Remaking St. Lawrence Market During the 1960s and 1970s

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 17, 2009.

Buying fresh meat at the north building of St. Lawrence Market, early 1970s. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 33.

Five o’ clock on a Saturday morning and one small corner of the city is alive with the sound of friendly chatter, the smell of smoked hams and the colo[u]rs of the harvest. A steadily increasing trickle of shoppers emerges from the still-dark morning for the first pick of lettuces so fresh the dew still drips from them and cabbages so clean they shine.

Though the smell is more grilled sausage than ham and some of the lettuce may be shipped in from faraway destinations, the atmosphere evoked by this description of St. Lawrence Market from a 1976 Toronto Star profile still rings true. At the time those words were written, the market neared the end of a decade of rehabilitation that reflected changes in attitude towards historic properties in the city. The north side saw the old knock-it-down attitude at play, while the south was spared a date with a wrecking ball in favour of renovation. Otherwise, you might have enjoyed a Saturday morning mustard sample or peameal bacon sandwich in a building that lacked more than 150 years of history.

Parking lot next to north building of St. Lawrence Market (with St. Lawrence Hall in the background), early 1970s. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 31.

Weak historical architecture regulations and grand plans for a massive arts-related complex (which eventually shrank to today’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts) led one historic building after another to arrange dates with demolition crews around the time the old north building of St. Lawrence Market met its demise in 1968. This was fine by some of its tenants, who felt the building had not stood the test of time as well as its older sibling on the opposite side of Front Street. As the Telegram noted, “gone was the dirt and the dust. Gone was the roof which sometimes leaked. The cold and the gloom, the shabby walls and uneven floors had departed. Instead there is brightness under-floor heating and colo[u]r everywhere. The farmers have never had it so good.”

Cheese vendor at north building of St. Lawrence Market, early 1970s. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 1.

Completed in the fall of 1968, the new north market was officially opened with an evening of square dancing in February 1969. Initial reviews were mixed—regular shoppers like Globe and Mail columnist Bruce West were grateful for the improved amenities, even if “some old hands…will miss the occasional whiff of kerosene heaters which used to drift out from behind the baskets of potatoes or arrays of pigs’ heads.” As time passed, West found the space too sterile—in a column two years after the building was finished, he expressed hope that “some day in the future, no doubt—if there are still farms and still farmers who care to get up hours before dawn to take their produce to town on Saturday mornings—the present St. Lawrence Market may get seedy enough and littered enough to have developed a mellow character of its own.”

Flowers for sale at the north building of St. Lawrence Market, early 1970s. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 11.

Architecture and design critics, like the Star’s Harvey Cowan, were unimpressed. “It is the walls of the market space,” Cowan noted, “that reveal the frustrating lack of empathy for the character of a market place. Most walls are concrete block, painted a ghastly salmon colo[u]r that is reminiscent of basement walls in a speculative apartment building.” Cowan summed up the complex as “mundane” and “a most disappointing building” that lacked a sense of history or the “finesse and organization” offered by supermarkets of the era.

With the north side taken care of, developers and preservationists turned their eyes toward the south market. When city planners suggested in 1971 that the one-time city hall could be demolished and the tenants moved elsewhere in a scheme that also included a plan to build a new Massey Hall next to the north market, a citizens’ committee formed to stand against any hint of demolition. The city backed off and turned to the federal and provincial governments for assistance to renovate the south market.

Nick’s Meat, south building of St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 42.

For over two years, workers cleaned the exterior and ripped up the ceilings, floors, and walls. At times half of the building was closed off while business carried on in the rest of the facility. The renovations created more space for vendors, who could take advantage of new refrigerated glass display cases and fluorescent lighting. Reaction was favourable when the building officially reopened in June 1977, though some veteran vendors lamented the loss of certain grittier aspects. As butcher Nick Smolka told the Star, the market was “clean and better than ever.”

I think the renovations have been the best thing for the market, the city and the public. You will find that the meat will be protected behind showcases and it will keep longer and look better than when people could handle it all day long. What we have now is a modern market. I don’t know about this cleanliness, though. I think people want to look at the meat closely and they want to handle it. What’s wrong with that? Nobody ever got poisoned from it.

Scouting out vegetables at St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 38.

Two more years passed before one of the last elements of the renovations was unveiled to the public. The second floor of the old city hall section of the market proved suitable for a proposed gallery to show off the city’s art and archival collections. It was appropriate that the first exhibition at the Market Gallery after it officially opened in March 1979 featured paintings and sketches by John Howard, who had proposed the first set of renovations to the building when it served as Toronto’s city hall in the 1850s. It also seemed appropriate that the opening ceremony was presided over by Mayor John Sewell, who had been one of leaders in the preservation effort at the start of the decade.

The surroundings changed, but one element remained a key part of the St. Lawrence Market experience. As Bruce West described while the new north building was under construction, “nowhere…will you see such an interesting cross-section of the Toronto populace. Observing the patrons of the market is almost as interesting as examining the ware and I hope this institution continues for a long time because it has a lot of soul in it.”

Sources: the June 14, 1968, February 17, 1969, November 23, 1970 and September 15, 1971 editions of the Globe and Mail, the February 1, 1969 edition of the Telegram; and the February 15, 1969, January 18, 1971, October 11, 1976, June 3, 1977, and March 3, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.


St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 27.

There are 116 photos of St. Lawrence Market taken by Ellis Wiley during the 1970s and 1980s for your viewing pleasure on the City of Toronto Archives website. They provide a great snapshot of the market and food marketing techniques of that era, such as the practice of making cheese vendors wear Central European style clothing.

St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 13.

I have a feeling more images have been uploaded over the years, as I know I would have used this shot of a pig’s head tying to be Mr. Smooth.

St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 58.

This also would have been a contender. Do you think this vendor ever tried to practice ventriloquism with the crabs?

St. Lawrence Market, sometime between 1971 and 1989. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 97.

A description of the early 1970s incarnation of the market, from Toronto Guidebook (edited by Alexander Ross, Toronto: Key Publishers, 1974):

This low, uninspired building directly south of St. Lawrence Market is the latest version of a public market place that has occupied the corner of Front and Jarvis Streets for more than 170 years. This new building, opened in 1969, is only open as a market on Saturdays; other days it is leased for dances, bazaars, etc. The imposing old building across the street on the south side of Front is where you’ll find most of the action…By the time you read this it should be under renovation. The market is filled with stalls of fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, and home-made candy and pastries. If you want variety, get there first thing in the morning. But if you’re looking for a bargain, go after 2 p.m., when the merchants start slashing prices.

Globe and Mail, June 14, 1968.

Finally, a trio of columns by the Globe and Mail‘s Bruce West, including the two mentioned in the original article.

Globe and Mail, June 14, 1968.

Globe and Mail, February 17, 1969.

Globe and Mail, August 13, 1970.

A Walking Tour of Toronto, 1983

Canadian Living, May 1983.

The best way to fall in love with a city is to see it with someone who has already decided it’s the only place in the world to live. If you can go for a walk with someone who knows the inside story on the people as well as the buildings, you’ll remember the city forever.

These words of wisdom opened Sally Armstrong’s article in the May 1983 Canadian Living on touring Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg with locals. I know I’ve learned a lot on such strolls, whether it’s been with friends or as part of an organized walk through organizations like Jane’s Walk or Heritage Toronto.

While present circumstances making walking with strangers or in groups a questionable idea, maybe this piece will inspire you to seek advice from friends and experts on where to go on a solo/household walk this winter that you haven’t been before, or can enjoy from a different perspective.

Let’s dive into the article for a sense of what sort of advice was given to anyone interested in exploring Toronto in 1983…

Canadian Living, May 1983.

“Toronto’s Soho” remained an unofficial name for an area everybody else called “Queen West.” As for standard tours, flipping through the 1984 edition of Fodor’s Toronto notes that Gray Line offered a 2-1/2 hour bus trip which took visitors to the Eaton Centre, Old and New City Hall, Ontario Place, U of T, Queen’s Park, Yorkville, and an hour at Casa Loma, while City Tours offered 90 minute sightseeing trips covering the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Ontario Science Centre, and the Metro Zoo.

Speaking of People City…

Canadian Living, May 1983.

This tour essentially covers the Toronto of my childhood visits, where my Dad took me along Queen West and sometimes dipsy-doodled along neighbouring side streets (though, other than Edwards, none of the bookstores we frequented are mentioned).

Queen West feels like an obvious choice for a walk from this era, as it was always touted as where things were hip and happening. Other neighbourhoods I could envision this type of walking tour from this period include Yorkville (where the lingering traces of 1960s bohemia mixed with its evolution into today’s high-end district), The Annex/Mirvish Village, Cabbagetown, and The Beaches.

Canadian Living, May 1983.

Also included with the article was a series of federal ads promoting springtime in Canada, though none of them identified where the idyllic scenes were photographed.

Yorkdale’s Fifth Anniversary

Originally published on Torontoist on February 26, 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of Yorkdale.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened on February 26, 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre inspired generations of malls to come through its size, architecture, and carefully selected mix of tenants. By the time it turned five in 1969, the mall had lived up to its original promise of bringing downtown shopping to Toronto’s growing suburbs through familiar retailers like Eaton’s and Simpsons.

“Everything at Yorkdale is planned for you, the customer,” observed an advertorial in the Telegram. “And we like to think, after five years of service, we’ve proven a point: people do like to shop at Yorkdale…and for many good reasons.” Among those reasons were store concepts that wouldn’t be found in today’s Yorkdale (five-and-dimes like Kresge’s, general hardware stores like Aikenhead’s), and community services such as a branch of the North York Public Library.

The Star and the Telegram published special advertising sections on the eve of the mall’s anniversary: their pages were filled with ads, advice for navigating the mall, fashion tips, and plugs for a commemorative Chrysler auto show.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

The fifth anniversary saw the introduction of shopping carts to tote children around the mall. Yorkdale’s previous effort to provide strollers ended when many left the premises—sightings were reported at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Dominion supermarket was forced to “lock in” their carts due to accidents and theft. The mall’s new carts were available for 50 cents plus safety deposit.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Speaking of Dominion, it used Yorkdale’s anniversary to launch its Baker’s Oven line of bread and desserts.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Besides celebrating Yorkdale’s anniversary, Eaton’s marked its centennial in 1969. Eaton’s played a crucial role in the mall’s construction, refusing to commit unless Metro Toronto sped up approval of the neighbouring Spadina Expressway (now Allen Road).

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened in 1966, the community branch of the North York Public Library at Yorkdale provided the mall’s intellectual component. “Tiny tots are invited to bring along their mothers to special storytime programs,” an advertorial noted, “and students are encouraged to research school projects in the reference department. There’s a fine assortment of novels for the busy homemaker, not to mention a wide selection of current magazines and newspapers.” We’d agree with the advertorial’s assessment of libraries in general: “We don’t know of a better bargain…anywhere.”

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Given the mall’s upscale ambitions these days, it’s hard to imagine Yorkdale once housed a traditional five-and-dime like Kresge’s. Shoppers headed to the forerunner of K-Mart and the mall’s other stores were guaranteed that the interior temperature would always be a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, that the snow would always be cleared from the parking lot during winter, and that if traffic into the shopping centre was heavy, “Toronto’s men in blue are always on hand to guide and direct you in and out of Yorkdale.”

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

The mall’s fashion coordinator, Norma Wildgoose, was given space in the Star to review the season’s fashion trends. “Eeenie-meenie-minie-moe—the choice of a conglomeration of fashion looks—the 1969 woman never had such a diversified decision for spring. Whatever she decides is her look—she will be pretty,feminine, with fit, flare, and flattery,” Wildgoose declared. She saw navy, red, and white as the season’s favoured colour combination for women, followed by pastels. For the “sideburns and moustache department,” Wildgoose proclaimed the death of the Nehru jacket in favour of avant-garde designs. She also wondered if couples would the “his and her” pairing of flowery jackets and plaid trousers.


The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Checking my notes, one image was left on the cutting room floor. Here’s what would have been the accompanying text:

It appears Aikenhead’s Hardware believe you could run off the fumes of Groundhog Day for an entire month. Two years later, Molson bought the venerable Toronto-based chain and gradually shrunk it after acquiring Beaver Lumber soon after. The brand was revived as a big box chain in the early 1990s, but was purchased by Home Depot.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Ah, late 1960s catchphrases…

Yorkdale: The Instant Downtown Uptown

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 28, 2009.

Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 196.

Christmas shopping is upon us, which means it’s time for the claustrophobic to avoid approaching most of Toronto’s shopping malls. Yorkdale will be one of the busiest spots, as drivers try their best to avoid getting into a fender-bender with the twenty-seven other drivers fighting for a precious parking spot. The same scene probably played itself out when the mall opened as an attempt to bring the diversity of downtown shopping to the suburbs, complete with modern conveniences, even if the mall no longer contains tenants like five-and-dime chains, display space for bathroom fixture manufacturers, or grocery stores.

Once upon a time, a millionaire from British Columbia decided that he would like to buy some land north of Toronto to run a sleepy farm. Barrett Montfort purchased most of the property where Yorkdale sits in 1942 and claimed he never saw a development boom coming. “It just never occurred to me that something like Highway 401 would ever be built there. It was just an old farm when I bought it. It had been a good farm for many years.” By the mid-1950s, Eaton’s rented his property with an option to buy as the department store eyed potential sites for a suburban development. Corporate officials saw that Montfort’s land sat at a future transportation crossroads, thanks to a proposed extension of Spadina Road on the east side.

Exterior of Eaton’s Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 199, Item 1.

After four years of planning, Yorkdale was unveiled to the public at a press conference held at the Granite Club on October 16, 1958. Officials from Eaton’s and rival department store Simpson’s announced that the two companies were ready to open locations in the same shopping complex for the first time, in order to provide consumers “with the best suburban shopping facilities to be found anywhere in Canada.” Besides land acquired from Montfort, the development team also purchased property held for future use by General Motors to assemble enough space to build a twenty-five-million-dollar, sixty-two-store plaza.

Local officials and residents were giddy about the news—as long as property values rose and more businesses decided to settle in North York Township, why complain? “Every community should have one,” said Bert Egan, president of the Blackwater-Ranee Ratepayers’ Association. “I think this is the greatest thing in the world for any community. It’s a wonderful thing for North York’s commercial assessment, and it’ll make things a lot easier for the residential taxpayers.” Egan did not forsee any NIMBY-style reaction from those he represented, as long as the plaza was nicely landscaped. North York Reeve Vernon Singer felt Yorkdale was “the break-through we’ve been hoping for to open the door to further commercial and industrial development. It will prove what we’ve always claimed, that North York is at the centre of the Toronto area. Yorkdale will almost move the corner of Yonge and Queen to Dufferin and Highway 401.”

Simpson’s Court, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 198, Item 1.

North York officials hoped that Yorkdale would speed up the arrival of the Spadina Expressway, though the controversial road briefly proved an obstacle. Just as the preliminary architectural and engineering studies wound down in 1960, an offhand conversation with an official from the Ontario Department of Highways revealed that expansion plans for Highway 401 coupled with a massive interchange with Spadina would not include any direct access to the plaza. To add insult, the developers would also have to sacrifice a few acres for the good of Metro drivers. After negotiation, access was secured and the site studies were renewed.

Simpson’s Court, Yorkdale, date unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0014666f.

Once the Lawrence Avenue to Highway 401 stretch of the Spadina Expressway was approved by Metro Council, shovels went into the ground at the end of May 1962. Eaton’s and Simpson’s unveiled their store designs with promises of bringing shoppers the services they had grown accustomed to downtown with a modern flair. Each store’s restaurant would act as eye candy—the Vista at Eaton’s would provide diners with a view of the mall from a series of mushroom-shaped balconies, while the Court at Simpson’s would be accessed by a curving staircase. Simpson’s brought in pioneering mall designers Victor Gruen and John C. Parkin to work on their store and bring the excitement they had generated south of the border. “My purpose,” said Parkin, “has been to make a visit to Simpson’s a pleasant, almost European shopping experience rather than a visit to the clinical type of store.”

The opportunity for classy shopping couldn’t come fast enough for nearby residents during the excavation phase. Complaints were made to the township in July 1962 about dust clouds that forced residents to close their windows on hot summer days and thwarted attempts to hang laundry. Contractors were charged with anti-noise bylaw violations for operating trucks at all hours. Construction company representatives tried to assure residents that if work was allowed to continue twenty-four hours a day, the pain would be over in a month. This plea must have worked, as we found no evidence of a “Stop Yorkdale” campaign in the papers.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

The imminent arrival of Yorkdale and construction of the Spadina Expressway left the TTC in a tizzy. As the 1960s began, transit officials were always assured that the Spadina and its accompanying subway line down the middle were fifteen to twenty years away from reality. The TTC was unprepared to lay track along Spadina anytime soon and proposed to run an express bus service until demand warranted the subway. A 1963 plan called for the future subway platforms between Lawrence Avenue and Highway 401 to be built initially as bus depots, but this failed to materialize by the time Yorkdale was ready to welcome customers. Opening-day patrons without cars would find themselves crammed onto the Dufferin bus, which stopped in the parking lot every fifteen minutes.

During the first year of construction, other anchors were announced. Dominion announced plans for a “jet-age” supermarket located where Holt Renfrew now sits. Shoppers wouldn’t have to worry about lugging groceries around the rest of the mall thanks to an underground pickup station where orders sent down via conveyor belt could sit for several hours. Other services included an in-store deluxe microwave oven to cook roasts and other large slabs of meat on demand and a fish counter with “such delicacies as freshly caught West Coast salmon, oysters, Alaska crab and Arctic char flown to Toronto by jet aircraft.” Other food vendors were encourage to set up kiosks in a “food bazaar” in front of the store that planners insisted would bring a touch of the Middle Eastern shopping experience to North York, even if the products were as exotic as meat from local delis.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

Soon after Dominion’s announcement, Famous Players and Twentieth Century Theatres joined together to provide shoppers with a twin cinema—one screen for Hollywood blockbusters, the other for artier flicks. Filmgoers were promised a reversible escalator that would speed up their entry or exit (no need to linger around the concession stand when there’s shopping to do!). Among the other early tenants, one that caught our eye was a food stand operated by a familiar name. According to the Telegram, “the most unusual eating place is Mac’s, run by the owners of Mac’s Milk…Mac’s will serve just one main dish—roast beef, which a chef will cut to order from a 20 or 30 pound roast and put on the customer’s selection of seven varieties of hot bread and rolls.”
As opening day neared, Eaton’s added the final touches to its store, including one of the first automated entrances in Toronto, which was billed as an “air curtain.” Ontario College of Art student Suzan Fawcett was commissioned to create two “think pieces” out of metal to place in the foyer. As architect Elmore Hankinson noted, “We wanted to express our faith in our young, local artists. Canadian artists need encouragement but too often it comes after they have gained a reputation.” One of Fawcett’s works, Aurora Borealis Opus No. 1, was quickly dubbed “the harp” by construction workers for its arrangement of metal rods.

Toronto Star, February 26, 1964.

The Telegram sent two shoppers on a preview of Yorkdale. They were awestruck. “I’ve never seen so many stores in my life. It’s just like a city in itself,” said Marion Clancy. “It’s just as bright as being outdoors, but it’s far nicer. You don’t get your hair blown around.” The rest of the public had their first opportunity to check out the mall at 9:30 a.m. on February 26, 1964. Over one hundred thousand shoppers were estimated to have passed through that day, which created a scene that compared to the CNE midway. Barber John Folino later recalled that many of those wandering through “were all dressed up like they were going to church.” The official ribbon cutting took place at noon, followed by a lobster and cocktail lunch for VIPs. Plebeians made do with freebies from banks and stores, along with reduced prices on meals like the roast turkey special at Kresge’s one-hundredth Canadian location—for the princely sum of sixty cents diners received “savoury dressing, cranberry sauce, cream whipped potatoes, giblet gravy, buttered green peas, roll and butter” with their fowl.

The parade of people heading into “the instant downtown uptown” for opening day required fourteen police officers to direct traffic, though the traffic jam was nowhere near as bad as Yorkdale’s first Saturday of business a few days later. Maybe it had something to do with falling on Leap Day, as drivers found themselves in a jam running three miles on either side of Dufferin Street. All 6,500 parking spots were filled by 11 a.m. and police took two hours just to find an appropriate overflow location. Poorly marked underpasses didn’t help the situation.

A sampling of stores at Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 197, Item 1.

Architectural critics soon weighed in with their opinions. If the two critiques published in Canadian Architect magazine were any indication, they weren’t pleased. Ron Thom found the complex “sadly lacking,” with unimpressive entrances that didn’t stake out their significance, a parking lot that felt like it was designed by a computer and a lack of unified design. “Only the Simpson’s store…stands as a coherent statement of what it is. The remainder resembles a group of separate parts, each designed by an angry individualist, determined not only to outdo, but to undo all the other parts around—a sort of architectural salad.” He did like the court outside Simpson’s, where the impressiveness of the spiral staircase and fountain made it an ideal place for children to play and their parents to rest. Fellow critic Donovan Pinker felt that Yorkdale symbolized the fragmentation of the city, the sterility of the suburbs, and was generally too segregated from the “spice of urban life.”

Eaton’s Court, 1960s. Yorkdale Archives.

None of these views deterred shoppers, with more stores open and sales looking rosy as the 1964 Christmas season approached. Nearby shopping centres definitely felt an impact, with Lawrence Plaza reporting a 25% drop in sales since Yorkdale opened. Shoppers enjoyed the wide walkways of what for a short time was the world’s largest shopping centre until the expansion of Honolulu’s Ala Moana in 1966.

Sources: the June 1964 issue of Canadian Architect; the October 17, 1958, May 31, 1962, December 15, 1964, and February 21, 2004 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 25, 1964 and February 26, 1964 editions of the Telegram; and the October 17, 1958, June 3, 1960, May 31, 1962, July 10, 1962, November 24, 1962, April 3, 1963, February 21, 1964, February 25, 1964, February 27, 1964, and March 2, 1964 editions of the Toronto Star.


Let’s follow this fashionable explorer into the Globe and Mail‘s special advertising section published the day before Yorkdale’s grand opening…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The opening day map of the mall. As of November 2020, only Birks, Peoples and Scotiabank remain (though CIBC is represented by a bank machine, and the movie theatre evolved into the present-day Cineplex).

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The preview for Simpson’s. The chain’s first suburban Toronto store, located at Scarborough’s Cedarbrae Plaza, opened two years earlier.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Growing to nearly 80 stores at its peak, Calderone Shoes was bought by Aldo in the late 1990s and phased out the brand in the mid-2000s.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

According to the Star, Birks was “rich in mahogany panelling and opulent carpeting and draperies.” Perhaps shoppers could pick up some fancy jewels at Birks…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

…and show them off while shopping for groceries.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Somehow, wandering around Yorkdale in night attire never caught on.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

The Star‘s preview coverage included this guide on how to get to Yorkdale, and plenty of ads…

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

A much more detailed version of the Dominion ad. Let’s take a closeup at the innovations.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Given the choice between the two opening attractions, first ticket buyer Ralph Carveth chose To Bed or Not to Bed, which the Globe and Mail described as “a very silly title for a very clean little film about frank amorality.”

As for the main attraction, Seven Days in May is worth a watch in light of the post-election shenanigans south of the border.

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

Free boutonnieres from a well-established tailoring firm were among the giveaways and festivities surrounding the opening. Other highlights included a performance by vibraphonist Peter Appleyard at the Bank of Nova Scotia branch.

(Aside: check out A Tailored History of Toronto, Pedro Mendes’ book about the history of Walter Beauchamp, which I contributed research to.)

Globe and Mail, February 27, 1964.

In his biography A Store of Memories, G. Allan Burton reflected on how the Sinpsons-Eaton’s relationship had evolved by this point:

The successful conclusion of the Yorkdale deal only increased the mutual respect in which the age-old competitors…held each other. There was a time when Eaton’s, being considerably larger than Simpsons for many of the early years, regarded us with amused tolerance. Now we could, and did, deal as equals. Both of us were faintly amused at the backwardness of the Hudson Bay Company generally, and in particular their reluctance to go into shopping centres. Yet Eaton’s tried to dictate a maximum size for our store in Yorkdale, but I refused, saying I would build the size we wanted and if Eaton’s wanted to build more or less that was their prerogative!

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

Golden Mile Plaza

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 26, 2013.

tely 54-04-07 gmp 5 loblaws 400

The Telegram, April 7, 1954.

Following World War II, Scarborough Township was in dire financial straits. “We didn’t have enough money to meet our weekly payroll,” reeve Oliver Crockford recalled years later. Crockford placed his hopes on a 255 acre parcel of federal land along Eglinton Avenue east of Pharmacy Avenue that the township purchased in 1949. Industrial development quickly ensued, with major companies like Frigidaire and Inglis opening along what was soon dubbed the “Golden Mile.”

ts 52-10-16 sketch of golden mile

Toronto Star, October 16, 1952. Click on image for larger version.

Developers saw potential in turning nearby farms into commercial and residential properties. Among them was Robert McClintock, who purchased a 150-acre farm at the northeast corner of Eglinton and Victoria Park in 1950. After building apartments and homes, he realized he wasn’t equipped to handle a major commercial development, so he sold a chunk of land to Principal Investments in 1952.

The new owners proceeded to build one of the new “one-stop shopping” plazas that were starting to define suburban North America. Retail chains saw such developments as key to their future. “The rate at which Toronto is growing internally and on its fringes,” Fairweather treasurer Benjamin Fish told the Telegram, “makes it imperative that the merchants give it the room and facilities it deserves.”

tely 54-04-07 gmp 2

The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

Fairweather was among the tenants who welcomed shoppers when the first phase of Golden Mile Plaza opened on April 8, 1954. Visitors who filled the 2,000 free parking spots were treated to a circus-like atmosphere complete with acrobats, clowns, high divers, and pipe bands. The largest Loblaws in Canada gave away 2,000 pounds of Pride of Arabia coffee. A draw offered a top prize of a 1954 Ford Skyliner, followed by appliances built on the Golden Mile by Frigidaire. By the time the plaza was fully opened in late 1954, its tenants included Bata, Hunt’s Bakery, Tamblyn Drugs, Woolworth’s, and Zellers.

ts 59-06-27 where to see queen

Toronto Star, June 27, 1959. Click on image for larger version.

The plaza reached its pinnacle on June 30, 1959. Following a tour of Sunnybrook Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II stopped by Golden Mile for a 10-minute visit. She surprised her RCMP handler and municipal officials by making a quick stop at Loblaws. It was not reported if she purchased any of the week’s specials.

ts 83-09-22 hits skids

Toronto Star, September 22, 1983. Click on image for larger version.

Like the rest of the Golden Mile, the plaza lost its shine during the 1970s and 1980s. The factories that spurred the area’s development closed. New enclosed malls like Fairview and Scarborough Town Centre stole business. Plaza owners failed to properly maintain the property. A flea market became a major tenant. Scarborough officials viewed it as an eyesore and began dreaming of the property’s potential for mixed commercial, office, and residential use. Amid the calls for a classier redevelopment, pictures in newspaper articles depict stores that would fit the multi-ethnic plazas that are now part of the Scarborough landscape.

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Toronto Star, April 16, 1986. Click on image for larger version.

Reactions among Scarborough city councillors were mixed when Loblaws proposed one of its new Super Centre hypermarkets for the plaza site in 1986. While some were happy to see any replacement, others thought a giant supermarket was an inappropriate gateway to the city. “This may be what Scarborough has grown up on,” councillor Joyce Trimmer noted, “but it’s not good enough today. The first thing people will see on coming into Scarborough will be a big parking lot.” The development was approved. The plaza’s demolition was marred by a fire on December 15, 1986 that forced the closure of a few lingering stores which had hoped to remain open through Christmas Eve. The plaza would be memorialized via a photo gallery inside its replacement.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1988.

For a time, the Super Centre revived old retail traditions like a fleet of floor employees equipped with roller skates to retrieve merchandise. When Loblaws phased out the Super Centre concept, they reduced the size of the store and converted it to a No Frills. A spokesperson told the Star in 1999 that Loblaws was happy with the site, as “the Golden Mile name has a certain cachet.” The remaining Super Centre space was initially a Zellers then further split into the present combination of a dollar store, discount gym, and Joe Fresh.

Sources: the September 22, 1983, April 16, 1986, August 29. 1986, and July 12, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star, and the April 7, 1954 edition of the Telegram.


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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto Star, April 20, 1953.

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The Telegram, April 7, 1954. Click on image for larger version.

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.


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.


Once past the Presto barrier, hand sanitizer was available.


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


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.


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.


The Bloor platform was eerily quiet.


Who wants to solve an online mattress company puzzle?


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.


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.


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.


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



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


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.


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…


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


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


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


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?



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


An ode to Harbord Street…


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


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.


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.

Yorkville, Through Rochester-Coloured Glasses


Some celebrity tourism in mid-1970s Yorkville. “The star of The Snoop Sisters does some snooping of her own. While character actress Helen Hayes was strolling down Yorkville Ave., she discovered a shop that specializes in Canadiana furnishings and spotted a china platter that she said she would like to add to her collection.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1974. Toronto Star Archives, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0054027f.

By 1976, Yorkville had shed its image as a haven for music venues and wayward youth, as it gentrified into a high-end residential and shopping district. The neighbourhood’s new image made it ideal for newspaper profiles touting its charms for tourists.

Take this five-page piece, published in the April 18, 1976 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle‘s Sunday magazine Upstate.

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“Scollard Street is where you’ll find most of Yorkville’s art galleries, including the Marianne Friedland and Evans galleries.”

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Ending with a Wizard of Oz reference? Sheesh.

Hazelton Lanes opened later that year. The writer wouldn’t have many more opportunities to criticize the Riverboat, as it closed in June 1978. The Yorkville branch of Hy’s lasted until 1982, while the Book Cellar remained a hive of literary activity until 1997. The Coffee Mill served its last goulash in 2014.

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This ad appeared on the last page of the article. Note that neither of the Metro Toronto HoJo locations listed here (Airport and Scarborough) for a bubbly-filled weekend were anywhere near Yorkville (though the chain eventually occupied the old Regency Towers Hotel on Avenue Road).

Making and Remaking Hazelton Lanes

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2013. As the original post placed its images in gallery format, this version will sprinkle them throughout, along with additional ads and photos.


Hazelton Lanes under construction, 1976. Photo by Harold Barkley. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109033f.

When it opened in 1976, Hazelton Lanes offered a combination of luxury condos and tony retailers set amidst a cluster of former homes. Hailed as a great example of how developers and surrounding residents could work together, the mall’s fortunes later declined because of its confusing layout and an ill-timed expansion.

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Rendering of the proposed new entrance for Hazelton Lanes on Avenue Road, 2013.

Recently released renderings of proposed renovations depict a 21st-century makeover that the complex’s owners hope will draw foot traffic.

Hazelton Lanes’s roots can be traced to real estate developer Richard Wookey’s decision to purchase a number of Yorkville properties during the late 1960s. For a time, he catered to the counter culture. In one instance, he allowed a biker gang to use a Hazelton Avenue property as long as it didn’t bother the neighbours. The gang soon departed, complaining that Wookey had “domesticated” them.

Domestication was the goal of developers like Wookey, and boarding houses and coffee houses gave way to pricey boutiques. Wookey bought homes cheap, gutted the interiors, and added Victorian-style archways and windows. He was a proponent of adaptive reuse, hiring architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers to transform a cluster of houses at Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue into the York Square retail complex in 1968.

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Richard Wookey, March 1974. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0090040f.

With Hazelton Lanes, Wookey did something unusual. Rather than seeking immediate City approval, he consulted local residents. Three members of the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association (ABCRA) were invited to his home to review the plans. Despite having concerns about increased traffic, they were impressed by the sketches and suggested that Wookey hold a public meeting. “I think that Mr. Wookey has gone about this matter in precisely the right way,” ABCRA member Jack Granatstein wrote to aldermen William Kilbourn and Colin Vaughan in a March 1973 letter. “I hope that what we can all accomplish here will become the model for future development in the city.”

When the meeting was held the following month, most of the 120 people present voted in favour of the project. “Ratepayer groups don’t always oppose development,” ABCRA vice-president Ellen Adams told the Globe and Mail. “We just oppose the bad ones.” Also impressed by the meeting was Vaughan, who a quarter century later praised Wookey for ensuring that his projects were “woven into the fabric of the city, so that older buildings and site features are enhanced.” The consultation process helped the project gain council support for an exemption to a bylaw that capped development height at 45 feet.

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Hazelton Lanes rink, 1976. Photographer unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0109032f.

Designed by architect Boris Zerafa, the complex consisted of a series of eight former homes topped by a series of terraced condos. In the middle was a courtyard, which would be used as an ice-skating rink in the winter.

A potential roadblock emerged when Ursula Foster, who resisted attempts by Wookey to buy her home at 30 Hazelton, asked the City’s buildings and development committee to delay submitting the project to the Ontario Municipal Board. Foster, who had lived in Yorkville for 50 years, feared her sunlight would be blocked, and that therefore her garden would be ruined and her winter heating bill would rise. She met with the City’s planners, Wookey, and Zerafa in May 1974 to find a solution. All agreed to a revised plan that would move the complex’s first two storeys back 10 feet and relocate the upper-level condos to the Avenue Road side.

Apart from gripes from alderman John Sewell about the “very chi chi” project’s lack of affordable housing (condo prices initially ranged from $72,000 to $500,000), the remaining approval process was smooth. When the mall opened in October 1976, it was clear that the average Joe would be out of place. “Most of the shoppers have dressed up to walk the stores,” observed the Globe and Mail. “Several of the shop owners, exquisite in cashmere and costly boots, look like they would eat you alive if you wandered in wearing your old trousers.”


Toronto Life, December 1984.

Under numerous owners—including William Louis-Dreyfus, father of Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus—the mall portion of Hazelton Lanes has had problems. A major north-end expansion in 1989 designed by Jack Diamond was affected by the recession. At desperate moments, rents were slashed in half. Existing tenants moaned about having to help customers negotiate the mall’s confusing layout. None of the marquee names touted as potential anchors during the 1990s—Neiman Marcus, Pusateri’s, Saks Fifth Avenue—materialized. The ice rink was scrapped during the late 1990s. Whole Foods opened its first Canadian store inside Hazelton Lanes in May 2002, but the mall continued to be criticized for its vacancies and its aging appearance. “Though this dreary complex has somehow managed to become synonymous with wealth and beauty,” observed Star architecture critic Christopher Hume in 2004, “it’s really about kitsch.”



Rendering of south escalator area.

Current owner First Capital bought Hazelton Lanes in 2011, promising to add a broader assortment of tenants for the mall’s well-heeled customers. A company official admitted that there was “no easy fix.” The current renderings by Kasian Architecture show a mall whose appearance matches current shopping-centre styles, with a new gateway to Yorkville Avenue. The proposed renovations, which have yet to get underway, appear to tie into plans to replace York Square with a condo tower, wiping out the pioneering retail space. It remains to be seen if a revamped Hazelton Lanes can draw a major new anchor store.

Sources: the April 5, 1973, November 4, 1976, and September 27, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the April 5, 1973, March 22, 1974, May 14, 1974, March 11, 1976, July 20, 1998, October 5, 2002, and March 27, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.


First up, bonus material I prepared at the time this piece was originally written…


Toronto Star, April 5, 1973.

It was nice for a change to read about a development project where the nearby residents weren’t convinced the sky was going to fall. Unless there’s a secret back story missing from both the media coverage and the personal correspondences I leafed through while researching this article, it sounds like the developer did everything right to reassure the community that all would be well.

Besides the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Ratepayers’ Association, the neighbouring Annex Ratepayers’ Association (ARA) was consulted. In a letter to alderman Ying Hope, an ARA representative wanted to “commend the process of community association consultation in the development of the project.”

Not that there weren’t opponents. In a letter to the city clerk, Hazelton Avenue apartment building owner Mohsen Djelweh complained about the potential traffic bottleneck along his street. He also worried that granting an exception to the 45-foot building height limit would cause Yorkville to “slowly die and convert into a canyon” instead of remaining a “highly regarded, highly attractive low-rise development” which drew tourists.

The loudest opponent to Hazelton Lanes appears to have been alderman John Sewell. When you dive into 1970s Toronto, you can create a drinking game around predicting what Sewell will rage against in the midst of the story you’re trailing. Besides the height issue (which he was only one of three councilors to vote against in February 1974), Sewell complained that the project offered no provisions for affordable housing. He claimed that developer Richard Wookey “doesn’t want to have to touch people who aren’t in a fairly high income bracket.” Sewell’s attempt to promote mixed income housing in Yorkville didn’t gain traction.

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Globe and Mail, September 25, 1976.

An example of an early Hazelton Lanes ad campaign. A different batch of tenants was profiled each week. Note the references to the mall’s hard-to-find location, which didn’t always serve it well.


A colour view of the rink. Toronto Life, January 1980.

Here’s how Hazelton Lanes was described in The Best of Toronto 1980, published by Toronto Life:

Toronto’s most exclusive , multi-purpose structure is a spectacular complex incorporating shops, restaurants, offices and luxury condominium apartments. The courtyard is a skating rink in winter and an outdoor extension of the Hazelton Lanes Cafe in summer. You’ll find everything from delicious imported chocolates at Au Chocolat to designer fashions at Chez Catherine. It’s elegant, exclusive, expensive and not to be missed.



Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

With the renovations came a new name. So long Hazelton Lanes, hello Yorkville Village. The entrance to Yorkville Avenue was completely revamped.


Yorkville Village, January 27, 2020.

As for the effect of the renovations…on a recent walk, the place felt utterly soulless. The old brick might have been dated, but it had a certain warmth. While it’s nice to have bright light flowing in, the overall look is just sort of there. I felt like I could have been dropped into any generic recently-refurbished suburban shopping mall.


Nearby advertising on Yorkville Avenue.

Christmas in Toronto, 1869

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Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1869.

Saturday being Christmas Day business was suspended in the city; that is to say, all places of business, except such as oyster depots, candy shops and saloons were closed. The streetcars ran as usual, and certainly did a paying business, as they were crowded with passengers nearly every trip. The weather was delightful, reminding one more of a day in spring than in winter; and, as a natural consequence, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, chiefly of the male sex, however. Divine service was held in several of the numerous places of religious worship in the city, and sermons appropriate to the occasion preached. – The Leader, December 27, 1869.

Torontonians gathering ingredients for their Christmas dinner 150 years ago had plenty of options from local butchers. “The St. Lawrence Market,” the Globe reported, “is peculiarly well adorned with meat of the most tempting character, while all over the city the butchers show that though they are not in the market they are quite prepared to meet the wants of the citizens, as respects Christmas cheer.”

The Leader was particularly taken with James Britton’s stall. “Mr. Jas. Britton, everybody in Toronto knows, and every Toronto epicure and gourmand blesses, or ought to, for he has certainly on this occasion pandered to their luxurious tastes most extensively and deserves for his splendid display of meats, to stand foremost on the list.”

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The Globe, December 23, 1869.

Among the advertisers that season was the Wesleyan Methodist Church, who invited the public to view the Christmas tree in the basement of their Richmond Street home. Visitors stopping in on December 23 could browse a “sale of useful and fancy articles” which raised funds for the congregation’s future home in McGill Square (the lot on the northwest side of Queen and Church). “Attendance was very fair during the afternoon,” the Telegraph reported, “swelling to a positive crowd in the evening.” The proceeds helped build the new church, which evolved into today’s Metropolitan United Church.

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The Leader, December 24, 1869.

Browsing the ads for the city’s dry goods merchants, one new name had entered the holiday shopping sweepstakes. Earlier that month, Timothy Eaton opened his first Toronto store at 178 Yonge Street, which offered the radical merchandising method of selling goods for cash only (the store’s “goods satisfactory or money refunded” motto debuted the following year). The store was snug: measuring 24 feet across and 60 feet deep, it only employed four people. Popular items early on included buttons, gloves, and underwear.


Toronto Mechanics’ Institute, circa 1867-1868. Photo by Octavius Thompson. Toronto Public Library, Z 3-7.

Among the Christmas Day festivities across the city was a dinner held at the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide for over 220 children living in charitable institutions such as the Protestant Orphans’ Home, the Boys’ Home, and the Girls’ Home (along with, as the Globe dubbed them, “20 inmates of the News Boys’ Home). Organized annually by businessman John Hallam, it featured a hymn sing where the kids’ performances were praised community dignitaries. “The Christmas tree was then disburdened and each child having received from its branches a toy or picture book,” the Globe reported, “and also been handed a paper bag containing cakes, raisins, apples, and sweetmeats, the children started for their respective homes, four happy little bands, rendered so by the liberality of those who will be amply paid for their kindness to these poor little orphans when they shall have addressed to them the words ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’”

(Journalists in 1869 were a wordy bunch)

Years later, as a city councillor, Hallam’s support of free public libraries played a role in the transformation of the Mechanics’ Institute’s collection into the Toronto Public Library. Hallam Street is named in his honour.

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Christmas menu for guests of the Queen’s Hotel. The Telegraph, December 27, 1869.

Some of the city’s wealthier, politically-connected citizens gathered for a Christmas dinner at the Queen’s Hotel (the present site of the Royal York). Toasts were made to Queen Victoria, various branches of the military, and Americans. The Telegraph printed the extensive menu.

The Globe reported on Christmas Day at the Don Jail:

Even without the heavy walls of the prison the genial spirit of Christmas penetrated, and brought a thrill of pleasure and a softening influence to many a hardened heard among the 154 incarcerated there. No relaxation of the prison discipline was admitted, except to allow friends to visit the inmates and bring with them some of the Christmas cheer which prevailed without. In more than one cell, tears came to eyes unused to weep, at the thought of former Christmas Days—when innocence made it a happy anniversary. Many a heart that knew not the crucified Saviour had reason to feel thankful for the natal day of Him who pardoned the thief on the cross.


Francis Henry Medcalf. Wikimedia Commons.

Politically, the holidays saw the start of nominations for city council candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Putting his name back into the fray was former mayor Francis Henry Medcalf, who had resigned from council on November 1 to protest a proposal to extend the term of office from one to three years. He decided to switch wards, moving from St. Lawrence’s (which covered the area south of Queen Street east of Yonge) to St. John’s (later known simply as “The Ward”). At a Christmas Eve nomination meeting, Medcalf claimed that when he was asked to run, he did so because, the Leader reported, “he owed the people of that ward a deep debt of gratitude for the hearty way in which they had always supported them, and he hoped he would be able to pay that debt before he paid the debt of nature.” Medcalf would represent the ward for two years, then returned to the mayor’s chair for a final two-year run in 1874.

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Canadian Illustrated News, December 25, 1869.

We’ll end with the parting thoughts from the Globe’s Christmas day editorial:

Let us hope, in any case, that the event may be happy, and that we, like the rest of the world, may find that, after of dread of turbulence and conflict, we are, as we should be, in peace and good will with all men.

Sources: the December 23, 1869, December 25, 1869, and December 27, 1869 editions of the Globe; the December 25, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Leader; and the December 24, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Telegraph.

the short, aubergine-coloured, lower-cased life of eatons

Viewers tuning into CTV’s airing of Tomorrow Never Dies on October 22, 2000 might have scratched their heads during the commercial breaks. Of the 29 minutes of ad time during that evening’s Bond thriller, 24 were dedicated to promoting a shade of purple which shared the French name for eggplant. The longest spot, running four-and-a-half minutes, was a stylish ode to classic Hollywood musicals.

Aubergine: the colour and driving spirit of the new incarnation of Eaton’s. Or, as it would now be known, eatons.

The ad campaign, created by the Ammirati Puris agency and anchor by director Floria Sigismondi’s TV spot, created a lot of buzz. But the expectations it created among consumers, and the disappointment they experienced when faced with reality, led to the quick demise of the eatons experiment.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

In Fall 1999, Sears Canada picked up the remains of the T. Eaton Company for, depending on the source, either $50 million or $80 million. Of the 19 locations acquired, 12 were converted to Sears stores. The remaining seven—two in Toronto (Eaton Centre and Yorkdale), along with locations in Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg—would form a new, upscale chain. It would be a change of pace for Sears, whose base was mid-market suburbia.

Retaining the “circle e” logo Eaton’s had introduced during a last-ditch “Times Have Changed” revamp in 1997, the new branding was introduced in April 2000. Sears Canada executive VP of marketing Rick Sorby explained the decision to use a lower-case name:

The design of the name, which features a small “e” and no apostrophe before the “s,” reflects the evolution from a family name to a true brand name. The execution of the identification utilizes easy-to-read lower-case typography and a powerful icon—the circled e—to give us a branding device that works on all applications from TV commercials to store signing…The lower-case letters are more contemporary, cleaner and more reflective of the style of the new Internet age.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

During focus group sessions with upper middle-class female shoppers, Sorby envisioned a store they would shop in if they had only three hours to live. “It’s not going to be, it’s going to be sophisticated. But not to the point of scary.”

Initial plans called for reviving lines dumped by Eaton’s during its final years, including furniture and appliances. Also resurrected was the catalogue, whose discontinuation in 1976 had caused a national uproar. If all went well, the seven eatons stores would see $1 billion in annual sales by 2003.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

All promotional material dripped with aubergine, a colour executives hoped the public would associate with eatons as they did orange with Home Depot or green with TD. “Aubergine,” Ammirati Puris creative director Doug Robinson explained to Marketing Magazine, “has been associated with royalty. We simply struck on the ideas of taking that forward, of taking it into some sort of musical, very high-fashion, very entertaining positioning-without getting too sophisticated with it.”

The aubergine jokes began as soon as the first ads aired in October. “Don’t think purple, which only comes close to aubergine,” Peter Goddard observed in the Toronto Star. “Purple is for the suburbs. Aubergine is so very downtown, so very sophisto, so very the new eatons.” Eaton chronicler Rod McQueen wondered if the brand had found a new path to bankruptcy (“Aubergine? Doesn’t that rhyme with might have been?”).

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

Checking out the renovations to the Eaton Centre flagship for Saturday Night, writer Jennifer Wells smelled “the scent of fabulousness.”

Perforated metal drop-panel ceilings. Steel floor inlays under archways. Chrome yellow tile with flecks of faux Inca gold. Three sets of escalators have been opened so that shoppers on these floors will no longer feel they are being fed up and down cattle chutes. Shoppers on floor five (fine china, drapery, flooring) will be able to peer down to four, where visiting chefs in the Great Kitchen will be preparing something sensational. There will be restaurants in all the stores featuring a variety of food stations. Alas, they are self-serve and bear the un-hip name Cuisine Scene. And you won’t be able to take home a box of petits fours or those twee pinwheel tea sandwiches. (Does anyone else remember the divine Charlotte Russe?) Those days are forever dead. Still, Sorby likens the hoped-for consumer experience on these top floors to a sensory journey. All sights, sounds, smells.

The “Historical Rooms of Distinction,” wood-panelled rooms partly preserved from the College Street store closed in 1976, were installed. The wall along Yonge Street was replaced with fashion boutiques for Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Polo, Kenneth Cole, and BCBG Max Azria with doors open to outside foot traffic. Aisles were two feet wider than a standard Sears store. Greeters would be dressed in aubergine jackets. Granite and marble was used to create a sense that the new eatons was here for the long run.

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Toronto Star, November 23, 2000.

“From the outset,” Sears CEO Paul Walters told the Globe and Mail, “our objective has been to offer exceptional stores that meet all of the needs and wants of our primary customer—the time-pressed urban customer who enjoys shopping, wants the latest styles and trends, demands service expertise and wants an exciting entertaining environment to shop in.”

There were troubling signs. Grand openings originally projected for October 2000 were delayed a month partly due to construction strikes, missing up to $40 million in sales during the early part of the holiday shopping season. Renovations went over budget. Overall consumer confidence was sinking, with fears of a recession around the corner. Some of those who attended sneak previews felt too much space was given to brands available everywhere else.

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Globe and Mail, November 24, 2000.

As for the target market, did the brand itself retain any resonance? “Can it draw crowds who are prepared to spend?” McQueen observed in the National Post. “Maybe among the 60-year-old women who grew up going to the Georgian Room in Toronto or the Grill Room in Winnipeg. But the target market of tomorrow is not women of a certain age. Eatons badly needs the 18-to-49-year old who may find switching difficult because her buying habits are already well established elsewhere.”

“These days, mimicry is mediocrity.”

The competition barely flinched. “People talk about eatons reopening as if it was Eaton’s reopening,” HBC CEO George Heller told Maclean’s. “It’s not. We’re talking about a totally different animal here.”

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Toronto Star, November 25, 2000.

When the stores opened on November 25, reviews were positive about the look and customer service, mixed about the merchandise. “I love it,” shopper Theresa Macas told the Star. “They have very luxurious clothes and good lighting. I thought it was going to be like Sears, but it’s not.”

The wheels fell off quickly. After 13 straight quarters of record earnings, Sears Canada’s stock price fell and earnings dipped into the red. Customers expecting merchandise lining up with the adventurous advertising were disappointing. The 100-page catalogue delivered to 4.2 million homes was uninspiring. It didn’t help that it was sent via Sears’ traditional mailing list, which skewed older, lower-income, and in smaller communities than the audience eatons wanted to attract. It looked and felt nothing like the legendary Eaton’s catalogue of yore. Some industry observers also noted how much Canadians hated paying for shipping. The eatons website looked impressive, but was slow-loading and difficult to click on. Though aubergine was retained as a theme, a second television ad campaign featuring the mini-musical’s characters with a funky 1970s soundtrack failed to capture the public’s imagination. Retail consultants experienced déjà vu, seeing similar mistakes the old Eaton’s made in creating a new marketing image that wasn’t delivered in store.

Shorter version of the Floria Sigismondi aubergine ad.

“I think that we thought that these stores would open and be perfect,” Sears executive VP of marketing Bill Turner told the National Post. “In truth, it’s been a lot of work.”

By the end of January 2001 Walters, the architect of the eatons revival plan, was gone. Sears stock fell 16% over the following weeks. The catalogue and online sales were killed in early April. New CEO Mark Cohen spoke to the media in mid-June. He admitted that because of $175 million in tax write-offs acquired with Eaton’s, the new stores had to open within a year. He also admitted that “there aren’t enough truly upscale customers in Canada for half-a-million square feet of upscale goods.” Advertising would be reduced, as “it’s never going to make sense speaking to large levels of customers who geographically are never going to visit these seven stores.” Cohen expected that, as consumer spending dropped, it would be several years before Sears would pour significantly more money into eatons, and that it would take several seasons to settle on the contemporary style the chain stood for. Private labels shared by the two chains, such as Nevada men’s clothing, would be phased out of eatons.

Cohen dismissed speculation that the chain would be sold or converted into Sears stores. “I’m not going to give you a categoric no, but it’s highly unlikely that’s going to happen.”

gm 2001-12-15 eatons magic ad

Globe and Mail, December 15, 2001.

Christmas 2001 stood in stark contrast to the previous year. No TV ads ran, while newspaper ads simply showcasing products with the trademarked tagline “eatons magic.” No pizazz, no excitement.

On February 18, 2002, the axe fell. “We did not do well last year,” Cohen told the press. While partly blaming the recession and effects of 9/11, “at the end of the day, we lost a lot more money than we had originally planned when this investment was first made.” Except for the Winnipeg and Yorkdale locations, the stores would be converted to Sears. A few high-performing brands would be sold at a select number of Sears locations. Cadillac Fairview indicated that the Eaton Centre name would remain on its malls in Toronto and Victoria (though the latter has since been renamed).

gm 2002-02-19 sears abandons eatons 1

Globe and Mail, February 19, 2002.

Retail consultants were harsh in their final assessments of eatons, blaming its end on everything from too few stores spread too far apart to over-emphasis on the aubergine ad campaign to overall poor execution. Among the comments:

“Those eatons stores were like stores without a soul.” – Wendy Evans.

“I don’t think the strategy was wrong, I think just the execution was wrong…Instead of calling it aubergine, if they’d called it eggplant it would have been closer to the truth. You can’t call an eggplant aubergine.” – Richard Talbot.

“They just went back to the easiest, simplest tool to drive business, which is price. Everybody else is doing the same thing. In the end, what really made eatons different? – Sam Geist.

“Disappointment is too kind a work for when you got there.” – Gary Prouk.

“Those really are winner locations. It’s just amazing they managed to screw them up.” – John Williams.

Globe and Mail columnist Heather Mallick summed up the chain’s demise:

What put an end to eatons’ brief resurrection was the smell of shopping death….We’ve all noticed it: it’s actually an odour of embarrassment rather than expiry. It fills the main floor when you, the shopper, find yourself empathically alone with 400 red-white-and-blue thingies by Tommy Hilfiger, 12,000 bottles of unguents and six salespeople who try too hard because they have been trained to try too hard. You know it’s not working, they know it’s not working, but you both do the time. They greet, aid, chat and wrap in such a false un-Canadian manner that you are wrenched with sympathy and impatience.

Even members of the Eaton family were critical. “When Sears started up the ‘new Eatons’ with the ‘aubergine’ campaign, I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s the wrong way to open a store,’” observed Fredrik Eaton, who ran Eaton’s during the late 1970s and early 1980s, told Canadian Business in 2005. “I had always been advised by buyers to be careful when someone offered anything in aubergine.”

star 2002-08-21 sears sign being put up

Toronto Star, August 21, 2002.

The conversions were finished by summer. The Toronto Eaton Centre Sears operated until February 2014, and would be replaced by one of the chains eatons aspired to provide the same wow factor as, Nordstrom. A recent walk through the store revealed little aubergine.

Sources: the December 11, 2000 and June 20, 2005 editions of Canadian Business; the October 27, 2000, November 25, 2000, December 14, 2001, February 19, 2002, and February 23, 2002 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 20, 2000 edition of Maclean’s; the November 6, 2000 edition of Marketing Magazine; the April 17, 2000, November 15, 2000, November 22, 2000, April 4, 2001, April 9, 2001, June 14, 2001, and February 19, 2002 editions of the National Post; the November 11, 2000 edition of Saturday Night; and the October 29, 2000, November 26, 2000, and June 14, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.