Monthly Archives: July 2011


The following quote is from the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a humorous story of a Toronto family that managed to smile while coping with the depravations of the Great Depression and the horrors of the Second World War. Reading about the heat wave of 1936 makes our present-day hot temperatures seem not so bad, although  I admit that when I was sweltering on a city street today, I found it difficult to  adopt this attitude. 


In 1936, the daily temperatures for the month of June had been above normal, several days reaching 38C. However, no one was able to predict that the worst heat wave in the modern history of Canada would begin the following week. Before it ended, 1180 people died of heat stroke and exhaustion, most of them the elderly and infants. Over 400 people drowned while seeking relief from the extreme heat in public pools, lakes, rivers, and ponds.

In Toronto, on 5 July the temperatures commenced soaring. By 8 July, it climbed to 105 Fahrenheit (40.5 C), and continued for three consecutive days. In this decade, except for a few homes in the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city, there was no air conditioning except in movie theatres and department stores. People flocked to these venues, as well as to Sunnyside Beach beside the lake, the Don and Humber river valleys, and the Toronto Islands.

After dark, families spread blankets on lawns, in backyards, and in public parks. Single men slept on public benches. Vacant lots on city streets became makeshift campgrounds, which each morning folded away and disappeared, until after sunset the following evening. “Humidex readings,” a Canadian invention, were not in use until 1965. The Humidex calculates the amount of humidity in the air and combines it with the temperature readings. High humidity prevents the moisture on the skin from evaporating, thus raising the body temperatures. A high Humidex reading is very uncomfortable. No such statistics are available for 1936, but it is not difficult to imagine how uncomfortable the Humidex readings would have been.

To read a factual and amusing account of how the family coped with the heat,  “Arse Over Teakettle

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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Toronto



I expect to pay higher prices when I shop at a farmers’ market, and normally do not object because I realize that the produce is fresh. However, this morning when I saw a sign that stated “Fresh Corn – 75 cents each,” I was surprised. I enquired if the price was the same if I bought a dozen, and the reply was “yes.”

“It’s the first corn of the season and it’s really good,” the young woman replied.

I did not doubt the truth of her statement, but $9 a dozen?

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A few years ago I was one of the volunteers who helped establish the St. Andrew’s Market. I realized that prices would be higher at the market, as the farmers must rise early in the morning and drive to Toronto. The costs of the transportation, the time it takes to drive into the city and attend a booth for many long hours, deserve to be rewarded.

Most of the farmers delivered quality goods, and though the prices were higher than the supermarkets, it was a delight to buy the fresh produce. However, recently I have begun to question the prices that some farmers charge.

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When the farmers at the Metro Hall (now Pecaut Square) were charging $5 per quart for strawberries, the Kensington Market was charging $3.50 per quart. At Kensington, the Ontario berries were from the Ontario Food Terminal. They too were delivered by farmers, who likely received only $2 a quart for their berries. They too had transportation and labour costs. Is $5 a quart truly a reasonable price for a farmers’ market?

Our St. Andrew’s market failed to continue after the first year. There were several reasons that it was not successful, some of them of our own making. However, we had an excellent crowd the first few weeks of the market, but some people took one look at the prices and never returned. The “die-hards,” like myself continued to attend. I loved the market as it provided much more than just fresh produce. I met my neighbours and felt that I was a part of a community.

I love farmers’ markets.

This is why the sign advertising corn for 75 cents each disturbed me. Because it was the summer’s first corn, and the supply limited, the farmer felt that people would buy. I am certain that the corn did indeed all sell. It’s “Economics 101,” the forces of supply and demand. However, much more is involved than simply the rule of “supply and demand.”

How many people saw that sign this morning, and refused to buy?  Some walked right out of the market and never purchased anything. How many friends did they tell about the price? Farmers who do not respect their customers cause damage to the entire system of the farmers’ markets. It is short-sighted to overcharge, as it means that the markets cater to the few who are willing to pay. This means that as businesspersons they are passing up potentially large profits for short-term gain. Many families with children are unable to shop at the farmers’ markets at all. This is a real pity.

As consumers, what choices are open to us. Some may say that if we don’t wish to pay the prices don’t shop there. It’s our choice. True, but if we boycott the markets, they will cease to exist. Few of us wish to see this happen.

Farmers must be compensated for their labour, time, and transportation costs. However, they must also respect their customers, and charge prices that are in line with their costs. 

I love summer in the city, and the farmer’s markets are a part of this great experience. I truly hope that they never disappear from the scene.

For books about Toronto, written for Torontonians:

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Toronto



Every Thursday during the summer, farmers arrive early in the morning at David Pecaut Square, near Metro Hall on King Street West. An array of fresh vegetables and fruits greet the eye – radishes, asparagus, strawberries and Niagara cherries – long-awaited treats that disappear all too quickly.


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Toronto established its first public farmers’ market near King and Jarvis streets in 1803. The second market, St. Patrick’s Market, was on Queen Street West. It commenced in 1836. The third farmers’ market was located on the site of today’s St. Andrew’s Playground, near Brant and Adelaide streets

The following is from the book, “The Villages Within,” which provides a detailed history of the St. Andrew’s Market.

It is not certain when the citizens of York commenced attending the market in the square created in 1837. However, it is likely that sometime during the 1840s, a small seasonal market was held on Saturday mornings, attended mostly by women, as the majority of the men were required to work at their places of daily employment, Saturday being a workday. It was called the West City Market.

Slowly the market grew in size, and in 1850, the city hired the architect Thomas Young to design a frame building to protect shoppers from the weather. Young, born in England in 1805, had previously designed King’s College, Toronto, and the wooden building for the St. Patrick’s Market on Queen Street.

Maps of the period reveal that the wooden market building was constructed in the centre of the square, and contained generous interior space for stalls. A police station and a fire bell were also located within the building. Along the outside walls were produce stands, with canvas awnings sheltering the patrons from the hot summer sun and the rains of spring and autumn, as well as the snows of winter. At the south end of the square, on Adelaide Street, they erected a shelter to protect the horses from the elements. The remainder of the square was green space to accommodate carts, wagons, and the Saturday-morning shoppers. Friends greeted friends, in the background the sound of neighing horses and rumbling wagon wheels.

In 1857, they changed the name of the market to St. Andrew’s Market, as the site was in St. Andrew’s Ward, Queen Street being the northern boundary line. In that year, only the St. Lawrence, at King and Jarvis streets, exceeded the importance of the St. Andrew’s Market. On a busy Saturday morning, the carriages and horses, as well as the numerous carts of the citizens of Toronto, crowded St. Andrew’s Market. It was a gathering place to socialize and chat with friends and neighbours. Housewives purchased vegetables, grains, meat, and fish.

For more information on the old St. Andrew’s Market, as well as a detailed history of the Kensington Market, see “The Villages Within.” 

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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Toronto



The recent visit of Prince William and Catherine generated much excitement throughout Canada. Because William is the son of Diana, Princess of Wales, some of the affection that Canadian felt for his mother has descended on his shoulders.

Today, most people have forgotten that the first real super-star of the royal family was William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Her tour, with King George VI, was the first time that a ruling monarch had visited Canada. Their reception in Toronto was one of the greatest triumphs of the 1939 tour.


                                        Toronto Reference Library Archives

             King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto in 1939


                 City of Toronto Archives, James Salmon Collection, Fonds 1231, Fl 231, Item 2075

         The reception at Toronto’s City Hall for the King and Queen


                                          Toronto Reference Library Archives

Simpson’s Store, at the southwest corner of Bay and Yonge streets, adorned for the royal visit. The Bay occupies the sight today.


For a story about Toronto during the latter years of the Great Depression, and a saucy tale of a family during the war years: “Arse Over Teakettle  

              The royal tour of 1939 is detailed in this novel.

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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Toronto


“Eat, drink and be merry” in Toronto’s Entertainment District at night

The motto of Toronto’s Entertainment District should be: “Eat, drink, and be merry, as tomorrow you may have to live in another city.  These photos were taken during the early-hours of a Monday morning in July, when it was swelteringly humid.


                            The Entertainment District in the early-morning hours

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              Restaurants on King Street West, after the crowds had departed. 

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When residents of Paris visit Toronto, they want to experience the city’s “street-meat carts,” as Parisians refer to out hot-dog stands. Many Torontonians derogatorily refer to them as “Wienie Wagons.” However, after the restaurants have closed, they serve a vital purpose.


The TIFF Lightbox on King Street West, with its famous Luma and Canteen Restaurants. Though crowded during the Toronto Film Festival, the building creates a buzz on King Street throughout the entire year.

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The Roy Thomson Hall, with its below street-level reflecting pool and gardens. By the time this photo was taken, the audiences had long departed for home.


                  The Royal Alexandra Theatre on King West, built in 1907.   


King West from near John Street, looking east toward University Avenue. Many people rarely see the street when it is this deserted.

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     The Scotia Bank Theatre on John Street, looking north toward Queen.

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Queen West and John Streets, an area that accommodates the late-night coffee crowd.


The street is deserted, the crowds have departed, and the street awaits those who remove the litter from the shops and restaurants.

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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Toronto



On a warm Monday evening in July, strolling around my neighbourhood after dark, I gained a new appreciation for the community where I live. For years, I have experienced the fascinating residential and commercial streets of Toronto, both historic and modern. However, I had never carefully examined them at night. My home is in the heart of the Queen Street West District, with its rough edges, historic architecture, and gloriously tacky streetscapes. After sunset, these ordinary streets become magical.

My impressions of the city must be taken with a grain of salt. I am a fanatical urbanite and unrepentant “Torontophile.” I believe that there is nothing as great as Toronto in the summer, with its myriad of sidewalk cafes, clubs, patio restaurants, and music or theatre festivals. There are so many happenings that I cannot even begin to explore a small percentage of them.

Cottage country has no allure for me. I will leave the tedious hours of driving, the annoying insects, and the endless labours of a cottage to those that enjoy such endeavours. For me, the peace and quiet of the countryside is fine for a week. I can read or contemplate the sins I intend to commit when I return to the city. Running around naked in the woods is not my idea of decadence.

Practising the art of decadence requires talent. It also requires opportunity, and the city offers boundless venues to wallow in its sweet earthy delights, even if they are only in the participant’s mind.

                         The Entertainment District at Night


 Condo at 50 Camden Street, at the corner of Camden and Brant streets.  


St. Andrew’s Playground, viewed from Brant Street, north of Adelaide Street. 


       Camden Street, looking east to Spadina, from Brant Street. 


Richmond Street West, from Brant Street, looking west toward Portland Street. 


               The corner of Queen West and Spadina Avenue. 

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                                                             Queen and Spadina 


                        Alleyway on the east side of Brant Street. 


              Spadina Avenue, looking south toward Richmond Street.


East side of Spadina Avenue, between Queen and Richmond streets.  

                   More street scenes in my next post. 

If you enjoy reading about Toronto, either its history or a saucy novel with a Toronto setting, Google

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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Toronto




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Though my interests centre around the history and architecture of Toronto, I decided to include a post on Hugh Jackman after attending the opening night performance of his one-man show at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It has been a long time since I felt that I was viewing theatrical history. Every era has its “greats” – people whose skills and stage presence transcend them into “legends of the theatre.” Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Frank Sinatra are a few that come to mind. We can now add Hugh Jackman to the list of “greats.”

His show is part rock concert, Broadway musical, and Las Vegas glitz. With its creative staging, his superb musical talent, and the ever-changing lighting, it hearkens back to the days of the CNE Grandstand shows of yesteryears.



                    A CNE Grandstand Show of the mid-1950s.


The CNE Grandstand in the 1950s, with the stage and scenery in place for an evening performance.

The CNE Grandstand Shows were large-scale performances of music and dance, choreographed by Celia Franca, the founder of the Toronto’s National Ballet of Canada. The similarity between these spectacles and the Hugh Jackman show in Toronto may seem obscure. However, they both centre around a single performer, whose skills are able to capture the audience for an entire evening. The orchestra, the lighting, and the staging augment the performances, but everyone knows that it is the talent of “the star” that carries the show from beginning to end.

Jackman was on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre for slightly over two hours, including a much-welcomed encore. Similar to the days of the big-band era, the eighteen-piece band was in full view, the lighting on the musicians changing according to the prominence of their role. At times, a semi-transparent curtain descended to obscure the band, and at other moments the musicians were in full view, highlighted with various colours.

Jackman opened the show with a song from “Oklahoma,” and from that moment onward, he played the audience with charm and skill, at times a trifle raunchy. He teased, flirted, shook his buns, and shimmied his body provocatively as he performed a mock-striptease and athletically kicked the can-can. This is the man who played “Wolverine?” He pulled the audience along in his wake as his dancing sailed across the stage, sometimes moving so smoothly that appeared to have no skeleton. He included tap-dancing, rumba, and waltzing, while he sang Broadway hits, Oscar winning melodies, love songs, and even a rap number. Once he perched on a bar-stool to sing, and on another occasion he reclined in a casual pose on the stairs at the edge of the stage. Even the song he performed with one hand in his pocket, and the other holding a microphone, he held the attention of his listeners. 

Visuals projected on a large screen augmented the songs. Photos of his various movie roles added insight into the range of the man’s talent. In one section, the orchestra played the opening theme-music employed by 20th-Century Fox Studios, and on the screen appeared the titles for “American In Paris,” as Jackman recreated the “dance-with-the-umbrella song” immortalized by Gene Kelly – “Singing In The Rain.” The songs that honoured his native Australia and its aboriginal people, as well as the tribute to Judy Garland, were haunting. The song from “Carousel,” “My Boy Bill,” was classic.    

The show premiered in San Francisco, but Toronto was chosen as the first city after its initial trial run. It is a natural for Broadway, but due to the demands of his contracts, he may never have the time to take it there. It is an evening of great theatre. See it if you can!

For novels about Toronto, where the characters visit the CNE Grandstand Shows and the city’s old movie theatres – – 

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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Toronto