Selling the Daily Star to Toronto’s Hinterland, 1919

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Bolton Enterprise, January 31, 1919.

While their focus was on city readers, Toronto’s dailies frequently courted customers on the edges of Toronto. This series of ads which appeared in the Bolton Enterprise during the first half of 1919 show some of the approaches that were used to attract rural and suburban readers.

For example: touting the Star‘s speed at covering major international events like the Paris Peace Conference. It appears the Star entered a coverage alliance with the Chicago Daily News, whose circulation was passed by the Chicago Tribune around this time.

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Bolton Enterprise, February 28, 1919.

In an era where journalists and production staff are regularly laid off, it’s almost odd to see an ad touting how many people worked for a newspaper.

As for the Star‘s claim that it provided news “fairly, in easy-comprehended form,” it was a better looking product than many of its Toronto competitors. It’s easier to read a century on than its main competitor, the Evening Telegram, whose editorial page was full of Twitter-like outbursts that are nearly incomprehensible without a firm grounding in the politics of the era (and even that doesn’t always help). As the Tely continued the archaic practice of running classifieds on its opening pages, a reader could jump into a breaking news story faster in the Star.  The Star’s writing was snappy and full of dramatic impact.

In terms of fairness, the Star was moderate compared to the conservative imperialist voice of the Tely, but was often sensationalistic when it came to stories about crime and social justice.  The Star‘s traditional alliance with the Liberals was in flux as 1919 began – the paper had supported Robert Borden’s Union government during the 1917 federal election to present a united front for the war effort, but worked behind the scenes to heal rifts within the federal and provincial branches of the party.

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Bolton Enterprise, March 14, 1919.

Farming news filled the urban papers in 1919, tied into what would evolve into the modern business section.

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Bolton Enterprise, March 28, 1919.

The sketch of Rasputin looks more like a grizzled prospector or old sea salt than the “mad monk” of legend.

Wikipedia entries for Edward House and John J. Pershing.

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Bolton Enterprise, April 11, 1919.

Here are examples of the Star‘s women’s and magazine pages from the same say this ad appeared. Click on the images for larger versions.

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Toronto Star, April 11, 1919.

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Toronto Star, April 11, 1919.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Political Decor

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2014.


Toronto Daily Mail, February 4, 1887.

It’s possible that some lucky souls will find a Rob Ford bobblehead doll under their Christmas tree this year. Whether hoarded by Ford Nation loyalists or re-gifted as a joke, these novelty items join the long line of political memorabilia that’s been available to Torontonians over the years.

Had the Ford administration been in office during the heyday of the party press, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers backing Ford would have offered supporters many mementos. Portraits and busts allowed readers to make known their political allegiances, and at election time were akin to modern-day lawn signs.

Had the 1887 federal election been scheduled earlier than February 22, the Mail might have offered its bust of Sir John A. Macdonald to true-blue Conservatives as a stocking stuffer. This fine terracotta likeness of Canada’s first prime minister would doubtless have taken pride of place in the homes of Tory supporters. Supporters of Liberal leader Edward Blake, meanwhile, might have used his bust as a decorative doorstop, tapped a hole in its head to convert it into a flower pot, or used it as a target for shooting practice.


The News, March 13, 1914.

Photographic prints of Sir James Pliny Whitney served as a “get well soon” gesture. In late 1913, after serving for a decade as premier of Ontario, Whitney was ordered by doctors to take a vacation. On January 4, 1914, attorney general James J. Foy received a telegram indicating Whitney had suffered a massive heart attack in New York City. Though initially he was not expected to live, Whitney rallied. He was brought back to Toronto via train on January 19, and spent several weeks in hospital regaining his strength. By the time the above ad was published, Whitney was able to go on daily walks.

Those who bought a print might initially have been motivated by sympathy, but they soon found another reason to keep Whitney’s portrait handy—Conservative officials were convinced that, despite his health, Whitney would lead the party to victory in the upcoming provincial election. Whitney, realizing it would probably be his last hurrah, agreed to run. Though he barely campaigned, the premier’s appearance at a June 23, 1914, rally at Massey Hall left few eyes dry.

Coming back, my friends, as I have, by God’s mercy, from the shadow of the dark valley, I am constrained, nay, compelled, to express the thanks I owe to the people of Ontario. They have given me an opportunity. I think I may say, of being some service, and they have given me their confidence in full measure—in full measure heaped up, pressed down, shaken together, and running over—and as long as my renewed health and strength are vouchsafed to me I shall be at their disposal, and endeavour to give them the same faithful service I have in the past.

Whitney led the Tories to their fourth consecutive victory, and with an overwhelming majority of the vote. He performed some administrative work over the summer, and issued an official statement regarding the outbreak of the First World War in August. He died suddenly on September 25, 1914, from a cerebral hemorrhage; we imagine his portrait was displayed out of respect around the city.

Additional material from ‘Honest Enough to Be Bold’: The Life and Times of Sir James Pliny Whitney by Charles W. Humphries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), and the September 25, 1914 edition of the Toronto Star.

Whacking Whitney While Keeping Drew Out

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2011 with additional material mixed in.

Besides lawn signs and public meetings, newspaper advertisements have long been a preferred method for Ontario politicians to spread their message to the public. Whether it’s a simple promise to provide “good government” or a full platform requiring a magnifying glass to read, the press has offered a forum for candidates to make their case to voters as long as they paid for the ad. Today’s gallery shows the evolution of Ontario election ads from short notices in partisan papers to spots where the reproduction quality barely hides the lines of a candidate’s toupee (sorry Mel).



Richmond Hill Liberal, December 23, 1886.

Back in the 19th century, a candidate generally placed ads in publications slanted toward their political party. Such was the case with G.B. Smith, a Liberal endorsed by the Richmond Hill Liberal. It wouldn’t be a great shock to discover that the paper’s December 23, 1886 editorial portrayed him as “man whose every utterance is straight-forward and fair, for a man whose conduct is open and fearless, for a man whose character and abilities should commend themselves to all.” Voters in York East agreed—Smith represented the riding until 1894.

Results December 28, 1886:
Liberal (Oliver Mowat): 57 seats
Conservative (William Ralph Meredith): 32 seats
Other: 1 seat



Short , sweet, to the point. The voters fulfilled the Globe’s vow, as the Liberals won their eighth consecutive term in office and their first without longtime premier Oliver Mowat at the helm. Conservative leader James Pliny Whitney was whacked again in the 1902 election, then finally won the premiership in 1905.

Results March 1, 1898:
Liberal (Arthur Hardy): 51 seats
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 42 seats
Other: 1 seat



News, January 24, 1905.

Liberal candidate Hugh Blain claimed nasty things were afoot in North Toronto as the campaign drew to a close. A poster entitled “Will Hugh Blain Deny” that alleged the candidate took advantage of government subsidies for beet sugar was circulated by Conservative supporters of incumbent MPP Dr. Beattie Nesbitt. Attacks on the Grits were common during an election that saw the end of 34 years of Liberal government. Nesbitt won, but he resigned his seat a year later to accept an appointment as registrar of West Toronto.

Results January 25, 1905:
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 69 seats
Liberal (George William Ross): 28 seats
Other: 1 seat



The Globe, October 18, 1919.

The first postwar election was accompanied by a referendum on the prohibition of alcohol, which the province had enacted three years earlier. There were four questions regarding varying degrees of repeal, from dumping the Ontario Temperance Act altogether, to allowing beer to be sold through the government. Voting on each question ranged from 60 to 67 percent against bringing legal booze back.

Results October 20, 1919:
United Farmers of Ontario (no official leader): 44 seats
Liberal: (Hartley Dewart): 27 seats
Conservative (William Hearst): 25 seats
Labour (Walter Rollo): 11 seats
Other: 4 seats


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Toronto Star, June 23, 1923.

Voters didn’t heed Groves’s ad, as she finished second in Toronto Northwest, with 20.9% of the ballots. Her candidacy was attacked by the Telegram for ‘grossly violating” laws which prohibited political activity in schools. Brock Avenue School principal D.W. Armstrong posted a note on a bulletin board urging staff to support Groves, who ran for the Progressive Party. Armstrong accepted all responsibility. “Mrs. Groves did not speak to me about it and in no way have I heard from her in connection with the campaign,” he told the Star. “If it was an error it was mine and I must take the consequences.” Groves she had not campaigned in any schools, but was aware of support from teachers.

Results June 25, 1923:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 75 seats
United Farmers of Ontario/Labour (E.C. Drury): 21 seats
Liberal (Wellington Hay): 14 seats
Other: 1 seat



Toronto Star, November 30, 1926.

Alcohol was the key issue of the 1926 campaign. Premier Howard Ferguson ‘s Conservatives proposed repealing the act to allow government sales, which led to ads like this one. Killjoy drys were overruled in this election: Ferguson won a majority and introduced the Liquor License Act in March 1927, which led to the birth of the LCBO.

Results December 1, 1926:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 72 seats
Liberal (W.E.N. Sinclair): 15 seats
Other: 12 seats
Progressive (William Raney): 10 seats
United Farmers of Ontario (Leslie Oke): 3 seats



The Enterprise, June 13, 1934.

Proof scare tactics can backfire on a party: Premier George Stewart Henry (whose name lives on in the North York neighbourhood named after his farm) saw his party’s fortunes collapse as the Conservatives dropped from 90 to 17 seats against the populist appeal of Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals.

Results June 19, 1934:
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 65 seats
Conservative (George Stewart Henry) 17 seats
Liberal-Progressive (Harry Nixon): 4 seats
Other: 4 seats



Globe and Mail, August 4, 1943.

Governor-generals have to start somewhere. Though unsuccessful in his 1943 campaign against future Toronto Mayor William Dennison, Roland Michener was elected to Queen’s Park two years later.


Toronto Star, August 3, 1943. 

Following its opposition to Canada’s entry into World War II, the Communist Party of Canada was officially banned in 1940. Despite this, candidates continued to run in federal and provincial elections. In Toronto, A.A. MacLeod (Bellwoods) and J.B. Salsberg (St. Andrew), who advertised themselves as “Labour” candidates, won their ridings. Shortly after the election, they agreed to sit as MPPs for the Communists’ new legal entity, the Labour-Progressive Party.

Results August 4, 1943:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 38 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 34 seats
Liberal (Harry Nixon): 15 seats
Labour-Progressive (no leader): 2 seats
Other: 1 seat



Toronto Star, June 2, 1945.

Building on the success of MacLeod and Salsberg in the 1943 election, the Labour-Progressive Party ran 31 candidates across the province, some of whom were allied with Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals. They failed to keep Drew out, as the Conservatives returned with a majority government. Part of the Tories’ success may have been due to a radio speech given by CCF leader Ted Jollife which accused Drew of establishing a “Gestapo” within the Ontario Provincial Police to keep watch on the opposition. The speech backfired on Jolliffe, though evidence was found years later to support his claims of government spying.

Results June 4, 1945:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 66 seats
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 8 seats
LPP (Leslie Morris): 2 seats


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Toronto Star, June 5, 1948.

However, Drew lost his own seat to CCF candidate/temperance zealot Bill Temple in High Park. He quickly went into federal politics and won the federal Tory leadership. Peel MPP Thomas Kennedy served as interim premier until Leslie Frost became party leader the following spring.

Other notable candidates featured in this ad include CCF leader Ted Jollifee (running in a seat that another CCF/NDP party leader, Bob Rae, would hold), Agnes Macphail (Canada’s first female MP and one of Ontario’s first pair of female MPPs), Reid Scott (at 21, then the youngest MPP in Ontario history), and William Dennison (future mayor of Toronto).

Results June 7, 1948:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 53 seats
Liberal (Farquhar Oliver): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 21 seats
LPP (no leader): 2 seats



Weston Times and Guide, November 8, 1951.

The province didn’t feel the same chill: Premier Leslie Frost’s Progressive Conservatives won all but 11 of the 90 seats at Queen’s Park.

Results November 22, 1951:
Progressive Conservative (Leslie Frost): 79 seats
Liberal (Walter Thomson): 8 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 2 seats
LPP (Stewart Smith): 1 seat



Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

Yes, the colour of margarine was once considered a major election issue, though butter-hued oil spread was not 100% legal in Ontario until 1995. The ’63 campaign was the first for John Robarts after succeeding Leslie Frost. Note the promises related to the Toronto area—Robarts flipped the switch when the Bloor-Danforth line opened three years later.


Don Mills Mirror, August 14, 1963.

While Jim Service was unsuccessful in his run for the provincial legislature, he would serve North York as reeve and mayor from 1965 to 1969.


Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

1963 was the first provincial election for the NDP, having changed its name from the CCF two years earlier. Party leader Donald MacDonald stayed through the transition, remaining in charge until 1970.

Results September 25, 1963:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 77 seats
Liberal (John Wintermeyer): 24 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 7 seats



Globe and Mail, October 16, 1967.

At least two of the “action politicians” were or would be easily recognized by the public. Stephen Lewis would win a second term in Scarborough West. Three years later, he became party leader. Over in High Park, Dr. Morton Shulman ran after he was fired from his role as Ontario’s chief coroner earlier in the year for embarrassing the government over inadequate fire protection in a new hospital. Shulman’s crusading medical career had also inspired a popular CBC drama, Wojeck.

Results October 17, 1967:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 69 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 28 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 20 seats



Don Mills Mirror, October 6, 1971.

The Progressive Conservatives earned their ninth consecutive mandate under new leader William Davis, whose team. All of the candidates pictured in this ad, except for Deane (who lost to veteran Liberal Vern Singer) joined Davis at Queen’s Park. Timbrell ran for the party leadership twice in 1985, losing to Frank Miller in January and Larry Grossman in November.

Results October 21, 1971:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 78 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 20 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 19 seats



Toronto Star, September 16, 1975.

Who’s a better provincial candidate than Mel Lastman? EVVVERYBODY! Well, actually former Toronto mayor Philip Givens, who won Armourdale for the Liberals in election that produced Ontario’s first minority government since 1943.

Results September 18, 1975:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 51 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 38 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 36 seats

Happy Centennial, Royal Ontario Museum!

Originally published on Torontoist on March 19, 2014.


The News, March 19, 1914.

As with any major building preparing for its grand opening, work on the Royal Ontario Museum went down to the wire. “A corps of charwomen polished, scrubbed, and dusted,” the Star observed the day before the museum greeted its first official visitors, “and unfinished exhibits were being rapidly and accurately fitted into their places.” That there were still unopened boxes in the basement didn’t faze anyone.

One hundred years ago this afternoon, just after 3 p.m., around 1,000 dignitaries attended the ROM’s opening ceremony. It was the culmination of years of planning, and of assembling artifacts drawn from private collections, provincial holdings, and the University of Toronto’s museums.

The museum was a joint partnership between the province and the university, which agreed in 1910 to split the $400,000 construction budget. A sense of the new institution’s direction was outlined by archaeology director Charles Trick Currelly the following year:

From the first the material has been gathered together with definite scientific aim, i.e., to show the development of handicraft in the world. It thus becomes a text book of the development of civilization on its mechanical side, and is in no sense a dilettante collection of pretty things or an accumulation of “curios.” There is not a curiosity in the collection, and practically not an object that is isolated, but each thing fits into a place in a series that has been carefully thought out. There are many gaps, but there is reasonable hope that these will be filled up in the future, so that the visitors to and students in the museum will have a continuous picture of the world’s civilization from the rude Palaeolithic implement found on the Libyan desert or deep in European gravels, right down to modern times.


Royal Ontario Museum building, circa 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3046.

By the time the museum was ready to open in 1914, its purpose had been refined into three roles:

The collection and exhibition of objects of every kind calculated to illustrate the natural history of Ontario, and thereby to aid in a knowledge of what is able to contribute to science and industry; Collection and exhibition of objects of any kind calculated to illustrate the natural history of the world, and the history of man in all ages; Such other objects as may be authorized by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

The ROM originally served as an umbrella institution for five museums that operated semi-independently until the 1950s. Its components were dedicated to archaeology, geology, mineralogy, natural history, and palaeontology. Collections that had been housed in various locations on the U of T campus and at the Ontario Provincial Museum at the Toronto Normal School (located on the present site of Ryerson University) were brought under one roof, in a building designed by noted architects Frank Darling and John A. Pearson.


A pair of early ROM acquisitions. Toronto Star, February 14, 1914.

From the start, the ROM was bursting with artifacts. Preview newspaper articles boasted of the 60,000 specimens held by the palaeontology museum, including ancient trilobites found in New Brunswick and fossils discovered in the Don Valley Brick Works. The papers waxed poetic about “the mystic art of the embalmer in ancient Egypt” and offered photos of items described as “Old German instruments of torture.” Officials admitted it would take another year to finish labelling the displays. Among the early exhibit donors was Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame, who could perhaps have used his collection of arms and armour to fend off creditors a decade later.

The official opening ceremony began with a speech by Sir Edmund Walker, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, on the development of the museum. He portrayed its gestation as the result of a labour of love by the directors of its component museums. Walker also observed that because North Americans were generally more concerned with material things, our museums took longer to develop than those in Europe.

After remarks from U of T president Robert Falconer, the podium was turned over to the Governor General, the Duke of Connaught. It was a busy day for Queen Victoria’s third son, as his dedication of the ROM was sandwiched between a visit to the Boy Scouts’ provincial headquarters and the dedication of the Howard Memorial Gates at High Park. Besides praising the museum, the Duke mentioned two dignitaries unable to attend due to illness—his wife (he thanked the guests for their best wishes), and Premier James Pliny Whitney (who was recovering from exhaustion and a heart attack).


After opening the ROM, the Duke of Connaught spoke at the dedication of the Howard Memorial Gates in High Park. Sir Henry Pellatt is standing at the back. Photo taken March 19, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8092.

The audience applauded the Duke’s concluding remarks:

I conclude by expressing my hope and belief that interest in the museum will not be allowed to flag in the future, but that this institution will ever be a pride to the citizens of Toronto, and will keep pace and size with the growth and development of the city.

That evening, more invitees listened to speeches and toured the building. Within days, Currelly reported to Walker a sharp rise in donations. “Men from all over the province have been coming to see me,” Currelly noted, “to say that this was what they have been waiting for all their lives, and that they are anxious to assist in any way that is possible.”

Such growth made future expansions inevitable, beginning with the additions along Queen’s Park opened in 1932-33. The original building now serves as the ROM’s west wing, housing its Asian collection on the main floor.

Additional material from The Museum Makers: The Story of the Royal Ontario Museum by Lovat Dickson (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1986); the December 7, 1910, March 17, 1914, March 19, 1914, and March 20, 1914 editions of the Globe; the March 20, 1914 edition of the Mail and Empire; the February 14, 1914, March 18, 1914, and March 19, 1914 editions of the Toronto Star; the March 20, 1914 edition of theToronto World; and the March 1911 edition of University of Toronto Monthly.


The next day, I wrote an article on renovations to the museum’s exterior.


The Royal Ontario Museum hopes that you’ll mark its centennial by giving it a little love.

To kick off its new “Love the ROM” fundraising campaign, the museum celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday morning by announcing its plans for the coming year and offering hints of upcoming renovations to its Bloor Street entrance. Dubbed the “Welcome Project,” the plans call for changes to the museum’s lobby and the installation of an “outdoor gallery” running along Bloor Street from Philosopher’s Walk to Queen’s Park.


The outdoor performance space nestled between the Michael lee-Chin Crystal and Philosophers’ Walk. Image: Hariri Pontarini Architects.

Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, whose other projects include the Shangri-La Hotel and One Bloor, and landscape architect Claude Cormier, the “outdoor gallery” will include more greenery to make the ROM crystal’s gateway seem less sterile. The renderings feature a performance space west of the front door—a space the museum hopes to use for collaborations with nearby institutions like the Royal Conservatory of Music. We suspect the rows of seating will also provide a place for classes and tour groups to gather before they hop back on their buses. The space will be named after one of the new fundraising campaign’s lead donors, ABC Group of Companies CEO Helga Schmidt and her late husband Michael. Work on the lobby is expected to begin later this year, with the outdoor space following in 2015.


An overhead, nighttime conceptual rendering of the ROM’s entrance. Image: Hariri Pontarini Architects.

The ROM also announced plans for a new gallery dedicated to early life on the planet, and an event called “ROM Revealed,” scheduled for first weekend of May, that will allow the public to explore the museum’s labs and other behind-the-scenes spaces rarely open to patrons.



The Don Runneth Over

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2013.


Flooding along the Don River, north of the Wilton Avenue Bridge (present-day Dundas Street), February 26, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 32.

From cars marooned on the Don Valley Parkway to passengers stranded on a GO train near Bayview Avenue and Pottery Road, Monday night’s storm reminded Torontonians of the Don Valley’s susceptibility to flooding. Enacting preventative measures for sudden onslaughts of water along the Don River has a mixed track record, though a few projects offer hope for the future.

Since the mid-19th century Torontonians have dealt with flooding along the Don and its branches. During that time period, ice jams and spring thaws overflowed onto the river’s flood plain, making businesses and residents along it miserable. Adding rainfall to either of those conditions had a way of aggravating these problems. Take the flood that occurred on February 25, 1918. Following a heavy thunderstorm, a strong gale sent water and ice spilling over the Don’s banks. The Canadian Northern Railway yards were quickly buried under three feet of water. “Hundreds of freight cars are standing in the flood,” the Star reported the following day, “in most cases submerged only up to the floor, but in a number of cases fully half underwater.” Employees caught in the flood spent the night in stranded passenger cars before being rescued.

Flooding wasn’t helped by the drainage of the marsh at the bottom of the river during the early 20th century to create the Port Lands. The rerouting of the river through the Keating Channel didn’t account for the volume of silt deposits flowing down the Don. As the silt was no longer easily absorbed into the harbour, annual dredging was required to maintain a proper depth for shipping vessels. The practice continued until 1974, when concerns from environmentalists about dumping toxic sludge in the lake brought it to a halt.

Despite the periodic floods, little thought was given to methods of mitigating their effect apart from hoping rebuilt structures could withstand them. Not until the fatal fury of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 were flood control measures seriously considered. In 1959, the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) produced a plan calling for the acquisition of flood plains, improvements to river channels, the creation of a flood warning system, and the construction of a series of dams and reservoirs across Metro Toronto. Under the plan, the Don and its branches would receive four dams, two of which could be used to create recreational lakes.


G. Ross Lord Dam, after 1966. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 20.

The plan was never fully realized because of cost and political squabbling. Along the Don, only the Finch Dam, soon renamed after MTRCA chair G. Ross Lord, was built. Scheduled to be built during the 1970s, work began in 1965 to protect construction on the Ontario Science Centre, downstream. As the dam neared completion in 1973, MTRCA officials admitted that while deaths would be reduced, the structure wouldn’t prevent flooding if a Hazel-type storm hit.


A decade of fighting over resuming dredging of the Keating Channel exploded in 1986 when three floods closed the Don Valley Parkway, a road intended to sit above the maximum flood line. Mayor Art Eggleton demanded swift action from the province to revive dredging. The MTRCA soon received final approval for a four-year clear-out of 400,000 cubic metres of sludge.

Around that time, the City expropriated the future West Don Lands for development. Then known as Ataratiri, the plan included a dyke for flood protection. When the project was cancelled in 1992, the MTRCA withheld approval for nearby developments without adequate flood-proofing. When the development plans for the West Don Lands were revived in the 21st century, designs and environmental assessments accounted for flood control. In 2007, construction crews started work on an 8.5-metre berm, to be integrated into Corktown Common park.


Sketch of the proposed naturalization of the mouth of the Don River, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. Image: Waterfront Toronto.

While the berm is ready to go, other flood control projects along the Don remain in development. One project stemming from the Wet Weather Flow Master Plan adopted by City Council in 2003 is an effort to upgrade the Don Sanitary Trunk Sewer system to reduce the amount of sewage and other nasty stuff dumped into the river during major storms. Though a staff report was approved by council in September 2011, the project awaits approval from the provincial Ministry of the Environment. The age-old problem of the Keating Channel is to be fixed by naturalization of the mouth of the Don. The naturalization is supposed to tie in with Waterfront Toronto’s plans for the Port Lands, which are now being amended in the aftermath of 2011’s political turmoil over the future of the district.

Additional material from HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rovers to Low-flow Toilets, Wayne Reeves and Christine Palassio, editors (Toronto: Coach House Press, 2008), the February 5, 1960, June 17, 1965, May 10, 1973, and June 29, 2013 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the February 26, 1918, September 16, 1986, and March 18, 1992 editions of the Toronto Star.



Don River flood, looking south from Wilton Avenue (now Dundas Street) bridge, March 27, 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1170.

The City of Toronto Archives’ online treasure chest of images includes plenty of pictures of floods along the Don River between 1916 and 1920. A few stories about those shots, starting with the March 28, 1916 edition of the Globe:

Swelling of the Don, Humber, and Credit Rivers by the heavy rain of yesterday put much land around Toronto beneath a tide of ice and rushing water, while the flooding of the Canadian Northern Railway yards at Rosedale to a depth of four feet suspended traffic to and from Toronto over their lines for some hours, the eastbound afternoon trains being cancelled…So far as the Don is concerned, this is the worst flood since 1897. One of the remarkable features was the flight of thousands of rats driven from their homes in the garbage-made land at the foot of the Winchester street hill.

The crisis in the Don Valley arose when ice cakes piled up at the lower bridges and the water could not escape as rapidly as it poured down from the upper reaches of the river.

So rapidly did the Don rise and flood the flats and yards that it was impossible for the CNR to draw passenger coaches in the coach yard on the east side of the river to the main line over a trestle. Heavy coal cars were placed on the light bridge to hold it down and prevent it from being swept from its light fastenings…At four in the afternoon the course of the river was hardly distinguishable in the lake of water which spread from the hills on the east side of the river to the CPR railway embankment on the east side.

Railway employees who returned from repairing the damage done by a washout just north of the yards found that they could not reach their cars and were forced to spend the night on dry ground, awaiting an opportunity to reach their clothes and food by means of light engines, which were keeping the mainline open…Cellars in factories along the Esplanade were filled with water.


The Globe’s account also demonstrated some people were determined to carry out their duties, even if it seemed absurd under the circumstances:

A civic garbage collector ventured into the dump, which was then under water to the extent of several inches, to deposit his load. Before he could back out he was forced to wade in water five feet deep to unhitch his horse and then to struggle to the Winchester Street subway. He narrowly escaped drowning.

(If anybody knows what or where the Winchester Street “subway” was, I’d love to know – I’m assuming it was some sort of railway crossing?) 

That day’s edition of the World observed that the Don rose eight feet over the course of two hours. “Old timers have been predicting such a state of affairs, and their warnings have come true.” Spectators lined along the Gerrard Street, Queen Street and Wilton Avenue (present-day Dundas Street) bridges to watch the river spill out.

Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41 - Miscellaneous photographs

Don River flood, south from Wilton Avenue (now Dundas Street) bridge, February 26, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 65a.

I used the February 1918 flood over others from the period because of the parallel story with this week’s storm of people trapped on trains, even if it was only Canadian Northern employees. The World’s account from February 26, 1918 offered more details. Besides those who fled the scene or sought refuge in cars, several employees were forced to climb to the roof of a nearby roundhouse. Fire crews were sent from Rose Avenue and Yorkville to rescue the men, but “owing to the insecure footing and the lack of apparatus, the firemen were unable to reach the men.”

Captain Chapman, of the life-saving crew stationed at the Island, was then notified, and men were dispatched to bring rockets and a firing tube from the Island in order that a line could be shot across the river to the roundhouse on which the men were isolated, it being the intention of the life-saving crew and the firemen to rig a breeches buoy if possible. Arrangements were made by the police to have a patrol wagon stationed at the foot of Yonge Street to meet the life-saving crew and to assist them in moving the apparatus with the greatest of speed.

For some time the residents in the vicinity of the Don have been alarmed at the rapid rise of the water, but no great excitement prevailed until early this morning when wild rumours to the effect that an avalanche of water was sweeping down the valley alarmed all who had property there. Speaking to the press this morning, J. McCarthur, who lives on Park Drove, said that he was cut off from his cattle sheds and that he expected to lose about five head of cattle.

Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41 - Miscellaneous photographs

Don Valley flood, north of the Bloor Viaduct, March 12, 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 113.

Railway workers marooned during one flood took their situation in stride. The March 13, 1920 edition of the World depicted plenty of jokes coming from 12 of them stuck on a freight train, while their wives watched anxiously from the bank:

One satisfaction remains to the castaways, they have food in plenty in the store, now an island, beside which the train drawn up; drink is all too plentiful, tho mud replaces alcohol, and they have golden hopes of full pay with overtime for their hours of inaction and anxiety…

Anxious wives stand impotently on the banks. From across the seething waters come the cheery voices of the men bidding them have no fear. No raft built by the hands of man could withstand the angry onslaught of that rushing stream; no swimmer could battle against the angry currents.

Whatever the wives may be thinking, the men themselves seem to be taking the situation (several illegible words) cheerfully. “How many teaspoons of tea ought I to put in?” shouted one to the World, putting his head out of the caboose, where was acting as cook. Sing-songs were also the order of the day…An offer of rubber boots to walk ashore in provoked a laugh.

One Hundred Years of Art at the Grange

Originally published on Torontoist on June 4, 2013.


Portraits of Harriette Boulton Smith and William Henry Boulton, two of the few pieces shown in 1913 that are still exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Images courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Toronto some day may have an art gallery equal to Tate’s or the National in London, that is, if the plans of the Art Museum should materialize,” the Worldo bserved on June 5, 1913. The paper, along with most of Toronto’s media, was confident that the art exhibition that opened that day in the Grange was the seed from which a great institution would grow.

Grow it did. Tomorrow marks a century since the first exhibition was held on the site that became the Art Gallery of Ontario. It wasn’t the institution’s first display, though. Founded in 1900 as the Art Museum of Toronto (AMT), the gallery held shows in various locations before settling into a temporary space in the original Toronto Reference Library, at College and St. George streets (now the Koffler Student Service Centre).

In 1902, AMT president Sir Edmund Walker convinced Grange owner Harriette Boulton Smith to will her historic home to the institution. Following her death in 1909 and the passing of her second husband—journalist and intellectual Goldwin Smith—in 1910, the house was renovated and wired with electricity to prepare it for its new role. AMT officials saw the Grange as a starting point for building a larger gallery, and began acquiring land to the north along Dundas Street (then known as St. Patrick Street) for future expansion.

The space’s first exhibition centred on the Smiths’ art collection, some of which was acquired by Harriette’s first husband, William Henry Boulton. The chair he used during multiple terms as Toronto’s mayor during the mid-19th century was one of the main attractions. Goldwin Smith’s additions included copies of European paintings like Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, a series of watercolours depicting Reading, England (his childhood home) and portraits he commissioned of dour 17th-century Puritans.


Toronto Star, June 6, 1913.

Around 550 visitors passed through the Grange on opening day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Works were displayed in the hallway, dining room, drawing room, and a space on the second floor converted into a print room. Dignitaries on hand included Mayor Horatio Hocken, AMT Vice President Sir Edmund Osler, and Ontario Lieutenant Governor Sir John Gibson. Hocken hoped the home’s name would be retained as the museum’s. As the World declared: “Other cities can have art museums, but only Toronto can have ‘The Grange.’”

Newspapers predicted great things for the gallery. The Telegram felt it would be one of “the most interesting show places in the city.” The Globe saw its location as “a bulwark against the upward sweep of business” from the south. The Worldforesaw a time when it would be regarded as “a national treasure house.”

To mark the centennial of its first on-site exhibition, the AGO will display and provide guided commentary on three of that show’s paintings tomorrow near Walker Court. Restoration efforts on a Klaes Molenaer work from the 17th century will be shown in the Grange (which still exists as an exhibit space). Throughout the month, the gallery will offer tours that will celebrate the growth of the AGO’s collection and offer visitors glimpses at the work of artists who were active in 1913. Hungry visitors can buy cookies made from a recipe taken from 1913’s most popular cookbook, the Five Roses Flour Cookbook.

Additional material from the June 6, 1913 edition of the Globe, the June 5, 1913 edition of the Telegram, and the June 5, 1913 and June 6, 1913 editions of the World.



Goldwin Smith with dog in front of the Grange, 1905. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

A slice of life photograph at the Grange in the years between the house was willed to the Art Museum of Toronto (as the AGO was originally known) by Harriette Boulton Smith in 1902 and the opening of its first onsite exhibition.

As for the man in the photo, here’s a sketch John Lownsbrough wrote for his history of the home, The Privileged Few (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980):

From outward appearances, Harriette chose as her second husband a man quite dissimilar from her first. William Boulton had been outgoing, somewhat brash, essentially non-intellectual. Goldwin Smith, on the other hand, possessed qualities that stamped him aloof and austere. He was also avowedly cerebral. It is entirely possible that outward appearances magnified actual differences between the two men. Then again, it is possible they did not. In any event, a library soon replaced the grapery that had been added to the west wing of the Grange. From here, Goldwin Smith would devote himself to turning out reams of opinion on crucial concerns of the day. Not least among the subjects which attracted his attention was the political and social development of his adopted country. As a transplanted Englishman of strong liberal bias, suddenly relocated at the very epicentre of Tory Toronto, Smith perceived only too readily the deficiencies of the new Confederation. The remnants of a colonial heritage appeared to belie the proclaimed nationhood and gave offence to his philosopher’s sense of neatness. As much as the citizens of Toronto enjoyed basking in reflected glory while world notables in politics and letters came to pay their respects to the Sage of The Grange, not a few took umbrage at his suggestion that Canada’s destiny lay in continental union with the United States.


The Globe, June 6, 1913.

Newspaper coverage of the opening of the Grange as an art gallery was good, if repetitive, among the city’s dailies. Unless it was mentioned in a late edition that wasn’t microfilmed, the Mail and Empire was the only paper to ignore the event. Editorials ran the day after the exhibition began in the Globe (above) and the World (below).

The St. Patrick Street mentioned in the Globe editorial is present-day Dundas Street, as is Anderson Street.  Both were among the many small streets stitched together to extend Dundas east from Ossington a few years after the gallery opened (originally Dundas followed Ossington south to Queen Street). Both Lownsbrough and AGO Historic Site Coordinator Jenny Rieger (who was interviewed for the Torontoist article) can’t find any good reasons why Harriette Boulton Smith sold the land adjoining the Grange along St. Patrick Street, given that she and Goldwin Smith were already wealthy, and that they would gain new, close neighbours.


Toronto World, June 6, 1913.

news 13-06-06 art gallery opening

The News, June 6, 1913.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Slaughtering the Price of Glasses

Originally published on Torontoist on February 5, 2013.


The Telegram, November 26, 1915.

While stores employ colourful, action-packaged language to highlight price reductions during sales, there’s a fine line between promoting bargains and promoting violence. While terms like “blowout sale” and “explosive deals” hint at gruesome circumstances, rarely do stores offer “slaughter prices.” Who wants images of corpses or animals headed to a packing plant dancing through their head while shopping?

Perhaps it was the times. When this ad appeared, readers were saturated with daily updates on the carnage on European battlefields. The slaughter associated with the First World War would have troubled anyone’s eyes and caused headaches for anyone with family on the front.

Luckily, any customers traumatized by in-store signs promoting “slaughter prices” were gently assured by a skilled specialist that no harm would occur during the free eye test.