Yorkville, Through Rochester-Coloured Glasses

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Some celebrity tourism in mid-1970s Yorkville. “The star of The Snoop Sisters does some snooping of her own. While character actress Helen Hayes was strolling down Yorkville Ave., she discovered a shop that specializes in Canadiana furnishings and spotted a china platter that she said she would like to add to her collection.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1974. Toronto Star Archives, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054027f.

By 1976, Yorkville had shed its image as a haven for music venues and wayward youth, as it gentrified into a high-end residential and shopping district. The neighbourhood’s new image made it ideal for newspaper profiles touting its charms for tourists.

Take this five-page piece, published in the April 18, 1976 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle‘s Sunday magazine Upstate.

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“Scollard Street is where you’ll find most of Yorkville’s art galleries, including the Marianne Friedland and Evans galleries.”

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Ending with a Wizard of Oz reference? Sheesh.

Hazelton Lanes opened later that year. The writer wouldn’t have many more opportunities to criticize the Riverboat, as it closed in June 1978. The Yorkville branch of Hy’s lasted until 1982, while the Book Cellar remained a hive of literary activity until 1997. The Coffee Mill served its last goulash in 2014.

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This ad appeared on the last page of the article. Note that neither of the Metro Toronto HoJo locations listed here (Airport and Scarborough) for a bubbly-filled weekend were anywhere near Yorkville (though the chain eventually occupied the old Regency Towers Hotel on Avenue Road).

The Book Cellar

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally posted on June 24, 2012.

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Books in Canada, May 1971.

According to veteran Star books columnist Philip Marchand, the test of a good bookstore was simple. “Take a real reader, a habitual browser of books. Imagine that person walking by the bookstore en route to somewhere else. Can he or she resist the temptation to enter the bookstore? To while away a few minutes—well, half-an-hour—instead of attending to business?” The Book Cellar in Yorkville met his criteria, especially its magazine room: “Facing away from the from the Hazelton Lanes courtyard, the room is both quiet and cheerful. To stand there in the afternoon sun, browsing through magazines, listening to strains of Vivaldi or Billie Holiday, is to experience peace.”

Despite the implication of its name, the Book Cellar only spent its first year in a subterranean space, underneath a record store at 363 Yonge Street. Launched in 1961 by Bruce and Vivienne Surtees, an Australian couple who came to Canada on their honeymoon and stayed, the store quickly made its mark as the place to find obscure magazines in the city. Within a year, the store moved to a small home on Bay Street near Bloor, where it drew the attention of Star columnist Pierre Berton. While browsing the magazine shelves in April 1962, Berton counted around 850 magazine titles on display, ranging from literary journals to the Journal of the Institute for Sewage Purification. When he asked about the store’s worst seller, he was pointed to an obscure entertainment publication called TV Guide.

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Globe and Mail, July 14, 1967.

While other retailers in Yorkville quickly scrubbed off graffiti left by “hippies,” the Book Cellar encouraged free expression by installing a ceramic tile wall. “With felt-point pens and grease pencils,” the Globe and Mail noted in June 1967, “the young non-conformists scribbled slogans political, literary, religious, philosophical, irreligious and mostly funny. They left tokens of their way of life—if that’s what it is—on the tiles.” The wall was a wise investment—“Some Book Cellar patrons have been visiting more frequently, just to keep up with the Big Beard. Some hippies even buy books.”

In 1968 the store moved to 142 Yorkville Avenue, which was later incorporated into the Hazelton Lanes complex, and ran a second location for a time at Charles and Yonge. Both were included in a 1970 Toronto Life roundup of the city’s best bookstores. “If you’re under 30 and moving with the times,” the article noted, “the Book Cellars…will most likely have what you want.” Two typical customers were depicted: “a woman who asks for Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (sold out) and, apologetically, for Diary of a Mad Housewife (“It’s for a friend”)” and “a young man who checks the price of The Joyous Cosmology and reappears ten minutes later, having panhandled $1.95 to buy it.”

The store attracted various literary types among its staff over the years, including future Conrad Black amour Barbara Amiel, playwright John Krizanc, newspaper columnist Joey Slinger, and writer/musician Paul Quarrington. Several legends surrounded Quarrington’s tenure at the Book Cellar, including hustling Desmond Tutu out of the store when the Nobel Peace Prize winner was found autographing copies of his own books and ticking off action movie star Charles Bronson.

When customers planning to phone in their holiday orders reached the Book Cellar in November 1997 they were notified that the store was closing. While some reports indicated that competition from Chapters’ recently opened flagship on Bloor Street ate into profits so much that the store couldn’t make its rent, owner Lori Bruner cited other factors. She noted that foot traffic had declined by the store, and that strict credit limits imposed by publishers following the bankruptcy of the Edwards Books & Art chain had affected her ability to stock the shelves. The store’s closure meant that browsers who found the Book Cellar as serene as Philip Marchand did had to find other peaceful corners of the Toronto bookstore universe.

Sources: the June 14, 1967, January 14, 1998, and April 12, 2008 editions of the Globe and Mail, the May 15, 1970 edition of Quill and Quire, the April 30, 1962, September 26, 1996, November 27, 1997, and October 26, 2009 editions of the Toronto Star, and the November 1970 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Quill and Quire, May 15, 1970.

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Quill and Quire, August 1974.

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“Linda Lovelace, star of the widely-banned porno film, Deep Throat, is in Toronto to promote her new movie, Linda Lovelace for President, an above-ground comedy which opens tonight. Here she autographs copies of the book of the same name in the Book Cellar.” Photo by Boris Spremo, 1975. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0063850f.

471 Bloor West (Hungarian Castle/BMV)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published online on September 18, 2012.

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The Hungarian Castle undergoing renovations to transform into BMV, May 4, 2006. Click on image for larger version.

When it opened in 2006, the Bloor Street branch of BMV represented more than just a giant bookstore. Its bright blue exterior and large street-level windows removed an eyesore known to nearby businesses and residents as the “black hole of the Annex.” After nearly two decades of rot, any new owner or tenant occupying the former Hungarian Castle restaurant would have been greeted with open arms.

Why 471 Bloor St. W. appeared abandoned for so long is subject to rumours and urban legends. Elusive landlord Annie Racz didn’t provide answers during her lifetime. When she died in 2004, she left an estate consisting of millions of dollars worth of real estate centered around Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue, some of which remains empty under the stewardship of her heir. Despite high interest from potential buyers, Racz threw up barriers that months of negotiation couldn’t breach. Theories on why she hung onto these properties without maintaining them included attempts to prevent higher tax assessments, an inability to trust anyone, and sentimental reminders of her late husband.

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1915. W.J. Parks’ grocery at 473 Bloor West eventually became part of the Hungarian Castle/BMV building.

When Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan profiled Racz in 2003, he found that, after six weeks of trying to track her down, he didn’t feel any wiser than at the beginning of his investigation. He heard rumours that had her living anywhere from above By the Way Cafe to Richmond Hill, that she resembled a bag lady, and that her legs had been amputated. Annex Residents Association chair Eric Domville was so frustrated by Racz’s refusal to do anything with 471 Bloor that he began to wonder if she was “a figment of somebody’s imagination. Does she live in a cave, or in a secret hideaway like Lex Luthor?”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1973.

Racz hadn’t always been so shadowy or seemingly neglectful. Before she and her husband Leslie purchased the building, the site housed a variety of tenants. During the first half of the 20th century, it was occupied by several grocers, a drug company, and residents who enjoyed five-bedroom flats. After a succession of furniture stores operated there during the 1950s and 1960s, the Raczs spent two years transforming it into the medieval-styled Hungarian Castle. When the restaurant opened in 1972, it joined the large number of Hungarian eateries along the Bloor strip owned and patronized by fellow refugees who fled Hungary after the Soviet Union crushed the revolution in 1956. To make their eatery stand out, the Raczs hired Oscar Berceller, former proprietor of legendary King Street celebrity hangout Winston’s, as an advisor.

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Toronto Star, December 28, 1973.

During the years it operated, the Hungarian Castle was known for its kitschy decor and windows covered in wrought-iron crests and gates. A basement bakery drew praise from customers for its goodies and scorn from health officials for its filth. The upper floors housed a series of bars ranging from the Spanish-themed El Flamenco to student watering hole Annie’s Place.

Following her husband’s death during the 1980s, Racz closed the Hungarian Castle. Those interested in the space received calls from Racz in the middle of the night to meet her at doughnut shops. Book City owner Hans Donker’s enthusiasm to move his store a few blocks east dimmed after such encounters, along with Racz’s insistence that he retain the restaurant’s furnishings. When he toured the space with Racz circa 1990, he noticed that display cases were filled with rotting pastry.

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Toronto Star, June 11, 1978.

BMV owner Patrick Hempelmann was equally frustrated by his dealings with Racz. “We’d set up a meeting, come to a verbal agreement, and then she’d find some reason to pull out,” he told the Globe and Mail. When he purchased the building from her estate in September 2005, he found its interior resembled a horror-movie set. Liquor bottles still lined the bar and tables were set for dining. Pots were left on the stove and dishwashers were filled with plates. Grand pianos and raccoon corpses had rotted. The bakery was buried in four feet of water. It took three months, a crew of workers wearing ventilation masks, and 40 large dumpsters to clean the place out. Despite the decay, Hempelmann was relieved when the building was found to be structurally sound. A year after he bought it, book browsers filed in to spend hours looking for finds.

In some respects, the long decay of the Hungarian Castle mirrored the demise of the Hungarian community along Bloor West. Where it was once, as writer John Lorinc once termed it, “a veritable Budapest of eateries,” only the Country Style in the heart of the strip and the Coffee Mill in Yorkville survive. Perhaps the medieval warriors who graced the building’s exterior were fighting as best they could until they had to give in to the changing landscape.

Additional material from the February 27, 2003 edition of Eye Weekly, the August 28, 2004 and December 10, 2005 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 30, 1972 and June 11, 2006 editions of the Toronto Star. Since this article was originally published, the Coffee Mill closed in 2014.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, November 25, 1972.

 

 

 

Snapshots from Celebration Square

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Needing an escape from the house before last weekend’s snowstorm, I wandered out to Mississauga’s city centre in the middle of a west-end errand run. For all the sunshine, it was a quiet afternoon, with few skaters enjoying the skyline surrounding Celebration Square.

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Maybe people were afraid to take a lunch time risk, or maybe they were stuck in surrounding office buildings, dreaming of tying on skates to start their weekend.

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The east side of the rink was lined with neon signs to brighten the January blahs.

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From CS&P Architects website:

The transformation of both the Mississauga City Hall and Library Squares into Celebration Square, a single, coherent public space, has helped to revitalize the City’s downtown core, and serves as a catalyst for economic development and tourism. The project scope includes a major outdoor sound stage and video screens, a smaller amphitheatre, as well as landscape gardens and lawn, water fountains, skating rinks, public plazas, a multi-purpose pavilion, food services, a market structure, and a War Memorial. The initiative was based on the principles developed in close collaboration with multiple citizen groups. The dramatic transformation has significantly increased the use of the Square for daily civil life.

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Opened in June 2011, Celebration Square works well as the heart of Mississauga. It was developed in consultation with New York City-based Project for Public Spaces. “Our impression is that they have bravely gone forward with radical ideas that I think every city should be trying and not every city does,” Philip Myrick, a consultant working with the Project told the Mississauga News in 2012. “I think more and more cities are realizing standard procedures aren’t what people are looking for these days and they need to pay attention to how to create the desirability (for residents).” On opening day, mayor Hazel McCallion hoped that the space would “develop a citywide spirit.”

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Pull up a chair, soak up the sun, sit back, relax, and await the next day’s blast of winter.

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Whenever I walk through Celebration Square, especially when festivities are happening, I feel like I’m in the heart of a city rather than a plaza slapped down in the middle of a suburb.

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The book sale section of the Mississauga Public Library’s central branch is not large, but tends to be filled with interesting finds, such as a shelf-and-a-half of Ontario Hydro reports stretching from the pre-First World War era to the opening of its first nuclear plants. All yours for a dollar each.

I grabbed four volumes from the early 1920s, partly in case I ever have to write about a key period in the development of hydro in the province, partly to decipher half the Twitter-esque editorials published in the Telegram during this era (public ownership of hydro, and support for Adam Beck’s dream of a radial railway system were pet causes of the paper at the time).

Also purchased: a book of notes from Dionne Brand, a Pelican tie-in to Britain’s Open University, and a paperback of English working class oral history.

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I took a quick walk around Square One, entering by this nod to the lunar new year.

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I didn’t see any “brownie ate my cookie” treats in the window of Reds, but nearly gave in to the temptation of their delicious two-bite butter tarts.

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Locally-inspired art in the men’s department of Simons. Here’s the description of this piece, Raincity Robot, by Brendan Lee Satish Tang:

Fusing futuristic and traditional ideas, Brendan L.S. Tang’s Raincity Robot (an extension of his Manga Ormulu series) illustrates the tensions and contradictions that characterize contemporary culture. The Chinese vase of the Raincity Robot is reminiscent of the Four Sisters smokestacks at the former Lakeview Generating Station, while the barnacle-like robotic prosthetics at the base reference the lakeside geography and technological industry of Mississauga.

Art and shopping malls go well together. As owners and communities devise new uses for mall space as chains fold, more art galleries would work well, either as satellites to existing institutions, pop-ups, or new creations. The Art Gallery of Windsor temporarily moved into Devonshire Mall during the mid-1990s after its former home became the city’s first casino site and. As the Canadian Encyclopedia puts it, “the gallery board saw the move to a shopping mall as an opportunity to bring art closer to the world that inspires it and to find out more about how art finds its place in to our culture.” I took advantage of the relocation, often sticking my head in after scouring the mall’s record stores.

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Outside Simons, it appeared the we-don’t-take-your-stinkin’-cash Eva’s Chimneys is being replaced with something called “Stuffies.” I quickly imagined a food stall catering to furries.

“Bravo for the Women of Canada”

Originally published on Torontoist on May 30, 2013.

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Globe and Mail, January 29, 1988.

As anticipation mounted for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the country’s abortion laws on January 28, 1988, residents and business owners near Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s clinic at 85 Harbord Street hoped the ruling would bring quiet to their neighbourhood. Since Morgentaler, who died Wednesday morning at the age of 90, opened his clinic in June 1983, they had witnessed an endless stream of occasionally violent protests. “We think the street has gone through a lot, and showed a lot of patience as it has dealt with all this for the past years,” observed Harbord Street Association president Neil Wright.

The first protestors showed up outside the clinic around 7:30 that winter morning. Police erected rows of barricades to allow pedestrians to move around the growing crowd of pro-choice and anti-abortion activists. The pro side soon had reason to celebrate: in a five-to-two vote, the Supreme Court struck down Section 251 of the Criminal Code, which forced women seeking legal pregnancy terminations to submit to the approval of a hospital abortion committee.

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Toronto Star, January 29, 1988.

Morgentaler, who had crusaded for women’s choice in Canada for two decades, and whose clinic was dragged through the legal system following a Metro Toronto Police raid within a month of its opening, was relieved. “Bravo for the Supreme Court of Canada,” he told the crowd waiting outside an Ottawa courtroom. “Bravo for the women of Canada. Justice for the women of Canada has finally arrived.”

Around 7 p.m. that evening, Morgentaler greeted supporters on Harbord Street. By that point, the pro-choice presence strongly outnumbered the opponents still outside the clinic. “No longer can women be treated as second-class citizens,” he declared. “I wish to repeat our slogan: Every child a wanted child and every mother a willing mother. Never again will we lose this right.”

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Toronto Sun, January 29, 1988.

All three of Toronto’s major dailies supported the court’s decision. The Globe and Mail felt the pressure was now on Parliament to stop “hiding behind a bad law” and create legislation that trusted doctors and pregnant women “to do the right thing.” The Star called the ruling “forceful” and “reasoned” in recognizing that the Charter of Rights didn’t permit the state to “unreasonably interfere with the personal reproductive choices of women.” The support wasn’t unanimous—a few columnists raised objections—but even among the Sun‘s conservative ranks the consensus was that the court had decided well. The Sun wrote that the ruling was “logical, inevitable, and necessary,” and reminded readers that both the Canadian Medical Association and Ontario Medical Association had passed resolutions six years earlier that closely matched the court’s decision.

Globe and Mail columnist Michele Landsberg found the decision dizzying, in a good way:

At a stroke, the Supreme Court of Canada has wiped out one of our country’s meanest injustices. The abortion law, a shabby and cringing deal made among men who rule, and made at the expense of women, has been named for what it is: painful, arbitrary, and unfair. Those who have not been personally touched by the women’s movement may find it hard to credit the depth of emotion we feel today. It’s important to understand that the abortion fight has not been about abortion, but something which runs far deeper: the right of women to be autonomous.

Back on Harbord Street, the decision didn’t quiet the battle. As governments tried to figure out new abortion legislation, skirmishes at the clinic continued, culminating in a firebombing in 1992. The clinic eventually moved to its current location in North Toronto.

Additional material from the January 29, 1988 and January 30, 1988 editions of the Globe and Mail, the January 28, 1988 and January 29, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star, and the January 29, 1988 and January 31, 1988 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Cartoon by Andy Donato depicting John Turner, Brian Mulroney, and Ed Broadbent, Toronto Sun, January 30, 1988.

One of the pleasant surprises I discovered while researching this story was that all of Toronto’s major newspapers agreed that the Supreme Court of Canada made the right decision to kill the existing federal abortion law. There were notes of caution (the Sun’s editorial strongly recommended counselling on alternatives and birth control, while the Star suggested some controls would be necessary), but they weren’t accompanied by troglodytic language. 

I was impressed by the Sun’s coverage—it was very even-handed, to the extent of a point/counterpoint piece where representatives from pro-choice and anti-abortion groups were given space to state their views side-by-side. There was one exception, and it’s a doozy.

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Toronto Sun, January 29, 1988.

Tough-talking, uber-conservative columnist Bob MacDonald felt his readers could “say goodbye to Canada as we know it today.” Yet the main concern in his January 29, 1988 column wasn’t the pro- and anti-choice divide, but the effect more abortions would have on the ethnic makeup of the country. MacDonald believed a lower Canadian birthrate would stimulate a larger demand for immigrants, and that “pressure will build to accept most phony refugee claimants.” And those immigrants wouldn’t be from traditional European sources: “Yesterday’s decision can only add to this already revolutionary change in Canada’s cultural, racial, and religious mix.” 

This must have made xenophobic readers feel better.

Actually, they were already out in force. MacDonald quoted a caller to the Sun who wondered why Morgentaler didn’t set up shop in India, where more money could be made curbing runaway population growth.

Cue a jaw drop heard across the basement newspaper room of the Toronto Reference Library.

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Toronto Sun, January 31, 1988.

Much classier was Sun colleague Douglas Fisher, who reflected on the history of federal abortion debates and laws in his January 31, 1988 column. Fisher recalled that when he was a federal CCF MP in the late 1950s he made passing references to abortion and illegal birth control information during a speech in the House. Veteran Liberal MP Paul Martin Sr.advised him afterwards to never mention those subjects again. “Nothing could get me in more trouble,” Fisher reflected. “His emphasis was: Leave ‘religious’ subjects alone.” Fisher checked Hansard from the 1960s and could not find a solid reference to abortion until April 1967 when somebody suggested they should be legalized (which happened three years later).

When it came to Henry Morgentaler, Fisher observed that “whether one cherishes or detests him, he is a brave citizen.”

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It’s often weird to see writers you associate with a particular paper show up in another. Such is the case with Michele Landsberg. I think of her as a Star columnist, but she had a stint with the Globe and Mail in the late 1980s, and it was there she commented on the Supreme Court. Here are her personal thoughts on Morgenthaler from her January 30, 1988 column:

Henry Morgentaler is an important hero of mine. He may come across as irascible or abrasive, words that reporters have used about him, but whenever I’ve spoken to him, he’s been gentle, rational and idealistic. In private conversation he would brush off the personal hurts; his anger was saved for the stupidity and inequality of the laws. A small man with a stereotypical Jewish face, a survivor of Auschwitz, he’s had to live with constant ridicule and anti-Semitic vilification from the more extreme of his opponents. He’s been dragged to court over and over again, thrown in jail (just imagine what jail is like to a Holocaust survivor), harassed and threatened beyond most mortals’ endurance. A doctor who could have become smugly affluent in quiet private practice, he repeatedly risked everything to confront an unjust law.

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The week after this piece appeared, I wrote an installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid about the Morgentaler Clinic’s Harbord Street location. Here is the text of that piece, originally published on June 4, 2013. After it was published, the paper gave my number to a caller who wanted to talk to me. Turned out they were upset that I had not included their conviction that one of the fiery incidents was an inside job. Note to future clients: do not give my phone number out after I write about controversial topics.

When the Toronto Women’s Bookstore needed space to expand from its Kensington Market home in 1975, it settled upon the ground floor of a three-storey semi-detached former residence on Harbord Street. As one of the first feminist bookstores in Canada, the collective-run business quickly became a supplier to libraries, schools, and women’s centres who drew on stock emphasizing works by Canadian authors on topics ranging from health to non-sexist Kid Lit. During its first few months on Harbord, store staff estimated that around 25% of its clientele were men who were either curious about the concept or deeply committed to feminist issues.

During the spring of 1983, the bookstore learned it would have a new upstairs neighbour. Following a search delayed by threats of prosecution from the provincial government, Dr. Henry Morgentaler who passed away last week, announced he would open his first Toronto abortion clinic on the upper two floors of 85 Harbord on June 15. The press was shown a freshly-renovated space filled with plants and wicker furniture that Morgentaler hoped would create “a soothing atmosphere” for patients.

The clinic’s move-in wasn’t a peaceful one. Ontario Attorney-General Roy McMurtry expected police to charge in if any abortions were performed; at the time, the only legal option required the consent of abortion committees offered by some hospitals. Anti-abortion groups promised plenty of protests. When opening day arrived, a man wielding garden shears attacked Morgentaler. Repeatedly yelling “bad people, bad people,” Augusto Da Silva was intercepted by pro-choice supporters led by clinic spokesperson Judy Rebick before Morgentaler was seriously harmed. Da Silva then waved his shears in the air, told the crowd to move back, then ran from the scene (he was soon arrested).

The inevitable police raid came on July 5, 1983. After a pair of undercover Metro Toronto Police officers arranged an abortion, other officers swept in and removed equipment during a three-and-a-half hour raid. Morgentaler, who was vacationing in California, surrendered to police upon his return to Toronto two days later. The raid set off years of legal battles which culminated in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down federal abortion law in January 1988.

85 Harbord became a battleground in the divide over women’s choice and a target for extreme anti-abortionists. Around 3:15 a.m. on July 29, 1983, a man who failed to break into the clinic managed to get into the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. He set bags of paper afire under the stairwell, which ironically was near the pregnancy and childbirth section. A note left behind read “If your mother had taken your life away, you would not be living it up, Morgentaler.”

While the clinic suffered smoke damage, the bookstore was gutted. The back stock was destroyed, while recently renovated basement offices suffered water damage. With the support of customers, the bookstore set up temporary quarters in the Poor Alex theatre building at Bloor and Brunswick before moving into a new home at 73 Harbord in June 1984. The store remained a neighbourhood fixture until it closed in November 2012.

The fire increased the anxiety of neighbours, who formed an action committee to get rid of the clinic. Over 2,000 residents signed a petition demanding its closure. The Harbord Street Business and Residents Association soon arose and plead with demonstrators to leave their neighbourhood alone. Die-hards ignored their pleas; as Right to Life Campaign president Laura McArthur observed when asked if she was concerned about the impact of her group’s constant picketing on local businesses, “I have no sympathy for these people when they have an illegal operation in their neighbourhood. They should be joining the pickets.” For a time, a pro-life group ran a pseudo-restaurant in the adjoining half of the building at 87 Harbord, further exacerbating tensions.

When the Supreme Court decision was announced on January 28, 1988, Morgentaler arrived at the clinic around 7 p.m. to greet supporters. “No longer can women be treated as second-class citizens,” he told the crowd. “It is also a victory for children. I wish to repeat our slogan: Every child a wanted child and every mother a willing mother. Never again will we lose this right.”

The ruling didn’t cool tensions. Violent clashes occasionally erupted, such as one which resulted in 160 arrests from both sides of the divide in January 1989. An injunction against pro-life demonstrators from picketing in front of the clinic was granted in May 1989, but vandals continued to spray-paint anti-abortion messages.

At 3:23 a.m. on May 18, 1992, a blast blew off the front wall of the building. A gasoline bomb sent glass and debris onto Harbord. The clinic had just rebuilt its entrance following a firebomb attack that January. “It looks like a war zone,” one neighbourhood resident told the Star while waiting to return home. “This is stupidity…It really is.” The blast accelerated plans for the clinic to move to larger quarters—by the end of the year it settled on its current home near Leaside at 727 Hillsdale Avenue East.

The old clinic was demolished and a new 85-87 Harbord Street was built for office and residential use. Space on the 85 side of the building is currently for lease, while past tenants of 87 include Ms. Emma Designs.

Additional material from the July 10, 1975, July 6, 1983, and January 29, 1988 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 7, 1983, June 8, 1983, June 16, 1983, July 30, 1983, August 1, 1983, August 17, 1983, February 10, 1985, August 27, 1985, January 15, 1989, May 19, 1992, and September 28, 1998 editions of the Toronto Star.

Book City Closes a Chapter

Originally published on Torontoist on January 14, 2014.

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1979 (left), November 17, 1979 (right).

Another one bites the dust.

Yesterday afternoon, Book City announced that after a 38-year run, its flagship store at 501 Bloor Street West will be closing this spring. “The lease was up, and we agonized over the decision,” general manager Ian Donker told Quill & Quire, “but sadly it didn’t make much sense to continue.” It will be the second iconic Toronto book retailer to close this year, after the World’s Biggest Bookstore shuts its tills next month.

Born in the Netherlands, store founder Frans Donker came from a family that ran a publishing firm. “I am third generation in the book business if you count my grandfather Willem,” he told the Star in 2001. “He was a liberal Christian minister who wrote bad novels about poor farmers’ sons falling in love with the girl in the mansion.” Donker moved to Canada in 1969 and worked for the Classic Bookshops chain and publisher Fitzhenry and Whiteside before opening Book City with his wife Gini in 1976.

The store found its niche selling a wide variety of non-mainstream paperbacks and quality remainders. Early ads touted its selection of mystery and sci-fi titles, and deals that weren’t restricted to weekend specials. As one ad boasted, “You can come down to Book City and pick up an armful of bargains any day. Or any evening.” Spread across two floors connected by narrow staircases, browsers were pointed upstairs by a sketch of a dapper bearded gent. For a child discovering bookstores, it was fun to run across the creaky upper floor. For adults, the store provided a relaxing place to browse new titles and explore the latest cheap finds.

Book City also developed a reputation for supporting Canadian literature, through sponsoring prizes and stocking up-and-coming authors. In a 1992 interview, Donker described how the store marketed Nino Ricci’s The Lives of the Saints:

Nino Ricci had been in my store, a bit shy, but very likeable, telling us that his book was coming out. A small publisher came to us later and presented the book. I read a chapter, one of my buyers read a chapter, and we agreed, this is darn good stuff. So we decided to put ourselves behind the title, and instead of five books for the shelves, we bought 50 for the tables, and recommended it to people who came into the store. They too liked it and told friends, and it started to snowball. I completed the book, loved it, and promoted it even more. Sadly enough, not enough booksellers supported it.

To celebrate the store’s 15th anniversary in 1991, Donker commissioned a novella starring writer Howard Engel’s detective Benny Cooperman. Engel’s story, The Whole Megillah, included a scene in which the suspects met on the upper floor of Book City.

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Globe and Mail, October 13, 1979 (left), October 20, 1979 (right).

During its first decade, Book City frequently violated provincial Sunday shopping laws. While David Mirvish sold remainders on the Lord’s Day thanks to Mirvish Village’s tourist designation, Donker was fined whenever he opened his doors. For a time in the early 1980s, Donker exploited a loophole that allowed businesspeople to declare Saturday as their Sabbath. The result: the main floor was open Monday through Saturday, while the upstairs became The Book Loft, and operated Sunday through Friday. Until the laws were fully relaxed, Book City received periodic warnings to play nice.

Book City became a chain when it opened its second location at 663 Yonge Street in 1984. The number of branches has varied over the years—at its height, six stores operated across the city, and regular warehouse sales took place in Leaside. The chain held its own during the onslaught of superstores like Chapters, while other independents folded. Donker prided himself on his close relationships with suppliers, and believes Chapters harmed itself by not cultivating such ties (they “destroyed publishers by demanding every last nickel”).

The chain’s three remaining locations at 348 Danforth Avenue, 1950 Queen Street East, and 1430 Yonge Street will stay open. Expect plenty of reminiscences over the next few months, as the Annex store joins the list of local bookstores that will live on in customers’ memories.

Additional material from the November 3, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 1992 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Business Journal, and the June 18, 1977, January 12, 1981, October 23, 1991, August 8, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

As of early 2018, Book City is back up to four locations, adding one in Bloor West Village.

Lost Words

This post merges two pieces originally published on Torontoist on January 6, 2012 and January 12, 2012.

Ballenford BooksDavid Mirvish BooksPagesThis Ain’t The Rosedale Library. All established book stores that have closed within the past four years. With The Book Mark joining that list, Dragon Lady Comics shutting its physical store, and Glad Day Bookshop up for sale, it feels as if Toronto is experiencing a cycle of closures similar to the late 1990s.

Back then, blame initially fell upon big box stores like Chapters and Indigo; now it’s online retailers and e-books. In both cases these big bads were only part of the problem: increased rent appears to be a critical element of the current closure cycle, the exact opposite of the low-priced leases that aided the high number of bookstore openings during the 1970s. Cold commentators might say that technology is making bookstores obsolete, or that owners should only blame themselves when their business ends, but whenever any long-running store closes, it feels as if a reassuring piece of the local landscape has gone with it.

Here is a sampling of past bookstores that left their mark on Toronto and its readers.

Albert Britnell

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Globe and Mail, December 15, 1979.

“Count yourself a Torontonian if Grandfather shopped here,” proclaimed Toronto Life in its November 1970 guide to local bookstores. This was no exaggeration, as the Britnell family had been involved in the city’s book trade since Albert arrived from England during the 1880s. Initially known for its selection of collectible Canadiana, the store later built its reputation on the special order system developed by Albert’s spats-wearing son Roy. Though the shop closed in 1999, its name still sits above the Starbucks that currently occupies the building.

Hyman’s Book & Art Shop

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Ben-Zion Hyman in front of Hyman’s Book & Art Shop, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 78.

“The shop was open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day except Saturday and had a mimeograph machine, pop cooler, newspapers and a bar mitzvah registry. It sold Yiddish and Hebrew books, Judaica, tickets for the Standard Theatre, stationery and school supplies.”—Rosemary Donegan, Spadina Avenue (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985).

Located at 371 Spadina Avenue, Hyman’s (later known as Hyman and Son) operated for nearly 50 years.

North Toronto Book Store

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North Toronto Book-Store, July 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 296.

Either the woman mailing the morning headline from the Globe is thrilled to be in front of the camera, or she’s frustrated with the photographer’s numerous requests to center the poster.

Lichtman’s

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Lichtman’s News Stand, sometime between 1945 and 1966. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, Item 130.

From the moment he arrived in Toronto from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the age of 14, Sammy Lichtman was in the newspaper business. One account indicates that shortly after stepping off the train that brought him here, Lichtman was hawking papers on downtown streets. He eventually entered the distribution and newsstand business that evolved into a chain of book and magazine shops. As the big box stores cut into Lichtman’s business, debt mounted until ownership called it a day in 2000.

Eaton’s

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The Globe, November 3, 1934.

Before chains like Coles, Classic Book Shop and WH Smith, department stores were among the biggest booksellers in Toronto. There were even attempts, as this ad from Eaton’s shows, to promote Canadian authors.

SCM Book Room

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Rochdale College, March 1971. Photo by Leo Harrison. York University Archives, Toronto Telegram Photo Collection, Citation 1974-002/168.

Given the chaos surrounding Rochdale College during its dying days, it’s tempting to believe that some of the craziness made its way to one of the building’s most well-respected tenants, the SCM Book Room. But by the end of 1974, disputes between executives of the Student Christian Movement and store manager Bob Miller over the mission of the store had grown nasty. Should, as some SCM members argued, the store take a stronger stand on social issues and better reflect the ideals of the organization, or, as Miller believed, should the store continue to manage its own affairs as it had for years?

For nearly 20 years Miller, a reverend in the United Church, built the business’s reputation as the go-to place in Toronto for academic and religious works. Forget bestsellers: as Miller told the Globe and Mail in April 1968, “we’re interested in the scholarly type of books less accessible elsewhere, books for which there’s a market, but not a mass market.” According to historian Ramsay Cook, “it would be impossible to estimate the contribution that Bob Miller’s SCM Book Room has made to the intellectual and cultural life not only of Toronto, but of the country at large.

Despite mediation by poet Dennis Lee, personality clashes worsened. Miller and nine of the SCM Book Room’s 15 employees left the business in the spring of 1975. Later that year Miller established his own book room further east on Bloor Street, which continues to operate. A store under the SCM banner carried on until at least the late 1980s.

Times Square Book Store

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A later incarnation of the Time(s) Square Book Store, circa 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 198.

As Yonge Street slid toward the seedy reputation it earned during the 1970s, adult book stores began filling its storefronts. Frequently raided by the morality squad, who quietly asked customers to leave while arresting the clerks, shops like the Times Square(which appears to have dropped the “s” by the time this photo was taken) serviced patrons looking for thrills in the pages of titles like French Spice, Mr. Cool, and Sizzle. Browsers who didn’t find the selection titillating enough could always watch burlesque dancers elsewhere on the Yonge strip.

Times Square’s penchant for skirting Sunday shopping laws earned it a profile in the September 19, 1970 edition of the Star, which depicted a typical Lord’s Day afternoon at the store:

A young man with shoulder-length blond hair perches on a stool by the cash register. He takes a $5 bill from an older man with nervous eyes and slips a plastic-wrapped magazine called Swappers into a plain brown bag. “Every adult person should have the right to decide what he can and what he can buy, any day of the week,” the young man says after the customer leaves the store. “Sure we’re open Sundays, but we’re not keeping anyone away from church. We cater to a different crowd.”

About Books

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Queen Street West, sometime between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 124.

During the 1970s, Queen West filled with used bookstores. The business offering “new books” at 280 in this photo was later occupied by About Books. Co-owner Larry Wallrich had been around: during the 1960s, he ran a shop in New York’s Greenwich Village that became a poet’s hangout then spent a few years selling books around Europe. Based on advice from a bookseller in Cleveland, Wallrich came to Queen West in 1976 and quickly fell in love with Toronto. In an interview with Books in Canada seven years later, Wallrich noted that the city had “more good, general second-hand book shops than there are in New York and London—and that’s of course totally economic because rents are still reasonable enough here than you can have good general book shops in the centre of town.” He also felt “more socially useful in Toronto as a bookseller than I’ve ever felt in my life before.”

Edwards Books & Art

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1987.

Edward Borins learned how to buy and sell high quality remainders at low prices while managing David Mirvish Books during the 1970s. Borins and his wife Eva established their own store at 356 Queen Street West in 1979, which eventually grew into a small chain. As Now noted in a March 1989 profile, the original location “opened just at the time when the area was being revitalized by a new wave of artists and businesses.”

The chain fought a lengthy battle with the provincial government over Sunday shopping laws that led to around 300 charges. Edwards ran into troubles with its suppliers that played a role into the chain’s demise in 1997 and, thanks to tighter credit limits publishers imposed in the aftermath, negatively affected other local booksellers. The Borinses moved to Santa Fe and ran Garcia Street Books for a decade before selling it in 2011.

The Book Cellar

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Books in Canada, May 1971.

Despite its name, The Book Cellar only spent one year operating below street level when it opened in 1961. The store quickly gained a reputation for carrying the largest selection of magazines in the city, with titles ranging from TV Guide (one of their poorest sellers) to the Journal of the Institute for Sewage Purification. Store alumni included writers like Barbara Amiel and Paul Quarrington. Though there were several locations, the main one was 142 Yorkville Avenue, where browsers congregated between 1968 and 1997. The store’s demise was blamed on troubles receiving stock after publishers tightened credit limits following the end of Edwards Books & Art, and on declining street traffic in Yorkville.

A Map of Downtown Toronto Booksellers, 1974

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Quill & Quire, May 1974.

A&A Books & Records

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1960s postcard of Yonge Street. Image courtesy of Chuckman’s Other Collection.

While most people remember A&A as a music chain, the company’s flagship location at 351 Yonge Street began as a bookstore in the mid-1940s. While records became the focus of the business, the book section found its niche by selling textbooks to Ryerson students and those studying medicine at U of T.

Following the sale of A&A by founders Alice and Mac Kenner to Columbia Records in the early 1970s, drastic cuts were made to the section’s size and selection. The reductions were carried out poorly, leading to complaints from customers who couldn’t find the titles they wanted and publishers who received more returns than anticipated. By the time corporate decided to exit the book business in 1974, its sales were around 10 percent mass market titles, 90 percent textbooks.

The Children’s Book Store

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Quill & Quire, October 1980.

During a quarter of a century in business, The Children’s Book Store received plenty of praise for its large selection of material for young readers. This ad gives a sense of the store’s programming following its move to 604 Markham Street in 1980. In its final years on Yonge Street in North Toronto, the store faced expanded children’s sections at recently opened branches of Chapters and Indigo to its south. When the store closed in January 2000, its library and wholesale divisions were sold to a company largely owned by Chapters.

Longhouse Books

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Globe and Mail, September 25, 1979 (left), December 15, 1990 (right).

It was a concept predicted to fail in a hurry. Who was crazy enough to stock a bookstore with nothing but Canadian titles? Yet Longhouse Books proved the naysayers wrong when it opened at 630 Yonge Street north of Wellesley in 1972.

Partners Beth Appeldoorn and Susan Sandler opened the store out of anger. “There were Canadian books around, but they weren’t given the emphasis they deserved,” they told the Globe and Mail in a 1995 interview. “That little Canadiana section was insulting. We jumped in at the right time. But we did think about it, and we had good advice. We were not totally stupid, but we probably were crazy.”

Of the many launches held at Longhouse, the owners felt Margaret Laurence’s appearance to promote The Diviners was the most memorable:

Margaret had never done a launch in her life because she was always very nervous, and Margaret didn’t take crowds. But there was a crowd of people. Somebody came in and said, “What movie is showing?” We had to drag Margaret right away downstairs to the basement to give her a Valium. She never knew it was Valium. She thought it was an aspirin. But she was so shaky. She came back up and did a fabulous two hours of signing and talking. We put her behind a little table with chairs so she could hold onto the table.

Appeldoorn and Sandler sold the store in 1989, which promptly moved to 497 Bloor Street West. It closed six years later.

Tyrrell’s Book Shop

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King Street East, looking east to Victoria Street, 1910. Tyrrell’s can be seen at the far right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7345.

When Tyrrell’s Bookshop was sold to British retailer W.H. Smith in 1958, one question was what would happen to the ancient clock that had been there since founder William Tyrrell’s early days in business? “It was probably not bought on the morn that the old man was born,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s William Arthur Deacon, “but it certainly was ‘ever his pride and joy.’” To relief of store staff, the new owners decided to maintain it.

William Tyrrell entered the bookselling world as a 16-year old clerk shortly after his arrival from England in 1882. Twelve years later he opened his first store on King Street East at Yonge Street. The store later moved to 820 Yonge, across the street from longtime competitor Albert Britnell. Tyrrell didn’t let friendship stand in the way of what he believed he should sell; reportedly he refused to stock books written by friends if the work’s political slant was not to his liking.

Following Tyrrell’s retirement during World War II, the store was run by Phyllis Atwood until the sale to W.H. Smith. Deacon noted that “her friends will all be glad that she is shedding her responsibilities and ensuring her own future.” The store operated for a few more years under the Tyrrell’s banner.

Village Book Store

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Books in Canada, May 1971.

Deriving its name from Toronto’s “Greenwich Village” along Gerrard Street between Yonge and University, Martin Ahvenus opened Village Book Store in 1961. The shop gave strong support to Canadian poets—as Toronto Life noted in 1970, Ahvenus “encourages, amuses, and sells them, and they adorn his walls with graffiti.” It was also noted that the Village was “where the secondhand book dealers gather to talk shop on Thursday nights.” The store moved to 239 Queen Street West in the early 1970s and became one of the busiest used book stores along the strip.

Final owner Eric Wellington provided a long list of reasons for the store’s closure in January 2000: rising taxes, eroding profits, changing demographics of Queen West, chains, exhaustion from working every day, and a notice that TTC was going to repair the streetcar tracks. Wellington found that the Queen West crowd “has gotten much younger and they are a digital generation. They don’t read.”

Writers & Co

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Now, March 27, 1986.

A pair of legacies for North Toronto-based Writers & Co.:

  1. When CBC Radio needed a title for a new literary show, it asked owner Irene McGuire for permission to use her store’s name. The choice worked, as the series is still on the air.
  2. The store’s original location was 2094½ Yonge Street. The number intrigued British author Julian Barnes. As longtime manager (and, later, owner) Winston Smith told the Star when the store closed in 1999, Barnes “told us he had never encountered a ½ address before and he was interested in the phenomenon.” The author was inspired by the address to title his next novel A History Of The World in 10½ Chapters.

UPDATE

Of the stores mentioned in the introduction, Glad Day is still in business. As the big box stores falter, smaller bookstores have revived here and there in Toronto, though there are closures for some of the reasons mentioned in this piece (for example, Eliot’s Bookshop on Yonge Street cited increased property taxes as a factor in speeding up its closure in 2017).

There are deeper looks at Albert Britnell and The Book Cellar in the “Past Pieces of Toronto” series I wrote for OpenFile, which will soon appear on this site.