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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Toronto murder/mystery captures essence of the city during the 1950s.

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Quiet residential street in the 1950s     Toronto’s Yonge Street in 1951

City of Toronto Archives                                   City of Toronto Archives

Fonds 1257, Series 1057, It. 7643                    Fonds 574, It. 49757

In every decade, deeds are committed in dark places that are unknown to those that tread life’s well-lit paths. This was true as the 1950s dawned in Toronto. The city’s residents viewed their insular world as relatively staid and secure, even though they knew that crime existed, and that it was a part of daily life. However, no one suspected that a serial killer was soon to roam the quiet residential avenues and forested river valleys of Toronto. Crimes of this scope did not happen in “Toronto the Good.”

Torontonians thought of their city as a place that embraced and maintained traditional values, even though they were mindful of the shifting morals and new attitudes that were creeping into their neighbourhoods since the war years. Despite this, they remained blissfully unaware that the changes would sweep away the last vestiges of the city’s innocence, and that by the end of the decade, Toronto would be a vastly different city.

As the narrative of the murder/mystery begins, Tom Hudson realizes that his own life is drastically changing. In former years, he had attended elementary school, played baseball, and learned about the sexual secrets of the “big boys,” on a street such as the one in the picture. In the laneways behind the houses, he had also discovered many of life’s other lessons. In the local store, Tom had overheard adults discuss important events of the day, and it was where he learned to be wary of the vicious local gossip, the formidable Mrs. Martha Klacker.

Then, on the Labour Day weekend in 1951, as he is about to begin high school, a brutal murder occurs. In the days ahead, the murder intrudes into his formerly secure life. For Tom, nothing will ever again be the same. In every decade, there are deeds committed in dark places that are unknown to those that tread life’s well-lit paths. The “dark places” are about to enter Tom’s world.

Reluc. Virgin

The information above is from the second book of the Toronto Trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin.” The novel is a murder/mystery that occurs in Toronto during the 1950s. A serial killer is on the loose in the laneways and ravines of the city. Tom Hudson and his friends are drawn into the mystery as the murder victim was one of the teachers who taught at their high school.

The book deals with many of the social issues of the decade, and relates the history of the period, while telling a chilling murder/mystery. The book contains many archival photographs of Toronto.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Toronto

 

Murder/mystery tells about a Torontonian living in Paris in the 1950s as she reminisces about Toronto

The following is from the novel, “The Reluctant Virgin.”

Reluc. Virgin

Slowly, the shopping forays into the high-end shops of Paris began to lose their appeal. She realized that she could purchase on Bloor Street, west of Yonge, almost anything that was available in the chic French shops, and often at half the price. Paris had more shops with the much sought-after goods, but the stores simply repeated the merchandise of their competitors. Toronto had fewer shops, but essentially the same goods. The grand dames of Rosedale and Forest Hill could acquire the best that Paris had to offer, without leaving home.

The Champs Elysees eventually became just another broad avenue—manicured and stylish, but faceless and impersonal. Samantha wanted to walk the delightfully tacky Yonge Street to watch the flashing neon lights and the giggling patrons as they wandered from bar to bar in search of the elusively perfect partner for a one-night tryst. Toronto’s night scene possessed an innocence, not the tired old-world attitude of, been there, done that, so typical of the patrons of the clubs of Paris. Upper-class Parisians fed off their sense of self-importance, and treated the untitled and the common-man as if they were ignorant serfs. The labourers of Paris also exuded this attitude, feeling that though they were working-class, they were superior to other nationalities, simply because they were citizens of the grand republic.

Torontonians knew they were residents of Hogtown, and accepted everyone as equal celebrants of life. There was a freshness and vigour to the life of Toronto. If residents of Rosedale attempted to claim superiority, the residents of Cabbagetown would tell them to blow it out their ass. Paris preached egalitarianism, but only within one’s own social class. In Toronto, a drunk was a drunk, and his or her puke in the alley was the equal of anyone’s.

As the months passed, memories of home flooded over her. The earthy smell of a crisp September morning in the quiet tree-lined streets of Toronto, and the warm air of a smoke-scented fall afternoon, haunted her. As the city embraced winter, in the deep corners of her mind, she could hear the excited children’s voices in Riverdale and High parks, as the youngsters raced their sleds down the snowy slopes. Paris had no such pleasures.

As the days passed, nostalgia continued to envelope her. She remembered clear spring evenings, when dusk had turned to night and she had viewed the city from the cocktail lounge atop the Park Plaza Hotel. It had never failed to enchant her. Below the heights of the hotel, spread before her was an aerial view of the quiet residential neighbourhoods of the Annex and Yorkville, just a breath way from the bustling commercial traffic of Bloor Street and University Avenue. To the south was the forested majesty of Queen’s Park, the roof of the legislature poking above the swirling mass of foliage. Her longing for Toronto increased each day as the months passed.

One afternoon, while strolling down the Champs Elysees, an elderly well-heeled Parisian pinched her ass. His attitude of unabashed arrogance was the proverbial final straw. Her days of wanderlust had ended. She had had enough of the French and their assumed superiority.

The next day, she arranged for her banker to transfer her money to Toronto, to a downtown branch of the Dominion Bank. A month later, she sailed for home. She had never regretted her decision.

In the second book of the Toronto Trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin,”a serial killer is on the loose in the laneways and ravines of the city. One of detectives assigned to the case becomes involved with Samantha, a woman who works the sex trade. At one time she lived in Paris, and the above passage explain to the reader why she returned to Toronto.

The book deals with many of the social issues of the decade, and relates the history of the period, while telling a chilling murder/mystery. The book contains many archival photographs of Toronto.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Toronto

 

Remember the hockey riots in the Montreal Forum in 1955 ?

The following is an account of the Montreal riot from the book, “The Reluctant Virgin.” Readers see the event through the eyes of the fictional characters.

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Two rows in front of Jim and Samantha, a flurry among the spectators indicated that someone of importance was entering the Forum. Samantha realized that it was Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League. Within a few moments, the crowds in the stands also recognized the VIP visitor, and great waves of booing and catcalls erupted.

The previous Sunday, in a NHL game in Boston, Montreal’s star wingman, Maurice Rocket Richard, had engaged in a stick-swinging duel with Boston’s Hal Laycoe, and in the melee, Richard had punched lineman Cliff Thompson in the face. Though both players had been hospitalized, several days later Richard had appeared in Campbell’s office, where he was to be disciplined for his participation in the brawl. The NHL president suspended him for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. His ruling placed the Montreal team at a severe disadvantage, as their top scorer was missing from the lineup.

On this evening of Saturday 18 March, Jim and Samantha were unaware that they were about to observe a momentous event in the history of the city’s famous arena—the Montreal Forum.

At eight o’clock, the referee dropped the puck for the face-off to commence the first period of play. The Forum was electrified with action. Despite the foul mood of the crowds, resentful that Maurice Richard was absent from the lineup, the hockey game proceeded without incident. Each time Detroit scored, the displeasure of the fans increased. The boiling point occurred when the opposing team scored its fourth goal against the Habs, who only had one goal. A roaring chant from the upper sections of the arena floated down to the rows of seats below.

“We kill Campbell. We kill Campbell…”

A few moments later, chunks of ice from the soft drinks pelted down on the section where Campbell sat, some of them landing on Jim and Samantha. Then, from out of nowhere, someone tossed a teargas bomb and it exploded near Campbell. The spray from the canister, along with acrid smoke, spread instantly to those seated near the NHL president.

A mad rush to the exits of the arena ensued. People were choking, their eyes stinging from the biting fumes of the chemicals. Within seconds, the mobs started throwing everything possible in the direction of their hated foe—Clarence Campbell. Shoes, galoshes, rubber footwear, programs, and hats littered the lower rows of seats and the ice surface.

Jim removed his suit jacket and placed it over Samantha’s head as he steered her toward the nearest exit. Their eyes were watering profusely, and it was difficult to find their way, their problems compounded by the flood of debris reigning down on them. Something heavy hit Peersen on the back of the head, delivering a smack that almost caused him to lose consciousness. Next, several eggs hit him on the back of his shirt, their messy globs dribbling down over his pants and shoes. He heard Samantha whimper as a shoe struck her shoulder.

People on the far side of the arena were now also clambering toward the exits, as the smoke was quickly drifting across the ice surface toward them. An announcement blared over the PA system, clearly audible despite the noise of the throngs.

“Please depart from the arena as orderly as possible.”

The next few words from the announcer added to the anger, increasing the level of pandemonium.

“The game has been cancelled, with Detroit declared the winner.”

No further spark was needed to ignite the fans into a flaming frenzy. The crowds poured out of the Forum, their numbers adding to the masses outside the arena that were already rioting. Along St. Catherine Street, they smashed store windows and looted many of the shops. Everything not nailed down was either thrown or toppled. Bottles smashed against walls, lampposts, and street-signs. Phone booths were pushed over and many set afire. A newsstand was sending flames high into the night sky. Wires were cut, and streetlights shattered with rocks. The rioting crowds flowed along St. Catherine Street for a distance of almost twenty blocks. The scene resembled a war zone, the badly out-numbered police helpless to stop the invading army.

Jim guided Samantha cautiously along the street, careful not to trip over the debris that was strewn everywhere. During the next few hours, the police gradually restored order, although in a few of the laneways and alleys off St. Catherine Street, some of the fires burned until the early hours of the morning. Over a hundred rioters were detained by the police, and they laid formal charges against about sixty of them. The remainder melted into the darkness, some of them clutching stolen loot from the broken store windows.

The information quoted above is from the second book of the Toronto Trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin.” The novel is a murder/mystery that occurs in Toronto during the 1950s. A serial killer is on the loose in the laneways and ravines of the city, and one of detectives assigned to the case visits Montreal for a police seminar, taking his girls friend, who is involved in the sex trade, with him. They witness the riot in the Forum. The book deals with many of the social issues of the decade, and relates the history of the period, while telling a chilling murder/mystery. The book contains many archival photographs of Toronto.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Toronto

 

Listening to the radio as a child in the 1940s – The Lone Ranger, The Shadow etc.

After we returned home, my dad was listening to a music program on CKEY. We had no interest in the music, considering it to be “warbling for old folks”—“As Time Goes By” (sung by Rudy Vallee), and “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” (The Ink Spots). When Bing Crosby crooned his hit from two years earlier, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” we permanently tuned out. We were certain that the snow would soon arrive, so didn’t need to dream about it. We ignored the radio and instead examined the pictures in the Saturday newspaper’s comic section until the radio program finished. However, at 5:30 CKEY presented “The Shadow.” Now this was a program worthy of our attention.

Frank Readick introduced the show, and in a sinister voice, intoned, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!” Evil laughter followed, accompanied by ominous organ music resembling that of the “Phantom of the Opera.” Orson Wells read the story. His deep, rich voice related the tale of the crime-fighter Lamont Cranston, who wrapped a black cape around his body and became invisible to the naked eye. He possessed enormous strength, could defy gravity, speak all languages known to man, and unravel the most difficult codes. Lamont terrorized burglars, murders, and other dangerous criminals.

It was a thrilling broadcast, and spawned numerous books. Ken and I loved it all. Perhaps “The Shadow” might keep an eye on the “old sinners” at our church to keep them on the straight and narrow. He might even cook the goose of the big, bad wolf. One lives in hope!

Another program we loved was the “Lone Ranger” and his noble steed Silver. The Lone Ranger was a masked cowboy who struck fear into the hearts of evil men, righting injustices, as he roamed the old west with his sidekick Tonto. The soaring music of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” introduced the program. After the music climaxed, the narrator proclaimed, A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and hearty “Hi-yo Silver. In every episode, justice triumphed. At the end of the broadcast, above the clatter of galloping hooves, we heard Hi-yo Silver, away, as the Lone Ranger and Tonto departed the scene. Another voice, dripping with awe, whispered in hushed tones, Who was that masked man?

It’s a pity that real life does not contain such heroes.

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The passage quoted above is from the first book of the Toronto Trilogy, “Arse Over Teakettle.” The novel is the story of a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s, when the radio played a major role in everyone’s life. The novel is a heart-warming story of a young boy coming-of-age. As he and his friends roam the laneways and streets of their neighbourhood, they seek to know the secrets of the “big boys.” The anecdotes of their sexual explorations are particularly amusing. The book has stories of Sunnyside, The Toronto Islands, and the CNE during the 1940s. Many archival photos are included in the book.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Toronto

 

Remember the Toronto Island Ferries – the Bluebell, Primrose,and Trillium

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During the early decades of the twentieth century, the Toronto Island ferries were mostly named after flowers. During the 1920s, they provided an extra treat when baseball fans crossed the harbour to attend games at the stadium at Hanlan’s point. In that decade, two older boats remained in service, the Jasmine and the Luella.

The Bluebell was powered by side-paddles, the tall smokestack from its coal furnaces reaching high into the air. The steam from the boiler drove the huge pistons that rotated the paddles to provide momentum. It was a glorious manner to cross the harbour to the spacious parklands of the Toronto Islands.

My Uncle George Brown was one of the captains on the ferry. The picture of the ferry shown shown here, taken in August of 1943, depicts him on its top deck, near the wheelhouse. His daughter wrote the word, “Dad” on the picture. I remember crossing the harbour one evening with my family. My uncle allowed us to visit the wheelhouse. This entailed climbing a ladder that extended precariously over the water. I was seven years old, and it was a terrifying experience, but one that was not to be missed.

The only ferry of this era that survives today is the “Trillium.” It is the photo below, on the left.

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The information quoted above is from the first book of the Toronto Trilogy, “Arse Over Teakettle.” The novel is the story of a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s. It tells of his adventures on the Toronto Islands and Sunnyside, as well as the laneways and streets of the city. It is a humorous tale of a young boy’s coming-of-age during the war years, and his quest to learn the secrets of the “big boys.” The book contains many archival photographs of the city.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Toronto

 

Attending the movies in Toronto during the “golden age” of cinema

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As spring of 1943 gave way to summer, waves of heat spread across the city, causing the air-conditioned theatres to attract ever-increasing crowds. The Imperial Theatre (now the Canon/Pantages), the film “Star Spangled Rhythm” highlighted the talents of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Betty Hutton. At Shea’s Hippodrome Theatre, located on the site of the New City Hall of today, the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was playing, starring James Cagney.

At the Uptown, located at Bloor and Yonge Streets (the theatre now demolished was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in “It Ain’t Hay.” At the Royal Alexandra Theatre was a film with Hedy Lamarr, entitled “Ecstasy.” The “Royal Alex” rarely showed films, but these were tough times. The advertisements declared it as, The daring romance of a woman who craved love.

The above picture depicts the Imperial Theatre (now the Pantages/Canon) on Yonge Street, south of Dundas. Further north is the “Downtown Theatre” (now demolished). Though this photo is not from 1940s, it shows the magnificent marquee of the theatre.

Live theatre was also flourishing, although many performers were overseas entertaining the troops. At Maple Leaf Gardens, Sigmond Romberg and his concert orchestra appeared. He had composed the scores for great musicals such as “The Desert Song,” “Maytime, and “The Student Prince.” Tickets ranged from 60¢ to the outrageous price of $1.80. Patrons purchased tickets to see Andre Kostelanz at the Heintzman’s Box Office, near Yonge and Queen Streets. “The Modernaires” were at Casa Loma, where people danced the night away for the grand price of $2.00 a couple. If a person owned a car, and preferred outdoor dancing, there was The Pavilion (The Pav) at Cedar Beach at Musselman’s Lake, north of the city.

The passage quoted above is from the first book of the Toronto Trilogy, “Arse Over Teakettle.” The novel is the story of a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s, and the movie houses of the city play a major role in the story.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Toronto

 

Toronto’s old University Theatre

                      Ao 2018

                 The University when it opened in March 1949, Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 2108

            Map of 100 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 3L7

                                           Map  from Google, 2014

Shortly after World War II, Famous Players Corporation commenced planning for a movie theatre to be built at 100 Bloor Street West, in the street’s upscale retail section between Bay Street and Avenue Road. The excavation and the pouring of the cement foundations were completed on April 17, 1947.  On March 25, 1949 the University thrust wide its doors to an eager public. The architect had been A.G. Facey, who also designed the Nortown. The University Theatre’s smooth, rounded granite facade was sleek and modern, its lobby two-storeys in height, and its Art Moderne marquee towered high into the sky. Its auditorium contained approximately 1350 seats, installed by the Canadian Theatre Chair Company. It possessed Dolby sound and an enormously wide screen, ideal for screening epic films. However, despite the theatre’s size, it was said to be too intimate to be referred to as a “movie palace.” In a way, this was a tribute to the atmosphere created by the designer of the theatre’s interior, Eric W. Hounsom.

The film on opening day was “Joan of Arc,” starring Ingrid Bergman. Matinees tickets were 75 cents, but it was $1.20 to attend during the evening. A critic wrote, “The film spread itself like a colourful mediaeval tapestry over the screen . . . a pageant, rather than a re-creation of history . . . a spectacle rather than a drama.” Some felt that Bergman was too old to play the teenager heroine, Joan of Arc. Others said that perhaps the theatre was the real attraction, not the opening film.

My grandfather thought the theatre and the film were magnificent. He had been the night watchman during the theatre’s construction and appreciated the complimentary pass he received to view the film. However, the opening meant that he lost his job. My grandmother was relieved, as she thought him too old to be travelling downtown at night to the construction site.

I will never forget the University Theatre. As a teenager and as a young man, I enjoyed many excellent movies in it.” In 1956, I purchased an advanced-seating ticket to view “The Ten Commandments,” and in 1959 the film, “Ben-Hur.” In 1963 I saw “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Watching “love among the pyramids” was a great thrill. In the 1965-movie “Doctor Zhivago,” directed by David Lean, the winter scenes, filmed in Canada, were gorgeous. However, my rear-end almost froze. Lara’s theme did not compensate, although Julie Christie was “hot.” Despite my perceived sufferings at the University Theatre, I consider myself fortunate to have attended this magnificent venue.

In my mind, Charlton Heston was forever Moses or Judah Ben-Hur. Later, he played the role of Michelangelo in the 1965 film, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” based on the novel by Irving Stone. Why he became head of the “National Rifle Association” was always a mystery to me. In the movies, he represented valour and justice, but I was never able to find any justice in promoting unrestricted gun sales. Today, I wonder if conservative-minded Charlton Heston was ever disturbed by the fact that when he performed the role of Michelangelo, he was portraying a gay man.

Eventually, the economics of operating the theatre changed. In the 1980s, the manager of the University stated that even if another film came along such as “Apocalypse Now,” which had played for 52 weeks at the theatre, it was not possible to keep the University open. Eventually, it was offered for sale. The Toronto Historical Board attempted to have it designated a Heritage Building, but the request was denied.

When they locked its doors in 1986, a truly great movie auditorium was lost. Today, the theatre’s façade is part of a condominium. This is all that remains to remind Torontonians of its existence.  Great theatres such as the University can never be replaced. Our heritage buildings disappear, and it seems that very few lament their passing. Years later, when they demolished Loew’s Uptown, my sentiments were similar

                    881-339. on May 19, 1980

The University Theatre on May 19, 1980. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881-Fl.339

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Lobby of the theatre, photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, fl. 336

   G&M 135159

This photo dates from about 1950, but the two feature films on the marquee are from the 1930s. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Collection, 135159

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View of the auditorium from the rear of the balcony. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl.336 It. 18A

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The magnificent screen area of the University, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl. 336

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The auditorium from the front of the stage area, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl.336, It. 19A

Series 881, File 337

The lobby of the University, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl. 337

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The University was the first theatre in Toronto to screen Cinerama. It required three cameras and the theatre was renovated to accommodate its requirements.

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Tickets for Cinerama at the University Theatre. Source, City of Toronto Archives.

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Program for the special screening of “South Seas Adventure” at the University. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

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The facade of the University, which is all that remains of the theatre (August 2013).

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

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

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

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

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog.

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                 To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

 

 

 

 

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