Vintage Toronto Ads: Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso

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Globe and Mail, January 12, 1970.

So I’m in the middle of research the other night. Browsing the Globe and Mail’s archives, I came across a roundup of what entertained New Year’s revelers as 1969 gave way to 1970. The accompanying photo showed a woman with a large headdress and two faces on her bosoms.

The caption? “Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso: vaudeville revived.”

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Globe and Mail, January 1, 1970.

Turned out she was a ventriloquist whose dummy heads were “mounted on her well-clothed breasts.” The type of act one could really appreciate after a few drinks to end the old year.

Naturally I had to share my discovery with my partner-in-crime.

“Hey, how’s this for an act? Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso!”

She thought about this mind-blowing concept for a second.

“Sounds like a drag queen.”

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1969.

This wasn’t a bad guess, as the Blue Orchid (the present-day Lee’s Palace) had recently featured the “Jewel Box Revue” of female impersonators.

Ms. Faye and her babbling bosoms required deeper digging.

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Binghampton Press, February 28, 1945.

It appears Ms. Faye (born, according to a copyright notice, as Doris Firkser) began her ventriloquism career toward the end of the Second World War. The Paterson, New Jersey Morning Call praised her talent when she participated in a vaudeville style bill in October 1945:

Doris Faye, meeting her dummy boy friend offers an example of ventriloquism at its best. Not only does this gal give off with light-hearted dialogue, but she sizzles with a dramatic thunderbolt in a scene from the movie Gaslight.

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1947.

While it’s hard to say for sure, since the ad doesn’t specify her talents other than “just patter,” it looks like Ms. Faye may have performed in Toronto as early as the late 1940s. It definitely appears that by the end of that decade she was touring nightclubs and theatres when she wasn’t performing in New York City.

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Bronxville Review Press-Reporter, July 14, 1960. Would the photo used in the ad at the top of this post have been taken during this photo session?

By the late 1950s, Faye was appearing as a ventriloquist on children’s television shows in the Big Apple, including a brief stint co-hosting the long-running series Wonderama. She moved on with her co-host Bill Britten when he became New York’s Bozo the Clown, appearing in Indian maiden garb as “Princess Ticklefeather” through the early 1960s.

Around 1967 Faye and her husband, multilingual tenor Nino Tello, toured with a vaudeville-style show running under names like Fun City Revue and Fun City Varieties. The Pittsburgh Press described their acts:

Miss Faye sings, chatters, turns in an interesting ventriloquism act with her pal “Tyrone” and is well steeped in show business. She keeps moving along at a merry pace. Nino Tello contributes a number of songs in both Italian and English with plenty of gusto. His repertoire runs the gamut from today’s hits and show tunes to the familiar classics. Nino and Faye wrap up a couple of duets and join in the production numbers as well.

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Globe and Mail, December 29, 1969.

By the time the revue reached Toronto in December 1969, it was known as Funs-A-Poppin’, playing off the 1940s Olsen and Johnson hit Broadway revue and film Hellzapoppin’. It fit nicely into a general revival of old-timey entertainment in the city and across North America, when traditional burlesque acts took stages and honky tonk pianists found roosts in local bars. This also fit into a growing trend of testing restrictions surrounding the degree of raunchiness and nudity allowed in public venues. During Faye’s stint in town, police kept their eye on the Royal Alex as previews began for the Toronto production of Hair.

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Desert Sun, February 15, 1974.

A 1974 feature in the Palm Springs Desert Sun summed up how the Talking Torso fit into changes in societal attitudes:

Her body, known as the “Talking Torso,” is not only eye-appealing and unique, but hilariously funny and clever. The “Talking Torso” is an intended comedy spoof, satire, and commentary on society’s present-day sexual attitudes toward the female body, which has been made to do everything but talk.

Faye and Tello (sometimes billed as “America’s Night Club Caruso”) continued to perform into the 21st century. The latest I traced her was a 2009 blog post discussing her determination to continue performing after hip surgery, where you get the sense that she was somebody who loved entertaining others. According to a ventriloquist website, Faye passed away in 2012.

Sources: the February 15, 1974 edition of the Desert Sun; the October 16, 1945 edition of the Morning Call; and the October 10, 1967 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.

696 Yonge Street (Diamond Building, Brothers Restaurant, Some Organization I’d Prefer Not to Mention in the Title)

Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on January 29, 2013.

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Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.

The Church of Scientology’s Toronto headquarters are in the midst of an “Ideal Org” makeover—signalled, last month, by boards nailed to the Yonge Street high-rise. While it remains to be seen whether the move will fracture the controversial faith’s local followers as similar, costly refurbishings have in other cities, the plans are less than modest, indicating a colourful new façade will be placed on the almost-60-year-old office building, along with a new bookstore, café, theatre, and “testing centre” inside.

Built around 1955 in the International style of architecture, 696 Yonge’s initial tenant roster included recognizable brands like Avon cosmetics and Robin Hood flour. They were joined by an array of accounting firms, coal and mining companies, and the Belgian consulate, along with a number of construction and property management companies run by Samuel Diamond, whose name later graced the building.

By the 1970s, The Diamond companies were among the few original tenants remaining. Movie studio MGM settled in for a long stay, while the Ontario Humane Society teetered on the verge of financial ruin during its tenancy. There was a temporary office for a federal committee on sealing, which released a 1972 report recommending a temporary moratorium on seal hunting while solutions were sought to halt a population decline. The building even enjoyed a brief taste of religious controversies to come when the Unification Church—a.k.a. the “Moonies”—briefly opened an office, prompting questions about indoctrinated converts, growing wealth, and cult-like practices mirroring those later asked about the Church of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard’s religion, meanwhile, had shuffled around various sites in the city since the late 1950s, from meetings on Jarvis Street to a townhouse on Prince Arthur Avenue. The church’s reputation for defending itself grew as quickly as its membership—by the 1970s, official church statements were guaranteed to appear in the letters section within days of any faintly critical newspaper article. The Church of Scientology bought 696 Yonge in 1979.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1983.

Around 2:30 p.m. on March 2, 1983, three chartered buses pulled up to the office tower. More than one hundred OPP officers, equipped with recording equipment, axes, sledgehammers, and a battering ram, rushed into Scientology’s offices. Acting on the findings of a secret two-year tax-fraud investigation of the church, they removed 900 boxes of material, among them illegally obtained confidential documents from government, medical, and police agencies. The church initially claimed the raid was spurred by attacks from the psychiatric community and believed it was entitled to Charter of Rights protection.

Hiring Clayton Ruby as its lawyer, Scientology pursued a decade-long fight against the raid and the charges that resulted from it. Some of its efforts were comical: in July 1988, the church offered to donate considerable sums to agencies working with drug addicts, the elderly, and the poor so long as theft charges were dropped. Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott rejected the offer, saying that “there’s no immunity that permits a church or anyone else to commit crimes in the country.” Ruby argued that the legal prosecution of a small religion like Scientology threatened the freedom of all faiths, and that while individual members may be guilty of offences, the whole church should not be held at fault.

The legal battle appeared over by 1992. When the seized boxes were returned that January, church members celebrated on Yonge Street. While a banner declaring “Scientology Wins after 9-year Battle” was draped across the building, a human chain passed the boxes back inside from a rented truck. Jubilation was short-lived: though acquitted of theft charges, the church and three of its members were found guilty of breach of trust. Related cases lingered for a few more years, including a libel case that earned crown attorney Casey Hill a then-record $1.6 million award from the church and one of its lawyers.

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Now, September 2, 1999. The main article on cheap eats featured on this page was for New York Subway on Queen Street.

Even in the midst of its legal battles, the church gradually expanded its presence in 696 Yonge, filling space as other tenants departed. One of the last to go was the Brothers Restaurant and Tavern, which filled a streetfront space with vinyl booths and formica from 1979 to 2000. Operated by two brothers whose last names differed because of the phonetic spelling a government official wrote for one when they moved to Canada, Angelo Sfyndilis and Peter Sfendeles catered to a diverse clientele who appreciated their generous portions of comfort food. As Toronto Life noted in its obituary, “wherever you come from, wherever you’re going, Brothers has been a second home, a sheltering piece of smalltown Canadiana on a big, harsh anonymous street, in the middle of a big, harsh, anonymous city.” The Star praised Brothers’ “honest chicken sandwich,” while Now included it in its student survival guides for meals like the Little Brother Platter, which contained “eight thick slices of pastrami, eight of roast beef, four slabs of Canadian cheddar, a mound of potato salad, a mess of oil-and vinegar-drowned iceberg lettuce, a quartered dill pickle, and rings of pickled peppers.” When the lease was not renewed in 2000, deli items were replaced with copies of Dianetics.

Sources: the January 25, 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail, the September 2, 1999 edition of Now, the May 2000 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 10, 1982, March 3, 1983, December 20, 1984, July 27, 1988, August 29, 1988, September 20, 1990, January 28, 1992, June 26, 1992, July 13, 2008, and January 24, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As of July 2020 the building is rotting away, as various makeover plans by the Scientologists have not materialized. Over the years, the organization has battled the city over tax bills.

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

You can trace the saga of 696 Yonge over recent years by checking out this thread on Urban Toronto.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I moved to Toronto around the time of the Now excerpt posted above. Always a fan of decent cheap eats, I checked out The Brothers. The paper wasn’t kidding when it said the portions were huge, providing plenty of fuel for long downtown strolls.

(Memory tells me it was frequently mentioned in Now, and may have run a few ads, but the current search function for their online archives is next-to-useless).

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National Post, January 15, 2000.

The Star published the Brothers’ rice pudding recipe twice: in 2000 after it closed, then in 2006 thanks to reader demand. “The food was bettered only by their dear personalities and quintessential charm,” one reader recalled. Food writer Amy Pataki noted that staff called the dish rizogalo, and that cook Tony Polyzotis called its preparation “easy.”

If this inspires you to make this recipe from the July 26, 2006 Star, send it pictures and I’ll add them to this post.

Brothers Rice Pudding
Tempering the beaten egg with hot liquid prevents it from coagulating.

4 cups or more whole or 2 per cent milk
1 cup converted white rice, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp raisins (optional)
Ground cinnamon

In medium, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 4 cups milk to simmer over medium heat. Add rice and sugar. Cook, uncovered, at gentle boil, stirring frequently, until rice is almost cooked through but still a little chewy, about 30 minutes. (Rice will continue to soften as it cools.)

In heatproof cup, whisk egg with vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons hot cooking liquid. Whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Stir into rice mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add raisins (if desired).

Cool pudding uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up skin as it forms on surface. (Pudding will thicken on standing; thin with more milk as desired.) Sprinkle generously with cinnamon before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Golden Mile Plaza

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 26, 2013.

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954.

Following World War II, Scarborough Township was in dire financial straits. “We didn’t have enough money to meet our weekly payroll,” reeve Oliver Crockford recalled years later. Crockford placed his hopes on a 255 acre parcel of federal land along Eglinton Avenue east of Pharmacy Avenue that the township purchased in 1949. Industrial development quickly ensued, with major companies like Frigidaire and Inglis opening along what was soon dubbed the “Golden Mile.”

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Toronto Star, October 16, 1952. Click on image for larger version.

Developers saw potential in turning nearby farms into commercial and residential properties. Among them was Robert McClintock, who purchased a 150-acre farm at the northeast corner of Eglinton and Victoria Park in 1950. After building apartments and homes, he realized he wasn’t equipped to handle a major commercial development, so he sold a chunk of land to Principal Investments in 1952.

The new owners proceeded to build one of the new “one-stop shopping” plazas that were starting to define suburban North America. Retail chains saw such developments as key to their future. “The rate at which Toronto is growing internally and on its fringes,” Fairweather treasurer Benjamin Fish told the Telegram, “makes it imperative that the merchants give it the room and facilities it deserves.”

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

Fairweather was among the tenants who welcomed shoppers when the first phase of Golden Mile Plaza opened on April 8, 1954. Visitors who filled the 2,000 free parking spots were treated to a circus-like atmosphere complete with acrobats, clowns, high divers, and pipe bands. The largest Loblaws in Canada gave away 2,000 pounds of Pride of Arabia coffee. A draw offered a top prize of a 1954 Ford Skyliner, followed by appliances built on the Golden Mile by Frigidaire. By the time the plaza was fully opened in late 1954, its tenants included Bata, Hunt’s Bakery, Tamblyn Drugs, Woolworth’s, and Zellers.

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Toronto Star, June 27, 1959. Click on image for larger version.

The plaza reached its pinnacle on June 30, 1959. Following a tour of Sunnybrook Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II stopped by Golden Mile for a 10-minute visit. She surprised her RCMP handler and municipal officials by making a quick stop at Loblaws. It was not reported if she purchased any of the week’s specials.

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Toronto Star, September 22, 1983. Click on image for larger version.

Like the rest of the Golden Mile, the plaza lost its shine during the 1970s and 1980s. The factories that spurred the area’s development closed. New enclosed malls like Fairview and Scarborough Town Centre stole business. Plaza owners failed to properly maintain the property. A flea market became a major tenant. Scarborough officials viewed it as an eyesore and began dreaming of the property’s potential for mixed commercial, office, and residential use. Amid the calls for a classier redevelopment, pictures in newspaper articles depict stores that would fit the multi-ethnic plazas that are now part of the Scarborough landscape.

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Toronto Star, April 16, 1986. Click on image for larger version.

Reactions among Scarborough city councillors were mixed when Loblaws proposed one of its new Super Centre hypermarkets for the plaza site in 1986. While some were happy to see any replacement, others thought a giant supermarket was an inappropriate gateway to the city. “This may be what Scarborough has grown up on,” councillor Joyce Trimmer noted, “but it’s not good enough today. The first thing people will see on coming into Scarborough will be a big parking lot.” The development was approved. The plaza’s demolition was marred by a fire on December 15, 1986 that forced the closure of a few lingering stores which had hoped to remain open through Christmas Eve. The plaza would be memorialized via a photo gallery inside its replacement.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1988.

For a time, the Super Centre revived old retail traditions like a fleet of floor employees equipped with roller skates to retrieve merchandise. When Loblaws phased out the Super Centre concept, they reduced the size of the store and converted it to a No Frills. A spokesperson told the Star in 1999 that Loblaws was happy with the site, as “the Golden Mile name has a certain cachet.” The remaining Super Centre space was initially a Zellers then further split into the present combination of a dollar store, discount gym, and Joe Fresh.

Sources: the September 22, 1983, April 16, 1986, August 29. 1986, and July 12, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star, and the April 7, 1954 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953.

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

Bloordale/State Theatre

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on December 18, 2012.

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To be honest, I misplaced my notes as to where this image came from. Source info appreciated.

By the mid-1930s, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were Meccas for local moviegoers. Along their length within the limits of the City of Toronto, at least 35 cinemas offered Depression-era patrons entertainment. Among them was an Art Deco-styled theatre that provided a steady stream of magic shadows for over 30 years.

Then addressed as 1606 Bloor St. W., the Bloordale opened circa September 1935 as part of the Associated circuit. The cinema was designed by theatre experts Kaplan and Sprachman, whose other Art Deco cinemas included the Eglinton. Promotions during the theatre’s early years included a weekly Sunday-afternoon talent show broadcast on CKCL radio (later CKEY) in 1938. Music Stars of Tomorrow promised a screen test with the short lived Grand National movie company for the best performer, though we suspect that the firm’s dissolution soon after prevented anyone from achieving Hollywood glory. After a spell as part of the Odeon chain, the Bloordale was renamed the State around 1948 and joined the 20th Century Theatres circuit.

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Assorted ads for the Bloordale and State cinemas, taken from the Toronto Star. Clockwise from top: February 2, 1955, February 5, 1965, and September 9, 1935.

An incident reported to provincial theatrical regulators in 1957 illustrates how well employees handled any situation. On Nov. 30 of that year, a patron carelessly tossed a lit cigarette into a room containing cardboard boxes filled with empty, returnable glass jugs. The boxes ignited, but staff quickly put out the fire. To keep patrons calm in case anyone noticed any smoke, the manager announced from the State’s stage that excess smoke from the neighbourhood had entered the theatre’s ventilation system. The report observed that “patrons received the announcement good-naturedly and the program continued without interruption or further difficulties.” Damage was estimated at five dollars.

The State continued as a first-run movie house until it closed around 1968. “Although a well-thought movie house,” John Sebert concluded in his book The Nabes, the cinema “never reached its potential, as it was on the fringe of about five neighbourhoods, but part of none.”

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1972.

When the building was converted into the Quo Vadis banquet hall in the early 1970s, it ran into problems with the nearby Junction neighbourhood’s dry status. That the building stood within 10 feet of the southern boundary of the alcohol-free zone prompted owner Harry Snape to join businessmen from The Junction in successfully petitioning City Council for a vote on liquor during the 1972 municipal election. The dry forces, led by “Temperance Bill” Temple, went into full battle mode, claiming the money spent campaigning was better spent on footwear for children. Voters agreed, as all nine questions that would have allowed liquor were defeated. Snape, who served as the pro-booze spokesperson, warned that businesses like his would be driven away.

For years, the building housed Pekao Trading & Travel. During the late 1990s and into the 2000s, it was also home to Pekao Gallery, which Canadian Art magazine called “one of Toronto’s better-kept secrets.” Besides art exhibits, the underground space also served as a jazz venue. The building is currently home to an employment centre, frame store, and insurance office. The narrow vertical strip advertising Frame It on Bloor fills the space where the State’s projected sign once lit up the night.

Sources: Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz (Toronto: Glue, Inc., 2008), The Nabes by John Sebert (Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2001), the Fall 2001 edition of Canadian Art, and the March 23, 1972, November 15, 1972, and December 5, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star. Various reports filed in the City of Toronto Archives were also consulted.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 5, 1972.

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Toronto Star, December 9, 1972.

A Handbook to the Royal Ontario Museum, 1956

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on July 9, 2011.

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Cover of The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956), designed by Claire Wheeler.

“A museum is a home of muses and in Canada, far enough from the slopes of Mount Helicon in space and time, those traditional patrons of the arts and sciences have their worthiest habitat in the Royal Ontario Museum.” Whoever wrote the 1956 edition of The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook felt these were appropriate words to introduce visitors to the wonders within.

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Map of the main floor.

A few years earlier, in their travel guide Ontario in Your Car, John and Marjorie Mackenzie had kind words to say about the museum:

Some American naval friends of ours, who had spent many years in the Orient, said that they thought the Chinese Art Exhibition at this museum was the finest they had ever seen. But this is only one of the many and varied exhibits which are housed here. It is, indeed, “the record of Nature through countless ages; the arts of man through all the years.” If you have children with you, they are sure to be entranced by the huge skeletons of the Dinosauria, and by the Indian figures, arranged in life-like family groups.

The ROM of 1956 was an H-shaped building consisting of the original wing along Philosophers Walk opened in 1914 and an addition one built along Queen’s Park that welcomed its first visitors in 1933. The museum operated as a branch of the University of Toronto, an arrangement that lasted until 1968. It was open daily except on Mondays—we imagine the educational nature of the institution redeemed it in the eyes of all but the most zealous no-fun-on-Sunday types. Anyone desperate to wander in on Monday could catch a small glimpse of the exhibits on their way to the coffee shop that remained open. Admission was free except on Wednesdays and Fridays, when adults paid a quarter. The same admission fee applied for any of the seven “open nights” held throughout the year, where visitors could linger until 10 p.m. in the exhibit areas and enjoy guest speakers. For annual fees of either $5 (for Ontario residents outside of Toronto) or $10 (locals), members enjoyed perks like free admission, invitations to previews of special exhibits, guided tours for up to 10 people, two event calendars per year, an annual report, and discounts on U of T extension courses offered through the museum.

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Kidney iron ore: not so tasty with steak in a pie.

The handbook’s gallery coverage was split into three main sections: the Earth (rocks and minerals), life (animals), and the “arts of Man.” Among the curios shown in the first section was a rock that resembled a cluster of kidneys.

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Entrance to the Geology gallery.

The geology galleries enticed visitors with displays that included discoveries made during construction of the original Yonge subway line and a showcase on a site now associated with green space and a weekend market:

The west gallery is entered through a foyer, where photo-murals and specimens are displayed in an attractive manner. Three of the photographs depict geologists at work, while others pointedly illustrate many of the topics explained in the exhibits throughout the gallery. Of special interest is a plaque of the colourful building stones used decoratively throughout the museum building. The main displays follow in a series of alcoves, each alcove having a central theme. The first of these units depicts some of the rocks, and the geological history of southern Ontario, while other exhibits illustrate the geological information revealed by the excavations for the Toronto subway. The west wall of the alcove is dedicated to the Don Valley brickyard, where the sands and clays are the evidence of an extremely varied climate in the Toronto area during the past several hundred thousand years.

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Duck-billed dinosaur.

Then as now, dinosaurs were a children’s favourite. Most of the museum’s collection originated in the badlands of Alberta. Specimens were divided into five simple streams: duck-billed, horned, armoured, carnosaurs, and ostrich-like. Duck-billed dinosaurs like the one depicted in the guide were described as “probably inoffensive, herbivorous dinosaurs normally walking on four legs but capable of rapid motion on their hind legs when pursued.”

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“House Fly: enlarged models tell the story of its unwholesome relations to Man.”

One exhibit the handbook described at length but didn’t show was a tribute to the passenger pigeon. The exhibit attempted to re-create the extinct bird’s habitat at Forks of the Credit during the 1870s:

In the background looms the blue-grey mass of the escarpment. In the middle distance lies a pioneer clearing in which stands a log cabin, and the foreground is the edge of a fine, old, beech-maple wood. The migrating pigeons, in their hundreds of thousands, stream across the sky and some are alighting to feed in the fields and at the edge of the wood. One drinks from a sap bucket while perched on the spile driven into a sugar maple. On the ground a male and female are billing in the fashion of domestic pigeons.

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“From Muskrat to Hudson Seal, an Economic Exhibit telling the story of a fur coat.”

But the handbook did contain a nice picture of a display that would displease anti-fur activists: how a muskrat became a Hudson Seal coat.

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“Wooden head covered with skin, African, from Calabar, Nigeria.”

In the transition from describing Eurocentric antiquities to those from the rest of the world in the “Arts of Man” section, the author made a statement about Western culture that surely would never be allowed in current museum literature.

Although the mechanical achievements of the European peoples have probably excelled all others, their civilization is, after all, that of only a small portion of mankind, and it is fitting in a Museum such as this that the fact should be clearly recognised. The ground floor has been given over, therefore, to the exhibition of the arts and crafts of aboriginal America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.

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Gathering around a totem pole as an example of “teaching with objects.”

The handbook ends with a section on the museum’s education services. “For child and adult alike,” the author noted, “the experience of seeing and learning about real things makes history live and develops a better understanding of the relationship of man and nature throughout time and space.” The school group clustered around the totem pole likely came from within 250 kilometres of the museum. Before visiting, they would have been asked to figure out which areas of the museum they were most interested in, as long as those subjects matching up with their school’s curriculum.

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Toronto Star, January 25, 1956.

As for students in remote areas, museum staff armed with suitcases full of exhibits travelled to them. One trip earlier in the year was spotlighted in the Toronto Star:

History is being taken to Ontario school children in suitcases. Royal Ontario Museum teachers are taking historical items to Northern Ontario schools for pupils to study. Julia Laronde, North Bay, holds a snowshoe and an Indian hammer. Sharon Shore is all decked out like a fur trapper. This year marks the eight annual “expedition” of museum teachers to the northland. The teachers carry over 150 objects with them during their trips to Northern Ontario schools. Dennis Jeanneault is shown all dolled up in the breastplate of an Elizabethan page boy. Different areas of the northland are visited each year by the instructors, to show relics to pupils who are unable to travel to a museum…Trips last five weeks and last year teachers visited 267 schools and talked to 9,300 students.

We wonder how many of those students eventually visited the museum in person.

Unless noted, all images taken from The Royal Ontario Museum: A Handbook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956). Additional material from Ontario in Your Car by John and Marjorie Mackenzie (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1950) and the January 25, 1956 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

second floor map

third floor

The original piece did not include these maps of the upper floors.

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The old wing names are still visible if you into the rotunda next to the Queen’s Park entrance. Here’s one side of the first floor, as seen in February 2020…

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…and both sides of the second.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1955.

Around this time, the ROM received a shout-out in Holiday magazine’s salute to the city.

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Toronto Star, October 20, 1956.

An example of how exhibits were described by the press in the mid-1950s.

Hotel Waverl(e)y

This installment of “Ghost City” was published online by The Grid on June 18, 2013.

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College and Spadina, looking northwest, May 13, 1927. The Waverley is in the background (click on photo for larger version). Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4888.

“If you really want the best, dine at the Waverley,” a person by the name of W.M. Canning advised a friend on the back of a postcard depicting a refined dining room at the Spadina Avenue establishment circa 1908. Hard to believe, but there was a time when the Waverl(e)y was considered a hotel worthy of formal dances, organizational lunches, and tourism offices.

Built by John J. Powell in 1900, the Hotel Waverley replaced a structure that once housed the local YMCA. For the next half-century, the hotel was operated by the Powell family, whose members were active in hospitality-industry associations—Egerton Powell served as president of the Ontario branch of the Greeters’ Association of America during the mid-1920s. That decade also saw the Waverley house the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association’s office and a Canadian Pacific ticket outlet.

Major changes came during the 1950s. The Powell family’s involvement appears to have ended following the 1954 death of Egerton’s widow, whose estate was battled over by 53 cousins. The hotel gained its first lounge licence the following year, then fell into liquidation in 1957. Newspaper ads in January 1959 proudly announced the opening of the “fabulous Silver Dollar Room,” whose debut act was “Canada’s Top Variety Group,” Tommy Danton and the Echoes. The venue soon settled into presenting local jazz musicians and bluesy singers like Olive Brown (whose selection of standards included venue-appropriate songs like “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”).

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Toronto Star, January 2, 1959.

However, in the ensuing years, the Waverley site acquired more dubious associations. During the early morning hours of November 17, 1961, a guest named Arthur Lucas made two telephone calls from his room to 116 Kendal Avenue. Just after 3:30 a.m., Lucas left the Waverley and headed north to meet Therland Crater, a drug dealer on the run from the Detroit underworld for working as an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. While Lucas claimed he was meeting Crater to discuss opening a bawdy house in Toronto, his true mission was murder. Lucas killed Crater and his wife Carolyn Newman, then returned to the Waverley around 6 a.m. to say goodbye to his roommate. He was captured in Detroit the following day. Lucas was convicted and hung alongside Ronald Turpin during Canada’s last execution in December 1962.

Another infamous killer was reputed to have checked into the Waverley during the 1960s. After assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, James Earl Ray spent part of his time on the lam in Toronto. Legend has it the Waverley was one of his stops, even though he told the Ottawa Sun that he spent his time ping-ponging between a pair of rooming houses in the Dundas-Ossington area. This didn’t prevent two men allegedly representing the American government from asking Waverley management in the mid-1990s about the hotel’s connection with Ray.

Corner of Spadina Ave. and College St., looking north-west

Corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street, looking northwest, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 55, Item 34.

If Ray enjoyed a drink at the Silver Dollar Room, he might have watched the entertainment Bill Cameron described in a Star profile that fall about Spadina Avenue. “The Silver Dollar Room,” Cameron observed, “is a bouncy rowdy little place with a busty tone-deaf singer and bored trio band and the greatest stripper I have ever seen, thin and not very pretty but with a splendid lascivious skill at detecting the rhythms of the house, of putting what she has just where it should be at precisely the right moment to get everybody there up just underneath the point of a riot.”

In 1970, poet Milton Acorn moved in for a long stay. “The Waverley Hotel was full of character and characters,” he noted. “It was a place for all sorts of strange but true types. People who were certainly down but not out.” The flophouse-like atmosphere suited the foul-smelling, highly-opinionated Acorn, who was named “The People’s Poet” by his peers soon after moving in. Acorn paid the daily rate rather than the monthly rent in case he ever decided to pick up and leave, and constantly changed rooms out of fear he was being bugged by the RCMP. Though he moved out in 1977, Acorn kept a writing room at the hotel until he left Toronto in 1981. His stay is commemorated with a small plaque.

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Toronto Star, January 8, 1992.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the hotel was subject to periodic police raids and other woes. A bust in February 1978 netted 233 charges related to selling liquor to intoxicated persons. It was among the local bars hit by a two-week servers’ strike in September 1981, prompting the owners to personally serve trays of beer. A 1987 bust saw 16 people arrested for prostitution. Somewhere along the line, a new sign dropped the second “e” from the hotel’s name. Its rough atmosphere provided a great backdrop for Elmore Leonard, who set part of his novel Killshot at the Waverly. By the 1990s, management posted a sign reading “rooms should not be used for nefarious, wrongful or unlawful purposes.”

The Silver Dollar Room maintained a steady diet of blues and rock. For a time, it was home of the Elvis Monday music showcase. Around 1992, it changed its name to Jonny Vegas and briefly took down its signature sign. “I advised the new tenants against changing the sign,” property owner Paul Wynn told the Star. “I have a deal with them that, if the place fails, they’ll have to put up the Silver Dollar sign again.”

Time may be running out for the Waverly. The Wynn Group, which has owned the site since the mid-1980s, has released plans to replace the crumbling hotel with a 20-storey residential tower targeted to students that would include a gym and a rebuilt Silver Dollar Room. The project was criticized by Councillor Adam Vaughan, who called the plan “effectively a high-rise rooming house.”

Sources: East/West, Nancy Byrtus, Mark Fram, Michael McClelland, editors (Toronto: Coach House, 2000), Toronto: A Literary Guide by Greg Gatenby (Toronto: McArthur & Company, 1999), Milton Acorn: In Love and Anger by Richard Lemm (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1999), the June 12, 2013 edition of BlogTO, the December 12, 1923 edition of the Globe, the July 19, 1957, October 29, 1963, April 7, 1976, and April 7, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 28, 1955, January 2, 1959, October 12, 1968, February 2, 1978, September 2, 1981, December 4, 1987, January 8, 1992, and June 11, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The Silver Dollar Room received a heritage designation in January 2015. While city council rejected a demolition proposal in January 2014, the Waverly eventually had its date with a wrecking ball. The bar closed in spring 2017 and was demolished the following year.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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A pamphlet (uploaded by the Toronto Public Library) enticing travellers to stay at the Waverley, circa 1920. One can safely place College and Spadina into modern Toronto’s “congested traffic district.”

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1923.

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Globe and Mail, April 29, 1964.

1 Benvenuto Place

This story was originally published as an online “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 28, 2013.

Benvenuto, Avenue Road. - [1909?]

Benvenuto, circa 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 328A.

In a sense, Simeon Janes was already king of the hill. Regarded as one of Toronto’s sharpest real estate wheeler-dealers, he built a fortune during the 1880s by subdividing the land that became The Annex. When he decided to build a mansion in 1888, he settled on a property high up on Avenue Road with an expansive view of the growing city below.

Completed in 1891, Benvenuto lived up to English translation of its Italian name—“welcome”—as Janes entertained guests with feasts in its grand dining room and concerts in its conservatory. A contemporary account described the mansion as “a splendid piece of masonry, which puts to shame the flimsy ephemeral edifices, with their stuccoes and veneers, of modern house construction.”

Janes sold Benvenuto to Toronto Railway Company proprietor Sir William Mackenzie in 1897. Reputedly Mackenzie paid for part of the purchase in the pre-TTC streetcar operator’s stock, which was ironic given Janes backed an opposing bid when the city offered the transit contract to private concerns six years earlier. Mackenzie continued Benevenuto’s tradition of entertaining the rich while building a transportation empire which included the Canadian Northern Railway (the company responsible for developing Leaside).

Sir William McKenzie leaving Benvenuto. - [1910?]

Sir William Mackenzie leaving Benvenuto, circa 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1298.

Following Mackenzie’s death in 1923, the mansion fell into disuse. Parcels of the property were sold, resulting in the development of Edmund Avenue and Benvenuto Place. Developers who bought the remaining property in 1927 planned to demolish the mansion to make way for a deluxe apartment building. While the mansion was knocked down in 1932, several elements survived. The retaining wall along Avenue Road stayed put, while ornate gates Mackenzie shipped in from Italy moved west to their current location at 38-44 Burton Road.

Plans for an apartment complex remained in limbo until the early 1950s. Architect Peter Dickinson designed a flat-roofed, balcony-and-window-rich concrete structure which became one of Toronto’s first modernist buildings. Opened in stages between 1953 and 1955, 1 Benvenuto Place operated as a luxurious apartment hotel whose residents saw celebrities like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor pass through its lobby. The hotel service lasted through the late 1970s, after which it continued to offer some of the city’s priciest rental apartments.

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1 Benvenuto Place, 1955. Canadian Architectural Archives.

While there had been an onsite restaurant from the start, it didn’t make culinary waves until it transformed into Scaramouche in late 1980. Rising chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander handled the kitchen during its first two years, then Keith Froggett settled in for a run now heading into its 30th year. During the mid-’80s, pastry chef Joanne Yolles accidentally came up with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes after pondering the most blue-collar dessert she could make for a high-end eatery. The result: coconut cream pie. Soon after, a separate pasta bar offering $6 dishes created nightly lineups.

Talk of converting 1 Benvenuto Place into a condominium began in the mid-1980s, upsetting many residents. This may have been among the factors which led to the building’s addition to the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 1989. The conversion process finally went ahead in 2004, at which time monthly apartment rents ranged from $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $5,500 for a three-bedroom. Existing tenants had the option of continuing as renters or buying their apartments. For a time it appeared Scaramouche would be replaced with a single condo unit, but an agreement signed in March 2010 allowed the restaurant to continue serving diners.

Sources: Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: Mail Printing Company, 1891), The Railway King of Canada by R.B. Fleming (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1991), the July 2005 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 18, 1927, November 24, 1982, December 30, 1989, November 6, 2004, September 10, 2007, and March 12, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Drawing room of Benvenuto, early 1890s. Photo by Josiah Bruce. Toronto Public Library, 971-25-7.

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The Globe, January 4, 1897.

The sale to Sir William Mackenzie appears to have occurred in June 1897. The Star reported that it was rumoured he paid $100,000 for the property. Simeon Janes had paid $40,000 for the land, and $160,000 to build the home. Either Janes got a lot of Toronto Railway Company stock as further compensation, or Mackenzie picked up a bargain. Not until the end of October did the society columns indicate that the Mackenzies entertained guests at their new home.

Women in costume at Benvenuto. - [between 1912 and 1914]

Women in costume at Benvenuto, between 1912 and 1914. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, item 433.

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The Globe, June 18, 1914.

Despite lavish parties such as the one described here, things were turning sour financially for Mackenzie and his business partner Donald Mann. Factors ranging from reduced emigration from Europe to western Canada to market volatility to the outbreak of the First World War drove up the cost of completing their transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway. Though the last spike was driven in January 1915, trial runs wouldn’t begin until later that year. Within two years, the federal government acquired the railway, which would become one of the original components of Canadian National Railways. By 1921, he had divested his hydroelectric and streetcar interests, and left a relatively modest estate when he died in 1923. “His rapid rise to wealth and fame had the appearance of a meteor blazing a bright trail through the skies of the Canadian business world,” the Dictionary of Canadian Biography conlcluded, “but this meteor had burned itself out several years before Mackenzie’s body was committed to the earth near his home town of Kirkfield.”

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Toronto Star, January 18, 1927.

More on the early plans for an apartment “chateau” on the site.  The “Windsor” building mentioned here sounds like it evolved into the Windsor Arms Hotel (which opened later that year). The “Bloor Building” site now houses the Manulife Centre.

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Globe and Mail, January 29, 1954.

In a 1983 interview with the Globe and Mail, structural engineer and Scaramouche owner Morden Yolles described the process of building the apartment complex, which was one of his first major projects:

Meeting Peter (Dickinson) was very important. I wasn’t aware of architecture as such at school. In Toronto in the fifties, there was no contemporary architecture whatsoever. Peter was from England — he was the first to speak in terms of anything that could remotely be considered contemporary. He was a lively guy with a lot of drive. I went around the city with him looking for buildings of any interest. We were seeking new ways of expressing things. We began to break some new ground. There was nothing like Benvenuto around — it was being done in England at the time, and was close to the International Style. The building techniques were conventional, the structure was most unconventional.

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Globe and Mail, September 3, 1955.

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, July 11, 1959.

From the 1974 edition of Toronto Guidebook:

The Benvenuto is located in one of the city’s better residential areas. It’s quiet, dignified and understated, just like its neighbourhood. Most guests are there on a long-term basis, but 25 rooms are available for short stays, most of them equipped with kitchenettes. Air conditioning, free parking, colour TV, and excellent dining room and bar.

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Globe and Mail, January 28, 1981.

Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry’s take on the opening of Scaramouche.

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Globe and Mail, February 21, 1981.

In another review written two years later, Kates observed that some of “the affluent tenants of the blue-rinse set” were upset when the previous restaurant, which served up old school fare like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, was converted into Scaramouche.

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, June 6, 1981.

starweek 1983-05-21 jim white scaramouche review

Starweek, May 21, 1983.

Sources for additional material: Toronto Guidebook, edited by Alexander Ross (Toronto: Key Publishers, 1974); the March 19, 1983 and March 26, 1983 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the June 14, 1897 edition of the Toronto Star.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 4)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch was convinced he had destroyed Christmas in Whoville.

December 22, 1959

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December 23, 1959

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December 24, 1959
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The microfilm copy of the final strip was in poor shape compared to the rest of the page (perhaps it was printed in colour?). Also, don’t you feel they could have wrung at least another day from the overload of text in panel one?

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For print/microfilming quality comparison, here’s Frank Tumpane’s Christmas Eve column, which was placed beside the Grinch strip.

(Sidebar: Tumpane was a columnist, usually focusing on city matters, for the Globe and Mail during the early-to-mid 1950s, then moved over to the Tely, where he remained until his death in 1967.)

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

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Toronto Star, December 17, 1966.

Chuck Jones’s animated adaptation made its Toronto-area debut via Buffalo’s WBEN-TV (now WIVB) at 7 p.m. on December 18, 1966.

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1966.

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Globe and Mail, December 20, 1966.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 3)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch cleaned the Whos out of their holiday trimmings, only to encounter little Cindy Lou Who.

December 18, 1959

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December 19, 1959

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December 21, 1959
(no edition was published February 20)

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Contemporary Comment

The conclusion of Ellen Lewis Buell’s review from the October 6, 1957 edition of the New York Times:

Even if you prefer Dr. Seuss in a purely antic mood, you must admit that if there’s a moral to be pointed out, no one can do it more gaily. The reader is swept along by the ebullient rhymes and the weirdly zany pictures until he is limp with relief when the Grinch reforms and, like the latter, mellow with good feeling.

TO BE CONCLUDED…

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 2)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch came up with a “wonderful, awful idea.”

December 15, 1959

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December 16, 1959

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December 17, 1959

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Contemporary Comment

Charles A. Brady’s description of the book, from the November 30, 1957 edition of the Buffalo Evening News:

Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is a sort of loveless Scrooge among doodle-bugs, hell-bent on seeing to it that the more lovable Whos — Seuss fans will know what Whos are — have no Christmas. So he dresses up as Santa in order to steal all the presents.

But, of course, even as Scrooge experienced a change of heart and left off scrooging, in the end the Grinch leaves off grinching, as Christmas steals the Grinch instead.

TO BE CONTINUED…