Shaping Toronto: The Old City Hall Cenotaph

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2015.

20151111cenotaph1925

When this photo appeared in the November 12, 1925 edition of the Globe, the caption read: “The picture was taken by the Globe staff photographer shortly after the cenotaph had been unveiled by his Excellency, and before the hundreds of wreaths which now cover the base of the monument had been deposited in token of remembrance by the relatives and friends of the noble dead to whom the memorial is erected.” City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 6584.

Noon, November 11, 1925: Governor-General Lord Byng of Vimy removes a Union Jack flag to reveal the city’s permanent memorial to the soldiers sacrificed during the First World War. As he unveils the granite monument outside Old City Hall, he looks, according to the Star, “not into a sea of faces but a sea of poppies. Miraculously in a few hours the restricted area that does duty as Toronto’s place d’armes had been carpeted with the fragile scarlet blossoms that are more imperishable than brass and marble associated with the glory and tragedy of the greatest of world conflicts.”

As the cenotaph marks its 90th anniversary this Remembrance Day, it’s worth reflecting on the role such monuments play, and, especially in light of current debates on appropriate memorials, what some people have considered to be desecrations.

When a city council special committee contemplated permanent sites for a monument in 1924, its members felt that erecting it in front of Old City Hall would render it inconspicuous due to space limitations and the height of surrounding buildings. While they preferred replacing an old bandstand in Queen’s Park, veterans felt it should remain at Old City Hall, where annual ceremonies had been held since 1920.

20151111designs

Three of the potential designs for the cenotaph. Toronto Star, October 27, 1924.

A design competition attracted 50 entrants. The $2,500 prize went to architects/First World War veterans William Ferguson and Thomas Canfield Pomphrey (the latter would work on the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant). The cornerstone of the granite cenotaph was laid with a silver trowel by Field Marshal Earl Haig on July 24, 1925. As the unveiling neared, city council ordered a change to the front wording from “To those who served” to a phrase specifically geared to those who fell in battle, “To our glorious dead.”

When city officials arrived at the cenotaph at 6 a.m. on November 11, 1925, they found two memorial wreaths had been left overnight: an anonymous assembly of chrysanthemums and one in memory of Private William Bird from his children. During the ceremony, only wreaths presented by Haig (who, unable to attend, drafted Byng as his stand-in) and the city were allowed to rest on the monument. Dozens of others, representing everything from orphanages to Belgian soldiers in town for the Royal Winter Fair, were banked around Old City Hall’s steps.

“It is true that there is nothing we can do which will add to the honour in which their memory is held,” Mayor Thomas Foster observed during his speech. “But in performing the ceremony arranged for this occasion we follow immemorial usage, and we inaugurate a memorial to the lasting honour of the men of this city who left their homes and the pursuits of peace and gave up their lives for their country.”

One addition was made almost immediately. Members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers’ Association were upset that none of the seven battle names inscribed on the sides involved the Navy. Their suggestion of Zeebrugge was added to the rear.

20151111macedonians

Macedonian parade, scene at cenotaph, September 1, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 17805.

The cenotaph quickly became the site of memorials by numerous groups honouring their war dead. Mohawk singer Os-ke-non-ton laid a five foot long “arrow of memory” in December 1925 to commemorate First Nations soldiers. The monument was an official stop during the annual July 12 Orange Parade. Few days went by where there wasn’t a fresh wreath lain upon it.

By the late 1940s, as the dates to another world war were inscribed into the cenotaph, some quarters felt the public wasn’t respectful enough. Letters to newspapers complained about workers resting on it for lunch or smoke breaks, drunks sleeping on it, and the occasional dice game at its base. Police placed “keep off” signs on the cenotaph, while some city councillors wanted to erect spikes to prevent anyone from leaning too close. Some of these efforts to turn the monument into an untouchable shrine echo current arguments on how displaying Christmas decorations too early offends the sanctity of remembering dead soldiers, even if they fought for the freedom to do such things.

20151111hungarians

Toronto Star, October 29, 1956.

There’s also the question of whether the cenotaph should just honour the dead from the two world wars, or victims of battle in general. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a group representing 16 ethnicities laid a wreath during a 5,000 person march on October 27, 1956 to honour those killed during the uprising. The wreath was declared a desecration by the Civic Employees’ War Veterans’ Association (CEWVA), whose officials were angered that it represented citizens of a country which was our enemy during the world wars. CEWVA president Al Watson brought a letter to the Board of Control urging the city adopt stricter rules for who could use the cenotaph, preferably for the exclusive honour of Canadian and Allied troops. He didn’t face a receptive audience—controller Ford Brand noted that regardless of Hungary’s past allegiances, its citizens were currently fighting for democratic principles, then asked Watson “how can you distinguish just because of race?” Befitting his nickname of “Mayor of all the People,” Nathan Phillips declared that “the city hall is the centre of the city, a place where all citizens should be able to go express their sorrows.”

But this openness didn’t last long. Following a spat between Croatian and Yugoslavian groups over wreaths that may have honoured soldiers who died while allied to Nazi Germany, the Board of Control ruled in May 1957 that only dead Canadian military personnel would be officially commemorated at the memorial.

Who was considered appropriate to lead a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph service arose in 2013, when there were calls for Mayor Rob Ford to skip the ceremony a week after admitting to smoking crack cocaine. “That he thinks he has the moral authority to deliver a remembrance address,” observed the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, “is simply staggering.” Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly observed that it was important for the officeholder to show up regardless of their personal problems. Ford was booed as he took the stage.

20151111cenotaphwreaths

Cenotaph, City Hall, decorated with wreaths, Remembrance Day, view from southeast , November 11, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 549.

But booing figures like our former mayor should not be the point of attending a ceremony at the cenotaph. Standing in front of the site should rise above petty concerns like who can or can’t be honoured there. It provides an opportunity to think about military conflict in general, both in terms of the dead and the grey areas which are always present. Don’t restrict your moment of contemplative silence to November 11.

Additional material from the November 11, 1925 and November 16, 1925 editions of the Globe; the July 24, 1947, September 25, 1947, November 1, 1956, and November 11, 2013 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 27, 1924, October 27, 1924, November 3, 1925, November 11, 1925, November 16, 1925, December 4, 1925, October 29, 1956, Ocrober 30, 1956, and November 1, 1956 editions of the Toronto Star.

Advertisements

Vintage Toronto Ads: Columbia House

Originally published on Torontoist on August 12, 2015.

20150811crc1957

Maclean’s, February 16, 1957.

The bait was hard to resist: up to a dozen albums for a penny. Sure, there was a “small” shipping and handling fee. And buy x-number of albums at full price over x-number of years. And mail back reply cards if the monthly featured selection didn’t appeal to you. And endure legal notices in case you didn’t pay up. And, if you cared to dig deeper, support the no or reduced royalties on those bargain albums paid to performers and publishers. And, if you wanted to dump the albums, discover used music stores that refused to accept them, citing inferior pressing quality.

But a dozen albums for a penny! Even with the additional costs factored in, Columbia House and its competitors were an affordable way to build a music collection, especially back-catalogue items you might not have rushed down to the local bricks-and-mortar store to buy. You could kill hours browsing microscopic print to make the right picks.

At their peak in the mid-1990s, record clubs across North America raked in $1.5 billion annually. At the end of the 1990s, Columbia House Canada held the second largest market share among Canadian music retailers, behind bricks-and-mortar retailer HMV. Their power over sales was such that many large chains boycotted the 1996 Juno Awards when Columbia House was named an official sponsor.

Then the Internet came along. The only surprise over this week’s announcement that the American remnants of Columbia House has filed for Chapter 11 is that any trace of the former giant still existed.

20150811eatons640px

Toronto Star, October 17, 1955.

Columbia House’s half-century presence in Toronto began when the Columbia Record Club launched on both sides of the border in 1955. It was promoted via ads through local retailers ranging from Eaton’s to Sniderman’s Music Hall (the College Street forerunner of Sam the Record Man). The original offer was a choice of one free record from a list of 12. After that, you had to buy four LPs at list price over the next year, with a free record tossed in for every two you bought. The offer was adjusted over time: by 1968, the deal was eight free records if you bought nine over the next year.

20150811snidermans

Globe and Mail, October 15, 1955.

The company experienced pains after purchasing the rival Capitol Record Club of Canada in 1974. “Quite frankly,” Columbia House Canada VP/GM Richard Gurian told the Star, “we didn’t do such a great job in taking over” after discovering how many bad accounts were inherited. Moving its computer services from its Don Mills office to the headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana created customer invoice problems.

One result: for the rest of the 1970s, Columbia House provoked the highest number of complaints about a single firm received by the Star’s Star Probe consumer-help column. Most aggravating was the steady stream of increasingly threatening notices to pay up in cases where items didn’t arrive or requests to close properly paid accounts were ignored. As Star Probe columnist Rod Goodman put it, “It is a shame that the law allows firms to throw legal notices at customers without making even a token effort to determine the facts.” Readers frequently vowed never to deal with direct marketers ever again.

20150811crc1968

Maclean’s, February 1968.

Goodman published an example of the form letters complainants received. This one was the first stage in prodding a delinquent customer, utilizing an obnoxious “friendly” approach:

Have you ever tried wishing away your troubles? They just don’t go away. The only way troubles will disappear is by doing something about them. In our case, I mean yours and mine, our troubles could disappear if you would only pay your bill. We would both be relieved of a big burden. Especially since the time is rapidly approaching when I must make a decision whether or not to turn your account over to a collection agency. Send your payment today and breathe a sigh of relief.

That letter may have been signed by “Douglas Mitchell,” the fake name Columbia House used for its friendliest reminder. Not as nice was “Frank Pearson,” who asked if you forgot the bill before demanding payment. If nothing was resolved, “Clark Weatherbee” threatened legal action or harassment from a collection agency. These names helped Columbia House staff determine account status whenever a frazzled customer called in. “Suppose everyone wrote to me and I wasn’t here,” Gladys Perry, Columbia House Canada’s manager of fulfillment, told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “Imagine all the frustration that would build up. And what if I were to leave the company?”

Sometimes the form letter went too far. One Weatherbee form used in the early 1980s advised clients that “we are now fully aware of your extremely poor credit risk status.” While Parry dismissed complaints about that wording, noting that those who supposedly owed Columbia House did “not necessarily have a poor credit rating in the whole community,” lawyers took the company to task. The wording was removed.

Perhaps employees were fatigued by legitimate deadbeats, who made up to 35 per cent of their customer base. Some went far to get their cheap albums: a North York couple was charged in February 2000 for defrauding Columbia House out of $20,000 over the previous year. Under different names (yet using the same address), the couple submitted 28 handwritten and over 1,000 online club applications, yielding a bounty of 900 CDs.

Columbia House soldiered on even when rival BMG Music Service launched with a Boxing Day advertising blitz in 1994. BMG’s promise of no further obligations past the promotional offer was an immediate hit, drawing 300,000 members in 10 months. Both services, and their offshoots, fought it out in mailers, ads, and online until BMG pulled the plug on its Mississauga facility in early 2000. As online shopping cut into its base, Columbia House was sold to a succession of new owners. The end for its Canadian operation came in December 2010, when Direct Brands closed its east Scarborough office.

Additional material from the August 16, 2008 edition of Billboard; the October 15, 1955, April 15, 1982, and August 26, 1998 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1968 edition of Maclean’s; and the October 12, 1976, March 24, 1977, April 10, 1979, and December 10, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A&P

Originally published on Torontoist on July 22, 2015.

20150722apcoffee

The Globe, February 10, 1932.

At its peak, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the largest retailer on the planet. By the end of the 1920s, the grocer boasted up to 16,000 stores across the United States, Ontario, and Quebec. As late as the early 1960s, A&P could boast about its dominant size. But over half a century of decline may have culminated this week when the 156-year-old grocer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years, leaving 296 stores up for grabs.

Contemplate those numbers the next time you ponder the size of today’s retail giants.

A&P arrived in Toronto in April 1928, a year after opening its first Canadian stores in Montreal. Within two years, 100 small locations dotted the city. Profiling the new stores in September 1928, Canadian Grocer was impressed with A&P’s efforts:

These stores are a combination of groceries and meats, and are pretty well standardized although they are not always exactly the same. They are attractively laid out with meats down one side, groceries opposite, and usually a big display refrigerator at the rear. One of the fundamental principles of the company is to display as many goods as possible in each of their stores. They also make a point of price-ticketing everything so that the customer does not have to ask the price of any line on view. Dotted here and there along the floor and in front of counters are several wire display stands each containing one particular line of goods and usually at a special price. The meat display counter is refrigerated by pipes that are cooled by machinery in the basement. The counter is glass-topped. While the meats on display cannot be touched from the outside, the salesman back of the counter has ready access to them and can easily pick out any cut desired.

20150722apcoffeeshriners

Toronto Star, March 13, 1930.

Many locations were placed near existing Dominion stores. Several press accounts noted how Dominion’s owners had previously worked for A&P, a factor which may have heightened the grocers’ rivalry.

The company invested $175,000 to build a combination bakery/head office/warehouse complex at the northeast corner of Laughton Avenue and Connolly Street in the city’s west end. Opened in December 1929, the facility’s perks included banana-ripening rooms and a laundry for store uniforms. “One is at once impressed with the spaciousness, wide and sunny offices, and the ordered cleanliness of the storage rooms,” the Globe observed.

The following decade saw a few hiccups that caused executives to down more than a few cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee. In 1933, city councillor Sam McBride charged A&P with providing inferior goods to customers using relief vouchers issued during the depths of the Great Depression. While denying McBride’s charges, an A&P official admitted they wash imported carrots. Alongside competitors like Loblaws and Simpsons, A&P was charged in 1935 with short-weighing goods.

20150722apetobicoke

Globe and Mail, July 29, 1966.

By the mid-1960s, A&P’s American operations were declining. An aging board of directors failed to adjust to a changing marketplace, especially the emergence of suburbia. Small, crummy stores reeked of fatigue and wilting produce. Instead of re-investing its profits, management heeded calls to increase already generous dividends. Yet the picture in Canada appeared rosier: its program of store modernization was a model for the rest of the chain. In 1966, 20 acres of land on Dundas Street east of Highway 27 (now Highway 427) in Etobicoke were purchased for a new head office/warehouse/store complex, a facility still used by Metro today. To build local customer loyalty, A&P undertook promotions such as distributing flyers in English and Italian to west-end neighbourhoods.

20150722apcold

The Telegram, August 7, 1952. The Dundas/Browns Line location mentioned in this ad was A&P’s largest Canadian store to date. Perks included a 300-space parking lot, and aisles wide enough to accommodate 500 shoppers in the store at a time.

While American operations contracted following A&P’s purchase by Germany’s Tengelmann Group in 1979, the Canadian division benefitted from the demise of two major rivals. When Conrad Black’s Argus Corporation broke up Dominion in 1985, A&P picked up its Ontario stores, retaining the brand for its GTA locations. Five years later, Miracle Food Mart was acquired from the remnants of Steinberg’s, though that banner was phased out following a lengthy strike in the mid-1990s.

As the 1990s ended, A&P Canada was the company’s only profitable division. This provoked rumours of a sell-off to infuse funds into the flailing American operations. Suitor speculations ranged from Sobeys to Walmart. Quebec-based Metro won out in July 2005, and within five years rebranded all remaining banners apart from Food Basics.

Additional material from The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011); the September 28, 1928 and July-August 1998 editions of Canadian Grocer; the December 10, 1929, May 24, 1933, and March 27, 1935 editions of the Globe; and the July 17, 1952 and August 17, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1928-05-07 ad p25

Toronto Star, May 7, 1928.

star 1930-01-16 opening of 100th store

Toronto Star, January 16, 1930.

globe-1931-05-07-good-coffee-ad

The Globe, May 7, 1931.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Please Walk on the Grass

Originally published on Torontoist on July 8, 2015.

20150708friendlycity

Key to Toronto, August 1970. 

As the 1970s approached, Toronto seemed primed to throw off its old cold, unfriendly shackles. The puritanical laws which had cut down on fun, especially regarding alcohol or doing anything on a Sunday, were slowly loosening. The city’s increasingly multicultural mix boosted the number of summer festivals residents enjoyed, opening new worlds to tourists and long-time Torontonians alike. This thawing may have inspired tourism officials to promote our town as “The Friendly City,” even if making that a reality took baby steps.

One huge leap seen in today’s ad was made a decade earlier, one which grabbed attention across North America: erecting signs in Metro Toronto parks urging users to “please walk on the grass.”

The signs were the brainchild of Metro Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson. Hired as the department’s first employee in July 1955, Thompson spent the next two decades cultivating the region’s natural beauty into over 7,800 acres for the public to enjoy. “We saw our job as wilderness management,” Thompson told Weekend magazine in 1972. “Letting the land express what it was meant to express.” Instead of installing elements like baseball diamonds, Thompson saw the mix of open spaces and flora as places where people could just enjoy themselves.

20150708parkmap

A map spotlighting recreational spots around Metro, including some of the parks under the direction of Tommy Thompson. Toronto Star, May 6, 1967.

Thompson also believed that problems such as vandalism could be reduced if you encouraged people to use the parks and didn’t present them with long lists of fineable offences. According to a 1958 Star editorial, Thompson “holds the revolutionary theory that people go to parks for the freedom from the thousands of niggling restrictions that hem in urbanized man as much as for the fresh air and sunlight.” He encouraged activities like tree climbing, as long as the plants could support it. He even thought that lovebirds carving their initials into a tree was charming:

A young couple are madly in love with each other and in the park they carve their initials together on a tree. Now, 20 years later, they return to that spot, maybe with a few children, and they look into each other’s eyes and relive that wonderful, youthful moment of love. I’ll be damned if I stand in the way of that.

During a meeting in 1969, Thompson was challenged on his assertion that one could take a 10.5 km walk through the geographic centre of Toronto without crossing a paved street. To prove his point, he led up to 400 people on a stroll through the central Don park system. This began a long series of walks with the public, where he pointed out natural highlights with his wooden snake adorned walking stick.

Not everyone admired Thompson’s commitment to expanding green space. He supported the eviction of the remaining residents of the Toronto Islands to create more parkland. There were also signs of a thin skin, as he sometimes threatened to quit whenever his decisions were challenged publicly. Generally, he was regarded as an able administrator called in to fix administrative problems, especially at the Metro Toronto Zoo, where he served as director between 1978 and 1981.

20150708walkongrass

The impact of the sign’s message lives on, as seen in this ad promoting other municipal environmental efforts. Globe and Mail, May 31, 2002.

When Thompson died in 1985, everyone referred to his “please walk on the grass” signs, which he admitted came about after he told a sign company to change the wording on what were supposed to be “keep off the grass” warnings. The growing parkland along the Leslie Street spit was named Tommy Thompson Park in his honour.

Additional material from the August 17, 1965, April 14, 1982, and March 2, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 18, 1958 and March 1, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star; and the June 17, 1972 edition of Weekend.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Town & Country

Originally published on Torontoist on May 20, 2015.

20150520ad1957

Key to Toronto, September 1957.

Once upon a time, the all-you-can-eat buffet was marketed as an exotic experience with a touch of European class. Descended from the Swedish smorgasbord, the mid-20th-century buffet was marketed as a way to sample fancy dishes drawn from a United Nations of cuisines. The experience was often marketed as “French,” even if the majority of the items bore little resemblance to French cuisine.

20150520openingad

Globe and Mail, February 11, 1949.

Such was the case for one of Toronto’s longest-running gorge-fests, the Town & Country. Opened in 1949 at Gould and Mutual streets in the Westminster Hotel, it billed itself early on as “Canada’s most unusual eating place.” Mary Walpole, Globe and Mail advertorial writer, captured the early vibe of the joint:

This is the fabulous buffet that everyone talks about and you could do a lot of travelling before you would find anything equal to it. Even Chef Pierre, who is unusually modest, looks at that extravagant set up with a proud gleam. The cold buffet is all set forth on crushed ice, fresh salmon masked in mayonnaise, lobster, shrimp and chicken salads, wonderful appetizers so tempting you don’t know where to stop; chicken, tongue and the crispest of fresh greens. Then there is the hot buffet with the emphasis on roast beef and roast chicken. And you can go back again and again, just like a party. Luncheon $1.10, dinner $1.95. Definitely a must.

20150520ad1951

Globe and Mail, September 17, 1951.

In preparation for a new lounge room in late 1967, the restaurant added live music to its feast. Blaik Kirby, the Globe and Mail‘s entertainment critic, was less than impressed with the preview offering, a trio led by guitarist Chris Sullivan. While the musicians were skilled, Kirby complained that their amps were too loud, and that numbers like “Unchained Melody” sounded “as if they’d been arranged with an ear to the record player.”

20150520ad1960

Key to Toronto, May 1960.

Town & Country expanded to the suburbs in the mid-1970s, starting with a location in Scarborough; eventually, it operated buffets as far west as Mississauga. Back downtown, the flagship was refurbished with nostalgic decor such as antique posters and old photos of Toronto. It wasn’t long before the restaurant itself became a nostalgic memory—it closed in 1981 to make way for the demolition of the Westminster Hotel complex. The property is now occupied by Ryerson University.

20150520tc1976

Key to Toronto, July 1976.

The chain lingered on elsewhere for years, though its “French” aspects were gradually phased out. A later downtown location at 190 Queens Quay East was built around old railway cars. A tourist-centric Star review from 2008 noted that “while Toronto is indeed a blend of dozens of global cultures, the food on offer at Town & Country Buffet is an accurate sampling of none of them.” That location closed the following year when the city didn’t renew its lease in order to make way for Waterfront Toronto’s revitalization of the area.

Additional material from the April 27, 1953, October 3, 1967, and March 5, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 28, 2008 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Taste of Hungary

Originally published on Torontoist on March 4, 2015.

20150304hungarianvillage

Key to Toronto, February 1982.

Walking into the Country Style Hungarian Restaurant along Bloor Street in the Annex is more than dining on central European cuisine served on checkered tablecloths. The venerable eatery stands as one of the last links to the strip’s past, before Hungarian businesses, butchers, and restaurants gave way to cheap sushi joints and falafel spots. The influx of refugees following the uprising against Hungary’s communist government in 1956 built up a community that stretched into Kensington Market and Yorkville.

In November 1956, shortly after the Hungarian revolution, Canada’s federal government announced that it would accept all refugee claimants, a move possibly motivated by Cold War–era one-upmanship. Around 37,000 Hungarians came to Canada, with 12,000 of them settling in Toronto. They were temporarily housed by organizations like the Salvation Army and YMCA, and in locations stretching from the CNE Coliseum to Chorley Park. Highly educated, the Hungarians made their mark by adding a touch of cosmopolitanism to a city starting to shed its staid, conservative skin.

20150304woodenplate

Key to Toronto, February 1982.

John Lorinc, whose parents arrived in Toronto from Hungary in 1956, reflected on the community in a 2004 Globe and Mail article:

In the late 1950s and 1960s, these neighbourhoods became popular with immigrants who harboured a deep belief that the key to preserving their culture lay in the availability of schnitzels, rye bread, and rich pastries. At the height of the Magyar invasion, Bloor West was a veritable Budapest of eateries, from Jack and Jill, in the old Colonnade building, and The Coffee Mill, on Yorkville, to Marika’s, Cake Master, Corona, Country Style, and the smoky, windowless Blue Danube Room. Although the quality of the food didn’t vary much from one to the next (there are only so many ways to stuff a cabbage), their respective patrons tended to be fiercely loyal.

The heart of Bloor Street’s Hungarian strip, between Brunswick and Bathurst, earned several nicknames. “Wiener Schnitzel Row” was favoured by some, while others, with apologies to writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dubbed it the “Goulash Archipelago.” Beyond the émigrés, the cheap, hearty food appealed to university students on tight budgets.

Toronto’s first Hungarian eateries opened in the mid-1950s prior to the revolution, offering a taste of middle Europe to awakening post-war tastebuds. Clientele varied by restaurant: the Coffee Mill in Yorkville attracted artisans with its sidewalk café, while spots along Bay Street like Csarda and Hungarian Village advertised in tourist publications.

20150304csarda

Key to Toronto, February 1982.

One attraction of Toronto-style Hungarian dining was seeing how each establishment outdid each other with their groaning boards. Offered as wooden platters or flaming feasts, these plates piled mounds of food to feed more diners than advertised. Take Hungarian Village’s “Attila’s Flaming Platter,” as described by Globe and Mail advertorial writer Mary Walpole in 1960:

Attila’s Flaming Platter is a gourmet’s triumph … borne flaming to your table, with background music of ravishing Gypsy violins. This is a platter for two (or more, if desired), piled high with the choicest hot meats, surrounded with a selection of delicious salads in lettuce cups, surmounted by a tall spit with spirit cup (specially designed) on which tenderloin pieces and mushroom caps wrapped in bacon strips are given that incomparable flavor filip of flambe.

Elements like strolling violinists became, depending on your point of view, a charmingly kitschy part of the meal, or something that sped up requests to pack up the leftovers.

By the 1990s, the Hungarian influence faded as the second generation assimilated into the mainstream, moved away from the core, and decided not to keep businesses going. Aging clientele doomed spots like the Coffee Mill, which closed in 2014 after a half-century run. The number of restaurants along Bloor shrank, leaving Country Style as the last paprikash standing.

Additional material from the October 17, 2006 edition of 24 Hours; the May 28, 1960, August 28, 2004, and October 14, 2006 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the July 17, 1976 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1955-09-08 csarda profile

Globe and Mail, September 8, 1955.

gm 1955-09-08 csarda recipes

star 1956-05-10 hungarian restaurants 1

Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

star 1956-05-10 hungarian restaurants 2

Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

star 1956-05-10 hungarian restaurants 3

Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

star 1976-07-17 country style review

Toronto Star, July 17, 1976.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Fabulous Cloverdale Mall

Originally published on Torontoist on November 19, 2014.

20141118cloverdaleopening

Globe and Mail, November 15, 1956.

In many ways, Cloverdale Mall fulfils the visions of early shopping-centre designers: a convenient, one-stop destination at the heart of a suburban community. As a 2013 profile of the mall in The Grid observed, “its very ordinariness and prosaic mix of shops is precisely what makes it so valuable to its customers.”

What Cloverdale lacks in flashiness it makes up for by serving its neighbourhood. Initiatives such as offering free temporary space for non-profit organizations and a “Heartwalkers” program for health-conscious shoppers demonstrate an awareness of the community’s needs.

The mall’s efforts have been rewarded, too: in 2007, Cloverdale won the inaugural Social Responsibility Award from the Canadian branch of the International Council of Shopping Centres for its fundraising campaign to build the city’s first free-standing residential hospice, the Dorothy Lea Hospice Palliative Care Centre.

There was a tinge of glitz to Cloverdale’s opening on November 15, 1956. The original 34-store section of the open-air plaza consisted of two rows of businesses separated by a 30-foot wide walkway. Tile mosaics designed by Joseph Iliu provided storefront decoration—the largest was a seven-by-19-foot panel on the west wall of the Dominion supermarket depicting fish, produce, and a cocktail glass.

20141118dominionopening

Globe and Mail, November 22, 1956.

Near Dominion stood the plaza’s major art installation, a 25-foot high sculpture by Montreal artist Robert Roussil known, depending on the source, as “Figures in Movement” or “Galaxie Humaine.” The work was made of British Columbia fir and covered in lead. “I think I have a normal Canadian viewpoint and this sculpture is designed for everybody,” Roussil told the Globe and Mail. “Like anything new it won’t take long for people to become interested. Whether they accept it or not is another matter.”

Businesses at Cloverdale quickly found ways to draw in customers. Major retailers such as Dominion benefitted from Etobicoke’s relaxed evening-shopping bylaws. Record store owner Wilf Sayer capitalized on the growing power of teen consumers. He began inviting them to his shop on Tuesday nights for listening sessions and dancing, offering pop on the house.

As the events became more popular, Sayer stopped subsidizing the drinks and moved the dances into the plaza. After 600 people showed up for the July 2, 1957 starlight dance, he turned the event into a biweekly affair. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Sayer encouraged parents to chaperone so they could “see for themselves that it is a wholesome evening of entertainment.” While the playlist included Elvis Presley and other early rockers, squares were pleased by the strains of Pat Boone and Andy Williams.

20141118morganscloverdale

Globe and Mail, July 17, 1960.

The mall gained a major anchor when Montreal-based department store Morgan’s opened a branch in August 1960. Globe and Mail advertorial columnist Mary Walpole wrote that the store “has an air of big town sophistication and which we think is a compliment to the people who go a-shopping there … whether it is mother and the carriage crowd in sun dresses and slims or smart suburbanites who might have stepped off the cover of Harper’s [Bazaar].” The Morgan’s space would later house The Bay, Zellers (which relocated from elsewhere in the mall), and Target.

20141118cloverdalecovered1

Etobicoke Gazette, August 5, 1976.

The mall, which was enclosed in 1976, has seen its ups and downs. But local retailers such as Hot Oven Bakery and Taylor Somers clothiers have stayed for decades, enhancing Cloverdale’s community-oriented feel and offering the mall some stability. Several other current tenants either have been around since the beginning (LCBO, Scotiabank) or are descended from early businesses (Coles, Metro).

Major retail announcements in Toronto increasingly tend to focus on high-end “prestige” outlets or cheap chic, so it’s reassuring that a pretension-free mall such as Cloverdale manages to survive, and to continue serving its community.

Additional material from the November 16, 1956, November 17, 1956, August 3, 1957 and August 19, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 2013 edition of The Grid; and the September 26, 2007 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1956-11-16 cloverdale mall opening

Globe and Mail, November 16, 1956.

gm 1956-11-17 cloverdale mall opens

Globe and Mail, November 17, 1956.

20141118cloverdalecovered2

Etobicoke Gazette, August 12, 1975.

20141118cloverdalecovered3

Etobicoke Gazette, August 19, 1975.