World Events: The Atomic Bombings of 1945

This series looks at how Toronto’s press has covered major world events.

star 1945-08-07 front page atom bomb hiroshima Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

In the midst of a federal-provincial conference session in the House of Commons on August 7, 1945, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King made a statement. “I believe this is the most important announcement that has ever been made,” he told his audience before relaying the role that Canada had played in developing the atomic bomb that had just been dropped on Hiroshima. He was optimistic that the terrible new weapon would finally bring the Second World War to an end.

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Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

Much of the initial coverage of the bombing in the Globe and Mail and the Star focused on what the atomic bomb was, how Canadian research and uranium supplies had aided its development, and the federal government’s plans to expand its research and production lab in Chalk River.

There were also numerous comparisons to the most comparable wartime Canadian event that readers could relate to: the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Initial estimates compared the destructive force of the bomb to seven Halifaxes.

Headlines throughout the papers suggested the Japanese should surrender…or else. For example, one Star headline read “the atomic bomb offers the Japanese annihilation if they don’t surrender unconditionally–and quickly.”

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Both papers used this diagram, which appeared across North America. The descriptions below it varied, from giving a basic description of what an atom is to providing tons of statistics.

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St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 7, 1945.

Here’s an example of how the diagram was used on an American front page.

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Editorial, Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

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Editorial, Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

While there were concerns about the future destruction atomic weaponry could unleash, there were also many stories dedicated to depicting the potential future benefits of atomic power. “Uranium can end the war quickly by destroying Japan,” a Star headline observed, “but in peace it offers unheard of power for good.” Visions were presented of uranium-fueled cars, ocean liners, and trains providing speedier travel options. Future generations might look back to the bombing as the moment that hydroelectric generators like Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls would become obsolete in the face of Old Man Atom.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Local experts were asked for their opinions on the development and potential of atomic power.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

A Star editorial provided thoughts on the situation of Japanese Canadians and attempts to “repatriate” them back to Japan. In the following years, the nature of their internment would gain greater public knowledge, leading to the federal government’s official apology in 1988.

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

The front pages on August 8 highlighted the extent of the damage to Hiroshima. In the Star‘s case, page one also included more fantasies about the positive potential of atomic energy in reshaping the environment of the Great Lakes.

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

An excerpt from a vision of warmer winters in the Great Lakes. Note the potential effects that sound frightening with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 75 years regarding melting ice caps and climate change. Other British scientists suggested that Canada should become “the centre of the atom-smashing industry.”

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

In case you were curious glancing at that day’s front page, here’s the story about Mayor Robert Hood Saunders’ ire at provincial liquor officials for allowing children to deliver beer for pocket change.

I wonder if people were stocking up on as much beer as possible (and giving potential juvies plenty of booze-running gigs) in anticipation that the end of the war was inching closer to reality.

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Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 9, 1945.

While the front pages mentioned the Nagasaki bombing on August 9, the main headlines were devoted to the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan.

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  • Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 10, 1945.

By August 10, both papers expressed hopes in their headlines that, amid the destruction left by the bombs and the entry of the Soviet Union, that the Japanese were preparing to surrender. The city announced that there would be an official public holiday the day after the war officially ended.

Those celebrations were less than a week away…

A sampling of front pages from elsewhere:

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New York Post, August 6, 1945.

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Buffalo Evening News, August 6, 1945.

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Brooklyn Eagle, August 7, 1945.

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New York Daily News, August 7, 1945.

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PM (New York), August 7, 1945.

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Front page cartoon, Washington Star, August 7, 1945.

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Windsor Star, August 7, 1945.

Note: Due to COVID-19 related closures, issues of the Telegram were unavailable for the post.

Commemorating the Battle of York

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2013. Not all photos from the original post have been used.

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In a documentary about the Battle of York that aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas last week, Sandra Shaul, project manager of the City’s War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations, noted she was “intrigued as to why the City of Toronto would want to commemorate a battle that we so badly lost.” She reflected that it might be our city’s nature to celebrate losers (“look at our sports teams”).

But even if the American invaders won on April 27, 1813, thousands of Torontonians turned out exactly 200 years later to show their respect for the British military units and First Nations warriors who took to the battlefield to defend what is now our home.

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Many of Saturday’s commemorations honoured the role the First Nations played in the battle. From the symbolic fruit samples distributed during a sunrise ceremony to a round dance at Fort York that closed the ceremonies, the native warriors who served as York’s first line of defence were saluted by their descendants. “We’ve waited for a long time for this moment,” observed Mississaugas of the New Credit Chief Bryan LaForme. “We will no longer be a footnote in Canadian history.” LaForme reflected that if it hadn’t been for the overall efforts of natives during the war, we would be “another star on the Red, White, and Blue.”

The military salutes began with the receipt of new colours by the Royal Canadian Regiment from its colonel-in-chief, Prince Philip. One of the largest military parades in Toronto history followed, with an estimated 1,700 members of the Canadian Forces marching from Queen’s Park to Fort York. (Military demonstrations and processions were once a staple of Toronto life—they figured in holiday celebrations during the Victorian era, and were used to send off deployments of troops during World War I.)

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While the parade wound through the core, over 500 people followed the path of the Battle of York during a two-hour walk from the Palais Royale to the fort. Heritage Toronto unveiled a new commemorative plaque at the American landing site, one of five stops where historians described the main stages of the battle.

Holding up a “Brown Bess” standard-issue British musket, Richard Feltoe used the backdrop of the Fort Rouillé monument to describe military equipment and techniques used during the battle. He explained how troops on both sides lined up in rows to fire volleys at each other, creating dense clouds of smoke. Bright uniforms and high hats allowed opponents to see each other amidst the fog of musket fire, ensuring continued carnage.

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At the site of the Western Battery near the Princes’ Gates, Ken Purvis talked about the antique equipment used by the British during the battle. The oldest artillery gun, which is displayed at Fort York, dated back to Oliver Cromwell and the English republic of the 1650s. (For perspective, imagine American Civil War equipment deployed in modern conflict.) Purvis also performed, on fife, the tune the advancing American forces played as they approached Fort York: “Yankee Doodle,” a song the British later used to taunt them while parading prisoners in Montreal.

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Also mentioned on the walk was the last letter American Brigadier General Zebulon Pike wrote to his wife Clarissa. Written the night before the invasion, Pike hinted that the battle might cause his demise: “I shall dedicate these last moments to you, my love, and tomorrow throw all other ideas but my country to the wind.” When Fort York’s grand ammunition magazine exploded, a boulder crushed Pike’s spine. It was reported that the dying Pike was presented with a captured British flag, which he used as a pillow. One source reported that upon receiving the flag, Pike whispered, “I die contented.”

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At Fort York, the public mingled with period re-enactors and modern military. Visitors perused displays of objects ranging from wampum belts to pre-painless-dentistry surgical instruments. The ceremonies included the unveiling of three plaques to be placed in a new visitor centre, scheduled to open next year: two were refurbishments of fading bronze plaques installed shortly after the fort converted to a museum in 1934, and the third was a new marker honouring the First Nations.

Additional material from Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Natives and the War of 1812

Originally published on Torontoist on April 15, 2013.

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Three of the last surviving Six Nations members who fought in the War of 1812, photographed in Brantford in 1882. Left to right: John “Smoke” Johnson, John Tutela, and Young Warner. Library and Archives Canada, C-085127, via Wikimedia Commons.

While no one agrees on who won the War of 1812, there tends to be consensus among experts regarding the loser: aboriginals on both sides of the border. Any power they held during the conflict was lost soon after, as they were shunted onto reserves or forced to move further west. Yet the complexities of the natives’ war experience left positive and negative consequences which linger into the present.

Recent celebrations surrounding the war, alongside a shift toward exploring the conflict from all perspectives, have created an opportunity for descendents of the Six Nations to discuss their ancestors’ roles and relate them to present concerns. Issues surrounding jurisdiction, land rights, and treaty matters remain unresolved two centuries later. Meanwhile, movements like Idle No More are tackling the war’s legacies. As Six Nations historian Rick Hill observes, “The conversation of congratulations just isn’t enough.”

Hill chairs the Six Nations Legacy Consortium. It’s a group, formed in anticipation of the war celebrations, that is dedicated to ensuring his community’s historical perspectives enter the public discourse.

Prior to the War of 1812, the American Revolution had scattered the Six Nations. Some members lived in upstate New York, while others had accepted a British offer to move west to a tract of land along the Grand River. In 1812, as war loomed once again, appeals to Six Nations members to support either of the main combatants led to calls for neutrality. This was followed by inter-tribal warfare as natives lined up behind the Americans or British, depending on who they felt would best look after their long-term interests or crush them the least. In Hill’s case, his paternal Mohawk ancestors from Grand River battled his maternal Tuscarora ancestors from New York. When the war ended, the Six Nations used what Hill calls “old cultural protocols” to broker peace among themselves. Hill finds it significant that there have been no internal wars since that time.

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Portrait of Major John Norton as Mohawk Chief Teyoninhokarawen, circa 1805, by Mather Brown. Yale Center for British Art, via Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to natives involved in the war, the public usually thinks of Tecumseh, whose Shawnee nation had uneasy relations with the Six Nations. In a lecture this Wednesday night on the role of the Six Nations in the conflict, Hill will spotlight lesser-known figures. “One of the problems with history,” Hill observes, is “it focuses on just a few individuals. There were countless other people who didn’t participate in the war, but were then part of the making of peace.” In an appearance on the Agenda last year, Hill noted that it’s easy to herald a fallen leader like Tecumseh, less so the nameless people who fought hard and worked to create a peace settlement which allowed their nation to survive. While some Six Nations figures like John Norton and John “Smoke” Johnson gained attention through their leadership skills, others are known only through oral histories or surviving council records from the early 19th century.

In the Battle of York, which celebrates its bicentenary next week, the Six Nations didn’t play a direct role. Three hundred warriors were ready to participate, but were held at bay by the British. When they heard the grand ammunition magazine explode, they assumed the Americans would hit Burlington Bay next and prepared themselves for a strike that didn’t happen. During the actual battle, an advance group of approximately 50 Chippawa, Mississauga, and Ojibwa warriors commanded by Major James Givins was sent to meet the first wave of American invaders west of Fort York. The warriors were outnumbered, which led to, as historian Robert Malcolmson put it, “a murderous game of hide and seek among the trees, and as the minutes went by, the warriors’ resolve slackened and then dissolved.” Up to eight warriors were killed. The only name recorded among the fatalities was Yellowhead, who is said to have been buried along Yonge Street. The rest joined the mass of nameless native casualties during the conflict.

Sources: The Iroquois in War of 1812 by Carl Benn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998) and Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Remembering the Aftermath of the War of 1812

Originally published on Torontoist on April 9, 2013.

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The Death of Brock at Queenston Heights, painted by C.W. Jefferys, circa 1908. Government of Ontario Art Collection, Archives of Ontario.

With all the hoopla over the bicentenary of the War of 1812, it’s easy to concentrate on the battles, the heroes who filled generations of school textbooks, and the idea that the conflict was an important part of establishing our national identity. The complexities of the war and its legacies aren’t as romantic or attention-grabbing, but they invite interesting questions about our notions of who we are and how we remember critical events in our history.

Perceptions of 1812: Identity, Diversity, Memory, the current exhibit at the Archives of Ontario‘s exhibit space on the York University campus, uses the archives’ holdings to provide a broader picture of the war and its enduring impact. The items and panels on display cover topics ranging from personal wartime correspondence to the role auto-based tourism played in preserving crumbling forts.

How many items related to the War of 1812 does the Archives have among its 100,000 metres of textual records? It’s hard to guess. “Although some documents are directly related to the conflict,” notes David Tyler of the Archives’ information department, “most of our related material documents life in Upper Canada at that time, providing the necessary context for studying the war. We also hold many items related to Ontario’s attempts to memorialize and commemorate the war over the past 200 years.” Tyler has noticed a significant increase in requests about the war over the past year, mostly from people living in areas affected by the conflict in southwestern Ontario and around the U.S. border. Many of these requests are followups to the Archives’ main online exhibit about the war. Tyler recommends that anyone looking for a general introduction to the Archives’ war-related holdings consult an online research guide, available in PDF format.

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Perceptions of 1812, at the Archives of Ontario. Image courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.

For Perceptions of 1812‘s curator, Ross Fair, the diversity of the material in the Archives made it easy to avoid duplicating existing online exhibits. Because most of the military records are held elsewhere, Fair had no choice but to focus on political and social issues that arose in the war’s aftermath.

Among the war’s effects was a noticeable change in the nature of the political divisions of the time, from national borders to the ideological boundary between the high Tories who formed the Family Compact and the Reformers who paved the path to responsible government. Another issue was “aliens,” migrants from the United States whom the colonial elites regarded suspiciously. Attempts to block the rights of those who migrated during or after the war raged until 1828, when those who arrived before 1820 were given full rights as British citizens, while those who arrived after could swear an oath of allegiance after seven years of residency. In other words, postwar Canada was far from perfect. “We celebrate the heroes who stood and defended this war,” Fair noted in a recent Heritage Toronto lecture, “but I suspect most of us wouldn’t want to live in the society that they envisioned Upper Canada to be.”

In an interview with Torontoist, Fair observed that the Archives has great photos of efforts to restore the remains of several War of 1812 forts, during the 1930s. The images on display show the shocking extent of the decay at these sites. Kingston’s Fort Henry, in particular, had practically disintegrated into rubble. The forts were restored, in part, because of their intrinsic historical value, but also because they were tourist attractions. Their roles as destinations for motorists—and as make-work projects during the Great Depression—shouldn’t be underplayed.

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Laura Secord, by Mildred Peel, 1904. Government of Ontario Art Collection, Archives of Ontario.

Romanticized illustrations of the war also played a role in keeping its memory alive. The work of C.W. Jefferys, in textbook illustrations and books like the three-volume The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, in some cases, gave faces to historical figures whose actual images were never recorded—like Laura Secord, now legendary for her brave trek through the woods. Perceptions of 1812 contrasts Jefferys’ depiction of the future candy-store icon with a portrait of an older Secord displayed for years in Queen’s Park—a portrait that x-rays later revealed had been painted over a depiction of Ontario Premier George Ross.

We asked Fair and Tyler which items in the exhibit were their favourites. Tyler chose a 1912 picture from celebrations at the Brock Monument, commemorating the centennial of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Among the depicted dignitaries is Dr. Alexander Fraser, the first Archivist of Ontario, whose kilt stands out from the rest of the crowd. Fair chose two items: a letter Isaac Brock wrote after the British victory at Detroit, which conveys the sense of the joy he experienced, and maps made by surveyor David Thompson to define the postwar border.

The Battle of York

Originally published on Torontoist on March 20, 2013.

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8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot cross-belt plate. City of Toronto Museum Services, 11FY10A2.54. The grenadier company of the 8th (King’s) regiment was the first British regular unit to oppose the American landing. This plate was excavated at Fort York and has a large dent in the left margin. This damage may stem from either the accidental explosion in the Western Battery or the intentional destruction of the Grand Magazine.

Next month brings with it a key point in Toronto’s commemoration of the War of 1812: April 27 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York. Though British forces and local militias failed to repel the invading American forces, their efforts didn’t lack for explosive fury.

It happened on April 26, 1813: British sentries posted at the Scarborough Bluffs spotted a fleet of American vessels approaching from the southeast. Using signal guns and various objects strung on a flagpole, they warned the citizens and soldiers of York that an invasion was imminent. By the next morning, the Battle of York was underway.

Tensions between Great Britain and the United States simmered before war was officially declared on June 18, 1812. The conflict was the result of a number of different things: British attempts to press-gang seamen on American ships, trade restrictions enforced by the British as part of the Napoleonic Wars, an American desire to expand north and west, and British support of natives who stood in the way of American expansion.

As 1813 dawned, American Major-General Henry Dearborn wanted to attack York, which was seen as easy pickings. He figured that capturing the under-construction warship HMS Sir Isaac Brock, which was docked there, would help tilt the naval balance of power on Lake Ontario in favour of the Americans. Dearborn thought he could then conquer Niagara, which would have allowed him to concentrate his forces on taking Kingston and Montreal. After some hesitation, the Americans adopted Dearborn’s plan in the hopes that quick victory at York could swing an upcoming New York State election in favour of the pro-war Democratic-Republican party.

A fleet of 14 vessels set sail for York from Sackets Harbour, New York on April 25, 1813. Once military officials in York had sighted the fleet, they began planning their defense. Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe intended to use a plan similar to one employed in Niagara the previous November: no opposition until the enemy was in firing range, retreat if things went badly, destroy any ammunition, provisions, or anything else that could aid the opposition. He ordered a group of First Nations warriors coordinated by Major James Givins to meet the landing party, and a troop of soldiers led by Aeneas Shaw to stand guard at Lot Street (present-day Queen Street) by Garrison Creek. Grenadiers were sent to the ruins of Fort Rouillé (present-day Exhibition Place), while Sheaffe waited for the militia to show up at Fort York.

Around 7 a.m. on April 27, waves of American troops rowed to shore. They had been blown slightly off course, so they landed near the present-day intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and Dowling Avenue. The First Nations warriors were pushed back into the woods, and the Americans made their way to Fort Rouillé, where they ran into some of Sheaffe’s forces. Steady firing on land and from schooners anchored in the lake lasted until 8 a.m., when the British retreated. Around 10 a.m. a mobile gunpowder magazine was accidentally set off at the Western Battery (near the present-day Princes’ Gates), which knocked over a gun and killed or wounded 30 troops. All the while, American forces led by Brigadier General Zebulon Pike inched toward Fort York.

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Bird’s-eye view looking northeast from approximately foot of Parkside Drive, showing arrival of American fleet prior to capture of York, April 27, 1813. Painted by Owen Staples, circa 1914. Toronto Public Library. According to historian Robert Malcolmson, Staples’ painting “distorts distance, proportion and the number of vessels in Chauncey’s squadron, but still presents a striking impression of the flow of the battle on land and lake.”

By 1 p.m., Sheaffe’s troops had withdrawn to Elmsley House at King and Graves (now Simcoe) Streets. Many of the militia had thrown in the towel. Back at the fort, Pike’s forces were within 400 yards of the grand ammunition magazine. The remaining British forces ignited the magazine, producing a fireball that blasted bits of ammunition, rocks, and timber out to a disance of 500 yards. The explosion created a boom that was audible at forts 28 miles away along the Niagara River. An estimated 39 American troops were killed, 224 wounded. Among the casualties was Pike, who depending on the source, either died after being struck by a rock in the forehead, or after suffering a crushed spine.

While Sheaffe marched his remaining regular troops to Kingston, a team consisting of Lieutenant-Colonel William Chewett, Major William Allan, and Reverend John Strachan negotiated capitulation terms with the Americans. The invaders were not amused when they noticed smoke rising from York’s dockyards, where Sheaffe had ordered the torching of HMS Sir Isaac Brock to prevent it from falling into American hands. Just after 11 a.m. on April 28, 1813, the surrender was ratified.

That evening, the Americans—and even some locals—began looting York. Dearborn showed little interest in controlling the occupying forces. Homes were cleared of items ranging from clothes to cutlery. Jails were emptied. The pillaging climaxed with the burning of the Parliament Buildings during the early hours of April 30, 1813. The Americans intended to depart on May 2, but strong winds kept the fleet at York until it could set off for Niagara on May 8.

As for the attack’s political ramifications, news of the victory may have helped pro-war incumbent Daniel Tompkins win the New York State gubernatorial race. Sheaffe was soon relieved of his duties. The British got revenge for the burning of York and other settlements when they set Washington D.C. ablaze in August 1814. The war ended when the United States ratified the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815, which restored the prewar boundary between the Americans and British North America. Who actually won the war will be an eternal debate.

Consulted materials include Historic Fort York 1793-1993 by Carl Benn (Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History, 1993) and Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

A Maple Leaf Gardens Gallery

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

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

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

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

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The Globe, February 13, 1931.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning the ice surface, pre-Zamboni.

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

Ice badminton, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Globe and Mail, April 13, 1955.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toronto Star, January 26, 1960.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love During Wartime

Originally published on Torontoist on February 14, 2008.

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Toronto Star, February 13, 1945.

While some may scoff at modern rituals surrounding Valentine’s Day, simple expressions of love and sentimentality held a deeper meaning in Toronto towards the end of World War II. Tucked amidst the newspaper coverage of the Yalta Conference during the week of Valentine’s Day in 1945 were stories on how Torontonians expressed their admiration towards each other and loved ones fighting overseas.

A sense of nostalgia for peaceful times affected the valentine cards that were available. Top sellers were Victorian-inspired combinations of lace, paper and ribbons. The Daily Star noted that “with the opening guns of battle a revival in romanticism swept the western world resulting in the current mode for ornate Victorian furniture, nostalgic literature…hearts and flowers were the order of the day for thousands of Canadians seeking in old-fashioned sentimentality some escape from the stark realities of the wartime world.”

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Toronto Star, February 12, 1945.

Those realities may have reined in a trend that a Globe and Mail editorial found disturbing. “Not so many years ago valentines were taken rather seriously. The date was made the occasion of proposals and for beginning courtships. Then there intervened a lamentable era where insulting and abusive valentines were sent anonymously to less fortunate young women, as if their plain face were a personal fault.” The paper was relieved “that era seems to be passing…Valentines are more sentimental these days…a little present, a card, or even a phone call to some one loved can never be amiss.”

The most welcome greeting was delivered to Cathie Conlin of Harvie Avenue, who received belated Christmas wishes from her brother Patrick, a POW in Japan. The cable Mrs. Conlin received was the first message to arrive in Toronto under a Red Cross arrangement with the Japanese to allow one return communication between prisoners and their families per year. Mrs. Conlin told the Globe and Mail that it was “the best Valentine I ever got.”

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Toronto Star, February 12, 1945.

Servicemen on leave in Toronto were provided with a number of Valentine’s Day-themed dances to go to. These events ranged from a gathering of navy veterans at the Royal York to a joint collaboration between Simpson’s and the Toronto Conservatory of Music at the College Street YMCA. Older women were encouraged to attend morale-boosting teas and luncheons thrown by the likes of the Kiwanis Club.

Society editors felt that despite all of the good feelings circulating around the city, something was amiss. The Star‘s “Over the Teacups” column was not impressed with the new language of love, which failed to meet certain requirements.

Today was the day for lace and ribbons and sentimental poetry. Doves were supposed to come down out of bell towers and coo in public places. Everywhere were to be happy dreams, tranquility and love. We didn’t see any. The day was a flop. No doves nested in our hats. All we saw to come anywhere near it was a tall sailor walking hand in hand with his girl. He was saying, “Listen, did you remember the razor blades?” And she was saying “As soon as you go, I’m going to have my hair cut-short.” Well, that’s the way love talks nowadays. We’ll just have to be content with that.

Sources: editions of the Globe and Mail and Toronto Daily Star published February 10-16, 1945.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, February 13, 1945.

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Globe and Mail, February 14, 1945.

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Globe and Mail, February 15, 1945.

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Globe and Mail, February 15, 1945.

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The flipside of a wartime Valentine’s Day (with harsh feedback from “Uncle George”), Toronto Star, February 15, 1945. 

Bonus Features: Peace Day, 1919 (Post #500!)

Before diving into this post, read my article for TVO about the celebrations and controversies surrounding Peace Day in July 1919. This also marks the 500th post on Tales of Toronto (though this entry isn’t strictly a Toronto story…).

The Treaty of Versailles

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Souvenir, signing of peace, Versailles, 1919. Canada. Dept. of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment. Toronto Public Library.

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Hamilton Herald, June 28, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Eaton’s ad inspired by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Toronto Times, June 28, 1919.

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 The Globe, June 30, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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The Globe, June 30, 1919.

To Celebrate Peace Day or Not?

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Front page editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 17, 1919.

In several communities across the province, the question was whether to devote their full efforts towards peace celebrations planned for the August civic holiday weekend, or quickly come up with festivities to placate veterans groups and die-hard imperialists.

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Editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

In Peterborough, the front page of the July 18, 1919 Evening Examiner was filled with notices from retailers who would close. The decision to honour the holiday didn’t come until a meeting of local merchants wrapped up late that afternoon. “The only exception,” the paper reported, “will be the butchers who will close at noon owing to the hot weather and the necessity of supplying the public with a fresh supply of meat.” Peterborough’s factories also agreed to close on Peace Day.

As merchant Dickson Hall put it, “it is a scandal to remain open, contrary to the wishes of the King and the people.”

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Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

Peace Day preparations were a mess in Windsor and the surrounding “Border Cities” (which included Ford City, Riverside, Sandwich, and Walkerville). “The attitude adopted by the Great War Veterans to have a parade and celebration has somewhat upset the calculations of those who expected to see the day pass quietly and unobserved,” the Border Cities Star reported on July 18. “The fact that organized labour also has decided to ‘take a holiday’ has added to the general confusion.” The Star believed that talk of punishing merchants who stayed open would “simmer out.” Merchants decided to take a half-holiday, shutting their doors at 1 p.m.

In the end, Windsorites preferred a quiet day. Many relaxed along the Detroit River or headed to Bob-Lo Island amusement park. Anyone who wanted to party could have travelled to large celebrations in Leamington and Tilbury. A veterans parade fizzled out, prompting at least one GWVA member to warn that Windsor’s lukewarm embrace of the GWVA’s vision of Peace Day would cause the Border Cities to lose out on future veteran conventions.

Meanwhile, In Hamilton…

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Hamilton Herald, July 17, 1919.

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A rebuttal to the Herald‘s claims from the front page of the July 18, 1919 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

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Hamilton Spectator, July 18, 1919.

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Hamilton Herald, July 21, 1919.

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If the festivities planned for Hamilton weren’t enticing, one could have taken advantage of Toronto’s celebrations, as shown in this July 17, 1919 ad from the Spectator.

Peace Day along The Danforth

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

In Toronto’s east end, the main Peace Day celebrations took place along Danforth Avenue. A parade was held between Broadview Avenue and Withrow Park, where around 70,000 people enjoyed the festivities.

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Toronto Star, July 21, 1919.

Members of the Todmorden lodge of the Sons of England volunteered to provide refreshments in the park. Numbers published in the Toronto World indicated that the lodge sold over 7,200 soft drinks and 250 gallons of ice cream, bringing in over $1,000.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Peace Day in Earlscourt

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

For more on events in Earlscourt, check out this post on McRoberts Avenue.

Peace Day in Queen’s Park

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

During the singalong, Mayor Church announced that there would be no speeches. “The reports in the Toronto papers of Toronto’s peace celebration all agree that it was an unqualified success,” observed the editorial page of the July 21 edition of the Hamilton Herald, “but anything where there are no speeches is a reporter’s idea of an unqualified success.”

Not-So-Peaceful Actions

Piecing together the accounts of the rowdyism and violence which occurred in Toronto was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with each paper having its own set of details. Here are the full stories.

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The Globe, July 21, 1919.

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Mail and Empire, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto Times, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Whoops, False Armistice

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Having endured over four years of war, Torontonians were ready to cut loose as November 1918 dawned. As the Central Powers collapsed, there was a feeling that the Great War could end at any moment. The recent wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic had curtailed public gatherings, keeping people at home. All everyone needed to hear was that an armistice had been signed.

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Around noon on November 7, the Toronto Star posted a bulletin in the window of its office at 18 King West based on a United Press report that the war was over. Within an hour, people poured into the streets to celebrate, making as much noise as possible. Workers left their posts. Streetcar conductors barely made attempts to collect fares. Courtrooms emptied. Preparations were made to burn effigies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1918.

Problem was, an armistice had not been signed. The city’s other newspapers took a more cautious approach and waited for further confirmation. By the time the Star’s 5 p.m. edition hit the streets, it noted that earlier reports were unofficial. Though the news that it was a false alarm filtered to the streets, the celebrations continued. If the war didn’t end that day, reports that Germany was collapsing into chaos gave the impression it wouldn’t last much longer.

As the Mail and Empire framed the day:

Dame Rumour has been responsible for numerous announcements in the past four years of bitter struggle with Germany that have brought anxiety and anguish to many hearts, but none has had more widespread results that that which emanated from the office of an evening newspaper yesterday and placed Toronto in the midst of a torrent of frenzied celebration…Never before in the history of Canada has such a scene of indescribable exultant frenzy occurred as that which reigned in the streets of Toronto for more than ten hours. Judges of the Supreme Court, men learned in the law and staid and sober-minded businessmen discarded decorum and reserve in the contagious whirl of joy and joined in the universal paean of victory. The streets presented the appearance of a mammoth carnival with multitudinous vari-coloured streamers and ribbons hanging out from the windows of skyscrapers and adjacent buildings and showering onto the heads of cheering and jubilant humanity below.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

At least one death was attributed to the excitement. William Gloyns had finished stringing flags onto the the front of the D. Pike Awning Company’s office at 122 King East when, according to the News, “heart failure, accentuated by the excitement of the hour, seized him and he fell in a heap.” He was rushed to St. Mike’s, but died soon after. His wife told authorities that Gloyns had a long history of heart trouble, so no inquest was called.

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Toronto World, November 8, 1918.

Among the other stories that day:

  • In the Beaches, two Boy Scouts organized a victory parade, gathering over 200 children. At Waverley Road, a confectionary owner tossed candies to the kids, while a grocer gave them apples.
  • In Earlscourt, a window sign in a grocery store read “The Kaiser and his breed are beaten. We are so excited about it we cannot sell groceries. We will perhaps open again tomorrow morning.”
  • People who were ill left their sick beds to join the celebrations downtown. I’m a great deal healthier than Germany is at present,” one man told the Telegram.
  • At least one car was seen dangling a dead turkey from the top of its windshield.

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The Globe, November 8, 1918.

The Star’s competitors jumped on the paper for sharing the United Press bulletin. Here’s how the News presented the initial report…

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..and how it framed the story the next day.

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Toronto Daily News, November 8, 1918.

The News‘s editorial page stated that “The Toronto Star boasts that its special dispatches appeal to the imagination” The paper also wondered if “unreliable news agencies” would be banned from Canada as the Hearst chain’s had been earlier in the war.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

The Telegram tore into the Star, with two editorial pages blasting the paper for perpetrating a cruel hoax. The excessive degree of outrage reflected the near-pathological hatred editor-in-chief John “Black Jack” Robinson displayed towards the Star. Throughout the main editorial, “counterfeit news” appears repeatedly, and the piece goes as far as to suggest the incident would give German leaders a boost.

The editorial begins with an itemized tally of the number of soldiers from Toronto who had died (4,585 total), been wounded, or gone missing since July 18. It initially shares blamed for the cruel fake armistice story among several competitors and United Press.

Toronto’s broken hearts and mourning homes were the victims of an unexampled cruelty. That cruelty had its primary origin in the cold-blooded sensation-mongering of the United Press News Service. That cruelty was perpetrated upon the people of this city by the news columns and bulletins of the Toronto Star, aided and abetted by the bulletins of the Mail and Empire and the Globe.

Next, an argument that was the incident was a blot on the good name of the newspaper industry:

ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE PRICE OF ACCURACY. The United Press and the Toronto Star have made the newspaper business look like a disreputable trade. A newspaper should be diligent in the effort to verify the foundations of its statements as an individual is diligent in the effort to tell the truth.

Given the number of dead/injured soldiers from Toronto, the Telegram felt that:

A combination of stupidity, negligence and cupidity must explain the Toronto Star’s cruel and heedless circulation of the “news” manufactured in the counterfeiter’s den that calls itself the Paris headquarters of the United Press.

The final paragraph screams a torrent of anger, that may have been a wee excessive, if only for the use of all caps.

A true newspaper is not immune from HUMAN ERROR. THE ARMISTICE HOAX WAS AN EXAMPLE OF INHUMAN ERROR. The perpetrators of that cruelty and stupidity have made decent newspapers ashamed to be published in the same country as the sensation mongers and rumour pedlars who TORTURED THE HEARTS OF WOMEN, DEFILED THE HOLY ALTARS OF TORONTO’S GRATITUDE, AND SPOILED THE MOST SACRED MOMENT OF TORONTO’S LIFE.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Another half page was devoted to criticizing the Star and further editorializing, as well as showing how the Telegram was only interested in printing facts.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Here’s a surprise: if you think “fake news” is a term from the Trump era, here’s a sidebar showing how the “fake news” destroyed productivity for the day. Elsewhere in the paper, an account of how the story broke in New York used the headline ‘STORY OF NEWSPAPER CRIME” and subhead “COLD-BLOODED CRUELTY.”

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

There was even coverage on the women’s page.

Methinks the Telegram protested too much, and this incident presents a good example of the holier-than-thou attitude it often displayed in its war with the Star. Besides, compared to newspapers which published the United Press bulletin, the Star’s presentation was muted. Compare the Star’s front page on November 7…

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….to the New York World….

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…or, closer to home, the Hamilton Spectator.

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In the end, the citizens of Toronto had some fun while letting loose pent-up frustrations, and the false armistice served as a dress rehearsal for when an agreement was signed four days later.

The War is Over

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 12, 2011.

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Family reads Armistice Day headlines, November 11, 1918. Pictured left to right: Mrs. J. Fraser, Jos. Fraser Jr., Miss Ethel James, Frank James, and Norman James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 892.

2:50 a.m., November 11, 1918, the office of the Telegram newspaper on Melinda Street. An early morning full of anticipation as workers there and at Toronto’s five other daily newspapers waited for word sometime during the day that an armistice ending the First World War would be signed.

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Within 20 minutes of the wire notice, special editions of the Telegram and the other papers hit the streets of the city, ready for citizens roused from their slumber by church bells, fire sirens, factory whistles and other loud noisemakers. The war was over and, as the News noted, “Toronto went mad with glory.”

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The News, November 11, 1918.

The city needed to let loose after a recent spell of bad news. The influenza pandemic that ravaged the world hit Toronto hard in October 1918. Companies like Bell Telephone lost up to a quarter of their staff due to illness or care giving. Churches, entertainment facilities, libraries, and schools were closed, public gatherings were curtailed, and visitors were not allowed in hospitals. During the pandemic’s peak in mid-October, an average of 50 people a day succumbed to the flu, which ultimately killed around 1,300 Torontonians that month. Combine this with daily reports of the mounting casualties during the final month of battle in Europe and it’s easy to see how Toronto was ready to party.

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The Telegram, November 12, 1918.

News of the armistice spread quickly throughout the city. In the east end, residents along Bain Avenue were awakened around 3:40 a.m. by a trumpeter. Half-a-dozen windows opened and an equal number of heads stuck out, asking each other what was going on. “The armistice is signed,” somebody shouted. “The war is over—no fake this time!” Within 10 minutes, most homes in South Riverdale were lit up and pyjama-clad neighbours congratulated each other on the good news. By 4 a.m., as the News reported, “the streets, as a rule deserted and silent at the hour of coming dawn, were filled with quick-marshalled companies of girls and boys, all marching with waving flags and all equipped for carnival.” Traffic jams of cars formed as some revellers decided to head downtown.

The Telegram sent a car around the city to survey how celebrations were breaking out. Everywhere they found scenes similar to those in South Riverdale: people on the streets dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, clanging tin cans, and gathering in their nightclothes and raincoats around impromptu sidewalk bonfires. Streetcars were so packed that passengers sat on the roof.

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Streetcar on Spadina Crescent, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7110.

By dawn, streetcar service, apart from a few suburban routes, ground to a halt as conductors and operators abandoned their vehicles to join the festivities. Any driver who attempted to continue to head into the city was met with opposition by their fellow employees, as one determined Queen streetcar operator learned. Shortly after setting out on an eastbound course from Roncesvalles, he encountered a procession of 100 fellow Toronto Railway Company workers led by a Highland piper. When he failed to stop, the procession pulled off the streetcar’s pole and smashed its windows. Without streetcars, people wishing to head downtown jumped onto any automobile—the Telegram reported seeing as many as 28 people sitting in and hanging off one car.

Work was hardly on anyone’s mind that day. Few went to the office, and those who did didn’t stay long. City workers were told to take the day off. Bankers were obliged to stay on the job, but the only ticker tape flowing out of most financial institutions headed out windows onto the streets below. Courts were in session, but Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford gave clemency to anyone up on charges of drunkenness, gambling, speeding, or other minor offences. “This is not a day for punishment,” Kingsford told those assembled in police court. “It is a day for amnesty and pardon.”

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Girl celebrating Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 905.

Out in the streets, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. People draped in Red Ensigns, Union Jacks, and other Allied flags were among those who descended by the thousands onto Yonge Street and other crowded downtown arteries. Some descriptions paint a scene similar to Church Street on Halloween with revellers, in the words of the Mail and Empire, “bedecked themselves in the most grotesque costumes with false and painted faces.” One person dressed as the recently-abdicated German emperor wore a sign which read “I am the Kaiser, kick me.” Knowing people might deliver four years of pent-up frustration against him, the man padded his posterior to soften any swift kicks. Hopefully he wasn’t mistaken for the numerous effigies of the Kaiser burned with glee across the city.

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Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 891.

Celebrants along Yonge Street between Shuter and King found themselves in a war zone. The Mail and Empire reported that “for several hours the main thoroughfare presented the appearance of a region that had been subjected to a gas attack, because of the battle of talcum powder by the boys and girls who waged it with little relaxation.” Anyone who objected to being doused in powder was, with the approval of bystanders, showered with a double dose. Despite a few people who were hit square in the eye, people were generally amused by the battle or rolled with it. They had little choice—according to the News: “the crowds were so dense that escape was impossible, and the victims soon purchased and used supplies of their own.” Police directing traffic took the powder showers in stride, even if they “looked more like millers than officers of the law.”

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Float representing “In Flanders Field” at Victory Loan Parade, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1583, Item 161.

Officially sanctioned ceremonies began at noon on the steps of City Hall (now Old City Hall), where Mayor Tommy Church issued a proclamation. Following that was a previously scheduled Victory Loan parade that became a general celebration. Over 200,000 lined the route along University, Queen, Simcoe, King, Jarvis, Carlton, and College to watch the procession of soldiers and bond-promoting floats. Wounded hospital patients were chauffeured in automobiles. Airplanes dropped pamphlets urging spectators to “lend” to the loan drive. Music was provided by groups ranging from ragtag marching bands to the United States Navy Band led by, in possibly his only personal appearance in Toronto, John Philip Sousa. Of the floats, the most poignant was a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The women’s page of the News described the scene portrayed: “There was the grass of the fields, the vivid scarlet poppies and the charred crosses of the men who had fallen. A man in khaki standing looking down at the crosses carried out the picture in its last detail.” When the parade returned to its starting point at Queen’s Park, it was followed by a religious service.

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John Philip Sousa, University Avenue, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2576.

The partying continued well into the night. Sousa conducted a concert at Queen’s Park. Dances were held at the King Edward Hotel and other venues across the city. Bonfires burned on, including a large one fuelled by old wagons across from the Albert Britnell bookstore at Yonge and Bloor. A parade through Chinatown (then centred around Dundas and Elizabeth) saw a truck carrying smiling deities wielding gongs. The Star, then based on King Street, ran movies and bulletins on the side of a neighbouring building. Amid the jovial spirit, the News noted that some members of the crowd remembered the costs of the battle just ended: “Mingling with the wild abandon of youthful rejoicing was the note of sadness among those who recalled all too vividly the poignant sacrifice of war, and here and there in the swirling, gleeful crowds were lonely individuals who looked at the people but saw a grave in Flanders.”

The next day, tired Torontonians dragged themselves back to work and settled back into routine. The city estimated clean-up would cost $1,000. Little damage was done, and few arrests were made during the celebrations (it seemed even pickpockets had taken the day off). As the week unfolded, the Victory Loan drive wrapped up and the first postwar contingents of veterans returned home. The uncertainties of what peacetime would hold were pushed aside as the afterglow of the armistice celebrations lingered on.

Additional material from Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War by Ian Hugh Maclean Miller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002) and the following newspapers: the November 12, 1918 edition of the Globe; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Mail and Empire; the November 11, 1918 and November 12, 1918 editions of the News; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Toronto Star; and the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This subject was also covered in an earlier installment of Vintage Toronto Ads, originally published on November 11, 2008.

Vintage Ad #653: Armistice Day, 1918

The Globe, November 11, 1918.

November 11, 1918: eager Torontonians, having seen several days of stories in the local dailies that the end of World War I was imminent, waited for word from Europe of the armistice that would bring loved ones home. The newspapers stayed close to their wires to put the presses into motion once the armistice was official. The Telegram described the wait:

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Nicol received the wire at 2:50 a.m. The first edition of the Telegram hit the streets 20 minutes later. The paper used their speediness to take a potshot at the Star, who, “first in fake but last in reliability, put in a tardy appearance with the same news, accompanied by the morning papers.” Eaton’s used their regular advertising space to publish the official announcement and a blessing.

Vintage Ad #657: Drink to the Health of the Allies!

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

O’Keefe’s ad may have appealed to one group who welcomed the armistice, local drunks. The Telegram reported that inebriates around the city were “happy as larks” that not only was the war over, but that the city magistrate had declared a one-day amnesty on charges of public drunkenness, gambling, speeding, and other minor offences. The magistrate’s explanation for his actions? “We are doing it for our country.”

Vintage Ad #655: My Boy

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

Though the war was over, ads for Victory Bonds were published that day. Pitches soon switched from helping Canadians fight on to aiding returning soldiers and the citizens of countries devastated by the conflict. The city declared a half-day holiday for a bond drive, which quickly turned into a general celebration.

Additional material from the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.