An Early November Night’s Walk

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Once upon a time, I wrote a lot about my walks through the city. Whether they were solo strolls or psychogeographic excursions, I snapped many pictures along the way and summarized the trip in old-fashioned blog posts.

Friends have asked over the years if I would ever return to writing about walks. So I am. If nothing else, going for these strolls takes me away from my work desk.

I think I got a look of approval from Toronto’s first mayor from his perch at Queen station (though I swear he also mumbled something about muskets).

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Originally I was going to wander along Danforth through Greektown, peering in at the early Christmas displays, such as this one at Kitchen Stuff Plus. Feeling there was more walking in me, I hopped on the subway at Broadview and headed downtown.

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It was five minutes to closing time when I entered the Queen Street Bay. This cow didn’t seem bothered by the customers scurrying to leave the store. It was also proud to show off their holiday wreath, which at least one cutting board approved of.

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Heading into the Bay Adelaide Centre, I had a feeling that I was being watched…

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…and they weren’t the watcher from the wall.

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Is the use of the word “path” intentional, given this is a busy corridor in the PATH system? Is it the path to financial well-being? Consumer satisfaction? Enlightenment?

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Given the early Christmas decorations I had seen earlier, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” lodged itself in my brain.

As for seeing what they saw, all I could see was a row of closeups of eyes staring at me. Which, for some people, might be unnerving.

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Time to move on to another complex.

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Recent wayfinding installed in the PATH not only directs you to nearby attractions and buildings, but lets you know how long it takes to get to your destination.*

*Not valid during lunchtime, especially during inclement weather.

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First Canadian Place, like much of the PATH after business hours, takes on a quiet character. The hustle and bustle of bankers and lawyers gives way to the occasional wanderer. It’s a great place for reflection while walking.

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Heading into the Toronto-Dominion Centre provides one of the last glimpses of the uniform signage that, until the early 2000s, dominated Mies van der Rohe’s original design for the shopping level of the complex.

From Shawn Micallef’s book Stroll:

The Toronto-Dominion Centre was long an exception to the generic look of much of the PATH. Architect Mies van der Rohe laid out a mausoleum of a mall down there, a place of order, clean lines and polished travertine marble. Even the store signs were uniform: white letters on a black background using a font Mies designed specifically for the TD Centre.

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The remaining black elements give the centre more character than its neighbours, making it one of the most atmospheric to stroll after hours. The loud partying sounds from the Duke of Devon felt out of place.

From Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic’s book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Also, this is where Mies did the city the dubious favour of pioneering the the underground shopping concourse. The Miesian signage and detailing are now gone from underground, but the PATH system continues to grow, turning office-dwellers into moles and emptying the streets.

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One of the most interesting signs points to the King & Bay Chaplaincy, a spiritual retreat whose corridor was under construction. It feels like a necessary amenity for people to cope with the pressure of working in the Financial District.

From the February 2, 2008 Globe and Mail:

Hope comes in the form of a door handily emblazoned HOPE. Inside, Pat Kimeda sits quietly behind the desk of the King-Bay Chaplaincy, an interdenominational Christian chapel tucked below escalators in the TD Tower. Ms. Kimeda says many downtown workers come to deal with relationship issues, others in a daze after being dismissed. “All types of people come, and sometimes the problems are not so different,” she says. “Whether it’s family or work, often people are dealing with stress for one reason or another.”

But is it odd, expecting people to find faith in the heart of the country’s biggest financial district? Ms. Kimeda pauses. “It’s Bay Street. It’s money, money, money,” she says. “[But]not every person walking down here is like that. A lot are very, very deep.”

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Compared to the Toronto-Dominion Centre, walking into Royal Bank Plaza feels like you’ve entered just another office/shopping complex. It doesn’t live up to the promise of the exterior, as described in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Any building in Toronto that makes it look as if the sun is shining on a dreary winter day has a lot going for it. The faceted gold-enriched mirror-glass of Royal Bank’s Late-Modern jewel seems to reflect a warm sunny glow no matter what the weather. This is a very showy building all around.

One of the biggest mistakes: closing off public viewing access to Jesus Raphael Soto’s ceiling sculpture Suspended Virtual Volume, which can sort of be seen through the front windows.

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Also available (for the moment) in Royal Bank Plaza: a vending machine dispensing $8.99 cake slices shipped in from Hoboken.

Given all the great bakeries in the city, I’ll pass.

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Artwork on the wall next to the cake machine. Aww.

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My feet needed to rest, so I headed out of Royal Bank Plaza into a building with more atmosphere…

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…but first, the small shopping centre in the Royal York Hotel.

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At the barber shop, a fine display of after shaves…

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…and shaving products usually spotted at my local Italian grocery store.

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A bank of elevators waiting to whisk guests to their rooms for a night of romance, or people attending functions throughout the hotel.

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From Andrew Hepburn’s The Toronto Guide 1966-67:

The hotel, one of the the most celebrated hotels in the world and the largest in the British Commonwealth, has 1,600 guest rooms and suites and some of the most interesting public rooms in Canada, particularly a series of private dining rooms, each one decorated to suggest the character and history of a Canadian province.

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The Royal York’s lobby is one of my favourite places to rest in the city. Easing into one of the comfortable chairs sends you into a state of relaxation, along with the classic decor. I’ll sit for 15-20 minutes to collect my thoughts, typing into my phone or writing in a notebook ideas to be saved for later.

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The constant stream of activity makes it a great people-watching spot. On this night, there were attendees of a black-tie function roaming around, along with young tourism, couples out for a drink, and happy Leafs fans savouring a victory over Vegas.

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Musically, a live pianist in Reign restaurant blended with dance music blaring from a speaker somewhere behind my chair.

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An abandoned issue of O waiting for the next guests to flip through it.

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Feeling recharged, it was time to head across the street…

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…into Union Station.

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First stop was Luis Jacob’s Toronto Biennial of Art exhibit The View from Here. According to the artist statement, the exhibit pairs Jacob’s photos with selections from his rare map collection, “representing different yet overlapping narratives of the same places. The tension between these views invites a reconsideration of Toronto’s identity and presumed cohesion as a city.”

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I thought the reflected glow of a nearby TD logo added something to this picture taken in The Junction.

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Another TD offering nearby: seating.

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I headed into the new York Concourse, but it was packed with Leafs fans waiting for their GO trains home. Back into the Great Hall…

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Who wants VIA merchandise?

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While waiting for the Leafs fans to disperse, I wandered into Brookfield Place. While Royal Bank Plaza hid its sculpture to add more office space, Brookfield embraces Santiago Calatrava’s work in the Allen Lambert Galleria.

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From Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Inside is a real architectural gift to the city: a galleria and “heritage square” by the Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. Built to satisfy the city’s public art requirement, this bravura arcade of white steel evokes by turns whale bones, an ancient forest, and Victorian engineering feats such as the Eiffel Tower.

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Looking down at the food court.

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The steel fountain at the centre of Sam Pollock Square.

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Near the entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame is a corner of pucks spanning all levels of hockey…

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…including franchises that never played a game, such as the WHA’s Miami Screaming Eagles.

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The night’s final image: a display of fall gourds on the Yonge Street side of Marché Mövenpick.

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.

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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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Town & Country

Originally published on Torontoist on May 20, 2015.

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Key to Toronto, September 1957.

Once upon a time, the all-you-can-eat buffet was marketed as an exotic experience with a touch of European class. Descended from the Swedish smorgasbord, the mid-20th-century buffet was marketed as a way to sample fancy dishes drawn from a United Nations of cuisines. The experience was often marketed as “French,” even if the majority of the items bore little resemblance to French cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, February 11, 1949.

Such was the case for one of Toronto’s longest-running gorge-fests, the Town & Country. Opened in 1949 at Gould and Mutual streets in the Westminster Hotel, it billed itself early on as “Canada’s most unusual eating place.” Mary Walpole, Globe and Mail advertorial writer, captured the early vibe of the joint:

This is the fabulous buffet that everyone talks about and you could do a lot of travelling before you would find anything equal to it. Even Chef Pierre, who is unusually modest, looks at that extravagant set up with a proud gleam. The cold buffet is all set forth on crushed ice, fresh salmon masked in mayonnaise, lobster, shrimp and chicken salads, wonderful appetizers so tempting you don’t know where to stop; chicken, tongue and the crispest of fresh greens. Then there is the hot buffet with the emphasis on roast beef and roast chicken. And you can go back again and again, just like a party. Luncheon $1.10, dinner $1.95. Definitely a must.

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Globe and Mail, September 17, 1951.

In preparation for a new lounge room in late 1967, the restaurant added live music to its feast. Blaik Kirby, the Globe and Mail‘s entertainment critic, was less than impressed with the preview offering, a trio led by guitarist Chris Sullivan. While the musicians were skilled, Kirby complained that their amps were too loud, and that numbers like “Unchained Melody” sounded “as if they’d been arranged with an ear to the record player.”

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Key to Toronto, May 1960.

Town & Country expanded to the suburbs in the mid-1970s, starting with a location in Scarborough; eventually, it operated buffets as far west as Mississauga. Back downtown, the flagship was refurbished with nostalgic decor such as antique posters and old photos of Toronto. It wasn’t long before the restaurant itself became a nostalgic memory—it closed in 1981 to make way for the demolition of the Westminster Hotel complex. The property is now occupied by Ryerson University.

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Key to Toronto, July 1976.

The chain lingered on elsewhere for years, though its “French” aspects were gradually phased out. A later downtown location at 190 Queens Quay East was built around old railway cars. A tourist-centric Star review from 2008 noted that “while Toronto is indeed a blend of dozens of global cultures, the food on offer at Town & Country Buffet is an accurate sampling of none of them.” That location closed the following year when the city didn’t renew its lease in order to make way for Waterfront Toronto’s revitalization of the area.

Additional material from the April 27, 1953, October 3, 1967, and March 5, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 28, 2008 edition of the Toronto Star.

From Dingman’s Hall to Jilly’s

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2014.

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Broadview Hotel, circa 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 518. 

When it opened nearly 125 years ago, the landmark building at the northwest corner of Queen and Broadview was a community gathering spot. Fraternal brotherhoods, athletic clubs, and other local organizations met there. Political candidates stumped for east-end votes. Music lovers enjoyed the occasional concert. We suspect that dances were held, though few would have involved poles or the intentional removal of clothing.

It’s possible that some or all of these activities could return to the Broadview Hotel now that the current home of Jilly’s strip club has been sold to Streetcar Developments. If, as the new owner has indicated, condos aren’t part of the building’s future, it might make sense to cater to a wide range of interests.

The site was built for $25,000 in 1891 by soap manufacturer Archibald Dingman. The Romanesque Revival building, originally dubbed Dingman’s Hall, was the tallest on the east side of the Don River. In its early years, it featured a the Canadian Bank of Commerce branch on the ground floor, professional offices on middle floors, and grand halls on the upper levels. From the start, politicians used it for community meetings or campaign stops—in July 1891, for example, Mayor Edward Clarke convened a meeting to discuss neighbourhood concerns regarding pollution problems in Ashbridge’s Marsh (part of which became the modern Port Lands).

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Looking north up Broadview Avenue from Queen Street East, June 26, 1918. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 750.

For the next 15 years, Dingman’s Hall was a major social gathering spot for the city’s growing east end. Dingman was an absentee landlord during the last few years of his ownership, as he’d decided to pursue his fortunes in the District of Alberta in the Northwest Territories. He ran a natural gas firm which lit Calgary’s streets, and saw his name bestowed on Alberta’s first commercial oil well in 1914.

Dingman sold the property in 1906 to T.J. Elward, proprietor of a hotel near the St. Lawrence Market. Elward’s petitions to transfer his liquor licence and transform Dingman’s Hall into a hotel were opposed by local teetotallers and the Globe, which felt that the three taverns already in the area should be sufficient. In 1907, though, the plan was resubmitted to the City’s licensing department and approved—and the building was soon renamed the Broadview Hotel.

While groups like local athletic clubs continued to meet there, in some ways the building’s downward slide had already begun. Reports of ownership squabbles made it into the papers, as did charges during the mid-1920s that it sold beer that was stronger than advertised. The name evolved over the years: Broadview Hotel, Lincoln Hotel, Broadview House, New Broadview House, etc. By the time the building was purchased by Harold Kamin for under $2 million in 1986, the main floor housed a strip club.

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During the 1930s, the site was known as the Lincoln Hotel. Its neighbour was the Teck Theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 641.

Jilly’s earned notoriety for its loud and public promise of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, but it wasn’t always the dancers who drew attention. Local animal activists were horrified in December 1991 by the “Jane Jones Exotic Circus.” Ms. Jones’s striptease routines were accompanied by a boa constrictor, a python, and a 450-pound defanged Siberian tiger named Qedesh. “She brings out the animal and the tiger just lies there on the stage,” activist Liz White told the Star. “She takes off most of her clothes and kind of lies all over the tiger while a male commentator talks about how this is an endangered species. It’s unreal.” Jilly’s staff noted Qedesh was “just a pussycat.” The complaints reached city council, spurring debate on outlawing the display and ownership of wild animals.

As faded west-end hotels like the Drake and Gladstone revived in the mid-2000s, speculation about the future of the Broadview increased. Drake owner Jeff Stober fended off rumours he was interested in the property. Kamin admitted to speaking with condo developers and architects, but, as he told the National Post in 2006, “I’m at the stage in my life where I don’t want any other problems.” Articles focused on its gritty nature and the fact that it, as well as being a strip club, was home to a number of low-income tenants.

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Broadview House, July 11, 1977. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 7, Item 134.

A brief closure in November 2013 for renovations renewed interest in the Broadview’s future. Councillor Paula Fletcher moved a motion at Toronto and East York Community Council to assess the possibility of a heritage designation. (The site was listed in 1975.) Yet the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrouwer felt secure that Jilly’s would serve patrons for years to come: “As long as I live, Toronto will never again grant a licence to a strip club. Grandfathered strip clubs cling jealously to their status.”

The building’s importance may have been summed up best by architect Angus Skene a decade ago: “What is important is that the building still stands.” And as he said more generally of buildings with colourful pasts: “They’re more interesting when they’re debauched, proving that, despite where you start in life, you never know what your future holds.”

Additional material from the July 6, 1891, and May 10, 1907 editions of the Globe; the December 19, 1991 edition of the Globe and Mail; the June 16, 2006 and November 27, 2013 editions of the National Post; and the January 4, 2004 edition of the Toronto Star.

The Elegant New Sutton Place Hotel

Originally published on Torontoist on February 10, 2012.

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Globe and Mail, June 16, 1967.

From vacationing tourists to Hollywood elites, the Sutton Place Hotel at Bay and Wellesley has catered to downtown visitors since Canada’s centennial year. This week, new owner Lanterra Developments announced plans to close the 45-year-old hotel and retrofit it as a condo with nine additional storeys. After renovation, the building may still devote rooms to overnight-guest use. This harkens back to the Sutton Place’s beginning as a mix of hospitality and residential space.

The Sutton Place began operating over the course of the summer of 1967, with the official opening ceremony held on August 22. An advertorial claimed that the tower was built atop “an old creek bed where duels were once fought.” (They were referring to a tributary of Taddle Creek, lowered 20 feet for construction of the building’s foundation.) Ten floors featured rooms furnished by Eaton’s, which were reserved for hotel guests. Twenty-two floors were for apartments, whose residents had an entrance separate from the one used for the transient trade. Globe and Mail society writer Zena Cherry devoted two days of her column to profiling the apartment dwellers, including various professionals, professors, rock band managers, car dealers, CBC reporters, and provincial government bureaucrats. Some of the male residents overlooked a small detail: telling their wives about their new rentals.

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Globe and Mail, August 23, 1967.

The top floor housed Stop 33, which was touted as the highest bar in Toronto. Globe and Mail reviewer Blaik Kirby couldn’t resist being sarcastic:

Stop 33 features elegant, opulent décor—rich blue walls, deep black leather easy chairs, and a fabulous view of the city if and when the smog clears…Stop 33’s civilized drinkers will listen politely to unobtrusive, unamplified music by the Hagood Hardy trio, which leans only slightly toward that daring innovation, jazz.

While the Sutton Place boasted two swimming pools, a Vic Tanny health club, and several dining spots, one of its finest touches was a large Plexiglas mural depicting provincial and municipal emblems, flags, flowers, soldiers, and Mounties. Philadelphia-based artist Shirley Tattersfield claimed that “The only thing that could harm it is a cleaning lady with a tin of common cleaning agent. That might scratch the surface, but even then, a buffer would fix it.” Looking upon her work during its installation, which required 512 pieces to be shipped to Toronto, Tattersfield told the Globe and Mail that “it’ll last longer than anything else in the whole hotel.”

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Toronto Star, November 10, 1967.

It lasted longer than parts of room 615. Around 3:45 a.m. on the morning of November 10, 1967, a time bomb planted between the mattress and box spring of a bed in that room detonated, nearly killing its intended victim and blowing the number “6” off the door. The explosion wasn’t the first attempt on stock promoter Michael Myer Rush’s life that year; in March 1967, he was hospitalized after being beaten with a baseball bat during an assault at his North York home. Rush, described by the Star as “a barrel-chested little guy who mangled syntax in the best Damon Runyon tradition,” was facing charges for his involvement in $100 million stock fraud conspiracy. He was suspected of having ties to the Mafia, so it was believed that the bomb was planted after Rush had failed to pay money he owed to underworld figures. The bomb blast, which left Rush with a shattered chest and pierced throat, sprayed glass onto Bay and Wellesley. Doctors at Toronto General Hospital initially gave Rush a 10 per cent chance of survival, but he slowly recovered from his injuries. He was sent to the Don Jail upon his release from the hospital in late December, posted bail within a week, then fled to Panama. His globetrotting soap opera moved on to England before he was extradited back to Canada and handed a 10-year jail sentence in 1969.

The most explosive thing future residents are likely to encounter at Sutton Place will be the asking prices for the planned luxury units. Perhaps Tattersfield’s mural will continue to greet them in the lobby, fulfilling the artist’s prediction that it would last longer than any of the other original elements.

Additional material from the July 15, 1967, July 20, 1967, and August 23, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 10, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Two details from the November 10, 1967 edition of the Telegram.

The name ultimately chosen for the condo conversion was The Britt, which is still under construction as of 2018.

The Black Bull of Yore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 23, 2011. Additional images have been included.

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Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894).

Patio denizens and motorcycle enthusiasts may be relieved to hear news reports that fire damage at the venerable Black Bull was largely confined to the upper apartments and that the bar will reopen today. Had the three-alarm fire spread, Toronto would have lost what is debatably its oldest watering hole: drinks and hospitality were first served at the Black Bull in, depending on the source, 1833 (a year before York became Toronto) or 1838 (a year after William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion).

Based on a portrait of the bar in Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, even in its early days the Black Bull attracted a parking lot full of hogs…of the animal variety.

York was a hospitable place in the old days, for the places of entertainment in every section of town were very much more numerous, when compared to the population, than they are now. Up to a recent period, when it was succeeded by a brick building, bearing the same name, however there stood at the north-east corner of Queen and Soho streets the antique-looking inn, shown in the illustration, with a swinging sign and wooden water trough and pump in front. This was the Black Bull Hotel, a favourite stopping place for farmers on their way to town from the west and north-west.

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The Globe, July 14, 1858.

The property was originally purchased by Peter Russell, for whom nearby Peter Street was named, in 1798 and was initially used for farming. Other illustrious families whose names remain on downtown streets (Baldwin, Willcocks) were owners of the property at Soho and Queen West over the first half of the 19th century. According to Robertson, the first landlord of the Black Bull Hotel was a Mr. Mosson. Between 1886 and 1889, the building was bricked and expanded.

Being a bar, it’s inevitable the Black Bull would eventually land in the police blotter. In a court case reported in the December 7, 1895 edition of the Globe, proprietor Richard Allcock and bartender Charles Bates were sued by carriage builder William Potter for $200. The plaintiff went to the Black Bull for a drink with a friend that September, but “while there a number of others congregated and had a drink at his expense.” When Bates demanded payment, Potter refused and a fight ensued. As Bates threw Potter out of the bar, the bartender struck Potter with such force that he lay unconscious for a week and was bedridden for a further five. The defendants denied the charges.

According to a 1903 classified ad, the Black Bull offered anyone looking for a place to stay a “large comfortable room, en suite or otherwise, for rent, with or without board.” That the ad didn’t use “quiet” as an adjective may have been due to incidents such as one that occurred on March 10, 1904. Four rowdy young men caused a ruckus in their room that night, during which they ignored the bartender’s attempt to quiet them down. When proprietor William Seager went up to the room, the men pounced and broke his leg. Two months later, when the incident went to court, Seager hobbled his way to the stand on crutches. His attackers received sentences ranging from 60 days to six months.

Corner of Soho St. and Queen St., looking north-east

Clifton House, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 48, Item 26.

For much of the 20th century, the premises operated as the Clifton House, a name it shared with an east end home for boys where beer was the only drink available in its beverage room. Articles published after the name reverted back to the Black Bull in 1977 indicated that it was “pretty rough” during its Clifton days. All we were able to ascertain about the Clifton was that it was among the 68 venues licensed to sell beer in Toronto in 1934. By the early 1980s, when the bar was owned by retired football players Bobby Taylor and Jimmy Hughes, the Star reported that “the only reminder of its past are the colourful residents who patronize the pub, along with Ontario College of Art students and a full range of athletic types.”

Additional material from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto by John Ross Robertson (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894); the December 7, 1895 edition of theGlobe; and the December 23, 1903, May 26, 1904, November 1, 1934, and November 18, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.