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Category Archives: historic Yonge Street

Toronto’s Colonial Tavern – demolished

            1973 Yonge St. Mall, Tor. Archives, Series 377, It. 782  colonial_feature1[1]

The Colonial Tavern during the summer of 1973, when Yonge Street was closed to vehicle traffic to create a pedestrian mall. In the photo, the  facade of the Colonial appears curved, but the other pictures reveal that it was actually straight (see photos at end of post). Photo from the Toronto Archives, Series 377, Item 782

The Colonial Tavern at 201-203 Yonge Street opened in 1947, between two historic bank buildings, opposite today’s Eaton Centre, In its heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, the tavern was one of the most popular music venues in Toronto. In the 1940s and 1950s, Yonge Street was not only the “main drag,” but was the centre of the city’s nightlife and entertainment. The section of Yonge between College and Queen was where Hollywood-style bright lights, flashing neon signs, and boisterous crowds created an exuberance that was unequalled in Canada. The names of the popular night spots on Yonge from those decades still reverberate after all these years—Friar’s Tavern, Le Coq D’ Or, Steele’s Tavern, Zanzibar, Edison Hotel, Brown Derby, and the jewel in the crown, the Colonial. The only other popular jazz joints were the Town Tavern (16 Queen Street East), and George’s Spaghetti House at 290 Dundas Street East.

In the 1890s, the site where the Colonial opened was the location of the Athlete Hotel, which in 1918 was renamed the Scholes Hotel. It was purchased by Goodwin (Goody) and Harvey Lichenberg in 1947, renovated, and opened as the Colonial Tavern. It was the second establishment, after the Silver Rail, to receive a liquor license from the LLBO, following the relaxing of Ontario’s liquor laws. The Colonial was a jazz and blues venue, which defied the norms of the times when it booked an all-black dance band group—Cy McLean and the Rhythm Rompers. Cy was a pianist by profession, who formed a band in 1937. During the swing era of the 1940s, it was Canada’s only all-black orchestra. When it played at the Colonial, it was its first performance in a mainstream venue.

During the 1950s, the Colonial was Toronto’s main music venue. However, on July 24, 1960, a disastrous fire gutted it. Two years were required to rebuild, and when it reopened in 1961, the building that had been Scholes Hotel, was replaced with a structure that was only two storeys in height. It was now more intimate, the tables and chairs grouped closely around the stage. The ceiling was low, but there was sufficient height to accommodate a balcony. The singers that performed at the Colonial were among the greatest names of jazz and the blues—Miles Davis, Carmen McRae, Thelonius Monk, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzie Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan.

In 1971, the first Yonge Street Mall was created. Because the street was closed to vehicle traffic, sidewalk cafes dotted the strip, the Colonial’s cafe being one of the most popular. The Litchenbergs hired twenty extra employees to handle the crowds. The mall experience was recreated again in 1972, 1973, and for eight weeks in 1974. It was during the 1970s that I visited the Colonial. I was too enthralled with the performance on stage to remember many details about its interior. However, I do recall that it was a cozy venue, where no seat was very far from the performers.  

By the mid-1970s, jazz was declining and the Colonial became more or less a discotheque. In the late-1970s, the basement of the Colonial was rented to various punk bands such as Teenage Head and Vilestones. The downstairs space was referred to by various names, the most well known being the “Colonial Underground.” During this decade the legal drinking age was 21, and the basement venue was a magnet for underage teenagers who wanted to defy the laws, the most commonly feared words being, “Let me see your ID.” Though the Colonial featured punk bands during these years, it is today remembered as a jazz and blues venue. Also during the 1970s, Wayland Flowers and his puppets—Madame and Crazy Mary—performed at the Colonial. Flowers was later to play at the Royal York’s Imperial Room. 

The Colonial was sold In the late-1970s and during the years ahead, it slowly deteriorated. It mainly featuring rock bands and exotic waitresses. As well, the famous Yonge Street strip, where the venue was located, also started to become seedy. It was during these years that the clubs, bars, and taverns began to close. The murder of a young shoeshine boy in 1977 finally created the impetus for the City to clean up the street. However, the sanitized version of “the strip” never achieved the buzz and excitement of former decades, as the music clubs had disappeared.

The Colonial lingered on, but it had lost its lustre. Robert Fulford wrote in the Toronto Star in 1987 that the famous jazz venue offered bad food, surly waitresses, and patrons that were loud and drunk. He also stated that the low ceiling made the space feel cramped and that it appeared as if the space was a tunnel with a bulge in the middle. The tables close to the stage, he stated, suffered from music that was too loud, and the tables at the back gave a person the sense of over-hearing the music, rather than hearing it. However, Fulford grudgingly admitted that none of negative features mattered, “because of the quality of the music.” The same year that Fulford visited the Colonial, it permanently shuttered its doors.

The site was purchased by investors that intended to reopen it as a hotel, but the plans never materialized. In 1982, the City bought the property to build a space that would connect Massey Hall with the Elgin Theatre, forming a theatre complex in the heart of Toronto. However, in 1987, due to a lack of funds, City Council voted to demolish the Colonial and create a parkette. Another great idea never saw the light of day.

Edward Keenan wrote an article about the city in the Toronto Star on September 22, 2016: “And the thing about big plans with no money behind them is that they inspire hope and then gather dust on a shelf for decades and then inspire cynicism about the next big plans that come along.” He was referring to the plans to construct a public park over the rail lands, but the same might be said of the idea for a theatre complex in the centre of the city.

scholes hotel c. 1945, Fonds 1257, S1057, Item 537  [1]

The charming Scholes Hotel in 1945, where the Colonial opened in 1947, the two historic bank buildings on either side of it. This is the building that was gutted by fire on July 24, 1960. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 537.

mid- 1970s, F124, fl002,id0066  colonial[1] - Copy

The rebuilt Colonial Tavern that reopened in 1961, as it appeared in the mid-1970s. Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 002, id 0066.

                     Series 377, Itm. 545 colonial_copy-225x300[1].png

The Colonial and its patio in the 1970s, when Yonge Street was closed to create a mall. Toronto Archives, Series 377, Item 545. 

f0124_fl0003_id0123[1] - Copy     

The Colonial in the 1980s, when it possessed a rather dreary facade. Toronto Archives Fonds 0124, File 0003, id 0123. 

1986-  f0124_fl0003_id0152[1]

The site in December 1987, after City Council voted to demolish the Colonial. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1024, File 0003, id 0123.

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The site where the Colonial once stood, between the two historic bank buildings on Yonge Street. The construction of the Massey Tower occupies most of the site. Photo was taken on September 19, 2016. 

To discover more about Yonge Street when it was the musical heart of Toronto—a link to Edward Keenan’s article in the Toronto Star on September 29, 2016.

torontostar.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx?issue…33…

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

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

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a direct link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Frank Stollery store-demolished 2015

1970s  Fonds 124, File 2, It. 109  [1]

Frank Stollery’s store at Yonge and Bloor Streets in the 1970s. Toronto Archives F124, S 1465, fl 0685, it. 109

During the mid-1950s, I was a teenager and worked for one summer at the Imperial Bank at Yonge and Bloor Streets. Each day, on my lunch hour, if I strolled south on Yonge Street, I passed by Stollerys and gazed in the display windows. However, I never ventured inside the store as I knew that the prices were beyond my means. My employment at the bank was $28 per week. At the time, I knew nothing about Stollerys’ long and distinguished history in the city of Toronto’s retail trade.

Frank Stollery was born in Yorkville in 1879, during the days when it was a semi-rural community, surrounded by fields and farms. When he was a boy, residents of Yorkville journeyed to Toronto via the horse-drawn streetcar service on Yonge Street, its terminal being King Street near the St. Lawrence Market. Frank quit school when he was 14, which was not uncommon in that day. He found employment in a shop where he learned the skills required to cut men’s shirts and ties. Being adventurous, he relocated to Montreal and by age 20 was a foreman in a Montreal clothing factory, earning $12 per week. At age 21, he joined the Royal Canadian Regiment, but remained in service only a year. Returning to Toronto in 1901, he borrowed $1000 from his father and opened a haberdashery shop on Yonge Street, south of Bloor. A few years later, he relocated his business to the southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets (1 Bloor Street West). He rented the property, but in 1928, purchased the site and commenced renovations. He also purchased the building to the south of his shop and incorporated it into the store.

However, in 1929, the City expropriated 20 feet on the north side of his shop to widen Bloor Street. This essentially created a situation in which Stollerys and many of the other businesses on the south side of Bloor Street were unable to operate, until the widening had been completed. Undaunted, Stollery demolished a portion of his shop behind the hoarding, and began the construction of a new structure. However, he continued operating in the remainder of the premises until the new building was completed. 

The attractive new structure opened about 1930 or 1931. It possessed two-storeys, with large display windows on the ground floor. The windows on the second floor were topped with rounded Roman arches, and the roof possessed red tiles. The decorative stone carvings on the facade reflected Art Deco, with modern Italian trends. The store’s display windows became famous as they were meticulously arranged to feature the most up-to-date styles of expensive suits, jackets, raincoats, ties, shirts, and pyjamas.

Frank retired in 1968, selling the business to his son Arthur, and Ed Whaley, each owning 50 percent of the enterprise. Whaley managed the store, while Frank remained a silent partner. Whaley renovated the store and also leased the building to the immediate south, including it as part of the shop. When the business was at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, it employed 100 people and it was assets were valued at $30 million.

Frank Stollery died on January 1, 1971 at his home at 32 Teddington Park Avenue, near Yonge Street, seven blocks north of Lawrence Avenue. In the years ahead, due to internal business problems, the store became neglected, the display windows becoming rather shoddy. By the second decade of the 21at century, the value of the land where the shop was located was astronomical. It was sold and quickly demolished in 2015, its demolition accomplished within a single weekend.

Sources: “Toronto Architecture—A City Guide,” by Patricia McHugh—  www.thestar.com—www.mountpleasantgroup.com (Mike Filey)— www.theglobeandmail.com—torontoist.com

1912-  f1231_it1691[1]

The camera is pointed at the southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets in 1912. The Frank Stollery men’s shop is on the corner. The photo provides a good view of the west side of Yonge Street, south of Bloor in the second decade of the 20th century. Toronto Archives, F 1231, Item 1691.

1922, Fonds-1034-Item-816-1024x574[1] 

Frank Stollery’s shop in 1922, the north facade of the premises facing Bloor Street. The windows have awnings that sheltered potential customers from the summer sun. Sadly, few modern stores offer this feature. Toronto Archives, F 1034, item 816.

1923,  f1231_it2089[1]

Stollery’s in 1923, shadows indicating that it was taken in the morning. The policeman operates a traffic sign as there was no stop lights. Toronto Archives, F1231, Item 2089.

Fonds 1244, Item 7393

 Stollery’s store in 1928, when the shop to the south of it was being incorporated. To accomplish this, half of the old store was demolished. The photo also contains Peter Witt streetcars that began service in Toronto in 1921. Toronto Archives, F1244, item 7393.

1970s  Fonds 124, File 2, It. 109  [1] 

The camera is pointed toward the northwest corner of Yonge and Bloor in the 1970s. This is the building that opened in 1930-1931. The red-tiled roof, second-storey rounded windows and the ground-floor display windows are visible. Toronto Archives, F124, File 2, Item 109.

Series 1465, File 614, Item 25

Gazing south on Yonge Street from Bloor Street in the 1980s. A third storey has been added, its facades constructed of glass. Toronto Archives, S 1465, fl0614, Item 002.

DSCN1945

Photograph of the southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor in 2013. The camera looks south on Yonge.

DSCN1944

                                Frank Stollery’s store in 2013.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shops, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

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Toronto’s Yonge Street Arcade (demolished)

1885- pictures-r-1494[1]

      The Yonge Street Arcade in 1885, Toronto Public Library r- 1494

When the Yonge Street Arcade was built, it presented a revolutionary concept in the retailing history of Toronto. It was inspired by the 19th-century glass-roofed gallerias of Europe, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy, being one of the prime examples. By the 1880s, Toronto’s retail trade was increasingly dominated by three highly successful stores — the Golden Lion, Eaton’s, and Simpsons. Smaller merchants had difficulty competing as there were few downtown rental spaces that were affordable. The Canadian Loan and Investment Company realized that this presented an opportunity for a profitable enterprise. It purchased land on the east side on Yonge Street, at 131-139 Yonge Street, opposite Temperance Street. The site extended east from Yonge to Victoria Street, where its postal address was 18-26 Victoria Street.

On the land, they proposed erecting a shopping arcade with multiple small-sized retail spaces. Charles A. Walton, an architect born in Leeds, England, was hired to design the building. He created a four-story structure on Yonge Street, its facade of red bricks and Ohio sandstone. Similar to most 19th-century architecture, it contained classical ornamentation, including Corinthian pilasters (three-side columns). On the north and south ends of the facade facing Yonge Street, atop the fourth floor, there were small ornate towers, and a taller tower in the centre position. The enormous arched entranceway, two storeys in height, led to a galleria behind the four-storey structure.

The galleria, 267 feet in depth, was three storeys in height. The roof was crowned by a cast-iron frame that supported sheets of plate glass. It was 35 feet wide, and soared 120 feet above the ground floor. It flooded the interior with natural light, the building’s steam heating protecting shoppers from Toronto’s bitter winter weather. The galleria was similar in concept to the Eaton’s Centre and Brookfield Place of today, although the latter two have the benefit of air conditioning.

The Yonge Street Arcade was the first structure in Toronto that resembled a shopping mall, though it was much smaller than those of today. Construction commenced in 1882, and it was officially opened in the summer of 1884 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the city’s incorporation (1834-1884). The ground floor contained 32 shops. Wide staircases and hydraulic elevators permitted shoppers to access the second floor, where there were 20 more shops, connected by a balcony. On the third floor, there were artists’ studios and an assortment of offices. The shops were only 12 feet in width, although those on the first floor possessed full basements. The leases signed by the retailers stipulated that shops were not allowed to duplicate products and items that other merchants sold. This was to ensure as much variety as possible for shoppers.

I remember visiting the Yonge Street Arcade in the early 1950s as there was a philatelic (stamp) shop on the ground floor, near the Yonge Street entrance. I was an avid stamp collector at the time. Collecting stamps was a highly popular hobby in those years, as it provided an opportunity to collect authentic souvenirs from countries throughout the world. This hobby has now been eclipsed by more modern collectables, although philatelic shows still exist. 

By 1950, because the Arcade had not been well maintained, it was deteriorating. In 1953, there were two fires in the building, their causes never determined. In January 1954, merchants were ordered to vacate the premises. It was not demolished until 1955, when the site became a paved parking lot. In 1960, a ten-storey building was erected on the site. It contained retail shops on the ground floor, and above them, mainly offices. In 2008, vertical rows of LED light were installed on its west facade. 

It is a pity that Toronto lost this historic structure to the wrecker’s ball.

Sources: www.blogTo.com   torontoist.com  thenandnowblogspot.com  William Dendy, “Lost Toronto”

LRJ81SGL.png

Google map of the site of the Yonge Street Arcade on Yonge Street.

      1884- pictures-r-1520[1]

A booklet prepared for the official opening of the Arcade in 1884. Toronto Public Library, r- 1520

1885- pictures-r-1493[1]

Interior view of the Arcade in 1885. The gentlemen in the photo are standing on the balcony that connected the 20 shops on the second-floor level. On the ground floor, the Yonge Street entrance is visible at the mall’s west end. Toronto Public Library, r-1493.

Ont. Archives, 1911-1913- I0009549[1]

View looking north on Yonge Street from near Adelaide Street c. 1912. The four-storey Arcade building on Yonge Street is visible, and behind it, the cast-iron three-storey galleria with the glass roof. To the north, in the far upper left-hand corner of the photo, is the Confederation Life Building at Yonge and Richmond Streets, constructed on 1890.  Ontario Archives, 10009549.

btw, 1911-1913, Ont Archives I0009551[1]

The camera is pointed south on Yonge, from near Richmond Street, between the years 1911 and 1913. Ontario Archives, 10009551.

1952- pictures-r-1478[1]

View of the ground-floor level of the Arcade in 1952,Toronto Public Library r-1478.

1952- pictures-r-1480[1]

View of the ground-floor level of the Arcade in 1952, Toronto Public Library, r-1480

                           1952- pictures-r-1481[1]

View looking south on Yonge Street in 1952. Toronto Public Li8brary r-1481.

1952 - pictures-r-1484[1]

View of the Arcade, gazing east from Temperance Street in 1952. Toronto Public Library, r-1484.

DSCN0840

Gazing east on Temperance Street at the ten-storey building that was constructed on the site of the Yonge Street Arcade. On the left is the restored Dineen Building, on the northwest corner of Yonge and Temperance Streets. Photo taken on July 26, 2016.

DSCN0835

Gazing north on Yonge Street from Adelaide Street. The ten-storey white office building is on the site once occupied by the Yonge Street Arcade. The Confederation Life Building can be seen to the north of it. Photo taken July 26, 2016.

Photo of the Yonge Street Arcade taken by Luis Fernandes on October 8, 2010. View looks east on Temperance Street.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

Tags:

Fond Memories of Sam the Record Man

                View of Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street – June 23, 1971

Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in 1971, Toronto Archives, F1526, fl 0003, Item 0025

My earliest memories of purchasing records from Sam Sniderman’s store date from 1958-1959. I lived in the west end of the city, but was working in the British American Oil Company building at Bay and College Streets. I was collecting 78 rpm recordings of brass bands, particularly those in Great Britain. Sam’s was one of the few shops that stocked these disks, as they were not exactly mainstream merchandise. On my way home from work, I sometimes boarded a westbound College Street streetcar and travelled to Sam’s store at 714 College Street, three blocks east of Ossington Avenue. The store was rather jumbled and slightly run down, but the record collection was fantastic.

The store on College Street that I visited was named, “Sniderman Radio Sales and Service.” It had been established by Sam Sniderman’s father in 1929. In 1937, Sam began selling records in his father’s store. After long-playing vinyl disks were introduced in 1948, record sales expanded greatly, and by the late 1950s, Sam’s store had one of the largest collections of recordings in the world. Its main competitor was A&A Records on Yonge Street. Sam Sniderman realized that to truly be able to compete with A&A, he required a downtown location. As a result, in 1959, he rented space on the ground floor of Yolles Furniture Store at 291 Yonge Street, on the west side of the street, south of Dundas Street. However, he did not remain on the site very long.

In 1961, Sam relocated his business to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The signage on the front of the store displayed an huge thermometer and barometer, the colour red dominating the display. Sam’s was in the heart of the movie theatre district, where foot-traffic was constant all day and continued into the late evening hours. People who attended the large theatres such as the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and those who visited the smaller Biltmore, Savoy or Downtown Theatres, often dropped into Sam’s or A&A’s before journeying home. The shops remained open until midnight, the late-evening hours being the busiest. In 1967, annual sales at Sam’s topped $2 million, the equivalent of about $15 million today.

The year 1969 was an historic year in the history of the store, and is one of the reasons that Sam’s is so well remembered today. Wishing to attract more attention to his enterprise, he hired the best-known sign company in the city – Brothers Markle. It created the iconic sign that became a favourite of many Torontonians. Requiring two months to complete, the neon vinyl sign resembled a huge record disk, approximately 7 metres by 5 metres. The neon tubes flashed on and off, creating the effect that the record was spinning on a turntable. When Sam took over the building to the north of his store, the signage was extended to include another flashing record disk. This brought the total size of the sign to 15 metres by 10 metres. It was visible to everyone who nightly strolled “the strip,” as that section of Yonge Street was known.  The brightly-lit sign became an integral part of the scene.

During the 1970s and 1980s the record business was flooded with sales, and Sam’s rode the crest of the wave. The store’s brand was franchised throughout Canada; at the height of the popularity of LP records, there were 130 outlets. Sam encouraged vocal artists to perform in his store on Yonge Street, and through these events he promoted the careers of artists such as Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Guess Who, and Joni Mitchell. Sam continually expanded, occupying the bank building on the corner on the northeast corner of Yonge and Gould, to the south of his store.

However, during the 1990s, sales began to diminish. Sam’s went bankrupt in 2001, but was resurrected in 2002 by his two sons—Bobby and Jason. However, they were unsuccessful in restoring the business as even CD sales were dropping due to the internet. The store permanently closed in in February 2007.

Ryerson University purchased Sam’s and A&A, along with others buildings in the same block. They were demolished to create the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, with the understanding that the iconic Sam’s sign would be resurrected and placed on the new building, since it was designated an historic artefact under the Ontario Heritage Act. It was never installed, as the university claimed that the sign did not suit the modern style of their new structure. However, I sometimes wonder if the condition in the purchase agreement was truly impressed on the architect. It now appears that the university is planning to place the sign above a city-owned building that overlooks Yonge/Dundas Square. Viewed from atop a tall building, its impact would be non-existent, especially with the enormous number of signs that overlook Dundas Square.

Sam died in September 2012 at age 94. He made a wonderful contribution to the life of Toronto and is fondly remembered for much more than the neon sign he left behind.

Sources: news.library.Ryerson.ca—www.globeandmail.ca—torontoist.com—www.thestar.com

Canada Archives e010991186-v8[1]  Can.  Ar. Stompin' Tom Connors e010981574-v8[1]

A cut-out showing Sam Sniderman (Canada Archives, 01099186-v8) and Sam with Stompin’ Tom Connors (Canada Archives, 0110981574-v8)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

View looking south at the east side of Yonge Street. The Edison Hotel is visible on the southeast corner of Yonge and Gould Streets. It was demolished after its north facade collapsed into the street. Toronto Archives, F124, fl 0003, id 0197.

mid 1980s s1465_fl0020_id0023[1]

Sam’s in the 1980s, when it was one door south of A&A’s. It did not yet occupy Thriftt’s, which separated the two stores. View gazes east from Elm Street toward the east side of Yonge Street. Toronto Archives, F1465, fl0020, id 0023

Dec. 30, 2007, Urban Toronto, Edward Skira,  [1]

Sam the Record Man on December 30, 2007, after it closed for the final time. A&A’s had already disappeared. Photo from Urban Toronto, by Edward Skira.

Series 1465, File 48, Item 1

An aerial view gazing eastward, the east side on Yonge Street in the foreground, showing A&A Records and Sam the Record Man. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl 0048, id 0001

site of A&A. west to Yonge, 2013

Gazing west toward Yonge Street at the former site of A&A and Sam’s, the construction of the Ryerson Student learning Centre in progress. The low-rise buildings in the background are on the west side of Yonge Street.

DSCN9146

The Ryerson Student Learning Centre on the east side of Yonge Street, north of Gould Street, in 2015. It is where A&A and Sam’s once stood. Personally, I believe that it is architecturally magnificent, but is not appropriate for this section of Yonge Street. It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.

Below is another viewpoint on the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre, written by Luis Fernandes.

Continuing to read your Toronto blog, I came upon your article on Sam the Record Man. At the end of the article as the Ryerson Student Learning Centre replaced the iconic buildings you say, “It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.”

I agree in principle with your sentiments. Some time in the future, the citizens of Toronto will regret demolishing those buildings.

However let me provide an alternative point of view to the situation– I have to mention that I have been working at Ryerson for 20 years, after having graduated with a degree– and what follows is insider information, so to speak.

Whenever anyone asked for directions to Ryerson, instead of telling them the street intersection it was on, the most accurate answer was to say, “It’s behind Sam the Record Man”– because everyone knew where Sam’s was. I often gave this direction when asked.

When Sheldon Levy become president of Ryerson, he found out about this “direction” and made it his mission to change this “2nd-class perception” of Ryerson’s place by giving the University a more prominent footprint on Yonge Street.

As a result, people no longer ask for directions to Ryerson anymore. It’s a shame that so much history had to be traded for this recognition. 

A link to a post about A&A Records: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/fond-memories-of-a-a-records-demolished/

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in May, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly use the link:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: ,

Fond Memories of A and A Records (demolished|)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

In the 1950s, “A&A Records” and “Sam the Record Man,” two stores on Yonge Street, were an integral part of my teenage years. They were the largest and most important retail distributors of vinyl recordings in Toronto. They eventually franchised, allowing outlets to be opened across Canada under their corporate names. A&A and Sam’s were multi-million-dollar businesses in the days when 33 1/3 rpm (revolutions per minute) records were the most common recording format.

In my pre-teen years in the 1940s, music was recorded on 78 rpm disks, made of a brittle material of shellac resin. First introduced in 1898, they were played on wind-up gramophones. After electricity was introduced, record players replaced gramophones and though the sound quality improved in the decades ahead, 78s remained the standard format for recording music. A single song was on one side of the disk, and another on the reverse side, the total playing time being about 3-4 minutes.

In 1947, smaller size records (45 rpm) became available, which were sold in paper jackets. Though not as large as the 78s, they extended the playing time due to their smaller grooves. However, record sales exploded in 1948 when the industry introduced long-playing records (33 1/3 rpm), manufactured of vinyl plastic. These were sold in cardboard jackets. Many retail outlets opened to accommodate the demand for these long-playing records.

Before the internet was invented, in the dark distant decades of yesteryear, Toronto’s movies houses were the centres of entertainment. Located in almost every every community throughout the city, they were within walking distance of almost every households. In my pre-teen years, I faithfully attended movie matiness every Saturday afternoon and was thrilled by the heroes of the silver screen. When I entered my teen years, my parents finally allowed me to travel downtown to the great movie palaces of the city — Tivoli, Shea’s Hippodrome, Imperial, Odeon Carlton, and Loew’s Downtown (now the Elgin). When I wanted to see more than one feature film, for the same price as attending the larger theatres, I visited the Biltmore, Rio, Coronet (Savoy) or the Downtown. Most of the downtown theatres, whether a movie palace or a run-down dive, were within walking distance of Yonge and Dundas, so when I attended a theatre on Yonge Street, I always visited Sam the Record Man and A&A Records. They were located near the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets, which was only one block north of Dundas Street.

The endless displays of records at both stores were amazing. It was said that at its height, Sam’s had almost a million records in his store. Although this might have been an exaggeration, I can verify that the selection was enormous. There were multiple aisles, on either side of them, long rows of counters, with large boxes on them. This was where the records (in their jackets) were stored. Cardboard dividers, with labels protruding above the record jackets (covers), labelled the type of records in the section. They were grouped according to the vocalist, groups, type of music, band, classical, orchestra, country of origin, style of music etc. Recordings were available from all over the world.

As a teenager, I spent countless hours browsing through the various sections of these two shops. I was always amazed at the expertise of their staffs, as no matter what type of record you enquired about, they knew where to direct you. After you made your selection, you took your choice to the cashier at the front of the store. We always looked for bargains, since discounts of 10% to 20% were common on some items. The stores stayed open until midnight, and also remained open on Sundays, in violation of the Lord’s Day Act. The Boxing Day sales were famous, with hundreds of people lining up outside the stores before they opened.

I remember that I sometimes saw a musical at either the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and then, purchased the sound track recording at Sam’s or A&A’s. Sometimes, I had already bought the Broadway version of the musical, before the movie of the show had been filmed. Perhaps one or two of the cardboard record-jackets below of Broadway productions will create a few fond memories. They were all available at A&A’s and Sam’s.

DSCN9711  DSCN9712

DSCN9713  DSCN9715

DSCN9718  DSCN9719

A&A Records

In Toronto, Alice Kenner and her husband Mac owned a building at 351 Yonge Street. About the year 1945, with the assistance of Alice’s brother, Aaron, the store opened a book shop. They named it A&A Book Store, using the initial consonant of their first names. It was located on the east side of the street, opposite Elm Street. During the early-1950s, because of the increasing popularity of the new LP records, they added a record section. By the 1960s, record sales became the major portion of their business.

Their main competitor in the city was Sam Sniderman’s store on College Street. To compete with Sam, A&A Records offered special discounts on some recordings, door opening specials, and reduced prices on their Boxing Day sales. A&A carried many types of music, including popular, imported, and classical. The company eventually sold franchises that were located in cities across Canada.

In September 1961, Sam Sniderman (Sam the Record Man) relocated his store to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The two competitors were now almost side by side. This was convenient for customers, as they were able to browse the city’s two largest record shops in a single visit. In 1971, Alice and Mac sold their business. The company that bought it expanded the number of franchises and by 1990, there were 260 of them across the country. However, the company went bankrupt in 1993.

Sources: news.library.ryerson.ca/musiconyonge 

For a link to a post about “Sam the Record Man”:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/fond-memories-of-sam-the-record-man/

looking east on Elm, Dec. 16,  1952  s0372_ss0058_it2379[1]

Gazing east on Elm Street toward Yonge Street on December 16, 1952. A&A Records in visible on the east side of Yonge. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0058, Item 2379.

Tor. Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 15 1]

A similar view looking east on Elm Street. Barbarian’s Steak House is on the right-hand (south) side of Elm Street, where there are Canadian flags. For a link to the history of Barbarian’s, https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/torontos-architectural-gems1860s-houses-on-elm-streetbarbarians-steak-house/ Photo of Elm Street from the Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, S 1465, File 20, Item 15.

         TPL. 1967  ra35-2[1]

A&A Records at 351 Yonge Street in 1967, Toronto Public Library, ra 35-2

           F1526, File 3, It.25  rec[1]

A&A Records when Yonge Street was closed to traffic for a pedestrian Mall (likely the first Yonge Street mall, in 1972). Toronto Archives, F1526, File 3, Item 25.

Tor. Archives, S1465, File 618, It. 33  [1]

Undated photo (likely the 1980s) of A&A Records, photo from the Toronto Archives, S1465, File 618, Item 33

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

Toronto’s first brick home— built by Quetton St. George

1885, pictures-r-2655[1]

The Quetton St. George House on King Street in 1885, after its brick facades had been covered with stucco. Toronto Public Library, r-2655.

Few personalities from the early days of the town of York (Toronto) possess such an interesting background as that of Laurent Quetton St. George (born, Laurent Quet). He built York’s first brick house on the northeast corner of Frederick and King Streets, between the years 1807 and 1811. Today, the address of the site is 204 King East.

Laurent Quet (Laurent Quetton St. George) was born in France in 1771, his family a part of the minor nobility who were merchants and served in the military. When the French Revolution began in 1789, at age 18, he fought for the King of France. In 1791, he voluntarily went into exile in England, where he joined a guerrilla group of Frenchmen who had fled their native land. Later the same year, he returned to France, serving under the command of Comte de Puisaye. The Comte’s forces were defeated in 1793 and Quetton St. George returned to England. In 1796, he anglicised his name and commenced signing it as Quetton St. George, rather than Laurent Quet.

In 1798, the British Crown gave Comte de Puisaye a land grant in York County in Upper Canada, about 26 miles north of York. The farmland was on either side of Yonge Street, where Elgin Mills Road is located today. Puisaye’s intention was to found a colony loyal to the French king, and gave Quetton St. George a parcel of the land. However, by 1802, the colony collapsed as many of the colonists had returned to Europe. They discovered Canadian winters too harsh.

In partnership with another French officer, Quetton became a general merchant, importing goods and trading them for furs with the Mississauga Indians. In 1802, they relocated their business to Niagara-on-the-Lake, but by the end of the year, they moved their headquarters to York. The town’s location was advantageous for their enterprise as it was situated on the lake, allowing easy access to the shipping routes necessary for importing goods.

Next, St. George ended his business partnership and became the sole proprietor. He commenced selling supplies to the provincial government in York, as well as to the British army. Much of his income was soon derived from these sources, under the business name of “Quetton St. George and Company.” In the years ahead, in partnership with various businessmen, he established branches in Amherstburg, Niagara, Kingston and Dundas. In York, his chief rivals in the retail trade were Alexander Wood and William Allen. However, despite his success, St. George was never fully embraced by the elite of York. It has been suggested that this was because many of them owed him money that they were unable to repay.

In 1807, Quetton began courting Anne Powell, the daughter of William Drummer Powell, a prominent citizen of York. Her mother considered Quetton St. George “an adventurer” and unworthy of her daughter. To improve his standing in York, St. George decided to erect a brick house, the first such building in the town. At the time, all the dwellings were of wood, in a town of only about 700 residents. York did not yet extend west of Yonge Street or north of Lot Street (today’s Queen Street), so a brick house was viewed as a positive sign.

The site of the house was to be on the north side of King Street, where St. George owned three building lots. Thus, it was to be situated on the town’s main commercial street and most prestigious residential area. The digging of the foundations began in 1807, and it is thought that the red bricks for the structure were made from clay dug on the site. This is disputed by some reference sources as there were professional brick-makers in York at the time, as York’s first legislative assembly had been constructed of bricks in 1797. The house was completed in 1810, or early-1811 at the latest. However, he was never allowed to marry Anne.

St. George’s house was designed by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in the Georgian style, its symmetrical facade containing nine rectangular windows facing King Street. The structure was basically a rectangular box with simple unadorned lines, a low hip roof, and a portico (porch) on its south side. The porch was in the Greek style, it roof supported by two pairs of slender columns, topped with Ionic scrolls. The portico was likely added a few years after the house was built.

It is thought that in addition to a mason, a skilled carpenter was employed since the wood trim on the house was of an exceptionally high quality. Unlike the mansion of Bishop Strachan (built in 1818), there was no triangular pediment above the front facade. The brickwork contained no decorative patterns, and later in the century, the exterior walls were covered with stucco.

On the second floor, there was a Palladian window in the centre position, with a fan-shaped window above it. It was a simple but elegant refinement to an otherwise plain facade. In the interior, there was a central hallway, likely with the parlour on one side of it and a dining room on the other. In most Georgian homes. a grand staircase led to the second storey.

The house provided St. George with the necessary requirements to maintain a residence and a place of business. On the second floor, there were living quarters for himself and his clerks. In the basement was a storeroom for his stock of goods, and on the ground floor a shop and office. When the Americans invaded York in April 1813, the house was sacked but not torched. At the time, Quetton St, George was away from York on business.

St. George remained a resident of York until 1815, when Napoleon was defeated and the French monarchy restored. He then returned to England and then France, where he assumed the title of Chevalier de St. Louis. In 1820, he sold the shares of his company in Upper Canada to Dr. W. W. Baldwin, John Baldwin, and Jules Quesnel. Baldwin lived in the house, but rented a section of it to the Canada Company, a semi-government development company that sold off crown land. After Baldwin died, his widow continued in residence. In 1895, the Canada Company vacated the premises and it became a pharmaceutical company. Next, it was converted into a boarding house, then a junk shop, and finally a tenement. By the turn of the 20th century, the property was in poor condition as it had not been maintained. It was demolished in 1904, and Toronto’s first brick residence disappeared forever.

A seven-storey warehouse was erected on the site for the Adams Harness Company. This building has since changed hands several times, but remains in existence. Today, the only reminder of Quetton St. George is St. George Street, which was named by William Baldwin after his friend, Quetton St. George. The St. George subway station on the Spadina/University line is named after the street.

Sources: “Lost Toronto” by William Dendy – www.biographic.ca  www.thestar.com torontohistory.net— 

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,wSNog0sA-tRWo0T3b2SlwN_gvASLtzc6LVGD-gkfpmP4o9dgZ45IXe4zhHJuQgNxVJ7ANQCFsrw7nHnnb0EJsGOBcm0NOjyZ6CKRZFv[1].png

Location of the Quetton St. George house on the northeast corner of Frederick and King Street East.

1895  pictures-r-2862[1]

The Quetton St. George House in 1895. Toronto Public Library, r-2862.

house 1866-1949, sketch 1912, TRL. pictures-r-2917[1]

Watercolour sketch of the Quetton St. George House. Painted in 1912, it was created from the artist’s memory, as it depicts the house prior to its walls being covered with stucco. From the collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-2917.

                    Series 1465, File 182, Item 20

The northeast corner of Frederick and King Street East in 1994, the site of the demolished Quetton St. George house. Toronto Archives, F1465, S.0182, Id. 0020.

DSCN0366

Building on the site of the Quetton St. George House, March 2016.

DSCN0369

This is the only historic plaque on the building. There is nothing to recognize that Toronto’s first brick house once occupied the site.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852

   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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

Tags: , , ,

Memories of Eaton’s Queen Street Store Toronto

View of construction site and Eaton's Queen Street store – April 16, 1975

The Eaton’s Queen Street Store on April 16, 1975. The view looks south on Yonge Street toward Queen Street, the east facade of the Simpson’s Store (now The Bay) visible in the distance. Behind  the white hoarding, to the north of the Eaton’s Store (in the foreground), construction is underway for the northern part of the Eaton Centre. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, FL 0084, Item 62.

The Eaton’s Queen Street store occupied an entire city block, which was bounded by Yonge, Queen, Albert and James Streets. It was one of the most magnificent retail stores ever built in Canada. I was a young man when it was demolished to build the Eaton Centre, and I must confess that I did not lament its demise, despite having wonderful childhood memories of visiting it. Similar to most Torontonians in the 1970s, I was looking forward to the modern shopping mall that was to replace it and was too obsessed with the future to consider preserving the past. I now regret that I did not pay more attention and take photographs of it before it disappeared in 1977.

The northern half of the Eaton Centre, containing the new Eaton store, opened the same year that demolition commenced on the Queen Street store. The southern half of the Centre opened two years later. In future years, it became obvious that the Centre’s Yonge-Street facade had caused the street beside it to deteriorate, as it was a barren wall of concrete, devoid of stores with windows. Many millions of dollars were spent to renovate it to duplicate what the former Eaton’s store had always provided. How much better it would have been if the architects had paid more attention to the facade of the old Eaton’s Queen Street store. Attractive shops at street level provide a more inviting streetscape, and streets that are inviting attract shoppers, customers for restaurants, and tourists.

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, I considered the T. Eaton Company so immense that it seemed indestructible. It was a retail and manufacturing empire, spanning the nation from Atlantic to Pacific. When it disappeared, in today’s terms, it was akin to Tim Horton’s, Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, the NHL, or Canadian Tire disappearing from the scene. Similarly, when I attended Shea’s Hippodrome, the University Theatre, and the Odeon Carlton or the Odeon Hyland, I never dreamt that in the years ahead, they would all disappear. Only the facade of the University remains to remind us of the days when Toronto included many Canadian-owned commercial enterprises, including the largest of them all—Eaton’s.

DSCN0669  series 881, File 337

Shea’s Theatre (left) on Bay Street near Queen, and the University Theatre (right) on Bloor Street West.

Eaton’s was a retail success story that commenced in 19th-century Toronto. It became one of the most trusted and respected firms in Canada. Its founder, Timothy Eaton, was born in Ireland in 1834 and immigrated to Canada West (Ontario) in 1854, settling in the southwest part of the province. He relocated to Toronto in 1869 and opened a wholesale business on Front Street, near Yonge. However, later in the year, he moved into a rental property at 178 Yonge Street, near the corner of Queen Street, and opened a retail dry goods shop.

In the 1860s, King Street was the main shopping avenue of Toronto. The streets north of King possessed mostly pedestrian traffic, although there were horse-drawn streetcars on Yonge Street, between King Street and the village of Yorkville. The wealthy in their fancy carriages did not often venture as far north as Queen. However, Timothy was more interested in the masses than the wealthy. During the next few years, his store lured shoppers north to Queen Street. Due ever-increasing sales, Eaton’s shop was extended 40 feet to the rear and then, it leased the second-storey apartment above the store. It was said that Timothy paid the drivers of the horse-drawn streetcars to announce at the appropriate time in the journey—“Queen Street, all out for Eaton’s.”

Timothy soon outgrew the building at 178 Yonge, and in 1883, he relocated to 190-196 Queen Street, a short distance north. He now had 52 feet of frontage on Yonge Street, which provided 25,000 square-feet of retail space. His new shop possessed exceptionally tall plate-glass windows, vastly improving the displays of merchandise. This was a new concept, as although many shops at the time contained large windows, they had numerous small panes of glass.

Timothy’s merchandising methods, however, were far more revolutionary. He ended the system of bargaining for the price of goods; he sold all items at an advertised fixed price. The store offered no credit, but if customers were not satisfied with their purchases, the items were either exchanged or the money refunded. Customers were also invited to enter the shop to browse, and were not asked to leave if they did not purchase anything within a reasonable period of time, as occurred in other stores. The public quickly warmed to these new ideas and began flocking to the store. 

In 1884, Eaton’s acquired its first telephone. Also, an overhead pneumatic tube system was installed. A bill for a purchase and the customer’s cash were placed in a small container and sent through a pressurized tube to a central service counter. The container was returned with the customer’s change and a receipt for the goods. I remember watching this system in operation in the 1940s in the Eaton’s Annex store on Albert Street.

In 1886, having grown to employ 1500  employees, Timothy acquired space on Queen Street West, with a frontage of 31 feet. This doubled Timothy’s retail space. Eaton’s now possessed an “L-shaped” configuration, with an entrance on Yonge and another on Queen Street. The same year, Eaton’s installed its first elevator. As a boy, I remember the elevators at Eaton’s, operated by women in uniforms, who wore white gloves. They called aloud the floors and stated the goods available on each floor. To allow customers to exit or enter the elevator, the operator opened a heavy cage-like set of iron bars that folded back, accordion-style, and then manipulated the actual elevator doors.

The same year, Eaton’s commenced closing on Saturday afternoons during July and August to allow employees to enjoy the summer weather. To compensate, special sales were held on Fridays. Other stores remained open all day on Saturdays during the summer, but their profits were less. My great Uncle Jim worked at Eaton’s in the 1920s, and was extremely loyal to the company as he had a cottage in Long branch. He was grateful to be able to depart to visit it on Saturday afternoons, during the summer months. Today, it is difficult to imagine Long Branch as cottage country.

In 1889, Eaton’s expanded with another section added to the complex, its west facade on James Street and its north facade on Albert Street. Next, the retail space on Queen Street was doubled in size. In 1891, restaurants were added to the complex, including the Grill Room on the fifth floor and the “Quick Lunch Room” in the basement. Next, a grocery department was opened in the basement. Two years later, a four-storey addition on Albert Street extended the retail space of the store. In 1896, the section on Queen Street was increased to four storeys. In 1903, the mail-order department relocated from the main store to its own building on Albert Street.

The year 1905 was when the first Santa Claus Parade was held. By 1907, Eaton’s owned 22 acres of property in downtown Toronto, its retail space within the city-block bounded by Yonge, Albert, James and Queen Streets. Only the small building on the northwest corner of Yonge and Queen was not part of the complex. A building to showcase furniture was acquired on the northwest corner of James and Albert Streets. In 1924, the Georgian Room opened on the ninth floor of Eaton’s; many considered it Toronto’s first fine restaurant.

                         1906, Easter decoratuon, Queen St.  I0016062[1]

       Easter Display in the Eaton’s Store in 1906. Photo, Ontario Archives.

Fonds 1244, Item 1160A 

Looking north on James Street in 1910, toward Albert Street. Old City Hall is on the left-hand side (west) and Adam’s Furniture Store on the right-hand side (east). Eaton’s eventually acquired the furniture store as well. Toronto Archives, F. 1244, Item 1160a.

                  20100220statue[1]

Statue of Timothy Eaton presented by the store’s employees in 1919. It was located near the Queen Street entrance. When the Eaton Centre was built, it was relocated to the Dundas Street entrance of the store. Today it resides in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum. It was said that rubbing the toe of the shoe of the bronze figure brought a person good luck. Photo from Wikipedia. 

Fonds 1244, Item 1160B

Same view of James Street as the 1910 photo, but taken in 1920. In this picture, in the distance, the Eaton’s Furniture Store is visible on the northwest corner of Albert and James Streets. Toronto Archives, F. 1244, Item 1160b.

Wikipedia  Eatonstoronto1920MainStore[1]

                         Post card showing the Eaton’s complex in 1920.

Queen St, east, from James, traffic, noon - 1 p.m., (Executive Department) – August 31, 1929

The view is looking east along Queen Street West toward Yonge Street in 1929. The Eaton’s store is on the left, and Simpson’s (The Bay) on the right. On the north facade of Simpson’s there is a large Union Jack and a banner fluttering over the street that advertises the CNE. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 7175.

North, on Yonge, from north of Queen, 1:37 p.m., no rush hour parking on east side frees extra street space for use of rush hour moving traffic, (Traffic Study Department) – January 12, 1929

View looks north on Yonge Street from near Queen Street on January 12, 1929. Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre (now the Elgin) is on the right, and the Eaton’s store is on the left. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 6569. 

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The Georgian Room in 1939. An orchestra played here while customers dined. Photo Ontario Archives.

                    

The Yonge Street facade of the Eaton’s store decorated for the coronation in 1953. Photo, Ontario Archives.

View of sale signs displayed along Queen Street Eaton's store windows – April 5, 1977

The south facade of the Eaton store on Queen Street on April 5, 1977. Signs in the windows advertise the final sales before the store closed for demolition. Toronto Archives, F 1526, fl 0085, item 9.

Personal Memories of Eaton’s

I was a young boy in the 1940s, and my first memory of the T. Eaton Company was the catalogue that my mother carefully examined each November, prior to our trip downtown to shop for Christmas. It was glossy and colourful, and for me, the section advertising toys particularly exciting. On the day we finally journeyed downtown, my brother and I thought that riding the old square-shaped Yonge Streetcars was part of the adventure. I especially enjoyed the trailer-cars as they swayed considerably as they rattled their way south toward Queen. If we were lucky, we found a place to sit near the coal stove, which was situated in the centre of the streetcar.

After arriving at Eaton’s, my mother examined goods on the ground-floor level and then, we went to the basement. This was where there was a tunnel under Albert Street that led to the Eaton’s Annex store. Goods were cheaper in this building, and my mother usually purchased bedding and towels there. In the tunnel, the scent of ice cream waffles filled the air, which seemed strange as the walls of the tunnel contained space for selling house paints. Hot dogs and soft ice cream were two other delights that were sold in the tunnel. I remember that the escalators in the Annex were quite narrow and very rickety. On this visit, it seemed forever before we returned to the main store via the underground tunnel, where the aroma of treats again tortured my brother and me.  

Today, I wonder if my mother visited the other departments of Eaton’s to build suspense before she took us on the elevator to the fifth floor, where Toyland was located. It was a sight beyond the magic of the “Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian nights.” The huge diorama containing model electric trains possessed rivers, bridges, miniature towns, and mountains with tunnels. The model trains disappeared into the tunnels and then, shot out on the other side. Some of the trains even emitted smoke.

The display of board games was endless. Snakes and Ladders, Clue, and Parcheesi were my favourites. The games were manufactured from wood and cardboard, as the use of metal was restricted due to the war effort. There was also an amusement ride, a small train that carried passengers on an imaginary trip across Canada. It was 15 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. To save money, my brother and I rode the train without my mother. The train weaved its way across Northern Ontario, the prairies and into the mountains of B. C. It was great!

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Of course, the highlight of the trip was visiting Santa, who sat on an elaborate chair in his North Pole castle. The Eaton’s Santa Claus was the “real” Santa, my mother had explained to my brother and me. The Santa at Simpson’s was merely a helper. Most Torontonians were loyal to one store or the other. My mother preferred Eaton’s as she felt that the prices were cheaper. However, we always took the time to view the Simpson’s Christmas windows that contained fairy-tale scenes with animated figures. The Bay Store continues this tradition today.

A few years ago, I visited San Francisco during November and visited the Macy’s Store on Union Square; it was like being in the Eaton’s store of my boyhood. The decorations were lavish and the toy section amazing. The restaurant on the top floor was crammed with people, similar to the days when Eaton’s operated restaurants. It is not surprising that Macy’s copied the advertising techniques of Eaton’s, as they came to Toronto many years ago seeking advice on how to create a Christmas Parade. They learned fast, and the Macy’s New York parade survives to this day. 

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Eaton’s Annex Store on Albert Street. The view looks west on Albert toward Nathan Philip Square in front of the New City Hall. Toronto Archives. F0124, fl0003, id. 0031.

Close view of construction of Eaton Centre bridge from a streetcar stop on Queen Street West – September 25, 1978

View on September 25, 1978 of the glass-covered bridge over Queen Street that connects the Eaton Centre to Simpson’s (now the Bay). The south facade of the Centre is also under construction, and is visible in the background of the photo. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl0090, item 0014. 

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View of the Eaton Centre in 1978 from the corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets. Photo from the Ontario Archives.

                   View of Eaton Centre with holiday decorations towards Queen Street – December 15, 1981

View of the Eaton Centre, gazing northward, on December 15, 1981, when it was decorated for Christmas. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl 0092, Item 0056.

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                                       View of the Eaton Centre in 2011.

The author is grateful for the information provided by the publications: “The Eatons, The Rise and fall of Canada’s Royal Family” by Rod McQueen (Stoddart Press, 1998) and “Eaton’s, The Trans-Canada Store,” by Bruce Allen Kopytek (History Press, 2014) 

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

To view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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

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 relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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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 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press, explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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