Vintage Toronto Ads: The Tip Top Man of the Class

Originally published on Torontoist on June 15, 2010.

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Goblin, January 1924.

While all of the other attendees resemble grotesques from the funny pages, the Tip Top customer is dripping with 1920s sophistication. With his pencil-thin moustache, slicked hair, stylish tuxedo, and elegant cigarette holder, this fellow could have stepped out of a Noël Coward play.

Cartoonist Lou Skuce (1886–1951) was one of Toronto’s busiest artists during the first half of the twentieth century. His work, often sports-related, graced the pages of many local newspapers and publications. Skuce also toured theatres with a contraption called the Cartoonagraph, which he used to project drawings as he worked on them. Among the achievements singled out in obituaries for Skuce was a series of murals he produced for the Toronto Men’s Press Club that humorously depicted the organization’s activities and the evolution of the printed word from the Stone Age onward.

Refined elegance had long departed 245 Yonge Street by the 1970s. The address gained infamy during the summer of 1977 when the body of Emanuel Jaques was found on the roof of the Charlie’s Angels “body rub parlour.” The gruesome murder of the twelve-year-old shoeshine boy led local officials to crack down on the adult businesses that occupied the storefronts once inhabited by more respectable retailers like Tip Top.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Goblin, March 1924.

Flipping through the pages of Goblin over the rest of 1924, Lou Skuce’s art appeared in a series of ads for General Motors.

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Goblin, April 1924.

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Goblin, May 1924.

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Goblin, June 1924.

Loring-Wyle Parkette

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

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“Young Girl,” Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005.

They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

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Moore Park Loop, looking north, June 7, 1926. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4339.

The Moore Park Residents’ Association appreciated their legacy. In the early 1980s, it was proposed that an inactive streetcar loop at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and Mount Pleasant Road be turned into a small park honouring the sculptors. The Moore Park loop was built to serve the St. Clair line when it was extended east to Mount Pleasant in December 1924, then Eglinton Avenue a year later. The tracks were abandoned after a short-lived Mount Pleasant streetcar route switched to trolley buses in 1976, but the path of the rails is still visible in the middle of the St. Clair-Mount Pleasant intersection.

Opened in 1984, the Loring-Wyle Parkette sits a block north of the combined home and studio Loring and Wyle shared for nearly half a century. The house at 110 Glenrose Avenue was known as “The Church” because it was originally the Sunday schoolhouse for Christ Church Deer Park. The structure was moved east from Yonge Street several years before the pair purchased it in 1920. It became a centre of Toronto’s artistic community, where peers like the Group of Seven relaxed, discussed projects, and organized groups like the Sculptors Society of Canada. The Girls held regular Saturday night parties where guests enjoyed treats like scotch mixed with fresh snow and Wyle’s hog-calling demonstrations. The parties drew “a crowd of congenial people enjoying themselves in distinctive surroundings,” according to biographer Rebecca Sisler. “They were made particularly convivial and lively by the warmth and undemanding friendliness of The Girls. Those who attended the parties still claim they were the best in the country.”

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Frances Loring and sculptor Florence Wyle standing among statues, January 21, 1950. Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Archives of Ontario, C 3-1-0-0-666.

Loring and Wyle met as students learning neoclassical sculpting techniques at the Art Institute of Chicago around 1906. Five years later they established a studio in the Bohemian heart of America, Greenwich Village. While Wyle’s family objected to her career choice, Loring’s father, a mining engineer, provided financial backing and felt Wyle would be a steadying influence on his daughter. He was responsible for their move to Toronto around 1913, after shutting down The Girls’ studio while they were on vacation—he felt they were making little money and was never comfortable with the unconventional atmosphere of their new home. Loring moved to Toronto, theoretically to take care of her mother, and Wyle followed soon after. Perhaps making amends for his actions, Loring’s father funded their first local studio, above a carpentry shop at Church and Lombard Streets.

Among the projects the pair collaborated on was the Lion Monument, which served as the gateway for the Queen Elizabeth Way at the Humber River. Loring chose a “snarling, defiant, British lion, eight feet high!” as the focal point to symbolize Great Britain’s readiness to fight at the start of World War II, while Wyle worked on a portrait of King George VI and the future Queen Mother. The monument remains one of their most visible works, even if freeway expansion forced its move to nearby Sir Casimir Gzowski Park in 1975. Loring also created public works like the statue of Sir Robert Borden on Parliament Hill and a relief on the south wall of Exhibition Place’s Queen Elizabeth Building. Hundreds of their works are currently held by the Art Gallery of Ontario, on whose collection committee Loring sat during the 1950s.

The pair remained partners until their deaths within a month of each other in 1968, though their biographers question whether, despite sharing a bedroom for years, their relationship was physical. “Whether or not The Girls were lovers,” Elspeth Cameron wrote in her Loring-Wyle bio And Beauty Answers, “theirs was the closest emotional relationship either of them ever had. In Platonic terms, they were soulmates, as complementary to each other as Yin and Yang.” Their deep bond is reflected by the busts they crafted of each other early in their partnership, which stand today in their park.

Sources: And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron (Toronto: Cormorant, 2007), The Girls by Rebecca Sisler (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1972), and the May 9, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

From the CBC archives, a look at Loring and Wyle in their studio.

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Toronto Star, November 27, 1920.

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Star Weekly, November 6, 1926. Click on images for larger versions.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Six)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. As Toronto’s pools open up, it’s time to finally wrap this up.  Click here for the full series

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The Telegram, August 20, 1923.

The final week of  lessons were devoted to life-saving techniques. While they continued in their normal spot on the comics page on August 20, the Telegram devoted two pages to its coverage of the Water Nymph Carnival. Prepare yourself for plenty of winsomeness…

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The Telegram, August 20, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 21, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 21, 1923.

How it appears voting was conducted at the carnival.

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The Telegram August 21, 1923.

Coverage of the carnival’s awards ceremony. By this point, based on the coverage, that this event could have used to promote youthful female virility in 1930s Germany.

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The Telegram, August 22, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 23, 1923.

No header was included with the next-to-last installment – perhaps a hint that the end was nigh?

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The Telegram, August 24, 1923.

And the series ends with tips on resuscitation. But the paper wasn’t quite finished with its coverage of the Water Nymph Carnival…

tely 1923-08-25 a winsome nymph inded

The Telegram, August 25, 1923.

tely 1923-08-25 artist's memories of the water nymph carnival

The Telegram, August 25, 1923.

It does not appear as if the Water Nymph Carnival became an annual promotional event for the paper. Checking if the name was used elsewhere, a quick scan of Newspapers.com shows…

washington herald 1913-04-13 water nymphs

Washington Herald, April 13, 1913.

…a vaudeville act which visited Washington D.C. prior to the First World War.

The name was also used for a diving competition during “Pasadena Day” at the Los Angeles Live Stock Show in October 1920. In between the cattle judging events, the Los Angeles Times reported on October 6, 1920, attendees could see “some of the loveliest swimmers and divers in Southern California.”

The word “winsome” was not used.

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Minneapolis Daily Star, May 30, 1925.

Finally, swimming lessons being put into use for a “water drama” in Minneapolis.

Enjoy your swimming this summer and, especially under current conditions, do so safely.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen

Originally published on Torontoist on February 6, 2015.

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Toronto Star, February 27, 1963.

According to her corporate website, Aunt Jemima stands for “warmth, nourishment and trust—qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families.” Yet no amount of facelifts, bandana removal, or cultural diversity pitches can erase past depictions of its pancake-making pitchwoman as the ultimate stereotypical southern mammy.

Aunt Jemima’s image has long been problematic. Created in 1889 to promote an early pre-mixed baking mix, the brand was reputedly inspired by a minstrel show where a white performer sang as “Old Aunt Jemima” in blackface and drag. In 1893 Nancy Green, a former slave, was hired to portray her for cooking demonstrations at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Marketers developed a back story steeped in the mythology of the old South, including a benevolent plantation owner named Colonel Higbee and the large black woman working in the kitchen to please her white employers and aid the Confederacy.

Green’s successful appearance in Chicago led to tours where she or other women donned what was effectively slave garb. Toronto was among the stops. For a week of cooking demonstrations at Simpson’s department store in March 1902, ad writers felt the best way to illustrate Aunt Jemima’s place in society was to translate her pitches into pidgin English:

Aunt Jemima has fried pancakes all over the United States. Her record is 9,000 cakes a day. She is “demonstrating” the high and mighty art of turning pancakes in our grocery department this week, and, judging by the crowds, her ideas is regard to pancakes are of great and exceeding value.

“No buttah. No la’ad. Jus’ a bit o’ salt powk tied up in a piece o’ clean cheesecloth bought fo’ dat puhpus.” That is one of Aunt Jemima’s principles, which at first blush might seem a trifle revolutionary.

“One pint watah, one pint milk, one teacup o’ de flour makes cakes for six puhsons.”

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Don Mills Mirror, May 6, 1964.

In 1955, Aunt Jemima owner Quaker Oats opened a southern-themed family restaurant at Disneyland. By 1962, after serving over 1.6 million customers at the theme park, Quaker expanded the concept into a North American pancake house chain. Metro Torontonians downed their first Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen flapjack on February 27, 1963, when a location opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Bellamy Road in Scarborough. Opening day ads reinforced the mythology of the genteel, relaxed southern plantation the restaurant hoped to evoke, and promised a personal appearance from Aunt Jemima herself.

Quaker’s choice of Scarborough to debut the concept complemented other food franchisers who saw the suburb as an ideal testing ground. “The area has a very high ratio of cars to population, a good standard of living, and is having growing pains,” observed Harold Schner, a franchiser for Mister Donut and Red Barn. “Since there are few good restaurants in Scarborough, a community with young families dependent on automobiles for transportation to a great extent, it is a good area.”

In her Globe and Mail advertorial dining column, Mary Walpole played along with the cringe-inducing stereotypes. “The décor is beautifully done, warm and friendly as a southern plantation,” Walpole gushed, “and not without reason for the Aunt Jemima name is a carefully guarded thing and all must be perfect before they hang out the sign of her smiling dark face.” Walpole also played upon old fashioned notions of patriarchy, noting that when ordering the Family Platter, it was the father’s duty to serve the scrambled eggs and meat.

While Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen added a second location at Bayview Village in 1964, both brand and chain faced increasing criticism as the civil rights movement aimed at what the smiling cook represented. Black consumers had rarely been consulted for their thoughts about Aunt Jemima; when they were, the feedback was negative. The NAACP called for a boycott. Delegates at an August 1966 American Federation of Teachers convention in Chicago adopted a resolution condemning a nearby Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen for demeaning employees by making a black woman wear an Aunt Jemima costume. A boycott was launched until management allowed the employee to wear contemporary hostess clothing. Quaker Oats promised costumed Aunt Jemimas would be phased out from their five Chicago locations, a pledge fulfilled across the chain when the last one was pulled off the road in 1967.

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Globe Magazine, March 25, 1967.

The chain soon declined. Its flagship Disneyland location closed in 1970. Toronto was abandoned two years earlier—toward the end, the Bayview Village location decreased its selection of fancy pancakes from 37 to 23.

While efforts were made to modernize the brand—most significantly the removal of her headwear in 1989—the baggage remains. In his book Slave in a Box, M.M. Manring draws the following conclusion as to why Aunt Jemima endures:

Aunt Jemima lives on because white Americans like having a mammy. Quaker Oats can move her off her plantation, take off her bandanna, and tint her hair; it makes little difference. If times change, they might even be bold enough to put the bandanna back on her head. Aunt Jemima and mammy are tools used to interpret our legacy of racism, sexism, and slavery, either approvingly or disapprovingly. Keeping her around, spinning superficial explanations for her continued presence on that box, doesn’t help us overcome that legacy.

Sources: Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998); the April 20, 1963, May 18, 1963, and May 31, 1963 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 26, 1966 edition of the New York Times; and the March 25, 1902 edition of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

In June 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima branding would be dropped.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 1902-03-28 simpsons aunt jemima ad

The Globe, March 28, 1902.

Another ad from Nancy Green’s stint at Simpson’s in 1902.

brantford expositor circa 1906 pancake booth

It’s probably a relief that the low quality of this scan of a pamphlet for a 1906 fundraising fair for Brantford’s John H. Stratford Hospital blots out the chef’s features (likely the “real pickaninny”), especially if he was wearing stereotypical blackface makeup of the era. The facility was renamed Brantford General Hospital in 1910.

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Canadian Grocer, Septemeber 17, 1909.

A series of Aunt Jemima rag doll premiums available to grocers perpetuated racist stereotypes and passed them on to children. The local Toronto agent for the mix was MacLaren Imperial Cheese, whose name lives on in a cold pack cheese spread that’s still available on Canadian grocery shelves as of 2020.

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Canadian Grocer, October 10, 1913.

I’m afraid to know what the “dandy advertising campaign” involved.

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Canadian Grocer, November 20, 1914.

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Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1923.

Nancy Green’s obituary. Even in death, her words were translated into pidgin. At least there’s no backstory of glorious plantations here, though one wonders how similar wealthy Chicago families were.

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Dawn of Tomorrow, September 15, 1923.

A more dignified obit for Green was presented in the Black press – this clipping is from the London, Ontario based Dawn of Tomorrow.

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The Globe, October 23, 1923.

How Aunt Jemima was advertised by the 1920s. Usually the mammy image was included…

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The Globe, December 26, 1923.

…sometimes not (though the pidgin-English slogan remained).

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Globe and Mail, April 20, 1963.

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Globe and Mail, May 18, 1963.

A pair of Mary Walpole’s advertorials about Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen. I’m imagining a steady soundtrack of Stephen Foster songs.

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Globe and Mail, May 31, 1963.

An article on how Scarborough was seen as an ideal place to test franchising concepts during the 1960s.

832 Bay Street

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 9, 2012.

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Bay Street, looking south from Grosvenor Street, April 24, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7582. 

From a distance, the recently completed Burano condominium tower appears to be the latest high-rise residential space along Bay Street. At street level, its ties to the past are more apparent through a nearly 90-year old façade whose angles parallel the jog along Bay north of Grenville Street. Residents will soon be moving into a site whose base offered sales and service for generations of General Motors customers.

Designed by Hamilton-based firm Hutton and Souter, the building housed General Motors of Canada president Sam McLaughlin’s personal dealership when it opened in 1925. When his brother George retired from GM the previous year, McLaughlin vowed “to ease off” after two decades in the automobile business. While running the dealership suggested a gradual move to retirement, McLaughlin occupied both active and figurehead roles with GM until his death in 1972 at age 100. His philanthropic efforts included the nearby McLaughlin Planetarium, which had a meteoric existence compared to the dealership.

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Globe and Mail, November 29, 1951.

During the 1930s, the lot tinkered with its name as often as new models were placed in the showroom. The McLaughlin nameplate disappeared around 1931, when the dealership became Cadillac’s “direct factory branch.” Pontiac was added to the lineup in the mid-1930s. By 1940, it was operated by Beattie Cadillac Chevrolet Oldsmobile, who touted its three lots around the city as “Canada’s largest General Motors dealer.”

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Toronto Star, July 20, 1955.

On July 20, 1955, a full-page newspaper ad announced that former City Buick president J. Harry Addison was taking over 832 Bay. To reassure customers, the ad stressed that “an experienced sales staff is always ready to assist you in every way possible, and skilled mechanics, with modern equipment and a complete line of parts, offer speedy, efficient 24-hour service.” Addison had a long relationship with GM, stretching back to selling fridges from its Frigidaire unit during the 1930s. Perhaps the automaker thought Addison’s luck at the racetrack would help sales—his stable of champion horses included Arise, the first Canadian winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, New York.

The 1960s were eventful for Addison and his dealership, then known as Addison on Bay. A strike by the Teamsters in 1963 affected both the Bay lot and a separate dealership owned by his son John, who also served as a Liberal MP in suburban Toronto. The strike delayed the pickup of a seven-seat Cadillac limo by Toronto mayor Donald Summerville, who had traded in a 1960 Lincoln. In addition to providing official vehicles, Addison was active in municipal affairs as a member of the Toronto Harbour Commission, where he served two separate terms as chairman.

Recognizing its historical value as one of the few car showrooms to survive from the early 20th century, the site received a heritage designation in 1999. The following year, the dealership’s real-estate arms bought the property from its landlord, the provincial government. The sale raised eyebrows when Addison Properties received exclusive buying rights for 832 Bay and a site across the street; a government spokesperson attributed the terms to Addison’s long-term tenancy. The sale price was reportedly a third of the site’s market value.

In March 2007, Addison on Bay announced its closure. In a letter to customers, president Clarke Addison indicated that “this decision was a difficult one and one that was ultimately based on economic factors, including the increasing cost of maintaining a central downtown location.” The site became Burano, a condominium to be built by Lanterra Developments and designed by architect Peter Clewes, the same team behind the rhyming Murano tower erected on the land Addison had purchased across the street. We’ll have to wait for the parking spots to be occupied to see what percentage of Burano residents own GM vehicles.

Sources: the July 20, 1955, May 27, 1963, August 4, 1985, and March 2, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

McLaughlin Buick Canada

McLaughlin Buick, circa 1929-1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 3922.

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The Globe, March 12, 1932.

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Toronto Star, May 27, 1963.

832 Bay Street (McLaughlin Motor Car Showroom)

City of Toronto Archives, Series 253, File 97, Item 2.

832 Bay Street (McLaughlin Motor Car Showroom)

City of Toronto Archives, Series 253, File 97, Item 6.

The interior of the Addison showroom, at some point before 1999. If anyone’s an expert at which vehicles are shown here, let me know in the comments.

832 Bay Street (McLaughlin Motor Car Showroom)

City of Toronto Archives, Series 253, File 97, Item 8.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Five)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. As summer swim season approaches (maybe), it seems like a good time to return to this series.  Click here for the full series

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The Telegram, August 13, 1923.

Winsome: “generally pleasing and engaging because of a childlike charm and innocence” (for example, “a winsome smile”) – Merriam-Webster

Get used to seeing “winsome” a lot during the rest of this series: the Tely would use it a lot. Do not feel embarrassed if this creeps you out, as from a 2020 perspective, it comes off as the editors going overboard to fetishize female swimmers.

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The Telegram, August 13, 1923.

On the front page of the paper’s second section, readers were told why men cannot be water nymphs. Something about Greek mythology and concrete gender boundaries. Still, the paper made sure any hot-blooded men would have an opportunity to show off their swimming skills and torsos. Given that prohibition was still in effect in Ontario in 1923, there was little chance that, unless you took a flask behind a pavilion, “Swimming Expert” Johnnie Walker would enjoy with you a swig of the fine beverage he shared his name with.

Then again, the copy editor might have tossed back a few shots. Johnny (not Johnnie) Walker was a distinguished swimming coach and instructor, whose notable students included George “The Catalina Kid” Young. Walker’s renown was such that he received an obituary in the New York Times in 1935, which mentioned his training camp for Lake Ontario swimming marathons and his role as swim coach at the West End YMCA. During 1923, his son Tommy was a champion in an American pentathlon.

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The Telegram, August 13, 1923.

By this point, at least two ads a day were dedicated to promoting the carnival. Let’s take a break and return to the actual lessons…

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The Telegram, August 14, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 15, 1923.

Your break from “winsome” is about to end…

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The Telegram, August 15, 1923.

More historically important than the Water Nymph Carnival: work progressing nicely on Kingston Road between Oshawa and Whitby.

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The Telegram, August 16, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 16, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 17, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 17, 1923.

And here’s your admission coupon…

The Telegram printing plant listed at 650 Dupont Street is today the Dupont and Christie Loblaws.

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The Telegram, August 18, 1923.

Next time: Complete team coverage of the 1923 Telegram Water Nymph Carnival.

Additional sources: the May 1, 1935 edition of the New York Times.

Bonus Features: “Are these new Canadian painters crazy?” (100th Anniversary of the Group of Seven)

Before diving into this post, read my TVO article about the 100th anniversary of the first exhibition of the Group of Seven.

Group of Seven 1920 catalogue cover

Cover to the exhibition catalogue. Image courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario. 

star 1920-05-07 seven painters show some excellent work

Review by Margaret Fairbairn, Toronto Star, May 7, 1920.

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Tangled Garden, J.E.H. MacDonald, 1916. WikiArt.

One of several MacDonald paintings in the exhibition that were not for sale.

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The Globe, May 11, 1920.

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Fire Swept – Algoma, Frank Johnston, 1919. WikiArt.

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The Globe, May 15, 1920. 

The newspaper ad for the exhibition, tucked here between ads for local comedians and singers offering their services. A quick search of the internet shows that a Will J. White wrote a patriotic song two years earlier, “Take Me Back to Dear Old Canada . James Elcho Fiddes was a Scottish tenor who appears to have enjoyed numerous gigs in Canada and the northeastern United States during the 1910s and 1920s.

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Calgary Herald, April 20, 1921.

Some thoughts from A.Y. Jackson for the western Canadian touring exhibition of the Group’s works.

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Terre Sauvage, A.Y. Jackson, 1913. Wikiart.

Though not included in the initial 1920 Group show, this Jackson piece was included in the exhibition which travelled through the United States in 1920-1922. According to the National Gallery of Canada’s website, when this painting was shown during the Royal Academy of Arts’s 1918 exhibition, critic Harold Mortimer-Lamb called it “one of the most important paintings of landscape yet produced by a Canadian artist, and more clearly expresses the spirit and feeling of Canada than anything that has yet been done.”

It is mentioned in the review below…

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Indianapolis Star, April 10, 1921.

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The Beaver Dam, J.E.H. MacDonald, 1919. WikiArt.

Mentioned in the Indianapolis review, this piece was also part of the original 1920 Group exhibition.

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Detroit Free Press, June 5, 1921.

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Buffalo Courier, July 31, 1921.

The Buffalo engagement of this exhibition ran from September 10 to October 5, 1921. The Albright Gallery later became Albright-Knox, and will be known as the Buffalo Albright Knox Gundlach Art Museum once its revitalization/reconstruction project is completed.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Dominion Coal Silos

The pilot for the “Past Pieces of Toronto” series, this post was originally published by OpenFile on October 11, 2011.

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Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 125.

To some, they were a nostalgic landmark, a throwback to a time when Toronto homes relied on coal as home heating fuel. To others, they were a contemporary eyesore that should have been razed long before condos took their place. Regardless of one’s views, the nine storage silos that operated for 70 years by Dominion Coal and Wood at Merton Street and Mount Pleasant Road were a key visual element of North Toronto.

Designed by the E.P. Muntz Engineering Company, the concrete coal silos went into operation in 1929 with a storage capacity of 350 tons each. Along with the Milnes Fuel facilities at Yonge Street, Dominion Coal bookended a series of construction and industrial sites bordering the old Belt Line railway along Merton Street that served the growing population of Toronto’s northern edge. Dominion fought for the residential coal business in Toronto against long-established sellers such as Elias Rogers, and over a hundred other licensed dealers who sold the black mineral by the sack-full. When a steep decline in home coal usage caused many of Dominion’s competitors to cease business during the 1950s, the company survived by latching onto the emerging do-it-yourself home construction market. By the mid-1980s, coal and firewood accounted for only two percent of Dominion Coal’s sales, mostly to rural customers who continued to rely on old-fashioned stoves and furnaces. The company didn’t forget what built its reputation: in the 1990s, it received a merit award from Heritage Toronto for restoring the painted advertising that covered the silos.

A fresh coat of paint didn’t have much of a chance against rising land values and a site with an elevation attractive to condo developers looking to sell future residents on great views of downtown. When Dominion Coal president Bruce Chapman announced in May 1999 that the silos would close, he anticipated little resistance from the city in changing the zoning from commercial to residential as other properties along Merton Street had done. Before the last batch of construction material was sold that September, the site was purchased by Urbancorp, whose intent was replace the silos with two condo towers.

Local heritage agencies worked to preserve them. Already listed by the Toronto Historical Board as having “architectural and historical importance,” the site was granted a heritage designation that delayed redevelopment plans. City councillors debated the merits of salvaging any part of the silos. While local representative Michael Walker argued for discussions with the community about preservation, councillors like Mario Silva saw no redeeming aesthetic qualities in the structures—as he told the North Toronto Town Crier in December 1999, “I hate silos myself.” Silva felt they were “extremely ugly” and believed that “the neighbourhood would be relieved to see these silos finally go.” While Urbancorp argued about the excessive costs to build around the silos (which were considered too small to be converted into condos) and the test soil contamination levels around them, the developer devised several plans that allowed the historic structures to remain.

But none of those plans were enacted. By the time Monarch Construction acquired the site in September 2002, the silos had disappeared from the North Toronto skyline and the way was clear for the residences currently occupying the corner. One of the few reminders of their existence was found a few blocks north along Mount Pleasant Road in the window display at George’s Trains, where models of the silos were incorporated into the backdrop. Unlike George’s, which has moved on, a Heritage Toronto plaque will provide a permanent memorial and a space for people to debate whether creative reuses for the silos could have been implemented, or if they deserved their fate.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Looking south on Mount Pleasant Road from Balliol Street, circa October 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 361.

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Toronto Star, May 20, 1999.

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Globe and Mail, March 21, 2000.

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Advertorial, Globe and Mail, September 13, 2002.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Uptown Theatre

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was the debut installment of the series, originally published on November 4, 2011.

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Uptown Theatre, interior, Cinema 1, circa 1970. Photo by Roger Jowett. City of Toronto Archives, series 881, file 169, item 2.

Equipped with the latest in sound technology in its later years, the main auditorium of the Uptown was a great place to see films in which things go boom. As the action unfolded on the screen each punch or explosion reverberated in your seat. Such experiences, and the grand architecture and decor, made the demise of Uptown Theatre so painful: its final corporate parent refused to pay for wheelchair accessibility upgrade.

Loew’s Uptown opened on September 20, 1920 as a 1,600 seat theatre showing pioneering director D.W. Griffith’s film The Love Flower. As the Globe‘s E.R. Parkhurst reported, “it would be difficult to conceive of a theatre more admirably designed for the comfort of its patrons or better adapted for the enjoyment of the very best that brains, equipment and talent can provide in motion picture entertainment.” The opening gala saw appearances from leading lady (and Griffith’s lover) Carol Dempster, movie star/former Upper Canada College student Bert Lytell, theatre owner Marcus Loew, and Toronto mayor Tommy Church. A live orchestra was present, as it would be through the silent era until the Uptown became one of the first theatres in Toronto wired for talkies.

Following a fire in 1960, the theatre underwent renovations that, when officially unveiled to the public in 1962, the Toronto Star saw as a barely a nod to the new post-television reality of movie-going as a social occasion. “In New York,” noted Star writer Wendy Michener, “many houses serve coffee and have a really comfortable sitting-meeting-talking lounge. In Toronto, the only move in that direction to date has been the installation of hot-dog machines.” Perhaps theatre management sensed that Torontonians of the future would be able to snack on frankfurters anywhere downtown.

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Uptown Theatre, 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 111.

Shortly after the 20th Century theatre chain took over the Uptown in 1969, the cinema closed for four months as it was converted into a five-screen multiplex under the eye of architect Mandel Sprachman. Referring to his work on the Uptown and the Imperial Six further south on Yonge (now the Canon Theatre), Sprachman noted that “if I didn’t step in, those grand opulent cinema temples would be torn down and replaced with parking lots and high-rises. What I do is to give old cinemas a new lease on life. Architecturally speaking, I do my damnedest to help the old and new live together.” In the case of the Uptown, the result was a 1,000 seat main theatre for first-run spectaculars (starting with the musical version of Goodbye Mr. Chips), two other mainstream first-run screens, and the two “Backstage” theatres that specialized in art films. The complex was redesigned in eye-catching, playful pop-art influenced colours.

Over time, the Uptown became a key venue for the Toronto International Film Festival, especially as other Yorkville-area cinemas such as the Hollywood and Plaza closed their doors. When the Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered Famous Players to make the Backstage, Eglinton and Uptown wheelchair-accessible in 2001, the chain decided to close the historic theatres rather than incur the cost of required renovations. Famous Players cited a changing market and shifting demographics as the real reasons for the closures, but these were treated with skepticism in the press. The Backstage shut down immediately after the closures were announced in December 2001, and the rest of the Uptown lingered on until it took its final bow during the 2003 edition of TIFF. While the Eglinton survived as an event venue, the Uptown was sold to condo developers. Tragically, the theatre experienced a final burst of reverberating action during demolition work in December 2003 when a section collapsed onto the neighbouring Yorkville English Academy, killing student Augusto Cesar Mejia Solis.

Sources: the September 21, 1920 edition of the Globe and the August 16, 1962 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 20-09-18 preview of opening

Globe, September 18, 1920.

globe 20-09-20 opening gala preview

Globe, September 20, 1920.

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Toronto Star, September 20, 1920.

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Toronto World, September 20, 1920.

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Opening night coverage by E.R. Parkhurst, Globe, September 21, 1920.

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Toronto World, September 21, 1920. 

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

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Toronto Star, July 31, 1969.

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Uptown Theatre, exterior, Balmuto Street, circa 1970. Photo by Roger Jowett, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 169.

From an interview with Mandel  Sprachman published in the June 21, 1980 Globe and Mail:

What is the role of the architect in the world of split palaces and mini-multiplexes? “If the job involves a palace,” says Sprachman, “I respect the work of the architects before me. I know they’re going to chop away at it, I can feel all the vaudeville people who once performed there–it gets pretty schmaltzy. I don’t want to do it but better me than a parking lot or a standard high-rise apartment building. The trick is to try to make cuts as clean as possible and leave as much as possible of the original building.”

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Toronto Star, April 4, 1970.

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“Exuberant graphics decorate the Balmuto St. side of the revamped Uptown Theatre on Yonge St.; where the five theatres have been fitted in. The Backstage 1 and 2; entered from Balmuto; are the best part of the whole.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the April 4, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive.

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1970.

An excerpt from Doug Fetherling’s editorial page “Toronto Notebook.” “Marshall Delaney” was Robert Fulford’s film critic alias at Saturday Night magazine.

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Globe and Mail, March 6, 2001.

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Globe and Mail, March 14, 2001. 

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Globe and Mail, December 13, 2001.

According to the December 12, 2001 Star, other estimated costs to the Uptown complex included $225,000 for a new sprinkler system, and $75,000 for upgrades to the Backstage. A Famous Players official admitted the theatres affected by the OHRC’s ruling would have closed anyway, but the decision “accelerated the plan.” The OHRC ordered Famous Players to pay five complainants between $8,000 and $10,000 each “as damages for loss arising out of the infringement of their rights.” One of the complainants was to receive an addition $2,000 in damages for mental anguish.

From the September 19, 2003 Star, an excerpt from Geoff Pevere’s column on the final closing of the Uptown:

The Uptown was the kind of theatre–old, deep and dark–that made even going to bad movies a little less painful. Even if the movie sucked, the floor was sticky and the guy in front of you kept shifting so you couldn’t see past his mullet, it felt good to be there. When an old movie theatre disappears, as just about all of them now have or soon will, with it go your memories of the emotions you experienced when seeing a movie there. This is what gives its disappearance a sadness that most other victims of dubious urban development lack: These were the places where you remember experiencing things intensely. You went there to feel fear, desire, laugh, pine and momentarily forget what awaited you outside.

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Toronto Star, December 3, 2003.

As for the condo tower completed following the tragedy, Alex Bozikovic does not have kind words in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, calling it “a tall neo-Deco mediocrity.”

5145 Yonge Street (First North York Municipal Building)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on April 16, 2013.

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When North York split off from York Township in 1922, space was required to house the new municipality’s offices. Civic workers played musical buildings during the new township’s first year, for a time settling on two upper floor apartments on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue in the village of Lansing. When a fire destroyed that office and its accompanying council records in February 1923, plans were initiated for a brand new structure at the southeast corner of Yonge and Empress Avenue.

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The Telegram, December 20, 1923.

Designed by Murray Brown, who also designed North York’s official seal, the two-storey structure at 1 Empress Avenue was officially opened on December 19, 1923. Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Henry Cockshutt presided over the ceremony, delivering a generic speech about Canada being a country of the future. “Owing to the large gathering which crowded the new hall,” the Telegram reported, “the Lieutenant-Governor was unable to open the door with the golden key, and just declared the hall opened” Local MP William Findlay Maclean used the occasion to stump for better federal representation for the growing municipality.

The building’s main attraction was its second-floor council chamber. Besides serving as a battleground for municipal affairs, the room was rented to groups ranging from the Orange Lodge to the local horticultural society.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 30, 1978.

Though the building was bursting at the seams by the late 1930s, material shortages during World War II delayed expansion plans. An extension doubling the building’s size was completed in time for North York’s 25th anniversary in 1947, but the township’s post-war growth quickly made it inadequate. Rather than build another addition, North York erected a new municipal office to the south at 5000 Yonge Street, whose first phase opened in 1956.

Over the next 30 years the old offices, now addressed as 5145 Yonge Street, housed numerous public and private tenants. During the 1960s it was home to a courthouse handling construction safety cases and the local Emergency Measures Organization. The 1970s brought sitcom possibilities via North York’s parks and recreation department, as well as healthcare courtesy of the Victorian Order of Nurses. When the North York Public Library moved its audio/visual collection from its Fairview branch in 1982, the Star named only one of the over 2,000 titles carried on reels of 8mm and 16mm film: Bambi Meets Godzilla. For six dollars, users could rent projectors and screens for 24 hours to watch full-length film classics or half-hour condensations of recent blockbusters like The Muppet Movie and The Empire Strikes Back. A reading lab and youth theatre school rounded out the 1980s.

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The transformation of Lansing into downtown North York sealed the fate of the old municipal building. In November 1986, North York City Council approved a $10 million deal to sell the site, along with a neighbouring fire hall designed by Brown during World War II, to Menkes Developments. A condition of the sale was that Menkes would preserve the original front façade of the old building and the hose tower of the fire hall. Both buildings were disassembled in 1989 then waited as ever-changing plans, objections from local ratepayers, and mounting interest bills delayed construction of the project that became Empress Walk. Depending on the day, plans included a cinema, condos, office space, and shopping which were built, and a hotel/convention centre which wasn’t.

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Today, the remnant of the municipal building is attached to the mall’s back entrance, surrounded by glass.

Sources: Pioneering in North York by Patricia W. Hart (Don Mills: General Publishing, 1968), the August 30, 1978 edition of the Don Mills Mirror, the July 13, 1982, August 24, 1982, November 7, 1986, and December 16, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star, the December 20, 1923 edition of the Telegram, and the July 24, 1947 edition of the Weston Times and Guide.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, May 13, 1986.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 30, 1978.

The second North York municipal building. Its site is currently occupied by an office tower.