Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2009

You Can’t Please All of the Riders All of the Time

Originally published on Torontoist on January 2, 2009.

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Our transit planners try. They really try.

System-wide service improvements unveiled by the TTC in November included extended hours and the addition of bicycle racks to many routes. While this was good news to many passengers, as with most things in life there are users who feel their needs were glossed over.

Hence the frustrations poured out onto an innocent service improvement bulletin posted on the Davisville bus platform by at least two disgruntled passengers unhappy with the current state of the 11 Bayview route. Never mind that their pleas and grousing are unleashed on a rush hour service that doesn’t pass by the neighbourhood’s largest health facility.

Perhaps the first passenger has a phobia about going to Lawrence station to use its frequent Sunnybrook service?

Sacrilegious Parking

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2009.

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According to its website, Mount Pleasant Road Baptist Church promises to share with its parishioners, via John 10:10, “a delight that God is in the business of bringing order, beauty and joy to people who have suffered from the chaos of this world.” Joy, or at least a mischievous sense of humour, is evident on a sign hanging on the Belsize Drive side of the church, where officials could have placed a standard “no parking” sign.

We have not received official word from the gatekeepers to the afterlife on how many souls have been condemned to eternal wandering on the basis of poor parking decisions.

A Recession Lesson

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2009.

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The current economic situation has not been kind to American retailers. With sales sinking and several wobbly chains going the liquidation route, the U.S. retail landscape might not be the best model to emulate at the moment.

This brings us to Yankee Stuff, a store proudly displaying the red, white, and blue (and several small Canadian flags) on Bloor Street in Korea Town. While walking by the star-spangled storefront in December, we noticed a sign in the window for a sale honouring the state of the economy south of the border. Since it was billed as an ongoing offer we assumed that, based on reading the work of several economic pundits, this sale would last for at least a year or two.

And how has the recession sale gone?

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We returned after Christmas to find that, based on the wrapping paper covering the display window, the recession had claimed another victim.
The lesson? Be careful of naming your sale after an economic event, as said event may come back to bite you.

Parking in a Time Warp

Originally published on Torontoist on March 12, 2009.

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The temporarily closed performing arts venue at the southeast corner of Yonge and Front has undergone a number of name changes since opening more than half a century ago. Which identity do you prefer—O’Keefe, Hummingbird, or Sony? We can take a pretty good guess at which one the Toronto Parking Authority likes the most, based on signage found at the Yonge Street end of the massive Green P structure on the south side of The Esplanade.

We’re not sure when this sign was erected, but it would have been correct between the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s current location in 1993 and the name switch from O’Keefe to Hummingbird in 1996. Is this relic an oversight or does this reveal a gut feeling by parking officials that no one would ever adjust to any name change?

UPDATE: As of 2017, this parking lot will still direct you to the O’Keefe Centre.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Metro Morning

Since 1973, Torontonians have woken up to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. Here’s a sampling of Vintage Toronto Ads posts related to the show and its personalities.

Morning People

Originally published on Torontoist on September 16, 2008.

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Toronto Life, February 1978.

Kudos to the designer of today’s featured ad, which successfully imitates the look and feel of one of the most successful new magazine launches of the 1970s to promote a longtime Toronto wake-up call, CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

Time Inc.’s attempt to package a personality-driven magazine with better research than existing scandal-focused publications resulted in People turning a profit within 18 months of its March 1974 debut. Managing editor Richard B. Stolley felt that the factors behind its success included an increased willingness by celebrities and the public to talk about themselves during the “Me Decade” and the fact that other American magazines “had gotten away from the personality story; they’d become more issue-oriented…We’d do issues, of course, but through personalities.”

This focus on personalities made the magazine’s cover design appropriate for CBC to borrow in a series of ads highlighting on-air talent throughout 1978. David Schatzky was the third host of Metro Morning since its debut in 1973, following Bruce Rogers and Harry Brown. After his 1976–79 run in the host’s chair, Schatzky continued to work for CBC and later became a psychotherapist.

Additional material from Magazines That Make History by Norberto Angeletti and Alberto Oliva (Barcelona: editorialsol90, 2004)

Barrie B.C. (Before CBC)

Originally published on Torontoist on February 2, 2010.

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Toronto Star, October 3, 1988.

On yesterday’s edition of Metro Morning, host Andy Barrie announced his retirement from waking up Torontonians for fifteen years. Since arriving in Toronto from Montreal in the late 1970s, his style has drawn praise from listeners of public and private stations for his ability to put a human face on issues and complaints about being in love with the sound of his own voice. Barrie’s tenure at CBC marks the second half of his Toronto radio career—today’s ads look back at his bearded years on-air at private broadcasters.

Barrie was first heard over Toronto’s airwaves in 1977, when he joined CFRB. Within a year he had his own one-hour evening show, making him one of the youngest hosts on the respectable-yet-greying station. In a 1980 interview with the Star following his coverage of the assassination of John Lennon, Barrie indicated that he didn’t feel “that [he was] a younger token at the station, but in some ways it’s a little lonely and strange. On the other hand, though, it’s quite exciting.”

But perhaps there were some discomforts being the “new guy,” as he departed CFRB to become the morning man (and one of the oldest on-air personalities) at CJCL in early 1981. Barrie was part of a station revamp by 1430 AM owners Telemedia, who had just purchased the former CKFH from station founder Foster Hewitt. Barrie faced a challenge at the former country music station, as its previous morning show had drawn barely more than a thousand daily listeners. “When you’ve got no listeners,” Barrie told the Star, “you’re in the same situation as the Japanese when they first tried to crack the North American car market.” He felt the station could start from scratch and focus its efforts on Toronto, as opposed to CFRB’s concentration on Southern Ontario (“Toronto, after all, is where it’s happening now”). CJCL’s mix of news, talk, and adult contemporary music didn’t set the ratings on fire and Barrie wasn’t replaced when he departed the station in 1983.

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Toronto Star, October 12, 1979.

By 1986, Barrie was back at CFRB hosting a late-morning call-in show that took advantage of emerging communications technology. Each morning, the station notified fifteen Ryerson students what the day’s discussion topic would be, then set them loose on the streets of Toronto with “cordless cellular phones similar to walkie-talkies” to solicit responses that were mixed in with regular calls to the studio. Barrie felt this approach allowed people who normally didn’t listen to CFRB to take part in the discussion.

Barrie was in the early phases of renegotiating his contract with CFRB in 1995 when CBC offered up Metro Morning. He saw this as an opportunity to solidify his ties to Canada. “My wife just said to me yesterday that joining the CBC is a nice thing to do with my citizenship,” he joked to the Globe and Mail. “I think when you’re an immigrant to this country working at the CBC feels like a second arrival. I think the CBC is an astonishing organization and I’m glad to be part of it.” It was also a fresh opportunity: Barrie compared the possibility of staying at CFRB, where many of its personalities had long runs, to being “like the prom queen never being asked out because everyone thinks she has a date.” Newspaper reports indicated that many CFRB staffers were upset at the departures of Barrie, Jane Hawtin (who went to 640 AM), and Brian Linehan (who left when management wanted to go with a harder-edged approach to entertainment reporting). Station president Gary Slaight was philosophical about the departures, noting Barrie and Hawtin received offers they couldn’t refuse. Reading between the lines of an interview with the Star, one suspects that Slaight wasn’t unhappy that two personalities perceived to have leftish biases were gone as CFRB remade itself into a younger, further-right voice than it had been.

Barrie’s first year at Metro Morning was a rocky adjustment for some listeners, as CBC phone lines received complaints that the new host had too musical a voice, pontificated too much, and was generally too exuberant. Barrie took in listener reactions (he was said to be the first host to drop in on focus group sessions), settled in, and led the show’s climb toward the top of the morning ratings.

Additional material from the July 25, 1995, and June 29, 1996, editions of the Globe and Mail, and the December 12, 1980, May 16, 1981, August 31, 1986, July 25, 1995, and July 29, 1995, editions of the Toronto Star.

Good News from Jim Curran

Originally published on Torontoist on March 27, 2012.

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Toronto Star, June 1, 1970.

This week marks the end of an era for loyal CBC Radio listeners because, after 40 years of traffic reporting, Jim Curran will provide his last update for Toronto commuters on Friday. Part of the Metro Morning team since the show debuted in April 1973 as Tomorrow is Here (the name changed a year later) and a fixture on the afternoon drive show for just as long, Curran has provided a parade of hosts with the latest on the city’s gridlock. We suspect that his soothing, easygoing style has likely prevented a road rage incident or two. Online reaction to his retirement announcement last month was so widespread that Curran became a trending topic on Twitter.

Before he joined CBC in 1972, Curran studied radio and TV journalism at Ryerson. During his undergrad career, he was part of CFRB’s “Good News” program for budding journalists, which we covered in a previous column. His fellow upbeat reporters included longtime instructors at Centennial College and Concordia University, and a future serial investor.

Our research also uncovered a Globe and Mail profile from 1974 that focused on Curran’s passion for antique clocks. At the time, he had assembled a collection of 25 timepieces over three years. His advice to novices was to read up on the history of Canadian clock manufacturing to avoid fakes on the market. He admitted being ripped off once: “I bought what I thought was an antique bit of Canadiana but when I got it home and took the dial off, I found it stamped Made in Japan.”

Additional information from the April 2, 1974 edition of the Globe and Mail.

We’re Renovation Obsessed

Originally published on Torontoist on August 1, 2008.

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Three years after A&P Canada was purchased by Quebec-based Metro, changes stemming from the deal are becoming evident to shoppers at the company’s Dominion stores in Toronto. The Equality and Master Choice house brands are gradually being replaced with the Selection and Irresistibles labels. Bakery shelves include loaves of Première Moisson bread. Aisles are being rearranged and exteriors torn away as three aging stores (Yonge-Eglinton Centre, Bayview-Eglinton [above], and Bloor-Robert [below]) undergo renovations.

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Though these three stores were long overdue for an overhaul, another factor may be spurring the sudden spate of activity. It may be coincidental that rival grocer Sobeys has recently opened or is planning “Urban Fresh” concept stores near the Dominions under renovation. Sobeys has rapidly expanded in downtown Toronto, taking a page from Britain’s Tesco chain in developing smaller, convenience-based stores that fit better into high-density neighbourhoods than the large-box strategy pursued by Loblaws after it closed many of its smaller locations.

UPDATE

Within months of this article being published, the Dominion banner vanished from Toronto, replaced by Metro. Several of Sobeys’s downtown Urban Fresh locations had short lives (for example, the one on Bloor Street in The Annex eventually became a Bulk Barn).

Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2008

Part One: After the Nativity Has Gone

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2008.

Nativity in Ruin

The post-holiday cleanup slowly continues across the city. Tree collection winds down this week, decorated lightposts grow patchier, and leftover sugar cookies are available for deep discounts alongside remaining Halloween candy.

Religious displays are not immune from the slow pace of cleaning, though we suspect that this nativity scene at St. Francis of Assisi Church at Grace and Mansfield also depicts an event that the Bible overlooked. Religious scholars debate if burlap, hemp, or Glad bags were the preferred choice of turn-of-the-era stable boys.

Part Two: Long Live Mediocrity!

Originally published on Torontist on January 31, 2008.

Long Live Mediocrity!

Drivers passing through the south end of Leaside on Millwood Road may have noticed commentary added to a Baxter’s Soup billboard. An anonymous critic with a penchant for exclamation marks has unleashed their critique of the petit bourgeoisie of the neighbourhood, chastising them for falling for the flattery of an instant meal that appeals to their yuppie pretensions and expensive jeans.

It might also be the work of a disgruntled diner who thought that the can of butternut squash and red pepper soup they bought on sale last week only rated two-and-a-half stars out of five.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2007

Part One: Pumpkin Watch

Originally published on Torontoist on October 29, 2007.

Torontoist firmly believes in the old adage that one can never have too many photographs of pumpkins. Whether they are ornately carved, falling from a 32nd floor window or baked into a luscious pie, we are always on the prowl at this time of the year for interesting shots of glorious gourds.

Unfortunately, many of the city’s pumpkins come to a tragic end. Take the smashed specimen above, found sitting atop a phone at Duncan and Queen on Sunday afternoon.

Our guess is that Saturday-night revelers in Clubland found this innocent gourd and decided to have fun with it. Perhaps they drop-kicked the pumpkin, with a portion landing on the phone. Perhaps they were stricken with a sudden case of the munchies. Perhaps in its final minutes the pumpkin attempted to call 911 for help, until it realized that it had no opposable digits.

Part Two: A Crack in the Infrastructure

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2007.

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Spray-painted markings for infrastructure projects are a common sight in the urban landscape. A myriad of numbers and arrows painted on lawns and sidewalks form a special language for technical crews to follow, usually to locate buried pipes and wires.

Sometimes they point out the obvious.

Torontoist is relieved that we no will no longer trip over breaks in the pavement without warning whenever we walk through Rosedale. Mothers everywhere are grateful that fewer broken backs may stem from this crack.

We tip our hat to the utility crew (or prankster) responsible.

Marking discovered on Sherbourne Street near Elm Avenue. 

Part Three: The Coziest Coffee Shop in Town

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2007.

Coffee Shop Inside

Torontoist likes its java joints in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop lunch counter that has fired up the pots since Confederation, multinational chains, or the latest in fairly traded barista artistry, Toronto is home to a wide variety of places where one can find an honest cup of joe and a comfortable place to sit.

Our latest discovery may be the city’s coziest coffee counter. Located on College west of Bathurst, it is not recommended for the claustrophobic. Space inside may be at a premium, but the weathered sign indicates that sitting in a position reminiscent of an elementary school fire drill barely hinders one’s enjoyment of a freshly ground drink.

BEHIND THE SCENES

For a time, I wrote these little vignettes based on photos I took while strolling around the city. They were quick to prepare, and allowed me to be silly. I’ll group them by season as I come across them in the vaults.

One other thing you may notice if you click the link to the original sidewalk crack story: the story is credited to Kevin Plummer. Due to a glitch which occurred during one of Torontoist’s revamps, posts from November 2007 are not necessarily credited to the people who actually wrote them. There are at least three bearing my name which I didn’t write, covering ballet, a Slash biography, and holiday skating in Nathan Phillips Square. On the other hand, three installments of “Vintage Toronto Ads” wound up under Kevin’s name. Here’s a post from that period that is definitely one of Kevin’s: a proto-Historicist on William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Dodo Lives!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 29, 2017.

Vintage Ad #241: The Dodo Lives at the ROM

Source: Toronto Life, November 1975.

It’s a big week for the Royal Ontario Museum, with the public unveiling of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal days away. Will any of the displays added to the new galleries over the next year wrest the claim of “most unusual exhibition” title from today’s ad?

Probably, since Animals in Art’s claim appears to be hanging artwork in the ROM instead of, say, the Art Gallery of Ontario. The works advertised sound as if they could have fallen comfortably within the realm of the ROM’s natural history collection.

Here’s a follow-up idea: there are natural museum history displays around the world of animals in their habitats that are now so old that samples can be shown as period art, depicting man’s view of the natural world in the mid-20th century. Incorporate a history of representations of nature in art and institutions. All it requires is a catchy name and suitable corporate sponsor (note the lack of one here).

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

“It’s just a wonderfully extravagant moment for Toronto.”–William Thorsell, CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, 2007.

“The Crystal’s interesting. I think it will be interesting to hear people’s opinions. There’s going to be strong opinions on both sides.”–Toronto Mayor David Miller, 2007. (source for both quotes)

Has it really been a decade since the ROM Crystal opened? Ten years on, Daniel Libeskind’s sketched-on-napkins design remains a controversial addition to the city’s landscape. Two years after it opened, the Star reported that it finished eighth of a list of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world by the Virtual Tourist website (which the Crystal has outlasted). In 2015, a Globe and Mail investigation revealed how some donors still hadn’t paid their contribution to the ROM’s overall mid-2000s renovations. This year, the museum all but admitted the Crystal’s flaws by announcing plans to reopen the former main entrance on Queen’s Park.