The Collapse of the Union Carbide Building

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 19, 2011.

20110219frontpagetely

Front page photos by Charles McGregor (left) and Jim Kennedy (right). The Telegram, September 8, 1958.

While the city sometimes experiences severe wind storms that cause power outages and leave a trail of tree debris behind, it’s rare that they cause a major construction project to tumble down. That wasn’t the case in September 1958, when blustery conditions during a late summer storm caused the steel frame of the Union Carbide building under construction on Eglinton Avenue to collapse. That the incident didn’t go down in the history books as a fatal disaster was due to timing and the skill of a bus driver.

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“This picture, taken by amateur photographer E. Taylor only a day before the collapse, shows the building’s vast structure of steel beams.” The Telegram, September 8, 1958.

The building slated to occupy 123 Eglinton Avenue East was designed by the firm of Shore and Moffat, who would receive a Massey Medal that year for designing a research centre for Imperial Oil in Mississauga. The Globe and Mail indicated that the structure would consist of “contemporary modular design featuring glass and stainless steel with impressive black columns on the facade.” To maximize interior space in the 180,000 square foot building, no interior columns were to be built. Management of Union Carbide’s Canadian operations and its subsidiaries, including Bakelite, would take up two-thirds of the space, while the rest was slated to be rented out.

Installation of the steel frame began in mid-June 1958. By September 5, nearly all of the welding was finished except for the top two floors. Temporary bracing was put in that Friday to hold the unfinished sections in place for the weekend, with all signs pointing to the welding being completed at the start of the new work week. But Mother Nature had other ideas. A severe thunderstorm hit Toronto on September 6, which brought along winds that local weather stations reported were gusting up to 90 km/h. Around 6:20 p.m., due to the wind and possibly a lightning strike, the frame of the building swayed, then collapsed in a scene that newspaper accounts compared to a falling house of sticks and a folding accordion. The roar of over 1,850 tons of falling steel was described in ways ranging from the sound of a jet squadron to a tornado.

Globe and Mail reporter Robert Gowe was at home a block east on Brownlow Avenue when his son Bob screamed “Dad! There’s a building falling!” Gowe quickly went to the front of the house to see what was happening:

At the top southwest corner it was already swaying downward. There was a noise like two freight trains colliding at full speed and the frame buckled and crashed to the ground with the shattering impact of a high explosive bomb. Sparks flew as steel crashed on steel in the sickening dive. People could be heard screaming from houses nearby and in a moment everybody seemed to be out on the street and hurrying to the scene…By the time neighbours reached places where they could see the spot…it was gone. It took minutes for many to realize that it could have really happened. And, after seeing it, I am not sure yet that I believe it.

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“One steel beam that fell onto Eglinton Avenue shattered this car owned by Charles Boomer of Cottingham Street, who was in a restaurant with his wife and daughter. Several other cars were flattened like pancakes as the girders crashed on top of them.” The Telegram, September 8, 1958.

Owners of five vehicles crushed by the falling steel were quick to believe what had happened. Frank Fielding and his wife were dining on Eglinton when the lights inside the restaurant flickered. “I told my wife to wait while I went for the car,” he told the Globe and Mail. “When I got there I couldn’t even see it. The steel had buried it completely.” One home on Redpath Avenue was damaged by both a beam that fell by it and a maple tree that was forced into the kitchen.

If the evening had a hero, it was bus driver Joseph Kelly, whose prompt action saved the lives of forty-five passengers in his vehicle. Kelly was at the wheel of a westbound bus on Eglinton when he noticed two men running along the north side the road in a state of panic. “When I looked up and saw that steel swaying,” he told the Telegram, “my heart stopped.” Certain that the structure was going to slam down onto Eglinton, Kelly put his foot down on the gas pedal and swung north onto Redpath. “Just as I stopped, about 150 feet from the corner, there was a tremendous vibration. I looked back and saw that the building had fallen not on Eglinton, but on Redpath behind us.” Kelly’s quick turn north and the sight of the tilting structure caused his passengers to panic and throw themselves to the floor of the bus. Among the grateful riders (“he saved our lives”) was Mrs. Douglas Bolt, who gave her account to the Star:

The bus slowed up and I heard this terrible rumbling and looked up to see what looked like smoke coming from the first floor. Then the bus suddenly lurched and went around the corner as some debris was hitting the side of the bus…I was watching the top part of the falling building to see if it was going to land on us. I thought we were all going to be killed and might have been if it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of the bus driver. Some of the passengers were screaming and threw themselves on the floor, I saw a woman lying on her 10-year-old son. Other passengers were holding on to each other and screaming “let me off, let me off.” Some ran up and down the aisles on verge of panic.

Despite admitting that he had never been so scared in his life (he still shook three hours later), Kelly kept his cool and walked through the bus to check on the passengers.

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Headline, the Globe and Mail, September 8, 1958.

When police detective David Williamson heard the sound as he cruised along Mount Pleasant Road, he quickly put in a call to “rush all utilities.” The site was quickly cordoned off as police, hydro workers, firefighters (who quickly put out a small blaze caused by a fallen gas can) and even a few priests rushed over. Final rites were not required that evening, as there were no fatalities—the only worker that had been on the site was a teenaged night watchman who luckily had been on a separate part of the grounds when the collapse occurred. Toronto chief building inspector John Payne felt it was a miracle that the incident happened on the weekend, as a normal day might have seen high fatalities among workmen and those stuck in traffic by the site.

Investigations into the collapse were carried out by the city, insurance companies, and consultants hired by Union Carbide. All agreed that the temporary bracing was insufficient to withstand the high winds. A report presented to Union Carbide determined that the architectural design was still sound, but to ensure another collapse didn’t happen it was recommended that deep horizontal trusses between the columns of each floor should be used for support.

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Globe and Mail, October 26, 1960.

Plans to rebuild went ahead. The first batch of office workers settled into their desks in July 1960, greeted by the stainless steel decor that dominated the building’s main floor. Union Carbide remained the main tenant of the International style complex until the early 1990s. Despite efforts to recognize the architectural significance of the building, it was razed in 1999 to make way for the condo that currently occupies the site.

Sources: the June 21, 1958, September 8, 1958, and the July 14, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 8, 1958 edition of the Telegram; and the September 8, 1958 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 58-06-21 building preview

Globe and Mail, June 21, 1958.

Buildings - Commercial residential conversions. - 1994-1994

123 Eglinton Avenue, 1994. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 431, Item 39.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Dominion Coal Silos

The pilot for the “Past Pieces of Toronto” series, this post was originally published by OpenFile on October 11, 2011.

20111011dominionsilos

Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 125.

To some, they were a nostalgic landmark, a throwback to a time when Toronto homes relied on coal as home heating fuel. To others, they were a contemporary eyesore that should have been razed long before condos took their place. Regardless of one’s views, the nine storage silos that operated for 70 years by Dominion Coal and Wood at Merton Street and Mount Pleasant Road were a key visual element of North Toronto.

Designed by the E.P. Muntz Engineering Company, the concrete coal silos went into operation in 1929 with a storage capacity of 350 tons each. Along with the Milnes Fuel facilities at Yonge Street, Dominion Coal bookended a series of construction and industrial sites bordering the old Belt Line railway along Merton Street that served the growing population of Toronto’s northern edge. Dominion fought for the residential coal business in Toronto against long-established sellers such as Elias Rogers, and over a hundred other licensed dealers who sold the black mineral by the sack-full. When a steep decline in home coal usage caused many of Dominion’s competitors to cease business during the 1950s, the company survived by latching onto the emerging do-it-yourself home construction market. By the mid-1980s, coal and firewood accounted for only two percent of Dominion Coal’s sales, mostly to rural customers who continued to rely on old-fashioned stoves and furnaces. The company didn’t forget what built its reputation: in the 1990s, it received a merit award from Heritage Toronto for restoring the painted advertising that covered the silos.

A fresh coat of paint didn’t have much of a chance against rising land values and a site with an elevation attractive to condo developers looking to sell future residents on great views of downtown. When Dominion Coal president Bruce Chapman announced in May 1999 that the silos would close, he anticipated little resistance from the city in changing the zoning from commercial to residential as other properties along Merton Street had done. Before the last batch of construction material was sold that September, the site was purchased by Urbancorp, whose intent was replace the silos with two condo towers.

Local heritage agencies worked to preserve them. Already listed by the Toronto Historical Board as having “architectural and historical importance,” the site was granted a heritage designation that delayed redevelopment plans. City councillors debated the merits of salvaging any part of the silos. While local representative Michael Walker argued for discussions with the community about preservation, councillors like Mario Silva saw no redeeming aesthetic qualities in the structures—as he told the North Toronto Town Crier in December 1999, “I hate silos myself.” Silva felt they were “extremely ugly” and believed that “the neighbourhood would be relieved to see these silos finally go.” While Urbancorp argued about the excessive costs to build around the silos (which were considered too small to be converted into condos) and the test soil contamination levels around them, the developer devised several plans that allowed the historic structures to remain.

But none of those plans were enacted. By the time Monarch Construction acquired the site in September 2002, the silos had disappeared from the North Toronto skyline and the way was clear for the residences currently occupying the corner. One of the few reminders of their existence was found a few blocks north along Mount Pleasant Road in the window display at George’s Trains, where models of the silos were incorporated into the backdrop. Unlike George’s, which has moved on, a Heritage Toronto plaque will provide a permanent memorial and a space for people to debate whether creative reuses for the silos could have been implemented, or if they deserved their fate.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

dominionsilosbw

Looking south on Mount Pleasant Road from Balliol Street, circa October 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 361.

ts 99-05-20 dominion coal closes

Toronto Star, May 20, 1999.

gm 00-03-21 debate about fate

Globe and Mail, March 21, 2000.

gm 02-09-13 condo advertorial

Advertorial, Globe and Mail, September 13, 2002.

The Dawning of the Age of the Ugly Girl (in North Toronto)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 14, 2011.

When a community paper like the North Toronto Herald (and its identical twin the North Toronto Free Press) featured fashion suggestions back in the early 1970s, they were aimed at homemakers or ladies-who-lunch and not those who viewed themselves as hip and groovy. Anything radical or, worse, “unflattering” to the feminine physique was deemed worthy of an editorial by an anonymous writer whose visual sensibilities were offended by the dawning of the “age of Aquarius”—or by an eye-opening trip to the local supermarket.

No hint of any fashion crimes is evident to readers grazing the front page of the November 5, 1971 edition of the Herald. What you will find are two columns devoted to community social notices (the top item was a simple acknowledgment that Mrs. Chester Jordan of Fairlawn Avenue “entertained a number of her neighbours”), a thinly-veiled advertorial for the local business association “from the retailer’s viewpoint” (merchant unnamed), coverage for the second week in a row of a new pizza pub, a preview of an amateur production of You Can’t Take It With You in East York, and one of many urgings dotted throughout the paper to “shop at your local retail stores.” We assume the latter included the paper’s publisher, North Toronto Herald Printers, whose own ad takes up a good chunk of page two.

The editorial page also looks innocuous upon first glance. Longtime conservation columnist “Hec” reports on his recent trip to the National Sea Products plant in Lunenberg and focuses less on preserving ocean perch than discovering the secret of their excellent flavour—all that’s missing is an interview with Captain High Liner. Another story informs readers that singer Paul Anka and impressionist Rich Little will make special appearances at an upcoming fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease at the Inn on the Park. While you might glance at these stories, we suspect your eyes will quickly divert to an unsigned opinion piece in the top right corner with its subject screaming out in full caps: “THE AGE OF THE UGLY GIRL.”

Curious, you read on and quickly discover the neighbourhood’s ingrained conservatism. This is not going to be the paper’s typical plea for better understanding among all creeds and colours (other editorials that month pushed for increased funding for the United Nations and less money for missiles). From the opening sentences, it’s clear that this editorial is launching an attack on the younger, foolhardy generation who probably aren’t upstanding members of the North Toronto Business Association.

They tell us this has been the Age of Aquarius. But it’s really been the Age of the Ugly Girl. Of course there are a lot of lovely ones—they stand out almost incandescently, so fresh, so natural, their hair shining, their faces clean and unmade-up. Yet they too are a trifle over-exposed and in their extreme minis and long hair, resembling nothing so much as a bevy of lovely mermaids.

Nonetheless, these attractive ones only serve to emphasize the generally unkempt, unpressed, almost unwashed look of the majority of girls who stroll our streets. For them, mini-skirts and “hot pants” only serve to emphasize their legs, lean, knock-kneed and scrawny or ugly flat. As girls, they seem deliberately to choose the styles that emphasize the bad points.

Where this passion for ugliness will end, no one knows. Are these supposedly “hip” youngsters governed by the same herd instinct which causes women to conform to fashions which flatter no one. Fashions for women for the past three years have resembled something out of a horror movie. Are the current styles just a snide joke of the fashion creators, a put-on, like the one in the Tale of the Emperor’s Clothes, which proved that most people will agree on almost anything in order not to differ from the majority opinion? Only a child had the good sense to say—“but the emperor has nothing on.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

nth 1971-11-05 hec conservation comment

North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

The full story about ocean perch. “Hec” appeared for years in the North Toronto Herald and the North Toronto Free Press.

nth 1971-11-05 pizza patio 1

nth 1971-11-05 pizza patio 2

North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

The paper also highlighted the left-handed nature of the designer of the pizza chain it was promoting at the time. Sadly, there was no article the following week heralding Pizza Patio as a cure for the “Age of the Ugly Girl.”

star 1971-10-23 dining with liz pizza patio

Toronto Star, October 23, 1971.

While we’re talking about Pizza Patio, here are a few words from the Star‘s “Dining with Liz” advertorial column, which was its latest attempt to compete with the Globe and Mail’s Mary Walpole. The chain, which was later purchased by Pizza Delight, existed in Toronto through the mid-1980s.

nth 1971-11-05 opinion about toronto sun

North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

A few words about the newest competitor among Toronto’s dailies. I’m not sure even the Sun itself would describe itself these days as “a morning newspaper of information and wisdom which is hard to fault.”

Want to read more North Toronto Herald? Bound volumes from the early 1950s onward are available in the local history section of the Toronto Public Library’s Northern District branch.

The Mark of Edward VIII

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 3, 2008.

2008_05_03stationK

The southwest corner of Yonge Street and Montgomery Avenue is rich with history. Montgomery’s Tavern, the spot where William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers launched the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, is honoured with a plaque. Oulcott’s Hotel served customers and community groups in the late 19th century. The current occupant, Postal Station K, threw open its doors a century after Mackenzie’s march under a royal insignia that would prove unique to the city’s government buildings.

Welcome to one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the mark of the brief reign of King Edward VIII (1894-1972). His 11-month reign ended in December 1936 when he resigned from the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love.” Outrage over the abdication crisis led to a proposal to replace the insignia on Station K with that of Edward’s successor George VI, which never came to pass. Edward soon assumed the title of the Duke of Windsor, was suspected of pro-Nazi leanings, briefly served as governor of the Bahamas, and spent his remaining days in retirement in France.

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Edward had better press during his quarter-century as Prince of Wales, to the extent that his two visits to Toronto resulted in a pair of local landmarks being named in his honour.

His first tour began on August 25, 1919 with a quick visit to Queen’s Park, followed by the formal opening of that year’s Canadian National Exhibition. The editors of The Globe welcomed the prince in that day’s edition:

Prince Edward is doubly welcome to a Dominion which has cast off the fetters of colonialism and boasts of a freedom as wide as that exercised by a sovereign nation. He is welcome as the heir to a Throne to which we yield voluntary allegiance because it is based on the will of the people, and is a link which binds us to other Dominions and the Mother Country in a common purchase and destiny. We welcome him also because he is a Prince worthy of the lofty station and solemn responsibilities which he will inherit…all reports agree that he is a clean, wholesome youth with courage, industry and a high sense of duty. Elastic spirits and a winning manner add to his personal attractiveness. May he find much in Canada to interest and entertain him as a reward for the ceremonial fatigue inseparable from his tour.

Mobbed by crowds in his public appearances, much of Edward’s trip was spent visiting wounded World War I veterans (those who “did the dirty work in war,” screamed a Globe headline). On August 27, he was driven around the city in Sir John Craig Eaton’s Rolls Royce to mingle with Torontonians, which led The Globe to proclaim that “he must have felt at home here…it was no mere mechanical performance with him; there was nothing stiff or formal about it. He stood up on the seat of his motor car and waved his hat with the abandon of a schoolboy in acknowledgement of the cheers of the citizens.”

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Traffic on Bloor Viaduct opening, October 18, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Item 0872.

The route included a trek over the bridge connecting Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, open to vehicular traffic for less than a year. The week after Edward’s visit, the span was officially proclaimed the Prince Edward Viaduct.

2008_05_03edward-at-ex

Edward, Prince of Wales, at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8140.

Edward returned to Toronto eight years later, this time with his brother George (later the Duke of Kent). Despite morning rain, Edward cut the ribbon for the new eastern entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds on August 30, 1927, which was named the Princes’ Gates in honour of the visitors. Memories of the war lingered on, as over 13,000 veterans marched behind the royal motorcade.

2008_05_03princesgates

Material excerpted from the August 25, 1919 and August 28, 1919 editions of The Globe. Photos of Postal Station K and Princes’ Gates by Jamie Bradburn.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Four years after this story was published, I covered a protest regarding plans to turn the Postal Station K site into a condo. Originally posted on Torontoist on July 31, 2012, here’s “Rebelling Over Postal Station K”

20120731stationK

One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

20120731stationKcrowd

Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

20120731stationKcondo

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

UPDATE

The front and forecourt of Postal Station K was integrated into the base of the Montgomery Square retail/condo project. The surrounding neighbourhood is in the midst of a condo tower boom, building up density as Yonge and Eglinton prepares to grow into even more of a transit hub with the construction of the Crosstown LRT.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Puffins Have Landed for Froyo

Originally published on Torontoist on September 4, 2012.

20120904puffins

Now, September 10-16, 1987.

Like a viral epidemic, frozen-yogurt chains and franchises-in-the-making are spreading across the city. Every few seconds, a new froyo parlour opens or papers an empty storefront with its logo. The craze has filled in spaces closed for years, like the former Demetra’s restaurant on Danforth Avenue, where place settings appeared untouched for at least a decade.

A quarter of a century ago, the first wave of frozen-yogurt purveyors spread across the city.

Perceived as a healthier alternative to ice cream due to its lower fat content and presence of bacterial cultures, frozen yogurt began popping up in malls. Chains like TCBY and Yogen Früz dotted the landscape, and among the companies attempting to cash in was Silcorp, owner of Mac’s convenience stores. Apart from today’s ad and patent information, we uncovered little information regarding their Puffins Yogurt Emporium concept. Perhaps it was folded into another chain Silcorp launched in 1987: Yogurty’s Yogurt Discovery.

According to a Calgary Herald article, Yogurty’s original target market was the “18-to-45-year-old yuppie with a female skew.” The piece noted that “the public, men in particular, still needs to be educated to the virtues of 30 flavours of frozen yogurt, garnished with one of 40 toppings.” It was hoped that the chain’s mascot, “a young, moustachioed explorer, with a bird on his shoulder, searching the world for new yogurt flavours,” would help break consumer resistance to the product.

Run for a time alongside Silcorp’s Baskin-Robbins franchise, Yogurty’s wound up in the hands of Yogen Früz in the early 1990s and lingered until it was revamped as a self-serve chain. The intrepid explorer was given his walking papers long ago, his educator role filled by tiny paper sample cups. As for Puffins, its Yonge and Eglinton location has seen a succession of eateries over the years, including current tenant Gourmet Burger Co.

Additional material from the June 28, 1989 edition of the Calgary Herald.

UPDATE

Self-serve fro-yo quickly ran its course in the former Demetra’s site, which is a credit union as of 2018. 2419 Yonge has also changed — its current occupant is a supplements store.

 

Rebelling Over Postal Station K

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2012.

20120731stationK

One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

20120731stationKhandout

Event flyer.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

20120731stationKcrowd

Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

20120731stationKcondo

Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

UPDATE

In the end, Postal Station K was integrated into the Montgomery Square condo tower, which is nearing completion as of early 2018. The older building will become dining and retail space. The project is one of the numerous towers sprouting up around Yonge and Eglinton, which combined with the work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, have transformed the neighbourhood into a gigantic construction zone.

Scenes of Toronto: Spring 2011

Anti-Harper Commentary

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2011.

20110406antiharper

 

WHERE: Bayview Avenue, north of Eglinton Avenue.
WHEN: Approximately 9 p.m. last night. (Photographed at approximately noon today.)
WHAT: One North Toronto voter’s public commentary on the federal election. The message appears to resurrect the “Anything But Conservative” campaign backed by former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams during the 2008 federal race. We suspect that the author won’t be allowed to attend any upcoming Conservative rallies.

Flowers for a King

Originally published on Torontoist on May 6, 2011.

20110506king

WHERE: West section of Mount Pleasant Cemetery
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon; photographed 7:00 p.m. Thursday
WHAT: A large bouquet of flowers beside the tombstone of William Lyon Mackenzie King. While it may simply be a springtime memorial to Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, the imagination runs wild as to other possible motives behind the placing of these flowers. In light of the poor showing by the Liberal party on Monday night, could this be a memorial for the “natural governing party” that King helped build?

Vintage Toronto Ads: An Epicurean Delight

Originally published on Torontoist on May 24, 2011.

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Toronto Life, December 1966.

Say “Red Lobster” and, apart from the pricy crustacean, many people will conjure images of garlic cheese biscuits, popcorn shrimp, and a treasure chest of prizes for small scallywags. Long before the American seafood restaurant chain washed up on Toronto’s shoreline in the mid-1980s, several other businesses briefly used that name before drifting back into the lake.

One was a North Toronto gourmet takeout/delivery that operated during the late 1960s. Early ads touted its unique dinners (netting not included), which allowed customers to heat and serve at their own leisure. Any clumsy chef could quickly prep the lobster, uncork a nice bottle of South African vino, and then enjoy a cozy tête-à-tête.

Besides plain lobster, The Red Lobster offered other seafood dishes with fanciful origins. An August 1965 ad pitching Lobster Newburg (or, to make it sound fancier, “Lobster a la Newbourg”) claimed the meal was invented by Irving Newbourg, personal chef to Julius Caesar. The ad claimed that the dish was “rescued from obscurity by the tender reverence of our own chef, a great admirer and personal friend of Irving’s.”

By early 1967, ads touted new ownership, which changed the name to Lobster Gourmet two years later. Under its new name, the business received several mentions in Mary Walpole’s advertorial column in the Globe and Mail, such as this one promoting its holiday offerings during the 1972 Christmas season:

Those spur-of-the moment Yuletide affairs when guests linger longer or relatives arrive unexpectedly can be done with grace and aplomb merely by calling the Lobster Gourmet on Mt. Pleasant Rd…Office blockbusters will of course require a few days notice, but then when you consider Lobster Gourmet deliver the entire feast in disposable containers, piping hot and at the specified hour, everyone from the top echelon to cleaning staff will bless the organizer on the morning after…We call ourselves whenever we feel like being spoiled when staying home…The bread that goes with every order deserves raves too—home baked on the premises, it is so rich and buttery you can cut it with a fork.

A less advertiser-inspired assessment appeared in Epicure’s Toronto Food Book (Toronto: Greey DePencier Books, 1978):

Lobster Gourmet offers shellfish dinners for those who don’t like cooking or eating out. All the store needs is an hour’s notice. A 1-1/2 lb lobster dinner (including home-baked bread, drawn butter, salad, and baked potato) is $12.95; a la carte (lobster alone) only 50 cents less. Still, the store salad and bread aren’t that great and if you feel like putting out some effort, you’d be better to arrange those matters at home. The unadulterated cooked lobster itself is first-rate—always in my experience.

Additional material from the August 20, 1965, and November 30, 1972, editions of the Globe and Mail.

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: Winter 2009

You Can’t Please All of the Riders All of the Time

Originally published on Torontoist on January 2, 2009.

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Our transit planners try. They really try.

System-wide service improvements unveiled by the TTC in November included extended hours and the addition of bicycle racks to many routes. While this was good news to many passengers, as with most things in life there are users who feel their needs were glossed over.

Hence the frustrations poured out onto an innocent service improvement bulletin posted on the Davisville bus platform by at least two disgruntled passengers unhappy with the current state of the 11 Bayview route. Never mind that their pleas and grousing are unleashed on a rush hour service that doesn’t pass by the neighbourhood’s largest health facility.

Perhaps the first passenger has a phobia about going to Lawrence station to use its frequent Sunnybrook service?

Sacrilegious Parking

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2009.

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According to its website, Mount Pleasant Road Baptist Church promises to share with its parishioners, via John 10:10, “a delight that God is in the business of bringing order, beauty and joy to people who have suffered from the chaos of this world.” Joy, or at least a mischievous sense of humour, is evident on a sign hanging on the Belsize Drive side of the church, where officials could have placed a standard “no parking” sign.

We have not received official word from the gatekeepers to the afterlife on how many souls have been condemned to eternal wandering on the basis of poor parking decisions.

A Recession Lesson

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2009.

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The current economic situation has not been kind to American retailers. With sales sinking and several wobbly chains going the liquidation route, the U.S. retail landscape might not be the best model to emulate at the moment.

This brings us to Yankee Stuff, a store proudly displaying the red, white, and blue (and several small Canadian flags) on Bloor Street in Korea Town. While walking by the star-spangled storefront in December, we noticed a sign in the window for a sale honouring the state of the economy south of the border. Since it was billed as an ongoing offer we assumed that, based on reading the work of several economic pundits, this sale would last for at least a year or two.

And how has the recession sale gone?

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We returned after Christmas to find that, based on the wrapping paper covering the display window, the recession had claimed another victim.
The lesson? Be careful of naming your sale after an economic event, as said event may come back to bite you.

Parking in a Time Warp

Originally published on Torontoist on March 12, 2009.

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The temporarily closed performing arts venue at the southeast corner of Yonge and Front has undergone a number of name changes since opening more than half a century ago. Which identity do you prefer—O’Keefe, Hummingbird, or Sony? We can take a pretty good guess at which one the Toronto Parking Authority likes the most, based on signage found at the Yonge Street end of the massive Green P structure on the south side of The Esplanade.

We’re not sure when this sign was erected, but it would have been correct between the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s current location in 1993 and the name switch from O’Keefe to Hummingbird in 1996. Is this relic an oversight or does this reveal a gut feeling by parking officials that no one would ever adjust to any name change?

UPDATE: As of 2017, this parking lot will still direct you to the O’Keefe Centre.