Shaping Toronto: Centennial Projects

Originally published on Torontoist on February 24, 2016.

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A mark of the centennial at the fountain at Rosehill Reservoir.

From neighbourhood tree plantings to the international spectacle of Expo 67, Canada proudly celebrated its centennial. The stylized maple leaf logo graced everything from historical sites to reservoirs. Cities and towns applied for governments grants to spruce up parks, restore historical sites, and build attractions to last long after the centennial spirit faded.

Across Toronto, many legacies remain of, as Pierre Berton’s book on 1967 termed it, “the last good year.” There are the community centres and parks in the pre-amalgamation suburbs with “centennial” in their name. Celebratory murals lining school walls. Caribana and its successors celebrating Caribbean culture each year.

Many of these projects received funding from programs overseen by a federal commission, whose work sometimes felt like an Expo footnote. “They felt like poor cousins,” Centennial Commission PR director Peter Aykroyd (Dan’s father) observed. “Expo was so big, so appealing, so clearly headed for success that it discouraged those who were plodding away on the less focused, something-for-everyone program of the Commission.”

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North York Centennial Arena (later named in honour of Herb Carnegie), 1967. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 27, Item 7.

As is our habit, Toronto wanted spectacular major centennial projects. As is also our habit, they were mired in bureaucratic squabbles involving penny-pinching city councillors, politicians and pundits who swore delays embarrassed us in front of the rest of the country, and bad luck.

Discussions over marking the centennial began in earnest in September 1962 when the Toronto Planning Board proposed a $25 million cultural complex. With financial pruning, this evolved into a $9 million centennial program focused on the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, which included a repertory theatre, arts and culture facilities along Front Street, and a renovation of the decaying St. Lawrence Hall. Proponents also tossed in an expansion of the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO) and refreshing Massey Hall. Mayor Phil Givens supported the project wholeheartedly—during his re-election campaign in 1964, he said “I have never been so sincerely convinced in my life that something is right.”

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Sketch of a proposed theatre inside the St. Lawrence Centre, Globe and Mail, March 20, 1965.

A key opponent was councillor/former mayor Allan Lamport, who believed the city couldn’t afford the project, and was only willing to support the St. Lawrence Hall rehab. “He is barren of ideas concerning what the city might put in its place,” a Globe and Mail editorial criticized. “It is this sort of negative approach which could find Toronto celebrating the nation’s birthday with nothing more impressive and enduring than a pageant in the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand.”

The fate of the St. Lawrence Centre see-sawed over the next few years, as council battled over the budget. When it was clear the project wouldn’t be remotely ready for 1967, the city switched its focus to St. Lawrence Hall. When the 1960s started, the site was split among several owners, and there was at least one proposal to replace it with an office building and parking deck. Under the leadership of a committee of local architects and construction officials, the restoration of the hall appeared to be on track as 1967 dawned.

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“Searching for bodies; city firemen comb through the rubble of the east wing of St. Lawrence Hall which collapsed yesterday while being restored as a Centennial project. No one was injured and no bodies were found. Credit for this is given foreman Jack McGowan who cleared the building and sent men to stop traffic only minutes before the four-storey section crumbled in a cloud of dust.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0000233f.

On March 10, 1967, the northeast portion of the building collapsed. The press offered unanimous support to keep the project going, such as the following Star editorial:

The restoration of the old St. Lawrence Hall was one centennial project upon which everyone in Toronto was happily united. Today, when a section of the building lies in rubble, we can be sure the determination that it will live in its former glory is stronger than ever…it wasn’t until the report of the collapse that most of us realized how much the restoration of the historic old hall was coming to mean in this centennial year, troubled with apathy and dispute over other projects…Our appetite for history has been whetted and we need the completion of the St. Lawrence Hall to satisfy it. So light the torches and beat the drums, we’ve got a building to raise.

While the restoration endured further delays from a series of city-wide construction strikes (which prompted the city to sneak in concrete via the back entrance), the refurbished St. Lawrence Hall celebrated its rebirth when Governor-General Roland Michener officially re-opened it during a December 28, 1967 gala.

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Globe and Mail, April 28, 1965.

The St. Lawrence Centre finally opened in February 1970, several months after another delayed centennial project. When the province announced a science museum in 1964, it chose 180 acres of parkland at Don Mills and Eglinton. The city opposed the suburban location, preferring the CNE grounds, where Givens felt there were better connections to highways and transit. Unless the province provided compelling reasons regarding the CNE’s unsuitability, he threatened to hold up the transfer of the Don Valley site. The province wasn’t moved. Initially known as the Centennial Centre of Science and Technology, the project suffered numerous construction delays and bureaucratic bickering before opening as the Ontario Science Centre in September 1969.

Other local centennial projects had smoother rides, even if they occasionally ruffled egos. Leaside was the first to complete theirs, a community centre in Trace Manes Park which opened in September 1966, mere months before the town was absorbed into East York. The latter unveiled their major project, the restoration of Todmorden Mills, in May 1967. Mayor True Davidson scornfully called Leaside’s project “a change house for tennis players,” while touting Todmorden as “one of the most ambitious projects in Metro.”

The work on St. Lawrence Hall and Todmorden Mills demonstrated what Pierre Berton later called the true legacy of the centennial: recognizing the value of local heritage.

In 1967, the idea of preserving something of the past by restoring old buildings and preserving historic landscapes was a novel one at a time when local governments were still applauded for bulldozing entire neighbourhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” The Centennial marked the beginning of the end of that philosophy. “Heritage” had come into its own when Victorian mansions that had once seemed grotesquely ugly began to be viewed as monuments to a gilded age. Old railway stations, banks, even 1930s gas stations would be seen as living history lessons.

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Globe and Mail, May 20, 1967.

So far, the upcoming Canada 150 celebrations show little of the fervour associated with the centennial. An August 2014 city report recognized that the influx of legacy projects associated with the Pan/Parapan Am Games made it unlikely there would be similar scale construction to mark the country’s 150th birthday next year. A more recent report promotes marking the occasion through cultural festivals and community heritage programs. Unless an enduring celebration like Caribana/Caribbean Carnival emerges, it’s likely the reminders of 1967 will outlast those of 2017.

Additional material from 1967: The Last Good Year by Pierre Berton (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997); The Best Place To Be: Expo 67 and Its Time by John Lownsbrough (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2012); St. Lawrence Hall (Toronto: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969); the December 27, 1963, September 2, 1964, June 17, 1965, and May 23, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

Whatever Happened to Peggy Atwood?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2011.

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Margaret Atwood’s high school yearbook; Clan Call, 1956–1957 edition.

As people continue to joke about Margaret Atwood running for mayor, we feel it is our duty as a responsible media outlet to scope out the potential candidate’s early influences. And so we bring you the above, from her high school yearbook. (We’d love to hear what “Peggy”’s “Reindeer Romp” jingle sounded like.)

It turns out that by the time she departed the halls of Leaside High, Atwood had decided that writing was in her future:

Up to 1956, I’d thought I was going to be a botanist, or, at the very least, a Home Economist…There was nothing at Leaside High School to indicate to me that writing was even a possibility for a young person in Canada in the twentieth century. We did study authors, it’s true, but they were neither Canadian nor alive…I contemplated journalism school; but women, I was told, were not allowed to write anything but obituaries and the ladies’ page; and although some of my critics seem to be under the impression that this is what I ended up writing, I felt that something broader was in order. University, in short, where I might at least learn to spell.

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Clan Call, 1957–1958 edition.

Atwood learned more than spelling via her scholarships. By the time she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961, she had published her first collection of poetry, Double Persephone. With the release of her first novel, The Edible Woman, in 1969, Atwood was pursing her teenage quest to write “THE Canadian novel” in earnest. Library patrons can judge whether she achieved that goal.

Additional material from The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood edited by Coral Ann Howells (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

BEHIND THE SCENES

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How did I get my hands on these yearbooks?

I inherited them from my father, who was in grade 9 during Atwood’s final year. I’m guessing they had zero interaction.

While the grads received full-on profiles, younger students weren’t left out of the fun. In class photos, each kid got a one-liner. My dad’s was “Spends his English periods counting footprints on the ceiling.” Which is funny given (a) I recall him saying he despised one of his English teachers, (b) the massive library he would assemble, and (c) he wound up teaching English decades later.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.

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The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.

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The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

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Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2008

Nature Versus Streetcar Shelter

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2008.

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Once upon a time, the stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard around Park Lawn Road was a stop for tourists and those looking for a quick good time, thanks to nearly thirty motels that lined the strip. All but three (Casa Mendoza, Shore Breeze, and Beach) are gone now, leaving empty lots awaiting their probable transformation into condominiums with romantic views of Lake Ontario and the Mr. Christie cookie plant.

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The lag between the demolition of old motels, such as the Hillcrest and North American, and the arrival of new towers has allowed Mother Nature to take her course in several of the empty lots. The result: a streetcar shelter where riders on the 501 can enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked cookies to take their mind off any fears of someday being crushed by the emerging forest.

The overgrowth is creepier at night, making you feel like a doomed character in a “plants take over the world” story. A strong wind could easily conjure a week’s worth of nightmares.

UPDATE: All three of those surviving motels soon vanished. The Mr. Christie plant closed in 2013, and is being demolished as of fall 2017.

One Wrong Turn

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2008. Possibly my lone attempt to do an Action Line/The Fixer help piece.

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When some people see an erroneous street sign, they call the city to have it fixed. Others will glance for a moment, pop their eyes, and then move along without a second thought. In the case of a faulty curve sign recently erected on Wicksteed Avenue in the industrial section of Leaside, one observer vented their frustration on the sign itself.

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After we called the city’s transportation department, the sign was promptly removed. A bare metal post was all that remained as of last night.

Phone Dosa Dosa, Hey, Hey, Hey

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2008.

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Branches of Pizza Pizza are a common sight around Toronto. Most don’t jump out at the eye, though some outlets deserve marks for making an effort to stand out with artwork and other decorations (we miss the silver spangles that once graced Yonge Street). At the Danforth Avenue and Dawes Road branch it’s the attached eatery with a similar name that draws attention.

The shape of the outdoor sign hints at 2795 Danforth Avenue’s previous incarnation as home to Pizza Pizza’s sister chain Chicken Chicken. Give the pattern of repetitive names, our first thought was that the pizza giant had embraced the ethnic diversity of Toronto and decided to branch out into other forms of cheap, filling food—in this case, crispy, not-too-greasy Indian crepes and a variety of satisfying accompaniments.

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When contacted to determine if there was a connection with Dosa Dosa, Pizza Pizza corporate provided a one-word answer: no.

UPDATE: Dosa Dosa was replaced by other eateries. As of October 2017, it houses Double Sushi. The Pizza Pizza next door is still in business.

We’re Renovation Obsessed

Originally published on Torontoist on August 1, 2008.

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Three years after A&P Canada was purchased by Quebec-based Metro, changes stemming from the deal are becoming evident to shoppers at the company’s Dominion stores in Toronto. The Equality and Master Choice house brands are gradually being replaced with the Selection and Irresistibles labels. Bakery shelves include loaves of Première Moisson bread. Aisles are being rearranged and exteriors torn away as three aging stores (Yonge-Eglinton Centre, Bayview-Eglinton [above], and Bloor-Robert [below]) undergo renovations.

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Though these three stores were long overdue for an overhaul, another factor may be spurring the sudden spate of activity. It may be coincidental that rival grocer Sobeys has recently opened or is planning “Urban Fresh” concept stores near the Dominions under renovation. Sobeys has rapidly expanded in downtown Toronto, taking a page from Britain’s Tesco chain in developing smaller, convenience-based stores that fit better into high-density neighbourhoods than the large-box strategy pursued by Loblaws after it closed many of its smaller locations.

UPDATE

Within months of this article being published, the Dominion banner vanished from Toronto, replaced by Metro. Several of Sobeys’s downtown Urban Fresh locations had short lives (for example, the one on Bloor Street in The Annex eventually became a Bulk Barn).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Be Sure of Your Radiantubes and Thermizers

Originally posted on Torontoist on June 17, 2008.

Vintage Ad #559: Be Sure of the Features on your Frigidaire Stove

Maclean’s, August 1, 1949.

If this spacious stove were marketed today, what expression would the customer service rep at your friendly neighbourhood big box retailer display if you asked them about the radiantube and thermizer specs?

A division of General Motors for 60 years, Frigidaire set up shop in Leaside in 1933 when it purchased most of the former Durant Motors property. The company opened a second plant along the Golden Mile in Scarborough in 1952, one of the first manufacturers to establish themselves in the rapidly-developing area. Both plants operated until 1958 when the Leaside property was sold to Canada Wire and Cable, who had purchased the remaining Durant property back in the 1930s. The Scarborough facility gradually switched to automotive manufacturing, shifting to GM’s Delco division in 1968. Six years later it became a van plant and operated until 1993, after which the facility was demolished and redeveloped as Eglinton Town Centre.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sound Policies and Quality Products from Leaside

Originally published on Torontoist on April 30, 2007.

Vintage Ad #228 - Durant Motors Are Firmly Established

Source: Official Souvenir Program, City of Toronto Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Celebration, 1927.

Leaside—car manufacturing mecca? It was during our 60th anniversary as a Dominion, when Durant Motors of Canada called it home.

William Crapo “Billy” Durant was the main force behind the formation of General Motors in 1908, when he brought together manufacturers such as Oldsmobile and Buick. After being forced out of GM twice, he founded Durant Motors in 1921. The company established itself as a full-line automaker, with economy (Star), mid-range (Durant, Flint) and luxury (Princeton, Locomobile) lines.

A Canadian branch was quickly established, using a former munitions factory at Laird Drive and Commercial Road. Operations in Leaside proved to be healthier than the American parent, thanks to the export of its vehicles to Great Britain, touted in this ad.

The Star line was introduced in 1922 to compete with Ford’s venerable Model T. Neither make outlasted this ad very long—Model T production wound down in 1927 after a 20-year run, while the Star was phased out the next year.

After Durant’s American headquarters defaulted on a loan, the Leaside plant reorganized itself as Dominion Motors. The decision to focus on a new luxury line, Frontenac, proved disastrous. With the Great Depression reaching its depths, the company called it a day by the end of 1933. The property was split between its neighbour to the north, Canada Wire and Cable, and Fridgidaire. The latter left in the late 1950s, with Canada Wire and Cable claiming the rest of the site. Operations continued until 1996, with the land cleared away a few years later to make way for the Leaside SmartCentre big box complex.

As for Durant? Wiped out by the Depression, he ran a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan in the early 1940s, with plans for a national chain before suffering a stroke.