149 College Street

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 16, 2012.

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149 College during its time as Central Tech, after 1900. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 247.

“Amid sounds of revelry and acclaim, amid the seductive calm of soft music, and the inspiring charm of many voices, amid cloud-like strata of fragrant fumes and infectious laughter from countless merry smokers, a temple of muscle and grace was appropriately dedicated to the youths who adorn the terminal years of the 19th century. The glamour of flashing lights and rich furnishings, harmoniously designed, burst dazzlingly upon the army of elated members and prospective members who pressed eagerly through the massive stone portals to assist in the house-warming.” So observed the Toronto Daily Mail during the opening-night festivities at the Toronto Athletic Club on January 22, 1894.

Though demonstrations of athletic prowess and the Richardsonian Romanesque building designed by architect E.J. Lennox (later responsible for Old City Hall and Casa Loma) were praised by the press, the evening wasn’t perfect. A performance by the Toronto Lacrosse Club Minstrels was so inappropriate that the Toronto Star believed “it was to the credit of the athletic club that they were roundly hissed.”

Despite the initial burst of excitement over facilities like gymnasiums, billiard rooms, and one of the city’s first indoor swimming pools, the Toronto Athletic Club quickly ran into financial problems. It didn’t help that club founder (and former Toronto mayor) John Beverley Robinson, who had turned over property he had lived on since 1850 to provide it with a home, died two years after its grand opening. The city’s other social clubs provided little support. When the mortgage was foreclosed on in October 1899, 149 College St. witnessed the first of many tenant changes.

In July 1900, city council purchased the building to provide a new home for the Toronto Technical School. The deal had been tied up for a month due to accusations by alderman Daniel Lamb of “undue influence” placed on his fellow councillors by those who still had a financial stake in the property. Though an inquiry found no proof of wrongdoing, Lamb refused to apologize for his actions. Among the renovations that the school—which evolved into Central Tech—made was to fill the basement pool with concrete and use it for art classes.

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149 College as Stewart Building, October 20, 1957. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, S 1-3861A.

Following the school’s move to its current site at Harbord and Borden in 1915, 149 College St. served as a military headquarters. Another HQ moved in with the onset of the Great Depression: the Toronto Police. The force considered the site, which was renamed the Stewart Building soon after they moved there in 1931, a temporary home while waiting for a new civic building to be built along Queen Street west of Osgoode Hall. A planned seven-year stay stretched out to nearly three decades.

When the newly amalgamated Metropolitan Toronto Police moved their offices to another temporary site in 1960, they retained the building as the home of 52 Division. This was also seen as an interim solution—excess office space and limited parking spots for vehicles made police officials eager to find a new home for the precinct. While the force’s preferred site at the northeast corner of Dundas and Beverley would have wiped out several heritage-designated homes, a committee led by alderman William Kilbourn suggested in late 1973 that the building could be renovated to meet the police’s needs. Though Kilbourn hoped that a presentation by architect Jack Diamond would persuade the police to stay, Metro Council rejected the idea in favour of 52 Division’s current home at Dundas and Simcoe.

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Toronto Star, September 29, 1979.

149 College St. was sold to the Ontario College of Art. Instead of cutting a ribbon during the opening ceremony in September 1979, Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon made the final brush stroke on a watercolour of the building. The police returned to the site several times to investigate complaints about offensive art and an incident involving students carrying guns that turned out to be replicas for a class project. After the college departed during the late 1990s, the building was used as a French-language school (Collège des Grands Lacs) before the Rotman School of Management’s executive-education centre moved in. The business school commissioned 149 College’s umpteenth set of renovations which, according to architect Tania Bortolotto’s website, was intended “to rejuvenate the derelict interiors into a refined atmosphere expressing the client’s branding aims.” In a way, that goal brought the building back to the refinement the Toronto Athletic Club offered over a century earlier.

Sources: the January 23, 1894 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail, the January 23, 1894, June 19, 1900, and September 29, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star, and the July 31, 1931 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Daily Mail, January 23, 1894.

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Evening News, January 23, 1894.

In a January 10, 1900 editorial on physical fitness facilities in the city, the Globe hoped the Toronto Athletic Club would make a comeback. “The Toronto Athletic Club on College Street was in every respect a praiseworthy institution. Not only did it fill all the requirements as a resort for young men, but it was admirably arranged and splendidly equipped,” the paper observed, also noting that was “constructed on too ambitious a scale to be a permanent success.”

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Toronto Star, September 17, 1901.

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The Globe, July 30, 1931.

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The Telegram, July 31, 1931.

Bonus Features: 19th-century NIMBYism and the Typhus Epidemic in Ontario

Before diving into this post, please read the related TVO article.

The coverage of the court case in the October 6, 1847 edition of the British Whig against Kingston city officials for allowing the emigrant sheds to obstruct traffic is dense, so here are some highlights.

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First off, the paper’s opinion, which praises the efforts of the city officials, and references the recent death of Toronto bishop Michael Power.

The indictment contained four counts: obstruction of Emily Street by erecting a building upoin it; the “erection of privies, near that street and near King Street, and also near the waters of the harbour, to the nuisance of all persons in the street, or dwelling in the adjacent houses, and whereby the waters which were generally used by the neighbourhood became unfit for use;” erecting emigrant sheds near King Street, filling them with the sick and dead to the nuisance of all; and that the sheds were built by unknown people and emigrants and assembled on site.

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A sampling of complaints, including the NIMBY I quoted in the article (a John P. Bower, Esq.).

The defence attacked several of the complainants, while holding up the noble aims of the city officials offering assistance to the emigrants. For example:

The Baron de Rottenburg, who bears no love to Emigrants, had to board the west windows of his house to keep away an imaginary infection; and, more serious than this, the amiable Baroness had to make liberal use of lavender water, and was put to the unendurable trouble of placing scent bottles to her fastidious nostrils. To be sure, the great inconvenience which the noble Baron and Baroness have sustained, is of more consequence and greater weight, than if thousands of these pooe Irish Emigrants should die for want, with hunger, and disease.

Kind of reminds you of arguments surrounding relaunching the economy versus preventing potential deaths, doesn’t it?

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The verdict. Note that while the defendants were judged guilty, the jury appreciated their conduct.

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From the July 17, 1847 edition of the Bytown Packet (which evolved into the Ottawa Citizen), advice on how to prevent catching infectious fevers like typhus.

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An editorial eulogizing Dr. George Grasett, from the July 20, 1847 edition of the British Colonist.

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Portions of Michael Power’s obituary from the October 5, 1847 edition of the British Colonist.

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Power’s death was noted on the other side of the Atlantic, in pieces such as this roundup of the typhus situation from the October 30, 1847 edition of the Times.

110 Lombard Street (The Old Firehall/Second City)

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

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

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

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

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The Globe, July 8, 1887.

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

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

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1971.

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

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1973.

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

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

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

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Globe and Mail, March 14, 1974.

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Toronto Star, March 14, 1974.

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

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Globe and Mail, August 25, 1975.

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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Globe and Mail, December 10, 1972.

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

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1997.

The Gladstone Hotel

Originally published as a gallery post by Torontoist on September 25, 2014 to mark the Gladstone Hotel’s 125th anniversary.

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Gladstone Hotel, fall 1952. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library.

As Toronto’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the Gladstone Hotel has seen much over its 125 years. When the doors first opened in 1889, it was a place for travelling businessmen to rest and for local athletic and social clubs to gather. Its proximity to Exhibition Place made it ideal for visitors and exhibitors. Through the late 20th century its reputation diminished, reflecting the economic and social decline of Parkdale to the west. But although it came to be perceived as a flophouse, it offered a sense of community to patrons and residents, giving them a place to relax with a drink and a bit of country music.

Over the last two decades the Gladstone has reawakened, becoming one of the city’s major cultural hubs as the neighbourhood around it has transformed. “Gladstone Hotel now stands as an epicentre of cultural incubation in Toronto’s west end, fostering creativity and community in everything it does,” its website notes. “Renowned for twisting perceptions and giving canvas to underrepresented and marginalized groups, Gladstone Hotel aims to raise the profile of subcultures and subvert the mainstream, creating a unique and open-armed narrative around its historic stature.” Art installations, burlesque, dancing, dining events, music, theatre, trivia nights, and many other forms of entertainment have found a place within its walls.

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The Globe, December 31, 1880.

The current Gladstone Hotel is the second building at the northeast corner of Queen and Gladstone bearing that name. The first, constructed in 1879, aroused the wrath of councillors in neighbouring Parkdale (then an independent municipality), who tried to block its liquor license. Originally known as Brady’s Hotel, it became the Gladstone in 1880 after the Robinson family purchased it. Proprietor Susanna Robinson was a widow with 13 children whose late husband had run hotels in Kleinburg and Yorkville. An 1887 advertisement offered guests the “finest brands of wines, liquors, and cigars,” plus Guinness Stout. James Britton might have required several pints after he lost to William McMurrich in the 1881 municipal election.

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The Empire, June 23, 1894.

Designed by architect George M. Miller, whose other works included the chapel at Wycliffe College, the second Gladstone Hotel opened in 1889. As Toronto Life observed over a century later, “the hotel aped the style of the time, a graceful, if unremarkable, Richardsonian Romanesque of red brick, arched passageways and gargoyles in stone relief.” A cupola located on its southwest corner was removed in the 1940s.

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Queen Street subway looking east, November 17, 1897. The Gladstone Hotel is in the background on the left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 8.

The hotel’s location across Queen Street from the Parkdale railway station helped business in the early days, as did its proximity to the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (the forerunner of the CNE). It provided a comfortable base for fair exhibitors and military performers. “The most striking feature about the hotel,” the Globe observed in 1904, “is the absolute cleanliness and neatness which is to be observed in each and all of its departments, whether in the collars, parlors, or dining rooms.” During the 1905 fair a full floor was occupied by 40 members of the Irish Guards, whose presence was honoured with a commemorative light display on the front of the hotel.

During extensive renovations made by owner Turnbull Smith an electric Otis elevator was installed in August 1905. Covered up for years, it was rediscovered during 21st century renovations when a hole was knocked in the wall. Refurbishing took nine months. Longtime regular Hank Young (1941-2009) was hired to operate the elevator upon its return to service. Known as the “Gladstone Cowboy,” Young first sang in the hotel as part of a country band in 1961, and eventually became a karaoke fixture known for his rendition of “Hey Good Lookin’.” Christina Zeidler felt his hiring was “a match made in heaven…He was a great storyteller.” Young was contractually obligated to wear outfits drawn from his collection of cowboy boots, hats, and bolo ties.

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Toronto Star, April 28, 1911.

Hans Waldheim (as spelled in accounts other than the one above) had very itchy fingers. Reputedly related to Prussian nobility, he was sent to Kingston Penitentiary in 1904 for a string of break-and-enters in Toronto. Incarceration failed to curb his criminal tendencies, as outbreaks of minor burglaries accompanied his travels. Around 1910 he was employed by the Gladstone as a porter and night clerk. After leaving the hotel, he used his knowledge of nightly routines to plan the perfect time to empty the till—the moment the clerk went to attend the main floor fireplace. He almost got away with it in April 1911, but was noticed and fled. Waldheim was on the run for a week, until police caught him trying to break into a home on Indian Road during the early morning of April 28. During his hearing on May 29 he claimed he broke into the Gladstone to pay a fine, fully intending to refund the stolen cash. Magistrate Rupert Kingsford didn’t buy the sob story or his lawyer’s request deport Waldheim to his native Germany. Kingsford sent Waldheim back to Kingston Pen.

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Queen Street subway east from Dufferin Street, April 22, 1915. The Gladstone Hotel is on the left, the Parkdale train station on the right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1409.

Disaster nearly struck when a fire forced 75 guests and boarders to evacuate the hotel on January 17, 1918. The blaze began in a rubbish heap in the basement underneath the kitchen. A night watchman called the fire in just before 5 a.m. When firefighters under the guidance of fire chief Duncan McLean arrived, the hotel was filled with smoke. That fatalities were avoid was thanks to swift thinking 20-year-old Union Station employee Stanley Condy. He was preparing to go to sleep when he heard someone yell “fire!” He ran to each floor, opening fire windows and guiding groggy guests to escape routes. “With a handkerchief over his mouth to prevent him from swallowing the smoke,” the Star reported, “he worked like a little hero running the elevator up and down till he was overcome by smoke and had to give up his task and seek fresh air.” McLean praised the calm evacuation. “There was absolutely no panic and everyone did the right thing at the right time,” he told the Telegram.

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Gladstone Avenue, looking north from south side Queen Street, March 23, 1949. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1881.

The Gladstone’s decline was long and slow. By the mid-1980s, most of its permanent residents were cabbies, pensioners, or truckers. “They are not necessarily down-and-out,” a Globe and Mail feature on the city’s hotel residents observed in 1985, “but they clearly march to a different drummer.” Regular patrons drank in the Melody Bar or caught country acts at Bronco’s (the current ballroom space). By the 1990s, the Art Bar offered space for performers and weekly drawing classes. Observers wondered how long it would be before the creep of gentrification westward along Queen Street would hit the Gladstone.

Room description, 2000, courtesy of Now:

The nightly rooms are on the lowest floor. I put my shoulder to the door that’s stuck on a lump of filthy shag carpet. Big ridges under the rug make walking on it precarious. This $49.25 room has a double bed, bath, TV and a phone to the front desk. It overlooks a roof covered in glass shards and the Price Chopper parking lot. It’s not a bad room, but the dispute between the hotel owners has prevented investment in upgrading. I have to pull the door hard to close it. This brings an all-swearing condemnation of door-slamming from an unseen neighbour.

In late 2000, after a bitter sibling rivalry resulting in death threats, longtime owners Allan and Herb Appleby sold the Gladstone. The new owners were Michael Tippin (who specialized in heritage renovation projects) and the Zeidler family. Plans called for the number of rooms to be downsized during renovations, and new programming catering to an artsier crowd a la New York’s Hotel Chelsea. Relations between the partners quickly soured. The low point may have been Tippin’s decision in February 2002 to send in security to lay off staff and evict the remaining long-term residents. Police mediation resulted after Margie Zeidler arrived to support those getting the boot. After legal battles and a bout with receivership, the Zeidlers were awarded full ownership in late 2002. The residents stayed on for two more years, then were offered assistance (including several days of free rent) in finding new homes elsewhere when the pace of renovations increased. The documentary Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel captured the changes during this period, as management juggled the needs of longtime regulars with a newer, younger, artier clientele.

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Photo by Sandy Nicholson, Toronto Life, June 2005. 

Management of the hotel passed on to filmmaker Christina Zeidler. The slow pace of renovations picked up as the hotel’s infrastructure succumbed to years of neglect. “We wanted to keep as much of the original building as possible,” Zeidler told the Star in 2005. “But the place was on its last legs. We had to redo everything—mechanical, electrical, floors and walls. Every time we started one job, we’d find more work that needed to be done.” Thirty-seven artists were hired to make over the guest rooms into individual works of creativity. A December 2005 gala served as the official relaunch.

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Gladstone Hotel, February 2009. Photo by Wil Macaulay. Creative Commons.

A longtime Gladstone tradition which wound down in 2014 was weekend karaoke in the Melody Bar. Hosted for nearly 15 years by Peter Styles, the chance to sing your heart out provide a venue for different generations of patrons to mingle. “Character types (Parkdale elders, skinny Queen West aesthetes and tables of birthday partiers) who normally wouldn’t be within the same three-block radius all manage to cohabit an irony-free zone where everyone fights for the mike and four minutes of fame,” Toronto Life observed in 2003. Among the props Styles used was an applause sign, which he felt helped those onstage. “The best thing to do is encourage energy in the audience for the singer,” he told the Star in 2012, “and of course they give it back.” A pipe burst during the intense cold of January 2014 wrecked the room’s audio equipment and soundproofing, which management saw as a sign it might be time to bid karaoke adieu.

Sources: Parkdale in Pictures by Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1991); the August 22, 1904, August 21, 1905, and May 30, 1911 editions of the Globe; the April 11, 1985 and February 20, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 28, 1911 edition of the News; the August 24-31, 2000 edition of Now; the April 28, 1911, January 17, 1918, September 30, 2000, February 21, 2002, October 14, 2002, June 23, 2004, November 15, 2005, October 31, 2009, August 31, 2012, and March 20, 2014 editions of the Toronto Star; the January 17, 1918 edition of the Telegram; and the October 2001 and September 2003 editions of Toronto Life.

UPDATE

In early 2020 the Gladstone was sold to Streetcar Developments, whose other historical projects have include the Broadview Hotel and the Distillery District.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, August 21, 1905.

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The News, April 28, 1911.

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The Globe, April 10, 1914.

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The Globe, July 21, 1914.

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The Telegram, January 17, 1918.

203 Yonge Street (Scholes Hotel/Colonial Tavern)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, November 21, 1877.

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The Globe, March 5, 1918.

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Toronto Star, March 5, 1918.

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Globe and Mail, October 25, 1940.

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Toronto Star, December 23, 1947.

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Toronto Star, September 29, 1948.

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Toronto Star, June 10, 1961.

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

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1987.

Christmas in Toronto, 1869

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Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1869.

Saturday being Christmas Day business was suspended in the city; that is to say, all places of business, except such as oyster depots, candy shops and saloons were closed. The streetcars ran as usual, and certainly did a paying business, as they were crowded with passengers nearly every trip. The weather was delightful, reminding one more of a day in spring than in winter; and, as a natural consequence, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, chiefly of the male sex, however. Divine service was held in several of the numerous places of religious worship in the city, and sermons appropriate to the occasion preached. – The Leader, December 27, 1869.

Torontonians gathering ingredients for their Christmas dinner 150 years ago had plenty of options from local butchers. “The St. Lawrence Market,” the Globe reported, “is peculiarly well adorned with meat of the most tempting character, while all over the city the butchers show that though they are not in the market they are quite prepared to meet the wants of the citizens, as respects Christmas cheer.”

The Leader was particularly taken with James Britton’s stall. “Mr. Jas. Britton, everybody in Toronto knows, and every Toronto epicure and gourmand blesses, or ought to, for he has certainly on this occasion pandered to their luxurious tastes most extensively and deserves for his splendid display of meats, to stand foremost on the list.”

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The Globe, December 23, 1869.

Among the advertisers that season was the Wesleyan Methodist Church, who invited the public to view the Christmas tree in the basement of their Richmond Street home. Visitors stopping in on December 23 could browse a “sale of useful and fancy articles” which raised funds for the congregation’s future home in McGill Square (the lot on the northwest side of Queen and Church). “Attendance was very fair during the afternoon,” the Telegraph reported, “swelling to a positive crowd in the evening.” The proceeds helped build the new church, which evolved into today’s Metropolitan United Church.

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The Leader, December 24, 1869.

Browsing the ads for the city’s dry goods merchants, one new name had entered the holiday shopping sweepstakes. Earlier that month, Timothy Eaton opened his first Toronto store at 178 Yonge Street, which offered the radical merchandising method of selling goods for cash only (the store’s “goods satisfactory or money refunded” motto debuted the following year). The store was snug: measuring 24 feet across and 60 feet deep, it only employed four people. Popular items early on included buttons, gloves, and underwear.

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Toronto Mechanics’ Institute, circa 1867-1868. Photo by Octavius Thompson. Toronto Public Library, Z 3-7.

Among the Christmas Day festivities across the city was a dinner held at the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide for over 220 children living in charitable institutions such as the Protestant Orphans’ Home, the Boys’ Home, and the Girls’ Home (along with, as the Globe dubbed them, “20 inmates of the News Boys’ Home). Organized annually by businessman John Hallam, it featured a hymn sing where the kids’ performances were praised community dignitaries. “The Christmas tree was then disburdened and each child having received from its branches a toy or picture book,” the Globe reported, “and also been handed a paper bag containing cakes, raisins, apples, and sweetmeats, the children started for their respective homes, four happy little bands, rendered so by the liberality of those who will be amply paid for their kindness to these poor little orphans when they shall have addressed to them the words ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’”

(Journalists in 1869 were a wordy bunch)

Years later, as a city councillor, Hallam’s support of free public libraries played a role in the transformation of the Mechanics’ Institute’s collection into the Toronto Public Library. Hallam Street is named in his honour.

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Christmas menu for guests of the Queen’s Hotel. The Telegraph, December 27, 1869.

Some of the city’s wealthier, politically-connected citizens gathered for a Christmas dinner at the Queen’s Hotel (the present site of the Royal York). Toasts were made to Queen Victoria, various branches of the military, and Americans. The Telegraph printed the extensive menu.

The Globe reported on Christmas Day at the Don Jail:

Even without the heavy walls of the prison the genial spirit of Christmas penetrated, and brought a thrill of pleasure and a softening influence to many a hardened heard among the 154 incarcerated there. No relaxation of the prison discipline was admitted, except to allow friends to visit the inmates and bring with them some of the Christmas cheer which prevailed without. In more than one cell, tears came to eyes unused to weep, at the thought of former Christmas Days—when innocence made it a happy anniversary. Many a heart that knew not the crucified Saviour had reason to feel thankful for the natal day of Him who pardoned the thief on the cross.

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Francis Henry Medcalf. Wikimedia Commons.

Politically, the holidays saw the start of nominations for city council candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Putting his name back into the fray was former mayor Francis Henry Medcalf, who had resigned from council on November 1 to protest a proposal to extend the term of office from one to three years. He decided to switch wards, moving from St. Lawrence’s (which covered the area south of Queen Street east of Yonge) to St. John’s (later known simply as “The Ward”). At a Christmas Eve nomination meeting, Medcalf claimed that when he was asked to run, he did so because, the Leader reported, “he owed the people of that ward a deep debt of gratitude for the hearty way in which they had always supported them, and he hoped he would be able to pay that debt before he paid the debt of nature.” Medcalf would represent the ward for two years, then returned to the mayor’s chair for a final two-year run in 1874.

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Canadian Illustrated News, December 25, 1869.

We’ll end with the parting thoughts from the Globe’s Christmas day editorial:

Let us hope, in any case, that the event may be happy, and that we, like the rest of the world, may find that, after of dread of turbulence and conflict, we are, as we should be, in peace and good will with all men.

Sources: the December 23, 1869, December 25, 1869, and December 27, 1869 editions of the Globe; the December 25, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Leader; and the December 24, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Telegraph.

Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: St. John’s York Mills

As Halloween approaches, we are surrounded by images of death. Most focus on the ghoulish aspects, from bony skeletons to creepy tombstones with punny names for the deceased. But the mock graveyards decorating residential lawns bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries. Instead of depressing, scary final resting places, these spaces are full of life.

During the Halloween seasons in 2011 and 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Torontoist on the city’s cemeteries. This year I’m mixing those pieces with updates and new stories. This one is all-new, all-different, not a reprint, etc

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Perched high above Yonge Street near Hogg’s Hollow, St. John’s York Mills may be Toronto’s oldest active cemetery. Its history, alongside St. John’s York Mills Anglican Church, ties into the early development of York Mills and North York.

History

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Pen and ink drawing of the original St. John’s York Mills Anglican Church (used 1817-1844), produced by an unknown artist around 1904. Toronto Public Library, JRR 3579 Cab.

The land St. John’s sits on was donated in 1816 by Joseph and Catherine Shepard, who also owned the land York Cemetery was eventually built upon. According to the land transfer document, the site was intended as a place for “Divine Worship according to the rites, ceremonies and articles of the established Church of England, and for the burial of the dead.” The cornerstone of the first church building was laid on September 17, 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada Francis Gore and future Anglican Bishop John Strachan. A torrential downpour shortened the ceremony.

Burials appear to have begun soon afterwards. The January 2, 1817 edition of the Upper Canada Gazette reported the recent funeral service for John Willson, who “was killed by the fall of a log from a small house that he was assisting a poor man to raise.” The sermon was delivered by Strachan “to a large and respectable assemblage of friends and acquaintances of this much lamented young man.”

The church’s congregation included many who participated in the Rebellion of 1837, many of whom are buried here

Grounds

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Located northeast of Yonge Street and York Mills Road, you can either enter by foot off Old Yonge Street or by vehicle via Don Ridge Drive. From the parking lot, head east from the current church building. The cemetery is compact and flat, making it an easy stroll.

Burials are limited to members of the St. John’s York Mills Anglican congregation.

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The west side of the church grounds connect to a trail leading from the Don Valley.

Notable Names

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Lionel “The Big Train” Conacher was voted “Canada’s Athlete of the Half Century” in 1950 for his versatility. Conacher is a member of the Canadian football, hockey, and lacrosse halls of fame, and was also skilled at baseball, boxing, and track. He was also a successful politician, serving as both an MP and MPP for downtown Toronto ridings. He was a competitor to the end, dying of a heart attack in 1954 after hitting a triple during a charity parliamentary softball game.

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Sculptor Walter Allward designed the Canadian National Vimy Monument (1936) in France. His Toronto works include numerous statues around Queen’s Park, honouring John Sandfield Macdonald, Oliver Mowat, and John Graves Simcoe. Other notable commissions include the South African War Memorial at Queen and University and the Bell Memorial in Brantford. The plaque honouring Allward was dedicated in 2007.

Favourite Spots

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A monument in the southeast corner honours seven generations of the Van Nostrand family who have been buried here since the cemetery’s beginning. A Loyalist originally from Long Island, Cornelius van Nostrand settled in York Mills in 1805. He was too ill to attend the laying of the church cornerstone in 1816, but was able to view the ceremony from his home. “It is said,” church archivist M. Audrey Graham observed, “he was assisted to the window of his chamber that he might witness before his dissolution the germ, as it were, of the sacred edifice, and then, though feeble and infirm, expressed his joy and gladness at the prospect of leaving behind him the means of grace in the form he loved best for his numerous family.” He died the following year.

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At least 90 members of the family are buried in the cemetery, stretching back to a seven-year-old who died before the cemetery was officially established.

Sources: 150 Years at St. John’s, York Mills by M. Audrey Graham (Toronto: General Publishing, 1966); Pioneering in North York by Patricia W. Hart (Toronto: General Publishing, 1968); and 200 Years at St. John’s York Mills by Scott Kennedy and Jeanne Hopkins (Toronto: Dundurn, 2016).