Labour Day ’29

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on September 5, 2009.

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Princes’ Gates, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, (Commercial Department), photographed by Alfred Pearson, August 12, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7108.

What were the ingredients needed to produce a Labour Day weekend in Toronto eighty years ago? A visit to the CNE? Check. Tourists crowding local highways? Check. A day at a beach? Check. Union members proudly marching in a parade wearing white suits and straw hats? Check. Controversy in the sporting world? Check. Rumours of a provincial election in the offing? Check. Economic worries? Not yet (wait a few weeks). Thieves with a penchant for stealing trousers? Check…?!?

A flip through the local newspapers during the last long summer weekend of 1929 provides almost no hint of the economic darkness to come. From all appearances, the 1920s were still roaring and Torontonians could sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday with few cares.

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Ernst Vierkoetter (left) and Eddie Keating (right) settle their differences with the help of Mayor Samuel McBride. The Mail and Empire, September 2, 1929.

Headlines early in the weekend screamed in shocked tones over the poor sportsmanship shown by American swimmer Eddie Keating after his victory in the Wrigley swim marathon over German-Canadian Ernst Vierkoetter on Friday night. The trouble began when Keating was brought to the winner’s podium to speak to the crowd and a radio audience after the eight-hour, fifteen-mile race wrapped up. According to the Star:

He rather astonished those on the finish float by the bitterness of his animosity. You might have thought that a man, having won the world’s swimming championship and more money in eight hours than the premier of Ontario earns in a year, would be rather benign. But not Keating. It stuck in his memory that there had been an allegation that he was towed when he won the Lake George marathon a couple of years ago and he vented it on Vierkoetter. Keating finished first out of the 237 swimmers…he finished strongly, evidently urged on to the very last stroke by his venom. True his eyes were raw and his flesh was blue when he came out. But so was his mood. He managed to put up with Mayor [Samuel] McBride’s friendly advances, but when he advanced to the microphone to tell the waiting world how he had done it, all he said was ‘I hope Vierkoetter will now apologize for what he said at Lake George.

A stunned radio announcer told listeners that “had we known he was going to say that we would not have asked him to speak.”

Keating had nursed a grudge for two years after allegations made by Vierkoetter’s then-manager, which Keating had interpreted to have come from the swimmer himself. Vierkoetter attempted to offer congratulations, but Keating refused to talk to him. The irritated winner told a reporter, “If they want to be bum sports, I don’t want to shake hands with them.” All of the Toronto papers defended the sportsmanship of Vierkoetter, who had recently become a Canadian citizen, and condemned Keating with all the venom they had possible—it was pointed out he gruffly tossed away a tomato sandwich Mayor McBride gave him (the cad!). With all of the bad press, Keating apologized and posed for a photo op with McBride and Vierkoetter on Saturday in a ceremony at the CNE Grandstand. The mayor chalked up Keating’s reaction to the strain of the race:

People will say things when they are not in the condition in which they would like to be. He is sorry to-day for what he said yesterday. I am sure everyone is glad to know that the misapprehension has been cleared away and that Keating has been sportsman enough to admit that he made a mistake. Eddie and Ernst are friends now.

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The new Automotive Building waits for its first visitors at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Telegram, August 22, 1929.

Tourism officials had many reasons to be happy that weekend. The Toronto Tourist and Convention Association estimated that more than one hundred thousand people visited the city on Labour Day, a 25% increase over 1928. Package tours to Toronto filled hotels, with the largest being a group of three thousand who had paid ten dollars each for an excursion from Philadelphia packaged by the Reading Railroad and Canada Steamship Lines.

More than 240,000 people went to the Canadian National Exhibition on Labour Day, a slight decrease from the record set a year earlier that barely bothered fair officials. The Mail and Empire noted that on Labour Day “there were crowds everywhere, carefree crowds. Not a crowd that laughed heartily or chatted briskly—but a complacent group which made the most of Labour Day, without labour…a happy-go-lucky lot. No one made haste. No one seemed to have a destination in view. They simply glimpsed what could be seen without effort.” Nearby homeowners were happy to see relaxed crowds, partly due to the added income they brought into the neighbourhood. The Telegram reported that many homes in lower Parkdale sported cards advertising parking space. “In the area comprised within the bounds of Dunn and King Streets and Springhurst Avenue were about 3,000 cars parked on front lawns, generally not more than three each.” Some of those car owners may have made their way to the new Automotive Building, where a wide variety of 1930 models from North American car makers was on display.

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Were any of these students heading back to school among those who spent time at the Lost Children Building at the CNE? The Telegram, September 3, 1929.

One area of the CNE that saw steady business was the Lost Children Building, where more than five hundred children passed time while waiting for a reunion with their parents. The Star observed the activity there:

“Don’t cry, mother,” said one little fellow cheerfully when his weeping parent arrived to look for him. She was in tears, but he was perfectly happy getting around the outside of a generous ice cream cone…A few parents…were mean enough to leave their children, to remain there all day. Two little boys named Desmond and Roy were on hand for several hours, but they put the time in profitably by cheering up their mates who weren’t as philosophic about their detention as they were.

Officials dealt with children left at the end of the day by sending them home in cars or calling their parents, some of who resented being forced to pick up their kids.

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Cartoons from the Mail and Empire, September 2, 1929 (left), and the Telegram, August 31, 1929 (right).

The CNE grounds marked the end point for the annual Labour Day parade. Though organizers had hoped more than fourteen thousand union members would march in the procession, the number was closer to five thousand. One group not made welcome by parade officials were local Communists and their affiliated political groups, who had asked to carry banners championing free speech in the wake of police actions against them. Only accredited unions were allowed to participate in the procession and the athletic events that followed. For their part, Communist Party officials weren’t bothered—as one representative told the Star, “Labour Day doesn’t represent anything vital to us.”

The parade route started at Queen’s Park, then headed south on University to Queen. The procession moved westward to Dufferin, then south until it reached the Dufferin Gate. Marchers dressed in a variety of neat suits and snazzy headwear. For the first time, female union members joined the procession, as six women belonging to the bookbinders’ union strode along with parasols in hand. The only incident during the parade happened when a boy pressing towards the front of the crowd went home with two broken toes accidentally crushed by a police horse. An editorial in the Globe found that the parade “was remarkable for the number of advertising floats prepared by manufacturing concerns, in co-operation with their employees. It attests mutual confidence.” The next few years wouldn’t do wonders for that “confidence.”
And now, a few words from our sponsors:

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Left: Gray Coach advertisement from the Globe, August 31, 1929. Right: Eaton’s advertisement from the Globe, September 2, 1929.

Crime knows no holiday, and Labour Day weekend was no exception, as the police blotter filled up with indiscretions and misdeeds. Some seem laughable now, if tinged with potential for discrimination, as in the case of six Polish immigrants who were arrested on Sunday at a home on Walton Street for the heinous act of “gambling on the Lord’s Day.” Alcohol-related offences provided the majority of cases, including that of nineteen-year-old Clifford Ruth, who was charged with stealing a car and drunkenness after having received three bottles of wine from a winery at Queen and Sackville. Ruth was given a year’s probation and told that anyone who plied him with booze during that time was subject to a thirty-day vacation in jail. One case saw seven men from England charged with vagrancy. When one man was asked why he had left a farm job, he replied “the food wasn’t right.” Food was also at the heart of the ten-dollar fine Henry Dunn received for an altercation with a waiter at a restaurant at 370 College Street. The waiter testified that Dunn asked “What kind of a place is this that you serve stale rolls?” before the surly customer punched him in the nose. Dunn claimed self-defence after the waiter told him to leave, to which the judge replied “then you had your chance to get out and you didn’t take it.”

The most colourful crime happened at 44 D’Arcy Street during Labour Day, where Hymie Grader found himself the victim of, in the words of the Telegram, “a pants burglar.”

According to reports in the hands of the police…[the burglar] stole a pair of real good trousers from near the head of the bed where the owner slept, and decamped with the garments and $550 which was in the pockets…A roomer in the house, who grinned when he saw the trouserless victim groping around for trace of an intruder, lost his hilarity when he discovered $15 missing from his own trousers pocket. Police learned from several people who had been sitting on a verandah several doors away that a man had been seen to change his boots, enter the house and then decamp. An intensive police search was started, but neither pants nor burglar have been found.

The Star added that Grader also lost a gold watch in the incident. His losses in the long might have been far less than what other Torontonians would soon experience.

Additional material from the August 31, 1929 and September 2, 1929 editions of the Globe; the August 31, 1929, September 2, 1929, and September 3, 1929 editions of the Mail and Empire; the August 31, 1929 and September 3, 1929 editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 22, 1929, August 31, 1929, and September 3, 1929 editions of the Telegram.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Four)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. Click here for the full series.

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The Telegram, August 7, 1923.

From Jeff Wiltse’s book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), a few words on the changes occurring by the 1920s in who was using pools for swimming and other leisurely pursuits (the use of “resort pool” here included large spaces operated by municipalities).

The resort pools of the interwar years democratized swimming in America and transformed the social composition of swimmers. Millions of new swimmers–including large numbers of females, adults, and middle-class Americans–flocked to them. Gone were the days when working class boys dominated these spaces. Most critically, the social divisions that characterized pool use during the Industrial Age largely evaporated during the 1920s and 1930s. Working class and middle class, men and women, and children and adults all swam together. The social integration resulted from several factors. For one, the redesign and relocation of pools made them appealing to adults and the middle class. Adults enjoyed lying out on the sand beaches and socializing on the pool decks. Middle-class Americans felt comfortable accessing pools located in large parks rather than buried in residential slums. At the same time, the prejudices that had deterred the middle class from swimming with the working classes during the Progressive Era weakened during the 1920s. Working-class whites did not seem quite as poor, dirty, and foreign as before. Gender integration resulted mainly from changes to public policy. Across the nation, public officials permitted males and females to swim together beginning in the 1920s because they intended the new resort pools to promote family and community sociability. They looked to swimming pools to bring diverse members of the community together, not keep them apart, as was the case earlier. The result was a complete social reconstruction of these public spaces.

As public officials intended, the municipal pools of the interwar years functioned as centers of community life. They attracted thousands of people at a time and, unlike at most public spaces, the social contact was sustained and interactive. Swimmers spent hours, often the entire day, at pools–playing games, sunbathing, and chatting.

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The Telegram, August 8. 1923.

Not everyone was welcome at all of Toronto’s swimming areas. By the early 1930s, members of the Jewish community found that summer resorts near the city forbid their presence, while groups like the Balmy Beach Swastika Club chased them away from lakeside beaches.

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The Telegram, August 9. 1923.

One other change Wiltse observes happened as gender integration hit swimming spots: the creation of erotic public spaces.

Males and females shared the same water, rubbed shoulders on sandy beaches, and viewed one another mostly unclothed. Public officials mandated conservative swimsuits early in the 1920s in an attempt to ensure modesty and dampen the sexual charge. After the mid-1920s, however, the acceptable size of swimsuits gradually shrank until, by 1940, men wore nothing but tight trunks and many women wore two-piece brassiere suits. Swimmers and spectators at municipal pools could gaze upon the legs, hips, back, bust line, and shoulders of women and almost the entirety of men’s bodies. As a result, municipal pools became public stages for oneself on display and public venues for visually consuming others. This exhibitionism and voyeurism eroticized municipal pools and contributed to a fundamental shift in American culture. Public objectification of female and male bodies became acceptable, and public decency came to mean exhibiting an attractive appearance rather than protecting one’s modesty.

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The Telegram, August 10, 1923.

This increasing eroticism may partly explain the Telegram‘s decision to hold a “Water Nymph Carnival” at Sunnyside to tie into the daily lessons. The first announcement appeared on August 10.

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The Telegram, August 10, 1923.

The way “water nymph” is used throughout this announcement makes it sound like a fetish term.

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The Telegram, August 11, 1923.

The Telegram, August 11, 1923.

The Telegram‘s weekend photo roundup began including subtle nods to the upcoming Water Nymph Carnival. Little would readers realize how much promotional material they’d see over the next week.

Next time: All water nymphs, all the time…and why there was no such thing as a masculine water nymph.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Three)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. Click here for the full series.

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The Telegram, July 30, 1923.

Four years before this series was published, the Telegram printed an article where swimming expert George Hebden Corsan explained why women were so well-adapted to the water.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1919.

Corsan believed men required more intensive instruction in learning how to swim due to their heavier muscle mass.

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The Globe, October 7, 1926.

There’s a lot more to say about Corsan, a pioneering swim instructor who dabbled in farming and vegetarianism, in upcoming posts.

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The Telegram, July 31, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

A sampling of post-First World War bathing suits, which the copywriter regards as “utilitarian.”

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The Telegram, August 1, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

Apparently Chicago’s beachwear was considered far more chic that Toronto’s.

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The Telegram, August 2, 1923.

A few words on the early evolution of swimwear during the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Lisa Bier’s book Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870-1926 (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011):

Women’s bathing costumes ranged from the rented plain suits to very fancy silk ones, but what they had in common was coverage. These suits provided more skin coverage than today’s dresses, with skirts that reached at least the knee, corsets, sleeves, bloomers, stockings, and bathing shoes. They were dark in colour for modesty’s sake, and often quite heavy when wet. Pressures from society concerning modesty conflicted with issues of safety and function. For women interested in venturing away from the ropes and actually swimming, not just wading, the suits were a hinderance and a danger.

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The Telegram, August 3, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1923.

Next time: The Telegram makes a big announcement for aspiring water nymphs.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Two)

During the summer of 1923, the Evening Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming lessons for women. Due to time constraints, and wanting to post the rest of these tips while its swimming season, here is week two of the series sans commentary. More context in future posts!

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The Telegram, July 23, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 25, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 26, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 27, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 28, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).