Christmas in Toronto, 1869

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Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1869.

Saturday being Christmas Day business was suspended in the city; that is to say, all places of business, except such as oyster depots, candy shops and saloons were closed. The streetcars ran as usual, and certainly did a paying business, as they were crowded with passengers nearly every trip. The weather was delightful, reminding one more of a day in spring than in winter; and, as a natural consequence, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, chiefly of the male sex, however. Divine service was held in several of the numerous places of religious worship in the city, and sermons appropriate to the occasion preached. – The Leader, December 27, 1869.

Torontonians gathering ingredients for their Christmas dinner 150 years ago had plenty of options from local butchers. “The St. Lawrence Market,” the Globe reported, “is peculiarly well adorned with meat of the most tempting character, while all over the city the butchers show that though they are not in the market they are quite prepared to meet the wants of the citizens, as respects Christmas cheer.”

The Leader was particularly taken with James Britton’s stall. “Mr. Jas. Britton, everybody in Toronto knows, and every Toronto epicure and gourmand blesses, or ought to, for he has certainly on this occasion pandered to their luxurious tastes most extensively and deserves for his splendid display of meats, to stand foremost on the list.”

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The Globe, December 23, 1869.

Among the advertisers that season was the Wesleyan Methodist Church, who invited the public to view the Christmas tree in the basement of their Richmond Street home. Visitors stopping in on December 23 could browse a “sale of useful and fancy articles” which raised funds for the congregation’s future home in McGill Square (the lot on the northwest side of Queen and Church). “Attendance was very fair during the afternoon,” the Telegraph reported, “swelling to a positive crowd in the evening.” The proceeds helped build the new church, which evolved into today’s Metropolitan United Church.

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The Leader, December 24, 1869.

Browsing the ads for the city’s dry goods merchants, one new name had entered the holiday shopping sweepstakes. Earlier that month, Timothy Eaton opened his first Toronto store at 178 Yonge Street, which offered the radical merchandising method of selling goods for cash only (the store’s “goods satisfactory or money refunded” motto debuted the following year). The store was snug: measuring 24 feet across and 60 feet deep, it only employed four people. Popular items early on included buttons, gloves, and underwear.

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Toronto Mechanics’ Institute, circa 1867-1868. Photo by Octavius Thompson. Toronto Public Library, Z 3-7.

Among the Christmas Day festivities across the city was a dinner held at the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide for over 220 children living in charitable institutions such as the Protestant Orphans’ Home, the Boys’ Home, and the Girls’ Home (along with, as the Globe dubbed them, “20 inmates of the News Boys’ Home). Organized annually by businessman John Hallam, it featured a hymn sing where the kids’ performances were praised community dignitaries. “The Christmas tree was then disburdened and each child having received from its branches a toy or picture book,” the Globe reported, “and also been handed a paper bag containing cakes, raisins, apples, and sweetmeats, the children started for their respective homes, four happy little bands, rendered so by the liberality of those who will be amply paid for their kindness to these poor little orphans when they shall have addressed to them the words ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’”

(Journalists in 1869 were a wordy bunch)

Years later, as a city councillor, Hallam’s support of free public libraries played a role in the transformation of the Mechanics’ Institute’s collection into the Toronto Public Library. Hallam Street is named in his honour.

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Christmas menu for guests of the Queen’s Hotel. The Telegraph, December 27, 1869.

Some of the city’s wealthier, politically-connected citizens gathered for a Christmas dinner at the Queen’s Hotel (the present site of the Royal York). Toasts were made to Queen Victoria, various branches of the military, and Americans. The Telegraph printed the extensive menu.

The Globe reported on Christmas Day at the Don Jail:

Even without the heavy walls of the prison the genial spirit of Christmas penetrated, and brought a thrill of pleasure and a softening influence to many a hardened heard among the 154 incarcerated there. No relaxation of the prison discipline was admitted, except to allow friends to visit the inmates and bring with them some of the Christmas cheer which prevailed without. In more than one cell, tears came to eyes unused to weep, at the thought of former Christmas Days—when innocence made it a happy anniversary. Many a heart that knew not the crucified Saviour had reason to feel thankful for the natal day of Him who pardoned the thief on the cross.

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Francis Henry Medcalf. Wikimedia Commons.

Politically, the holidays saw the start of nominations for city council candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Putting his name back into the fray was former mayor Francis Henry Medcalf, who had resigned from council on November 1 to protest a proposal to extend the term of office from one to three years. He decided to switch wards, moving from St. Lawrence’s (which covered the area south of Queen Street east of Yonge) to St. John’s (later known simply as “The Ward”). At a Christmas Eve nomination meeting, Medcalf claimed that when he was asked to run, he did so because, the Leader reported, “he owed the people of that ward a deep debt of gratitude for the hearty way in which they had always supported them, and he hoped he would be able to pay that debt before he paid the debt of nature.” Medcalf would represent the ward for two years, then returned to the mayor’s chair for a final two-year run in 1874.

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Canadian Illustrated News, December 25, 1869.

We’ll end with the parting thoughts from the Globe’s Christmas day editorial:

Let us hope, in any case, that the event may be happy, and that we, like the rest of the world, may find that, after of dread of turbulence and conflict, we are, as we should be, in peace and good will with all men.

Sources: the December 23, 1869, December 25, 1869, and December 27, 1869 editions of the Globe; the December 25, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Leader; and the December 24, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Telegraph.

Vintage Toronto Ads: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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Globe and Mail, December 20, 1969.

To some, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best James Bond movie ever made. To others, it’s the one with…what’s his name…George Lazenby? Either way (and count me closer to the former), it was one of top movie attractions for Toronto moviegoers during the holiday season 50 years ago.

How did local film critcs feel?

The Telegram‘s Clyde Gilmour felt that “newcomer Lazenby’s amateurishness as an actor sticks out all over the place, but the role has become a comic-strip character anyway. Bond No. 2 does the job quite satisfactorily.” Gilmour also believed that Telly Savalas played Blofeld “with his accustomed air of amiable deviltry.”

In the Star, Dorothy Mikos felt Lazenby was acceptable, as the role didn’t require fine acting. “All that is required is a large conventionally handsome man who can fall down and stand up on cue.”

The sourest review was courtesy of The Globe and Mail‘s Martin Knelman, who found “the new 007 bats .000.” He also didn’t care for some of the film’s audience, if this sneering observation following a packed viewing at the old Odeon Carlton theatre is any indication:

Fighting my way out of the theatre, I heard a middle-aged woman say she had been lured into the city from a suburb for the first time in months to see this movie, and now that she’d seen it, she didn’t know what to look forward to. One could fake pity for people who don’t have anything in their lives to look forward to besides a James Bond movie, but that’s really beside the point.

Knelman ended his review by comparing people anticipating Bond movies to friends who eagerly awaited trying the “far-out specialty of the month” at their local ice cream parlour. “They play at the ritual of looking forward each month to going down to sample the new flavor, and I think people go to the James Bond movies in the same spirit. Dr. No and Goldfinger were yummy enough, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service left the same taste in my mouth as peanut butter licorice sherbet.”

Whatever, Martin.

Of the other major new releases that week, Knelman found John Vernon’s performance as an evil Castro-esque Cuban the most entertaining thing about Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz, and felt director Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria was “just a big, crude, stupid movie.”

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of other movies that season, along with some interesting double bills assembled by the 20th Century chain.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 4)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch was convinced he had destroyed Christmas in Whoville.

December 22, 1959

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December 23, 1959

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December 24, 1959
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The microfilm copy of the final strip was in poor shape compared to the rest of the page (perhaps it was printed in colour?). Also, don’t you feel they could have wrung at least another day from the overload of text in panel one?

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For print/microfilming quality comparison, here’s Frank Tumpane’s Christmas Eve column, which was placed beside the Grinch strip.

(Sidebar: Tumpane was a columnist, usually focusing on city matters, for the Globe and Mail during the early-to-mid 1950s, then moved over to the Tely, where he remained until his death in 1967.)

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

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Toronto Star, December 17, 1966.

Chuck Jones’s animated adaptation made its Toronto-area debut via Buffalo’s WBEN-TV (now WIVB) at 7 p.m. on December 18, 1966.

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1966.

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Globe and Mail, December 20, 1966.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 3)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch cleaned the Whos out of their holiday trimmings, only to encounter little Cindy Lou Who.

December 18, 1959

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December 19, 1959

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December 21, 1959
(no edition was published February 20)

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Contemporary Comment

The conclusion of Ellen Lewis Buell’s review from the October 6, 1957 edition of the New York Times:

Even if you prefer Dr. Seuss in a purely antic mood, you must admit that if there’s a moral to be pointed out, no one can do it more gaily. The reader is swept along by the ebullient rhymes and the weirdly zany pictures until he is limp with relief when the Grinch reforms and, like the latter, mellow with good feeling.

TO BE CONCLUDED…

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 2)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch came up with a “wonderful, awful idea.”

December 15, 1959

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December 16, 1959

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December 17, 1959

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Contemporary Comment

Charles A. Brady’s description of the book, from the November 30, 1957 edition of the Buffalo Evening News:

Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is a sort of loveless Scrooge among doodle-bugs, hell-bent on seeing to it that the more lovable Whos — Seuss fans will know what Whos are — have no Christmas. So he dresses up as Santa in order to steal all the presents.

But, of course, even as Scrooge experienced a change of heart and left off scrooging, in the end the Grinch leaves off grinching, as Christmas steals the Grinch instead.

TO BE CONTINUED…

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 1)

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Since its publication in 1957, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been a holiday classic. There have been numerous adaptations over the years, including Chuck Jones’ 1966 animated special and two film versions.

And a comic strip.

While researching an upcoming article, I stumbled upon an adaption in strip form that was published in the Telegram during the run-up to Christmas in 1959. So far, I haven’t found any information about this strip, other than I suspect it was a syndicated feature. The copyright lines up with the book but, not having found it in any other paper yet, I wonder if it was distributed just for the 1959 holiday season, or was available for a few years. The art appears to have been taken from the book, or is a close tracing.

During its two week run in the Telegram, the strip appeared on the front page of the second section, alongside local news, city columnist Frank Tumpane, and Peanuts. For legibility, I’m posting the individual panels, which I’ll spread out over four posts.

Get your best Boris Karloff imitation ready, open up a can of Who Hash, and enjoy the story.

December 11, 1959

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December 12, 1959

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December 14, 1959
(no edition was published December 13)

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TO BE CONTINUED…

Vintage Toronto Ads: Coming Christmas Day—The Odeon York!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 20, 2011.

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Toronto Star, December 24, 1969.

Things opened on Christmas Day: presents under a tree, cards from dear friends, bottles of wine at the dinner table, old family wounds, and movie theatres.

Yes, movie theatres.

Catching a film on December 25 is a tradition for lonely souls eager to escape painful reminders of the holidays, for families and friends to flee chaotic Christmas celebrations for a few hours, and a shared cultural experience for those who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place. With a large pool of customers to draw upon, especially on a day when few other businesses are open, why not use Christmas to debut a splashy new cinema?

Parents may have welcomed the York Theatre’s opening bill on December 25, 1969, since neither of the main attractions was suitable for younger audiences. We suspect kids were content to stay home and play with Santa’s deliveries. Viewers could take the theatre’s spiral staircase to see a farce (Cactus Flower) or a foursome (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice).

Blockbusters graced the screens of the York until 2001. After operating as an event venue and fitness club, the site became the Madison condo project.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 19, 1984.

The York occupies a sentimental spot in my heart, as it was the first place I saw a drama intended for grown-ups, as opposed to family-friendly blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. We ate dinner at Harvey’s on the northeast side of Yonge and Eglinton, then walked over to see Amadeus. Nine-year-old Jamie was impressed, following along without being bored.

Best of all, I was a big boy now! Bring on the non-kiddie films!

(I went to kid-friendly flicks for a few more years)

I wonder if my father thought it might spur me to share his love of classical music. If so, it didn’t, though I briefly explored his Mozart records when we returned home.

Given the timing of Amadeus‘s release, this may have occurred either on my last trip to Toronto before my grandmother moved down to Amherstburg or the first visit there after she left the city.

By the time I moved to Toronto in 1999, the York was nearing its end. At the time, the few remaining non-rep house single or double screen cinemas in the old City of Toronto were heading toward their demise. A survey of the scene by the Star in January 2001 indicated that Cineplex Odeon was operating the York on a month-to-month basis and a “For Lease” sign was already out front. Elsewhere, Famous Players did not renew the lease at the Plaza in the Hudson’s Bay Centre, while the fates of the Eglinton and Uptown waited for a ruling in a human rights complaint regarding accessibility (the result of which was used as an excuse for their closure).

Sometimes when an old movie house closes, we can’t help feeling that there’s something more being demolished than the broken seats and torn carpets in the lobby. For some of us, our vivid memories of movies that mattered to us long ago are all wrapped up with memories of the way we were, who was with us at the time, and, of course, the odd little details about those places where we gathered long ago waiting in the dark for something wonderful to happen. – Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, January 21, 2001.