A Maple Leaf Gardens Gallery

Based on a gallery post originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2011, with new material mixed in.

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Maple Leaf Gardens, 1969. Photo by Bob Olsen. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0098050f.

“Where pucks once flew 15 feet or more on the ice, shoppers will stare at a 15-foot wall of cheese.”

That’s how this story originally began, published on the day Loblaws opened its Maple Leaf Gardens location. The arena on the upper level (still officially called, as of 2019, the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre) was still a few months away from opening. The occasion was a good excuse to take a stroll through the building’s history and the diversity of activities it had witnessed.

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The Globe, February 13, 1931.

In a timeframe that would be almost unheard of today, the request for a building permit was made in February 1931. The arena was open 10 months later. Also note the simultaneous request to the city to build an arena in Spadina Crescent, which was never constructed (the site is now U of T’s Daniels Faculty).

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Sketch of Maple Leaf Gardens, The Telegram, March 5, 1931.

Construction of Maple Leaf Gardens began in July 1931 and proceeded rapidly in order to be ready for the 1931/32 hockey season. Over 1,200 labourers, 750,000 bricks, and 77,500 bags of concrete were required to build the arena.

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Opening night ceremonies at Maple Leaf Gardens, Mail and Empire, November 13, 1931.

Over 13,000 people attended opening night on November 12, 1931. Maple Leaf Gardens President J.P. Bickell hoped that the arena would “be regarded as a civic institution, rather than a commercial venture, because its object is to foster and promote the healthy recreation of the people of this British and sport-loving city.” Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs lost to the Chicago Black Hawks 2-1.

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From W.A. Hewitt’s “Sporting Views and Reviews” column, Toronto Star, November 13, 1931:

The new Maple Leaf gardens proved a revelation to the hockey public last night. Everybody expressed amazement and pleasure at its spaciousness, its tremendous capacity, its comfort, its beautiful colour scheme, and its adaptability for hockey and all other indoor sports, with the spectators right on top of the play.

The crowd–a record one for hockey in Canada–was splendidly handled. No confusion, no crowding or rushing, everything done in the most orderly and systematic manner. The opening ceremonies were elaborate and a little lengthy, but that was excusable when one considers the importance of the occasion. They don’t open million-and-a-half arenas every night in the week.

Hewitt’s son, Foster, became a Gardens legend over his decades of broadcasting games on radio and television.

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Wrestling match, Whipper Billy Watson versus Dick Hutton, Maple Leaf gardens, July 5, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7520.

Seven days after the first hockey game, pro wrestling made its debut at the Gardens. A crowd of over 15,000 watched Jim Londos defeat Gino Garibaldi on November 19, 1931. The match was promoted by the Queensbury Athletic Club, who had recently hired Frank Tunney as its secretary. Within a decade Tunney took over the promotion and would be responsible for most of the venue’s wrestling cards until his death in 1983. One of his most popular draws was East York native Whipper Billy Watson, seen here defending a world title against Dick Hutton in 1956.

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Irvine “Ace” Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club in his office, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2370.

Among those who kept offices in the Gardens was Irvine “Ace” Bailey, who was one of the Maple Leafs’ top forwards until he was nearly killed by a vicious hit from Boston Bruin Eddie Shore in December 1933. Though unable to resume his playing career, Bailey went on serve two stints as the University of Toronto’s hockey coach and worked as a timekeeper at the Gardens until 1984.

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Skater jumps through ring of fire at Toronto War Savings Committee youth rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, February 13, 1941. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Iten 7068.

What lengths did organizers go to grab the attention of those attending the numerous war rallies at the Gardens during the Second World War? How about a skater jumping through a flaming hoop?

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Communist leader Tim Buck (front left) and others, Communist Labour and Total War Committee meeting, Maple Leaf Gardens, October 13, 1942. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7099.

Over 9,000 people attended a rally held on October 13, 1942 to support lifting the ban on the Communist Party that had been imposed under the War Measures Act two years earlier. Leader Tim Buck urged full support for the war effort to destroy the Axis powers, including conscription. Assorted labour leaders and politicians across party lines were also on stage to oppose the ban, including Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn. One wonders if Hepburn’s motives were to further embarass Prime Minister Mackenzie King as much as helping the Communists break the ban and boosting war morale.

The ban wasn’t lifted, so the Communists reorganized as the Labour-Progressive Party the following year.

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Recruiting station at wartime rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, June 1, 1941. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7033.

The Gardens were used for numerous events supporting the war effort, from fundraisers to recruiting stations like this one. Even though he was in his mid-40s, Conn Smythe signed up for military service during the Second World War, eventually leading a sportsmen’s battalion and publicly criticizing the federal government’s handling of the war. Injuries sustained while caught in a German attack in July 1944 caused Smythe pain for the rest of his life. increasing his irascibility.

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Toronto Youth for Christ rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, circa 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7111.

Religious rallies were a popular draw, such as this one for Toronto Youth for Christ in 1946. Faiths ranging from Roman Catholics to Jehovah’s Witnesses held mass meetings inside the arena. This photo also provides great views of the ceiling clock and the portrait of King George VI that Conn Smythe proudly displayed.

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Mayor Robert H. Saunders and Charles Templeton at Toronto Youth for Christ rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7114.

Mayor Robert Saunders talks to Charles Templeton (then in the evangelist phase of his life) during the Toronto Youth for Christ rally held on June 15, 1946. Over 16,000 people attended the event. “The pageant was as colourful as a professional revue and more gripping than the hundreds of athletic contests which have been fought out before hoarse throated thousands in the Gardens,” the Star reported. “With colourful, authentic costumes, fanfares from trumpets, excellent staging and colourful, effective lighting the story of religious leaders throughout the ages was unfolded.” Among the other speakers was Billy Graham.

Templeton, who was associated with the Avenue Road Church of the Nazarene (now the site of the Hare Krishna temple), gradually lost his faith, declared himself agnostic, became a journalist, ran for the leadership of the provincial Liberals, edited Maclean’s, and generally lived a busy, interesting life.

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Bingo players, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1940s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7368.

On occasion, Maple Leaf Gardens became the biggest bingo hall in the city. I think they called O67…

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Lou Brody at Maple Leaf Gardens, between 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2439A.

Cleaning the ice surface, pre-Zamboni.

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Badminton played on skates in Maple Leaf Gardens ice show, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6709.

Ice badminton, anyone?

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Liberace at Maple Leaf Gardens, May 8, 1954. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3404.

As longtime Gardens publicity director Stan Obodiac described this photo in his book Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History (Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981), “Liberace exchanged his glittering suit for a straw hat in a 1954 country number.” While this particular number wasn’t mentioned , the Star reported in its May 10, 1954 review of the pianist’s show that “every time he ran off to make a change of costume or pull some cute gag, middle-aged women, who looked as though normally they’d be the soul of domestic decorum, got up and rushed after him.”

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Stanley Holloway putting on makeup, Old Vic Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Maple Leaf Gardens, December 1954. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Iten 7342.

Veteran British actor Stanley Holloway applies his makeup between cigarette puffs before a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a touring company from the Old Vic in London. Globe and Mail drama critic Herbert Whittaker was disappointed with Holloway’s performance as Bottom. “I expected this prime exponent of earthy humour to be rougher, more simple,” Whittaker wrote in his December 15, 1954 review. “This Bottom is surprisingly modern, betraying his music hall antecedents without whipping us with uproarious burlesque. But he found himself not eclipsed but rather aided when he donned the monster head of an ass which the Ironsides have provided, and which is almost the hit of the production.” Also starring were Moira Shearer (The Red Shoes) as Titania and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) as Demetrius.

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Maple Leaf Gardens refreshement stand, April 12, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7422.

Time for a refreshment break. Based on the date, my guess is that this photo was taken prior to the fourth game in the Eastern qualifying series for the Memorial Cup between the Toronto Marlboros and the Quebec Frontenacs.

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Globe and Mail, April 13, 1955.

The Marlies won the game 3-1, and went on to win both the series and the Memorial Cup. The roster was full of future Maple Leafs stars, including Bob Baun, Billy Harris, and Bob Pulford, along with future Leafs coach Mike Nykoluk.

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Crowds on new escalators, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7446.

Obodiac claimed that Maple Leaf Gardens was the first North American arena to be equipped with escalators.

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades rehearsing Peter Pan with journalist, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6776.

Long before journalists earned the wrath of Harold Ballard, reporting from the Gardens had its share of dangers, For one, you could have conducted an airborne interview with Peter Pan before a 1950s edition of the Ice Capades.

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades with broken leg, with members of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, between 1958 and 1962. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6757.

It appears this injured Ice Capades performer’s recovery from a broken leg was assisted by Maple Leafs Tim Horton, Carl Brewer, and Bert Olmstead.

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Bill Haley and the Comets, Maple Leaf Gardens, April 30, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7213.

In what was considered the arena’s first rock n’ roll show, Bill Haley and his Comets headlined a 12-act bill on April 30, 1956 that also included Bo Diddley, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, the Drifters, the Platters, and Frankie Lymon. “Like natives at a voodoo ritual,” the Star reported the following day, “the crowd writhed and reeled until their pent-up emotions burst the dam of reason and the clambered on to the stage and into the aisles to dance.” The following years, the Gardens was one of three Canadian stops Elvis Presley made on his only tour outside of the USA.

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Perry Como and Conn Smythe with “Timmy” in Como’s dressing room for Easter Seals show, “Timmy’s Easter Parade of Star,” Maple Leaf gardens, April 14, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7314.

A benefit concert for Easter Seals was an annual staple of the Gardens schedule beginning in the 1950s. Preparing for the 1957 edition are crooner Perry Como, “Timmy” Paul Gamble, and Conn Smythe. While Perry and Paul take the photo session in stride, Conn looks a little spooked. While researching this gallery, we discovered this wasn’t an unusual expression for Mr. Smythe.

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Likely from the same photo session, with Whipper Billy Watson and another youth subbing in for Perry Como. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7318.

As for the concert, the April 15, 1957 edition of the Globe and Mail observed that “it was the front rows to which Como and every star before him played. Bright-eyed children with crippled legs were the most fortunate: many there had crippled bodies as well as bodies, but they too obviously enjoyed every minute and hopped up and down with ecstatic delight.”

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Toronto Star, April 13, 1957. Click on image for larger version.

Other performers ranged from wrestler Whipper Billy Watson to the stars of CBC’s variety series Cross Canada Hit Parade and Country Hoedown.

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Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his wife Jeanne at Liberal party rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, June 7, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4213.

The federal Liberal election rally on June 7, 1957 was a political disaster, as a teenage heckler attempting to climb onstage fell backwards and hit his head on the concrete floor. The overall Liberal campaign that year was a dud.

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Cliff Richard and the Shadows at the Biggest Show of Stars for 1960, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7220.

Cliff Richard and the Shadows were among the acts featured in the January 1960 edition of the “Biggest Show of Stars” package tour.

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Toronto Star, January 26, 1960.

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The Isley Brothers, Biggest Show of Stars, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7252.

Other acts on the bill included the Isley Brothers and Clyde McPhatter.

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Audience at the Biggest Show of Stars for 1960, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7245.

A row of screaming fans at the January 1960 edition of the “Biggest Show of Stars.” Testing the limits of their vocal chords would serve them well, especially if any of them went on to see the Beatles at the Gardens four years later.

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Toronto Maple Leafs versus Chicago Black Hawks, between 1958 and 1964. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7529.

Ageless goalie Johnny Bower guards the net for the Maple Leafs against Chicago Black Hawks forwards Ron Murphy (10) and Eric Nesterenko (15).

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Toronto Maple Leafs versus Boston Bruins, between 1961 and 1963. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7527.

In this early 1960s match against the Bruins, the Leafs’ Bob Pulford (20) has his stick primed while team captain George Armstrong attempts to help. Among the Bruins trying to prevent a Leaf goal are Pat Stapleton (4), Ed Westfall (18), and Leo Boivin (20).

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Two men in Maple Leafs Gardens dressing room, pointing to painted Toronto Maple Leafs sign, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7447.

A clubhouse motto erected by Conn Smythe to inspire the Maple Leafs. The City of Toronto Archives does not identify the two gentlemen pointing at the inspirational words, but we think they may be forward Sid Smith and goalie Harry Lumley.

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Sonny Fox with Harold Ballard at Maple Leafs Gardens, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3038.

Harold Ballard’s association with Maple Leaf Gardens began during the 1930s when the future Maple Leafs owner was involved with a number of local amateur hockey teams. This picture, featuring Ballard with American television personality Sonny Fox, was taken long before hockey fans began uttering his name with contempt.

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Dave “Tiger” Williams signing an autograph for Greg Crombie, 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8857.

This photo appears to have been left on the cutting room floor when I prepared the original post, probably to make the gallery a nice, neat total of 28 images.

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Greg Crombie at Maple Leaf Gardens with King Clancy, 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8859.

Francis “King” Clancy was the sunny face of the Maple Leafs, whether it was as a player in 1930s or a team executive from the 1950s until his death in 1986. In his biography of Harold Ballard, sportswriter William Houston compared Clancy to a leprechaun. “Clancy usually has a big smile, a twinkle in his eye to go along with his high-pitched voice. He has an amiable personality and offends no one…He is full of stories from his hockey past and can be a delightful companion.”

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One of the last chances the public had to stroll around Maple Leaf Gardens before its conversion into its present form occured during Nuit Blanche in October 2008. While there were art installation on the arena floor, the real magic that evening was hearing visitors tell stories about their experiences in the building. There were also plenty of reminders that the Leafs had left behind after vacating the premises, such as this Mercury ad.

Remembering Boblo

Originally published on Torontoist on November 27, 2012.

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The band from Boblo. Photo by Abhishek Chandra.

***1/2 out of *****

A suggestion while watching Boblo: buy a can of Faygo soda from the theatre’s concession stand, preferably a tooth-rotting flavour like Redpop or Rock & Rye. Keep it handy for swaying when the band plays the nostalgia-laden jingle used in 1970s Faygo TV ads shot on the large Bob-Lo Island ferry boats, which made daily runs along the Detroit River from the Motor City to the island amusement park.

Faygo may be sticky sweet, but Boblo isn’t. Billed as “A Rock-n-Roll Concert, A Final Transmission,” Kitchenband’s live theatrical performance reflects on the fleeting nature of memory within the context of a former theme park. Like radio waves floating across the universe, memories of Bob-Lo Island may be drifting away, but—even 20 years after the last screams from the midway echoed across the water to Amherstburg, Ontario—they continue to surface.

Boblo was an amusement park that operated From 1898 to 1993 on Bois Blanc Island, a small piece of land situated between Amherstberg and Michigan, a little south of Detroit. (Before providing a summer day’s getaway for generations of families in the Detroit-Windsor region, the island saw action during the Rebellions of 1837-1838, and as one of the final stops along the Underground Railway.) Over the years it boasted the typical array of roller coasters, bumper cars, midway games, and fast-food stands, along with attractions like a dance pavilion, an observation tower, and its iconic steam ferries. Since the park’s demise, part of the island has been developed into a private residential community.

The park’s fadeout is well reflected by Boblo‘s ghostly feel. Spectral figures sway in the background behind the plastic wrap circling the stage, while certain touches, like old-fashioned microphones, add to the out-of-time feeling. These elements echo the current state of the island, where the ruins of 19th-century blockhouses and park structures remain. Ghostly memories will also stir among those, like co-creators Erin Brandenburg and Andrew Penner, who visited the park during its century of operation or who, like me, were among the generations of Amherstburg teenagers who worked at the park every summer. I can vouch for the uniforms being as bad as described.

Anchoring Boblo is its music, which mixes originals by Penner and songs, like the Faygo ad, associated with the park during its century of existence. Ranging from melancholy string-heavy songs related to tragic events in the island’s history to energetic dance tunes the audience tapped its toes to, the diverse nature of the score combines with the multimedia stage effects to simulate something like the experience of riding a roller coaster. The acting creates a similar impression, with Sophia Walker demonstrating a chameleon-like versatility, going from a girl mapping out her experiences on the island to a slightly sinister carny whose light-swinging suggests a spinning wheel from which no one will win a prize.

Like any swooping ride, Boblo dips between its peaks. The multimedia nature of the show leads to serious sensory overload, like going on a ride after eating too much. Some background choreography and special effects could have been reduced to allow more focus on the foreground action. The use of crackly radio voices alternately adds to the dream-like atmosphere and grates when the dialogue borders on unintelligible.

A production about a bygone era is appropriate for The Theatre Centre’s final presentation in its home at the Great Hall. Following Boblo, the organization is moving into a “pop-up” location a few doors west, then into its first permanent home at 1115 Queen Street West.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This may have been the only time I worked my hometown into a Torontoist piece (though articles about Ann Arbor and Detroit came close).

A month after writing this review, I visited Boblo Island for the first time since the park closed down two decades earlier. Here are some pictures from that trip – for the full set, check out this Flickr album.

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One of the first sites when you come off the current ferry is this monument. The following plaque was placed on it in 1948:

DEDICATED TO 134 YEARS OF AMERICAN-CANADIAN FRIENDSHIP

ACROSS FORTY FIVE HUNDRED MILES OF UNFORTIFIED BORDER, PROTECTED ONLY BY THE MUTUAL RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING ONE NATION HOLDS FOR THE OTHER

COMMEMORATING THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BOB-LO EXCURSION COMPANY AND THE FIFTY YEARS OF CANADIAN-AMERICAN USE OF BOB-LO ISLAND AS AN INTERNATIONAL RECREATIONAL AREA

A second plaque notes the monument was “erected as a tribute to the sailors of the Great Lakes.”

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Opened in 1913, the Dance Pavilion was commissioned by Henry Ford and designed by architect Albert Kahn, whose work shaped the look of Detroit during the automotive boom era.

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Snow covering the former bumper car area. As of December 2012, one could still see traces of this ride, along with the antique cars track and mini golf course.

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The base of the observation tower.

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A ghost of the antique car ride track.

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One of the surviving blockhouses built in 1839 following the Mackenzie rebellions. On the day I visited, restoration work was underway, and I was given a mini-tour.

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The blockhouses and this lighthouse form the Bois Blanc Island Lighthouse and Blockhouse National Historic Site of Canada.

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The old ferry dock. The left side serviced the giant steam ferries from Detroit until the end of the 1991 season. For the amusement park’s last two seasons, visitors had to arrive from Amherstburg or Gibraltar, Michigan (one of Detroit’s far southern suburbs).

Toronto Illustrated ’57

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on December 11, 2010.

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Toronto from Lake Front.

Toronto, “The Queen City,” has many attractions for its citizens as well as for the thousands of tourists and others who visit it each year. It occupies a fine site by the shores of Lake Ontario, has beautiful residential areas and public parks, many handsome financial and industrial buildings, a good transportation system and a wide range of high-class retail stores, equal to the best found anywhere. It has an abundant supply of cheap hydro-electric power and natural gas and a large airport with worldwide connections. It is also a centre of cultural life with its churches, University, colleges, museum, art gallery, Conservatory of Music and technical schools. Its social service organizations receive generous support of the citizens each year.

With those words, editor James Cowan introduced the 1957 edition of Toronto Illustrated, an annual guide for visiting businesspeople and tourists. Following greetings from Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner and Mayor Nathan Phillips, the guide provides a heavily illustrated selection of noteworthy events and sites around town.

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The cover features a northward view along University Avenue, with Richmond Street along the bottom.

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Pre-9/11, the United States Consulate on University Avenue seems bare without its concrete barriers and security precautions.

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Continuing north, the newest attraction at the Royal Ontario Museum was a presentation of the story of creation in the geology gallery (seen above on the right; the Ming Tomb is on the left). Access was far more affordable than now: free, except on Wednesdays and Fridays when it cost a quarter to get in.

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The lone map in the guide points out the locations of local attractions and landmarks, including many that have faded into history. Given special attention is the three-year-old subway line, which is described as “the world’s newest and most modern.”

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Break time! Care for shopping and entertainment along Yonge Street near Dundas Street? For those looking for modern touchstones, the Imperial is now the Ed Mirvish Theatre, while the southwest corner of Yonge-Dundas Square occupies the site of the Downtown.

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A view of the western harbour, featuring sites still around (the Tip Top factory, the Island airport) and long demolished (Maple Leaf Stadium). Absent, but not for much longer, is the Gardiner Expressway: the section between the Humber and Jameson Avenue opened the following year and was extended to York Street by 1962.

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Quick, name the first ongoing Shakespearian festival in Canada. Stratford? Nope. Try the yearly selections of the Bard’s works staged outdoors on the grounds of Trinity College, presented by Earle Grey and his wife Mary Godwin. Actor/director/producer Grey staged his first production (Twelfth Night) at what is now the north end of the quadrangle at Trinity in 1946. The festival officially began three years later and featured a mix of experienced British actors and rising local talent—among the Grey company’s alumni were Timothy Findley, Lorne Greene, Don Harron, and William Hutt. The magazine notes that “it is a joyous and unforgettable experience to pass an evening watching one of these great plays being performed under a starlit sky, while a sly moon peeps over tower or turret.” Grey’s slate for 1957 included The Tempest (whose opening night was marred by rain and faulty lighting in the backup venue), The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.

Despite the higher prestige of the Stratford Festival, Grey’s festival appeared to have a promising future. The following year, funding was secured via grants from the city, province, Canada Council, and the Atkinson Foundation, and a new three-level stage was constructed on the west side of the quad. The promise of productions to come didn’t last long—following the death of Trinity College rector and longtime supporter R.S.K. Seeley, his successor declined further use of the site for productions. After an unsuccessful search for a new site, Grey and Godwin returned to their native England.

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Also spotlighted was the new home of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind on Bayview Avenue. The site’s mix of libraries, offices, and residences had been officially opened by Governor-General Vincent Massey the preceding April. Tenants of the Clarkewood residence were relieved to have private bedrooms after having lived in dorms in the CNIB’s former residence on Sherbourne Street. Among the amenities was a ‘Garden of Fragrance” that included metal Braille plates to identify the flora in the flower beds. The new facilities were judged to be “a fine tribute to the noble cause which they represent.”

After brief surveys of the city’s past and present, the editorial staff looked ahead to Toronto’s future:

At no former period in its history has Toronto witnessed such rapid development as at present. The central area is undergoing great changes, old office buildings are giving place to large modern structures, commercial buildings are moving out to the suburbs or are undergoing “face lifting”; family residences, with their lovely gardens, places of gracious living in Victorian days, are being replaced by apartment blocks of strange design—the city is changing with the times. Other developments planned include the following: the creation of a large civic square, adjacent to the present city hall, to be flanked with a large modern civic building, court house and other public buildings; an up-to-date civic auditorium at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets; completion of the Regent Park Housing development providing 1,289 units of modern sanitary housing; the extension of Eglinton Avenue East to connect with Scarboro Township; an extension of the present subway on the line of Bloor Street; an expressway across the southern part of the city near the lake front; diagonal highways to connect with the north-eastern and north-western areas of the city…in addition, the opening up of the St. Lawrence Seaway to permit the entrance of ocean-going ships to the upper lakes will greatly increase shipping and call for the enlargement of the Port of Toronto.

Additional material from the Summer 2005 edition of Trinity Magazine and the February 21, 1956 edition of the Toronto Star. All illustrations derived from Toronto Illustrated.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival

Originally published on Torontoist on June 30, 2015.

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eye, June 17, 1999.

Three months before the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival opened, new artistic director Chuck McEwen received an unpleasant surprise: a call from the owner of the building where the festival’s offices were located indicating the summer event had to find a new home. “That was an unexpected and high-pressure situation,” McEwen told the Star. “We had such a small amount of time to actually find a space and then move. And it’s difficult finding office space in the Annex area that fits our current budget. So it was tense.”

Quarters were found at Bloor and Spadina, and the festival rolled on. Over 11 days, 93 shows were presented. The best known, The Drowsy Chaperone, was promoted as coming from “the co-creators of Honest Ed! The Bargain Musical.” Having evolved from a stag party, the show earned kudos during its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” noted Now reviewer Glenn Sumi. “Well, OK, you won’t cry. But you won’t want to leave either.” The Star’s Robert Crew accurately predicted that, with a little reworking, “the potential is enormous and it will be back.” The show eventually won five Tonys for its Broadway run in 2006-2007.

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

At least one other show had an extended afterlife. Chris Earle’s one-man show Radio: 30, about an ad voice-over artist, received universal praise. “Radio: 30 questions our gullibility and willingness to believe what we hear,” eye’s Kamal al-Solaylee wrote, “or at least what we want to hear. It constructs parallels between acting and advertising…with humour and brutal honesty.” The show returned for the festival’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

As with any Fringe fest, some titles were more interesting than others. We’ll let your imagination figure out the plots of Haroon’s Dinner Theatre of Cruelty Presents Ethyl X in “London Bridge” (A Story of Sex)The Tale of Baldrick the Sausage & Other StoriesThe Fabulous Smokey Topaz Multimedia Extravaganza, and Wanda’s Visit and Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room.

There were also those unfortunate productions which caused critics to hold their noses. For example, Now gave its lowest rating—one N—to three shows: Afterwards You Smoke (“you’ll want them to stand up, shut their mouths and quickly leave”); Broken (“a bathetic, broken record”); and The Dead Monkey (“an overextended, unfunny sketch that veers sharply into unbelievable melodrama”).

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

Keeners may count how many of the eateries listed in the ad above still feed Fringe attendees. It’s interesting to note the last gasp of Bloor’s days as an outpost for Hungarian food—within a few years, Country Style was the only survivor.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Living Rooster Orchestra of the 1890s

Originally published on Torontoist on March 18, 2015.

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Toronto World, February 12, 1891.

When it opened in 1890, Robinson’s Musee Theatre declared itself the “leading family theatre in the city” and “Canada’s great, best, and only amusement enterprise.” Beyond the hyperbole, the Yonge Street venue took a formula popularized by Barnum’s American Museum in New York City decades earlier: part theatre, part zoo, part freak show, and part exploiter of indigenous cultures.

Take the lineup advertised in December 1890. You can hear the carnival barker’s voice at work, promising all sorts of exotic sights to lure in the rubes…er…proper Torontonians:

Barney Baldwin, the only man living with a broken neck; the scientists and physicians puzzled. Gurnam Rose, the Midget Queen. Prairie Dog Village. A Whole Troup of Japanese Wonder Workers. [Reginald] Birchall, as he appeared before and after the execution. Clad in the original suit of clothes as at the time of the murder. The wax figures are true, life-like reproductions, and made from plaster casts exclusively for Mr. Robinson. The Aztec Mummies, relics of an ancient race 3,000 years old. Hungarian Gypsy Band. 10 Masterly Musicians. 10. Prof. Singleton’s Marionettes and Punch and Judy Show. Wax Groups. Mechanical Devices. 1,000 of other Curiosities. 1,000. In the Theatre—FRANK HALL’S ALL-STAR SPECIALTY and COMEDY CO. New attractions every week.

We’re not sure what the “prairie dog village” entailed, but it’s likely animal lovers and protection officials would frown upon the routines today. There were a lot of dubious animal acts at the Musee under its various ownerships, including boxing cats and the rooster orchestra.

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Pittsburgh Press, January 18, 1891.

The musical roosters visited Toronto throughout 1891. They played engagements at the Musee in February and June, then appeared alongside duelling cats and trained seals at the Industrial Exhibition (the forerunner of the CNE) that September. Ads and press releases in Toronto newspapers revealed little about the roosters, other than that, as the Globe observed, they were “gazed upon with astonishment by all who visit the Musee.” An ad from an earlier stop in Pittsburgh tells more: they were dressed in evening wear, played stringed instruments, and were “worth” $75,000.

What was the ideal human pairing on a bill with a rooster orchestra? During their June engagement, the lecture hall displayed “The Lucassairs,” an albino father-and-son duo described as “an odd-looking family from the far-off islands of the Indian Ocean.”

Eventually some locales tired of roosters forced to play music. In 1921, the Star reported that showman John C. Essex was fined for presenting “The Great Sousa Rooster Orchestra” in Blackpool, England. Essex’s act included a bird named “Sandy McPherson” who was forced to do a Highland fling. When Essex tried to force the reluctant bird to perform in court, neither judge nor the magistrates on hand wanted to witness further cruelty.

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The Mail, June 6, 1891.

Robinson’s Musee operated under various names during the 1890s, but it was under that moniker that it offered Toronto’s first public display of motion pictures in 1896. No roosters attended.

Additional material from the June 11, 1891 and September 9, 1891 editions of theGlobe; the December 2, 1890 edition of the Mail; the January 18, 1891 edition of the Pittsburgh Press; and the July 2, 1921 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Come See the Cat Circus!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2012.

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The News, January 27, 1894.

HEAR YE, HEAR YE! Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages! Today, we have for you the most incredible, the most astonishing, the most breathtaking, and the most amusing sight you have seen all day! Moore’s Musee, in association with Torontoist, is proud to present the world’s greatest novelty sensation of 1894! On today’s bill of 12, count ‘em, 12 sterling speciality stars, you won’t believe your eyes when you set them on Professor Harry Welton’s collection of charismatic, pugilistic, death-defying felines!

May we present to you…Professor Welton’s Cat Circus!

While boxing cats, complete with miniature gloves, was the star attraction of the cat circus, it also offered felines trained to perform somersaults, ride bicycles, and walk through burning rings of fire. None of these talents would likely earn the approval of animal cruelty prevention agencies today.

Within months of its appearance on the stage of Yonge Street’s finest novelty-act theatre, Harry Welton’s cat circus took its act to the world’s first movie studio, Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria” in West Orange, New Jersey. In July 1894, W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise shot a short film of the boxing portion of Welton’s show, which was touring vaudeville theatres in the New York City area that summer. The result, Boxing Cats, was only one of a number of animal-centric films the Edison Company turned out for its Kinetoscope machines. Compared to the cockfights that the studio also filmed, a pair of boxing cats was far less violent. If title cards had been used, the film would have been the 19th century equivalent of lolcats.

Welton was one of the first people to benefit from the new medium, as his live bookings increased after the release of Boxing Cats. We’re sure people were endlessly amused.

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 9

Let’s Have a Sherry Before Dinner!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2012.

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Liberty, October 1955.

As with many cookbooks from the 1950s, print quality and the passage of time have not done wonders to the appetizing qualities of these special oven-roasted meals meant to be enjoyed with a cheap Canadian sherry. That this fine beverage’s economic benefits are touted as much as its palate-pleasing qualities tends to reinforce the poor image the Canadian wine industry enjoyed among serious oenophiles at the time.

We weren’t able to find much about the Canadian Wine Institute apart from its evolution into the Canadian Vintners Association. We do know that they offered a free home delivery service during the 1950s—newspaper ads published throughout the decade offered prompt service if you ordered three or more bottles over the phone from the nearest wine store. The organization also offered cooking guides rich in suggestions for using sherry in ways other than pickling yourself.

How to Solve a Prop Emergency

Originally published on Torontoist on July 18, 2012.

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The Performing Arts in Canada, Volume 6, Number 1, 1968.

In the midst of a busy summer theatre season, a missing prop can strike terror in the heart of any performance troupe. Sure, skilled actors can improvise around an absent item so well that an audience would never notice its absence, but given all the time devoted to maximizing a prop’s symbolic value during rehearsals, wouldn’t you want a replacement or close approximation? Have no fear—the polymer industry has come to your rescue!

Whether it’s Yorick’s skull or a hand-crafted Godzilla statue that the unfortunate fellow depicted in today’s ad can’t find, a quick run to Toronto’s venerable Malabar costume house to pick up some Polysar XB-407 might have solved his problem. Not that it would do a perfect job of replicating everything—we doubt it would have recaptured the texture of Aunt Ruthie’s old scarf that was borrowed for the production, never mind placating Aunt Ruthie once she discovered the neckwear she’d worn since her flapper days was nowhere to be found.

Who is Canada’s Most Quoted Newspaper?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2012.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1962.

In the three-way battle for Toronto’s daily newspaper readers during the early 1960s, any minor advantage turned into a selling point. For the Telegram, digging up stats on how often it was quoted proved a matter of pride, especially when compared to its ideological opposite, the Star. The Telegram’s quote tally may have been aided its growing roster of editorial columnists—some of whom, like Douglas Fisher and Lubor Zink, would be associated with the paper and its stepchild, the Sun, for decades.

Not that being quotable helped the top two papers on this list. We ask you to observe a moment of silence for the Telegram (died 1971), the Ottawa Journal (died 1980), and the Montreal Star (died 1979).

Watch Your Feet!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1930.

It was one of silent cinema’s most iconic images: comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock face in 1923’s Safety Last. Seven years later, talkies had arrived and Lloyd attempted to recapture the excitement of that scene in an extended sequence, complete with period slow-talking racial stereotypes, for his second sound feature, Feet First.

The film made its Toronto debut during a late evening showing at the Uptown. The Star noted that the theatre “echoed to laughter” for over two hours, primarily over Lloyd’s antics. As for the rest of the night’s fare, the paper was succinct: “The remainder of the bill is good.”

Additional material from the November 22, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.