Toronto Sun Columnists on the Wrong Side of History Through the Ages

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2017.

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Toronto Sun, November 9, 1980.

In a response to a reader question on Twitter earlier this week provoked by Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah’s comments on the Quebec City mosque shooting, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale described the Sun as publishing, beyond a decent sports section and solid tabloid-style news coverage, “the country’s worst opinion writers.” While readers can debate Dale’s use of “worst,” the current crop of Sun columnists continues a long tradition of deliberately provocative writing that has shaped the paper since its inception in 1971.

It’s a tradition that hasn’t always landed on the right side of history. To be fair, flipping through the back pages of any newspaper exhumes opinions which would be questionable today. Skeletons among the Toronto press range from George Brown’s attacks on Irish immigrants during the early days of the Globe to unflattering descriptions of minorities in the Star which matched the prejudices of the day.

But the Sun has always stood out for its unapologetic view of the world, which grew from cockiness as the new kid on the block and its ability to connect with its conservative readership. It played upon fears of outsiders, and earned its stripes as a dedicated Cold Warrior by labeling opponents as evil Communists/Marxists/socialists/bleeding hearts/etc.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Sun’s biases regarding anyone who wasn’t white provoked consternation among minority groups, which nearly caused the City to pull its advertising from the paper. An extensive report by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations published in 1987 pulled few punches in its analysis of the paper’s stances: “The sheer volume of racial stereotypes, racism, scapegoating, and the presence of statements that may elicit fear and hatred against racial minorities can leave little doubt that there is considerable prejudice and racism directed toward non-whites and ethnic minorities within the pages of the paper.”

Reading back issues of the Sun, and certain columnists in particular, can be a depressing experience. Beyond the posturing and vitriol, it’s eye-opening to witness the level of contempt writers express for their fellow human beings.

Here are some historic topics where the Sun’s views didn’t stand the test of time, or remain offensive.

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A more enlightened view of Desmond Tutu than some Sun columnists had. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, June 1, 1986.

South Africa

As the fight against the apartheid regime grew stronger during the 1980s, the Sun was lukewarm on the idea of handing power to the Black majority before they were “ready” to assume control. Given the African National Congress’s ties to Communist organizations, and the track record of post-colonial Africa, Sun editorials conveyed fears that South Africa would become another Marxist hellhole. In the Sun‘s view, all that stood in the way of total chaos were the white Afrikaners. “The hundreds of blacks dying in South Africa are victims of racism, but not by the dominating whites,” a July 1985 editorial observed. “It’s the racism that is the by-product of the class warfare demanded by Marxists and liberals blinded by Marxism.

Barbara Amiel went further, suggesting that progressives couldn’t wait to see a long, bloody war unfold. “The struggle closest to them,” she wrote in August 1985, “actually seems to be their own effort to restrain an unseemly relief that, at last, South Africa might be in for a really good spell of what the rest of the unfortunate people on the African continent have known and are suffering: murder, mayhem and economic disaster.”

Columnist McKenzie Porter all too frequently defended the apartheid regime, seeing it as both the last hope against the Commies and as a benevolent, paternalistic means of looking after the backward Blacks, who “still consult witch doctors and rely on donkey power.” Porter criticized condemnation from the West as springing from “the illusion that all men are equal.”

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Toronto Sun, December 22, 1977.

In his July 24, 1985 column, Porter predicted that “if South Africa gave the vote to every black today it would bring about the destruction of the agriculture, industry, and commerce that are essential to the eventual emancipation of the supposedly oppressed majority.” He also thought that South African Blacks were dumber than their North American counterparts, who’d had the benefit of being in white educational systems for generations. “For reasons palpable to every reader of history,” he observed, “the average South African black, clad though he may be in a collar and tie, still embodies some vestiges of a recent Stone Age past.” Finally, he stated that Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu was “not very bright.”

That particular column was the final straw for Mayor Art Eggleton and his committee on community and race relations, which had noticed the Sun’s less than admirable stands on race in general. The committee threatened to pull city advertising from the paper, which provoked a heated response from Sun publisher Paul Godfrey. He defended the Sun’s writers on the grounds of freedom of the press, and taunted both the mayor and the committee in print. He also noted Porter had visited South Africa, though it was unclear if the trip had been paid for by the regime. Both sides soon cooled the conversation, with Eggleton suddenly declaring the Sun wasn’t so racist after all (a shift Godfrey, a former Metro Chairman, praised as a sign of the mayor’s conciliatory nature).

When Nelson Mandela toured North America in 1990, the Sun was not wowed by the praise showered upon the recently released icon. There was still suspicion of Communist links, along with the behaviour of Winnie Mandela and her bodyguards while he was imprisoned. As David Frum put it, “myth-making has transformed a man who might otherwise be just another African opposition leader into an international celebrity.”

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Comment on John Sewell’s support of Toronto’s gay community during the 1980 municipal election. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 28, 1980.

Homophobia

Let’s be blunt: the Sun was intolerant toward homosexuals during the 1970s and 1980s. From cartoonist Andy Donato’s frequent limp-wristed depictions of gays to editor Peter Worthington’s threat following the 1981 Bathhouse Raids to expose names of anyone rounded up in subsequent police scoops, there was no sympathy to anyone who wasn’t heterosexual.

Perhaps the most homophobic of the lot was Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy. In piece after piece, Hoy depicted homosexuals as sad, pathetic creatures. He was convinced that there was an agenda by homosexuals to gain access to classrooms to convert innocent children to their perverted lifestyle. “It is not true that homosexuals want simply to be left alone to do whatever it is they do to each other,” he wrote in January 1978. When a “Gaydays” celebration was held later that year, he wondered why “more Torontonians don’t let them know they’re not welcome here” and when people would “wake up and realize the danger of keeping silent in the face of this creeping, crawling sickness in our society?”

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Typical Claire Hoy column headline. Toronto Sun, October 30, 1979.

Hoy used his QP perch to step into the 1980 municipal election, a campaign the Sunhad no shortage of homophobic commentary on in the wake of mayor John Sewell’s support of the community and George Hislop’s council run. Following the Toronto Board of Education’s decision to allow a homosexual liaison committee to talk with students struggling with their own sexual identity, he listed all of the trustees who “voted to give homosexuals a beachhead.” He urged readers to register their indignation at the ballot box lest the radicals (who he referred to as “dingles”) win.

Hoy went on to serve as the paper’s Ottawa columnist and was forced out after writing one too many columns attacking Brian Mulroney for Godfrey’s taste. A subsequent stint at the Ottawa Citizen ended after he continued to attack the queer community.

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McKenzie Porter on the crapper, a reference to one of his most infamous columns. Globe and Mail, November 2, 1986.

Eugenics

One of the darkest corners of the Sun’s back pages is McKenzie Porter’s ongoing support of eugenics as a solution to society’s ills. While peers commented that his snobbish persona may have been a put-on, his repeated references to sterilization make one wonder how serious he was about other outrageously written columns.

The following excerpt from Porter’s October 25, 1982 column is as chilling an opinion piece as you’ll ever find in a Toronto newspaper. It’s absurd and frightening at the same time.

The only way to rid ourselves of poverty and its related diseases of insanity and crime is by embracing the science of eugenics. This science was held back 100 years because Hitler distorted and pursued its principles in a hideously cruel way. We must remember that Hitler was crazy. We must believe that eugenics may be practiced in a sane and civilized way.

It should not be difficult to persuade genetically unsound indigents to submit them to sterilization if it is pointed out to them that their new condition will permit them unlimited sexual pleasure without bringing upon them the burden of handicapped children. A properly mounted government publicity campaign would result in the submission of the vast majority of unfit people to voluntary sterilization. Some element of compulsion will have to be accepted once the practice of eugenics is adopted. Boards of control manned by doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, clergymen and others should be empowered to order certain people be sterilized.

Porter further suggests that anyone sent to prison for the second time be sterilized, and that all patients admitted to hospital “should be examined for severe hereditary handicaps.”

He continued to write for the Sun until 1990, by which time a column suggesting that no Canadian citizen born outside of the country should be allowed to vote because of a tendency to indulge in ethnic partisanship prompted city council to pull its ads from the paper.

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This Andy Donato cartoon, about the situation in southeast Asia, typifies the paper’s view of Communism, and ran next to a pro-Pinochet editorial. Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

Augusto Pinochet

The Sun’s hatred of any government with the faintest left-wing tinge had few bounds. The paper’s mad hate-on for Pierre Trudeau became something of a joke. Columnists like Lubor Zink forever warned about the dangers of Communism. While Zink exposed true atrocities committed by such regimes, his zealous fervour also became a joke.

One fight against the left the Sun really misfired on was its support of Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile. In a 1978 editorial, Chile’s status as a “whipping boy” nation alongside nations like Rhodesia and South Africa was criticized. “Chile’s great sin is to have violently ousted a Marxist government—a rare occurrence,” the paper noted. The piece went on to note how poor Chile was trying to earn a spot among respectable nations while it undid damage blamed on former president Salvador Allende, and how it was ironic China helped them when Canada didn’t. “It is an obscenity to concentrate on the sins of a minor offender while ignoring sins of a major offender.” To which we say it’s also ultimately a sin to brush aside the thousands who disappeared or were tortured during Pinochet’s regime.

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Toronto Sun, September 4, 1977.

After spending years sifting through these opinions, it’s disturbing how there’s been a steady market for this strain of journalism. What really grates, as a study done of depictions of immigration and racism in the Toronto press of the 1970s showed, was that unlike its competitors, the Sun often presented a single worldview, lacking diversity or nuances. Instead of promoting healthy debate around the above issues, or ongoing problems such as community-police relations and where immigrants fit into Canadian society, the Sun frequently promotes divisiveness at the expense of better understanding between people. It’s the easier, more sensational way to go, but it ignores the human cost of such thinking.

Ultimately, future historians will judge whether today’s Sun columnists and editorial writers reflect the beliefs of their readership, have a sense of where the world is heading, or live up to Dale’s criticism of their worth.

Additional material from Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve by Effie Ginzberg (Toronto: Urban Alliance on Race Relations, 1987); The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993); the October 31, 1985 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the February 4, 1977, January 6, 1978, January 8, 1978, August 25, 1978, September 3, 1980, September 25, 1981, October 25, 1982, July 24, 1985, August 4, 1985, and June 22, 1990 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1985.

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Globe and Mail, December 13, 1985.

The report referred to, Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve, is worth seeking out. Be prepared to be nauseated by some of the excerpted columns (unless your views align with those of the late 1970s/early 1980s Sun).

Godfrey spent the next two months listening to deputations, then wrote a conciliatory letter to the Urban Alliance. In March 1986, the Ontario Press Council dismissed complaints about Porter’s take on South Africa. “Those meetings went on for four, five, sometimes six hours,” Godfrey later recalled. “But I valued them. I always remember that wars are started by a failure to communicate. So I’d take them into the boardroom, give them muffins and coffee and invite them to tell me why they were unhappy with the Sun.”

I suspect present-day Sun management would throw the muffins and coffee at complainants.

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Toronto Sun, February 6, 1989.

While this story didn’t make the final cut, it’s worth bringing it up within the context of the other issues discussed in my piece. This column proved the final straw when it came to McKenzie Porter writing provocatively outrageous things: suggesting that anyone born outside of Canada should be prevented from voting or running for office.

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Toronto Star, February 26, 1989. Note that the wrong date was provided for the offending column.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1989.

The city’s ad ban lasted two months, before reconsidering after being accused of censorship. Porter was criticized in the Ontario Legislature for the column, and retired from the Sun the following year.

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Toronto Sun, November 13, 1977.

For contextual purposes, here is a typical example of a Claire Hoy column dripping with homophobia. The vitriol in his pieces, which ostensibly were supposed to cover goings-on at Queen’s Park but often degenerated into rants against people Hoy hated, is thick. The language is dehumanizing, referring to his opponents not as people but “creatures.” And yet it is not difficult to imagine these words being used in 2018 in discussions over Ontario’s sex education curriculum.

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Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

The pro-Pinochet editorial I referred to. Not unusual during the Cold War era but, given what we now know about the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup in 1973, an editorial that has not aged well.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This was my last non-Historicist piece published by Torontoist, though it could have easily fit within that column. It was a parting gift to outgoing EIC David Hains, who had suggested for some time that I write a piece on the past transgression of the “Little Paper that Grew.” Two more Historicist columns, and a look back at my time writing that particular column, would mark the end of my decade-long run at Torontoist.

I was first exposed to the Sun when my father picked up copies of the paper during m childhood trips to Toronto. It was the first tabloid-sized paper I was exposed to, and I loved the comic book format of the weekend funnies. Those papers made it into my father’s giant clipping collection–I recall photocopies of Douglas Fisher columns explaining the mechanics of parliament being passed around in the grade 9 history class Dad taught.

In university during the mid-1990s, I occasionally bought the Sunday Sun, partly as a joke, partly as a chance to see what the right side of the spectrum was saying, and partly for the Sunday funnies to hang on my dorm room. Two things brought this to an end: the incessant attacks against teachers and other public professionals, and a landlord who cheered on the paper’s taunts. While I have flipped through copies of the paper lying around, I have not paid for one since the end of the 20th century.

Its current incarnation is little more than a vehicle for populist outrage, reconfirming the biases of its readers instead of trying to broaden them, stoking divisions that aren’t necessary and do more harm than good. I ignore it and its writers as much as possible, since I can probably predict from a headline whatever the copy will read.

New Year’s Eve, 1976

Originally published on Torontoist on December 30, 2014.

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Toronto Sun, December 28, 1976.

From the moment a group of up to 20 rowdy teens boarded the subway at Sheppard station during the final half-hour of 1976, TTC employees sensed trouble. Clad in ski jackets and jeans, the inebriated New Year’s revellers ignored the advice posted in ads promoting that night’s free service: they brought their party onto the TTC.

No one in the group realized that their actions would play a key role in ending free New Year’s Eve rides for the next 30 years.

As the train headed south, the teens moved between cars, smoked, and smashed bottles. While the group obliged conductor Peter Goehle when asked to remain in one car and butt out their smokes, they demonstrated their displeasure by giving him a Bronx cheer. As the train approached York Mills, three of the teens visited Goehle’s cabin to wish him a happy New Year. “I told them I didn’t mind if they had a good time,” Goehle later told the Star, “but I didn’t want it to get out of hand.”

Rowdiness on the TTC during New Year’s Eve had grown since it had accepted an offer from McGuinness Distillers to cover fares for the evening in December 1972. Sponsorship was necessary due to legislation that forbade the TTC from providing complimentary fares at its own cost. City officials, auto clubs, and temperance advocates hailed the free rides as an opportunity to combat drunk driving. McGuinness promoted the service through humorous ads advising revellers not to kiss TTC drivers.

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Toronto Star, January 3, 1977.

The service caught on: ridership estimates across the system rose from around 242,000 in 1972/73 to 350,000 in 1976/77. The mood was generally mellow amid the blare of noisemakers and haze of pot smoke. “For many without parties or other functions to attend, welcoming the new year aboard the subway has become something of a tradition,” observed a Star editorial. “It’s healthy for citizens to turn to the transit system for a public celebration—just as much as it is for those who choose to turn up at Nathan Phillips Square.”

Yet some TTC officials grew alarmed at the behaviour they witnessed during New Year’s Eve. Chairman Gordon Hurlburt opposed the program, citing an incident in which he and his wife couldn’t use the stairs at Davisville due to vomit and shattered beer bottles. General manager of operations James Kearns warned in January 1974 that, as partying and open consumption of alcohol increased, “this might develop into a serious situation.”

That situation developed on Peter Goehle’s train. As the train passed Summerhill just before midnight, the teens noticed homeward-bound restaurant workers Gurmail Singh, Ranjit Singh Manjat, and Omparkash Verma. At least one of the teens approached Singh and called him a “Paki.” When Singh responded that he was a Punjabi-speaking Indian, the youth grabbed his hair and began punching him in the face. Goehle saw what was happening and contacted train driver Edith Bujold, who called the incident into transit control.

While waiting for instructions, the train stopped at Rosedale. James Carson, a 61-year-old investigator for the Ontario ombudsman’s office, boarded the train. He had spent a quiet evening with friends and was rushing home to his apartment at the Colonnade to check on his flu-stricken wife.

Carson boarded in the midst of the assault on two of the three men. Hearing a cry of “Let’s get the Pakistanis,” he urged the attackers to stop. One teen kicked and punched Carson, while another threw him off the train. Carson, who had fought in the Second World War and Korean War and worked as a counsellor at the Don Jail, told the Star that he had “never seen hate in the eyes of men as I did on the subway train that night.”

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Despite a broken, bloody nose and a six-inch gash on his leg, Carson urged the assault victims, who had run off the train, to get back on. “I didn’t think it would be right to give up that easily,” he later noted. “We got on the train again and the passengers just sat there like lumps of granite. They were probably thinking, ‘Nice guy, damned fool.’” One assailant approached Carson and told him to put his head back or else he would hit him again.

Meanwhile, Bujold and Goehle were advised to keep the train running as normal until security met them at Queen Station. When the three victims got off the train at Bloor, Goehle called them to his window and asked if they wanted to continue south to talk to security. All refused. He was then approached by Carson, who felt Goehle had a “frightened, paralyzed look on his face” and was “gutless” for insisting the train move on. Goehle’s version was that Carson almost expected him to arrest the teens on the spot—“I wasn’t going after that group of 20 by myself.”

While the TTC claimed that security met the train at Queen, Bujold and Goehle indicated that nobody showed up until Union. The rowdy teens left the train at Queen to greet 1977.

News of the attack heightened awareness of racial tensions in the city, and racist acts targeting those of Indian or Pakistani descent in particular. Over New Year’s weekend, an NBC news program aired a report that declared racism in Toronto was “like a time bomb ticking away.” The past year had seen several racist attacks on TTC property and the increased use of “Paki” as an all-purpose slur. Editorial pages, such as the Globe and Mail’s, condemned these incidents:

Every single time something like this happens on the subway or anywhere else in Toronto, it must be greeted with anger. Racism and urban violence have to be fought hand-to-hand, on a daily basis by everybody if they are not, imperceptibly, to gain legitimacy… The transit system, and Metro, are headed for trouble if there is any feeling at all that these kinds of acts are “understandable” or “unavoidable.”

TTC officials bickered over the handling of the incident. Some believed the security system was fine and that the messages logged from the train didn’t leave a serious impression. Others, including Hurlburt and union officials, felt the train should have remained at Rosedale or Bloor until help arrived. TTC chief general manager Michael Warren felt that while the free rides saved lives, they encouraged the rowdyism that had led to 90 recorded incidents that night.

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1977.

Thanks to an anonymous tip phoned into CFGM radio (now CFMJ), two of the teens were arrested on January 4. One was initially charged as an adult because New Year’s Eve was his 16th birthday, but he was dropped to juvenile delinquency status when it was realized that in the eyes of the law, he had not officially become a year older until January 1. The suspects were released into the custody of their families.

Over the following weeks, further reports of racially motivated attacks on people of Indian descent surfaced. Three teenage cousins visiting the city from London, Ontario, and New York City claimed they were beaten around 3 a.m. on New Year’s between Yonge and Spadina stations. On January 7, Guyana native Indal Narine was kicked in the back and legs at Victoria Park after he declared he wasn’t from Pakistan.

McGuinness sent mixed signals about continuing its sponsorship after the TTC commissioner suggested the distiller pay an additional $10,000 the following year to cover extra security. “Our $55,000 should be enough to cover the cost of a few broken subway windows and the mopping up of a little spilled beer,” stated McGuinness spokesperson Peter Mielzynski. “As far as we’re concerned, the protection of subway riders is the sole responsibility of the police New Year’s Eve or any other night. We simply buy time from the TTC. We can’t be expected to pay policemen’s salaries as well.”

There was debate over who should police the subway; Warren felt it was the Metropolitan Toronto Police’s responsibility, not the TTC’s. Deputy police chief Jack Ackroyd felt the media was going overboard with its coverage and claimed that exaggerating racial problems would deepen tensions. “If you start keeping track of how many times one racial group assaults another,” he said, “I’m not sure that won’t escalate the problem further.”

On January 14, the Star published the first statements from the men Carson had tried to protect. While Manjat declined to talk, Singh and Verma discussed the incident and its lingering psychological effects. Verma, a 46-year-old father of five, admitted that he was “scared all the time.” He had been afraid to help the others because of his age and fear of being struck. He observed, though, that he was generally happy in Canada and that “all countries have bad people.” The three men were discovered through the efforts of publisher Aslam Khan, who was irritated that the media had assumed the victims were Pakistani (none of them were).

In response to such incidents, Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey hired Ryerson president Walter Pitman to serve as a one-man task force on racism. Pitman quickly became alarmed by a report that showed a high level of bigotry among Toronto high school students, especially toward those of Arabic, Indian, and Pakistani backgrounds. His report, Now is Not Too Late, was issued in the fall of 1977 and provided 41 recommendations related to fighting discrimination.

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Toronto Star, April 4, 1977.

Carson was honoured for his bravery, especially by the city’s Asian communities. He was presented with a ceremonial sword by the Shromani Sikh Society on January 23 and named “Man of the Year” by a Pakistani community newspaper. Globe and Mail columnist Scott Young wondered when, or if, the white establishment would jump in, as officials such as police chief Harold Adamson had urged people not to emulate Carson’s actions. “In my opinion, people who have the bravery and humanity to act in some way when other people are being bullied should be honoured, thanked, treated as exceptional citizens,” Young wrote. “It diminishes us all when this does not happen at an official level of our society.” Those honours finally materialized in June, when Carson received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.

During a January speech in front of the Canadian Council for Racial Harmony, Carson (who’d been made an honorary member) blamed entitled inebriated youth for the recent racist attacks. “It’s about time we realized that the bulk of these kids are just damn rotten spoiled brats,” he told the audience. “If these kids treat their parents like dirt at home, why are we so surprised when they lash out at people in the subway.”

Yet Carson forgave his assailants when they had their day in court. In April, Judge H.D. Wilkins placed both offenders on probation for six months. By the time the decision was handed down, Manjat and Singh had returned to India. Their absence, combined with difficulties in identifying the prime assailant, led to the dropping of one of the common assault charges.

In August, McGuinness declined to renew its sponsorship. The TTC decided to continue extended-hour service on New Year’s Eve, but to charge the normal fare. Each of the 27 trains in operation that night carried two uniformed police officers, while a mini police station operated at Bloor. When the stats were released in January 1978, the TTC discovered that the axing of free fares had cut ridership in half. Though Warren mused about accepting proposals from new potential sponsors, free New Year’s Eve rides were dead.

The TTC resisted offering free fares for the next 30 years. By the 21st century, this set it apart from GO and transit systems in surrounding municipalities such as Brampton and Mississauga. When asked about in 2003, a TTC spokesperson was blunt: “We don’t do that.” As late as 2006, TTC chair Adam Giambrone noted the system might lose as much as $1 million if it offered free service. The following year, revising losses down to $90,000, the TTC voted in favour of four hours of free service on December 31. Initially backed by Capital One, the 1970s tradition was reborn thanks to a series of partners, including current sponsor Corby (who now own several old McGuinness brands).

Additional material from the January 10, 1973, January 3, 1974, January 4, 1977, January 5, 1977, January 6, 1977, January 8, 1977, January 12, 1977, January 17, 1977, January 28, 1977, April 7, 1977, December 30, 2006, and December 7, 2007 editions of the Globe and Mail; the December 19, 1972, January 3, 1977, January 4, 1977, January 5, 1977, January 6, 1977, January 7, 1977, January 10, 1977, January 14, 1977, January 17, 1977, January 14, 1978, January 18, 1978, and December 31, 2003 editions of the Toronto Star; and the January 5, 1977, and January 6, 1977 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

A Vintage Toronto Ads column originally published on December 29, 2010 also discussed the free transit service.

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Toronto Sun, December 28, 1972.

For the fourth year in a row, New Year’s Eve revellers will be able to take advantage of free TTC service to go to and from their celebrations, even if only to stay on the subway all night to toast their fellow passengers. Free transit service to ring in a new year has occurred intermittently over the past few decades, almost always paid for by a sponsor—McGuinness Distillers did when they paid thirty thousand dollars to help Torontonians welcome 1973.

Since legislation at the time prevented the TTC from offering free service, city and law enforcement officials welcomed the donation. Alderman Paul Pickett, who had proposed a free ride scheme the previous year, hoped free service would “give a positive incentive to people to leave their cars at home and use the transit system.” An editorial in the Globe and Mail echoed the thoughts of many who also hoped the free rides would reduce the risk of an unhappy new year:

There was never really any acceptable excuse for impaired driving, on New Year’s Eve or any other night; but now it will be futile to plead that there was simply no alternative. Lives may well be spared, injury can be avoided, and the ignominy, expense and chagrin of arrest and charge can be set aside…It’s a magnificent opportunity to be both sociable and safe, and we hope that by now other distillers are wishing they had thought of it first.

Around 377,000 passengers took advantage of the free service. Subways and surface vehicles turned into parties on wheels, with young and old engaging in conversations, blowing horns, and freely drinking (which was illegal, but everyone seems to have turned a blind eye). One streetcar driver told the Star that he noticed those too young to drink took advantage of the night to explore the city or just ride for the heck of it. If there was a quotable line for the evening, it came from the many riders who repeatedly proclaimed “I can’t believe it’s free!”

Additional material from the December 20, 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail; the December 19, 1972 and January 1, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star; and the January 10, 1973 edition of the Toronto Sun.

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Toronto Star, December 14, 1973.

And here’s the bonus material I originally posted on my blog on January 1, 2015:

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Toronto Star, January 1, 1977.

The Star’s initial coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations put a positive spin on the evening. A full page of its January 1, 1977 edition was devoted to scenes across Metro Toronto, from revellers downtown to skating clowns in Scarborough. Those who ventured out endured temperatures which dropped to -13°C.

On Yonge Street, the new year swept over the strip “like a new disco melody.” Among those mildly disappointed by the scene along Yonge that night was Chuck Ross, a 22-year old marketing analyst from North York. “Most of our friends have girlfriends now, so we figured we’d see if we could find some girls tonight by ourselves,” he observed. “I guess we haven’t tried very hard.” Spurned by the ladies, Ross and a friend wound up dining at an unidentified burger joint, staring at the mirror lining the counter.

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Toronto Sun, December 30, 1976.

At the International Centre on Airport Road, 5,000 people welcomed 1977 in a funky manner thanks to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Though his most innovative years of the decade were behind him (previewing the concert, the Globe and Mail described Brown as “the former king of soul, since demoted to a lowly dukedom”) the crowd enjoyed Brown’s performance—when they could see it. “In this big place our table must be at least 150 yards from the stage,” Scarborough resident Bill Neal told the Star. “We should have brought our field glasses.”

Over in Scarborough, around 4,000 people gathered to skate and dance to live music at the civic centre. A parade of 150 people, including marching bands and clowns, endured the frigid temperatures during their trek over from Scarborough Town Centre. “We just came along to warm up for a party later tonight,” noted 17-year-old Brett Cleminson, a member of the Agincourt Air Cadets Kazoo Band. “We go in all the parades even in the cold ones like this one.”

While bubbly flowed at most parties, tea was the strongest beverage served at Willard Hall, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s female residence on Gerrard Street (now operated by Covenant House). Few stuck around that night to partake. The beverages were “a bit stronger than tea” over on Camden Street where attendees included writers Marian Engel (guess which book of hers was mentioned) and Judith Merrill. The Star noted that both scribes went wherever their friends were: “No one else invited me,” Merrill noted.

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Toronto Star, January 1, 1977.

As for the subway, none of the stories touched on the as-yet unreported racist assaults. Instead, those interviewed depicted a blissful scene:

“It’s like there’s a spell on New Year’s Eve,” said 18-year old Peter Juskovic of Downsview, as he joined the party-goers and the parties on the subway this morning.

“Everybody’s friendly, everybody’s happy. It’d sure be different world if it was like that all the time.”

Juskovic, a tow truck driver, was riding the Yonge St. line “for the fun of it” shortly after the New Year began, and he and his buddy, 18-year-old John Cowie, also of Downsview, were having the time of their lives.

“I started out New Year’s Eve by going to a tavern and having a great steak,” Juskovic said. “Then we went to Mrs. Night’s for some disco dancing, and then off to Nathan Phillips Square for a bit of skating—and, of course, to meet any available girls.”

“Right now, we’re riding the subways to meet people, wish them a happy New Year, make them smile, get them ready for tomorrow. It’s great. It’s a beautiful world right now.”

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Toronto Star, December 29, 1976.

In the weeks following New Year’s Eve, papers were filled with op-eds on racism in Toronto. Some were well-considered, others boneheaded. Among the latter was a piece by Paul Tuz, the executive vice-president of the Metropolitan Toronto Better Business Bureau, which was published in the Sun. His solution to racism: patriotism!

Warning: the following passage might make the heads of anti-colonialists explode. Heck, it will make most readers do their finest imitation of that scene in Scanners (you know the one I’m talking about).

Great empires, great nations have always been capacious and willing to receive and use the contributions of widely varying ethnic groups. The Roman Empire, the British Empire were strong because both were able to include, rather than exclude people of divergent races and cultures. In the case of the British Empire, racial and ethnic differences disappeared in common service to the Crown . The unifying force was loyalty. And in Canada today, our unifying force was ought to be something comparable.

Tuz then notes how schoolteachers no longer stress patriotism in the classroom, that school boards no longer supported scouting organizations, cadet corps, or other “organizations that help foster the principles of citizenship.”

We seem to have let slip away many of the old institutions by which we assimilated newcomers into the Canadian way of life; and we have failed to replace them with alternatives for bringing our adopted sons and daughters into the Canadian family. A family which can be proud of each and every one of its members.

Aside: while the Star and the Globe and Mail gave significant coverage to the subway incident in the days following New Year`s Eve, the Sun took its time. Readers learned far more about Prince Andrew’s visit to the Toronto area, a story a Sun editorial admitted it was bored by yet wasted tons of trees on.

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Toronto Star, August 17, 1977.

When McGuinness Distillers pulled its sponsorship of free New Year’s Eve rides on the TTC in August 1977, the Star published this editorial.

Additional material from the December 31, 1976 edition of the Globe and Mail and the January 9, 1977 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Greatest Canadian of All Times Wants Your Vote

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2010.

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The North Toronto Herald, June 3, 1955.

During the current municipal election campaign, some candidates have unveiled promotional materials that demonstrate just how ballsy they are about their ability to govern the city. But for sheer belief in one’s abilities, few can match perennial 1950s fringe candidate George Rolland. The self-styled “greatest Canadian of all times” (we thought that title belonged to Tommy Douglas) tried to gain access to City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill and failed each time. Today’s ad, and its listing of his diverse talents, made Rolland an irresistible choice to 317 voters in the riding of Eglinton during the provincial election of 1955.

The great man had two major liabilities. Number one was a massive ego which led to all kinds of narcissistic fantasies. Whenever he showed up at candidate meetings during his run for Toronto’s Board of Control in 1954, he brought along a display board covered in medals he won in athletic competitions, which he felt entitled him to be a controller. It was reported that he sat in the window of a store he once owned and had a spotlight directed upon himself. He wrote an endless stream of letters to City Hall and local newspapers to prove his genius. As for his belief in his musical genius, Star columnist Ron Haggart noted in a 1960 profile that “he said there had been no composers worthy of mention in the past 500 years (except himself) and he had redesigned the musical scale.”

Liability number two was not so easily dismissed: the man was a raving racist. In his 1954 platform, Rolland promised to introduce “racial segregation laws” that would “correct the inter-racial mixing menace that sweeps over the world today, and destroys the true meaning of Christianity and destroys the self-respect of all persons alike.” If enacted, Rolland’s laws would have applied to schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, residences, and so on. His dream of bringing a touch of South Africa to Toronto was greeted with boos during candidate gatherings. His racist leanings became more pronounced as time wore on, climaxing in a fiery appearance on the CBC TV show Live a Borrowed Life in September 1959. Instead of limiting himself to talking about his supposed expertise on Abraham Lincoln, Rolland told the panel that blacks should move to Africa to establish their own culture instead of battling discrimination.

Rolland filed nomination papers to run yet again for the Board of Control in November 1960. His campaign would have likely included a battle against the design of the new City Hall, as its curving towers were “alien” in concept and would, he claimed, cause a vortex that would transform light breezes into hurricane-strength winds. But Rolland never got to make any more stump speeches. On November 23, the deadline day for candidates to qualify or drop out of the race, Rolland died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six. His death almost sparked a crisis, as due to the rules of the day, a new nomination meeting had to be held no less than seven days before the election, on December 5. Such a meeting required six days notice in a newspaper. Time was tight and the spectre of holding a separate election for the Board of Control loomed. This scenario was avoided when the Star indicated it could slip the official notice into that evening’s paper. As Haggart noted a week later, “at City Hall, where they laughed cruelly at George Rolland, they had to take him seriously at last.”

Additional material from the November 25, 1954, December 4, 1954, September 10, 1959, November 23, 1960, and November 28, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, December 5, 1955. One suspects the paper wouldn’t run such an ad today.

Checking my files, it appears I only used the Star‘s archive when I wrote this piece. So, when prepping this reprint, I browsed the Globe and Mail to see what they had to say about this great Canadian. I’m happy to report that they didn’t pull any punches in calling him out for what he was, especially near the end of his life.

Here’s a description of his appearance at a candidate’s meeting during his run for the Board of Control in 1954:

Candidate George Rolland had a number of reasons last night why he should be elected to the Board of Control.

Winding up a rapid-fire election speech before a large audience at Brown Public School, candidate Rolland went to a satchel and pulled out a bright blue vest weighted with medals.

“Just look at those,” he exclaimed to the crowd.

“Running medals, walking medals, wrestling medals, boxing medals and singing medals.”

He looked at the crowd for a moment.

“Folks, all that skill and all that co-ordination of action is yours if you vote for me December 6.”

Among some of Rolland’s other beliefs:

  • Viljo Revell’s design for City Hall wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand a snowstorm. “It may topple over before it is completed,” he wrote in a letter to City Council in 1958. “The building will be very dangerous and unsafe.”
  • Pedestrian crosswalks were “a guessing game” and should be abolished.

His appearance on Live a Borrowed Life provoked editorials in both the Globe and the Star. “Mr. Rolland’s record as a racial agitator is too well known for the CBC to plead ignorance of his offensive views,” the Globe and Mail observed. “It should have realized he would grasp the rare opportunity of a national network audience to present them.” The Star chalked the appearance up to “a producer’s boner,” and that the discussion of heavy issues like racism should occur in a weightier setting than a light entertainment panel show.

Also not impressed with Rolland’s CBC appearance was script assistant Janet Hosking, who watched at home while sick with pleurisy. “I sat and slowly died,” she recalled a few months later.

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Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.

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The headline of Rolland’s Globe and Mail obit pretty much sums up his character. One wonders how he’d thrive in today’s political climate. I’d hate to see his website…

Additional material from the November 26, 1954, October 2, 1958, November 18, 1958, September 11, 1959,  January 7, 1960, and November 24, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 11, 1959 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Watermelon and the Boy

Originally published on Torontoist on March 16, 2010.

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Time, October 27, 1947.

In the battle against racial discrimination, 1947 was a year of turning points. The major story across the continent was Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrierthat had existed in major league baseball since the 1880s. Locally, municipal officials spurred by the continued bigotry displayed by an ice skating rink developed an anti-discriminatory licensing policy for entertainment establishments, while students at the Central High School of Commerce (now Central Commerce Collegiate Institute) elected a black student as school president. Despite these events, and several anti-racist editorials in city newspapers, Toronto’s black community still found many venues unwelcoming and derogatory stereotypes easy to find.

Having read many Toronto Star articles from 1947 that decry the negative treatment blacks received, that somebody thought the illustration above was a good way to sell newspapers seems like a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.

After scrolling through back issues, the Globe and Mail appears to have displayed the most progressive viewpoint among Toronto’s daily newspapers that year in its coverage of racism and discrimination, thanks to a series of strong editorials and columnists like sportswriter Jim Coleman who risked legal action when speaking out against offenders. The Star comes in next, with its positive intentions sidetracked by the ad above and for being the only local paper to make Robinson sound as if he spoke pidgin English (the caption above a picture of Robinson looking at his son read, “And Mistah Rickey, well, he jes’ don’ say nuthin’”). The Telegram reported these kinds of stories, on those occasions when it did, with little flair and no additional commentary.

Additional material from the March 19, 1947 and October 6, 1947 editions of the Toronto Star.