The Gladstone Hotel

Originally published as a gallery post by Torontoist on September 25, 2014 to mark the Gladstone Hotel’s 125th anniversary.

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Gladstone Hotel, fall 1952. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library.

As Toronto’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the Gladstone Hotel has seen much over its 125 years. When the doors first opened in 1889, it was a place for travelling businessmen to rest and for local athletic and social clubs to gather. Its proximity to Exhibition Place made it ideal for visitors and exhibitors. Through the late 20th century its reputation diminished, reflecting the economic and social decline of Parkdale to the west. But although it came to be perceived as a flophouse, it offered a sense of community to patrons and residents, giving them a place to relax with a drink and a bit of country music.

Over the last two decades the Gladstone has reawakened, becoming one of the city’s major cultural hubs as the neighbourhood around it has transformed. “Gladstone Hotel now stands as an epicentre of cultural incubation in Toronto’s west end, fostering creativity and community in everything it does,” its website notes. “Renowned for twisting perceptions and giving canvas to underrepresented and marginalized groups, Gladstone Hotel aims to raise the profile of subcultures and subvert the mainstream, creating a unique and open-armed narrative around its historic stature.” Art installations, burlesque, dancing, dining events, music, theatre, trivia nights, and many other forms of entertainment have found a place within its walls.

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The Globe, December 31, 1880.

The current Gladstone Hotel is the second building at the northeast corner of Queen and Gladstone bearing that name. The first, constructed in 1879, aroused the wrath of councillors in neighbouring Parkdale (then an independent municipality), who tried to block its liquor license. Originally known as Brady’s Hotel, it became the Gladstone in 1880 after the Robinson family purchased it. Proprietor Susanna Robinson was a widow with 13 children whose late husband had run hotels in Kleinburg and Yorkville. An 1887 advertisement offered guests the “finest brands of wines, liquors, and cigars,” plus Guinness Stout. James Britton might have required several pints after he lost to William McMurrich in the 1881 municipal election.

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The Empire, June 23, 1894.

Designed by architect George M. Miller, whose other works included the chapel at Wycliffe College, the second Gladstone Hotel opened in 1889. As Toronto Life observed over a century later, “the hotel aped the style of the time, a graceful, if unremarkable, Richardsonian Romanesque of red brick, arched passageways and gargoyles in stone relief.” A cupola located on its southwest corner was removed in the 1940s.

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Queen Street subway looking east, November 17, 1897. The Gladstone Hotel is in the background on the left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 8.

The hotel’s location across Queen Street from the Parkdale railway station helped business in the early days, as did its proximity to the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (the forerunner of the CNE). It provided a comfortable base for fair exhibitors and military performers. “The most striking feature about the hotel,” the Globe observed in 1904, “is the absolute cleanliness and neatness which is to be observed in each and all of its departments, whether in the collars, parlors, or dining rooms.” During the 1905 fair a full floor was occupied by 40 members of the Irish Guards, whose presence was honoured with a commemorative light display on the front of the hotel.

During extensive renovations made by owner Turnbull Smith an electric Otis elevator was installed in August 1905. Covered up for years, it was rediscovered during 21st century renovations when a hole was knocked in the wall. Refurbishing took nine months. Longtime regular Hank Young (1941-2009) was hired to operate the elevator upon its return to service. Known as the “Gladstone Cowboy,” Young first sang in the hotel as part of a country band in 1961, and eventually became a karaoke fixture known for his rendition of “Hey Good Lookin’.” Christina Zeidler felt his hiring was “a match made in heaven…He was a great storyteller.” Young was contractually obligated to wear outfits drawn from his collection of cowboy boots, hats, and bolo ties.

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Toronto Star, April 28, 1911.

Hans Waldheim (as spelled in accounts other than the one above) had very itchy fingers. Reputedly related to Prussian nobility, he was sent to Kingston Penitentiary in 1904 for a string of break-and-enters in Toronto. Incarceration failed to curb his criminal tendencies, as outbreaks of minor burglaries accompanied his travels. Around 1910 he was employed by the Gladstone as a porter and night clerk. After leaving the hotel, he used his knowledge of nightly routines to plan the perfect time to empty the till—the moment the clerk went to attend the main floor fireplace. He almost got away with it in April 1911, but was noticed and fled. Waldheim was on the run for a week, until police caught him trying to break into a home on Indian Road during the early morning of April 28. During his hearing on May 29 he claimed he broke into the Gladstone to pay a fine, fully intending to refund the stolen cash. Magistrate Rupert Kingsford didn’t buy the sob story or his lawyer’s request deport Waldheim to his native Germany. Kingsford sent Waldheim back to Kingston Pen.

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Queen Street subway east from Dufferin Street, April 22, 1915. The Gladstone Hotel is on the left, the Parkdale train station on the right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1409.

Disaster nearly struck when a fire forced 75 guests and boarders to evacuate the hotel on January 17, 1918. The blaze began in a rubbish heap in the basement underneath the kitchen. A night watchman called the fire in just before 5 a.m. When firefighters under the guidance of fire chief Duncan McLean arrived, the hotel was filled with smoke. That fatalities were avoid was thanks to swift thinking 20-year-old Union Station employee Stanley Condy. He was preparing to go to sleep when he heard someone yell “fire!” He ran to each floor, opening fire windows and guiding groggy guests to escape routes. “With a handkerchief over his mouth to prevent him from swallowing the smoke,” the Star reported, “he worked like a little hero running the elevator up and down till he was overcome by smoke and had to give up his task and seek fresh air.” McLean praised the calm evacuation. “There was absolutely no panic and everyone did the right thing at the right time,” he told the Telegram.

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Gladstone Avenue, looking north from south side Queen Street, March 23, 1949. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1881.

The Gladstone’s decline was long and slow. By the mid-1980s, most of its permanent residents were cabbies, pensioners, or truckers. “They are not necessarily down-and-out,” a Globe and Mail feature on the city’s hotel residents observed in 1985, “but they clearly march to a different drummer.” Regular patrons drank in the Melody Bar or caught country acts at Bronco’s (the current ballroom space). By the 1990s, the Art Bar offered space for performers and weekly drawing classes. Observers wondered how long it would be before the creep of gentrification westward along Queen Street would hit the Gladstone.

Room description, 2000, courtesy of Now:

The nightly rooms are on the lowest floor. I put my shoulder to the door that’s stuck on a lump of filthy shag carpet. Big ridges under the rug make walking on it precarious. This $49.25 room has a double bed, bath, TV and a phone to the front desk. It overlooks a roof covered in glass shards and the Price Chopper parking lot. It’s not a bad room, but the dispute between the hotel owners has prevented investment in upgrading. I have to pull the door hard to close it. This brings an all-swearing condemnation of door-slamming from an unseen neighbour.

In late 2000, after a bitter sibling rivalry resulting in death threats, longtime owners Allan and Herb Appleby sold the Gladstone. The new owners were Michael Tippin (who specialized in heritage renovation projects) and the Zeidler family. Plans called for the number of rooms to be downsized during renovations, and new programming catering to an artsier crowd a la New York’s Hotel Chelsea. Relations between the partners quickly soured. The low point may have been Tippin’s decision in February 2002 to send in security to lay off staff and evict the remaining long-term residents. Police mediation resulted after Margie Zeidler arrived to support those getting the boot. After legal battles and a bout with receivership, the Zeidlers were awarded full ownership in late 2002. The residents stayed on for two more years, then were offered assistance (including several days of free rent) in finding new homes elsewhere when the pace of renovations increased. The documentary Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel captured the changes during this period, as management juggled the needs of longtime regulars with a newer, younger, artier clientele.

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Photo by Sandy Nicholson, Toronto Life, June 2005. 

Management of the hotel passed on to filmmaker Christina Zeidler. The slow pace of renovations picked up as the hotel’s infrastructure succumbed to years of neglect. “We wanted to keep as much of the original building as possible,” Zeidler told the Star in 2005. “But the place was on its last legs. We had to redo everything—mechanical, electrical, floors and walls. Every time we started one job, we’d find more work that needed to be done.” Thirty-seven artists were hired to make over the guest rooms into individual works of creativity. A December 2005 gala served as the official relaunch.

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Gladstone Hotel, February 2009. Photo by Wil Macaulay. Creative Commons.

A longtime Gladstone tradition which wound down in 2014 was weekend karaoke in the Melody Bar. Hosted for nearly 15 years by Peter Styles, the chance to sing your heart out provide a venue for different generations of patrons to mingle. “Character types (Parkdale elders, skinny Queen West aesthetes and tables of birthday partiers) who normally wouldn’t be within the same three-block radius all manage to cohabit an irony-free zone where everyone fights for the mike and four minutes of fame,” Toronto Life observed in 2003. Among the props Styles used was an applause sign, which he felt helped those onstage. “The best thing to do is encourage energy in the audience for the singer,” he told the Star in 2012, “and of course they give it back.” A pipe burst during the intense cold of January 2014 wrecked the room’s audio equipment and soundproofing, which management saw as a sign it might be time to bid karaoke adieu.

Sources: Parkdale in Pictures by Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1991); the August 22, 1904, August 21, 1905, and May 30, 1911 editions of the Globe; the April 11, 1985 and February 20, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 28, 1911 edition of the News; the August 24-31, 2000 edition of Now; the April 28, 1911, January 17, 1918, September 30, 2000, February 21, 2002, October 14, 2002, June 23, 2004, November 15, 2005, October 31, 2009, August 31, 2012, and March 20, 2014 editions of the Toronto Star; the January 17, 1918 edition of the Telegram; and the October 2001 and September 2003 editions of Toronto Life.

UPDATE

In early 2020 the Gladstone was sold to Streetcar Developments, whose other historical projects have include the Broadview Hotel and the Distillery District.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, August 21, 1905.

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The News, April 28, 1911.

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The Globe, April 10, 1914.

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The Globe, July 21, 1914.

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The Telegram, January 17, 1918.

The Story of Mr. Croft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

Over the years, people have had other ideas.

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

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

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

The sad part?

The plaque was cleaned up a few weeks ago.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: Mount Hope

As Halloween approaches, we are surrounded by images of death. Most focus on the ghoulish aspects, from bony skeletons to creepy tombstones with punny names for the deceased. But the mock graveyards decorating residential lawns bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries. Instead of depressing, scary final resting places, these spaces are full of life.

During the Halloween seasons in 2011 and 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Torontoist on the city’s cemeteries. This year I’m mixing those pieces with updates and new stories. This piece was originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2012

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From its small gate entrance along Bayview Avenue, Mount Hope Cemetery doesn’t leave as much of an impression as nearby institutions like the Canadian Institute for the Blind or Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. But this Catholic graveyard has its fair share of interesting monuments. A walk through the grounds offers glimpses of the local ravine system and a great view of the changing skyline of Yonge and Eglinton.

History

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Before Mount Hope, the main Catholic cemetery in the city was St. Michael’s. As that burial site neared capacity during the 1880s, church officials sought a roomier place. The preferred location was somewhere along or near Yonge Street, north of the city.

The plan sat for a decade until Archbishop John Walsh asked his wealthiest advisers to buy land for a graveyard on behalf of the archdiocese.

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On July 16, 1897, former Toronto Street Railway owner Sir Frank Smith and brewer Eugene O’Keefe purchased property near present-day Bayview and Eglinton Avenues from a local merchant for $5,000. Almost exactly a year later, on July 9, 1898, Walsh consecrated the grounds and officially named it Mount Hope Cemetery. The ceremony turned into a farewell party for the ailing cleric, who died three weeks later. According to historian Michael Power, the event was also a wake for the influence of the dignitaries on hand, “the last generation of Irish grandees who would hold sway in the archdiocese of Toronto.”

After a year and a half of preparation, the cemetery was ready, and 79-year-old King Street resident Edmund Sullivan became the first person to be buried at Mount Hope. Since his interment on March 24, 1900, over 76,000 people have been buried there.

Grounds

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The main entrance is located at the eastern end of Erskine Avenue. Pedestrians can also enter through a gate on Bayview Avenue, north of Broadway Avenue. Like Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the gently rolling grounds attract many North Toronto joggers and walkers. The most scenic part is the north end, where the cemetery meets the trees of the Sherwood Park Ravine.

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Religious iconography is prominent on many of the tombstones, ranging from grand statues to small angels marking young children. Several sections are devoted to Catholic orders, whose members are commemorated by row upon row of small markers or metal rings.

Notable Names

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Mount Hope boasts a good cross-section of notables. Hockey fans will find 1930s Maple Leafs legends King Clancy (buried with a modest marker in an area the cemetery office referred to as “the flats”) and Red Horner. Laura Secord chocolates founder Frank O’Connor is here, as is Fran’s restaurateur Fran Deck. Political figures include longtime Toronto city councillor Joe Piccininni, and also Lady Annie Thompson, the widow of Canada’s first Catholic Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson. Representing the arts are writer Morley Callaghan and theatre impresario Jeremiah Shea. Notable sinners include 1930s bank robber Red Ryan, and two members of the Boyd Gang, Lennie Jackson (unmarked grave), and Steve Suchan (buried under his real name, Val Lesso).

Favourite Spots

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The monument for George J. Foy is one of the largest grave markers in the city. It’s a 40-foot-high cross crafted from a single slab of granite and anchored to the ground by large stones. It’s said to have taken a team of 24 horses to drag the monument to Mount Hope from Union Station.

Foy made his fortune wholesaling cigars and liquor. He died in October 1909 while out for a doctor-recommended after-dinner stroll along Queen Street in the Beaches. According to his Globe obituary, Foy approached a policeman and quaintly remarked, “Mr. Officer, I believe I have been seized with a slight attack of asthma” before fatally dropping to the sidewalk.

Sources: A History of Mount Hope Cemetery Toronto , Ontario 1898-1998 by Michael Power (Toronto: Catholic Cemeteries Archdiocese of Toronto, 1998) and the October 2, 1909 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Erskine Avenue entrance.

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Catholic Register, November 10, 1904.

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The Globe, October 2, 1909. 

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Sifting through the photos I took for the original article, this monument to the Puccini family stood out. Abramo Puccini (1873-1952) emigrated from Italy to the United States in the late 1880s, made his way north, and became known as the “macaroni king of Canada” with business and properties in Toronto and St. Catharines.

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Funeral ceremony for Josephine Puccini, August 2, 1922. Photo used in the August 3, 1922 edition of The Globe. Toronto Public Library. Full-size version.

The monument to the Puccini family was present by the time Abramo’s wife Josephine passed away in 1922. A portion of this photo ran in the Globe under the headline “NOVEL SCENES AT LOCAL ITALIAN FUNERAL,” which indicates how the Italian community was still considered an exotic species in Toronto.

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Toronto Star, August 2, 1922. 

Ardwold and Ardwold Gate

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 19, 2013.

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Ardwold, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3087.

Things were going well for John Craig Eaton as the first decade of the 20th century ended. He inherited ownership of the family department store following the death of his father, Timothy, in 1907. His wife, Flora, was developing a reputation as a cross-Atlantic socialite. With his elevated social status and growing family, Eaton decided to build a grand mansion.

In January 1909, he purchased an 11-acre estate on Spadina Road north of Davenport Road that possessed a great view of the city and lake. Wanting to keep the purchase price discreet, he delivered a valise filled with $100,000 worth of bills to the bank to close the deal. His new home joined a collection of neighbouring fine residences, including Rathnelly, Spadina, and the under-construction Casa Loma. Eaton hired A.F. Wickson to design a 50-room home inspired by English and Irish country homes of the early Stuart era. The residence was dubbed Ardwold, which was gaelic for “high green hill.”

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Entrance to Ardwold, Eaton family residence, Spadina Road, September 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2072.

Built between 1909 and 1911, Ardwold included 14 bathrooms, an elevator, Italian-inspired gardens, and an indoor swimming pool connected by a basement tunnel. The centrepiece was a two-storey great hall outfitted with a pipe organ that Eaton frequently played. When Eaton introduced the family to the completed home upon their return from a long European tour, his two-year-old son John David moped at the bottom of the grand staircase. “I don’t like this hotel,” he cried. “I want to go home.” Perhaps the boy reacted to what architectural historian William Dendy described as the home’s “air of empty pretentiousness.”

When the family fell ill, they used the on-site hospital room, which could be converted to an operating room during emergencies. Unfortunately, Eaton spent much of the last two months of his life there before dying from pneumonia in March 1922. His wife, by now Lady Eaton, spent little time at Ardwold afterwards, preferring to reside in Europe, Muskoka, or in Eaton Hall near King City.

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Wedding fashion parade at Ardwold, circa 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1855.

By 1936, Lady Eaton thought it was “wasteful” to maintain the property. Telling the Star that it was “too large for the needs my family,” she demolished the house. Eaton family biographer Rod McQueen believed that “such a destructive approach can only be described as desecration, or at best, wildly eccentric.” Dynamite was required to bring down the thick walls. While some furnishings were moved to Eaton Hall, the rest were auctioned off. Only elements like a stone-and-wrought-iron fence survived.

After considering an apartment building, real-estate agent A.E. LePage subdivided the property along a new road, Ardwold Gate. “We plan to develop the whole 11-acre area with homes of Georgian design to harmonize, as is done in many of the finer residential sections of England,” LePage told the Star in 1938. The average cost of the new homes was $30,000, or just under $500,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

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Toronto Star, May 20, 1938.

The community became an exclusive residential enclave for well-heeled businessmen. Among them was George Beattie, an Eaton relative whose career with the department store ended over an expletive-filled argument. Nursing a grudge, Beattie watched gleefully when Ardwold was demolished. Soon after buying a home on Ardwold Gate in 1947, he peed on one of the remaining cornerstones of the old house.

Residents engaged in several battles to maintain their peace during the 1970s. After initially approving the nearby placement of the Spadina Expressway, they joined the opposition against the freeway. As construction began on the Spadina subway line in 1973, they feared their homes would be damaged by vibrations similar to those that inconvenienced home owners along the recent extension of the Yonge line north of Eglinton Avenue. (The problem was reputed to be thin tunnel shields.) In April 1977, residents pressured City Council to reject a proposal to build non-profit housing units for 14 families along Ardwold Gate on land that had been reserved for the freeway; those who feared that the project would ruin the neighbourhood jumped into full reactionary mode. One complaint the City received observed that such housing “contributes to the general weakening of our democratic system.” The proposal was defeated and, as a Globe and Mail editorial observed, residents could sleep easily without worrying about sharing the neighbourhood “with people who didn’t own even one Mercedes.”

The street remains a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Among its notable homes is the Brutalist concrete residence designed for Harvey’s founder Richard Mauran at 95 Ardwold Gate. The home was the final project of architect Taivo Kapsi, who was killed in an encounter with trespassers on a friend’s property near Lake Wilcox during the summer of 1967. Finished the following year, the heritage-designated site includes impressions left in the concrete by construction boards.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the April 14, 1977 and April 18, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 2, 2012 edition of the National Post, the February 26, 1936, July 3, 1936, May 20, 1938, May 4, 1970, and February 10, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star, and the March 1999 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Ardwold, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3016.

Lady Eaton’s description of the area which surrounded Ardwold, from her book Memory’s Wall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956):

We had agreeable neighbours around us at Ardwold, and several of them became our good friends. Probably we came to know each other better because of the rather isolated community we formed. St. Clair Avenue was not paved, of course, and often vehicles sank down to their axles in the mud. A very rickety old bridge crossed the ravine on Spadina Road, which was the street giving main access to Ardwold, and the few other big houses on “the hill.”

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Toronto Star, April 14, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, April 18, 1977.

Two editorials on the failed subsidized housing proposal – an issue still playing out in neighbourhoods across the city.

“This The Day When the Ground Hog Comes Out”

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1912.

Posted above is the earliest front page story regarding Groundhog Day published by either the Globe or the Star.

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On that day’s editorial page, the Star published a piece about the occasion by syndicated poet Walt Mason (1862-1939).

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Toronto Star, February 7, 1908.

Here’s the earliest story from the Star about Groundhog Day, though it’s less about the day, more about farmers from southwest Ontario petitioning the provincial legislature for the right to shoot the critters.

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a lengthier look at the day’s origins, and its history in Canada.

A Gooderham Gallery

Originally published on Torontoist on October 13, 2011

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Gooderham Building, 1996. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

An iconic image of Toronto: a photograph looking west from the intersection of Church, Front, and Wellington Streets, with the Gooderham Building (a.k.a. the Flatiron) as the focal point. The unusual skinny, triangular shape, which predated New York’s flatiron by a decade, was the result of the clash between Wellington Street’s adherence to Toronto’s square grid and Front Street’s looser paralleling of the 19th century shoreline. In the 120 years since George Gooderham first surveyed his business empire from his fifth floor office, the building that bears his family’s name has evolved into a Toronto landmark.

And it’s a landmark that theoretically could be yours. Current owner Woodcliffe started the bidding process this week to find the next custodian for the historical site, which provides an opportunity to look back at how it became one of Toronto’s most beloved buildings

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Coffin Block, Front and Wellington Streets, 1873. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7335.

Before the Gooderham Building was erected in 1891, another flatiron-shaped structure occupied the block. Consisting of three connected units, the structure was known as the Coffin Block due to its resemblance to the end of a funeral box. Among its tenants were a telegraph office, a stagecoach booking office, and additional guest rooms for the Wellington Hotel, whose main premises were located on the northwest corner of Church and Wellington.

Whoever archived this image determined that notes written on the side of the photo weren’t enough for future researchers.

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Gooderham Building, circa 1893. Toronto Illustrated 1893 (Toronto: Consolidated Printing, 1893).

Here’s a wealthy person the Occupy Wall Street movement might respect: when George Gooderham died in May 1905, he purposely left most of his fortune in the hands of the Ontario government. He decided against selling any of his stocks to anyone else due to his belief that it was unconscionable to evade provincial succession duties. The portion of Gooderham’s $25 million estate that the government received wiped out the provincial deficit.

Though Gooderham’s fortune was based on the Gooderham and Worts distillery, he built it through investments in banking, insurance, and railways. He was among the founders of Manufacturer’s Life (now Manulife), served as president of the Bank of Toronto (an ancestor of TD Canada Trust), and backed the construction of the King Edward Hotel. His philanthropic interests included key financial and managerial roles at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto.

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Gooderham Building, 1890s. Photo by F.W. Micklethwaite. Library and Archives Canada, RD-000335, via Wikimedia Commons.

Architect David Roberts Jr. was no stranger to the Gooderham family when he was chosen to design the new building. Among his other commissions was Waveney, George Gooderham’s mansion at Bloor Street and St, George Street, which currently houses the York Club. To replace the demolished Coffin Block, Roberts designed a five-storey red brick office building trimmed with Credit Valley stone. Gooderham’s personal office was located at the top of the semi-circular tower in the front, where he could view of many of his business interests. Also included for Gooderham’s benefit was a tunnel under Wellington Street to the head office of the Bank of Toronto (now the site of Pizza Pizza).

The effect the building created was summed up by Patricia McHugh in her book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989), “With a richly textured facade and kingly chateauesque towered roof that still dominates this busy corner, the building stands as an apt symbol of the Gooderham family’s powerful position in the community.”

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Gooderham Building, between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 65.

Gooderham and Worts maintained offices in the building through the early 1950s. By the 1960s, despite its growing status as a local landmark, its future seemed in doubt. As plans evolved for a Centennial-related series of arts complexes in the neighbourhood, the buildings that occupied the rest of the Gooderham’s little island were razed for a temporary parking lot. By 1966, the orphaned building was the temporary headquarters for the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts rising to the west. As the 1960s, the Gooderham provided office space for arts organizations like the Mendelssohn Choir, the Shaw Festival, and the Folk Arts Council.

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Globe and Mail, September 19, 1973.

But the Gooderham Building managed to survive in an era when one aging downtown building after another fell to the wrecking ball. New ownership in the mid-1970s poured money into renovations. Instead of building arts schools or small concert halls beside it, the City of Toronto approved the public space that officially opened as Berczy Park in 1975. That same year, the Gooderham Building was declared a historic site.

Two attempts were made to dress up the west wall, which had actually belonged to a long-gone neighbouring building. A mural of clouds painted by Daniel Solomon during the early 1970s was eventually covered over—allegedly the wall was too poorly prepared to handle the piece. Attempt number two began with a suggestion from the city’s heritage agencies that any future artwork should incorporate the architectural stylings of the surrounding 19th century buildings. A combination of commercial donors and funds from the Wintario lottery provided artist Derek Besant with $80,000 to come up with a durable piece of art. The result: 49 panels of a polyethelene-based construction material called Alucobond that formed a trompe l’oeil special effect of a wall curling at its edges.

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Berczy Park looking east at the Gooderham Building, before and after landscaping. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 623, Item 5.

When Besant’s piece was unveiled on September 19, 1980, the Globe and Mail’s John Bentley Mays called it “an engineering masterpiece and an artistic triumph that will be flying high on the Flatiron Building for years.” Two restorations later, the piece is as much a Toronto landmark as the building itself.

The building’s landmark status has grown with time. As larger office towers filled the skyline to the west, it has provided photographers with an interesting contrast of past versus present. The site has consistently been one of the most popular attractions during Doors Open. Any new owner would risk a public outcry if they messed with the flatiron shape or the well-restored building’s other unique attributes.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The building was purchased by Commercial Realty Group.

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Editorial on what would become Berczy Park, Toronto Star, August 8, 1972.

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Globe and Mail, September 19, 1980.

Toronto’s Holiday Misdemeanours of 1909

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 26, 2009. The original artwork has been replaced with public domain illustrations from late 19th century books found at Old Book Illustrations.

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“Stealing.” Illustration by Louis Rhead. The life and death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan (New York: R.H. Russell, 1900). Old Book Illustrations.

Crime knows no vacation. While many of us look to the holiday season for peace and good cheer, others find themselves on the wrong side of the law. For as long as inebriates have been hauled in for disturbing the peace or thieves have secured deeper-than-advertised discounts on Boxing Day specials, the police blotter has rarely rested during the closing weeks of the year. While the most sensational crimes garner headlines today, a century ago most of Toronto’s six battling daily newspapers published lengthy accounts of court proceedings no matter how small or unusual the charge. Fined a dollar for failing to secure your horse? Clumsy cab driving? Swearing in public? All of these misdemeanours earned you fifteen seconds of press infamy in 1909.

But we’re not interested in petty offenders. Give us illegal partridges, turkey liberationists, and cannibalistic ruffians.

A partridge in a pear tree—the ideal gift from your true love during the holiday season? Maybe, but anyone who intended to provide his or her sweetie with a full complement of gifts from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in 1909 required black market birds. Clothing merchant Abraham Hadis learned all he ever wanted to know about partridge regulations when he was hauled into court for possessing the birds outside of their proper season. Trouble began when a provincial inspector caught his son with two cases containing sixty-four partridges, which father and son claimed were brought to their store at 155 Queen Street West by “a man from the country” who hoped to earn a commission on any sales. Hadis was brought up on twenty charges of violating game laws and made no attempt to evade responsibility. When lawyer J.W. Curry approached the bench and entered a guilty plea, the judge replied, “Well, I can’t do anything else than fine you on each charge; it will be ten dollars and costs, or five days in jail on each case.” Curry commented, “That’s a lot of time for a few partridges,” to which the judge replied, “Yes, but I still can’t help it.” Curry felt his client would rather go to jail than pay the fine, as “it seems like a case of the wealthy against the poor; this man is not well fixed.”

Hadis’ real problem may have been possessing too many birds. Overindulgence is a common side effect of the holidays, whether it’s downing one glass of booze-enriched eggnog too many or a sudden attack of gluttony at the dinner table. The Star guessed that the latter may have resulted in an embarrassing end to one Toronto resident’s Christmas:

A Christie Street citizen, whose name the police refuse to disclose, ate too much turkey and pudding on Christmas Day, and for half an hour after midnight he was found, clad only in his nightie, running along Van Horn Street [now Dupont Street], shouting for Shrubb to come and race him.

He was in a dream or trance or something of that sort, and ran all the way from Christie Street along Van Horn to Dovercourt Road before his cries attracted the attention of Acting Detective Mahony. The officer at first thought he was crazy, but when the man was wakened he seemed rational enough and thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mahony helped him to secure some much needed clothing and then the citizen went home. He’ll dine more wisely next Christmas.

A far more painful walk was endured by milkman Albert Atwell, who fell into a hole in the front yard of William Cooper at 15 Avenue Road and cracked three ribs after landing on an iron pipe at the bottom of the pit. Atwell sued Cooper for sixty dollars and made his case at what proved to be a brief court hearing on December 23. Both the Star and the Telegram provided the play-by-play as Atwell and Judge Morson took centre stage:

Judge: Did you walk on the lawn?
Atwell: Yes.
Judge: Was there a sidewalk?
Atwell: Yes, your honour.
Judge (after brief conversation with Atwell’s lawyer): Non-suit, without costs.

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Drawing of a wild turkey by an unknown artist. Bilder-atlas zur Wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Vögel in ihren sämmtlichen Hauptformen by Leopold Joseph Franz Johann Fitzinger (Vienna: K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1864). Old Book Illustrations.

Not every case was dismissed so easily. Shoplifting a turkey might not merit more than a sentence or two in a modern newspaper, but back in 1909 such a crime allowed the imagination of the News’ court reporter to run wild. It wasn’t just a theft—it was an act of animal liberation:

Turkee Gobler, poor old chap, was condemned to hang on December 24, the place of execution being W.J. Nichol’s store at 252 Queen Street East. His heart burning with pity, Robert Bastine, of 108 Oak Street, swore to affect a rescue. As the shades of sunset crept over the street, he emerged from his hiding place, and while the careless crowd passed the scene of execution, stealthily advanced to the rescue. With a fell swoop he cut the halter and as Gobler came to earth, deftly caught him in his arms and bore him off. But the doughty knight lived not happily ever afterward, for the law cast him into a dungeon, and charged him with theft.

This act of holiday terrorism earned Bastine three days in the slammer.

While eating poor Mr. Gobler is an accepted holiday dining tradition, sampling a savoury bite of a neighbourhood cop is not. As a Star headline proclaimed on December 23, “Martin Donaghue Learns That It Is Unsafe to Feast on Police.” The trouble began the night before when Police Sergeant McDonald encountered an intoxicated, stumbling “Sykes” Donaghue walking along College Street near Clinton without a hat. The officer, who most accounts indicate wasn’t a popular figure in the neighbourhood, asked Donaghue where his headgear was. “Down the street someplace,” replied Donaghue. “The wind blew if off. I don’t care. I’ve got lots o’ money to buy twenty hats.”

When McDonald told Donaghue to go home and behave himself, the officer received a steady stream of obscenities. As the Star put it in more genteel terms, “Donaghue became indignant and owing to the befuddled condition of his brain didn’t use proper discretion in his selection of language.” Result: an arrest for disorderly conduct. By now, a crowd had gathered to witness the mounting tension between the two men, which exploded into a fight after Police Constable Joseph Baird arrived at the scene and Donaghue launched into another cursing fit. Witnesses were unable to determine who struck the first blow—the Mail and Empire claimed Donaghue kicked McDonald in the thigh, while the Star claimed that the officer hit his prisoner in the mouth and bloodied his nose while Baird repeatedly hit the prisoner’s arm with his baton. Donaghue asked for help from the crowd, which arrived in the form of “little fellow” Herbert “Red” Evans, who promptly slugged Baird in the jaw. In the midst of this new development, Donaghue sank his teeth into McDonald’s wrist, which caused the officer to later seek medical attention. Donaghue and Evans, both described as having poor reputations in the neighbourhood, were hauled into court the following morning. According to one lawyer, “I don’t know why he should want to eat one of our new patrol sergeants. He’s been here before for this kind of thing.” Described by the Telegram’s court reporter as “the man with the cannibal appetite,” Donaghue received six months hard labour for his snack, while Evans’ father paid a ten-dollar fine for his son’s actions.

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“Cheap Wine.” Illustration by George Du Maurier. Trilby by George Du Maurier (New York: Harper & Row, 1895). Old Book Illustrations.

Arrests of inebriates like Donaghue over the holiday season were fewer in 1909 than previous years. Christmas Day saw one hundred and thirty people taken into custody for public drunkenness. As the Mail and Empire noted, “Most of them were treated leniently on account of the season, and the inspectors allowed them to go as soon as they could find their way home…only in the aggravated cases were fines imposed, and the majority of the prisoners formed a procession out of the dock, and will be in line for the New Year’s celebration.”

Additional material from the December 23, 1909 and December 28, 1909 editions of the Mail and Empire; the December 24, 1909 and December 27, 1909 editions of the News; the December 23, 1909, December 24, 1909, and December 27, 1909 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 23, 1909 and December 24, 1909 editions of the Telegram.