Shaping Toronto: Chinatowns

Originally published on Torontoist on February 4, 2016.

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Marking the end of the Second World War in Chinatown, August 12, 1945 (two days before the official declaration was signed). City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98337.

A glance at the listing for Adelaide Street East in the 1878 city directory shows a mix of Anglo-sounding businessmen whose trades range from contracting to insurance. The name at number 9 stands out: Sam Ching & Co, Chinese laundry. Mr. Ching’s presence was a cultural milestone, as he was the first recorded Chinese resident of Toronto.

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Page from the 1878 city directory listing Sam Ching’s business at 9 Adelaide Street East.

Since Ching’s era, Toronto has included several Chinatowns, a term which has evolved from its original negative connotation. As Library and Archives Canada observes, “’Chinatown’ was coined in the 19th century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full of vice, and peopled by an inferior race.” That proper Torontonians of the early 20th century viewed the city’s small Chinese population—just over 1,000 in 1910—as lesser beings puts it mildly.

Both the respectable and gutter press hyped up the “yellow peril,” editorializing on how the eastern mindset was alien to western concepts of democracy and good citizenship, and how the Chinese would corrupt morals via gambling and opium. Efforts to curb their presence in the laundry and restaurant trades ranged from licensing fees to unsuccessful attempts by City Council to deny business licenses. Paranoia led to provincial legislation preventing Chinese-owned businesses from hiring white women, lest they be sold into white slavery. The Rosedale Ratepayers Association wanted to keep Chinese laundries out of their neighbourhood, adding them to the long list of things people don’t want in Rosedale.

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100-110 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 178.

While there had been small clusters of Chinese along Queen Street (one at George, another at York), by the end of the First World War a stable community established itself in The Ward, the neighbourhood west of Old City Hall which, despite its great poverty, had welcomed numerous immigrant communities. Elizabeth Street between Queen and Dundas served as this Chinatown’s spine, lined with businesses, restaurants, and societies. It mostly served single men, thanks to a series of harsh immigration measures preventing families from joining them. These laws escalated from head taxes to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which all but banned entry to Canada for two decades.

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56-48 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 171.

Over that time, the “almond-eyed Celestials,” as the Globe dubbed Chinese residents during the early 1920s, endured frequent police raids on gambling houses, a riot, and periodic rumours of imminent tong wars. If anything, the gambling dens offered lonely people social space, work, and shelter during hard times. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, the Chinese found Chinatown a refuge they felt accepted in.

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Globe and Mail, October 14, 1948.

Major changes came after the Second World War. The end of the Chinese Immigration Act led to a slow reunion of families. Provincial liquor law reforms allowing cocktail bars provoked a restaurant boom in Chinatown. Locals and tourists dined at Kwong ChowLichee GardenNanking TavernSai Woo, and other eateries which benefitted from both the new booze rules and increasing interest in Chinese-Canadian cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, June 17, 1969.

There were also new threats. The City acquired properties at the southern end of Chinatown to build the current City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By 1967, the city’s development commissioner recommended that the remaining buildings be replaced by municipal structures. Lead by the likes of Kwong Chow owner and community activist Jean Lumb, the Save Chinatown committee fought to preserve what was left. Lumb presented her arguments to the Star:

One reason why we feel there should always be a Chinatown in a city the size of Toronto is simply that there has been one, and to have it lost would be strongly felt. Its existence has its effects on people, especially as long as there are new Chinese immigrants coming every year. We should have a spot for them to start from, a place where they can be among their own people, hear their own language spoken. The Chinese people are quiet and reserved; it takes them longer than many other immigrants to make friends, to get used to new ways.

Some people say a Chinatown encourages ghettos and this is a reason why it shouldn’t be, but that’s not so. It just gives the people a sense of belonging. It’s a nice environment for them until they’re ready to go on their way more and fit into the Canadian community.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971.

After a series of deputations in 1969, City Council decided to keep what was now known as Old Chinatown. Efforts to keep the neighbourhood alive during the 1970s included Dragon Mall (a pedestrianized Elizabeth Street, à la the Yonge Street Mall) and earning recognition as a tourist destination. Over time, large scale development projects crept in and the remaining Chinese businesses closed. By the 21st century little remained beyond historical plaques marking where the neighbourhood had been.

Meanwhile, the gradual loosening of immigration rules during the 1960s prompted an influx of arrivals, especially from Hong Kong. As the old Chinatown shrank, a new one grew to the west along Dundas and Spadina, replacing the Jewish community which was moving north. By the late 1970s this area was recognized as downtown’s primary Chinatown, marked with cultural motifs and Chinese-language street signs.

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Corner of Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street East, sometime between 1975 and 1988. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 383, Item 1.

For those who found Spadina too pricey or touristy, there was Chinatown East, which emerged at Broadview and Gerrard. Starting with the opening of Charlie’s Meat in 1971, the neighbourhood’s affordability attracted businesses which served an increasing number of migrants from mainland China and Vietnam.

By the mid-1980s, new Chinatowns developed in the suburbs. The influx of new businesses and residents revealed that fears of the “yellow peril” were far from dead. Agincourt became a flashpoint in 1984, as a wave of immigrants from Hong Kong (on the move as the end of the British lease on the colony in 1997 loomed) arrived. Some longtime residents were alarmed by the new faces around them. “I don’t want to be biased or prejudiced but I don’t think they should be allowed to come into a neighbourhood and take over with such force,” 30-year resident Mildred Jackson told the Star. A heated community meeting ostensibly about parking issues related to the recently-opened Dragon Centre and two other plazas at Sheppard Avenue and Glen Watford Drive degenerated into jeers and racist remarks. The tone may have been set by the meeting’s chair, who referred to the “rape of our community” and that “we should not actively encourage any group to cling together as an enclave” (he later wrote the Star to protest that his remarks were taken out of context). Flyers distributed to homes asked for tougher immigration policies, alleging links between new arrivals and crimes across the Pacific.

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Dragon Centre, Agincourt, February 2016.

Backlash against emerging Chinese business and commercial areas continued over the next decade as new enclaves emerged in Markham and Richmond Hill. But Agincourt also pointed the way to the nature of later areas, from large restaurants to Asian-themed shopping centres like Pacific Mall.

In a book profiling Canadian Chinatowns, Paul Yee summarized how the role of these neighbourhoods changed from a necessary presence to ensure the community’s safety to being woven into the urban fabric.

Some Chinese saw old Chinatowns as living monuments to a turbulent history and to the fragility of equality. Others saw them as sites where Chinese culture was preserved and shared. Both these views supported the building of cultural facilities there. In a sense, old and new Chinatowns bridged the historical divide between Chinese Canadians, because more and more people appreciated Chinatowns’ different functions and freely visited them.

Additional material from The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011); Chinatown by Paul Yee (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2005); the July 6, 1922 edition of the Globe; and the March 8, 1969, May 14 1984, and May 29, 1984 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, October 11, 1907.

The fear of the “yellow peril” in action – one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

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The Globe, July 6, 1922.

A profile of Chinatown, which tosses off a “gee, aren’t they cute?” vibe.

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Chinese victory celebrations, parade on Elizabeth Street, August 26, 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98604.

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

The article from which Jean Lumb’s defense of maintaining a Chinatown was quoted from.

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Toronto Star, August 27, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

An early 1970s look at Old Chinatown, which discusses some of the remaining businesses, the Dragon Mall pedestrian zone, and several recipes inspired by local grocers.

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Globe and Mail, June 27, 1975.

One of the first major projects as Spadina became the heart of downtown’s Chinatown was China Court, which opened in August 1976. Within a decade, it was razed for the cold concrete of Chinatown Centre.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1976. Click on image for larger version.

The building at 346 Spadina Avenue has gone through numerous incarnations, from the Labor Lyceum, to a series of Asian restaurants beginning with Yen Pin Place.

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Toronto Star, May 29, 1984.

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Toronto Star, June 1, 1984.

The Star’s coverage of a testy meeting in Agincourt, and reaction from readers. The paper also published an editorial criticizing attendees for their remarks, observing that the parking issue was one Scarborough’s city council was attempting to fix.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1984.

A few weeks later, meeting chairman Dr. Douglas Hood defended his actions, claiming that coverage was a smear job which took several remarks out of context. Having covered community meetings over the years where the yahoos came out in full force, and reading about similar meetings in the 905 belt a decade later, I’m tempted to lean toward the paper’s interpretation of events.

From Dingman’s Hall to Jilly’s

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2014.

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Broadview Hotel, circa 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 518. 

When it opened nearly 125 years ago, the landmark building at the northwest corner of Queen and Broadview was a community gathering spot. Fraternal brotherhoods, athletic clubs, and other local organizations met there. Political candidates stumped for east-end votes. Music lovers enjoyed the occasional concert. We suspect that dances were held, though few would have involved poles or the intentional removal of clothing.

It’s possible that some or all of these activities could return to the Broadview Hotel now that the current home of Jilly’s strip club has been sold to Streetcar Developments. If, as the new owner has indicated, condos aren’t part of the building’s future, it might make sense to cater to a wide range of interests.

The site was built for $25,000 in 1891 by soap manufacturer Archibald Dingman. The Romanesque Revival building, originally dubbed Dingman’s Hall, was the tallest on the east side of the Don River. In its early years, it featured a the Canadian Bank of Commerce branch on the ground floor, professional offices on middle floors, and grand halls on the upper levels. From the start, politicians used it for community meetings or campaign stops—in July 1891, for example, Mayor Edward Clarke convened a meeting to discuss neighbourhood concerns regarding pollution problems in Ashbridge’s Marsh (part of which became the modern Port Lands).

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Looking north up Broadview Avenue from Queen Street East, June 26, 1918. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 750.

For the next 15 years, Dingman’s Hall was a major social gathering spot for the city’s growing east end. Dingman was an absentee landlord during the last few years of his ownership, as he’d decided to pursue his fortunes in the District of Alberta in the Northwest Territories. He ran a natural gas firm which lit Calgary’s streets, and saw his name bestowed on Alberta’s first commercial oil well in 1914.

Dingman sold the property in 1906 to T.J. Elward, proprietor of a hotel near the St. Lawrence Market. Elward’s petitions to transfer his liquor licence and transform Dingman’s Hall into a hotel were opposed by local teetotallers and the Globe, which felt that the three taverns already in the area should be sufficient. In 1907, though, the plan was resubmitted to the City’s licensing department and approved—and the building was soon renamed the Broadview Hotel.

While groups like local athletic clubs continued to meet there, in some ways the building’s downward slide had already begun. Reports of ownership squabbles made it into the papers, as did charges during the mid-1920s that it sold beer that was stronger than advertised. The name evolved over the years: Broadview Hotel, Lincoln Hotel, Broadview House, New Broadview House, etc. By the time the building was purchased by Harold Kamin for under $2 million in 1986, the main floor housed a strip club.

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During the 1930s, the site was known as the Lincoln Hotel. Its neighbour was the Teck Theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 641.

Jilly’s earned notoriety for its loud and public promise of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, but it wasn’t always the dancers who drew attention. Local animal activists were horrified in December 1991 by the “Jane Jones Exotic Circus.” Ms. Jones’s striptease routines were accompanied by a boa constrictor, a python, and a 450-pound defanged Siberian tiger named Qedesh. “She brings out the animal and the tiger just lies there on the stage,” activist Liz White told the Star. “She takes off most of her clothes and kind of lies all over the tiger while a male commentator talks about how this is an endangered species. It’s unreal.” Jilly’s staff noted Qedesh was “just a pussycat.” The complaints reached city council, spurring debate on outlawing the display and ownership of wild animals.

As faded west-end hotels like the Drake and Gladstone revived in the mid-2000s, speculation about the future of the Broadview increased. Drake owner Jeff Stober fended off rumours he was interested in the property. Kamin admitted to speaking with condo developers and architects, but, as he told the National Post in 2006, “I’m at the stage in my life where I don’t want any other problems.” Articles focused on its gritty nature and the fact that it, as well as being a strip club, was home to a number of low-income tenants.

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Broadview House, July 11, 1977. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 7, Item 134.

A brief closure in November 2013 for renovations renewed interest in the Broadview’s future. Councillor Paula Fletcher moved a motion at Toronto and East York Community Council to assess the possibility of a heritage designation. (The site was listed in 1975.) Yet the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrouwer felt secure that Jilly’s would serve patrons for years to come: “As long as I live, Toronto will never again grant a licence to a strip club. Grandfathered strip clubs cling jealously to their status.”

The building’s importance may have been summed up best by architect Angus Skene a decade ago: “What is important is that the building still stands.” And as he said more generally of buildings with colourful pasts: “They’re more interesting when they’re debauched, proving that, despite where you start in life, you never know what your future holds.”

Additional material from the July 6, 1891, and May 10, 1907 editions of the Globe; the December 19, 1991 edition of the Globe and Mail; the June 16, 2006 and November 27, 2013 editions of the National Post; and the January 4, 2004 edition of the Toronto Star.

Linc at Home in Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on October 20, 2012.

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From an early age, Lincoln Alexander stood up for himself. Growing up in the east end of Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s, he endured a steady stream of insults directed at his skin colour. To survive he had to be a fighter, using both his brain and his fists as weapons.

The battles Alexander, who died yesterday at the age of 90, endured during his formative years shaped him into a man who set numerous milestones: first black MP (1968), first black federal cabinet minister (1979), and first black lieutenant-governor of Ontario (1985). Not to mention his roles as an advocate, chancellor of the University of Guelph, and one of the men who caught Pierre Trudeau dropping an f-bomb on Parliament Hill.

Born on January 21, 1922, Alexander was the son of West Indian immigrants whom he considered did well financially given the limited roles they could play in society. His father, Lincoln Sr., had little hope of pursuing a carpentry career and became a railway porter. His mother, Mae Rose, was a maid who risked German U-boat attacks during her journey from Jamaica to Canada during the First World War. The family lived at 29 Draper Street when Alexander was born, then moved several times before settling on Chatham Avenue near Jones and Danforth.

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Earl Grey Public School on Jones Avenue, which Lincoln Alexander attended during the late 1920s and early 1930s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 263.

Often the only black student in his classes, Alexander was constantly taunted. The result was many childhood slugfests to defend himself. “I felt I had to make it clear that I would not accept being called any of those insulting names—nigger, coon, whatever,” he later noted. “If those issuing the insults couldn’t accept that, I had to resort to duking it out, and I can recall throwing the first punch.” The fights followed him to Riverdale Collegiate, where his opponents didn’t wise up. “The results of these altercations were always the same: I’d win because no one else could fight like me.” With kids he got along with, Alexander enjoyed activities like racing homemade go-karts around the neighborhood and bobsledding in Riverdale Park.

Amid these fights, Alexander’s mother urged him to work hard on his studies to improve his prospects and prove his worth to others. He later used one of her sayings, “go to school, you’re a little black boy,” as the title of his autobiography. His father encouraged the value of getting along with others, using the healthy tips he received for providing quality service on the trains as a model.

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Sledding in Riverdale Park, December 27, 1935. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 1797.

The Alexander family fell apart in the mid-1930s after his mother tired of his father’s infidelities. After briefly staying with his father, Alexander moved to Harlem to join his mother, where he gained an appreciation of the differences of how blacks were treated on the other side of the border. “There was no city in Canada to compare with Harlem before the Second World War,” he later reflected. “It was gruelling and grinding, it eroded your humanity, and it consumed your dignity. From that sense of personal emptiness, you begin to develop admiration for people who fight their way through that and have learned to hold their heads high.”

His mother urged him to return to Canada following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, so that he could enlist to fight against Hitler. He moved back in with his father, who did not want Alexander to admit their relationship in front of the older man’s female companions. Despite some tensions, Alexander defended his father after he was beaten up at a Spadina Avenue watering hole for porters. He threatened to come after anyone with a switchblade if they ever touched his father again.

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Front page of Toronto Star announcing Lincoln Alexander’s appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, September 5, 1985.

Soon after returning to Canada, Alexander fell for Hamilton native Yvonne Harrison. He accepted a machine operator job at a munitions plant in Hamilton to “be in a better position to woo her.” It was a smart move—after a stint with the RCAF, Alexander studied at McMaster University, established a law career in Steeltown, built a political career, and enjoyed a marriage that lasted over half-a-century.

Additional material from “Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy” by Lincoln Alexander with Herb Shoveller (Toronto: Dundurn, 2010).

The War is Over

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 12, 2011.

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Family reads Armistice Day headlines, November 11, 1918. Pictured left to right: Mrs. J. Fraser, Jos. Fraser Jr., Miss Ethel James, Frank James, and Norman James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 892.

2:50 a.m., November 11, 1918, the office of the Telegram newspaper on Melinda Street. An early morning full of anticipation as workers there and at Toronto’s five other daily newspapers waited for word sometime during the day that an armistice ending the First World War would be signed.

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Within 20 minutes of the wire notice, special editions of the Telegram and the other papers hit the streets of the city, ready for citizens roused from their slumber by church bells, fire sirens, factory whistles and other loud noisemakers. The war was over and, as the News noted, “Toronto went mad with glory.”

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The News, November 11, 1918.

The city needed to let loose after a recent spell of bad news. The influenza pandemic that ravaged the world hit Toronto hard in October 1918. Companies like Bell Telephone lost up to a quarter of their staff due to illness or care giving. Churches, entertainment facilities, libraries, and schools were closed, public gatherings were curtailed, and visitors were not allowed in hospitals. During the pandemic’s peak in mid-October, an average of 50 people a day succumbed to the flu, which ultimately killed around 1,300 Torontonians that month. Combine this with daily reports of the mounting casualties during the final month of battle in Europe and it’s easy to see how Toronto was ready to party.

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The Telegram, November 12, 1918.

News of the armistice spread quickly throughout the city. In the east end, residents along Bain Avenue were awakened around 3:40 a.m. by a trumpeter. Half-a-dozen windows opened and an equal number of heads stuck out, asking each other what was going on. “The armistice is signed,” somebody shouted. “The war is over—no fake this time!” Within 10 minutes, most homes in South Riverdale were lit up and pyjama-clad neighbours congratulated each other on the good news. By 4 a.m., as the News reported, “the streets, as a rule deserted and silent at the hour of coming dawn, were filled with quick-marshalled companies of girls and boys, all marching with waving flags and all equipped for carnival.” Traffic jams of cars formed as some revellers decided to head downtown.

The Telegram sent a car around the city to survey how celebrations were breaking out. Everywhere they found scenes similar to those in South Riverdale: people on the streets dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, clanging tin cans, and gathering in their nightclothes and raincoats around impromptu sidewalk bonfires. Streetcars were so packed that passengers sat on the roof.

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Streetcar on Spadina Crescent, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7110.

By dawn, streetcar service, apart from a few suburban routes, ground to a halt as conductors and operators abandoned their vehicles to join the festivities. Any driver who attempted to continue to head into the city was met with opposition by their fellow employees, as one determined Queen streetcar operator learned. Shortly after setting out on an eastbound course from Roncesvalles, he encountered a procession of 100 fellow Toronto Railway Company workers led by a Highland piper. When he failed to stop, the procession pulled off the streetcar’s pole and smashed its windows. Without streetcars, people wishing to head downtown jumped onto any automobile—the Telegram reported seeing as many as 28 people sitting in and hanging off one car.

Work was hardly on anyone’s mind that day. Few went to the office, and those who did didn’t stay long. City workers were told to take the day off. Bankers were obliged to stay on the job, but the only ticker tape flowing out of most financial institutions headed out windows onto the streets below. Courts were in session, but Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford gave clemency to anyone up on charges of drunkenness, gambling, speeding, or other minor offences. “This is not a day for punishment,” Kingsford told those assembled in police court. “It is a day for amnesty and pardon.”

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Girl celebrating Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 905.

Out in the streets, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. People draped in Red Ensigns, Union Jacks, and other Allied flags were among those who descended by the thousands onto Yonge Street and other crowded downtown arteries. Some descriptions paint a scene similar to Church Street on Halloween with revellers, in the words of the Mail and Empire, “bedecked themselves in the most grotesque costumes with false and painted faces.” One person dressed as the recently-abdicated German emperor wore a sign which read “I am the Kaiser, kick me.” Knowing people might deliver four years of pent-up frustration against him, the man padded his posterior to soften any swift kicks. Hopefully he wasn’t mistaken for the numerous effigies of the Kaiser burned with glee across the city.

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Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 891.

Celebrants along Yonge Street between Shuter and King found themselves in a war zone. The Mail and Empire reported that “for several hours the main thoroughfare presented the appearance of a region that had been subjected to a gas attack, because of the battle of talcum powder by the boys and girls who waged it with little relaxation.” Anyone who objected to being doused in powder was, with the approval of bystanders, showered with a double dose. Despite a few people who were hit square in the eye, people were generally amused by the battle or rolled with it. They had little choice—according to the News: “the crowds were so dense that escape was impossible, and the victims soon purchased and used supplies of their own.” Police directing traffic took the powder showers in stride, even if they “looked more like millers than officers of the law.”

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Float representing “In Flanders Field” at Victory Loan Parade, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1583, Item 161.

Officially sanctioned ceremonies began at noon on the steps of City Hall (now Old City Hall), where Mayor Tommy Church issued a proclamation. Following that was a previously scheduled Victory Loan parade that became a general celebration. Over 200,000 lined the route along University, Queen, Simcoe, King, Jarvis, Carlton, and College to watch the procession of soldiers and bond-promoting floats. Wounded hospital patients were chauffeured in automobiles. Airplanes dropped pamphlets urging spectators to “lend” to the loan drive. Music was provided by groups ranging from ragtag marching bands to the United States Navy Band led by, in possibly his only personal appearance in Toronto, John Philip Sousa. Of the floats, the most poignant was a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The women’s page of the News described the scene portrayed: “There was the grass of the fields, the vivid scarlet poppies and the charred crosses of the men who had fallen. A man in khaki standing looking down at the crosses carried out the picture in its last detail.” When the parade returned to its starting point at Queen’s Park, it was followed by a religious service.

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John Philip Sousa, University Avenue, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2576.

The partying continued well into the night. Sousa conducted a concert at Queen’s Park. Dances were held at the King Edward Hotel and other venues across the city. Bonfires burned on, including a large one fuelled by old wagons across from the Albert Britnell bookstore at Yonge and Bloor. A parade through Chinatown (then centred around Dundas and Elizabeth) saw a truck carrying smiling deities wielding gongs. The Star, then based on King Street, ran movies and bulletins on the side of a neighbouring building. Amid the jovial spirit, the News noted that some members of the crowd remembered the costs of the battle just ended: “Mingling with the wild abandon of youthful rejoicing was the note of sadness among those who recalled all too vividly the poignant sacrifice of war, and here and there in the swirling, gleeful crowds were lonely individuals who looked at the people but saw a grave in Flanders.”

The next day, tired Torontonians dragged themselves back to work and settled back into routine. The city estimated clean-up would cost $1,000. Little damage was done, and few arrests were made during the celebrations (it seemed even pickpockets had taken the day off). As the week unfolded, the Victory Loan drive wrapped up and the first postwar contingents of veterans returned home. The uncertainties of what peacetime would hold were pushed aside as the afterglow of the armistice celebrations lingered on.

Additional material from Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War by Ian Hugh Maclean Miller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002) and the following newspapers: the November 12, 1918 edition of the Globe; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Mail and Empire; the November 11, 1918 and November 12, 1918 editions of the News; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Toronto Star; and the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This subject was also covered in an earlier installment of Vintage Toronto Ads, originally published on November 11, 2008.

Vintage Ad #653: Armistice Day, 1918

The Globe, November 11, 1918.

November 11, 1918: eager Torontonians, having seen several days of stories in the local dailies that the end of World War I was imminent, waited for word from Europe of the armistice that would bring loved ones home. The newspapers stayed close to their wires to put the presses into motion once the armistice was official. The Telegram described the wait:

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Nicol received the wire at 2:50 a.m. The first edition of the Telegram hit the streets 20 minutes later. The paper used their speediness to take a potshot at the Star, who, “first in fake but last in reliability, put in a tardy appearance with the same news, accompanied by the morning papers.” Eaton’s used their regular advertising space to publish the official announcement and a blessing.

Vintage Ad #657: Drink to the Health of the Allies!

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

O’Keefe’s ad may have appealed to one group who welcomed the armistice, local drunks. The Telegram reported that inebriates around the city were “happy as larks” that not only was the war over, but that the city magistrate had declared a one-day amnesty on charges of public drunkenness, gambling, speeding, and other minor offences. The magistrate’s explanation for his actions? “We are doing it for our country.”

Vintage Ad #655: My Boy

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

Though the war was over, ads for Victory Bonds were published that day. Pitches soon switched from helping Canadians fight on to aiding returning soldiers and the citizens of countries devastated by the conflict. The city declared a half-day holiday for a bond drive, which quickly turned into a general celebration.

Additional material from the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.