Labour Day ’29

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

20090905gates

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.

me-sep-2-1929-mcbride-swimm

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.

tely-aug-22-1929-automotive
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.

tely-sep-3-1929-kids

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.

20090905cartoons

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:

20090905ads1929

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.

20100330labattsafedriving

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.

20121016upstairsdownstairs

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.

2008_09_20queenjames

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.

2008_09_20simpson

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.

Leonard Nimoy Pitches a Galaxii to 1969 Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on February 27, 2015.

20150227nimoy1969

Toronto Star, April 8, 1969.

“The voice of Mr. Spock of television’s Star Trek filtered through eerie space sounds and galactic lighting in the McLaughlin Planetarium last night–in the role of salesman,” the Star reported on April 4, 1969. “Leonard Nimoy, who at 38 looks much younger than the role he has portrayed for three years on the now-defunct TV show, was assisting in a dramatic effort to sell merchandising space in Galaxii, a CNE show.”

The sales pitch marked an early Toronto publicity appearance for Nimoy, who passed away today at age 83. During the presentation, sponsored by Industrial and Trade Shows of Canada, Nimoy “stood in one corner of the small stage minus Mr. Spock’s Vulcanite pointed ears, extolling the drawing power of the display.” The UV lighting used at the session gave those wearing white shirts an eerie, unearthly glow.

Interviewed by the Star, Nimoy seemed relieved that Star Trek wasn’t coming back for a fourth season, as his commitment had cost him film roles. “I’d like to do TV but I’d like to have a broader base,” Nimoy noted. “You get tired playing any character for a long time. It varies from script to script—from agony to despair.” He found a new series quickly, replacing Martin Landau as Mission Impossible’s resident disguise expert that fall.

20150227galaxii

Toronto Star, August 14, 1969.

Nimoy enjoyed meeting Canadians, calling them “very professional people.” He was also fascinated by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “He’s captured the interest of a lot of people, not only Canadian but American as well,” Nimoy observed. “He has a style and personal attitude similar to the Kennedys.”

Galaxii wound up being the spacey teen-centric attraction of the 1969 Canadian National Exhibition, albeit without an appearance by Nimoy. For a $1 surcharge, visitors entering the Automotive Building enjoyed a period mélange of strobe-lit music performances (headlined by the Guess Who), a sandbox room with a religious-themed presentation inspired by the martyrdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., films of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, and an aluminum-paneled room where 60-degree Fahrenheit temperature changes occurred within seconds. The elaborate environments were still being assembled on opening day.

20150227trekfans1976

Toronto Star, July 27, 1976.

Organizers of the first large-scale Canadian Star Trek convention, held over three days at the Royal York Hotel in July 1976, tried to assemble as much of the cast as possible. William Shatner proved too expensive, while Nimoy was tied up in Milwaukee playing Henry Higgins in a touring production of My Fair Lady. The 6,000 fans that showed up bode well for future Toronto Star Trek gatherings, including one which drew 15,000 to Nathan Phillips Square in September 1991. Among those on hand for that event, in full Next Generation regalia, was mayoral candidate Jack Layton. During the official proclamation of the event, Mayor Art Eggleton noted that Toronto enjoyed “the only city council that meets in a spaceship.”

While Nimoy did not attend the 1991 festivities, he spent significant time here four years earlier directing the biggest box office hit of 1987, Three Men and a Baby.

In the hearts of local Star Trek fans who followed his long career, Nimoy lived long and prospered.

Additional material from the April 4, 1969, August 14, 1969, July 21, 1976, July 26, 1976, and September 9, 1991 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

tspa_0005050f_trek76

Photo by Mike Slaughter, 1976. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives.

The Toronto Public Library’s collection of Toronto Star photos often demonstrates how images were edited for final publication. The shot used to illustrated the 1976 Star Trek convention is a good example, as the unidentified man on the left not only didn’t make the final cut, but his hand was blasted off by a phaser.

Toronto by Newsreel

Originally published on Torontoist on April 24, 2014.

20140424newsreelphotographers

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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Three Stooges Meet the CNE

Originally published on Torontoist on August 21, 2012.

20120821cne2

Globe and Mail, August 17, 1962.

An official opening presided over by Quebec Premier Jean Lesage. The unveiling of the $3 million Better Living Centre, touted as a showcase for “refinement in contemporary living.” Four nights of free concerts by Louis Armstrong at the Bandshell. Yes, the 1962 edition of the CNE had plenty to offer for adults.

But who did the kids want to see? Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe.

Riding a renewed wave of popularity thanks to reruns of their classic shorts on television and a new series of kid-friendly features in theatres, the Three Stooges were natural headliners for the CNE Grandstand’s “Matinee Fun-Fest.” Their opening performance on October 20, 1962, drew 20,000 children to see the veteran comics as part of a bill that also included clowns with green-foil eyelashes and acrobats who dangled from the Star’s helicopter.

20120821cne1

Globe and Mail, August 17, 1962.

“By any normally accepted standard of critical judgement,” the Star’s David Cobb observed, “the Three Stooges are notable mainly for the glaring poverty of their comic invention and for the dread simplicity of their obvious patter.” While acknowledging the joy kids took in the trio, Cobb felt that for adults “they were a comic desert on which there fell no reviving rain.” The Globe and Mail’s Kay Kritzwiser believed their humour defied description, though her attempt to provide that description is pretty apt: “It’s a matter of loud bongs on the pate, excruciating blows in the midriff, finger-pokes in the eye and clean, hoary jokes.”

Moe Howard acknowledged the role their young fans had played in their revival. “It seems that you kids like watching us strange characters on the TV screen,” he told the audience. “It’s you who’ve brought us back to the top again, and we thank you.”

Additional material from the August 17, 1962 and August 21, 1962 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the August 21, 1962 edition of the Toronto Star.

“A Voice That Can Scale Mountains”

Originally published on Torontoist on February 13, 2012.

20120213whitneycover

Toronto Sun, August 17, 1986.

“Whitney Houston a stunning singer who’s going places” read a headline on the front page of the Star’s entertainment section on April 24, 1985. The prediction proved true, even if some of the singer’s fans wished there were a few places Houston didn’t go—deep into drug addiction, for instance, before her death on Saturday. But long before erratic behaviour caused concern, Houston’s early live performances in Toronto left audiences and critics raving about her singing talent in ways akin to the recent New York Times appraisal of her gifts: “radiant, perspective altering, impossible to touch.”

In town for a 48-hour whirlwind of publicity interviews to promote her eponymous first album, Houston made her Toronto debut in front of music-industry reps and reporters at the Club Bluenote at 128 Pears Avenue. Backed by recorded tracks and dressed in a fringed pink gown, Houston performed a half-dozen songs that, according to the Star’s Greg Quill, showcased a singer “experienced beyond her years.” A headline in the Globe and Mail declared that Houston possessed “a voice that can scale mountains.”

Houston returned to Toronto in August 1986 as part of a musical line-up at the CNE—one that also included Huey Lewis and the News, the Psychedelic Furs, Stevie Nicks, and Van Halen. As tickets sold out, fans entered contests, such as the Sun’s “Wild About Whitney,” to win seats. (Ten lucky winners saw the show.) When the Sun’s Bob Thompson asked Houston about the success of her first album, she said, “It’s very giddy and sometimes embarrassing to be famous. It’s to be expected, I guess, but I’m still not aware of the effect. I mean people tell me ‘You’ve started something,’ ‘People are looking like you’ and this and that. But I can’t imagine anyone wanting to look like me.” She indicated that she learned from her bad experiences, but when Thompson pressed her to specify, she responded, “I don’t know. I guess I haven’t had any.”

By contrast, the Star’s Peter Goddard was drawn to Houston’s beauty:

She has gorgeous features that aren’t idiosyncratic in any way and don’t “type” her. She can look great in almost any situation—even in a Coca Cola television commercial designed to have her out-stomp the greatest stomper going, Tina Turner. Houston has full lips, slightly hooded eyes and a yards-wide smile of blistering white teeth. Yet there’s an athleticism to this sensuality: her body is lithe, not lean. It’s a figure meant to be photographed.

20120213whatshot

Toronto Sun, August 10, 1986.

According to the newspaper reviews, the 25,000 people at the CNE Grandstand on August 22, 1986, witnessed a flawless performance. From the moment she walked onstage to the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” she captured the audience’s attention with, as the Sun’s Liz Braun noted, “an unmistakable generosity of spirit.… What Houston has is total appeal. What she does is perform sublimely, and she makes it all look as easy as buttering toast.” The Star’s Greg Quill found that her performance grew stronger as the night wore on, especially during the closing numbers “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” and “Greatest Love of All.” “What remained,” Quill wrote, “after the last, long note had rung out across the stadium, was the memory of one of the strongest, most pure and most assured voices in pop.”

Houston returned for another packed CNE show in 1987, but she cancelled the show scheduled for the 1991 edition of the fair due to a sore throat—or so it was claimed. Inside sources told the Star that ticket sales were sluggish in Toronto and other Canadian stops on her tour—only 11,000 seats were sold here—so the shows were dropped.

In light of the directions in which Houston’s career and life went, the most heartbreaking words we found came from Quill’s review of the 1986 show. “Houston is far from her greatest achievements. Imagining how great she’ll be 20 years from now is almost impossible, given the wisdom and grace she displayed last night.”

Additional material from the April 24, 1985, edition of the Globe and Mail; the April 24, 1985, August 21, 1986, August 23, 1986, and August 21, 1991, editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 10, 1986, August 17, 1986, and August 24, 1986, editions of the Toronto Sun.