Censoring TIFF

Originally published on Torontoist on September 9, 2013.

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Once upon a time, there was a film festival that strove for international recognition. Its organizers hustled to bring a wide range of films and a touch of glamour to their fair city. As with any ongoing event, it experienced growing pains, and while the festival did ultimately succeed in cultivating a cosmopolitan image, there were occasional embarrassing moments along the way.

For the first decade of the Festival of Festivals (as the Toronto International Film Festival was known until 1994), programmers fought the guardians of public morality. Provincial censors—known at different times as the Ontario Board of Censors and the Ontario Film Review Board—wielded their power whenever they felt the festival was getting too naughty. Battles over the content of films at times threatened to derail gala openings. While the negative publicity fuelled public curiosity, it occasionally raised questions about Toronto’s suitability as a film-fest desination. Even after the festival earned an exemption from the censors in 1987, some of the films shown were still banned from general release.

Below are several examples of TIFF films that earned the wrath of the censors. Some of the clips included are NSFW.

Je, tu, il, elle (1977)
Director: Chantal Akerman
Starring: Chantal Akerman, Claire Wauthion

This film, selected as part of a programme assembled by French director Agnès Varda, ran afoul of Ontario’s morality enforcers because of its final 13 minutes. Provincial censors ordered 1,000 feet of celluloid cut in order to expunge footage of two women making out on a bed. Watching the film two decades later, critic Brian Johnson observed that “you can’t ‘see’ much, just two look-alike bodies all mixed up, a tangle of limbs and hair.” He suspected that the censors were “confounded by the idea of two women making love for an eternity.”

The festival pulled the film.

Five years later, when censors refused to permit the screening of Pierre Rissient’s Cinq et la peau, programmers didn’t substitute another film. A sign was placed outside the theatre during the scheduled time explaining why the screen was dark.

In Praise of Older Women (1978)
Director: George Kaczender
Starring: Tom Berenger, Karen Black, Marilyn Lightstone, Helen Shaver, Susan Strasberg

Can a film be censored “artistically”? That’s what censor Donald Sims promised would happen when, a week before In Praise of Older Women opened the 1978 festival, the board wanted to excise two minutes. Co-producer Robert Lantos vowed the film would be run uncut, despite the fact that doing so would put the licenses of the theatre and its projectionist at risk. Both sides compromised on cutting a 38-second scene involving Berenger and Lightstone making out behind a couch.

It was a publicity goldmine. Papers across the country commented on the furor, increasing demand for tickets from people eager to see a dirty movie. The festival sold 2000 tickets for a screening at the 1600-seat Elgin Theatre, assuming there would be no-shows. Problems arose when somebody noticed that each printed pass admitted two. The result was a mob scene, where those denied entry hissed “fraud!” as they stood in the rain outside the theatre. Those without seats were urged to go to a slightly later screening at the New Yorker Theatre.

Those inside the Elgin applauded federal secretary of state John Roberts’s opening speech. He told the audience that “because of the actions of the Ontario censor it is time for an active affirmation that censors shouldn’t tell people what they should or should not see.” Though an on-hand censor was shown proof that the edited version would be screened, careful camouflaging during the cycling of reels between the Elgin and the New Yorker ensured the audience saw the film in all its uncut glory.

Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1981)
Director: Bonnie Sherr Klein
Featuring: Margaret Atwood, Kate Millett

The censor board approved one uncut screening of this National Film Board documentary about the porn industry. An overflow crowd inspired festival officials to request permission for another screening. The board refused, prompting the Star to wonder, “Was the censor board perhaps fearful that one showing of a film will not corrupt an audience, but a second might?” After the festival, screenings of the film were restricted to private venues, and for adults only.

The attention paid to Not a Love Story typified the festival’s relations with censor-board chair Mary Brown, whose tenure from 1980 to 1986 was characterized by controversy. Her objections often raised the profiles of the films she insisted on cutting. According to former festival director Helga Stephenson, “Silly old Mary Brown filled some theatres with some pretty tame stuff. The ranting and raving was a very good way to get the festival into the minds of the public, but internationally it was hugely embarrassing. And it filled the theatre with the wrong people, because they came looking for nothing but blow jobs, and they found themselves in the middle of a long, hard, boring film waiting for a few seconds of a grainy image showing something that looked vaguely like a male sex organ.”

The Brood (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle

One of the highlights of the 1983 festival was a retrospective of David Cronenberg’s work, the first time a Toronto-reared director was honoured. The censors spoiled the fun by insisting that the commercial cut of The Brood, which it approved in 1979, be used. That version hacked out a 50-second sequence depicting Samantha Eggar birthing a broodling and snacking on the placenta. “While ideally we believe the festival should only run full-length versions and without cuts of any kind,” observed festival director Wayne Clarkson, “saying we wouldn’t run a print that has played in Ontario many times over the years seemed unreasonable. It’s very difficult to say anything else when the director and the distributor have agreed to cuts.”

We suspect an uncut print will be part of TIFF’s upcoming salute to Cronenberg.

Fat Girl (2001)
Director: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Arsinée Khanjian

Though the festival earned a blanket exemption from the censors, the films it screened weren’t guaranteed to escape problems after the festivities. The board refused to approve a general release for Fat Girl following the 2001 edition of TIFF, because of scenes of sexual content involving underage girls. The film was approved in other provinces and in other jurisdictions known for stringent classification systems, like Great Britain. Newspaper ads in British Columbia screamed “Banned in Ontario.”

Additional material from Brave Films, Wild Nights by Brian D. Johnson (Toronto: Random House, 2000), the September 8, 1978, September 15, 1978, and November 22, 2001 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 20, 1981 and September 14, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 9, 1978.

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Globe and Mail, September 15, 1978.

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Toronto Sun, September 15, 1978.

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Cover to the 1981 festival program.

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Editorial, Toronto Star, September 20, 1981.

Councillor Jack Layton

Originally published on Torontoist on August 22, 2011.

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Toronto Star, November 9, 1982.

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.” Jack Layton knew the meaning of the advice he gave in his last letter well, as many people said he didn’t have a chance during his first run for municipal office in 1982. He entered one of the most closely watched races that November, when political heavyweights were all but certain to nab the two seats up for grabs in Ward 6. The Star‘s candidate profile of Layton emphasized several issues that remained key concerns throughout his municipal and federal political career.

Jack Layton, 32, is a Ryerson politics professor known to Rogers Cable TV viewers as host of the now-defunct Council Insight show. This is Layton’s first campaign for elected office and he’s hoping the ward’s NDP network will help him win the junior aldermanic spot. He lists housing, transit, neighbourhood preservation and police-minority relations as key issues. Layton lives just outside the ward with his wife, Sally, and children Michael and Sarah. He’s spending $17,000 on his campaign.


CBC clip of Jack Layton following his victory in the 1982 municipal election.

 

Pundits expected the seats in Ward 6 to go to former Toronto mayor John Sewell and rising star Gordon Chong, who Conservative backroom operators felt was mayoral material. Layton used the NDP’s clout in the ward to run a low-cost, volunteer-intensive campaign. Housing proved the critical issue, thanks to tenant worries about massive rent increases after Cadillac Fairview sold off 11,000 units across the city. Chong, who received $40,000 in campaign funding from Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey, didn’t seem to care about these concerns until late in the race, when he proposed that the city borrow $270 million to buy the units and sell them back to the tenants as condos. Both Layton and Sewell ripped apart Chong’s proposal. When the votes were tallied on November 8, 1982, Layton finished in second place with a little less than a 2,000-vote cushion over Chong. The new junior alderman noted that “having 600 workers is a lot better than a $60,000 campaign any time.” At his victory party, where many volunteers admitted surprise that he bested Chong, Layton told the Star that the result “showed even more than we imagined that residents in this ward aren’t going to tolerate politicians who ignore them.”

Once in office, Layton quickly stressed the role citizens played in city politics, “where ordinary people can make a difference.” In a profile that appeared in the Globe and Mail two months after his victory, he noted that “Wherever doors are closed, I would open them up to public participation. And by participation, I don’t mean a smoke-and-mirrors situation where everyone gets to stand up and say their bit but nobody listens. To have access to the decision-making power is more important than expressing opinions only.” Fellow alderman Richard Gilbert felt that Layton was better equipped to handle office than his fellow freshmen councillors because he demonstrated a grasp of local issues by co-producing a Ryerson course on civic issues that aired on CJRT and hosting a community-cable politics show.

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Globe and Mail, January 8, 1983.

At city and regional levels, Layton wasn’t afraid to raise awareness for causes he believed in. As one of the first councillors to talk about and develop plans to combat AIDS, he had his outline drawn in chalk to represent those who had died. He was arrested in 1984 for trespassing when he handed out leaflets supporting striking workers at Eaton’s (the charges were later tossed out on grounds of freedom of expression). He argued against the public financing of the SkyDome (and called for an inquiry into the debts that followed), tried to curb the power of developers who seemed to have a free hand at City Hall during Art Eggleton’s administration, supported his fellow cyclists, worked on homelessness issues, helped launched the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and White Ribbon Campaign, and generally proved a thorn in the side of right-leaning fellow councillors.

During his early years on City and Metro councils, Layton’s style of dress was best described as “hip young political science professor”: glasses, jeans, bushy hair, mustache, and running shoes. When a well-groomed, contact-wearing Layton appeared at a Metro Toronto council meeting in early 1987, the rumour mill was abuzz. Was he cleaning up for a future run at top office? He denied such a move at the time, claiming that he could no longer wear glasses, slacks were cheaper than jeans, and that the haircut was his mother’s idea. He joked that he was “changing my underwear, too.” More seriously, he added, “I figure if I’m going to run for mayor, it’s going to be with my mouth, not my eyes.”

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Toronto Star, February 5, 1987.

But run for mayor he eventually did, announcing his intentions in February 1991. A fear of vote-splitting among right-leaning candidates reduced Layton’s main competition to former councillor and Metro Toronto Police Commission chair June Rowlands. He lost by nearly a two-to-one margin on election night, as voters either embraced Rowlands’ law and order platform or weren’t ready to trust Layton’s economic proposals and the “Smilin’ Jack” image some thought was phony. After declaring defeat, he urged his supporters to continue working toward “a city where everyone has a place at the table” and commit themselves to rebuilding Toronto. If the evening had a silver lining, it was that his second wife (and fellow Trekkie) Olivia Chow won her city council race.
Layton returned to Metro council in 1994, and served on the post-amalgamation Toronto city council from 1997 until he was named federal NDP leader in 2003. He also served as the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, defending the interests of cities across the country as he continued to do when he went to Ottawa.

Early in his municipal career, Layton learned it was more important to reach out to people than just criticize his opponents, a quality that served him well in building trust with voters across the country. By staying in touch with the concerns of others and remaining optimistic in the cynical world of politics, Layton inspired many people to follow and act upon their personal beliefs in bettering society, even when others mocked them. And that spirit is embodied by Toronto residents today, such as the deputants who, despite being called names and told their views were worthless by allies of Mayor Rob Ford, stayed up all night to voice their concerns about the current administration, buoyed by their optimism and hopes for a better city.

Additional material from November 9, 1982, and January 8, 1983, editions of the Globe and Mail, and the November 2, 1982, November 9, 1982, and February 5, 1987, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 82-11-02 ward profile Toronto Star, November 2, 1982.

The results of this race: Sewell 13,702; Layton 10,101; Chong 8,349; Wong 2,504; Beatty 1,550; Amber 551

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dining With Monks

Originally published on Torontoist on August 9, 2011.

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Toronto Calendar, March 1979.

Toronto has seen theme restaurants come and go, from tiki bars like Trader Vic’s to anime-centric cafes in Scarborough. One of the oddest had to be The Monks, an eatery tucked away near Yonge and Bloor where the wait staff were decked out in monastic finery. Based on a two-star (out of five) review in Toronto Calendar magazine, the food required divine assistance.

A restaurant dedicated to good honest food at humble prices is an act of Christian charity among today’s inflationary eateries, but management here sometimes leaves discriminating diners praying for more goodness and less humility in the preparing of an imaginative sounding repast, served in the casual comfort of stucco arches and high-backed plus chairs by waiters cutely clad as clerics.

For starters, the fish pate of sole and salmon is a good choice for its light smack of dill—though mushy asparagus spears accompanying it are less enjoyable. The house salad, too, tends to be a woody concoction of iceberg lettuce topped with a salt-and-pepper vinaigrette. However the carrot puree—a daily soup—is smooth, tasty and not overrich. Accompanying wines are on a slightly higher price plane than the food.

For a main course the hungry man may turn to “choice cuts from the carvery of brother Mark,” for a platter of roast suckling pig which, on a recent sampling, was tough. But those with smaller appetites may find the “sturdy nets of brother Peter” more rewarding if they nibble on a seafood kebab of two shrimp, scallops, mushrooms and small pieces of red snapper more or less unseasoned, but moistened by a buttery hollandaise. A smooth end to the meal is mocha mousse, one of the “tantalizing confections of brother Zachary.” Or throw all caution to the wind with Monks coffee or brandy, Benedictine and whipped cream.

The Monks is a popular, affordable and central spot with a festive air. With a little more attention to food, it could be as pleasing to the palate as to the purse.

Additional material from the June 1979 edition of Toronto Calendar.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

So how many of “Toronto’s most famous restaurants” did Pedro Cabazuelo found? A quick scan of ChefDB shows he was owner or part-owner of at least 10 dining destinations between 1974 and 1981, along with stints as either chef or maitre d’ at several others.

Cue a trip into an archival wormhole leading to a parade of newspaper stories and reviews…

star 1972-10-14 pedro cabezuelo paella recipe

Toronto Star, October 14, 1972.

Digging through the G&M and Star archives, here’s the earliest article referencing Cabezeulo, which spotlights a paella recipe.

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The headline doesn’t inspire confidence (“ho hum, another old house converted into a French restaurant”). Toronto Star, June 15, 1974.

According to a 1974 Star review, La Bastille (51 St. Nicholas Street) was operated by Cabezuelo and two former waiters who had previously worked together in Niagara Falls. The restaurant’s name was inspired by the partners coming together on July 14 (Bastille Day).

Reviewer Howard MacGregor’s opening sentence did not inspire confidence:

The thing about La Bastille is that you really want the place to work. It’s a small restaurant subdivided into three tinier rooms specializing in simple, French-provincial coooking. Fixed-price lunch and dinner menus in two of the rooms (La Guillotine and La Donjon) should please those who need an estimate of what it’s all going to cost before ordering. An a la carte menu and a kitchen that stays open until 3 am are the extra attractions of Les Oubliettes, the cellar room where buckwheat crepes, a favourite Breton dish, is one of the specialties.

MacGregor observed the main floor La Guillotine room was so compact that “if you’re at all self-consciout about overheard conversations (either yours or theirs), then this room isn’t for you.” As for the food, MacGregor felt that “someone in the kitchen had a low estimate of Torontonians’ taste buds.” On top of everything else, the restaurant lacked a liquor license. Overall, he felt it could quickly improve “by putting a little more zing and spice into its cooking.”

Two years later, Star reviewer Judylaine Fine was much happier with the fare at La Bastille, calling it “a wonderful place to go for a leisurely lunch.” She also noted that “Pedro Cabazuelo might not be a big-money restaurateur in Toronto, but he sure has his fingers into a couple of nice pies. Those pies are not high-priced or ritzy. They are charming restaurants where you can wine and dine in a homey, friendly atmosphere.”

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1978.

Joanne Kates’s review of The Monks, which was far more positive toward the food than the one I included in the original post.

starweek 1978-12-30 monks review

Starweek, December 30, 1978.

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Globe and Mail, April 7, 1979.

A few words about The Monks from Mary Walpole’s advertorial column.

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Globe and Mail, November 29, 1978.

The Monks concept soon took up more of his time…

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Globe and Mail, December 6, 1978.

Of all the restaurants mentioned here, the Duke pubs are the sole survivors in 2019.

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Globe and Mail, July 28, 1979.

Next restaurant concept: Winners. By 1981 it was gone, replaced by Fortuna Village, a Chinese restaurant which retained some of its decor.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1979.

One wonders how many parties across the city were enhanced with feasts served by robed “monks.”

A fast-food Monks Kitchen soon opened at the southeast corner of Yonge and Adelaide, alongside two other Patrick Chan owned eateries (Bamboo Court and a Mr. Submarine franchise).  Various incarnations of The Monks were intended for properties Chan owned around the city.

Note the Uptown Backstage cinema entrance in the background.

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Globe and Mail, December 1, 1979.

Besides the locations teased here, a Monks restaurant also opened in Mississauga. All locations cloistered themselves away for good within a few years.

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“Head Chef at Monks on Front St., Pedro Cabezuelo has worked at 10 major Toronto restaurants in 10 years. A good chef is hard to find and ‘you’ve got to steal staff,’ he says.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally published in the February 22, 1981 Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0021141f.

By the early 1980s, Cabazuelo faded from the city’s food pages. Apart from an ad promoting cooking demonstrations at Eaton’s in 1985, he reappeared in 1995 at a new restaurant at the old address of La Bastille on St. Nicholas Street. “After 12 years,” an ad proclaimed, “Pedro Cabazuelo has returned to Toronto to open Cypre’s, an inviting oasis on this charming tree-lined street. It’s a forest-green den for intimate affordable dining.” The ad touted the restaurant’s proximity to TIFF and Forever Plaid (then running at the New Yorker Theatre).

Toronto Life gave Cypre’s a one-star (out of four) review:

Some Latino tang — the tiny downstairs in burnt-orange glaze (more serene than it sounds) — though it’s really everyeater-land (Thai noodle chicken, Szechuan beef pasta, venison-veal sauced by red grapes and white raisins). Some overcooking or puzzling blandness. Wines skip about.

Additional sources: the November 21, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 9, 1995 edition of Starweek; the April 1996 edition of Toronto Life; and the January 31, 1976, and December 24, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.

Zellers: Where the Lowest Price Was the Law

A merger of two Torontoist posts, one written when Target bought a pile of Zellers leases (published January 13, 2011) and one when Target Canada called it quits (published January 23, 2015), along with a few extras tossed in.

Let’s begin with the expectations some people had when Target announced it was coming to Canada…

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

For several years, local lovers of Target (or, as some preferred, Tar-zhay) drooled at periodic rumours that the American discount retailer would set up shop north of the border. Time and time again they were let down by failed courtship attempts between Target and Zellers — until today’s revelation that Target has agreed to take over the leases of most Zellers locations. To those infatuated with the new arrival’s offerings, this may be equivalent to an early Valentine’s Day gift. While it might not be heartbreaking to some when the eighty-year-old Canadian discounter disappears from the local landscape in 2013, we’ll take a moment to look at its hopeful beginnings.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1931.

Walter Zeller entered the retail business through the stock room of a Woolworth’s in his native Kitchener in 1912. Over the next two decades he rose steadily in the five-and-dime field on both sides of the border, working at store and corporate management levels for the likes of S.S. Kresge and Metropolitan Stores. In 1928 he launched his own small chain with locations in Fort William, London, and St. Catharines. By the end of that year, the original incarnation of Zellers was purchased by American retailer Schulte-United, who rebranded the stores under their banner. Dreams of opening two hundred stores were quashed by the economic crash, which resulted in Schulte-United’s bankruptcy in January 1931. The bankruptcy trustees called in Zeller, who decided after several months of examination to buy the dozen or so stores left in Canada.

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

Zeller sounded optimistic about the chances for the new Zellers Ltd. when he announced its formation in November 1931. “In building our new company,” he told the press, “one important thought has been borne in mind—that the buying public to-day is more discriminating and thrifty than ever before. It knows and demands style merchandise of good quality. It insists on popular prices.” Among the first stores to carry the new banner was the chain’s sole Toronto location at Yonge and Albert streets (now occupied by the Eaton Centre). Prior to its grand opening on November 11, store manager F.C. Lee told the Star both he and the employees that had been retained were confident about the prospects for Zellers, due to the retail experience, managerial skills, and financial backing of the new corporate overlords. “While Zellers is extending a chain of stores throughout Canada,” Lee noted, “nevertheless the business is founded on the principle that the local success depends on catering to local conditions and preferences—and local managers are empowered to operate on this basis.”

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Globe and Mail, March 8, 1950.

Torontonians didn’t bite, as its first location closed within months. That first store was ignored in the PR for Zellers’ return to the city in March 1950. “Even if many Torontonians hear the news at first with indifference,” Globe and Mailbusiness columnist Wellington Jeffers wrote, “I am convinced that later on they will know it is something of an event that Zeller’s Ltd will this year open a Zeller store on Bloor Street.”

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1950.

The branch at 24 Bloor Street West (now the site of the Holt Renfrew Centre) was hailed by City officials as the beachhead for larger stores moving onto Bloor between Yonge and Bay.

Zellers quickly took advantage of the explosive growth in suburban shopping, placing stores in pioneering shopping centres like Golden Mile Plaza and Lawrence Plaza. The stores gradually evolved into modern discount department stores, though unlike its competition (Kresge’s Kmart and Woolworth’s Woolco chains), Zellers didn’t rebrand its larger locations.

Within two years of Walter Zeller’s death in 1957, a majority interest in the company was held by American discounter W.T. Grant. The Hudson’s Bay Company became sole owner in 1978. Later acquisitions included many Toronto locations of K-Mart and Towers.

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Toronto Star, October 15, 1986.

In August 1986 Zellers launched its Club Z customer loyalty program. Initial press reports depicted it as a computerized version of old “green stamp” schemes, complete with gift catalogue promising decent merchandise for a large number of points—a 28-inch colour TV could be yours for only 1.5 million Club Z points. Targeted consumers were women aged 25 to 55 who frequently shopped at Zellers for basic clothing and other staples for their families.

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Toronto Star, February 24, 1987.

The following year, Zeddy debuted. In his early days, Zeddy taught kids to be safe via colouring books, and lent his assistance in finding missing children. Zeddy later upheld the “law of Toyland,” joining the likes of Batman and Robin in crusading for lower prices on kids’ goods. After being dumped in the woods in a humorous ad campaign in 2012, Zeddy became a mascot for Camp Trillium.

The influence of Target hovered over the chain from the 1990s onward, via revamped presentation in some stores, stocking common brands like Cherokee and Massimo, and periodic rumours the American discounter was about to take over. Yet model stores, as Canadian Business discovered at an Ajax location in 1996, could not escape complaints about messiness customers grumbled about for years:

Pieces of children’s clothing are strewn about the floor. The cosmetics counter is in hopeless disarray. A snorkel and mask are lying in the stationery section. A bucket of dirty water sits next to a mountain of tinned ham. Empty cardboard boxes and abandoned shopping carts block the aisles.There are rows of empty shelves in almost every department of the store. Some of the goodies bins around the checkout area sit empty—a cardinal sin in the retailing world, where impulse buying accounts for a significant percentage of sales. A female clerk swears loudly as she sets up a display. Another gives a visitor a sour look when he asks for directions to the washroom. Needless to say, this is not the ultimate shopping environment. And yet Zellers is counting on “model” outlets such as this to save it from oblivion.

Facts of Interest to the People of Canada about Zellers

Maclean’s, June 1, 1944. 

To put it mildly, Target Canada didn’t live up to expectations. Its failure will probably be a case study in business textbooks for years to come. One side effect was a wave of nostalgia for Zellers, which left a void in the marketplace that is still being filled.

When Target announced its decision to pull the plug on its Canadian misadventure, it provoked a wave of nostalgia for the discount chain it supplanted. Memories and laments for Zellers made it a trending topic on social media, and the textbook case study of Target’s mistakes led people to forgive past complaints about the home of Club Z and Zeddy.

“Zellers, for most of its history, was quite simply the major discount store in the country,” retail expert Ed Strapagiel noted when Target purchased Zellers’ leases in Janaury 2011. ”It really was quite phenomenal—it didn’t necessarily offer the most fashionable items, but it had a reputation for good and sturdy clothes.”

Anyone with pangs of nostalgia, or wishing to have a last laugh on Target, can still shop at Zellers in Toronto, though the lone remaining store in the city at Kipling and Queensway is effectively a Hudson’s Bay outlet.

Sources: the September 1996 edition of Canadian Business; the October 21, 1939 edition of the Financial Post; the February 2, 1950 and January 14, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 7, 1931, November 10, 1931. March 9, 1950, and August 10, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

It appears that Zellers will disappear (again) by the beginning of 2020, as its last two locations will be closing. 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Corner of Balmuto St. and Bloor St., looking north

Corner of Balmuto and Bloor, looking north, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 66, Item 21.

From a 1939 Financial Post profile of Walter Zeller:

On the business side of the balance sheet, Mr. Zeller knows as much about the variety store business as any man in the business. On the personal side, he is forthright, hard-hitting and, when asked his opinion, gives it without reserve. What he has accomplished in a relatively short space of time implies a businessman of the “dynamo” type. He is all of that. And to back up his boundless supply of energy, is a knowledge of his own business and capabilities that commands respect.

The profile ended with this odd tidbit: “He has only two hobbies: business and Kiwanis.”

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Globe and Mail, February 2, 1950.

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Canadian Champion, February 9, 1972.

“County Fair” malls and plazas anchored by Zellers dotted the Canadian landscape during the 1970s. I wonder if the one closest to where I grew up (Leamington, now anchored by FreshCo) ever held a “stagnite” like the Georgetown location.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 22, 1903. Click on image for larger version.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 23, 1903.

I considered including a brief history of Target in one of the original articles. These two ads show the birth of Minneapolis-based Dayton’s, out of which Target emerged as its discount division in 1962.

Lord Simcoe’s Folly

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on August 20, 2011.

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The Telegram, May 14, 1957.

When the Lord Simcoe Hotel permanently closed its doors in October 1979, a carpenter on the crew hired to dismantle the building reflected on why it had failed after operating for just 22 years: “No one thought ahead for the future when it was built.” While its original owners prided themselves on going from sod-turning to ribbon-cutting within 17 months, they might have thought more carefully about how the business would survive in the long term. Mistakes like overpricing its luxurious eateries and not including amenities expected of modern hotels like central air, combined with increasing competition and land worth more than the building atop it, shortened the life of a hotel that promised to provide its first guests modern accommodations with old-world charm.

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Globe and Mail, September 23, 1955.

 

The inspiration to build a hotel at 150 King Street West came to future Lord Simcoe Vice-President W. Harry Weale during Mayor Nathan Phillips’ inaugural address in January 1955, when the city’s new chief executive noted that Toronto lacked the hotel space required to become competitive on the global convention circuit. A consortium of investors led by National Management was assembled and by that December Ontario Premier Leslie Frost turned the sod. The new hotel was named in honour of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was never elevated to a peerage but management decided to bestow one upon him so that the hotel’s name would match those of their other lordly properties (the Lord Elgin in Ottawa and the Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton). Simcoe was also honoured in the decision to use the colours of the Queen’s York Rangers, the military unit he commanded, as the decorating scheme for the Sentry Box lounge.

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One chef in the kitchen, one surveying the menu. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-1 (left), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-2 (right).

 

The key entertainment space in the hotel was the Pump Room, which was inspired by both the 19th-century eatery in Bath, England, and the restaurant that the Lord Simcoe’s ownership group ran at the Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. An introductory ad boasted that “meals are prepared to meet the demanding taste of the gourmet: exotic meats, game and fish are served on flaming swords or by wagon.” Waiters were dressed in ostrich feather–topped turbans to “add to the old-world atmosphere” (other dining venues in the hotel forced staff to dress in naval costumes or other 18th century style clothing). As head porter Roy McIntosh later remembered, “All the posh weddings and bar mitzvahs were held there and I remember some weddings came down just to have their pictures taken, then leave. It was that kind of place, the best.”

20110820craneadGlobe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

When opening day arrived on May 15, 1957, half of the $10 million hotel’s 20 floors were ready for use. The press weren’t able to preview any of the Lord Simcoe’s 900 rooms, but as Telegram columnist Alex Barris noted, “It’s questionable whether any visitor is likely to get past the street floor, unless he’s just plain sleepy.” Had the media been able to check them out, they would have found rooms decorated in “three basic and interchangeable colours—gold, blue and sandalwood.” Among the in-room amenities were television sets and desks supplied by Eaton’s that included built-in radio controls. Management was upbeat about having booked every room in the hotel for the upcoming Grey Cup game in November.

But it wasn’t long before the hotel ran into financial trouble. The opening of the Westbury Hotel (now the Courtyard Marriott on Yonge Street) and a 400 room addition to the Royal York cut into business. As Star columnist Ron Haggart discovered in the spring of 1960, the Lord Simcoe had become Toronto’s most delinquent taxpayer. As of April 25 of that year, the hotel owed $424,000, which was 10 per cent of all overdue taxes the city awaited. What surprised Haggart was that unlike Toronto’s second-worst tax offender, commercial developer Principal Investments, a bailiff had not been sent after the hotel. The reason why soon became public: Mayor Phillips interceded on behalf of the Lord Simcoe’s investors to convince the city treasurer to defer the hotel’s tax bill until new financial arrangements were made. “They informed me they were arranging for new financing and merely asked the city not to embarrass them during a trying period. I did what I would do for any taxpayer,” Phillips told the Star. “I explained the situation to the city treasurer and, without loss to the city and any embarrassment to anyone, they made a satisfactory arrangement for the payment of arrears with interest.” On May 26, 1960, the city received a cheque for the entire amount owed.

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Toronto Star, January 28, 1963.

 

Once the tax troubles were cleared up, other business problems came to the fore. As losses mounted, there were many rumours about the building’s future. Conrad Hilton was said to be interested in the hotel, the site was to be converted into a hospital, and so on. Several founding members of the management team passed away. Dining and lounge facilities designed to cater to “Toronto’s palate in ultra-deluxe fashion” proved too expensive for local tastes. By the time Globe and Mail owner R. Howard Webster’s Imperial Trust gained primary control of the Lord Simcoe in 1963, three floors were available as office rentals. The swanky Pump Room became the less swanky Flaming Grill, which flamed out within two years.

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Parking lot, University Avenue, east side, at Adelaide Street West, with Lord Simcoe Hotel in the background, early 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5668.

 

By the end of the 1970s, the lack of both central air and a proper convention-sized meeting space made it difficult for the Lord Simcoe to compete with other downtown hotels. Webster and the other shareholders were ready to stop the never-ending losses and sold the property to National Trust in June 1979. The new owners immediately announced their intention to close the hotel, which saw its final guests (a group of Swedish tourists) check out on October 28, 1979. After their departure, the hotel’s assets were prepared for a liquidation sale that occurred in February 1980. Former head porter Roy McIntosh found himself back at the hotel working for demolition firm Teperman and Sons and felt sadness as the hotel disappeared one piece at a time. “I look at it now,” McIntosh told the Star, “and some guy’s ripping out something and I want to say, ‘Hey, don’t do that!’ But I’ve got to stop feeling personal about it.” Wrecker Marvin Teperman kept some mementos from the site—a red leather couch and chairs from the hotel’s lobby wound up in his office. Less sentimental was Star columnist Joey Slinger, who declared in his Leap Day column that the building was a grey architectural eyesore that couldn’t disappear fast enough. Slinger declared that “The Lord Simcoe was disposable… It was no more meant to endure than a used Styrofoam coffee cup.”

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The Lord Simcoe Hotel awaits demolition, circa 1980. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 74.

 

There was suspicion after the sale that National Trust stood in for another party, suspicion that was fuelled when the soil conditions were tested. It turned out a developer was assembling a valuable land parcel surrounding the Lord Simcoe for a new office tower that was ultimately filled by Sun Life. Teperman hoarding went up in 1980 and the northeast corner of King and University remained a construction site until the east tower of what is now the Sun Life Centre opened in 1984.
Additional material from the May 15, 1957, and October 29, 1979, editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 18, 1960, May 30, 1960, February 24, 1962, July 11, 1963, June 29, 1979, February 28, 1980, and February 29, 1980, editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 15, 1957, edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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King Street West, looking west. Construction of the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is visible at northwest corner of York St & King St. W., Toronto, Ont. Photo by Ted Chirnside, 1956. Toronto Public Library, 2001-2-366.

A shot of the Lord Simcoe under construction. Note the old Globe and Mail building on the right.

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Globe and Mail, May 14, 1957.

To mark the hotel’s opening, the Globe and Mail published six pages of advertorials on May 15, 1957 highlighting the construction process, the companies involved in construction, decoration, and financing, and the artists who produced the decor. Hotel officials declared that the Lord Simcoe was “as Canadian as maple syrup.”

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957

Among the statistics noted in the Globe and Mail‘s preview:

  • Housekeeping tallied 4,664 pillows, 10,200 single bed sheets, 1,500 double bed sheets, 7,200 pillow slips, 2,650 blankets, 10,000 bath towels, and 3,000 bath mats
  • 5,000 tablecloths with the hotel crest were produced for the dining areas, which were also supplied with over 20,000 pieces of flatware and over 60,000 pieces of china
  • Artist Maxwell Moffett designed over 300 snowflakes for the a series of seven decorative panels
  • 850 bibles were handed over by the Gideon Society “in a simple but dedicated ceremony”

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“Mr. Ambassador for Metro’s Welcome a Visitor Week, Eddie James Grogan, doorman at the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is congratulated by James Auld, Ontario minister of tourism and information, who pinned a silver medal on his chest for the style he uses in making visitors feel right at home.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally appeared in the June 16, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0127985f.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1970.

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Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star, February 28, 1980.

What stands out in several of the post-mortems of the Lord Simcoe was its shoddy construction. “The trouble with the Lord Simcoe wasn’t that you could hear the people in the next room. It was that you could hear people five rooms away,” recalled Gordon Pimm, whose father-in-law was one of the hotel’s main financial backers. When demolition began in 1980, vibrations from the wrecking equipment caused chunks of stone to fall from the building. Special overhangs were erected to prevent stone from falling onto King Street.

The Wimpy Awards

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on March 27, 2012. The number of burger joints, especially those with gourmet aspirations, continues to grow. There’s even a website (Tasty Burgers) dedicated to review the GTA’s purveyors of ground round, or whatever they’re tossing in the burgers these days. Stick around to the end of this post for some of my (as of 2019) favourite burger spots.

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Illustration by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.

It’s safe to say Toronto is currently hamburger crazy. Whether you prefer going to an old-school burger joint that retains its 1960s-era appearance, testing a highbrow patty made with gourmet ingredients, or joining the never-ending lineups at The Burger’s Priest, Toronto has rediscovered its love for a slab of ground meat loaded with every topping imaginable (though you still can’t get lettuce at Johnny’s in Scarborough).

Back in March of 1983, Toronto Star food writer Jim White felt the local burger scene needed recognition. Noting that there were so many awards for the arts, White jokingly told readers that to correct a “cultural imbalance,” the paper was launching a series of articles to hand out Oscar-style statuettes to worthy local eateries. To honour Toronto’s best burgers, White devised the Wimpy Awards, which honoured Popeye’s gluttonous pal.

White’s criteria for the Wimpys ruled out “anything pre-fab, served by clowns or named after someone like Harvey or Wendy.” Though he intended to focus on the burger alone, White discovered that “the décor, background music, and ambience of a burger joint can be just as important as the product.” As a control measure, a basic burger and fries were ordered at each restaurant in the competition, as “the quality of French fries colours one’s impression of the burger.”

Some winners from the Wimpy Awards, presented with little fanfare on March 16, 1983:

Best Burger for the Buck: the original location of Lick’s in the Beaches, then a narrow eatery with long lines, two tables, and six stools. For only $1.95, Lick’s served large burgers that White described as “superb and perfectly charbroiled.” He noted that “the only thing missing in this setting is John Belushi shouting ‘Cheezeburgah…cheezeburgah.’” No mention as to whether the chain’s singing schtick was already in place.

Most Expensive Burger in Toronto: For $10, patrons of the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel received a loosely packed patty served with a truffle-tinged artichoke, purposely-undercooked chips, and a bland tomato tart.

Best Staging for a Burger: At the Bloor Street Diner, diners enjoyed their meal amid a backdrop of “pink neon, high-gloss black lacquered trim and stainless steel table tops.” The burger itself had a quality most people would appreciate—it wasn’t “sinewy.”

Best Patty: The Hayloft at 37 Front St. E. offered a burger that was lean, juicy, flavourful, and extremely fresh. Unfortunately, White felt it was ruined by lousy condiments, mediocre bun, and fries that had been sitting around for a while. The server accidentally brought White a cheeseburger, which was topped with “a tasteless, carrot-coloured film to peel off as one peels dried rubber cement off the back of one’s hand.”

Best Burger in a Supporting Role: Both Mr. Greenjeans (Eaton Centre and 120 Adelaide St. E.) and Partners (836 Danforth Ave. and 765 Mount Pleasant Rd.) served their burgers in large wicker baskets filled with Buffalo chips and on what White considered the city’s best burger bun, a light egg roll prepared by Central Bakery.

Toronto’s Darkest Burger: The experience of eating at Toby’s Good Eats at 91 Bloor St. W. on even a sunny day was “like sitting in a cellar during a hydro black-out.” When the waitress told him to enjoy his lunch, White replied “we would if we could see it.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1977-07-13 best burgersToronto Star, July 13, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

An earlier roundup of the Metro Toronto’s burgers from the Star. Two of the spots mentioned remain: Johnny’s (notice they don’t mention the lack of lettuce as a topping option) and Apache.

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Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.

One of the articles which accompanied the Wimpy Awards. As of July 2019, none of the winners exist in their 1983 forms. Lick’s expanded into a chain then collapsed in the early 2010s. Only two locations appear to have survived. The Courtyard Cafe at the Windsor Arms has been used as a brunch buffet space in recent years.

That pricey $10 burger? The Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator puts it at $23.76 in 2019 funds, which wouldn’t be out of line at higher-end eateries. Don’t get me started about $100 stunt burgers that periodically provide fuel for clickbait.

Where do I enjoy digging into a burger in Toronto? It depends on my mood. Sometimes you want a high-quality patty with top-notch ingredients. Sometimes you want a char-grilled slab of beef from a place that’s been around forever.

In alphabetical order…

Burger Shack (Eglinton and Oriole Parkway)
Old school homeburgers. Excellent fries. Giant selection of canned sodas. Thick sauteed onions. Swinging seats that remind me of childhood meals at the Woolco cafeteria.

Burger Stomper (Danforth west of Chester)
Fresh-tasting meat, doesn’t go overboard with the portion of fries.

Five Guys (Leaside location, Laird north of Millwood)
Pricey, and a chain, but worth it taste-wise. Beware filling yourself up with free peanuts.

Golden Star (Yonge north of Steeles)
Another old-school homeburger joint, serving condiments out of giant metal bowls just like Harvey’s used to. Decor screams 1970s.

Great Burger Kitchen (Gerrard and Jones)
Only if you’re really, really, really hungry, or plan to share your sides.

Jumbo Burger (Runnymede and Dundas)
Yet another old-school hamburger joint, with delicious thickly-battered onion rings.

No Bull Burgers (Kingston west of Victoria Park)
Recent discovery. Fresh burgers in different sizes, delicious fries and rings, and (for vegetarians) an excellent quinoa-based patty.

Slab Burgers (Charles and Bay)
Handy for a research day at the Toronto Reference Library.

Family Living, Downtown Style

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on July 17, 2012.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday mused that the city’s core “is not the ideal place” to raise a family. His sentiments about children playing in traffic on busy arteries aren’t anything that hasn’t been heard before, however wrong they are: families who have chosen to live deep downtown have long heard arguments about the suitability of such an environment for their children, especially from committed suburbanites like Holyday.

During a meeting of the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Toronto in May 1985, planners, developers, and investment advisors reviewed the city’s plans to redevelop the railway lands north of the Gardiner Expressway. They concluded that the city’s vision of having families eventually living there ran counter to the ways in which downtowns ought to be saved. Sounding not unlike Holyday, ULI president Claude Ballard said that children should be raised outside the core, in neighbourhoods where they could walk to school or rescue balls that rolled out into the street with minimal fear of being run over. Downtown living of the future, the argument went, was for empty-nesters who required less space once their offspring left home. In a rebuttal printed in the Globe and Mail, Toronto-based planner Ken Greenberg rejected Ballard’s vision, noting that “it is Toronto’s unwillingness in the past to follow conventional North American wisdom” on issues like encouraging families to live downtown that “goes a long way toward explaining why we have the much admired vitality, safety, and cleanliness on our streets.” Greenberg was likely referring to recently developed neighbourhoods like St. Lawrence, where mixed incomes and a large number of co-ops let its residents foster a community where children could enjoy a less homogenous upbringing than their parents had.

Eighteen years later, the Star profiled several families who had moved into condos and lofts in the core. Parents interviewed in the May 2003 article praised, as one parent put it, the “complete and full spectrum of life in the city” that their kids enjoyed steps away from home. Shorter commutes to downtown jobs provided more time for families to spend together during the work week. All enjoyed the ability to walk everywhere, which was a big draw for former Brampton resident Lisa Voutt. Despite friends and relatives in the burbs thinking she was “kind of nuts” for moving her family into a loft near St. Lawrence Market, Voutt enjoyed being freed from a car-centric lifestyle and noted the confidence with which her preteen daughters got themselves around the core by foot or TTC, and the large number of nearby activities they participated in.

Also interviewed for the article was Adam Vaughan, who had recently moved with his daughter into a condo not far from his job at the time as a CityTV reporter. “I wanted a place that was close to the culture of the city, the galleries, the music, and close to the politics of the city,” he told the Star. “All the things that were important to me. I wanted my daughter to understand how her father related to the city and have her relate to the city.” After he was elected to city council three years later, Vaughan advocated a 10 per cent requirement for three-bedroom units in developments to aid families experiencing problems with finding enough space to live in. Developers shot back that they had trouble competing with suburban projects on price, which meant the larger units were often among the last to sell.

Doug Holyday’s long-held views on where families should live, and his belief in the supremacy of market forces on determining housing stock, shouldn’t make his most recent comments a surprise. As an Etobicoke alderman in the mid-1980s, he opposed that city’s proposals to limit the number of apartment buildings that were designated for adult occupancy only. In a period where vacancy rates were low, families looking for apartments in Etobicoke—especially those with lower incomes—sometimes settled for sub-par dwellings as one landlord after another rejected their applications. Holyday blamed provincial rent controls, and housing activists who he felt exaggerated the problems that tenants faced.

His views didn’t win the day, as the provincial government banned adult-only apartment buildings (apart from seniors’ complexes and structures with four units or less) in December 1986. Holyday’s hate-on for rent controls didn’t fade—when Toronto city council voted in April 1999 to establish a task force to make the restoration of controls scrapped by Premier Mike Harris’s government an issue during the next provincial election, Holyday was the lone councillor to oppose the motion.

Additional material from the March 5, 1985, May 6, 1985, and May 14, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the May 11, 2003 and June 26, 2008 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Editorial comment: It’s easy to notice my contempt towards Doug Holyday in this piece. His political persona represented much of what I hate in a certain strain of suburban conservative politicians, especially in the knows-the-cost-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing department. His son Stephen carries on his proud tradition of Etobicoke troglodytism (that should be a word) as a current Toronto city councillor.

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Toronto Star, February 21, 1985.