Through the Years with the Canadian National Exhibition 6: CNE ’27

Poster, 1927. Art possibly by Stanley F. Turner. Canadian National Exhibition Archives.

It would be fatal for the big fair to stand still. It must keep on expanding in order to attract and accommodate new patronage. It means much to Toronto. The citizens cannot well refuse it the increased accommodation which a careful and successful management declares to be necessary.

Editorial, Toronto Star, December 21, 1926.

On New Year’s Day 1927, Toronto voters approved by a vote of 34,889 to 10,484 to provide the CNE with $415,000 in infrastructure funding, including money to build what became the Princes’ Gates in time for that year’s fair. Both the Globe and the Star backed the ballot question, noting that recent surpluses were proof that CNE directors could be trusted to manage public money wisely. Editorials also stressed the need to expand the ground to meet the growing demand for exhibition space and handle growing crowds.

The fresh stream of funding helped the fair prepare for a landmark year. Plans were underway to make the CNE a centerpiece of celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Confederation. It would be a long overdue party, as 50th anniversary commemorations had been downplayed or cancelled a decade earlier due to the First World War. Beyond the pent-up celebrations, there was a general feeling that the festivities would honour the accomplishments made since the end of the war.

The Globe, July 29, 1927.

As opening day neared, the CNE suffered a major loss when general manager John Gowans Kent died from heart issues on July 28. Kent had a long association with the fair, stretching back to winning greyhound competitions in the early 1880s. He served as president of the CNE prior to the war, then became GM in 1920. His expertise at running fairs led to a term as president of the Exhibition Association of America. “He was a natural showman,” the Star reflected. “It was his delight to please people and to interest them. He was rarely ruffled or out of temper.” A patron of youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Kent was known for providing comfort to panicky kids at the Lost Children’s Tent, and would ensure that those left at the end of the day got home safely.

Above all, Kent had believed that the public should be treated with honesty and respect. “P.T. Barnum may have thought he was right when he said that the public liked to be fooled,” he observed, “but that is not the way we do things. Here we will not make misleading statements or publish advertising we cannot back up.” Assistant GM H.W. Waters was appointed his replacement.

Baltimore Sun, August 1, 1927.

The CNE was advertised across North America, spurring articles in some American newspapers on how to travel to the fair. The Detroit Free Press recommended taking the recently-numbered Highway 2 across southwest Ontario. Highlights along the way included Moraviantown (“where Canada’s most interesting Indian ally, Tecumseh, was slain by United States troops in 1813”), Paris (“a town famous for its knitted goods”), the Dundas Valley (“a wonderful panorama famed throughout Ontario”) and Hamilton (“better known to Canadians as the ‘Ambitious City’”).

There were some visitors from south of the border local officials were less eager to welcome. During the Prince of Wales’s trip to the city earlier in the month, Toronto police chief Samuel J. Dickson was alarmed by the number of American pickpockets who stole thousands of dollars from those attending ceremonies outside City Hall. The force decided to send a squad of special plainclothes officers to mix with the crowds at the CNE to catch pickpockets, especially when the Prince returned to dedicate the Princes’ Gates.

The Globe, August 27, 1927.

On opening day, the Globe published a 24-page preview of the CNE, with an additional 24-page section dedicated to the National Motor Show. It outlined the new attractions, including the Princes’ Gates and livestock pavilion, along with pages of information that feel like they were purchased by certain industries—it’s doubtful most fairgoers cared so much about the home heating oil industry that it deserved four pages of coverage.

The Globe, August 29, 1927.

The fair officially opened with a speech by prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King that was also broadcast across the country via radio. He pressed a button to set off a series of 60 aerial bombs which released miniature flags from across the British Empire.  Though an opening day attendance record of 104,000 was set, officials felt it would have been higher had there been better weather.

During the fair, special days were set aside to honour each of Canada’s nine provinces. In the Women’s Building, cooking demonstrations highlighted dishes from each of them. Among the items were salmon loaf with jellied salad (British Columbia), sardine sandwiches (New Brunswick), muffins with marmalade (Nova Scotia), jellied chicken (Prince Edward Island), birthday cake for children (Quebec) and lobster, cheese and pineapple sandwiches (Saskatchewan…wait, lobster and Saskatchewan?).

Other women’s activities included many displays from provincial branches of the Federation of Women’s Institutes outlining local histories and women’s contributions to agriculture. Manitoba’s representatives offered nutritional advice, while Ontario, the Globe observed, “will attempt to put romance into ordinary living by showing the most approved way of spending an average income and conducting an average home.”

The Globe, August 27, 1927.

Rain delayed the opening of the evening Grandstand spectacle until August 30. “Canada” was designed to celebrate the development of the country from pioneer days onward. “Never, probably, in the great spectacles which have been presented at the Exhibition in the past,” the Globe declared, “have the producers had a subject richer in dramatic material and patriotic interest.”

The Globe, August 27, 1927.

Based on this preview description, this spectacle was highly problematic from a 21st century perspective, especially in its depiction of Indigenous peoples.

Reviews were positive. The Globe enjoyed the opening number, “The Dance of the Provinces,” which featured ballerinas dressed in costumes representing each province. It also felt the Jacques Cartier sequence, which include a native war dance, was “depicted in a way to warm the heart of an Imperialist.” Though the Star enjoyed the production, it noted a few opening night screwups, such as mismatching dancers and background slides during the provincial dance – Mounties symbolize Nova Scotia and naval officers scream Saskatchewan! Maybe the projectionists were still munching on those Saskatchewan lobster sandwiches.

Toronto Star, August 29, 1927.

Indigenous people participated in the fair but, if a photo caption in the Star was any indication, they were objectified with the era’s stereotypes.

Toronto Star, September 2, 1927.

Music was a vital component. “How can we stand the long ordeal of endless night-seeing, without the refreshment of music,” observed Globe music critic Lawrence Mason. “How can we be our better selves amid the petty rubs and jars of crowds and weather, if music be not there to soothe and inspire us?” A series of choral concerts featuring classical selections and patriotic British songs were held in the Coliseum, with over 2,200 singers conducted by H.A. Fricker of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. September 1 was designated Music Day, highlighting traditional songs and costumes from the British Isles and eastern Europe. Musicians and singers strolled the grounds. A old-timey fiddle contest drew contestants aged 50 and up.

The start of the 21-mile swimming marathon, August 31, 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 11411.

Among the most anticipated events, and the one that received the most coverage outside of Toronto, was the Wrigley Swim Marathon. The 21-mile event, sponsored by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, drew some of the world’s top competitive swimmers. Check out my old Historicist colleague David Wencer’s account of the race.

Art Gallery, 1925. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0111996f.

Over at the Art Gallery, controversy was brewing. Among the works chosen for display was John Wentworth Russell’s painting A Modern Fantasy, which depicted a reclining nude woman. The Star described the mixed reactions the work provoked:

Some, caught in the web, let it go at merely “batting an eyelid” and passed on to the next surprise with a display of exemplary self-control; others hesitated, collected to the best of their ability their startled wits and, seeing other people gazing upon it unharmed, timidly joined the throng; still others strode in, remained transfixed as if frozen by a vision from another world and with an expression of disgust, stepped on with the greatest expedition; and finally those who regarded the apparition for a moment in startled silence and then fell into raptures of encomium and applaud.

“Well,” one middle-aged woman observed, “he must have a nasty mind—for I think it is just beautiful.”

Prudes quickly made their objections known. CNE president John J. Dixon received a deputation representing women’s organizations from around the city, letting him know that the fair was an inappropriate place for nudes to be shown, especially with so many children, adolescents, and working-class men around. They feared that it would warp young minds and potentially cause an increase in attacks on women. Dixon told them he didn’t like it either, but the piece was chosen by committee whose job was to pick works based on artistic merit. He also indicated that he believed beauty contests involving scantily-clad contestants were more harmful to women than nude paintings. Deputation leader Mrs. J. Patrick MacGregor backtracked a little, claiming Russell’s work was far more sensual than more refined nudes displayed at the CNE in previous years and in fine European galleries. When the fair ended, Dixon stated that art would be strictly censored in the future.

When asked about his painting, Russell told the Star that his work should stand on its own merits. “Why make a vulgarity about a divine thing,” he said. “Criticism should lead the public, not coerce it. Don’t prosecute the public. Allow the public to think for themselves. It is hard to make them think, I know, but they should be guided not dissuaded. They need to be helped along.” He later dismissed the complaints from Toronto the Good as a “backwoods” attitude. He went to Paris, where the painting had previously been praised.

The Globe, August 27, 1927.

The growing popularity of radio was reflected in several displays, including demonstrations of the Rogers Batteryless set tuned into company-owned station CFRB. Manufacturers displayed their equipment, while the city’s growing number of radio station broadcast special programming. Industry news from both sides of the border was shared, including word that Buffalo’s WMAK (later WBEN) had joined a new system that immediately became America’s second largest network: CBS.

Automotive and Government Buildings, 1925. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0111801f.

The National Motor Show was spread out between the increasingly inadequate Automotive Building (whose replacement would open two years later) and the Coliseum. While most manufacturers displayed their 1928 models, the most anticipated vehicle was absent. Despite the best efforts of Ford’s Canadian staff to secure an example of the long-rumoured replacement for the Model T, head office refused to send one for display. The Model A would debut later that fall.

Surveying the new vehicles, Globe automotive editor W.R. Campbell felt the best development was smaller cars with a shorter wheelbase. “For some time there has been an insistent public demand for models that, in this days of increasingly congested traffic, would be more easily operated.”

Overall, attendance rose from 1,573,000 in 1926 to 1,870,000. Officials looked forward to the CNE’s golden anniversary in 1928, and to continuing its modernization program, with plans for new automotive, electrical, and federal buildings.

Sources: the August 28, 1927 edition of the Detroit Free Press; the April 17, 1926, January 3, 1927, July 29, 1927, August 24, 1927, August 27, 1927, August 29, 1927, August 31, 1927, September 2, 1927, September 12, 1927, and September 14, 1927 editions of the Globe; and the December 21, 1926, July 29, 1927, August 29, 1927, August 31, 1927, September 6, 1927, September 8, 1927, and September 9, 1927 editions of the Toronto Star.

The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

20150506artcentre1936

Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

20150506eatonsad

Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

20150506ida

Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

20150506artcentre1934

Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

20150506singsong

Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

20150506indianproject1936

Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

20150506cne1956

Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen's Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand. - June, 1910

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

f1257_s1057_it6771_ice capades

Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

globe 1921-12-28 indian storyteller

The Globe, December 28, 1921.

globe 1925-12-05 ROM our indian friends

The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

star 1932-12-03 indian girl plea 1

Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

star 1966-05-24 teachers college pow wow

Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen

Originally published on Torontoist on February 6, 2015.

20150206auntjemima1963

Toronto Star, February 27, 1963.

According to her corporate website, Aunt Jemima stands for “warmth, nourishment and trust—qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families.” Yet no amount of facelifts, bandana removal, or cultural diversity pitches can erase past depictions of its pancake-making pitchwoman as the ultimate stereotypical southern mammy.

Aunt Jemima’s image has long been problematic. Created in 1889 to promote an early pre-mixed baking mix, the brand was reputedly inspired by a minstrel show where a white performer sang as “Old Aunt Jemima” in blackface and drag. In 1893 Nancy Green, a former slave, was hired to portray her for cooking demonstrations at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Marketers developed a back story steeped in the mythology of the old South, including a benevolent plantation owner named Colonel Higbee and the large black woman working in the kitchen to please her white employers and aid the Confederacy.

Green’s successful appearance in Chicago led to tours where she or other women donned what was effectively slave garb. Toronto was among the stops. For a week of cooking demonstrations at Simpson’s department store in March 1902, ad writers felt the best way to illustrate Aunt Jemima’s place in society was to translate her pitches into pidgin English:

Aunt Jemima has fried pancakes all over the United States. Her record is 9,000 cakes a day. She is “demonstrating” the high and mighty art of turning pancakes in our grocery department this week, and, judging by the crowds, her ideas is regard to pancakes are of great and exceeding value.

“No buttah. No la’ad. Jus’ a bit o’ salt powk tied up in a piece o’ clean cheesecloth bought fo’ dat puhpus.” That is one of Aunt Jemima’s principles, which at first blush might seem a trifle revolutionary.

“One pint watah, one pint milk, one teacup o’ de flour makes cakes for six puhsons.”

20150206auntjemima1964

Don Mills Mirror, May 6, 1964.

In 1955, Aunt Jemima owner Quaker Oats opened a southern-themed family restaurant at Disneyland. By 1962, after serving over 1.6 million customers at the theme park, Quaker expanded the concept into a North American pancake house chain. Metro Torontonians downed their first Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen flapjack on February 27, 1963, when a location opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Bellamy Road in Scarborough. Opening day ads reinforced the mythology of the genteel, relaxed southern plantation the restaurant hoped to evoke, and promised a personal appearance from Aunt Jemima herself.

Quaker’s choice of Scarborough to debut the concept complemented other food franchisers who saw the suburb as an ideal testing ground. “The area has a very high ratio of cars to population, a good standard of living, and is having growing pains,” observed Harold Schner, a franchiser for Mister Donut and Red Barn. “Since there are few good restaurants in Scarborough, a community with young families dependent on automobiles for transportation to a great extent, it is a good area.”

In her Globe and Mail advertorial dining column, Mary Walpole played along with the cringe-inducing stereotypes. “The décor is beautifully done, warm and friendly as a southern plantation,” Walpole gushed, “and not without reason for the Aunt Jemima name is a carefully guarded thing and all must be perfect before they hang out the sign of her smiling dark face.” Walpole also played upon old fashioned notions of patriarchy, noting that when ordering the Family Platter, it was the father’s duty to serve the scrambled eggs and meat.

While Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen added a second location at Bayview Village in 1964, both brand and chain faced increasing criticism as the civil rights movement aimed at what the smiling cook represented. Black consumers had rarely been consulted for their thoughts about Aunt Jemima; when they were, the feedback was negative. The NAACP called for a boycott. Delegates at an August 1966 American Federation of Teachers convention in Chicago adopted a resolution condemning a nearby Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen for demeaning employees by making a black woman wear an Aunt Jemima costume. A boycott was launched until management allowed the employee to wear contemporary hostess clothing. Quaker Oats promised costumed Aunt Jemimas would be phased out from their five Chicago locations, a pledge fulfilled across the chain when the last one was pulled off the road in 1967.

20150206auntjemima1967

Globe Magazine, March 25, 1967.

The chain soon declined. Its flagship Disneyland location closed in 1970. Toronto was abandoned two years earlier—toward the end, the Bayview Village location decreased its selection of fancy pancakes from 37 to 23.

While efforts were made to modernize the brand—most significantly the removal of her headwear in 1989—the baggage remains. In his book Slave in a Box, M.M. Manring draws the following conclusion as to why Aunt Jemima endures:

Aunt Jemima lives on because white Americans like having a mammy. Quaker Oats can move her off her plantation, take off her bandanna, and tint her hair; it makes little difference. If times change, they might even be bold enough to put the bandanna back on her head. Aunt Jemima and mammy are tools used to interpret our legacy of racism, sexism, and slavery, either approvingly or disapprovingly. Keeping her around, spinning superficial explanations for her continued presence on that box, doesn’t help us overcome that legacy.

Sources: Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998); the April 20, 1963, May 18, 1963, and May 31, 1963 editions of the Globe and Mail; the August 26, 1966 edition of the New York Times; and the March 25, 1902 edition of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

In June 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima branding would be dropped.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 1902-03-28 simpsons aunt jemima ad

The Globe, March 28, 1902.

Another ad from Nancy Green’s stint at Simpson’s in 1902.

brantford expositor circa 1906 pancake booth

It’s probably a relief that the low quality of this scan of a pamphlet for a 1906 fundraising fair for Brantford’s John H. Stratford Hospital blots out the chef’s features (likely the “real pickaninny”), especially if he was wearing stereotypical blackface makeup of the era. The facility was renamed Brantford General Hospital in 1910.

canadian grocer 1909-09-17 aunt jemima premiums ad 640

Canadian Grocer, Septemeber 17, 1909.

A series of Aunt Jemima rag doll premiums available to grocers perpetuated racist stereotypes and passed them on to children. The local Toronto agent for the mix was MacLaren Imperial Cheese, whose name lives on in a cold pack cheese spread that’s still available on Canadian grocery shelves as of 2020.

canadian grocer 1913-10-10 aunt jemima ad 640

Canadian Grocer, October 10, 1913.

I’m afraid to know what the “dandy advertising campaign” involved.

canadian grocer 1914-11-20 aunt jemima front page 640

Canadian Grocer, November 20, 1914.

chicago tribune 1923-09-04 nancy green obit

Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1923.

Nancy Green’s obituary. Even in death, her words were translated into pidgin. At least there’s no backstory of glorious plantations here, though one wonders how similar wealthy Chicago families were.

dawn of tommorow 1923-09-15 nancy green obit small

Dawn of Tomorrow, September 15, 1923.

A more dignified obit for Green was presented in the Black press – this clipping is from the London, Ontario based Dawn of Tomorrow.

globe 1923-10-23 aunt jemima ad

The Globe, October 23, 1923.

How Aunt Jemima was advertised by the 1920s. Usually the mammy image was included…

globe 1923-12-26 aunt jemima ad

The Globe, December 26, 1923.

…sometimes not (though the pidgin-English slogan remained).

gm 1963-04-20 mary walpole

Globe and Mail, April 20, 1963.

gm 1963-05-18 mary walpole

Globe and Mail, May 18, 1963.

A pair of Mary Walpole’s advertorials about Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen. I’m imagining a steady soundtrack of Stephen Foster songs.

gm 1963-05-31 scarboro as testing ground for franchises

Globe and Mail, May 31, 1963.

An article on how Scarborough was seen as an ideal place to test franchising concepts during the 1960s.

A Pandemic Day’s Wanderings: My First Subway Ride in Three Months

The last time I took a subway ride was back in March, either returning from the airport or on one last set of downtown errands before COVID-19 shut down the city. Needing to shoot some photos for some personal projects and not feeling like driving downtown on a sunny Monday afternoon, I decided to reacquaint myself with the subway after a three-month separation.

IMG_2813a

Greenwood station has one of the city’s new wayfinding pillars, which include maps and historical tidbits about the surrounding area. I had forgotten I contributed to several pillars that would be installed downtown – more about them in a future post.

IMG_2817a

Once past the Presto barrier, hand sanitizer was available.

IMG_2818a

This vision of mouth sores is not the most encouraging ad to see in the subway at the moment.

IMG_2820a

On the train, many seats were blocked off to promote social distancing. Some of the signs looked worse for wear.

There were three other people in my car when I got on, none of whom were wearing masks. Who knows if they’ll comply if the TTC’s proposal to make wearing masks mandatory goes ahead. I felt a little uncomfortable until Pape, when nearly everyone who boarded was masked.

IMG_2825a

Given the current protests about policing, and controversies around fare enforcement, I’m surprised this ad hadn’t been replaced by the TTC or ripped out by an angry rider.

Overall, the ride was fine. It was very quiet, and everyone observed the spacing suggestions. My comfort level grew, and I suspect I’ll use the system when convenient during the week.

IMG_2828a

The Bloor platform was eerily quiet.

IMG_2831a

Who wants to solve an online mattress company puzzle?

IMG_2832a

Hopping off at Queen, I noticed that the Bay was open, but, in compliance with current COVID regulations, you couldn’t enter from subway level.

IMG_2835a

Inside the store, sanitizing stations were set up on each floor by the escalators. Few people were walking around. Fewer appeared to be tempted by the merchandise, possibly from a combination of closed dressing rooms in the clothing sections and underwhelming discounts throughout. It was hard not to feel like I was walking through the ruins of a lost civilization, who had left their mannequins behind.

IMG_2838a

That feeling hit even harder at Nathan Phillips Square, which should have been full of life at 3:30 on a sunny Monday in June. I was curious if any messages supporting the anti-racism protests had been scrawled in chalk. Unless they had been scrubbed or washed away, there weren’t any. The ground was a blank canvas waiting for something, anything, to liven it up.

There were people sitting on the benches lining the outside of the square, mostly eating food truck hot dog and fries, or adjusting their cameras.

IMG_2842a

The shady sidewalk alongside Osgoode Hall was a good place to process my thoughts, letting the affects of pandemic on the city sink in.

IMG_2852a

IMG_2853a

An amusing mural on Duncan Street by Camilla Teodoro celebrating the usual experience of walking through the city felt extra comforting.

IMG_2857a

A message of love drawn on the plywood erected by the entrance of the Michaels at John and Richmond. Given the lack of other graffiti, I’m guessing this was installed to protect the store in case any protest-related problems arose.

They didn’t.

IMG_2859a

Commercial plug department: the Spacing Store is open to pick up orders. Plenty of great stuff is displayed in their windows, including a few books I may have contributed to…

IMG_2865a

Wandering up Spadina, a banner at Chinatown Centre encouraged silly walks. Nobody took up this offer…

IMG_2868a

…least of all Sun Yat-Sen. Maybe his doppleganger in Chinatown East would be more enticed to join in.

IMG_2873a

Commentary on the current discussion on race, found in Kensington Market.

IMG_2874a

An existential question asked by a garage door on Croft Street. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately about any number of things, from the value of my work to how the world functions. So much soul searching these days…

Did I mention this was a contemplative walk?

IMG_2876a

IMG_2887a

Two of the brighter examples of the murals currently along Croft Street.

IMG_2888a

An ode to Harbord Street…

IMG_2889a

…and the city’s lost rivers, a little difficult to appreciate on garbage day.

IMG_2895a

Up on Bloor Street, buckets of cheap fondant at Bulk Barn, ideal for anyone who had “learn cake decorating” on their pandemic to-do list.

IMG_2898a

Heading back to Bloor-Yonge station, there were long, snaking lines outside stores in Yorkville, primarily Artizia, Sephora, and Zara. Many mixed feelings about this, including the effects of fast fashion on people and the environment, the desire to return to anything resembling our individual senses of normalcy, and Toronto’s love for long lines under any circumstances.

Epitomizing that last point was a family I saw standing in the queue outside the Gap at Bay and Bloor. They were gorging on Chick Fil A, which I bet they also spent plenty of time waiting for.

Icy Discrimination

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on March 6, 2010.

20100306saunders

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mayor Robert H. Saunders at Cenotaph at Old City Hall, January 12, 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2903.

One day in early November 1945, fifteen-year-old Harry Gairey Jr. went with five friends to the private Icelandia skating rink on Yonge Street in North Toronto, despite his father’s warning that the venue was not known to treat black customers kindly. Gairey Jr. went ahead and hoped the afternoon would provide a good opportunity to help a friend improve his skating skills. While his white companions were allowed into Icelandia, Gairey Jr. was notified by rink manager Bedford Allen that “no coloured boys can come in here.”

Harry’s friends saw what happened, turned around, and asked for a refund. Incensed by the treatment shown to his son, Harry Gairey Sr. contacted his local alderman and arranged for an audience with the city’s Board of Control on November 14. With tears in his eyes, Gairey Sr. offered apologies for taking the council’s time, to which Mayor Robert Saunders replied, “I don’t know that we have anything more valuable on which to spend our time than looking into a matter like this.” Gairey Sr. related the incident, which he found disgraceful, then offered additional thoughts that he later recalled in A Black Man’s Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey:

Now it would be all right if the powers that be refused my son admission to the Icelandia, I would accept it, if when the next war comes, you’re going to say “Harry Gairey, you’re black, you stay here, don’t go to war.” But your Worship, and Gentlemen of the Council, it’s not going to be that way, you’re going to say he’s a Canadian and you’ll conscript him. And if so, I would like my son to have everything a Canadian citizen is entitled to, providing he’s worthy of it.

The Telegram also noted part of his address:

We have heard so much about democracy, and we have just gone through a war for it, but this is an example of everything not democratic. If we are to have democracy it must start in our city, in the homes, on the streets. If we are to be divided into racial and colour groups, each to receive different treatment, there is little to live for.

20100306pickets
The picket line outside Icelandia. The Telegram, November 23, 1945.

A week later, a group of University of Toronto students with ties to the campus Labor-Progressive Club organized two days of protest outside Icelandia. The owner refused to comment, but an assistant claimed there weren’t any race restrictions. After over 150 picketers bearing placards with slogans like “no discrimination” showed up on the second day, police were called in to break it up. Southern Ontario B’nai B’rith director Al Zimmerman visited the operators of Icelandia and saw little sign of compromise, which resulted in a boycott. “We asked if the discrimination would continue,” he told the Star in 1947, “and were told that the rink would continue to bar Negroes but not Jews. But the barring of Negroes was sufficient to satisfy us that intolerance would be continued and we decided among ourselves not to patronize the rink.”

Business suffered briefly at Icelandia after the Gairey incident but the furor soon blew over. It didn’t take long for management to prove it wasn’t just blacks with whom they took issue. In early January 1947, a Jewish girl was denied entry, which revived accounts of Gairey Jr’s treatment in local papers. In his January 10 column in the Globe and Mail, Jim Coleman noted the crushing effects that being separated from their peers had on both youths and cynically wrote:

The proprietors of Icelandia are at least consistent in their attitude, and we presume that, when the occasion arises, they will bar Communists, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists—in fact, all those who don’t noisily swear allegiance to the most orthodox branches of the Christian faith… If you go to Icelandia, be sure to take a letter from your pastor—the gateman may look suspiciously at the curve of your nose.

Coleman soon received many letters, among which he found “a heartening percentage of readers abhor racial discrimination.” A fresh boycott against Icelandia was launched by the United Electrical Workers Union and picketers returned. Various labour and educational groups called on city council to enact tougher anti-discrimination laws. Community papers like the North Toronto Heraldurged clergymen to denounce Icelandia during Sunday sermons. By mid-January, a legislation committee that included future mayor Nathan Phillips drafted an amendment to the licensing bylaws that required passage by the Toronto Police Commission.

20100306coleman

James “Jim” A. Coleman, columnist for the Globe and Mail, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2473.

If you thought Icelandia might have cooled it in the face of public anger, the rink’s management quickly revealed their true colours yet again. In his February 1 column, Coleman noted a fresh incident of discrimination against a Greek skater. A scuffle ensued and Coleman’s tone indicated that he was happy to hear that the rink staffer wound up splayed on the ground. The rink used its ad in the Globe and Mail two days later to threaten Coleman with legal action…which happened to be the same day city council approved its anti-discrimination resolution.

On February 22, newspaper front pages announced that the police commission approved the new bylaw. The Globe and Mail printed the new rules in full:

(1) Every license issued to the owner or keeper of an exhibition, theatre, music hall, moving-picture show, public hall or any place of amusement shall be subject to the condition that no discrimination on account of race, creed or colour shall be shown against any member of the public who seeks admission to the premises in respect to which the license is issued and every such license shall bear a written or printed endorsement to the forgiving effect.
(2) No person licensed as the owner or keeper of an exhibition, theatre, music hall, moving-picture show, public hall or place of amusement shall discriminate against any member of the public who seeks admission to the premises in respect to which the license is issued because of the race, creed or colour of such member.

20100306mapleleaf
Article on Harry Gairey Jr. The Maple Leaf, December 1, 1945.

In the long run, the skating deities were kinder to the Gairey family than Icelandia. Besides battles over its discriminatory practices, the rink got into trouble with the city over its attempts to facilitate hockey games on Sundays. Frustration and prodding from the press spurred efforts to build a public skating rink in North Toronto. Icelandia barely survived into the 1950s—its site at 1941 Yonge Street is now occupied by a liquor store. Harry Gairey Sr., who was proud that his speech had made officials begin to think about changing laws, received many honours for his activism and community involvement. Within three years of his passing in 1993, the outdoor skating rink at Alexandra Park was named in his honour.

Sources: A Black Man’s Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey, edited by Donna Hill (Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1981) and the following newspapers: the January 10, 1947, January 11, 1947, January 14, 1947, January 18, 1947, February 1, 1947, February 3, 1947,and February 22, 1947 editions of the Globe and Mail; the January 17, 1947 edition of the North Toronto Herald; the November 14, 1945, November 23, 1945, January 11, 1947, March 19, 1947, and September 27, 1947, editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 14, 1945, and November 23, 1945, editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1945-11-23 student pickets photo

Globe and Mail, November 23, 1945.

star 1945-11-23 student pickets

Toronto Star, November 23, 1945.

gm 1945-11-24 police disperse pickets

Globe and Mail, November 24, 1945.

varsity 1945-11-26 police action called illegal by students small

The Varsity, November 26, 1945.

varsity 1945-11-27 editorial 400px

The Varsity, November 27, 1945.

gm 1945-11-29 icelandia ad promising strict discipline

Globe and Mail, November 29, 1945.

I wonder if the “strict discipline” referred to in this Icelandia ad refers to the guidance offered by its pro skaters, or to prevent any more protests.

gm 1947-01-10 coleman column

Globe and Mail, January 10, 1947.

The column that exposed Icelandia’s continuing discriminatory issues…

gm 1947-01-11 anti-coleman icelandia ad

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1947.

…and Icelandia’s response. At this time, the rink ran short “Ice News Bulletins” in Toronto newspapers that usually pitched the latest events, reprinted congratulatory letters from its clients, or offered lousy verse about enjoyed its facilities.

gm 1947-01-11 editorial

Globe and Mail, January 11, 1947.

The G&M‘s editorial page was not amused, referring to the latest incident and what had happened to Gairey.

gm 1947-01-14 coleman column

Globe and Mail, January 14, 1947.

Other journalists sent Coleman their thoughts about Icelandia.

varsity 1947-01-14 picket 350px

The Varsity, January 14, 1947.

varsity 1947-01-15 editorial 300px

The Varsity, January 15, 1947.

gm 1947-01-17 coleman column

Excerpt from Jim Coleman’s column, Globe and Mail, January 17, 1947.

gm 1947-01-18 icelandia ad

Globe and Mail, January 18, 1947.

This ad tries to attract a lawn bowler (or is “Henry” a reference to another poet or an enemy of the rink?). The poet is dishonest when they claim “we do not seek to harm or maim.”

star 1947-01-20 rabbi feinberg attacks iceland policy

Toronto Star, January 20, 1947.

gm 1947-02-01 coleman more discrimination

Globe and Mail, February 1, 1947.

The nationality in question was Greek, a community which had long faced discrimination in the city, most infamously during the Anti-Greek Riot in 1918.

gm 1947-02-03 icelandia ad threatening legal action against coleman

Globe and Mail, February 3, 1947.

A month later, Icelandia served Coleman and G&M general manager Harry Kimber with a libel notice. I have not found any subsequent coverage, leading me to believe it was unsuccessful.

gm 1947-02-03 council gets proposal to bar licenses

Globe and Mail, February 3, 1947.

varsity 1947-02-04 mr allen of icelandia 350

The Varsity, February 4, 1947.

varsity 1947-02-13 pickets 200

The Varsity, February 13, 1947.

For more on the 1944 Anti-Discrimination Act, check out my TVO piece on its 75th anniversary.

Searching for more stories of people affected by Icelandia’s icy attitude towards others, I came across this account from actor Al Waxman. In his autobiography That’s What I Am, Waxman described a youthful incident where his hockey teammates unanimously elected him captain. The coach quickly vetoed the team’s decision, as Waxman was the only Jew.

I waited until everyone left, then, sitting alone in that locker room at Icelandia, where Jews were not welcome, I cried. I had been hit by flying pucks, slapped in the face by swinging sticks, smothered in scrambles around the net, but had never cried before.

gm 1947-03-13 icelandia ad attacking mayor saunders

Globe and Mail, March 13, 1947.

Some sour grapes after a parade honouring champion skater Barbara Ann Scott failed to go past Icelandia. The rink’s ads frequently boasted that Scott had skated there. Management may have also been angry at Mayor Robert Saunders over attempts to prevent the rink from operating fully on Sundays, a battle which took up plenty of court time throughout the rest of 1947.

The city considered buying Icelandia in 1950 but decided the asking price of $115,000 was too high, especially for a building that required an addition to bring the ice up to standard. With no fanfare, it appears the rink closed its doors the following year. As of June 2020, its site is a surface parking, likely awaiting future redevelopment.

tspa_0048893f_gaireyjr

Harry Gairey Jr. and Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall. Photo by Boris Spremo, originally published in the January 25, 1996 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0048893f.

star 1996-01-25 gairey rinkToronto Star, January 25, 1996.

When he died in 2015, Gairey Jr. was remembered for his half-century as a basketball referee in the city. “He had a far-reaching impact on everybody,” fellow ref Al Northcott told the Star. “He never answered a harsh word with a harsh word himself.”

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

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2017.

20170203welcomesuncityad

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.

20170203tutu

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.”

20170203saisworthy

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.”

20170203donatosewellcartoon

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?”

20170203mincein

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.

20170203porter

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.

20170203donatocommunistcartoon

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.

20170203sundaysunad

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

gm 1985-10-31 racism at sun

gm 1985-10-31 racism at sun 2

Globe and Mail, October 31, 1985.

gm 1985-12-13 Toronto Sun columns consistently racist, new study concludes 1

gm 1985-12-13 Toronto Sun columns consistently racist, new study concludes 2

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.

sun 89-02-06 on italians

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.

star 1989-02-25 city pulls ads

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

star 1989-03-08 stein column

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.

sun 77-11-13 hoy anti-gay column

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.

sun 1978-01-08 pro-chile editorial

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.

20141230mcguinness1976

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.

20141230carson

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.”

20141230sunfrontpage

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.

20141230verma

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.

20141230carsonaward

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.

20101228freettc

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.

20141230mcguinness1973

Toronto Star, December 14, 1973.

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

star 1977-01-01 scarborough

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.

20141231jamesbrown

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.

star 1977-01-01 subway

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.”

star 1976-12-29 ad page F5

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.

star 1977-08-17 editorial

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.

20100105rolland

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

gm 1955-12-05 rolland racist ad

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.

ts 60-11-24 death tipoff

Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.

gm-1960-11-24-rolland-obit

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.

20100306starad47

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.