Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: Potter’s Field

As Halloween approaches, we are surrounded by images of death. Most focus on the ghoulish aspects, from bony skeletons to creepy tombstones with punny names for the deceased. But the mock graveyards decorating residential lawns bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries. Instead of depressing, scary final resting places, these spaces are full of life.

During the Halloween seasons in 2011 and 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Torontoist on the city’s cemeteries. This year I’m mixing those pieces with updates and new stories. This piece was originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 29, 2011.

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Bloor and Yonge: subway junction, pedestrian scramble, long-term construction hoarding, gateway to Yorkville’s high-end shopping. While waiting on the northwest corner for the traffic light to turn, you may notice a silver plaque on the side of 2 Bloor West. Long before the beautiful people entered the neighbourhood, this was a site where the city’s pioneering outcasts received a respectful final rest. As the first cemetery in Toronto that wasn’t tied to a particular religious faith, it set the course for future burial grounds where almost anyone could be buried.

By the mid-1820s, burying the dead was becoming an issue in “Muddy York.” As people moved into small dwellings, graves on personal property grew rare. Cemeteries existed, but only for particular faiths. If you were a good Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, there wasn’t a problem. But if you didn’t subscribe to those branches of Christianity, suffered from mental illness, embraced a dissipated lifestyle, or had committed murder, your remains were bound for rejection out of fear they would foul consecrated ground.

This raised the ire of prominent local figures like the ever-fiery William Lyon Mackenzie. “We think that to perpetuate sectarianism even beyond the grave,” Mackenzie wrote in a December 1825 edition of the Colonial Advocate, “is very preposterous in a Christian country, and are sure that the majority of the liberal and well-informed throughout the earth, think as we do on this subject.” Mackenzie urged the government of Upper Canada to create legislation so that in “some convenient part of each township” of the colony, land would be set aside for a publicly operated non-denominational burial ground.

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Grave of Thomas Carfrae Jr. in the Necropolis

Mackenzie was among those present at a meeting held the previous month for “inhabitants of York friendly to the purchasing of a public burial place for all classes and sects.” Another attendee was merchant Thomas Carfrae Jr., who shared Mackenzie’s Scottish background but not his radical politics. Carfrae’s campaigning for a petition to support an open cemetery resulted in a parliamentary act approving the creation of such a site in January 1826. Five months later, six acres were purchased for 75 pounds by Carfrae and four other men, all of whom served as the new cemetery’s first trustees.

Sadly, the first burial was Carfrae’s infant daughter Mary, who was laid to rest on July 18, 1826. Four more members of his family joined Mary in the cemetery over the next seven years. Despite these many causes for grief, Carfrae was a busy man—besides his role in establishing Potter’s Field, he was also involved in the founding of the York Fire Company, St. Andrew’s Church, and the York Mechanics institute (the forerunner of the Toronto Public Library). He served as an alderman on Toronto’s first city council in 1834, was appointed customs collector in 1835, and was named harbour master in 1838. He reunited with his family in Potter’s Field following his death from a stroke in June 1841 at the age of 44.

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One of the surviving Potter’s Field tombstones at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Throughout its existence, the cemetery was known by a variety of names. The official name was the York General Burying Ground (which was changed to Toronto after the city renamed itself in 1834), but was alternately known as the Strangers’ Burying Ground, as those tended to be the types who made up the early burials. The name that caught on, Potter’s Field, was a biblical reference to the fate of Judas and his blood money in Matthew 27:7, which was used to buy a “potter’s field, to bury strangers in.”

Burials were light during the early years, until a cholera epidemic hit during the summer of 1832. Besides the heavy toll that disease claimed, burials increased as the new village of Yorkville grew around the cemetery. When compiling the causes of death for those buried in Potter’s Field, genealogist Elizabeth Hancocks was struck by “the nature of the bare-fact entries, many of which seem to possess an eloquence that carries well beyond the grave.” Among the frequent forms of death that caught her attention: “felled by tree.”

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The original tombstone for hanged rebels Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews. A larger memorial was built beside it in the Necropolis in 1893.

By the end of the 1840s, the cemetery neared capacity. As the population grew in Toronto and Yorkville, there was concern that Potter’s Field would run out of space for future burials. The trustees successfully lobbied the colonial government for legislation that widened their ranks and allowed the purchase of more land. The Necropolis, which had been established independently of the trust in 1850, relieved the pressure on Potter’s Field, but not enough for the residents of Yorkville. Just as bohemians and hippies were redeveloped out of the neighbourhood a century later, the dead were given the boot in 1855 after the government honoured a petition to close the cemetery.

The trustees were given the power to sell the land once all 6,685 people buried there were moved elsewhere. Families of the deceased were offered the choice of moving their loved ones’ remains themselves or having the remains transplanted to new plots in the Necropolis. Among those moved east were the Carfrae family and 1837 rebellion martyrs Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews.

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Plaque at the corner of Sumach Street and Winchester Street noting the move of remains from Potter’s Field to the Necropolis.

One problem: there were plenty of remains that nobody claimed. To the consternation of Yorkville residents, and presumably those eager to redevelop the land, the cemetery sat for two more decades. By 1874 everyone’s patience had run out, so the Ontario government gave the trustees the right to remove any remains that were still in Potter’s Field 20 years after it had officially closed. When the anniversary passed, the unclaimed were moved to both the Necropolis and the new Mount Pleasant Cemetery. As the Globe noted when Mount Pleasant officially opened in 1876, “In a mound here lie the bones of about 3,000 persons which could not be identified. The remains of old and young persons of every Christian denomination, coloured and white people alike, here rest together in one common grave.”

By 1881, moving was finished and the site was soon built over. “Where the marble columns once stood, and the house to receive the departed was once erected,” wrote the anonymous scribe of an early 20th century guide to Toronto’s cemeteries, “now stand the splendid villas of the living.” Though the silver plaque is the only reminder of Potter’s Field’s existence within Yorkville, grave markers survive in Mount Pleasant Cemetery and the Necropolis. The trust that operated the cemetery went through numerous name changes before adopting its current identity as the Mount Pleasant Group. Some graveyards that had been strictly denominational, like the Anglican-run St. James, gradually began permitting burials of those who didn’t subscribe to the operator’s faith. Though sectarian cemeteries continue to exist, the inclusive visions of Thomas Carfrae Jr. and William Lyon Mackenzie that created Potter’s Field were realized throughout Ontario.

Additional material from Historical Sketch Toronto, Canada 1826-1905 (Toronto: Toronto General Burying Grounds Trust, 1905), Potter’s Field Cemetery 1826-1855 otherwise called The Strangers’ Burying Ground compiled by Elizabeth Hancock (Toronto: Generation Press, 1983), the December 8, 1825 edition of the Colonial Advocate, and the November 6, 1876 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ca 1825-12-08 burying grounds

Colonial Advocate, December 8, 1825.

1833 potters field description

York Commercial Directory, Street Guide, and Register 1833-4 (York: Thomas Dalton, 1833)

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dining With Monks

Originally published on Torontoist on August 9, 2011.

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Toronto Calendar, March 1979.

Toronto has seen theme restaurants come and go, from tiki bars like Trader Vic’s to anime-centric cafes in Scarborough. One of the oddest had to be The Monks, an eatery tucked away near Yonge and Bloor where the wait staff were decked out in monastic finery. Based on a two-star (out of five) review in Toronto Calendar magazine, the food required divine assistance.

A restaurant dedicated to good honest food at humble prices is an act of Christian charity among today’s inflationary eateries, but management here sometimes leaves discriminating diners praying for more goodness and less humility in the preparing of an imaginative sounding repast, served in the casual comfort of stucco arches and high-backed plus chairs by waiters cutely clad as clerics.

For starters, the fish pate of sole and salmon is a good choice for its light smack of dill—though mushy asparagus spears accompanying it are less enjoyable. The house salad, too, tends to be a woody concoction of iceberg lettuce topped with a salt-and-pepper vinaigrette. However the carrot puree—a daily soup—is smooth, tasty and not overrich. Accompanying wines are on a slightly higher price plane than the food.

For a main course the hungry man may turn to “choice cuts from the carvery of brother Mark,” for a platter of roast suckling pig which, on a recent sampling, was tough. But those with smaller appetites may find the “sturdy nets of brother Peter” more rewarding if they nibble on a seafood kebab of two shrimp, scallops, mushrooms and small pieces of red snapper more or less unseasoned, but moistened by a buttery hollandaise. A smooth end to the meal is mocha mousse, one of the “tantalizing confections of brother Zachary.” Or throw all caution to the wind with Monks coffee or brandy, Benedictine and whipped cream.

The Monks is a popular, affordable and central spot with a festive air. With a little more attention to food, it could be as pleasing to the palate as to the purse.

Additional material from the June 1979 edition of Toronto Calendar.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

So how many of “Toronto’s most famous restaurants” did Pedro Cabazuelo found? A quick scan of ChefDB shows he was owner or part-owner of at least 10 dining destinations between 1974 and 1981, along with stints as either chef or maitre d’ at several others.

Cue a trip into an archival wormhole leading to a parade of newspaper stories and reviews…

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Toronto Star, October 14, 1972.

Digging through the G&M and Star archives, here’s the earliest article referencing Cabezeulo, which spotlights a paella recipe.

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The headline doesn’t inspire confidence (“ho hum, another old house converted into a French restaurant”). Toronto Star, June 15, 1974.

According to a 1974 Star review, La Bastille (51 St. Nicholas Street) was operated by Cabezuelo and two former waiters who had previously worked together in Niagara Falls. The restaurant’s name was inspired by the partners coming together on July 14 (Bastille Day).

Reviewer Howard MacGregor’s opening sentence did not inspire confidence:

The thing about La Bastille is that you really want the place to work. It’s a small restaurant subdivided into three tinier rooms specializing in simple, French-provincial coooking. Fixed-price lunch and dinner menus in two of the rooms (La Guillotine and La Donjon) should please those who need an estimate of what it’s all going to cost before ordering. An a la carte menu and a kitchen that stays open until 3 am are the extra attractions of Les Oubliettes, the cellar room where buckwheat crepes, a favourite Breton dish, is one of the specialties.

MacGregor observed the main floor La Guillotine room was so compact that “if you’re at all self-consciout about overheard conversations (either yours or theirs), then this room isn’t for you.” As for the food, MacGregor felt that “someone in the kitchen had a low estimate of Torontonians’ taste buds.” On top of everything else, the restaurant lacked a liquor license. Overall, he felt it could quickly improve “by putting a little more zing and spice into its cooking.”

Two years later, Star reviewer Judylaine Fine was much happier with the fare at La Bastille, calling it “a wonderful place to go for a leisurely lunch.” She also noted that “Pedro Cabazuelo might not be a big-money restaurateur in Toronto, but he sure has his fingers into a couple of nice pies. Those pies are not high-priced or ritzy. They are charming restaurants where you can wine and dine in a homey, friendly atmosphere.”

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1978.

Joanne Kates’s review of The Monks, which was far more positive toward the food than the one I included in the original post.

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Starweek, December 30, 1978.

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Globe and Mail, April 7, 1979.

A few words about The Monks from Mary Walpole’s advertorial column.

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Globe and Mail, November 29, 1978.

The Monks concept soon took up more of his time…

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Globe and Mail, December 6, 1978.

Of all the restaurants mentioned here, the Duke pubs are the sole survivors in 2019.

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Globe and Mail, July 28, 1979.

Next restaurant concept: Winners. By 1981 it was gone, replaced by Fortuna Village, a Chinese restaurant which retained some of its decor.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1979.

One wonders how many parties across the city were enhanced with feasts served by robed “monks.”

A fast-food Monks Kitchen soon opened at the southeast corner of Yonge and Adelaide, alongside two other Patrick Chan owned eateries (Bamboo Court and a Mr. Submarine franchise).  Various incarnations of The Monks were intended for properties Chan owned around the city.

Note the Uptown Backstage cinema entrance in the background.

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Globe and Mail, December 1, 1979.

Besides the locations teased here, a Monks restaurant also opened in Mississauga. All locations cloistered themselves away for good within a few years.

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“Head Chef at Monks on Front St., Pedro Cabezuelo has worked at 10 major Toronto restaurants in 10 years. A good chef is hard to find and ‘you’ve got to steal staff,’ he says.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally published in the February 22, 1981 Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0021141f.

By the early 1980s, Cabazuelo faded from the city’s food pages. Apart from an ad promoting cooking demonstrations at Eaton’s in 1985, he reappeared in 1995 at a new restaurant at the old address of La Bastille on St. Nicholas Street. “After 12 years,” an ad proclaimed, “Pedro Cabazuelo has returned to Toronto to open Cypre’s, an inviting oasis on this charming tree-lined street. It’s a forest-green den for intimate affordable dining.” The ad touted the restaurant’s proximity to TIFF and Forever Plaid (then running at the New Yorker Theatre).

Toronto Life gave Cypre’s a one-star (out of four) review:

Some Latino tang — the tiny downstairs in burnt-orange glaze (more serene than it sounds) — though it’s really everyeater-land (Thai noodle chicken, Szechuan beef pasta, venison-veal sauced by red grapes and white raisins). Some overcooking or puzzling blandness. Wines skip about.

Additional sources: the November 21, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 9, 1995 edition of Starweek; the April 1996 edition of Toronto Life; and the January 31, 1976, and December 24, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.

Zellers: Where the Lowest Price Was the Law

A merger of two Torontoist posts, one written when Target bought a pile of Zellers leases (published January 13, 2011) and one when Target Canada called it quits (published January 23, 2015), along with a few extras tossed in.

Let’s begin with the expectations some people had when Target announced it was coming to Canada…

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

For several years, local lovers of Target (or, as some preferred, Tar-zhay) drooled at periodic rumours that the American discount retailer would set up shop north of the border. Time and time again they were let down by failed courtship attempts between Target and Zellers — until today’s revelation that Target has agreed to take over the leases of most Zellers locations. To those infatuated with the new arrival’s offerings, this may be equivalent to an early Valentine’s Day gift. While it might not be heartbreaking to some when the eighty-year-old Canadian discounter disappears from the local landscape in 2013, we’ll take a moment to look at its hopeful beginnings.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1931.

Walter Zeller entered the retail business through the stock room of a Woolworth’s in his native Kitchener in 1912. Over the next two decades he rose steadily in the five-and-dime field on both sides of the border, working at store and corporate management levels for the likes of S.S. Kresge and Metropolitan Stores. In 1928 he launched his own small chain with locations in Fort William, London, and St. Catharines. By the end of that year, the original incarnation of Zellers was purchased by American retailer Schulte-United, who rebranded the stores under their banner. Dreams of opening two hundred stores were quashed by the economic crash, which resulted in Schulte-United’s bankruptcy in January 1931. The bankruptcy trustees called in Zeller, who decided after several months of examination to buy the dozen or so stores left in Canada.

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

Zeller sounded optimistic about the chances for the new Zellers Ltd. when he announced its formation in November 1931. “In building our new company,” he told the press, “one important thought has been borne in mind—that the buying public to-day is more discriminating and thrifty than ever before. It knows and demands style merchandise of good quality. It insists on popular prices.” Among the first stores to carry the new banner was the chain’s sole Toronto location at Yonge and Albert streets (now occupied by the Eaton Centre). Prior to its grand opening on November 11, store manager F.C. Lee told the Star both he and the employees that had been retained were confident about the prospects for Zellers, due to the retail experience, managerial skills, and financial backing of the new corporate overlords. “While Zellers is extending a chain of stores throughout Canada,” Lee noted, “nevertheless the business is founded on the principle that the local success depends on catering to local conditions and preferences—and local managers are empowered to operate on this basis.”

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Globe and Mail, March 8, 1950.

Torontonians didn’t bite, as its first location closed within months. That first store was ignored in the PR for Zellers’ return to the city in March 1950. “Even if many Torontonians hear the news at first with indifference,” Globe and Mailbusiness columnist Wellington Jeffers wrote, “I am convinced that later on they will know it is something of an event that Zeller’s Ltd will this year open a Zeller store on Bloor Street.”

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1950.

The branch at 24 Bloor Street West (now the site of the Holt Renfrew Centre) was hailed by City officials as the beachhead for larger stores moving onto Bloor between Yonge and Bay.

Zellers quickly took advantage of the explosive growth in suburban shopping, placing stores in pioneering shopping centres like Golden Mile Plaza and Lawrence Plaza. The stores gradually evolved into modern discount department stores, though unlike its competition (Kresge’s Kmart and Woolworth’s Woolco chains), Zellers didn’t rebrand its larger locations.

Within two years of Walter Zeller’s death in 1957, a majority interest in the company was held by American discounter W.T. Grant. The Hudson’s Bay Company became sole owner in 1978. Later acquisitions included many Toronto locations of K-Mart and Towers.

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Toronto Star, October 15, 1986.

In August 1986 Zellers launched its Club Z customer loyalty program. Initial press reports depicted it as a computerized version of old “green stamp” schemes, complete with gift catalogue promising decent merchandise for a large number of points—a 28-inch colour TV could be yours for only 1.5 million Club Z points. Targeted consumers were women aged 25 to 55 who frequently shopped at Zellers for basic clothing and other staples for their families.

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Toronto Star, February 24, 1987.

The following year, Zeddy debuted. In his early days, Zeddy taught kids to be safe via colouring books, and lent his assistance in finding missing children. Zeddy later upheld the “law of Toyland,” joining the likes of Batman and Robin in crusading for lower prices on kids’ goods. After being dumped in the woods in a humorous ad campaign in 2012, Zeddy became a mascot for Camp Trillium.

The influence of Target hovered over the chain from the 1990s onward, via revamped presentation in some stores, stocking common brands like Cherokee and Massimo, and periodic rumours the American discounter was about to take over. Yet model stores, as Canadian Business discovered at an Ajax location in 1996, could not escape complaints about messiness customers grumbled about for years:

Pieces of children’s clothing are strewn about the floor. The cosmetics counter is in hopeless disarray. A snorkel and mask are lying in the stationery section. A bucket of dirty water sits next to a mountain of tinned ham. Empty cardboard boxes and abandoned shopping carts block the aisles.There are rows of empty shelves in almost every department of the store. Some of the goodies bins around the checkout area sit empty—a cardinal sin in the retailing world, where impulse buying accounts for a significant percentage of sales. A female clerk swears loudly as she sets up a display. Another gives a visitor a sour look when he asks for directions to the washroom. Needless to say, this is not the ultimate shopping environment. And yet Zellers is counting on “model” outlets such as this to save it from oblivion.

Facts of Interest to the People of Canada about Zellers

Maclean’s, June 1, 1944. 

To put it mildly, Target Canada didn’t live up to expectations. Its failure will probably be a case study in business textbooks for years to come. One side effect was a wave of nostalgia for Zellers, which left a void in the marketplace that is still being filled.

When Target announced its decision to pull the plug on its Canadian misadventure, it provoked a wave of nostalgia for the discount chain it supplanted. Memories and laments for Zellers made it a trending topic on social media, and the textbook case study of Target’s mistakes led people to forgive past complaints about the home of Club Z and Zeddy.

“Zellers, for most of its history, was quite simply the major discount store in the country,” retail expert Ed Strapagiel noted when Target purchased Zellers’ leases in Janaury 2011. ”It really was quite phenomenal—it didn’t necessarily offer the most fashionable items, but it had a reputation for good and sturdy clothes.”

Anyone with pangs of nostalgia, or wishing to have a last laugh on Target, can still shop at Zellers in Toronto, though the lone remaining store in the city at Kipling and Queensway is effectively a Hudson’s Bay outlet.

Sources: the September 1996 edition of Canadian Business; the October 21, 1939 edition of the Financial Post; the February 2, 1950 and January 14, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 7, 1931, November 10, 1931. March 9, 1950, and August 10, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

It appears that Zellers will disappear (again) by the beginning of 2020, as its last two locations will be closing. 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Corner of Balmuto St. and Bloor St., looking north

Corner of Balmuto and Bloor, looking north, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 66, Item 21.

From a 1939 Financial Post profile of Walter Zeller:

On the business side of the balance sheet, Mr. Zeller knows as much about the variety store business as any man in the business. On the personal side, he is forthright, hard-hitting and, when asked his opinion, gives it without reserve. What he has accomplished in a relatively short space of time implies a businessman of the “dynamo” type. He is all of that. And to back up his boundless supply of energy, is a knowledge of his own business and capabilities that commands respect.

The profile ended with this odd tidbit: “He has only two hobbies: business and Kiwanis.”

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Globe and Mail, February 2, 1950.

cc 1972-02-09 bill smiley profile stagnite at georgetown zellers

Canadian Champion, February 9, 1972.

“County Fair” malls and plazas anchored by Zellers dotted the Canadian landscape during the 1970s. I wonder if the one closest to where I grew up (Leamington, now anchored by FreshCo) ever held a “stagnite” like the Georgetown location.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 22, 1903. Click on image for larger version.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 23, 1903.

I considered including a brief history of Target in one of the original articles. These two ads show the birth of Minneapolis-based Dayton’s, out of which Target emerged as its discount division in 1962.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A 1980s Fashion Show

All Puffed Up

Originally published on Torontoist on October 21, 2008.

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Bravo, May-June 1983.

As Halloween nears, costume hunters are descending on the city’s vintage, resale, and thrift clothing stores looking for the right ensemble to dazzle their friends—we suspect that traffic reports will be required for Kensington Market, Goodwill, and Value Village locations this weekend. Someone may be lucky enough to find this gem from a quarter-century ago and channel its wit and vitality in any number of directions, including high-class fashion model, drag diva extraordinaire, or, with liberal application of muck and stage blood, a horrifying apparition.

The puffy sleeves were designed with aesthetics and practicality in mind. They provide an ideal storage/hiding spot for any beverages required for your Halloween activity. Built-in storage compartments reduce the need to carry a bag for your valuables, as long as you don’t shimmy your arms too wildly on the dance floor.

Luxurious Lobes

Originally published on Torontoist on December 9, 2008.

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Toronto Life, December 1985.

In this time of economic turmoil, isn’t it reassuring that all you need to do to tell the world that your investments are secure and your confidence is strong is to show off a pair of pearl earrings? Never mind the corporate restructuring plan that you’ve worked on for the past two weeks to the detriment of your sleeping habits and stress levels—the world must know that you are alive and kicking!

Secrett Jewel Salon offered its first rocks in 1955 in a store at the Park Plaza Hotel. The business continues to operate, though it has occupied other spaces in Yorkville since this ad was published.

Pop 84 for Xmas 85

Originally published on Torontoist on November 24, 2009.

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Toronto Life, December 1985.

Christmas marketing tip from the mid-1980s: if you’re an Italian denim label who wants to push the newsboy/urchin look to tony Toronto shoppers, recruit the most sullen batch of models you can find that look good in loose shirts and suspenders.

This group of ragamuffins showed up in a special “Noel” pullout section that Toronto Life readers were urged to “pull out and save for influential shopping advice and gift-giving tips.” Suggestions included eighty-five dollar bead mazes for children, gift bags of Kernels popcorn and gold-glazed pots for women, and a nineteenth century suit of armour (only eight hundred and fifty bucks!) for men. In a survey of what Torontonians wanted from Santa, author Morley Callaghan wished for a booze-filled seven-course meal (“I think I’d like to start off with an aperitif, then a couple of bottles of good wine, maybe a burgundy, and finish off with some fine cognac”), skater Toller Cranston pined for an elephant’s foot stool with toenails, and artist/musician Mendelson Joe wanted peace on earth—if that failed, he indicated he’d settle for a trillion dollars to promote imagination and creativity instead of humanity’s destructive habits.

UPDATE: When my wife saw this ad, she said “they look like the extras for Newsies.”

Givenchy-Yenchy-Ya-Ya

Originally published on Torontoist on December 29, 2009.

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Toronto Life, December 1984.

 

It was the morning after the night before. She couldn’t remember much, other than it had been one heck of a New Year’s party. Stumbling onto the streets of Yorkville, she found herself clad in a stunning blue, grey, and black number, dimly recalling how she borrowed the snowflake-inspired couture from the hostess after an impulsive jump into the hot tub. Though her head felt like a football tossed around during the bowl games she would watch with her housemates later that afternoon, she was determined to make an impression in her stylish discovery, if only to hail a cab home. Some would say she was trying to present the image of a pouty model to the world; she would say she was holding her aching head before Advil could come to the rescue.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hudson’s Bay Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on January 28, 2015.

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Toronto Star, November 5, 1975.

“A kind of urban Rip Van Winkle” was how the Star assessed the state of Yonge and Bloor in 1970. “We let it fall asleep in the early decades of this century, then tiptoed all around it during the ensuing years building the modern face of Toronto. While glittering towers of glass and concrete and stainless steel shot up everywhere else, mid-town retained a sleepy two-storey profile.”

In terms of large-scale development, the neighbourhood was waking up. Headlines transitioned from the complaints about youth in Yorkville to announcements of new office towers and shopping complexes. By the end of 1970, over 200 storeys of new space were expected to be built within the next four years. While buildings like the Manulife Centre and 2 Bloor West materialized, other ideas, like a pedestrian walkway above Bloor Street into the Colonnade, remained on the drawing board.

Among the first projects announced was a reshaping of the northeast corner of Bloor and Yonge. Backed by affiliates of Swiss-owned developer Fidinam, Toronto architectural firm Crang and Boake revealed plans for the as-yet unnamed complex in June 1969. They called for an office tower, an apartment/hotel tower, two levels of shopping, and an 800-vehicle garage, among other features. Sitting atop a major commuter hub, the complex linked into a series of underground shopping centres stretching westward, whose foot traffic would allow landlords to charge hefty rents. The project soon secured interest from Famous Players cinemas and, vacating its old building on the corner, Royal Bank.

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Toronto Sun, August 7, 1974.

Two major tenants were announced in December 1971: the Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB), which planned to rent up to 13 floors of office space, and Hudson’s Bay Company. The Bay was familiar with the neighbourhood, having operated a branch of its Morgan’s chain at the present site of Holt Renfrew. The new store would serve as the flagship for the Bay’s rapid expansion in Eastern Canada. It also lent its name to the project: the Hudson’s Bay Centre.

Political controversy soon arose at Queen’s Park. It emerged that Fidinam, which received a $15-million loan from the WCB toward construction, donated $50,000 to the ruling provincial Progressive Conservatives following the decision to move the WCB into the building. A probe by attorney-general Dalton Bales found no wrongdoing under existing laws.

Not everyone was happy with the changes the rising towers brought to the neighbourhood. “Due to the rapid expansion of Bloor from Spadina to Church in the past five years no one paid any attention to amenities, sunlight, wind current, the general environment and the general esthetics,” alderman Ying Hope lamented to the Globe and Mail. “As a result it is rapidly becoming just another canyon with little uniformity and ‘toothgaps’ everywhere. Without some control the whole environment could be killed.”

When The Bay opened on August 7, 1974, district general manager Al Guglielmin promised it would give Eaton’s and Simpsons “a good run for their money.” The 260,000-square-foot store was touted as the first major department store to open in the core since Eaton’s College Street (now College Park) welcomed its first customers in 1931. A fifth-floor exhibition hall showcased displays from community groups. Of its three restaurants, the highlight may have been “The Edibles,” a buffet-style restaurant with English cuisine (roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips) decorated with cartoons by Ronald Searle illustrating the company’s colorful history.

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Toronto Sun, January 12, 1977.

A parade on the Bay’s opening morning ran from Varsity Stadium to the store. A year later, on November 6, 1975, the rest of the complex officially opened. To celebrate, high-wire performer Jay Cochrane walked the 287 feet between the two towers at a height of 439 feet above ground, sans safety devices.

One of the Hudson Bay Centre’s persistent detractors has been Star architecture critic Christopher Hume. He has frequently noted its failings, especially the cold concrete face it displays at street level. In a 1987 article on the best and worst buildings in the city, Hume considered it a lowlight:

An object lesson in how to take one of the two most important intersections in Toronto—Bloor and Yonge—and wreck it. Without windows or doors to break up its solid concrete facade, this Crang & Boake monstrosity looks more like a bunker than a department store. The only way life has returned to the corner is through the itinerant vendors who set up their wares around the centre.

A decade later, Hume declared “it sums up everything that shouldn’t happen in a city.”

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Left: Globe and Mail, November 17, 1975. Right: Toronto Star, October 28, 1975.

In recent years, the shopping complex underwent years of renovations. The Bay gradually lost its flagship status after Simpsons on Queen Street changed branding. It appeared the space would be transformed into the Canadian flagship for Saks Fifth Avenue, until Hudson’s Bay management decided to convert part of the Queen store. Height-wise, the complex looks tiny compared to new neighbours like One Bloor East. Amid the current developments in the neighbourhood, some might say the site feels like the Rip Van Winkles it displaced.

Additional material from the June 18, 1969, December 7, 1971, March 17, 1972, October 1, 1973, and November 7, 1975 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 14,1970, November 2, 1972, January 5, 1973, July 17, 1974, August 1, 1974, May 9, 1987, and September 19, 1998 editions of the Toronto Star.

The Rise and Fall of Stollerys

Originally published on Torontoist on January 21, 2015. Additional archival images have been included.

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A policeman in fur busby directs traffic at Bloor and Yonge in front of Stollery’s men’s and boys clothing, with Humphrey gas arc lamps extending from the windows, circa 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 816.

There’s a good chance Frank Stollery wouldn’t have been impressed by what happened to his building this past weekend.

During his 70-plus years in the garment trade, Stollery made it a point not to cut corners. As a young foreman cutter in Montreal, he questioned management’s insistence on using inferior materials when the cloth he required for a necktie order was unavailable. That experience helped motivate Stollery to launch his own menswear business in 1901. Over time, he developed a reputation for quality work, refusing to trust the advice of salesmen and carefully examining the cut and strength of cloth with a large magnifying glass.

But the cutting of corners, or at least the exploiting of existing laws, was on display at the southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge this past Saturday. Workmen armed with crowbars chipped away at the façade of Stollerys. Art Deco stone carvings dating from a 1920s expansion vanished from the streetscape. Work was completed so hastily that little to no sidewalk protection was erected.

The building’s swift demise—which occurred one day after Mizrahi Developments received its demolition permit from the City—raises a number of issues regarding Toronto’s handling of heritage preservation.

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Toronto Star, January 23, 1919.

Even if you have doubts about the building’s historical merits, it’s hard to deny that the undertaking involved a certain amount of arrogance. As Star architecture critic Christopher Hume observed, “To send in the wrecking crews on a weekend—before the hoardings are even up—is as succinct a way as possible to give the city the middle finger.”

“We don’t feel there is any heritage value to it and neither did anyone else for the last 100 years,” developer Sam Mizrahi told the Star over the weekend. Yet Stollerys was one of the first businesses to make a name for itself in Yorkville. When Stollerys opened its doors in what was then considered a semi-suburban area, pessimists believed its proprietor would starve to death within a year. But the business prospered, as did Stollery, who was active in the local business association and served a one-year term as a city councillor. After renting the property for years, Stollery purchased the site in 1928 for $400,000 and transformed his store into the building currently fading away.

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Globe and Mail, December 16, 1963.

The store was praised by Advertising Age magazine during the 1950s for its straightforward sales pitches. “The copy doesn’t do much of a job of whetting desire, but it does an excellent job of carrying conviction,” columnist Clyde Bedell observed. “The advertising is successful because it fully, sincerely, honestly, warmly, effectively served the public in connection with what it offers.”

Frank Stollery sold the business in 1968, but continued to work there full time until his death three years later at the age of 91. The ensuing years saw renovations, a third-floor addition, family feuds, and a growing sense that time was passing the store by. While it carried high-end English labels, the presentation grew tired. “The windows look a lot like those of Honest Ed’s,” Karen von Hahn wrote in the Star in 2014, “except that Honest Ed’s sells jackets for $14.99, not two-ply cashmeres for hundreds of dollars.”

Like Honest Ed’s, Stollerys sat on prime real estate. Mizrahi, who bought the property in October 2014, is promising to build a retail and residential complex—complete with underground TTC access—that will complement the intersection’s other towers. British architect Norman Foster (whose work includes U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Berlin’s Reichstag, and London’s City Hall) is reportedly attached to the project, currently called “The One.”

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Stollerys, between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 109.

Details about Mizrahi’s plans have yet to be divulged, and a building application has yet to be submitted. This concerns Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre – Rosedale), whose ward has already witnessed heritage demolition fiascos such as the one involving 81 Wellesley Street East. Wong-Tam made a motion for the building’s heritage designation at the January 13 session of the Toronto and East York Community Council, less than a week after Mizrahi applied for a demolition permit. While residential developers must submit replacement building plans before a permit is issued, commercial developers are under no such obligation. “One hundred and ten percent, I want to see that done for commercial properties,” Wong-Tam said Monday. “We want to prevent properties from being randomly demolished across the city.”

A key issue affecting Stollerys, and sites like it, is that the City’s building department is required to grant a demolition permit if all requirements have been met. Provincial stop orders can be issued to prevent hasty action when it comes to potential heritage sites, but that hasn’t happened since 2009, when 7 Austin Terrace was saved.

The fact that the process of identifying potential heritage buildings is such a slow one concerns advocates like Catherine Nasmith, president of the Toronto branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. “It takes the city ages to put any of this stuff into place,” she told the CBC. “Once [a building] is damaged and torn down, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Nasmith also observed that developers dislike heritage designations because of the limits they place on reshaping properties. This sentiment was echoed by the City’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, who tweeted earlier this week that Mizrahi had “acted rashly” because he worried the building would indeed be deemed to have heritage value.

So what could Toronto do to avoid more hasty demolitions such as the one that took down Stollerys? In general, it needs to put in place more people (paid or volunteer), who could improve the flow of designations by identifying potential heritage sites. Building a heritage impact assessment into the demolition permit process could also have a real impact—and encourage the City and developers to arrive at constructive solutions. Adding extra time to the process might also provide more opportunities to come up with imaginative ways to readapt heritage properties or to integrate them into new structures. And if it’s ultimately determined that a building can be demolished, it’s possible that elements deemed to be of historic merit could be archived, saved for future museum display, or even given to the descendants of those who worked on its construction.

It’s probably too late to salvage pieces of Stollery’s. Of concern now is whether the site will become a lingering eyesore. If Mizrahi’s construction plans end up being delayed, he could, of course, build goodwill by allowing temporary public use of the site via a park or plaza. “All we can hope for now,” Christopher Hume concludes, “is that city hall suddenly lurches back to life and does what it can to ensure that what replaces Stollerys isn’t as tacky as its builder’s behaviour.”

Additional material from the May 1, 1951, June 18, 1954, May 14, 1957, and January 4, 1971 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the July 21, 1928, January 4, 1971, January 5, 1971, April 23, 2014, January 18, 2015, and January 19, 2015 editions of the Toronto Star.

Cumberland Terrace Tells the Story of Yorkville at a Glance

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2014.

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While most time capsules are buried in the foundations of buildings, their contents to be revealed at some future date, Cumberland Terrace is a living (if barely breathing) piece of Me Decade retail architecture frozen in time.

Promoted as “the nicest way from Yonge to Bay” when it opened in October 1974, the mall’s resistance to modernization—orange and brown tiles, large banks of phones, signage for chains such as Teriyaki Experience unused elsewhere for decades—gives Cumberland Terrace the feel of a living museum, and makes it perfect venue to celebrate the history of Yorkville.

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Trifold Creative, whose recent downtown work includes Adelaide Place and 438 University, has covered the windows of empty storefronts with snippets of neighbourhood history—a project titled “Yorkville History at a Glance.”

According to Trifold’s website, it’s an attempt to “revitalize, direct traffic flow and brighten up Cumberland Terrace’s walkway by creating an engaging yet aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.” Given 9,000 square feet to cover, their designers combined sketches, historic photos, and watercolour splashes on white backgrounds, bringing some light to the dingier corners of the mall.

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From stories of Victorian businesses such as Frogley’s Bakery and the Severn Brewery, to tales from the neighbourhood’s hippie era (including a nod to Joni Mitchell), the project covers the breadth of Yorkville’s varied history. Most of the stories run the length of an average storefront, although some stretch out a bit farther—one series of panels offers visual representations of TIFF People’s Choice Award winners, while another salutes the local contemporary art scene with a tribute to the late Walter Moos that incorporates works he displayed at his gallery.

The panels fill space while the future of Cumberland Terrace is determined. Since 2008, several developers have come forward with proposals to bring the site into the 21st century. Owner Oxford Properties submitted a development application to the City this summer based on designs by architectsAlliance. The plan calls for a 54-storey residential tower with a 50-foot lobby surrounded by a revamped mall that will be better integrated into the streetscape.

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But until a proposal is chosen and construction begins, visitors may continue to marvel at the time-warped Cumberland Terrace, and perhaps learn a bit about the history of Yorkville, too.

UPDATE

As of June 2018, the history panels are still there, and Cumberland Terrace still awaits redevelopment.