Bloordale/State Theatre

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on December 18, 2012.

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To be honest, I misplaced my notes as to where this image came from. Source info appreciated.

By the mid-1930s, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were Meccas for local moviegoers. Along their length within the limits of the City of Toronto, at least 35 cinemas offered Depression-era patrons entertainment. Among them was an Art Deco-styled theatre that provided a steady stream of magic shadows for over 30 years.

Then addressed as 1606 Bloor St. W., the Bloordale opened circa September 1935 as part of the Associated circuit. The cinema was designed by theatre experts Kaplan and Sprachman, whose other Art Deco cinemas included the Eglinton. Promotions during the theatre’s early years included a weekly Sunday-afternoon talent show broadcast on CKCL radio (later CKEY) in 1938. Music Stars of Tomorrow promised a screen test with the short lived Grand National movie company for the best performer, though we suspect that the firm’s dissolution soon after prevented anyone from achieving Hollywood glory. After a spell as part of the Odeon chain, the Bloordale was renamed the State around 1948 and joined the 20th Century Theatres circuit.

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Assorted ads for the Bloordale and State cinemas, taken from the Toronto Star. Clockwise from top: February 2, 1955, February 5, 1965, and September 9, 1935.

An incident reported to provincial theatrical regulators in 1957 illustrates how well employees handled any situation. On Nov. 30 of that year, a patron carelessly tossed a lit cigarette into a room containing cardboard boxes filled with empty, returnable glass jugs. The boxes ignited, but staff quickly put out the fire. To keep patrons calm in case anyone noticed any smoke, the manager announced from the State’s stage that excess smoke from the neighbourhood had entered the theatre’s ventilation system. The report observed that “patrons received the announcement good-naturedly and the program continued without interruption or further difficulties.” Damage was estimated at five dollars.

The State continued as a first-run movie house until it closed around 1968. “Although a well-thought movie house,” John Sebert concluded in his book The Nabes, the cinema “never reached its potential, as it was on the fringe of about five neighbourhoods, but part of none.”

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1972.

When the building was converted into the Quo Vadis banquet hall in the early 1970s, it ran into problems with the nearby Junction neighbourhood’s dry status. That the building stood within 10 feet of the southern boundary of the alcohol-free zone prompted owner Harry Snape to join businessmen from The Junction in successfully petitioning City Council for a vote on liquor during the 1972 municipal election. The dry forces, led by “Temperance Bill” Temple, went into full battle mode, claiming the money spent campaigning was better spent on footwear for children. Voters agreed, as all nine questions that would have allowed liquor were defeated. Snape, who served as the pro-booze spokesperson, warned that businesses like his would be driven away.

For years, the building housed Pekao Trading & Travel. During the late 1990s and into the 2000s, it was also home to Pekao Gallery, which Canadian Art magazine called “one of Toronto’s better-kept secrets.” Besides art exhibits, the underground space also served as a jazz venue. The building is currently home to an employment centre, frame store, and insurance office. The narrow vertical strip advertising Frame It on Bloor fills the space where the State’s projected sign once lit up the night.

Sources: Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz (Toronto: Glue, Inc., 2008), The Nabes by John Sebert (Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2001), the Fall 2001 edition of Canadian Art, and the March 23, 1972, November 15, 1972, and December 5, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star. Various reports filed in the City of Toronto Archives were also consulted.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 5, 1972.

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Toronto Star, December 9, 1972.

Goodbye 1919, Hello 1920

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Toronto World, January 1, 1920.

“Toronto folk, old, young, and middle-aged, will celebrate this New Year’s Eve as they never have before,” the Star predicted on its December 31, 1919 front page. Noting that, with most veterans home from the aftermath of the First World War, it was the first true peacetime New Year’s Eve, “so that money and time have been cast to the winds and they are going at it with feathers flying and goodwill bubbling over.”

“People in Toronto want a wholesome good time tonight if they never had it before or never expect to again, and I am going to do all in my power to give it to them,” King Edward Hotel manager George O’Neil told the Star. He expected 1,500 partiers to ring in the new year. Revelers at the Balmy Beach Club witnessed an eight-year-old girl dressed as 1920 driving “Father Time across the ballroom and out of the door, then come back herself and give an exhibition toe dance.”

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Mail and Empire, January 2, 1920.

The Mail and Empire also covered the happenings in the city on New Year’s Day.

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Cartoon by Fontaine Fox. Mail and Empire, January 1, 1920.

The Globe’s year-end editorial focused on the “Week of Prayer” organized by the World’s Evangelical Alliance, as well as some sort of prayers suggested by “The Great Commission Prayer League of Chicago.” One sensed the rambling piece about the power of prayer had the deep religious convictions of Globe publisher William Gladstone Jaffray, a man who some employees believed gave more to his church than them. As the piece concluded, “the new year will prove one of unspeakable blessing to every life if not a day is permitted to pass without going aside with God for solitary prayer.”

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The Globe, January 1, 1920.

The New Year’s Day Globe editorial contemplated an issue still plaguing us a century later, widening economic disparity. The third and fifth paragraphs feel especially relevant.

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The Globe, December 31, 1919.

The Globe also suggested voters casting their ballots in the municipal election on New Year’s Day should re-elect mayor Tommy Church based on his support for the city’s takeover of the privately-operated Toronto Railway Company streetcar system (a goal finished with the establishment of the TTC in 1921). The paper gave other reasons why to deny pugnacious city councillor Sam McBride the mayor’s chair.

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The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

The Globe’s dislike of McBride was muted compared to the Telegram’s. As with many positions held by the Tely during the long editorship of Black Jack Robinson, its hatred of McBride bordered on the pathological. Given the Tely’s fierce support for Tommy Church in general and Adam Beck’s plans for the expansion of the provincially-owned hydro system and electric interurban railways, and its suspicion that McBride supported private ownership of both, its election headlines were, like the one above, were ridiculous. It may not have helped Robinson’s mood that Beck was seriously ill with pneumonia during the campaign.

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Cartoon by George Shields, The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

During a December 29 speech at the Central YMCA, McBride observed that since the death of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson the previous year, the paper had “changed and has become as different as night from day. If the old gentleman were alive and could see the amount of ink and paper that is being used to revile honest public men he would turn over in his grave.” Cue an outpouring of vitriol on the paper’s New Year’s Eve editorial page two days later which declared Robertson’s regrets over supporting continued private ownership of the streetcars when the TRC won its contract in 1891, and his support for Beck and Church.

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Mail and Empire, December 31, 1919.

The Mail and Empire took a more balanced position, declaring in its New Year’s Eve editorial that a mayor who combined the strengths of Church and McBride “would be nearly as possible a perfect Chief Magistrate.”

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1919.

The Star favoured McBride, as evidenced in this front-page endorsement, and scattered as many pro-McBride articles in its pages as the Tely had blasting him, depicting him as a defender of public ownership despite occasional disagreements with proposed radial railway plans.

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Toronto Star, January 1, 1920.

Ultimately, the 1920 municipal election is remembered not for its mayoral contest (which Church won), but the results in Ward 3’s aldermanic race, where Constance Hamilton became the first woman elected to city council in Toronto and Ontario. But that’s a story for another day…

As editors were so wrapped up in the municipal election, apart from the Globe there was less reflection on Toronto’s editorial pages on what had been an eventful year around the world. Maybe they felt events like the Paris Peace Conference, the Winnipeg General Strike, and the election of the UFO government in Ontario had seen enough type. Maybe they were weary of the strife which dominated the headlines.

But there were plenty of reflections elsewhere. Here is a sampling of cartoons and comment from across Canada and the United States.

Canada

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Kitchener Daily Telegraph, December 31, 1919.

 

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The Albertan, December 31, 1919.

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Sherbrooke Record, December 31, 1919.

United States

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Brooklyn Eagle, January 2, 1920.

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New York Herald, January 2, 1920.

Figures depicted in this roundup of the year include Lady Nancy Astor (the first sitting female British MP), Mexican president Venustiano Carranza (who would be assassinated in 1920), American army general John J. Pershing, Emma Goldman (who was deported along with 248 other radicals), the Prince of Wales (who stopped in the US after his Canadian tour). I’m guessing the “Palmer” cowboy with the long lasso is US attorney-general A. Mitchell Palmer, who was notorious for his anti-radical Palmer Raids. The “King and Queen” visiting Uncle Sam might be Albert I and Elisabeth of Belgium, who paid their respects at Theodore Roosevelt’s grave that year.

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New York World, December 31, 1919.

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Omaha Bee, December 31, 1919.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

This cartoon appeared in numerous papers on both sides of the border.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

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Seattle Star, January 1, 1920.

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Washington Star, December 31, 1919.

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Washington Star, January 1, 1920.

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 Telegram Cares When It Comes to Helping You Vote

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The Telegram, June 7, 1957.

During election campaigns, newspapers usually focus on partisan battles and the drama surrounding the fortunes of political leaders and local candidates. But, as the Telegram did in 1957, they have also provided public service with full information on where to vote, how the voting process works, and even offer assistance to those who need help getting to their polling station.

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The Telegram, June 7, 1957.

Getting 63 car dealers across Metropolitan Toronto to help on voting day feels like an impressive feat. Rides were traditionally offered by individual or party campaigns.

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A map of Metro’s ridings in 1957. Below were a list of local campaign offices (“committee rooms”)  for the four main parties who ran that year: CCF, Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and Social Credit. Many candidates had more than one office in a riding–in York-Scarborough, 12 sites were listed for Liberal Frank Enfield.

The next day, the paper ran photos depicting situations where you could call the Tely for voting assistance…

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The Telegram, June 8, 1957.

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The Telegram, June 9, 1957.

Mind you, the Tely had its own ideas on who to vote for in ’57, as seen in this editorial from the short-lived Sunday edition of the paper.

Election Results, 1930 Style

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2011.

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Newsstand at the northeast corner of King and Bay, November 9, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1289.

How will you discover the latest election results? Watch them on television? Head to the neighbourhood bar? Follow your favourite website’s coverage? Take the matter into your own hands and tweet the early returns to the entire world? OK, maybe you should be careful with that last option—if a tattletale rats you out, an Elections Canada official may reward you with a hefty fine, since social media is off-limits while the west coast is still voting.

Back in 1930, early reporting wasn’t a problem. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, Canada didn’t have a national broadcasting network, any telegraph and telephone operators who sent early results to the west wouldn’t have faced any harsh legal penalties, as section 329 of the Canada Elections Act wasn’t enacted for another eight years.

How did Torontonians satisfy their election night curiosity at the dawn of the Great Depression? Thanks to the city’s four daily newspapers, voters who cast their ballots on July 28, 1930, had two options: listen to special radio broadcasts in the comfort of their homes, or join the crowds gathered outside the cluster of press buildings around King and Bay to find out if Conservative leader R.B. Bennett would topple the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

For those in a partying mood, the liveliest festivities were found at the Star’s new headquarters at 80 King Street West (now the site of First Canadian Place). Four screens were set up: one for typed bulletins with the latest results, one utilizing a telautograph (an ancestor of the fax machine) “by which the actual writing of the operator at the telegraph wire is made visible to the crowd,” and two movie screens. To soothe those who were anxious and to entertain those who were bored waiting for the results, a 22-piece orchestra was on hand. For readers who couldn’t make it downtown, the Star set up two screens at Fairmount Park at Bowmore Road and Gerrard Street East (one featuring the latest bulletins, the other comedies), which were accompanied by diversions ranging from a military band to a ladies’ softball game. Coverage on the Star’s radio station, CFCA, was anchored by hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt.

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Mail and Empire building, northwest corner of Bay and King streets, December 30, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2037.

A few doors east of the Star at the northwest corner of King and Bay, the Mail and Empire didn’t add any frilly touches to its offerings, apart from a loudspeaker that played music and a platform for candidates to address the crowd. Results were screened across the street on the side of Cawthra House. The paper promised that during its four hours on air over radio station CKNC, there wouldn’t be any breaks from its election coverage for regular programming—“lulls, if any, between results will be filled in with music.”

The opposite was true of the Telegram’s radio plan. Listeners of CKGW were promised that there would be little disruption to the programs they normally enjoyed on a Monday night, as updates from the Tely intruded for three brief election bulletins. Meanwhile, down at the Tely’s office at Bay and Melinda (now occupied by Commerce Court), results were flashed on the side of the building. Breaks were filled by movies, projected drawings sketched on the spot by the paper’s cartoonists, and live music courtesy of the 48th Highlanders. (We wonder if any of the pro-Bennett blurbs the paper used as space fillers during the campaign—such as “British Bankers Back Bennett…So Should You” and “Vote Bennett and a Boom/Oust W.L.M. King and Gloom”—were projected on “the old lady of Melinda Street.”)

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Advertisements, the Globe, July 26, 1930 (left); the Globe, July 28, 1930 (right).

The Globe, then located at 64 Yonge Street, projected returns for the public via a stereopticon (or magic lantern) onto a canvas hanging on the Melinda Street side of the Dominion Bank Building (now One King West). Seven phone lines were set up to provide returns for eager callers. The paper promised that for its radio coverage on CFRB, “Special preparations have been made to make the radio newscast as rapid and accurate as human ingenuity and the super-powered equipment of CFRB will permit.” Regardless of which way the vote went, readers were promised that Prime Minister King would provide a short radio message once the results were in.

That speech turned out to be a concession address, as Bennett emerged the victor. While the result may have disappointed ardent followers mulling outside the Liberal-leaning Globe, we suspect the crowd was jubilant outside the staunchly Tory Telegram. Despite each paper’s fierce partisanship, no fights between neighbouring left-leaning Star readers and right-leaning Mail and Empire fans were reported. If there were any bitter feelings, voters bottled them up until the internet comments section was invented.

Additional material from the July 28, 1930, edition of the Globe; the July 26, 1930, edition of the Mail and Empire; the July 26, 1930, and July 28, 1930, editions of the Telegram; and the July 28, 1930, edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, July 26, 1930.

If you’re going to listen to the election results via radio, you want to make sure your set is working. There were no reports as to whether this ad prompted a run on tubes throughout Toronto.

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The Globe, July 29, 1930.

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Mail and Empire, July 28, 1930.

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Toronto Star, July 28, 1930.

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Toronto Star, July 29, 1930. Click on image for larger version.

I love how the spotlights emanating from the Star‘s building have been drawn in for dramatic effect. There also appear to have been plenty of disembodied limbs in the crowd.

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Toronto Star, July 29, 1930. Click on image for larger version.  

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Evening Telegram, July 29, 1930.

While the Tely had reporters stationed in Conservative campaign offices around the city, it is not mentioned if they sent anyone to hang out with the Liberals. One Grit candidate they might have spent the evening with was Samuel Factor in the short-lived riding of Toronto West Centre, who knocked off former Toronto mayor and veteran Conservative MP Tommy Church (a politician the Tely treated with the reverance usually reserved for religious deities).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ensure Stable Government (1926 federal election)

Originally published on Torontoist on April 12, 2011.

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The Globe, September 13, 1926.

“Ensure stable government.” Isn’t stable government what the present-day Conservative party is promising if you vote for them during the 2011 election campaign? Some things never change…

Mind you, the situation when voters went to the polls on September 14, 1926, was volatile. It was the second election campaign in less than a year, thanks to a highly unstable parliament. Despite coming in second place after the vote on October 29, 1925, William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals clung to power with the backing of Progressive party MPs. King’s government faced a never-ending series of non-confidence votes launched by the Conservatives, which finally looked like they were going to succeed after a report regarding a scandal over booze smuggling at a federal customs warehouse was presented to the House of Commons in June 1926. What followed was the constitutional crisis known as the King-Byng affair, which one usually needs a scorecard to follow.

In the midst of procedural mayhem, Conservative leader Arthur Meighen assumed power for three days before falling to another non-confidence vote and being granted the dissolution of parliament that Governor General Lord Byng had just refused to give King. During the campaign, King worked out arrangements with the Progressives and strong farmer/labour candidates so that in ridings where one party was stronger, the other wouldn’t run (hence the reason for the majority of the 48 blacked-out ridings in the map above).

As John Duffy noted when he profiled the campaign in his book Fights of Our Lives, “For many reform-minded electors, the three-day Meighen government of 1926 had shown that the hated Tories had a chance at power as long as the Liberals and Progressives remained divided; voting Progressive seemed a luxury to be indulged when the Tories were safely off in third place, as in 1921, but not now.” Meighen initially focused on attacking Liberal corruption, but when that ran out of steam he pulled out the patriotism-to-Britain card and attacked King for being a rebel like his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie.

Meighen’s plea for a stable government succeeded…for King, who, with a handful of Progressives who ran under the Liberal-Progressive banner, easily formed a majority. Toronto did not succumb to King’s charms, as all of the Conservative candidates listed in today’s ad won. The tightest race was in York North, where Thomas Herbert Lennox defeated Liberal Henry Arthur Sifton by less than 300 votes (King had held the seat from 1921 to 1925). Others on the local Conservative slate included three former mayors of Toronto (Church, Hocken, and Geary), and a rookie whose parliamentary career lasted into the space age (McGregor, who served as an MP until 1962).

Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002).

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

In an earlier post, I covered the nasty fight for the Conservative nomination in Toronto Northeast in 1926, which played itself out in newspaper advertising.  And stay tuned for another tale of the ’26 campaign in Toronto…

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The Globe, September 11, 1926.

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The Globe, September 11, 1926.

Ads published on the same day for the Conservatives and Liberals. The Tories harped on the previous year’s customs scandal (which involved corruption at the federal customs department), while the Liberals touted their achievements and upcoming goals.

Councillor Jack Layton

Originally published on Torontoist on August 22, 2011.

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Toronto Star, November 9, 1982.

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.” Jack Layton knew the meaning of the advice he gave in his last letter well, as many people said he didn’t have a chance during his first run for municipal office in 1982. He entered one of the most closely watched races that November, when political heavyweights were all but certain to nab the two seats up for grabs in Ward 6. The Star‘s candidate profile of Layton emphasized several issues that remained key concerns throughout his municipal and federal political career.

Jack Layton, 32, is a Ryerson politics professor known to Rogers Cable TV viewers as host of the now-defunct Council Insight show. This is Layton’s first campaign for elected office and he’s hoping the ward’s NDP network will help him win the junior aldermanic spot. He lists housing, transit, neighbourhood preservation and police-minority relations as key issues. Layton lives just outside the ward with his wife, Sally, and children Michael and Sarah. He’s spending $17,000 on his campaign.


CBC clip of Jack Layton following his victory in the 1982 municipal election.

 

Pundits expected the seats in Ward 6 to go to former Toronto mayor John Sewell and rising star Gordon Chong, who Conservative backroom operators felt was mayoral material. Layton used the NDP’s clout in the ward to run a low-cost, volunteer-intensive campaign. Housing proved the critical issue, thanks to tenant worries about massive rent increases after Cadillac Fairview sold off 11,000 units across the city. Chong, who received $40,000 in campaign funding from Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey, didn’t seem to care about these concerns until late in the race, when he proposed that the city borrow $270 million to buy the units and sell them back to the tenants as condos. Both Layton and Sewell ripped apart Chong’s proposal. When the votes were tallied on November 8, 1982, Layton finished in second place with a little less than a 2,000-vote cushion over Chong. The new junior alderman noted that “having 600 workers is a lot better than a $60,000 campaign any time.” At his victory party, where many volunteers admitted surprise that he bested Chong, Layton told the Star that the result “showed even more than we imagined that residents in this ward aren’t going to tolerate politicians who ignore them.”

Once in office, Layton quickly stressed the role citizens played in city politics, “where ordinary people can make a difference.” In a profile that appeared in the Globe and Mail two months after his victory, he noted that “Wherever doors are closed, I would open them up to public participation. And by participation, I don’t mean a smoke-and-mirrors situation where everyone gets to stand up and say their bit but nobody listens. To have access to the decision-making power is more important than expressing opinions only.” Fellow alderman Richard Gilbert felt that Layton was better equipped to handle office than his fellow freshmen councillors because he demonstrated a grasp of local issues by co-producing a Ryerson course on civic issues that aired on CJRT and hosting a community-cable politics show.

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Globe and Mail, January 8, 1983.

At city and regional levels, Layton wasn’t afraid to raise awareness for causes he believed in. As one of the first councillors to talk about and develop plans to combat AIDS, he had his outline drawn in chalk to represent those who had died. He was arrested in 1984 for trespassing when he handed out leaflets supporting striking workers at Eaton’s (the charges were later tossed out on grounds of freedom of expression). He argued against the public financing of the SkyDome (and called for an inquiry into the debts that followed), tried to curb the power of developers who seemed to have a free hand at City Hall during Art Eggleton’s administration, supported his fellow cyclists, worked on homelessness issues, helped launched the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and White Ribbon Campaign, and generally proved a thorn in the side of right-leaning fellow councillors.

During his early years on City and Metro councils, Layton’s style of dress was best described as “hip young political science professor”: glasses, jeans, bushy hair, mustache, and running shoes. When a well-groomed, contact-wearing Layton appeared at a Metro Toronto council meeting in early 1987, the rumour mill was abuzz. Was he cleaning up for a future run at top office? He denied such a move at the time, claiming that he could no longer wear glasses, slacks were cheaper than jeans, and that the haircut was his mother’s idea. He joked that he was “changing my underwear, too.” More seriously, he added, “I figure if I’m going to run for mayor, it’s going to be with my mouth, not my eyes.”

20110822laytonmakeover

Toronto Star, February 5, 1987.

But run for mayor he eventually did, announcing his intentions in February 1991. A fear of vote-splitting among right-leaning candidates reduced Layton’s main competition to former councillor and Metro Toronto Police Commission chair June Rowlands. He lost by nearly a two-to-one margin on election night, as voters either embraced Rowlands’ law and order platform or weren’t ready to trust Layton’s economic proposals and the “Smilin’ Jack” image some thought was phony. After declaring defeat, he urged his supporters to continue working toward “a city where everyone has a place at the table” and commit themselves to rebuilding Toronto. If the evening had a silver lining, it was that his second wife (and fellow Trekkie) Olivia Chow won her city council race.
Layton returned to Metro council in 1994, and served on the post-amalgamation Toronto city council from 1997 until he was named federal NDP leader in 2003. He also served as the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, defending the interests of cities across the country as he continued to do when he went to Ottawa.

Early in his municipal career, Layton learned it was more important to reach out to people than just criticize his opponents, a quality that served him well in building trust with voters across the country. By staying in touch with the concerns of others and remaining optimistic in the cynical world of politics, Layton inspired many people to follow and act upon their personal beliefs in bettering society, even when others mocked them. And that spirit is embodied by Toronto residents today, such as the deputants who, despite being called names and told their views were worthless by allies of Mayor Rob Ford, stayed up all night to voice their concerns about the current administration, buoyed by their optimism and hopes for a better city.

Additional material from November 9, 1982, and January 8, 1983, editions of the Globe and Mail, and the November 2, 1982, November 9, 1982, and February 5, 1987, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 82-11-02 ward profile Toronto Star, November 2, 1982.

The results of this race: Sewell 13,702; Layton 10,101; Chong 8,349; Wong 2,504; Beatty 1,550; Amber 551