The Saga of the Gardiner Expressway

This post merges several pieces I’ve written about the Gardiner Expressway over the years, along with additional material. 

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Gardiner Expressway, 1962. The caption was “Ready for ’67 Centenary if weather co-operates.” Photo by Dick Darrell. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115131f.

Frederick G. Gardiner was proud of the expressway named in his honour. “You know,” he noted in a 1964 interview, “I used to lie in bed dreaming in Technicolor, thinking it was too big. Now I know it isn’t. Maybe in 20 years time, they’ll be cursing me for making it too small. But I won’t be around to worry then. Right now, I’ve come up smelling of Chanel No. 5.”

When Gardiner died in 1983, few liked the scent of his expressway. They cursed him for pushing a crumbling roadway increasingly seen as a barrier between downtown and the waterfront. Decades of city reports have suggested demolishing some or all of the expressway, triggering debates that will turn anyone’s face blue. While its fate eternally hangs in the balance, millions are spent every year to keep it in service. Every time a major reconstruction project occurs that slows down traffic, you’d swear by the tone of the media that Armageddon is descending upon the city.

But there was a time when regional officials believed the Gardiner Expressway would solve bottlenecks plaguing a growing city in the early 1950s. Had it been built to its full extent via the Scarborough Expressway, drivers might have enjoyed views of Humber Bay, the downtown skyline, and the Scarborough Bluffs.

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Sketch based on suggestions by Etobicoke Reeve Clive Sinclair on bringing the Queen Elizabeth Way into Toronto. Toronto Star, September 14, 1949.

The combination of the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939 and suburban growth had led to frequent traffic jams caused by commuters entering the city along the old Humber Bridge. Visions of a waterfront expressway were included in the city’s 1943 master plan, but it took time for plans to firm up. In 1949, Etobicoke Reeve Clive Sinclair suggested the plan shown here, which he felt would reduce congestion he feared would emerge when the Ontario Food Terminal opened on The Queensway. The key to Sinclair’s plan was cutting the link between The Queensway and the approach to the QEW. “We’ve already had too many pedestrians killed or injured trying to dodge express traffic at this corner,” he told the Star.

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Frederick G. Gardiner, taken during a photoshoot for Time magazine, April 5, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2262, Item 32745-3.

Enter Frederick Gardiner, chairman of the newly formed regional government of Metropolitan Toronto. As a Toronto Life article noted 40 years later, “Gardiner liked big solutions to big problems, and he brought an entrepreneurial flair to city government. He loved building things, loved to get plans pushed through and get the shovels in the ground.” As Gardiner once observed, “a municipality is no different from an industrial undertaking.” Fixing the bottlenecks at the bottom of the city was right up his alley.

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Toronto Star, July 8, 1953.

One of Metro’s first acts was to announce in July 1953 that its executive committee had unanimously approved a motion by Gardiner to meet with regional planning authorities to discuss what was soon dubbed the Lakeshore Expressway. The highway would run from the Humber Bridge to Woodbine Avenue. Two sections would be elevated (Humber Bridge to Bathurst Street, and Cherry Street to Woodbine), with surface streets handling the traffic flow through downtown. Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport urged caution with construction—“We can’t go too fast on this. It is absolutely essential.” One of the main questions was which side of the CNE grounds should the expressway be built: on the north side, along the rail corridor, or on the south via fill into the lake?

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Toronto Star, January 2, 1954.

As 1954 dawned, Gardiner and Scarborough Reeve Oliver Crockford supported a plan to extend the Lakeshore Expressway east to meet Highway 401 at Highland Creek. The route would have cut through east end neighbourhoods before proceeding along the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs. Gardiner saw what was later known as the Scarborough Expressway as a solution to potential bottlenecks at Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road, while Crockford felt it would help halt the erosion of the bluffs. The Scarborough Expressway remained in regional plans for decades before being scrapped.

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Toronto Star, May 3, 1954. Note the proposed interchange with Strachan Avenue in the upper right corner, which was never built, which would have provided “access to the north and to local destinations on Fleet Street” (primarily, I suspect, Exhibition Park and Maple Leaf Stadium).

On May 5, 1954, Metro Council received plans for the Lakeshore Expressway. The $49.8 million project would be elevated above Fleet Street (now Lake Shore Boulevard) from Bathurst Street to Cherry Street. To alleviate congestion in the core, a two-level parking facility with direct ramps would be built under the expressway between Yonge Street and Parliament Street.

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Globe and Mail, May 4, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

The route would run south of the CNE, and it was predicted the fairgrounds would receive 25 additional acres from the fill required for the expressway.

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Globe and Mail, May 4, 1954

A Globe and Mail editorial predicted that the new road “ought to eliminate the worst of the waterfront traffic problems, at least for some years to come.”

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Construction of Queen Street West extension, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 137, Item 13.

Two other road projects were rolled into the Lakeshore Expresseway. In the west end, Queen Street was extended westward to meet up with The Queensway via a new bridge across the Humber.

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Construction of Queen Street West extension, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 137, Item 10.

This stretch, which opened in December 1956, was eventually treated as an eastern extension of The Queensway.

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Construction of Woodbine Avenue extension, circa 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 115, Item 15.

In the east end, Keating Street (now Lake Shore Boulevard) was extended from Leslie Street to Woodbine Avenue to provide an eventual end to the expressway. Opened in December 1955, residents soon dubbed the tight curve leading Keating onto Woodbine a “death trap.” Eastbound drivers going 55 miles an hour often found themselves driving into the southbound lanes of Woodbine or climbing onto the northbound sidewalk. Local councillors received complaints from residents ranging from smashed fire hydrants to a car hitting one home’s veranda. Over 60 years later, this curve remains problematic.

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Globe and Mail, May 19, 1954.

One east-end vision which never materialize was a plan to build a ramp on the west side of Woodbine Racetrack, which would have connected the Lakeshore Expressway to Kingston Road and Dundas Street East (which was still being stitched together from local side streets).

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Empress Crescent, looking east from Dowling Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard West, 1956. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, R-912.

Construction on the Lakeshore Expressway began on April Fools Day 1955, concentrating on the stretch between the Humber and Jameson Avenue. Around 150 homes were demolished to make way for the expressway and its related projects, mostly in south Parkdale around Dowling Avenue and Jameson Avenue. Streets like Empress Crescent vanished from city maps. When the Globe and Mail printed pictures of the rubble left behind by demolitions in 1957, it described the scene as “ruins reminiscent of a Second World War bombing raid.”

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Gardiner Expressway, looking west from east of the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue, during construction, showing Lakeshore Road bridge over CNR tracks, south of King Street and Sunnyside Railway Station, July 21, 1957. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, R-934.

Construction also brought an end to Sunnyside Amusement Park, which would be revamped as a city beach. The nearby bridge connecting Lakeshore Road (now Lake Shore Boulevard) with the King/Queen/Roncesvalles intersection also met its demise. The Sunnyside train station survived the building of the expressway, but ceased passenger service in 1967.

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Parkside Drive, looking north from Lakeshore Road, July 21, 1957. Photo by James Salmon. Toronto Public Library, R-1714.

A new bridge waiting for the Lakeshore Expressway to cross it.

A December 1956 front page story in the Globe and Mail predicted that by 1980 the city’s expressway system (then projected to include the Crosstown, Don Valley Parkway, Lakeshore, and Spadina) would be dominated by buses, as some Metro officials hoped to ease future congestion by banning parking downtown. The idea was that suburban commuters would leave their cars in giant lots next to the expressways, hopping on buses to finish their journey.

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Toronto Star, July 2, 1957.

As construction proceeded, there were concerns that the expressway might permanently stop at Jameson Avenue. Metro was having problems convincing higher levels of government to help fund the proposed subway line along Bloor Street. Gardiner believed Metro couldn’t raise enough money to fund its expressway and public transit plans. “You simply cannot provide sufficient highways and parking space to accommodate every person who desires to drive his motor vehicle downtown and back each day,” Gardiner noted in January 1956.”Additional rapid transit is the only answer. It is a snare and a delusion to keep on spending millions of dollars on highways because the province will subsidize them 50 per cent. We know that beyond a certain stage $1 spent on more arterial highways and parking facilities.”

Problem was that Metro council preferred spending money on roads than transit. Eventually, outside funding for the subway came through.

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Copy of a cartoon by Bert Grassick published in the Telegram, August 29, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567. Series 648, File 26, Item 1.

On July 29, 1957, based on a suggestion from Weston Mayor Harry Clark, the Metro roads committee renamed the Lakeshore Expressway the Frederick G, Gardiner Expressway. Clark felt it was a gesture of appreciation for leading Metro through its formative years. The tribute pleased Gardiner.

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Aerial view of the Gardiner Expressway, August 14, 1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 37, Item 1.

At 3 p.m. on August 8, 1958, dignitaries including Gardiner, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost, and Toronto Mayor Nathan Phillips officially opened the first section of the expressway, which ran from the Humber to Jameson Avenue. Frost praised Gardiner for his leadership. “Fred, you were the obvious man to do the job.”

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1958. Note optimism about cutting driving time by 10 minutes.

The road experienced its first traffic jam that day, a mile-long backup which would seem mild compared to present-day gridlock. As the Globe and Mail’s Ron Haggart put it, “the traffic jam was the best tribute of the day to the need for the Frederick G, Gardiner Expressway.”

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East end of Gardiner Expressway at Jameson Avenue/Dunn Street, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 58, Item 3.

In an essay in the commemorative book published for Toronto’s 125th anniversary, Toronto ’59, Nathaniel A. Benson placed the Gardiner in the context of the evolution of Toronto’s shoreline.

The lakeshore once was open, save for a staunch little lighthouse and an old-fashioned yacht club. Today there rise the towers of a great Molson brewing plant, the imposing Tip Top Tailors Building, the head offices of Loblaw’s, and the multi-million dollar home of the Toronto Baseball Maple Leafs. The garish lights of the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway cut spectacularly along the railway tracks, with its day-and-night ceaseless whizz of traffic shaking the peace of the ancient graves in the old military cemetery on Strachan Avenue, grazing the heroic battlements of old Fort York.

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Plans considered for Fort York, Toronto Star, October 4, 1958.

After further study, the route of the Gardiner was switched to the north side of the CNE. This placed Fort York in the path of the expressway, which lead to protests throughout 1958 from groups ranging from historical societies the Toronto Women’s Progressive Conservative Association. The tide of voices against proposals to move the fort led to one of Gardiner’s few losses when it came to the expressway.

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Construction of the new Dufferin Gate, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 58, Item 8.

While Fort York was saved, the CNE’s Dufferin Gate wasn’t. Fairgoers passed under the old landmark for the last time in 1957. Two years later, construction was well-underway for its replacement.

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Construction of the elevated section of the Gardiner Expressway, 1959. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 37, Item 19.

By the end of the 1950s, some politicians and local media grew impatient with the slow pace of construction, which wasn’t scheduled to end until 1965. “At such a pace,” noted a December 1959 Globe and Mail editorial, “Metro might not bother at all. The growth of traffic will far outstrip the growth of the road, and at the end of 10 years congestion will be worse than when the work was started.” Part of the blame was placed on Frederick Gardiner’s refusal to borrow more than $100 million a year to fund all Metro capital works projects.

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1960.

By the end of 1960, designs were close to being finalized for the expressway’s connection with the Don Valley Parkway. Hopefully Frederick Gardiner and Nathan Phillips didn’t collide into each other. This cartoon also shows the streets (Fleet and Keating) which soon became Lake Shore Boulevard East.

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Eastbound Spadina Avenue ramp, Globe and Mail, July 31, 1962.

The Jameson-Spadina section opened during morning rush hour on August 1, 1962. Despite the potential bottleneck at the eastbound Spadina ramp, one travelled noted that his evening rush journey on opening day from the Humber to Spadina and Front took 10 minutes.

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Jarvis Street, east side, looking northeast from Lake Shore Boulevard East, showing Gardiner Expressway under construction, 1963. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5603.

Note the billboards in the far background. The distraction provided by advertising was a growing safety concern, which led Metro’s transportation committee to recommend that no ads be placed within 150 feet of the Gardiner or the Don Valley Parkway.

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Lake Shore Boulevard East, looking west from Cherry Street, showing Gardiner Expressway under construction, between 1961 and 1964.  City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5619.

John Bentley Mays writing about the Gardiner (in this case, describing wandering underneath the expressway near Fort York):

Few sites more forsaken lie this close to Toronto’s busy, dense downtown mountain-range of glass. Overhead, the wide steel belly of the Gardiner’s traffic level lies like a flat green snake on a series of tall, water-stained concrete brackets. Underneath spreads the expanse of loose gravel, some of it used as a gathering place for trucks, some of it the dusty yard of a factory in which big cement blocks are fabricated.

One hesitates to use the word beautiful of such a forbidding place, though the word fits the hill. There is a strong visual surge and power here: in the dignified rhythms of the expressway’s tapered reinforced-concrete supports, marching away into the distance like an immense Baroque colonnade, in the tough muscularity, in the ensemble of cement factory and rumbling trucks. There is a gruff beauty here that swank towers nearby can’t touch.

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Constuction of the Gardiner Expressway, 1964. Photo by Frank Grant. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115133f.

The caption for this photo reads “Full speed ahead: Workmen are busy levelling the groun underneath the concrete arches which will carry the expressway in the York-Jarvis area. By 1967 the Gardiner is expected to be extended still further to Leslie St.; and by 1972 will stretch out across Scarboro to link with Highway 401.”

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Globe and Mail, November 6, 1964.

Besides the link between the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway, November 6, 1964 also saw the opening of most of the Eastern Avenue flyover.

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Globe and Mail, May 5, 1966.

What proved to be the final stretch of the Gardiner, from the Don Valley Parkway to Leslie Street, was opened on July 15, 1966. Intended to be the first phase of the Scarborough Expressway, it would have intersected with Highway 401 at Highland Creek. Had a request to the Ontario Municipal Board from a citizen group inspired by the fight against the Spadina Expressway not delayed work, the next approved phase of the Scarborough Expressway would have extended it to Birchmount Road and Danforth Road. While Queen’s Park cancelled Spadina in June 1971, provincial officials were willing to fund a short extension of the Scarborough Expressway to Coxwell Avenue if the OMB approved. There was also the matter of purchasing homes (1,000 in the original plan, 500 after a revision) in the path of the projected route.

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Photo by Boris Spremo, originally published in the November 21, 1973 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0011711f.

The original caption for this photo:

Opponents of the proposed Scarborough Expressway arrive at The Star Forum by bus last night, practising what they preach on the desirability of transit over private cars. Members of action groups left their cars at home and chartered a double-decker bus and one from Toronto transit Commission. They brought signs proclaiming their beliefs but a policeman made them leave them outside.

The “Star Forum” was a session held at the St. Lawrence Centre on November 20, 1973 to discuss whether the Scarborough Expressway should be built. Metro chairman Paul Godfrey indicated he’d support the project based on what he knew up to that point, but wouldn’t commit himself to a position until a Metro report was issued in February 1974. TTC chairman Karl Mallette felt further development of public transit in Scarborough would make the expressway obsolete (if only he knew the battles and delays to come on that front…). “The plain fact is that expressways don’t solve urban transportation problems,” Mallette observed, “they create more of them. They’re becoming prohibitively expensive and are an intolerable intrusion in and near residential areas.”

The next year, Metro Council scrapped further construction.

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View of Gardiner Expressway looking west from the CN Tower, between 1976 and 1981. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 13, Item 2.

The first cracks in the Gardiner were observed in 1962. Metro roads commissioner George Grant blamed heavy traffic, while the province claimed a thinner-than-normal coat of asphalt was used while building the expressway’s first section. A year after Frederick Gardiner died in 1983, an ongoing repair program began to attack the effects of expansion and contraction on the concrete.

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View of Gardiner Expressway looking east from the CN Tower, between 1976 and 1981. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 13, Item 13.

Chaired by former mayor David Crombie, The Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront’s 1992 report provided a good summary of the issues many Torontonians have with the Gardiner Expressway: “The combination of the elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard underneath it, and the rail corridor beside it has created a physical, visual, and psychological barrier to the Central Waterfront. It is a constant source of noise and air pollution, a hostile, dirty environment for thousands of people who walk under it daily, and a barrier to thousands of others who risk life and limb to get across or around it. The Gardiner/Lake Shore is not only a road; it is a structure. As it processes traffic, it stunts land use; meant to move us along, it limits our opportunities.” That commission recommended a mixed approach to the Gardiner, where some elevated sections remained, some were moved, and some were buried.

Speaking of burying the Gardiner…

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Construction on the Gardiner Expressway, 1996. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115149f.

Like clockwork, every few years a plan to bury or replace the freeway emerges. Each plan is initially greeted with relief that the waterfront will soon be rid of what many people perceive as an eyesore and barrier. Just as predictable is the backlash, which usually involves fears about runaway costs and traffic Armageddon during construction.

One of the first serious proposals to knock it down was in the fall of 1983, when Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton asked city staff to investigate burying the Gardiner. Eggleton was supported by Godfrey, who saw a golden opportunity for a new route through the not-yet-redeveloped railways lands to the north. Godfrey feared that “with all the bureaucracy and red tape involved in putting a roadway of that magnitude through, I really wonder whether we’ll all be alive to see it, even if all the money is available.”

The opportunity to use the railway lands soon evaporated, but other ideas abounded. City planning commissioner Stephen McLaughlin described to the Star three plans submitted to the city: “modest” ($25 million to demolish the Jarvis and York ramps and build a new exit at an extended Simcoe Street); “grand” (place the Gardiner in a trench or tunnel between Bathurst and Jarvis); and “visionary” (for $1 billion or so, re-route the Gardiner into a tunnel under Lake Ontario).

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Sam Cass standing on the bridge over the Don Valley Parkway by Riverdale Park, 1971. Photo by Reg Innell. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0125807f.

Such plans were hooey to Sam Cass, Metro roads and traffic commissioner, and staunch defender of the Gardiner. Cass, who still promoted the completion of the Spadina Expressway in 1983, called the Gardiner “a beautiful structure that’s still doing what it was designed to do.” His contention that maintaining it wouldn’t cost much proved incorrect. Cass boasted that the Gardiner required no repair during its first decade-and-a-half and figured once a modestly priced five-year program to fix salt damage was completed, the elevated section wouldn’t require further repair for a quarter-century.

As annual repairs became a reality, calls for the Gardiner’s burial increased, especially as other cities contemplated demolishing their elevated highways. In a lengthy 1988 piece on why the Gardiner should come down, the Globe and Mail’s John Barber likened it to a Cadillac in a scrapyard. As chunks of concrete fell and its steel skeleton rusted, Barber declared “the highway that began life as a heroic symbol of the city’s progress is now just an overflowing traffic sewer.”

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Toronto Star, January 20, 1988.

Among those Barber spoke with about alternative options was developer William Teron, whose company was covering over a section of the Boulevard Périphérique in Paris. Bringing his plan to municipal officials in 1990, Teron proposed an eight-lane Gardiner buried along the waterfront and a revamped, landscaped Lake Shore Boulevard. He promised to deliver the highway in less than three years and cover the $1 billion cost in exchange for development rights for housing and offices along the Gardiner’s former route, which Teron figured would recoup his costs. Naysayers included Metro traffic officials, who warned of cost overruns, overstatement of green space, massive traffic tie-ups during construction, and disruptions to TTC service.

Teron’s plan went nowhere, as have numerous other proposals since then (such as this one from 2013).

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“Bumping the Humber Hump. Robert Balen works on 30 tonne steel beams for a new bridge over the Humber River, which will replace the westbound lanes of the notorious hump on the Gardiner Expressway.” Photo by Boris Spremo, 1998. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0115144f.

Until 1998, one of the Gardiner’s distinguishing characteristics was the “Humber Hump.” Created by settling bridgework near the Humber River, it was a roller coaster ride that either thrilled or terrified. One of the best ways to experience the hump was riding near the back of a school bus, where the combination of position and speed would send you flying. During my university daze, I took a drama criticism class which included field trips into Toronto, and my classmates eagerly anticipated who’d hit their head on the roof when we rode over the hump.

But it wasn’t always fun. The hump witnessed several fatal accidents over the years, and going too fast could send your entire vehicle flying. After years of failing to remedy the settling, the bridge was replaced in 1998. The remnants were sent off to the Leslie Spit.

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Demolition of Leslie Street ramp viewed from north side of detour, looking south-east. Photo by Peter MacCallum, January 20, 2001, City of Toronto Archives, Series 572, File 77, Item 4.

By the late 1990s, poor maintenance of the section east of the Don Valley Parkway prompted calls for a teardown. Opposition to the demolition came from two groups: film studios concerned about dust and noise that was factored into the final demo process; and local residents who worried about traffic spilling onto side streets and into the Beaches, even though drivers would be able to follow essentially the same route into the lakeside community. City councillor Tom Jakobek resisted demolition, devising several compromise plans that would have preserved part of the stump. “Cars are an important necessity in this society,” Jakobek noted in 1999. “Why would anyone want to eliminate road capacity anywhere, when it’s located in the middle of an industrial area and people use it?”

But Jakobek was in the minority: most attendees at public deputations wanted it to go away. City council approved its demolition in 1999. Only a few pillars remain, while land opened up for a bike path, big box shopping, and the TTC’s Leslie Barns facility.

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Frederick G. Gardiner, 1961. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 175, Item 17.

“I’ve looked at this darn thing from one end to the other,” Frederick Gardiner observed in 1964, “and I can’t think of anything I would like to change.” Many Torontonians have and will continue to disagree. For years, the arguments over the Gardiner Expressway have boiled down to either maintaining it in some form to prevent excessive disruption to motorists, tear it down and redirect the traffic, or find creative uses to rehabilitate the existing structure.

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The Bentway, as used for exhibits during Nuit Blanche, October 2019. 

The latter has found favour in recent years, leading to artistic projects such as The Bentway. Housing and office towers have grown around the expressway in the core (but please, don’t throw your furniture toward the road!).

For as much as the Gardiner is maligned as a waste of money and an obstacle to the waterfront, I’ll admit it’s still thrilling to cruise into downtown at night along the elevated section, radio cranked to 11 to a song like Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” and soak in the lights and cityscape unfolding around you.

As Toronto Life concluded in 1993, “No matter what Toronto decides to do, it will be a prodigiously difficult project, politically and financially. It sounds as if it might require the skills of a politician as powerful and shrewd as, say, Fred Gardiner.”

Sources: Regeneration: Toronto’s Waterfront and the Sustainable City (Toronto: Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront, 1992); Toronto ’59 (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1959); Emerald City: Toronto Visited by John Bentley Mays (Toronto: Penguin, 1994); Unbuilt Toronto 2 by Mark Osbaldeston (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011); the May 4, 1954, May 17, 1956, December 8, 1956, March 23, 1957, July 30, 1957, August 8, 1958, August 11, 1958, December 3, 1959, February 6, 1962, October 20, 1988, May 12, 1999, and May 15, 1999 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 14, 1949, July 8, 1953, January 2, 1954, May 3, 1954, July 2, 1957, November 21, 1973, September 30, 1983, September 13, 1989, April 24, 1990, May 18, 1999, April 28, 2000, May 6, 2000 and July 15, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 1993 edition of Toronto Life.

Articles I’ve written that were incorporated into this post were originally published by The Grid on March 17, 2012 and July 24, 2012 and Torontoist on February 7, 2014.

Labour Day ’29

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on September 5, 2009.

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Princes’ Gates, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, (Commercial Department), photographed by Alfred Pearson, August 12, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7108.

What were the ingredients needed to produce a Labour Day weekend in Toronto eighty years ago? A visit to the CNE? Check. Tourists crowding local highways? Check. A day at a beach? Check. Union members proudly marching in a parade wearing white suits and straw hats? Check. Controversy in the sporting world? Check. Rumours of a provincial election in the offing? Check. Economic worries? Not yet (wait a few weeks). Thieves with a penchant for stealing trousers? Check…?!?

A flip through the local newspapers during the last long summer weekend of 1929 provides almost no hint of the economic darkness to come. From all appearances, the 1920s were still roaring and Torontonians could sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday with few cares.

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Ernst Vierkoetter (left) and Eddie Keating (right) settle their differences with the help of Mayor Samuel McBride. The Mail and Empire, September 2, 1929.

Headlines early in the weekend screamed in shocked tones over the poor sportsmanship shown by American swimmer Eddie Keating after his victory in the Wrigley swim marathon over German-Canadian Ernst Vierkoetter on Friday night. The trouble began when Keating was brought to the winner’s podium to speak to the crowd and a radio audience after the eight-hour, fifteen-mile race wrapped up. According to the Star:

He rather astonished those on the finish float by the bitterness of his animosity. You might have thought that a man, having won the world’s swimming championship and more money in eight hours than the premier of Ontario earns in a year, would be rather benign. But not Keating. It stuck in his memory that there had been an allegation that he was towed when he won the Lake George marathon a couple of years ago and he vented it on Vierkoetter. Keating finished first out of the 237 swimmers…he finished strongly, evidently urged on to the very last stroke by his venom. True his eyes were raw and his flesh was blue when he came out. But so was his mood. He managed to put up with Mayor [Samuel] McBride’s friendly advances, but when he advanced to the microphone to tell the waiting world how he had done it, all he said was ‘I hope Vierkoetter will now apologize for what he said at Lake George.

A stunned radio announcer told listeners that “had we known he was going to say that we would not have asked him to speak.”

Keating had nursed a grudge for two years after allegations made by Vierkoetter’s then-manager, which Keating had interpreted to have come from the swimmer himself. Vierkoetter attempted to offer congratulations, but Keating refused to talk to him. The irritated winner told a reporter, “If they want to be bum sports, I don’t want to shake hands with them.” All of the Toronto papers defended the sportsmanship of Vierkoetter, who had recently become a Canadian citizen, and condemned Keating with all the venom they had possible—it was pointed out he gruffly tossed away a tomato sandwich Mayor McBride gave him (the cad!). With all of the bad press, Keating apologized and posed for a photo op with McBride and Vierkoetter on Saturday in a ceremony at the CNE Grandstand. The mayor chalked up Keating’s reaction to the strain of the race:

People will say things when they are not in the condition in which they would like to be. He is sorry to-day for what he said yesterday. I am sure everyone is glad to know that the misapprehension has been cleared away and that Keating has been sportsman enough to admit that he made a mistake. Eddie and Ernst are friends now.

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The new Automotive Building waits for its first visitors at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Telegram, August 22, 1929.

Tourism officials had many reasons to be happy that weekend. The Toronto Tourist and Convention Association estimated that more than one hundred thousand people visited the city on Labour Day, a 25% increase over 1928. Package tours to Toronto filled hotels, with the largest being a group of three thousand who had paid ten dollars each for an excursion from Philadelphia packaged by the Reading Railroad and Canada Steamship Lines.

More than 240,000 people went to the Canadian National Exhibition on Labour Day, a slight decrease from the record set a year earlier that barely bothered fair officials. The Mail and Empire noted that on Labour Day “there were crowds everywhere, carefree crowds. Not a crowd that laughed heartily or chatted briskly—but a complacent group which made the most of Labour Day, without labour…a happy-go-lucky lot. No one made haste. No one seemed to have a destination in view. They simply glimpsed what could be seen without effort.” Nearby homeowners were happy to see relaxed crowds, partly due to the added income they brought into the neighbourhood. The Telegram reported that many homes in lower Parkdale sported cards advertising parking space. “In the area comprised within the bounds of Dunn and King Streets and Springhurst Avenue were about 3,000 cars parked on front lawns, generally not more than three each.” Some of those car owners may have made their way to the new Automotive Building, where a wide variety of 1930 models from North American car makers was on display.

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Were any of these students heading back to school among those who spent time at the Lost Children Building at the CNE? The Telegram, September 3, 1929.

One area of the CNE that saw steady business was the Lost Children Building, where more than five hundred children passed time while waiting for a reunion with their parents. The Star observed the activity there:

“Don’t cry, mother,” said one little fellow cheerfully when his weeping parent arrived to look for him. She was in tears, but he was perfectly happy getting around the outside of a generous ice cream cone…A few parents…were mean enough to leave their children, to remain there all day. Two little boys named Desmond and Roy were on hand for several hours, but they put the time in profitably by cheering up their mates who weren’t as philosophic about their detention as they were.

Officials dealt with children left at the end of the day by sending them home in cars or calling their parents, some of who resented being forced to pick up their kids.

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Cartoons from the Mail and Empire, September 2, 1929 (left), and the Telegram, August 31, 1929 (right).

The CNE grounds marked the end point for the annual Labour Day parade. Though organizers had hoped more than fourteen thousand union members would march in the procession, the number was closer to five thousand. One group not made welcome by parade officials were local Communists and their affiliated political groups, who had asked to carry banners championing free speech in the wake of police actions against them. Only accredited unions were allowed to participate in the procession and the athletic events that followed. For their part, Communist Party officials weren’t bothered—as one representative told the Star, “Labour Day doesn’t represent anything vital to us.”

The parade route started at Queen’s Park, then headed south on University to Queen. The procession moved westward to Dufferin, then south until it reached the Dufferin Gate. Marchers dressed in a variety of neat suits and snazzy headwear. For the first time, female union members joined the procession, as six women belonging to the bookbinders’ union strode along with parasols in hand. The only incident during the parade happened when a boy pressing towards the front of the crowd went home with two broken toes accidentally crushed by a police horse. An editorial in the Globe found that the parade “was remarkable for the number of advertising floats prepared by manufacturing concerns, in co-operation with their employees. It attests mutual confidence.” The next few years wouldn’t do wonders for that “confidence.”
And now, a few words from our sponsors:

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Left: Gray Coach advertisement from the Globe, August 31, 1929. Right: Eaton’s advertisement from the Globe, September 2, 1929.

Crime knows no holiday, and Labour Day weekend was no exception, as the police blotter filled up with indiscretions and misdeeds. Some seem laughable now, if tinged with potential for discrimination, as in the case of six Polish immigrants who were arrested on Sunday at a home on Walton Street for the heinous act of “gambling on the Lord’s Day.” Alcohol-related offences provided the majority of cases, including that of nineteen-year-old Clifford Ruth, who was charged with stealing a car and drunkenness after having received three bottles of wine from a winery at Queen and Sackville. Ruth was given a year’s probation and told that anyone who plied him with booze during that time was subject to a thirty-day vacation in jail. One case saw seven men from England charged with vagrancy. When one man was asked why he had left a farm job, he replied “the food wasn’t right.” Food was also at the heart of the ten-dollar fine Henry Dunn received for an altercation with a waiter at a restaurant at 370 College Street. The waiter testified that Dunn asked “What kind of a place is this that you serve stale rolls?” before the surly customer punched him in the nose. Dunn claimed self-defence after the waiter told him to leave, to which the judge replied “then you had your chance to get out and you didn’t take it.”

The most colourful crime happened at 44 D’Arcy Street during Labour Day, where Hymie Grader found himself the victim of, in the words of the Telegram, “a pants burglar.”

According to reports in the hands of the police…[the burglar] stole a pair of real good trousers from near the head of the bed where the owner slept, and decamped with the garments and $550 which was in the pockets…A roomer in the house, who grinned when he saw the trouserless victim groping around for trace of an intruder, lost his hilarity when he discovered $15 missing from his own trousers pocket. Police learned from several people who had been sitting on a verandah several doors away that a man had been seen to change his boots, enter the house and then decamp. An intensive police search was started, but neither pants nor burglar have been found.

The Star added that Grader also lost a gold watch in the incident. His losses in the long might have been far less than what other Torontonians would soon experience.

Additional material from the August 31, 1929 and September 2, 1929 editions of the Globe; the August 31, 1929, September 2, 1929, and September 3, 1929 editions of the Mail and Empire; the August 31, 1929 and September 3, 1929 editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 22, 1929, August 31, 1929, and September 3, 1929 editions of the Telegram.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 10

Pour Me a Psycho-Physical Driving Test

Originally published on Torontoist on March 30, 2010.

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New Liberty, March 1948.

For at least a year, Labatt’s ran a series of public service announcements in New Liberty magazine that touted their touring psycho-physical driving test units, whose stops included the Canadian National Exhibition. While the ads showed how drivers learned how to better gauge appropriate spaces to pass and find out if their night vision was up to snuff, nowhere is it mentioned that one should indulge in a few rounds of Labatt’s main business interest before hitting the road.

By the late 1940s, professionals were beginning to realize that getting behind the wheel while drunk was dangerous. Nearly a year before today’s ad appeared, the Telegram ran an editorial after St. Andrew MPP J.B. Salsberg criticized the suspension of a truck driver’s licence due to an impaired driving charge as a hardship for the driver’s family (the government indicated it had no intention of making any exception to the existing licence suspension laws):

In view of the serious menace to public safety which the drunken driver presents there can be little support for any proposal to loosen the operation of the law in this respect. Nor is it desirable, whatever the hardship involved, that variations in the application of the law should be permitted. Leniency in one case would open the door to pressure for leniency in other cases. It is in the public interest that all drivers should realize what such infractions of the law entail and that they should understand that if they offend in this way there is no escape from the penalty provided.

Locomotive engineers, it is understood, are not permitted to drink while on duty. It is quite as imperative that truck and automobile drivers, who do not travel on a private right of way, should avoid intoxicants before or during driving. It cannot be repeated too often that alcohol and gasoline is a bad mixture.

Additional material from the April 7, 1947 edition of the Telegram.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2012.

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Maclean’s, September 9, 1961.

These scenes from a stereotypical early-1960s middle-class home look serene, but dangers worthy of a television drama are in full view. Unlike the family in that famous Upstairs, Downstairs TV series, this household doesn’t have to worry about relationships between hired help and the gentility. Instead, they should fear for the potential disasters that could befall the children.

Upstairs, while baby can’t crawl up the wall to tear at the beautiful new thermostat and discover if mercury pleases his palate, his parents could be watching what he does with his teddy bear, instead of discussing the contents of their favourite evening paper. Nobody wants to witness an accidental choking. Downstairs, while Junior is in little danger from the blasts of his shiny cap guns, he could accidentally bang his head into the heater’s manifold valve or oil burner if he gets too carried away with his game of cowboys and Indians.

One Fine Toronto Weekend in 1908 (According to the Toronto World)

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on September 20, 2008. This is one of the first examples of Historicist columns I’d write in a hurry if the topic I was working on fell apart or required more research before deadline.

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Queen Street West and James Street, looking northeast. William James Sr., 1908. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the easiest way to grab a snapshot of Toronto’s past is to find the nearest microfilm reader (or online archive) and browse any of the newspapers that have chronicled the daily adventures of the city. For a taste of what was going on a century ago this weekend, we dive into the pages of one of Toronto’s long-defunct morning papers.

The Toronto World was launched in August 1880 by reporters William Findlay Maclean and Albert Horton to support a Liberal candidate in a by-election. Maclean (1854–1929, pictured on the right) bought out Horton a year later and ran the paper as a populist daily, specializing in exposing civic corruption. Among the causes the paper successfully backed were Sunday streetcar service and municipal ownership of the hydro utility. The World served as a training ground for influential editors like Joseph Atkinson (Toronto Star) and Hector Charlesworth (Saturday Night). Maclean served as a local MP from 1892 to 1926, sitting as a Conservative or “independent Conservative” depending on how well his maverick nature meshed with party brass—usually it didn’t. Perennially on the brink of bankruptcy, Maclean sold the paper to the Mail and Empire in 1921.

The most scandalous front page story involved allegations in a rival paper (likely the Star or the Telegram) that city aldermen had abused their free pass privileges at the Canadian National Exhibition and performers at the CNE Grandstand were blackmailed into purchasing clothing from fair officials. An investigation was launched by the city into a number of complaints instigated by disgruntled former employees of the fair, who claimed that one official allowed 30 to 40 friends in for free on a single day.

The World’s reporter lashed out at the paper’s rivals, noting, “This sort of thing only gives outside newspapers to knock Toronto, and there is no sense and reason in it. Why do the evening newspapers try to stir up trouble so as to make it impossible for men to act on the exhibition board?” Alderman (and future mayor) Samuel McBride felt that gate staff had exercised proper strictness, noting that he had seen a director turned away for not wearing his badge.

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R. Simpson Building under construction, Richmond Street West, looking northeast, 1908. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, item 7037.

In an editorial titled “Perceive the Larger Toronto,” The World praised the Robert Simpson department store for expanding its building at Yonge and Queen. The structure was seen as one of many recently built or in the planning stages that bode well for the city’s future, despite a recent economic depression:

Take your stand on the corner of James and Queen [S]treets. Look southeast and you will see the magnificent new building of the Robert Simpson Co. Limited, a structure not yet fully completed, but beautiful in design and ornamentation, immense in size, and boldly suggesting not only a Greater Toronto, but also the Greater Canada to be. Now turn and look northwest, where stands the city hall, which, architecturally viewed, is one of the most beautiful and imposing municipal buildings on the continent, and of which the citizens of Toronto should be justly proud.

When you thus observe these magnificent structures from the vantage point mentioned…there must dawn on you the thought that they stand and call “Plan with the wider vision; build boldly after the progressive spirit which gave us being; and build with the expansive, unerring faith that a great city, as ours shall be, must have noble, imposing structures, commensurate with its greatness.”

We have used these reflections only because we learned from their coursings thru our mind that a duty lies on Toronto’s citizens positively to realize that to build as if the city was to have no future, no greater extent, and no larger place in the development of Canada, is to be untrue to both the municipality and to the Dominion.

Physical expansion of the city was also in the news, as a hearing was announced for September 29 to listen to the town of East Toronto’s push to be annexed by Toronto. The town’s main reservation was that the proposed terms did not include the formation of a separate ward for the area, as West Toronto had received during its negotiations earlier in the year.

Other notes from the paper:

  • The city’s board of control produced a report with “rather important recommendations” on hiring and salaries of civic employees. New qualifications for positions above junior clerk were laid out, which included an exam if applicants did not hold a junior matriculation certificate or were unable to prove that they were taking classes at the Toronto Normal School. Among the new recommended maximum annual salaries were $780 for a jail guard, $900 for a fireman, and $2,200 for a chief accountant.
  • A meeting was held in North Toronto’s town hall to discuss the town’s overcrowded schools. The proposals put forward eventually led to the establishment of North Toronto Collegiate Institute and Bedford Park Public School.
  • Federal Conservative leader Robert Borden announced his itinerary for a tour around the province, including a stop in Toronto on September 23.
  • Officials of the Ontario Rugby Football Union gathered to celebrate its silver anniversary and organize its upcoming season. One of the first organized football leagues, the ORFU sent senior-level teams to the Grey Cup through the early 1950s.
  • A touch of marital discord in the classified section: “My wife, Elizabeth Stephen, having left my bed and board, I will not be responsible for any debts incurred by her. John Stephen, Deer Park P.O.”
  • From the dissatisfied customer department: “Patrick McIntyre, 32 years, married, 96 Shuter Street, strolled into Arthur Bellman’s quick lunch at 34 East Queen Street. He had ordered beef, but when it was served he was displeased and refused to pay. At the Agnes Street police station his clothes contained $6.13, but he still refused to pay and was held for theft of a meal.”

Photo of William Findlay Maclean, owner of Toronto World , c. 1909, from City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, Item 1296. All quotes from the September 19, 1908 edition of The Toronto World.

The Mark of Edward VIII

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 3, 2008.

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The southwest corner of Yonge Street and Montgomery Avenue is rich with history. Montgomery’s Tavern, the spot where William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers launched the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, is honoured with a plaque. Oulcott’s Hotel served customers and community groups in the late 19th century. The current occupant, Postal Station K, threw open its doors a century after Mackenzie’s march under a royal insignia that would prove unique to the city’s government buildings.

Welcome to one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the mark of the brief reign of King Edward VIII (1894-1972). His 11-month reign ended in December 1936 when he resigned from the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love.” Outrage over the abdication crisis led to a proposal to replace the insignia on Station K with that of Edward’s successor George VI, which never came to pass. Edward soon assumed the title of the Duke of Windsor, was suspected of pro-Nazi leanings, briefly served as governor of the Bahamas, and spent his remaining days in retirement in France.

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Edward had better press during his quarter-century as Prince of Wales, to the extent that his two visits to Toronto resulted in a pair of local landmarks being named in his honour.

His first tour began on August 25, 1919 with a quick visit to Queen’s Park, followed by the formal opening of that year’s Canadian National Exhibition. The editors of The Globe welcomed the prince in that day’s edition:

Prince Edward is doubly welcome to a Dominion which has cast off the fetters of colonialism and boasts of a freedom as wide as that exercised by a sovereign nation. He is welcome as the heir to a Throne to which we yield voluntary allegiance because it is based on the will of the people, and is a link which binds us to other Dominions and the Mother Country in a common purchase and destiny. We welcome him also because he is a Prince worthy of the lofty station and solemn responsibilities which he will inherit…all reports agree that he is a clean, wholesome youth with courage, industry and a high sense of duty. Elastic spirits and a winning manner add to his personal attractiveness. May he find much in Canada to interest and entertain him as a reward for the ceremonial fatigue inseparable from his tour.

Mobbed by crowds in his public appearances, much of Edward’s trip was spent visiting wounded World War I veterans (those who “did the dirty work in war,” screamed a Globe headline). On August 27, he was driven around the city in Sir John Craig Eaton’s Rolls Royce to mingle with Torontonians, which led The Globe to proclaim that “he must have felt at home here…it was no mere mechanical performance with him; there was nothing stiff or formal about it. He stood up on the seat of his motor car and waved his hat with the abandon of a schoolboy in acknowledgement of the cheers of the citizens.”

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Traffic on Bloor Viaduct opening, October 18, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Item 0872.

The route included a trek over the bridge connecting Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, open to vehicular traffic for less than a year. The week after Edward’s visit, the span was officially proclaimed the Prince Edward Viaduct.

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Edward, Prince of Wales, at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8140.

Edward returned to Toronto eight years later, this time with his brother George (later the Duke of Kent). Despite morning rain, Edward cut the ribbon for the new eastern entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds on August 30, 1927, which was named the Princes’ Gates in honour of the visitors. Memories of the war lingered on, as over 13,000 veterans marched behind the royal motorcade.

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Material excerpted from the August 25, 1919 and August 28, 1919 editions of The Globe. Photos of Postal Station K and Princes’ Gates by Jamie Bradburn.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Four years after this story was published, I covered a protest regarding plans to turn the Postal Station K site into a condo. Originally posted on Torontoist on July 31, 2012, here’s “Rebelling Over Postal Station K”

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One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

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Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

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If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

UPDATE

The front and forecourt of Postal Station K was integrated into the base of the Montgomery Square retail/condo project. The surrounding neighbourhood is in the midst of a condo tower boom, building up density as Yonge and Eglinton prepares to grow into even more of a transit hub with the construction of the Crosstown LRT.

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.

A History of Toronto’s Many Casino Proposals

Originally published on Torontoist on February 27, 2013.

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Ontario Government Building, September 3, 1928. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 6196.

When it comes to Toronto, the house odds have not favoured the gaming industry. Call it our deep-seated puritanism, the lingering traces of “Toronto the Good,” or a deeper concern for how gambling affects our community. The current debate over a permanent Toronto casino has roots in past battles, especially when it comes to allowing gambling at Exhibition Place.

Starting with the Western Fair in 1978, the province permitted licensing of gaming rooms at large fairs. CNE officials hoped a casino run during the Ex would fight declining attendance and revenue. The obstacle was persuading opponents that a small gaming room was not the start of a slippery slope towards the horrors associated with gambling.

The chief opponent was Art Eggleton, who, as both an alderman and as mayor, believed the idea tarnished the CNE. “There’s enough gambling, games of chance, that go on at the Exhibition,” he told the Globe and Mail in 1991. “We don’t need casino-type gambling down there. I think it detracts from the family-type atmosphere of the fair.” He feared a rise in crime, often citing Atlantic City’s experience—a bit of a stretch, given the proposals he fought were for a short-run, small-scale gaming room. Eggleton was a consistent opponent. He was eventually the only member of the Exhibition Place board of governors to vote against its 1984 application for a gaming area.

The CNE’s first pitch, made in 1980, involved a blackjack room in the Coliseum with one-dollar-maximum bets. City council’s executive committee rejected the proposal. “When we start basing our revenues on games of chance,” Mayor John Sewell noted, “I think we’re in trouble.” The province dismissed the application, but left the door open for future tries as long as there was general agreement at all levels that a casino would benefit the community.

Female croupiers, 100 blackjack tables, 10 wheels of fortune, and a tasteful country-and-western backdrop made up the CNE’s 1981 application. Metro Toronto council, chaired by current casino-pusher Paul Godfrey, backed the plan. When the City and province rejected this bid, Godfrey accused them of hypocrisy, noting the contradiction of dismissing a casino when few were bothered by the games of chance on the midway, which included crown and anchor games involving money. He claimed the province held two sets of values—puritanical for Toronto, relaxed everywhere else.

To improve its odds, the CNE focused its 1984 application on charity. The proposal called for 50 blackjack tables and eight wheels of fortune to be placed in a renovated annex of the Coliseum. A charity would operate the casino, with proceeds going to the City’s Sesquicentennial Committee. The proposal noted that casinos appealed “to singles, couples and families alike. As such, it fits in well with the CNE’s concept of offering something for everyone.” The City and province once again rejected the application. Godfrey accused the province of playing “a silly little game,” while Eggleton was quoted as saying, “enough is enough.”

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Toronto Star, August 31, 1993.

The CNE’s 1991 bid appeared as doomed as its previous attempts when the City’s executive committee dismissed it without debate. But CNE officials and charities that would benefit from a casino raised such a stink that the issue was reconsidered. Events like a mass rally of nearly 100 charitable organizations at Exhibition Place had the desired effect: on June 24, 1991, the executive committee supported the new application. “Well, whaddya know,” Sun city hall columnist Christina Blizzard declared. “Toronto finally outgrew its painful puberty and teen acne and grew up a whole lot.” The rest of council and the province gave their blessings. Forty charities were drawn out of a hat to be the beneficiaries of the casino, which set up shop that year in a room within Exhibition Stadium.

In early 1992, the province contemplated setting up six permanent casinos across Ontario. Metro Toronto was slated for two. Exhibition Place and Woodbine Racetrack were the frontrunners. After casino legislation was passed in 1993, Premier Bob Rae insisted that the priority was to see how the pilot project in Windsor went before considering proposals for casinos elsewhere. This didn’t do anything to stop the flow of schoarly and journalistic reports on the effects of casinos on Metro Toronto. Metro’s legal department felt Exhibition Place would accommodate a casino without requiring much tinkering with the City’s official plan. Community Services wanted half of the profits of a Toronto casino to go towards improving social programs. Metro Toronto Police didn’t want a third-party company to run any casino and feared a “steady and significant erosion of community standards and tolerances.”

A November 1993 open letter from Metropolitan Toronto Convention and Visitors Association president William M. Duron described a future where no city could afford to go without a gaming centre. “It is generally acknowledged by tourism experts that within 10 to 15 years,” Duron wrote, “cities that do not have casinos will be the exception. As casinos become more commonplace in North America, this unique selling proposition and tourist demand generator will be an expected attraction in a community.” How something that would eventually be ubiquitous could be considered a unique selling point is a good question. Duron also proposed Union Station and Old City Hall as casino sites.

In February 1994, Metro Council voted 18 to 15 against locating a casino here. While casino supporters like Howard Moscoe saw gambling as part of the “fabric of our society,” opponents like Derwyn Shea thought a casino offered little more than low-paying jobs. “What you’ve really found,” Shea noted, “is a way to enrich the hookers and pimps and junkies.” As North York Mayor Mel Lastman put it: “What do we need this headache for?”

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1994.

A $1 billion proposal backed by Las Vegas-based Mirage Resorts emerged during the summer of 1994. Dubbed “The Millenium,” the plan would have transformed land west of the SkyDome into a casino and family entertainment complex. The scheme was promoted by Broadview-Greenwood MP Dennis Mills, who compared the plan to Expo 67. Despite discussions with the federal government, the idea was rejected by the province, which wanted Niagara Falls as the site of its next casino.

This didn’t stop Mills, who regaled the press with his vision of a series of casino/entertainment complexes stretching along the waterfront from Exhibition Place to the eastern harbour. These would feature midways and 360-degree theatres. He was convinced casinos would draw more conventions to town. Among the skeptics was Metro Councillor Brian Ashton, who thought the City had given up enough lakeshore parkland already, to accommodate Harbourfront’s condo towers.

Until the current round of casino discussions, proposals involving Exhibition Place continued to emerge. An idea to move the charity casino into the Ontario Government Building (now the Liberty Grand) was seen as an attempt to impress the province. A 2001 CNE board casino proposal touted the use of profits to fund public transit and waterfront projects. And now we have all the current proposals. Given the lengthy battles Exhibition Place fought for a temporary casino, it would be crazy to rule it out as a possible site for a permanent one.

Additional material from Casino—A Proposal for the 1984 CNE (Toronto: Exhibition Place, 1984), Casino Gambling in Metropolitan Toronto (Toronto: Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, 1993), the December 13, 1979, February 1, 1980, February 5, 1980, January 27, 1981, May 28, 1981, June 12, 1991, July 16, 1994, and August 3, 1994 editions of the Globe and Mail, the May 25, 2001 edition of the National Post, the February 21, 1984, June 21, 1991, March 19, 1992, February 11, 1994, and September 10, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 25, 1991 edition of the Toronto Sun.

UPDATE

In May 2013, Toronto City Council voted 40-4 against allowing any new gaming sites in the city.