203 Yonge Street (Scholes Hotel/Colonial Tavern)

This story was originally published online as a “Ghost City” column by The Grid on May 21, 2013.

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Illustration of John Francis Scholes, as it appeared in the March 25, 1871 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News.

There were few sports John Francis Scholes tackled that he didn’t master. The Irish-born, Toronto-reared athlete racked up championship titles in boxing, rowing, and snowshoeing during the Victorian era. His first trophy, earned during a 220-yard hurdle race in 1869, was proudly displayed in the Yonge Street hotel that eventually bore his family’s name.

Scholes entered the hospitality business around 1880, opening a bar and hotel at 185 Yonge St. He moved his business a few doors north to 203 Yonge St. in the late 1890s, christening it the Athlete Hotel. Scholes used it as a base to mentor local athletes, including his sons John (who inherited his amateur boxing skills) and Lou (a champion rower). Scholes’ tough nature carried him through to his end—when doctors indicated a stomach ailment was terminal, he insisted on dying at the Athlete Hotel, where he entertained friends and former competitors.

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The Scholes Hotel, circa 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 537.

Following Scholes’ death in March 1918, the hotel stayed in family hands and adopted their name. Ads for the Scholes’ Hotel offered typical hospitality promises—“good food, cleanliness, and efficient service.” Less impressed were provincial liquor officials, who suspended the hotel’s booze license in May 1946 for overcrowding and the heinous crime of permitting unaccompanied men to enter the women’s beverage room. (At this time, men and women legally drank in separate rooms.)

The business was sold around this time. The new ownership, Mike Lawrence, Goody Lichtenberg and Harvey Lichtenberg, renamed it the Colonial Tavern. They secured the second cocktail lounge licence along Yonge Street (after the Silver Rail) and began booking jazz acts. Their first performer showed their enlightened attitude: pianist Cy McLean, who had led the first all-black jazz band in Ontario.

Disaster struck on September 27, 1948. Around 8:10 p.m., a refrigerator explosion blew out a wall and sent four men to hospital. “I just remember reaching for my beer when I went sailing across the table top and toward the bar,” patron Douglas Wilson told the Star. “A seven-foot paneled door landed right beside me.” Refrigeration at the Colonial was cursed: Faulty wiring led to a fire on July 24, 1960 that required a year-long reconstruction effort.

Amid these disasters, the Colonial became one of Toronto’s finest jazz joints. Headliners spanned the jazz spectrum, including Chet Baker, Sidney Bechet, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, and Sarah Vaughan. Not all patrons found the surroundings enticing. “Nobody ever called it an ideal place to hear music,” Robert Fulford grumbled in the Star in 1987. “The ceiling was low, the food bad, the waitresses surly, the patrons sometimes loudly drunk. The room was a tunnel-like hall with a square bulge in the middle. If you sat in front of the bandstand the musicians seemed too loud; if you sat to left or right of them you had the sense of over-hearing rather than hearing the music. There were no good tables at the Colonial, only less bad tables.” Yet Fulford admitted that because of the quality of the music, “none of this mattered.”

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The Colonial Tavern in the 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 123.

The Colonial benefitted from the Yonge Street Mall pedestrian-zone experiment of the early 1970s. Goody Lichtenberg was stunned at how packed his new patio was when Yonge was closed off in May 1971. “If I don’t look excited,” he told the Star, “it’s only because I’m dead beat.” Demand forced Lichtenberg to gather food from another restaurant. Within a week, he hired 20 part-time employees and found they weren’t enough.

Inside, the entertainment line-up changed through the 1970s. Jazz performers faded as the upstairs room gradually converted into a discotheque. A basement venue—whose names ranged from the unfortunate Meet Market to the Colonial Underground—aimed for a younger crowd through local acts like Rough Trade and the Viletones. Upstairs and downstairs didn’t always mix—when bluesman Long John Baldry sent staff downstairs to tell the Diodes to turn it down so that he could play an acoustic set, bouncers charged at the punks with pool cues.

After the Lichtenbergs sold the venue in the late 1970s, the Colonial descended into the general sleaziness of Yonge Street during that era. Ads for the “Bump and Grind Revue” in 1978 promised a combination of rock bands and “exotic Black Bottom serving maidens.” The venue’s strip-club phase ran into trouble when a dancer was convicted for public nudity. City regulations enforcing g-strings were blamed for chipping away at business. Several attempts were made to return to jazz programming, but none took.

In 1982, the City purchased the property. It intended to use it as a connecting link between Massey Hall and the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres to create a mini-Lincoln Center-style entertainment complex. Despite protests from the local jazz community, City Council approved plans to demolish the Colonial in 1987 and replace it with a parkette.

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Site of the Colonial Tavern, post-demolition, 1987. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 152.

The following year, the Star’s Christopher Hume laughed at the notion the tiny park would improve its stretch of Yonge Street, viewing it as a hole in the streetscape. “This is one of the few stretches of Yonge where there are significant numbers of historical buildings left,” Hume observed. “It doesn’t make sense to mess it up for the sake of creating an ‘open’ space hardly anyone will use.”

Bracketed by the ghosts of the old banks surrounding it, the former site of the Colonial awaits its next incarnation as part of the Massey Tower condo development.

Sources: Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk and Beyond 1977-1981 by Liz Worth (Montreal: Bongo Beat, 2010), the January 11, 1937, October 25, 1940, and July 13, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the March 5, 1918, May 6, 1946, September 28, 1948, July 25, 1960, June 10, 1961, May 31, 1971, February 20, 1979, April 3, 1987, May 9, 1987, and September 24, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

POSTSCRIPT

The following comment was left on the original post by Bonnie Lawrence Shear on May 30, 2013, in reference to the original piece, which did not mention her father’s role in the Colonial. I admit the first sentence is the kind that fuels my anxiety and perfectionist impulses–but none of the following information emerged over the course of my initial research. When under deadline pressure, you do your best, but the final piece won’t always be perfect in everyone’s eyes.

The authors lack of anything resembling the facts is staggering. My father, Mike Lawrence, bought Scholes Hotel around 1945. I was a small child then but I believe the latest was 1946. He later took in my uncles (the Lichtenbergs) as minority partners, Harvey at the beginning, and Goody a couple of years later. Neither was involved in the purchase.While Goody was in charge of booking the acts, and Harvey in charge of day to day operations, my father was the brains behind the Colonial’s success.My father came from an extremely poor family, graduated as an engineer, but because he was Jewish, could not work as an engineer and had to go into business for himself. He was brilliant and a real risk taker.He went on to many other business and other achievements.

Although it probably had a lot of the faults Fulford talks about, it also was a great success, supported 3 families, and was beloved by many.

The Eaton Centre, and my father’s many illnesses in the 70′s before he died did lead to it’s eventual demise. The building of The Eaton Centre meant that the main thoroughfare on Yonge Street was no longer the street, but pedestrian traffic was transferred to inside the mall, especially in Toronto’s harsh weather.The Colonial’s demise began with the building of the Eaton Centre.

Our family did not sell it to the city, but to an interim purchaser who reneged on the contract. The city eventually took over the property.

So many fond memories, and some sad and poignant ones too.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, November 21, 1877.

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The Globe, March 5, 1918.

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Toronto Star, March 5, 1918.

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Globe and Mail, October 25, 1940.

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Toronto Star, December 23, 1947.

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Toronto Star, September 29, 1948.

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Toronto Star, June 10, 1961.

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Globe and Mail, January 16, 1984. While working on updating this piece, Tyner’s death was announced

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Toronto Star, May 9, 1987.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Byrds and Falcons

Originally published on Torontoist on February 12, 2013.

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Left: Toronto Star, May 28, 1966. Right: The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

Joe Peters, president of the Toronto Italia Falcons soccer club, had a brilliant idea to raise the profile of the nascent professional sport among the city’s youth in the spring of 1966: marry a match to a rock concert. “We are introducing young people to soccer under conditions they understand,” he told the Telegram. To lure teens into Varsity Stadium for “Rock ‘n Soccer” on June 22, 1966, he booked one of the most controversial bands of the moment to headline.

It had been a rocky year for the Byrds. Singer Gene Clark departed the group in February 1966, because of a mixture of stress, fear of flying, and dissent within the band. Their next single, “Eight Miles High,” was banned by radio stations across North America because of suspected drug content. In Toronto, 1050 CHUM played the song for a week before station manager Allan Slaight pulled it “the minute we heard what it was supposed to refer to.”

The Star’s Robert Fulford interviewed students at Wilson Heights Junior High for their perspective on the lyrical content of “Eight Miles High” and similarly controversial songs. Fulford wasn’t convinced the Byrds depicted a drug trip, noting that “only in the vagueness, the sense of dislocation, can you find any real hint of such an experience.” One student thought it was about the serenity of being up in the sky, while another thought it described how the singer felt while being with his girlfriend. When informed the song was banned, one girl asked “what do they think they’re trying to hide from us?”

(Among the students interviewed was future Fashion Television host Jeanne Beker. While she didn’t comment about the Byrds, she guessed that the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” evoked the concepts of “woman is the world and the rain is just the hate falling on the world.”)

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Toronto Star, June 18, 1966, using an outdated publicity shot (Gene Clark, departed since February 1966, is on the right).

The mixture of rock and soccer didn’t go smoothly at what the Globe and Mail’s John Macfarlane dubbed “Toronto’s first op-pop-soc-hop.” Around 3,000 teens showed up, less than half the audience organizers required to break even. The evening began with a trio of local acts, followed by a match pitting the Falcons against the Hamilton Primos. Overheard in the stands: “What are those squares doing out there kicking a rubber ball around?” Kids bored by the game may have perked up during the halftime go-go dancing spectacular.

After the Falcons earned a 3–0 victory, the audience anxiously awaited the arrival of the Byrds. CHUM DJ Bob McAdorey urged the crowd to “spread out and sit on the natural seat God gave you” before the band performed. While 30 police officers threatened to send excited girls “back to Yorkville” if they didn’t move away from the stage, the band played a half-hour set. “No one will ever know whether they were good, bad, or indifferent,” Macfarlane observed. “At times it was difficult to tell what they were playing above the screams of the crowd.” Star reviewer Douglas Hughes felt “the affair had all the most depressing characteristics of a mass outdoor funeral,” and structured his report in such a manner.

On his way out of the money-losing concert, Hughes overheard a girl suggest to a boy that they head to Yorkville to see “some groups up there that really swing.” He dismissed the idea. Hughes didn’t blame him, as there was “no point in risking another funeral.”

Additional material from the June 23, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 18, 1966 and June 23, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 2, 1966 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

tely 66-06-02 byrds preview The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

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Toronto Star, June 18, 1966.

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Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

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The view from the sports page. Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

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Another sports-page take. Toronto Star, June 23, 1966.

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This profile of the Supremes by Peter Gzowski was on the same page of the Star as Fulford’s piece. 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Bobby Orr’s Pizza Weekend

Originally published on Torontoist on October 4, 2011.

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Don Mills Mirror, October 13, 1971.

If Tim Horton could run a donut shop, why couldn’t Bobby Orr lend his name to a pizzeria?

Orr may have skated into the pizza business to fend off others hoping to utilize his name in the restaurant business. Around the time the first pizzas were delivered in 1970, Orr’s representatives sent lawyers after other restaurateurs hoping to cash in on the Bruins star’s fame, such as two New Hampshire gentlemen who dreamed of opening Bobby Orr’s Eating Place locations throughout the granite state.

Before the first puck dropped for the 1971/72 season, Orr signed a five-year deal with the Bruins that, at $200,000 per season, made him the NHL’s first “million dollar man.” Besides leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory, he picked up the Conn Smythe, Hart, and Norris trophies. We doubt any of that silverware made its way to the pizzerias for a special promotion. (“Buy two pizzas and win a chance to touch Bobby’s latest Norris Trophy!”)

Vintage Ad #1,668: Bobby Orr wants to give you some of his dough

Toronto Star, June 9, 1971.

Known as either Bobby Orr Pizzerias, Bobby Orr’s Pizza Restaurants, or Bobby Orr’s Pizza Parlor, the chain planned to expand across Ontario, but the business endured as well as Orr’s infamously bad knees. An Oshawa newspaper ad hinted at the problem, proclaiming, “Bobby Orr wants to make a comeback,” after, as Star columnist Jeremy Brown put it, “a lapse in quality.” As for the former locations listed in today’s ad, the new one in Willowdale is now a salon/spa, the Keele store is currently a Mr. Sub, and the Cabbagetown branch is a real estate office.

Additional material from the December 17, 1970, and May 21, 1971, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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1971/72 O-Pee-Chee hockey card.

Whatever name it carried, the chain appears to have come to an end in 1973, when Winnipeg-based owner Champs Food Systems sold the pizzerias to an unnamed buyer for $100,000. As part of the deal, Orr Enterprises withdrew the hockey star’s name from the restaurants.

In his book Power Play, Orr’s agent Alan Eagleson included a paragraph about the pizza business:

Oscar Grubert is a really successful restaurateur of the chain variety. He owns the rights to several of them, all big–Cavanaghs and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Winnipeg, Mother Tucker’s in other places. When his deal for Bobby Orr Pizza Places was launched in the Royal York Hotel, a lot of celebrities, from Pierre Berton to Robert Fulford, were on hand, as well as all the sportswriters. The fanfare was for a new Bobby Orr Pizza Place to open in Oshawa. Oscar set them up and they did well, except Bobby didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He’d say “I never eat this stuff,” that type of thing, and wouldn’t go to an opening. So Oscar finally said, “We might as well get out of that deal.” If Bobby had co-operated he’d be making hundreds of thousands of dollars from that business now, but he just kissed off an association that could have been a long-time money-winner for him.

Or one that Eagleson probably would have benefited more from than Orr. In a 1993 Globe and Mail column on fact-checking, Robert Fulford disputed Eagleson’s account of the pizza chain’s launch night. “It’s nice to be called a celebrity,” Fulford noted, “but I’ve never been in the same room as Bobby Orr and never heard of Orr Pizza Places.”

Vintage Toronto Ads: Give the Gift of Canadian History

Originally published on Torontoist on September 28, 2010.

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The Telegram, December 3, 1969.

Among the items that tied themselves into Canada’s one hundredth birthday, one of the easiest to find today are volumes of the Canadian Centennial Library. Drop into any thrift store in the city with a well-stocked book section and the odds are good you’ll come across one of the red-spined books outlined above. With enough luck, you too can give a loved one the gift of our country’s history this holiday season without breaking your bank account.

The series was a joint venture between McClelland and Stewart and Weekend Magazine (a Saturday newspaper insert that appeared locally in the Telegram) under the editorial guidance of Pierre Berton. The mix of essays and illustrations was inspired by several series produced by American Heritage and Time-Life, down to being available initially through mail order for $2.95 per book. The series more than met initial sales projections of 100,000 copies per volume, with over a million books sold by the time Coles packaged the library for its customers.

The first volume, The Making of the Nation, arrived in Toronto Star book critic Robert Fulford’s mailbox in January 1966. He praised the book as “a happy union of journalistic technique, literary style, and academic expertise.” Author William Kilbourn’s balancing of politics with the cultural and social elements that shaped the country conveyed “the Canadian quality that most historians only describe—diversity, tolerance, an openness to the world.”

Additional material from the January 5, 1966 and March 19, 1968 editions of theToronto Star.