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: Auntie Nuke Needs You

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2011.


Harrowsmith, April 1980.

Dear old Auntie Nuke would have been busy in 1980. Public concern about the nuclear industry was heightened by the accident at Three Mile Island a year earlier. This, we suspect, would in turn have increased support for Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups campaigning against Ontario Hydro’s plan to build four reactors near Bowmanville. As the protest date approached, Auntie Nuke spent several hours a day carefully reading the large volume of mail she received, and responded to each letter regardless of whether the writer supported her position or not.

So what happened if you showed up at Darlington to help Auntie Nuke?

For the more than 100 people who attended the demonstration, the reward was a $13 fine for petty trespass.

Initially, the protest was as peaceful as promised. Around 800 people showed up that afternoon, half as many as were at a similar demonstration a year earlier. Depending on the source, the crowd was either mostly in their late teens and early twenties (Star) or late twenties and early thirties (Globe and Mail). Amid T-shirts and placards bearing slogans like “Hell No I Won’t Glow” and “Cycle Power,” the Star observed that “the happy crowd danced and clapped to bluegrass music or sprawled on the grass listening to speakers denounce Ontario Hydro and call for a halt to construction of what they called a ‘white elephant.’” To make the protestors comfortable, Ontario Hydro cut the foot-high grass surrounding the site and provided garbage bins and portable toilets.

Halfway through the demonstration, a group of protestors tossed blankets and rugs over the barbed wire atop the eight-foot fence surrounding the construction site. Ladders cobbled together from rope and wood allowed people to scale the fence. Around 60 people headed to the edge of the excavation area and attempted to set up an Occupy-style tent city, complete with tree and vegetable planting. And then Ontario Hydro employees whipped out their cameras and waited for the Durham Regional Police to show up.

The occupation lasted half an hour before the campers and the dozen media that followed them were dragged away. Among those arrested were members of a Greenpeace flotilla, who breached the site via Lake Ontario. Auntie Nuke failed to provide them with sturdy ships, as their inflatable rubber boats developed tears or were equipped with defective motors. As she sat in the paddy wagon, Auntie Nuke scribbled a note to herself to find a better supplier for the next protest.

Additional material from the June 9, 1980, edition of the Globe and Mail and the June 8, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: No Tricks—Just Treats

Originally published on Torontoist on October 25, 2011.


Toronto Sun, October 26, 1980.

Ghouls definitely aren’t fools when it comes to style or a bargain. Never mind if the garments from a purveyor of affordable clothing for teenagers might not be top of the line—if you’re dressing as a zombie, tears to clothing resulting from their first visit to a laundry machine only add to the illusion.

As for how campy a cowboy hat could be, keep in mind that today’s ad appeared in the wake of the box office smash Urban Cowboy. It’s likely Stitches was appealing to John Travolta wannabes who planned to spend their Halloween riding a mechanical bull or engaging in other forms of western-themed horseplay.

We sympathize with the guy on the right, who spent months mastering the art of sticking his tongue out like Gene Simmons only to discover every Kiss costume in the city was sold out. He couldn’t even find a Kiss Your Face Makeup Kit that would provide proper instructions on how to look like his musical idols.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 7

A Victory Shower

Originally published on Torontoist on August 23, 2011.

Vintage Ad #1,617: Victory Means a New Bathroom!

Mayfair, March 1944.

We suspect a shining new bathroom with a corner shower was not high on the daydream list for those on the battle lines in World War II—getting home in one piece might have been slightly higher. Still, executives at heating and plumbing equipment manufacturers could sit back and soak up war effort projects until the postwar consumer boom hit. Then they would find customers like this fellow, who was relieved to clean himself with more than just the canteen-sized doses of water he was forced to use in the field. A private shower to him would truly be a “fruit of freedom.”

After several mergers, Standard Sanitary dropped the icky part of its name and, as American Standard, continues to provide products to make anyone’s bathroom dreams come true.

Have You Tasted This Sensational Soup?

Originally published on Torontoist on October 11, 2011.


Was it the mounting effects of wartime rationing making this man so excited about Lipton’s Noodle Soup Mix, or the high sodium content of the broth? Comforting as a bowl of reconstituted dry soup mix can be, calling it “rich and natural” is a stretch. But to wartime consumers, the convenience, economy, and versatility were irresistible qualities.

While present-day Knorr Lipton soup no longer touts tasty chicken fat among its enticing attributes, two predictions came true: children enjoy the seemingly bottomless supply of noodles, and the pouches of dehydrated goodies have remained a standby in many Toronto homes for the past 70 years.

Miming Increased Productivity

Originally published on Torontoist on September 13, 2011.


Financial Post Magazine, March 1980.

Hinted at but not made explicit in today’s ad: besides promoting time-saving business forms, this advertisement for the Moore product-ivity kit inferred that word processing speeds would improve if staff donned white makeup and communicated solely through miming during working hours. While there was a risk that an interested firm would lose employees due to their inability to keep their mouths shut, allergic reactions to makeup, or fear of mimes, a manager thinking outside the box might have taken the risk. Less idle chit-chat equals profit!

Using a mime spokesman might not have been out of line for Moore Business Forms, given that founder Samuel J. Moore was the production manager for the satirical weekly Grip before entering the stationery field in 1882. You might have to mimic the outline of a building where the company’s former office was in Mount Dennis: Google Maps shows Goddard Avenue as a blocked-off road awaiting residential redevelopment.

Master the Art of Pleasing Each Other

Originally published on Torontoist on October 18, 2011.


Maclean’s, April 3, 1978.

After moving into the zigzagging towers of The Masters zipped into the Markland Wood neighbourhood, this couple spent more time together enjoying nightly swims, sipping fine wines despite the stares of the medieval citizens depicted on their wallpaper, practicing their golf swings, and spending quality time in the sauna. They also took advantage of the leisure facilities to further their individual interests: he spent hours in the darkroom developing photos of amateur models who succumbed to the charms of his red neck scarf, while she unwound in the pottery room by recreating in clay pleasant and disturbing visions from her dreams of what her lover was up to.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Which Vehicle Has the Right of Way?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 6, 2011.


Toronto Sun, September 27, 1981.

The courtesy suggested in today’s ad only went so far. After two more decades of drivers pinning in public transit vehicles, legislation forcing vehicles to yield to buses became provincial law on January 2, 2004. We suspect there were drivers who took fiendish glee in purposely cutting off buses one last time on New Year’s Day before the risk of receiving a $90 fine kicked in.

Thanks to lobbying efforts from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Ontario followed British Columbia and Quebec in enacting a yield-to-bus law. TTC officials felt the law would result in speedier service, with some routes expected to see travel times decrease by five minutes. Signs on the backs of buses employed more forceful language: “please” was dropped from the yield warning sign. The change of wording outraged Toronto Star reader Harold Nelson, who complained to the paper that the TTC was “not as polite as it once was.” His remarks prompted Barbara Gilbert of Newmarket to respond. “When was the last time you saw a sign that said ‘please stop?’” Gilbert wrote. “Maybe the reader should familiarize himself with the rules of the road before he heads out in his vehicle.”

Additional material from the April 24, 2004 and April 30, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Passing on the Ontario Press Council

Originally published on Torontoist on July 19, 2011.


Toronto Star, September 14, 1977.

Oh, Sun Media, you want to be so edgy. From self-mythologizing as “the little paper that grew” in Toronto to launching your own bargain-basement version of Fox News, you’ve always prided yourself on being the rebel in the media room. Last week’s decision to pull 27 papers out of the Ontario Press Council (OPC), including charter members of the organization like the London Free Press, because the self-regulating watchdog has “a politically correct mentality” at odds with the trashy nature of your urban tabloids is a fine example of Sun Media’s cranky-teenager streak. We wonder if the move was motivated less by true dissent with the OPC and more by winning brownie points with the right or saving a few bucks on membership dues.

The Toronto Sun’s decision to join the OPC in May 1983 came at the end of a sudden membership rush that saw the OPC go from 24 papers at the start of 1982 to over 70. Suspicion was that the increase was spurred by the release of the Royal Commission on Newspapers chaired by Tom Kent, and by rumours that the federal government was mulling a national newspaper watchdog. The usefulness of the OPC was debated from the moment it was announced in late 1971—during a forum at the Toronto Press Club in March 1983, it was described by critics as a “toothless tiger” and a “mountain of Jell-O.”


Based on notes from other papers, the May 1, 1983, edition of the Toronto Sun was the first published as a member of the Ontario Press Council. Cover stories included Ontario Premier William Davis’s potential run for the federal Progressive Conservative leadership, lingering problems with metric conversion, and financial columnist Garth Turner’s apology for having declared a year earlier that Canada was in the midst of a depression.

While we weren’t able to find any statements in the Sun about its decision to join the OPC, we uncovered Globe and Mail publisher Roy Megarry’s reasons for signing up a few months earlier. Megarry’s decision was a response to “a growing feeling that those unhappy with the performance of newspapers in Canada should have another place to take their complaints than the papers themselves.” He claimed the Globe and Mail felt their internal system for dealing with complaints, which included an “Our Mistake” column, worked fine but that “we cannot, however, ignore the challenge that publishers must demonstrate their openness by participating in press councils which are financed by Ontario’s newspapers, that justice must not only be done in the press, but be seen to be done.”

That last point is probably lost on Sun Media, whose timing for the pullout may prove poor as media responsibility comes under the microscope with every new revelation that spins out of the News of the World scandal. But then the Sun might see accountability to no one, including their readership, as another sign of edginess.

Additional material from the October 14, 1982, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the March 31, 1983, and May 18, 1983, editions of the Toronto Star.


The Ontario Press Council merged into the National NewsMedia Council in 2015. As of 2018, under Postmedia ownership, the Sun is a member of the NMC.

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.