Shaping Toronto: Centennial Projects

Originally published on Torontoist on February 24, 2016.

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A mark of the centennial at the fountain at Rosehill Reservoir.

From neighbourhood tree plantings to the international spectacle of Expo 67, Canada proudly celebrated its centennial. The stylized maple leaf logo graced everything from historical sites to reservoirs. Cities and towns applied for governments grants to spruce up parks, restore historical sites, and build attractions to last long after the centennial spirit faded.

Across Toronto, many legacies remain of, as Pierre Berton’s book on 1967 termed it, “the last good year.” There are the community centres and parks in the pre-amalgamation suburbs with “centennial” in their name. Celebratory murals lining school walls. Caribana and its successors celebrating Caribbean culture each year.

Many of these projects received funding from programs overseen by a federal commission, whose work sometimes felt like an Expo footnote. “They felt like poor cousins,” Centennial Commission PR director Peter Aykroyd (Dan’s father) observed. “Expo was so big, so appealing, so clearly headed for success that it discouraged those who were plodding away on the less focused, something-for-everyone program of the Commission.”

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North York Centennial Arena (later named in honour of Herb Carnegie), 1967. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 27, Item 7.

As is our habit, Toronto wanted spectacular major centennial projects. As is also our habit, they were mired in bureaucratic squabbles involving penny-pinching city councillors, politicians and pundits who swore delays embarrassed us in front of the rest of the country, and bad luck.

Discussions over marking the centennial began in earnest in September 1962 when the Toronto Planning Board proposed a $25 million cultural complex. With financial pruning, this evolved into a $9 million centennial program focused on the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, which included a repertory theatre, arts and culture facilities along Front Street, and a renovation of the decaying St. Lawrence Hall. Proponents also tossed in an expansion of the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO) and refreshing Massey Hall. Mayor Phil Givens supported the project wholeheartedly—during his re-election campaign in 1964, he said “I have never been so sincerely convinced in my life that something is right.”

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Sketch of a proposed theatre inside the St. Lawrence Centre, Globe and Mail, March 20, 1965.

A key opponent was councillor/former mayor Allan Lamport, who believed the city couldn’t afford the project, and was only willing to support the St. Lawrence Hall rehab. “He is barren of ideas concerning what the city might put in its place,” a Globe and Mail editorial criticized. “It is this sort of negative approach which could find Toronto celebrating the nation’s birthday with nothing more impressive and enduring than a pageant in the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand.”

The fate of the St. Lawrence Centre see-sawed over the next few years, as council battled over the budget. When it was clear the project wouldn’t be remotely ready for 1967, the city switched its focus to St. Lawrence Hall. When the 1960s started, the site was split among several owners, and there was at least one proposal to replace it with an office building and parking deck. Under the leadership of a committee of local architects and construction officials, the restoration of the hall appeared to be on track as 1967 dawned.

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“Searching for bodies; city firemen comb through the rubble of the east wing of St. Lawrence Hall which collapsed yesterday while being restored as a Centennial project. No one was injured and no bodies were found. Credit for this is given foreman Jack McGowan who cleared the building and sent men to stop traffic only minutes before the four-storey section crumbled in a cloud of dust.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0000233f.

On March 10, 1967, the northeast portion of the building collapsed. The press offered unanimous support to keep the project going, such as the following Star editorial:

The restoration of the old St. Lawrence Hall was one centennial project upon which everyone in Toronto was happily united. Today, when a section of the building lies in rubble, we can be sure the determination that it will live in its former glory is stronger than ever…it wasn’t until the report of the collapse that most of us realized how much the restoration of the historic old hall was coming to mean in this centennial year, troubled with apathy and dispute over other projects…Our appetite for history has been whetted and we need the completion of the St. Lawrence Hall to satisfy it. So light the torches and beat the drums, we’ve got a building to raise.

While the restoration endured further delays from a series of city-wide construction strikes (which prompted the city to sneak in concrete via the back entrance), the refurbished St. Lawrence Hall celebrated its rebirth when Governor-General Roland Michener officially re-opened it during a December 28, 1967 gala.

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Globe and Mail, April 28, 1965.

The St. Lawrence Centre finally opened in February 1970, several months after another delayed centennial project. When the province announced a science museum in 1964, it chose 180 acres of parkland at Don Mills and Eglinton. The city opposed the suburban location, preferring the CNE grounds, where Givens felt there were better connections to highways and transit. Unless the province provided compelling reasons regarding the CNE’s unsuitability, he threatened to hold up the transfer of the Don Valley site. The province wasn’t moved. Initially known as the Centennial Centre of Science and Technology, the project suffered numerous construction delays and bureaucratic bickering before opening as the Ontario Science Centre in September 1969.

Other local centennial projects had smoother rides, even if they occasionally ruffled egos. Leaside was the first to complete theirs, a community centre in Trace Manes Park which opened in September 1966, mere months before the town was absorbed into East York. The latter unveiled their major project, the restoration of Todmorden Mills, in May 1967. Mayor True Davidson scornfully called Leaside’s project “a change house for tennis players,” while touting Todmorden as “one of the most ambitious projects in Metro.”

The work on St. Lawrence Hall and Todmorden Mills demonstrated what Pierre Berton later called the true legacy of the centennial: recognizing the value of local heritage.

In 1967, the idea of preserving something of the past by restoring old buildings and preserving historic landscapes was a novel one at a time when local governments were still applauded for bulldozing entire neighbourhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” The Centennial marked the beginning of the end of that philosophy. “Heritage” had come into its own when Victorian mansions that had once seemed grotesquely ugly began to be viewed as monuments to a gilded age. Old railway stations, banks, even 1930s gas stations would be seen as living history lessons.

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Globe and Mail, May 20, 1967.

So far, the upcoming Canada 150 celebrations show little of the fervour associated with the centennial. An August 2014 city report recognized that the influx of legacy projects associated with the Pan/Parapan Am Games made it unlikely there would be similar scale construction to mark the country’s 150th birthday next year. A more recent report promotes marking the occasion through cultural festivals and community heritage programs. Unless an enduring celebration like Caribana/Caribbean Carnival emerges, it’s likely the reminders of 1967 will outlast those of 2017.

Additional material from 1967: The Last Good Year by Pierre Berton (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997); The Best Place To Be: Expo 67 and Its Time by John Lownsbrough (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2012); St. Lawrence Hall (Toronto: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969); the December 27, 1963, September 2, 1964, June 17, 1965, and May 23, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

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Shaping Toronto: Chinatowns

Originally published on Torontoist on February 4, 2016.

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Marking the end of the Second World War in Chinatown, August 12, 1945 (two days before the official declaration was signed). City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98337.

A glance at the listing for Adelaide Street East in the 1878 city directory shows a mix of Anglo-sounding businessmen whose trades range from contracting to insurance. The name at number 9 stands out: Sam Ching & Co, Chinese laundry. Mr. Ching’s presence was a cultural milestone, as he was the first recorded Chinese resident of Toronto.

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Page from the 1878 city directory listing Sam Ching’s business at 9 Adelaide Street East.

Since Ching’s era, Toronto has included several Chinatowns, a term which has evolved from its original negative connotation. As Library and Archives Canada observes, “’Chinatown’ was coined in the 19th century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full of vice, and peopled by an inferior race.” That proper Torontonians of the early 20th century viewed the city’s small Chinese population—just over 1,000 in 1910—as lesser beings puts it mildly.

Both the respectable and gutter press hyped up the “yellow peril,” editorializing on how the eastern mindset was alien to western concepts of democracy and good citizenship, and how the Chinese would corrupt morals via gambling and opium. Efforts to curb their presence in the laundry and restaurant trades ranged from licensing fees to unsuccessful attempts by City Council to deny business licenses. Paranoia led to provincial legislation preventing Chinese-owned businesses from hiring white women, lest they be sold into white slavery. The Rosedale Ratepayers Association wanted to keep Chinese laundries out of their neighbourhood, adding them to the long list of things people don’t want in Rosedale.

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100-110 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 178.

While there had been small clusters of Chinese along Queen Street (one at George, another at York), by the end of the First World War a stable community established itself in The Ward, the neighbourhood west of Old City Hall which, despite its great poverty, had welcomed numerous immigrant communities. Elizabeth Street between Queen and Dundas served as this Chinatown’s spine, lined with businesses, restaurants, and societies. It mostly served single men, thanks to a series of harsh immigration measures preventing families from joining them. These laws escalated from head taxes to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which all but banned entry to Canada for two decades.

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56-48 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 171.

Over that time, the “almond-eyed Celestials,” as the Globe dubbed Chinese residents during the early 1920s, endured frequent police raids on gambling houses, a riot, and periodic rumours of imminent tong wars. If anything, the gambling dens offered lonely people social space, work, and shelter during hard times. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, the Chinese found Chinatown a refuge they felt accepted in.

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Globe and Mail, October 14, 1948.

Major changes came after the Second World War. The end of the Chinese Immigration Act led to a slow reunion of families. Provincial liquor law reforms allowing cocktail bars provoked a restaurant boom in Chinatown. Locals and tourists dined at Kwong ChowLichee GardenNanking TavernSai Woo, and other eateries which benefitted from both the new booze rules and increasing interest in Chinese-Canadian cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, June 17, 1969.

There were also new threats. The City acquired properties at the southern end of Chinatown to build the current City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By 1967, the city’s development commissioner recommended that the remaining buildings be replaced by municipal structures. Lead by the likes of Kwong Chow owner and community activist Jean Lumb, the Save Chinatown committee fought to preserve what was left. Lumb presented her arguments to the Star:

One reason why we feel there should always be a Chinatown in a city the size of Toronto is simply that there has been one, and to have it lost would be strongly felt. Its existence has its effects on people, especially as long as there are new Chinese immigrants coming every year. We should have a spot for them to start from, a place where they can be among their own people, hear their own language spoken. The Chinese people are quiet and reserved; it takes them longer than many other immigrants to make friends, to get used to new ways.

Some people say a Chinatown encourages ghettos and this is a reason why it shouldn’t be, but that’s not so. It just gives the people a sense of belonging. It’s a nice environment for them until they’re ready to go on their way more and fit into the Canadian community.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971.

After a series of deputations in 1969, City Council decided to keep what was now known as Old Chinatown. Efforts to keep the neighbourhood alive during the 1970s included Dragon Mall (a pedestrianized Elizabeth Street, à la the Yonge Street Mall) and earning recognition as a tourist destination. Over time, large scale development projects crept in and the remaining Chinese businesses closed. By the 21st century little remained beyond historical plaques marking where the neighbourhood had been.

Meanwhile, the gradual loosening of immigration rules during the 1960s prompted an influx of arrivals, especially from Hong Kong. As the old Chinatown shrank, a new one grew to the west along Dundas and Spadina, replacing the Jewish community which was moving north. By the late 1970s this area was recognized as downtown’s primary Chinatown, marked with cultural motifs and Chinese-language street signs.

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Corner of Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street East, sometime between 1975 and 1988. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 383, Item 1.

For those who found Spadina too pricey or touristy, there was Chinatown East, which emerged at Broadview and Gerrard. Starting with the opening of Charlie’s Meat in 1971, the neighbourhood’s affordability attracted businesses which served an increasing number of migrants from mainland China and Vietnam.

By the mid-1980s, new Chinatowns developed in the suburbs. The influx of new businesses and residents revealed that fears of the “yellow peril” were far from dead. Agincourt became a flashpoint in 1984, as a wave of immigrants from Hong Kong (on the move as the end of the British lease on the colony in 1997 loomed) arrived. Some longtime residents were alarmed by the new faces around them. “I don’t want to be biased or prejudiced but I don’t think they should be allowed to come into a neighbourhood and take over with such force,” 30-year resident Mildred Jackson told the Star. A heated community meeting ostensibly about parking issues related to the recently-opened Dragon Centre and two other plazas at Sheppard Avenue and Glen Watford Drive degenerated into jeers and racist remarks. The tone may have been set by the meeting’s chair, who referred to the “rape of our community” and that “we should not actively encourage any group to cling together as an enclave” (he later wrote the Star to protest that his remarks were taken out of context). Flyers distributed to homes asked for tougher immigration policies, alleging links between new arrivals and crimes across the Pacific.

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Dragon Centre, Agincourt, February 2016.

Backlash against emerging Chinese business and commercial areas continued over the next decade as new enclaves emerged in Markham and Richmond Hill. But Agincourt also pointed the way to the nature of later areas, from large restaurants to Asian-themed shopping centres like Pacific Mall.

In a book profiling Canadian Chinatowns, Paul Yee summarized how the role of these neighbourhoods changed from a necessary presence to ensure the community’s safety to being woven into the urban fabric.

Some Chinese saw old Chinatowns as living monuments to a turbulent history and to the fragility of equality. Others saw them as sites where Chinese culture was preserved and shared. Both these views supported the building of cultural facilities there. In a sense, old and new Chinatowns bridged the historical divide between Chinese Canadians, because more and more people appreciated Chinatowns’ different functions and freely visited them.

Additional material from The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011); Chinatown by Paul Yee (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2005); the July 6, 1922 edition of the Globe; and the March 8, 1969, May 14 1984, and May 29, 1984 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, October 11, 1907.

The fear of the “yellow peril” in action – one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

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The Globe, July 6, 1922.

A profile of Chinatown, which tosses off a “gee, aren’t they cute?” vibe.

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Chinese victory celebrations, parade on Elizabeth Street, August 26, 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98604.

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

The article from which Jean Lumb’s defense of maintaining a Chinatown was quoted from.

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Toronto Star, August 27, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

An early 1970s look at Old Chinatown, which discusses some of the remaining businesses, the Dragon Mall pedestrian zone, and several recipes inspired by local grocers.

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Globe and Mail, June 27, 1975.

One of the first major projects as Spadina became the heart of downtown’s Chinatown was China Court, which opened in August 1976. Within a decade, it was razed for the cold concrete of Chinatown Centre.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1976. Click on image for larger version.

The building at 346 Spadina Avenue has gone through numerous incarnations, from the Labor Lyceum, to a series of Asian restaurants beginning with Yen Pin Place.

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Toronto Star, May 29, 1984.

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Toronto Star, June 1, 1984.

The Star’s coverage of a testy meeting in Agincourt, and reaction from readers. The paper also published an editorial criticizing attendees for their remarks, observing that the parking issue was one Scarborough’s city council was attempting to fix.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1984.

A few weeks later, meeting chairman Dr. Douglas Hood defended his actions, claiming that coverage was a smear job which took several remarks out of context. Having covered community meetings over the years where the yahoos came out in full force, and reading about similar meetings in the 905 belt a decade later, I’m tempted to lean toward the paper’s interpretation of events.

Introducing UTSC’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2016.

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At first glance, the six silvery stacks that grace the plaza outside University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building look like a public art project, or perhaps a salute to Daleks. Whatever these stacks resemble in the minds of attendees at today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, they act as the exterior face of concrete shafts known as “Earth Tubes,” which play a key role in the building’s innovative, energy-efficient design.

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Exterior view of Earth Tubes.

A glass pane in the building’s east entrance summarizes how the Earth Tubes work:

The latent heat of the earth and ultraviolet light contribute to the energy efficiency of the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building. Air travels through the “Earth Tubes” two metres underground, drawing warmth from the earth in winter and transferring warmth back to the earth in summer, while the exposure to ultraviolet light sanitizes it. In winter, air enters the building already warm; in summer the tubes return warmth back into the earth, cooling the air. This process reduces demands on the ventilation system all year round.

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The Earth Tubes emerge in the basement.

The tubes emerge via a basement corridor, resembling tunnels out of a science fiction movie. They are tucked behind the main mechanical room, where other geothermal pipes run deep underneath the basement instead of being placed beside the building. The purified, temperate air is then circulated around the building, eventually being vented out via the labs. Sustainable technology like Earth Tubes is aiding UTSC’s application for LEED Gold Standard status.

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Looking down from the fifth floor.

Instead of sticking researchers in the basement or other hidden areas, the labs are located on the south side of the building, facing the Highland Creek ravine. It is hoped that glimpsing nature will spark inspiration. Plans call for the entire building to be surrounded by a more pleasing environment, with an adjacent parking lot slated to become green space and the current alignment of Military Trail beside it to become a pedestrian zone. Outside, the lab side is covered in a series of metal fins which, depending on the angle, resemble waves and will offer a cool shadow during the summer.

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Looking across the ground floor teaching labs.

The labs also offer flexibility for the needs of each project or any future development within the building. Ceilings are unfinished, while lab equipment is not permanently attached to the floor. Each floor’s suite of labs is relatively open concept, to allow for fluctuations in project head counts and to foster collaborations between research teams. First-year courses are taught on ground level, with each “classroom” able to view labs across the floor, which may come in handy if assistance is needed during emergencies (these labs went into service earlier this month). On the higher floors, signs of researchers at work are everywhere, with molecular diagrams and the occasional joke written on whiteboards and glass meeting room walls. Among the projects being worked on is a machine to scan bodies for bacteria, disease, drugs, and other objects akin to Star Trek’s tricorders.

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The backup diesel generator.

The building even boasts a penthouse—a mechanical penthouse, where the main backup emergency diesel generator is stored. Given a history of brownouts from the city’s power grid, and the potential ruin that awaits research projects if the juice is off for seconds (as was the case during the 2013 ice storm), it was critical a strong backup power source was installed onsite. Under a worst-case scenario, the diesel generator could power the building for one to three days.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and built over two years, the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building is one of the first completed portions of the current UTSC master plan. Besides reconfiguring routes across campus, will include new academic buildings which whose architecture will serve as a contrast with its original brutalist style, a parking deck, and a hotel/conference centre near the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

Shaping Toronto: Union Station

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2016.

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Union Station under construction, August 1, 1917. Photo by John Boyd Sr. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 14352.

Pierre Berton called it “the soul and heartbeat of Toronto.” Over its history, Union Station has welcomed new arrivals to Canada, bid farewell to soldiers going off to war, hosted nobility, and endured cranky commuters. The City’s government management committee’s approval earlier this month of a proposal to develop space under the Great Hall for a culinary market and cultural event space is the latest step in the long evolution of our main downtown transportation hub.

Toronto entered the railway age in 1853, when a train departed a shed on Front Street for Aurora. Five years later the first incarnation of Union Station (so named because it was used by multiple railways) opened on the south side of Station Street between Simcoe and York. A shed-like structure, it couldn’t cope with the rapid increase in rail traffic, which prompted railways to build new stations elsewhere.

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Canadian Illustrated News, August 2, 1873.

The Grand Trunk Railway decided a new main station was needed. Built on the site of the original station, the second Union Station debuted on July 1, 1873. The opening ceremony was a muted affair due to the untimely death two months earlier of contractor John Shedden, but the new station was nicely decorated with evergreens for the occasion. Designed by E.P. Hanneford, the new Union was a grand building inspired by English railway stations of the previous decade, and was graced with three towers. Facing the harbour, it helped shape the city’s mid-Victorian skyline.

Like its predecessor, Union #2 couldn’t cope with the demands of a booming city. Facility improvements, including an 1894 expansion which blocked the original façade from view, barely alleviated the station’s woes. “The general consensus of opinion,” Railway and Shipping World reported in 1899, “is that the Toronto Union is one of the most inconvenient stations in America, expensive to run and unsatisfactory in very many respects.”

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The second Union Station, June 15, 1927. City of Toronto Archives Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 79, Item 236.

A catastrophe provided an opportunity to remedy the situation. The Great of Fire of 1904 wiped out nearly all of the buildings east of the station along Front Street, leaving room for a new facility amid the rubble. Within a year plans were underway for Union’s third incarnation, along with a railway viaduct to reduce the injuries and fatalities piling up at level crossings. While Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk formed Toronto Terminals Railway in 1906 to run the new station, two decades would pass before it opened for service.

Over that time, governments, property owners, and railways squabbled over everything, especially track placement. While construction began in fall 1914, the combination of quarrels and First World War material shortages delayed completion of much of the station until 1921. It stood empty for six years, part of the great Toronto tradition of stalled projects like the Bayview Ghost and the Spadina Ditch.

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Row of ticket offices at Union Station, during the period it was unused, June 13, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 908.

The delays became such a joke that when the new station received a royal opening on August 6, 1927, the Globe joked that “it took Edward, Prince of Wales just eight and one-half minutes on Saturday morning to accomplish what all of Toronto has been trying to do for the last six years.” When regular service launched four days later, the press gushed about improved passenger amenities and safety. Among the modern conveniences were a lunch counter, large dining room, full telegraph and telephone facilties, barber shop, beauty parlours, and, as the Globe noted, “individual bathrooms containing the most sanitary appliances.” Lingering viaduct work delayed Union’s final completion until 1930.

Stylistically, the new Union benefitted from its Beaux Arts design, especially in illuminating the Great Hall. In their survey of the city’s architectural history Toronto Observed, William Dendy and William Kilbourn praised main architect John M. Lyle’s work with natural light, which “gives the Hall its special character as light floods in through windows set high above the cornice on the south and north sides, and especially through the four-storey-high windows framed by vaulted arches at the east and west ends.”

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The second incarnation of Union Station was also a major transfer spot for the military during the First World War. Here, the 48th Highlanders are returning from Europe in 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 823.

During the Second World War, Union was an important military transfer point. Morley Callaghan described for Maclean’s how a soldier on leave could enjoy Union’s creature comforts, especially while killing time before a hot date:

If someone important is waiting, not there in the station but up in the city, and the date is a few hours off, the soldier can wait there in the station and enjoy all the comforts of a hotel. He can go into the drug store and buy himself a bottle of eau de cologne, if he wants to smell like a rose, and then go downstairs and take a bath. Then he can come up to the barber shop and be freshly shaved. If he is hungry he can go to the main dining room, if he has the money, or he can go to the coffee shop or the soda fountain. He’s not just in a depot, he’s in a communal centre.

After the war, Union’s amenities were among the first tastes of Canada thousands of immigrants enjoyed.

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Toronto Calendar, December 1971.

As intercity train travel waned during the 1960s, and plans for the redevelopment of the railway lands emerged, it looked like a fourth incarnation of Union might emerge. The destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1963 to make way for a new Madison Square Garden and a nondescript new train terminal was echoed when the Metro Centre proposal emerged in 1968. Had it proceeded, office towers would have replaced the Great Hall, while train service (including the recently launched GO) would have moved south into a primarily underground structure. Proponents argued that, as with its earlier incarnations, Union could not be expanded to handle projected passenger growth.

By the time local councils approved Metro Centre in 1970, the project faced public outcry over Union’s death sentence. Grassroots preservationist groups, having witnessed heritage demolitions galore over the previous decade, were buoyed by fights over the Spadina Expressway and Trefann Court, as well as the rescue of Old City Hall. “Union Station became a rallying point for those who might not have otherwise become involved in the issue of planning downtown,” John Sewell observed years later. “That planners and city council would be so cavalier about this structure was something that raised the ire of many—to such an extent that the Ontario Municipal Board refused to approve council’s decisions implementing the scheme.”

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, July 21, 1974.

With the election of David Crombie and a reform-minded council in 1972, Metro Centre’s days were numbered. Though elements like the CN Tower went ahead, the province killed any notion of demolishing Union when it announced expansion and renovation plans for the station in 1975. Work was carried on as the station’s function continued to evolve into primarily serving GTA commuters.

In recent years, Union has been a construction site, as years of squabbling over how to revamp the facility are finally showing results. GO’s new York Concourse opened in April 2015, while work on the Bay Concourse (last renovated in 1979) is scheduled to finish in 2017. The subway station gained another platform. An outdoor market proved popular this past summer. One can argue that the station will continue to be the city’s pulse for decades to come.

Additional material from The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station, Richard Bébout, editor (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1972); Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1993); Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986); The Shape of the City by John Sewell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); the July 2, 1873, August 8, 1927, and August 11, 1927 editions of the Globe; the March 15, 1943 edition of Maclean’s; and the May 28, 1975 edition of the Toronto Star.

Changesbowietoronto

Originally published on Torontoist on January 11, 2016.

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Toronto Star, May 2, 1978.

In the days to come, much will be made of how David Bowie influenced other artists. But appreciating such talent takes time, and, especially for someone who confounded mainstream culture when he gained fame in North America during his “Ziggy Stardust” phase, Bowie was initially viewed with a mix of bemusement and disgust by Toronto’s press. As our city’s familiarity with Bowie grew, the fandom that appreciated his many creative aspects and personas resulted in hot tickets for three concert tours here that stopped here during the 1970s, and captured Bowie at the height of his fame.

“The new decadence is not only ugly, it lacks class,” screamed the headline of a 1972 Globe and Mail article criticizing the growth of adult movies and glam rock. “In the seamy wake of Alice Cooper,” the paper observed, “have come drag rock groups with names like Queen and the New York Dolls and singers like David Bowie who, in his lipstick and hot pants and Jane Fonda haircut, is taking a new step in decadence.”

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One of the earliest ads we found mentioning Bowie, featuring a giveaway of his 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World at a carpet store. Toronto Star, December 30, 1972.

Profiling several glam rockers for the Star the following year, Peter Goddard felt Bowie tempered some of the shock value of his orange hair and declarations of bisexuality through the strength of the songs on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “By not allowing their audiences to clearly identify their sexual distinctions,” Goddard noted, “the new performers have the freedom to be more bizarre and hence more effective showmen.” Asked about playing glam rockers like Bowie, CHUM-FM program director Bob Laine observed that “we never try to analyze who they are, but just what their music is. There has always been this kind of sheer shock value in the entertainment industry. Only now it’s receiving a greater amount of expression.”

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Toronto Star, June 17, 1974.

Bowie’s first major Toronto appearance was a pair of shows at the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) on June 16, 1974. These performances rounded out a glam-rock-filled weekend in the city, including concerts by the New York Dolls and Kiss (described by the Globe and Mail’s Robert Martin as “a totally plastic band”) at Massey Hall. With no promotion, all 6,400 tickets to Bowie’s shows sold out a month in advance. The stage was filled with elaborate sets inspired by the artwork of Bowie’s album Diamond Dogs, along with touches like a cantilevered chair which positioned him over the front row while singing into a telephone during “Space Oddity.” During “Big Brother,” Bowie sang “from the top of what looked like a space capsule,” Martin observed. “It then opened up into a mirrored room with floor-to-ceiling black lights and a huge hand that folded out into a staircase.”

The audience was decked out for the occasion. “A couple of confusing gender strolled through the crowd, one dressed in a short, frilly pink slip, the other’s mouth smeared with frosted lip gloss.” Goddard noted in the Star. “One girl, otherwise normally dressed, was wearing an enormous pair of bat’s wings. And elsewhere among the jeans and T-shirts you could see lilac lipstick, tangerine eyes, hair dyed Bowie’s rusty-red colour, and the familiar Bowie lightning bolt zigzag painted on people’s faces.”

Some fans probably sensed Bowie’s persona was shifting. Having retired Ziggy Stardust in late 1973, the show’s theme was Orwellian. Bowie’s costume, described as “a powder-blue modified zoot suit,” foreshadowed the scaled-down nature of the latter half of the tour, when he adopted a more soulful presence.

When Bowie next appeared in Toronto, he’d changed personas again. Around 19,000 filled Maple Leaf Gardens on February 26, 1976 to see Bowie in “Thin White Duke” mode. The show began with the presentation of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, then continued with a bare stage lit with amber and white lights. Critics felt the spare setting made Bowie look vulnerable, yet separated from the audience by an invisible barrier. “The music was the most sensual part of the night,” Goddard noted. “And it seemed to be the part that made the most direct connection with the audience…Bowie, somehow, seemed removed, as if he was watching it all from a self-imposed distance.” Martin felt the minimal setting was a letdown compared to the inventive theatricality displayed two years earlier: “The king of glitter rock appeared without his makeup and showed that there is precious little behind it.” Bowie may have started to feel removed from himself; by year’s end, he moved to Berlin to restore his health after a period of heavy cocaine use.

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Globe and Mail, February 27, 1976.

Bowie’s last Toronto show of the 1970s saw a crush of fans eager to enter Maple Leaf Gardens nearly push an incognito Lindsay Kemp (Bowie’s mime teacher, who was in town performing Salome at Toronto Workshop Productions) into a popcorn cart. Once inside, those attending the May 1, 1978 show saw a solid two hour performance. Showing a warmer side to the audience than in previous appearances, his set was described by the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Godfrey as “good, old, born-in-trunk professionalism.” Wearing a long green windbreaker and baggy pants, Bowie “looked like a fragile fisherman,” Godfrey noted. “But the looks are part of the one character that Bowie cannot abandon—that of a vulnerable-looking cadaver—but sings and acts with a confidence and bite that make the looks a mystery. As a culmination of his characters over the years, it couldn’t be bettered.”

Bowie returned to Toronto over the years, opening his infamous Glass Spider Tour here in March 1987. The multimedia David Bowie is exhibition made its North American debut at the Art Gallery of Ontario in fall 2013, showcasing the artist’s archive. One thing he refused to do for the exhibition was discuss his legacy, a matter now left to cultural observers and fans inspired by his music.

Additional material from the October 14, 1972, June 17, 1974, February 27, 1976, and May 1, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the April 7, 1973, June 17, 1974, and February 27, 1976 editions of the Toronto Star.

Shaping Toronto: Christmas Window Displays

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2015.

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View of Christmas window display at Queen and Yonge Street, December 26, 1958, Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 101, Item 23.

90 years ago, the Globe illustrated the annual pilgrimage of shoppers to the Christmas display windows of downtown’s consumer temples with prose as colourful as holiday lights:

There is a peculiar fascination in Christmas window-shopping, and for the lucky beggar whose purse is at once portly and elastic there is a stimulus in a leisurely stroll along main thoroughfares gazing upon the wonder display flaunted through polished glass plate. On a pre-Christmas afternoon—the purple twilight shattered with shafts of rosy light gleaming from a thousand meteor-lights illuminating the shopping district of the city—men and women, boys and girls loitered in the glare, finding appeal in the magnificence of the Yuletide exhibit.

For decades, Christmas wasn’t complete without viewing the holiday window displays of the rival department store giants at Queen and Yonge: Eaton’s (which also decorated its College Street store) and Simpsons. At their peak during the 1950s and 1960s, crowds jostled for the best view as children and adults stood transfixed by each year’s animated presentation of nativity scenes and Santa’s workshop, and families drove for hours to view the spectacular scenes.

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Globe and Mail, November 30, 1953.

In her book Eatonians, Patricia Phenix described the craft and creativity presented in these via one created for Eaton’s College Street store (now College Park) by Merchandise Display Manager Ted Konkle and his wife Eleanor:

In one illuminated window, movable figures skated figure eights on a Teflon rink; in another, a baby Jesus figure lay in his crèche, surrounded by the figures of three wise men, their velvet costumes designed to Italian Renaissance exactitude. The figures, modelled in Styrofoam, were moved electronically after heated brass rods were inserted in their bases.

The Konkles prepared much of the installation at home, where their clothesline was loaded with papier-mâché figures. “We remember our son sitting in a high chair pounding Styrofoam with something or other,” Ted Konkle recalled. “We were weirdos, let me tell you.”

Weird perhaps, but such efforts worked, pleasing the public and corporate accountants. But something was lost when Eaton’s replaced its downtown stores with its Eaton Centre flagship in 1977—with only three windows along Yonge Street to work with, executives decided there wasn’t room for a holiday display. When the decision was passed off an experiment to gauge public reaction, the Globe and Mailhad a simple reaction: “boo.” It’s tempting to treat this as foreshadowing for the retailer’s unpopular decision to drop the Santa Claus Parade in 1982.

Meanwhile, high-end retailers like Creeds on Bloor Street utilized holiday displays inspired by fashionable New York windows, where the icy creepiness of mannequins was used for dark comedic effect. The shock value of designs which skirted the boundaries of good taste made good headline fodder.

For Holt Renfrew, as fashion director Barbara Atkin told the Star in 2001, a good store window is like good sex: it’s all about the fantasy and allure. She noted that any retailer who just filled the window with merchandise didn’t appreciate, in the Star’s words, “the gentle teasing, the fervent anticipation and the climax of landing the sale.” Since the late 1990s, Holt Renfrew has drawn gazes for themes ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Moulin Rouge.

Beyond consumerism, holiday window displays can serve as a forum for social issues. This year’s scene at Untitled & Co on Queen West looks like a stereotypical nuclear family enjoying Christmas dinner…until the husband slaps the wife. The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH) hopes it will raise awareness of the spike in domestic violence the stresses of the season create. “We wanted to bring awareness to the public and we wanted women to know and understand that they weren’t alone during this period,” OAITH chair Charlene Catchpole told the Globe and Mail. “That isolation when everybody around you is happy, excited, looking forward to Santa coming and having this big holiday meal, when you can’t afford those things and you’re waiting for that other shoe to drop—we really wanted to let women know that they weren’t alone.”

The traditional department store holiday display is still available at Simpsons’ successor, Hudson’s Bay. Comparing its display to Holt Renfrew’s in 2008, the National Post observed that “kids don’t care about couture. They care about Santa Claus and elves.” We’ll see how both sides mix in the neighbourhood next year when Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue make their downtown debuts.

Additional material from Eatonians by Patricia Phenix (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002); the December 14, 1926 edition of the Globe; the November 25, 1977, April 5 1980, and December 14, 2015 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 1, 2008 edition of the National Post; and the December 20, 2001 edition of the Toronto Star.

Shaping Toronto: Public Space Philanthropy

Originally published on Torontoist on December 2, 2015.

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Winter walk in High Park, 1907. Photo by William James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 451B.

When Judy and Wilmot Matthews announced a donation of $25 million in November to revitalize the land underneath the elevated section of the Gardiner Expressway, it was one of the largest gifts of public space from a private donor in Toronto’s history. The Matthews’ Under Gardiner (note: now known as The Bentway) project follow in the footsteps of past donors who, especially in the realm of parks, have used their generosity to provide spaces for residents to enjoy.

One of the first philanthropists to look after our public space needs was John Howard. One of the first professional architects in Upper Canada, Howard worked for the city during its early years as its official surveyor and engineer. Among his projects was the Bank of British North America building at the northeast corner of Yonge and Wellington and the Provincial Lunatic Asylum on Queen Street (now the site of CAMH). In 1836 Howard purchased 165 acres outside the western limit of the city, and spent decades beautifying the properties which became Colborne Lodge and High Park.

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Kind of looks like Santa Claus, doesn’t he? Sketch of John Howard, the Globe, July 12, 1902.

In 1873, Howard acted on his desire to see his property become a public park. During negotiations with the city, he donated 120 acres up front, with the remainder reserved for his personal use until his death. Several conditions were imposed on his gift: the land would be forever held as a free public space for Torontonians to enjoy; a grave plot was reserved for Howard and his wife, surrounded by an iron fence originally belonging to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; and that no intoxicating liquor could ever be sold on the grounds. Howard requested an annual annuity of $1,200 per year, and an appointment as the park’s forest ranger for $1 per year.

City council mulled over the offer for six weeks. Arguments against accepting Howard’s gift included the amount of the annuity, and the park’s location outside the city limits—how many people would venture that far west? Farsighted councillors who sensed the city would expand to the park and beyond carried the day in a 13-2 vote in favour of Howard’s wishes. Two years later, following Howard’s advice, the city added to the park 170 acres purchased from Percival Ridout.

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Howard, who maintained his remaining property until his death in 1890, had issues with those who abused his gift. He complained to the press about development schemes infringing on the park and offered reminders about the alcohol ban. There were also problems with people who didn’t respect his private boundaries, as shown in an 1877 letter to the Globe:

This morning, in driving through the park from the rear, I was very much surprised to find five or six cabs with a picnic party had driven through my private grounds. The cabmen had forced the lock off my front gate and driven the cabs off the road into my meadow, and although my cook informed them they were trespassing on my private property, one tall, big woman in black silk (I am sorry I cannot say lady) was determined to take possession of that spot in spite of all remonstrance.

Howard’s wishes were generally respected by his trustees and their successors. Colborne Lodge underwent a major restoration in the late 1920s and operates as a museum. You still can’t buy a drink inside the park, though some have tried to bend that rule. In 1981, Grenadier Restaurant owner Pierre Moreau pleaded with the city to support his liquor license application, citing lost wedding party sales and confused tourists. Toronto Historical Board managing director John McGinnis pointed out hypocrisies in Howard’s regulations—while he had forbade estate employees from drinking, Howard made wine from grapes he grew and frequently recorded brandy purchases in his diary. Opponents, such as legendary temperance advocate Bill Temple, argued that the lack of booze was one of the park’s greatest assets. The city turned down Moreau’s request.

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Toronto Mayor Sam McBride and Alice Kilgour at ceremony officially turning over Sunnybrook Farm to the city, September 13, 1928. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 14835.

After High Park, one of the largest land donations for public use was offered by Alice Kilgour in May 1928. Her husband Joseph made their fortune in the paper industry. Their estate, Sunnybrook Farm, was fully equipped with cattle, horses, and dairy buildings, and hosted the first edition of the International Plowing Match in 1913. Three years after Joseph’s death, Alice bequeathed 175 acres of the property, including buildings, stretching between present-day Bayview Avenue and Leslie Street to the city. “In order to give the citizens the fullest enjoyment of the park,” she wrote to City Council, “it should, I think, be definitely understood that none of the roads in it be used a public thoroughfares for public conveyances or commercial traffic.” Kilgour put few strings on the gift, other than keeping around 30 acres for personal use.

Various uses quickly arose. By 1930 the horse stables were used as a training school for mounted police, while the Toronto Field Naturalists set up one of Canada’s first urban wilderness trails. During the Second World War, Kilgour trustees approved the selection of a section along Bayview as the site for a military hospital which evolved into today’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Other parts of the former Kilgour properties are used by CNIBHolland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and the Lyndhurst Centre.

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Exterior view of the barns at Sunnybrook Farm, date unknown. Photo by Alexander W. Galbraith. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 291.

Other significant private donations of land for public use in the city include the parklands along the Humber River between Bloor and Dundas (controversially given by developer Home Smith in 1912), Craigleigh Gardens (donated by the estate of Sir Edmund Osler in 1925) and Dentonia Park (gifted by Susan Denton Massey in 1926). While the Matthews’ gift for Under Gardiner differs in that they are providing funds to build public space instead of turning over personal property, we’d like to think that it may inspire other philanthropists to help improve the city’s public lands, even if it’s as small as William Meany’s financing of the restoration of the Toronto Islands maze.

Additional material from the August 2, 1877 and May 10, 1928 editions of the Globe; the April 2, 1960 and September 9, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 10, 1928, September 9, 1981, July 6, 1998, and February 17, 2003 editions of the Toronto Star.