Souvenir Views of Toronto, Canada

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 2, 2010. Because the original links to the postcards vanished from Torontoist following a site redesign, and because I don’t appear to have any related Word documents, I have no idea if any text other than subject identification appeared under these images, nor what order they were originally presented in. Comments written under the postcards were written in 2020.

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Usually when preparing Historicist, we dig through local archives and libraries to find the pieces of Toronto’s past that are brought to you every weekend. Sometimes the material finds us, as is the case with today’s gallery of postcards submitted by reader Todd J. Wiebe.

The postcards were among a large collection of items donated by the estate of fine art scholar Richard Wunder to the Van Wylen Library at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where Wiebe works as a librarian and assistant professor. “It is a very large collection,” says Wiebe, “and this past summer was the first we really got around to going through it.” As the materials were being processed and appraised, a worker in the library found the postcards and passed them on to Wiebe “because I’m from Southern Ontario.”

The set contains twenty-two postcards attached to each other accordion-style. They were produced by the Canadian branch of Scottish postcard maker Valentine & Sons. Based on the age of the landmarks depicted, we’re guessing that this package was produced in the mid-to-late 1920s due to the presence of Union Station (opened in 1927, though it had stood largely completed since 1920) and, given the presence of the city’s tallest buildings in the set, the lack of postcards for the Royal York Hotel (opened in 1929) and Commerce Court (opened in 1931).

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Streetcars carried commuters over the viaduct until the Bloor-Danforth subway line opened in 1966.

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That Casa Loma is referred to as Henry Pellatt’s residence makes me wonder if some or all of this series was produced in the early 1920s, as Pellatt was forced to leave the premises in 1923.

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Judging from this view, it appears Lippincott Street was open to traffic in front of Central Tech.

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All five of these churches remain active as of 2020, though the landscapes around them have changed radically.

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Opened in 1899, City Hall was the heart of Toronto’s municipal dramas until city council moved across Bay Street in 1965.

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Completed in 1913, the Canadian Pacific building is currently used for office space.

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North Toronto station closed in 1930. It became the Summerhill LCBO.

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Built in 1914, the building at the southwest corner of King and Yonge was the headquarters of the Dominion Bank until it merged with the Bank of Toronto in 1955. In 2020, it houses the One King West Hotel & Residence.

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Toronto General moved to College and University in 1913. As of 2020, portions of the building fronting College Street houses MaRS.

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Chorley Park, 1915-1961.

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Originally opened in 1903, the King Eddy gained its tower in 1922.

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Several of the buildings in this postcard series seen together.

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The Cayuga was one of several steamers owned by the Niagara Navigation Company. It was retired in 1957 and scrapped four years later.

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Located in St. James Square, the Toronto Normal School trained several generations. Its site served as an incubator for OCAD, the ROM, and Ryerson University. Most of the building was demolished by 1963.

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Not pictured: the iron gates. Or cows.

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Two premiers presided over the proceedings at Queen’s Park during the 1920s – E.C. Drury’s UFO (United Farmers of Ontario) government gave way to Howard Ferguson’s Conservatives in 1923.

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This appears to be an artistic interpretation of the Red Ensign, used as Canada’s flag through 1965.

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Opened in 1915, the Royal Bank Building still stands at 2 King Street East.

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Was the front of Union Station ever this serene during the day?

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“University College” would be a more appropriate description for this postcard. Major additions to the U of T campus during the 1920s included Trinity College and Varsity Arena.

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University Avenue was still a genteel, tree-lined street south of Queen’s Park when this postcard was produced. Laid out in 1829, it was originally conceived as a genteel park boulevard which would lead up to the intended site for the King’s College campus. It was closed to commercial traffic, and no streets were allowed to cross its path. The road was opened up for full use in 1859, and expanded south of Queen Street.

Bonus Features: Loblaws, Cinesphere, and OSAP, Oh My!

It’s been a busy week-and-a-half for me on the writing front: a trio of stories set (mostly) in Toronto for TVO. Because after a holiday break, you need a good kickstart to get back in a regular writing groove.

Not everything I find over the course of my research for these kinds of stories can or should make the final cut. So, where appropriate and time permitting, I’ll share with you the scraps from the cutting room floor or the side material that’s too good not to post.

Loblaws

Read the TVO article, published on January 15, 2019.

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Toronto Star, October 7, 1920.

The earliest Loblaws ad I found, when the chain opened its third store, which shares the current address of St. Lawrence Hall.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1926. Click on image for a larger version.

Within a few years the ads grew larger, and the spotlight was shone on house brands. This ad also shows how the company pitched the benefits of self-service, as competitors slowly began switching over to the format.

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The Globe, June 13, 1930.

The introduction of one of Loblaws’ oldest house brands. It may be bagged now, but the look of Pride of Arabia coffee has changed little over the past 90 years.

globe 1926-11-19 page 14 front page of special loblaws sectionThe Globe, November 19, 1926. Click on image for larger version.

In 1926 The Globe published a special supplement about Loblaws and related food stories. Among the article titles:

“Interesting Story of Orange Growing Goes Back to 1865”
“Salmon Induced Never to Travel Into U.S. Waters”
“Fine Frozen Foods May Be Appetizing Even on Cold Days”
“Analysis Can Show That Canned Fish is Good, Safe Food”
“Fattening Foods Described For Folks Who Are Thin”
“French Government Made Note of Early Use of Ice Cream”

And, my favourite, “Buying of Products Sold in Groceterias is Full of Romance.” The “romance” derived from items sourced from exotic lands like Asia Minor, Burmah, Mesopotamia, Siam, and Sicily. “Few people actually realize,” the article notes, “the romance existing in the conduct of a modern groceteria establishment, or the great extent of the operations necessary to place at the disposal of the buying public the many and varied lines demanded today.”

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

Photos took readers into the various departments which supplied each groceteria. Some of those spotlighted aren’t a big surprise…

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

…while others just seem funny now. Maybe a Loblaws exec who stumbles upon this post might be inspired to launch a new, 100th anniversary artisanal, handcrafted mayonnaise division.

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The Globe, October 2, 1931.

Some chest-thumping as the company opened its 100th location. A condo was recently built on this site.

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The trade obit for T.P. Loblaw.

Cinesphere

Read the TVO article, published on January 21, 2019.

You may also want to read an earlier piece I wrote for Torontoist about the opening of the Cinesphere.

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Published circa 1972, this magazine offered readers highlights of the park along with articles spotlighting different regions of the province. “We are an interesting and exciting province,” observes Premier William Davis in his introduction. “One of our greatest assets, our size, is one of our problems. We are so vast it is almost impossible for a person to travel over the whole of the province and get to know it all.”

After a few paragraphs about the economy, Davis concludes that he believes “the province will remain as accommodating as it has been in the past, exerting steady and calm influence on Canada and the rest of the world. I believe we will continue to keep our voices down and let ourselves be judged on the quality of our lives, the clarity of our ideas and the full measure and value of our accomplishments.”

His present-day successors in government would be wise to generally revisit that conclusion.

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The section on the Cinesphere from the magazine, highlighting its second season offerings. The ETROGS (named after Sorel Etrog, who sculpted the award winners received) soon became the Genie Awards, which lasted until they were merged with the Geminis to form the Canadian Screen Awards in 2013.

OSAP

Read the TVO article, originally published on January 24, 2019.

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The Varsity, October 6, 1965.

I suspect that when this ad for the Canada Student Loans Plan was published, newspapers were supposed to insert the nearest locations at the bottom. The Varsity decided to let applicants find that out on their own.

Confession: trying to sort the financial details of what students could and couldn’t apply for in terms of bursaries, loans, and scholarships under CSLP and POSAP between 1964 and 1967 was confusing, especially as conditions constantly changed. Congratulations to those who figured it out without suffering a nervous breakdown.

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Front page, The Varsity, September 30, 1966.

The Varsity‘s turnout figure for the 1966 POSAP protest in Queen’s Park was at the high end of the estimate scale, while the Globe and Mail claimed as few as 1,200 (I used the Star‘s figure of 2,000, which seemed like a nice, median number). Inside this issue, the Varsity‘s editorial felt the gathering was a success. “It means student leaders do not need to think and work in a vacuum–with efficient and patient preparation they can obtain the co-operation and support of their fellow students and of the faculty and administration.”

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Globe and Mail, September 29, 1966.

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Queen’s Journal, September 29, 1966.

Following the changes to POSAP in early 1967, the Globe and Mail reported that a rumour spreading around student councils and media “that agitators will be given special preference by the Government in their applications for loans.”

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Globe and Mail, August 17, 1967.

Rosedale Field and the First Grey Cup

This is an expanded version of an article which first appeared as The Grid’s “Ghost City” column on November 20, 2012.

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Rosedale Field clubhouse, November 30, 1921. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 615.

During World War II, Montreal-based Park Steamship Company decided to name additions to its war cargo fleet after neighbourhood parks across Canada. Among those chosen were Hillcrest and Rosedale. Assigned to write historical plaques about each park, poet P.K. Page contacted Toronto civic officials for background information. Parks commissioner Charles E. Chambers provided Page the info she required, but noted at the end of a March 27, 1944 letter that “neither park has any historical importance.”

Chambers forgot Rosedale Park’s key role in Canadian football history. This might be understandable, as the Grey Cup’s debut there on December 4, 1909 was an anti-climatic affair. Fans and media expended their energy during the semi-final at the park the previous week, when the heavily-favoured Ottawa Rough Riders were trounced by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 31-7 in front of a crowd of 11,000 spectators forced to sit 15 deep around the field. Among those playing for U of T were future Ontario chief coroner Smirle Lawson and future Ontario Rugby Union head Billy Foulds.

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Toronto Star, December 6, 1909.

By comparison, only 3,807 spectators barely flowed out of the grandstand to watch U of T defeat the Parkdale Canoe Club 26-6. Though it was anticipated that the Parkdale squad would be steamrolled, a close score during the first quarter prompted headlines like the Star’s “Parkdale Gave Varsity an Interesting Argument.” The World observed that “the interest in the struggle was probably the least ever shown” in a football final. “Even the college contingent lacked spirit, and choruses led by the Highlanders’ band were half-hearted.”

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Toronto World, December 5, 1909.

There wasn’t even a trophy to hand to the victors; it took a series of frustrated letters from football officials to Grey’s staff to produce the $48 bowl made by Birks jewellers handed to the champs three months later.

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The News, December 6, 1909.

Rosedale Park’s association with athletics stretches back to May 24, 1892, when it officially opened as the Rosedale Lacrosse Grounds. “It is safe to say that the majority of those who attended the grounds yesterday for the first time expected to confront a bare open area, with a grandstand and high board fence as necessary adjuncts,” the Mail reported. “What they did see was a revelation. Five acres of beautifully levelled and sodded ground, broken only by an oval track of a third mile in circumference, by a picturesque club building, and by low division fences, was the scene immediately facing them.” The grandstand held 3,000 spectators, while another 2,000 people filled the grounds to watch Toronto fall to Montreal three games to two in the day’s lacrosse action.

Those disappointed by the home team’s loss during the debut lacrosse match found other distractions during the opening festivities. “The presence of a large number of Toronto’s most charming belles was a noticeable feature,” the Mail noted. “The galaxy of beauty which congregated on the grandstand was enough to turn the head of even the most experienced among the players.”

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Rosedale Park, July 1, 1921. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 947.

The site was purchased by the city from the Toronto Lacrosse and Athletic Association in 1917. Following the First World War it considered as a site for a new municipal stadium, but the location was considered too isolated. Arguments over the site’s suitability led to tons of wasted newsprint on the editorial pages of the Star and the Telegram. The grandstand disappeared, leaving more space for sports like cricket, high school football, ice hockey, lawn bowling, and tennis. A few athletic organizations, like the Toronto Track and Field Club, wore out their welcome with neighbours and city parks officials. Despite being denied a permit to continue practicing running and pole jumping on the grounds in 1951, the “Red Devils” continued to use Rosedale Park. Living up to their nickname by hurling “ungentlemanly remarks” at park staff and hanging around the fieldhouse after closing time didn’t help the group’s appeals to Parks and Recreation. After arrangements were made to move the club to Varsity Stadium, the pole vaulting pit was quickly filled in lest they return.

Most complaints about the park during the 1940s and 1950s were directed at the aging fieldhouse. Clubs battled for precious dressing room space—by 1950, women had to use a small lobby to change after a cricket club took over their quarters. The city rejected a request from the Highland Tennis Club to build an addition from fear other users would request their own extensions. Neighbours complained about smoke from the coal-fired building due to a lower-grade rock introduced during World War II continued to be used. The building was eventually replaced by the current clubhouse, which includes changing facilities and offices for the Rosedale Tennis Club.

One of the most tragic events in Rosedale Park’s sporting history occurred on October 25, 1960. During a football game against Jarvis Collegiate, North Toronto Collegiate halfback John Ellwood received a hard hit to the head. After continuing for two more plays, he left the field complaining of a headache. When his coach told Ellwood to tilt his head back, he slumped forward with a brain hemorrhage. Five hours of surgery followed at Wellesley Hospital, but Ellwood never regained consciousness, remaining in a coma until his death in 1972.

The park remains a central part of North Rosedale’s leisure time. For decades it has hosted the Mayfair community celebration. Twenty-first century upgrades include new playground equipment and a revamped historical plaque honouring the first Grey Cup. If he had been on hand for the plaque’s unveiling, Charles Chambers would have eaten his words about the park’s lack of history.

Additional material from the October 20, 1959 and January 1, 1963 editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 25, 1892 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail; the December 6, 1909 edition of the Toronto Star; and the December 5, 1909 of the Toronto World.

Introducing UTSC’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2016.

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At first glance, the six silvery stacks that grace the plaza outside University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building look like a public art project, or perhaps a salute to Daleks. Whatever these stacks resemble in the minds of attendees at today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, they act as the exterior face of concrete shafts known as “Earth Tubes,” which play a key role in the building’s innovative, energy-efficient design.

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Exterior view of Earth Tubes.

A glass pane in the building’s east entrance summarizes how the Earth Tubes work:

The latent heat of the earth and ultraviolet light contribute to the energy efficiency of the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building. Air travels through the “Earth Tubes” two metres underground, drawing warmth from the earth in winter and transferring warmth back to the earth in summer, while the exposure to ultraviolet light sanitizes it. In winter, air enters the building already warm; in summer the tubes return warmth back into the earth, cooling the air. This process reduces demands on the ventilation system all year round.

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The Earth Tubes emerge in the basement.

The tubes emerge via a basement corridor, resembling tunnels out of a science fiction movie. They are tucked behind the main mechanical room, where other geothermal pipes run deep underneath the basement instead of being placed beside the building. The purified, temperate air is then circulated around the building, eventually being vented out via the labs. Sustainable technology like Earth Tubes is aiding UTSC’s application for LEED Gold Standard status.

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Looking down from the fifth floor.

Instead of sticking researchers in the basement or other hidden areas, the labs are located on the south side of the building, facing the Highland Creek ravine. It is hoped that glimpsing nature will spark inspiration. Plans call for the entire building to be surrounded by a more pleasing environment, with an adjacent parking lot slated to become green space and the current alignment of Military Trail beside it to become a pedestrian zone. Outside, the lab side is covered in a series of metal fins which, depending on the angle, resemble waves and will offer a cool shadow during the summer.

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Looking across the ground floor teaching labs.

The labs also offer flexibility for the needs of each project or any future development within the building. Ceilings are unfinished, while lab equipment is not permanently attached to the floor. Each floor’s suite of labs is relatively open concept, to allow for fluctuations in project head counts and to foster collaborations between research teams. First-year courses are taught on ground level, with each “classroom” able to view labs across the floor, which may come in handy if assistance is needed during emergencies (these labs went into service earlier this month). On the higher floors, signs of researchers at work are everywhere, with molecular diagrams and the occasional joke written on whiteboards and glass meeting room walls. Among the projects being worked on is a machine to scan bodies for bacteria, disease, drugs, and other objects akin to Star Trek’s tricorders.

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The backup diesel generator.

The building even boasts a penthouse—a mechanical penthouse, where the main backup emergency diesel generator is stored. Given a history of brownouts from the city’s power grid, and the potential ruin that awaits research projects if the juice is off for seconds (as was the case during the 2013 ice storm), it was critical a strong backup power source was installed onsite. Under a worst-case scenario, the diesel generator could power the building for one to three days.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and built over two years, the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building is one of the first completed portions of the current UTSC master plan. Besides reconfiguring routes across campus, will include new academic buildings which whose architecture will serve as a contrast with its original brutalist style, a parking deck, and a hotel/conference centre near the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

Shaping Toronto: Landscaping U of T

Originally published on Torontoist on October 22, 2015.

As project names go, “Landscape of Landmark Quality” is the kind we’re immediately tempted to make fun of. It’s as if those who came up with this branding for the University of Toronto’s vision of revitalizing its central campus hedged their bets, thinking fate might be tempted if any winning design was firmly declared a landmark.

Cheesy name aside, the shortlist of four design teams—KPMB Architects + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates + Urban Strategies, DTAH + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, PUBLIC WORK, and Janet Rosenberg & Studio + architectsAlliance + ERA Architects—revealed plans last month adhering to the principles the evaluation committee set out. These include improving the pedestrian experience, enhancing green space, creating livelier public spaces suitable for events, removing surface parking and reducing vehicular access around Hart House and King’s College Circle, installing wayfinding, and discreetly servicing buildings. As the competition’s welcome page puts it, “gradual changes to the campus over many decades have resulted in a landscape that falls short of its potential as a vibrant and significant series of public spaces, commensurate with the established institutional status of the University.”

Most of the designs revive an early element of the school’s landscape. When construction began on University College in 1856, Taddle Creek ran along present-day Philosopher’s Walk. Three years later, a section around the current site of Hart House was dammed up and, in honour of the school’s first president, dubbed McCaul’s Pond. While a proposed adjacent botanical gardens was never built, the pond provided a contemplative setting for students. It also offered, as an article in The Graduate pointed out over a century later, space for fishing, mischief, and romance:

In those simpler days it was not unknown for undergraduates to spend spare moments beside the pond picking wildflowers and chasing butterflies. Some caught chub and shiners and the occasional speckled trout in its water. In winter the pond made a natural skating rink and the slopes beside were popular for tobogganing. In spring young lovers found it a romantic rendezvous, and in summer families watched while youngsters sailed toy boats on its surface. At least one student prankster made use of it to hide the College lawn mower under several feet of water, where it remained until the pond was drained years later.

As an aspiring poet put it in an early edition of The Varsity, “thy classic flow, thy poetic surroundings, are an education in themselves!”

It also stunk. By the dawn of the 1880s, sewage carried downstream from drains flowing out of Yorkville transformed Taddle Creek into a polluted disgrace. McCaul’s Pond was drained as part of the waterway’s conversion into an underground sewer in 1884. While no longer visible, the lost creek’s presence created challenges when Hart House was built 30 years later.

The pond may have been gone, but the centre of campus was still graced with a large green space. That area was gradually encroached upon with the arrival of the automobile, eventually leading to the current roads clogged with cars, delivery trucks, and tour buses.

Master plans proposed over the past century have discussed ways of making the campus greener and more pedestrian-friendly. The reconstruction of St. George Street during the 1990s showed how a major revitalization project could improve the landscape. A 1999 plan outlined the possibilities of creating more open space across what had become a concrete jungle.

The current proposals offer many improvements for pedestrians. Plazas and more outside seating prevail, with ideas ranging from turning Tower Road into a processional path to turning the road outside Convocation Hall into a vehicle-free gathering spot. Parking could be moved underground or replaced with gardens. Access from Queen’s Park could be improved with a pedestrian bridge. Brick or cobblestone could replace concrete roadways. Skating trails and room for seasonal events like farmers’ markets could all help create a livelier space.

The winning design will be chosen by the evaluation committee in November. The competition’s website cautions that none will implemented exactly as presented, but will spur a critical review process to develop a new master plan over the rest of the current academic year. Developing landmark quality will take time.

Additional material from The University of Toronto: A History by Martin L. Friedland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets, Wayne Reeves and Christina Palassio, editors (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008); the September-October 1979 edition of The Graduate, the September 29, 2015 edition of the National Post; the October 5, 2015 edition of The Varsity; and the April 14, 2013 edition of Water Canada.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ramsay MacDonald

Originally published on Torontoist on May 27, 2015.

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The Telegram, October 11, 1929.

The train that pulled into Union Station around 6 p.m. on October 15, 1929 was eagerly anticipated. The station was decorated with flags, flowers, and plants to greet the world figure about to arrive. Railway workers ranging from baggage clerks to mechanics lined the platform eager to greet a man who had spent the past week in the United States negotiating terms of naval disarmament with president Herbert Hoover. When the visitor arrived, the workers waved their caps and tools. A shout arose: “Hurrah for MacDonald!”

British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald crossed the border that morning at Niagara Falls. En route to Toronto via a private Canadian National Railway train, MacDonald told the reporters aboard that his mission to promote global peace “cannot be measured in dramatic pronouncements.” He hoped to influence public opinion via methods such as radio addresses. Days before his arrival, the Telegram newspaper arranged the local broadcast on October 11 of a speech originating from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City. Hearing the speech in Toronto didn’t go smoothly; listeners in North Toronto experienced frequent interference, with MacDonald’s message of peace overwhelmed by a music program. When he was heard, MacDonald assured listeners that he would be happy to discuss with other countries disarmament ideas he and Hoover had devised. “There was nothing in address which could irritate an audience in Berlin or Paris,” a Telegram editorial observed. “The speaker seemed to be conscious that he was addressing the United States of Europe as well as the United States of America.”

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Excerpt from an advertisement for Simpsons department store, The Globe, October 16, 1929.

The speeches continued when he reached Toronto. His jam-packed schedule began with a drive from Union to a welcoming dinner at Government House, the lieutenant-governor’s residence which stood in present-day Chorley Park. The next morning began with a 10:30 a.m. address to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), whose 49th annual convention was being held at the recently opened Royal York Hotel. AFL officials hoped that MacDonald, the first Labour Party leader to serve as British PM, would inspire those attending to fight for a united American labour movement. Instead, MacDonald discussed the importance of preserving peace, as workers would bear the brunt of casualties in any future conflict:

In the next war, death will be dealt out not only on the battlefield, destruction will rise from the bottom of the sea, destruction will descend from the heavens themselves; destruction will meet your wives, your children, your own. The civilian population left miles and miles and miles away back from the front—destruction will meet those silently, and they will be touched by the mysterious breath of poison and in a mysterious way they will drop down in the middle of your streets and die.

MacDonald declared himself a missionary of peace, one who, especially regarding the United States, had “come over to try to close old chapters of historical suspicion.” A few hours later, he gave a similar address to a Canadian Club luncheon.

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Ramsay MacDonald and Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson at the University of Toronto, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18413.

At 3 p.m., MacDonald was the star attraction of the hottest ticket in town. He joined a procession into Convocation Hall, where the University of Toronto awarded him an honorary doctorate of law. As MacDonald walked toward the venue, shouts of “Atta boy, Mac!” rose from spectators. Seats were scarce for the general public, as most had been claimed by university staff and students. Police blocked several groups of people from charging into the standing-room-only hall. During the ceremony, which was broadcast live on CFRB, chancellor Sir William Mulock jokingly called MacDonald “the university’s youngest graduate” and noted how the world’s hopes were pinned on him and Hoover. MacDonald used golf as a metaphor for the advice he dispensed to attendees:

My handicap isn’t one to lead any of you to envy me, but I know the rules of the game, and know the wise advice, offered again and again by professionals, ‘Don’t pull.’ Hit the ball squarely, quietly, leisurely and with confidence, because when you begin to press, you ‘pull.’

MacDonald spent the late afternoon greeting the public at a reception hosted by the provincial government back at the Royal York. Among those he shook hands with was a five-year-old boy named after him. Ramsay MacDonald Shepherd’s mother was born in the same Scottish town as the visiting leader, and his great-grandmother was the nurse present when the future PM was born. The reception went smoothly until the crowd, which was admitted in small groups, surged into the greeting area. Chaos was averted by five police officers who, the Star reported, “bobbed up and shooed back the swarming crowd with a skill and finish that was almost suggestive of Queen’s Park, only much more gentle.”

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The Telegram, October 16, 1929. The high number of broadcasts associated with MacDonald’s visit, including many speeches aired on CFRB, was an element local radio retailers couldn’t resist exploiting.

Last on the day’s agenda was a men-only dinner held at Government House, the lieutenant-governor’s residence which stood in present-day Chorley Park. This ruled out the presence of his daughter Ishbel, who had accompanied him on the trip and spent her time in Toronto addressing women’s groups on labour and social issues.

At midnight, MacDonald’s train rolled out of Union en route to Ottawa. Summing up MacDonald’s visit, the Globe observed that he must have realized “that no British Prime Minister could spend a restful day in Toronto, none less than a Premier giving immediate and particular thought to the possibilities and reactions of international association.” Unfortunately, the decade ahead would dash his dreams of preventing a global catastrophe on the scale of the First World War.

Additional material from the October 11, 1929, October 16, 1929, and October 17, 1929 editions of the Globe; the October 16, 1929 and October 17, 1929 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 12, 1929 and October 16, 1929 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Ramsay MacDonald, Ishbel and Ramsay. - October 16, 1929

Ramsay MacDonald with daughter Ishbel MacDonald, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18407.

Ramsay MacDonald, Ramsay and Sir William Mulock. - October 16, 1929

Ramsay MacDonald and Sir William Mulock, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18411.

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The Telegram, October 16, 1929.

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The Telegram, October 17, 1929.

Post-ing About Toronto

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 4, 2012.

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How would you open a profile of Toronto for one of the U.S.’ most popular general interest magazines? Well, if you were the Saturday Evening Post 60 years ago, you would start with a joke that originated in a rival city, Montreal: a Toronto magnate was summoned to appear in court. On the appointed day his doctor appeared in his stead, claiming the businessman had lapsed into a coma. An attorney asked, helpfully, “Did you try showing him some money?”

So began that magazine’s look at Toronto in its March 22, 1952 issue. Our city was profile number 116 in the magazine’s “The Cities of America” series, which spotlighted the continent’s most colourful urban areas. After reading the article, a reader might have concluded that Toronto possessed a boastful attitude and an obsession with money.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive a Norman Rockwell cover to go with it.

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That the article started with a joke from Montreal may not have been just an illustration of the rivalry between the two cities. Author Leslie Roberts was considered the dean of Montreal journalism, at least in the eyes of the Montreal Gazette, when he died in 1980. Long a commentator for CJAD radio, Roberts had been a correspondent for Harper’sReader’s Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post during the Second World War. An opponent of Quebec nationalism who promoted the “No” option during the lead-up to the first vote on sovereignty, Roberts’ last words to his wife were “make sure I vote in that referendum.” He died five days before the ballots were cast.

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“Torontonians assume,” he wrote, “with considerable accuracy, that Montrealers are disturbed by Toronto’s threat to their city’s pre-eminence as the Canadian banking-and-financial center, by the fact that the capital of Ontario has already become Canada’s greatest industrial producer, and because Toronto is rapidly catching up in the census figures.” The Torontonians Roberts talked to took the pot shots in stride, acting “as if the laugh really were on the originators.” They pointed out that Torontonians donated more to charity than other Canadian cities, volunteered in larger numbers for military service, and “cheerfully vote[d] for community improvements without much caring what they cost.” Money was something used to unashamedly build civic pride, which provides a sharp contrast to the views of certain members of the current city administration.

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According to Saturday Night editor R.A. Farquharson, Toronto’s pursuit of wealth was fuelled simply by the desire to meet its own growing needs. If an institution like the Hospital for Sick Children required a new wing, for instance, fundraising teams would quickly raise the necessary monies. A combination of taxes, endowments, and public subscriptions allowed institutions like Sick Kids, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Public Library, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to develop. Farquharson believed that these institutions, combined with a reverence for old traditions, reflected the city’s “conservative-progressive” spirit.

And, according to the article, these successes prompted Torontonians’ passion for boasting to visitors about our accomplishments, which seems to indicate a self-confidence our citizens are now often accused of lacking. Instead of shrugging off or appearing self-conscious about Toronto’s achievements, people were eager to boast of our discoveries, such as insulin, or large-scale buildings and events. The Royal York wasn’t just a luxury hotel—it was the largest in the British Empire. The Canadian National Exhibition billed itself as “The Biggest Annual Fair in the World.” Roberts observed that “When bigness or uniqueness is under discussion, everybody in Toronto, everybody gets into the act.” Among our greatest braggarts was Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe. Having won six Stanley Cups since 1942, Smythe’s boast that perennial baseball champions the New York Yankees were “the Toronto Maple Leafs of baseball” was not without merit. Smythe also claimed that “every boy in Canada who owns a pair of skates hopes to play for Toronto when he grows up—and most of the good ones do!” We can think of at least one child in Quebec who didn’t share Smythe’s world view.

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Roberts observed that citizens born outside Toronto were among the city’s loudest boosters. “So heady is Toronto’s missionary spirit,” Roberts wrote, “that it often leads the immigrant who has been around for a mere decade or so to talk as if his ancestors founded the community.” Such was the case with Mayor Hiram McCallum, who discussed the city’s “most favoured fragment of historic folklore,” the American invasion and occupation during the War of 1812. When Roberts asked McCallum if he was a Toronto native, the mayor replied “Bless you, I don’t belong around here. I’m just a western boy who had the good sense to move to an up-and-coming city!”

Among old line Toronto families mentioned in the article, the Eatons were treated with admiration bordering on worship. Citizens loved telling outsiders how wonderful the retailing family was, from overseeing the highest annual merchandise turnover in the British Empire to, despite customer complaints, upholding marketing practices initiated by Timothy Eaton such as refusing to sell tobacco and covering display windows with shades on Sundays. People often repeated a quote uttered by Sir John Craig Eaton when he was asked to place a price tag on the business: “There is not enough money in the world to buy my father’s name!” According to Roberts, “Toronto considers this the finest sentence ever uttered by mortal man.”

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Much of the wealth flowing through the city during the early 1950s derived from mining, whose participants Roberts frequently encountered deep downtown:

Gaudy Mackinaw shirts and knee-high boots—the uniform of the bush—stir no greater excitement in the lobbies, bars and elevators of the Royal York, or the nearby King Edward, than a ten-gallon hat does in Texas. Geologists, mining engineers and prospectors, out from the mining country, hustle around the business district, and those who don city clothes for their stay in town are identifiable by the uneasy air they put on with them. The morning coffee drinkers in Childs’ or the lunchers at the next table to you in the Savarin spin fancy tales of new strikes out in the Northwest Territories, or of gold up yonder in Quebec province. They talk the romantic lingua franca of a new wilderness empire. But no Torontonian, overhearing it, pays much attention. The mining argot is as common hereabouts as wheat talk in Winnipeg or cow talk in Cheyenne.

Mining represented a frontier spirit that, according to Toronto Industrial Commission manager T.H. Bartley, inspired business magnates old and new. “The old barons were tough,” Bartley noted, “but they taught us the value of the frontier. As long as we remember, and Canada has frontiers, this town will boom.” For Bartley and industrialists of the early 1950s, the frontier was the farmland surrounding the city that was quickly being bought for developments like Don Mills, the Golden Mile, and Rexdale.

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That people came to Toronto and its hinterlands strictly for business prompted Roberts to examine the saying that “nobody ever moved to Toronto for the scenery.” He suggested that our citizens took on the task of creating beauty themselves. While the article advises that one had to head north to Lake Simcoe, Muskoka, or Georgian Bay to experience true scenery, the city’s ravines were seen—as they still are today—as a refuge from the roar of traffic, while a road like Highway 2 (encompassing portions of present-day Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road) took advantage of the contour of Lake Ontario. As for downtown, “Few North American cities can boast a finer view than that seen up the broad mall of University Avenue, faced by the rugged dignity of the provincial Parliament Buildings,” Roberts noted. “The avenue is flanked by new skyscrapers, clubs, publishers’ offices, armories, hospitals, and a row of dwellings, in one of which Mary Pickford was born. It is a graceful eight-lane boulevard, with grass down the center and a flower display which would do credit to a city in the gentle Pacific coast climate.”

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What the article captures is the end of an era. The 1950s were the beginning of the end of Toronto as a fiercely loyal outpost of Great Britain, an era when Sunday restriction began to loosen and the influence of organizations like the Orange Order waned. While Roberts notes that Toronto was seen to be both Canada’s most British and most American city, our southern neighbour began wielding a stronger influence. The old frontiers vanished with the growth of suburbia and the worship of icons like the Eatons became less devout and more irreverent. The flow of new arrivals continued, but diversified to include draft dodgers, Cold War refugees, and immigrants from the other side of the globe. To the rest of the country, our pursuit of wealth and the stereotype of the world revolving around Toronto still resonate, even if other regions are rolling in more resource-derived money than we are.

Roberts’ final thoughts on our fair city?

Toronto, admittedly, is not beautiful in the sense that San Francisco is, nor as colourful as its rival, Montreal. But the townsman cheerfully shrugs off belittling comparison. Toronto may lack the scenic charm and heady atmosphere of the French-speaking metropolis, but it has more tourists and is away out in front as a convention city—the “biggest,” of course, in Canada. It may be likened to a plain but clever woman, who has studied her good points and made the most of them. And, like the woman who has given intelligent aid to Nature, Ontario’s capital may be fairly called a handsome, as well as a prosperous, up-and-coming town.

Additional material from the May 17, 1980 edition of the Montreal Gazette. Unless noted, all images photographed by Ivan Dmitri and published in the March 22, 1952 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.