The Death of Benji Hayward

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on May 1, 2012. This article was assigned to me following the publication of an oral history of Degrassi Junior High. 

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“Gordon Hayward, right, father of drowning victim Benji Hayward who disappeared after a rock concert Friday, shown with family friend Henry Goodman, said his son’s apparent experiment with LSD should be a lesson to all parents: ‘Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids.'” Photo by Ron Bull, used on the front page of the May 19, 1988 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054093f.

May 13, 1988. Exhibition Stadium is packed for a Pink Floyd concert. Among the attendees is 14-year-old Benji Hayward. Despite warnings from friends, Hayward and a friend bought two pieces each of blotter paper sprinkled with LSD. Their drug use that night wasn’t isolated, as acid, coke, and crack were openly passed around the stands. As the concert closed, the friends separated in the crowd, each probably figuring the other would get home okay.

While his friend’s acid-induced wanderings resulted in a police pick up near Queen and Jameson, Benji headed toward the lake. He fell into the water near Coronation Park and drowned. His body was not discovered for four days, a period in which his parents, not satisfied with the relaxed pace the police adopted toward their missing-person request, organized a postering campaign to find their son.

After calls from politicians and community leaders for stronger drug-fighting tactics, a two-month coroner’s inquest was held that summer. Jurors learned that Hayward and his friend were warned by police on Yonge Street about drug possession two months before the concert, but due to regulations related to the Young Offenders Act of 1984, their parents were not informed. It was also revealed that, following the 1982 Charter of Rights, Metro Police turned over responsibility for searching concertgoers for drugs to promoters, who sometimes hired biker gangs involved in dealing to act as security. Hayward’s parents were frustrated at the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude demonstrated by law officials, but also admitted that they had a “not my child” attitude regarding the possibility of Benji using drugs.

As the inquest ended, Metro Police Inspector Julian Fantino admitted that mistakes had been made and the Haywards should have received more care regarding their concerns. He indicated that officers would resume contacting parents when their children had minor brushes with the law, that the procedures for missing person cases would be improved, and that police would launch a major anti-drug program that fall. He blamed the problems in the Hayward case on “the human element,” as officers found their hands tied by human-rights legislation and fear of the Public Complaints Act. Fantino also believed that an officer who had testified at the inquest was led “like a lamb to the slaughter.”

The jury issued 14 pages of recommendations when the inquest ended on August 13, 1988, three months to the day that Hayward disappeared. They urged all levels of government to declare war on drugs and drill drug education into students, even if took time away from other academic activities. Tougher sentencing and heavier police enforcement were needed, leading Fantino to announce a request for up to 90 extra officers and $6 million for an anti-drug campaign.

In an editorial three days later, the Star acknowledged the sincerity of the jurors but advised caution before implementing harsh, counter-productive measures that would further alienate youth. “Where trust is lacking,” the Star wrote, “how can young people feel comfortable discussing drug use openly with those who are trained to help them find equally attractive means of satisfaction in life?” The editorial agreed with a key message from the jury: “Please do not lull yourself into the misconception that living in suburbia and sending your child to a good school guarantees protection from this problem. This is not a problem of a few unfortunate families, the single parent, the poor, or your neighbor. This is your problem, this is my problem, this is our problem.”

The Hayward case inspired a storyline in a two-part episode of Degrassi Junior High (“Taking Off“) in February 1989, wherein Shane dropped acid under circumstances not unlike Benji Hayward’s. Unlike Benji, Shane survived a fall off a bridge but was left in a mentally-impaired state that served as a warning to anyone contemplating taking a hit.

Sources: the July 19, 1988, July 21, 1988, August 10, 1988, August 13, 1988, and August 16, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Towers Department Stores

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally published on June 3, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 16, 1960.

As the 1960s dawned, the discount department store heralded a new era of shopping. While Toronto had been home to stores such as Honest Ed’s for some time, the new breed of bargain emporiums were large, suburban sites which promised low prices, self-service and plenty of parking. Two years before future industry giants K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco opened their first stores in the United States, Towers brought Metro Toronto consumers a taste of the future of retail.

Launched as the Canadian division of U.S.-based Towers Marts International, the chain’s plan was to erect stores, sell them to recover the capital costs, then lease them back. Concessionaires rented space inside each store to operate individual departments—one merchant ran men’s clothing, for example, while another ran the pharmacy. The initial 14 concessionaires, including familiar names like Coles books, signed a one-year deal, with the cost of the lease afterwards determined by their sales volume. By coming together under one roof, everyone saved money by using common cashiers, bags and fixtures.

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1960.

After six weeks of construction, the first Towers store opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Midland Avenue in Scarborough on November 17, 1960. An ad printed in the Star two days earlier depicted a child clad only in a rain barrel declaring “I’m not buying another thing” until the doors opened. The ad promised shoppers “bargains in sufficient quantities to fill your needs,” “forty-eight self-service, pressure-free departments on one floor to fill every need for all the family,” and “acres of free parking.” The festivities included the crowning of Mrs. Canada, who represented “the nation’s happiest housewife,” or at least the happiest homemaker to shop at Towers.

More gimmicky touches were used when Towers opened its third store on Dundas Street West between Bloor and Roncesvalles in June 1962. The first 1,000 customers could spend money to get more money—in this case, silver dollars for 80 cents. Seven sets of triplets, ranging in age from 3 to 34, were on hand to perform duties that including modelling the chain’s latest fashions and burying a time capsule intended to be left untouched until 2062.

Whether Towers would survive one more year, let alone 100, was a reasonable question. Messy relationships with its concessionaires, an inability to sell properties as fast as they were built, and a split with its American parent led to Towers falling into receivership in March 1963. During a creditors meeting at the King Edward Hotel that month, the receiver noted that untangling Towers’ affairs was “the most complicated matter I’ve ever been connected with” thanks to numerous unfavourable agreements it had made. Sales weren’t helped whenever customers unhappy with one concessionaire’s products said to heck with the rest of them and never set foot in Towers again.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1980.

The ultimate solution to the company’s problems was a gradual acquisition by grocer Oshawa Wholesale (later known as Oshawa Group) between 1965 and 1967. The chain’s numbers were boosted when Oshawa converted its Rite-Way discount stores to the Towers banner. The concessionaire model was phased as leases expired. Many stores built thereafter were paired with a Food City supermarket. Apart from some bumpiness in the mid-1970s, the chain became profitable and opened stores around Toronto in spots like the Galleria on Dupont Street.

Despite appearances in shows like Degrassi Junior High, Towers’ modest store count made it an attractive proposition for a sell-off as the 1990s loomed and Oshawa Group concentrated on its food and drug businesses. A bidding war erupted between the Hudson’s Bay Company and Woolworths for the 51-store chain, with HBC emerging the victor in October 1990. Over the next year, most of the stores were converted into Zellers locations. Figuring out where Towers locations were in Toronto without a store list isn’t too difficult: the tell-tale signs are malls and plazas where Zellers was/is located in close proximity to a FreshCo/Price Chopper/Sobeys grocery store.

Additional material from the September 9, 1960, November 15, 1960, November 16, 1960, June 14, 1962, April 1, 1963, and September 11, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The first time I wrote about Towers was the following installment of “Vintage Toronto Ads” originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2007:

Vintage Ad #370: The Devil's Polyester (or Satan's Slacks)

Toronto Star, October 2, 1972.

With Halloween almost upon us, the mind turns to the dark side. Though today’s ad seems innocent enough on the surface, its evil intentions are evident from its most prominently displayed sale price. While humans usually sell their soul to demons for wealth, power or self-sacrifice, all your eternal fate will earn you at Towers is a pair of cheap polyester pants.

Halloween items were likely among the products on sale when Towers opened their Galleria location in the fall of 1972. The mall site was previously home to the Dominion Radiator Company. An essay on the industrial life of Dupont Streetreferred to the heating manufacturer’s replacement as “soulless,” so perhaps devilish dealings were afoot beyond these pants.

Towers was one of Canada’s earliest discount department store chains. After being purchased by Oshawa Group in 1967, several locations included or were built next to their grocery (Food City) and drug (Kent) stores. The chain had 51 stores across Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec (as Bonimart) by the time it was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1990. Within a few months most locations, including the Galleria, were converted to Zellers stores.

Other than the price, the main eye-catching element is the artwork. The legs are so spindly that the “B” model snapped in two after attempting to stand straight.