The Evolving Landscape of St. James Park

Originally published on Torontoist on November 24, 2011.


A man enjoys two forms of sunshine in St. James Park during the late 1970s. The park was partly conceived to provide a spot for office workers to relax during their lunch hour. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 4.

With the eviction of Occupy Toronto, St. James Park will gradually return to its former, emptier condition. But the temporary landscaping changes the protesters created with their signs, tents, and yurts did not constitute the first physical redesign of the park. Over the course of the past 50 years, as this gallery shows, the site has gone from housing 19th-century commercial buildings to Victorian-inspired landscaping.


Section of Toronto survey map, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives.

St. James Park began to take its modern shape when St. James Cathedral sold the land to its east to the City of Toronto around 1960, not long after this survey map was prepared. Both Commercial Street and the northern stretch of Market Street disappeared as the park developed.


Exterior of St. James Cathedral, northeast corner of King and Church Streets, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 83.

Though a condition of the sale was that the property should become a park, the city toyed with using the site as part of a civic project that evolved into the St. Lawrence Centre over objections from the church. Instead, over the next decade, the city demolished the buildings on the former church property, along with purchasing those within the park’s present boundary, and replaced them with benches and basic landscaping. In this photo from 1923, you can see some of the buildings that were demolished.


Looking west at St. James Park from Jarvis Street, circa 1978-1979, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 10.

St. James Park was seen as a final opportunity to create a large public green space downtown; in a 1970 interview with the Toronto Star, Toronto Parks Commissioner Ivan Forrest believed that due to the prohibitive cost of assembling land, any future parks in the core would depend on the generosity of developers.


Looking south toward St. Lawrence Hall and CIBC branch, circa 1978-1979. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 9.

By the mid-1970s, the park assumed the entire eastern end of the block except for a holdout on the northwest corner of King and Jarvis whose tenant wouldn’t shock the Occupy crowd: a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch.


Sketch of the St. James Park Bandshell, circa 1977-1981. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 8.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, coinciding with renovations to St. James Cathedral, plans went ahead to make the park look less spartan. The new landscaping was inspired by surrounding Victorian-era buildings like the church and St. Lawrence Hall.


Sketch of the proposed Victorian Garden, circa 1977-1981. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 7.

The Garden Club of Toronto spent two years researching a proper Victorian garden for the park, though their work was sabotaged by the theft of 22 antique rose bulbs from the site in November 1980. As garden convenor Nancy Colquhoun noted at the end of a letter to the Globe and Mail, “it is discouraging that such a generous gift to the city is treated so maliciously.”


A model of a gateway to St. James Park. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 10.




Vintage Toronto Ads: Valentine’s Day ’60

Originally published on Torontoist on February 9, 2010.


Globe and Mail, February 12, 1960.

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away—have you selected a special card, a heart-shaped trinket, or a generic box of chocolates yet? Stereotypical gifts to suit every degree of thoughtfulness, or lack of that, were much the same in 1960 as they are now, whether you shopped at tonier shops in Yorkville or the neighbourhood five-and-dime.

This ad for Yorkville businesses included in ultra-fine print a list of merchants where shoppers could discover the BEST gift. Among the businesses still in the neighbourhood, even if their Yorkville locations have changed or have shifted south along Yonge Street, are Bay Bloor Radio, Birks, Curry’s Art Supplies, Grand & Toy, Roberts Gallery, and Stollery’s.

If a gift didn’t work, the way to a valentine’s heart might have been through his or her stomach. The Star’s Margaret Carr suggested a traditional full-course meal. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Carr wrote, “but I’m all in favour of the hearts-and-flowers type of day…So, what better valentine than a dream of a dinner for two, with soft lights and soft music? Even without any flowery verses, he should get the idea!” On the menu: veal scallopini, buttered asparagus, hot rolls, celery curls, cherry gelatine salad on lettuce, ice cream in maraschino cherry pastry shells, and coffee. If this meal didn’t produce the desired results, the chef could use Carr’s ready-made reply: “Roses are red, the salad is too, if this food doesn’t send you, nuts to you!”


Toronto Star, February 10, 1960.

While newspaper ads for Kresge’s and other retailers highlighted their selection of traditional boxed valentines, they didn’t mention whether they carried trendy “sick” cards. Seen as “contemporary” valentines for “sophisticated” people (or at least an excuse for the reporter to use air quotes), these cards ditched the traditional for quick insults. One example: a card with a lovely peacock on the front with the text “There’s something about you that reminds me of a bird…” The punchline inside? “…Your brain!” According to Toronto psychologist Dr. David A. Stewart, the cards were a cynical reaction by the “cool set” against use of traditional emotions like love in advertising campaigns. “It reveals a desire to get away from the traditional emotional expressions. It’s an affectation of coolness,” he told the Star. “Friendship is trite and corny, but we all appreciate it. We are living in a consumers’ goods society and we’re constantly exploited. It’s a little thing to sit down and write a note to a friend that would be more appreciated. But we’re in a hurry and use the printed cards.” Stewart predicted that the cards, which were popular in urban areas but not among the rural set, would soon die out in favour of traditional expressions of love.

Perhaps the popularity of “sick” cards inspired this piece of verse sent to the Star by Wilma M. Coutts of Durham, Ontario:

We’ve seen some classy valentines
Around here in our day,
Festooned with satin hearts and lace
And perfumed with sachet.
The valentines that we get now
Would make an artist wince,
Lop-sided hearts and wobbly darts—
Bedaubed with crayon prints.
These funny, funny valentines
Designed by someone small,
These are the ones we put away
And treasure most of all.

Additional material from the February 10, February 12, and February 13, 1960, editions of the Toronto Star.

Toronto’s First Glimpses of Gadhafi

Originally published on Torontoist on October 21, 2011.


Globe and Mail, September 2, 1969.

As the world witnessed via video yesterday, the life of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi came to a brutal, bloody end. The graphic manner in which his 42-year regime met its demise was a 180-degree turn from its beginning via the bloodless overthrow of an elderly monarch. But don’t go looking for immediate coverage of Gadhafi in the archives of Toronto’s newspapers following the Revolutionary Command Council’s speedy takeover of the Libyan government on September 1, 1969: nearly three weeks passed before his name appeared in print.

On its September 2, 1969, front page, the Globe and Mail provided a sober account of the coup that ousted King Idris, who had ruled Libya since the country gained its independence in 1951. Libya was seen as one of the most stable, friendly nations in the Middle East, having welcomed foreign investment following the discovery of oil there in the late 1950s. Idris was receiving treatment in Turkey for rheumatism when the coup occurred. Though he vowed to come back (but never did), his heir went on national radio to abdicate any claims to the throne as a Libyan Arab Republic was declared. There was a sense of relief in the Globe’s coverage that the coup was a clean one, given that experts believed any transition from Idris’s government would be bloody. The paper suspected that, contrary to the free hand Idris gave powers like the United States in establishing military bases, “if the new rulers pursue a radical course, Libya’s great oil wealth will enable them to finance anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism easily.”

In front page stories in the city’s other papers, though, the day’s action ramped up. Though it bore a passive headline (“West’s oil safe—Libya junta”), the Telegram reported that brief bursts of gunfire were heard in Tripoli and, in the face of some resistance within the army, the RCC urged pro-coup officers to seize helicopters. The Star added in touches of intrigue, positioning the coup amid the backdrop of a squabble between Israel and Syria over a hijacked plane and Idris’s salting away of $20 million in Turkish hotel safes.

Differing opinions on the situation appeared in the city’s editorial pages on September 3. The Telegram portrayed Idris as having been the most enlightened monarch in Africa due to his use of oil royalties for public infrastructure and hoped that if the new regime’s socialistic goals were honest, “they can only continue the old king’s program. Libya’s future as a progressive Islamic state depends on their wisdom as rulers.” The Star had fainter praise for the deposed king, depicting him as a once-able ruler who grew too infirm to cope with new social problems. Portraying the coup alongside consolidation of military power in Brazil and South Vietnam that week, the Star pessimistically noted that “democratic, constitutional government is still a dream of the future in Libya.”

Looking for mentions of Gadhafi by this point? Keep waiting, as apart from a handful of public spokesmen, members of the RCC preferred anonymity. One leader, Colonel Saad Bushweirib, denied that he headed the coup, noting that “the real boss wishes to remain nameless, like all officers.” In a September 5 article, the Star speculated that the leadership preferred a cloak of mystery to avoid enraging residents in the eastern region of Cyrenaica (where Idris was raised) when they discovered that the RCC’s leadership was mostly from western Tripolitania. The paper feared such a revelation could lead to a civil war along the lines of the Biafran conflict in Nigeria. In the long run, Cyrenaica saw occasional anti-Gadhafi activity, which culminated when it became the early stronghold of this year’s Libyan rebellion.


Soon after the coup, this ad no longer applied to Libya, unless you smuggled in a bottle. The Globe and Mail, October 3, 1969.

Far more hopeful was the Star’s analysis of the new government on September 20: “The Libyan revolution, at age two weeks, looks like the coolest, neatest transformation in the Arab world since Gamal Abdel Nasser and his colonels kicked out King Farouk and his playmates.” Though the government favoured the Palestinian cause, readers were assured that Israelis could breathe slightly easier due to the regime’s refusal to be Egyptian president Nasser’s puppet and a promise to protect Jews within Libya. Business leaders were relieved that nominal Prime Minister Mahmud Al-Maghribi was not a raging Marxist—“No cabinet headed by a prime minister with a doctorate in petroleum law from George Washington University can be all bad.” In the paper’s eyes, an immediate doubling of the minimum wage to three dollars per day cast him in a good light. As a counterpoint, Idris was depicted as a feeble ruler who could be bribed all too easily.

Halfway through the article is the first mention we found in any Toronto newspaper of the RCC’s president of council, “Lt. Col. Moummar Ghedaffi,” a 27-year-old communications expert with a military history degree. As a Bedouin from the east, Gadhafi was seen as a balancing figure against the Tripolitanians. History proved that Gadhafi would not live up to the article’s famous last words: “The Libyan captains are not looking for an ideologue or a patriarch.”

By Christmas, things looked bad for outsiders in Libya as the regime asserted itself. Reports throughout December 1969 noted how Westerners dealt with soldiers entering hotels to destroy any items adorned with non-Arabic script. A prohibition against alcohol led to complaints that the strongest drink available was Coca-Cola. The regime promoted Arab unity over issues like Israel. Mentions of Gadhafi slowly grew, though throughout his reign nobody settled on a consistent Westernized spelling of his name. The Globe and Mail stuck by “Moammer Kazzafi,” while the Stareither couldn’t make up its mind or didn’t check wire copy too closely—on December 26 he was “Muammar Gaddafi,” the next day “Muammar Kadafi.”

However you spelled his name, Gadhafi proved within the next few years that any optimism Toronto’s newspapers had about a trustworthy or democratic government taking hold in Libya was unfounded. Little wonder their current editorial counterparts are cautious about what the future holds for the country.

Additional material from the following newspapers: the September 2, 1969, and December 25, 1969, editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 2, 1969, September 3, 1969, September 5, 1969, September 20, 1969, December 8, 1969, December 26, 1969, and December 27, 1969, editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 2, 1969, and September 3, 1969, editions of the Telegram.


Two Minutes of Modernism

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2011.

Toronto1960-11 from davide tonizzo on Vimeo.

Compared to heritage properties from the 19th and early 20th centuries, Toronto’s architecture from the 1960s and 1970s doesn’t often receive much love. While some period structures like the curving towers of City Hall have become iconic, the merits of the modernist qualities of others are fiercely debated: great representation of an era or an ugly slab of concrete?

Architects Graeme Stewart and Michael McClellanhed reflected on this ambivalence we have surrounding mid-century apartment towers and commercial skyscrapers in their introduction to the book Concrete Toronto (Toronto: E.R.A./Coach House, 2007):

This important period was a time of immense prosperity, when considerable public and private investment had a major influence on shaping Canadian cities. But more significantly, we now suffer a cultural amnesia about this period; we remain critical yet uninformed about its architecture and leave its very impact on our environment without thoughtful assessment. An appreciation for the architecture of the recent past is a contemporary culture blind spot. If the making of architecture and the making of cities are inexorably linked, it is clear that the understanding of one requires the understanding of the other. A better appreciation of our recent architectural past gives us greater continuity with the intent, knowledge and ambition of previous generations and a stronger sense of our direction as our city continues to grow.

An ode to this era’s architecture, Toronto 1960-11, was recently posted online by industrial designer/filmmaker Davide Tonizzo. Starting with a subway ride into the tubular stations of University line, Tonizzo takes viewers on a two-minute tour of structures that were primarily built during the 1960s. The film includes familiar buildings (the black-clad towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the office and hotel skyscrapers south of City Hall) and those that may take a second to recognize (the glowing lights on the Arcade Building, the rippled façade of the Yorkdalebranch of the Bay).

We noticed one of our favourite small-scale examples of period architecture, the triangles pointing out from the roof of the circular section of Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent. The period feel is enhanced through lines running through the film that lend it the air of a 40-year old artefact. Tonizzo hopes that his movie “will inspire more conservation and appreciation of this great era” before someone decides any of the featured buildings meet the fate of the Bata headquarters in Don Mills or the curving floors of Riverdale Hospital.

Vintage Toronto Ads: By The Time I Get to See Glen Campbell

Originally published on Torontoist on August 30, 2011.


Globe and Mail, August 8, 1969.

Among the musical acts at this year’s Canadian National Exhibition is one making a final Toronto appearance. After over 50 years in the music business, Glen Campbell announced his current tour is his last due to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Tomorrow night’s show won’t be Campbell’s first at the Ex—back in 1969, he was one of the key attractions of that year’s fair.

Despite rainstorms, sold out crowds packed the CNE Grandstand on August 16–17, 1969, to hear Campbell sing hits like “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” and “Galveston.” When his first show was delayed, Campbell, who strolled onstage in a tuxedo and cowboy boots, apologized to the audience. “Sorry this show is so late startin’,’” he said with an Arkansas twang, “but I dropped my watch in sheep dip and it killed all the ticks.”

Newspaper reviews focused on Campbell’s square image and audience, his corny patter, and how lousy the supporting act (the Four Freshmen) was. The Globe and Mail’s Ritchie Yorke noted that the crowd “was just plain folk, the sort who don’t mind last year’s or the year before’s fashions. Like his audience, Campbell was not particularly hip, and he seemed to be fighting any possibility of anyone getting the idea that he was.” The Star’s Marci MacDonald observed the crowd was “mainly female, over 30 or under 12—family folk lookin’ for a good clean country boy.”

The Telegram’s Peter Goddard found Campbell so inoffensive that “a bottle of milk seems somehow vulgar by comparison,” but also felt that the singer was far more talented that the stereotypes about his audience (lonely housewives, Midwestern Republicans) suggested.

Additional material from the August 18, 1969, editions of the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Telegram.


tely 69-08-18 campbell review small

The full review from the Telegram (click on image for larger version). Glen Campbell passed away in 2017.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 6

Nickel-Chroming a Modern Life

Originally published on Torontoist on February 8, 2011.

Maclean’s, March 26, 1960.

When the photo shoot was over, the model was surprised to learn that she could keep the fine array of kitchen appliances that, thanks to the marvel of nickel-plating, would indeed last for years to come, even if they actually were scale models. For a few years, she retained then in mobile form, which she occasionally hung as a conversation piece during dinner parties. By the late 1960s, when she felt her daughter was old enough to appreciate the pieces without destroying them, our one-time model carefully removed the strings and allowed the girl to play with them as her first kitchen set. Years later, both women were to appear with the set on the Antiques Roadshow, but their segment was left on the cutting room floor when a seventeenth century thimble found in a backyard flower bed was deemed more interesting.

Besides Inco, other occupants of the southeast corner of Yonge and Colborne streets circa 1960 were several financial firms (including Cradock Securities and Price Waterhouse) and ticket offices for Canadian National Railways and Lufthansa.

Ammoniate Your Smile!

Originally published on Torontoist on March 8, 2011.


Reader’s Digest, April 1949.

With users as pure as this mother/daughter combo, wouldn’t you trust the marketing claims of Amm-i-dent?

Adding ammonium to tooth-cleaning agents was a marketing craze at the time the above ad appeared. An article in the July 30, 1949, edition of Billboard magazine noted that the potential advertising revenue derived from clients like Amm-i-dent and Colgate made radio network and station executives “virtually froth at the mouth.” Amm-i-dent’s American parent Block Drug (maker of such fine products as Polident) had secured a lucrative sponsorship of The Burns and Allen Show. However, a University of Illinois study into ammonium-enhanced dental products showed that their use only reduced the incidence of tooth decay by 10%. As the thrill of ammonium faded, toothpaste makers soon moved on to other marketing gimmicks like chlorophyll.

Though nobody at 172 John Street is marketing tooth powder any longer, other products are getting polished there—thanks to the john st. advertising firm.

Additional information from the October 1953 issue of Changing Times.

Hypnotized by the Power of Super Fitness!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 3, 2011.


Toronto Sun, March 21, 1983.

The man in this Super Fitness ad is:

1) Hypnotized by the pattern worn by the model to his left. As he is transfixed by the diamonds on her chest, she gently murmurs, “You will sign your friends up. You will sign your friends up…”

2) Stunned by the extreme value of the advertised offer. He then curses that he just paid three times as much to join the gym next to his office.

3) Shocked that Super Fitness spokeswoman Christine Steiger does not appear in this ad. Maybe she was off being cloned, as she was for a lesser offer three years later.

4) Awed by the rack dangling over him.

5) Bewildered by the imprecise instructions provided by the cameraman. Trying to save the shoot, he draws on his Method training and imagines how a fellow in his situation would naturally react.

Where Did Leonardo Learn About Art?

Originally published on Torontoist on July 5, 2011.


Ontario Association of Art Galleries Magazine, Winter 1978-1979.

We’re surprised historians have never jumped on the amazing fact uncovered in today’s ad: Leonardo da Vinci learned about the fine arts not from observing his fellow Italian Renaissance craftsmen but by crossing the ocean to discover the riches (and coffee talks) of the Mississauga Library System. Sadly, all other references about Leonardo’s time in the court of Grand Duchess Hazel of Streetsville are lost to the mists of time.

Though libraries existed in Streetsville as early as the mid-1850s, the modern Mississauga Library System began when citizens of what was then known as Toronto Township voted in favour of creating a local public library organization in 1956. When today’s ad appeared, the main branch was located at 110 Dundas Street West, where it remained until the current Central Library on Burnhamthorpe Road was opened in 1991.

Pop Goes the Festival

Originally published on Torontoist on June 17, 2011.


Teenaged Jeanne Beker, clad in a yellow bikini, gets down with the sounds of Ronnie Hawkins at the Toronto Pop Festival. Photos by Dave Cooper. The Telegram, June 26, 1969.

Scene: Varsity Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in June 1969. Weather forecasts have indicated the possibility of rain, but the sky has yet to open up on the crowd attending the second day of the Toronto Pop Festival. The “King of Yonge Street,” Ronnie Hawkins has taken the stage and entrances the crowd with his style of driving rock n’ roll. A 17-year-old girl from the suburbs embraces the sounds and grooves her way onto the stage:

I jumped onstage in a yellow pompom-trimmed bikini top for an impromptu dance with the legendary rocker Ronnie Hawkins. A large photo of this suburban kid — and I was identified by name — boogying her brains out as the Hawk did his mean rendition of “Hey! Bo Diddley” appeared in the Toronto Telegram the next day. Of course, my mother was mortified, but I was proud as punch. The whole experience was downright exhilarating, and it unquestionably contributed greatly to who I am today.

And thus, alongside his nurturing of musical legends like the Band, Ronnie Hawkins inadvertently helped the career of Jeanne Beker.


Left: poster for the Toronto Pop Festival. Right: advertisement, the Globe and Mail, June 7, 1969.

Unlike the decisions facing music lovers this weekend—which NXNE shows are worth checking out or whether to grab a ticket to a remaining Luminato performance—attendees of the Toronto Pop Festival had a simple choice: go for one day or two? Besides the announced line-up of performers ranging from Memphis soul (Carla Thomas and the Bar-Kays) to Quebeçois chansonniers (Robert Charlebois), there were unannounced, little-known acts whose anonymity wouldn’t last much longer (Alice Cooper, who was not to be confused with fellow performer Al Kooper).

tely 69-06-12 band ad

The Telegram, June 12, 1969.

Reviews of the festival were positive, with much praise for how smoothly the event ran. Incidents like a burned-out amp during the Band’s performance, a brief rain shower Sunday evening, and isolated bad trips were treated as minor mishaps. Unlike recent American festivals, violence didn’t flare up between the 60,000 ticket holders and police; the cops, some of whom were grooving in rhythm with the rest of the crowd, admitted that enforcing pot laws would have stirred trouble and let the audience enjoy the grass that wasn’t part of the field.


“Tiny Tim shows his frenetic singing style and Dr. John sports a head band and coloured speckles as part of his full formal tribal gear.” The Telegram, June 23, 1969.

While the hot acts of the moment (Blood, Sweat and Tears; Sly and the Family Stone) entranced the audience, it was old-timers like Hawkins and Chuck Berry who brought out the energy in the crowd. As Peter Goddard noted in the Telegram, before Berry’s Sunday set the event felt like individual concerts; after Berry shouted “Long live rock and roll,” everyone in the audience swung to “some inner beat” and the show truly felt like a festival. The artistic and critical success of the festival paved the way for the Toronto Rock n’ Roll Revival headlined by John Lennon a few months later.

One of the few dissenting notes came from City Hall. Mayor William Dennison reportedly refused to provide an official greeting from the City to the festival (via letter or an appearance at the stadium) due to his distrust of “hippies.” Dennison was also said to have been alarmed by reports of obscenities uttered onstage at music festivals south of the border. As festival promoter John Brower told the Globe and Mail when it was clear nothing bad had happened, “I bet he couldn’t look himself in the mirror this morning.”


“Fans like Sheila Armroyd, 19, of Niagara Falls, NY (left) and the local girl (right) came from far and near.” The Telegram, June 23, 1969.

Unlike Dennison, well-over-30 attendee Harold Town got into the spirit of the festival. The artist provided one of the most colourful summaries of the event in his Toronto Life column:

I loved our first Pop festival. I’ll never forget the fields of fuzzed-out heads looking like a crop of orderly fungus being raked by the searchlights. I loved the plump balloons carrying sparklers into the night. And the joy of friends hurling friends in the air from blankets—white bellied fish displaying spawning fibres. And the heat of the faithful’s adulation held back by the new cool cool when suddenly coming face to beads with yet another idol heading for the stage. I admired the boredom with which they greeted David Clayton-Thomas mindless platitudes on the drug and school bit. Their enthusiasm for Chuck Berry, on old master of rock, and finally just the memory of a sleek cat wearing a Billy Bishop helmet talking softly to a perfect bird in navel drop bells about his exams, oblivious to the raunchy singer in sequined strides bellowing crotch music over the wincing transistors. His buddy was being studiously ignored by Superbell’s handmaidens as they went through the ancient ritual of letting him know some have, some don’t.

We don’t doubt such rituals will play out among their modern equivalents at music venues around the city this weekend. As Town ended his column, “Play it again, Sam. Nothing changes.”

Additional material from Finding Myself in Fashion by Jeanne Beker (Toronto: Penguin, 2011), the September 1969 edition of Toronto Life, and the following newspapers: the June 24, 1969 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the June 23, 1969 and June 26, 1969 editions of the Telegram.