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.

“The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland”

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 9, 2016.

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View of Canada’s Wonderland main entrance, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 1.

“Must we trade all that is good in our community for the artificial plastic world of profit-motivated developers?” Letter writer Elaine Ziemba’s complaint to the Star in early 1976 was far from the only one expressing fear about the impact a proposed amusement park would have on Maple. Divisions quickly emerged between proponents, who felt it would boost the economy of the then Town of Vaughan, and those who felt it signalled the demise of their quiet community.

In July 1975, Family Leisure Centres, a division of Taft Broadcasting, announced that it planned to turn 320 acres of farmland it had bought two years earlier at Highway 400 and Major Mackenzie Drive into a $50 million amusement park. To win over the locals, Family Leisure Centres filled a charter flight a month later with local officials (who paid their way) and residents, and gave them a tour of Kings Island, near Cincinnati. Vaughan Mayor Garnet Williams was impressed. “That was a great public relations thing for them to do,” he told The Globe and Mail. “They even had the plane wait for us on the runway and we could leave our coats there and everything.” He was especially wowed by the youth working there, noting they were a great PR tool and that “they had to have their hair short.”

Less enticed was Vaughan councillor Jim Cameron, who thought there were too many trinkets from Hong Kong for sale. He also worried about repercussions ranging from increased pressure to rezone agricultural areas as commercial to residents with visions of earning millions from future developments dancing in their heads.

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Globe and Mail, May 22, 1981.

Opposition soon arose elsewhere. In Toronto, the Canadian National Exhibition board looked nervously at the proposal, yet hesitated to publicly oppose the park until more information was available. One board member unwilling to keep mum was city councillor John Sewell, who felt that “we should do everything possible to discourage this proposal.” In a letter to Cameron, provincial treasurer Darcy McKeough fretted about the impact on local attractions like the CNE, Harbourfront, and Ontario Place. He also noted that Family Leisure Centres reps met with provincial planning officials, and were twice told the area was unsuitable for a midway. A report from within McKeough’s ministry, produced in January 1976, indicated that hundreds of millions of dollars would be required to handle increased traffic from the projected two million visitors per year, and that by 1986 Highway 400 would be permanently gridlocked.

Despite the efforts of opponents like Sensible Approach to Vaughan’s Environment (SAVE), concerned about noise, pollution, and traffic, the project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in March 1978. Its 32-page report recommended that the provincial ministry of culture and recreation should force the park to maintain a high level of Canadian content. By this point, previously antsy officials like McKeough warmed to the park. When he was grilled for his change of heart by Beaches-Woodbine MPP Marion Bryden during question period, Premier William Davis entered the debate, asking Bryden “are you against children having fun?”

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1979.

Davis was on hand for a musical preview of the park, now dubbed Canada’s Wonderland, at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1979. The one-hour show featured appearances by Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear, and talk show host/Spider-Man voice Paul Soles. Davis was there to, according to the Star, “symbolically trigger a ground-breaking explosion at the site.” The province hailed the park’s owner for its speedy construction schedule, with plans to welcome the first visitors within two years.

Opponents continued to voice concerns about Canada’s Wonderland, as well as other signs of suburban encroachment, such as the Keele Valley Landfill. “Resignation has been the real response of the people,” SAVE representative told the Star in 1980. “It means we’ll be living between two dumps. The thing that really bothers me is that they didn’t consider the impact of the two projects together; they were dealt with separately.” Vaughan councillor and future mayor Lorna Jackson felt that “unless we want to turn Maple into a row of touristy boutiques, I can’t see the park doing much for local businessmen.” On the other hand, Williams touted the summer jobs for students, and felt “people will be spending their money here rather than going to Florida.”

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View of carousel and surrounding flower beds at Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 5.

The initial plan divided the park into five areas: Frontier Canada, Hanna-Barbera Land, International Street, Medieval Fair, and World Expo 1890. As construction proceeded, the decision was made to delay the Canadian section until the park’s second season (it was later reported that when budget numbers were crunched, either it or the Hanna-Barbera characters would go). That move incensed critics like Cameron, who may have overreached with the comparison he used. “You could pick this thing up, lock stock and barrel, and move it to Pretoria and call it South Africa’s Wonderland. There is nothing Canadian about it at all,” he told the Globe and Mail. Public relations manager Mike Filey pointed out elements from the true north strong and free in the park, including employing local workers, lining the grounds with cobblestones once used to surround Toronto’s streetcar tracks, planting over 1,200 trees bought from a Pickering farm, installing a vintage carousel imported from Vancouver, and that Canadian-based Great West Life owned a quarter of the partnership running the place. As PR officer Connie Robillard told the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s Wonderland just means a wonderland in Canada.”

Not sourced from Canada were the park’s costumes, which were produced by Cincinnati-based King’s Productions. Designer Katie Leahy was challenged to account for cooler spring and fall weather. “I made the costumes roomy enough to wear a turtleneck sweater underneath and designed nylon-hooded jackets to wear with most of the outfits,” she told the Star. While simple costumes like jester outfits were remedied, those dressed as Hanna-Barbera characters experienced little relief from heat at any time in their acrylic fur and cloth get-ups. “None of the characters can walk around for more than 15 minutes,” Leahy observed. Overall, the costumes took two years and $500,000 to design.

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1981.

Auditions for park entertainers began in February 1981. The first day drew over 200 hopefuls to York University’s Burton Auditorium. “This could be really be a stepping stone for me,” 18-year-old singer Leanne Mitchell told the Star. “Canada’s Wonderland is new and I’d like to be part of it.” For her two-minute tryout, Mitchell had spent 15 hours on the road driving in from South Porcupine near Timmins. The ride down wasn’t without a hitch—a jack-knifed tanker near New Liskeard forced a lengthy detour. The paper reported that Mitchell was invited back for round two of tryouts. Hiring students to perform drew the ire of Canadian Actors Equity and the Toronto Musicians Association, who placed the park on their “unfair lists” for not employing union talent.

As opening day approached, an ad blitz was planned for a 200-mile radius of Toronto. Six television spots were built around the theme “The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland.” The opening ticket package settled at $11.95 for general admission and access to 18 attractions.

During media previews, the Star sent reporter Kevin Scanlon to test the roller coasters. “The Dragon Fyre gave me a sensation I hadn’t felt since rolling a speeding Volkswagen Beetle four times in a Perth County ditch,” Scanlon noted. On a scale of 10, he gave that coaster an eight, docking points for its short duration. By comparison, the Wilde Beast earned a nine (exhilarating, but it gave him bruised elbows), and the Mighty Canadian Mine Buster a perfect rating (high drop, speed up to 83 km/h). Food critic Jim White was pleased by the quality of the dining options, which ranged from open-face Scandinavian sandwiches to paella, but suspected diners would grumble over the limited seating. He also noticed the lack of universal hamburger and hot dog stands, which might be refreshing to some but frustrating to parents with cranky kids who only ate those foods.

Forecasts for opening day anticipated 40,000 visitors. By the time the gates closed on May 23, 1981, only 12,000 had shown up. General manager Michael Bartlett wasn’t fazed, noting that parks generally had low turnouts during their debut. Traffic jams failed to live up to doomsday scenarios that may have kept people away. It was also Victoria Day weekend, which meant many potential customers were out of town.

During the opening ceremony, a skydiver landed on stage and handed Premier Davis a red rose. Before flipping the switch to turn the water on the park’s man-made mountain, Davis boasted his pride in the park, calling it “one of the things which bring us together as Canadians, to have fun and to better understand ourselves.” Not so happy were members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, whose picketers protested the below-scale wages paid to non-union staff.

One habit among visitors was quickly corrected—“Metro Toronto residents,” the Globe and Mail observed, “accustomed to the enlightened parks policy that encourages people to walk on the grass, will find themselves politely but firmly rousted if they venture on to the scattered stretches of green among the expanses of interlocking brick that cover the area.” Among those impressed by the park was CNE assistant general manager Howard Tate, who noted “the cleanliness is terrific, lots of parkland, lack of commercial signs, nice staff. We’re different kinds of places, but I’ll say this is like a 1982 Cadillac; CNE’s a ’59 Ford.”

Around 2.2 million visitors checked out the debut season of Canada’s Wonderland. Though exact numbers weren’t revealed, park officials boasted that they turned “a tidy little profit.” To prepare for 1982, $5 million was spent upgrading dining facilities, drinking fountains, and street furniture. To the heartbreak of the staunchest nationalists, Frontier Canada was never built. Over the ensuing years, suburbia continued to creep toward Maple, and generations of visitors have enjoyed the park’s evolving attractions.

Additional material from the October 20, 1975, October 31, 1975, May 9, 1978, September 10, 1979, April 1, 1981, April 4, 1981, April 18, 1981, May 25, 1981, and September 28, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the January 26, 1976, February 5, 1976, March 17, 1978, June 14, 1979, April 7, 1980, February 6, 1981, May 9, 1981, May 18, 1981, May 20, 1981, and May 24, 1981 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This article expanded upon an earlier piece I wrote for The Grid about the birth of Canada’s Wonderland. Comparing the two, it makes little sense to add that story here, other than noting some local critics referred to the park as “Plasticland.”

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Grounds of Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 70.

Once again, Harvey R. Naylor came to the rescue when preparing this story.

His collection of photos (currently held by the City of Toronto Archives) showcasing the city, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a valuable resource for illustrating how Toronto evolved into its current shape. His images have saved the bacon of many online historians looked for great period colour images.

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Slight overhead view of roller coaster tracks at Canada’s Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 66.

Here’s a brief bio from the Archives’ site:

Harvey R. Naylor, film and sound technician, was a lifelong Toronto resident who worked at some of the larger film production houses in Toronto, such as Jack Chisholm Film Productions and Media Communications Services, Ltd. He was also an amateur photographer with a personal interest in Toronto’s local history. He practised photography for several years using second-hand cameras and experimenting with various types of film. However, once Naylor purchased a new Leica IIIF camera in 1956, he used it exclusively over the next 28 years to produce over 50,000 35mm Kodachrome colour slides of Toronto buildings, streets, TTC facilities and TTC vehicles. A well-known transit enthusiast, Naylor belonged to the Upper Canada Railway Society (UCRS), and was active with the Halton County Radial Railway (HCRR) and Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association (OERHA).

Over 8,400 slides created by Naylor await your browsing pleasure.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1978.

ts 80-04-07 maple resigned to progress Toronto Star, April 7, 1980.

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Globe and Mail, November 7, 1980. Click on image for larger version.

A series of articles on the approval of the park, and other issues surrounding the growth of Vaughan as it began its evolution from largely rural community to “the city above Toronto.”

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Toronto Star, April 9, 1980. Click on image for larger version.

As the debates about Vaughan’s future swirled, construction rolled along.

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“150 pounds: Chef Michel Cozis shows his creation; a reproduction of Wonder Mountain at Canada’s Wonderland – it opens at Maple next month. He sculpted it in a neighbor’s basement.” Photo by Colin McConnell. Originally published in the April 22, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0021136f.

As opening day neared, oddball stories such as this one peppered Toronto’s media landscape. In this case, chef/sculptor Michel Cozis received 150 pounds of Jersey Milk chocolate donated by Neilson to build the 4-by-6 foot model of Wonder Mountain. It was scheduled to be displayed at the Toronto-Dominion Centre and the Simpsons Court at Yorkdale (now the court outside Hudson Bay) in early May 1981. Cozis’s main concern was getting the sculpture out of his neighbour’s basement, though he did leave a three inch clearance for doors.

“Most men are asked why they scaled a certain mountain,” wrote Star food columnist Jim White. “I asked him why scaled-down a certain mountain. His reply was not unlike that which you get from mountain climbers: ‘Because it was there.'”

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1981. Click on image for larger version.

More details on the creation of the Wonderland’s costumes. I imagine the Wilma head would have freaked out my five-year-old self had I visited during opening weekend.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

The front page of the Star‘s special section commemorating Wonderland’s opening. Hands up who thinks Quick Draw McGraw should have been the park’s official mascot.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981. Click on image for larger version.

Among the goodies in the Star‘s preview was this cartoon map of the park’s layout.

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Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1981.

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Toronto Star, June 13, 1981.

The public cheers and jeers…though in fairness, what was the guy with 10 kids expecting?

Past Pieces of Toronto: Uptown Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe, September 18, 1920.

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Globe, September 20, 1920.

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Toronto Star, September 20, 1920.

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Toronto World, September 20, 1920.

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

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Toronto World, September 21, 1920. 

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

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Toronto Star, July 31, 1969.

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

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

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

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Toronto Star, April 4, 1970.

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

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1970.

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

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Globe and Mail, March 6, 2001.

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Globe and Mail, March 14, 2001. 

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Globe and Mail, December 13, 2001.

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

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

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

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Toronto Star, December 3, 2003.

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

Next on TVOntario, Doctor Who

Originally published on Torontoist on November 22, 2013.

The cover of Star Week’s 1976/77 fall television preview issue was loaded with bombs. The makers of featured TV series like Ball FourCosHolmes and Yoyo, and The Nancy Walker Show had little inkling their shows would quickly be scuttled by poor ratings. Other new series mentioned in the magazine had better long-term prospects, including a British import TVOntario had put in the timeslot before Elwy Yost‘s Saturday Night at the Movies.

How was Doctor Who—which celebrates its 50th anniversary this week—introduced to Toronto viewers that fall?

From Star Week:

A BBC-produced science fiction series which has been running in Britain since 1963, this half-hour weekly series stars Jon Pertwee (the third actor to take the role) as the title character, a Time Lord, one of an advanced race of beings from the planet Gallifrey with extraordinary intellectual and psychic powers. Dr. Who has travelled through time and space via a machine called the TARDIS to the planet Earth in the 20th century where, as a special advisor to UNIT (a United Nations intelligence group), he uses his powers to outwit an endless array of monsters and villainous forces.

So began a 15-year run on the province’s educational broadcaster. As the show, created by Toronto native Sydney Newman, celebrates its golden anniversary, here’s a look at how TVOntario handled the series that enticed (and scared) a generation of viewers with its eerie theme music and carnival of monsters.

TVO wasn’t the first Toronto channel to air the series. CBC purchased the show’s first 26 episodes in late 1964. “Now perhaps my Canadian in-laws will really believe me when I say I am an actress,” Jacqueline Hill, who played the Doctor’s original companion, Barbara, joked to the Globe and Mail while en route to Toronto to visit her husband Alvin Rakoff’s family. Following the BBC’s lead, CBC scheduled the show in a late Saturday afternoon slot for a six-month run, beginning in January 1965.

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Toronto Star, October 29, 1977.

TVOntario’s run of the show began with part one of The Three Doctors on September 18, 1976. To fulfill its educational mandate, the broadcaster issued a resource handbook with suggested discussion themes and reading lists. On air, each show ended with a segment that explored topics suggested by the episode. (This was better than the addition made by Time-Life Television for American syndication: annoying narration, provided by actor Howard Da Silva, inserted into the soundtrack. It referred to the title character, whose name is “the Doctor,” as “Doctor Who.”) Hosted by futurist Jim Dator, these pieces filled a three-to-eight minute gap. Wearing a “Dr. Dator” t-shirt, he discussed the Doctor’s childlike treatment of his companions or eulogize the demise of his third incarnation.

When TVOntario introduced fourth doctor Tom Baker’s episodes in 1978, you might say Dator also regenerated. He was replaced by writer Judith Merril, the namesake of the Toronto Public Library’s speculative-fiction special collection. Though the pay was low for television, it was better than what she earned freelancing. Merril served as the “Un-Doctor” in 108 segments over the next three years. “I like to take something that was said or happened on the show and add some new information to it or stimulate the audience’s critical centres in some other way,” she told the Star in 1980. Merril hoped her pieces encouraged viewers to think critically and question authority—always the Doctor’s modus operandi.

While Merril initially enjoyed the segments, changes behind the scenes led to disenchantment. Her final producer wanted to use ChromaKey green screen in the studio instead of shooting on location. He also wanted her to wear costumes and tighten her scripts. Merril later reflected on the end of her run:

We did a few good shows that year, but it was a lot more work. I decided I would need to get a hell of a lot more money to keep doing it the way he wanted. They responded, “You’re absolutely right. You should be getting twice as much. But we just had another budget cut. I think we’ll do without the extros altogether.” That was that for my career as a Doctor Who specialist.

One Doctor Who story arc Merril found particularly problematic was The Talons of Weng-Chiang. While often acclaimed as one of the top stories of the Tom Baker era, the serial, influenced by everything from penny dreadfuls to Pygmalion, includes actors in yellowface makeup. The Chinese Canadian National Council for Equality complained about the story’s stereotyping. Its president, Dr. Joseph Wong, observed that the story included “everything from an evil Fu Manchu character to pigtailed coolies and laundrymen who submissively commit suicide on their master’s orders.” The story was pulled prior to airing in November 1980. A TVOntario official admitted that the move was censorship, “but in a good cause.” The BBC’s Canadian rep apologized for offending anyone, but noted that the show was made for a British audience who, because of a different mixture of cultures, might not be offended by the same things.

Another consequence of Doctor Who’s run on TVOntario was the inadvertent preservation of some episodes of the series from permanent destruction. The BBC was in the habit of junking tapes during the 1970s. When TVO returned several Jon Pertwee episodes to the BBC in 1981, they served as colour replacements for the black-and-white film copies Auntie Beeb had retained.

For years, the show continued to send sensitive young viewers diving behind the couch in terror, and to convince fans to knit long scarves and dress like cricketers, until TVOntario lost the broadcast rights to YTV in 1989. The show briefly resurfaced on TVO in 1991 so the station could use up the remaining repeat rights associated with the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy stories. Doctor Who disappeared from the station for good following the final part of Delta and the Bannermen on September 26, 1991.

Sources: Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002); the October 29, 1964 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 11, 1976, October 1, 1980, and November 6, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 7, 1980 edition of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, October 29, 1964.

Like many Ontarians of my age, TVO was my introduction to Doctor Who. When I was very little, I was fascinated by the title sequence and weird music, then switched the channel. I dimly recall seeing Jon Pertwee (third doctor) episodes on Detroit’s WGPR (channel 62), and never saw any black and white installments until PBS stations within our range began airing the series – I’m pretty sure my introduction to Patrick Troughton (second doctor) came via fuzzy reception from Bowling Green, Ohio.

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Star Week helped nail down Doctor Who’s initial airdates on TVO. It also offered an interesting glimpse into Saturday night television at the dawn of the 1976-77 season.

None of the shows spotlighted on Star Week‘s cover had staying power. Clockwise from top left:

Bill Cosby – Cos. Sketch comedy/variety show. Cancelled November 1976.

Tony Randall – The Tony Randall Show. Sitcom about a widowed judge. The only show featured on this cover to last more than one season, surviving until March 1978.

Nancy Walker – The Nancy Walker Show. Sitcom about L.A.-based talent agent. Cancelled December 1976. Walker quickly resurfaced as the star of Blansky’s Beauties in February 1977.

Jim Bouton – Ball Four. Sitcom inspired by Bouton’s controversial best-selling book about life as a pro baseball player. Cancelled October 1976.

David Birney – Serpico. Drama inspired by the Al Pacino movie. Cancelled January 1977.

John Schuck and Richard B. Shull – Holmes and Yoyo. Sitcom about a cop and his robot partner. Cancelled December 1976.

Dick Van Dyke – Van Dyke and Company. Sketch comedy/variety show whose cast included Andy Kaufman. Cancelled December 1976.

Robert Stack – Most Wanted. Crime drama. A Quinn Martin production. Last wanted in August 1977.

starweeksmall76tvpreviewsaturday

Here’s the full Saturday preview page.  

Doctor Who wasn’t the only British import TVO added discussion points to. As shown here, the 1968-70 ITV drama Tom Grattan’s War was supplemented with bonus material featuring Andrea Martin, then appearing on another show which debuted in September 1976: SCTV. I’d love to see how Martin illustrated particular points about a young Londoner’s adventures set against the backdrop of the First World War. I’m guessing Edith Prickley didn’t make an appearance.

What aired against the Time Lord’s TVO debut? For Toronto viewers, music, music, music. Hee Haw (channel 2) featured Tammy Wynette, The Waltons star Will Geer, and Kenny Price. CFTO (channel 9) ran Canadian Stage Band Festival, featuring big bands from schools and post-secondary institutions across the country. Dolly Parton’s short-lived Dolly! (channel 7) guest-starred “Captain Kangaroo” Bob Keeshan. Grandparents enjoyed champagne music with Lawrence Welk on channel 29, while the disco set grooved to a steady stream of dancers and stylin’ fashion on CITY-TV’s Boogie.

After the post ran, I received an email from a reader who passed on the story to Dr. Jim Dator, who clarified his association with TVO and Doctor Who. Dator was on a two-year absence from the University of Hawaii, and worked with the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (OECA, as TVO was originally known) on their contribution to Science Council of Canada’s Canada as a Conserver Society project [PDF]. Upon returning to Hawaii, he shot one year of extros there before Judith Merril took over.

While I did co-teach a course at New College, and was given a visiting professor title in UT Department of Industrial Engineering (of all departments) thanks to Arthur Porter, and was also affiliated with the Department of Adult Education of OISE, thanks to Roby Kidd,  it was OECA who paid my salary. The Dr. Who stint was the final TV production I did for OECA, and the clip you sent of my swan song was actually filmed in Honolulu.

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Toronto Star, November 6, 1980.

sun 80-11-07 talons banned by tvo

Toronto Sun, November 7, 1980.

Coverage of TVO’s pulling of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Gambling on Conventions with Paul Godfrey

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on May 15, 2012.

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The City, June 18, 1978.

For as long as Paul Godfrey has been involved in Toronto’s affairs, he has pitched hard for what he feels the city deserves. His current campaign for a local casino is the latest in a long string of projects he has promoted as a politician, media executive, or general deal-closer. As Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto in the late 1970s, his presence was seen as a plus when local tourism officials organized a trip to three American cities in April 1978 to bring in convention dollars.

Working with a $10,000 budget partly funded by the federal and provincial governments, the group—consisting of businessmen and officials from the Convention and Tourist Bureau of Metro Toronto—organized luncheons in Chicago, New York, and Washington. They hoped the trip would persuade organizations to look past two obstacles that hobbled Toronto: American legislation capping the amount of tax reductions one could claim for out-of-country business expenses, and IRS regulations requiring convention attendees to document proof of their attendance. If those hassles could be overcome, the group foresaw improving on the 490 conventions and trade shows that brought $66 million into Metro Toronto in 1977.

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The City, June 18, 1978. 

The first luncheon was held at the Chicago Ritz-Carlton on April 3, 1978. Following a meal of turnip soup, trout, chocolate mousse, and plenty of booze, Godfrey—wearing a heart-shaped Metro button—praised Toronto’s friendly people, safe streets, and how much value conventioneers would get for their dollar. (At the time, the Canadian dollar was worth 87 cents US.) According to the Star’s Sunday insert The City, Godfrey sounded “as if he’d greet the whole kit and caboodle at his own fireside. He quotes lavishly from a bureau pamphlet entitled In Others Words, a collection of buttery prose about Metro by foreign travel writers. ‘Fortune magazine calls Toronto the New Great City,’ Godfrey says in his staccato delivery. He passes over the Modern Bride writer’s terse synopsis: ‘Toronto is fun.’” Godfrey was followed by comedian Dave Broadfoot, who trotted out characters like Corporal Renfrew and hockey player Big Bobby Clobber to mixed response.

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“Cocktail come on: enter the St. Regis Room, tuck into lunch, and consider the wonders of Toronto.” The City, June 18, 1978.

A front page article in the following day’s Star suggested the luncheon had not gone well, claiming that no major bookings were made. While downing a Bloody Mary, an American Dental Association representative admitted that “our members are too nationalistic. They wouldn’t want to hold a convention out of the country with uncertain tax benefits.” The downbeat tone of the Star article angered Toronto tourism officials, resulting in a pair of angry letters being published two weeks later. J. Ross Kenzie of the Hotel Association of Toronto felt the piece was sarcastic and focused on the inconsequential, with “the ramifications of this negative reporting” only adding to “a rather depressed spirit of the people of our city, our province and our country.” Kenzie claimed that one Toronto attraction sold 1,000 tickets, Broadfoot earned an extra booking, and at least one small convention was booked for 1980. In the second letter, Kenneth Simpson of Boat Tours International praised Godfrey, noting that “he did not present himself as some self-important star … but worked as hard as any of us on the floor buttonholing delegates personally where prior research indicated that certain groups were ‘on the fence’ about their next convention location.” Simpson noted that while Chicago was slow, the Washington and New York visits were lucrative for his company, as he booked 4,000 future seats.

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The lunch spread. The City, June 19, 1978. 

Yet Toronto’s next major convention announcement was unrelated to these trips: After sending a delegation that included Godfrey to Honolulu the previous December, Tourist and Convention Bureau officials announced in July 1978 that Toronto would host the 1979 major-league baseball winter meetings.

Sources: the June 18, 1978 edition of The City, the March 30, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 4, 1978 and April 21, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 78-04-04 godfrey strikes out 1

ts 78-04-04 godfrey strikes out 2

Toronto Star, April 4, 1978.

ts 78-04-21 letters complaining about Godfrey article

Toronto Star, April 21, 1978.

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.

assorted state bloordale ads small

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.”

ts 72-11-15 will west toronto go wet

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

ts 72-12-05 wets lose

Toronto Star, December 5, 1972.

ts 72-12-09 quo vadis hall ad

Toronto Star, December 9, 1972.

110 Lombard Street (The Old Firehall/Second City)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 5, 2013.

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110 Lombard Street, circa 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 2.

Though no engines have raced out its doors in over 40 years, the origins of 110 Lombard St. are imprinted in a roundel above its main entrance: CENTRAL FIRE HALL 1886. During its long existence, the building has balanced coping with tragedy with making the city laugh.

The building was designed by David Roberts Jr., whose architectural career was tied to the Gooderham family. Beyond working on many structures in the Distillery District, Roberts designed landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the George Gooderham House at Bloor and St. George streets. The firehall, once touted by the Globe as “the finest building of its kind in the Dominion,” was equipped with sleeping space, a gym, and a state-of-the-art telegraph fire-alarm system. Though the hall was scheduled to open in July 1887, service was delayed by the poor condition of Lombard Street.

globe 1887-07-08 keys handed over

The Globe, July 8, 1887.

After the City rejected a proposal to build a larger firehall elsewhere, the site was expanded with a water tower in 1895. Firefighters based at the station would battle some of the city’s greatest disasters; several sustained eye injuries during the Great Fire of 1904.

By the 1960s, plans were underway to replace the station with a new firehall at Front and Princess streets. “It is so old,” the Star said of the building in February 1966. “Firefighters have to beat the rodents off before they can slide down their polls.” Alderman June Marks added the hall to a list of buildings and residences in her ward to which she handed out free rat poison. (The firehall’s supply came gift-wrapped, topped with a red bow.)

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1971.

After the firefighters departed, the City hoped, as one advertisement announced, that “some ingenious entrepreneur will grasp the opportunities in leasing these premises.” The site was converted into a dining and entertainment complex—dubbed The Old Firehall—in 1972, with family-style dining in the basement and the Fire Escape disco on the ground floor. Globe and Mail advertorial writer Mary Walpole lured customers with promises of “great platters of golden southern fried chicken, prime, juicy roast beef, bowls of succulent gravy, and that special Fire Hall apple pie.”

ts 73-07-06 firehall ad conkie

Toronto Star, July 6, 1973.

Looking for a cabaret-style attraction, the Old Firehall signed a contract with Second City in January 1974; the improv company needed a new space after their first Toronto home was padlocked by the landlord. Moving into a venue that possessed a liquor licence was a critical factor, as the lack of one doomed their six-month stay at Adelaide and Jarvis in 1973. (Provincial liquor officials felt the neighbourhood was already saturated with drinking spots, and didn’t believe Second City’s rented space was a true theatre.) Old Firehall manager Oscar Berceller, who previously ran celebrity-magnet restaurant Winston’s, saw Second City as part of a planned revamp of the building that would have converted the basement to a “gypsy cellar” with violinists. Berceller’s death soon after appears to have curtailed this idea.

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“Brian James, founder of a new organization which will send used tools to underdeveloped countries, seen with cast members of Second City revue Rosemary Radcliffe, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, John Candy and Joe O’Flaherty.” Photo by Reg Innell, originally published in the Toronto Star, April 17, 1974. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0128758f.

With a company featuring John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Rosemary Radcliffe, and Gilda Radner, the Second City made their Old Firehall debut in March 1974 with Hello, Dali! The Star‘s theatre critic, Urjo Kareda, felt the initial revue showed more bite than previous efforts and worked in Canadian-centric material without being pushy about it. Radner was praised for realizing that “she can be gorgeous and hilarious at the same time, without one distorting the other,” while Levy provided the show’s highlight with a skit about “Ricardo and his trained Amoeba.”

gm 74-03-14 whittaker on sc

Globe and Mail, March 14, 1974.

ts 74-03-14 kareda review

Toronto Star, March 14, 1974.

In its early days at the Old Firehall, Second City competed with musical acts playing elsewhere in the building. “The only way we could attract an audience was to offer free draft,” producer Andrew Alexander later noted. “I think the audience thought they were there for the beer and rock ‘n’ roll—and the comedy was interstitial.” Among other short-lived 1970s distractions was The World’s Greatest Hamburger, which Globe and Mail food critic Joanne Kates found “tough and dry.”

gm 75-08-25 worlds greatest hamburger

Globe and Mail, August 25, 1975.

When Second City prepared to move to Blue Jays Way in 1997, spirits long-reputed to haunt the Old Firehall didn’t take the news well. The frequency of odd events increased during the troupe’s final month in the building, including a burst pipe that flooded the theatre, flickering lights, and mysterious computer shutdowns. Friendly spirits, however, appeared onstage, as some famed alumni participated in the final shows. After making a surprise appearance at an improv set, Martin Short told the Star that “The Old Firehall is one of those important places for me. We’re always looking back for familiar places, whether it’s granny’s house that still exists, or your mom’s.”

A Second City alum was honoured as the building transitioned into its next incarnation. Following Radner’s death from cancer in 1989, Gilda’s Club was established to provide support and therapy spaces across North America to those living with cancer and their families. The Toronto branch opened in the Old Firehall in October 2001 and remained until it moved to Cecil Street in 2012. It was replaced on Lombard by the College of Makeup Art & Design.

Sources: The Great Toronto Fire by Nancy Rawson and Richard Tatton (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1984); the April 7, 1887 edition of the Globe; the March 31, 1973, January 10, 1974, August 25, 1975, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 2, 1998 edition of Maclean’s; and the September 20, 1895, February 4, 1966, April 23, 1969, November 13, 1971, January 5, 1973, December 11, 1973, March 14, 1974, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 1895-03-28 letter to editor about new fire hall

Letter to the editor, Toronto Star, March 28, 1895. 

globe 1895-07-24 accounts of fire hall runs

Lombard firefighters in action, from the July 24, 1895 Globe.

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Photo by Frank Teskey, originally published in the January 22, 1971 Toronto Star.  Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0112378f.

This photo accompanied another image of a prospective renter. From the caption:

To prove that the facilities are still in good operating order, fireman Gord Didier slides down the pole, while firemen Ron Horniblow (left) and Ray Samson watch. On January 31, City Property Commissioner Harry Rogers will open sealed tenders from prospective tenants who want to lease the 86-year-old firehall, now replaced by a new building at Front and Princess St. It might be converted by someone into a restaurant.

gm 72-12-10 xmas firehall ad

Globe and Mail, December 10, 1972.

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Mary Walpole’s advertorial take on the Fire Hall. Globe and Mail, March 31, 1973.

gm 97-11-15 firehall closes

Globe and Mail, November 15, 1997.

203 Yonge Street (Scholes Hotel/Colonial Tavern)

This story was originally published online as a “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 21, 2013.

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Illustration of John Francis Scholes, as it appeared in the March 25, 1871 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News.

There were few sports John Francis Scholes tackled that he didn’t master. The Irish-born, Toronto-reared athlete racked up championship titles in boxing, rowing, and snowshoeing during the Victorian era. His first trophy, earned during a 220-yard hurdle race in 1869, was proudly displayed in the Yonge Street hotel that eventually bore his family’s name.

Scholes entered the hospitality business around 1880, opening a bar and hotel at 185 Yonge St. He moved his business a few doors north to 203 Yonge St. in the late 1890s, christening it the Athlete Hotel. Scholes used it as a base to mentor local athletes, including his sons John (who inherited his amateur boxing skills) and Lou (a champion rower). Scholes’ tough nature carried him through to his end—when doctors indicated a stomach ailment was terminal, he insisted on dying at the Athlete Hotel, where he entertained friends and former competitors.

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The Scholes Hotel, circa 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 537.

Following Scholes’ death in March 1918, the hotel stayed in family hands and adopted their name. Ads for the Scholes’ Hotel offered typical hospitality promises—“good food, cleanliness, and efficient service.” Less impressed were provincial liquor officials, who suspended the hotel’s booze license in May 1946 for overcrowding and the heinous crime of permitting unaccompanied men to enter the women’s beverage room. (At this time, men and women legally drank in separate rooms.)

The business was sold around this time. The new ownership, Mike Lawrence, Goody Lichtenberg and Harvey Lichtenberg, renamed it the Colonial Tavern. They secured the second cocktail lounge licence along Yonge Street (after the Silver Rail) and began booking jazz acts. Their first performer showed their enlightened attitude: pianist Cy McLean, who had led the first all-black jazz band in Ontario.

Disaster struck on September 27, 1948. Around 8:10 p.m., a refrigerator explosion blew out a wall and sent four men to hospital. “I just remember reaching for my beer when I went sailing across the table top and toward the bar,” patron Douglas Wilson told the Star. “A seven-foot paneled door landed right beside me.” Refrigeration at the Colonial was cursed: Faulty wiring led to a fire on July 24, 1960 that required a year-long reconstruction effort.

Amid these disasters, the Colonial became one of Toronto’s finest jazz joints. Headliners spanned the jazz spectrum, including Chet Baker, Sidney Bechet, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, and Sarah Vaughan. Not all patrons found the surroundings enticing. “Nobody ever called it an ideal place to hear music,” Robert Fulford grumbled in the Star in 1987. “The ceiling was low, the food bad, the waitresses surly, the patrons sometimes loudly drunk. The room was a tunnel-like hall with a square bulge in the middle. If you sat in front of the bandstand the musicians seemed too loud; if you sat to left or right of them you had the sense of over-hearing rather than hearing the music. There were no good tables at the Colonial, only less bad tables.” Yet Fulford admitted that because of the quality of the music, “none of this mattered.”

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The Colonial Tavern in the 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 123.

The Colonial benefitted from the Yonge Street Mall pedestrian-zone experiment of the early 1970s. Goody Lichtenberg was stunned at how packed his new patio was when Yonge was closed off in May 1971. “If I don’t look excited,” he told the Star, “it’s only because I’m dead beat.” Demand forced Lichtenberg to gather food from another restaurant. Within a week, he hired 20 part-time employees and found they weren’t enough.

Inside, the entertainment line-up changed through the 1970s. Jazz performers faded as the upstairs room gradually converted into a discotheque. A basement venue—whose names ranged from the unfortunate Meet Market to the Colonial Underground—aimed for a younger crowd through local acts like Rough Trade and the Viletones. Upstairs and downstairs didn’t always mix—when bluesman Long John Baldry sent staff downstairs to tell the Diodes to turn it down so that he could play an acoustic set, bouncers charged at the punks with pool cues.

After the Lichtenbergs sold the venue in the late 1970s, the Colonial descended into the general sleaziness of Yonge Street during that era. Ads for the “Bump and Grind Revue” in 1978 promised a combination of rock bands and “exotic Black Bottom serving maidens.” The venue’s strip-club phase ran into trouble when a dancer was convicted for public nudity. City regulations enforcing g-strings were blamed for chipping away at business. Several attempts were made to return to jazz programming, but none took.

In 1982, the City purchased the property. It intended to use it as a connecting link between Massey Hall and the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres to create a mini-Lincoln Center-style entertainment complex. Despite protests from the local jazz community, City Council approved plans to demolish the Colonial in 1987 and replace it with a parkette.

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Site of the Colonial Tavern, post-demolition, 1987. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 152.

The following year, the Star’s Christopher Hume laughed at the notion the tiny park would improve its stretch of Yonge Street, viewing it as a hole in the streetscape. “This is one of the few stretches of Yonge where there are significant numbers of historical buildings left,” Hume observed. “It doesn’t make sense to mess it up for the sake of creating an ‘open’ space hardly anyone will use.”

Bracketed by the ghosts of the old banks surrounding it, the former site of the Colonial awaits its next incarnation as part of the Massey Tower condo development.

Sources: Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk and Beyond 1977-1981 by Liz Worth (Montreal: Bongo Beat, 2010), the January 11, 1937, October 25, 1940, and July 13, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the March 5, 1918, May 6, 1946, September 28, 1948, July 25, 1960, June 10, 1961, May 31, 1971, February 20, 1979, April 3, 1987, May 9, 1987, and September 24, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

POSTSCRIPT

The following comment was left on the original post by Bonnie Lawrence Shear on May 30, 2013, in reference to the original piece, which did not mention her father’s role in the Colonial. I admit the first sentence is the kind that fuels my anxiety and perfectionist impulses–but none of the following information emerged over the course of my initial research. When under deadline pressure, you do your best, but the final piece won’t always be perfect in everyone’s eyes.

The authors lack of anything resembling the facts is staggering. My father, Mike Lawrence, bought Scholes Hotel around 1945. I was a small child then but I believe the latest was 1946. He later took in my uncles (the Lichtenbergs) as minority partners, Harvey at the beginning, and Goody a couple of years later. Neither was involved in the purchase.While Goody was in charge of booking the acts, and Harvey in charge of day to day operations, my father was the brains behind the Colonial’s success.My father came from an extremely poor family, graduated as an engineer, but because he was Jewish, could not work as an engineer and had to go into business for himself. He was brilliant and a real risk taker.He went on to many other business and other achievements.

Although it probably had a lot of the faults Fulford talks about, it also was a great success, supported 3 families, and was beloved by many.

The Eaton Centre, and my father’s many illnesses in the 70′s before he died did lead to it’s eventual demise. The building of The Eaton Centre meant that the main thoroughfare on Yonge Street was no longer the street, but pedestrian traffic was transferred to inside the mall, especially in Toronto’s harsh weather.The Colonial’s demise began with the building of the Eaton Centre.

Our family did not sell it to the city, but to an interim purchaser who reneged on the contract. The city eventually took over the property.

So many fond memories, and some sad and poignant ones too.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 1877-11-21 ad_Page_1_Image_0001

The Globe, November 21, 1877.

globe 18-03-05 scholes obit_Page_1_Image_0001

The Globe, March 5, 1918.

ts 18-03-05 scholes obit phoo

ts 18-03-05 scholes obit

Toronto Star, March 5, 1918.

gm 40-10-25 scholes marks 66th anniversary_Page_1_Image_0001

Globe and Mail, October 25, 1940.

ts 47-12-23 opening ad_Page_1_Image_0001

Toronto Star, December 23, 1947.

ts 48-09-28 refrigerator blast rips out wall

Toronto Star, September 29, 1948.

ts 61-06-10 new colonial tavern

Toronto Star, June 10, 1961.

gm 84-01-16 mccoy tyner at reopening of colonial_Page_1_Image_0001

Globe and Mail, January 16, 1984. While working on updating this piece, Tyner’s death was announced

ts 87-05-09 fulford on colonial

Toronto Star, May 9, 1987.

Yorkville, Through Rochester-Coloured Glasses

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Some celebrity tourism in mid-1970s Yorkville. “The star of The Snoop Sisters does some snooping of her own. While character actress Helen Hayes was strolling down Yorkville Ave., she discovered a shop that specializes in Canadiana furnishings and spotted a china platter that she said she would like to add to her collection.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1974. Toronto Star Archives, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054027f.

By 1976, Yorkville had shed its image as a haven for music venues and wayward youth, as it gentrified into a high-end residential and shopping district. The neighbourhood’s new image made it ideal for newspaper profiles touting its charms for tourists.

Take this five-page piece, published in the April 18, 1976 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle‘s Sunday magazine Upstate.

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“Scollard Street is where you’ll find most of Yorkville’s art galleries, including the Marianne Friedland and Evans galleries.”

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Ending with a Wizard of Oz reference? Sheesh.

Hazelton Lanes opened later that year. The writer wouldn’t have many more opportunities to criticize the Riverboat, as it closed in June 1978. The Yorkville branch of Hy’s lasted until 1982, while the Book Cellar remained a hive of literary activity until 1997. The Coffee Mill served its last goulash in 2014.

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This ad appeared on the last page of the article. Note that neither of the Metro Toronto HoJo locations listed here (Airport and Scarborough) for a bubbly-filled weekend were anywhere near Yorkville (though the chain eventually occupied the old Regency Towers Hotel on Avenue Road).

Making and Remaking Hazelton Lanes

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2013. As the original post placed its images in gallery format, this version will sprinkle them throughout, along with additional ads and photos.

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Hazelton Lanes under construction, 1976. Photo by Harold Barkley. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109033f.

When it opened in 1976, Hazelton Lanes offered a combination of luxury condos and tony retailers set amidst a cluster of former homes. Hailed as a great example of how developers and surrounding residents could work together, the mall’s fortunes later declined because of its confusing layout and an ill-timed expansion.

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Rendering of the proposed new entrance for Hazelton Lanes on Avenue Road, 2013.

Recently released renderings of proposed renovations depict a 21st-century makeover that the complex’s owners hope will draw foot traffic.

Hazelton Lanes’s roots can be traced to real estate developer Richard Wookey’s decision to purchase a number of Yorkville properties during the late 1960s. For a time, he catered to the counter culture. In one instance, he allowed a biker gang to use a Hazelton Avenue property as long as it didn’t bother the neighbours. The gang soon departed, complaining that Wookey had “domesticated” them.

Domestication was the goal of developers like Wookey, and boarding houses and coffee houses gave way to pricey boutiques. Wookey bought homes cheap, gutted the interiors, and added Victorian-style archways and windows. He was a proponent of adaptive reuse, hiring architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers to transform a cluster of houses at Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue into the York Square retail complex in 1968.

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Richard Wookey, March 1974. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0090040f.

With Hazelton Lanes, Wookey did something unusual. Rather than seeking immediate City approval, he consulted local residents. Three members of the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association (ABCRA) were invited to his home to review the plans. Despite having concerns about increased traffic, they were impressed by the sketches and suggested that Wookey hold a public meeting. “I think that Mr. Wookey has gone about this matter in precisely the right way,” ABCRA member Jack Granatstein wrote to aldermen William Kilbourn and Colin Vaughan in a March 1973 letter. “I hope that what we can all accomplish here will become the model for future development in the city.”

When the meeting was held the following month, most of the 120 people present voted in favour of the project. “Ratepayer groups don’t always oppose development,” ABCRA vice-president Ellen Adams told the Globe and Mail. “We just oppose the bad ones.” Also impressed by the meeting was Vaughan, who a quarter century later praised Wookey for ensuring that his projects were “woven into the fabric of the city, so that older buildings and site features are enhanced.” The consultation process helped the project gain council support for an exemption to a bylaw that capped development height at 45 feet.

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Hazelton Lanes rink, 1976. Photographer unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109032f.

Designed by architect Boris Zerafa, the complex consisted of a series of eight former homes topped by a series of terraced condos. In the middle was a courtyard, which would be used as an ice-skating rink in the winter.

A potential roadblock emerged when Ursula Foster, who resisted attempts by Wookey to buy her home at 30 Hazelton, asked the City’s buildings and development committee to delay submitting the project to the Ontario Municipal Board. Foster, who had lived in Yorkville for 50 years, feared her sunlight would be blocked, and that therefore her garden would be ruined and her winter heating bill would rise. She met with the City’s planners, Wookey, and Zerafa in May 1974 to find a solution. All agreed to a revised plan that would move the complex’s first two storeys back 10 feet and relocate the upper-level condos to the Avenue Road side.

Apart from gripes from alderman John Sewell about the “very chi chi” project’s lack of affordable housing (condo prices initially ranged from $72,000 to $500,000), the remaining approval process was smooth. When the mall opened in October 1976, it was clear that the average Joe would be out of place. “Most of the shoppers have dressed up to walk the stores,” observed the Globe and Mail. “Several of the shop owners, exquisite in cashmere and costly boots, look like they would eat you alive if you wandered in wearing your old trousers.”

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Toronto Life, December 1984.

Under numerous owners—including William Louis-Dreyfus, father of Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus—the mall portion of Hazelton Lanes has had problems. A major north-end expansion in 1989 designed by Jack Diamond was affected by the recession. At desperate moments, rents were slashed in half. Existing tenants moaned about having to help customers negotiate the mall’s confusing layout. None of the marquee names touted as potential anchors during the 1990s—Neiman Marcus, Pusateri’s, Saks Fifth Avenue—materialized. The ice rink was scrapped during the late 1990s. Whole Foods opened its first Canadian store inside Hazelton Lanes in May 2002, but the mall continued to be criticized for its vacancies and its aging appearance. “Though this dreary complex has somehow managed to become synonymous with wealth and beauty,” observed Star architecture critic Christopher Hume in 2004, “it’s really about kitsch.”

 

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Rendering of south escalator area.

Current owner First Capital bought Hazelton Lanes in 2011, promising to add a broader assortment of tenants for the mall’s well-heeled customers. A company official admitted that there was “no easy fix.” The current renderings by Kasian Architecture show a mall whose appearance matches current shopping-centre styles, with a new gateway to Yorkville Avenue. The proposed renovations, which have yet to get underway, appear to tie into plans to replace York Square with a condo tower, wiping out the pioneering retail space. It remains to be seen if a revamped Hazelton Lanes can draw a major new anchor store.

Sources: the April 5, 1973, November 4, 1976, and September 27, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the April 5, 1973, March 22, 1974, May 14, 1974, March 11, 1976, July 20, 1998, October 5, 2002, and March 27, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

First up, bonus material I prepared at the time this piece was originally written…

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Toronto Star, April 5, 1973.

It was nice for a change to read about a development project where the nearby residents weren’t convinced the sky was going to fall. Unless there’s a secret back story missing from both the media coverage and the personal correspondences I leafed through while researching this article, it sounds like the developer did everything right to reassure the community that all would be well.

Besides the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association, the neighbouring Annex Ratepayers’ Association (ARA) was consulted. In a letter to alderman Ying Hope, an ARA representative wanted to “commend the process of community association consultation in the development of the project.”

Not that there weren’t opponents. In a letter to the city clerk, Hazelton Avenue apartment building owner Mohsen Djelweh complained about the potential traffic bottleneck along his street. He also worried that granting an exception to the 45-foot building height limit would cause Yorkville to “slowly die and convert into a canyon” instead of remaining a “highly regarded, highly attractive low-rise development” which drew tourists.

The loudest opponent to Hazelton Lanes appears to have been alderman John Sewell. When you dive into 1970s Toronto, you can create a drinking game around predicting what Sewell will rage against in the midst of the story you’re trailing. Besides the height issue (which he was only one of three councilors to vote against in February 1974), Sewell complained that the project offered no provisions for affordable housing. He claimed that developer Richard Wookey “doesn’t want to have to touch people who aren’t in a fairly high income bracket.” Sewell’s attempt to promote mixed income housing in Yorkville didn’t gain traction.

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Globe and Mail, September 25, 1976.

An example of an early Hazelton Lanes ad campaign. A different batch of tenants was profiled each week. Note the references to the mall’s hard-to-find location, which didn’t always serve it well.

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A colour view of the rink. Toronto Life, January 1980.

Here’s how Hazelton Lanes was described in The Best of Toronto 1980, published by Toronto Life:

Toronto’s most exclusive , multi-purpose structure is a spectacular complex incorporating shops, restaurants, offices and luxury condominium apartments. The courtyard is a skating rink in winter and an outdoor extension of the Hazelton Lanes Cafe in summer. You’ll find everything from delicious imported chocolates at Au Chocolat to designer fashions at Chez Catherine. It’s elegant, exclusive, expensive and not to be missed.

UPDATE

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Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

With the renovations came a new name. So long Hazelton Lanes, hello Yorkville Village. The entrance to Yorkville Avenue was completely revamped.

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Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

As for the effect of the renovations…on a recent walk, the place felt utterly soulless. The old brick might have been dated, but it had a certain warmth. While it’s nice to have bright light flowing in, the overall look is just sort of there. I felt like I could have been dropped into any generic recently-refurbished suburban shopping mall.

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Nearby advertising on Yorkville Avenue.