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.

Holiday Dispatches from the Toronto Daily Mail, 1888

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

For no particular reason other than it’s the holiday season (and the scanned pages of historical newspaper microfilm on Google News are working properly again), here are a few seasonal stories taken from the Toronto Daily Mail 130 years ago.

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Editorial, Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

The pre-Christmas edition of the Woman’s Kingdom page had several holiday-related items, starting with general thoughts about the occasion.

(Aside: the following year, Woman’s Kingdom was taken over by pioneering female journalist Kit Coleman)

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

There were suggestions on what to have for Christmas dinner:

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There was also a poem about mince pies:

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The strangest item on the page was this story about women’s toes:

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On Christmas Eve, the Mail published the tale of a lonely boarder, residing by themselves in the city far away from loved ones, who decided to take in a vagrant for some holiday cheer. The result, if it had happened in 2018, would be a headline on the 11 o’clock news.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 24, 1888.

Finally, a few stories published in the Christmas Day edition of the paper. It seems odd that the man who was taken in for a crime he was immediately cleared of still had to pay bail. Also note the hordes of last-minute Christmas shoppers in downtown Toronto.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 25, 1888.

Toronto’s Holiday Misdemeanours of 1909

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 26, 2009. The original artwork has been replaced with public domain illustrations from late 19th century books found at Old Book Illustrations.

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“Stealing.” Illustration by Louis Rhead. The life and death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan (New York: R.H. Russell, 1900). Old Book Illustrations.

Crime knows no vacation. While many of us look to the holiday season for peace and good cheer, others find themselves on the wrong side of the law. For as long as inebriates have been hauled in for disturbing the peace or thieves have secured deeper-than-advertised discounts on Boxing Day specials, the police blotter has rarely rested during the closing weeks of the year. While the most sensational crimes garner headlines today, a century ago most of Toronto’s six battling daily newspapers published lengthy accounts of court proceedings no matter how small or unusual the charge. Fined a dollar for failing to secure your horse? Clumsy cab driving? Swearing in public? All of these misdemeanours earned you fifteen seconds of press infamy in 1909.

But we’re not interested in petty offenders. Give us illegal partridges, turkey liberationists, and cannibalistic ruffians.

A partridge in a pear tree—the ideal gift from your true love during the holiday season? Maybe, but anyone who intended to provide his or her sweetie with a full complement of gifts from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in 1909 required black market birds. Clothing merchant Abraham Hadis learned all he ever wanted to know about partridge regulations when he was hauled into court for possessing the birds outside of their proper season. Trouble began when a provincial inspector caught his son with two cases containing sixty-four partridges, which father and son claimed were brought to their store at 155 Queen Street West by “a man from the country” who hoped to earn a commission on any sales. Hadis was brought up on twenty charges of violating game laws and made no attempt to evade responsibility. When lawyer J.W. Curry approached the bench and entered a guilty plea, the judge replied, “Well, I can’t do anything else than fine you on each charge; it will be ten dollars and costs, or five days in jail on each case.” Curry commented, “That’s a lot of time for a few partridges,” to which the judge replied, “Yes, but I still can’t help it.” Curry felt his client would rather go to jail than pay the fine, as “it seems like a case of the wealthy against the poor; this man is not well fixed.”

Hadis’ real problem may have been possessing too many birds. Overindulgence is a common side effect of the holidays, whether it’s downing one glass of booze-enriched eggnog too many or a sudden attack of gluttony at the dinner table. The Star guessed that the latter may have resulted in an embarrassing end to one Toronto resident’s Christmas:

A Christie Street citizen, whose name the police refuse to disclose, ate too much turkey and pudding on Christmas Day, and for half an hour after midnight he was found, clad only in his nightie, running along Van Horn Street [now Dupont Street], shouting for Shrubb to come and race him.

He was in a dream or trance or something of that sort, and ran all the way from Christie Street along Van Horn to Dovercourt Road before his cries attracted the attention of Acting Detective Mahony. The officer at first thought he was crazy, but when the man was wakened he seemed rational enough and thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mahony helped him to secure some much needed clothing and then the citizen went home. He’ll dine more wisely next Christmas.

A far more painful walk was endured by milkman Albert Atwell, who fell into a hole in the front yard of William Cooper at 15 Avenue Road and cracked three ribs after landing on an iron pipe at the bottom of the pit. Atwell sued Cooper for sixty dollars and made his case at what proved to be a brief court hearing on December 23. Both the Star and the Telegram provided the play-by-play as Atwell and Judge Morson took centre stage:

Judge: Did you walk on the lawn?
Atwell: Yes.
Judge: Was there a sidewalk?
Atwell: Yes, your honour.
Judge (after brief conversation with Atwell’s lawyer): Non-suit, without costs.

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Drawing of a wild turkey by an unknown artist. Bilder-atlas zur Wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Vögel in ihren sämmtlichen Hauptformen by Leopold Joseph Franz Johann Fitzinger (Vienna: K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1864). Old Book Illustrations.

Not every case was dismissed so easily. Shoplifting a turkey might not merit more than a sentence or two in a modern newspaper, but back in 1909 such a crime allowed the imagination of the News’ court reporter to run wild. It wasn’t just a theft—it was an act of animal liberation:

Turkee Gobler, poor old chap, was condemned to hang on December 24, the place of execution being W.J. Nichol’s store at 252 Queen Street East. His heart burning with pity, Robert Bastine, of 108 Oak Street, swore to affect a rescue. As the shades of sunset crept over the street, he emerged from his hiding place, and while the careless crowd passed the scene of execution, stealthily advanced to the rescue. With a fell swoop he cut the halter and as Gobler came to earth, deftly caught him in his arms and bore him off. But the doughty knight lived not happily ever afterward, for the law cast him into a dungeon, and charged him with theft.

This act of holiday terrorism earned Bastine three days in the slammer.

While eating poor Mr. Gobler is an accepted holiday dining tradition, sampling a savoury bite of a neighbourhood cop is not. As a Star headline proclaimed on December 23, “Martin Donaghue Learns That It Is Unsafe to Feast on Police.” The trouble began the night before when Police Sergeant McDonald encountered an intoxicated, stumbling “Sykes” Donaghue walking along College Street near Clinton without a hat. The officer, who most accounts indicate wasn’t a popular figure in the neighbourhood, asked Donaghue where his headgear was. “Down the street someplace,” replied Donaghue. “The wind blew if off. I don’t care. I’ve got lots o’ money to buy twenty hats.”

When McDonald told Donaghue to go home and behave himself, the officer received a steady stream of obscenities. As the Star put it in more genteel terms, “Donaghue became indignant and owing to the befuddled condition of his brain didn’t use proper discretion in his selection of language.” Result: an arrest for disorderly conduct. By now, a crowd had gathered to witness the mounting tension between the two men, which exploded into a fight after Police Constable Joseph Baird arrived at the scene and Donaghue launched into another cursing fit. Witnesses were unable to determine who struck the first blow—the Mail and Empire claimed Donaghue kicked McDonald in the thigh, while the Star claimed that the officer hit his prisoner in the mouth and bloodied his nose while Baird repeatedly hit the prisoner’s arm with his baton. Donaghue asked for help from the crowd, which arrived in the form of “little fellow” Herbert “Red” Evans, who promptly slugged Baird in the jaw. In the midst of this new development, Donaghue sank his teeth into McDonald’s wrist, which caused the officer to later seek medical attention. Donaghue and Evans, both described as having poor reputations in the neighbourhood, were hauled into court the following morning. According to one lawyer, “I don’t know why he should want to eat one of our new patrol sergeants. He’s been here before for this kind of thing.” Described by the Telegram’s court reporter as “the man with the cannibal appetite,” Donaghue received six months hard labour for his snack, while Evans’ father paid a ten-dollar fine for his son’s actions.

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“Cheap Wine.” Illustration by George Du Maurier. Trilby by George Du Maurier (New York: Harper & Row, 1895). Old Book Illustrations.

Arrests of inebriates like Donaghue over the holiday season were fewer in 1909 than previous years. Christmas Day saw one hundred and thirty people taken into custody for public drunkenness. As the Mail and Empire noted, “Most of them were treated leniently on account of the season, and the inspectors allowed them to go as soon as they could find their way home…only in the aggravated cases were fines imposed, and the majority of the prisoners formed a procession out of the dock, and will be in line for the New Year’s celebration.”

Additional material from the December 23, 1909 and December 28, 1909 editions of the Mail and Empire; the December 24, 1909 and December 27, 1909 editions of the News; the December 23, 1909, December 24, 1909, and December 27, 1909 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 23, 1909 and December 24, 1909 editions of the Telegram.