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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Happy Canada Day from a Downtown Terrace

This afternoon we placed our Canadian flag on our terrace railing for Canada Day.

 

            Happy Canada Day Toronto

 

 

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For further expressions of pride in our great city, see tayloronhistory.com

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Toronto

 

Celebrating Canada Day in 1927, The 60th Anniversary of Confederation

The following is from the novel, “There Never Was A better Time,” a story of the Taylor family and their seven mischievous sons that immigrated to Toronto from Newfoundland in 1924. Jack, Ernie, and Jimmy, the oldest of the Taylor sons, delighted in the sinful entertainment that the city offered. Their grandfather, Job, who was over ninety years of age, accompanied the family to Toronto and was amazed by the new life that confronted him. The story also tells about the difficulties of Mary Taylor, their mother, as well as their Uncle Jim and Aunt Nell as they adjusted to life in the big city.

Below is a passage from the book that describes the celebration of the 60th anniversary of confederation in 1927. In those days, the holiday was referred to as Dominion Day.

 

On Friday, June 10th, in the City Hall Chambers, Mayor Foster proclaimed the commencement of the celebrations for “The Diamond Jubilee of Confederation.” Newfoundlanders had refused to join Canada in 1867, and they still remained outside the union. However, for those living in Toronto, it was deemed an important occasion, and the Taylors were among them. Jimmy Taylor organized the decoration of the veranda, placing bunting and crepe around the pillars and railings, sporting colours of red, white and blue. Four small Union Jacks were displayed in the front windows. His grandfather, Job, teased that the house was decked out like a battleship of the British fleet. Privately, he was proud that the flags were prominent in the display. He felt that any man that did not wear the robes of his birthright, was essentially naked. He had no desire to be unclothed, either figuratively or in reality. Besides, he knew that at his age his birthday suit would appear as if it required ironing.

In honour of the Jubilee, the Canadian National Railroad announced that a trans-Canada Confederation train would journey from Ottawa to Vancouver, the locomotive adorned with flags and banners. The train steamed into Toronto’s old Union Station on Friday, June 24th. Jack Taylor longed to be among the passengers boarding the coaches for the long journey westwards, but was forced to be content with reading the details in the newspapers. It departed from Toronto at 9 p.m. and was to arrive in Vancouver at 3 p.m. on the 28th, a journey of three days and fifteen hours. Jack whistled in amazement at the short length of the trip, marvelling at the speeds which would be achieved to accomplish such a feat.

There was to be a cross-Canada radio hook-up. It would span the nation from coast to coast to coast. Originating from Ottawa, it would commence with the ringing of a carillon of bells from the Peace Tower. They would be followed by a royal artillery salute, and so many political speeches that some jokingly remarked that there would be sufficient hot air to float a fleet of passenger balloon.

Canada Bread Company advertised a Jubilee Fruit Cake at the special price of $1.00. Farmers’ Dairy offered the public a Confederation ice cream brick, containing nuts and pure Canadian maple syrup, the latter the preferred liquid of those who aspired to patriotic consumption. It was left to people’s imagination to decide the relationship between nuts, and the politicians who created the nation.

The Ideal Bread Company delivered Jubilee Shortcakes to the stores and bakeries. These were old-time sponge cakes, each consisting of two layers, with waxed paper placed between. Only fresh strawberries and whipped cream were required to create a delicious holiday treat.

Mrs. Laura Secord Clark, the granddaughter of the lady of fame from the War of 1812, was interviewed at her home at 107 Howland Avenue. She spoke lovingly of her grandmother, Laura Secord, and told how she had hidden her few coins from the American soldiers. She had placed them inside a kettle of water which was boiling on the wood stove. The invaders did not inspect the inside of the container, and departed without discovering the money. Mrs. Clark chuckled as she stated, “The family fortune was saved.”

In keeping with the mood of honouring the Dominion of Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company announced it would build a new hotel in Toronto on Front Street, and to name it “The Royal York.” It would be the largest and grandest in the entire British Empire, twenty-eight-stories high, containing 1000 rooms, and able to accommodate 7000 guests.

In 1927, on the site where the new hotel was to be located, was the “Queen’s Hotel,” the most prestigious such establishment in the city. Jack and Ernie had admired the building when they had arrived in Toronto in 1921. It was regretful that the historic “Queen’s” was to be demolished to satisfy the needs of the decade. Because it had been the scene of many of the Confederation meetings chaired by Sir John A. Macdonald, within the hotel several features of the historic building were to be installed and thus preserved. Panelling from the first floor was to be placed in “The Royal York’s” coffee room. The Ontario coat of arms from over the ladies’ entrance would be displayed in the lobby, and the decorative murals from “the old red room of historic memory” were also to be preserved and included in the Royal York. Jack thought that with such a large construction project commencing in the city, he might find work on the site, and that it would perhaps pay better wages than the killing-floor at Swift’s.

A new apartment building was to be erected at the corner of Thomas and Sultan Streets, in the Yonge-Bloor area. Containing ninety-three suites, it could be rented by the day, week, month, or for an entire year. Named the “Windsor Arms,” in future years it would become famous for its restaurant, “The Three Small Rooms.” Throughout the 1960s and 70s the “boutique” hotel was a home away from home to the Hollywood stars. It was a particular favourite of Katherine Hepburn.

The town of Richmond Hill intended to present a Jubilee pageant entitled, “The Crowning of Canada,” with scenes depicting the achievements of sixty years of Confederation. There were also to be games, races, a softball tournament and copious food and drink. When Ernie heard about the event, he lamented that he did not possess a car, as to journey to Richmond Hill by public transportation would require several hours.

Jimmy purchased a new suit at Regent Tailors at 167 Yonge Street. Jack accompanied him, carefully examining the navy suits, which were priced at $24 dollars, including an extra pair of pants. Jimmy was more interested in a made-to-measure black suit. The wide lapel, double-breasted jacket, and pants with carefully trimmed cuffs, were the very latest style. When worn with a ruffled shirt and bow tie, it could double as a tuxedo. There was to be a Confederation Ball in Casa Loma at the end of the month, the dinner preceding the dance to be prepared by the chef of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The orchestra of Jean Goldkette would provide the music. There would be dancing on the terrace and fireworks at midnight.

Jimmy requested that his new suit be ready before June 30th, and was told, “Whatever sir requires.” Though he did not have the funds to attend the dinner at the Casa Loma, he had decided that he and his girlfriend would appear later in the evening for the dance. Jimmy inquired if Jack and Mary Gillard would like to join them. Jack was pleased to be invited, but regretfully declined as he had other plans.

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During the final days prior July 1st, other events were announced. Charles A. Lindbergh, the first pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris, was to fly from New York City to Ottawa, and remain three days to participate in the city’s celebrations. Canadians were anxious to greet the famous aviator, and his presence in the capital added a touch of the modern era to an event steeped in the past.

Miss Hortense Cartier, the daughter of George Etienne Cartier, a father of Confederation, was to be the featured guest at a banquet held at the King Edward Hotel on King Street East. She was to relate tales of her famous father, and describe how he had corroborated with Sir John A. Macdonald to facilitate the unification of the four British American colonies to create the first Dominion within the British Empire. She also stated that she would describe the city as she first viewed it from the rail of a boat, when the vessel on which she was travelling had entered Toronto harbour in 1880.

The Taylor boys had never heard of George Etienne Cartier, as during their days in school they had been taught British history rather than Canadian. Years later, they would drive along Highway 401, the “Macdonald-Cartier Highway,” but have no real recollections of the deeds of these famous men.

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The Sunday before Dominion Day, Mary Taylor, mother of the Taylor boys, and several of her sons attended a service of thanksgiving at their church, the Earlscourt Salvation Army Corps. Churches throughout the country were well attended on this day, the sermons expressing gratitude for the many blessings bestowed on Canada. Special music was performed and patriotic hymns sung, the naves of the nation ringing with thanksgiving and praise. In the pulpits, historical personages of the previous sixty years were honoured. At one downtown congregation, recognition was paid to Mr. Andrew Knox Lauder of Strathmore Avenue, who was 83 years of age. At the age of 18, he had defended the nation against the Fenian Raids in 1862. The raiders, mostly of Irish heritage, had struck at Canada from south of the American border. The British colonies decided that they might be better able to defend themselves if they united as a single nation. As a result, the Fenian raids became one of the impetuses for Confederation in 1867.

On the final day of school in June, Onslow and Bill Taylor, the youngest of the brothers, were presented with “Diamond Jubilee Medals,” distributed to children across the province by the government of Ontario. In the morning, a patriotic service was held in the basement of their school, during which the commemorative medals were presented. In the afternoon, along with children from other schools, they participated in a parade which marched along Bloor Street to Christie Pits. A united school choir sang, races were held, and softball games were played. After the raising of the flag at a pole near the clubhouse, everyone sang “God Save the King.” The dour-faced old principal dismissed the children.

The thunderous cheers of the students were deafening. They were pleased to be free of school, as well as the tiresome principal. The parents of the children were also not fond of the man. One mother said that during an interview with the administrator, he drank his tea without milk. She said that she expected as much as his face would likely curdle the cream. Another woman had added that the principal’s face could turn wine into vinegar.

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On Friday, July 1st, Torontonians awakened to a sky scattered with puffy summer clouds which floated lazily from horizon to horizon. Despite the early hour the temperatures were already rising, promising a hot day ahead. People were declaring that by midday it would likely be possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Mary Taylor opened the back door and surveyed the garden, feeling the humid air brush against her face. She knew that for a change the forecast was accurate, and that the day would indeed be a scorcher. Job had not yet watered the garden, and already the vegetables were beginning to wilt.

Jack had already departed from the house, as he and his girlfriend, Mary Gillard, planned to attend several of the jubilee events. Later in the morning they were among the crowds at Queen’s Park listening to a band concert. When it concluded, they stood in line at the refreshment stands and received free hot dogs and a piece of Jubilee cake. At midday, when the huge artillery guns roared a royal salute, they cupped their hands over their ears. After wandering among the crowds for a half-hour or so, they walked east to Bay Street and boarded the northbound streetcar. Another celebratory event awaited them.

By early afternoon, they stood among the crowds on Bloor Street waiting for the Confederation Parade to begin. Earlier in the day it had set out from Danforth and Logan Avenues, and travelled westward on Bloor Street. When it arrived at Dufferin Street, Jack and Mary would view it. Eventually it would turn south, and finally disperse at the Dufferin Grove Park.

Thirty-six floats comprised the parade, each depicting a scene from Canada’s history. The first was a sixty-foot Viking ship with a colourful single-sail. It contained characters attired as Leif Ericson and his crew, portraying their voyage from Iceland to the shores of Eastern Canada. Jacques Cartier, James Wolfe, Sir Isaac Brock and other military heroes appeared on various floats. The final scene represented the twenty-six nations that comprised the diverse ethnic groups of Toronto. When the parade ended, Jack and Mary wandered among the crowds and met another couple they knew. They chatted enthusiastically about the parade and commented on its success.

Departing the scene, they walked to the house on Perth Avenue to retrieve the sandwiches that Jack’s mother had prepared. Now they departed to attend their third Confederation event of the day. They boarded the Bathurst Streetcar and traveled to the CNE, where they toured the grounds and observed various activities. Shortly after 6 o’clock, while sitting on a park bench near the band stand, they hungrily devoured their sandwiches.

Strolling over to the Grand Stand box office, Jack purchased two general admission tickets, costing 50 cents each, to the “Western Stampede and Rodeo Show.” It was not long before they found their seats. The show opened with a colourful parade which featured all the participants. Over four hundred horses galloped past, as well as numerous cowboys. Cowgirls waved their large Stetson hats to enthusiastic applause from the audience. This was followed by chuck wagons pulled by teams of magnificent black horses.

The rodeo’s first act was a group of cowboys performing intricate tricks with ropes, while others displayed fancy riding skills. This was followed by pony-express races, chuck wagon races, wild steer riding, calf roping and bronco riding. The final event was a cattle roundup with lasso tricks and skilled riders who herded the steers toward an enclosure. It was a noisy and exuberant conclusion, the element of danger adding to the excitement.

Seated on the streetcar, as they travelled homeward, Jack and Mary agreed that their participation in Canada’s Golden Jubilee celebrations had indeed been a great experience. They also agreed that the stampede and rodeo show was the highlight of the day. During the years ahead, Jack’s fascination with the wild west shows never waned. When his son Leonard was only five years of age, he took him to a rodeo. His other son was only three, so was too young to accompany them.

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The following day the Taylors shared their experiences of Canada’s commemorative Dominion Day. Jack told about the rodeo, and his brothers in turn related their own adventures. Jimmy, Ernie, Les and Herb had visited Sunnyside, and enthusiastically reported their impressions. “It was so hot by the lake that the ice cream stands were sold out by 10 a.m.,” Herb lamented. “However, we watched a softball game, listened to a band concert and went on a few of the rides. It was a super time.”

Les added, “Clowns and costumed actors strolled along the boardwalk, creating lots of mischief. In the evening we roared with laugher at the female impersonators’ contest at the band stand, and listened to the choirs singing old favourites. We also heard a few of the year’s hottest hits. There were jazz dancers. The evening ended with a variety show entitled ‘Midnight Frolics.’ It was terrific. We came home shortly afterward.” He did not mention that Jimmy was not with them. Unknown to them, he had departed to meet friends at the “Silver Slipper” night club, which he always referred to as “The Unbuttoned Zipper.”

A newspaper reporter for the Toronto Star described the scene after darkness filtered over the crowds at Sunnyside. He wrote: “As darkness had deepened over the playground beside the lake, crowds watched in fascination as three wooden sailing ships were towed into position beyond the breakwater, forlorn with their tattered rigging and broken spires. Their days as mistresses of the waves, proud and regal with their trimmed sails and polished decks, had slipped into the distant past. Ships from the early days of steam were also present. They were set aflame, their funeral pyres providing entertainment for the gathered throngs. The events of the day did justice to Toronto’s motto: ‘The City of Laughter and Light.’ ”

During this decade, ships, which had survived from the age of sail, invariably ended their days in this ignominious manner. The burnings lured people to the lakeside, where they spent money for a drink and hot dog. Others purchased tickets for dancing. It was a pity that a few of the more impressive vessels were not preserved to remind the citizens of the modern era of the glorious days when Toronto’s harbour was ringed with the tall masts of sailing ships. In 1927, the people who gathered to watch were more intrigued with the blazing spectacle than the loss of history. When the flames ceased to dance upward, the sky was illuminated with fireworks. The old ships were forgotten as the spectators gazed in wonder at the great burst of sparkling light and exploding rockets. The following day, if a wooden ship was not fully submerged, it was towed out beyond the Toronto Islands. Rocks were placed inside the charred hull, and it was sunk to the murky bottom.

As Jimmy had left his brothers at Sunnyside and joined friends, he had returned home later than the others. They now learned that he had visited “The Silver Slipper,” which had hosted a rodeo night featuring the cowboys and cowgirls from the Stampede at the Grand Stand of the Exhibition. Herb’s ears perked up at this news. He asked Jimmy if he would reveal the “bare” facts of the evening. His brother smirked but did not reply

Jimmy told further details of his late-night capers. He had not spent the entire evening at “The Silver Slipper.” He related: “Around 11 p.m. we walked over to the “Palais Royale” as they were also hosting a special evening, a “Cabaret Night,” with fourteen beautiful girls.” He paused to allow this piece of information to have its fullest dramatic effect. “Dancing was to the beat of Harold Rich-Morrison and his London Orchestra. Though the affair did not end until 2:30 a.m., we slipped away shortly after midnight, as we had to catch the last streetcar home. None of us had the money for a cab.”

Mary Taylor did not talk much about her Jubilee Dominion Day, as she was too busy preparing meals and listening to the exploits of her sons. As usual, the younger generation displayed little interest in the activities of their parents, assuming that their pastimes did not compare in excitement with their own. In some ways they were correct, as Mary had spent a quiet day on the Toronto Islands, accompanied by John, her brother Jim and her sister-in-law Nell. Bill and Onslow had also journeyed with the “old folk,” as they referred to their elders. Onslow stated that they walked so slowly that he felt that he was in a funeral procession.

They watched the regatta at Hanlan’s Point, walked to Centre Island, and then listened to a band concert. A picnic lunch was followed by several hours on the sandy beach on the south side of the islands. Then, more sandwiches created a picnic supper. In the evening, the boys watched a softball game, while the adults sat around a picnic table and chatted.

The women laughed quietly as they commented on an imperious looking lady who was wearing a large fur hat, even though it was the height of summer. Mary stated that it was a dead cat sitting on her head. John told her not to be so “catty.” Nell, who rarely indulged in silly conversations, declared that there was more corn in the conversation than in the popcorn at Sunnyside. They all laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the mirth of the moment, and the closeness of being with those whom they loved.

Finally, they walked to the Centre Island ferry terminal, where they were able to view the bonfires on the beach, to the east of the docks.

When they boarded the “Trillium,” it was close to the hour of ten, and the dying embers of the beach-fires glowed in the darkness. From the middle of the harbour, they saw the fireworks from Sunnyside as they splashed across the night sky. The bursts of light exploded, resembling cannons reverberating in the night air. Bill and Onslow “ooed” and “awed.” John was inspired to say that the day had truly ended with a bang. Nell replied, “It’s a pity that the corn has not ended as well.”

The Dominion Day holiday had ended for another year, and the 60th anniversary of confederation was now tucked into history.

 

Other books about Toronto

 

Arse Over Teakettle,” a tale of growing up in wartime Toronto during the 1940s.

 

The Villages Within,” a humorous but factual history of Toronto and walking tours of three of the city’s downtown historic districts.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Toronto

 

Toronto’s Queen Street West in early morn

Toronto’s Queen Street West is often viewed as delightfully decadent, as most Torontonians stroll along it when it is crowded with people enjoying the sunshine, quaint shops, and the bouquet of marijuana. Others enjoy it more on a steamy summer night, when the display of flesh entrances the eye while the thumping music assaults the ears. However, not as many know the street in early morning, when it resembles a movie set where the actors and film crew have not yet arrived for the day’s activities. The following pictures were taken early on a June morning in 2011.

 

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Queen Street east of Spadina, the Noble Block on the left-hand side of the photo.

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The corner northeast corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. (Originally the 1902 Bank of Hamilton Building)

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The Black Bull Tavern, at Queen and Soho streets, established in 1822 as a modest wood-frame two-storey building. The Mansard roof was added in 1861, and the tavern was bricked over in 1910.

 

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The Nobel Block – nine shops, three-storeys in height, constructed in 1888. The bricks of these buildings are pale pink in colour. The two buildings with orange-brown brick were built several years later.

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Coffee shop at Queen and John streets, located in the building that in 1890 housed the bakery of John Tasker.

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Industrial Gothic building at southeast corner of John and Queen streets. Its construction began in 1914.

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                Queen Street West, looking east toward University Avenue

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              Queen Street West, looking east toward University Avenue

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                       Queen Street West looking west toward Spadina Avenue

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The three shops with the Mansard roofs were built in 1890. In that year they housed a confectionary store, a grocery store, and a locksmith.

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Gazing south on York Street from Queen Street West. The east facade of the opera house, which is on the right-hand side.

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Looking north on University Avenue from Queen Street West. The Boer War Memorial dominates the empty street.

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                    Gazing east on Queen Street West toward the Old City Hall

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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   To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

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Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by |Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

 

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Best Picture of the week.

 

               Sparrow Perched on the Nineteenth-Century

                           Fountain in St. James Park

 

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           The photograph of the female sparrow was taken early on a quiet June morning in St. James Park on King Street East 

 

The fountain where the sparrow was enjoying the splashing drops of water.

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For more pictures of St. James Park, see tayloronhistory@gmail.com and view the blog entitled St. James Gardens in Spring.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Toronto

 

St. James Garden in Spring

 

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 A Naughty-Garden Story

Before launching into glorious rapture about the gardens surrounding historic St. James Cathedral, I thought I would mention a naughty story about an elderly matron’s experiences in the 1870s, in Allen Gardens, situated at Jarvis and Carlton streets. In those days, when some English immigrants arrived in Canada, they believed they had arrived in a backward colonial city, and disapproved of the behaviour of its residents. While strolling through Allen Gardens, the woman was confronted with a shocking situation. She immediately sought the assistance of a policeman.

“I demand that you arrest that man over there on the park bench,” she cried forcefully. “He’s being amorous with a dead woman.”

“Give me a moment madam. I will investigate.”

The officer was also British, and when he returned he told her, “Have no fear madam. The woman is not dead. She’s Canadian.” 

Another Strange Tale

Many years ago, I thought it odd that the city demolished a row of historic buildings to create a green space to the east of St. James Cathedral. They bull-dozed a valuable part of Toronto’s architectural past. However, today it is difficult to quarrel with the results. Despite the busy traffic on the south side of the park, and the rocket-red streetcars continually trundling by, the park is a green oasis amid an area that sadly lacks garden space. Each spring, displays of tulips cheer the hearts of those who have survived another long Toronto winter. At the end of May, after the tulips drop their petals, the perennials push forth their delicate blooms toward the ever-warming sunlight.

St. James Cathedral dominates the park like a watchful guardian. The predecessor of the church was erected in 1807, but was destroyed by the great fire that swept King Street in 1849. The church hired F. W. Cumberland and Thomas Ridout to design a new building. Its construction commencing in 1850, using imported Ohio stone and bricks. The magnificent Gothic spire, which towers over 300 feet in the air, was added between the years 1873 and 1874. Until it was completed, the church was “like a shorn lamb,” as Arthur Eric stated in his book, “Toronto- No Mean City.” The clock in the tower was installed in 1875. Today, the spire contains Canada’s only set of change-ringing bells. Every Sunday morning their sonorous sounds peel out over the surrounding quiet streets. 

 

      Exploring the Gardens in St. James Park in Spring.

 

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             Allium plants, which grow from bulbs and belong to the chives family

 

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                  forget-me-knots                                               pansies

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                                                                      irises

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                                                        bleeding hearts                                                                

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                                            bachelor buttons          

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                           The ever humble, always reliable chive plants

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                                                             peonies

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                   nineteenth-century fountain in St. James Park

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Quote about Toronto from The Villages Within, available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.com

 

Canadians living beyond Toronto’s borders decry its flat, boring landscape, oblivious to its verdant river valleys and the lofty heights of the Davenport Road hill, which sweeps across the city, providing impressive panoramas of the towering high-rises nestled around the shores of the lake. They seem unaware of the many forested streets and intimate neighbourhoods, tucked between the busy downtown thoroughfares. A short ferry ride from the skyscrapers of Bay Street, the Toronto Islands provide a recreational retreat that seems a world away from the city’s bustling avenues. The Toronto landscape has much to offer a perceptive observer.

Critics state that Toronto traffic is murder, and that the Don Valley Parkway should be more appropriately named the Don Valley Parking Lot. The capacity of the Gardiner Expressway, they say, is stretched beyond the limits of the most generously proportioned girdle. During the rush hours, Toronto’s pedestrian traffic obstructs the city’s sidewalks to the point that they are impassable. However, the crush of humanity is usually not a problem, unless it is an extremely hot day and deodorant is in short supply. Travelling on the subway is a noticeable exception.

Critics claim that Toronto’s crime rates are devastatingly high, despite statistics proving it is one of the safest cities in the world. We suspect that the city’s worst crime is claiming the title “The Nation’s Largest Urban Centre.”

Many of those who criticize the city, likely have not visited St. James Park.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Toronto

 

Early Morning – Kensington Market

On a recent spring morning in June, I strolled the Kensington Market. Warm air drifted on the breeze under a sunshine-filled sky. The tranquil scene was disturbed only by a voice shouting across an empty street to enquire if a fellow worker wished to meet him for a caffeine boost in the sidewalk patio of the Moon Bean Cafe. Other workers joked in raunchy tones as they enjoyed their take-out cups of java in front of their places of work. Sound ideal? It was if I ignored the slight smell of garbage from the previous day. Even the French know that some perfumes linger longer than others.

As I walked along the street, shop owners were arranging fruits and vegetable in display boxes. Fish of every size and colour, and later in the day odoriferous emissions, were being placed in shop windows. In a butcher store on Baldwin Street, meat was being trimmed, and at a sidewalk stall that specializes in dried beans, pasta, rice and spices, an elderly woman was putting out numerous plastic bins on wooden crates that lined the sidewalk in front of the store.

The warmth of the early-day sun felt pleasant against my bare arms. Nothing is as promising in life as early morn on a sunny June day. Except perhaps a wild night in the entertainment district, where more than arms are bare. I do not speak from personal experience, but express only what I have been told by my more astute friends. I might add that they are younger than I.

Entering the Moon Bean Cafe, I noticed that on the washroom wall a graffiti writer of infinite wisdom had inscribed the words, “Live Lies to the Fullest.” This ringing endorsement of the proverbial art of “bull-shitting” is surely the motto of many a politician. In some respect, it might apply to huskers anywhere that propagate philosophies that are deeply flawed. Some believe that the bigger the lie, the more it is believed. Our recent federal election provided Canadians with ample proof of this philosophy. Following the opening of parliament, the government trumpeted to the press that because it now has a strong majority, it has the authority to implement its policies unopposed. The fact that 60 percent of voter rejected this government, they never mentioned. Yes indeed, “Live lies to the fullest.”

After my coffee, walking north on Kensington Avenue, I overheard a loud conversation between a market eccentric and her imaginary psychiatrist. The woman, who was quite alone, was intensely engaged in airing her complaints against her doctor. She argued, “You tell me that I have delusions of grandeur because I believe that I’m an opera singer.” Then she added scornfully. “Then let me let you a thing or two. You have delusions of grandeur when you think you’re a psychiatrist. I’ve heard your advice. Believe me, you’re no psychiatrist. And I might add, my singing is better than your advice.”

As I crossed the street, I thought that the woman was quite likely correct. Perhaps the newly-elected government should have a talk with her. After all, she is an expert on “delusions of grandeur.”

Man, I love the Kensington.

 

               Photos of Early Morning in the Kensington Market

 

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                                     Augusta Avenue, gazing south

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In contrast to the first picture, by 8:30 am Kensington Avenue and Baldwin Street are lined with cars and trucks, mainly of those who either own businesses or work in the shops of the market. However, the merchants are against turning the avenues of the Market into walking streets, as they claim that the parking spaces are required for their customers. “Live lies to the fullest.”

If walking street became a reality, delivery trucks and those with handicapped permits could still be allowed to enter the streets.

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Plants being set out at the corner of St. Andrews and Kensington avenues. Nothing is so glorious as purchasing seedlings in spring, while dreaming of July’s luxurious blooms, and imagining the spreading fullness of the August growth. I will avoid discussing the “spreading fullness” implied in “living lies to the fullest.

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Fruit being set out for the day at the corner of Kensington Avenue and Baldwin Streets.

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         Preparing the daily supply of meat                Morning coffee before the customers arrive

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        Chatting in the warm air of June, as the man in the centre salutes the photographer. Please note that it is not the index finger.

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                        Shops preparing the displays for the stalls on Augusta Avenue.

 

Thoughts on the Kensington Market from the book The Villages Within, available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.com. This book contains a walking tour of the market.

Torontonians do not usually refer to the Kensington Market as a “village.” The dictionary defines a village as “a group of homes that is larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town.” However, as anyone who has experienced the villages of Ontario can verify, a village is much more than this. Villages have boundaries, alerting travelers when they have arrived within its precincts and when they have departed. Every village has a different character and an atmosphere that throughout the decades the villagers have created.

This is true of “Kensington.” The residents tend to be community oriented, many of them maintaining a keen sense of neighbourhood. Although they have valves that they hold in common, they also have a true sense of individualism. Many of the residents are environmentalists, enjoy health foods, and strongly support recycling. As well, many ethnic groups reside within the area.

Others are aging hippies, leftover flower children, and leather types. Some follow lifestyles that defy categorization. Yet there are also those whose lifestyle is indistinguishable from other residents of the city. It is evident that a few are restoring their homes to capture the appearance of the nineteenth century, rather than simply renovating, as they have a keen interest in the history of the area. The Market has a few colourful eccentrics who are well accepted and considered an integral part of the scene.

Other cities in the world have districts within their boundaries that are similar to Kensington, forming small enclaves that maintain their unique character despite the passage of time. They too share common characteristics, but no two are ever alike. Although many have historic homes and quaint shops, nowhere is there another Kensington.

It is “one of a kind”—a chaotic collage of diversity.

Richard Florida, in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, discusses places where the residents are seeking an environment that is open to differences, where highly creative people are welcomed, regardless of ethnic background, income, creed, or sexual orientation. They prefer locations where there multiplicity is accepted, where odd personal habits or extreme styles of dress are not only welcomed, but also celebrated. Unusual marital arrangements and varied partnership relations fail to attract any attention.

Kensington is such a place, and is truly “a village within.”

 

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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Toronto

 

Hamburger Heaven on Historic Queen Street West

There was a time when Torontonians referred to restaurants serving food that was questionable as “hamburger joints.” Today, such derogatory wording should be revised. The humble hamburger has gone gourmet. Although in some instances backyard barbeques and greasy spoons continue to perpetuate the old image of this most common of foods, nowadays the price for a burger in Toronto ranges from a humble $6 to over $40. The choice of extras to add to a burger is almost endless. The comfort-food hamburger of old has matured into a quality entree.

In the downtown core, it is possible to enjoy a burger in a restaurant contained in one of the city’s historic buildings. Recently, I visited the “BQM Diner” on Queen Street West, contained inside the Noble Block, a group of buildings constructed in 1888. The BQM maintains some of the atmosphere of its predecessor, the “Stem Open Kitchen,” which resembled a typical diner of the 1950s. Today, the jukeboxes that played the favourite hits of the mid-century decade are gone from the narrows booths of BQM , but the small rotating stools at the counter remain as reminders of yesteryears. The large sign hanging over the doorway is the original from the 1940s, but the old neon tubes have been removed and the sign greatly altered. 

The BQM is located in the same block as Toronto’s exclusive Ultra Supper Club, which has valet parking. Despite this, the BQM has charms that rival its more upscale neighbour. From the patio, a person can view the street-scene of Queen West Street West. A more eclectic collection of the ordinary, the ridiculous, and the sublime is difficult to find. Every-day citizens, as well as the hip, eccentric, ultra-chic, street people, and those with wallets containing every credit card imaginable, mix together with ease. Despite my many idiosyncrasies, even I feel at home on the most diverse street in Toronto. The wide sidewalk provides space for buskers, street artists, musicians and hustlers of endless variety. The streetcars rattling past reinforce the pleasures of dining out-of-doors in a rich urban environment. For me, it beats the highway traffic, mosquitoes, and endless chores of cottage country. I am an urbanite and luxuriate in the decadent pleasures of city in the summer. Okay, for me there is very little decadence, but I live in hope. 

One morning, I even met Jesus on Queen Street. He was standing in front on the sidewalk near the BMQ Diner, a shepherd’s staff in hand and wearing a Biblical robe. He was vociferously declaring, “I’m not at all pleased with this city and its sinful ways.” I did not pay too much attention, as I assumed he was referring to the the recent election of Mayor Rob Ford. Amen!

 

                Hamburger served at BQM Diner at 354 Queen Street West

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The BQM Diner offers a choice of three different cuts of beef – $7 for chuck steak, $9 for brisket, and $11 for sirloin. The choice of cut determines the price, and the fat content. All meat is advertised as “hormone free.” The greater the fat content, the tastier the burger, but also the more cholesterol. All burgers are served with tomato, pickle, onion, lettuce, mustard, and relish. The hamburger seen above is a relatively unadorned version. However, many other choices are available – blue cheese or mozzarella, caramelized onions, balsamic glaze, horseradish, Portobello mushrooms, garlic aioli, or cheddar cheese. The choice of extras determines the final price. I found the burger delicious, and enjoyed the fries as well as they were narrow and crispy. On the table was sea salt, which was great on the fries.   

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The Noble Block is the row of seven three-storey shops built of pink-coloured bricks, constructed in 1888. They are on the right-hand side of the photo. The two building of darker brick, on the left-hand side of the picture, were built several year later For more information on these buildings, see The Villages Within, available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.com.

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The sidewalk patio of the BQM at 354 Queen Street West, located in the historic Noble Block. In 1888 the space was occupied by Fawcett and Peterman, tailors.

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Interior of the BQM Diner and a view from the inside gazing out at Queen Street West and the diner’s sidewalk patio. It is truly a window on the world.

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            The historic Noble Block, with its ornate facade and brickwork.

 

Hamburger served at the Grindhouse on King Street West near Peter Street.

 

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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Toronto