Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on April 3, 2010.
When the world is beginning to awaken to the fact that spring with all its revivifying and gladdening influences is at hand, when the earth is delivered from the bondage of the iron hand of winter, it is appropriate that paeans of praise and thanksgiving should rise from every Christian church the world over. Yesterday afternoon in Toronto in nearly four hundred churches special choral services were held, and every pulpit spoke forth a message appropriate to the day. Toronto looked like a new city yesterday when Easter raiment and Easter hats, as though by the waving of a magician’s wand, changed the dull streets of a few days back into avenues full of life and colour. No other flower blooms into being quite so suddenly as that which decks the maiden’s hat on Easter Sunday, and none of the birds of spring make their appearance in quite the unheralded fashion of the one that sings his silent song from its perch amidst the foliage unknown to science that adorns some of the new spring creations. It will still be some time before the trees begin to leaf, the early flowers to peep above the sod, and when they do the process will be a gradual one, but the women of Toronto yesterday anticipated the process and bloomed forth into the raiment of spring in a single day.
The city’s newspapers that weekend were full of flowery prose, extensive listings of the songs heard at four hundred churches, and a few other stories we’re going to share.
Muddy St. Clair Avenue West, east of Avenue Road, 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 19. A researcher’s note on the back of the photograph reads, “This photo appeared in the Toronto World, Sunday, May 15, 1910, under heading ‘Beautiful Toronto Street Much Favored by Horsemen, Cyclists and Pedestrians–Three Views of St. Clair-avenue.’” Based on this photo, we’re guessing the copywriter had their tongue firmly in cheek.
In its Good Friday editorial, the Globe wrote about the controversial widening of St. Clair Avenue from a two-lane road into an artery that could handle multiple lanes of traffic and a streetcar line. The sticking point was who would pick up the cost: the city or taxpayers?
Some of the property-owners say that they moved to the avenue to be far away from street cars, laden wagons, automobiles, and all the other dusty and noisy features of city life. They do not want to attract them by widening the street—largely at their own cost. The dreaded traffic will come, however, whatever the width of the street may be, for it is the only artery that serves an area which is being rapidly populated. If the traffic must come, willy-nilly, it is better for all concerned that the street should be made spacious enough now to make it adequate for all time to come.
Despite concerns that the project would be caught up in bureaucratic bungling (the impression given by the editorial is that city projects constantly sailed through various levels of government only to be stymied by one unhappy official or board), the widening eventually went ahead. Whether it was made wide enough is a question to ask anyone with an opinion on the St. Clair right-of-way project.
Speaking of streetcars, Toronto Railway Company general manager R.J. Fleming announced a series of new lines that looped around City Hall and crossed the Don River. Among the routes were two that began the process of connecting the many short streets that later formed the path of Dundas Street from Bathurst to Broadview. The eastern route along what was then Wilton Avenue and Elliott Street was hoped to relieve pressure on Queen Street as the number of commuters from Riverdale grew, as well as to allow a new crossing of the Don River to be built. The loops around City Hall were designed to lessen congestion created by the thousands of employees heading to work at Eaton’s and Simpson’s. According to the News, city council disagreed with the proposed line for University Avenue “for scenic reasons” and because of the noise it would create in front of the new site for Toronto General Hospital.
And now, a word from our sponsor…
The other major story from east of the Don was a coroner’s inquest into the death of laundryman Mah Yung from typhoid at the Don Jail. Yung was arrested on March 12 at his store on Parliament Street, where, according to the Globe, “other Chinamen” called the police when Yung “had gone out of his mind and was breaking up the furniture.” Though an autopsy determined Yung’s state was caused by a typhoid-induced delirium with symptoms resembling insanity, the arresting officer didn’t call a doctor, as Yung did not appear to be in any pain. Although a law passed a few years earlier indicated anyone suspected of mental illness shouldn’t be locked up with anyone charged or convicted of a criminal offence, that’s precisely what happened to Yung when he reached the jail. His condition varied over the next few days, with most accounts noting that he repeatedly got out of bed, put his clothes on, and then reversed the process. After nearly a week, Yung’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he was rushed to Toronto General Hospital, where he quickly succumbed to peritonitis that set into a ruptured bowel. The inquest determined that medical facilities at the jail were grossly inadequate and the physicians had not taken enough care in diagnosing Yung’s true ailment—insanity, partly determined by rumours heard by Yung’s friends that he might have spent time in an asylum in Vancouver. As a News editorial noted, “the fact that the victim was a Chinaman does not render any less satisfactory the breakdown of the medical machinery in connection with the Toronto prison system.” While the inquest was under way, local health officials downgraded a boiled water alert, as the count of bacteria in the city water supply that led to Yung’s condition had dropped.
On a lighter note, the News also provided an update on the reconstruction of recreational facilities at Hanlan’s Point that were damaged or destroyed by fire the previous summer—“the sound of hammer and saw and the general bustle and activity at Hanlan’s Point these days reminds one forcibly of the springtime scene in a young but growing town in the Prairie Provinces, where they sprout up and stretch out as if by magic.” The $250,000 of improvements made by the Toronto Ferry Company included a doubling of the capacity of the baseball stadium, improved fire protection, and the installation of a new roller coaster at the amusement park:
Two cars start off together on opposite sides of a platform, are hauled up the steep incline and then tear away on their mad course a mile and a half in length, including all the circuits and curves, which they cover in three and one-half minutes. The speed is that of a railway train, and if that, together with the up-jerks and down-jerks, is not enough excitement, a little more is provided by the apparent race with another racing car on a parallel course close by. The Racer Dips are specially strengthened and provided with side guards to prevent any possibility of a car leaving the course.
If riding the Racer Dips was too much excitement for a leisurely activity, why not take part in a play? The News provided tips from Toronto Conservatory School of Expression director F.H. Kirkpatrick for budding thespians on how to properly run an amateur dramatic club. Most important: find a director or stage manager who “must be dominant, firm, tactful and possessed of an infinite degree of patience.” In terms of suitable material, “it is almost unnecessary to suggest that one cannot portray that which is without one’s experience. Consequently it would be wise to avoid dramas that call for the portrayal of deep and subtle emotions.” Fitzpatrick felt that “plays of simple plot, somewhat rapid movement, normal characterization and clear situations” were appropriate for non-professionals. Ideal genres included farce, situation comedies, and “plays of a simple heart-interest.” He also believed many clubs ignored the crucial elements of choosing the right pictures to post on the stage, which we suspect may have helped distract audiences from the cliched action in front of them.
Sources: the March 25, 1910, March 26, 1910, and March 28, 1910 editions of the Globe; the March 25, 1910 edition of the Mail and Empire; the March 26, 1910 and March 28, 1910 editions of the News; and the March 26, 1910 edition of the Telegram.