The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

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Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

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Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

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Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

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Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

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Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

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Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

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Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen's Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand. - June, 1910

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

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The Globe, December 28, 1921.

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The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

A Look at Toronto’s Cycling Heyday

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on May 27, 2013 to mark the beginning of that year’s Toronto Bike Month. As of this posting, 2020’s edition has been postponed until September due to COVID-19.

A cyclist during the height of the bicycle craze of the 1890s would have scoffed at the notion of a Toronto Bike Month. At the time, no special observance was necessary. Everybody was picking up two-wheeled vehicles in models designed for comfort, fashion, and style. They were speedier than a horse carriage, roomier than a crammed streetcar, and offered independent mobility. Outside of the winter months, bicycles were poised to rule the city’s streets for years to come.

The introduction of equal-sized wheels and inflatable rubber tires during the late 1880s produced safer bicycles, sparking a boom in sales. At the height of the fad, trendy riding clothes were available, spectators lined streets and tracks to watch competitive races, and relationships were cemented on leisurely rides. Yet within a few years of the 20th century’s arrival, the bike’s popularity began to fade as the next big thing began to take over: the automobile.

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Mail and Empire, February 9, 1895.

A sampling of top-end models offered by one of the city’s largest bicycle retailers. A second ad in the same newspaper noted that “our Mr. Hyslop has given up all his other business connections with the intention of pushing the bicycle trade to its utmost extent…If energy, push, and live business ideas count for anything, we shall have it.”

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The Globe, April 4, 1901.

Department stores sold their own lines of bicycles. In this ad, Eaton’s explains why they could sell a bike for far less than the average $50-$150 range. Given Eaton’s legendary generosity in terms in accepting returns with few questions asked, we imagine a few wheels made their way back to the store when riders needed an upgrade.

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The Globe, April 18, 1898.

It’s a fact: stopping for a rest by the roadside while out for a ride will immediately turn your clothing to tatters and cause stubble to sprout from your face!

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The Globe, April 2, 1887.

Shockingly, the paper was not swamped with letters from angry bicycle repairmen for being portrayed as greedy businessmen preying on cyclists who chose their vehicles poorly.

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The Empire, January 21, 1895.

During this era, competitive cycling was used as a sales pitch. L.D. Robertson, T.B. McCarthy, and R. Hensel were the top three finishers during the inaugural edition of the Dunlop Trophy Race on September 29, 1894. Participants rode a 20 mile course which included several loops of Woodbine Racetrack (then located at Queen and Woodbine), a journey out and back along Kingston Road, and a final loop of the horse track. The Globe observed that while Woodbine was is in good shape, Kingston Road was “pretty dusty and rutty.” It was also observed that race officials were too cheap to publicize the competition, resulting in only 1,000 spectators at Woodbine. The race moved to Ottawa in 1926, a year which proved to be its final ride.

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The Globe, April 1, 1897.

Teach a few lessons, promote cycling as a competitive sport, and hope the lure of an “academy” sells a few more Cleveland brand cycles. Brilliant marketing, n’est pas?

471 Church Street was the venerable Granite Club’s second location, having moved there from St. Mary Street in 1880. The site hosted athletic and social activities for the local upper crust until the mid-1920s.

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The Globe, April 8, 1908.

Have fun working through the logic of this ad. Would a transit pass plan be the modern equivalent of the hold-up man taking away your hard-earned cash?

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The Globe, April 14, 1897.

The bike courier market was well catered to.

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Mail and Empire, May 3, 1898.

Agricultural machinery giant Massey-Harris was among the manufacturers who jumped into the bicycle business. Instead of using country farmers to sell their bikes, M-H presented images of urbane gentlemen of all ages and sizes.

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The Globe, April 30, 1897.

Bicycle advertising wasn’t immune from the depiction of Victorian women as delicate flowers.

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Mail and Empire, April 2, 1898.

Since 1898, all bicycle repairs have been made bare-handed, without the assistance of tools.

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Mail and Empire, May 7, 1898.

We’ll test you on your Red Bird part knowledge later on.

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Mail and Empire, May 14, 1898.

Bicycles offer a less claustrophobic (unless caught in a tight squeeze with other vehicles), more independent alternative to crowded streetcars. Downside: you can’t read the latest catalogue while riding your bike.

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Mail and Empire, May 21, 1898.

This man is laughing at the fools herding onto the streetcar. Or least we think he’s laughing—hard to tell beneath the beard, not to mention the fine Victorian skill of repressing external displays of emotion.

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The News, April 2, 1903.

Unlike the Pullman railway car, the Hygienic Cushion Frame did include space for sleeping, or a porter to tend to any belongings you brought on your ride.

By this point Massey-Harris’s bicycle division had merged with several other manufacturers to create the Canada Cycle and Motor Company (CCM). The new company settled in Weston prior to World War I, establishing the town as the region’s bicycle production hub.

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The News, April 2, 1898.

It might not be Daisy giving her answer do on a bicycle built for two, but perhaps this is how couples too clumsy to balance a tandem rode together.

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Toronto Star, June 4, 1898.

A ride wasn’t complete with a fine new bicycle suit.

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Mail and Empire, May 25, 1895.

Modern Tweed Ride participants may want to seek antique Rigby suits in case of rain.

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The World, May 20, 1895

Next time you have a tummy ache, hop on your bicycle!

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The World, February 17, 1900.

Then as now, there was a stampede for repairs and tune-ups before spring cycling season.

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The News, May 10, 1902.

A sign of things to come—Hyslop began selling a motorized contraption called an “Olds Mobile.” Bicycle companies soon fought for ad space with car manufacturers, a battle the two-wheeled vehicles eventually lost.

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.

The Dying Days of the Eaton Centre Sears

When The Grid’s website entered its terminal phase following the publication’s shutdown, there were several stories I was unable to capture screen grabs of because they had already vanished. This was one of them. I suspect it went MIA first because it was a photo essay.

Lesson: always take screen captures of your online work as soon as it is published!

Based on my social media feeds, this story was originally published online on February 4, 2014, and was referenced in the February 13, 2014 print edition. This version is based on the draft I submitted, with additional thoughts and photos.

All of the photos used in this post were taken on January 25 and January 31, 2014.

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With less than a week to go before Sears closes its doors for good at the Eaton Centre, the final days of the department store’s blowout sale have offered shoppers more than hunting for deals amongst the dwindling merchandise. Walking through the store provides an education in how department store design has evolved since the space opened as Eaton’s in 1977, including elements that were around when the ribbon was the cut.

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The final days have contrasted Sears’s higher-end pretensions for the store and the flea market atmosphere of a closing sale, reflecting the widening divide in the department store sector between luxury retailers and discounters.

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While upper levels are filled with abandoned aspirational signage for kitchenwares and phantom cosmetics counters, the bottom floor lures shoppers to demonstrations of a Shamwow-esque cloth via a P.A. announcement promising a free gift.

After Sears closes its doors for good on February 9, the remaining armies of mannequins will march off as the site undergoes two years of renovations before Nordstrom opens in fall 2016.

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The store witnessed its first closing sale when Eaton’s declared bankruptcy in 1999. Sears Canada briefly kept the old brand alive as “eatons” but switched the nameplate to the Sears in 2002. The retail space has shrunk from 10 floors in 1977 to the current four-and-a-half—Sears Canada’s head office occupies the top three-and-a-half floors, while the bottom two were turned over to the Eaton Centre.

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The brown-hued escalators are the most prominent remnants of the store’s Eaton’s era. The 1970s diamond logo lingers next to the escalators on the second floor.

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The lower-case “e” logo used during the eatons phase marks each floor in the elevator bank.

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On the fourth floor, I discovered a box of tiles marked “T. Eatons (sic) Company,” which hasn’t existed since 1999.

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The women’s fashion area on the second floor was divided into fixture sale space and a cordoned-off wasteland of walls bearing the brand names which held court here. The backdrop of columns set against emptiness appealed to some visitors—one evening I observed a romantic photo shoot taking place.

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Rows of well-worn office fixtures made parts of the second floor resemble IKEA’s “As Is” section. Among the heavily used items was a lonesome $50 microwave. Inside were remnants of past meals baked onto the rotating centrepiece. Discoloured grains of rice threatened to spill onto the floor. As I closed the door, an associate informed me that it had already sold. It served as a sad reminder of all the jobs lost with the store’s closure.

Note from 2019: It’s too bad I didn’t photograph the microwave, which was possibly the best representation of the depressing atmosphere. For a fixture in such poor shape, couldn’t management have raffled it off to employees or allowed them to express their frustrations by whacking it with baseball bats rather than hand it over to the liquidator?

On second thought, it’s the sort of the strip mining and ultra-capitalism Eddie Lampert, the Ayn Rand-obsessed hedge fund operator who oversaw the terminal decline of Sears across North America, might approve of.

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Plenty of marketing materials were up for grabs. For $75, you could take home this promotional image for Eva Mendes’s home décor line. Never mind that someone went wild with a black magic marker in a vain attempt to cover up the branding details.

Would a proud new owner have painted over the marker-covered areas? Sliced the panel neatly to remove the left side? Left it as an artistic/political statement?

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Apart from the Tim Horton’s tucked into the cafeteria, the fourth floor was a ghost town of appliance and kitchenware displays.

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Colorful signs for Keurig, Hamilton Beach, and other kitchen brands hung above empty displays.

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There were vacancies galore in the refrigerator section.

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An electronic display which was still functioning last week offered an energy-savings calculator based on products no longer nearby.

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The “NOTHING HELD BACK” signs weren’t kidding. Apart from some fixtures destined for other stores, everything else was available for a price, including these faux fragrance holders filled with mysterious liquid.

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Nearby were a homemade-looking Halloween mix CD ($1) and a box of coffee stir sticks. I didn’t check if they had been used.

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On the main floor, mini Christmas trees could be yours for 43 cents!

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Apart from security passes needed to board at 3 Below (now the Urban Eatery food court) and the removal of the 2 Below stop, you can ride the elevators to all of the former Eaton’s floors.

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Checking out the seventh floor, which once served as Eaton’s bargain annex, I found this friendly piece of advice to Sears Canada head office employees. A cynic might wonder if this was an effort to boost floor traffic.

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Armies of mannequins were among the fixtures for sale.

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Prices varied depending on much body you wanted—a painted head/torso combination would set you back $100.

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Standing alone next to large faceless collections of mannequins made me fear when they would awaken and launch their invasion of downtown Toronto.

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Sometimes all you need is a mannequin arm. These dismembered limbs are ideal for fixing old mannequins, as a canvas for horrific props, as a joke item, or as a back scratcher.

The original article draft ended here.

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There were so many mannequin parts laying around. How many of these pieces wound up in stores, studios, or homes around the GTA?

The leather “Judys” on the right may have dated from the eatons relaunch in 2000. “Mannequins, like runway models, should bear no resemblance to most mortals,” Phillip Preville observed in Saturday Night magazine. “Eatons will have some of retail’s funkiest dummies, including leather-upholstered headless torsos, and, in the junior women’s section, urban punk girlie-quins.”

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Some mannequins still found time to strike a pose in front of displays, even if those displays were cluttered with shopping bags.

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NOT FOR SALE.

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The kitchen demonstration area, dubbed the “Great Kitchen” during the eatons era.

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1970s phone casings with later payphones. Never mind the retro stylings, by 2014 an attached phone book was a rare citing (I didn’t check how outdated it was). Did the light above the phone signal that it was available for use?

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Salon equipment was mixed in with leftover furnishings.

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$389 for a ripped couch. $389…

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Artwork from the optical department?

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The other three store closings listed on this sign were leases Sears sold back to the individual malls in 2013. As of December 2019, these are the primary replacements for those stores:

Eaton Centre: Nordstrom, Samsung, Uniqlo, and a corridor on the mall’s second floor

Sherway Gardens: Saks Fifth Avenue, SportChek

Square One: Simons, SportChek

Yorkdale: Restoration Hardware, Sporting Life

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By my second photoshoot, access to upper floors was more difficult.

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A sampling of the fixtures available on the second floor.

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Were any of these people asked if they wanted the remains of this cupboard bearing their names? Or was this a relic from the Eaton’s era?

Otherwise, it could have been yours for $30.

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Matthew McConaughey and his clothing line were exiled to Barrie, a location closed when the remaining Sears Canada stores shuttered in January 2018.

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Nothing to watch here.

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These display cases, placed in the corridor leading out to the passageway between Trinity Square and Dundas Street, were reserved for Sears Canada’s archives. They definitely appeared to be from at least the 1970s, but I wondered if they were first used at an earlier point in Eaton’s history.

Does anyone know the current location of items like this or the rest of the Sears Canada archives?

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A final exit into the alleyway.

From a Facebook post I wrote on February 13, 2014:

Wandering through Eaton Centre before heading home to find store still open, when several sources had indicated its end was going to be last weekend. Appears management is trying to milk as much out of the place as possible – the well-worn fixtures on the second floor were going for 50% off today, while the flea market/trade show styled demonstrations of products continue on the lower floor. PA announcement reminded shoppers they have less that two weeks to walk home with whatever remains.

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Reader reaction to the original “rather depressing” story.

Reconstruction soon began, as the bottom floor (the old Eaton’s 1 Below) became mall space, while the remaining three retail floors reopened as Nordstrom in September 2016. The upper floors remained Sears Canada’s head office until the chain wound down in early 2018.

With the store’s closure, part of my childhood passed on. Up until the end there were still plenty of reminders of the Eaton’s store I loved roaming through as a kid, from forgotten vintage signage to old logos to the escalators that retained their 1970s shades of brown. Windsor didn’t have department stores as large as downtown Toronto’s, and I never experienced Hudson’s Detroit flagship during its dying days, so visiting Eaton’s (and Simpsons) felt special to a kid overwhelmed by so much space. Eating in the marine-themed cafeteria. My dad indulging my need to ride every escalator as high or low as we could go. Wondering what mysteries lay in the closed off 3 Below floor.

Not that I’ll complain about what has happened to the site. Nordstrom performed a much-needed overhaul of the remaining space. Most of the merchandise is beyond my budget, but I like the modern-yet-traditional department store feel while walking through.

the short, aubergine-coloured, lower-cased life of eatons

Viewers tuning into CTV’s airing of Tomorrow Never Dies on October 22, 2000 might have scratched their heads during the commercial breaks. Of the 29 minutes of ad time during that evening’s Bond thriller, 24 were dedicated to promoting a shade of purple which shared the French name for eggplant. The longest spot, running four-and-a-half minutes, was a stylish ode to classic Hollywood musicals.

Aubergine: the colour and driving spirit of the new incarnation of Eaton’s. Or, as it would now be known, eatons.

The ad campaign, created by the Ammirati Puris agency and anchor by director Floria Sigismondi’s TV spot, created a lot of buzz. But the expectations it created among consumers, and the disappointment they experienced when faced with reality, led to the quick demise of the eatons experiment.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

In Fall 1999, Sears Canada picked up the remains of the T. Eaton Company for, depending on the source, either $50 million or $80 million. Of the 19 locations acquired, 12 were converted to Sears stores. The remaining seven—two in Toronto (Eaton Centre and Yorkdale), along with locations in Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg—would form a new, upscale chain. It would be a change of pace for Sears, whose base was mid-market suburbia.

Retaining the “circle e” logo Eaton’s had introduced during a last-ditch “Times Have Changed” revamp in 1997, the new branding was introduced in April 2000. Sears Canada executive VP of marketing Rick Sorby explained the decision to use a lower-case name:

The design of the name, which features a small “e” and no apostrophe before the “s,” reflects the evolution from a family name to a true brand name. The execution of the identification utilizes easy-to-read lower-case typography and a powerful icon—the circled e—to give us a branding device that works on all applications from TV commercials to store signing…The lower-case letters are more contemporary, cleaner and more reflective of the style of the new Internet age.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

During focus group sessions with upper middle-class female shoppers, Sorby envisioned a store they would shop in if they had only three hours to live. “It’s not going to be, it’s going to be sophisticated. But not to the point of scary.”

Initial plans called for reviving lines dumped by Eaton’s during its final years, including furniture and appliances. Also resurrected was the catalogue, whose discontinuation in 1976 had caused a national uproar. If all went well, the seven eatons stores would see $1 billion in annual sales by 2003.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

All promotional material dripped with aubergine, a colour executives hoped the public would associate with eatons as they did orange with Home Depot or green with TD. “Aubergine,” Ammirati Puris creative director Doug Robinson explained to Marketing Magazine, “has been associated with royalty. We simply struck on the ideas of taking that forward, of taking it into some sort of musical, very high-fashion, very entertaining positioning-without getting too sophisticated with it.”

The aubergine jokes began as soon as the first ads aired in October. “Don’t think purple, which only comes close to aubergine,” Peter Goddard observed in the Toronto Star. “Purple is for the suburbs. Aubergine is so very downtown, so very sophisto, so very the new eatons.” Eaton chronicler Rod McQueen wondered if the brand had found a new path to bankruptcy (“Aubergine? Doesn’t that rhyme with might have been?”).

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

Checking out the renovations to the Eaton Centre flagship for Saturday Night, writer Jennifer Wells smelled “the scent of fabulousness.”

Perforated metal drop-panel ceilings. Steel floor inlays under archways. Chrome yellow tile with flecks of faux Inca gold. Three sets of escalators have been opened so that shoppers on these floors will no longer feel they are being fed up and down cattle chutes. Shoppers on floor five (fine china, drapery, flooring) will be able to peer down to four, where visiting chefs in the Great Kitchen will be preparing something sensational. There will be restaurants in all the stores featuring a variety of food stations. Alas, they are self-serve and bear the un-hip name Cuisine Scene. And you won’t be able to take home a box of petits fours or those twee pinwheel tea sandwiches. (Does anyone else remember the divine Charlotte Russe?) Those days are forever dead. Still, Sorby likens the hoped-for consumer experience on these top floors to a sensory journey. All sights, sounds, smells.

The “Historical Rooms of Distinction,” wood-panelled rooms partly preserved from the College Street store closed in 1976, were installed. The wall along Yonge Street was replaced with fashion boutiques for Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Polo, Kenneth Cole, and BCBG Max Azria with doors open to outside foot traffic. Aisles were two feet wider than a standard Sears store. Greeters would be dressed in aubergine jackets. Granite and marble was used to create a sense that the new eatons was here for the long run.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

“From the outset,” Sears CEO Paul Walters told the Globe and Mail, “our objective has been to offer exceptional stores that meet all of the needs and wants of our primary customer—the time-pressed urban customer who enjoys shopping, wants the latest styles and trends, demands service expertise and wants an exciting entertaining environment to shop in.”

There were troubling signs. Grand openings originally projected for October 2000 were delayed a month partly due to construction strikes, missing up to $40 million in sales during the early part of the holiday shopping season. Renovations went over budget. Overall consumer confidence was sinking, with fears of a recession around the corner. Some of those who attended sneak previews felt too much space was given to brands available everywhere else.

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Globe and Mail, November 24, 2000.

As for the target market, did the brand itself retain any resonance? “Can it draw crowds who are prepared to spend?” McQueen observed in the National Post. “Maybe among the 60-year-old women who grew up going to the Georgian Room in Toronto or the Grill Room in Winnipeg. But the target market of tomorrow is not women of a certain age. Eatons badly needs the 18-to-49-year old who may find switching difficult because her buying habits are already well established elsewhere.”

“These days, mimicry is mediocrity.”

The competition barely flinched. “People talk about eatons reopening as if it was Eaton’s reopening,” HBC CEO George Heller told Maclean’s. “It’s not. We’re talking about a totally different animal here.”

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Toronto Star, November 25, 2000.

When the stores opened on November 25, reviews were positive about the look and customer service, mixed about the merchandise. “I love it,” shopper Theresa Macas told the Star. “They have very luxurious clothes and good lighting. I thought it was going to be like Sears, but it’s not.”

The wheels fell off quickly. After 13 straight quarters of record earnings, Sears Canada’s stock price fell and earnings dipped into the red. Customers expecting merchandise lining up with the adventurous advertising were disappointing. The 100-page catalogue delivered to 4.2 million homes was uninspiring. It didn’t help that it was sent via Sears’ traditional mailing list, which skewed older, lower-income, and in smaller communities than the audience eatons wanted to attract. It looked and felt nothing like the legendary Eaton’s catalogue of yore. Some industry observers also noted how much Canadians hated paying for shipping. The eatons website looked impressive, but was slow-loading and difficult to click on. Though aubergine was retained as a theme, a second television ad campaign featuring the mini-musical’s characters with a funky 1970s soundtrack failed to capture the public’s imagination. Retail consultants experienced déjà vu, seeing similar mistakes the old Eaton’s made in creating a new marketing image that wasn’t delivered in store.

Shorter version of the Floria Sigismondi aubergine ad.

“I think that we thought that these stores would open and be perfect,” Sears executive VP of marketing Bill Turner told the National Post. “In truth, it’s been a lot of work.”

By the end of January 2001 Walters, the architect of the eatons revival plan, was gone. Sears stock fell 16% over the following weeks. The catalogue and online sales were killed in early April. New CEO Mark Cohen spoke to the media in mid-June. He admitted that because of $175 million in tax write-offs acquired with Eaton’s, the new stores had to open within a year. He also admitted that “there aren’t enough truly upscale customers in Canada for half-a-million square feet of upscale goods.” Advertising would be reduced, as “it’s never going to make sense speaking to large levels of customers who geographically are never going to visit these seven stores.” Cohen expected that, as consumer spending dropped, it would be several years before Sears would pour significantly more money into eatons, and that it would take several seasons to settle on the contemporary style the chain stood for. Private labels shared by the two chains, such as Nevada men’s clothing, would be phased out of eatons.

Cohen dismissed speculation that the chain would be sold or converted into Sears stores. “I’m not going to give you a categoric no, but it’s highly unlikely that’s going to happen.”

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Globe and Mail, December 15, 2001.

Christmas 2001 stood in stark contrast to the previous year. No TV ads ran, while newspaper ads simply showcasing products with the trademarked tagline “eatons magic.” No pizazz, no excitement.

On February 18, 2002, the axe fell. “We did not do well last year,” Cohen told the press. While partly blaming the recession and effects of 9/11, “at the end of the day, we lost a lot more money than we had originally planned when this investment was first made.” Except for the Winnipeg and Yorkdale locations, the stores would be converted to Sears. A few high-performing brands would be sold at a select number of Sears locations. Cadillac Fairview indicated that the Eaton Centre name would remain on its malls in Toronto and Victoria (though the latter has since been renamed).

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Globe and Mail, February 19, 2002.

Retail consultants were harsh in their final assessments of eatons, blaming its end on everything from too few stores spread too far apart to over-emphasis on the aubergine ad campaign to overall poor execution. Among the comments:

“Those eatons stores were like stores without a soul.” – Wendy Evans.

“I don’t think the strategy was wrong, I think just the execution was wrong…Instead of calling it aubergine, if they’d called it eggplant it would have been closer to the truth. You can’t call an eggplant aubergine.” – Richard Talbot.

“They just went back to the easiest, simplest tool to drive business, which is price. Everybody else is doing the same thing. In the end, what really made eatons different? – Sam Geist.

“Disappointment is too kind a work for when you got there.” – Gary Prouk.

“Those really are winner locations. It’s just amazing they managed to screw them up.” – John Williams.

Globe and Mail columnist Heather Mallick summed up the chain’s demise:

What put an end to eatons’ brief resurrection was the smell of shopping death….We’ve all noticed it: it’s actually an odour of embarrassment rather than expiry. It fills the main floor when you, the shopper, find yourself empathically alone with 400 red-white-and-blue thingies by Tommy Hilfiger, 12,000 bottles of unguents and six salespeople who try too hard because they have been trained to try too hard. You know it’s not working, they know it’s not working, but you both do the time. They greet, aid, chat and wrap in such a false un-Canadian manner that you are wrenched with sympathy and impatience.

Even members of the Eaton family were critical. “When Sears started up the ‘new Eatons’ with the ‘aubergine’ campaign, I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s the wrong way to open a store,’” observed Fredrik Eaton, who ran Eaton’s during the late 1970s and early 1980s, told Canadian Business in 2005. “I had always been advised by buyers to be careful when someone offered anything in aubergine.”

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Toronto Star, August 21, 2002.

The conversions were finished by summer. The Toronto Eaton Centre Sears operated until February 2014, and would be replaced by one of the chains eatons aspired to provide the same wow factor as, Nordstrom. A recent walk through the store revealed little aubergine.

Sources: the December 11, 2000 and June 20, 2005 editions of Canadian Business; the October 27, 2000, November 25, 2000, December 14, 2001, February 19, 2002, and February 23, 2002 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 20, 2000 edition of Maclean’s; the November 6, 2000 edition of Marketing Magazine; the April 17, 2000, November 15, 2000, November 22, 2000, April 4, 2001, April 9, 2001, June 14, 2001, and February 19, 2002 editions of the National Post; the November 11, 2000 edition of Saturday Night; and the October 29, 2000, November 26, 2000, and June 14, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.

The End of Eaton’s (The First Time Around)

Originally published as a “Retro T.O.” column for the online version of The Grid on August 28, 2012. This was the final installment of the column, though I continued writing for the paper under the “Ghost City” banner.

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Toronto Star, August 21, 1999.

“The notice posted on the doors of the flagship Eaton’s store in the Toronto Eaton Centre on the morning of August 23, 1999 is not the usual professional presentation,” observed Eaton-family biographer Rod McQueen. “The 8-1/2 by 11″ document has been photocopied and hung in place with Scotch tape. The typescript statement, evocative of the words carved on a tombstone, reads: ‘The T. Eaton Company Limited, an insolvent person, pursuant to subsection 50.4(1) of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, intends to make a proposal to its creditors.’”

Shoppers lined up outside the store that morning, expecting bargains galore as Eaton’s began to liquidate its stock. They were disappointed; the details were still being worked out, and the great sell-off wouldn’t begin for two more days. While some customers bought items before they vanished forever, others browsed quickly before wandering off empty-handed. Nostalgia for a faltering Canadian icon was one thing; benefitting from its misery was another.

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Rally for Eaton’s staff, 1997. Photo by Richard Lautens. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109977f.

The store’s second dalliance with bankruptcy in two years ended a dramatic week that opened with a very unlucky Friday the 13th. That day, executives were informed that a potential deal with Federated Department Stores was dead. Had the deal gone through, the American retailer would have purchased around 16 of the chain’s remaining 64 stores and rebranded them as Macy’s. Concerns about how much budget-conscious Canadians would spend and Eaton’s management playing hardball soured Federated’s enthusiasm.

On August 16, 1999, Eaton’s closed its main distribution centre on Sheppard Avenue West, throwing 300 people out of work. Advertising was suspended indefinitely. Within days, the four Eaton brothers who owned most of the company cleaned out their offices. This appeared to be a sure sign the end was coming, despite corporate statements that bankruptcy was a last resort and a libel suit filed against the National Post weeks earlier for suggesting Eaton’s would seek protection.

Frustrated suppliers who were owed millions decided they’d had enough. Armed with a court order, Tommy Hilfiger seized their merchandise from Eaton’s Montreal stores. Fearing other suppliers would take the same action, all Quebec locations were closed on August 20. The next day, the bankruptcy filing was announced. When the Toronto Stock Exchange closed on August 23, Eaton’s stock sat at 40 cents a share, down from 15 dollars during its IPO a year before.

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Globe and Mail, August 23, 1999.

The Eaton family, which had eased itself away from operations following the chain’s first bout with bankruptcy protection in February 1997, gave little public indication of their feelings. While many people publicly endorsed the fourth generation of the Eaton family to run the company, others saw their seeming detachment from the business and failure to adapt to the changing retail environment as the heart of the chain’s woes. The goodwill established with Canadians over a century had eroded through moves like killing the catalogue in 1976 and ending its operation of the Santa Claus Parade in 1982.

The 1990s saw boneheaded moves like CEO George Eaton’s implementation, despite internal criticism, of an “everyday value pricing” policy that eliminated promotional sales. Until sinking profits ended the policy in 1994, George defended it as “sensible,” and reacted to criticism of his management by declaring, “Don’t tell me how to run my store. I’ll run it any way I want.” As the decade progressed, cutbacks lowered staff morale, while creditors worried about the balance sheet. Restructuring undertaken in 1997 brought in new management who dropped traditional product lines like appliances, brought in expensive merchandise that alienated long-time customers, and tried to attract younger shoppers through its “Diversity” advertising campaign and clothing department. Trying to recast the retailer as a higher-end destination didn’t work.

As the liquidation sales proceeded in 1999, one source suggested to the Star that Toronto Eaton Centre owner Cadillac Fairview had a list of potential retailers to woo, among them Crate and Barrel and IKEA. That October, Sears Canada announced its intention to buy half-a-dozen stores and the Eaton’s name. The apostrophe and capital E were removed, and the rest of the name disappeared in 2002.

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Toronto Star, August 25, 1999.

Among the assets that were disposed of during the liquidation period was the statue of Timothy Eaton that had graced the flagship stores that bore his name for 80 years. After many rubs of his foot by consumers hoping for good luck, Timothy was donated to the Royal Ontario Museum. Family regarded Timothy as the only Eaton who was a genius, while succeeding generations grew more arrogant and made poor management decisions. The end of the chain didn’t seem to bother Fredrik Eaton, CEO during the 1980s, who told the Star in June 1999 that he had no regrets about decisions the company had made—“I mean, the world goes on.”

“The root problem,” Rod McQueen concluded, “was achingly simple. Canadians cared more about Eaton’s than the aristocratic family itself. They didn’t mind the store.”

Sources: The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family (revised edition) by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), and the June 16, 1999, August 17, 1999, and August 25, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star.

Opening the Eaton Centre

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 11, 2017.

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Toronto Star, February 10, 1977.

9:10 a.m., February 10, 1977. Chaos reigned on the platforms of Dundas station, which was jammed beyond capacity with people eager to attend the opening of the Eaton Centre. “Passengers got close to hysteria as they were dumped out into dense crowds that couldn’t get through the single open exit fast enough,” the Globe and Mail reported.

Up above, by the entrance to Trinity Square, around 4,500 gathered for the official opening ceremony. A group of trumpeters descended from a balcony, along with 16 costumed representatives of the city’s ethnic communities. Pipers from the Toronto Scottish Regiment led in the official party, then the 48th Highlanders escorted Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon, who received the loudest cheers from the crowd. McGibbon, Mayor David Crombie, and other dignitaries cut a red ribbon with scissors presented on blue velvet cushions by Girl Guides. A planned salute to the new mall by the Fort York Guard was scratched when, following a rehearsal, it was felt musket fire would frighten elderly patrons.

The Eaton Centre was still a work in progress. The festivities marked the opening of its first phase, which consisted of an office tower on Dundas Street, Eaton’s new flagship store, and a glass-covered galleria stretching from the store south to Albert Street. The next phase, which would extend the mall to Queen Street, link it to Simpsons, and toss up another office tower, would soon begin with the demolition of Eaton’s old main store.

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One version of the 1960s Eaton Centre, which in this case retained the Old City Hall clock tower. The Eaton Centre: a project dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Toronto. (Toronto: c.1966).

For Eaton’s executives, the day culminated two decades of controversy surrounding the $250 million complex’s development. A mid-1960s plan aroused public opposition when it proposed demolition of Old City Hall. For a time, the idea was scrapped entirely. There were two years of negotiation with Church of the Holy Trinity before an agreement was reached between the congregation and developers to protect the historic church’s access to sunlight. City Council placed several conditions on its approvals for the project, from timeframes for when construction had to begin to ensuring cars parked in the garage weren’t visible to pedestrians along Yonge Street. There were some councillors who didn’t warm to the Eaton Centre—Elizabeth Eayrs called it “a plastic temple of consumerism,” while John Sewell didn’t want to give the developers too much leeway. ”It’s the old question of who is running this place—Eaton’s or council,” Sewell noted in February 1974.

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Globe and Mail, November 24, 1972.

When the building permits were finally approved a month later, Crombie reminded councillors that they should abide an earlier agreement with developer Cadillac Fairview that discouraged a shopping list of design changes. “Some want it black and others want it green,” Crombie noted. “I worry about that sort of thing after watching what has happened in this debate.” Construction pushed ahead, with shovels in the ground by the end of spring.

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“In front of statue of Timothy Eaton, the store’s founder, the Eaton brothers discuss their store’s future. They’re in the foyer of new Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas Sts. From left: John Craig, 39, Thor, 34, Fredrik Stefan, 38, and George, 31. Once a week, formally, they meet in Fred’s office to discuss business. They’re among Canada’s wealthiest men, just how wealthy they are is moot. Eaton’s is a private company. Its balance sheets are not for public scrutiny.” Photo by Jeff Goode, 1977. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0045241f.

As opening day neared, Eaton’s chairman of the board John Craig Eaton told a press conference that the new store would be “the model for all department stores that will be built over the next 20 years.” An ad published in January 1977 whetted shoppers’ appetites with a lengthy guide to the new store’s nine retail floors. At the bottom was 3 Below (the current food court), which catered to youth via fashions, records, live performances, pizza, and subs. While the lower subway level offered a marketplace, the upper subway floor promised “male liberation” with stereotypically manly services, including a barber shop and Sir John’s, described as “a thoroughly masculine steak-style self-serve restaurant licensed under the L.L.B.O.” After two floors geared to women, the third featured an event space. The sixth floor included the largest of the store’s six eateries, the 1,000 seat Marine Room.

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View of exterior of Eaton Centre construction site, with sign. The Queen Street Eaton’s store can be seen in the background. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor, April 18, 1975. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 84, Item 60.

To prepare for the big day, two-week closing sales were held at Eaton’s Queen Street and College Street (now College Park) stores. Past and present employees previewed the new flagship on February 6. “My God, it’s huge,” noted retiree Alf Ryan. “You need a compass to get around. I think I like it. There were all kinds of memories in the old place but I suppose after a few Christmases, this store will look more lived-in. You gotta keep up with the times, I guess.” A two-day soft opening followed, allowing staff to familiarize themselves with the space.

At the opening ceremony, emcee William Davis joked to the audience that he and the provincial treasurer were eager for Eaton’s new store to open so that they could begin collecting sales tax. The premier got his wish at 10 a.m., when the doors slid away. Salespeople were, according to the Globe and Mail, “decked out as if for a birthday party” with many female employees wearing “braver makeup than they were accustomed to.”

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Globe and Mail, January 1, 1977.

Public reaction was positive. “It’s very easy to shop here if you just follow the instructions they gave in their advertisement,” shopper Isabel Ferguson told the Sun. “I’ve shopped at Eaton’s for 20 years but that’s no reason to get nostalgic about the old store, because looking in the past can cause you trouble.”

Out in the mall, shoppers received giveaways ranging from bags to shoe horns. Of the 150 spaces available in phase one, 120 were leased. Around 25 stores had to miss opening day while conducting appeals related to new federal quotas on clothing imports, which affected their inventories.

The three levels of the main galleria were themed by offerings, as one ad outlined.

Level One will feature fast turnover items, such as records, books, stationery, drugs, food, and impulse buys, as well as banks and other services. Level Two is primarily fashions and accessories. Level Three is made up of specialty shops, fashion boutiques and the better quality outlets of Canada’s major chains.

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“Pipers parade in dignitaries down esclators watched by hundreds in Galleria balconies.” Photo by Dick Loek, originally published in the February 10, 1977 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109998f.

The Sun sent over writer Margaret Haddrick to provide the female perspective on the mall:

From pre-teens to grandmothers, they’re all there, leaning against the white iron rails, waiting expectantly for the fountain to do its number. Whoosh. Suddenly, up like a geyser shoots a jet of water 45 feet high, splattering it on the stone and glass surfaces around it. The spectacle is brief. The crowds move away and get back to the business of shopping at the Toronto Eaton Centre. Fountain-watching rivals people-watching at the centre. Third subject of study is the mass of exotic plants bathed in sunlight and artificial light. Why, in that warm, bright atmosphere, the philodendron might have a baby leaf by the time it takes to climb from the subway level to the top of the galleria.

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Previewing the Eaton’s store design, Toronto Sun, February 4, 1975.

The paper also provided a male perspective from Ken Becker:

Whether you’re a serious shopper, a browser, a bargain-hunter, or merely one who likes to gaze at pretty sights, the new Eaton Centre has something for you. If you’re looking for a five-foot-two brunette, or a six-foot blonde, you can’t go wrong there. For the new giant climate-controlled city-within-a-city may be the largest single hangout for beautiful women this side of the beach at Rio de Janeiro. The place is lousy with them. They’re hanging over the railings in the multi-levelled mall, sitting at the fountain, sipping coffee in the cafes. And they’re strolling. Always strolling. The stream seems endless.

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Interior view of tables and some stores in new Eaton Centre. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor, May 25, 1977. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 92, Item 5.

The architecture drew notice. Designed by the Zeidler Partnership, its highlights included the 90-foot-high glass galleria, sunken gardens, and the exposure of its internal building and environment infrastructure. “It responds, with the materials of the seventies, to a long-felt public reaction against the severe, monumental buildings produced in the so-called international style during the sixties,” James Purdie observed in the Globe and Mail. “Zeidler’s solutions are mixture of innovation and proved suburban shopping centre technology.”

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Photo by Dick Loek, 1977. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0110001f.

While the Eaton Centre quickly proved itself a financial success and a tourist magnet, it compounded the decline of its adjoining stretch of Yonge Street. The outdoor pedestrian mall had fizzled out a few years earlier, and the new Eaton Centre “protected” some shoppers from the tinge of sleaze they felt was descending onto Yonge. Some retailers, like Birks, abandoned the street for the mall. It didn’t help that little of the Eaton Centre’s Yonge Street frontage provided access from the outside. “All the razzle dazzle that should be outside is hermetically sealed inside,” Sun columnist Joey Slinger noted on the eve of the grand opening. “Outside, pedestrians, neighbouring shops, the life that ought to be rocking and rolling on Yonge Street is all alone and feeling blue, stranded under Fort Commerce’s pitiless façade.”

Sources: The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999); the January 14, 1977, January 15, 1977, February 11, 1977, and February 12, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 19, 1974, March 5, 1974, February 7, 1977, February 8, 1977, and February 10, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 9, 1977 and February 11, 1977 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, June 21, 1974. Click on image for larger version.

Based on the following description published in the November 24, 1972 Star, the Eaton Centre replaced what was then a barren stretch of Dundas Street.

The south side of Dundas between Bay and Yonge at present offers one of the more dismal views downtown. Two Italian restaurants are the only bright spots on a block made up chiefly of parking lots and a rent-a-car lot and garage. The vista through the parking lots is of Eaton’s drab box-like warehouses.

The same article mentioned an interesting land trade that didn’t happen, which some people might interpret as an early 1970s example of “the war on the car” and definitely indicates the regular tension between the city and Metro levels of government. Parkland that was set aside near Trinity Square could have been somewhere else on the property…

The developers had originally offered the city a strip of land along Dundas, but the city rejected the proposal because this land would simply have been acquired by Metro Toronto (which controls Dundas St.) to widen Dundas to six lanes. Metro planners had called for the street widening to support the increased traffic Eaton Centre might be expected to generate; but the city objected, because a widened Dundas on the other side of Bay would have wiped out Chinatown.

(Chinatown moved west along Dundas to Spadina over the next few years, but that’s another story…)

In a victory for the city, Metro reversed itself and Dundas will only be widened 14 feet along the Eaton Centre stretch, to provide one extra turning lane for cars entering the development’s parking garage. On the insistence of Alderman John Sewell, the city also required Fairview to set its buildings back 10 feet from the street, so that the sidewalk can be widened.

gm 1977-01-08 eatons ad Globe and Mail, January 8, 1977. gm 1977-01-11 eatons ad

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1977.

gm 1977-01-13 eatons ad Globe and Mail, January 13, 1977.

A sampling of the ads Eaton’s published in the weeks leading up to the opening of their new flagship store. gm 1977-01-15 eaton store preview ad

Globe and Mail, January 15, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

A guide to the new Eaton’s store, floor by floor. There would be some tinkering; the “Annex 7” floor opened in October 1977 to clear out items a la the old bargain store behind Old City Hall. The space, which had been buying offices, was converted, as a store executive put it, into “an adventure area for bargain hunters” that included opportunity buys and scratch-and-dent items.

I’m not sure at what point 3 Below (which was located where the food court currently sits) closed. I don’t recall ever going into it as a kid in the late 1970s/early 1980s (eager-beaver me would have wanted to visit every floor), and dimly recall signs indicating it was an employee-only area.

gm 1977-02-09 photo Globe and Mail, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto Sun, February 9, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

The next series of images are taken from a 12-page advertising supplement published in the Star on February 8, 1977, two days before the grand opening. For ease of reading, I’ve merged the diagrams which were pages 6 and 7 of the original version.

star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p1 star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p2 credits for who built the store

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star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p8 great pic headline star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p9

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star 1977-02-08 opening supplement p12

Toronto for Tourists, 1950

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 13, 2008.

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Looking north from the top of the Bank of Commerce Building, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1567, series 648, file 7.

The best way to get a comprehensive view of the city of Toronto as a whole is to go to the Canadian Bank of Commerce, at 25 King Street West, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and take the elevator to the 31st floor. Choose, if you can, a reasonably clear day. From the observation gallery, 426 feet above the street, you will have a superb view of the city and the surrounding country. On a bright day, when there is a north wind, the guide assures us that he can see the spray from the falls of Niagara, at the other side of the lake. When we were up there, there was a mist over everything, but it was beautiful. It seemed to us that we were looking down on the past, present and future of Toronto, almost as if we were pagan gods in a synthetic Olympus.

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The mid-century equivalent of a trip up the CN Tower is one of the many ideas for tourists that John and Marjorie Mackenzie provide in their 1950 guidebook to our province, Ontario In Your Car. For 26 of the book’s 291 pages, the Mackenzies provide visitors with descriptions of local landmarks, historical quotes, and a sneaking suspicion that they prefer exploring the northern wilderness.

Many of the tidbits of information are directed towards Americans, whether it is noting the monument to Zebulon Pike (of Pike’s Peak fame) in Exhibition Place or that “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford was born on University Avenue. Also clarified for southern visitors: what’s the deal with Avenue Road?

Avenue Road is a continuation of University Avenue, and that really is its name. It always seems to strike our American friends as being an utterly incongruous name, but if one remembers that it was far outside the town when Toronto first became a city, and that it was a mere trail which led to the Avenue, it does seem to make more sense. Try to remember this street and how to get to it, for it is probably the one you will take when you leave Toronto for the fishing camps and resorts of the north.

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The Old Mill Hotel, c. 1945. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 532.

The city’s nightlife rates favourably, with the Mackenzies shooting down the notion that evening amusement did not exist. The Old Mill ranked highly (“dancing every night in a quaint and delightful setting”), while the red and blue colour scheme of the Imperial Room in the Royal York Hotel was headache inducing. Late-night revellers were advised to grab a bite at the original location of the Lichee Garden on Elizabeth Street, which stayed open until 5 a.m. The fun did not extend into Sunday, when blue laws left tourists scratching their heads.

The Lord’s Day Alliance has left a strong indelible mark on the city, for better or worse, and many visitors arriving on the Sabbath, look in dismay at the closed theatres and deserted streets, and they ask: “Where is everybody? What do people do with themselves on Sunday?” The answer is “They are out playing golf.”

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Lou Turofsky at 1950 Grey Cup game, Varsity Stadium. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 9451.

Golf courses feature significantly in the guide’s breakdown of recreational activities by season. Autumn is regarded as the nicest time of the year, filled with colourful trees, society balls, Broadway try-outs, and the start of hockey season. Football at Varsity Stadium earns a nod, more for university action than professional play, even though Varsity was the site of the 1950 Grey Cup, a.k.a. “the mud bowl.” Winter earns less praise, though this has less to do with available activities than the authors’ preferences. “Not being too keen about skating and skiing, we rather tend to a lukewarm attitude on the virtues of Ontario as a winter resort, but there are many who love it, and who wait impatiently for the snow to fall so that they really begin to live.”

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Views of the construction on Yonge Street at King Street, March 16, 1950. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1128, series 381, file 31.

One major attraction not mentioned but that would have been noticed by tourists is the construction of the Yonge subway. Construction began in September 1949, with onlookers able to gaze down into open trenches from the sidewalk or temporary decks like the one shown above. Visitors had to wait four years before they had a chance to ride the line.

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Mayor Hiram E. McCallum and Ice Follies performers drink milk at civic reception, Old City Hall, between 1948 and 1951. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 6678.

The guide also neglects to mention that you could venture into City Hall and enjoy a glass of milk with mayor Hiram (Buck) McCallum.

The Mackenzies’ final verdict on our city?

Toronto may be the capital of Ontario and the centre of population, but it is by no means the whole Province. There are those among you, we are sure, who are looking forward with anticipation to the lakes and streams of the northland, where the bass and trout are waiting for you, where you can hunt wild life with a camera or a gun, and where Nature has not yet been moulded to suit the whims of man.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Statue which commemorated the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Way, beside Seaway Hotel

Queen Elizabeth Way, circa 1950. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 64. More on the history of the QEW Monument

A few words about the QEW, from a chapter dedicated to the decade-old highway:

Some people are always in a hurry. It may be because of a restless temperament, or it may be because they have only a very limited time in which to cover everything they want to see. In either case, if time is the essence, the Queen Elizabeth Way is your road.

This is Ontario’s super highway. It is laid out in the modern manner, with divided roadways, clover leafs and circles for merging traffic, and cross-over bridges for the side roads. It is named to commemorate the visit to Canada and the United States of King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. The speed limit is 50 miles an hour.

As a rule, we don’t go in much for fast driving, but we have often travelled from Niagara Falls to Toronto, via the Elizabeth Way, in less than two hours.

Park Plaza Hotel, Avenue Road, looking north

Park Plaza Hotel, looking north along Avenue Road, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 173. 

We think the Park Plaza is one of Toronto’s best hotels. It has a small lobby, and practically no public rooms, but the well-furnished bedrooms are unusually comfortable. The cocktail lounges, and the small dining room on the top floor are among the best in town.

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Guild Inn, 1944. Photo by H. James. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0108031f.

There is another place which we like very much, especially for a golfing holiday. This is called the Guild Inn, and it is about five miles from the eastern city limits, south of Highway 2, at Scarborough overlooking Lake Ontario. It is a delightful inn of the luxury type, with beautifully furnished rooms and lovely grounds stretching for a mile along the famous Scarborough Bluffs. The management will introduce you, if you wish, at four Golf Clubs nearby, two of which are private championship courses. The Guild Inn is unique. It allows you to live in the country and still be near enough to Toronto to enjoy the theatres, the shops and the sights.

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Eaton’s College Street, 1950 (guessing on a Sunday, based on the curtained display windows). City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 574, File 16, Item 49357.

If you have any shopping to do, both Eaton’s and Simpson’s are well worth a visit, and if it should be lunch or tea time, we know you will enjoy the pleasant surroundings and good food in the “Georgian Room” at Eaton’s, or the “Arcadian Court” at Simpson’s. Eaton’s College Street store also has an excellent restaurant, the “Round Room,” if you should be in that part of town.

Other brief tidbits:

  • Casa Loma “has no history and no tradition, but it is enormous.”
  • Autumn is the nicest time of the year in Toronto.
  • Of (Old) City Hall, “we predict that, 50 years from now, it will be pointed out as a fine example of late Victorian architecture.”

The book appears to have been designed for golfers, as local courses are discussed in many of the entries, especially around suburban Toronto. Thornhill’s entry is almost entirely about golf, while a trip to the links was the main reason to stop in Aurora. A good chunk of Newmarket’s description is taken up by discussing the Briars Country Club at Jackson’s Point. And so on.

My hometown, Amherstburg, is briefly mentioned in the Windsor section. It focuses solely on Fort Malden and writer Anna Brownell Jameson’s unflattering description of the “wretched little useless fort” during the 1830s. Sadly, Amherstburg lacked a golf course, unlike Windsor, Kingsville, or Leamington (whose links were “flat, but attractive”).

Lord Simcoe’s Folly

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on August 20, 2011.

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The Telegram, May 14, 1957.

When the Lord Simcoe Hotel permanently closed its doors in October 1979, a carpenter on the crew hired to dismantle the building reflected on why it had failed after operating for just 22 years: “No one thought ahead for the future when it was built.” While its original owners prided themselves on going from sod-turning to ribbon-cutting within 17 months, they might have thought more carefully about how the business would survive in the long term. Mistakes like overpricing its luxurious eateries and not including amenities expected of modern hotels like central air, combined with increasing competition and land worth more than the building atop it, shortened the life of a hotel that promised to provide its first guests modern accommodations with old-world charm.

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Globe and Mail, September 23, 1955.

 

The inspiration to build a hotel at 150 King Street West came to future Lord Simcoe Vice-President W. Harry Weale during Mayor Nathan Phillips’ inaugural address in January 1955, when the city’s new chief executive noted that Toronto lacked the hotel space required to become competitive on the global convention circuit. A consortium of investors led by National Management was assembled and by that December Ontario Premier Leslie Frost turned the sod. The new hotel was named in honour of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was never elevated to a peerage but management decided to bestow one upon him so that the hotel’s name would match those of their other lordly properties (the Lord Elgin in Ottawa and the Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton). Simcoe was also honoured in the decision to use the colours of the Queen’s York Rangers, the military unit he commanded, as the decorating scheme for the Sentry Box lounge.

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One chef in the kitchen, one surveying the menu. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-1 (left), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-2 (right).

 

The key entertainment space in the hotel was the Pump Room, which was inspired by both the 19th-century eatery in Bath, England, and the restaurant that the Lord Simcoe’s ownership group ran at the Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. An introductory ad boasted that “meals are prepared to meet the demanding taste of the gourmet: exotic meats, game and fish are served on flaming swords or by wagon.” Waiters were dressed in ostrich feather–topped turbans to “add to the old-world atmosphere” (other dining venues in the hotel forced staff to dress in naval costumes or other 18th century style clothing). As head porter Roy McIntosh later remembered, “All the posh weddings and bar mitzvahs were held there and I remember some weddings came down just to have their pictures taken, then leave. It was that kind of place, the best.”

20110820craneadGlobe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

When opening day arrived on May 15, 1957, half of the $10 million hotel’s 20 floors were ready for use. The press weren’t able to preview any of the Lord Simcoe’s 900 rooms, but as Telegram columnist Alex Barris noted, “It’s questionable whether any visitor is likely to get past the street floor, unless he’s just plain sleepy.” Had the media been able to check them out, they would have found rooms decorated in “three basic and interchangeable colours—gold, blue and sandalwood.” Among the in-room amenities were television sets and desks supplied by Eaton’s that included built-in radio controls. Management was upbeat about having booked every room in the hotel for the upcoming Grey Cup game in November.

But it wasn’t long before the hotel ran into financial trouble. The opening of the Westbury Hotel (now the Courtyard Marriott on Yonge Street) and a 400 room addition to the Royal York cut into business. As Star columnist Ron Haggart discovered in the spring of 1960, the Lord Simcoe had become Toronto’s most delinquent taxpayer. As of April 25 of that year, the hotel owed $424,000, which was 10 per cent of all overdue taxes the city awaited. What surprised Haggart was that unlike Toronto’s second-worst tax offender, commercial developer Principal Investments, a bailiff had not been sent after the hotel. The reason why soon became public: Mayor Phillips interceded on behalf of the Lord Simcoe’s investors to convince the city treasurer to defer the hotel’s tax bill until new financial arrangements were made. “They informed me they were arranging for new financing and merely asked the city not to embarrass them during a trying period. I did what I would do for any taxpayer,” Phillips told the Star. “I explained the situation to the city treasurer and, without loss to the city and any embarrassment to anyone, they made a satisfactory arrangement for the payment of arrears with interest.” On May 26, 1960, the city received a cheque for the entire amount owed.

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Toronto Star, January 28, 1963.

 

Once the tax troubles were cleared up, other business problems came to the fore. As losses mounted, there were many rumours about the building’s future. Conrad Hilton was said to be interested in the hotel, the site was to be converted into a hospital, and so on. Several founding members of the management team passed away. Dining and lounge facilities designed to cater to “Toronto’s palate in ultra-deluxe fashion” proved too expensive for local tastes. By the time Globe and Mail owner R. Howard Webster’s Imperial Trust gained primary control of the Lord Simcoe in 1963, three floors were available as office rentals. The swanky Pump Room became the less swanky Flaming Grill, which flamed out within two years.

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Parking lot, University Avenue, east side, at Adelaide Street West, with Lord Simcoe Hotel in the background, early 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5668.

 

By the end of the 1970s, the lack of both central air and a proper convention-sized meeting space made it difficult for the Lord Simcoe to compete with other downtown hotels. Webster and the other shareholders were ready to stop the never-ending losses and sold the property to National Trust in June 1979. The new owners immediately announced their intention to close the hotel, which saw its final guests (a group of Swedish tourists) check out on October 28, 1979. After their departure, the hotel’s assets were prepared for a liquidation sale that occurred in February 1980. Former head porter Roy McIntosh found himself back at the hotel working for demolition firm Teperman and Sons and felt sadness as the hotel disappeared one piece at a time. “I look at it now,” McIntosh told the Star, “and some guy’s ripping out something and I want to say, ‘Hey, don’t do that!’ But I’ve got to stop feeling personal about it.” Wrecker Marvin Teperman kept some mementos from the site—a red leather couch and chairs from the hotel’s lobby wound up in his office. Less sentimental was Star columnist Joey Slinger, who declared in his Leap Day column that the building was a grey architectural eyesore that couldn’t disappear fast enough. Slinger declared that “The Lord Simcoe was disposable… It was no more meant to endure than a used Styrofoam coffee cup.”

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The Lord Simcoe Hotel awaits demolition, circa 1980. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 74.

 

There was suspicion after the sale that National Trust stood in for another party, suspicion that was fuelled when the soil conditions were tested. It turned out a developer was assembling a valuable land parcel surrounding the Lord Simcoe for a new office tower that was ultimately filled by Sun Life. Teperman hoarding went up in 1980 and the northeast corner of King and University remained a construction site until the east tower of what is now the Sun Life Centre opened in 1984.
Additional material from the May 15, 1957, and October 29, 1979, editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 18, 1960, May 30, 1960, February 24, 1962, July 11, 1963, June 29, 1979, February 28, 1980, and February 29, 1980, editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 15, 1957, edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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King Street West, looking west. Construction of the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is visible at northwest corner of York St & King St. W., Toronto, Ont. Photo by Ted Chirnside, 1956. Toronto Public Library, 2001-2-366.

A shot of the Lord Simcoe under construction. Note the old Globe and Mail building on the right.

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Globe and Mail, May 14, 1957.

To mark the hotel’s opening, the Globe and Mail published six pages of advertorials on May 15, 1957 highlighting the construction process, the companies involved in construction, decoration, and financing, and the artists who produced the decor. Hotel officials declared that the Lord Simcoe was “as Canadian as maple syrup.”

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957

Among the statistics noted in the Globe and Mail‘s preview:

  • Housekeeping tallied 4,664 pillows, 10,200 single bed sheets, 1,500 double bed sheets, 7,200 pillow slips, 2,650 blankets, 10,000 bath towels, and 3,000 bath mats
  • 5,000 tablecloths with the hotel crest were produced for the dining areas, which were also supplied with over 20,000 pieces of flatware and over 60,000 pieces of china
  • Artist Maxwell Moffett designed over 300 snowflakes for the a series of seven decorative panels
  • 850 bibles were handed over by the Gideon Society “in a simple but dedicated ceremony”

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“Mr. Ambassador for Metro’s Welcome a Visitor Week, Eddie James Grogan, doorman at the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is congratulated by James Auld, Ontario minister of tourism and information, who pinned a silver medal on his chest for the style he uses in making visitors feel right at home.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally appeared in the June 16, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0127985f.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1970.

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Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star, February 28, 1980.

What stands out in several of the post-mortems of the Lord Simcoe was its shoddy construction. “The trouble with the Lord Simcoe wasn’t that you could hear the people in the next room. It was that you could hear people five rooms away,” recalled Gordon Pimm, whose father-in-law was one of the hotel’s main financial backers. When demolition began in 1980, vibrations from the wrecking equipment caused chunks of stone to fall from the building. Special overhangs were erected to prevent stone from falling onto King Street.

Ardwold and Ardwold Gate

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 19, 2013.

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Ardwold, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3087.

Things were going well for John Craig Eaton as the first decade of the 20th century ended. He inherited ownership of the family department store following the death of his father, Timothy, in 1907. His wife, Flora, was developing a reputation as a cross-Atlantic socialite. With his elevated social status and growing family, Eaton decided to build a grand mansion.

In January 1909, he purchased an 11-acre estate on Spadina Road north of Davenport Road that possessed a great view of the city and lake. Wanting to keep the purchase price discreet, he delivered a valise filled with $100,000 worth of bills to the bank to close the deal. His new home joined a collection of neighbouring fine residences, including Rathnelly, Spadina, and the under-construction Casa Loma. Eaton hired A.F. Wickson to design a 50-room home inspired by English and Irish country homes of the early Stuart era. The residence was dubbed Ardwold, which was gaelic for “high green hill.”

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Entrance to Ardwold, Eaton family residence, Spadina Road, September 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2072.

Built between 1909 and 1911, Ardwold included 14 bathrooms, an elevator, Italian-inspired gardens, and an indoor swimming pool connected by a basement tunnel. The centrepiece was a two-storey great hall outfitted with a pipe organ that Eaton frequently played. When Eaton introduced the family to the completed home upon their return from a long European tour, his two-year-old son John David moped at the bottom of the grand staircase. “I don’t like this hotel,” he cried. “I want to go home.” Perhaps the boy reacted to what architectural historian William Dendy described as the home’s “air of empty pretentiousness.”

When the family fell ill, they used the on-site hospital room, which could be converted to an operating room during emergencies. Unfortunately, Eaton spent much of the last two months of his life there before dying from pneumonia in March 1922. His wife, by now Lady Eaton, spent little time at Ardwold afterwards, preferring to reside in Europe, Muskoka, or in Eaton Hall near King City.

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Wedding fashion parade at Ardwold, circa 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1855.

By 1936, Lady Eaton thought it was “wasteful” to maintain the property. Telling the Star that it was “too large for the needs my family,” she demolished the house. Eaton family biographer Rod McQueen believed that “such a destructive approach can only be described as desecration, or at best, wildly eccentric.” Dynamite was required to bring down the thick walls. While some furnishings were moved to Eaton Hall, the rest were auctioned off. Only elements like a stone-and-wrought-iron fence survived.

After considering an apartment building, real-estate agent A.E. LePage subdivided the property along a new road, Ardwold Gate. “We plan to develop the whole 11-acre area with homes of Georgian design to harmonize, as is done in many of the finer residential sections of England,” LePage told the Star in 1938. The average cost of the new homes was $30,000, or just under $500,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

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ts 38-05-20 plan for homes at ardwold gate article

Toronto Star, May 20, 1938.

The community became an exclusive residential enclave for well-heeled businessmen. Among them was George Beattie, an Eaton relative whose career with the department store ended over an expletive-filled argument. Nursing a grudge, Beattie watched gleefully when Ardwold was demolished. Soon after buying a home on Ardwold Gate in 1947, he peed on one of the remaining cornerstones of the old house.

Residents engaged in several battles to maintain their peace during the 1970s. After initially approving the nearby placement of the Spadina Expressway, they joined the opposition against the freeway. As construction began on the Spadina subway line in 1973, they feared their homes would be damaged by vibrations similar to those that inconvenienced home owners along the recent extension of the Yonge line north of Eglinton Avenue. (The problem was reputed to be thin tunnel shields.) In April 1977, residents pressured City Council to reject a proposal to build non-profit housing units for 14 families along Ardwold Gate on land that had been reserved for the freeway; those who feared that the project would ruin the neighbourhood jumped into full reactionary mode. One complaint the City received observed that such housing “contributes to the general weakening of our democratic system.” The proposal was defeated and, as a Globe and Mail editorial observed, residents could sleep easily without worrying about sharing the neighbourhood “with people who didn’t own even one Mercedes.”

The street remains a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Among its notable homes is the Brutalist concrete residence designed for Harvey’s founder Richard Mauran at 95 Ardwold Gate. The home was the final project of architect Taivo Kapsi, who was killed in an encounter with trespassers on a friend’s property near Lake Wilcox during the summer of 1967. Finished the following year, the heritage-designated site includes impressions left in the concrete by construction boards.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the April 14, 1977 and April 18, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 2, 2012 edition of the National Post, the February 26, 1936, July 3, 1936, May 20, 1938, May 4, 1970, and February 10, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star, and the March 1999 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Ardwold Estate. - [ca. 1920]

Ardwold, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3016.

Lady Eaton’s description of the area which surrounded Ardwold, from her book Memory’s Wall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956):

We had agreeable neighbours around us at Ardwold, and several of them became our good friends. Probably we came to know each other better because of the rather isolated community we formed. St. Clair Avenue was not paved, of course, and often vehicles sank down to their axles in the mud. A very rickety old bridge crossed the ravine on Spadina Road, which was the street giving main access to Ardwold, and the few other big houses on “the hill.”

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Toronto Star, April 14, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, April 18, 1977.

Two editorials on the failed subsidized housing proposal – an issue still playing out in neighbourhoods across the city.