On this morning of mornings, Tuesday, 8 May 1945, young boys feverishly hawked early editions of the newspapers, swarming streets, offices, hotels, factories, shops, and restaurants. Security staff at the Royal York Hotel smiled tolerantly as they removed the lads from the prestigious lobby. A few elderly guests hoped for a return to silence, as they reclined in the plush chairs beneath the ornate ceiling, and scanned their newspapers. They glanced disapprovingly at the youthful clerks behind the desk, who were laughing and hugging each other.
For the young employees, it was the most important moment of their lives. The extra large letters of the headline said it all—Unconditional Surrender—the words occupying half of the front page. Everyone was in the mood to celebrate. After five years, eight months, and six days, the long-awaited miracle had materialized. On the street outside the hotel, unlike the hotel lobby, pandemonium had already erupted.
People poured from buildings, crowds flowing into the streets and avenues. Fear of losing jobs because they had abandoned work was considered unimportant compared to the desire to celebrate. The Toronto Stock Exchange, which had opened at 10:00 a.m., closed at 10:45 a.m. In office buildings, workers grabbed any paper within reach and tossed it out the windows. In the streets below, the paper inundated the avenues like a snowstorm.
When employees descended to the street level, they saw that automobiles were motionless and drivers stymied. Bedlam reigned supremely. Streetcars were trapped among the shouting, dancing, flag-waving throngs. Individuals improvised their own ways to celebrate. Three sailors smeared generous amounts of lipstick on their grinning mouths, marched arm-in-arm, and kicked the can-can as they pranced northward up Yonge Street.
An elderly air force veteran imitated “Herr Hitler” as he goose-stepped with a washbasin on his head, a finger under his nose to imitate a mousy moustache. Young women grabbed sailors in uniform and kissed them fervently. The service men did not object to being outrageously molested. It was nice to know that being “politically correct” was not always necessary.
A policeman attempted to restrain the crowd, only to have his white-gloved hand grasped by an elderly woman and kissed repeatedly. Five motorcycle cops gave up, parked their vehicles, and stood on the seats as they shouted and waved. Groups of young men climbed on the roofs of the streetcars, and festooned the trolley wires and poles with the ticker tape that the jubilant workers had thrown from office windows. Paper drifted across the streets in billowing waves. On the east side of Yonge Street, it was knee deep. Just when people thought that the flood of ticker tape had slowed, a deluge of orange paper descended, its source a mystery. Yonge Street between Front and King Streets was the “confetti belt.” The hydro pole in front of 86 Wellington St. East, became the most decorated in the city. No one knew why. It almost appeared to sag under the weight of the white streamers, while celebrants danced around it singing, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” The following day, people inquired if it had been the address of a Liquor store, but it had not.
Shortly before the noon hour, two parades, one on Bay Street and another on Yonge, both several blocks in length, spontaneously marched toward the City Hall. The Bay Street parade lustily sang a throaty rendition of, “Roll out the Barrels.” It was as if an unseen hand had choreographed the musical extravaganza. Within five or ten minutes, the space in front of the civic building was filled to capacity and beyond. The cenotaph was a granite ship amid a seething sea of humanity. A small group of inebriated sailors chorused enthusiastically:
Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.
What the hell do we care,
We still have our underwear.
Hail, hail the gang’s all here,
What the hell do we care now.
The riotous song was soon drowned by the music blaring from the loudspeakers mounted on the stage at the top of the City Hall steps, playing the song, “Anchors Away.” The crowd reluctantly parted when a torchbearer arrived, descended from the top of the stairs, and ignited an improvised victory flame beside the cenotaph. Mayor Saunders delivered a short address, and then, pleaded with workers to return to work. However, his pleas were ignored. He said that the following day, Tuesday 8 May, would officially be a holiday―VE Day. The crowds were in no mood to wait. They joyously continued singing and dancing.
The above is an excerpt from “Arse Over Teakettle,” book one of the The Toronto Trilogy. It is a story of a family struggling during the war years in Toronto. The tale centres around a young boy, Tom Hudson, who yearns to know the secrets of the “big boys.” It is a heart warming tale of coming-of-age. Though the background of the story is 1940s Toronto, his experiences and problems are timeless, some of his adventurers humorous and others heart-breaking. The odd characters that live on his street are colourful, perhaps the most interesting, his friend “Shorty.”
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