Opening City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2015.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

When the new City Hall opened on September 13, 1965, that afternoon’s Toronto Star editorial echoed many initial thoughts about our new $31 million landmark:

Suddenly today every Torontonian is ten feet high. For the new City Hall is his. He is part of its greatness and shares its beauty. There in its mass and grace is his visible assurance that he is a citizen of no mean city. The building in Nathan Phillips Square is more than an impressive and proud architectural statement of civic status. It gives the metropolis a focus. It is the heart of Toronto’s future. It is the symbol of the new Toronto and we can rejoice in what it means.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Seven years after Viljo Revell’s design was chosen in an open competition, four years after ground had broken, the controversial structure buzzed with activity while preparing for its debut. Forty-two workmen moved furniture, including the mayor’s desk, across Bay Street via overnight dolly runs. Shelves were filled at the new library branch. Workmen scrambled to finish installing desks and rugs, catching up after an eight-week carpenters’ strike. Metro Toronto’s coat of arms for the council chamber arrived late. Officials decided that the first two floors of the podium, the council chamber, and the basement cafeteria were the only areas ready for public scrutiny.

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Cartoon by Sid Barron, Toronto Star, September 13, 1965.

A military band from Petawawa launched the festivities at 1:30 p.m., which drew a crowd of 15,000. The civic guard of honour escorted city councillors and suburban mayors and reeves from old City Hall to the platform in front of the new building. At 2:15, a 100-member honour guard drawn from five regiments marched into the square. Accompanied by the first of several RCAF flyovers, Governor-General Georges Vanier’s motorcade arrived on time. He was followed by the Finnish ambassador to Canada, Torstein Tikanvaara, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and Ontario Premier John Robarts.

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Toronto Star, September 14, 1965.

In his opening speech, Mayor Phil Givens observed that many were responsible for new City Hall, “from an architectural genius in far-off Finland, to the humblest labourer in Canada, and, above all, the support and patience of the citizens of this city.” To Givens, the building symbolized both Toronto’s transformation into a world-class city, and the audacity to build so unconventional a structure in a city steeped in tradition.

Pearson praised City Hall’s modernity, while lamenting the likely fate of its predecessor, which “must become a sacrifice to progress” (plans released later that week for an early version of the Eaton Centre would have demolished all but the clock tower of old City Hall). He was followed by Robarts, three religious leaders, and the presentation of a ceremonial gavel by Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps.

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The living former mayors on hand for the ceremony (Allan Lamport refused to come, while Hiram McCallum was out of town on business). The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

But the man of the hour was Nathan Phillips, whose championing of the new civic square led to his name being bestowed upon it. Givens and Vanier presented him with the Civic Award of Merit gold medallion. Phillips slipped comfortably back into his “mayor of all the people” mode all day, joking with fellow dignitaries. When he examined Givens’ new office, Phillips grinned and said “I didn’t know I was building this for you, Phil.” Noticing the press later on, he assumed a serious tone to state how this was one of the most important events in his life, and how grateful he was for the honour of having served as mayor. He smiled as he switched back to his normal speaking voice. “How was that, eh?”

While Phillips was visibly moved by the reception he received, one of his predecessors was a party pooper. Allan Lamport had backed more conventional designs during his mayoralty in the early 1950s, and believed taxpayer money was wasted on the project. Having campaigned to review the project during his failed 1960 mayoral bid, his bitterness was still evident. Lamport spent the day at his insurance office. “I have to work for a living and I haven’t got the time for parties these other fellows have,” he declared. He had no desire “to cheer something that is wrong and impractical for the taxpayers.”

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Globe and Mail, September 13, 1965.

After the presentation to Phillips, Givens paid tribute to Revell, who had died less than a year earlier. Revell’s widow Maire sat in the front row next to the Finnish ambassador. The Toronto Finnish Male Choir sang “Finlandia” to honour Revell, whose work was commemorated with a plaque by the front entrance. Mrs. Revell was given a gold pendant depicting her husband’s work. Despite her stern bearing during the ceremony, she later signed souvenir programs and indicated she had enjoyed the day even if it was difficult to express her feelings about the realization of her husband’s work. She admitted in a Globe and Mail interview that initially it wasn’t one of her favourite designs. “But when I first saw the drawings for it, I knew that it was going to be for the best,” she said. “I was really shocked at the design—shocked in the sense of liking it.” One of her laments was that Revell had visualized a sculpture by Henry Moore as part of the square, an element which appeared only after a battle royale among city politicians the following year.

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Mayor Phil Givens’s office. Canadian Architect, October 1965.

Among those sitting on the green benches reserved for dignitaries was 90-year-old Alfred Stagg. He had ventured downtown that day to buy a hearing aid battery for his wife. Noticing the crowd in the square, he asked a police officer what was going on. Stagg then shared stories about his childhood adventures on the site. “We used to play on the vacant lot there,” he told the Telegram. “And there used to be circus wagons there sometimes…and snake charmers and medicine men. I had a tooth pulled out by one of them.” The officer took Stagg by the arm and walked him past the VIP barricade. Asked his opinion of the new building, Stagg replied “I used to call it Phillips’ Folly. But now I like it.”

The ceremony ended with the official ribbon cutting. Watched by Givens and Metro Toronto Chairman William Allen, Vanier used a giant pair of scissors to cut the 132 foot long ribbon. Fireworks went off.

Confusion ensued when the dignitaries went on a post-ceremony tour. Robarts was accidentally barred from the mayor’s office. The building’s circular shape led confused guests into places they didn’t expect—trips to the cafeteria turned into expeditions through the chauffeurs’ garage. Limited elevator service created long waits for overcrowded cars to reach the council chamber. Pearson and others vainly searched for a staircase, only to discover that they were closed because they also led to the freshly asphalted front podium roof (workers were afraid high heels would leave holes). The PM joined everyone else in line.

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1965.

Press reaction was positive, steeped in civic pride and confidence in Toronto’s future. That feeling carried over into the Star’s man-on-the-street interviews, such as one with civic worker Jack Boustead:

You can have memories, but you can’t live in the past. The old City Hall, and I knew it for 54 years, served its purpose. The new City Hall is a symbol of Toronto’s progress and outlook on life. The City Hall should lead in new architecture.

Not everyone was pleased. Roofer John Fridz felt it lacked dignity, charm, and a clock tower. “This new thing is cold, grey, and not worth the cost,” he observed. “If it impressed any one—it won’t be from beauty.” At least one letter writer to the Star preferring that the hoopla be directed to building the Bloor-Danforth line into Etobicoke and Scarborough, proving you can work complaints about subway service in the east into any Toronto political development of the past half-century.

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Toronto Symphony Orchestra performing in Nathan Phillips Square. November 14, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2531.

Opening day ended with the first of a week-long entertainment series in Nathan Phillips Square, a salute to Canada’s military history. The next evening, around 30,000 watched a bill featuring the Canadian Opera Company, National Ballet of Canada, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The latter decided not to fire cannons during the 1812 Overture out of feat of shattering hard-to-replace glass—the replacement smudge pots proved a bust. “The entire event recalled something of a civilized ritual of a bygone era, the conversazione,” noted the Globe and Mail’s Ralph Hicklin. “There was music there—beautifully presented, well amplified—for those who wanted to hear it. There was room for the others, who had come to promenade, or to chat, or do a little courting. In Toronto, where we are reputed to take out pleasures sadly, it was wonderful to see so many people having a wonderful time, in surroundings as beautiful as any you could find in North America.”

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

Day two also saw the building open for public tours. Over 200,000 passed during the week, their enthusiasm keeping the tour guides perky. Some cranky visitors felt it was their right as taxpayers to visit private spaces. The most popular stops were the neighbouring offices of Allen and Givens.

Politicians testing the new facilities found flaws. The Board of Control found a committee room was too small to hold other officials and the press, while the Public Works committee met in the cafeteria. A policy to use the council chamber solely for full city and Metro council meetings was revisited. When Metro Council held its first full meeting on September 21, East York Reeve True Davidson, no fan of the building, insisted councillors didn’t need mics to be heard. She was later asked to remove her hand from her mic. After the session, she claimed she didn’t like how she sounded over the sound system.

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The Telegram, September 20, 1965.

The evening celebrations carried on, including events ranging from a multicultural night to square dancing. It climaxed on September 18 with “Toronto A Go Go,” a teen-centric concert featuring local rock acts and go-go dancers. Givens taped radio ads for the show, urging “all you cats and those who are young at heart” to come on down. The crowd of 60,000 whipped itself into a frenzy, causing officials to ask for calm several times. One of Givens’ requests turned into a duet featuring the mayor and Bobby Curtola singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Around 200 police officers were present in case the show went off the rails.

The climax came during the performance of the soul-influenced ensemble Jon and Lee and the Checkmates. During a cover of James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” singer Jon Finley’s gyrations “moved the girls in the front rows to new heights of endeavor,” reported the Globe and Mail, “as they screamed and tried to push through the police.” Givens and other officials had enough. According to Finley, the mayor tried to grab drummer Jeff Cutler’s cymbal, but was whacked across the knuckles as the band kept going. Finley was later helped off the stage, nearly unconscious—as another entertainer told the Star, “he doesn’t sing from his heart or that…he sings from his soul and it gets him emotionally.”

Givens ordered an early start to the evening’s fireworks.

Amid the mayhem, 19-year-old Brian Batt was stabbed, the result of an encounter with other youths described as wearing Beatles-style ensembles. The wound missed Batt’s coronary artery by a millimetre. Five men were later charged over the incident.

Despite the chaos, Givens was satisfied with how the go-go unfolded. “It was a great night and I’m glad we had it,” he told the Star. “There was a great spirit of enthusiasm, although I was worried a couple of times that someone might get hurt. But the police did a great job of controlling the crowds.”

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Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, September 13, 1965.

As politicians settled in and resumed their usual squabbling, the new City Hall remained a busy tourist attraction. To this day, the site retains its place as a symbol of our civic pride, and the heart of where we’d like Toronto’s future to unfold.

Additional material from Before the Gold Rush by Nicholas Jennings (Toronto: Penguin, 1997); the September 9, 1965, September 11, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 15, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 18, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 4, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, and September 20, 1965 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The final installment of  the second run of Vintage Toronto Ads, published on Torontoist on September 9, 2015, tied into this article.

When a major landmark opens, everyone (apart from skinflints complaining about cost) wants to join the party. It’s an opportunity to mark a major addition to your city, display optimism for the future, or find any means to hitch your wagon to the hoopla. Advertising in this vein ranges from simple congratulations to using the event as a springboard to brag about your latest milestone.

The opening of new City Hall in September 1965 was no different. The following ads mix historical perspectives, media coverage, building sketches, and corporations eager to embrace the future our new civic space symbolized.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 8, 1965.

Bosley Real Estate’s ad highlights how the process to build City Hall went back nearly two decades, and tips its hat to previous occupants of the site.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Shell Canada operated its head office at 505 University Avenue from 1958 until moving to Calgary in 1984. Design firm Mariani and Morris was among the contenders to build City Hall in the early 1950s.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

The Revell-inspired sand castles resemble those built by Nathan Phillips in an editorial cartoon five years earlier.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

John B. Parkin Associates’s Simpson Tower opened in 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1965.

Given the firm’s work on City Hall, employees of John B. Parkin Associates earned a well-deserved day off.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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The Telegram, September 10, 1965.

The Telegram’s supplement was the largest of the newspaper sections honouring City Hall.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Self-Denial or Lighting for Tourists?

Originally published on Torontoist on February 23, 2010.

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Toronto Star, May 2, 1930.

Picture yourself as a downtown shopkeeper heading home after a busy May afternoon eighty years ago. After locking up, you stop by the corner newsstand to pick up the evening edition of the Daily Star. Looks like it’s your lucky night: there’s an empty seat on the streetcar. Making yourself comfortable, you flip through to see if there’s any word on how last night’s Board of Education vote on the confirmation of a director at your son’s high school went…ah, there it is, wedged onto page thirty-three between accounts of a car wrapped around a telegraph pole at Bloor and Parliament and a woman who suffered a fatal “illegal operation.” Before you dive into the article, two ads on opposite sides of the page catch your eye.

On the left side of the page, there’s the Sally Ann urging you to deny yourself some small pleasure in life so that their enlistees can rescue a shifty man reduced to liberating boxes wrapped in plain brown paper. On the opposite side, there’s the Toronto Hydro Electric System urging shopkeepers like you to invest in fancy window-display lighting to draw eager tourists ready to spend money into shops like yours. You ponder both of these pitches for a moment—despite the worsening economic climate, your business is doing well enough to have extra money to toss around. In the battle between your commercial and humanitarian instincts, which will win?

The answer is neither. You read about the school vote, then flip to the sports section and decide which horse races to consult on with your bookie.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here are the other stories this post alluded to, all taken from page 33 of the May 2, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.

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During this era, “illegal operation” tended to be code for an abortion.

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Northern Vocational School welcomed its first students later that year. It evolved into today’s Northern Secondary School. One of the trustees mentioned in the article, Adelaide Plumptre, had a distinguished public service career. Her milestones included serving as superintendent of supplies for the Canadian Red Cross during the First World War, a city councillor, and the first female chair of the Toronto Board of Education.

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I’m kind of dubious about the true benefits of ironized yeast.

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Finally, this piece of advice/words of wisdom/space filler appeared in the middle of the page, below the illegal operation story.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 3

Listerine Kills Germs and Body Odour

Originally published on Torontoist on July 21, 2009.

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Maclean’s, July 15, 1923.

If Listerine can freshen your breath and kill bacteria in the mouth, why can’t it do the same to the rest of your body? It’s safe!

Deodorants and antiperspirants were still in their early stages of evolution when Listerine made today’s pitch—the first commercial underarm deodorant, Mum, had arrived on the market in 1888, with the first antiperspirant, Everdry, following fifteen years later. After you read descriptions of the composition and application of early antiperspirants, Listerine’s claims begin to make sense. Early products were wet, clammy, aqueous alcoholic solutions of aluminum chloride that were poured onto a cotton ball before being dabbed on the body, a technique that Listerine’s model appears well acquainted with. Drying was a slow, sticky process that, once you got past the skin irritations and damaged clothing, reduced one’s stink.

Is That Landmark Sealed with Polysulfide?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2009.

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Canadian Architect, January 1985.

These three local towers were…

While searching for information regarding Morton Thiokol and polysulfides that didn’t involve deep scientific analysis of the chemical composition of the sealant used in these Toronto landmarks, we ran into an interesting tidbit from the current manufacturer: the sealant should have a “twenty-year service life under normal conditions.”

Makes you want to watch your head while passing by any of these structures, doesn’t it?

Why You Shouldn’t Steal a White Glove Girl

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2009.

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Time, February 10, 1967.

Translation: the “temporary” relationship clause in a White Glove Girl’s contract refers to the amount of time she has remaining on this mortal plane. Until then, we’re happy to shuffle temps around from employer to employer, keeping our White Glove Girls under lock and key until the next call comes in. Sometimes we’ll let them out of the dunge…asset pool for a few minutes to take care of their “happy homemaker” duties. Anyone thinking of stealing one of our assets should be aware that we’ve spent years working on glove-tracing technology—we’ll know when you’ve stolen our assets!

A Toast to Good Hydro Services

Originally published on Torontoist on December 8, 2009.

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(Left) The Globe, November 1, 1929, (right) Toronto Star, November 19, 1936.

We’re not sure which of the images conjured up by today’s ads is more disturbing. Is it the trio of factory workers depicted in a manner usually reserved for nursery rhyme characters or World War I casualties? Or is it the deified toaster (whose cost, if translated into modern money, would start at around $228) trained to act with the utmost style and refinement for a classy late-dinner gathering?

Both ads are fine examples of the large quantity of newspaper advertising the Toronto Hydro Electric System bought during the 1920s and 1930s. Besides trained toasters, the utility’s retail arm offered customers technological marvels for the home such as electric ranges.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Be Modern—Cook Electrically!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 7, 2007.

Vintage Ad #229 - Cook Electrically!

Source: Official Souvenir Program, City of Toronto Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Celebration, 1927.

Today’s homemaking hint: tossing out the old gas or wood stove or abandoning the fireplace for a sparkling new electric range will improve household cleanliness, make your food taste better and produce a happier chef! That’s not just dinner our average housewife is holding, it’s the taste of progress!

The closing line about buying Canadian goods to “bring better times” was good advice but poorly timed, given the financial rollercoaster of the next decade. At least one could drown their sorrows in another piece of electrically-cooked pie.

The Toronto Hydro-Electric System was created in 1911 and gradually took over a number of private operators that had provided the city with power. The book this ad appeared in provides a short history, which mostly provides a list of dignitaries associated with company, several with “Esq.” attached to their name (no doubt to prove just how important they were).

From the same source, a few facts about Toronto in 1927:

  • City area was 40 square miles (the boundaries were the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto, minus Forest Hill and Swansea, which were not merged into the city until 1967)
  • 3,521 industries
  • 216 “branches of American industries”
  • 560 miles of streets
  • 227 miles of street railway (streetcars)
  • 49,000 street lights, which are touted as the “best street lighting system in America and at the lowest cost.” Have the egos of our city fathers ever known any bounds?
  • 68 parks that contained 1,978 acres of park area and 40 equipped playgrounds
  • 20% of Ontario’s population lived in Toronto
  • 64% of residents owned their homes
  • 11 public hospitals
  • 17 libraries
  • 117 public schools, 40 separate