Toronto by Newsreel

Originally published on Torontoist on April 24, 2014.

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Newsreel and press photographers, Queen’s Park, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8012.

Before videographers, there were newsreel photographers. Carting their boxy cameras around, they roved the city, covering the top events of the day, racing to disasters, and hunting for oddball human interest stories that would amuse audiences. In their heyday, services like The March of TimeMovietone News, and Pathé News brought the richness of the world to neighbourhood movie theatres.

Last week, British Pathé announced it had uploaded its entire film collection to its YouTube channel. Shot between 1896 and 1976, the 85,000 clips cover a huge range of material dealing with everything from the World Wars to clubs dedicated to waistcoats. Now that they’re easily accessible, you can count on hours of time being gloriously wasted, especially by history buffs.

Given the vast amount of material needed to fill newsreels each week and our city’s ties to the British Empire, it’s not surprising the collection boasts a few Toronto-centric items. Type “Toronto” into the search field and you’ll find royal visits, salutes to home-grown Nobel Prize winnersparades in old Chinatownentertainment for patients in iron lungs, and beauty parlours for dogs. (Some of the related descriptions are quite amusingly matter-of-fact: footage of Nathan Phillips Square from 1969, for example, is called “two semi-circular office blocks with waterfall in front.”)

Here are just a few of the clips that caught our eye.

The Prince of Wales in Canada (1919)

While this film covers the future King Edward VIII’s cross-Canada visit in August 1919, the last four minutes (starting at the 10:30 mark) highlight his stop in Toronto. The Prince attended the Canadian National Exhibition on August 25 and told a luncheon crowd that he was delighted to visit the city he’d heard such good things about from Canadian soldiers. “It seemed to me that a lot of them came from this great city, and I know no finer soldiers or better friends.” He promised that he would do his best “to be worthy of Canada’s friendship and of Canada’s trust.”

Other stops shown in the clip include Queen’s Park (“the Parliament Buildings”) and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.

The Super Test (1924)

At first glance, it might seem as if this footage of motorcycles failing to conquer a steep incline is the 1920s equivalent of a “fail” video. But there was good reason for all the fumbling—the cyclists were dealing with slippery conditions on a 70-per-cent grade.

These early motorsport enthusiasts had gathered at the ravine by Bloor and Parliament streets on April 19, 1924, for the Toronto Motorcycle Club’s annual “hill climb.” That day, Canadian motorcycle champion Morris “Steamer” Moffatt avenged his loss of the previous year, powering up the hill in nine seconds flat. “American riders present claim the hill used is unequalled for this purpose,” observed the Globe. “The course was well roped off and the police gave splendid protection to both spectators and riders. Not an accident marred the day.”

We can only imagine the kind of complaints that would be generated if someone tried to recreate the event today.

Hooray—We Can Win Something! (1926)

The caption writer was on the ball when it came to this story about the April 29, 1926, home opener for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball squad. The game marked the opening of Maple Leaf Stadium, which took only five months to build. Fans witnessed an exciting last-minute comeback by the home team against the Reading Keystones. Down 5-0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, and just as patrons were starting to leave, the Leafs suddenly tied the game. Victory came in the bottom of the tenth, when Del Capes’s bunt allowed Herman Layne to run into home.

The 1926 Maple Leafs captured the International League title with 109 wins, then defeated the Louisville Colonels in the Junior World Series. The team actually included more future hockey hall of famers (Lionel Conacher and Babe Dye, though the latter was traded soon after opening day) than baseball stars (New York Giants pitching great Carl Hubbell).

Let’s All Be Young for a Few Moments! (1931)

Some things in Toronto never change. Arguments over the waterfront. Debates over another downtown subway line. Upside-down clowns at the Santa Claus Parade.

The 1931 edition of the holiday staple, held on November 14 that year, was loaded with bizarre floats and balloons that seemed poised to attack onlookers. Among the cartoon celebrities that took part in the procession were Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse. The Star also mentioned the presence of “Woofus the Tiger,” but we have no clue who he was. Blackface radio stars Amos ‘n’ Andy were also represented.

Santa’s ride that year began at Geary and Bartlett, then headed down Hallam, Ossington, Bloor, Queen’s Park, and University, before arriving at Toyland at Eaton’s Queen Street. He was scheduled to greet kids at the store from 2 to 4 that afternoon.

Toronto (1939)

The Miss Toronto beauty contest ran from 1926 until 1992, shortly after city council voted to ban the City Hall portion of the event. The year 1939 marked the third year the contest was sponsored by the Amateur Police Athletics Association, which made it part of its annual Police Games at the CNE grounds. During the late 1930s, “real girls” were encouraged to enter, and all makeup other than lipstick was forbidden.

Nan Morris, who won the title on July 8, 1939, fit the bill. A Star headline described her as neither “jitterbug” nor “glamour girl.” Initially, she claimed she was single, but a front-page story a few days later revealed she had been married to her childhood sweetheart for three years. Even though married women were allowed to participate, Morris assumed public knowledge of her status would hurt her chances.

No scandal ensued. “I wondered how long it would be before you chaps would be catching up with me,” her husband Jack joked to the Star. “As long as you don’t start calling me ‘Mr. Toronto,’ though, I don’t mind.” He admitted that he didn’t know she’d entered the contest but said, “I’m mighty glad she won. Those judges and I both know how to pick them.”

By the way—the man draping Nan Morris with her sash? Mayor Ralph Day.

Ice Hockey (1948)

Given the eternal disappointment Toronto hockey fans have grown accustomed to, it’s refreshing to find footage that proves our team was once a contender. As the 1947-48 NHL season wound down, the Maple Leafs had their eye on both first place in the league and the Stanley Cup: they won both.

The game shown here was played in front of 13,874 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens on February 28, 1948. Sportswriters praised both teams for their wide-open, end-to-end play. The game also featured the unusual sight of Leafs centre Syl Apps, known for being a gentlemanly player who served as Ontario Athletic Commissioner on the side, flattening Chicago Black Hawks defenceman Ralph Nattrass. The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond dubbed Apps the “undefeated wrestling champion of the NHL.”

The corniest and most tortured headline—inspired by the play of Black Hawks goalie Emile “The Cat” Francis—came courtesy of the Star: “MUCH ADO-ING ABOUT PUCK WHICH ‘THE CAT’ HAS ‘MOUSED!’”

Additional material from Baseball’s Back in Town by Louis Cauz (Toronto: Controlled Media Corporation, 1977); the April 18, 1924 edition of the Globe; the March 1, 1948 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the August 25, 1919, November 14, 1931, July 10, 1939, July 11, 1939, and March 1, 1948 editions of the Toronto Star.

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The First Official Victoria Day

Originally published on Torontoist on May 18, 2012.

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The News, May 25, 1901.

Since 1845, Torontonians have been enjoying a holiday to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. Following her death in 1901, a federal act declared May 24 (or May 25 if the 24th fell on a Sunday) would thereafter honour Britain’s longest-serving monarch. While it’s easy to imagine that the decision was made out of the deep veneration that existed for the recently-deceased monarch, we suspect people continued to desire a late May holiday.

Unfortunately Mother Nature spoiled the first official Victoria Day.

As the Telegram observed, Torontonians woke up early, looked out the window, and went back to bed: “They saw wet and muddy streets, pelting rain, black drifting clouds, and they remembered that the good Queen was dead.” People still filled streetcars, but they visited friends at their homes instead of enjoying the traditional holiday picnic. Island ferries reported five per cent of their normal holiday business, which wasn’t helped by the cancellation of most activities at Hanlan’s Point. Over in the Beaches, Munro Park Amusement Park proceeded with its season opener—while a balloon event and band concert were cancelled, a vaudeville-style bill went ahead, and rides like the Ferris wheel weren’t stopped by the rain.

Also affected by the weather were the holiday’s major sporting events. A baseball doubleheader pitting the Maple Leafs against the Syracuse Stars suffered a rain delay; the match was eventually called after five-and-a-half innings, with the home team behind 4–3. Toronto manager Ed Barrow planned to protest umpire “Silk” O’Loughlin’s decision to halt the game, but was rewarded for his decision by five minutes of jeering from the stands at Diamond Park.

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Left: tribute to Queen Victoria by cartoonist J.W. Bengough, the Globe, May 24, 1901. Right: cartoon, the Telegram, May 23, 1901.

Also enjoying their holiday at Woodbine were pickpockets and other unsavoury characters. Police arrested 10 Americans at the racetrack on Victoria Day on charges ranging from pickpocketing to vagrancy. The Star noted that the five-fingered discounters “were dressed in the usual flashy style of race track touts. Gaudy coloured shirts vied in effect with flaming neckties, but the loud-checked clothing put both shirts and ties in the shade.”

Police were also involved in a near-fatal incident that evening. Around 9 p.m., Robert Sweezie (alternately spelled “Sweezey” or “Sweezy”) attempted to retrieve bedding he left behind at a boarding house at 118 Adelaide Street West. Management initially claimed they no longer had Sweezie’s stuff before handing it over to him. On his way out, resident Samuel Helpert warned him to never return, which led to a scuffle before the hallway light went out. In the darkness, Sweezie was stabbed three times across his body and staggered away to find help. While Sweezie was taken to hospital, Helpert fled to his father’s home on Pearl Street, where police attacked him after a brief standoff. Helpert tried to slip a pen knife to his father, but officers confiscated it. Despite his severe injuries, Sweezie declined to press charges and the case was dismissed a month later. Magistrate George Taylor Denison offered Helpert some friendly advice: “You can go, but don’t do it again; you might get caught.”

“Don’t do it again” might have also been words 17-year-old Logan Avenue resident Frederick Armstrong heeded after pieces of a Roman candle he set off flew into his right eye; he was expected to recover his sight eventually. Though the poor weather left retailers with enough fireworks to avoid placing reorders for the July 1 holiday, the temptation to set them off led to injuries. Incidents such as Armstrong’s prompted the Telegram to editorialize about the dangers of large fireworks known as “cannon crackers.” The paper believed all firecrackers should be banned in the city and cannon crackers should be outlawed everywhere. “Every man or boy who toyed with a cannon cracker yesterday,” the editorial noted, “can feel that it was good luck, rather than good management, which saved him from the fate of the young man whose right hand was blown off.”

The rain drove people to the dry comforts of Toronto’s entertainment halls. At the Grand Opera House, 400 people were turned away. Every possible piece of seating was utilized—even the doorkeeper had to give up his stool.

We hope no theatre workers have to make that sacrifice this weekend.

Additional material from the May 25, 1901 edition of the Globe; the May 25, 1901 and June 21, 1901 editions of the Toronto Star; the May 25, 1901 edition of the Telegram; and the May 24, 1901 and May 25, 1901 editions of the Toronto World.

Bobby Cox Is Headed for Cooperstown

Originally published on Torontoist on December 10, 2013.

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Bobby Cox and Jesse Barfield enjoy the amenities of flying CP Air. Advertisement, Blue Jays 1985 Scorebook Magazine.

Glancing at his statistics, you might think Bobby Cox’s four-year tenure as Blue Jays manager was a blip between two stints as skipper of the Atlanta Braves. Yet Cox, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday alongside managing peers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, was one of the key factors in Toronto’s transition from hapless expansion team to legitimate contender.

The team Cox inherited upon assuming the reins in October 1981 had the dubious distinction of having finished in last place six times during its five-year existence (the 1981 season was split into two halves due to a mid-season player strike). General manager Pat Gillick, who worked with Cox in the Yankees farm system during the mid-1970s, described his new manager as someone dedicated to “continually building confidence rather than trying to destroy it.” While in Atlanta, Cox had developed a reputation for respecting his players, defending them whenever they upset upper management. And along with that reputation, Cox brought a coach who would prove important to Toronto’s future: Cito Gaston.

Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot described Cox’s restrained personality and handling of players:

As subject matter, Bobby Cox isn’t the sort of blabbermouth quote-hungry journalists dream about. He harbours the odd controversial opinion and an occasional colourful notion, assuredly, but keeps them to himself…To the outside world, Cox presents a beaming countenance. No silver lining escapes him. If somebody strikes out four times with men on base, Cox mentions a timely hit he smote two days earlier. A vanquished pitcher actually threw beautifully in the Coxian view but was the victim of atrocious misfortune…Cox is the kind of guy you’d want to work for, if you played baseball for a living.

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Toronto Sun, April 4, 1982.

Over four seasons, Cox oversaw the emergence of the young talent pool Gillick built up. Names like Barfield, Bell, Fernandez, Key, Moseby, Steib, and Upshaw became regulars. The results were quickly apparent—though the Jays finished last again in 1982, they tied with the Cleveland Indians and finished within a few games of the .500 mark.

The squad earned its first winning season in 1983, sitting in first place for 43 days in the tough American League East division before settling for fourth. “That summer, baseball for the first time became Toronto’s own, as those who had perhaps caught a game or two during previous seasons were suddenly glued to their televisions or radios, or were snapping up some of the nearly two million seats sold at Exhibition Stadium,” sportswriter Stephen Brunt observed in his book Diamond Dreams. “The notion of a Toronto team, a Canadian team, actually appearing in the World Series—something expansion fans can’t even dream about—suddenly seemed entirely possible.”

That possibility came tantalizingly close when the Blue Jays won their first divisional title in 1985. “The drive of ’85,” as the campaign was billed by the Star, was a tight race with the Yankees that wasn’t decided until the final week of the season. “That was as good a year as you’ll ever have in baseball,” Cox reflected years later. “Especially when you have a young team that’s never been there…The first time is the most fun. It’s the most exciting. I’ll never forget that.” Despite a heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Royals in the first round of the playoffs (the Blue Jays were up three games to one in the series before blowing it), many observers saw great things to come.

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, October 23, 1985.

Cox, though, wouldn’t be around to see that promise fulfilled. Braves owner Ted Turner had regretted his decision to axe Cox the moment he made it—during the 1981 press conference announcing the firing, Turner remarked that “the best guy for managing this team is Bobby Cox. But we can’t have Cox because I just fired him.” And a week after the Jays’ exit from the playoffs, Turner announced he had hired Cox as the Braves’ new general manager. Although Cox had enjoyed his time in Toronto, he said: “I love my own family more.” Cox’s wife and children had remained in the Atlanta area during his Jays tenure, and he frequently flew down to visit during his days off. “I’m full of regrets about leaving Toronto,” he told the Sun, “but the biggest one of all is the fact that we were unable bring the city its first World Series.”

Yet in a way, Cox did bring Toronto its first World Series. He returned to the Braves bench in 1990, transforming them into a perennial first-place finisher. Cox’s Braves had little luck in the playoffs, though, and the 1992 World Series was no exception—the Blue Jays took the championship in six games.

Additional material from Diamond Dreams by Stephen Brunt (Toronto: Penguin, 1997), the October 16, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail, the April 6, 1985 edition of theToronto Star, and the October 22, 1985 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Countdown to Opening Day

Originally published on Torontoist on February 19, 2013.

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Financial Post Magazine, March 1980.

Six weeks from today, Rogers Centre will be packed with fans eager to see if the Blue Jays will live up to their off-season hype during an opening day match with the Cleveland Indians. But back in 1980, fans could only hope that things wouldn’t get any worse. The previous year, the Jays had set a still-standing team record of 109 losses.

With the thrill of being an expansion team gone, the Jays looked to the future. New manager Bobby Mattick’s mission was to teach the first batch of prospects developed through the team’s farm system how to play in the big time. Mattick, a veteran scout known for his eye for talent, knew he was a caretaker manager who would guide the team until it was ready for contention.

The 1980 season began in Seattle, where the Blue Jays dropped three out of four games against the Mariners. The umbrella-wielding fan shown in today’s ad was well-prepared for the team’s home opener, as it was rained out. Only 7,000 fans braved 40-kilometre-per-hour winds and near-zero temperatures when the Jays finally took the field on April 16. They were rewarded for their misery with an 11–2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Jays immediately jumped into the lead thanks to a two-run homer by third baseman Roy Howell in the first inning. Starter Dave Stieb pitched a complete game, giving up only six hits.

While the team continued to occupy the American League East basement, it lost fewer than 100 games for the first time in franchise history. Names like Garcia, Moseby, Stieb, Upshaw, and Whitt began appearing regularly in the box scores. The Blue Jays had a long way to go, but there were glimmers of many future big innings.

Additional material from the April 17, 1980 editions of the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The 2013 Blue Jays weren’t as bad as the 1980 edition, but they failed to live up to pre-season expectations. They finished in the AL East basement, with a 74-88 record.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Take a Gamble on Charles Stoneham

Originally published on Torontoist on May 15, 2012.

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Mail and Empire, April 26, 1920.

Today’s ad may be one of the least visually dazzling we’ve featured, but the man behind it didn’t lack for colour or controversy. Anyone interested in investing in northern Ontario mining stocks might have wanted a second opinion before dealing with Charles Stoneham.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1876, Stoneham entered the financial field as a clerk for a life insurance company. He established his own brokerage firm, Charles Stoneham & Co., in 1913, which eventually operated offices across North America. Though sometimes portrayed as a Wall Street broker, Stoneham ran a “bucket shop,” which allowed gamblers to place bets on stocks without actually buying or selling them, a practice that was legal until the stock market crash in 1929. Stoneham developed close ties with notorious gamblers like Arnold Rothstein, corrupt institutions like Tammany Hall, and political figures like New York governor Al Smith.

These relationships came in handy whenever his shady business dealings landed him in legal trouble. Within a year of today’s ad being first published, Stoneham closed his firm (“without explaining his motive,” according to the New York Times) and shifted investor accounts to other brokerages that quickly failed. He was eventually acquitted of charges ranging from mail fraud to perjury, though in one case a juror claimed he was intimidated into changing his vote.

In 1919, Stoneham became majority owner of the New York Giants baseball team, which he operated until his death in 1936 from Bright’s disease (or, as the Toronto Star put it, a “lingering organic disease”). He was succeeded by his son Horace, who was once described as a “knowledgeable owner who drank into the wee hours with his favourite players and others whom he considered part of the team’s family.” Horace moved the team to San Francisco after the 1957 season and was almost responsible for transplanting the franchise to Toronto. Prior to the 1976 season, Horace agreed to sell the team to a consortium that included Labatt Breweries and CIBC, but municipal officials in San Francisco erected legal blockades until owners amenable to leaving the team in the Bay Area were found. Any disappointment over Toronto’s loss of the Giants was short-lived, as a consortium with similar backers soon landed the expansion team that became the Blue Jays.

Additional material from The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella (New York: Harper Perennial 1996), the September 1, 1923 and January 7, 1936 editions of the New York Times, and the January 7, 1936 edition of the Toronto Star.

 

A New Look For the Blue Jays?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2011.

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It may be back to the future time for the Blue Jays.

Based on a leaked image picked up by the “athletics aesthetics” website Uni Watch, the 2012 Blue Jays may adopt a variation of the iconic logo the team used during its first two decades. While the version making the rounds of the internet lacks the baseball backdrop of the original version, sites like The Score are reporting that their sources indicate a ball will be part of the final design.

The Star, who asked its readers to design a new Blue Jays uniform last month, notes that a change has been in the works, but the organization has kept a tight lid on what they’ve devised. When we contacted the team’s communications department this morning, they expressed surprise about the potential new look. As an employee put it succinctly, the logo was “news to me.”

Going back to a variant on the original logo makes sense for the Blue Jays, as the 2012 season marks the team’s 35th anniversary. The design could invoke nostalgic memories among fans that the generic current logo likely never will, especially if those flashbacks involve the championship teams of the early 1990s.

Who knows, maybe Blue Jays–branded junk food will also make a comeback.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Jumping Jays

Originally published on Torontoist on June 15, 2011.

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1989 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Tony Fernandez had good reason to jump for the Star’s camera in 1989: when today’s ad was first seen by the original owner of this scorebook, the Jays were transforming what appeared to be a long, losing season into an American League East title.

The filled-out scoresheet in the magazine shows that on May 16, 1989, the Jays came back from a 6-0 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians 7-6. It was interim manager Cito Gaston’s second victory in a row after replacing Jimy Williams the previous day. Under Williams, the Jays had won 12 of their first 36 games, which led to merciless booing from the fans in Exhibition Stadium. According to general manager Pat Gillick, Williams’s biggest problem was “He was too nice a guy and too honest a person. Sometimes players don’t like the truth.” The Star observed that few players were upset by the manager’s dismissal—before Williams’s final game, a louder-than-normal card game was played in the team clubhouse.

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The scorecard for the May 16, 1989 Blue Jays-Indians game. Note that the card was printed before the managerial change.

The Star guessed that the top candidates to permanently replace Williams were former Yankee skipper Lou Piniella and Syracuse Chiefs manager Bob Bailor. The paper treated Gaston as a temporary fill-in, an impression furthered by his claim that while he’d like to manage someday, he was happy as batting coach. “I don’t know what I’d do if it were offered to me,” he told the paper.

Star sports columnist John Robertson had the following thoughts about Gaston:

Nothing would please me more than to see Cito Gaston go undefeated during his 10-day appointment as interim manager. But I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting the job on a permanent basis. He saw first-hand what it did to Jimy. And Cito Gaston is far too nice a guy to end up with Jimy’s ulcers.

Robertson was probably pleased when, following hefty compensation demands from the Yankees if the Jays tried to hire Piniella, Gaston lost the “interim” tag from his job description on May 31. The hiring proved effective, as the Jays ended the season in first place with 89 wins and 73 losses.

Additional material from the May 16, 1989, and May 17, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.