110 Lombard Street (The Old Firehall/Second City)

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 5, 2013.

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110 Lombard Street, circa 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 2.

Though no engines have raced out its doors in over 40 years, the origins of 110 Lombard St. are imprinted in a roundel above its main entrance: CENTRAL FIRE HALL 1886. During its long existence, the building has balanced coping with tragedy with making the city laugh.

The building was designed by David Roberts Jr., whose architectural career was tied to the Gooderham family. Beyond working on many structures in the Distillery District, Roberts designed landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the George Gooderham House at Bloor and St. George streets. The firehall, once touted by the Globe as “the finest building of its kind in the Dominion,” was equipped with sleeping space, a gym, and a state-of-the-art telegraph fire-alarm system. Though the hall was scheduled to open in July 1887, service was delayed by the poor condition of Lombard Street.

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The Globe, July 8, 1887.

After the City rejected a proposal to build a larger firehall elsewhere, the site was expanded with a water tower in 1895. Firefighters based at the station would battle some of the city’s greatest disasters; several sustained eye injuries during the Great Fire of 1904.

By the 1960s, plans were underway to replace the station with a new firehall at Front and Princess streets. “It is so old,” the Star said of the building in February 1966. “Firefighters have to beat the rodents off before they can slide down their polls.” Alderman June Marks added the hall to a list of buildings and residences in her ward to which she handed out free rat poison. (The firehall’s supply came gift-wrapped, topped with a red bow.)

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1971.

After the firefighters departed, the City hoped, as one advertisement announced, that “some ingenious entrepreneur will grasp the opportunities in leasing these premises.” The site was converted into a dining and entertainment complex—dubbed The Old Firehall—in 1972, with family-style dining in the basement and the Fire Escape disco on the ground floor. Globe and Mail advertorial writer Mary Walpole lured customers with promises of “great platters of golden southern fried chicken, prime, juicy roast beef, bowls of succulent gravy, and that special Fire Hall apple pie.”

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1973.

Looking for a cabaret-style attraction, the Old Firehall signed a contract with Second City in January 1974; the improv company needed a new space after their first Toronto home was padlocked by the landlord. Moving into a venue that possessed a liquor licence was a critical factor, as the lack of one doomed their six-month stay at Adelaide and Jarvis in 1973. (Provincial liquor officials felt the neighbourhood was already saturated with drinking spots, and didn’t believe Second City’s rented space was a true theatre.) Old Firehall manager Oscar Berceller, who previously ran celebrity-magnet restaurant Winston’s, saw Second City as part of a planned revamp of the building that would have converted the basement to a “gypsy cellar” with violinists. Berceller’s death soon after appears to have curtailed this idea.

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“Brian James, founder of a new organization which will send used tools to underdeveloped countries, seen with cast members of Second City revue Rosemary Radcliffe, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, John Candy and Joe O’Flaherty.” Photo by Reg Innell, originally published in the Toronto Star, April 17, 1974. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0128758f.

With a company featuring John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Rosemary Radcliffe, and Gilda Radner, the Second City made their Old Firehall debut in March 1974 with Hello, Dali! The Star‘s theatre critic, Urjo Kareda, felt the initial revue showed more bite than previous efforts and worked in Canadian-centric material without being pushy about it. Radner was praised for realizing that “she can be gorgeous and hilarious at the same time, without one distorting the other,” while Levy provided the show’s highlight with a skit about “Ricardo and his trained Amoeba.”

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Globe and Mail, March 14, 1974.

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Toronto Star, March 14, 1974.

In its early days at the Old Firehall, Second City competed with musical acts playing elsewhere in the building. “The only way we could attract an audience was to offer free draft,” producer Andrew Alexander later noted. “I think the audience thought they were there for the beer and rock ‘n’ roll—and the comedy was interstitial.” Among other short-lived 1970s distractions was The World’s Greatest Hamburger, which Globe and Mail food critic Joanne Kates found “tough and dry.”

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Globe and Mail, August 25, 1975.

When Second City prepared to move to Blue Jays Way in 1997, spirits long-reputed to haunt the Old Firehall didn’t take the news well. The frequency of odd events increased during the troupe’s final month in the building, including a burst pipe that flooded the theatre, flickering lights, and mysterious computer shutdowns. Friendly spirits, however, appeared onstage, as some famed alumni participated in the final shows. After making a surprise appearance at an improv set, Martin Short told the Star that “The Old Firehall is one of those important places for me. We’re always looking back for familiar places, whether it’s granny’s house that still exists, or your mom’s.”

A Second City alum was honoured as the building transitioned into its next incarnation. Following Radner’s death from cancer in 1989, Gilda’s Club was established to provide support and therapy spaces across North America to those living with cancer and their families. The Toronto branch opened in the Old Firehall in October 2001 and remained until it moved to Cecil Street in 2012. It was replaced on Lombard by the College of Makeup Art & Design.

Sources: The Great Toronto Fire by Nancy Rawson and Richard Tatton (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1984); the April 7, 1887 edition of the Globe; the March 31, 1973, January 10, 1974, August 25, 1975, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 2, 1998 edition of Maclean’s; and the September 20, 1895, February 4, 1966, April 23, 1969, November 13, 1971, January 5, 1973, December 11, 1973, March 14, 1974, and November 15, 1997 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Letter to the editor, Toronto Star, March 28, 1895. 

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Lombard firefighters in action, from the July 24, 1895 Globe.

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Photo by Frank Teskey, originally published in the January 22, 1971 Toronto Star.  Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0112378f.

This photo accompanied another image of a prospective renter. From the caption:

To prove that the facilities are still in good operating order, fireman Gord Didier slides down the pole, while firemen Ron Horniblow (left) and Ray Samson watch. On January 31, City Property Commissioner Harry Rogers will open sealed tenders from prospective tenants who want to lease the 86-year-old firehall, now replaced by a new building at Front and Princess St. It might be converted by someone into a restaurant.

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Globe and Mail, December 10, 1972.

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Mary Walpole’s advertorial take on the Fire Hall. Globe and Mail, March 31, 1973.

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1997.

Cooking with Etta and Earl

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 30, 2010.

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Earl Warren and Etta Sawyer about to carve poultry on the front cover of Etta Sawyer at the House of Warren: Kitchen Capers at CFRB (Toronto: Personal Library, 1979).

 

When browsing the cookbook section of any thrift shop or fundraising book sale, it’s not unusual to find a few media-related pamphlets or tomes. Whether produced to support a charity or satisfy audience members who misplaced that roast chicken recipe they clipped or quickly transcribed, these cooking tomes provide as much lasting value as glimpses into personalities who once entertained large audiences as they do with culinary advice that may or may not stand the test of time. One such item we found earlier this year is 1979’s Etta Sawyer at the House of Warren: Kitchen Capers at CFRB, which spotlights the kitchen skills of both a popular cooking teacher and a veteran Toronto radio host.

A native of Regina, Earl Warren Segal (who dropped his last name during his first on-air gig at the tender age of seventeen) joined CFRB in 1961 after stints at several stations out west. He spent the next two decades as the station’s honey-voiced late morning/lunchtime host. Warren described House of Warren as “a real homey show” where he chatted to listeners about “anything from my kid’s measles to a fight I had with my wife.” By the early 1980s, the show’s laid-back mix of personal stories, news, and easygoing music drew 116,000 listeners, which was three times more than the nearest competition. Warren’s boss, Alan Slaight, felt that the host “came across as a really warm, natural human being, and that’s not easy to do in radio.”

Among his regular guests by the end of the 1970s was Etta Sawyer, who appeared on Tuesdays and Thursdays to lend her culinary advice to listeners. Born in Hungary, where her family had a long tradition of cooking for nobility, Sawyer began teaching night school cooking classes for the Toronto Board of Education in the mid-1950s. She was hired to supervise the Canadian National Exhibition’s Kitchen Theatre demonstration area in 1962 and first met Warren that year when he appeared as a celebrity chef. As Sawyer remembered in her introduction to the cookbook, they disagreed over what should go into a pot of fudge.

He said he liked plain unadorned fudge, while I on the other hand liked maple walnut. Among the ingredients on the tray there were walnuts so in they went! Besides, this was MY show! The Kitchen Theatre audiences fell in love with him as did I. We were all hooked on Earl.

In 1971, Sawyer established the Academy of Culinary Arts on Bayview Avenue in Leaside, where she taught thousands of students the ways of the kitchen until her death in 1987 (the retail arm of the business continues to serve cooks of all skill levels).

The recipes in the forty-eight-page book were, according to Warren, perfected during a “three-day orgy—cooking orgy that is…Etta has done the cooking and I’ve done the eating!” The featured dishes range from kitchen basics to age-old favourites from both of their families. Among the latter was a recipe for latkes inspired by those Warren’s Grandma Segal made during his childhood that he often discussed on air:

Every day after school, when most kids were having peanut butter sandwiches and milk, I came home to a big glass of chocolate milk and a plateful of hot, fresh pancakes made from potatoes dutifully hand-grated by Grandma every afternoon. I used to eat them while sitting in front of the radio, listening to a program called The Mailbag from Radio CHAB in Moose Jaw. It was then that I decided to carve out a career as a radio broadcaster. I think those pancakes inspired me.

Those looking for similar inspiration can test the simple recipe while enjoying their favourite media outlet:

2 large potatoes, grated
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
½ cup milk
Dash salt and pepper

Instructions: “Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth. Fry in hot pan, preferably in vegetable oil.” If desired, grated onions could be added to the mix. In an interview with the Star about the cookbook, Warren admitted, “I am not a top latke-maker. But I am a top latke-eater—especially when it’s Etta making the latkes.”

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The back cover.

 

As for the other dishes in the book, the name of one suggested as an accompaniment to a simple curry may have made readers unfamiliar with Indian cuisine think the authors slipped in a joke about eating man’s best friend: the “e” is usually dropped off the end when you order a rose-flavoured “Lassie” in a restaurant. While there are pictures of the authors sampling the recipes, most of the illustrations show them nurturing Warren’s beloved stable of horses.

Warren remained at CFRB until House of Warren was suddenly axed in June 1983. Station management decided a change was required to draw younger listeners and felt that Warren’s audience was too elderly for their liking to fit the station’s gradual shift to a news-talk format. He ran a travel agency, did PR work for the Constellation Hotel, and continued to dabble in radio through a big band music show based out of Burlington. His final on-air gig was a Sunday morning show on AM 740 that he hosted until two weeks before his death in 2002.

Sources: the March 16, 1980, June 18, 1983, October 25, 1987, and October 20, 2002 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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An early draft of this article combined coverage of this cookbook with The Naked Gourmet, a 1970 collaboration between soon-to-be Toronto Sun editor-in-chief Peter Worthington and cartoonist Ben Wicks. I decided that book was worth a future article of its own, which the world is still waiting for (I don’t own a copy, and never took down notes the times I borrowed it from an institution of higher learning). I’ll leave you with the bizarre cover for now…

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Introductory notes from the authors. Based on the price penciled inside the front cover, I bought this at the Elora Festival Book Sale, during a period where I bought anything historically related to Toronto regardless of what it was. After all, who knew when something might come in handy?

I’ve curbed my buying excesses since this period, gradually getting rid of materials that I’ll either never use or may have one use and are available at local libraries or archives when the time comes to use it. A few cookbooks slipped into my collection, and future posts will plow through those that remain before they find new homes.

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I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a lot of pictures of horses in this book. Over the course of its 48 pages, there are six shots of horses, along with one on the back cover. Warren’s Star obit observed that “he loved horses, but lost a lot of money on them,” which led to his other business ventures. Not surprisingly, there are no recipes for cheval.

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The curry recipe, along with the accompanying lassi. This is an old school interpretation, heavy on the fruit and relying on curry powder for seasoning. Once in awhile I’ll make a dish along these lines, though my preferred recipe turns it into a baked chicken casserole with almonds, raisins, and dried apricots.

If you’d like to browse the entire book, reference copies are available at the Toronto Reference Library and the University of Guelph’s Canadian Cookbook Collection.

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Toronto Star, March 16, 1980.

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Toronto Star, October 25, 1987.

471 Bloor West (Hungarian Castle/BMV)

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

Bye Bye Black Hole of Bloor (1)

The Hungarian Castle undergoing renovations to transform into BMV, May 4, 2006. Click on image for larger version.

When it opened in 2006, the Bloor Street branch of BMV represented more than just a giant bookstore. Its bright blue exterior and large street-level windows removed an eyesore known to nearby businesses and residents as the “black hole of the Annex.” After nearly two decades of rot, any new owner or tenant occupying the former Hungarian Castle restaurant would have been greeted with open arms.

Why 471 Bloor St. W. appeared abandoned for so long is subject to rumours and urban legends. Elusive landlord Annie Racz didn’t provide answers during her lifetime. When she died in 2004, she left an estate consisting of millions of dollars worth of real estate centered around Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue, some of which remains empty under the stewardship of her heir. Despite high interest from potential buyers, Racz threw up barriers that months of negotiation couldn’t breach. Theories on why she hung onto these properties without maintaining them included attempts to prevent higher tax assessments, an inability to trust anyone, and sentimental reminders of her late husband.

True Patriotism

Toronto Star, January 14, 1915. W.J. Parks’ grocery at 473 Bloor West eventually became part of the Hungarian Castle/BMV building.

When Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan profiled Racz in 2003, he found that, after six weeks of trying to track her down, he didn’t feel any wiser than at the beginning of his investigation. He heard rumours that had her living anywhere from above By the Way Cafe to Richmond Hill, that she resembled a bag lady, and that her legs had been amputated. Annex Residents Association chair Eric Domville was so frustrated by Racz’s refusal to do anything with 471 Bloor that he began to wonder if she was “a figment of somebody’s imagination. Does she live in a cave, or in a secret hideaway like Lex Luthor?”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1973.

Racz hadn’t always been so shadowy or seemingly neglectful. Before she and her husband Leslie purchased the building, the site housed a variety of tenants. During the first half of the 20th century, it was occupied by several grocers, a drug company, and residents who enjoyed five-bedroom flats. After a succession of furniture stores operated there during the 1950s and 1960s, the Raczs spent two years transforming it into the medieval-styled Hungarian Castle. When the restaurant opened in 1972, it joined the large number of Hungarian eateries along the Bloor strip owned and patronized by fellow refugees who fled Hungary after the Soviet Union crushed the revolution in 1956. To make their eatery stand out, the Raczs hired Oscar Berceller, former proprietor of legendary King Street celebrity hangout Winston’s, as an advisor.

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Toronto Star, December 28, 1973.

During the years it operated, the Hungarian Castle was known for its kitschy decor and windows covered in wrought-iron crests and gates. A basement bakery drew praise from customers for its goodies and scorn from health officials for its filth. The upper floors housed a series of bars ranging from the Spanish-themed El Flamenco to student watering hole Annie’s Place.

Following her husband’s death during the 1980s, Racz closed the Hungarian Castle. Those interested in the space received calls from Racz in the middle of the night to meet her at doughnut shops. Book City owner Hans Donker’s enthusiasm to move his store a few blocks east dimmed after such encounters, along with Racz’s insistence that he retain the restaurant’s furnishings. When he toured the space with Racz circa 1990, he noticed that display cases were filled with rotting pastry.

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Toronto Star, June 11, 1978.

BMV owner Patrick Hempelmann was equally frustrated by his dealings with Racz. “We’d set up a meeting, come to a verbal agreement, and then she’d find some reason to pull out,” he told the Globe and Mail. When he purchased the building from her estate in September 2005, he found its interior resembled a horror-movie set. Liquor bottles still lined the bar and tables were set for dining. Pots were left on the stove and dishwashers were filled with plates. Grand pianos and raccoon corpses had rotted. The bakery was buried in four feet of water. It took three months, a crew of workers wearing ventilation masks, and 40 large dumpsters to clean the place out. Despite the decay, Hempelmann was relieved when the building was found to be structurally sound. A year after he bought it, book browsers filed in to spend hours looking for finds.

In some respects, the long decay of the Hungarian Castle mirrored the demise of the Hungarian community along Bloor West. Where it was once, as writer John Lorinc once termed it, “a veritable Budapest of eateries,” only the Country Style in the heart of the strip and the Coffee Mill in Yorkville survive. Perhaps the medieval warriors who graced the building’s exterior were fighting as best they could until they had to give in to the changing landscape.

Additional material from the February 27, 2003 edition of Eye Weekly, the August 28, 2004 and December 10, 2005 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 30, 1972 and June 11, 2006 editions of the Toronto Star. Since this article was originally published, the Coffee Mill closed in 2014.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, November 25, 1972.

 

 

 

1 Benvenuto Place

This story was originally published as an online “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 28, 2013.

Benvenuto, Avenue Road. - [1909?]

Benvenuto, circa 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 328A.

In a sense, Simeon Janes was already king of the hill. Regarded as one of Toronto’s sharpest real estate wheeler-dealers, he built a fortune during the 1880s by subdividing the land that became The Annex. When he decided to build a mansion in 1888, he settled on a property high up on Avenue Road with an expansive view of the growing city below.

Completed in 1891, Benvenuto lived up to English translation of its Italian name—“welcome”—as Janes entertained guests with feasts in its grand dining room and concerts in its conservatory. A contemporary account described the mansion as “a splendid piece of masonry, which puts to shame the flimsy ephemeral edifices, with their stuccoes and veneers, of modern house construction.”

Janes sold Benvenuto to Toronto Railway Company proprietor Sir William Mackenzie in 1897. Reputedly Mackenzie paid for part of the purchase in the pre-TTC streetcar operator’s stock, which was ironic given Janes backed an opposing bid when the city offered the transit contract to private concerns six years earlier. Mackenzie continued Benevenuto’s tradition of entertaining the rich while building a transportation empire which included the Canadian Northern Railway (the company responsible for developing Leaside).

Sir William McKenzie leaving Benvenuto. - [1910?]

Sir William Mackenzie leaving Benvenuto, circa 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1298.

Following Mackenzie’s death in 1923, the mansion fell into disuse. Parcels of the property were sold, resulting in the development of Edmund Avenue and Benvenuto Place. Developers who bought the remaining property in 1927 planned to demolish the mansion to make way for a deluxe apartment building. While the mansion was knocked down in 1932, several elements survived. The retaining wall along Avenue Road stayed put, while ornate gates Mackenzie shipped in from Italy moved west to their current location at 38-44 Burton Road.

Plans for an apartment complex remained in limbo until the early 1950s. Architect Peter Dickinson designed a flat-roofed, balcony-and-window-rich concrete structure which became one of Toronto’s first modernist buildings. Opened in stages between 1953 and 1955, 1 Benvenuto Place operated as a luxurious apartment hotel whose residents saw celebrities like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor pass through its lobby. The hotel service lasted through the late 1970s, after which it continued to offer some of the city’s priciest rental apartments.

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1 Benvenuto Place, 1955. Canadian Architectural Archives.

While there had been an onsite restaurant from the start, it didn’t make culinary waves until it transformed into Scaramouche in late 1980. Rising chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander handled the kitchen during its first two years, then Keith Froggett settled in for a run now heading into its 30th year. During the mid-’80s, pastry chef Joanne Yolles accidentally came up with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes after pondering the most blue-collar dessert she could make for a high-end eatery. The result: coconut cream pie. Soon after, a separate pasta bar offering $6 dishes created nightly lineups.

Talk of converting 1 Benvenuto Place into a condominium began in the mid-1980s, upsetting many residents. This may have been among the factors which led to the building’s addition to the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 1989. The conversion process finally went ahead in 2004, at which time monthly apartment rents ranged from $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $5,500 for a three-bedroom. Existing tenants had the option of continuing as renters or buying their apartments. For a time it appeared Scaramouche would be replaced with a single condo unit, but an agreement signed in March 2010 allowed the restaurant to continue serving diners.

Sources: Toronto Old and New by G. Mercer Adam (Toronto: Mail Printing Company, 1891), The Railway King of Canada by R.B. Fleming (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1991), the July 2005 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 18, 1927, November 24, 1982, December 30, 1989, November 6, 2004, September 10, 2007, and March 12, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Drawing room of Benvenuto, early 1890s. Photo by Josiah Bruce. Toronto Public Library, 971-25-7.

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The Globe, January 4, 1897.

The sale to Sir William Mackenzie appears to have occurred in June 1897. The Star reported that it was rumoured he paid $100,000 for the property. Simeon Janes had paid $40,000 for the land, and $160,000 to build the home. Either Janes got a lot of Toronto Railway Company stock as further compensation, or Mackenzie picked up a bargain. Not until the end of October did the society columns indicate that the Mackenzies entertained guests at their new home.

Women in costume at Benvenuto. - [between 1912 and 1914]

Women in costume at Benvenuto, between 1912 and 1914. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1244, item 433.

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The Globe, June 18, 1914.

Despite lavish parties such as the one described here, things were turning sour financially for Mackenzie and his business partner Donald Mann. Factors ranging from reduced emigration from Europe to western Canada to market volatility to the outbreak of the First World War drove up the cost of completing their transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway. Though the last spike was driven in January 1915, trial runs wouldn’t begin until later that year. Within two years, the federal government acquired the railway, which would become one of the original components of Canadian National Railways. By 1921, he had divested his hydroelectric and streetcar interests, and left a relatively modest estate when he died in 1923. “His rapid rise to wealth and fame had the appearance of a meteor blazing a bright trail through the skies of the Canadian business world,” the Dictionary of Canadian Biography conlcluded, “but this meteor had burned itself out several years before Mackenzie’s body was committed to the earth near his home town of Kirkfield.”

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Toronto Star, January 18, 1927.

More on the early plans for an apartment “chateau” on the site.  The “Windsor” building mentioned here sounds like it evolved into the Windsor Arms Hotel (which opened later that year). The “Bloor Building” site now houses the Manulife Centre.

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Globe and Mail, January 29, 1954.

In a 1983 interview with the Globe and Mail, structural engineer and Scaramouche owner Morden Yolles described the process of building the apartment complex, which was one of his first major projects:

Meeting Peter (Dickinson) was very important. I wasn’t aware of architecture as such at school. In Toronto in the fifties, there was no contemporary architecture whatsoever. Peter was from England — he was the first to speak in terms of anything that could remotely be considered contemporary. He was a lively guy with a lot of drive. I went around the city with him looking for buildings of any interest. We were seeking new ways of expressing things. We began to break some new ground. There was nothing like Benvenuto around — it was being done in England at the time, and was close to the International Style. The building techniques were conventional, the structure was most unconventional.

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Globe and Mail, September 3, 1955.

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, July 11, 1959.

From the 1974 edition of Toronto Guidebook:

The Benvenuto is located in one of the city’s better residential areas. It’s quiet, dignified and understated, just like its neighbourhood. Most guests are there on a long-term basis, but 25 rooms are available for short stays, most of them equipped with kitchenettes. Air conditioning, free parking, colour TV, and excellent dining room and bar.

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Globe and Mail, January 28, 1981.

Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry’s take on the opening of Scaramouche.

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Globe and Mail, February 21, 1981.

In another review written two years later, Kates observed that some of “the affluent tenants of the blue-rinse set” were upset when the previous restaurant, which served up old school fare like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, was converted into Scaramouche.

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Mary Walpole advertorial, Globe and Mail, June 6, 1981.

starweek 1983-05-21 jim white scaramouche review

Starweek, May 21, 1983.

Sources for additional material: Toronto Guidebook, edited by Alexander Ross (Toronto: Key Publishers, 1974); the March 19, 1983 and March 26, 1983 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the June 14, 1897 edition of the Toronto Star.

Let’s Visit the Harry Horne Booth at the CNE (and eat some Nanaimo bars along the way)

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Nanaimo bars. Yum.

One of my favourite desserts is Nanaimo bars. The mix of chocolatey and coconutty goodness with creamy vanilla filling is irresistible to my tastebuds. Every Christmas, my mom sends me home with batch that my wife and I ration throughout January. For years, a key ingredient for the delectable yellow filling was Harry Horne’s Custard Powder.

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Canadian Grocer, May 7, 1920.

Its advertising claims may be debatable, but it made mighty fine desserts. Besides custard powder, the brand (later reduced to Horne’s)  lingered on for decades on products ranging from barbecue sauce to seafood sauce. Its last owner, Select Food Products, appears to have stopped making the custard powder the mid-2010s, but a sales sheet listed on its website indicated a Horne’s branded gravy was still available as of 2020.

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While researching the early days of Loblaws last year, I found a section in the September 9, 1932 edition of Canadian Grocer highlighting the exhibits in the Pure Food Building at that year’s Canadian National Exhibition. Located on the same site as the current Food Building, it served as the focal point of the fair’s food displays and samples from 1922 to 1953.

The company with the most displays in this section? Harry Horne.

 

cg 1914-07-03 hornes ad

Canadian Grocer, July 3, 1914.

Flipping through back issues of Canadian Grocer, it appears Horne started as a food distributor. The location listed in this ad is, as of January 2020, a Gabby’s restaurant. Foster Clark’s custard powder is still available in Australia (what would an Aussie version of the Nanaimo bar be like?).

globe 1926-05-08 horne ad

The Globe, May 8, 1926.

Some of Horne’s advertising reflected the prejudices and stereotypes of the day.

By 1932, the company had a storefront operation at 1297-1301 Queen Street West, a site currently occupied by the Parkdale library branch.

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Other displays featured in this section included Borden, Kellogg’s, Kuntz Brewery, Libby’s, Lipton’s Tea, Ovaltine, Peek Frean, Procter and Gamble, Tea-Bisk, Welch’s Grape Juice, and Weston’s.

rhl 1952-08-14 horne in car accident

The Liberal (Richmond Hill), August 14, 1952.

Horne survived the accident, and passed away six years later.

weston-york times 1973-09-27 nanaimo bar recipes

Weston-York Times, September 27, 1973

A pair of Nanaimo bar recipes from a community cookbook section. Note varying amounts of custard powder used. The Canadian Encyclopedia gives a detailed history, placing the first published recipe in a 1952 Nanaimo hospital cookbook, but notes there are plenty of other claimants.

star 1978-09-24 nanaimo bar recipe

Toronto Star, September 24, 1978.

Harwood’s recipe for Nanaimo bars first appeared in the Star four years earlier, in a feature on ballerina diets. According to the February 20, 1974 article, Harwood’s dessert “established her culinary reputation in the ballet field.” By contrast, Veronica Tennant was known for “sole baked in white wine, then bathed in a cream sauce with green grapes and broiled until delicately golden.”

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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Colouring Contests

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2015.

Before reading this column any further, grab the nearest pack of coloured pencils, crayons, or markers, or open up your favourite digital art program. Have we got a colouring bonanza for you!

Long before adult colouring books topped the Amazon charts, there was the humble colouring contest. It was a simple gimmick: draw interest in your brand, event, publication, or store by reeling in kids with promises of prizes if they applied their artistic skills (or lack thereof) to simple line drawings based on popular shows or seasonal icons. For their efforts, they might win pocket change, a bicycle, a chance to meet their idols, or bragging rights at the playground.

Today’s selection of ads spotlights past opportunities to dazzle judges with your colouring skill. Let your creativity run wild!

Click on any of the following images for larger versions.

Robertson Brothers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, March 23, 1928.

  Treasure Island Colouring Contest

The Globe, December 4, 1934 and December 5, 1934.

From the August 18, 1934 New York Times review of Treasure Island:

Although there are occasional studio interpolations, the present screen offering is a moderately satisfactory production. It has not the force or depth of the parent work and, kind as one might wish to be to the adaptation, it always seems synthetic. However, hitherto on the stage and in two silent films of the same subject, the role of Jim Hawkins has been acted by a girl. One is spared this weakness in this picture, for that able juvenile, Jackie Cooper, plays Jim, and, although he may not impress one as being the Jim of the book, he does fairly well.

Star Weekly Christmas Colouring Contest Toronto Star, December 5, 1940.

Christmas colouring contests have long been a holiday staple. In this case, they may have also provided a boost to the Star’s sister publication, Star Weekly.

Roy Rogers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 11, 1954 and September 19, 1954.

Forget the beautiful statue of the “King of the Cowboys” riding his trusty horse Trigger; the real thrill for most winners would have been spending a few moments with Roy and Dale at the 1954 CNE. A photo published in the Star of 11-year-old victors John Goslinga and Alfred Kemp depicted them in full cowboy regalia, as if they were ready to be extras in one of Roy’s horse operas.

Davy Crockett Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 12, 1955 (left) and September 13, 1955 (right).

A year after the Roy Rogers contest, the Star capitalized on the success of Davy Crockett. Note flattering depictions of aboriginals and women.

Parkay Colouring Contest

Globe and Mail, April 19, 1955.

Faster than a bicycle going downhill! More powerful than a butter churn! Spreads margarine on toast with a single stroke! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s PARKAYBOY!

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Toronto Star, October 9, 1956.

Simpsons gets in on the colouring contest action with RCA Victor’s venerable mascot, Nipper.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1956.

We (and Disney’s lawyers) can only hope that the actual drawing of Mickey and Minnie used for Dominion’s Ice Capades tie-in was superior to this spartan sketch.

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Toronto Sun, April 19, 1972.

How terrfying can you make this clown?

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Toronto Sun, November 20, 1977.

A previous post covered the story of dinner with Chewbacca.

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Toronto Star, August 6, 1977.

The Star’s kids page launched its first colouring contest with this detailed pair of figures who would have looked at home in the Royal Ontario Museum. A trip to the ROM might have been preferable to the grand prize: a chance to see the first-year Blue Jays drop both ends of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The first game was a 15-0 blowout, which saw future Jay Cliff Johnson hit two homers. The Yankees were gracious during the second match, with only a 2-0 victory.

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Toronto Star, May 28, 1978.

More colouring, more baseball, happier results for the Blue Jays. The prize winner saw the home team defeat the Orioles in another doubleheader by scores of 6-2 and 9-8. It was the franchise’s first doubleheader sweep at Exhibition Stadium.

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Toronto Star, September 2, 1984.

Who better to represent a teddy bear picnic at the Metro Zoo than Winnie the Pooh? We wonder if, a year or two later, the celebrity mascot would have been Teddy Ruxpin.

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Toronto Life, April 1973.

While not promoting a colouring contest, this ad for the fashionable Bloor Street clothier fits the mood of a modern adult colouring book.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 7, 1954.

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Toronto Star, August 25, 1955. Click on image for larger version.

While the winners of the Star‘s Roy Rogers contest only received a small corner of a page, the winners of the paper’s Davy Crockett took up most of the front page of the second section. Sadly, none of them posed with series stars Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen.