Trash Panda Thursday: Introduction

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Illustration from Brehm’s Life of animals : a complete natural history for popular home instruction and for the use of schools. Mammalia (Chicago: Marquis, 1896). Flickr Commons.

The common raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a mid-size mammal distinguished by its black face mask and ringed tail. It is a member of the Procyonidae, a primarily tropical family of omnivores native to the Americas — and the only one of this family found in Canada. Raccoons are found in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador. A nocturnal species, it is highly adaptable and can survive in urban areas as well as wilderness habitats. Humans often consider raccoons pests due to their skill and persistence in raiding garbage bins, gardens and crops for food. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

I recently shared on social media a story I’d stumbled upon during a research dumpster dive into archived Toronto newspapers. It was a 50-year-old Toronto Star article about a heroic raccoon.

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Toronto Star, January 10, 1969.

It may have received the largest number of hits, retweets, etc., for anything I’ve ever personally posted.

Which sparked an idea.

There’s an appetite for stories about raccoons and Toronto. We’re fascinated by reports of their ingenuity, whether it’s conducting home invasions or opening raccoon-proof compost bins. Partly because of their craftiness, and partly because they’re everywhere, “trash pandas” are the city’s unofficial mascot.

Raccoons are one of the few wildlife species that have thrived despite human expansion. Those accustomed to urban settings are skilled at raiding waste bins in search of human leftovers. As opportunistic feeders, they are naturally curious. They will try to open any container or bin that contains food, and they often succeed in this task. This has become such a problem in Toronto, Ontario that the city introduced “raccoon-resistant” green bins in 2016. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

They also have few f**ks to give. Whenever you stare them down as they dig for treasure in a garbage bin, their eyes tell you that they don’t take your threat to ruin their fun seriously. Their escapades, and nuisance factor to homeowners, represent the outlaw spirit people hate to admit they admire.

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Illustration from Children’s Own Library (1910). Flickr Commons.

The Raccoon is about the size of a fox, and an inhabitant of Canada and other parts of America. It is said to wash its food before eating it. Its skin is valuable, and is much sought after. The food of the Raccoon is principally small animals and insects. Like a squirrel when eating a nut, the raccoon usually holds its food between its fore-paws pressed together, and sits upon its hind-quarters while it eats. Like the fox, it prowls by night. – Jennie Ellis Burdick and Charles Welsh, Children’s Own Library (New York: National Library Company, 1910).

So, in honour of the raccoon, I’m launching Trash Panda Thursdays. Each week, I’ll share stories, ads, and other materials marking the long history of raccoons in Toronto.

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The Globe, April 24, 1854.

Browsing the Globe archives, the earliest reference using “raccoon” as a search term is an advertisement running throughout April 1854 offering cash for skins required for fulfil “an extensive order” for British and European furriers.

For much of the 19th century, raccoons only received press when they were transformed into a stylish hat or fashion accessory. For a tale involving a live specimen, let’s jump to a December 23, 1871 Globe feature surveying the Christmas season offerings from vendors at St. Lawrence Market. A pet raccoon was used by one of the vendors to distract customers away from other butchers displaying their finest livestock carcasses.

Mr. Fred Robson shows eight very fine cattle, which were purchased at the late Guelph fair, and also ten fine carcasses of mutton. A good deal of attention was attracted to Mr. Robson’s stall yesterday by the gambols of a playful young pet raccoon.

19th century language alert: according to Merriam-Webster, “gambol” means “a skipping or leaping about in play.”

Coming soon: children’s stories, ads from venerable retailers, and baby raccoons galore at Riverdale Zoo.

Shaping Toronto: Reusing an Old City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 30, 2015.

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Crowd gathered at the opening ceremony of (Old) City Hall, 1899. Photo by Galbraith & Lewis. Toronto Public Library.

From Old City Hall to mall?” To some web denizens interested in heritage and urban affairs, headlines along those lines have likely induced fits of anger lately. On the surface, you’d suspect the denigration of a National Historic Site was upon us.

Take a moment to breathe.

The suggestion in the city staff report to the Government Management Committee to convert Old City Hall into a retail centre as a future source of rental income is tempered by other recommendations to replace the provincial and municipal courts when they vacate the premises. Based on analysis from real estate brokerage Avison Young, stores could be part of a multi-use facility incorporating food, event, and civic uses. Such a fate is not unusual for other cities across North America dealing with historic city halls, or even our past municipal battlegrounds.

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City Hall on Front Street, 1895. Picture by Frank William Micklethwaite. Toronto Public Library.

When the city’s second city hall opened at the southwest corner of Front and Jarvis in 1845, it was intended as a mixed-use complex to ease overcrowded, unsanitary conditions across the street at St. Lawrence Market. While Henry Bowyer Lane’s design included a clock tower that visitors recognized as they sailed into the harbour, it lacked the imagination of its successors. Architectural historian William Dendy assessed it as competent, but hamstrung by “providing for too many functions with too small a budget.” The building was outfitted with more retail space than planned, as City Council desired more rental income.

Their greed may have been hasty. Merchants felt their shops were too small. Structural faults emerged as the building settled into the ground. Lane soon left town, leading a contemporary observer to reflect that it was “a very strange building and it was unfortunate for the reputation of the architect that he had not left the province before he completed the building instead of afterward.” The city stepped in to improve the building’s structural integrity.

By the end of the 19th century, the site was too tiny to meet the needs of a growing municipal bureaucracy, and too old-fashioned to meet contemporary ideas about grand civic architecture. The city decided to integrate it into an enlarged south St. Lawrence Market. While its wings were demolished, the centre was encased within the new façade. After decades of disuse, the old council chamber was reborn during the 1970s as the Market Gallery.

Replacement proposals during the 1870s and 1880s faced Toronto’s deathly fear of spending one cent too many. When the city purchased the site that would become Old City Hall in 1884, it was intended as York County’s new courthouse. But a committee viewing of Buffalo’s combined courthouse/city hall prompted a public referendum to borrow $200,000 to build a similar duo here. Opponents such as the Board of Trade and the Globe raised the spectre of spiralling costs due to potential political corruption and argued that a new trunk sewer was more pressing. The vote failed. Years of wrangling ensued until the cornerstone for E.J. Lennox’s design was laid in 1891.

When it opened in 1899, Old City Hall joined a wave of Richardson Romanesque landmarks emerging within the city’s landscape. These included the parliamentary buildings at Queen’s Park, the Confederation Life Building at Yonge and Richmond, and Victoria College. It was also well-placed near the city’s early skyscrapers, such as the Temple Building a block south. “Its clock tower soaring above the vista from the lake,” historian J.M.S. Careless observed in his book Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History, “this edifice was a testament in lavishly worked buff sandstone to the metropolitan dignity of the High Victorian city.”

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Before Eaton’s revealed models of its proposed Eaton Centre, local cartoonist drew their own visions based on early descriptions. Here’s Andy Donato’s from the September 10, 1965 edition of the Telegram.

Such dignity was less appreciated by the early 1960s. Once the current City Hall was approved, the future looked gloomy for its predecessor. In October 1965 a delegation from Eaton’s department store proposed to buy the building for $8 million from Metro Toronto, who had purchased it from the city four years earlier. Eaton’s, encouraged by city planners, intended to transform the mega-block of Bay, Dundas, Yonge, and Queen into the Eaton Centre a complex of office towers, a hotel, shopping mall, and new flagship store. Officials on the project claimed that Old City Hall was “an insuperable barrier” which, no matter how much they tried, was a square peg in the plan. Their solution was to demolish all but the clock tower, as well as getting rid of nearby Church of the Holy Trinity because of the march of progress.

While many politicians were dazzled by the plans—Swansea Reeve Lucien Kurata said it was “so gorgeous, it’s almost sexy”—public outcry arose. When revised plans called for the full demolition of Old City Hall to make room for the podium of the closest office tower, questions were raised. A lobby group, Friends of Old City Hall, formed, performing actions such as cleaning off a portion of soot to show the beauty of the original walls. Eaton’s suddenly cancelled the project in May 1967, blaming unreasonable municipal demands. John David Eaton, head of the retail empire, bitterly remarked to an associate “let’s walk across the street and tell [Mayor William] Dennison he can shove the Old City Hall up his ass.” The irony is that the building Eaton wanted to vanquish outlived his department store.

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Old City Hall, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 651, Item 18.

While our former City Hall carried on as a courthouse, other cities across North America found mixed uses for their former municipal sites, or are struggling with solutions. Boston’s 1865 Old City Hall houses tenants ranging from heritage agencies to law firms to a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. In Indianapolis, the old building housed the state historical museum for four decades, then served as a temporary home for the city’s central library. Vacant since 2007, the city recently entered a lease agreement with boutique hotel operator 21c Museum Hotels to restore the building as arts-related spaces and a museum, and provide a physical link to a new hotel being built in the neighbouring vacant parking lot.

Like Toronto, Tacoma, Washington nearly lost its Victorian-era city hall to demolition in the early 1970s. A remodelling with space for businesses and restaurants fell prey to the real estate market collapse. Falling into the disrepair, Tacoma bought the building from a private owner for $4 million earlier this yearafter a failure to meet repair deadlines. This week, the city is showing it off to potential investors, hoping to attract office use or a hotel.

Being a National Historic Site, it’d be a difficult, protracted process to radically overhaul the building, so anyone fearing a mini-Eaton Centre can probably relax. If such plans went ahead, public outcry would alter them (though the cleaning the soot stunt might not work a second time). What is required is a strong vision which, fingers crossed, can survive the inevitable petty political wrangling. Ideally, the building would house a long-needed city museum or other historical exhibition spaces accessible to the public. Retail tenants could integrate nods to our past a la the current occupants of Maple Leaf Gardens, and include businesses offering Toronto made or inspired products. The city report hints at possible trendy office uses such as a business or technology incubator. Given its long service to the city, whatever goes in the building should celebrate Toronto while continuing to respect Lennox’s enduring design as much as possible. It’s a site with plenty of potential that would be foolish to waste.

Additional material from Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History by J.M.S. Careless (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1984); Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986); Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993); The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999); and Unbuilt Toronto by Mark Osbaldeston (Toronto: Dundurn, 2008).

BEHIND THE SCENES

Shaping Toronto looks at the decisions, processes, and trends that form the city we know and love.”

Shaping Toronto was my last ongoing series for Torontoist. It was proposed by new EIC David Hains as a means of looking into the mechanics of Toronto history, how our present landscape was shaped, and what examples could we draw on from elsewhere.

While envisioned as being less labour-intensive than Historicist, my work habits prevented that. Ultimately, the series diverted too much time from better-paying gigs, and, likely in a state of burnout, I pulled the plug in March 2016. In retrospect, ending Shaping Toronto began my gradual withdrawal from the site, a process which took a year to complete.

It’s still a great concept, and maybe one of these days I’ll get around to doing something similar either on this site or elsewhere (send your pitches now!).

Revisiting the Past Lives of St. Lawrence Market

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2015.

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Part of the foundation pier from the 1831 St. Lawrence Market.

In the November 5, 1803 edition of the Upper Canada Gazette, a notice from Lieutenant-Governor Peter Hunter addressed an irritant for the early inhabitants of York: “no place or day having been set apart or appointed for exposing publicly for Sale, Cattle, Sheep, Poultry, and other Provisions, Goods and Merchandise, brought by Merchants, Farmers, and others, for the necessary supply of the said Town of York.”

The solution: starting that day, a public open market would operate every Saturday at the northwest corner of present-day Front and Jarvis. Nearly 30 years later, in 1831, the first permanent brick building opened on the site, a structure which ringed an open courtyard. Elements of that incarnation of north St. Lawrence Market, along with its successors, have been uncovered through archaeological work carried out as part of the preparations for the fifth market building to stand on the site.

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Model of the 1831 St. Lawrence Market, looking south from King Street, prepared by Ryerson students for the “Meeting Places: Toronto’s City Halls” exhibit at the Market Gallery in 1985.

Beyond its role as a trading centre, the north end of the 1831 marketplace housed Toronto’s first city council chambers after the city’s incorporation in 1834. But the complex had its problems, especially for butchers: the height of the gallery exposed their meat to the sun; damp and poorly ventilated cellars also provided lousy storage. Space was so tight that farmers were turned away, forcing them to sell to grocers, causing a loss of civic revenue. Part of the balcony collapsed in July 1834 during a tax riot. The solution was the construction of a new south market building, which politicians and produce vendors moved into in 1845.

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St. Lawrence Market. North Market (1850-1904), Front Street East, north side, between Market & Jarvis Streets, showing east side, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The original north market complex was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1849, and was replaced within two years in a project that also created St. Lawrence Hall. That structure met its end in 1904, replaced by one designed to match recent renovations to the south market. For 50 years a canopy above Front Street linked the two markets, as the north side settled into its role as a Saturday-only farmers market. Construction was a bureaucratic nightmare, from cost overruns to the firing of the architects; as a Star editorial put it, “the city’s interests were being looked after by too many men, so that among them all nobody gave the work the determined attention it deserved.”

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Bricks from the 1904 incarnation of the market.

When the next version of the north market was completed in 1968, some tenants were happy to see the demise of the poorly aging 1904 building. “Gone was the dirt and dust,” the Telegram observed. “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 colour everywhere. The farmers have never had it so good.” Opening reviews were mixed, with architectural critics giving the space thumbs down for being too mundane.

Dirt and dust is what you’ll find in the 1968 building as it awaits its end. Its placement atop a thin concrete pad made finding its earlier incarnations easier for archaeologists. Based on the three trenches made in the floor, you don’t have to dig deep to find the foundation piers from the 1831 complex. “Nobody had popped the lid to have a look at the what the preservation was like under the site,” archaeologist Dr. Peter Popkin noted during a media tour of the site on Wednesday.

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Part of the 1851 sewer system.

Popkin and Golder Associates Ltd. conducted the current stage of the archaeological assessment over the past few weeks, and found elements of all pre-1968 structures within the trenches. Besides the original foundation piers, other uncovered features include the 1851 sewer system, and bricks, concrete foundations, and a box drain from 1904. Evidence points toward the existence of the cellars which irritated butchers during the 1830s. While items like animal bones and ceramics have been found, their volume is less than would be discovered at a residential site. The holes in the ground also show evidence of “robber trenches” where fill was dumped during each construction project, especially from 1904.

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Showing the different surfaces over time – the darker area is believed to be the outdoor courtyard surface of the 1831 market.

One interesting find was the discolouration of levels of dirt, especially in the second trench. The darker stained soil was the original surface of the 1831 interior courtyard. While paving stones were contemplated, according to Popkin, visitors reported it was covered with gravel. The evidence points to a sandy material with plenty of pebbles sitting atop a clay capping.

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At the media tour, Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) referred to the discoveries not as “surprises,” but as “prizes” which will help tell the story of the city from their respective eras. Up to 18 months of historical assessment work was built into the timeline for the new market structure, leaving plenty of time for further investigation and a mitigation study. It is expected that some of the material found will be displayed in the new building. It shall be seen how the discoveries affect plans for a 250-space underground parking lot.

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City of Toronto coat of arms, installed 1968.

As it awaits the wrecking ball, the 1968 building feels like an archaeological relic. The tour provided one of the last opportunities to survey it, to notice touches easily overlooked on a busy Saturday morning like the old City coat of arms mounted above the stage. The waterlogged floor of the space which housed the snack bar. A floor painting honouring BuskerFest. The banner inviting visitors to check out the temporary farmers market to the south. Time will tell if this incarnation of the north market will be the least mourned.

Additional material from the September 19, 1904 edition of the Toronto Star and the February 1, 1969 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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St. Lawrence Market, north market (1850-1904), Front St. E., north side, between Market & Jarvis Sts.; interior, main corridor, looking north, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The construction of the 1904 incarnation of the north market was anything but a smooth process. Mind you, if you changed the few specific details, the following Star editorial could apply to many projects which go off the rails.

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Toronto Star, September 19, 1904.

A few weeks later, the Globe offered further details on what was going wrong.

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The Globe, October 4, 1904.

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Looking north along Jarvis Street. The canopy connecting both sides of the market, installed with the new 1904 north market building, is visible. Photo taken October 26, 1904. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 4, Item 93.

From the 1904 incarnation, we move on to pictures I took of the now-demolished 1968 version of the north market.

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This plaque was installed to mark the official opening of the north side in February 1969. This was among the last ceremonial markers to mention Toronto’s Board of Control, which met for the last time later than year. Elected by the city at large, it was replaced by an executive committee chosen from incoming councillors. The 1969 incarnation included one former mayor (Lamport), one future interim mayor (Beavis), one unsuccessful candidate in that year’s mayoral race (Campbell), and one who never ran for mayor (Marks).

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The neighbouring plaque honoured the establishment of St. Lawrence Market in 1803.

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The shell of the snack bar looked a little worse for wear. I’ll admit that I never ate there (the temptations of Buster’s, Uno Mustachio, and Yianni’s filled my tummy on Saturday trips), but it’s nice to see that a positive, legit-looking review was left on Yelp.

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Upon closer inspection, wading boots may have been required to explore the snack bar’s remains.

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On the main floor, a painted tribute to Buskerfest remains, reflecting the event’s previous connection to the St. Lawrence neighbourhood.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Lost Ox

Originally published on Torontoist on December 3, 2014.

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The Mirror, December 21, 1838.

We suspect George Baker didn’t have the merriest Christmas in 1838. A lost steer would have affected his ability to sell holiday roasts from his market stall. While it’s possible an ox gone astray might have been found among the cattle still allowed to roam the streets of Toronto at that time, it’s likely poor George was never reunited with that particular source of income.

Notices about lost livestock and other misplaced items were a fixture of 19th-century newspapers. “In the large family of classified advertising, the lost and found advertisement stands out for its sincerity,” observes Sara Bader in her book on early classifieds, Strange Red Cow. “Born out of the simple desire to reclaim or restore property, it is typically a genuine plea to the public that … still resonates. Indeed, everyone can relate to the empty feeling of having lost something—a set of house keys, a dearly loved pet that strayed too far, or an irreplaceable family locket—and we all know the surge of relief that accompanies the safe return of an important belonging.”

These ads often hinted at the problems growing North American cities faced as animals and humans tried to coexist. As late as 1853, pedestrians south of 42nd Street in New York City were injured by cattle drives. In Toronto, tensions grew in the early 19th century over free-roaming animals, which led to horrifying incidents of people mutilating cattle that wandered onto their private property.

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Illustration of St. Lawrence Market north complex (1831-1849) by Charles Comfort, Toronto’s 100 Years by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934)

John Mussop (or Mossopp) owned a farm located near the Black Bull Tavern on present-day Queen Street West. By 1840, Mussop’s property was on the edge of a zone stretching south of Queen between Peter and Berkeley streets where free-range cattle grazing had been outlawed [PDF]. The no-graze area was the result of one of a series of bylaws implemented between 1834 and 1876 that cleared city streets of animal farming—though one could argue that wild beasts roam the zone to this day, when the bars let out.

Perhaps the ox tried to avoid his fate as the day’s prime cut at St. Lawrence Market. At the time the ad was placed, the market was housed in a large red-brick building with an open courtyard. Built between 1831 and 1833 in the block bounded by King, Jarvis, Front, and Market streets, the structure also served as Toronto’s city hall for a decade. The complex was poorly designed for butchering: too much sun filtered into the stalls, and the cellars were too poorly ventilated for meat storage. But despite its problems, the butchers stayed even as poultry and produce vendors (along with city council) moved into the first version of the current south market building in 1845. The complex was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1849 and replaced by St. Lawrence Hall and new north market shops.

Additional material from Strange Red Cow by Sara Bader (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2005); and “Living and Working with Domestic Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto” by Sean Kheraj, from Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region, L. Anders Sandberg, Stephen Bocking, Colin Coates, and Ken Cruikshank, editors (Hamilton: L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History, 2013).

Remembering St. Lawrence Market’s Rice Man, Rube Marcus

Originally published on Torontoist on June 3, 2013.

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A t-shirt Rubin “Rube” Marcus once wore at his basement stall in St. Lawrence Market summed up his business: “The Rice Man Cometh.” For nearly 40 years, Marcus, who died on Thursday at the age of 92, was a market fixture. He introduced shoppers to rice varieties that went beyond white, brown, and Uncle Ben’s.

Much of Marcus’s life revolved around the market. As a child who grew up nearby, he sold coconuts outside. Later, while looking for a sideline to his career as an electrician for local school boards, Marcus took advantage of renovations to the south market in the mid-1970s to become one of its first basement vendors. “I remember my first week in my stall,” he told the Star in a 1991 interview. “I sold $22 worth of beans—and I didn’t know beans about beans!” His wife Pearl suggested the city could use a good rice store, and Marcus soon developed a reputation for carrying exotic varieties, some of which were suggested by regular customers. Rube’s grew to carry 40 varieties of rice. At a second nearby stall, he sold flour, granola, and pasta.

Purple and red rices weren’t the only colourful items on display at the rice stall. Family members who helped out wore bright yellow t-shirts that identified their relationships to Marcus. Customers received cooking tips and recipe suggestions, some of which Marcus eventually published as a pamphlet. “My wife and kids are the cooks,” Marcus told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “But I just enjoy it. I just keep the store.” As his expertise grew, he enjoyed interacting with regular customers, even if they only stopped to say hello. “My place is unique and everybody flatters me,” he joked to the Star. “If I didn’t have it I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

The market celebrated Marcus’s 90th birthday in January 2011. “Rube embodies everything that makes St. Lawrence Market what it is today,” market supervisor Jorge Carvalho observed. “His passion for food, extensive knowledge and expertise, his love for community and family, and his generous spirit is what makes him connect to everyone he meets.” Though Marcus cut back on his hours following the celebration, he continued to work until shortly before his death.

The relationships Marcus developed were evident in the condolences left by shoppers at a small memorial at Rube’s this past Saturday. While business carried on, employees and family members saluted Marcus by wearing bright yellow t-shirts and dishing out samples of creamy rice pudding. A celebration of Marcus’s life will be held at the north market at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5.

Additional material from the April 14, 1982 edition of the Globe and Mail, the January 26, 2011 edition of Inside Toronto, the July 3, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star, and the January 20, 2011 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Historical Holiday Hints: Carving a Turkey

Originally published on Torontoist on December 5, 2011. This was a first of a series of posts I wrote for the 2011 holiday season.

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The Telegram, December 19, 1931.

With the holiday season upon us, local media is full of advice on how to celebrate. From picking the best Christmas tree to a litany of gift guides, there is no shortage of tips. We like to draw our inspiration for holiday cheer from the history, even though it requires traditionalists to wade through pages of conflicting advice. While some advice is redundant, other tips still provide useful guidance for a 21st century revellers.

Take the following hints on how to carve a turkey that will impress any sized gathering.

When picking a turkey, 19th century consumers weren’t concerned with whether a bird was freezer-burned or over-plumped, pumped-up with hormones. They were dealing with live or very recently deceased gobblers. “In choosing your Christmas turkey,” the Mail noted in 1889, “see that the legs are black and smooth and the feet flexible. If old the eyes will be sunken and the feet dry.” By the 1960s, consumers were urged by the Star to look for fresh turkeys with skin that resembled “an old man’s hands—dry and slightly speckled. A watery look is a warning not to buy.”

On Christmas Day, once the turkey has cooked, will your fellow diners savour an exquisitely sliced piece of succulent meat or receive a pile of crumbling bits on their plate? The Globe relied on the test kitchen of Good Housekeeping to provide its readers with carving tips in 1887, a time when lifestyle pages were just starting to appear in local papers:

Skillful carvers do not agree as to the position of a bird on the platter. Some prefer to have the neck at the right hand, but I think the majority prefer to have it on the left. Some can cut more easily toward the right than toward the left hand, just as some women needle a thread more easily than they can thread a needle. The carving will be done with more grace if the one who carves works easily and naturally, instead of attempting to follow an arbitrary rule.

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The Telegram, December 19, 1931.

The uncredited advice dispenser chose the majority’s preference when positioning the neck. Next, the drumsticks were removed via a careful cut through the shoulder. Removing the side bone was left to the discretion of the carver, though it was recommended that it be left in if one were to dine on a tough old bird. At the time, the side bone was considered by many to be “the choicest portion, and is often left untouched because the carver is too negligent to offer it, or the guest does not like to express a preference for it for fear of exposing the host’s inability to carve it easily.” Breast meat was to be carved on a slant in thin slices with the skin left on. Rather than scoop out the stuffing, it was to be carved out through a series of delicate cuts, because nothing in the 19th century was ever to be simple. If the turkey was being served to a small family who wanted leftovers, the bird was to be carved only from the side closest to the carver; the remainder was to be garnished with parsley during meal number two.

The Telegram was far more creative when it offered a carving guide in 1931. Writer L.M. McKechnie recounted a vivid nightmare about poorly carving a giant turkey as a party of 15 watched in horror. When he woke up, he decided to consult experts, beginning with the Depression version of the internet, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He then talked to a librarian, who offered a book called Ten Lessons on Meat which offered the following advice in its carving chapter: “The art of carving is apparently little understood by the average person, man or woman.” He next read the following advice on holding a carving knife:

The steel should be held in the left hand, the point raised and inclined slightly toward the carver’s body. The knife should be held in the right hand, the point raised and inclined slightly toward the left hand at an angle of about 35 degrees from the steel. The knife is drawn along the side of the steel from the point of the steel toward the hand and from the handle end to the point of the knife, the strokes being reversed from side to side of the steel.

Confused? So was McKechnie (“I am still trying to figure that one out.”).

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The Telegram, December 19, 1931.

When the book recommended that the carver should know the anatomy of what they were cutting up, McKechnie mulled what a good surgeon would do and headed to Toronto General Hospital to have his turkey x-rayed. He then consulted Claude Baujard, master chef at the Royal York Hotel, who shook his head sadly at the loss of the fine art of carving. Baujard lamented a dinner he had recently attended where the host carved two chickens so badly that he could still hear the birds squeal. Baujard brought out a chicken and showed McKechnie his graceful technique. The secret to impressing diners was keeping everything neat when serving: “One spoon of stuffing on the plate, then lay the dark meat across the stuffing and the white meat over that.” Baujard also disclosed a technique bound to amaze any table:

If you wish to impress with the ease of your carving, it is possible to do all the carving in the kitchen except that you leave each cut just uncompleted. Then you press the slices back into place, reform your bird, hide the incisions with a little parsley. When the bird is brought to the table all you have to do is complete each cut simply and quickly and your guests will be amazed at your skill.

Feeling confident following his discussion with Baujard, McKechnie discovered that “all my zest for Christmas has returned.” He left the Royal York and, with head held high, “prepared to dismember the biggest turkey Ontario ever produced.” We hope his guests had a lovely feast.

Additional material from the December 10, 1887, edition of the Globe, the December 21, 1889, edition of the Mail, and the December 19, 1931, edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 22, 1931.

A few days after the Telegram offered its carving tips for 1931, the Star ran the following story about an egotistical prize-winning turkey from Manitoulin Island who, sadly, was unable to defend two championship titles in a row at the Royal Winter Fair.

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Toronto Star, December 22, 1931.

Mrs. Graham’s enlightening statement? “That gobbler was one of the most conceited turkeys I ever saw.”

tely 32-12-21 giant dominion turkey

How many pounds are in that Bunyanesque turkey? The Telegram, December 21, 1932.

Once upon a time, Toronto newspapers kept readers updated on the latest prices of holiday meal staples at St. Lawrence Market. The Telegram‘s report from December 20, 1932 listed prices in line with the grocery chains: around 20 to 25 cents a pound for “large, fat, healthy-looking” turkeys, 18 to 20 cents a pound for milk-fed chickens, and 17 or 18 cents a pound for geese.

Also previewed at one market stall: a black bear. “The owner told us that it would be cut up and sold after Christmas,” the paper reported. “Anybody like bear meat?”

Painting St. Lawrence Market Red

Originally published on Torontoist on June 7, 2010.

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A month after a short list of five colour-coded designs for the redevelopment of the north side of St. Lawrence Market was submitted to a seven-member jury, the winner was announced this morning by Mayor David Miller and Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre─Rosedale). The victor is the “red” covered street concept created by Adamson Associates Architects and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. The plan calls for a five-storey structure evocative of a nineteenth-century arcade that is designed to allow for natural light and ventilation and will lead pedestrians to St. Lawrence Hall. Opening is targeted for 2014.

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While construction of the new north market is underway, vendors will relocate to a temporary structure to be built in the open-air parking lot behind the south market at 125 The Esplanade. The interim location may bring a smile to drivers used to fellow motorists blocking Market Street while jostling for a sacred parking spot across from the south market (even though the parkade has tons of space) and to pedestrians having to deal with the blockading drivers. We suspect that construction may also free up a body for the Toronto Police Service, as market shoppers won’t require guidance across Front Street between intersections for a while.

Images courtesy the City of Toronto.

UPDATE

The new north market did not open in 2014. As of late 2017, the design continues to be tinkered with and debated by municipal officials, especially in the wake of archaeological finds related to earlier incarnations of the market. The temporary structure draws plenty of Saturday morning shoppers. While a traffic cop wasn’t needed at first, the volume of pedestrians crossing The Esplanade has required the use of one.