Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Noronic Disaster, 122 dead, included in Toronto novel

The novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” the first book of “The Toronto Trilogy,”details the tragic burning of the ship “The Noronic,” at pier nine on the Toronto waterfront, where 122 persons lost their lives. The book is a story of a family struggling to survive in Toronto during the Second World War and the postwar period. The Noronic Disaster is included in the tale. Young Tom Hudson, the central character of the book, is deeply affected by the news of the burning ship. The reader views the event through Tom’s eyes.

The following quote is from “Arse Over Teakettle.”


On that fateful morning of 17 September in 1949, when I arrived downstairs for breakfast, my mother was listening to the eight o’clock news. I did not pay much attention, as I was more concerned with the day ahead—Saturday was mine, free of school. However, my mom’s shocked reaction soon drew my attention to the voice of the newscaster. Within a few seconds, I realized that he was reporting about a ship in the Toronto harbour, which over-night had caught fire. I listened intently to the details.

Passengers awakened during the darkened hours and discovered the ship ablaze. They attempted to exit the vessel through the smoke-filled hallways, but flames blocked their path. Porthole windows were smashed as people attempted to escape the intensity of the heat. Some were crushed in the panic. Many of those that reached the decks were prevented from escaping ashore, as the decks were engulfed in flames. A few were seen climbing down hawser ropes or leaping into the water below. The screams and cries of the dying haunted the grim-faced firefighters as they attempted to rescue as many as possible. The heat from the metal hull was so intense that decks collapsed. It was a blazing inferno beyond imagination. It is feared that the death toll may reach over a hundred.

When the Toronto Fire Department arrived, the flames were leaping over a hundred feet into the air and smoke was billowing from the portholes. They employed several high-pressured pumper trucks, a rescue squad, and an aerial truck. The Toronto fireboat was on the scene,

along with numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles. Hoses poured water high into the air. The first rescue ladder, which had been extended to the C-deck, broke in two under the weight of the panic-stricken passengers. A dozen people plunged to the water below, many grasping the broken pieces of the ladder to stay afloat.

As the ship increasingly filled with water, it slowly listed toward the pier, forcing firefighter to retreat. At one point, they thought it might keel over as it leaned on a 45 degree angle. Finally, the hull floated upright again, and the hoses continued to pour water into the ship. The fire was finally extinguished around 6 a.m., but the smoldering hull was too hot to enter. It will be several hours before they can commence the grim task of recovering bodies.

During Saturday morning, the horrifying news washed over the city, creating a flood of despair. At lunchtime, my mom sent me to the grocery store next door to our house to purchase a loaf of bread. I over-heard customers discussing the tragedy. Words were few, and spoken in hushed tones. This was not a catastrophe in a far-away land, where distance isolated people from the reality of the situation. The ship was in the Toronto harbour, and toxic fumes and black smoke had drifted over the downtown area.

I heard a woman say, “The tragedy is a reminder to all of us of the fragility of life.”

I had only a vague idea what she meant, but I detected the fear in her voice. Another woman was concerned for her brother, a member of the crew. She had received no word concerning his safety.

Harry the butcher working busily behind the meat counter, said that children were among the victims. He had heard that the body of a young girl had been found, her arms out-stretched as if in prayer, a calm expression on her face. Another child, a boy, had been discovered, his body crouched in a fetal position, as if attempting to protect himself from the suffocating smoke. They had been accompanying their parents on a late-summer holiday. They would never again enter a classroom, such as the one I attended each school day. This struck me in the pit of my stomach. It was as if the tragedy at the waterfront had invaded my neighbourhood, eroding my sense of security. When I returned home from the store, it was reassuring to see my mom in the kitchen, preparing soup for lunch. For me, life would continue, but I knew that other families would not be so fortunate.

The first two books of the Toronto trilogy are available by following the links:

Arse Over Teakettle:

The Reluctant Virgin :

The book “The Reluctant Virgin”is also available at any Chapters/Indigo store.

To view the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Toronto


Fictional characters in Toronto murder/mystery confront sexual attitudes of the 1950s


The recently published novel, “The Reluctant Virgin,” the second book in the Toronto Trilogy, continues where the first book in the trilogy ended. The Second World War has ended. Despite the social upheaval caused by the war years, Toronto retains many of its traditional values. “Rock and Roll” music is hitting the Yonge Street bars and clubs, but most citizens are not certain what to think about the new sound, as it seems to espouse a different set of values.

As the story opens, a brutal murder is committed in the secluded darkness of the Humber River Valley. The police discover that the killer has drained the blood of the victim. When they identify the body, they learn that she was a teacher at the high school where the central characters of the story attend. The two detectives assigned to the case must interview the teenagers, as well as the teachers at the school to find the murderer. Meanwhile, further murders are committed by the same killer, the police unaware that the crimes are connected.

As the story unfolds, the sexual attitudes of the community, the teenagers, and the police are exposed. For example, one of the straight-laced detectives is attracted to a witness who is involved in the sex trade. He eventually starts dating her, creating great turmoil in his life, especially among his colleagues. One member of the group of teenagers who attends the high school is thought to be homosexual. This exposes a can of worms that no one wishes to confront, especially the church where he attends. Another teenager in the story becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

“The Reluctant Virgin” is far more than just a murder/mystery. The plot twists and turns as it weaves its way through a myriad of clues, complicated by the sexual attitudes of the decade.

The first two books of the Toronto trilogy are available by following the links:

Arse Over Teakettle:

The Reluctant Virgin :

The book “The Reluctant Virgin”is also available at any Chapters/Indigo store.

To view the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Toronto


“The Toronto Trilogy” recreates the city’s past while providing intriguing stories


“Arse Over Teakettle” – Book One of the Toronto Trilogy

The first book in “The Toronto Trilogy”is a heart-warming tale containing vivid descriptions of the the city as the Great Depression ends. The reader experiences the city through the eyes of a young boy – Tom Hudson – following his exploits and discoveries as he matures. We learn of his life and his family’s struggles during the horrific war years of the 1940s and observe him as he matures in the post-war period in Canada. Tom’s life is detailed with sympathy and humour. The educational system of the city during the 1940s is portrayed delightfully, some of the scenes hilarious, others demanding understanding and empathy.

The tale abounds with interesting and off-beat characters. The landlord of the family during the depression years, Mr Pollard, Tom’s father nicknames Mr. Polly Penis. The irascible man has a drinking problem, which result in his committing a few odd deeds. However, it is not long before a  new kid moves into the neighbourhood – Shorty Bernstein. The cigar-smoking, cursing, pugnacious boy soon becomes the most intriguing character of the book. He provides great contrast to Harry Heinz, Tom’s boyhood hero, who is so very straight-laced.

The adventures of Tom and Shorty, as well their friends Carol and Sophie, as they struggle to understand the world of “the big kids,” is entertaining and informative. It will remind many of us of our own childhood. The archival photographs add to the realism as the stories unfold. However, it is the characters, along with their joys and sorrows, which make the novel fascinating.

“The Reluctant Virgin”- Book Two of the Toronto TrilogyReluctant

The second book in the trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin,” follows Shorty, Tom and their friends through their high school years. As expected, the characters develop and mature as the tale unfolds. Their sexual explorations are particularly amusing. However, this book is quite different from the first book in the trilogy as it is a crime mystery. One of the teachers at the high school where they attend is brutally murdered. Two detectives, Jim Peersen and Jerry Thomson, their personalities very different in nature, attempt to catch the killer. Meanwhile, the murderer continues to seize victims from the streets of Toronto. The police remain unaware that they are seeking a serial killer. This is a classic “who-done-it.” The killer is one of the boy’s teachers, but which one?

This book is not for the faint-of-heart. The murders are chillingly detailed. The killer drains the blood from the bodies of the victims. At first, the sickening ritual is not discovered by the police as the murderer cleverly disguises the fact.

Similar to the first book in the trilogy, the descriptions of Toronto and the archival photos add realism to the unfolding of the tale.

“Virgins No More” – Book Three of the Toronto Trilogy (This book is not yet available)

In the years after graduating from high school, Tom Hudson works for four years to earn sufficient funds to enter university and eventually attend teachers’ college. His friend Shorty Bernstein, drops out of university and becomes involved in the drug culture in Toronto’s infamous Yorkville area of the 1960s. Tom’s relationship with Sophie is not without problems, as is that of Tom’s high school pals—Harry Heinz and Horace Kramer.

On the Saturday evening of the Labour Day weekend in 1965, prior to beginning his new career in the classroom, Tom and his sweetheart, Sophie, witness a seemingly random murder on the Yonge Street subway. Chief of Detectives Arnold Peckerman assigns the murder case to Detective Paul Masters, but Detectives Jim Peersen and Gerry Thomson are soon drawn into the investigation. Harry Heinz, who is now a young attorney, also becomes involved in the case. Disaster then strikes again, when the killer murders one of Tom’s friends. The murder investigations lead to the corridors of power at Queen’s Park, and eventually to Ottawa, where they threaten to bring down members of the federal cabinet.

The third book in the Toronto Trilogy relates the struggles of Tom, Harry, and their friends, as well as detectives Peersen and Thomson, to solve the crimes.

The story provides an intriguing insight into life in Toronto during the 1960s, a decade in which decadence prevailed. The narrative explores the lives of Tom and his friends as they build their careers and mature in their relationships. All this occurs while a murderer casts an ominous shadow that threatens their survival.

The background of the story is the metropolis of Toronto, as it sheds the traditions and values of its past. “A Virgin No More” is a story of the city during a decade when it is evolving into an urban centre that embraces the worldliness of the modern world.

The first two books of the Toronto trilogy are available by following the links:

Arse Over Teakettle:

The Reluctant Virgin :

The book “THe Reluctant Virgin”is presently available at any Chapters/Indigo store.

To view the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Toronto


Murder/mystery recalls Toronto’s Yonge and Queen streetcar lines of the 1950s

“The Reluctant Virgin” is a story of a serial killer who haunts the streets of Toronto in the 1950s. The tale recreates the city as it existed in that decade. The descriptions, along with the archival photographs, pull the reader into a story that appears chillingly real.

At times, the novel glorifies the city’s past, fondly recalling restaurants such as Le Chaumiere and the Savarin Tavern. The scene where two of the fictional characters attend the hockey game when Frank Mahavolich first played with the Leafs in Maple Leaf Gardens will be of interest to hockey fans. Others may enjoy the vivid descriptions of Toronto’s Yonge Street on hot summer nights in July.

Several times during the unfolding of the plot, the fictional characters board Toronto streetcars. Because the subway replaced the Peter Witt streetcars on Yonge Street in 1954, the author includes a lament for the glory days of these grand old trolleys. At the conclusion of this section, there is a plea for the citizens of Toronto to appreciate the role that streetcars have played in the history of their city.

Below is the concluding paragraph from the section in the book that tells about Toronto’s streetcars. It mentions the famous Queen Street line.    

Today, Torontonians underestimate their streetcars. An international trolley association has rated Toronto’s Queen Streetcar Line as one of the top ten in the world, and the only one that remains a “functional line,” as opposed to those maintained mainly as tourist attractions. This places the Queen line among prestigious company—the San Francisco trolley cars, the St. Charles streetcars in New Orleans, and the streetcars of the Alfama District of Lisbon. It is a pity that the tourist board of Toronto does not promote the attractions of the Queen line. To ride its length from either Long Branch or the Humber in the west, to Neville Park in the city’s east end, a rider passes through fascinatingly diverse neighbourhoods, all for the price of a streetcar ticket or a token.

The book is presently in stock at any Chapters/Indigo store. It may also be purchased in either paperback or electronic versions from the publisher:

To view the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Toronto


Amusing anecdotes about Toronto’s Peter Witt streetcars add light touch to brutal murder/mystery

The following quote is from the recently published murder/mystery “The Reluctant Virgin.”


Jokes and stories that involved the Peter Witt streetcars on Toronto’s Yonge Street invariably began with, “A passenger was on the Yonge streetcar and…” In later years, Tom remembered how much he had enjoyed the corny Yonge-streetcar jokes, even though many of them were childish humour.

Tom never forgot his dad’s story about a plump, elegantly attired elderly woman. While travelling on a crowded Yonge streetcar, she noisily broke wind. The young man seated next to her, amused by the loudness of the blast, accidentally dropped the streetcar transfer clutched in his hand. The woman, self-conscience at her indiscretion, bent over and discretely retrieved the transfer from the floor of the streetcar, and passed it to the man.

When she handed it to him, the young man looked at the paper transfer and said, “I think you had best keep it. You may need it to wipe yourself, and when we go past the next tree I’ll reach out the window and get you a few leaves.”

The woman was not amused, and relocated to another seat further down the streetcar. When she got off at St. Clair, she glowered at the insolent young fellow. He graciously smiled at her and tipped his hat.

Tom’s dad loved telling the story, even though his mom objected to its crudeness.

The story that Tom recalled the best was one that created a little drama in the Hudson house. He could still picture the look of mischief on Gramps’ face as he commenced the tale, making no effort to sanitize his language.

“I heard today about a passenger on the Yonge Streetcar,” he began. “She was returning from the St. Lawrence Market with her weekly supply of fruits and vegetables in paper bags. As the streetcar approached Queen Street, the bottom of one of the paper bags broke open, and a half-dozen oranges dropped out and rolled across the floor of the streetcar. She deposited her other bag on the floor of the streetcar, and bent over to pick up the oranges, which by now were rolling around on the floor of the car. While bending over, she ripped off a loud fart.”


Gramps was laughing as he talked. Nan’s face portrayed her disgust with his street language, and Tom’s mom was clearly not amused.

Ignoring their disapproval, Gramps continued.

“When the woman ripped off the loud fart, an old man who was standing near her said, “That’s right, lady, if you can’t catch them—shoot them.’”

Gramps, Ken, and Tom laughed uproariously. Nan left the room and went out to sit in the sun porch. Tom’s mom, who continued to peel the vegetables for supper said, “When a grown man tells a boy’s joke, it does him no credit.”

“Perhaps not,” Tom’s dad replied. “But I thought it was quite funny.”

“You men always stick together, even when you’re in the wrong,” Tom’s mom declared.

After a few minutes, Gramps wandered out to the sun porch where Nan was now sitting. Feeling the need to placate her he said, “You must at least give me credit for one thing. When I first met you, dear, I thought that if I couldn’t catch you, instead of shooting oranges, I’d shoot myself. The only reason I’m alive today is because you agreed to marry me.”

“So instead of shooting yourself then, you’re shooting the bull now,” she replied.

For Tom, remembering Gramp’s story always brought back fond memories of his teenage years on Lauder Avenue. Similarly, Toronto’s Yonge Streetcars recalled pleasant times of a decade and a city that has slipped into the mists of time.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous posts about movie houses of Toronto—old and new

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its heritage buildings:

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


                To place an order for this book: .

      Theatres Included in the Book

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Toronto


Murder Mystery nostalgically recalls Toronto’s old Peter Witt streetcars on Yonge Street.


The following quote is from the murder/mystery “The Reluctant Virgin.”

On Tuesday 30 March in 1954, between 2 pm and 3 pm, the famous Yonge Street streetcars ceased their designated routes on the city’s main thoroughfare. Despite the excitement caused by the opening of the new subway, there were those who lamented the demise of the old Peter Witt streetcars—“the grand old ladies of the street.” A few Torontonians grew nostalgic as they recalled the years they had huddled around the cars’ coal stoves on a winter morning, as the streetcars rumbled up the steep hill north of Bloor Street.

Some recalled that as children, when crossing the intersection at Queen and Yonge, they had viewed the busy street, peering north and south, with the bulky streetcars crowding the roadway amid the noisy vehicle traffic. When they were youngsters, they had journeyed downtown and glimpsed the marquee lights of Loew’s Downtown, the Imperial, and the Downtown theatres from the streetcar windows. Even the smaller theatres, such as the Coronet, Biltmore, and Savoy garnered attention with their colourful signs advertising films about adventurers, pirates, gangsters, and gallant soldiers.

South of Bloor Street on a wintry evening, they had gazed in fascination at Loew’s Uptown Theatre, its flashing marquee lights reflecting on the glass of the streetcar windows. The Yonge streetcar connected a world of lights, laughter, and entertainment, transporting young men and women to the city’s nightspots.

Where the streetcar line terminated at Union Station, thousands of immigrants had arrived during the previous decades and passed through its grand hall. The Yonge streetcars had provided their first impression of the vibrant, new-world city that was to be their home.

The streetcars had carried men to war when they had departed from Union Station for the battlefields of Europe. At the end of the conflict, when Toronto celebrated, the Yonge streetcars provided the backdrop for the spontaneous parties that erupted on Yonge Street.

No other streetcars ever embedded themselves into the soul of Toronto like the Yonge streetcars. They were the streetcars that delivered children to places of adventure—Eaton’s Toyland, the Yonge Arcade, movie theatres, and toyshops.


On New Year’s Eve, after attending a movie, many a young couple had welcomed in the new year on the streetcars, kissing romantically as they travelled homeward.

Throughout the years, office employees had chatted with fellow workers on the cars, sometimes arranging dates. There were those who had met their future wives on the Yonge streetcar, the men saying jokingly that the wife really “took them for a ride and picked their pockets clean.” Even in the 1950s, weddings were expensive.

The murder/mystery “The Reluctant Virgin” abounds with descriptions of Toronto during the 1950s. The restaurants, movie theatres, and sports’ venues are woven into the plot as the fictional characters, including the police detectives, move around the city in search of a serial killer that sadistically drains the blood of the victims. The descriptions of the city, along with archival photos deliver a chilling degree of realism to a fictional tale.

The book is presently available at any Chapters/Indigo store. It is also available electronically directly from the publisher through the following link:

To view the Home Page of the author:

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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Toronto


Pity that more Toronto fiction writers do not identify the city in their novels

There was a time when film producers employed Toronto only as a stand-in for other cities, mostly American. Those of us who were familiar with Toronto, when watching these films, were able to identify various places within Toronto that appeared in the scenes. Some of us were amused at seeing the CN Tower popping up in New York. Fortunately, this has changed in recent years. Toronto is now an important part of some films, enhancing their stories and plots.

Unfortunately, some authors still cling to habits from the days of old. Though they are clearly describing streets, places, and buildings in Toronto in their novels, their stories identify them as being in a fictional city or town within the United States. Usually, the reason for this switch is an attempt to appeal to the larger American market. I cannot argue with the success of the tactic. One particular Toronto-based mystery writer has become the author of numerous best sellers by engaging in this ploy. However, I think it is a pity that they indulge in this practice. It detracts from the realism of the stories, and discourages other authors from exploring the rich diversity that Toronto offers.   

I doubt that they will never become best sellers, and it is not that important to me. I have no qualms about identifying, and even romanticizing the streets and inner communities of a city that I dearly love. I am reaching out to Toronto readers in particular, something that I am told that no authors should do if he/she wishes to be a success.

The second books of my “Toronto Trilogy” is presently available at the Chapters/Indigo store at Richmond and John Streets. It is also available electronically. A murder/mystery, it is the tale of a brutal serial killer, but is also a means to relate the history of Toronto during the 1950s. It is a study of daily life during those years. Those who remember the 1950s, or are curious about this dynamic decade in the history of the city, might enjoy this novel.


“The Reluctant Virgin” exposes readers to highly controversial social issues that were hot topics in Toronto during the 1950s. Many of these issues remain relevant today. They involve religious dogma as well as attitudes toward sex.

The book abounds with colourful characters that enliven the telling of the tale. I hope that readers will feel that the two detectives assigned to catch the serial killer are fascinating. One of the strangest aspects of the crimes is that the killer drains the blood from the victims. The police are unable to explain this weird ritual.

This book abounds in detailed descriptions of Toronto, and the archival photos add to the realism of the plot.

To purchase this book:

Author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Toronto


Recent novel tackles controversial social issues while a convoluted murder/mystery unfolds


The recently published book “The Reluctant Virgin” exposes readers to highly controversial social issues that were hot topics in Toronto during the 1950s. Many of these issues remain relevant today. They involve religious dogma as well as attitudes toward sex.

The book abounds with colourful characters that enliven the telling of the tale. The two detectives assigned to catch the serial killer are also fascinating. Readers are swept along as the gruesome details of the murders are revealed. One of the strangest aspects is that the killer drains the blood from the victims. The police are unable to explain this weird ritual.

This book is not recommended for faint-hearted readers as the descriptions of the murders tend to be quite graphic. The actual murders are described in detail, and the manner in which they are carried out is chilling.

To purchase this book:

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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Toronto


Toronto author of award nominated “The Villages Within” publishes a murder/mystery


A suspenseful murder/mystery about a serial killer loose on the streets of Toronto is now available in both printed and electronic editions. The book is in stock at the Chapters/Indigo Store in downtown Toronto at Richmond and John Streets. Anyone who enjoys a “who-done-it,” attempting to guess the identity of the killer before it is revealed by the author, will find this book a delightful read. The detailed descriptions of the crime scenes, all located within the city, add a chilling degree of reality to the crime drama. As the story is set in the 1950s, the archival photographs increase the realism further.

To purchase this book:

Author’s Home Page:

Link to “The Villages Within.”

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Toronto


Victoria Square in Toronto’s entertainment district is a gem


Victoria Memorial Square in the King/Spadina area is a hidden jewel among downtown Toronto’s green spaces. Located south of King Street, between Portland and Bathurst Street, is it an oasis of calm in an area that abounds with popular restaurants and clubs. The following information about the square is from the book “The Villages Within,” nominated for the Toronto heritage Awards in 2011.

Victoria Square (The Garrison Burying Ground)

The small open space known as Victoria Square was larger in the nineteenth century than it is today. The boundaries of the burial ground within the square formed a rectangle, with the corners pointing to the four cardinal points of the compass. This was unusual, as it was the custom of the day to align plots parallel to the grid. Almost all streets were also planned according to the gridlines. The reason for the unusual configuration of the cemetery is unknown. At that time, the only other site in the community that was positioned in a similar manner was “Bell Vue,” the home of the Denison Family, located in Denison Square in the present-day Kensington Market area.

When completed in 1794, the cemetery was entirely surrounded by dense forest. The trees were cut down by Simcoe’s troops. Those existing in the square were planted in the twentieth century. In the 1830s, when the land was surveyed and the streets were laid out, the small square was bounded on the north by Stewart Street, the south by Niagara Street, the east by Portland Street, and the west by Bathurst Street. During the years ahead, houses were erected on its western section (on Bathurst Street), reducing the size of the square. Wellington Place ended at the east side of the cemetery. Eventually a street named Douro was cut through the square. This new street as well as Wellington Place were eventually combined and renamed Wellington Street West, as it is today.


Governor Simcoe’s daughter Katherine, who was only fifteen months of age when she died, was the first interment in the cemetery. During the following years many more were buried, including at least one of the soldiers who perished defending York in the American invasion of 1813. During the War of 1812, York was a medical centre where they brought those who had been injured in battles on the Niagara frontier. Reverent John Strachan reported that in 1813 he officiated at the funerals for six to eight men a day.

It is estimated that from the time of its inception in 1794 until the final interment in 1863, about four hundred bodies were placed within the grounds. In the years ahead citizens of the town were also buried here, though after 1807 many were placed in the churchyard of St. James, on King Street East. With the closing of the First Garrison Burying Ground, another cemetery was created to the northwest of Fort York, on Dufferin Street, near the present-day Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

It is worth mentioning a few of those who were buried here in the old Garrison Cemetery, now Victoria Memorial Square. Most of the names that follow were identified by John Ross Robertson during visits to the cemetery in the 1870s. They were recorded in his book Landmarks of Toronto, Volume 1, Mika Publishing, Belleville, 1987.

· Christopher Robinson, father of John Ross Robertson, died 1798.

· Benjamin Hallowell, a relative of Chief Justice Elmsley, died Thursday, March 28, 1799, age 75.

· John Edward Sharps, infant son of J. E. and M Sharps, died at 9 months on August 8, 1813.

· Captain McNeal killed in the Battle of York, 1813, during the American invasion of Toronto.

· Charlotte, wife of John Armitage, died April 8, 1819.

· John Saumariez Colbourne, died May 1, 1826, three-year-old son of Sir John Colbourne.

· Mackay John Scobie, died August 26, 1834, age 18, and his brother Kenneth Scobie, age 25, died in 1834. Their father was Captain John Scobie of the 93rd Highlanders.

· Margaret Ryan, wife of William Ryan of the Canadian Rifles, died 1835.

· Lieutenant Zachariah Mudge, private secretary to Sir John Colbourne (Lord Seaton), committed suicide by placing a gun to his chest. He died at age 31 on June 10, 1831.

· Barbara Mary, daughter of Reverend J. Hudson, died July 17, 1831.

· Archibald Currie of Glasgow, Scotland. Robertson states that the stone was too corroded to decipher any other details.

Final burial in the Garrison Cemetery was Private James McQuarrick in 1863.


An interesting notation claims that Captain Battersby, a British soldier, when ordered back to Britain following the War of 1812, shot his two horses and buried them in the cemetery, rather than part with them by selling them to someone else. Thankfully, he did not plan a similar fate for the friends he left behind in tiny York.

The ceremony to unveil the memorial was held on July 1, 1902, as a part of the Dominion Day (Canada Day) celebrations. Veterans of the British army and navy placed the monument in the square. It honours the memory of those who lost their lives defending Upper Canada during the War of 1812 (1812–1815). The regiments that served in the conflict and the names of the battlefields are listed on plaques attached to the monument.

In 1906 a sculpture of the torso of a veteran was added to its crown. The balding soldier appears to be glancing upward, a weary expression on his face. He is attired in a military uniform displaying war medals, and in his right hand is his hat. His left arm has no hand, perhaps a casualty of battle. Katherine Hale, in her book Toronto, Romance of a Great City, (Cassell and Company, Toronto, 1956), states, “The soldier has an unusual face—strong, rapt and dedicated.”

The statue was created by Walter Allward, who also cast the figures at the south base of the Boer War Memorial at University Avenue and Queen Street West. In addition, Allward designed the Canadian war memorial on the Douri plain at Vimy Ridge.

The stone base of the monument in Victoria Memorial Square is similar in design to the one at Queenston Heights to commemorate the deeds of Laura Secord, a heroine of the War of 1812.


To purchase “The Villages Within” :

The author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Toronto