696 Yonge Street (Diamond Building, Brothers Restaurant, Some Organization I’d Prefer Not to Mention in the Title)

Originally published as a “Ghost City” column for The Grid on January 29, 2013.

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Toronto Star, September 12, 1957.

The Church of Scientology’s Toronto headquarters are in the midst of an “Ideal Org” makeover—signalled, last month, by boards nailed to the Yonge Street high-rise. While it remains to be seen whether the move will fracture the controversial faith’s local followers as similar, costly refurbishings have in other cities, the plans are less than modest, indicating a colourful new façade will be placed on the almost-60-year-old office building, along with a new bookstore, café, theatre, and “testing centre” inside.

Built around 1955 in the International style of architecture, 696 Yonge’s initial tenant roster included recognizable brands like Avon cosmetics and Robin Hood flour. They were joined by an array of accounting firms, coal and mining companies, and the Belgian consulate, along with a number of construction and property management companies run by Samuel Diamond, whose name later graced the building.

By the 1970s, The Diamond companies were among the few original tenants remaining. Movie studio MGM settled in for a long stay, while the Ontario Humane Society teetered on the verge of financial ruin during its tenancy. There was a temporary office for a federal committee on sealing, which released a 1972 report recommending a temporary moratorium on seal hunting while solutions were sought to halt a population decline. The building even enjoyed a brief taste of religious controversies to come when the Unification Church—a.k.a. the “Moonies”—briefly opened an office, prompting questions about indoctrinated converts, growing wealth, and cult-like practices mirroring those later asked about the Church of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard’s religion, meanwhile, had shuffled around various sites in the city since the late 1950s, from meetings on Jarvis Street to a townhouse on Prince Arthur Avenue. The church’s reputation for defending itself grew as quickly as its membership—by the 1970s, official church statements were guaranteed to appear in the letters section within days of any faintly critical newspaper article. The Church of Scientology bought 696 Yonge in 1979.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1983.

Around 2:30 p.m. on March 2, 1983, three chartered buses pulled up to the office tower. More than one hundred OPP officers, equipped with recording equipment, axes, sledgehammers, and a battering ram, rushed into Scientology’s offices. Acting on the findings of a secret two-year tax-fraud investigation of the church, they removed 900 boxes of material, among them illegally obtained confidential documents from government, medical, and police agencies. The church initially claimed the raid was spurred by attacks from the psychiatric community and believed it was entitled to Charter of Rights protection.

Hiring Clayton Ruby as its lawyer, Scientology pursued a decade-long fight against the raid and the charges that resulted from it. Some of its efforts were comical: in July 1988, the church offered to donate considerable sums to agencies working with drug addicts, the elderly, and the poor so long as theft charges were dropped. Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott rejected the offer, saying that “there’s no immunity that permits a church or anyone else to commit crimes in the country.” Ruby argued that the legal prosecution of a small religion like Scientology threatened the freedom of all faiths, and that while individual members may be guilty of offences, the whole church should not be held at fault.

The legal battle appeared over by 1992. When the seized boxes were returned that January, church members celebrated on Yonge Street. While a banner declaring “Scientology Wins after 9-year Battle” was draped across the building, a human chain passed the boxes back inside from a rented truck. Jubilation was short-lived: though acquitted of theft charges, the church and three of its members were found guilty of breach of trust. Related cases lingered for a few more years, including a libel case that earned crown attorney Casey Hill a then-record $1.6 million award from the church and one of its lawyers.

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Now, September 2, 1999. The main article on cheap eats featured on this page was for New York Subway on Queen Street.

Even in the midst of its legal battles, the church gradually expanded its presence in 696 Yonge, filling space as other tenants departed. One of the last to go was the Brothers Restaurant and Tavern, which filled a streetfront space with vinyl booths and formica from 1979 to 2000. Operated by two brothers whose last names differed because of the phonetic spelling a government official wrote for one when they moved to Canada, Angelo Sfyndilis and Peter Sfendeles catered to a diverse clientele who appreciated their generous portions of comfort food. As Toronto Life noted in its obituary, “wherever you come from, wherever you’re going, Brothers has been a second home, a sheltering piece of smalltown Canadiana on a big, harsh anonymous street, in the middle of a big, harsh, anonymous city.” The Star praised Brothers’ “honest chicken sandwich,” while Now included it in its student survival guides for meals like the Little Brother Platter, which contained “eight thick slices of pastrami, eight of roast beef, four slabs of Canadian cheddar, a mound of potato salad, a mess of oil-and vinegar-drowned iceberg lettuce, a quartered dill pickle, and rings of pickled peppers.” When the lease was not renewed in 2000, deli items were replaced with copies of Dianetics.

Sources: the January 25, 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail, the September 2, 1999 edition of Now, the May 2000 edition of Toronto Life, and the January 10, 1982, March 3, 1983, December 20, 1984, July 27, 1988, August 29, 1988, September 20, 1990, January 28, 1992, June 26, 1992, July 13, 2008, and January 24, 2013 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As of July 2020 the building is rotting away, as various makeover plans by the Scientologists have not materialized. Over the years, the organization has battled the city over tax bills.

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696 Yonge, July 28, 2020. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

You can trace the saga of 696 Yonge over recent years by checking out this thread on Urban Toronto.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I moved to Toronto around the time of the Now excerpt posted above. Always a fan of decent cheap eats, I checked out The Brothers. The paper wasn’t kidding when it said the portions were huge, providing plenty of fuel for long downtown strolls.

(Memory tells me it was frequently mentioned in Now, and may have run a few ads, but the current search function for their online archives is next-to-useless).

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National Post, January 15, 2000.

The Star published the Brothers’ rice pudding recipe twice: in 2000 after it closed, then in 2006 thanks to reader demand. “The food was bettered only by their dear personalities and quintessential charm,” one reader recalled. Food writer Amy Pataki noted that staff called the dish rizogalo, and that cook Tony Polyzotis called its preparation “easy.”

If this inspires you to make this recipe from the July 26, 2006 Star, send it pictures and I’ll add them to this post.

Brothers Rice Pudding
Tempering the beaten egg with hot liquid prevents it from coagulating.

4 cups or more whole or 2 per cent milk
1 cup converted white rice, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp raisins (optional)
Ground cinnamon

In medium, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 4 cups milk to simmer over medium heat. Add rice and sugar. Cook, uncovered, at gentle boil, stirring frequently, until rice is almost cooked through but still a little chewy, about 30 minutes. (Rice will continue to soften as it cools.)

In heatproof cup, whisk egg with vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons hot cooking liquid. Whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Stir into rice mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add raisins (if desired).

Cool pudding uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up skin as it forms on surface. (Pudding will thicken on standing; thin with more milk as desired.) Sprinkle generously with cinnamon before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Goodbye 1918, Hello 1919

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Toronto World, December 31, 1918.

As 1918 ended, Torontonians contemplated a year which had seen the First World War end, celebrate what would hopefully be a cheerier year ahead, and engage in the usual political bickering which accompanied the annual voting rites of a municipal election on New Year’s Day.

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The Globe, January 1, 1919. Unfortunately, chunks of the rest of this editorial are missing. 

The Globe‘s New Year’s editorial spent the most time on any of Toronto’s opinion pages contemplating the general state of the world now that the war was over.

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Mail and Empire, January 1, 1919.

The Mail and Empire expressed hope for the future, and encouraged everyone to help with the reconstruction of the post-war world.

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1918.

The Star‘s editorial looked back to the genteel customs of New Year’s Days of yore.

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Toronto World, January 1, 1919.

The World‘s editorial focused on the top story item as the old year gave way to the new: the municipal election. Mayor Tommy Church ran for his fifth one-year term against Board of Control member John O’Neill, former city councillor William Henry Shaw, and York East MP Thomas Foster.

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Mail and Empire, December 31, 1918.

Long before Rob Ford preached zealous penny-pinching, Thomas Foster took frugality to extremes. A self-made millionaire known for visiting tenants in person to collect rent or fix problems, Foster spent two decades as an elected official at the federal and municipal levels. It would also appear, based on this campaign ad, he dabbled in post-war xenophobia. While Foster finished a distant fourth in this campaign, he retained his federal seat. He narrowly won the mayoralty in the 1925 municipal campaign over W.W. Hiltz, and served three terms. His legacy is the giant mausoleum he built for himself near Uxbridge.

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Toronto News, December 31, 1918. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of candidates vying for council seats. Three of the four Board of Control winners (Charles Maguire, Sam McBride, and William Robbins) later served as mayor.

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1918.

Church’s campaign appealed to returning soldiers and their families. During the war, the mayor saw off as many departing soldiers as possible. “For many soldiers,” historian Donald Jones noted, “the last thing they remembered about Toronto was the sight of their mayor running beside the train shouting goodbye and wishing them good luck.” After the war, he welcomed them back and championed various measures to provide vets with financial benefits.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

As it would several times during Church’s career, the Telegram supported his re-election campaign with ridiculous zeal. Editorials blasted anyone who criticized Church, especially the Star.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

One of many Telegram articles extolling the virtues of Tommy Church. The key issues the paper was concerned about was public ownership of the hydro system and the ongoing battles with the Toronto Railway Company as the end of its 30-year franchise to run many of the city’s streetcars neared its end.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

Even the women’s page turned into pro-Church propaganda.

Church received his fifth term, beating O’Neill by nearly 10,000 votes. He remained in office through 1921.

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Toronto News, January 2, 1919.

Election day was a good one for female candidates for the Toronto Board of Education, as four of the five who ran became trustees.

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The Globe, January 1, 1919.

The Globe ran an interview with the outgoing year before it disappeared for good.

news 1918-12-31 heard in rotundas of toronto's hotels

Toronto News, December 31, 1918.

The most covered party to welcome 1919 was held at the King Edward Hotel. Wonder how that meeting of the Canadian Society for the Protection of Birds went.

news 1919-01-02 how merry makers greeted dawn of the new year

Toronto News, January 2, 1919.

This would be the last New Year’s celebrations the News covered, as the paper rebranded itself as the Toronto Times in March, then folded for good in September.

tely 1919-01-02 new year's celebrations at the king eddy

Evening Telegram, January 2, 1919.

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The Globe, December 30, 1918.

The city’s Protestant ministers had plenty to say about the events of the past year, and looked forward to the momentous events they felt would come in 1919.

me 1919-01-01 new year met reverent welcome

Mail and Empire, January 1, 1919.

How people reverently celebrated New Year’s…

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Evening Telegram, January 2, 1919.

We’ll end with a hint of the year to come, with this tiny item about the distribution of “Bolshevik pamphlets” in the west end.

***

And so ends 2018 for this site. Thanks for reading and supporting my work over the year, whether it’s here or for the many clients I’ve produced material for. The major (and minor) events of 1919 will play a large role in my work for 2019, so stay tuned here and elsewhere for how those events happened, and what their long-term legacies were.

Catholic Schools: Separate But Equal Funding

Originally published on Torontoist on September 16, 2011.

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St. Paul Catholic School, No. 409 Queen Street East at Power Street, January 24, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1017.

At the upcoming rally in Queen’s Park this Sunday to support gay-straight alliances in Roman Catholic schools across Ontario, we easily imagine students holding up signs proclaiming “Equality or Bust.” Forty years ago, placards with that message were also held up by pupils, but at a mass rally at Maple Leaf Gardens to urge the provincial government to fully fund separate secondary schools beyond grade 10. The current debate about the appropriateness of providing public money for religious education is the latest manifestation of an issue that has bedevilled Ontario educators and politicians since the days of the Family Compact.

There was a time when education in Ontario was headed down a non-denominational path. Back in the 1840s when, depending on the day, the province was known as Upper Canada or Canada West, Egerton Ryerson championed a “common school” system for all students regardless of their faith. While Ryerson envisioned a system free of church influences, politics scuttled his plans. Since the Protestant minority in Lower Canada/Canada East had obtained the right to their own schools, the Catholic minority felt they merited the same treatment. By giving the minorities funding, the religious majorities in both Canadas could be satisfied for a few minutes before their next squabble.

Despite his reservations, Ryerson agreed to clauses in a series of acts beginning in 1841 that established separate schools in the colony’s educational system (Toronto’s first, St. Paul, opened within a year). Though opposition was fierce—Protestant papers imagined “popish plots” galore—the establishment of a separate school system seemed secure following the passage of the Scott Act in 1863. Even then, there was a provision that later proved annoying for rural Catholics: “no person shall be deemed a supporter of any Separate School unless he resides within three miles (in a direct line) of the Site of the School House.” Those who lived four miles away were out of luck until a Canadian Supreme Court ruling nearly a century later.

Yet few supporters of full funding quote the Commons Schools Act or Scott Act. Instead, they point to the document that created modern Canada, the British North America Act of 1867. Section 93 covered the separate school situations in Ontario and Quebec by guaranteeing the rights of those that already existed. By the 20th century, the consensus was that the laws on the books covered funding for separate schools up to grade 10. Beyond that, students either entered the public system for free or coughed up tuition fees for private schools that covered the remaining secondary school grades.

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William Davis with group from Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, 1970s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5385.

Of the attempts prior to the 1980s to secure full funding, one that came close was the Provincial Education Program campaign of the late 1960s, where the Catholic Church used leaflets, letters, public meetings, and sermons to rally the cause. While they succeeded in gaining support from the provincial Liberals and NDP, the campaign caused a backlash among many non-Catholics. While pro-funding supporters argued out of claims of fairness, opponents ranged from old-fashioned bigots to newspaper editorials similar to one in the Star which believed a fully separate school system would not promote “a tolerant and harmonious society.” Internal divisions were also apparent among Catholics: there was surprise when future cardinal Emmett Carter initially backed a proposal to move operations of London’s Catholic Central secondary school to the city’s public school board.

At a rally sponsored by a Catholic high school student association that drew an overflow crowd to Maple Leaf Gardens on October 25, 1970, Minister of Education William Davis told the audience not to “hold out any false hopes” that funding would be extended. He was as good as his word: nearly a year later, on the eve of the 1971 election campaign, Davis, now Premier, rejected the idea on grounds that it opened up the doors to a fragmented education system. He believed full funding could be “tantamount to the abandonment of the secondary and post-secondary educational system as it exists today, in which the education of the student, while it reflects the ethical and spiritual values of the community, and while teaching respect and tolerance for all religions and creeds, remains, nonetheless, non-denominational and non-sectarian in character.” Though the Liberals and NDP campaigned in support of full funding, Davis’s Progressive Conservatives won the election. Case closed.

Or was it?

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Globe and Mail, June 13, 1984.

Flash forward to the end of Davis’s tenure. On June 12, 1984, he shocked Queen’s Park by announcing that as of September 1985, starting with one grade per year, full funding would be extended to separate secondary schools. Indicating that he hoped the move would heal “a long and heartfelt controversy,” Davis received a standing ovation from all parties in the legislature. Families would no longer have to pay up to $1,100 a year in tuition to send their kids to high schools that would no longer be private, while officials in cities like Toronto looked forward to easing their overcrowded conditions with new facilities. Some concessions were forced onto separate school boards: they would have to accept any students and, over the next 10 years, had to agree to hire any non-Catholic teachers laid off from the public system due to shifting enrolments.

There was backlash among traditional Protestant Tory supporters, who couldn’t believe what Davis had dropped on them. This betrayal was among the factors that helped sink the Big Blue Machine in the wake of the 1985 election, which saw several anti–full funding candidates run for office. New Premier Frank Miller indicated he would delay the implementation of funding, but his fatally small minority government had no chance to act. Under David Peterson’s Liberals, full funding rolled out as intended and sparked turmoil in some communities as public schools were closed or threatened with closure.

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Globe and Mail, June 12, 1985.

Yet Ontario’s publicly funded separate school system was beginning to seem out of step with actions elsewhere. Denominational schools went by the wayside in Newfoundland and Quebec in the late 1990s. The United Nations human rights committee declared full funding discriminatory in 1999. There was also the question of why, beyond historical and political reasons, Catholics merited a school system while other faiths didn’t. The status quo rolled along until the provincial election campaign of 2007, when Progressive Conservative leader John Tory proposed extending funds to other religions. The success of Tory’s proposal among the public is one of the reasons we’re covering Tim Hudak during the current election.

Where does the full funding issue go from here? The refusal of bodies like the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board to heed provincial guidelines on equity and inclusivity in relation to gay students may satisfy staunch adherents of the faith, but such demonstrations of bullying damages their public image—and much more seriously, their credibility in the eyes of many Ontarians. Apart from the Greens, who back one secular system, the major parties contesting the current election are barely rocking the boat in terms of suggesting changes to the funding formula or addressing how to confront Catholic boards on their discriminatory actions. All that’s certain is that the debate over public funding has hardly been settled by the legislation that was supposed to do just that.

Additional material from History of Separate Schools of Ontario and Minority Report 1950 by E.F Henderson, Arthur Kelly, J.M. Pigott, Henri Saint-Jacques (Toronto: English Catholic Education Association of Ontario, 1950), Catholic Education and Politics in Upper Canada by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1955), Catholic Education and Politics in Ontario Volume III by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario, 1986), and the following newspapers: the June 13, 1984 edition of the Globe and Mail; the February 10, 1968, October 26, 1970, September 1, 1971, June 13, 1984, and June 3, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star;and the October 26, 1970 edition of the Telegram.