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Nostalgia for Toronto’s past -There Never Was a Better time

10 Aug

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This painting of a dark winter evening at Yonge and Queen Streets evokes deep memories of my childhood, when I travelled downtown to Eaton’s. Christmas was only a week away, and the sight of Toyland on the fifth floor of the department floor was truly exciting. I scanned the rows of toys, choosing the ones that I hoped would be mine. I dreamt of the eventful morning when I would come downstairs and see the array of brightly packaged gifts under the Christmas tree.

Perhaps some of the images below will create a mood of nostalgia in you as well. For those who are too young to remembers the Toronto of old, perhaps the photos will create a desire to explore the city’s past.

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                             Remember riding on any of these streetcars

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It’s difficult to believe that Bay Street, looking north to the Old City Hall, ever appeared like this. Where’s the traffic?

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Was this how Toronto’s skyline appeared from the harbour ? Where are the condos?

My nostalgia for Toronto’s past made me realize that those who remembered the earlier decades of the city were disappearing from the scene. I decided to interview members of my family and record their stories before it was too late. Eventually, they formed the basis of a biographical book that I entitled “There Never Was a Better Time.” It tells of the adventures of my dad and his brother who immigrated to Canada from a small fishing village on coastal Newfoundland in 1921, the days prior to Confederation.

I faithfully recorded their impressions of the city – the Pantages and Shea’s Hippodrome Theatres, Sunnyside Beach and Amusement park, Centre Island and the baseball stadium at Hanlan’s Point, and the glorious CNE before it lost all its lustre. I chose to tell their story in the form of a novel, inventing dialogue and situations to enhance the story and bring the characters to life. At the end of each chapter, I informed the reader of the parts I invented and the parts that were true. 

In 1924, my dad’s brothers, parents and grandfather joined him in Toronto. The story became more involved as the seven brothers were turned loose in a city that their mother viewed as sinful and dangerous. The boy’s grandfather, a widower of many years, joined in the fun.

The quote below is from the book, “There Never was a better Time.” It tells about my dad and his brother working at the St. Lawrence Market in the days prior to Christmas in 1921. At the time, they were employed by the McNamara brothers, who owned a market garden located at Davenport and Bathurst Streets, where the TTC barns are located today.

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For the last few days before Christmas, 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. Though those events 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.

Author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

Author can be contacted at: tayloronhistory@gmail.com

The book can be purchased in soft cover or electronic editions. It is also available at Chapters/Indigo and on Amazon.com. An electronic editions is less that $4 on Kobo and Kindle. Follow the link:

There Never Was a Better Time: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000056586/THERE-NEVER-WAS-A-BETTER-TIME.aspx

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Toronto

 

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