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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dr. Cassell’s Great Remedy

Originally published on Torontoist on May 31, 2011.

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Mail and Empire, December 9, 1915.

With his pince-nez, authoritative finger, and giant pill bottle, wouldn’t you trust your health to the noble Dr. Cassell? Never mind that his powerful tablets claim to remedy the same afflictions as other period quack medicines. He looks trustworthy and by Jove, he’s British! We suspect the pills were most effective on the financial ledger of Toronto food and drug distributor Harold F. Ritchie.

While the “well-known” Dr. Botwood happily lent his name to promote the curative power of Dr. Cassell’s remedy, British doctor R. Murray Leslie didn’t. Less than two weeks after today’s ad was published, Dr. Leslie filed an injunction against the manufacturer for falsely using his name in other ads. The sordid details were published in the December 25, 1915, edition of the British Medical Journal:

On October 20th last Dr. Leslie delivered a public lecture at the Institute of Hygiene in London on the subject of war strain and its prevention, and a summarized report appeared in the public press. The Dr. Cassell’s Medicine Company Limited, who were the vendors of “Dr. Cassell’s tablets,” thereupon inserted in the advertisements which they published in the press a reference to Dr. Leslie and to the lecture lie [sic] had given in terms which gave the impression that Dr. Leslie recommended or approved of the “tablets” which the company purveyed.

With no resistance from the defence lawyers, the injunction was granted.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Daily Province, January 26, 1915.

If advertising is anything to go by, it appears Dr. Cassell’s Tablets were introduced to the Canadian market in early 1915. Initially, Vancouver received a more colourful campaign, as the first batch of ads printed in Toronto’s papers lacked illustrations.

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The Globe, January 30, 1915.

That was quickly remedied. Do you know any little martyrs to nerves?

While ads for Dr. Cassell’s faded out by the end of 1918, the Tamblyn drug store chain carried them through the early 1930s, touting the pills as “The Supreme Nerve Tonic and Body Builder.”

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Sydney Morning Herald, November 8, 1926.

By the mid-1920s, Dr. Cassell’s Tablets were available in Australia. Meanwhile, Dr. Cassell’s British parent, Veno Drug Company, was swallowed up in 1925 by Beecham’s Pills, a forerunner of today’s pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Bonus Features: “Stop the Slaughter of Innocents”

This post offers bonus material for a piece I wrote for TVO – you may want to check that out first

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Toronto World, November 12, 1919.

Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Charles Hastings understood his actions in implementing a mandatory vaccination program might not be popular, especially among those who objected on grounds of personal liberty. “Why all this interference with personal liberty and individual rights?” he asked in his November 1919 monthly report. “Because British justice, properly interpreted, means that when the liberty and rights of the individual are not in the interests of the welfare of the masses, the rights of the individual must yield.”

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The Globe, November 13, 1919.

More from The Globe on the City Hall clinic: “It was positively sustaining, that odour of disinfectants, and as one of the City Hall staff remarked, one whiff of it was almost enough to safeguard a whole family against the threatened scourge.”

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Cartoon by George Shields, the Telegram, November 14, 1919.

Toronto should realize that Dr. Hastings is not a vaccinationist for the sake of vaccination. The question of compulsory vaccination will not arise if the citizens who are not anti-vaccinationists on principle give themselves, their families and their neighbours the benefit of the doubt and GET VACCINATED. – editorial, the Telegram, November 15, 1919

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The Globe, November 19, 1919. Dr. Hastings did not show up.

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The Telegram, November 20, 1919.

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Cartoon by George Shields, the Telegram, December 16, 1919.

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Toronto Star, January 22, 1920.

Ah, the irony. I admit it – I couldn’t stop laughing when I read this story. The Globe‘s headline was even more blunt: “Anti-vaccination Champion Ald. Ryding, Has Smallpox.” Ryding, who had represented the Junction on city council since 1912, survived and continued to serve as an alderman into the early 1930s.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Photoplay Palace Turns Ninety

Originally published on Torontoist on August 18, 2009.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1919 (upper left); Toronto Star, August 18, 1919 (the rest).

It was ninety years ago today that east-enders were first able to enjoy fine entertainment at the theatre that underwent numerous name changes between its opening as Allen’s Danforth and its current incarnation as the Music Hall. Growth in what was considered suburbia in 1919, along with the ease of reaching Danforth Avenue via the recently opened Prince Edward Viaduct, persuaded the Allen’s cinema chain to build a high-quality theatre in the neighbourhood.

The Mail and Empire provided a preview in its August 16, 1919 edition:

After having traced them half-way across the United States and a large portion of Canada, Messrs. Jule and Jay J. Allen received with great relief yesterday the news of the arrival of the 1,800 seats for their new Danforth theatre, which will be opened on Monday evening. The handsome structure is entirely complete and it is promised that it will show the people of Toronto something new in the way of cinema house construction. Although this house has been built largely for the convenience of the residents of the Danforth and Rosedale sections of the city, it is one of the largest motion picture houses in Toronto and among the most modern. There will be no formalities for the Monday evening performance, but the theatre will be open to the general public.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

No Toxie Today

The Music Hall, March 30, 2010. My notes indicate Toxie hadn’t been on the premises for awhile. The poster slots are currently filled with upcoming listings deep into 2020. Click on image for larger version.

The theatre marked its 90th with a plaque presentation by Heritage Toronto, followed by a silent feature with live piano accompaniment. As the opening night film exists in fragments, viewers saw another Madge Kennedy vehicle, 1920’s Dollars and Sense. The admission price was sensible—only one thin dollar. It was a fun evening, despite a few technical hiccups.

The Music Hall is still a busy concert venue, marking its 100th anniversary in 2019.

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Photoplay, May 1920.

From the Toronto Star‘s August 7, 1919 description of Through the Wrong Door:

Through the Wrong Door is playing to capacity houses at the Allen this week, and the exvellent feature which is offered more than justifies the large crowds. Light, gay, and amusing, Through the Wrong Door is frankly composed to chase dull care away, and it is so well interpreted by Madge Kennedy and the cast in general that the effect is a very pleasant one. She softens and beautifies by some very fine acting the role of a bright young girl who throws over her fiance abd elopes with a man she scarcely knows. In the new dignity of one who sympathizes with the man her own father has deliberately tried to ruin, who she is assisting to achieve natural justice, she plays the part so convincingly that the sudden change of mind and heart is not only excused, but approved most cordially.

Motion Picture World, June 5, 1920.

Goodbye 1919, Hello 1920

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Toronto World, January 1, 1920.

“Toronto folk, old, young, and middle-aged, will celebrate this New Year’s Eve as they never have before,” the Star predicted on its December 31, 1919 front page. Noting that, with most veterans home from the aftermath of the First World War, it was the first true peacetime New Year’s Eve, “so that money and time have been cast to the winds and they are going at it with feathers flying and goodwill bubbling over.”

“People in Toronto want a wholesome good time tonight if they never had it before or never expect to again, and I am going to do all in my power to give it to them,” King Edward Hotel manager George O’Neil told the Star. He expected 1,500 partiers to ring in the new year. Revelers at the Balmy Beach Club witnessed an eight-year-old girl dressed as 1920 driving “Father Time across the ballroom and out of the door, then come back herself and give an exhibition toe dance.”

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Mail and Empire, January 2, 1920.

The Mail and Empire also covered the happenings in the city on New Year’s Day.

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Cartoon by Fontaine Fox. Mail and Empire, January 1, 1920.

The Globe’s year-end editorial focused on the “Week of Prayer” organized by the World’s Evangelical Alliance, as well as some sort of prayers suggested by “The Great Commission Prayer League of Chicago.” One sensed the rambling piece about the power of prayer had the deep religious convictions of Globe publisher William Gladstone Jaffray, a man who some employees believed gave more to his church than them. As the piece concluded, “the new year will prove one of unspeakable blessing to every life if not a day is permitted to pass without going aside with God for solitary prayer.”

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The Globe, January 1, 1920.

The New Year’s Day Globe editorial contemplated an issue still plaguing us a century later, widening economic disparity. The third and fifth paragraphs feel especially relevant.

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The Globe, December 31, 1919.

The Globe also suggested voters casting their ballots in the municipal election on New Year’s Day should re-elect mayor Tommy Church based on his support for the city’s takeover of the privately-operated Toronto Railway Company streetcar system (a goal finished with the establishment of the TTC in 1921). The paper gave other reasons why to deny pugnacious city councillor Sam McBride the mayor’s chair.

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The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

The Globe’s dislike of McBride was muted compared to the Telegram’s. As with many positions held by the Tely during the long editorship of Black Jack Robinson, its hatred of McBride bordered on the pathological. Given the Tely’s fierce support for Tommy Church in general and Adam Beck’s plans for the expansion of the provincially-owned hydro system and electric interurban railways, and its suspicion that McBride supported private ownership of both, its election headlines were, like the one above, were ridiculous. It may not have helped Robinson’s mood that Beck was seriously ill with pneumonia during the campaign.

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Cartoon by George Shields, The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

During a December 29 speech at the Central YMCA, McBride observed that since the death of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson the previous year, the paper had “changed and has become as different as night from day. If the old gentleman were alive and could see the amount of ink and paper that is being used to revile honest public men he would turn over in his grave.” Cue an outpouring of vitriol on the paper’s New Year’s Eve editorial page two days later which declared Robertson’s regrets over supporting continued private ownership of the streetcars when the TRC won its contract in 1891, and his support for Beck and Church.

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Mail and Empire, December 31, 1919.

The Mail and Empire took a more balanced position, declaring in its New Year’s Eve editorial that a mayor who combined the strengths of Church and McBride “would be nearly as possible a perfect Chief Magistrate.”

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1919.

The Star favoured McBride, as evidenced in this front-page endorsement, and scattered as many pro-McBride articles in its pages as the Tely had blasting him, depicting him as a defender of public ownership despite occasional disagreements with proposed radial railway plans.

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Toronto Star, January 1, 1920.

Ultimately, the 1920 municipal election is remembered not for its mayoral contest (which Church won), but the results in Ward 3’s aldermanic race, where Constance Hamilton became the first woman elected to city council in Toronto and Ontario. But that’s a story for another day…

As editors were so wrapped up in the municipal election, apart from the Globe there was less reflection on Toronto’s editorial pages on what had been an eventful year around the world. Maybe they felt events like the Paris Peace Conference, the Winnipeg General Strike, and the election of the UFO government in Ontario had seen enough type. Maybe they were weary of the strife which dominated the headlines.

But there were plenty of reflections elsewhere. Here is a sampling of cartoons and comment from across Canada and the United States.

Canada

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Kitchener Daily Telegraph, December 31, 1919.

 

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The Albertan, December 31, 1919.

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Sherbrooke Record, December 31, 1919.

United States

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Brooklyn Eagle, January 2, 1920.

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New York Herald, January 2, 1920.

Figures depicted in this roundup of the year include Lady Nancy Astor (the first sitting female British MP), Mexican president Venustiano Carranza (who would be assassinated in 1920), American army general John J. Pershing, Emma Goldman (who was deported along with 248 other radicals), the Prince of Wales (who stopped in the US after his Canadian tour). I’m guessing the “Palmer” cowboy with the long lasso is US attorney-general A. Mitchell Palmer, who was notorious for his anti-radical Palmer Raids. The “King and Queen” visiting Uncle Sam might be Albert I and Elisabeth of Belgium, who paid their respects at Theodore Roosevelt’s grave that year.

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New York World, December 31, 1919.

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Omaha Bee, December 31, 1919.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

This cartoon appeared in numerous papers on both sides of the border.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

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Seattle Star, January 1, 1920.

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Washington Star, December 31, 1919.

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Washington Star, January 1, 1920.

Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: Park Lawn

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 November 2, 2012.

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Nestled south of Bloor Street between the Kingsway and Bloor West Village, Park Lawn Cemetery fits nicely with the green parks lining the Humber River. You could spend hours wandering its grounds and enjoying the flora and fauna.

History

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Park Lawn Cemetery entrance, circa 1941. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 460.

The graveyard opened in 1892 as Humbervale Cemetery. Funding came from stock sales, with many of the shares held by local farmers. The cemetery was sold in 1912 to a purchaser who promised to maintain the graveyard, but whose true intentions were to transform the property, including the sections occupied by the dead, into a subdivision.

Several former shareholders formed the Humbervale Cemetery Defence Association to, according to the Star, “prevent any desecration of the property.” One defender pleaded with the paper to publicize their battle, which had made little impression on local politicians. “I beg of you for the sake of humanity to give this cause a place in your columns,” the anonymous letter writer wrote, “for if this deal is allowed to go through, with the sanction of one of the highest office in the land, then it means that no place, however sacred, is safe from the attack of the vandal and the land shark, and our boasted civilization is myth.”

The cemetery’s defenders were victorious. The property was sold in 1915 to the Park Lawn Cemetery Company, who gave the site its current name.

Grounds

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Park Lawn is almost completely covered by a canopy of trees, making it a beautiful place to wander on a fall day. Instead of private crypts and extensive landscaping, it has an attractive natural beauty that appeals to humans and other large animal species.

Notable Names

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A large number of Toronto sports figures rest here. Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe probably still curses fellow Park Lawn resident Harold Ballard for removing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from Maple Leaf Gardens to install more seating, soon after Ballard bought the team. And there likely aren’t any kind words exchanged between Smythe and Harvey “Busher” Jackson, one-third of the Leafs’ “Kid Line” during the 1930s. For years, Smythe blocked Jackson’s election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, because of Jackson’s supposed character flaws. When voters overlooked Jackson’s alcoholism and womanizing to admit him in 1971, Smythe resigned his presidency of the Hall of Fame. Smythe’s beyond-the-grave battles are probably being chronicled by Lou Marsh, the Star sports editor whose name graces the trophy awarded annually to Canada’s best athlete.

Other notables include writer/broadcaster Gordon Sinclair, politicians Stanley Haidasz and John MacBeth, and musician Jeff Healey.

Favourite Spots

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Park Lawn is a prime spot for the local Polish and Eastern European community’s observations of All Saints Day. The grounds were filled this week with those placing flowers and lit candles on the graves of loved ones.

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We were charmed by a tombstone resembling a building. Other markers commemorate first dates and remind the living that “a man rarely succeeds at anything unless he has fun doing it.”

Sources: Etobicoke From Furrow to Borough by Esther Hayes (Etobicoke: The Borough of Etobicoke, 1974), and the October 21, 1913 and June 24, 1914 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 14-06-24 letter about humbervale

Letter to editor, Toronto Star, June 24, 1914.

ts 14-07-07 fight against road through cemetery

Toronto Star, July 7, 1914.

Goin’ Down the Coalition Road

Originally published on Torontoist on April 12, 2011. Keep in mind while reading this that “current” means the 2011 federal campaign, not 2019 (see update section).

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Why is Bob Rae so happy? The Globe and Mail, June 19, 1985.

Throughout the current election campaign, Conservative leader Stephen Harper has blasted the opposition parties for conspiring to form a “reckless” coalition government that would ruin the nation’s stability, despite his own participation in talks to form an alliance in 2004 with horrifying socialists in the NDP and unholy separatists in the Bloc Québécois. While the long-term results of Harper’s fear-mongering and of other candidates’ denials regarding their willingness to form governing alliances are yet to be determined, it is not necessarily true that a coalition would result in disaster. Heck, if it wasn’t for a coalition, Harper might not be campaigning to retain his role as Canadian prime minister.

Since the colonies that formed Canada gained responsible government in the mid-19th century, coalitions, or written accords between parties, occasionally dotted the political landscape. The following three examples show the benefits and pitfalls of forming ruling alliances: one formed a nation, one nearly tore it apart, and one broke four decades of uninterrupted rule by the same party.

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Three figures of the Grand Coalition: Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché. Library and Archives Canada.

 

Government: The Great Coalition
When: 1864 to 1867
Where: The United Province of Canada, composed of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec)
Parties involved: Pretty much everyone—Clear Grits, Liberal-Conservatives, Bleus, and some Rouges
Leaders: Premiers John A. Macdonald (Canada West), Étienne-Paschal Taché, followed by Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau (Canada East)
Why: Deadlock. The government of the United Province was designed so that, instead of dividing seats by population, each half had equal representation. Unfortunately, like a relationship on the rocks, one half frequently disagreed with the other. By the dawn of the 1860s, the double majority that was effectively required to pass legislation rarely occurred, which led to a succession of short-lived governments. Frustration grew in English-dominated Canada West over its proportion of seats, as its population surpassed that of French-dominated Canada East. When the movement toward uniting the British North American colonies gained steam, a committee headed by Clear Grit leader George Brown looked into the constitutional difficulties the United Province faced. A crisis point was reached when a government headed by Liberal-Conservatives Macdonald and Taché fell by two votes on June 14, 1864. Rather than grant a dissolution of the legislature, Governor General Lord Monck suggested that the fallen government leaders talk to Brown. Despite his deep enmity toward Brown, Macdonald insisted that he be brought into any new government. When Macdonald announced the proposed coalition a few days later, the legislators, as historian W.L. Morton described in his book The Critical Years, reacted with joy:

The House, wearied of piecemeal and sterile politics, wearied of a prolonged crisis, rose cheering, and leaders and backbenchers alike stumbled into the aisles and poured onto the floor. The leaders shook hands and clapped shoulders; with a spring the little Bleu member for Montcalm, Joseph Dufresne, embraced the tall Brown and hung from the neck of the embarrassed giant. The tension of years of frustration broke in the frantic rejoicing.

Results: Within a few months, the coalition organized conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec City to woo the Maritime colonies into a permanent union. Under the new government framework, seats in the House of Commons were roughly divided by population. Once confederation was achieved in 1867, the coalition dissolved to fight for seats in the Dominion of Canada’s first federal election.

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A typical cartoon from the Unionist camp during the 1917 election campaign. The Telegram, December 14, 1917.

Government: The Union Government
When: 1917 to 1921
Where: Dominion of Canada
Parties involved: Conservatives, pro-conscription Liberals, a few independents
Leaders: Prime Ministers Robert Borden (1917 to 1920) and Arthur Meighen (1920 to 1921)
Why: As the First World War entered its fourth year, casualties among Canadian troops outpaced the number of fresh volunteers. Under pressure from Great Britain (which experienced two coalition governments during the war) to provide more manpower, Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden determined that, despite the objections he knew would arise from farmers bemoaning the loss of family labour and Quebec voters who despised military officials who refused to create French-only battalions, conscription was required. Borden hoped for support from all parties when a conscription bill was introduced in May 1917 and began coalition talks with Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier. A sticking point was Laurier’s wish to hold an overdue election as a referendum on the issue (Canadians should have voted in 1916, but Borden received a year’s reprieve from the governor general due to the conflict), which Borden felt would be a waste of energy better expended for the war effort.

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Harsh words directed at the “quitters” in Quebec, along with the extension of the federal vote to women for the first time (under certain conditions), are among the highlights of this Unionist ad. The Telegram, December 10, 1917.

By the end of August 1917, conscription was law. Despite objections from some highly partisan members of the Tory caucus (whom Borden felt lacked “the spirit which prompted our young men to cross the sea and go over the parapet. All of them are backward and cowardly”), Borden assembled a cabinet in mid-October that included a handful of pro-conscription Liberals and independent MPs. When an election was called, Borden’s coalition ran under the Unionist banner against Liberals still loyal to Laurier. During the campaign, Unionist propaganda demonized Quebec and anyone else who didn’t support conscription, and tarred Laurier for forcing an election the country didn’t need. To warp the vote their way, the government enfranchised female relatives of soldiers and disenfranchised anyone who emigrated to Canada after 1902 from certain so-called enemy nations. After the votes were cast on December 17, the Unionists won 153 seats. The Liberals won all but three of the 65 seats in Quebec, but only captured 20 outside of la belle province.

Results: Conscription proved problematic, as most conscripts sought exemptions to service (which led the government to cancel all exemptions in April 1918), and riots broke out in Quebec. After the war ended, the government continued to wield a heavy hand as it attempted to crush postwar outbreaks of labour unrest such as the Winnipeg General Strike. After Borden’s retirement in 1920, new Prime Minister Meighen hoped to forge the coalition into a new permanent party and campaigned during the following year’s election under the banner of the National Liberal and Conservative party. It wasn’t to be, as Meighen finished third behind William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals and the new Progressive party. Long term, Quebec proved its capacity for a long memory by refusing to provide the majority of its federal seats to the Tories until John Diefenbaker’s landslide victory in 1958. During the Second World War, the Conservatives again proposed a coalition government, but King refused to go along.

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David Peterson and Bob Rae sign the accord under which they soon governed Ontario. The Toronto Sun, May 29, 1985.

Government: Liberal-NDP Accord
When: 1985 to 1987
Where: Ontario
Parties involved: Liberals, New Democrats
Leaders: Premier David Peterson, NDP leader Bob Rae
Why: After 42 years in power, the wheels fell off the Big Blue Machine. Whether it was due to the Progressive Conservative party’s rightward shift under new leader Frank Miller, outrage from the party base over outgoing Premier William Davis’s announcement of full funding for Catholic schools to grade 13, or general fatigue with the party having been in power for so long, May 2, 1985, was not a good night for Ontario Tories. Though the Tories wound up with the most seats, the seat numbers (52 PC, 48 Liberal, 25 NDP) made it all but impossible for Miller to provide a functional government. With Bob Rae in a kingmaking position, talks began between the NDP and the other parties. Though the progressive party traditionally found the Liberals more odious than the Tories, the rightward tilt of the government-in-waiting Miller was assembling (which included fresh-faced ministers Ernie Eves, Mike Harris, and Bob Runciman) made Liberal leader David Peterson a more attractive partner. Key NDP officials were nervous about forming a proper coalition, worried that the party would be subsumed into the Liberal fold or experience heavy losses in the following election as the federal NDP had after it propped up Pierre Trudeau’s government from 1972 to 1974. An accord was reached whereby for two years Peterson would be premier, the NDP would not trigger any non-confidence votes, and both parties would support legislation for programs ranging from reforming rent regulations to pay equity for women.
On June 18, 1985, the Miller government was defeated on a non-confidence vote over its throne speech. After his defeat, Miller launched a vicious attack on the opposition, suggesting that Peterson and Rae were engaged in unnatural acts to kill his government, and that Ontario would be “held economic hostage by a Liberal and NDP lynch mob.” He also noted that the NDP had “prostituted themselves for power” and warned that the accord would be the party’s death warrant. The next day, Miller advised Lieutenant-Governor John Black Aird to ask Peterson to form a government instead of dissolving the legislature for another election.

Results: As per the accord, legislation for pay equity and other issues of shared importance to the Liberals and the NDP passed, and Ontarians were spared an election for two years. Peterson reaped the benefits of the accord, as he led the Liberals to a landslide victory in 1987. Though the NDP lost four seats, Bob Rae became leader of the opposition thanks to a total collapse of the Tories under Miller’s successor Larry Grossman.

Additional material from The Critical Years: The Union of British North America 1857-1873 by W.L. Morton (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964), Blue Thunder by Bob Plamondon (Toronto: Key Porter, 2009), Rae Days by Thomas Walkom (Toronto: Key Porter, 1994), and the June 19, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

Coalition was a hot topic during the 2019 federal election campaign. In retrospect, I should have republished this piece during the campaign, but my brain was deep into other election-related stuff.