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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Recently published murder mystery contains an amusing story of dining at Toronto’s Savarin Tavern in the 1950s

DSCN5698 The Savarin Tavern on the west side of Bay Street, a short distance south of Queen Street, was one of the favourite places to dine in Toronto during the 1950s. The murder mystery “The Reluctant Virgin” provides many details about living in the city during that decade, including restaurants, theatres, and sports’ venues. The locations of the murder scenes are also graphically described, allowing readers who are familiar with Toronto to visualize the places where the killer murdered the victim’s.

The passage from the book that appears below occurs when Detective Jim Peersen takes his girlfriend, Samantha, a woman who works in the sex trade, for dinner at the Savarin.  

From “The Reluctant Virgin”

On the evening of Wednesday, 23 December, at the Savarin Tavern, Jim and Samantha stood in the line-up on the stairs leading to the second-floor restaurant. It was crowded, and hungry customers were squeezing to the right to allow those departing the restaurant to descend the stairs to the street below. Everyone in the line, including Peersen, had dinner reservations, but the wait was lengthy as it was two days before Christmas and the town was hopping. Group parties were occupying many tables.

At the top of the stairs, the maitre d’ checked the names on the restaurant’s reservation list and then escorted the customers to their tables as they became available. An impatient elderly woman, wearing a full-length mink coat, stormed up the stairs, her embarrassed husband in tow. She informed the maitre d’ that she had a reservation, and haughtily pounded her fist on the lectern holding the reservation book.

The maitre d’ smiled patiently and replied, “Madam, everyone in line has a reservation. Please wait your turn. I will call your name when your table is ready. Kindly return to the bottom of the stairs.”

“But I have a ‘special’ reservation.”

“Everyone in line has a ‘special’ reservation. Please return to the bottom of the stairs.”

“My good man, I have a gold-plated blue-ribbon invitation from the mayor, who is my personal friend.”

Exasperated, the maitre d’ replied firmly, “Lady, I don’t care if you have a gold-plated arse and blue-ribbon tits, and the reservation was made by God almighty, go to the bottom of the stairs.”

The hoots from those who were patiently waiting in line drowned out the woman’s indignant reply. The woman and her poodle-like husband retreated down the stairs. She was defeated, but unbowed. She felt as if she were upholding the dignity of the woman of status throughout the city. The heights of the Rosedale had been assaulted.

“The mayor will hear about this,” she threatened aloud, as she stormed out of the restaurant.

Samantha smiled at Jim, who was unaware of the reason for her amusement. In Paris, she thought, mention a title or an important connection, and you gained immediate access to any restaurant. God, I love this city.

After they were inside and seated, they went to the buffet table, helped themselves to a generous portion of lobster, and settled down to enjoy the meal and each other’s company. As a treat, Peersen had pre-ordered a bottle of 1952 Dom Perignon. The tiny bubbles rose effervescently in their chilled glasses. When Jim had had phoned for the reservation, he had requested that their glasses be placed in the freezer. It was a romantic touch, and Samantha noticed it.

For Jim, the conversation rolled more easily than with any woman he had ever met. They had arrived at a truce during the previous weeks. She did not mention her work, and he tried not discuss police business. There was one thing that he wanted to ask her—why she still worked at her chosen profession, when she clearly did not need the money. Respecting her privacy, he had refrained from inquiring.

As the champagne relaxed him, without realizing it, he broke his own rule and inadvertently began talking about the Stritch case. Unfortunately, this was not the first time, and she already knew many of the details concerning the investigation. He told her that they had spent the previous few weeks talking with the teacher’s ex-students. She listened attentively and smiled as Peersen apologized for discussing his job.

To purchase this book : http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000188306/The-Reluctant-Virgin.aspx

Link to the author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Toronto

 

Chilling account of a brutal New Year’s murder in Toronto in a recently published murder mystery

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  The passage below is from the novel “The Reluctant Virgin,” a tale of a serial killer in Toronto. The details of the city that the author provides creates a degree of realism that is rarely achieved in murder mysteries. Because the killer strikes in so many diverse locations throughout the city, readers who are familiar with Toronto, can easily envisage the murderer stalking the streets of their own neighbourhood.

When the bodies of the victims are found, the police discover that their blood has been drained in some sort of weird and unexplained ritual. The reader is swept along as the murders occur, the clues to the identity of the killer in plain sight yet strangely obscure.

  From the “Reluctant Virgin”  

New Year’s Eve was approaching, and the stalker was restless. Nothing had appeared in the newspapers about the “Valley Vampire” for a few weeks now. Though publicity increased the stalker’s sense of self-importance, it also necessitated that greater caution be exercised.

The stalker had again visited the house on Raymore Drive during the second week of December, but rather than create a sense of fulfillment, it had increased the desire for another kill.

On Saturday 29 December, the stalker set forth into the night.

Alighting from the Bloor Streetcar at Broadview Avenue and walking eastward along the Danforth, the stalker carried a backpack. Finding an unfamiliar tavern, the stalker entered. In its beverage room, the pungent odour of cigarettes, stale beer, and a hint of sweat assaulted the senses. The noise level in the room indicated that the patrons were well on their way to inebriation, and far too busy to notice anything beyond the clutter of LCBO-approved draft beer glasses on the tables. Despite this, as a precaution, the stalker pulled the wool cap lower over the head, obscuring the upper portion of the face.

Within a few moments, the stalker had found a victim. She was sitting in a secluded corner of the room, the cigarette smoke and dim lighting isolating her from the other patrons of the tavern.

The woman was not young, perhaps in her mid-forties, slightly on the plump side, with invitingly large breasts. Most of the patrons were young, and to them a middle-aged woman was invisible. She is not unattractive, the stalker thought. Her face is pleasant. But her most attractive feature is her ruddy complexion. She has an abundance of rich red blood.

The stalker approached her. The woman, whose name was Susan Holden, smiled. Her eyes betrayed that she would not find conversation with the stranger objectionable. The stalker was not certain if it were a result of the desire for money, loneliness, or mere curiosity. The stalker smiled and motioned toward the empty chair at her table, asking permission to join her. A nod and a greedy smile indicated that she was agreeable. . . . .

To read details of this crime and other murders in “The Reluctant Virgin” : A direct link to the publisher of this book:

http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000188306/The-Reluctant-Virgin.aspx

The author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress

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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Toronto

 

A humorous account of Toronto kicking up its heels to bring in the New Year in 1945

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The following passage is from the recently published novel, “Arse Over Teakettle” (Book One of the Toronto Trilogy), a heart-warming story about a family struggling with the horrors of the Second World War in Toronto. It is an imaginative tale of a boy learning about life and exploring his sexuality in a decade when, despite the moral upheavals of the war years, society attempted to maintain traditional values. One of the most humorous parts of the book is when the fictional character, seven-year old Tom Hudson, learns sexual information from the older boys, while he is in the back laneway.

In 1945, the year the war ended, New Year’s Eve was a particularly poignant moment as it was the first “peace time” celebration of the event in six long years. A few of the names, places and events mentioned in this passage might produce a few smiles for those who remember Toronto’s past.  

New Year’s Eve in Toronto in 1945. 

When New Year’ Eve arrived in 1945, people were anxious to celebrate, especially after the privations and gloom of the war years. Most of the tickets for the nightclubs, restaurants, and bars had disappeared well in advance. The Savarin Tavern, on the west side of Bay Street, south of Queen Street West, had been sold out for the New Year’s Eve dinner for weeks. The Royal York Hotel’s bash featured “Mart Kenny and his Orchestra,” with Norma Locke as soloist. Supper began at 10 p.m., followed by dancing, with champagne served at midnight. The cost was six dollars per person. At the Palais Royale was Bert Niosi’s Orchestra.

On the “Eve of Eves,” as guests arrived, they noticed that on the dance floors, military uniforms were in a minority, as trailing formal gowns adorned with corsages, and dinner jackets or tails predominated. Everyone ignored the odour of mothballs. The most popular song was “Chickery Chick,” but the tune “Little Brown Jug” was also a favourite, as well as the most common container hidden beneath the tables.

Attending a movie theatre was a modest alternative to the expensive dance clubs and dinner venues. Movie studios released some of their most important films during the Christmas season, anticipating the extra attendance. During the festive week, Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” was at the Elgin. At the Tivoli, at Adelaide and Victoria Streets, and at the Eglinton Theatre was Cecil B. DeMilles’, “Crusades,” starring Loretta Young and Henry Wilcox. At the Imperial was Disney’s cartoon feature, “Pinocchio,” containing the hit song, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Loew’s Uptown featured Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, and Van Johnson in “Weekend at the Waldorf.”

It was Lana Turner who said, “A successful man is a man who earns more money than his wife is capable of spending. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.”

On this New Year’ Eve, in our home, during the hours leading up to midnight, the adults quietly chatted and joked, the music from the radio playing in the background. The song “Sentimental Journey”—Gonna take a Sentimental Journey, Gonna set my heart at ease.—was one of the year’s biggest hits, and the wartime song “Bell Bottom Trousers,” remained popular. My brother and I played the card games that we had received for Christmas. Shortly after the hour of ten, my brother and I climbed the stairs to bed.

By eleven o’clock, the streets of Toronto were empty, as the severity of the cold forced the populace to remain indoors. Wind whistled through the empty avenues above and below the Davenport Hill, and across the solitudes of the great Toronto valleys. However, inside the downtown clubs and restaurants the revelries were increasing in volume as the final hour of the old year ticked away.

At the Royal York, a cute young blonde wandered among the tables holding a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce, slurring her words as she inquired, “Anyone want a snort?”

An elderly gentleman whispered to a male friend, “I’d appreciate a “snort” with her any day.”

They both grinned like schoolboys.

When the magic moment arrived, a scantily clad “Miss “1946” arrived in the ballroom. Shouts and cheers exploded, as the tensions of the war years receded from memory. They chorused the words “Happy New Year” with greater sincerity than previous years.

In our house, the midnight hour was again subdued, unlike the downtown scene or even the local beverage room, the Oakwood Hotel. When the adults brought in the New Year, my brother and I were fast asleep. Tell and Charlie were with my parents, and they all indulged in a sip of the sinful juice. As mentioned, my mother did not consider port or sherry to be alcoholic, even though it contained more alcohol than either beer or wine. I suppose she rationalized this by thinking that at least they were not consuming “hard” liquor. Many maiden aunts throughout the years had engaged in similar reasoning, declaring that they never drank spirits, but did occasionally enjoy a tipple of sherry.

Wise old ladies!

Soon after midnight, downtown, the most common phrase was, “Is this taxi taken?”

The following morning, the most common phrase throughout the city was, “Has anyone seen the Aspirin bottle?”

A link to information on the book “Arse Over Teakettle”:https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/arse-over-teakettle/

A link to the publisher to order this book: “Arse Over Teakettle”: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000132634/Arse-Over-Teakettle.aspx

The authors Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Toronto

 

The ever-changing Kensington Market in downtown Toronto

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.

Kensington 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.”

The Kensington Market is ever changing, as shops close and new ones open. Below are photos that were taken several years ago, depicting shops and signage that have either disappeared or been severely altered.

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My Market Bakery has now relocated several stores to the west on Baldwin Street

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     Max and Son has now disappeared from Baldwin Street

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Akram’s Middle Eastern shop no longer has the wonderful signage of former years.

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A link to the Home Page and books about Toronto: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ – –  a link to the book “The Villages Within,” nominated for the Toronto Heritage Awards. This book includes a detailed study on the Kensington Market: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/the-villages-within/

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Toronto

 

Favourite Christmas trees and decorations in Toronto this year

Most people retain fond memories of Christmas’ past. However, being born in Toronto, I have come to realize that I am lucky to remain in the same city in which I grew up. Toronto is now a multi-cultural urban centre that attracts people from all over the world, as well as from other parts of Canada. Thus, not everyone shares memories of the city that extend over several decades.

My boyhood years were during the 1940s. I realize that most people now consider these years to be the dark ages – prior to TV’s and computers.  The Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, held on a Saturday morning in November, kicked off the Christmas season. At the end of the parade, Santa entered the Eaton’s store on a tall ladder extended from a fire truck. From that moment forward, all children’s thought led to Santa Claus’s throne in Eaton’s Toyland, on the fifth floor of the store at Queen and Yonge Streets. Because shoppers patronized either Eaton’s or Simpson’s, not usually both, whichever store the family usually shopped at was considered to possess the “real” Santa Claus. The one at the other store merely a helper. For us, the “real” one was at Eaton’s. However, the Simpson’s windows on the south side of the Queen Street store were always a highlight of the season. Today, The Bay retains the tradition. In the 1940s, after “Santa came to town,” the Santa broadcasts, naturally sponsored by Eaton’s, began on the radio.

When I was a child, at least once during the Xmas season, a Salvation Army band arrived on our street to play carols. As the bandsmen gathered under the streetlight to play their brass instruments, volunteers went to the houses to collect contributions. It was also an era when children went door to door in the chill of the winter evenings to sing carols to earn a few coins. My brother and I did well in this endeavour, as we were able to sing in two-part harmony. The money we earned bought hankies and socks for our parents and grandparents, the gifts purchased in either Woolworth’s (later renamed Woolco) or Kresgees (K-Mart).

In the 1940s, Xmas trees were sold in vacant lots in residential neighbourhoods, the vendor huddled around an iron barrel where a crackling fire sent sparks dancing high in the frosty air. Today, it is rare to find any vacant lots in our densely populated residential areas. There were no plazas or box-store outlets where yuletide trees were sold. As a child, I thought that the Xmas tree lots were like vast forests, with numerous paths between the many rows of pine and spruce. The chosen tree was hauled home on a sleigh. Our tree was always a spruce. There were no artificial trees.

After New Year’s day, the abandoned trees lined the streets beside the garbage cans. Bits of tinsel hung forlornly from their thinning branches. Sometimes, my brother and I gathered up as many trees as we were able and stacked them alongside the garage so that we could leap from the garage roof into the pile of trees. Our parents were not amused by the antics. In early spring, my dad hauled the trees back to their curb-side positions beside the garbage cans.     

Because of these memories, today I take great delight in participating in the activities leading to Christmas. One of these activities is to visit the numerous places in the city where yuletide trees decorate the avenues, squares, or office buildings. I have already placed posts on this site about the Santa Claus Parade, the Santa radio broadcasts, and the Simpson’s (The Bay) windows. Now I would like to share photos of a few of the places where trees and decorations will make this anther year to remember.

                        Merry Christmas to all. 

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Campbell House, Queen and University    City Hall skating rink

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                Union Station                                   City Hall

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           Sick Kid’s Hospital                     Lobby, Royal York Hotel

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Queen Street West beside City Hall           Inside Brookfield Place

For a link to the Home Page, other posts about Christmas in Toronto, and books about Toronto: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Toronto

 

Oddball characters enliven murder mystery involving sadistic serial killer

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The novel “The Reluctant Virgin” is a story of a brutal serial killer on the loose in Toronto during the 1950s. Each murder is sadistic, involving the disappearance of the victims’ blood in some sort of weird ritual. The police are entirely baffled. At the beginning of the investigation, they are unaware that they are seeking s serial killer, as the murderer has cleverly disguised the methods of dispatching the victims.

The plot begins prior to the Labour Day weekend, when a teacher is murdered at the high school where a group of teenagers are to attend on the following Tuesday morning. The two detectives assigned to the investigation are interesting, offbeat  characters who greatly enhance the telling of the tale. The teenagers become involved when It becomes apparent to the police that one of the teachers on staff at York Collegiate (the fictional high school) is the murderer. But which one?

Although each staff member is a unique character, some of them are outright eccentric. The passage below describes the first time that two of the teenagers (Tom and Shorty) meet their zany art teacher. In the days ahead, she becomes one of the suspects in the murder case.

Miss Hitch is a memorable character who continually enlivens the telling of the tale. 

 When they entered the classroom room, they caught their first glimpse of their art teacher, Miss Hitch. Their mouths dropped in surprise. After everyone settled in their seats, they gazed at her expectantly. She in turn stared at them, resembling a spider observing her prey. When she finally spoke, her voice was soft but husky, as if she were breathing intimate details to a lover. She held the class spellbound.
     “All students who enter my art room must be well equipped,” she purred.
     Shorty whispered to Tom, “I have a feeling she isn’t referring to paint tubes and brushes.”
     Miss Hitch was a remarkable sight. She wore a tight bright-green skirt. Beneath her flimsy green blouse, the students could see her black bra, the outfit revealing more than any grade-nine boy should ever perceive. Numerous green bracelets dangled on her long arms, rattling and clanking as she wrote the list of art supplies on the blackboard. When she wished to emphasize a point, she took a deep breath, heaving her large breasts upward, almost hitting the ceiling. A few of the immature kids giggled. Shorty and Tom ignored them. They preferred Sophie’s breasts. She was a close friend of theirs.
    Miss Hitch wore her brunette hair swept-up at the back of her neck, forming a large bun on the top of her head, the hair held in place with several jewelled combs. Tom wondered if she might have been “sort-of” attractive, but he really could not tell. She wore far too much lipstick, thick mascara, and rouge. The oddest thing about the makeup was that everything was some tone of green. She looked like something that had escaped from the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fled the scene. Perhaps she had been frolicking with the Adam’s notorious snake.
     When they departed the art room, Miss Hitch looked at Shorty and in a silky voice said, “For the next class, be certain to bring all your equipment.”
Outside the classroom, Shorty grinned as he told Tom, “Wow! Did you hear the way she said ‘all your equipment?’ Horny Hitchy is quite a broad. I bet she could gobble a guy for breakfast, two for lunch, and three or more for supper.”
     “I doubt it. She’s an older woman. She must be thirty-five.”
      Neither Tom nor Shorty  had ever before encountered anything like her.

A link to the book “The Reluctant Virgin” : https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/second-book-of-the-toronto-trilogy-now-available-a-murder-mystery-in-1950s-toronto/

A link to the author’s Home Page and other books about Toronto: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Toronto

 

Photos of Toronto harbour during the 1970s

Before the days of Harbourfront, most people considered Toronto’s Queen’s Quay to be a wasteland. However, I retain fond memories of the area beside the lake in the 1970s. On sweltering summer days, I remember the delights of dining on lobster and wine on the top deck of “Captain John’s,” cooled by the lake breezes and the chilled wine. Capt. John’s was a small boat moored beside his larger ship, the Jadran. Capt. John’s was rammed by the Trillium and sank to the bottom of the harbour. It was eventually raised and taken to Cleveland. The Jadran, which at one time was a cruise ship that plied the Adriatic Sea, is still moored at the Toronto waterfront.

The harbour area was less crowded in the 1970s, the array of buildings beside the lake fewer in number, and the only condo in the area was the Harbour Castle.

Perhaps the pictures below will stir a few memories for those who remember the area in those days. 

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             Capt. John’s beside the Jadran (larger ship on the right)

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             Capt. John’s moored in Toronto Harbour in the 1970s

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               The Jadran, and the empty parking lots to the north

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View of the pier where the Jadran was anchored, and the office towers to the north

A link to the author’s Home page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Toronto