Trash Panda Thursday: Tales from the Naughty Nineties

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Raccoon furs were frequently advertised in Toronto newspapers during the late 19th century. Among the vendors was the original location of Fairweather. The Globe, March 10, 1896.

A pair of short stories from the 1890s this week…

From the May 21, 1895 edition of the Toronto Star, under the possibly-a-racist-joke title “A New Coon in Town.” We do not recommend risking your life the way one participant in this story did.

At the corner of Queen and Berkeley Streets at eight o’clock this morning five hundred people congregated to witness the antics of a raccoon that had escaped from its owner and had taken refuge on a telegraph pole. A man climbed the post with a bag to capture the animal, and narrowly escaped breaking his neck. The coon finally jumped from the top of the pole without suffering serious injury.

(Among the many reasons I’m wondering about the nature of the article’s title? Near the top of the same page is an ad for a Yonge Street clothier depicting a baby in blackface.)

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The Globe, December 16, 1896. 

From the May 2, 1899 edition of The Globe, under the heading “Want a Game Preserve,” it sounds like raccoons were not the only urban wildlife found near The Annex:

People in the north end of the city are beginning to think a menagerie has been turned loose in that vicinity. On Saturday a raccoon was captured on Bloor Street and the incident caused some talk. On Sunday afternoon Miss Jessie Alexander, while walking down Brunswick Avenue, met a young bear, who was taking a stroll. The presence of the cub was reported to the police, and he was taken into captivity, and now the residents of the street are waiting for a boa constrictor or a monster lion.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival

Originally published on Torontoist on June 30, 2015.

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eye, June 17, 1999.

Three months before the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival opened, new artistic director Chuck McEwen received an unpleasant surprise: a call from the owner of the building where the festival’s offices were located indicating the summer event had to find a new home. “That was an unexpected and high-pressure situation,” McEwen told the Star. “We had such a small amount of time to actually find a space and then move. And it’s difficult finding office space in the Annex area that fits our current budget. So it was tense.”

Quarters were found at Bloor and Spadina, and the festival rolled on. Over 11 days, 93 shows were presented. The best known, The Drowsy Chaperone, was promoted as coming from “the co-creators of Honest Ed! The Bargain Musical.” Having evolved from a stag party, the show earned kudos during its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” noted Now reviewer Glenn Sumi. “Well, OK, you won’t cry. But you won’t want to leave either.” The Star’s Robert Crew accurately predicted that, with a little reworking, “the potential is enormous and it will be back.” The show eventually won five Tonys for its Broadway run in 2006-2007.

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

At least one other show had an extended afterlife. Chris Earle’s one-man show Radio: 30, about an ad voice-over artist, received universal praise. “Radio: 30 questions our gullibility and willingness to believe what we hear,” eye’s Kamal al-Solaylee wrote, “or at least what we want to hear. It constructs parallels between acting and advertising…with humour and brutal honesty.” The show returned for the festival’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

As with any Fringe fest, some titles were more interesting than others. We’ll let your imagination figure out the plots of Haroon’s Dinner Theatre of Cruelty Presents Ethyl X in “London Bridge” (A Story of Sex)The Tale of Baldrick the Sausage & Other StoriesThe Fabulous Smokey Topaz Multimedia Extravaganza, and Wanda’s Visit and Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room.

There were also those unfortunate productions which caused critics to hold their noses. For example, Now gave its lowest rating—one N—to three shows: Afterwards You Smoke (“you’ll want them to stand up, shut their mouths and quickly leave”); Broken (“a bathetic, broken record”); and The Dead Monkey (“an overextended, unfunny sketch that veers sharply into unbelievable melodrama”).

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

Keeners may count how many of the eateries listed in the ad above still feed Fringe attendees. It’s interesting to note the last gasp of Bloor’s days as an outpost for Hungarian food—within a few years, Country Style was the only survivor.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Taste of Hungary

Originally published on Torontoist on March 4, 2015.

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Key to Toronto, February 1982.

Walking into the Country Style Hungarian Restaurant along Bloor Street in the Annex is more than dining on central European cuisine served on checkered tablecloths. The venerable eatery stands as one of the last links to the strip’s past, before Hungarian businesses, butchers, and restaurants gave way to cheap sushi joints and falafel spots. The influx of refugees following the uprising against Hungary’s communist government in 1956 built up a community that stretched into Kensington Market and Yorkville.

In November 1956, shortly after the Hungarian revolution, Canada’s federal government announced that it would accept all refugee claimants, a move possibly motivated by Cold War–era one-upmanship. Around 37,000 Hungarians came to Canada, with 12,000 of them settling in Toronto. They were temporarily housed by organizations like the Salvation Army and YMCA, and in locations stretching from the CNE Coliseum to Chorley Park. Highly educated, the Hungarians made their mark by adding a touch of cosmopolitanism to a city starting to shed its staid, conservative skin.

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Key to Toronto, February 1982.

John Lorinc, whose parents arrived in Toronto from Hungary in 1956, reflected on the community in a 2004 Globe and Mail article:

In the late 1950s and 1960s, these neighbourhoods became popular with immigrants who harboured a deep belief that the key to preserving their culture lay in the availability of schnitzels, rye bread, and rich pastries. At the height of the Magyar invasion, Bloor West was a veritable Budapest of eateries, from Jack and Jill, in the old Colonnade building, and The Coffee Mill, on Yorkville, to Marika’s, Cake Master, Corona, Country Style, and the smoky, windowless Blue Danube Room. Although the quality of the food didn’t vary much from one to the next (there are only so many ways to stuff a cabbage), their respective patrons tended to be fiercely loyal.

The heart of Bloor Street’s Hungarian strip, between Brunswick and Bathurst, earned several nicknames. “Wiener Schnitzel Row” was favoured by some, while others, with apologies to writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dubbed it the “Goulash Archipelago.” Beyond the émigrés, the cheap, hearty food appealed to university students on tight budgets.

Toronto’s first Hungarian eateries opened in the mid-1950s prior to the revolution, offering a taste of middle Europe to awakening post-war tastebuds. Clientele varied by restaurant: the Coffee Mill in Yorkville attracted artisans with its sidewalk café, while spots along Bay Street like Csarda and Hungarian Village advertised in tourist publications.

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Key to Toronto, February 1982.

One attraction of Toronto-style Hungarian dining was seeing how each establishment outdid each other with their groaning boards. Offered as wooden platters or flaming feasts, these plates piled mounds of food to feed more diners than advertised. Take Hungarian Village’s “Attila’s Flaming Platter,” as described by Globe and Mail advertorial writer Mary Walpole in 1960:

Attila’s Flaming Platter is a gourmet’s triumph … borne flaming to your table, with background music of ravishing Gypsy violins. This is a platter for two (or more, if desired), piled high with the choicest hot meats, surrounded with a selection of delicious salads in lettuce cups, surmounted by a tall spit with spirit cup (specially designed) on which tenderloin pieces and mushroom caps wrapped in bacon strips are given that incomparable flavor filip of flambe.

Elements like strolling violinists became, depending on your point of view, a charmingly kitschy part of the meal, or something that sped up requests to pack up the leftovers.

By the 1990s, the Hungarian influence faded as the second generation assimilated into the mainstream, moved away from the core, and decided not to keep businesses going. Aging clientele doomed spots like the Coffee Mill, which closed in 2014 after a half-century run. The number of restaurants along Bloor shrank, leaving Country Style as the last paprikash standing.

Additional material from the October 17, 2006 edition of 24 Hours; the May 28, 1960, August 28, 2004, and October 14, 2006 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the July 17, 1976 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, September 8, 1955.

gm 1955-09-08 csarda recipes

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Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

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Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

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Toronto Star, May 10, 1956.

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Toronto Star, July 17, 1976.

Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2011.

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A photo montage showing what a monorail might have looked like at Bay and Bloor. The Telegram, April 29, 1958.

You’ve heard all the jokes and Simpsons references related to Doug Ford’s vision of a Toronto monorail, his grandiose derailment of Waterfront Toronto’s development plans. But Ford is not the first Etobicoke-based politician to be mesmerized by the possibilities of single-rail travel. From the 1950s onwards, civic officials from the former township have participated in schemes ranging from a monorail system within Etobicoke General Hospital to an above-ground link between Union Station and the airport. One flirtation with single-rail technology that Etobicoke civic officials helped promote with their suburban peers, though, had it ever become reality, would have resulted in a monorail being installed along Bloor Street, instead of a subway line.

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Vernon Singer, Reeve of North York 1957–1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 251, Item 1.

For an idea that ultimately stunk to City of Toronto officials, it’s appropriate that the inspiration came at a sewer convention. North York Reeve Vernon Singer was attending a sewage conference in Dallas in early 1958 when he wandered off to the local fairgrounds. He was mesmerized by the short monorail line that had attracted visitors to the site for the past two years. Back at the convention, Singer told fellow Metro Toronto councillors Chris Tonks (the reeve of York Township) and Charles R. Bush (an Etobicoke representative) about his discovery. The politicians met a publicist for the system’s manufacturer, Monorail Inc., who dazzled them as Lyle Lanley wowed the citizens of Springfield. Especially impressive was the construction cost: $1 million per mile. Given the trio’s reservations about the estimated $200 million cost for an east-west subway along Bloor Street, a monorail that could be built for peanuts was highly appealing.

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Globe and Mail, April 29, 1958.

Once they returned to Canada, Singer and Tonks demanded that Metro Toronto council conduct a full investigation into the benefits of monorail before giving final approval for a Bloor subway. While Tonks believed it would be “deplorable” if his demand wasn’t met, TTC Chairman Allan Lamport wasn’t so sure. “Lampy” told the Star that he thought “a couple of high-priced salesmen have been advising some amateurs.” He believed any monorail on Bloor would be “an ugly roller coaster,” that it didn’t make sense for Toronto to build an elevated rail line when cities like Chicago and New York were tearing portions of theirs down, and that estimates that 60,000 passengers would be transported each hour were only possible if multiple lines were built. Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner shared Lamport’s reservations, as transit consultants advised him to stay away from monorails—cars swayed in the wind, switching cars off line was time consuming, and promises of high speeds had never been realised. It also became clear that the $1 million per mile estimate only applied to building the tracks, not to costs like securing rights-of-way, demolitions, and building supporting structures like pillars.

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Editorial, the Telegram, May 1, 1958.

Singer and Tonks pushed ahead. They arranged to meet with Monorail Inc. president Murel Goodell at Singer’s downtown law office on May 3, 1958. This move outraged Gardiner and other councillors who felt the reeves lacked the authority to hold a meeting that seemed designed to stall the subway. As Singer and Tonks had “got us into a mess,” Gardiner insisted that the meeting be opened to other local bureaucrats. Tonks consulted his “respect for taxpayers” playbook and told the press that if Lamport didn’t show up, “it will be a slight on the endeavours of those trying to save the taxpayers from a huge expenditure.”

Around noon on May 2, Singer talked to Goodell on the phone and warned the Texas businessman to be ready for a fight. Goodell claimed he was a fighter. Four hours later, a telegram arrived from Goodell indicating that he wasn’t coming to Toronto. “We agreed to meet you in a small, informal session,” the wire read. “We are not ready for any official meeting without first a thorough investigation plus conferences with our experts and your local authorities on what Monorail can do in Toronto.”

So much for being a fighter.

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The Telegram, May 3, 1958.

Gardiner was furious. He called the cancelled meeting “the biggest municipal flop in years.” All of the daily newspapers had editorialized against monorails, with the severest attacks appearing in the Star. The paper believed Goodell chickened out when he was “unprepared to face a stiff quizzing by men who know their business” and regretted not seeing Gardiner and TTC officials tear into him.

The fiasco didn’t deter Singer, Tonks, and Etobicoke reeve H.O. Waffle from introducing a motion at the next Metro council meeting to “make immediate arrangements” for a study. As the Telegram put it, they seemed to have “one-track minds” which “refused to be thrown off the track.” To the reeves’ amazement, Metro council voted 9 to 8 on May 6, 1958 in favour of further study. Over the next month, pro- and anti-monorail supporters gathered their evidence for a June 17 meeting.

But the pro-monorail forces underestimated Frederick Gardiner. Unbeknownst to the rest of Metro council, Gardiner commissioned A.V. Roe’s Avro Aircraft division to study the use of monorails within Metro Toronto. Like the TTC, Avro felt monorails had no place in heavily built-up areas. Where they might work was in the suburbs, especially along CN’s rail line from Union Station to Malton Airport. Besides offering speedy service to passengers heading between the landmarks, such a line could also have provided commuter service between downtown, Weston, and Rexdale, and hooked into the subway system at Union and the proposed Dundas West stations. That such a line would also service Avro’s aircraft and engine plants in Malton could have only been coincidental. The report estimated construction would cost $76 million.

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Weston Times and Guide, May 8, 1958.

Several councillors were outraged, as Gardiner refused to let them see Avro’s report in the name of confidentiality. Despite censure for his actions, Gardiner emerged victorious when a motion for further study into monorail as public transit, which would have delayed a final subway approval vote by 60 days, was defeated 15 to 8. The Avro report was eventually released to council and the Bloor subway line got its go-ahead. While consideration was given to a Union-Malton monorail for a couple of months, the plan was rejected by the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board that September. A direct rail link from downtown to the airport would remain at the dream stage for years to come. Monorails were envisioned for sites like Exhibition Place and the Toronto Islands, but the line that operated at the Toronto Zoo from 1976 to 1994 was the only one that made it off the drawing board.

Will Doug Ford’s dream of a waterfront monorail come true? The city’s history says don’t bet on it.

Additional material from the Avro Aircraft Limited Report on Monorail (Toronto: A.V. Roe, 1958) and the following newspapers: the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 3, 1958, May 6, 1958, and June 18, 1958 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 1, 1958, and May 3, 1958 editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 3, 1958 edition of the Telegram.

UPDATE

Like other hare-brained ideas which emerged from either Ford brother, no waterfront monorail is on the horizon as of early 2018. Re-reading this piece, it’s interesting the note how Avro’s vision of a monorail service between Union Station and Malton sounds a little like the UP Express train (though they’re still working on a proper connection with Dundas West subway station).

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.