Toronto were heading toward their demise. A survey of the scene by the Star in January 2001 indicated that Cineplex Odeon was operating the York on a month-to-month basis and a “For Lease” sign was already out front. Elsewhere, Famous Players did not renew the lease at the Plaza in the Hudson’s Bay Centre, while the fates of the Eglinton and Uptown waited for a ruling in a human rights complaint regarding accessibility (the result of which was used as an excuse for their closure).

Sometimes when an old movie house closes, we can’t help feeling that there’s something more being demolished than the broken seats and torn carpets in the lobby. For some of us, our vivid memories of movies that mattered to us long ago are all wrapped up with memories of the way we were, who was with us at the time, and, of course, the odd little details about those places where we gathered long ago waiting in the dark for something wonderful to happen. – Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, January 21, 2001.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Colouring Contests

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2015.

Before reading this column any further, grab the nearest pack of coloured pencils, crayons, or markers, or open up your favourite digital art program. Have we got a colouring bonanza for you!

Long before adult colouring books topped the Amazon charts, there was the humble colouring contest. It was a simple gimmick: draw interest in your brand, event, publication, or store by reeling in kids with promises of prizes if they applied their artistic skills (or lack thereof) to simple line drawings based on popular shows or seasonal icons. For their efforts, they might win pocket change, a bicycle, a chance to meet their idols, or bragging rights at the playground.

Today’s selection of ads spotlights past opportunities to dazzle judges with your colouring skill. Let your creativity run wild!

Click on any of the following images for larger versions.

Robertson Brothers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, March 23, 1928.

  Treasure Island Colouring Contest

The Globe, December 4, 1934 and December 5, 1934.

From the August 18, 1934 New York Times review of Treasure Island:

Although there are occasional studio interpolations, the present screen offering is a moderately satisfactory production. It has not the force or depth of the parent work and, kind as one might wish to be to the adaptation, it always seems synthetic. However, hitherto on the stage and in two silent films of the same subject, the role of Jim Hawkins has been acted by a girl. One is spared this weakness in this picture, for that able juvenile, Jackie Cooper, plays Jim, and, although he may not impress one as being the Jim of the book, he does fairly well.

Star Weekly Christmas Colouring Contest Toronto Star, December 5, 1940.

Christmas colouring contests have long been a holiday staple. In this case, they may have also provided a boost to the Star’s sister publication, Star Weekly.

Roy Rogers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 11, 1954 and September 19, 1954.

Forget the beautiful statue of the “King of the Cowboys” riding his trusty horse Trigger; the real thrill for most winners would have been spending a few moments with Roy and Dale at the 1954 CNE. A photo published in the Star of 11-year-old victors John Goslinga and Alfred Kemp depicted them in full cowboy regalia, as if they were ready to be extras in one of Roy’s horse operas.

Davy Crockett Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 12, 1955 (left) and September 13, 1955 (right).

A year after the Roy Rogers contest, the Star capitalized on the success of Davy Crockett. Note flattering depictions of aboriginals and women.

Parkay Colouring Contest

Globe and Mail, April 19, 1955.

Faster than a bicycle going downhill! More powerful than a butter churn! Spreads margarine on toast with a single stroke! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s PARKAYBOY!

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Toronto Star, October 9, 1956.

Simpsons gets in on the colouring contest action with RCA Victor’s venerable mascot, Nipper.

20150826mickeymouse

Toronto Star, November 21, 1956.

We (and Disney’s lawyers) can only hope that the actual drawing of Mickey and Minnie used for Dominion’s Ice Capades tie-in was superior to this spartan sketch.

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Toronto Sun, April 19, 1972.

How terrfying can you make this clown?

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Toronto Sun, November 20, 1977.

A previous post covered the story of dinner with Chewbacca.

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Toronto Star, August 6, 1977.

The Star’s kids page launched its first colouring contest with this detailed pair of figures who would have looked at home in the Royal Ontario Museum. A trip to the ROM might have been preferable to the grand prize: a chance to see the first-year Blue Jays drop both ends of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The first game was a 15-0 blowout, which saw future Jay Cliff Johnson hit two homers. The Yankees were gracious during the second match, with only a 2-0 victory.

20150826mlblogos

Toronto Star, May 28, 1978.

More colouring, more baseball, happier results for the Blue Jays. The prize winner saw the home team defeat the Orioles in another doubleheader by scores of 6-2 and 9-8. It was the franchise’s first doubleheader sweep at Exhibition Stadium.

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Toronto Star, September 2, 1984.

Who better to represent a teddy bear picnic at the Metro Zoo than Winnie the Pooh? We wonder if, a year or two later, the celebrity mascot would have been Teddy Ruxpin.

20150826creeds

Toronto Life, April 1973.

While not promoting a colouring contest, this ad for the fashionable Bloor Street clothier fits the mood of a modern adult colouring book.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1954-09-07 roy rogers contest winners

Toronto Star, September 7, 1954.

star 1955-08-25 winner of crockett contest

Toronto Star, August 25, 1955. Click on image for larger version.

While the winners of the Star‘s Roy Rogers contest only received a small corner of a page, the winners of the paper’s Davy Crockett took up most of the front page of the second section. Sadly, none of them posed with series stars Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen.