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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.