Goin’ Down the Davenport Road

Originally published on Torontoist on July 8, 2011.

 

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Unveiling the Davenport Road plaques are (left to right) executive director of Heritage Toronto Karen Carter; heritage advocate Jane Beecroft; Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Chief representative Carolyn King; Greater Yorkville Residents’ Association president Gee Chung; and heritage advocate Shirley Morriss. Photo by Jamie Bradburn, July 2011.

Waves from a glacial lake once lapped along it. When the water receded, the winding path at the bottom of the escarpment left behind proved an ideal path for local aboriginal peoples to travel between the Toronto Carrying Place along the Humber River and the Don River to the east. After Europeans arrived, the trail became a route for farmers to bring their goods to the city and a vital link for growing villages like Yorkville and Carlton. While the rest of downtown adopted a straight grid pattern, the old route kept its curves, though numerous widening and paving projects allowed for vehicles, from streetcars to bicycles.

The long history of Davenport Road is now commemorated in Frank Stollery Parkette at the road’s eastern terminus, through a trio of pillars prepared by Heritage Toronto.

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Davenport, the house of Colonel Joseph Wells, east of Bathurst Street and north of Davenport Road, Toronto, circa 1900. Archives of Ontario, Item F 4436.

The road derived its name from Davenport, a home built in 1797 by military officer John McGill, who reputedly named it after a major stationed at Fort York. Located in the vicinity of the northeast corner of Bathurst and Davenport, the home was said to possess an amazing view of the town of York. When the property was bought by Joseph Wells in 1821, the original house was demolished and replaced with the structure shown above. Wells, a former military officer, also served as a legislator, a bank director, and, until forced to resign due to financial improprieties, the treasurer of Upper Canada College. His eldest son, George Dupont Wells, inspired the names of several nearby roads, including Dupont Street and Wells Hill Avenue.

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Canadian Pacific Railway crossing Davenport Road from north, 25 yards distant, circa 1895. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 1A, Item 3.

During the 19th century, the old trail slowly took on the characteristics of a modern road. To finance improvements, a series of toll booths were set up along Davenport, one of which survives as a museum at the northwest corner of Bathurst and Davenport. By the end of the century, railways and streetcar tracks crossed the road.

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Gate to Ardwold, Davenport Road, circa 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3138.

Mansions that sat along or above Davenport, such as Casa Loma, had their own access points to the road. This picture shows a gate for Ardwold, the home of Eaton’s department store president Sir John Craig Eaton. Built in 1909, Ardwold remained in the family until it was demolished in 1936. The name lingers on through the residential street built on the property, Ardwold Gate.

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Car on muddy Davenport Road east of Bathurst Street, 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 42B.

As automobiles took over city streets in the early 20th century, the muddy nature of roads like Davenport posed problems, especially when snow thawed. Given the deep ruts, we wonder if the vehicle’s occupants eventually required a tow.

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Hillcrest Park, Bathurst Street and Davenport Road, circa 1911-1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8213.

For a short time around the First World War, horse racing fans congregated at the southwest corner of Bathurst and Davenport to place their bets at Hillcrest Park. The notes for this photo from the City of Toronto Archives debate whether the crowd has gathered for the opening of the track in 1912 or the ribbon-cutting for the newly graded section of Bathurst Street to the north.

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Davenport Garage under construction, looking northwest, July 6, 1925. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3888.

The horses were soon replaced with transit mechanics. Soon after its formation in 1921, the TTC (then known as the Toronto Transportation Commission) purchased the site and transformed it into the main repair complex for its streetcar fleet. A garage for buses was built along the Davenport side of the property in 1925.

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Dominion Bank branch at the corner of Dovercourt and Davenport Road, circa 1947. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 3, Item 1430.

Though its use has changed over time, the front of this former branch of the Dominion Bank still bears the name of the intersection.

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Traffic jam at intersection of Davenport Road and Dupont Street, June 20, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2434, Item 34560x-4.

By the 1950s, traffic volume caused rush-hour backups at the intersection of Davenport and Dupont that required the assistance of Toronto’s finest. On the left is the Sign of the Steer restaurant, a European-style steakhouse that hosted banquets and receptions for Toronto’s well-to-do.

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Sign of the Steer restaurant, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 504.

Owner Hans Fread hosted the CBC’s first cooking show, Hans in the Kitchen, from 1953 to 1954. The former lawyer was a bitter man when he closed the 600-seat restaurant in June 1960, placing the blame on Ontario’s “stupid liquor laws.” He especially blamed Premier Leslie Frost’s wife for persuading her husband not to relax regulations that prevented Fread from serving drinks after 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday. (Mrs. Frost claimed to have no influence on the premier in such matters, and noted that Fread’s claims were “one for my scrapbook.”) Fread soon moved to Winnipeg, where he found far better eats than were served in the Toronto restaurants that catered to “Lady Plushbottoms.” As Fread told the Star: “Torontonians like cubbyhole restaurants. They think a candle on the table makes good atmosphere…Instead of service, we offer our guests a short course in sobriety.”

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Davenport Road, looking west from Howland Avenue, July 1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 284.

Long before a bike lane was first installed on Davenport in the mid-1990s, cyclists enjoyed its non-grid meanderings. Modern cyclists can take a rest in front of the new plaques and contemplate the past, the lives lived on the route they just followed.

Sources: Spadina: A Story of Old Toronto by Austin Seton Thompson (Toronto: Pagurian Press, 1975), Toronto Street Names by Leonard Wise and Allan Gould (Willowdale: Firefly Books, 2000), and the June 29, 1960, and October 17, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.

Ardwold and Ardwold Gate

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 19, 2013.

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Ardwold, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3087.

Things were going well for John Craig Eaton as the first decade of the 20th century ended. He inherited ownership of the family department store following the death of his father, Timothy, in 1907. His wife, Flora, was developing a reputation as a cross-Atlantic socialite. With his elevated social status and growing family, Eaton decided to build a grand mansion.

In January 1909, he purchased an 11-acre estate on Spadina Road north of Davenport Road that possessed a great view of the city and lake. Wanting to keep the purchase price discreet, he delivered a valise filled with $100,000 worth of bills to the bank to close the deal. His new home joined a collection of neighbouring fine residences, including Rathnelly, Spadina, and the under-construction Casa Loma. Eaton hired A.F. Wickson to design a 50-room home inspired by English and Irish country homes of the early Stuart era. The residence was dubbed Ardwold, which was gaelic for “high green hill.”

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Entrance to Ardwold, Eaton family residence, Spadina Road, September 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2072.

Built between 1909 and 1911, Ardwold included 14 bathrooms, an elevator, Italian-inspired gardens, and an indoor swimming pool connected by a basement tunnel. The centrepiece was a two-storey great hall outfitted with a pipe organ that Eaton frequently played. When Eaton introduced the family to the completed home upon their return from a long European tour, his two-year-old son John David moped at the bottom of the grand staircase. “I don’t like this hotel,” he cried. “I want to go home.” Perhaps the boy reacted to what architectural historian William Dendy described as the home’s “air of empty pretentiousness.”

When the family fell ill, they used the on-site hospital room, which could be converted to an operating room during emergencies. Unfortunately, Eaton spent much of the last two months of his life there before dying from pneumonia in March 1922. His wife, by now Lady Eaton, spent little time at Ardwold afterwards, preferring to reside in Europe, Muskoka, or in Eaton Hall near King City.

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Wedding fashion parade at Ardwold, circa 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1855.

By 1936, Lady Eaton thought it was “wasteful” to maintain the property. Telling the Star that it was “too large for the needs my family,” she demolished the house. Eaton family biographer Rod McQueen believed that “such a destructive approach can only be described as desecration, or at best, wildly eccentric.” Dynamite was required to bring down the thick walls. While some furnishings were moved to Eaton Hall, the rest were auctioned off. Only elements like a stone-and-wrought-iron fence survived.

After considering an apartment building, real-estate agent A.E. LePage subdivided the property along a new road, Ardwold Gate. “We plan to develop the whole 11-acre area with homes of Georgian design to harmonize, as is done in many of the finer residential sections of England,” LePage told the Star in 1938. The average cost of the new homes was $30,000, or just under $500,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

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Toronto Star, May 20, 1938.

The community became an exclusive residential enclave for well-heeled businessmen. Among them was George Beattie, an Eaton relative whose career with the department store ended over an expletive-filled argument. Nursing a grudge, Beattie watched gleefully when Ardwold was demolished. Soon after buying a home on Ardwold Gate in 1947, he peed on one of the remaining cornerstones of the old house.

Residents engaged in several battles to maintain their peace during the 1970s. After initially approving the nearby placement of the Spadina Expressway, they joined the opposition against the freeway. As construction began on the Spadina subway line in 1973, they feared their homes would be damaged by vibrations similar to those that inconvenienced home owners along the recent extension of the Yonge line north of Eglinton Avenue. (The problem was reputed to be thin tunnel shields.) In April 1977, residents pressured City Council to reject a proposal to build non-profit housing units for 14 families along Ardwold Gate on land that had been reserved for the freeway; those who feared that the project would ruin the neighbourhood jumped into full reactionary mode. One complaint the City received observed that such housing “contributes to the general weakening of our democratic system.” The proposal was defeated and, as a Globe and Mail editorial observed, residents could sleep easily without worrying about sharing the neighbourhood “with people who didn’t own even one Mercedes.”

The street remains a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Among its notable homes is the Brutalist concrete residence designed for Harvey’s founder Richard Mauran at 95 Ardwold Gate. The home was the final project of architect Taivo Kapsi, who was killed in an encounter with trespassers on a friend’s property near Lake Wilcox during the summer of 1967. Finished the following year, the heritage-designated site includes impressions left in the concrete by construction boards.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the April 14, 1977 and April 18, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 2, 2012 edition of the National Post, the February 26, 1936, July 3, 1936, May 20, 1938, May 4, 1970, and February 10, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star, and the March 1999 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Ardwold, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3016.

Lady Eaton’s description of the area which surrounded Ardwold, from her book Memory’s Wall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956):

We had agreeable neighbours around us at Ardwold, and several of them became our good friends. Probably we came to know each other better because of the rather isolated community we formed. St. Clair Avenue was not paved, of course, and often vehicles sank down to their axles in the mud. A very rickety old bridge crossed the ravine on Spadina Road, which was the street giving main access to Ardwold, and the few other big houses on “the hill.”

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Toronto Star, April 14, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, April 18, 1977.

Two editorials on the failed subsidized housing proposal – an issue still playing out in neighbourhoods across the city.

That Sophomore Season

Originally posted as a Historicist column on Torontoist on June 14, 2008. Due to the low quality of images that were used in the original post, as well as relevant material I’ve gathered over the past decade, new ones have been substituted.

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’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

Stories about the early days of the Toronto Blue Jays tend to focus on their debut in 1977, highlighted by a snowy opening day. Despite a mixture of cast-offs, free agents, and untested rookies that landed the team in the basement, the Jays quickly generated a fan base and set an expansion record of 1.7 million attendees at Exhibition Stadium. The Toronto Star‘s Jim Proudfoot summed up their maiden voyage:

Nothing was allowed to spoil the blissful excitement of Toronto’s first season in the American League. Criticizing our beloved Blue Jays simply wasn’t permitted. Their laughable blunders and glaring deficiencies were forgiven as cute idiosyncracies, inevitable and easy to accept with an expansion team in its infancy. This was a genuine romance; those in love perceived no flaws in the object of their adoration. A first baseman would drop a routine toss from shortstop and the spectators would chuckle indulgently. They bought the Jays’ message totally, even after it began to sound like a cracked record: you can’t expect too much from us, so be patient.

But what about the Jays’ second act?

None of the local papers predicted great things for the Jays in 1978 as all of the papers envisioned another last place finish. Ken Becker of The Toronto Sun felt that “the bottom half of their batting order still looks anemic.” Allen Abel of The Globe and Mail was the most succinct: “Sigh.”

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More shots from spring training. ’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

Over the course of spring training, the team added home run power with the acquisition of designated hitter Rico Carty from the Cleveland Indians and first baseman John Mayberry from the Kansas City Royals. Another addition was a $2.5 million scoreboard, the most expensive to date in baseball. Requiring a crew of six to operate it, the 23-foot by 38-foot board was able to produce 16 shades of colour and display photos generated from 35mm slides and 16mm film. The cost was covered through 15-second ads, with the initial clients including Pepsi, Benson and Hedges, Hiram Walker and team investor Labatt’s Brewery.

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Don’t even think of drinking a stubby at the old ball game. ’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

The scoreboard was the only place fans could legally gaze at alcohol during games, as the team waged a battle with the provincial government over selling beer in the stadium. Tracking the issue over the season revealed much hesitancy from Queen’s Park, especially from Minister of Consumer and Commercial Affairs Larry Grossman, who was personally opposed to the matter and worried about the bad behaviour of rowdy fans. Hearings were held in April after a concessionaire proposed setting up a segregated area to serve alcohol. Opponents ranged from temperance groups to cab drivers, the latter worried about running into drunk drivers roaming the streets of Parkdale. The Star noted the testimony of cabbie Bill Zock, who felt that “Parkdale in general already has a drinking problem…there is an overabundance of licensed drinking establishments and an overabundance of people with chronic drinking problems.” A cabinet shuffle in October saw Frank Drea take over Grossman’s portfolio, with a firm vow that beer would never be sold at games. Not until July 1982 did Premier Bill Davis step in and allow beer sales, though Grossman (by then Minister of Health) still frettied about other fans vomiting on his children.

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’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

On the other hand, potentially tipsy fans (or the large number that smuggled in their liquid requirement) could have relied on public transit to head home. When ridership numbers from opening day were released, TTC Commissioner Michael Warren was proud that the target of 50% of fans arriving at the ballpark via TTC or GO was reached. A plan was devised for certain high attendance games so that 83 extra vehicles would be placed in service for fans, while police rerouted traffic in the vicinity of Exhibition Place, forbidding left turns off major routes like Bathurst Street.

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Toronto Star, April 10, 1978.

The season opener in Detroit was delayed by rain. This might have been an omen as the Jays lost to the Tigers, the first of 102 defeats. Starter Dave Lemanczyk, predicted to be the staff ace, lost his first seven decisions and wound up with a 4-14 record. The home opener was a happier affair, a 10-8 victory over Detroit on April 14. No snow was sighted in the stands.

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Pierre and Sacha Trudeau visit the umpires and (Blue Jays coach Bobby Doerr?), April 22, 1978. Photo by Dick Loek. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0085644f.

Despite the team’s poor on-field performance, most of the booing from the stands was directed at political figures and anthem singers. When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, accompanied by his sons, threw the first pitch on April 22, he was greeted with jeers, perhaps an early sign the next federal election campaign would not go his way. Exactly a month later, singer Ruth Ann Wallace was loudly booed when she sang a bilingual rendition of “O Canada” two days in a row. The incident provoked much handwringing among editorial writers and politicians. Visiting Toronto the day after, Quebec Premier Rene Levesque said “I honestly think it’s too bad, but you have people on both sides you know that more or less represent the two solitudes.” Asked if he considered the booing crowd bigots, Levesque said “yeah, that would be a good word for it.” Trudeau feared the incident played into the hands of separatists, indicating that “this is a sad commentary but there’s nothing more I can do about it than to help people slowly attune their ears to the reality of two languages in Canada and two main linguistic groups.”

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’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

The year’s most controversial trade occurred on August 15 when fan-favourite Carty, who led the team in most offensive categories, was traded to the Oakland A’s for designated hitter Willie Horton and pitcher Phil Huffman. Horton had a short, star-crossed stay in Toronto, hitting .205 over the remainder of the season. One reason for his low productivity was an incident on September 4 when Horton, his wife and two children were charged with causing a public disturbance after a fight broke out with three bystanders in the stadium parking who, according to an interview with Horton in The Globe and Mail, “gave them dirty looks.” During the melee Horton was knocked out by riding crop of a police officer on horseback. The trade was effectively nullified in the off-season when Carty rejoined the Blue Jays, while Horton signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners.

(Carty was also the first native of the Dominican Republic city of San Pedro de Macoris to play for the Blue Jays, paving the way for the likes of George Bell and Tony Fernandez.)

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’78 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.

The Horton incident one of many things that went wrong for the team during the final month of the season. Globe and Mail reporter Neil Campbell saw his press credentials revoked after he picked up sensitive team documents accidentally left in the press box by club president Peter Bavasi. A draw for a free car on September 22 ended with two cars being handed out to fans after the initial winning ticket holder showed up just as the holder of a second drawn ticket made their way to the field (the first ticket holder was walking out of the stadium when the draw was announced). The team tried to palm off free tickets as compensation to the second winner, but the threat of a lawsuit suddenly made a second car appear.

The team ended the season with an eight-game losing streak. These matches, all against the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, played a key role in shaping one of the most dramatic pennant races in baseball history and one of the most vivid examples of the “curse of the Bambino” that plagued the Red Sox for most of the 20th century (the Red Sox led the Yankees by 14-1/2 games in July, ended the season tied and lost in a special one-game playoff thanks to a home run by Yankee Bucky Dent.

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“Jim Clancy says he used the best slider he ever had to handcuff the Chicago White Sox as Blue Jays won 4-2 before 44,327 fans and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at Exhibition Stadium,” April 22, 1978. Photo by Dick Loek. Toronto Star Photo Archives, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0038299f. Originally published in the April 23, 1978 edition of the Toronto Star.

There were signs of optimism for the future. The team had won five more games than in 1977 (59 versus 54). Players who would take part in the team’s first championship drive in 1985 debuted in the low minors—the amateur draft netted Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb. Fans would sit through four more losing seasons before general manager Pat Gillick’s assembly skills paid dividends and the team’s early blunders were remembered with a certain charm.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Transit Workers Get Sick Too

Originally published on Torontoist on February 24, 2009.

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Globe and Mail, October 10, 1957.

Whether it is a warning to riders of the penalties for assaulting transit employees or simple tips on how to ride an escalator, the Toronto Transit Commission devotes part of its ad space to informing its users about safety issues. The topic of illness prevention occasionally pops up, especially during cold season when your fellow citizens allow their germs to ride the rocket. Drivers are not immune from these unwanted passengers, which appears to have caused havoc for the TTC back in the late 1950s. Today’s ad doesn’t provide any tips on how to prevent further driver sick days, but it does urge riders to be more punctual or build in more time for their trips. We might add a provision allowing riders to toss off the vehicle any sneezing passengers who spend their ride parked at the front, yammering away as their distracting conversation not only causes a stop or two to be missed but adds another casualty to the mounting pile of ill drivers.

Years later, the city took up the fight against sneezing with a poster that made its way into a transit stop or two.

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).

Scarborough Gets an RT

Originally published on Torontoist on March 22, 2015, based on an article published by The Grid on July 15, 2013.

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985.

Torontonians love arguing about the same proposed transit lines ad nauseum. The current quest to bring Scarborough the subway it deserves as a replacement for the Scarborough RT‘s replacement feels like a replay of past battles where a streetcar/LRT line was displaced in favour of a pricier, sexier option.

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Toronto Star, January 29, 1975.

Among the priority studies recommended in January 1975—by a joint provincial/Metro Toronto task force on the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century—was a high-speed transit line linking the recently approved Kennedy subway station to Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern, and Pickering. Scarborough officials saw this line as key to spurring development in a downtown area based around the new civic centre, which would employ 25,000 people.

Based on passenger capacity projections, the plan that emerged was a streetcar line on its own right-of-way. While Scarborough officials glowed about the development possibilities, others, like Toronto city councillor John Sewell, believed the opposite. In a series of Globe and Mail op-eds, Sewell argued the line would serve commuters who worked in downtown Toronto and would be cursed by debt and low ridership. His appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to hold public hearings was rejected when it approved the line in September 1977.

Another early opponent was North York Mayor Mel Lastman. During a December 1978 North York council meeting, Lastman said that TTC services in his jurisdiction shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the selfishness of a fellow Metro municipality. (Lastman went on to exhibit just that when he later fought to preserve the Sheppard subway line as a development tool for North York.)

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985. The forthcoming systems elsewhere were Vancouver’s SkyTrain (opened December 1985) and the Detroit People Mover (opened July 1987).

The streetcar line was intended to commence soon after Kennedy station opened in 1980. Instead, TTC staff reports presented in June 1981 recommended a new vehicle Queen’s Park had heavily invested in. Through its interest in the Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), the province had been promoting the Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) since the mid-1970s as a cheaper alternative to subways. While there were technical problems with the system’s linear-induction motors, the province saw the vehicles as ideal for a future network of TTC and GO lines. When the TTC approved the system switch, Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey was confident the transit provider would work the bugs out.

Scarborough mayor Gus Harris thought there was “something very screwy” in the TTC’s sudden change of heart. He was quickly isolated for his concerns over ICTS testing problems; Scarborough council approved the switch after a six-hour debate. Their decision was boosted by promises that the province would cover cost increases and that the vehicles would be quieter than streetcars. Some councillors regretted their vote when reports of exploding motors during testing filtered back to them a few months later. One TTC official dismissed the lack of public scrutiny of the project, noting that most people didn’t understand the complexities of ICTS technology.

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Toronto Star, February 22, 1985.

Though several TTC officials favoured naming the line “Metro Rail,” the name “RT” was revealed as the winner of a public contest in January 1982. Speculation that riders would humanize the line’s name to “Artie” proved idle.

Local testing of the new vehicles began in April 1984. The public received free rides on the test track that summer. John Sewell, by now a Globe and Mail columnist, still wasn’t impressed with the line, calling its seating “uncomfortable” and “not private enough.” Gus Harris publicly reversed his position, going from an “I told you so” attitude as project costs rose from $134 to $196 million, to boosting the technology as a sign that Scarborough was “the city of the future.” There were bugs galore, starting with the return of the first four cars to UTDC due to uneven wheels. Late fleet delivery prompted the TTC to operate a reduced schedule once the line opened; shuttle buses would run after 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday.

Up to 1,000 dignitaries and TTC employees attended the RT’s opening ceremony on March 22, 1985. Harris called it the “greatest day in the history of Scarborough,” while a message from Premier Frank Miller (who didn’t attend) observed that “the RT is proof positive that Ontario can challenge the world and produce the best facilities anywhere.” Guests were treated to champagne and a performance by U of T’s Lady Godiva Band at Kennedy station. Also attending were placard-waving protestors angry at the TTC for not making the new line wheelchair accessible.

tspa_0011910f_small

“Wheelchair protest: As invited guests prepare to board Scarborough’s new $196 milliion rapid transit system at Civic Centre yesterday; protestors showed up in wheelchairs to complain that the disabled have been denied access to the new line.” Published in the Toronto Star, March 23, 1985. Photo by Alan Dunlop. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0011910f.

The next day, 30,000 people flooded the seven kilometre line to take advantage of free rides during the first official day of service. The biggest complaint during the RTs first week was the small size of the two-car trains. Other complaints soon arose, especially from neighbours between Kennedy and Lawrence East stations who found the RT too noisy. Despite attempts to fix the problems, caused by flat spots on the wheels and rail joints, several complainants eventually wound up with sizable property tax breaks for their misery.

As other problems emerged, the transit system of the future no longer looked so bright. The extension to Malvern was killed due to cost, as ICTS didn’t prove much cheaper than a subway. As early as 1987, local politicians mused about converting the line into a subway, but the TTC indicated that would also cost too much. There was speculation that the RT had to continue operating so that UTDC could sell its system, which had been bought by Detroit and Vancouver, overseas. The line was shut down for over two months during the summer of 1988 to replace a turnaround loop at Kennedy whose curves were too tight for the ICTS cars to handle. As the line’s lifespan dwindled, thoughts about its replacement came down to the LRT proposed in Transit City and the subway championed by Mayor Rob Ford. Whichever form wins, don’t count on it being the last word.

Additional material from the December 21, 1976, December 4, 1978, June 17, 1981, March 25, 1982, July 12, 1984, August 15, 1984, March 7, 1985, June 3, 1985, and October 12, 1987 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the January 29, 1975, September 30, 1977, December 11, 1978, June 17, 1981, June 22, 1981, January 23, 1982, March 23, 1985, and March 24, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 77-06-10 sewell on costly lemon

A sample of the anti-Scarborough LRT articles John Sewell wrote for the Globe and Mail, this one taken from the June 10, 1977 edition (click on image for larger version).