An Exhibition in Crystal

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on August 23, 2008.

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Crystal Palace, 1871. Exhibition Place & CNE Archives.

Once upon a time, the consort of a queen whose empire stretched across the globe was the president of a society that encouraged the promotion of the finest arts, commercial enterprises, and industrial discoveries in his domain. With other major figures, he organized a grand exhibition housed in a magnificent palace made of crystal. The palace inspired observers so much that cities across the ocean built their own versions to raise the same level of excitement that the consort’s fair generated. All went well with these buildings, except for their penchant for eventually catching fire…

Using Sir James Paxton’s design for the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a model, two incarnations of Toronto’s Crystal Palace served the public as a primary exhibition space for half a century while rotating provincial fairs gave way to the Canadian National Exhibition.

The first Crystal Palace, officially named the Palace of Industry, was built in 1858 on grounds northwest of King and Shaw Streets, south of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. Designers Sandford Fleming (the inventor of standard time) and Collingwood Schreiber based their plans on Paxton’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park but incorporated more cast iron into the framework to withstand Toronto’s climate (which sounds like the 1850s equivalent of the construction of the Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum). A contemporary account felt the structure “look[ed] very low, and as if crushed down by the superincumbent mass of roof.” The building was designated Toronto’s first permanent exhibition hall and was inaugurated with the annual provincial agricultural/industrial exhibition that had rotated among several cities in Canada West since 1846.

The building was officially opened by Governor-General Sir Edmund Walker Head on September 28, 1858. Attendees of the event were led in prayer by Bishop John Strachan, then treated to a recital by the Metropolitan Choral Society. Among the prize-winning exhibitors was author Catharine Parr Traill, who was honoured for bringing “the best collection of native plants dried and named.” The site would see four more provincial fairs, house the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) during his 1860 tour of Canada, and provide quarters for troops heading west to put down the Red River Rebellion in 1870.

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Crystal Palace, c. 1906. Exhibition Place & CNE Archives.

By the time Toronto was awarded the 1878 provincial fair, the city had deemed the site inadequate to handle increasing crowds. After considering High Park, Bloor and St. George and Woodbine Park as potential sites, the city struck a lease with the federal government in April 1878 for a western segment of Fort York’s garrison reserve that formed the beginning of Exhibition Place. The Crystal Palace was dismantled and most of the ironwork was incorporated in a new main building east of Dufferin Street. The design was maintained with some alterations (an additional story, raised skylights and a cupola). The old site was sold to the Massey Manufacturing Company.

As had been the case two decades earlier, the Governor-General was on hand to open the new Crystal Palace. Lord Dufferin’s speech urged the crowd to draw the nation closer to Great Britain, “live in generous rivalry” with the United States, and to keep a close eye on politicians to ensure their actions rose above partisan shenanigans. The Telegram overheard a visitor declare the new Crystal Palace “ain’t no slouch.” The paper agreed, describing the site glowingly:

The main building is large enough to accommodate the inhabitants of an ordinary township. The buildling, as a building, is admirably adapted for exhibition purposes, being light and airy in appearance and of considerable strength. The internal arrangements are such that no exhibit suffers from want of space or light. When the Philharmonic Society sang at the opening, the acoustics were found to be excellent.

City officials hoped that the Crystal Palace and its surrounding new buildings would convince provincial exhibition officials to keep the fair in Toronto for the next few years. When organizers awarded the 1879 edition to Ottawa, politicians and business leaders mobilized to establish a permanent annual exhibition for Toronto. The first Toronto Industrial Exhibition was held in September 1879 and grew steadily over the next quarter-century. By the time the fair’s name was officially changed to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1904, the Crystal Palace was officially known as the Transportation Building.

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The Telegram, October 19, 1906.

Crystal palaces elsewhere had proven highly susceptible to fire. Toronto’s seemed to be holding up well until October 18, 1906. Just after 10 p.m. a blaze broke out in the wooden grandstand and, despite heavy rainfall, quickly spread to neighbouring stables. The Mail and Empire described the dramatic events that unfolded around 11:30:

A cry arose from the crowds…that the Transportation Building was alight. A spark had found a lodgment directly under the eaves of the east front. It had gradually eaten into the dry wood of the structure…the old Crystal Palace was soon alight and blazing merrily…all efforts to save it were fruitless, for the numerous panes of glass in the walls broke with resounding cracks and served as draughts to fan the flames.

The old building…furnished to the drenched onlooker a much more striking picture in its destruction than ever before in its history. Every window, and they are legion, was outlined in black against a background of fire. As the flames seized upon the roof they leaped high in the air, scattering embers in every direction, and making a fearsome pyrotechnic display. Finally dull crashes were heard, and the roof began to fall, the girders sank to the ground, and all that remained was a number of scattered black pillars of iron, like giant arms stretched imploringly to the scarlet sky.

Arson was suspected, thanks to two unusual encounters Park Commissioner John Chambers had with a cyclist roaming the grounds during the blaze. Chambers told The Daily Star that a man “with a peculiar foreign accent” approached him from the grandstand area and told him that “the whole place [was] going to be burned.” After Chambers assisted firefighters in saving the Fruit Building, the cyclist reappeared to tell Chambers, “[I]t is no use to save any of these buildings. You might as well leave your hose alone, because you can’t do any good.” When Chambers asked the cyclist to help fight the blaze, the man cursed at Chambers (“oh, go to —-“) and vanished into the night.

The Crystal Palace site did not remain empty for long. G.W. Gouinlock’s dome-topped Horticulture Building was erected the following year. As for the building that provided the initial inspiration, London’s Crystal Palace went up in flames in 1936.

Additional material from the September 25, 1878 edition of The Telegram and the October 19, 1906 editions of The Mail and Empire and The Toronto Daily Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Crystal Palace, date unknown, used in Landmarks of Toronto Volume 5. Toronto Public Library, JRR 552 Cab.

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Sketches of Toronto by Alfred Sylvester (Toronto: Rossin House News Depot, 1858).

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Crystal Palace, looking north, with Dufferin Street Wharf in the left foreground. Photo of wood engraving based on a drawing by William T. Smedley, 1881. Toronto Public Library, JRR 2729 Cab. Click here for larger image.

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Sketches of Toronto by Alfred Sylvester (Toronto: Rossin House News Depot, 1858).

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Crystal Palace, 1884. Toronto Public Library, E 9-189 Small.

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A negative review of the Crystal Palace, The Grumbler, October 9, 1858.

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Postcard by Walter M. Lowney Co. of Canada, Limited, 1905. Toronto Public Library, PC 33. Click here for larger version

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The Globe, October 19, 1906. 

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.

Trash Panda Thursday: Introduction

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Illustration from Brehm’s Life of animals : a complete natural history for popular home instruction and for the use of schools. Mammalia (Chicago: Marquis, 1896). Flickr Commons.

The common raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a mid-size mammal distinguished by its black face mask and ringed tail. It is a member of the Procyonidae, a primarily tropical family of omnivores native to the Americas — and the only one of this family found in Canada. Raccoons are found in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador. A nocturnal species, it is highly adaptable and can survive in urban areas as well as wilderness habitats. Humans often consider raccoons pests due to their skill and persistence in raiding garbage bins, gardens and crops for food. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

I recently shared on social media a story I’d stumbled upon during a research dumpster dive into archived Toronto newspapers. It was a 50-year-old Toronto Star article about a heroic raccoon.

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Toronto Star, January 10, 1969.

It may have received the largest number of hits, retweets, etc., for anything I’ve ever personally posted.

Which sparked an idea.

There’s an appetite for stories about raccoons and Toronto. We’re fascinated by reports of their ingenuity, whether it’s conducting home invasions or opening raccoon-proof compost bins. Partly because of their craftiness, and partly because they’re everywhere, “trash pandas” are the city’s unofficial mascot.

Raccoons are one of the few wildlife species that have thrived despite human expansion. Those accustomed to urban settings are skilled at raiding waste bins in search of human leftovers. As opportunistic feeders, they are naturally curious. They will try to open any container or bin that contains food, and they often succeed in this task. This has become such a problem in Toronto, Ontario that the city introduced “raccoon-resistant” green bins in 2016. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

They also have few f**ks to give. Whenever you stare them down as they dig for treasure in a garbage bin, their eyes tell you that they don’t take your threat to ruin their fun seriously. Their escapades, and nuisance factor to homeowners, represent the outlaw spirit people hate to admit they admire.

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Illustration from Children’s Own Library (1910). Flickr Commons.

The Raccoon is about the size of a fox, and an inhabitant of Canada and other parts of America. It is said to wash its food before eating it. Its skin is valuable, and is much sought after. The food of the Raccoon is principally small animals and insects. Like a squirrel when eating a nut, the raccoon usually holds its food between its fore-paws pressed together, and sits upon its hind-quarters while it eats. Like the fox, it prowls by night. – Jennie Ellis Burdick and Charles Welsh, Children’s Own Library (New York: National Library Company, 1910).

So, in honour of the raccoon, I’m launching Trash Panda Thursdays. Each week, I’ll share stories, ads, and other materials marking the long history of raccoons in Toronto.

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The Globe, April 24, 1854.

Browsing the Globe archives, the earliest reference using “raccoon” as a search term is an advertisement running throughout April 1854 offering cash for skins required for fulfil “an extensive order” for British and European furriers.

For much of the 19th century, raccoons only received press when they were transformed into a stylish hat or fashion accessory. For a tale involving a live specimen, let’s jump to a December 23, 1871 Globe feature surveying the Christmas season offerings from vendors at St. Lawrence Market. A pet raccoon was used by one of the vendors to distract customers away from other butchers displaying their finest livestock carcasses.

Mr. Fred Robson shows eight very fine cattle, which were purchased at the late Guelph fair, and also ten fine carcasses of mutton. A good deal of attention was attracted to Mr. Robson’s stall yesterday by the gambols of a playful young pet raccoon.

19th century language alert: according to Merriam-Webster, “gambol” means “a skipping or leaping about in play.”

Coming soon: children’s stories, ads from venerable retailers, and baby raccoons galore at Riverdale Zoo.

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.

Revisiting the Past Lives of St. Lawrence Market

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2015.

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Part of the foundation pier from the 1831 St. Lawrence Market.

In the November 5, 1803 edition of the Upper Canada Gazette, a notice from Lieutenant-Governor Peter Hunter addressed an irritant for the early inhabitants of York: “no place or day having been set apart or appointed for exposing publicly for Sale, Cattle, Sheep, Poultry, and other Provisions, Goods and Merchandise, brought by Merchants, Farmers, and others, for the necessary supply of the said Town of York.”

The solution: starting that day, a public open market would operate every Saturday at the northwest corner of present-day Front and Jarvis. Nearly 30 years later, in 1831, the first permanent brick building opened on the site, a structure which ringed an open courtyard. Elements of that incarnation of north St. Lawrence Market, along with its successors, have been uncovered through archaeological work carried out as part of the preparations for the fifth market building to stand on the site.

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Model of the 1831 St. Lawrence Market, looking south from King Street, prepared by Ryerson students for the “Meeting Places: Toronto’s City Halls” exhibit at the Market Gallery in 1985.

Beyond its role as a trading centre, the north end of the 1831 marketplace housed Toronto’s first city council chambers after the city’s incorporation in 1834. But the complex had its problems, especially for butchers: the height of the gallery exposed their meat to the sun; damp and poorly ventilated cellars also provided lousy storage. Space was so tight that farmers were turned away, forcing them to sell to grocers, causing a loss of civic revenue. Part of the balcony collapsed in July 1834 during a tax riot. The solution was the construction of a new south market building, which politicians and produce vendors moved into in 1845.

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St. Lawrence Market. North Market (1850-1904), Front Street East, north side, between Market & Jarvis Streets, showing east side, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The original north market complex was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1849, and was replaced within two years in a project that also created St. Lawrence Hall. That structure met its end in 1904, replaced by one designed to match recent renovations to the south market. For 50 years a canopy above Front Street linked the two markets, as the north side settled into its role as a Saturday-only farmers market. Construction was a bureaucratic nightmare, from cost overruns to the firing of the architects; as a Star editorial put it, “the city’s interests were being looked after by too many men, so that among them all nobody gave the work the determined attention it deserved.”

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Bricks from the 1904 incarnation of the market.

When the next version of the north market was completed in 1968, some tenants were happy to see the demise of the poorly aging 1904 building. “Gone was the dirt and dust,” the Telegram observed. “Gone was the roof which sometimes leaked. The cold and the gloom, the shabby walls and uneven floors had departed. Instead there is brightness under-floor heating and colour everywhere. The farmers have never had it so good.” Opening reviews were mixed, with architectural critics giving the space thumbs down for being too mundane.

Dirt and dust is what you’ll find in the 1968 building as it awaits its end. Its placement atop a thin concrete pad made finding its earlier incarnations easier for archaeologists. Based on the three trenches made in the floor, you don’t have to dig deep to find the foundation piers from the 1831 complex. “Nobody had popped the lid to have a look at the what the preservation was like under the site,” archaeologist Dr. Peter Popkin noted during a media tour of the site on Wednesday.

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Part of the 1851 sewer system.

Popkin and Golder Associates Ltd. conducted the current stage of the archaeological assessment over the past few weeks, and found elements of all pre-1968 structures within the trenches. Besides the original foundation piers, other uncovered features include the 1851 sewer system, and bricks, concrete foundations, and a box drain from 1904. Evidence points toward the existence of the cellars which irritated butchers during the 1830s. While items like animal bones and ceramics have been found, their volume is less than would be discovered at a residential site. The holes in the ground also show evidence of “robber trenches” where fill was dumped during each construction project, especially from 1904.

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Showing the different surfaces over time – the darker area is believed to be the outdoor courtyard surface of the 1831 market.

One interesting find was the discolouration of levels of dirt, especially in the second trench. The darker stained soil was the original surface of the 1831 interior courtyard. While paving stones were contemplated, according to Popkin, visitors reported it was covered with gravel. The evidence points to a sandy material with plenty of pebbles sitting atop a clay capping.

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At the media tour, Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) referred to the discoveries not as “surprises,” but as “prizes” which will help tell the story of the city from their respective eras. Up to 18 months of historical assessment work was built into the timeline for the new market structure, leaving plenty of time for further investigation and a mitigation study. It is expected that some of the material found will be displayed in the new building. It shall be seen how the discoveries affect plans for a 250-space underground parking lot.

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City of Toronto coat of arms, installed 1968.

As it awaits the wrecking ball, the 1968 building feels like an archaeological relic. The tour provided one of the last opportunities to survey it, to notice touches easily overlooked on a busy Saturday morning like the old City coat of arms mounted above the stage. The waterlogged floor of the space which housed the snack bar. A floor painting honouring BuskerFest. The banner inviting visitors to check out the temporary farmers market to the south. Time will tell if this incarnation of the north market will be the least mourned.

Additional material from the September 19, 1904 edition of the Toronto Star and the February 1, 1969 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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St. Lawrence Market, north market (1850-1904), Front St. E., north side, between Market & Jarvis Sts.; interior, main corridor, looking north, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The construction of the 1904 incarnation of the north market was anything but a smooth process. Mind you, if you changed the few specific details, the following Star editorial could apply to many projects which go off the rails.

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Toronto Star, September 19, 1904.

A few weeks later, the Globe offered further details on what was going wrong.

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The Globe, October 4, 1904.

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Looking north along Jarvis Street. The canopy connecting both sides of the market, installed with the new 1904 north market building, is visible. Photo taken October 26, 1904. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 4, Item 93.

From the 1904 incarnation, we move on to pictures I took of the now-demolished 1968 version of the north market.

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This plaque was installed to mark the official opening of the north side in February 1969. This was among the last ceremonial markers to mention Toronto’s Board of Control, which met for the last time later than year. Elected by the city at large, it was replaced by an executive committee chosen from incoming councillors. The 1969 incarnation included one former mayor (Lamport), one future interim mayor (Beavis), one unsuccessful candidate in that year’s mayoral race (Campbell), and one who never ran for mayor (Marks).

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The neighbouring plaque honoured the establishment of St. Lawrence Market in 1803.

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The shell of the snack bar looked a little worse for wear. I’ll admit that I never ate there (the temptations of Buster’s, Uno Mustachio, and Yianni’s filled my tummy on Saturday trips), but it’s nice to see that a positive, legit-looking review was left on Yelp.

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Upon closer inspection, wading boots may have been required to explore the snack bar’s remains.

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On the main floor, a painted tribute to Buskerfest remains, reflecting the event’s previous connection to the St. Lawrence neighbourhood.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Chang and Eng Bunker

Originally published on Torontoist on April 1, 2015.

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The Leader, September 28, 1853.

Unfortunately, based on the press of the day, we cannot tell you what Torontonians who paid their seven-and-a-half pence to see the novelty of conjoined twins in October 1853 thought of the spectacle. Apart from ads such as this one, there was no coverage.

Not that Chang and Eng Bunker would have wrested much space in the city’s main four-page newspapers, the Globe and the Leader. Beyond ads, the papers devoted most of their space to hyper-partisan political coverage, foreign dispatches, and agricultural items. For example, the day after the twins’ visit ended, feature-length space was dedicated in both papers to a speech given by a British professor in Montreal on a topic the Globe described as “exceedingly interesting and instructive.” The stirring speech’s subject probably appealed to farmers who subscribed to the papers: the history and industrial uses of flax.

What we did determine was that after their engagement at St. Lawrence Hall, the twins moved on to a three-day appearance in Hamilton.

The first conjoined pair to be dubbed “Siamese twins,” Chang and Eng (1811-1874) were first displayed for the public to gape at in 1829. When they reached their age of authority in 1832, they cancelled their performing contract, having tired of being treated as second-class citizens compared to their managers. They moved to rural North Carolina in 1839, giving themselves the last name “Bunker” after their banker in New York. The brothers became perfect southern country gentlemen, owning 28 slaves and supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Their visit to Toronto in 1853 was among their periodic returns to touring, necessitated by supporting their 21 children. Note that today’s ad presents the brothers with a degree of dignity; rather than scream “look at the freaks!” the Bunkers appeared at a “levee” within the civilized confines of St. Lawrence Hall. It’s a better approach than shown in a dispatch the Globe published in 1869 while the brothers toured England. British writer Frank Buckland seemed relieved that London’s drought of freak exploitation had ended. “For the last two or three years,” Buckland observed, “there has been a lamentable dearth of exhibition of extraordinary people and things.”

While sailing back from Europe in 1870, Chang suffered a stroke while playing chess with the ship’s captain. Eng helped his brother move around for the next four years, until both died on January 17, 1874. The autopsy revealed that the brothers never could have been separated, due to a shared liver.

Additional material from American Sideshow by Marc Hartzman (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005); the October 5, 1853, March 13, 1869, and December 1, 1870 editions of the Globe; and the January 20, 2001 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, March 19, 1869.

Rebellious Councils

Originally published on Torontoist on February 8, 2012.

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City Hall, Front Street East at Jarvis Street, north elevation, 1895 (now the site of the St. Lawrence Market South). City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 98.

Rebellion has been brewing at city council. Today’s special meeting points to the increasing frustrations some of our elected representatives have had with the bull-headed management style of Mayor Rob Ford. But today’s debate on the future of public transit in Toronto is hardly the first time a large segment of council has decided not to toe the mayor’s line. In the past, when council has risen against a mayor’s modus operandi, the results have varied. In the examples we’ve exhumed, mayors have found themselves losing critical votes, losing councillors through en-masse resignations, and even losing their office due to opponents who exploit a great opportunity.

1853: John George Bowes and the Ten Thousand Pound Job

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Portrait of John George Bowes from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Volume 6 (Toronto: John Ross Robertson, 1914). Right: Portrait of Sir Francis Hincks from History of Toronto and County of York Volume 1 (Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885).

Going into his third term as Toronto’s mayor in 1853, John George Bowes had a sterling reputation. The dry goods merchant was known as a man of the people who acted with his fists, occasionally suffering, as Toronto mayoralty chronicler Victor Loring Russell noted, “a broken head.”

Bowes may have wondered if he had cracked his head once too often after his involvement in a scandal known as the “Ten Thousand Pound Job.” Canada West Premier Sir Francis Hincks schemed with Bowes to replace depreciated bonds issued by the City of Toronto to the Northern Railway with a new, more valuable issue. The two leaders quietly bought 40,000 pounds (the local currency before the dollar) worth of old bonds and, as enabled under provincial legislation devised by Hincks, exchanged them for 50,000 pounds worth of new ones, producing a 10,000 pound profit. When Hincks’ role in the scheme became public in the fall of 1853, Bowes denied to his fellow councillors that he’d had any direct connection with the sale.

After Bowes finally fessed up in court about his role, Councillor John Smith moved a resolution at the October 10, 1853, council meeting to censure the mayor for “having practiced such systematic deception towards the Council collectively and its members individually,” and adding, for good measure, that he had “forfeited the confidence of the Citizens of Toronto and of their representatives on this Council assembled.” Bowes’ ally Ogle Gowan introduced several amendments to the resolution to protect the mayor. The first, which resolved that the city shouldn’t attempt to predict the outcome of a judicial investigation, failed by one vote. But the second, which not only stated that none of Bowes’ dealings hurting the citizens of Toronto but also claimed that the mayor had done his utmost to promote citizens’ interests, was left for a future meeting.

When council reconvened on October 24, sparks flew. Gowan’s second amendment was defeated. A series of increasingly testy motions to censure the mayor for lying were also defeated. A final motion introduced by Alderman Samuel Thompson, which regretted Bowes’ lack of candour but stated that his service to Toronto “should exempt him from any further censure from this council in relation to that transaction” passed by two votes.

Councillors outraged by the actions of the mayor and his defenders failed to show up for the next scheduled meeting on October 31. At the November 3 meeting, eight of the 28 sitting councillors submitted a resignation letter. With their concerns overruled by the majority, the departing officials felt that they had little choice but to quit an institution they could no longer trust.

By-elections were called and held within two weeks.

While Bowes decided not to run for a fourth term in 1854, his political career was hardly ruined by the incident. He served in the provincial legislature alongside Hincks, then returned to municipal politics. Bowes was re-elected as mayor in 1861 and served for three more terms.

1886: William Holmes Howland and Liquor Reduction

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William Holmes Howland. Wikimedia Commons.

During his two years as mayor, William Holmes Howland helped birth the notion of “Toronto the Good.” His efforts at civic reform were aimed at moral purification, which seemed to appeal to voters in 1886. Unfortunately for Howland, most of the councillors elected with him were men he denounced during the campaign as stooges of corporations and the liquor trade. This attitude gave the new council little reason to be amenable to Howland’s agenda. Of the 12 councillors who formed the new executive committee, only two could be called staunch allies of the new mayor.

In his inaugural address, Howland proposed several methods of controlling liquor offences, the most controversial of which was a vow to reduce the number of licenses issued to local grocery stores and tavern keepers. The issue was sent to a special committee, whose report included a clause recommending that licenses be capped at 68 stores and 200 taverns, and that the existing license fee be raised by 20 dollars. Howland and his allies spent most of his first month in office trying to persuade councillors to get behind his policies, but a series of late-night meetings frayed everyone’s tempers. When the executive committee received the report on February 18, 1886, it was concerned about how those who lost their licenses through reduction would be compensated. They felt liquor control was a provincial matter, and that since license commissioners already existed, city council had no business getting in their way. The executive committee prepared to shelve the report.

The next day saw a raucous full-council meeting. The World reported that:

The galleries and the benches that run along the walls behind the aldermen’s seats were crowded with spectators. The throngs in the gallery thought it had the right to make a noisy demonstration when it pleased them, and his worship had to suppress them on threats of clearing the room. The proceedings of the city fathers was as Babelish and indecorous as ever. The World would advise some of them to go down to the local legislature and take lessons in parliamentary procedure and order in debate.

Howland grew testy during the meeting, lashing out at the executive committee for illegally interfering with the special committee that had prepared the report. Howland made the fatal mistake of alienating a key ally when he accused Alderman Newman Steiner of cowardice for suggesting that fewer liquor licenses would provoke a rise in illegal establishments. When the report came to a vote, it was defeated 21 to 15.

Opponents used the defeat to pounce on Howland. Supporters of defeated former mayor Alexander Manning produced evidence that Howland lacked the legal property requirements to run for office. The result was a mayor-less city for a week, until a combination of quick legal manoeuvres, public sympathy, and the failure of anyone else to step up at a nomination meeting returned Howland to office. The mayor would have the last laugh, as the municipal election of 1887 brought in a slate of councillors better aligned with his views, which eventually led to a favourable vote on license reduction.

2007: David Miller and the Deferred Tax Vote

As Torontoist’s headline put it, “Davy Had a Bad, Bad Day.” When council voted on July 16, 2007 to defer a final decision on two revenue-generating tax proposals championed by Mayor David Miller, the result was a nail-biter.

Armed with the newly legislated City of Toronto Act, Miller recommended that the city enact a land-transfer tax of up to 2 per cent on home purchases, and a $60 tax applied to motor vehicle registrations. While Miller and his allies crafted the tax proposals, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong assembled a coalition of business and lobby groups to oppose the proposed taxes and lean on undecided councillors, especially the “mushy middle.”

As the tax-proposal vote approached, Councillor Suzan Hall devised a plan to defer a decision until October 22, 2007, which would be two weeks after the upcoming provincial election. Hall reasoned that the campaign period could be used to urge the Ontario government to upload social-services costs, which would have enabled the City to forgo the new taxes. Described by the Star as “a quiet councillor not known as a trailblazer,” Hall came up with the deferral idea after meeting with the Toronto Board of Trade.

When Hall’s proposal was debated on July 16, the National Post felt a speech by Anthony Peruzza marked the point where it appeared Miller was going to lose. Admitting he made his decision five minutes before he spoke, Peruzza, a former NDP MPP, stated that the new format of fixed-date provincial elections provided a “real unique opportunity,” presumably to provide time for political manoeuvring. One member of the executive committee also decided to vote for the deferral: Brian Ashton, who was willing to pay the political consequences so that there was time for tax opponents like the Board of Trade and the Toronto Real Estate Board to aid the city in working out new fiscal relations with the province.

When the votes were tallied, 23 were in favour of deferral, 22 against. Starcolumnist Royson James blamed the result on the city executive’s failure to court the middle, and on Miller acting “more like a monarch than a mayor.” Miller felt that it was unrealistic to expect the province to upload $500 million in social-services costs. “My concern is for the city of Toronto,” Miller told the Globe and Mail. “It is very difficult to look people in the eye and say the resources are not there to meet the needs of Toronto, but that is the fact.”

During the deferral period, headlines were filled with threats of cuts and closures to community centres, libraries, and ice rinks. When the taxes were finally voted on in October, they passed (26–19 for the land-transfer tax, 25–20 for the vehicle-registry tax). Reactions were predictable: Miller told the Star that “It was a tough decision to impose new taxes on the people of Toronto but it’s an essential decision if we want to do our part in creating the kind of city that Torontonians want,” while Minnan-Wong warned the National Post that “The Mayor is coming back for more. There are going to be more increased taxes…that could be in the way of higher property taxes the residents of the City of Toronto have never seen before or more new revenue tools being used.”

Miller, seen as vulnerable, came under increasing attack from his opponents during the remainder of his term. The perception that his administration loved to tax the public was among the factors that propelled Rob Ford into office, which in a way led to the council rebellion that is currently unfolding.

Additional material from The Union of the Canadas by J. M. S. Careless (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), Mayor Howland: The Citizens’ Candidate by Desmond Morton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1973), Mayors of Toronto Volume 1 1834–1899 by Victor Loring Russell (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1982), the minutes of Toronto City Council from 1853, and the following newspapers: the July 17, 2007 edition of the Globe and Mail; the November 5, 1853 edition of the Leader; the February 19, 1886 edition of the Mail; the July 17, 2007 and October 23, 2007 editions of the National Post; the July 17, 2007 and October 23, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 20, 1886 edition of the Toronto World.