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

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

robinhoodad

Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.

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

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

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

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

policeraid

Toronto Star, March 3, 1983.

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

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

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

brothers

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

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

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

UPDATE

IMG_3538a

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

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

IMG_3546a

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

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

np 2000-01-15 brothers closing

National Post, January 15, 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ookie Dookie

tl 1989-08 cc ookie 580px

Toronto Life, August 1989.

It’s 1989, and you’re flipping through the summer issue of Toronto Life. In the front, there are a series of short bits about the city, including legendary Buffalo TV news anchor Irv Weinstein’s opinion on his Golden Horseshoe counterparts. He felt most were stiff, with the exception of CHCH Sunday show host Dick Beddoes (“I was mesmerized by him–you know, the same way you’re mesmerized by a guy with one eye in the middle of his forehead”). On page 29, a piece on activist Dudley Laws and the strained relationship between the city’s black community and the police. You pause for a moment, contemplate, and figure things will mended between the two groups by, say, 2020.

Next, you read some tips on how to cycle in style. Fools, you think. This city is built for motorists–why bother spending a ton on a fancy bike?

You settle into a comfy chair with the special fiction section, featuring short stories from home (Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findlay) and abroad (Isabel Allende, Graham Greene), along with a sprinkling of Leonard Cohen poems.

Next, a new bar-and-club guide. Ah, but you’re too old for that sort of thing. You continue flipping until you hit the “Taste of the Town” restaurant guide. One ad catches your eye, with its splashes of bright yellow and checkerboard pattern.

You read it.

You scratch your head.

“Ookies?”

Are your fellow earthlings going wild over some store you’ve never heard of in Forest Hill? It’s possible. Or not.

You sigh and continue on with the restaurant reviews. None of them mention ookies.

star 1989-04-12 cc ookie

Toronto Star, April 12, 1989.

After digging through the Star and Globe archives, the only story I found about C.C. Ookies was this one about their matzo meal cookies.

Did the Queen’s Quay location ever pan out?

Why was combining initials and parts of words such a long, complicated story?

So many questions…

hom 204 1972-07 all in the family p7 500px

“All in the Family,” House of Mystery #204, July 1972. Story by Mary Skrenes, art by Bernie Wrightson.

Perhaps the true story of the ookie, and the reason they never caught on, is that they were actually sentient blobs with a taste for humans. Blobs who insisted the proper spelling of their species was “Ookey,” and required plenty of Alka-Seltzer for proper digestion.

“The Dream That is Canada’s Wonderland”

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

20160409entrance

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.

20160409wonderlandad

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?”

20160409modelofmountain

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.”

20160409merrygoround

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.

20160409costumes

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.”

20160409pirateship

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.

20160409cars

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.

star 1978-03-17 park approved

Toronto Star, March 17, 1978.

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

gm 1980-11-07 fight over growth in vaughan

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.”

ts 80-04-09 construction

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

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

tspa_0021136f_640px

“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.'”

ts 81-05-09 150 costumes

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.

ts 81-05-21 special section 1

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.

ts 81-05-21 wonderland map

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.

ts 81-05-21 loblaws ad

Toronto Star, May 21, 1981.

20160409openingday

Toronto Star, May 24, 1981.

ts 81-06-13 letters

Toronto Star, June 13, 1981.

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

Late Nights at People’s Foods

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on June 5, 2012. 

ts 87-10-18 late night peoples

Toronto Star, October 18, 1987. Click on image for larger version.

Patrons intending to dine at People’s Foods on Dupont Street were greeted last week with a notice on the door stating that the half-century old diner was closing due to its lease expiring. Though one report suggests that the owners hope to find a new location, for now, regulars will have to look elsewhere for greasy-spoon staples and jukebox selectors at their booths.

A quarter of a century ago, People’s was among the “denziens of the dark hours” that the Toronto Star spotlighted in an article on life in the city between midnight and dawn. A 24-hour eatery at the time, People’s saw an early-morning procession of shift workers, police, and frat boys grazing on homemade burgers and onion rings. “The dazzling fluorescent lights are always on,” the Star noted, “and at 2:45 a.m. Thomas Rygopoulos is hefting a huge piece of solid white fat—easily measuring a cubic foot—from a blue plastic bag into the deep fryer. The customers want more French fries.” Rygopoulos had worked at People’s for five years when the Star visited. “People eat the same as in the daytime,” he noted. “You know how 1 o’clock is lunch time? It’s the same at night: 1 to 3 o’clock is lunch time at night.”

Among the diners were two University of Toronto students discussing a major crisis: An acquaintance about to be married had his bride-to-be back out 36 hours before the ceremony. Amid silent pauses over numerous refills of coffee, they contemplated how to rebound from such a situation. At least one of the students seemed to have problems of his own, as he told his friend, “the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that at least one person in this world feels worse than I do.” Both men noted they were regulars at People’s—one described it as “a landmark for romantic, bohemian fantasies … It’s the restaurant of the people.”

People’s wasn’t the only food-related stop on the Star’s late-night tour. On Danforth Avenue near Pape, Phil Cho sold produce at the Greenview Fruit Market. When asked who bought oranges at three in the morning, he replied, “taxi drivers. There are a few health nuts, so every night they need their oranges.” He also found that drunks would eat just about anything that caught their eye, even if it meant a smashed watermelon or two. Restaurant and shift workers tended to cause less chaos, as their purchases tended to head home.

There might have been items bought at Greenview among the debris that “Tokyo Rose” took care of nightly. The TTC’s subway-cleaning car derived its name not from the World War II axis propaganda agent but from the city it was manufactured in and a mocking reference to the sweet smell of garbage. Cleaner Elio Romano referred to the subway tracks as a “hobo’s paradise” due to the longer-than-average cigarette butts he tossed into his garbage bag.

The article ended with a glimpse of dawn at People’s, where Rygopoulos prepared breakfast for early birds. The creatures of the night had moved on to give way to those facing a new day, much as the restaurant’s home since 1963 may now face a new morning.

Sources: the October 18, 1987 edition of the Toronto StarThe site was soon occupied by Rose and Sons restaurant.

Golden Mile Plaza

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

tely 54-04-07 gmp 5 loblaws 400

The Telegram, April 7, 1954.

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

ts 52-10-16 sketch of golden mile

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

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

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

tely 54-04-07 gmp 2

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

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

ts 59-06-27 where to see queen

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

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

ts 83-09-22 hits skids

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

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

ts 86-04-16 future sparks uproar

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

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

ts 88-03-17 super centre roller skating pic

Toronto Star, March 17, 1988.

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 53-04-20 official opening of golden mile industry pictures

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

ts 53-04-20 official opening of golden mile industry story

Toronto Star, April 20, 1953.

tely 54-04-07 gmp 3

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

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.

20131122tvoad

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

gm 64-10-29 cbc to import doctor who

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.

starweeksmall76tvpreview

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.

ts 80-11-06 talons of weng chiang

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.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Speakers Corner

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 originally posted on April 22, 2012.

speakerscorner

They seemed like just another bunch of goofy guys crammed into the booth at the corner of Queen and John Streets. Paying a dollar destined for a charity gave them two minutes in the spotlight. As the camera clicked on that day in March 1991, they sang. The tune was about asking a girl to be their Yoko Ono, complete with Yoko-style shrieks. While other musicians earned little more than a brief appearance on CITY TV, a visit to Speakers Corner helped propel the career of the Barenaked Ladies.

Speakers Corner was installed sometime after CITY moved into the former Ryerson Press building in 1987 and was among the quirky innovations programmer Moses Znaimer developed at the station. The public’s views on virtually anything quickly proved a useful addition to the station’s newscasts. In 1990, producer Peter Whittington proposed a weekly half-hour show built around Speakers Corner, with clips linked by themes like politics and the battle of the sexes. Costing little to produce, the series debuted that September. The Star’s Antonia Zerbisias called Speakers Corner “a clever little show” which “covered everything from stupid tongue tricks to propositions to CITY personnel.”

In another article four years later, Zerbisias noted that in the Speakers Corner editing room, it didn’t “take long for an observer to conclude that the world is full of morons who don’t even have the sense to keep it to themselves…they want to let the world know.” Material left on the cutting room floor tended toward people left speechless once the camera clicked on, or those whose performances couldn’t be shown on television, such as a couple engaged in sexual activity in the booth who suffered from poor compositional skills. “The framing was bad,” Whittington noted. “They didn’t understand television.”

But many others understood the medium. After a game where he stomped on an opponent’s head, Argonauts wide receiver Rocket Ismail headed straight to Queen and John to record an apology asking forgiveness from football fans for his actions. He didn’t talk to the media until the following day. The booth also saw its share of poignant moments, such as a plea from one woman that led to her reunion with sisters she hadn’t seen since childhood.

The booth also attracted celebrities of varying degrees. Tuning in might have rewarded you with poet Irving Layton honouring former pupil Znaimer, Mike Myers testing out new material, Judge Reinhold improvising movie trailers, and cameo appearances ranging from Harrison Ford to Madonna. Prince was a fan during his Toronto residency—“I just love the idea of it,” he told the Canadian Press in 2004. “I am so tempted when I go by to stop the car and go into the booth and say what I have to say.” Alas, he never did.

Despite the avalanche of complaints directed at them, politicians latched onto Speakers Corner. Whether it was fringe council candidates outlining their platforms, then-prime minister Jean Chretien encouraging viewers to vote, or federal justice minister Kim Campbell promoting the Charlottetown Accord, the booth proved a satisfying pulpit. Campbell’s appearance, during which she was hugged by a young, robed bearded dude telling her how beautiful she was, prompted CITY reporter Colin Vaughan to remark “Now I’ve seen everything.”

But like many elements of the Znaimer era, Speakers Corner gradually fell by the wayside after he left the premises. When CTV purchased CITY in 2006, the booth was closed while the fate of the station was determined. After the CRTC forced the sale of CITY the following year, new owner Rogers temporarily installed a new Speakers Corner at the Rogers Centre, with the intention of permanently relocating it to the station’s new home at Yonge-Dundas Square. But that never happened: in June 2008, Rogers cancelled both the television show and the new booth.

The demise of Speakers Corner could be seen as just another example of corporate bean counting at work. It could also be viewed as a casualty in the rise of internet sites like YouTube, where anyone can post their own video rants and stories. What it allowed, and may be missed by some, is the opportunity to express your thoughts and talents in a public space with no guarantee that anyone other than an editor would watch your two minutes of fame.

Sources: the October 16, 1992 edition of the Globe and Mail, the August 27, 1991 edition of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, and the September 21, 1990, September 24, 1992, September 10, 1994, and June 12, 2008 editions of the Toronto Star. Full episode of Speakers Corner from October 1990 posted on YouTube by Retrontario.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 90-09-21 zerbesias on speakers corner

Toronto Star, September 21, 1990.

20140522speakerscorner640

The original Speakers Corner machine, displayed at MZTV when it opened at the ZoomerPlex in May 2014.

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.

scholes-small

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.

scholeshotelsmall

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.”

colonial1970ssmall

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.

colonialdemolishedsmall

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.

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.

tspa_0109033f_hazeltonlanesconstructiion1976

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.

20130823nightview 640

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.

tspa_0090040f wookey 640

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.

tspa_0109032f rink 640

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.”

20130823ad84

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.”

 

20130823viewc640

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…

20130823sketch73

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.

gm 76-09-25 opening ad

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.

20130823rink

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

IMG_0422a

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.

IMG_0425a

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.

IMG_0416a

Nearby advertising on Yorkville Avenue.

The Death of Benji Hayward

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on May 1, 2012. This article was assigned to me following the publication of an oral history of Degrassi Junior High. 

tspa_0054093f_640 px

“Gordon Hayward, right, father of drowning victim Benji Hayward who disappeared after a rock concert Friday, shown with family friend Henry Goodman, said his son’s apparent experiment with LSD should be a lesson to all parents: ‘Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids.'” Photo by Ron Bull, used on the front page of the May 19, 1988 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054093f.

May 13, 1988. Exhibition Stadium is packed for a Pink Floyd concert. Among the attendees is 14-year-old Benji Hayward. Despite warnings from friends, Hayward and a friend bought two pieces each of blotter paper sprinkled with LSD. Their drug use that night wasn’t isolated, as acid, coke, and crack were openly passed around the stands. As the concert closed, the friends separated in the crowd, each probably figuring the other would get home okay.

While his friend’s acid-induced wanderings resulted in a police pick up near Queen and Jameson, Benji headed toward the lake. He fell into the water near Coronation Park and drowned. His body was not discovered for four days, a period in which his parents, not satisfied with the relaxed pace the police adopted toward their missing-person request, organized a postering campaign to find their son.

After calls from politicians and community leaders for stronger drug-fighting tactics, a two-month coroner’s inquest was held that summer. Jurors learned that Hayward and his friend were warned by police on Yonge Street about drug possession two months before the concert, but due to regulations related to the Young Offenders Act of 1984, their parents were not informed. It was also revealed that, following the 1982 Charter of Rights, Metro Police turned over responsibility for searching concertgoers for drugs to promoters, who sometimes hired biker gangs involved in dealing to act as security. Hayward’s parents were frustrated at the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude demonstrated by law officials, but also admitted that they had a “not my child” attitude regarding the possibility of Benji using drugs.

As the inquest ended, Metro Police Inspector Julian Fantino admitted that mistakes had been made and the Haywards should have received more care regarding their concerns. He indicated that officers would resume contacting parents when their children had minor brushes with the law, that the procedures for missing person cases would be improved, and that police would launch a major anti-drug program that fall. He blamed the problems in the Hayward case on “the human element,” as officers found their hands tied by human-rights legislation and fear of the Public Complaints Act. Fantino also believed that an officer who had testified at the inquest was led “like a lamb to the slaughter.”

The jury issued 14 pages of recommendations when the inquest ended on August 13, 1988, three months to the day that Hayward disappeared. They urged all levels of government to declare war on drugs and drill drug education into students, even if took time away from other academic activities. Tougher sentencing and heavier police enforcement were needed, leading Fantino to announce a request for up to 90 extra officers and $6 million for an anti-drug campaign.

In an editorial three days later, the Star acknowledged the sincerity of the jurors but advised caution before implementing harsh, counter-productive measures that would further alienate youth. “Where trust is lacking,” the Star wrote, “how can young people feel comfortable discussing drug use openly with those who are trained to help them find equally attractive means of satisfaction in life?” The editorial agreed with a key message from the jury: “Please do not lull yourself into the misconception that living in suburbia and sending your child to a good school guarantees protection from this problem. This is not a problem of a few unfortunate families, the single parent, the poor, or your neighbor. This is your problem, this is my problem, this is our problem.”

The Hayward case inspired a storyline in a two-part episode of Degrassi Junior High (“Taking Off“) in February 1989, wherein Shane dropped acid under circumstances not unlike Benji Hayward’s. Unlike Benji, Shane survived a fall off a bridge but was left in a mentally-impaired state that served as a warning to anyone contemplating taking a hit.

Sources: the July 19, 1988, July 21, 1988, August 10, 1988, August 13, 1988, and August 16, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.