The Choosing of an Interim Toronto Mayor, 1978

This story was originally published by The Grid toward the end of 2012. I don’t have the exact date, as it was one of those pieces which fell off the website before the publication folded for good. I don’t remember what the original title of this article was, though the sub-head probably mentioned Rob Ford during the period it appeared he might be tossed from office.

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Toronto Star, August 27, 1978. Click on image for larger version.

When Toronto city councillors voted for an interim mayor on September 1, 1978, the deadlock the media predicted came to pass. Candidates Fred Beavis and Anne Johnston had 11 votes each. Under the law, there was one solution to determine who would fill the last three months of David Crombie’s term: placing the contenders’ names in a cardboard box.

While it’s unknown if choosing Rob Ford’s successor will require the luck of the draw, the last time council filled a mayor’s term wasn’t due to a politician departing in disgrace. After six years at the helm, Crombie used an upcoming by-election in Rosedale to leap into federal politics. When he announced his bid for the Progressive Conservative nomination in March 1978, Crombie praised the public’s civic engagement during his tenure. “You can fight City Hall in Toronto,” he observed, “and if your point of view is sensible you can usually win.”

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Toronto Sun, September 1, 1978.

When Crombie officially submitted his resignation in August, the list of interim successors narrowed to two councillors. First elected in 1956, Fred Beavis was the longest-serving councilor and had sat on nearly all critical committees. The genial former roofer was backed by the Executive Committee and council’s right wing, and criticized for his support of developers, reviving the Spadina Expressway, and eviction Toronto Island residents. If chosen, he would be the city’s first Roman Catholic mayor. Beavis was favoured over Anne Johnston, who was first elected in 1972, served as the chair of the Board of Health for four years, and claimed to be the same height as Crombie. Her support came from the left and her fellow female aldermen, while criticisms included loose lips, lack of experience with critical issues, and a suspicion she was a puppet for mayoral contender John Sewell. If chosen, she would be Toronto’s first female mayor.

The decision was made during a tense 45-minute meeting. A proposal to adjourn and move into an informal caucus was quickly voted down. Official nominations were made for Beavis and Johnston. George Ben stunned his fellow councillors by declaring the process “asinine and an affront to the dignity of Toronto.” He criticized both candidates, declaring that Beavis was in it for “lousy reasons,” while Johnston was “a joke on the people of Toronto.” Ben nominated deputy mayor David Smith, who declined due to an informal agreement among councillors like himself who were running for mayor in the November municipal election not to seek the temporary position. Ben continued to fume, pointing to 40 civic employees watching the meeting who were indulging in “a rather disgraceful waste of taxpayer’s money.”

ts 78-09-02 beavis becomes mayorToronto Star, September 2, 1978. Click on image for larger version.

When the open vote split evenly, out came the cardboard box. The winner was drawn by Pat Murphy of the Association of Women Electors, who had covered council meetings for two decades. When Beavis’s name was pulled, it continued his recent good luck streak of winning church draws and community raffles. Johnston took her loss gracefully—she successfully motioned council to unanimously approve the result, then draped the chain of office around Beavis’s neck. She later lost to Art Eggleton in a 1985 mayoral run and was defeated as a councillor by newcomer Karen Stintz in 2003.

While other councillors toasted him with champagne, Beavis leaned back in the mayor’s chair and, true to his blue collar image, cracked open a bottle of Labatt’s Blue. “I figured something you always wanted all your life,” he told the Star, “was something you just weren’t going to get.” The only major hiccup during the transfer of power was forgetting to grab a key to his new office before his first full morning on the job. Beavis fulfilled his duties without major incidents, and was re-elected to the council seat he would retain for another decade. Crombie easily won the Rosedale by-election, while Sewell succeeded Beavis in the mayor’s seat.

sun 78-09-05 editorial Toronto Sun, September 5, 1978. Click on image for larger version.

In a municipal election day editorial, the Star reflected there was nothing wrong with Beavis having been the sentimental choice for the job. “In his years on City Council, Beavis always displayed a compassionate consideration for people of all political persuasions and a warm sense of humour. He carried these qualities into the mayor’s office too…We enjoyed having you as mayor.” We shall see if these will be critical qualities for whoever replaces Rob Ford.

Additional material from the September 2, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the March 3, 1978, August 27, 1978, September 2, 1978, and November 13, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

Rob Ford remained mayor until his term ended in 2014. David Crombie served as Rosedale’s MP until 1988, filling several cabinet positions for Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney. Fred Beavis died in 1997, Anne Johnston in 2019.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Fred Beavis, 1978. Photo by David Cooper. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Reference Library, tspa_0031446f.

When Crombie first announced his intention to run for Parliament in March 1978, the Star spotlighted three councillors expected to seek the interim mayoralty: Beavis, Johnston, and Tony O’Donohue. “I ran for mayor in 1972 and drew 58,000 votes,” O’Donohue told the Star. “I’m not going to disappoint those people now and turn around and not run for interim mayor.” He also told the Globe and Mail that he was the “logical choice.”

Beavis, who had declared he would only go for the interim position and not run for mayor in that fall’s municipal election, was stunned by O’Donohue’s decision. “Tony once stated he would support me for interim mayor,” Beavis told the Star. “First I’ve heard of him changing his mind and I don’t know if it’s a change of heart or what. We’ve had no falling out and nothing changes my mind.”

Somewhere along the line O’Donohue focused on the municipal election, where he finished second in a three-way race with Sewell and David Smith.

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Globe and Mail, September 2, 1978.

“Beavis was not sophisticated, but was trustworthy in that he did what he said, and he was genuinely liked by almost everyone on Council.” – John Sewell, on favouring Beavis for his Executive Committee following the 1978 election.

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Toronto Sun, September 3, 1978.

Additional material from How We Changed Toronto by John Sewell (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2015), the March 4, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the March 4, 1978 edition of the Toronto Star.

A Motherly Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2008.

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Since it was built in 1887, the Alexandrina Block on College Street west of Spadina has seen numerous tenants come and go, including The Bagel music venue. Among its current elements is a 1970s-style sign promising over a dozen variety of submarine sandwiches. Those hoping for a retro experience will be disappointed as all that remains of the self-proclaimed “Rolls Royce of submarines” is the sign, fully intact and party covered by a tree.

The earliest media mention we can find for Mothers a dining guide in the June 3, 1972 edition of Star Week, which gave Mothers four stars out of four (tying it with the only survivor in the $5-$10 category, The Coffee Mill). “Mothers serves a Super-Sub sandwich for $1.35. It could use a little more oregano, but otherwise it’s the closest thing we’ve found in Toronto to the Philadelphia hoagie or New York hero. Hero-worshippers please take note.”

While Mothers may have been lacking in the oregano department, it did offer a unique delivery vehicle to back up its slogan: a Volkswagen Beetle modified to resemble a Rolls Royce. Such conversions were a fad during the period, with surviving examples including one owned by Liberace on display at his museum in Las Vegas. According to co-owner Howard Waxberg in a January 1974 interview with Toronto Life, “it cost us $450 to have the body work done, and then we had to get it painted—maybe $600 altogether.” The main problem with the car was finding suitable parts, especially after an accident damaged the first front grill. Waxberg felt that the vehicle “was the best advertising money we’ve spent. It’s fantastic to drive the thing. People look at you, laugh, point, stop you and ask questions, like ‘What is that?’”

A question now asked by pedestrians passing the sign.

UPDATE

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The Mothers sign gradually faded away. First one side was replaced by a sign for another business. As of July 2019, only the frame remains.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Mothers Sandwich Shoppes–note the fancier spelling–was revisited by Star Week circa November 1977. The following review, which gave it 2-1/2 stars (out of three I’m guessing, since all of the restaurants listed were given either 2-1/2 or 3 star ratings) ran for nearly a year-and-a-half:

Americans say Canadians have no idea what a submarine sandwich really is. That is with one exception–the owners of Mothers are reputed to make versions more than acceptable to even the sophisticated “sub” palate. Hot steak sandwiches and veal sandwiches are salso served.

At this point, there were also locations at 44 Eglinton Avenue West (at Duplex) and 826 Yonge Street (at Cumberland).

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Want some solitaire with your sub? Photo by Neil Graham, Globe and Mail, February 23, 1993.

By 1993, Mothers served up subs and computer parts. From the February 23, 1993 Globe and Mail:

Staff need a certain amount of versatility to work at Honson Computer Corp. and Mother’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Toronto. When the lunch hour hits, employees scramble back and forth between helping customers pick out computer systems and serving up tangy meatball sandwiches on thick, crusty rolls. The combination computer store and lunch counter is one of the more unusual manifestations of a trend in computer distribution and retailing: most people in the business of selling computers are looking for way to hedge their bets.

According to owner Peter Lee, the key to surviving in the computer business was finding a way to cover your overhead.

In Mr. Lee’s case that meant broadening into chicken soup, french fries, and corned beef on rye. Mr. Lee had operated Honson Computer near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus for six years when the recession hit. Looking for a way to cut costs he took over Mother’s Sandwich Shop next door and piled his computer boxes and demonstration models alongside the long, wooden booths and orange plastic tabletops. Mr. Lee said he makes less than $100 profit on a $2,000 computer system. A sandwich, on the other hand, yields about 100 percent profit.

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.

A City Bears Fruit

Originally published on Torontoist on August 16, 2009.

Torontonians seeking fresh seasonal fruit in the city tend to head to neighbourhood farmers markets or pray that their local grocery store has something other than produce shipped in from faraway locales. But lurking within parks and residential neighbourhood is a wide variety of edible treats growing wild or being nurtured by community activists and green thumbs. For the second year, urban forest advocates LEAF organized an edible tree tour on Saturday to show off the city’s harvest.
Led by the light-hearted commentary of arborist Todd Irvine, the tour started in Ben Nobleman Park, which houses the city’s first community orchard. As outlined by Growing for Green organizer Susan Poizner, the volunteer-driven project aims to expand from the nine fruit trees planted in June to fourteen by the end of next year. The organization was inspired by similar community projects in Vancouver, Boston, and Great Britain and has received support from the city despite a curtailing of plans to plant up to forty trees in the park. Of the cherries, pears, and plums currently growing in the park, the harvest is split equally among community events, food banks, and volunteers.

Heading southwards, the next stop was in front of an unsuspecting residence with a sidewalk-staining weeping mulberry in its front yard. This stop provided an opportunity for Laura Reinsborough of Not Far From the Tree to explain the assistance her organization provides to homeowners overwhelmed by the amount of fruit produced on their property. Based in Ward 21, the group picked over three thousand pounds of fruit last year that was distributed in the community and hopes to triple that amount by the end of the current growing season.
Walkers got their first chance to test the city’s harvest in Cedarvale Ravine when a cluster of crab apples was pointed out. People rushed into the bushes to pick the petite, mottled fruit, with a lucky few finding a reddish interior after their first bite. The crab apples were still young and bitter to some, but the crunchy fruits appealed to those would like tart apple varieties (we thought they would liven up a summer salad).
At the south end of the park the group was joined by artist Stan Krzyzanowski, who introduced a tree grafting project he has worked on since 2006 and explained how pieces of one tree species are mixed with another. He likened the process to a medical surgeon visiting their patients, checking in to see if the grafts are taking. Look for small flags for evidence of Krzyzanowski’s handiwork near Phil White Arena.

Strolling away from the park towards St. Clair Avenue, the tour stopped at a residential pear tree a week away from being picked. Crunchy slices were passed around before the group moved on to observe what were jokingly referred to as “fruit cocktail trees”—plum and cherry trees grown by a local master gardener who had grafted them onto the roots of worn-out apricot plants. A nearby Not Far From the Tree pick was observed, where long poles equipped with claw-like implements helped relieved a tree of yellow plums destined for a local food bank.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A&P

Originally published on Torontoist on July 22, 2015.

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The Globe, February 10, 1932.

At its peak, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the largest retailer on the planet. By the end of the 1920s, the grocer boasted up to 16,000 stores across the United States, Ontario, and Quebec. As late as the early 1960s, A&P could boast about its dominant size. But over half a century of decline may have culminated this week when the 156-year-old grocer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years, leaving 296 stores up for grabs.

Contemplate those numbers the next time you ponder the size of today’s retail giants.

A&P arrived in Toronto in April 1928, a year after opening its first Canadian stores in Montreal. Within two years, 100 small locations dotted the city. Profiling the new stores in September 1928, Canadian Grocer was impressed with A&P’s efforts:

These stores are a combination of groceries and meats, and are pretty well standardized although they are not always exactly the same. They are attractively laid out with meats down one side, groceries opposite, and usually a big display refrigerator at the rear. One of the fundamental principles of the company is to display as many goods as possible in each of their stores. They also make a point of price-ticketing everything so that the customer does not have to ask the price of any line on view. Dotted here and there along the floor and in front of counters are several wire display stands each containing one particular line of goods and usually at a special price. The meat display counter is refrigerated by pipes that are cooled by machinery in the basement. The counter is glass-topped. While the meats on display cannot be touched from the outside, the salesman back of the counter has ready access to them and can easily pick out any cut desired.

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Toronto Star, March 13, 1930.

Many locations were placed near existing Dominion stores. Several press accounts noted how Dominion’s owners had previously worked for A&P, a factor which may have heightened the grocers’ rivalry.

The company invested $175,000 to build a combination bakery/head office/warehouse complex at the northeast corner of Laughton Avenue and Connolly Street in the city’s west end. Opened in December 1929, the facility’s perks included banana-ripening rooms and a laundry for store uniforms. “One is at once impressed with the spaciousness, wide and sunny offices, and the ordered cleanliness of the storage rooms,” the Globe observed.

The following decade saw a few hiccups that caused executives to down more than a few cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee. In 1933, city councillor Sam McBride charged A&P with providing inferior goods to customers using relief vouchers issued during the depths of the Great Depression. While denying McBride’s charges, an A&P official admitted they wash imported carrots. Alongside competitors like Loblaws and Simpsons, A&P was charged in 1935 with short-weighing goods.

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Globe and Mail, July 29, 1966.

By the mid-1960s, A&P’s American operations were declining. An aging board of directors failed to adjust to a changing marketplace, especially the emergence of suburbia. Small, crummy stores reeked of fatigue and wilting produce. Instead of re-investing its profits, management heeded calls to increase already generous dividends. Yet the picture in Canada appeared rosier: its program of store modernization was a model for the rest of the chain. In 1966, 20 acres of land on Dundas Street east of Highway 27 (now Highway 427) in Etobicoke were purchased for a new head office/warehouse/store complex, a facility still used by Metro today. To build local customer loyalty, A&P undertook promotions such as distributing flyers in English and Italian to west-end neighbourhoods.

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The Telegram, August 7, 1952. The Dundas/Browns Line location mentioned in this ad was A&P’s largest Canadian store to date. Perks included a 300-space parking lot, and aisles wide enough to accommodate 500 shoppers in the store at a time.

While American operations contracted following A&P’s purchase by Germany’s Tengelmann Group in 1979, the Canadian division benefitted from the demise of two major rivals. When Conrad Black’s Argus Corporation broke up Dominion in 1985, A&P picked up its Ontario stores, retaining the brand for its GTA locations. Five years later, Miracle Food Mart was acquired from the remnants of Steinberg’s, though that banner was phased out following a lengthy strike in the mid-1990s.

As the 1990s ended, A&P Canada was the company’s only profitable division. This provoked rumours of a sell-off to infuse funds into the flailing American operations. Suitor speculations ranged from Sobeys to Walmart. Quebec-based Metro won out in July 2005, and within five years rebranded all remaining banners apart from Food Basics.

Additional material from The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011); the September 28, 1928 and July-August 1998 editions of Canadian Grocer; the December 10, 1929, May 24, 1933, and March 27, 1935 editions of the Globe; and the July 17, 1952 and August 17, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, May 7, 1928.

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Toronto Star, January 16, 1930.

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The Globe, May 7, 1931.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Wexford Restaurant

Originally published on Torontoist on April 22, 2015.

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Don Mills Mirror, May 20, 1964.

When the Kiriakou family took over the Wexford Restaurant in May 1958, they likely had little idea that nearly 60 years later a sign in their parking would proudly boast about the billions of eggs cracked and oranges juiced. Under three generations of family ownership, the restaurant has fed plenty of hungry Scarberians and, in the process, became a local institution.

Kiriakos “Jerry” Kiriakou emigrated to Canada from Vevi, Greece around 1950. Over the course of the next few years he gradually brought over the rest of his family. Saving money earned through dishwashing, Jerry bought a fish-and-chip shop on the south side of Lawrence, but felt that Wexford Heights Plaza on the north side presented a better opportunity. When the 50-seat Wexford Restaurant was put up for sale, the family purchased it, with Jerry’s sons Tom and Anthony in charge. Two decades later, having built up substantial real estate holdings elsewhere in Metro Toronto, the family bought the plaza.

Through three generations of Kiriakou ownership, the restaurant has expanded to 300 seats. Among the additions was a dining lounge opened in 1983 that was named in honour of Jerry (who is also memorialized with a plaque). The family name was also bestowed on a residential street near Lawrence Avenue and Kennedy Road, located just off Mike Myers Drive.

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Toronto Star, July 19, 1983.

While surveying diners across the city in 2000, Star writer Jon Filson gave a sense of the hubbub during a busy weekend at the Wexford.

Breakfast at the Wexford Restaurant in Scarborough is the best time anyone can have anywhere. At noon on Sunday the background buzz is louder and at least as entertaining as a patrol car’s squawk box on a Saturday night. Calm, firm waitress voices take charge: “Ordering over easy, with sausage and brown,” but occasionally a more urgent shriek comes through: “Johnny, I said ham with that, Johnny! Ham, Johnny, ham! Johnn-eeey…” Most of the voices come in bits and pieces, garbled by the sizzle from a massive grill manned by four heroic cooks wearing peaked white caps. Giddy customers are filling stools and packing into booths, and the whole bustling place seems totally out of control, without ever being out of control in the slightest.

Customers and staff have long shot the breeze over the topics of the day, which has made the Wexford a popular spot for campaigning politicians. When mayor Mel Lastman visited in November 2000 to boost the re-election hopes of Lorenzo Berardinetti in Ward 37 (husband of current Ward 35 councillor Michelle Berardinetti), the incumbent councillor observed that “he’s not here to make speeches or unveil a moose, he’s just having some eggs and meeting people doing the same thing.” A picture taken of Rob Ford holding up a paper coffee cup during the 2010 election campaign found a place of honour on a pillar near the cash register. During the 2014 mayoral race, the Ford brothers ran their local headquarters in the plaza a few doors down from the restaurant.

As the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrower put it during anniversary celebrations in 2008, the Wexford is “a centre of Scarborough power and Scarborough pride.”

Additional material from the June 15, 2006, May 6, 2008, and November 23, 2013 editions of the National Post; and the December 26, 1977, November 21, 1996, November 5, 2000, and November 29, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star.

Freedom to Read and Reconsider at the Toronto Public Library

Originally published on Torontoist on February 25, 2014.

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Freedom to Read Week display at the Maria A. Shchuka branch.

Although the Toronto Public Library possesses a number of controversial holdings, few people are outraged enough to demand that items be withdrawn from its collection: it’s reassuring to consider, especially during this Freedom to Read Week, that on the whole, Torontonians support the public’s right to access materials considered offensive, and to do so via a local TPL branch.

The TPL outlines its position on contentious items and the importance of free debate in its Materials Selection Policy:

The Library believes that a vital society encourages members of its community to actively participate in an open exchange of ideas and opinions. Material selectors consequently strive to provide the widest possible range of resources within Toronto Public Library collections.

The content or manner of expressing ideas in material that is purposely selected to fill the needs of some library users, may, on occasion, be considered to be offensive by other library users. The library recognizes the right of any individual or group to reject library material for personal use, but does not accord to any individual or group the right to restrict the freedom of others to make use of that same material.

Yet there are, inevitably, patrons who wish to restrict that freedom, or to prevent items containing inaccurate or outdated information from circulating freely. And for such patrons, the TPL has developed a formal process. So what do these patrons do if they want the library to take a book off the shelf?

First, they ask their local librarian for a “Request for Reconsideration of Library Material” form. Once they’ve filled it out, it goes to the Collection Development department, where the manager reviews the request and contacts them if any clarification is needed. Then, the request is sent on to a librarian committee for review, and a response is issued within 12 weeks.

Since 2000, around 100 requests for reconsideration have been filed—and only nine items have been removed. The most recent title to be pulled, Date Rape: A Violation of Trust, was withdrawn from the video collection in 2012 because it, “while well-intentioned, reinforces stereotypes and lacks diversity and is, therefore, not appropriate as an educational tool in Toronto’s multiracial and multicultural environment.” Other titles have vanished for reasons including libel threats, unreliable accounts of Romanian history, bad advice on passing business accreditation exams, outdated information on dairy farming—and being poorly produced knockoffs of Pixar films made by the highly esteemed Video Brinquedo studio (What’s Up: Balloon to the Rescue).

Other reconsidered titles find new homes within the library system. Tintin in the Congo, for example, which features controversial depictions of Africans, was moved from the children’s collection to the adult graphic novel section in 2010. Not all suggestions from complainants can be acted upon: one 2003 complaint about eye weekly urged the library to provide copies sans escort ads. And in 2006, a patron requested that a rabbi review the content of Sarah Silverman’s film Jesus is Magic.

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Front page of the Toronto Public Library’s “Request for Reconsideration of Library Material” form.

The most popular requests for consideration between 2000 and 2013? It’s a tie between Maxim magazine (2005 and 2006; one request suggested users be IDed lest it fall into the hands of innocent youth) and Robert Kaplow’s The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun, a raunchy parody of The Cat Who… mystery series (2005 and 2007).

Library staff have not noticed trends in the complaints, and are proud of how few requests for reconsideration come in. Vickery Bowles, director of Collections Management and City-Wide Services, feels this reflects Torontonians’ “appreciation for the breadth and depth of our collections and the fact we are living in a large urban setting.” She believes that the public senses that “intellectual freedom in the public library setting is very important” and that the widest variety of available materials should be offered.

Richview librarian Kara Miley notes that discussion with staff can calm angry patrons. “Half the time they just want to rant at somebody—they want to think that you’re listening to them. If you let them just rant, they tend to lose steam.” Miley’s interest in censorship issues led her to put together a presentation as part of the library’s Freedom to Read Week activities. In “How to Ban a Book in 10 Easy Steps,” Miley focuses on the challenges libraries face elsewhere in North America, especially in the United States, where the merest hint of controversy damages an item’s acquisition chances. If you tackle topics like sex, racism, evolution, magic, and the Israel/Palestine conflict, be prepared.

What spares the TPL from many of the battles American librarians face are stronger protections via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the anti-censorship policies of professional bodies like the Canadian Library Association. Plus, as Miley puts it, “I’d like to think we’re open and tolerant in Toronto.”