696 Yonge Street (Diamond Building, Brothers Restaurant, Some Organization I’d Prefer Not to Mention in the Title)

Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on January 29, 2013.

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Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.

The Church of Scientology’s Toronto headquarters are in the midst of an “Ideal Org” makeover—signalled, last month, by boards nailed to the Yonge Street high-rise. While it remains to be seen whether the move will fracture the controversial faith’s local followers as similar, costly refurbishings have in other cities, the plans are less than modest, indicating a colourful new façade will be placed on the almost-60-year-old office building, along with a new bookstore, café, theatre, and “testing centre” inside.

Built around 1955 in the International style of architecture, 696 Yonge’s initial tenant roster included recognizable brands like Avon cosmetics and Robin Hood flour. They were joined by an array of accounting firms, coal and mining companies, and the Belgian consulate, along with a number of construction and property management companies run by Samuel Diamond, whose name later graced the building.

By the 1970s, The Diamond companies were among the few original tenants remaining. Movie studio MGM settled in for a long stay, while the Ontario Humane Society teetered on the verge of financial ruin during its tenancy. There was a temporary office for a federal committee on sealing, which released a 1972 report recommending a temporary moratorium on seal hunting while solutions were sought to halt a population decline. The building even enjoyed a brief taste of religious controversies to come when the Unification Church—a.k.a. the “Moonies”—briefly opened an office, prompting questions about indoctrinated converts, growing wealth, and cult-like practices mirroring those later asked about the Church of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard’s religion, meanwhile, had shuffled around various sites in the city since the late 1950s, from meetings on Jarvis Street to a townhouse on Prince Arthur Avenue. The church’s reputation for defending itself grew as quickly as its membership—by the 1970s, official church statements were guaranteed to appear in the letters section within days of any faintly critical newspaper article. The Church of Scientology bought 696 Yonge in 1979.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1983.

Around 2:30 p.m. on March 2, 1983, three chartered buses pulled up to the office tower. More than one hundred OPP officers, equipped with recording equipment, axes, sledgehammers, and a battering ram, rushed into Scientology’s offices. Acting on the findings of a secret two-year tax-fraud investigation of the church, they removed 900 boxes of material, among them illegally obtained confidential documents from government, medical, and police agencies. The church initially claimed the raid was spurred by attacks from the psychiatric community and believed it was entitled to Charter of Rights protection.

Hiring Clayton Ruby as its lawyer, Scientology pursued a decade-long fight against the raid and the charges that resulted from it. Some of its efforts were comical: in July 1988, the church offered to donate considerable sums to agencies working with drug addicts, the elderly, and the poor so long as theft charges were dropped. Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott rejected the offer, saying that “there’s no immunity that permits a church or anyone else to commit crimes in the country.” Ruby argued that the legal prosecution of a small religion like Scientology threatened the freedom of all faiths, and that while individual members may be guilty of offences, the whole church should not be held at fault.

The legal battle appeared over by 1992. When the seized boxes were returned that January, church members celebrated on Yonge Street. While a banner declaring “Scientology Wins after 9-year Battle” was draped across the building, a human chain passed the boxes back inside from a rented truck. Jubilation was short-lived: though acquitted of theft charges, the church and three of its members were found guilty of breach of trust. Related cases lingered for a few more years, including a libel case that earned crown attorney Casey Hill a then-record $1.6 million award from the church and one of its lawyers.

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Now, September 2, 1999. The main article on cheap eats featured on this page was for New York Subway on Queen Street.

Even in the midst of its legal battles, the church gradually expanded its presence in 696 Yonge, filling space as other tenants departed. One of the last to go was the Brothers Restaurant and Tavern, which filled a streetfront space with vinyl booths and formica from 1979 to 2000. Operated by two brothers whose last names differed because of the phonetic spelling a government official wrote for one when they moved to Canada, Angelo Sfyndilis and Peter Sfendeles catered to a diverse clientele who appreciated their generous portions of comfort food. As Toronto Life noted in its obituary, “wherever you come from, wherever you’re going, Brothers has been a second home, a sheltering piece of smalltown Canadiana on a big, harsh anonymous street, in the middle of a big, harsh, anonymous city.” The Star praised Brothers’ “honest chicken sandwich,” while Now included it in its student survival guides for meals like the Little Brother Platter, which contained “eight thick slices of pastrami, eight of roast beef, four slabs of Canadian cheddar, a mound of potato salad, a mess of oil-and vinegar-drowned iceberg lettuce, a quartered dill pickle, and rings of pickled peppers.” When the lease was not renewed in 2000, deli items were replaced with copies of Dianetics.

Sources: the January 25, 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail, the September 2, 1999 edition of Now, the May 2000 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 10, 1982, March 3, 1983, December 20, 1984, July 27, 1988, August 29, 1988, September 20, 1990, January 28, 1992, June 26, 1992, July 13, 2008, and January 24, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As of July 2020 the building is rotting away, as various makeover plans by the Scientologists have not materialized. Over the years, the organization has battled the city over tax bills.

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

You can trace the saga of 696 Yonge over recent years by checking out this thread on Urban Toronto.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I moved to Toronto around the time of the Now excerpt posted above. Always a fan of decent cheap eats, I checked out The Brothers. The paper wasn’t kidding when it said the portions were huge, providing plenty of fuel for long downtown strolls.

(Memory tells me it was frequently mentioned in Now, and may have run a few ads, but the current search function for their online archives is next-to-useless).

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National Post, January 15, 2000.

The Star published the Brothers’ rice pudding recipe twice: in 2000 after it closed, then in 2006 thanks to reader demand. “The food was bettered only by their dear personalities and quintessential charm,” one reader recalled. Food writer Amy Pataki noted that staff called the dish rizogalo, and that cook Tony Polyzotis called its preparation “easy.”

If this inspires you to make this recipe from the July 26, 2006 Star, send it pictures and I’ll add them to this post.

Brothers Rice Pudding
Tempering the beaten egg with hot liquid prevents it from coagulating.

4 cups or more whole or 2 per cent milk
1 cup converted white rice, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp raisins (optional)
Ground cinnamon

In medium, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 4 cups milk to simmer over medium heat. Add rice and sugar. Cook, uncovered, at gentle boil, stirring frequently, until rice is almost cooked through but still a little chewy, about 30 minutes. (Rice will continue to soften as it cools.)

In heatproof cup, whisk egg with vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons hot cooking liquid. Whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Stir into rice mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add raisins (if desired).

Cool pudding uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up skin as it forms on surface. (Pudding will thicken on standing; thin with more milk as desired.) Sprinkle generously with cinnamon before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Loring-Wyle Parkette

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

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“Young Girl,” Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005.

They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

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Moore Park Loop, looking north, June 7, 1926. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4339.

The Moore Park Residents’ Association appreciated their legacy. In the early 1980s, it was proposed that an inactive streetcar loop at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and Mount Pleasant Road be turned into a small park honouring the sculptors. The Moore Park loop was built to serve the St. Clair line when it was extended east to Mount Pleasant in December 1924, then Eglinton Avenue a year later. The tracks were abandoned after a short-lived Mount Pleasant streetcar route switched to trolley buses in 1976, but the path of the rails is still visible in the middle of the St. Clair-Mount Pleasant intersection.

Opened in 1984, the Loring-Wyle Parkette sits a block north of the combined home and studio Loring and Wyle shared for nearly half a century. The house at 110 Glenrose Avenue was known as “The Church” because it was originally the Sunday schoolhouse for Christ Church Deer Park. The structure was moved east from Yonge Street several years before the pair purchased it in 1920. It became a centre of Toronto’s artistic community, where peers like the Group of Seven relaxed, discussed projects, and organized groups like the Sculptors Society of Canada. The Girls held regular Saturday night parties where guests enjoyed treats like scotch mixed with fresh snow and Wyle’s hog-calling demonstrations. The parties drew “a crowd of congenial people enjoying themselves in distinctive surroundings,” according to biographer Rebecca Sisler. “They were made particularly convivial and lively by the warmth and undemanding friendliness of The Girls. Those who attended the parties still claim they were the best in the country.”

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Frances Loring and sculptor Florence Wyle standing among statues, January 21, 1950. Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Archives of Ontario, C 3-1-0-0-666.

Loring and Wyle met as students learning neoclassical sculpting techniques at the Art Institute of Chicago around 1906. Five years later they established a studio in the Bohemian heart of America, Greenwich Village. While Wyle’s family objected to her career choice, Loring’s father, a mining engineer, provided financial backing and felt Wyle would be a steadying influence on his daughter. He was responsible for their move to Toronto around 1913, after shutting down The Girls’ studio while they were on vacation—he felt they were making little money and was never comfortable with the unconventional atmosphere of their new home. Loring moved to Toronto, theoretically to take care of her mother, and Wyle followed soon after. Perhaps making amends for his actions, Loring’s father funded their first local studio, above a carpentry shop at Church and Lombard Streets.

Among the projects the pair collaborated on was the Lion Monument, which served as the gateway for the Queen Elizabeth Way at the Humber River. Loring chose a “snarling, defiant, British lion, eight feet high!” as the focal point to symbolize Great Britain’s readiness to fight at the start of World War II, while Wyle worked on a portrait of King George VI and the future Queen Mother. The monument remains one of their most visible works, even if freeway expansion forced its move to nearby Sir Casimir Gzowski Park in 1975. Loring also created public works like the statue of Sir Robert Borden on Parliament Hill and a relief on the south wall of Exhibition Place’s Queen Elizabeth Building. Hundreds of their works are currently held by the Art Gallery of Ontario, on whose collection committee Loring sat during the 1950s.

The pair remained partners until their deaths within a month of each other in 1968, though their biographers question whether, despite sharing a bedroom for years, their relationship was physical. “Whether or not The Girls were lovers,” Elspeth Cameron wrote in her Loring-Wyle bio And Beauty Answers, “theirs was the closest emotional relationship either of them ever had. In Platonic terms, they were soulmates, as complementary to each other as Yin and Yang.” Their deep bond is reflected by the busts they crafted of each other early in their partnership, which stand today in their park.

Sources: And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron (Toronto: Cormorant, 2007), The Girls by Rebecca Sisler (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1972), and the May 9, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

From the CBC archives, a look at Loring and Wyle in their studio.

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Toronto Star, November 27, 1920.

sw 1926-11-06 realism or symbolism loring wyle 1

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Star Weekly, November 6, 1926. Click on images for larger versions.

A Pandemic Day’s Wanderings: An Afternoon Downtown

All photos in this post taken by and copyright Jamie Bradburn, 2020.

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Before setting out on my latest long walk, a quick stop on the way to the subway. The local Little Free Library was stocked with plays, including these titles. The boxes in my neighbourhood have been overstuffed lately, making me wonder if people have now moved into the book-culling phase of the pandemic. With traditional fundraising book sales being cancelled for this year, I’m expecting full boxes for awhile.

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On the front window of Greenwood station, a TTC-produced poster showing how to make simple face coverings. I’d say about half the riders were masked, perhaps enjoying their last moments of facial freedom before July 2, when masks become mandatory on the TTC.

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On the platform, social distancing is now marked with these stickers.

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At Yonge and Bloor, the TTC’s poster for COVID self-screening.

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Some mixed feelings shared on the window of the old Payless Shoe Source store at Yonge and Charles. It’s OK to share this during these times, as everyone sorts out their feelings.

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The old St. Charles Tavern clock tower, isolated for the moment.

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A message looking forward to the day we can enjoy theatre again, flashed outside the Ed Mirvish.

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I wandered into the Eaton Centre for the first time since winter. It was quiet, and most people looked more interested in walking around than checking out the open stores. Plenty of safety signage, starting with their self-assessment guide.

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Pedestrian traffic was directed similar to a divided highway, with northbound and southbound lanes.

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Too bad this wasn’t playing in the background…

Maybe Aerosmith and Run DMC should reunite to do a safety video on proper pandemic-era walking.

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The walkway over to Hudson Bay/Saks was also open, leading me towards my first trip into the PATH in months.

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There was a sense of being watched in the Bay-Adelaide Centre. This was one of the few sets of eyes I encountered, as the PATH was in its dead weekend mode.

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The first of many “returning to operations” plans posted through the PATH.

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A sense of how quiet Scotia Bank was around 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.

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Still no shoeshines for a while, though the note indicated they’d be back as soon as possible.

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Commerce Court.

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Something I had never noticed before in Commerce Court: this old school mailbox.

Something else I hadn’t noticed, and only took a blurry shot of: throughout the PATH, the buttons with the wheelchair logo used to open doors have been replaced with sensors activated by hand wipes.

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Like other museums around the city, the Hockey Hall of Fame is preparing to welcome visitors under pandemic conditions. The signage appears to be ready.

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Gordie Howe approves.

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Coming up the escalator in Brookfield Place, Santiago Calatrava’s Allen Lambert Galleria is still one of the most beautiful architectural sights in the city. It’s even more amazing when you have it almost all to yourself.

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Where the Movenpick/Richtree restaurant used to be, passers by could pretend they were walking through a European streetscape.

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No, thank you.

Though the quiet throughout the PATH was eerie in spots, by the time I exited I was feeling hopeful. Most of the few people out were taking health and sanitation suggestions seriously, and spaces were making decent preparations to welcome back the public. It felt like a corner was turning, and that while life still won’t be going back to the old normal anytime soon, it will feel more familiar. I felt a sense of possibility more than doom.

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Meridian Hall, the latest guise for the facility formerly known as the O’Keefe Centre, Hummingbird Centre, Sony Centre, and Fill-in-the-Blank Centre. Any bets on when it will change it name again?

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Umm…okay…

The latest in weird sandwich board sign messages along Front Street west of St. Lawrence Market.

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Traffic management sign, courtesy of Metrolinx, in Union Station.

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A reminder from GO Transit.

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Art project, or pedestrian signal hiding in the hoarding? (York Street)

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A mixture of protests at Nathan Phillips Square – a tent city calling for improved housing, and chalk/paint messages to defund or abolish the police. The next three photos speak for themselves.

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Back in the subway, my assistant Qwilly followed the seating spacing regulations.

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Some final reminders from the TTC on the way home.

A Pandemic Day’s Wanderings: My First Subway Ride in Three Months

The last time I took a subway ride was back in March, either returning from the airport or on one last set of downtown errands before COVID-19 shut down the city. Needing to shoot some photos for some personal projects and not feeling like driving downtown on a sunny Monday afternoon, I decided to reacquaint myself with the subway after a three-month separation.

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Greenwood station has one of the city’s new wayfinding pillars, which include maps and historical tidbits about the surrounding area. I had forgotten I contributed to several pillars that would be installed downtown – more about them in a future post.

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Once past the Presto barrier, hand sanitizer was available.

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This vision of mouth sores is not the most encouraging ad to see in the subway at the moment.

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On the train, many seats were blocked off to promote social distancing. Some of the signs looked worse for wear.

There were three other people in my car when I got on, none of whom were wearing masks. Who knows if they’ll comply if the TTC’s proposal to make wearing masks mandatory goes ahead. I felt a little uncomfortable until Pape, when nearly everyone who boarded was masked.

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Given the current protests about policing, and controversies around fare enforcement, I’m surprised this ad hadn’t been replaced by the TTC or ripped out by an angry rider.

Overall, the ride was fine. It was very quiet, and everyone observed the spacing suggestions. My comfort level grew, and I suspect I’ll use the system when convenient during the week.

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The Bloor platform was eerily quiet.

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Who wants to solve an online mattress company puzzle?

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Hopping off at Queen, I noticed that the Bay was open, but, in compliance with current COVID regulations, you couldn’t enter from subway level.

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Inside the store, sanitizing stations were set up on each floor by the escalators. Few people were walking around. Fewer appeared to be tempted by the merchandise, possibly from a combination of closed dressing rooms in the clothing sections and underwhelming discounts throughout. It was hard not to feel like I was walking through the ruins of a lost civilization, who had left their mannequins behind.

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That feeling hit even harder at Nathan Phillips Square, which should have been full of life at 3:30 on a sunny Monday in June. I was curious if any messages supporting the anti-racism protests had been scrawled in chalk. Unless they had been scrubbed or washed away, there weren’t any. The ground was a blank canvas waiting for something, anything, to liven it up.

There were people sitting on the benches lining the outside of the square, mostly eating food truck hot dog and fries, or adjusting their cameras.

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The shady sidewalk alongside Osgoode Hall was a good place to process my thoughts, letting the affects of pandemic on the city sink in.

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An amusing mural on Duncan Street by Camilla Teodoro celebrating the usual experience of walking through the city felt extra comforting.

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A message of love drawn on the plywood erected by the entrance of the Michaels at John and Richmond. Given the lack of other graffiti, I’m guessing this was installed to protect the store in case any protest-related problems arose.

They didn’t.

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Commercial plug department: the Spacing Store is open to pick up orders. Plenty of great stuff is displayed in their windows, including a few books I may have contributed to…

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Wandering up Spadina, a banner at Chinatown Centre encouraged silly walks. Nobody took up this offer…

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…least of all Sun Yat-Sen. Maybe his doppleganger in Chinatown East would be more enticed to join in.

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Commentary on the current discussion on race, found in Kensington Market.

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An existential question asked by a garage door on Croft Street. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately about any number of things, from the value of my work to how the world functions. So much soul searching these days…

Did I mention this was a contemplative walk?

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Two of the brighter examples of the murals currently along Croft Street.

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An ode to Harbord Street…

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…and the city’s lost rivers, a little difficult to appreciate on garbage day.

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Up on Bloor Street, buckets of cheap fondant at Bulk Barn, ideal for anyone who had “learn cake decorating” on their pandemic to-do list.

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Heading back to Bloor-Yonge station, there were long, snaking lines outside stores in Yorkville, primarily Artizia, Sephora, and Zara. Many mixed feelings about this, including the effects of fast fashion on people and the environment, the desire to return to anything resembling our individual senses of normalcy, and Toronto’s love for long lines under any circumstances.

Epitomizing that last point was a family I saw standing in the queue outside the Gap at Bay and Bloor. They were gorging on Chick Fil A, which I bet they also spent plenty of time waiting for.

A Pandemic Night’s Wanderings: The Beaches, AGO, Grange Park

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All photos in this post taken on May 11, 2020 and copyright Jamie Bradburn. 

A crisp night with few people out and about: the perfect time for my wife and I to wander around the city.

We began our journey on Queen Street in the east end of The Beaches. So far we haven’t relied on wine to get us through the crisis, but, judging from the regular lineups we’ve seen outside of LCBO stores, plenty of others are. Perhaps this is a good time to branch out and try different brands and styles, or conduct experiments in home vintages.

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Outside a pet supply store, spaces were marked out for socially distanced pickup. Or was it a tribute to those unfortunate souls who earn three strikes on Family Feud?

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At Beech Avenue, a quartet of Muskoka chairs for a socially distanced rest.

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Films on extended run at the Fox Theatre.

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A message similar to those on marquees across the city, with a touch of Bogey.

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A quiet night at the laundromat, with baskets lined up neatly in a row.

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With the speed that businesses were forced to close, there are still a few St. Patrick’s Day displays kicking around. Later on, we reflected on how many window displays in the city have frozen a moment in time, and wondered if that’s incredible or unsettling.

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A note of thanks painted on Valumart’s window.

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We walked down to the lake, where warnings about ongoing work by the TRCA and COVID greeted us at the bottom of Silver Birch Avenue.

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All along the boardwalk, there were signs that chairs and benches had once been covered with police tape, but the public had other ideas regarding their use. Other wanderers were seen admiring the clear night sky from Muskoka chairs along the beach.

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After weaving our way along side streets back to the car, we headed into downtown. I’ve barely visited the core since the crisis began, and the few experiences haven’t been entirely pleasant. One night I drove along Yonge Street and played dodge ball with panhandlers driven by the lack of foot traffic into more desperate behaviour towards motorists. I feared for their safety (wandering in and out of traffic in a way that could have been fatal had they encountered road racers) and mine (blocking my path as I tried to turn, aggressively knocking on the window).  It was an uncomfortable experience for many reasons, ranging from practical (don’t accidentally injure or kill somebody!) to societal (was I nervous because these were desperate people coping with poverty and mental illness?).

We parked along McCaul across from OCAD. Few people were around, and the silence was broken by the occasional diverted streetcar passing by. The school was well lit.

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At the AGO, a reminder of exhibitions I’ll never get to see. We talked about how museums might reopen, figuring those with large, roomy exhibition spaces where social distancing occur easily might return first, perhaps with reduced capacity or a reservation system for viewing time. Special exhibitions may have to have less “wow” factor to keep crowds away.

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So, so quiet.

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On the backside of the AGO, the garbage and recycling containers in Grange Park were taped off.

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Henry Moore’s Two Large Forms seems to have found a good home in the revitalized park since moving from the other side of the gallery in 2017. Google Maps currently describes the park as a “city oasis with a Henry Moore sculpture.”

Won’t deny that…

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Like several other downtown landmarks, OCAD was bathed in a purple glow to honour those working in the hospitality industry.

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Its doors may be closed due to COVID, but the University Settlement Community Centre still shines its lights on Grange Road.

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Among the other buildings lit in purple: Casa Loma, which we drove by on our way home.

Bonus Features: “Forget the golf stick and use the hoe” (WWII Victory Gardening)

Before diving into this post, read my TVO article on victory gardening in Ontario during the Second World War.

wtg 1943-05-20 victory garden banner

Weston Times and Guide, May 20, 1943.

gm 1943-02-26 gocvernment advocates home gardening

Globe and Mail, February 26, 1943.

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Globe and Mail, March 18, 1943.

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Weston Times and Guide, May 20, 1943.

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Windsor Star, March 25, 1942.

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Windsor Star, March 25, 1942.

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Ottawa Citizen, February 28, 1942.

The Citizen‘s “Uncle Ray” urged children to participate in victory gardening from early 1942 on. Subsequent columns included kids who “enlisted” in the Uncle Ray Garden Brigade, along with tips on what to grow.

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Windsor Star, May 6, 1942.

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Weston Times and Guide, April 8, 1943.

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Ottawa Journal, May 20, 1942. More on Muggs and Skeeter.

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Weston Times and Guide, May 20, 1943.

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Globe and Mail, May 1, 1943.

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Globe and Mail, June 8, 1943.

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Ottawa Citizen, August 9, 1943.

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Ottawa Citizen, September 7, 1943.

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Windsor Star, March 18, 1944.

Not going to lie – my juvenile potty humour kicked in when I saw this series of ads for a downtown Windsor gardening needs supplier.

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Globe and Mail, March 13, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, January 30, 1945.

Post #600: One Fine Sunday Walk in Rosedale, Pandemic Style

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View of MacLennan Avenue and Summerhill Avenue taken from the pedestrian bridge, May 3, 2020. All photos in this post copyright Jamie Bradburn, 2020. 

Hi, how’s everyone doing?

Hopefully you’re riding out the pandemic as best as you can. My coping mechanism has been plenty of walking through residential neighbourhoods, both close to home and in other parts of the city. Besides aiding my mental health, it’s been a way to discover/rediscover the local landscape. Low traffic on residential streets helps with the ballet pedestrians perform to achieve good social distancing – with enough practice, you develop a good rhythm in dodging others for the greater good.

For the first summery day we’ve had, I tested my skills in Rosedale.

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There were two boxes of books by the curb close to where I parked. My porcupine assistants Qwilly and Qwillamina chose these two to take home.

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I started the walk by wandering up and down dead end and limited-access streets, going back and forth between Glen Road/Summerhill Avenue and the train tracks. This limited the number of other pedestrians, giving plenty of space to take in the blossoms. Locals were taking advantage of the sunny weather to spruce up their landscaping.

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A home with an artistic touch.

Walking west along Summerhill Avenue, foot traffic rose as I approached Summerhill Market. Outside, a guitarist played “Puff the Magic Dragon” and an ancient former ambulance clumsily tried to park. Inside, shoppers could treat themselves to single rolls of toilet paper for $1 each. On my way out, the ancient former ambulance clumsily exited the parking lot, turning on its siren as it headed east.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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Nor can you imagine signs like this one, posted on the pedestrian bridge at MacLennan and Summerhill.

Issue #1: while intended to promote social distancing, the placement of the giant “STOP” sign suggests the opposite.

Issue #2: if the graphics are taken literally, the sign suggests that optimal social distancing is achieved by one person hovering above another. Gravity has other ideas.

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The porcupines decided to provide a lesson in proper social distancing.

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One safety measure nobody was using at MacLennan and Summerhill were the cups of flags spread around the intersection. Found across neighbourhoods in north Toronto, I’ve rarely seen them used. They fall into a long tradition of solutions to road safety issues whose value is more symbolic than practical (or push most responsibility onto pedestrians).

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Next, Rosedale Park, home of the first Grey Cup game.

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The most common sign in Toronto’s parks during the pandemic.

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I’m not sure how much sense this sign makes at the moment, given that plenty of playground equipment, including some pieces in Rosedale Park, is covered in police tape to prevent usage.

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While the amenities were left alone, people in the park were mostly observing current distancing conventions, whether they were sunbathing or doing other contemplative activities. I also noticed people who, rather than use the benches, brought fold-up chairs to rest in.

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The park’s Little Free Library was full of material, including a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Moving on, I zigzagged down to the architectural gems along Beaumont Road. More time to appreciate the blossoms.

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There were CDs hanging in the windows of Oakhaven, once home to Emmett Cardinal Carter.

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The Proctor Residence, at 3 Beaumont Road.

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A friendly reminder as you head north along Glen Road.

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In the Little Free Library outside Rosedale United Church, a selection of parenting guides, books om Christmas and opera, a Penguin Classic of early Christian writing…and another book in the Fifty Shades series.

As Fifty Shades books have appeared in nearly every LFL I’ve seen across the city lately, I think the good people of Toronto have quietly decided that dumping their copies of this series is a good civic project during the pandemic.

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Next, Chorley Park, where the switchback path leading into the Don Valley has not, as some residents feared, led to the end of Western civilization.

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At one of the gateways to the path, a Heritage Toronto plaque outlining the odd history of Chorley Park.

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I then drove over to the Summerhill end of David Balfour Park, which is closed due to the rehabilitation of the Rosehill Reservoir. The construction hoarding along Summerhill Gardens is filled with hopeful messages.

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At journey’s end…the entire Fifty Shades series!

The Oldest Known Photos of Toronto

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on February 25, 2013.

For the earliest known photographs of Toronto, we have a sales pitch to thank.

Following the union of Upper and Lower Canada as the United Province of Canada in 1841, Canada’s new parliament drifted from city to city. Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto all hosted the wandering colonial government. On April 14, 1856, the legislature voted 64 to 54 in favour of ending its recent practice of alternating parliamentary sessions between Toronto and Quebec City. The job of determining a permanent capital was handed to Queen Victoria, who examined presentations from those two cities, along with presentations on behalf of Kingston, Montreal, and Ottawa.

While Toronto’s pitch failed to sway the queen (she named Ottawa the capital in 1857), it preserved a record of what the growing city looked like. The photographic and civil engineering firm of Armstrong, Beere and Hime was hired to provide a set of 25 photos for Victoria’s consideration, which were forgotten until an archivist found them by chance in 1979 while researching images of the British Columbia gold rush at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library in London, England. The photos were exhibited at the Market Gallery in 1984, and a set of copies were presented to the City archives as a gift for the city’s 150th birthday.

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

At the left of this row of buildings is the Golden Lion, which rivalled Eaton’s and Simpson’s as one of Toronto’s major department stores during the late 19th century. Officially known as Robert Walker and Sons, the store earned its lasting name when a golden lion statue was placed above its entrance soon after moving to the location shown here in 1847.

Renovated in 1867 and expanded in 1892, the store appeared to have a healthy future. But when no one in the Walker was left to carry on the business, it closed in 1898. Some observers, such as the Hamilton Herald, were dubious about the site’s future when the store was demolished in 1901: “In Toronto they are pulling down the old Golden Lion to make room for a new White Elephant in the form of a palace.”

The replacement? The still-operating King Edward Hotel.

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King Street East, south-side between Yonge and Church streets, looking east, 1856.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 2.

Among the businesses seen in this view is the British Colonist, one of Toronto’s first enduring newspapers. Launched in 1838, it was originally backed by supporters of the Church of Scotland. Considered “a staunch but not rabid Conservative paper” by the book Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867, it graduated from semi-weekly to daily publishing in 1851. The paper was sold to rival Conservative paper the Leader in 1860.

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Bank of British North America, north-east corner of Wellington and Yonge streets, 1856.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 3.

Opened in 1846, the limestone Bank of British North America was designed by John Howard, whose personal property later became High Park. Howard also designed the adjoining warehouses, which were initially occupied by a grocer. The building was rebuilt into its present form in the mid-1870s. The site later housed branches of the Bank of Montreal and CIBC, then a variety of tenants before the Irish Embassy pub settled in.

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The Exchange, Wellington Street, north side east of Yonge Street, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 4.

Modelled on a similar exchange across the Atlantic in London, the Toronto Exchange was established in 1854 for speculation traders specializing in produce. One-time Toronto postmaster Charles Berczy donated land he owned at the present-day northwest corner of Wellington Street and Leader Lane to the organization. Opened in 1855, it was renovated in 1877 and renamed the Imperial Bank Chambers when that financial institution moved in. Damaged by fire during the 1930s, it was demolished during World War II.

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Second United Presbyterian Church under construction, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 7.

Established in 1851, the Second United Presbyterian congregation renamed itself Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in 1856 in honour of Irish minister Henry Cooke. After holding services at several downtown locations, including St. Lawrence Hall, the congregation moved into its permanent home at Queen and Mutual streets in 1858. A Romanesque-style replacement was built in 1891 and became one of the city’s most popular churches—during the 1920s, you had to get there early to grab one of its 2,250 seats. When the church closed in 1982, its congregation had dwindled to 150. Despite a last-minute heritage designation, the church was demolished in 1984. Though there were hints of future office/residential development, the site became a parking lot.

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

Founded in 1850 by Egerton Ryerson, the Normal School served as training institution for teachers who would populate the province’s emerging public school system. Its home in St. James Square was opened in 1852 and expanded a few years later to include the Model School, where boys’ grammar classes were held. Among its amenities was a museum of natural history and fine arts which evolved into the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Normal School was moved out in 1941 to make room for an RCAF training centre. After World War II, the site was used to prepare veterans to return to civilian life via a school which evolved into Ryerson University. Demolished to make way for the present Ryerson quadrangle in 1962, only a portion of the central façade remains today.

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Osgoode Hall, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 9.

Built between 1829 and 1846, Osgoode Hall served as the headquarters of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Shortly after this picture was taken, the central section was reconstructed by the architectural firm of Cumberland and Storm.

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Parliament Buildings, Front Street West, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 10.

The third set of parliament buildings erected in Toronto, three separate blocks were built on the north side of Front Street between John and Simcoe streets between 1829 and 1832. Architect John Howard was brought in to finish off the interiors. The complex was used intermittently during the United Province of Canada era (1841 to 1867), when legislators also sat in Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec City. When this picture was taken, work had begun to fill in the spaces between the blocks for offices in case Toronto became the permanent capital. Post-Confederation, the buildings served as the home of Ontario’s government until the present Ontario Legislative Building in Queen’s Park opened in 1893. The Grand Trunk Railway purchased the site and demolished the buildings a decade later. The site currently houses the Canadian Broadcast Centre.

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Trinity College, Queen Street West, north side, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 11.

When the University of Toronto declared itself a secular institution in 1850, Bishop John Strachan felt an institute of higher learning with ties to the Church of England was still required. He established Trinity College and hired architect Kivas Tully to design a Gothic-styled school, the first section of which opened in 1852.

Trinity joined U of T in 1904 and moved to the main campus in 1925. The buildings it left behind in what became Trinity-Bellwoods Park were briefly used as an athletic centre, then demolished in the mid-1950s. The only remaining portions are part of the gate at the park’s entrance and the former St. Hilda’s College building on Shaw Street, now John Gibson House.

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Rossin House Hotel, southeast corner of King and York streets, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 12.

Introduction to an article on the opening of the Rossin House, the Globe, May 5, 1857:

The want of proper hotel accommodation has long been a standing reproach to Toronto, and the boasted enterprise and energy of our citizens has often been called into question by visitors from other places. No longer, however, will this be needed, for by the completion of the Rossin House, ample accommodation can be afforded for as large a number of guests as are likely to visit the city at any one time, and, as far as the house is concerned, satisfaction will be given to the most fastidious.

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Toronto from the top of Rossin House Hotel, looking northwest, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 14.

This image formed part of one of three panoramas of the city shot from the top of the Rossin House, which were meant to impress Queen Victoria with how much the city had grown.

As for the Rossin House, though a fire in November 1862 gutted its interior, fire safety measures included by architect William Kauffman left the walls intact and resulted in only one fatality. Rebuilt by 1867, it remained one of Toronto’s most fashionable hotels until the King Edward opened in 1903. Later known as the Prince George Hotel, the building was demolished in 1969.

Sources: Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), Early Toronto Newspapers 1793–1867, Edith G. Firth, editor (Toronto: Baxter Publishing, 1961), Choosing Canada’s Capital by David B. Knight (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1991), the May 5, 1857 edition of the Globe, the March 22, 1984 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 12, 1901 and May 22, 1982 editions of the Toronto Star.

Yorkville, Through Rochester-Coloured Glasses

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Some celebrity tourism in mid-1970s Yorkville. “The star of The Snoop Sisters does some snooping of her own. While character actress Helen Hayes was strolling down Yorkville Ave., she discovered a shop that specializes in Canadiana furnishings and spotted a china platter that she said she would like to add to her collection.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1974. Toronto Star Archives, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054027f.

By 1976, Yorkville had shed its image as a haven for music venues and wayward youth, as it gentrified into a high-end residential and shopping district. The neighbourhood’s new image made it ideal for newspaper profiles touting its charms for tourists.

Take this five-page piece, published in the April 18, 1976 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle‘s Sunday magazine Upstate.

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“Scollard Street is where you’ll find most of Yorkville’s art galleries, including the Marianne Friedland and Evans galleries.”

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Ending with a Wizard of Oz reference? Sheesh.

Hazelton Lanes opened later that year. The writer wouldn’t have many more opportunities to criticize the Riverboat, as it closed in June 1978. The Yorkville branch of Hy’s lasted until 1982, while the Book Cellar remained a hive of literary activity until 1997. The Coffee Mill served its last goulash in 2014.

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This ad appeared on the last page of the article. Note that neither of the Metro Toronto HoJo locations listed here (Airport and Scarborough) for a bubbly-filled weekend were anywhere near Yorkville (though the chain eventually occupied the old Regency Towers Hotel on Avenue Road).

Making and Remaking Hazelton Lanes

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2013. As the original post placed its images in gallery format, this version will sprinkle them throughout, along with additional ads and photos.

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Hazelton Lanes under construction, 1976. Photo by Harold Barkley. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109033f.

When it opened in 1976, Hazelton Lanes offered a combination of luxury condos and tony retailers set amidst a cluster of former homes. Hailed as a great example of how developers and surrounding residents could work together, the mall’s fortunes later declined because of its confusing layout and an ill-timed expansion.

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Rendering of the proposed new entrance for Hazelton Lanes on Avenue Road, 2013.

Recently released renderings of proposed renovations depict a 21st-century makeover that the complex’s owners hope will draw foot traffic.

Hazelton Lanes’s roots can be traced to real estate developer Richard Wookey’s decision to purchase a number of Yorkville properties during the late 1960s. For a time, he catered to the counter culture. In one instance, he allowed a biker gang to use a Hazelton Avenue property as long as it didn’t bother the neighbours. The gang soon departed, complaining that Wookey had “domesticated” them.

Domestication was the goal of developers like Wookey, and boarding houses and coffee houses gave way to pricey boutiques. Wookey bought homes cheap, gutted the interiors, and added Victorian-style archways and windows. He was a proponent of adaptive reuse, hiring architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers to transform a cluster of houses at Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue into the York Square retail complex in 1968.

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Richard Wookey, March 1974. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0090040f.

With Hazelton Lanes, Wookey did something unusual. Rather than seeking immediate City approval, he consulted local residents. Three members of the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association (ABCRA) were invited to his home to review the plans. Despite having concerns about increased traffic, they were impressed by the sketches and suggested that Wookey hold a public meeting. “I think that Mr. Wookey has gone about this matter in precisely the right way,” ABCRA member Jack Granatstein wrote to aldermen William Kilbourn and Colin Vaughan in a March 1973 letter. “I hope that what we can all accomplish here will become the model for future development in the city.”

When the meeting was held the following month, most of the 120 people present voted in favour of the project. “Ratepayer groups don’t always oppose development,” ABCRA vice-president Ellen Adams told the Globe and Mail. “We just oppose the bad ones.” Also impressed by the meeting was Vaughan, who a quarter century later praised Wookey for ensuring that his projects were “woven into the fabric of the city, so that older buildings and site features are enhanced.” The consultation process helped the project gain council support for an exemption to a bylaw that capped development height at 45 feet.

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Hazelton Lanes rink, 1976. Photographer unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109032f.

Designed by architect Boris Zerafa, the complex consisted of a series of eight former homes topped by a series of terraced condos. In the middle was a courtyard, which would be used as an ice-skating rink in the winter.

A potential roadblock emerged when Ursula Foster, who resisted attempts by Wookey to buy her home at 30 Hazelton, asked the City’s buildings and development committee to delay submitting the project to the Ontario Municipal Board. Foster, who had lived in Yorkville for 50 years, feared her sunlight would be blocked, and that therefore her garden would be ruined and her winter heating bill would rise. She met with the City’s planners, Wookey, and Zerafa in May 1974 to find a solution. All agreed to a revised plan that would move the complex’s first two storeys back 10 feet and relocate the upper-level condos to the Avenue Road side.

Apart from gripes from alderman John Sewell about the “very chi chi” project’s lack of affordable housing (condo prices initially ranged from $72,000 to $500,000), the remaining approval process was smooth. When the mall opened in October 1976, it was clear that the average Joe would be out of place. “Most of the shoppers have dressed up to walk the stores,” observed the Globe and Mail. “Several of the shop owners, exquisite in cashmere and costly boots, look like they would eat you alive if you wandered in wearing your old trousers.”

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Toronto Life, December 1984.

Under numerous owners—including William Louis-Dreyfus, father of Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus—the mall portion of Hazelton Lanes has had problems. A major north-end expansion in 1989 designed by Jack Diamond was affected by the recession. At desperate moments, rents were slashed in half. Existing tenants moaned about having to help customers negotiate the mall’s confusing layout. None of the marquee names touted as potential anchors during the 1990s—Neiman Marcus, Pusateri’s, Saks Fifth Avenue—materialized. The ice rink was scrapped during the late 1990s. Whole Foods opened its first Canadian store inside Hazelton Lanes in May 2002, but the mall continued to be criticized for its vacancies and its aging appearance. “Though this dreary complex has somehow managed to become synonymous with wealth and beauty,” observed Star architecture critic Christopher Hume in 2004, “it’s really about kitsch.”

 

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Rendering of south escalator area.

Current owner First Capital bought Hazelton Lanes in 2011, promising to add a broader assortment of tenants for the mall’s well-heeled customers. A company official admitted that there was “no easy fix.” The current renderings by Kasian Architecture show a mall whose appearance matches current shopping-centre styles, with a new gateway to Yorkville Avenue. The proposed renovations, which have yet to get underway, appear to tie into plans to replace York Square with a condo tower, wiping out the pioneering retail space. It remains to be seen if a revamped Hazelton Lanes can draw a major new anchor store.

Sources: the April 5, 1973, November 4, 1976, and September 27, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the April 5, 1973, March 22, 1974, May 14, 1974, March 11, 1976, July 20, 1998, October 5, 2002, and March 27, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

First up, bonus material I prepared at the time this piece was originally written…

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Toronto Star, April 5, 1973.

It was nice for a change to read about a development project where the nearby residents weren’t convinced the sky was going to fall. Unless there’s a secret back story missing from both the media coverage and the personal correspondences I leafed through while researching this article, it sounds like the developer did everything right to reassure the community that all would be well.

Besides the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association, the neighbouring Annex Ratepayers’ Association (ARA) was consulted. In a letter to alderman Ying Hope, an ARA representative wanted to “commend the process of community association consultation in the development of the project.”

Not that there weren’t opponents. In a letter to the city clerk, Hazelton Avenue apartment building owner Mohsen Djelweh complained about the potential traffic bottleneck along his street. He also worried that granting an exception to the 45-foot building height limit would cause Yorkville to “slowly die and convert into a canyon” instead of remaining a “highly regarded, highly attractive low-rise development” which drew tourists.

The loudest opponent to Hazelton Lanes appears to have been alderman John Sewell. When you dive into 1970s Toronto, you can create a drinking game around predicting what Sewell will rage against in the midst of the story you’re trailing. Besides the height issue (which he was only one of three councilors to vote against in February 1974), Sewell complained that the project offered no provisions for affordable housing. He claimed that developer Richard Wookey “doesn’t want to have to touch people who aren’t in a fairly high income bracket.” Sewell’s attempt to promote mixed income housing in Yorkville didn’t gain traction.

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Globe and Mail, September 25, 1976.

An example of an early Hazelton Lanes ad campaign. A different batch of tenants was profiled each week. Note the references to the mall’s hard-to-find location, which didn’t always serve it well.

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A colour view of the rink. Toronto Life, January 1980.

Here’s how Hazelton Lanes was described in The Best of Toronto 1980, published by Toronto Life:

Toronto’s most exclusive , multi-purpose structure is a spectacular complex incorporating shops, restaurants, offices and luxury condominium apartments. The courtyard is a skating rink in winter and an outdoor extension of the Hazelton Lanes Cafe in summer. You’ll find everything from delicious imported chocolates at Au Chocolat to designer fashions at Chez Catherine. It’s elegant, exclusive, expensive and not to be missed.

UPDATE

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Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

With the renovations came a new name. So long Hazelton Lanes, hello Yorkville Village. The entrance to Yorkville Avenue was completely revamped.

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Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

As for the effect of the renovations…on a recent walk, the place felt utterly soulless. The old brick might have been dated, but it had a certain warmth. While it’s nice to have bright light flowing in, the overall look is just sort of there. I felt like I could have been dropped into any generic recently-refurbished suburban shopping mall.

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Nearby advertising on Yorkville Avenue.