Monthly Archives: December 2011

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


     Max and Son has now disappeared from Baldwin Street


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



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

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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:

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Toronto


Oddball characters enliven murder mystery involving sadistic serial killer


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” :

A link to the author’s Home Page and other books about Toronto:

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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. 


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


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


               The Jadran, and the empty parking lots to the north


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

A link to the author’s Home page:

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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Toronto


A modest proposal for easing traffic congestion in downtown urban areas

Although I believe that my thoughts on traffic congestion in the downtown areas of major urban centres are modest, I fear the ideas will produce howls of outrage from drivers. I am a licensed driver, and appreciate the pleasures of driving my car when I journey long distances. However, for inner-city trips, I have adjusted to travelling on public transportation or simply walking. The era of driving automobiles within crowded cities is drawing to a close.  The problem will be particularly acute for those who must drive from distant suburban locations (a necessity for many) to their places of employment within the city.

I foresee the day when it will be against the law for drivers to intrude into the space employed by streetcars or buses. No barriers need be constructed, it will simply be a fact of life that all streetcars and busses must have their own right-of-way, unobstructed by automobiles. This means that there will be only one lane in either direction for cars. This necessitates that all parking be banned on avenues with public transportation.  This will horrify merchants who have businesses on these streets. However, with the ever-increasing construction of high rise condos, population densities will increase greatly within the central areas of cities, thus creating an increased need for public transportation. The loss of business from drivers will be replaced by increased sales from pedestrians.

At some point in the future, I believe that on inner city streets, private automobiles will be banned. The only vehicles allowed will be public transportation, taxis, and emergency vehicles. Cars will  continue to be driven only in the suburbs or in areas with low population densities. This will entail a major change in our lifestyles and the transition will not be easy. As the demographics of the suburbs change, they too will become areas with no private vehicles on streets with public transportation.

Judging by the distain expressed toward road tolls, I fear that the change in thinking toward private automobiles will be accompanied by enormous upheaval. Heaven help the politicians that will have to implement the changes.

Doug Taylor

A link to my Home Page; 

A link to the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Toronto


My Recent visit to Toronto’s Christmas Market at the Distillery District

The Distillery District on Mill Street, east of of Parliament, has been magically transformed into a lively Christmas market, modelled after the German markets such as the one held each year in Dresden, which began in 1434. I was surprised at the scope and variety of the Toronto market, contained within the brick-lined laneways and 45 historic building of the 19th century Distillery District. This was at one time the home of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832. The venue is ideal, as the area has the atmosphere of old Europe.

The day I visited, it was quite cold. However, because of the numerous outdoor fires, and the fact that when I felt the chill I was able to stroll inside one of the numerous buildings, I was impervious to the weather. If I had to sum up the market in a single word, it would be “food” –  veal schnitzel, Octoberfest sausage, meatballs, Belgium waffles, fries, fudge, sugar pies, maple syrup, chocolate cover apples, popcorn balls, freshly-baked breads. There were rides for the children, and many shops and art galleries for the adults. Everyone seemed either to be enjoying the many delicious treats or sipping gratefully on a hot drink. It is indeed a place to be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

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Toronto’s Distillery District, decked out for the German-style Christmas Market

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   The laneways of the Distillery District, with kiosk displaying crafts and foods.

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  Families enjoying the warmth of the outdoor fires and sipping on hot drinks.


                               The 40-foot Christmas tree at the Distillery District

For those who enjoy reading about Toronto’s past :

The non-fiction book, “The Villages Within,” nominated for the Toronto Heritage Awards, provides a cheeky version of the history of Toronto, and explores the history and architecture of the Kensington Market, The Kings-Spadina area, and the glorious tacky Queen Street West. The story of Toronto’s past will not improve anyone’s knowledge of history, but its fabrications and exaggerations may provide an amusing insight into the lives of those who built the town of York. It is an expose of historical untruths, a book that no school should ever permit its students to read.

A link to “The Villages Within,”

“There Never Was a Better Time” – a story of two mischievous immigrants who arrive in Toronto in 1921 from their small village on the rocky shoreline of Newfoundland. This was the days prior to confederation, and they were pleased to have successfully passed through immigration in North Sydney, and arrive in Toronto’s old Union Station, erected in 1884. The book chronicles their adventures as they explore the sinful haunts of the city, including the burlesque houses and movie theatres, during the decadent “Roaring Twenties.” The book contains vivid scenes of their “chasing the girls” at glorious “Sunnyside” beside the lake, and at the wondrous CNE, in the days when Torontonians considered it the most popular late-summer entertainment venues of all time.

A Link to this book:

“Arse Over Teakettle – Book One of the Toronto Trilogy,” is an amusing tale of a young by and his friends coming of age in Toronto during the wartime years of the 1940s. It is a heart-warming and humorous book about the lads’ adventures as they become sexually aware and yearn to exp[lore the world of the “big boys.” The book provides a detailed tongue-in-cheek account of life in the elementary schools of Toronto during this decade. The many archival photographs in the book add to the realism of the tale.

A link to this book :

“The Reluctant Virgin – Book Two of the Toronto Trilogy,” is a murder/mystery that occurs in 1950s Toronto. This chilling story of a serial killer that haunts the streets and laneways of old Toronto is a classic whodunit. As well as exploring the decade of the 1950s, the reader has an opportunity to try to identify the killer ahead of the police. This book also contains many archival photos. The characters in the story are the same as those introduced in the first book of the trilogy.

A link to this book :

A link to the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in Toronto


Christmas at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto’s Yesteryear

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, Jack and Ernie Taylor, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to Confederation. Their first employment was at McNamara’s market gardens, located in the open fields below the Davenport Road hill, on the west side of Bathurst Street. The McNamara brothers sold the produce from their fields at the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday mornings. Jack and Ernie were two of the employees who assisted in the retail sales.

This passage from the book describes the market and tells of the Taylor brothers departing the St. Lawrence Market on Christmas Eve in 1921.

Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market During the 1920s.


Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market of today commenced on 5 November of 1803 in the tiny town of York. It was named after the patron saint of Canada. The governor at the time of its inception, Peter Hunter, stipulated that it would occupy approximately five and a half acres at King and Front Streets. Its exact size and location, as well as the various buildings, had changed throughout the years, but since its inauguration, there had always been a market on the site.

On Saturday mornings during the autumn of 1921, the McNamara brothers rented tables in the north building of the St. Lawrence Market at Front and Jarvis Streets. The old redbrick market building on the south side of Front Street, had been serving the citizens of Toronto for many decades. It was a favourite gathering place for shoppers eager for fresh produce, as well as an assortment of preserves and jams from the farmers’ kitchens. People strolled and mingled as they vied for the freshest items at the cheapest prices. Hawkers shouted their wares and winked at the women to entice them to their stalls. It was a world of strong-smelling cheeses, opaque-eyed fish, fine cuts of meat, heaping mounds of colourful vegetables, and farm-fresh eggs. Bushels were filled with ripened fruit. Lifeless turkeys, chickens, and ducks hung from long poles above the tables or in the backs of trucks, the birds’ heads having been chopped off earlier in the day.

Live birds, crowded into wooden crates, were crammed haphazardly among the stalls and wagons. The heads of the doomed occupants noisily protruded through the bars of the cages. Occasionally, a rooster crowed, perhaps sensing that its final dawn had already passed.

Outside the market, on the east side of the building, people parked their carts and trucks. Horses munched from leather bags of oats, while their owners loaded into the backs of the wagons the sacks of potatoes and onions that they had just purchased. English sparrows noisily chirped and fluttered under the horses’ feedbags, competing for any oats that spilled to the ground. Several times throughout the day, the horses were led to the black cast-iron troughs to quench their thirst. Birds perched on the rim of the troughs, noisily scolding the intruding horses. Some farmers had brought bales of hay in their carts to feed their horses. It was a scene that seemed to belong to long-ago painters’ canvases or an engraving of a market during York’s colonial times.

The city maintained horse-watering troughs throughout the main streets of Toronto. Despite the many automobiles, most farmers still transported their fruits and vegetables by horse and wagon. By 1921, however, because the city was expanding rapidly, more and more produce was required. Market gardens within the city, such as McNamara’s, and others that were close to the city were unable to meet the demand. Farmers from as far away as fifteen or twenty miles now travelled to Toronto on a Saturday morning. Growers were gradually replacing their horse-drawn wagons with trucks. They parked many of these vehicles inside the market buildings, employing the back of the trucks as stalls, selling the vegetables and meats directly from them. The spaces between the trucks created aisles, where the shoppers strolled to examine the goods.

Finally, the honey-sunshine days of autumn drew to a close, and the yuletide season swiftly approached. On the final day before Christmas, Saturday 24 December, Jack and Ernie worked at the St. Lawrence Market to sell the last of McNamara’s carrots, onions, and potatoes, as well as the fresh flowers from the greenhouses. Throughout the market, yuletide decorations were present in abundance. Sprays of mistletoe glistened among the displays of imported oranges and lemons. Evergreen branches hung on the racks amid the sausages. The few remaining Christmas trees were now going for only thirty-five cents. Large, red paper bells and green garlands hung from the booths, trucks, and long tables.

Jack and Ernie thought about the mellow days of autumn, when the tables at the market had been heaping with the fruits of the harvest and the shoppers had crowded around to purchase the fresh produce from the McNamara gardens. They remembered how they had smiled at the pretty girls while helping them to choose vegetables.

In those earlier months, their employment had seemed secure. However, they now knew that with the close of the market at the end of the day, their jobs were terminated. Though the events of the autumn of the year were only a few weeks in the past, they now seemed like “the good old days.” They thought about their mother’s garden in Burin and the family gathering around the kitchen table at the homestead on Gun Point. This was to be their first Christmas away from home. The market and other wonders of Toronto were unable to overcome their homesickness.

By 5 pm on Christmas Eve, the stands were mostly empty of goods, and most of the shoppers had departed for the warmth of their homes. Geese had been the favourite fowl of the season, and not one remained for sale in the market—nor anywhere else in the city, for that matter. There were no turkeys, either—they had been in short supply and had disappeared in the early afternoon. The man dressed in the Santa Claus outfit, who had strolled all day among the tables and carts, was beginning to droop. The final hour, for both worker and shopper, had finally arrived.

Jack and Ernie cleared the McNamara tables and loaded the few remaining sacks of potatoes and carrots into the wagon. John McNamara shook their hands and handed them each an envelope containing a small bonus. Imparting a weary sigh, he smiled and said, “A very merry Christmas.”

As the Taylor brothers left the market, powdery snow settled on the streets and the rooftops. The curtain had closed on the final public scene of the yuletide pageant. In this year of 1921, Christmas Day, with all its love, mystery, and nostalgia, had quietly taken centre stage.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

The author’s Home Page ;

   Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market today, at the Christmas season.

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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Toronto


A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland

The story below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

The passage below tells about members of the Taylor family participating in a “soup supper,” held as a fund raiser at the church they attended in the small community of Burin Bay.

A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland 


Another greatly anticipated event of the Christmas season of 1921 was the annual “soup supper,” which usually included a “pie auction.” This was a major fundraiser in aid of the church and its school. Mary Taylor’s sons, Onslow and Bill, attended The Salvation Army school in Burin Bay, and as a result, she was a great supporter of the affair and always worked diligently toward its success.

Early in the morning, pots of water were set to boil in every kitchen, and various vegetables and meats simmered throughout the day. Breads, pies, and tarts were baked. In the early afternoon, the men went to the church to position the long, wooden tabletops on the sawhorses. When this task had been completed, the women decorated the tables and hung bunting and ribbons around the room.

Shortly after sunset, families trudged along the snowy paths to deliver the soups to the church. They suspended the handles of the pots from sturdy poles to facilitate their delivery, one person grasping either end of each pole. Bill and Les performed the task for their mother. They walked along the road carrying Mary’s contribution, being careful not to spill the precious contents.

When they arrived, there were too many soups for them all to be placed atop the stove inside, so the men had built a fire outside, and several pots were already hanging above the flames on an iron rod. The men gathered around the fire to socialize, while the women remained inside to fuss over last-minute preparations for the meal. Bill and Les joined the men, but much to the chagrin of the young girls who had arrived, they were hustled inside.

The variety of soups was impressive. The chicken soup contained an assortment of vegetables. There was also cabbage soup, beef broth with barley, and mutton soup with onions. To the fish stock had been added carrots and turnips. The ever-popular pea soup had been flavoured with salt pork. Peas and bread puddings in cloth bags suspended on strings had been immersed in some of the soups, which allowed them to cook inside the pots.

Everyone in Burin Bay recognized Mary Taylor’s soup, as she always placed thin strips of cabbage on the surface of the steaming broth. This personal touch made her soup attractive and easily identifiable. Because the diners knew which soup was hers, they rarely failed to offer compliments. It pleased her when people requested extra helpings.

Any man who could not consume at least one bowl of each soup and devour a large share of the bread was considered sickly. Even the children were encouraged to eat beyond their normal capacity, and they did not disappoint their prompters. Every year, the people declared that the soups were the finest ever made, and, judging by the amount that had disappeared, it might well have been true.

When it was time to auction the pies, Herb became tense. Herb was the oldest of Mary’s sons that remained at home in Burin, and she was aware that he was sweet on a girl from Epworth named Jenny. If he were successful in outbidding his rivals and succeeded in purchasing her pie, he would win the right to escort her home at the end of the evening. If people knew that a lad favoured a girl who had a pie up for auction, they would offer competing bids to drive up the price, as the money would go to a worthy cause.

Unfortunately for Herb, people knew of his interest in Jenny—they had seen him chatting with her at the Christmas concert. Each time he shouted a bid, someone topped it. The audience knowingly smiled, and a few chuckled aloud. As a result, Herb’s pocket was empty by the time he won the right to walk Jenny across the ice to her home in Epworth.

The distance from The Salvation Army Hall to Epworth was approximately one mile, but it required crossing ice that, in the middle of the harbour, was not always safe. For Herb and Jenny, because of their intimate conversation, a desire to extend the moment, and the care needed to walk over the uncertain ice, the journey to Epworth took considerably longer than usual. On reaching the far shore, they lingered and talked, Herb using any excuse that entered his mind to delay the inevitable parting. It was almost eleven o’clock by the time they reached Jenny’s house.

The front door opened just as Herb was about to kiss Jenny on the cheek. Standing in the doorway was Jenny’s irate father. “Herb Taylor!” he thundered. “What’s the meanin’ of ye bringing me daughter home at dis late hour? Where’s me shotgun? I’ll teach ye a lesson ye’ll ne’er forget!”

Herb did not require any encouragement to leap away like a jackrabbit and hop down the hill to the edge of the ice. The cannon-like blast of the shotgun echoed in the night air as he scampered over the ice. In his haste, he gave scant thought to the unsafe conditions confronting him. He had decided that there was little rhyme or reason in worrying about breaking through brittle ice when there was the more immediate danger of a shotgun blast puncturing holes in his backside.

When Herb arrived back at the Taylor house that night, he was exhausted, but was a wiser young man, having learned first-hand one of the basic rules of courting: always be wary of a girl’s father.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

The author’s Home Page ;

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto


A story about “Mumming” (Mummering) in old Newfoundland

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

For a history of the tradition of Mumming, follow the link:

The passage below tells about members of the Taylor family participating in “mummering.”

  A Story About Mumming (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland


On the Monday evening following Christmas Day in 1921, the pantry of the Taylor home buzzed like a hive. Mary Taylor was in the kitchen, and, because her family had closed the pantry door, she was unable to observe their preparations. Her father-in-law Job, her husband John, and sons Herb, and Les, were dressing to go mumming. They laughed and made humorous comments as they donned their disguises. For several months, they had secreted away, in an empty barrel, old clothing, netting, paper bags, burlap, and animal skins. They now brought them out.

Old Job began by placing an old curtain and a well-worn fishing net over his head to hide his white hair and beard. Disguising his features further, he attached to his face with twine a large, ugly cardboard nose so that it protruded prominently beneath the netting. On his head was a floppy paper hat, and his on hands he wore dirty fishing gloves. He wore old, ragged trousers and a shirt he had borrowed from a man in Pat’s Cove. Under the shirt, on his left shoulder, he inserted a small mound of hay, creating the illusion of a deformed hunchback. Wrapped around him was a brown blanket full of patches and holes. On his feet he wore borrowed boots that were several sizes too large, stuffed with wads of folded paper to fill the empty space. The thick boot-heels gave him extra height, disguising his short stature. All traces of dignified Uncle Jobby of Burin Bay had been successfully disguised, and in his stead was a hideous old creature, hunched and bent as if from many years of unsavoury deeds.

John Taylor, father of the boys, pulled a tattered one-piece suit of underwear over his clothes and stuffed rags inside to change his body shape. He rubbed the underwear with soot from the stove, making it appear as if he had just escaped from the earthy depths of the grave. Then, he enlarged the holes in the discarded suit and stuffed them with clumps of red paper, simulating dried blood. John whitened his face to appear like a ghost and covered his head with a floppy straw hat, painted white. A long, flowing trail of white muslin protruded from under the headgear to enhance the effect of an evil spirit of the night. As an added touch, he had whitewashed his borrowed oversized boots. If seen on the road at night, John would indeed be a sight to instill fear.

Herb, the oldest of the sons remaining in Burin, chuckled as he observed his father and grandfather, but he felt that his own costume was their equal. He had secured old clothes from a family he knew in Epworth, and wore them inside out. Stove-polish blackened his face and hands, and on his head was a hideous, dishevelled mess of torn rabbit skins. Herb had cut off the toes of an enormous pair of discarded boots, and he inserted his feet in the opposite direction, creating the illusion that he was walking backward.

Les, the next oldest, laughed as he admired his brother’s efforts, but was determined not to be outdone. He applied cocoa powder to his face to turn it brown, glued dyed wool to his face with spruce gum, attached a charred cork to the end of his nose, and fitted paper ears over his own to create the appearance of a scruffy mongrel. Brown burlap covered his body, and hanging behind him was a long tail of woven rags. He had decided that the only sounds he would emit during the evening would be those of a barking, whining dog. A dog he resembled, and a dog he would be.

From the kitchen, Mary heard the laughter in the pantry as the Taylor males prepared for the evening’s activities. Little did she realize that she was to be their first victim. They had hidden their costume materials from her, and she had no idea what they had decided to wear. The revellers left unseen through the back door and hid inside the small barn where the Taylors kept their sheep. They waited about ten minutes, during which time they were joined by two of the Frampton boys, who were also attired in strange clothes and wore false faces. Their numbers increased to six, they took two lanterns from the barn and, without lighting them, proceeded down the road away from the Taylor homestead. When they had gone a respectable distance, they lit the lanterns and walked back toward the house.

The group knew that the youngest of the Taylor sons, Bill and Onslow, would be watching from the kitchen window facing the road and would think that a group of mummers had arrived from the other side of the cove. They hoped that Mary would never guess that four of them were members of her own family. Herb and Les imagined the squeals of delight from their younger brothers when they informed their mother that there were mummers on the road approaching the house. Onslow’s worst fear was that the costumed revellers might pass by and visit another family, thus depriving him of the thrill of experiencing evil spirits, ghosts, and wicked creatures.

A heavy knock thudded against the door of the front porch, and a shrill voice cried, “Will ye let any mummers in this night?” In other parts of Newfoundland, a traditional poem allowed entrance, but in Burin, they asked a simple question. Mary opened the door cautiously. Bill and Onslow, their eyes wide with anticipation, hovered behind their mother, waiting impatiently for the fun to commence.

There was much laughter as the costumed guests entered, and when they got to the kitchen, it increased in volume. One of the Frampton lads jumped onto a chair, the group having selected him to be the first to perform. In a high-pitched voice, he squeaked, “I’m a ghost from the North Pole, and I knows each person here, along with their horrible deeds and secrets!” When he informed Mary that she had slept poorly the previous night and had carefully washed all the teacups that afternoon, her mouth opened in amazement. Job had supplied the Frampton boy with this information, as well as several facts that were more personal. As Mary’s puzzlement increased, Onslow and Bill howled with pleasure.

“Where are ye from?” Mary demanded. “No person around here is from the North Pole.”

“I’m from so far north that ye knows me naught. I travels with the wind of the night on winged feet,” came the reply.

Feeling bold, Onslow shouted, “With those big feet, you could stomp to ‘Tario and back!” The remark brought hoots and hollers from everyone, and the merriment increased when the mummers danced and comically paraded around. Job waved a handkerchief as he pranced, and John energetically threw his large white hat into the air. Les made barking noises, and Herb stomped his feet heavily.

Job grasped Mary’s bread pans from the shelf above the stove and banged them together, while the others clapped their hands. They all behaved more brazenly than any of them would have dared had their identities not been hidden.

Next, they broke into song, disguising their voices by creating an exaggerated discordant rendition, and then added a few nonsense poems. After the recitations ended, Onslow shrieked, “That be grandfather! I knows he!” The jig was now up, in more ways than one. True to the rules of mumming, Job lifted his veil and confirmed his identity. After he had unmasked, the names of the others were guessed within minutes. The laughter continued a while longer, while everyone appreciated the hilarious effect of the mummers having visited their own home.

“Goodness gracious, what a surprise!” Mary declared as she brought out cake and mugs of hot cider. Compliments were generous concerning the costumes and the riotous performances, and everyone agreed that the other families of the cove would have considerably more difficulty discerning their identities.

Onslow glowed in the warmth of praise when Mary told him that his brain was as sharp as his father’s razor. “Sweet hour of prayer,” she said. “I would never have known your grandfather. I was completely at sea!”

Finally, the mummers departed into the darkness to inflict their mirth on other families of Burin Bay. It was difficult to say who had more fun during the course of the evening, the mummers or their victims. The coup de grace occurred when they visited a home where a large dinner party was in progress. The increased size of the audience added boldness to the entertainment.

In one home, Job leaped up onto a chair. His son and grandsons were more surprised than those who were without costumes. He delivered his opening remarks in a voice far different from his normal one. Nobody guessed his identity. Later, they agreed that Job’s performance had surpassed his role as Santa Claus. Though advanced in years, there remained plenty of youthful energy and wit in him. He truly possessed a firm determination to greet the world with enthusiasm. Life could demand no more of anyone. A truly exhausted group indeed returned to the Taylor house late that night.

Though the mumming continued during the following nights, Mary felt that no group created quite as much fun as her own family.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto


The Christmas tradition of “Mumming” (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together. It includes a description of family members going out “mummering.” This information precedes the story of mummering to allow the reader to appreciate the history of the ancient tradition.

  The Tradition of “Mumming” (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland


“Mumming” was a much-anticipated tradition in Burin, Newfoundland. It commenced after sunset on Christmas Eve. Most people, however, remained at home with their families on Christmas night and began mumming on 26 December. Before it ended on Old Christmas Day—6 January—everyone had experienced a few surprises.

Mumming dated back to medieval times, and had been very popular in the royal court of King Edward III (1327–77). When Sir Humphrey Gilbert visited Newfoundland in 1583, most members of his crew were from the Wessex Counties, and they entertained the other fishermen, who were mostly French or Spanish, by dressing up and performed skits.

England banned the custom during the years of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell (1653–58). It continued in the New World, as it had been well established by the fishermen. In the 1840s, it reached the height of its popularity in Newfoundland, with those who participated calling themselves “mummers.” In England and in the north of Newfoundland, people referred to the tradition as “dressing up” or “masking.” On the south and east coasts of Newfoundland, it was called “mummering” or “janneying.”

The term “mummer” was derived from the fact that those who were mumming remained silent (mum) to prevent those for whom they performed from guessing their identities. The origin of the word “janneying” is uncertain, but some believe it was derived from “jannies,” referring to young boys who disguised themselves to perform mischief during the Christmas season.

In Newfoundland, mummers felt that they possessed an automatic right to enter any home, although people considered it courteous for them to request permission. Folks took advantage and rarely refused them entrance, as they considered it good luck to welcome uninvited visitors during the festive season. To engage in mummering, people donned disguises, wearing old clothes and makeshift costumes in a creative manner.

During the twelve days of Christmas, they travelled after sunset in small groups to visit their neighbours. The women often dressed as men, and vice versa. The idea was to entertain by dancing, playing instruments, or performing a simple drama (which was sometimes rude and irreverent). Their audience tried to guess the names of their visitors. If they identified someone, that person had to unmask. At the conclusion of the lively performance, everyone unmasked, and the hosts provided treats of cake, cookies, and hot drinks. The mummers then proceeded to another house and repeated the ritual once more.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

The author’s Home Page ;

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto