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Category Archives: toronto architecture

Paradise Regained –the restoration of the Paradise Theatre

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                      Paradise Theatre c. 1946. Ontario Archives

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Borrowing titles from the 17th-century poet John Milton, “Paradise Lost,” is a more frequent occurrence than “Paradise Regained.” However, in Toronto this week (December 1-7, 2019) Paradise was indeed regained when the Paradise Theatre on Bloor Street West reopened after 13 years of sitting empty and neglected. The photo on the left depicts the theatre’s auditorium in the 1940s.

Thanks to the effort of  Moray Tawse, this grand old theatre from the era of the Golden Age of movies houses, has been carefully restored. Mr. Tawse purchased the derelict building in 2013, and despite many setbacks and numerous seemingly insurmountable difficulties, the movie house officially reopened this week. In earlier decades, it had been operated exclusively for screening films, but it is now a multi-purpose cultural centre.

In its new life it has an Italian restaurant on the first floor and a balcony where the seats fold back to create a space that is able to accommodate different types of events. The seating capacity of the auditorium has been reduced from over 600 to 183 plush leather seats, in an auditorium that has the most up-to-date theatre technology.

The newly reopened Paradise provides an opportunity to watch a film on a large screen, a unique experience that cannot be duplicated by smaller formats in the privacy of your home. On a large screen, the action is viewed by everyone at the same moment, meaning that  all who are present share the tears and pain as well as the joys and laughter along with the actors on the screen and also with those seated around them. Similarly, a comedy film is much funnier when viewed in a theatre with many people, as opposed to when the theatre is nearly empty?

It is the human connection, the interaction with others, made possible by the large screen, that enables this unique experience to occur. It is something that is rare today, as social media has reduced our connection to others to the size of the small screens on IPhones and IPads.

Treat yourself. Indulge in a shared experience that leaves you with a memory that will last a life time. Those of us who grew up with the large silver screens remember forever the time they watched films such as “Gone with the Wind” or “Quo Vadis” at our local theatres or downtown movie palaces. Are you of an age to remember the Saturday afternoon matinees and how you yelled and screamed with the other kids to encourage the cowboys with the white hats and booed at those with the black hats? Films watched on small screens are easily forgotten. It is the shared moment in life, whether with family, lover, pets or watching a film, that last forever (end of the commercial part of this post).  

For those who are interested in the history of the Paradise Theatre, I have republished information that I provided in a post on my blog on January 12, 2014.   However, there are new photos included from the Ontario Archives that were not in that post so they have not previously appeared on the internet. 

Paradise, OA 2305

During the summer of 2014, in my quest to locate and photograph Toronto’s old local theatres, none of the discoveries surprised and pleased me more than the sight of the Paradise Theatre. Located at 1008 Bloor Street West, it is on the northwest corner of Bloor and Westmoreland Avenue. However, I must admit that my pleasure slowly became tinged with a hint of sadness, as its impressive marquee was blank, devoid of the names of films, and the spaces where posters had once advertised films were empty or contained faded posters. One of the spaces had graffiti defacing it. The theatre was akin to a grand old lady whose glory days had vanished and was now a relic from the past.

Despite these thoughts, I must confess I was gladdened by the realization that at least the theatre had survived, and despite the passing of the many decades since it opened, its façade of glazed bricks still sparkled in the afternoon sun. Its marquee may have been empty, but it appeared reasonably well preserved and as attractive as when it was first installed. In my opinion, the Paradise is an architectural gem.

The site where it exists has a long history in the story of Toronto’s local theatres. The first theatre built on this site at 1008 Bloor Street was named the Kitchener. It opened its doors to screen silent movies in 1909, in the days prior to the First World War. The cost of constructing the theatre was $3000. To build the Paradise, the old Kitchener Theatre was gutted, very little of it being retained.

The present-day cinema opened in 1937, its architect being the Lithuanian-born Benjamin Brown, one of the city’s most famous architects. He had previously designed the Reading Building in 1925, the Tower Building in 1927, and Balfour Building in 1930, all located on Spadina Avenue. Brown also was the architect of the infamous Victory Theatre. Benjamin Brown chose the Art Deco style for the Paradise Theatre. The tall rectangular windows on the second floor and the narrow rows of raised bricks create the impression of extra height. Its cornice is relatively unadorned, with a raised centre section in the central position, typical of many Art Deco buildings. When it opened in 1937, its auditorium contained a small stage, with dressing rooms to accommodate actors when live performances were offered. It was an intimate theatre, containing a small lobby and less than 500 seats in its auditorium, including the balcony.

The theatre changed ownership several times during the decades ahead, but except for a period in the 1980s, when it screened soft porno and was named Eve’s Paradise, it always retained its original name. It screened Italian films in the 1960s. In the 1990s it was a repertoire theatre, part of the Festival chain.

By the early years of the 21st century, it had become somewhat shabby, its projectors having insufficient power to properly illuminate the film-prints, and the sound system was in poor shape. It closed in 2006, but in 2007 was listed as a Heritage Property. Unfortunately, because the laws are very lax, this did not ensure that it would not be demolished.

However, this story has a happy ending. The Paradise Theatre was purchased by Moray Tawse, who plans to restore it to its original glory. It will become an arts centre and community theatre, a true addition to Toronto’s cultural scene.

To view plans for the redevelopment of the Paradise Theatre, google: www.insidetoronto.com

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This photo of the Paradise Theatre was likely taken in 1937, the year it opened, as the film starring Sonja Henie was released in 1936. Ontario Archives, 1150 N-147.

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Undated photo of the auditorium of the Paradise. Photo from Ontario Archives.

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Interior view of the auditorium, looking southward from the stage. Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 127, Item 2306.

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            Lobby of the Paradise. Photo from the Ontario Archives.

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Toronto Real Estate Board ad for the theatre. It was screening Italian films at the time so it was likely in the 1980s.. 

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In 1943, this letter was sent to the Motion Picture Censorship and Theatre Inspection Branch. Letter now in the Ontario Archives. 

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View of the Paradise on the northwest coroner of Bloor and Westmoreland during the summer of 2014.

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                 Marquee and the sign of the Paradise (2014).

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                             Brick designs on the facade of the theatre.

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The lobby and entrance door to the auditorium of the Paradise in 2014.

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Gazing west along the busy section of Bloor Street West, where the Paradise is located.

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

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“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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. 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)

 

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“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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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The Story of the Roy Thomson Hall

July 2018

Roy Thomson Hall in July 2018, looking east on King Street West toward Simcoe Street.

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  Roy Thomson Hall in Winter,” view looking south on Simcoe Street toward King Street West in 2008. Painting is acrylic on Masonite, 16”x20”

My earliest memories of the site where the Roy Thomson Hall is located dates from the 1960s. During that decade King Street West, near  the intersection of Simcoe Street, was beginning its transformation from a sadly neglected district into the trendy avenue that it is today. The amazing change began in 1962, when Ed Mirvish purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre and the following year opened a restaurant to lure theatre patrons. He believed that fine dining and theatre, were meant to go together. Mirvish’s restaurant was the soon-to-be famous Ed’s Warehouse, which specialized in prime rib beef. After it opened, I began visiting the King/Simcoe area more frequently to dine and attend the Royal Alex. Eventually I purchased a Mirvish subscription, my theatre seats being in the front row of the first balcony.

In the 1960s, Ed Mirvish maintained a strict dress code for those who entered his warehouse restaurant. Unlike today, such a policy was common among the finer restaurants of the city. However, it was considered especially essential by Ed Mirvish as across the street from his restaurant were the rail yards of the  Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, At any given time, the tracks contained row after row of unsightly boxcars that had recently delivered cargo to Toronto. However, the boxcars also bought stow-away men, often referred to as “hobos.” These men were transients who were down on their luck, so travelled from city to city by stowing away in boxcars. The dress code at Ed’s was considered a simple way to deter these men from entering the restaurant. In retrospect, I suspect that none of these men would ever have attempted to enter the restaurant as it was obviously beyond their means.

There is a story about Ed Mirvish that I have often repeated to friends. It demonstrates how seriously the staff at Honest Ed’s enforced the dress code. When I was in my early  twenties, my family took me out to dinner for my birthday, but kept their choice of restaurant a surprise. I inquired if I should wear a tie and jacket, and was told that they were unnecessary. When we arrived, I discovered that the restaurant was Ed’s Warehouse, on King Street. My family had been unaware of the dress code.

The maître’s informed us that in order to enter the restaurant my brother, dad and I required jackets and ties, and offered to provide us with these from an assortment of items that they kept for such situations. He explained that the reason for the requirement was to prevent vagrants from the rail yard from entering the establishment. We were offended as the clothes they offered were wrinkled, worn, appeared not too clean. Besides, I was certain that we did not look like hobos as we were attired in a freshly laundered sport shirts and neatly pressed trousers.

Then, Ed Mirvish appeared on the scene and inquired, “What’s the problem?”

I explained.

He smiled, apologized, and told the waiter, “Escort them to the table that has been reserved for them.”

My family and I enjoyed the roast beef meal. The sour dill pickles, and bread rolls were excellent, and the spumoni  ice cream was great for dessert. I think the roast beef was the best I ever had in Toronto. When the cheque arrived, it had been reduced by fifty per cent. Ed Mirvish was a very smart businessman, as well as a big-hearted individual. My family never forgot his generosity.

Now, on with the story of the land across from the restaurant where the rail yards were located. Though they continued to be a problem for Ed’s theatre and restaurant, he made them a success through shrew marketing. One such example is that when patrons  purchased theatre subscriptions, they received a $20 coupon for dining at the Warehouse. In those days, the coupon covered the cost of the meal if a person did not order any alcohol. As a result, the Royal Alex was well attended as it offered mayor hits from Broadway and London and Ed’s Warehouse offered quality meals at a reasonable price.

However, it was not long before the site of the rail yards became such valuable real estate that the railroads decided to sell it and relocate to the suburbs.

It is worth relating a little of the history of the property where the Roy Thomson Hall is located today. It has played a major role in the history of Toronto since 1798, when Elmsley House occupied southeast corner of King and Simcoe Streets. It was the home of Chief Justice John Elmsley, the speaker of the House of Assembly. In that century, his residence was considered remote from the town of York (Toronto), which was clustered around the eastern end of the harbour.

1854, Vic's birthday first_government_house_in_toronto_18541-tor-ref[1]

The drawing on the left depicts Elmsley House in 1854, on the occasion of the birthday of Queen Victoria on May 24th of that year. In 1815, Elmsley House was considered such an impressive home that it was purchased by the Government of Upper Canada to serve as the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of the province. Unfortunately, the structure no longer exists today as it was destroyed by fire in 1862. This was the fate of many of Toronto’s 19th-century structures. The best that can be said is that at least Elmsley House was not demolished by the indifference on the part of 20th-century city councils.

The building that replaced the destroyed house was an even grander mansion, completed in 1870 at a cost of $105,000. The architects were Edward Gundry and Henry Langley. Langley, a Toronto-born architect, also designed the tower and spire on St. Michael’s Cathedral, as well as the original Metropolitan United Church on King Street East, and Jarvis Street Baptist Church. When the new Government House was built, King Street was becoming a fashionable residential address, where many of the elite of the city had built their homes.

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The right-hand picture is a watercolour of Government House, built in 1870, on the southwest corner of King and Simcoe.

By the turn of the 20th century, King Street was again changing dramatically. It was becoming an industrial area, as the land to the south of the Government House was increasingly being built upon by the railways. Also, the Ontario Legislature had relocated in 1893 from its location on Front Street, east of Simcoe Street, to Queen’s Park. This meant that the site of the Government House was no longer considered a suitable location for the domicile of the lieutenant governor of the province.

In 1912, Government House and the surrounding lands on the southwest corner of King and Simcoe were sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway. However, in the 1960s, further changes were again on the horizon. This occurred after Ed Mirvish purchased and restored the Royal Alexandra Theatre and opened his warehouse restaurant. One of the few drawbacks Mirvish’s endeavours faced was that when his patrons and guests attended the theatre or restaurant, they gazed across King Street at the unsightly rows of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National boxcars. They were located immediately to the south of a narrow parking lot adjacent to King Street.  

Next, the street commenced its transition to the lively street scene that is familiar to Torontonians today. It began when the rail yards were purchased by the city as the site for Toronto’s new concert venue, which was to replace Massey Hall as the premier concert hall of the city. Securing funds for the $57-million building had commenced in 1977, the fundraising committee chaired by Pierre Trudeau, William Davis, Paul Godfrey, and David Crombie. The new structure was to be named after Roy Herbert Thomson, father of Ken Thomson, in recognition of the $4.5 million that the Thomson family had donated toward the building fund. The new hall was to be the home venue for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Construction began in 1978 and the official inauguration of the concert was held on September 13, 1982.

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Within the 2600-seat hall was an enormous pipe organ, which cost over $650,000 and more than 20,000 hours of labour. The organ possessed two consoles and duplicate key action. Organists could play either from the console in the organ gallery or from a moveable detached console on the stage. It was officially ready for its first performance on September 18, 1982, just five days after the hall opened. This instrument is today among the finest organs in the world. To celebrate the official opening of the hall, a week-long series of festive events was held.

During the decades ahead, the hall received much criticism, particularly from members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) who complained about its poor acoustics. In response to these criticisms, in 1989 planning began for renovations to the hall. They did not come to fruition until 2002, when the hall closed from March 11th until August 9th of that year.

The $24-million renovation project, directed by acousticians Artec Consultants Inc. (New York) and architects Kuwabara, Payne, McKenzie Blumberg (Toronto) entailed an overhaul of the auditorium’s acoustic design, size and shape. A large rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, extensive musician support areas and backstage facilities were included as well as a broadcast and recording area. The corporate offices, libraries and archives of its two major tenants were all located on a lower level. The grand reopening was held on September 21, 2002 with a gala concert to mark the occasion.

Today, the Roy Thomson Hall remains Toronto’s jewel in the crown for concerts and special events, rivalled only by the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Other excellent concert venues are the Carlu, the North York Centre for the Performing Arts, and Meridian Hall (Sony Centre). Also, Massey Hall is now being restored and in the future it may again take its place among the best concert halls in the city. 

date 1975.  Fonds 124, fl0124, id 0004-Thomson-AerialRail[1]

Ariel view of the intersection of King West and Simcoe Streets in 1975. On the left-hand side, at the centre of the picture, is the Royal Alexandra Theatre. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is on the right-hand side, surrounded by tall buildings that seem to diminish its handsome facades and ornate towers. The rail yards are visible on the south side of King Street, south of a narrow parking lot. There are buildings on the southwest corner of the intersection, which were demolished when the site was purchased by the city. Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, fl 0124, id 0004.

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View of the southwest corner of Simcoe and King Street west in the late-1970s, the site cleared of the buildings on the southwest corner to allow the construction of the Roy Thomson Hall. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, located on the southeast corner of the intersection, is prominently visible on the east side of Simcoe Street. Photo from the Toronto Archives, F0124, fl0003, id 00671. 

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Interior view of the Roy Thomson Hall in 1981, the year prior to its opening. Toronto Public Library tspa 0110582 .

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Performing the final touches to the lobby of the hall in preparation for the grand opening in 1982.

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Interior view of the hall in 1982, the year the building opened. There are many individual lights hanging from the ceiling. The people in the foreground of the photo are sitting in the choir loft. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0110604.

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Queen Elizabeth II entering the hall to attend a Royal Gala on October 1, 1984. Toronto Public Library tspa 123336.

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Interior view of the hall in 2012, the stage set for a Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah, featuring the Mendelsohn Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  

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The stage of the hall after the performers were in place, ready to perform the Symphony, heralding the beginning of the Messiah.

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View of the hall, the camera facing east on King Street toward Simcoe on September 10, 2015.

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Looking north on Wellington Street West at the rear of the Roy Thomson Hall on March 10, 2013.

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The north side of the hall on September 10, 2015, the reflecting pool and fountain in the foreground. The pool is situated parallel to King Street West. 

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Gazing southward on September 1, 2012  at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall from the north side of the hall from the reflecting pool.

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The east side of the hall on Simcoe Street, the CN Tower in the background.

Links to discover more about heritage sites mentioned in this post: 

Royal Alexandra Theatre Windows Live Blog https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/torontos-historic-royal-alexandra-theatre/

Government House: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/torontos-lost-architectural-gemsthe-site-occupied-by-the-roy-thomson-hall/

Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/eds-warehouse-restaurant-closed-in-1999/

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 Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_[2]  

“ Lost Toronto”— published by Pavilion Press (London, England) the book features detailed archival photographs that recapture the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. The richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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 personally experienced these grand old movie houses. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2) and may also be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” Published by Dundurn Press, this book explores 81 theatres. It contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: a review of this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, in the 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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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The Third York County Court House (Adelaide St.)

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The Adelaide Street Court House where justice was served from 1852 until 1900. Photo taken March 2019.

Toronto’s third court house no longer serves justice. Instead, it serves food, as it is now the site of a Terroni Restaurant. Visitors today no longer examine postings of pending court cases, but instead peruse menus that offer southern Italian cuisine and thin-crust pizza. Located at 57 Adelaide Street East, the building is a short distance west of Church Street, not far from Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market. When the court house was built, it was in the commercial and residential heart of the city. The impressive pre-confederation structure delivered justice to the residents of Toronto from 1852 until 1900. However, there were two other court houses that preceded the one on Adelaide Street East.

Toronto’s (York’s) first court house was commissioned by Governor Simcoe, shortly after he arrived in the colonial settlement in July 1793. At the time, the town of York consisted of merely a few roughly-hewn log homes, huddled around the eastern end of the harbour. After Simcoe declared York to be the provincial capitol, he ordered the construction of brick buildings to house its legislative assembly. They were to be located at the eastern side of the town, and were to include under their roof a Court of the King’s Bench. As there was no police force in York in that day, the soldiers at Fort York maintained law and order, and any legal matters were settled in the court within the legislative assembly buildings. Unfortunately, these structures were put to the torch by the American troops when they invaded York in April of 1813. All legal documents and law books books were also consumed in the flames.

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York’s first Legislative Buildings that contained the first Court of the King’s Bench. The sketch was first reproduced in the Evening Telegram [newspaper] series, “Landmarks of Toronto”and is included in John Ross Robertson’s book of the same name, published in 1894 (page 353).

After the War of 1812 finally ended, much of the town of York remained severely damaged due to the American invasion. When planning the reconstruction, the government decided that when the legislative buildings were rebuilt, rather than include a court within them, a different site would be chosen. Though the town’s population was only about 700 persons, it was, after all, the capitol of the province. Officials felt that a separate court house would more appropriately recognize the town’s importance.

As a result, the government purchased the home of Alexander Montgomery, which was located on Richmond Street East, between today’s Victoria and Yonge Streets. Though the house was actually closer to Queen than to Richmond, its main entrance faced south, toward Richmond Street. Thus, local citizens referred to as the Richmond Street Court House. Designed in the neo-classical style, the home was a two-story, plain, wood-frame building with nine rectangular windows in its south facade. The home served the town of York as a court house until 1826. 

Court House, 1815-26 Richmond w. of Vic. picture 1912.   -r-3941[1] 

Alexander Montgomery’s home in York (Toronto) on Richmond Street East, near Victoria Street. The above watercolour was painted about the year 1888 and was based on a pen and ink sketch reproduced in the Evening Telegram [newspaper] series, “Landmarks of Toronto” on February 2, 1889. The sketch also appears in the book entitled, “Landmarks of Toronto” (Volume 1, page 320).

As the town of York continued to grow, it was evident that the home of Alexander Montgomery was unable to handle the needs of the judicial system. A larger court house was deemed necessary. In that decade, King Street remained the town’s most prominent street and also was where most of the shops and important buildings were located. Thus, it was logical to situate the new court house on this street. When the Montgomery house was vacated by the court, it was employed by the Children of Peace for their religious services.

When the building plans for the new court house were finalized, it was decided to recess it 40 feet back from King Street. However, its main entrance faced Church Street, on the structure’s east side. The two-story building, with the basement-level partly above ground, was an impressive sight. Constructed of red bricks, its south facade on King Street possessed four stone pilasters (three-sided faux pillars) that ascended from the first floor to the triangular pediment above the facade. Two pilasters adorned the east and west facades as well. On the west side of the roof was a row of tall chimneys to heat the spacious rooms during Toronto’s frigid winters.

John Hayden was the contractor for the building, which cost the government about 1800 pounds. Because the court house was the most important structure on the square, the square became known as “Court House Square.” This structure was remained a court house from 1827 until 1852.

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King St. E., looking east from Toronto Street, at what was then known as “Court House Square.” The large structure on the left-hand side of the painting is the town jail (1827-1840). To the right of it is the Fire Hall, which has a tall tower. This building was actually located on Church Street. The building to the right of the Fire Hall is the Court House (1827-1853) and to the east (right-hand side) of it, is St. James’ Anglican Church (destroyed by fire in 1849). The watercolour was painted by John G. Howard in 1835 and is from the collection of the Toronto Public Library (r-3952).

court house 1827-53 picture 1835, John G Howard  pictures-r-3942[1]

The court house on King Street East. Beside it, to the east, is St. James Anglican Church. Church Street separates the two buildings. Watercolour from the collection of the Toronto Public Library (r-3952).

Sketch of the public hangings of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews on April 12, 1838. The horrific spectacle attracted a huge crowd of spectators. The artist of the sketch was standing on the corner of today’s King and Toronto Streets, just across from where the King Edward Hotel is now located. In the background of the sketch is the King Street Court House. The two men were executed for their role in the Rebellion of 1837, led by William Lyon Mackenzie. 

By the 1850s, it was evident that the court house on Court House Square was no longer adequate. This entailed the construction of a third county court house, to be located at 57 Adelaide Street East. Thankfully, it has survived into the modern era, one of the few remaining structures from the city’s pre-Confederation period. It is today a Terroni Restaurant.

The third court house served the county of York from 1852 until 1900, when the courts were relocated to the new City Hall (now referred to as the Old City Hall), located at the head of Bay Street, at Queen Street West. The contract for the architectural plans was given to Cumberland and Ridout, the same firm that also designed St. James Anglican Cathedral at King Street East and Church Street.

  1867.  pictures-r-4428[1]

The building in the centre of the three structures is the York County Court House (Adelaide Street Court |House.) The photo was taken in 1867, from the collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-4428.

The three-storey York County Court House of 1852 was constructed of white bricks and stone, although today its facades appear darkened by the passage of time. Eric Arthur in his book, “No Mean City”, described the Greek-influenced front of the building as, “austere, heavy, and forbidding”. This may be true, but having visited its interior in April of 2019, I can attest to the fact that it is grand and spacious as befits a building of such prominence.

Its north facade on Adelaide Street East has four impressive pilasters (three-sided columns), two on each side of the entrance. As well as housing the court room, the structure contained the offices of the County Treasurer, the Clerk of the Council, the Division Court, the Clerk of the Peace and the Sheriff. Many of the original facilities of the Courthouse still remain, such as the marble trim around doorways. Also, I am told that the old jail cells remain, a poignant reminder of the grim life prisoners experienced behind bars in those years of long ago. During this period, the death penalty was employed for about 120 different crimes. However, in 1865, hanging was finally restricted as punishment for the crimes of murder, rape and treason.

Also remaining is the doorway where the judge and the Crown Council entered the building from the rear, and then, ascended a grand staircase to the criminal court room on the second floor.

Over the decades, the third court house was the sight of many important events. On the morning of March 10, 1862, a sizable crowd gathered outside it to observe the hanging of James Brown on a scaffold erected behind the court house. Brown was executed for his role in the death of the journalist and politician John Sheridan Hogan, during an attack by the dreaded “Brooks’ Bush Gang.”

An article by James Bradburn stated: “After a night of prayer and a breakfast of coffee and cake, Brown asked a clergyman to find the woman he lived with and to urge her to turn away from her sinful ways. At 9:45 a.m. the sheriff arrived to lead Brown to the scaffold, where the condemned man proclaimed his innocence, despite having been [quote] ‘a very bad man.’ At 10 am Brown became the last man to be hung in public in Toronto.” 

When the Don Jail opened in 1864, hangings were moved indoors to a space inside within the prison. Today, the site of the last public hanging is a pleasant garden area at the rear of the AdelaIde Street Court House, where customers of the Terroni restaurant are able to dine alfresco. 

When the Group of Seven was formed In 1909, the third Toronto court was unoccupied, as the courts had been relocated to Bay and Queen. The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto then rented it for their meetings. The private club’s members included writers, architects, musicians, painters, graphic artists, actors, and others working in or with a love of the arts.

Some of the club’s most well-known members were  the Group of Seven — Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, Frederick Varley, Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston. During the years the building was home of the Arts and Letters Club, many important cultural events were held within its walls, including concerts by Pablo Cassals and Sergei Rachmananov. The club entertained many famous people, among them Sir Wilfried Laurier, Vincent Massey, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Dr. Healey Whillan, and Sir William Mulock and many of Toronto’s finest citizens. Finally, the club relocated to St George’s Hall on Elm Street, in 1920.

For several years, the old courthouse contained The Court House Market Grill and Restaurant. Today, as mentioned, it is a Terroni’s Restaurant.

Source www.lostrivers.ca/content/points/Courthouseadelaide.html

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View gazing west on Adelaide Street East in 1899. The court house is the building that is the second from the right. Toronto Public Library, r- 4423.

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(Left-hand photo) Support column in  the court house. (Right-hand photo), similar court house columns, photo taken on April 27, 2019. The tops of the columns (capitals) do not match so they are either not the same pillars or have been changed.

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Cast-iron fireplace in the court house in 1899 (left) and a similar fireplace in the court house on April 27, 2019.

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Grand staircase located on the left-hand side after a person enters the building. The stairs lead to the courtroom on the second floor. Photo taken April 2019.

Musty Memories of Old Court House on Adelaide Street”

(Article is from the Toronto Star, June 15, 1901, written by Bill Gladstone. www.billgladstone.ca/?p=7237

Even as you enter the building the hinges on the door cry out in agony, caused by years of faithful service. These doors have received all kinds of knocks. Their end may be far off, but doubtless before long they will be relegated to the oblivion of a second-hand dealer’s yard.

An unmistakably well-worn path leads the inquiring stranger in either direction from the door. No matter which way is taken, a flight of stairs carries one to the first floor, the scene of many a memorable struggle. Here in the Assize Court the combatants — the representative of the Crown, personating law and justice, and the counsel for the criminal — strove on memorable occasions for the rich stake of a human life. The noon-day sun casts a wan touch on the faded room.

One door reads “Public,” and the opposite one “Jury.” Following the door labelled “jury,” a well-worn passage leads to the jury box, where twelve good men and true oft listened to the words “may it please your honour, gentlemen of the jury.” The chairs are still in the positions in which thoughtless jurymen had pushed them when leaving the box after hours of wearied deliberations within a locked room. The counsels’ tables still have the blotters flung carelessly just as they were left when learned lawyers blotted their jottings and hastily threw them aside.

The prisoners’ dock still remains the center of attraction, even though now vacant. The axes, which, according to an ancient tradition, were turned towards a condemned prisoner, appear lost. While standing looking at the dock the mind involuntarily wanders to the prisoners who have stood there, heard their case tried, anxiously awaiting the jury, felt the awful silence preliminary to the verdict, and left its environments encircled in iron, condemned criminals, or joyful, free men, to be clasped by loved ones who never would believe them “guilty.”

There, too stands the judges’ bench, whereon have sat Judges Harrison, Cameron, Hagarty, Galt, Rose, McKenzie, and others, many of whom have gone to higher courts. But follow a well-worn track in the floor which leads to the prisoners’ temporary quarters and down a narrow, dark, and gloomy stairway which brings one to the cells, where many a man has sat awaiting the conveyance to carry him to the prison where he should receive the just reward of his offence. The prisoners’ cell is a dark room with one heavily-barred window, high up in the wall, with a bench going around the room, whereon have sat hundreds of thieves, and murderers, and other felons.

pictures-r-2339[1]

The York County Court House c. 1899, when the court was in session. Photo from Toronto Public Library, r-2329.

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An office in the courthouse in 1899, photo from the Toronto Public Library, r-4416

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The court house building on February 17, 2019. The Terroni sign is prominent on its facade.

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Inside view of the entrance to the Terroni Restaurant that was once the entrance to the courthouse. Photo, April 2019.

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The Courthouse Square at the rear (south side) of the courthouse, This is where public gatherings and hangings were held (photo April 2019).

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(Left-hand photo) A fireplace in the Terroni Restaurant. (Right-hand photo) The court house interior in 1918 when the Arts and Letters Club occupied the building.

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The Adelaide Street Court House in April 2019, the view showing the north facade facing Adelaide 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/

              Books by the Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_[2]  

“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. The richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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 personally experienced these grand old movie houses. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2) and may also be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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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Historic Greenhouses in Allan Gardens—Toronto

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            Allen Garden’s Palm House, Toronto (photo July 2018).

The greenhouses in Allan Gardens are among the city’s relatively unknown treasures. Hidden amidst the foliage of the park, numerous motorists in downtown Toronto speed past them daily as they navigate the busy streets that surround them, but few ever take the time for a visit. Allan Gardens is bounded by Jarvis Street on the west, Sherbourne on the east, Carlton on the north and Gerrard Street East on the south. Their official postal address 160 Gerrard Street East. The greenhouses are open to the public every day of the year and there is no admission charge.

On frosty winter days, the greenhouses provide a cozy oasis of lush growth and warm humid air that remind us of southern climes. In summer, the plants in the park outside the greenhouses pale in comparison to those growing indoors. Allan Gardens has an interesting history, as during the 19th century, before the present-day structures were built, there were pavilions containing greenhouses. 

The story of Allan Gardens is interwoven with the history of the Toronto Horticultural Society, founded in 1834, the year of Toronto’s birth as a city. Sir John Colborne, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1828-1836), was the society’s benefactor. Colborne Lodge in High Park is named after him. The Society’s purpose was to introduce to the province improved species of plants, especially fruits and vegetables.

Also interwoven into the history of Allan Gardens is George William Allan, a prominent lawyer and politician who served as Toronto’s 11th mayor, from 1854 until 1856. In 1858, two years after his retirement from city council, he donated five-acres of land to the Horticultural Society. The Society gratefully accepted Mr. Allan’s generosity and the deed to the land changed hands on March 14, 1860. The newly created park, referred to as the Horticultural Gardens, was to become a botanical garden and a pleasant green space for strolling and picnics. 

To discover further information about the famous family of George William Allan and the building of their mansion named Moss Park, follow the link:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/moss-park-home-of-william-allan/ 

On September 11, 1860, the Prince of Wales, later to reign as King Edward VII, visited Toronto and officially opened the gardens. On the grounds, he planted an oak tree that grew to a prodigious size, for many decades providing pleasant shade from the heat of Toronto’s summer sun. Unfortunately, in 1938 the gigantic tree was struck by lightning, and the remaining sections were removed. On the same royal visit (in 1860), the wife of George William Allen also planted a tree, which for safety reasons was cut down in 1956.

Throughout the remaining decades of the 19th century, Allan Gardens was one of the most popular attractions in the city. To enlarge the park, the City of Toronto bought a parcel of land from Mr. Allan. It surrounded the property that he had originally donated. The funds for the purchase were derived from the city’s “Walks and Gardens” funds. The City then leased the newly acquired land to the Toronto Horticultural Society, for a nominal sum. A stipulation was written into the agreement that the grounds were to be publicly accessible and free of charge for everyone, in perpetuity.

In 1864, to attract more visitors, the Horticultural Society spent $6,000 on improving the park and constructing a pavilion with greenhouse space where plants could be grown indoors.

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The pavilion built in 1864, which was sometimes described as being “rustic.” Photo, Toronto Public Library T11684.

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An 1870s photo of the pavilion. Toronto Public Library, r-5551.

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View looking west along the walkway that led to the pavilion.

However, despite the pavilion being very popular with visitors, it was not well maintained. Also, its size had become inadequate for the requirements of the venue. In 1878, only fourteen years after it was built, it was demolished to enable the construction of another pavilion. To finance it, a loan of $20,000 was secured by the Society by offering the park’s grounds as security.

In the summer of 1879, the new Horticultural Pavilion opened. Designed by the Toronto architectural firm of Langley, Langley and Burke, its impressive dimensions were 75’ by 120’. It was constructed mainly of wood and iron, with many large glass surfaces to allow sunlight to enter the interior. Its design was inspired by the Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition of 1862, in London, England. Toronto’s pavilion was located a short distance west of the previous one, midway between Carlton and Gerrard Streets. A 45’ by 48’ conservatory was later added to its south side.

The stage of the pavilion’s auditorium accommodated as many as 200 performers. It was considered one of the premier facilities of its kind in Canada, competing with the St. Lawrence Hall on King Street East for the honour of being the cultural centre of the city. From the day the pavilion was inaugurated, it was in great demand for concerts, gala balls, conventions, public lectures and of course, flower shows. In 1882, Oscar Wilde lectured in the Pavilion Hall.

The architects that designed the second pavilion were also commissioned to erect a 25’ fountain, with a 45’-diameter stone basin. It was constructed on the same site as the former pavilion. The fountain no longer exists, and I have been unable to discover when it was dismantled. Photos reveal that it was still there in 1925. Today, there is a similar fountain in St. James Park on King Street East, though it is on a much smaller scale.

1880  pictures-r-5572[1]   dscn02491[1]  

(Left) The fountain in Allan Gardens and in the background the new pavilion that opened in 1879. Photo taken in 1880, Toronto Public Library, r-5572.

(Right) The small fountain in St. James Park on King Street East that resembles the one that was once in Allan Gardens. Photo taken in 2011.

In 1888, despite the popularity of the gardens, the Society was bankrupt. As a result, the City of Toronto assumed ownership of the property and its assets, paying off the $35,000 mortgage. The City now constructed a decorative fence around the park and replaced the gas lamps with those that were electrified. 

In 1894, the City allocated considerable funds to modernize the pavilion. A refreshment room was added and the old conservatory was replaced with a larger facility that was 90’ by 61’. Its architect was Robert McCallum, who served as the City Architect of Toronto from 1903 until his forced resignation in 1913. The structure was an ornately grand four-storey building, with fancy architectural trim and sweeping verandas. I believe that it was somewhat oriental in appearance.

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The west (rear) facade of the Pavilion that opened in 1879. Photo taken in 1896, City of Toronto Archives, S0376, Fl005, item 0075. 

1890s of the pav. built in 1879 pavilion  pictures-r-5580[1]

                        Interior of the pavilion that opened in 1879.

June 6, 1895 from Rose Garden  . f1548_s0393_it0253[1]

The pavilion on June 6, 1895, the Rosary (rose garden) in the foreground. Toronto Archives, F1548, S0393, item 0253.

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Photo taken in 1896 of the east (front) facade of the pavilion. The fountain designed by Langley, Langley and Burke is visible in the foreground. Toronto Archives, F 1231, item 0557.

In 1901, the name of the park was changed to Allan Gardens, in honour of the man who had donated the land to originally create the park. Unfortunately, on June 6, 1902, a disastrous fire destroyed the Pavilion, along with sections of the new conservatory. Robert McCallum was again hired to design its replacement. After the fire, for the next few years the only sections of the pavilion that were open to the public were those that survived the flames.

It was eight years before a new pavilion appeared. Inaugurated in 1910, it contained an impressive collection of native and foreign specimens, including rare orchids and other exotic plants and palms. Reflecting popular tends of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, the gardens and pathways in the park were designed in a symmetrical manner. The sprawling greenhouse facility still exists in Allan Gardens today, its main building named the Palm House. The latter structure is classically proportioned, possessing an enormous dome.

During the 1920s, the greenhouses were expanded when two new display structures were added to the Palm House. They were attached to the north and south sides of it. In 1957, an additional greenhouse, possessing building extensions, was constructed, which expanded conservatory display space. The adjacent garden areas were also reconstructed.

In 2003, the University of Toronto’s former botany education facility greenhouse, built in 1932, was dismantled and relocated to Allan Gardens to accommodate the construction of the institution’s new pharmacy building.

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View of the Palm House that opened in 1910. Photo taken in February 1913. The greenhouses on either side of it had not yet been built. Toronto Archives, F 1231, item 0547.

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The Palm House in July 2018, the greenhouses built in the 1920s visible on either side of the structure.

Sources for this post on Allan Gardens:

https://www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/…gardens…/gardens…/allan-gardens-conservato…

blogTO, and information provided in the greenhouses in Allan Gardens.

To explore more information on the Palm House and other greenhouses in Allan Gardens, follow the link:

 https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/alllan-gardens-toronto-and-the-palm-house/

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 Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_  

“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. The richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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 personally experienced these grand old movie houses. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2) and may also be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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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Toronto’s New City Hall—Past and Present

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                                Toronto’s New City Hall

Many cities throughout the world have landmark structures that are easily recognized, even when there are no captions or context that identify their location. A few prime examples are the Eiffel Tower, United Nations Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Coliseum, Taj Mahal, and Buckingham Palace. If photos of these buildings are displayed, there is no need to identify the city where they appear as they have been well known for decades and in some instances, for centuries.

Toronto possesses two such structures—the CN Tower and the New City Hall. When I was travelling across Europe and Asia in the late-1970s, in the windows of travel agencies, I sometimes saw photos of the New City Hall and the CN Tower. The images were being employed to promote Toronto as a tourist destination. Most people I talked to readily knew where these landmarks were located.

Toronto was not always as well known internationally as it is today. In the 1930s, the city remained a quiet and loyal part of the old British Empire. During the Second World War its economy expanded as it focussed on contributing to the war effort. After peace was declared in 1945, growth was stimulated exponentially by the pent up demand for housing, commercial buildings and entertainment. The post-war years were also when immigration increased immensely as thousands of people chose Toronto as their new home. The city’s growth continued unabated throughout the 1950s. At the end of the decade, development was further intensified by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. Ships were now able to bi-pass Montreal, which was at that time was Canada’s largest city. Thus, the 1960s became a period of extremely robust construction.

Unfortunately, because of the city’s rapid expansion during this decade, many of the city’s heritage buildings were demolished. Many low-rise structures in the downtown were destroyed and replaced with towering skyscrapers. It was as if City Council had embraced the motto: “out with the old, in with the new.” Most Torontonians embraced this viewpoint, feeling it was necessary if the city were to enter the modern era.

As a result, few objections were raised about the destruction of older buildings, including those that had survived for over a century. Many believed that these structures had little to contribute to the new urban scene. As well, the voices of those concerned about architectural preservation were mostly absent from the scene.

Unfortunately, some developers, aided by politicians, continue to favour this destructive attitude today, though I admit that things are improving.

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A prime example of the destruction this attitude caused is the demolition of the Board of Trade Building on the northeast corner of Front and Yonge Streets. Built in 1892, it was demolished in 1959 and remained a parking lot until another structure was erected on the site in 1982. The left-hand photo depicts the building constructed in 1982, and the right-hand photo the Board of Trade Building erected in 1892. Readers are invited to compare the two structures and judge accordingly. For more information about the Board of Trade Building: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/torontos-board-of-trade-building-demolished/

However, despite the damage created by city planners of the 1960s, it was during this decade that Toronto built a magnificent New City Hall. It began when City Council and Mayor Nathan Philips initiated a world-wide search for an architect. Five hundred and twenty submissions were received from forty-two countries, the winning design by a Finnish architect — Viljo Revell.

Its construction commenced on November 7, 1961, its architecture a dramatic break from the ultra-conservative styles of the past. For over a century, since its incorporation as a city in 1834, Toronto had produced some remarkable buildings, but few that ever created as much praise and condemnation as the New City Hall.

When architectural drawings of it were published in the newspapers, reviews were mixed. One reporter wrote that Revell was to be Mayor Philips’ Christopher Wren, who had designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Others declared that the design of the new council chamber resembled an ugly giant oyster, and expressed doubts that any pearls of wisdom would ever be expressed within it.

As construction costs continued to soar, many citizens felt that the entire project was fishy. After all, politicians at City Hall were well known to hook and gut taxpayers by wasting dollars on grand schemes. The unfamiliar futuristic design of the new civic building appeared to be proof of this suspicion. The council chamber in the New City Hall was also compared to a flying saucer. Some expressed the opinion that it might float upward into the skies above due to the political hot air that would be produced inside it by politicians.

However, as the edifice neared completion, people gazed in wonder at the oyster-like city hall chamber, nestled between the two majestic curving towers. Comparisons to fishy endeavours faded from the minds of most citizens, although some still questioned the $25 million building costs. The structure possessed many impressive features, the one that perhaps garnered the most attention being the pillar that supported the council chamber. It was twenty feet in diameter and extended down to the bedrock below. The two towers were not energy efficient by today’s standard, but they were impressive to behold. It was as if Toronto had architecturally finally entered the 20th century.

When the building was officially opened on September 13, 1965 by Governor General Georges Vanier, the weather was cloudy, but nothing dulled the enthusiasm of Torontonians. Fighter planes roared across the sky above the towers and fireworks crackled, sputtered and exploded in the air above it. Mayor Jean Drapeau of Montreal was heard to remark glumly that he doubted that his city would have ever have a building to match it.

                    cityhall- 1960s  a-r4-15[1]

Construction site of the New City Hall in 1961, the oval shape of the two towers already evident. The view faces northwest, and in the background are the Toronto Armouries on University Avenue and the Registry Building, located on the west side of the New City Hall (both these buildings have since been demolished). Image is from the Toronto Public Library, a-r4-15

June 22, 1964.  f1268_it0462[1]

Taken on June 22, 1964, the photo looks northeast from the space that became Nathan Phillips Square. In the foreground is the old Registry Building that is being demolished. To discover the history of this neo-classical structure, follow the link https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/torontos-old-registry-office-building/ . The above image is from the Toronto Archives, Fl268, it462.

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View of the New City Hall in 1964 as construction nears completion. City of Toronto Archives, F1025, fl 0001, id. 0135.

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The New City hall in the late-1960s. Toronto Archives F0124, fl0002, id 0002.

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Skaters on the ice in the reflecting pool in Nathan Philips Square, view gazing north. Photo January 15, 2019. 

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Summer in Nathan Philips Square, view looking north toward the twin towers of the New City Hall, the curved pillars in the foreground extending over the east side of the reflecting pool. Toronto Archives, F 0124, fl 0003, id 0092.

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Reflecting pool in Nathan Philips Square, the Canada Life Building in the background and the north facade of the Sheraton Centre Hotel on the upper left-hand corner of the photo.

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The 20-foot diameter column that supports the spaceship-like council chamber. The pillar rests on the bedrock below.

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City Hall Chambers where city council meets. Photo taken during Doors Open in 2012.

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      The mayor’s office in the New City Hall, photo taken in 2012.

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View from the roof of the Old City Hall, looking west toward the Canada Life Building on University Avenue.

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View from the roof of the New City Hall, gazing south over Nathan Philips Square. The large building facing north overlooking the square is the Sheraton Centre Hotel at 123 Queen St. West. Behind it is the CN Tower. On the right-hand (west) side of the square is the eastern part of Osgoode Hall. 

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View looking east on Queen Street West from the south side of Nathan Phillips Square. The food trucks have been a familiar part of the scene for decades. The tower of the Old City Hall is visible in the background. 

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              View from south side of Nathan Philips Square.

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View gazing north from Nathan Philips Square at the New City Hall in the summer of 2012. 

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 Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_[1]  

“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. The richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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 personally experienced these grand old movie houses. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2) and may also be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

The Story of Gibson House—North York, Toronto

1. DSCN2430

         Gibson House in North York, Toronto, at 5172 Yonge Street.

Gibson House, the home of David and Eliza Gibson, recreates life in a 19th century farm house, an era from our past that contrasts with our busy modern world. The early decades that this house represents may appear quiet and less-hurried when compared to today, but visitors soon learn that this is a mere illusion. It was an age that lacked modern technology, meaning that life was harsh and labour intensive. Despite this, many tasks performed by the Gibson family remain familiar to us today, while others are thankfully remote.

The story of the original inhabitant of the house is fascinating, as they witnessed and participated in some of the most turbulent events in the history of our province. David Gibson was born in 1804 in the parish of Glamis, Forfarshire (Angus), Scotland. His father, a tenant farmer, apprenticed him at 15 years of age to a land surveyor in Forfarshire. When David’s apprenticeship ended in 1824, he immigrated to North America. His uncle, Alexander Milne, who lived in Markham Township, Upper Canada (Ontario), encouraged him in this venture by informing him that it was relatively easy to qualify as a surveyor in the province as surveyors were in great demand.

David sailed for North America in the spring of 1825 and arrived in Montreal. Although he found employment there, a permanent position in his area of expertise eluded him. Finally, even though a well-paid position as a grocery merchant was offered to him, he departed Montreal and journeyed to his uncle’s farm in Upper Canada. Upon his arrival in the province, he was still unable to immediately secure the employment that he desired.

However, upon passing the provincial examination for surveyors in December 1825, he was appointed deputy-surveyor of roads and in September 1828, surveyor of highways for the southern part of the Home District. In a mere three years, he was well established and was busy mapping the roads and avenues of early-day York (Toronto).

In 1828, Gibson married his cousin, Eliza Milne, and the following year they bought a farm lot on north Yonge Street, nine miles north of the town of York. Located in an area that is today named Willowdale, they built a wood-frame house. Under David’s guidance, the property became an active and progressive farm.

However, despite his busy life as a farmer and surveyor, David Gibson set aside time to become involved in public affairs. In 1831 he was elected president of the York Temperance Society. It was during these years that he saw first-hand the inequalities of the political system in Upper Canada and became an avid Reformer. His views led him to a political association with William Lyon Mackenzie.

In 1834 and 1836 Gibson was elected to the assembly for the First Riding of York, where he became known as a reasonable but forceful supporter of reform. It is thought that because of his commitment to the reform movement, the newly-incorporated City of Toronto City Council gave him contacts surveying streets and sidewalks. However, despite his many activities, he continued to farm and prosper. He won several prizes from the Home District Agricultural Society, and successfully sold livestock at ever-increasing prices.

In December of 1837, Mackenzie began advocating for open rebellion against the government. Gibson learned of the plans only two days before events were to begin and was not fully aware of Mackenzie’s intentions. When he finally met with Mackenzie, the rebel leader demanded that Gibson choose sides. Gibson was hesitant. However, he eventually agreed, even though he believed that rebellion was wrong. He reasoned that such an extreme measure might force the government to institute reforms that were badly needed.

On a cold December morning, though he harboured doubts about the course of action, Gibson was present at Montgomery’s Tavern where Mackenzie and the rebels had gathered. Unfortunately, the tavern was raided by government forces lead by James Fitzgibbon and Allan McNab. During the skirmish, Gibson protected the loyalist prisoners held inside Montgomery Tavern from mistreatment, and eventually led them to safety. At this point, Gibson left the rebels and did not join in the march down Yonge Street.

The loyalist prisoners were grateful for their freedom and spoke on Gibson’s behalf. Despite this, Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head ordered the militia to torch the house on Gibson’s farm. While it was in flames, after ensuring that her children were safe, Eliza Gibson ran into the burning building to retrieve the clock-face and mechanical workings from their treasured wooden long-case (grandfather) clock. In her skirt, she carried out of the house the valuable parts of the clock.

As there was a warrant for his arrest, Gibson hid near Oshawa for a month, and then, escaped across Lake Ontario to Lockport, New York. While in the United States, he avoided any contact with Mackenzie, who had referred to him in an article as a coward, because Gibson had left the rebels after the fighting at Montgomery’s Tavern. Gibson finally secured employment in Lockport as an engineer on the Erie Canal and sent for his family to join him. He prospered and soon was able to purchase a farm.

Although he was pardoned in 1843 by the government of Canada West (Upper Canada) on the charge of treason, he remained in the United States and in 1846 applied for citizenship. In 1848, however, he lost his employment contract on the Erie Canal. As a result, after 11 years in exile, he decided to return to his farm in Canada West (today named Ontario).

While Gibson was in the United States, his Yonge Street property had been tended to by relatives. Repossessing the farm, he was determined to re-build and also resume his profession as surveyor. He hired a farmhand to assist him when he was away surveying. Interestingly, the clock works that Eliza had rescued from the flames in 1837, had been placed in a new case after Eliza, David, and their children re-united in Lockport, New York.  When the Gibson family returned to the farm in 1848, the long-case clock was brought with them.

In 1851, the Gibson family built an impressive Georgian Revival farmhouse at 5172 Yonge Street. A narrow dirt lane led from the farmhouse to Yonge Street. A few years after the house was built, an addition was erected to provide accommodation for the labourer who worked on the farm. It was a separate second-level structure attached to the west side of the house, with a separate staircase and entrance that connected it to the kitchen. The worker used the separate entrance to enter or depart the house, and only visited the parlour and living space if he were invited by the family.

In 1855, Gibson opened a post office just north of his farm. In that decade, there were about 150 people living in the community, which was known as Kummer’s (or Cummer’s) settlement. David Gibson suggested that the name be changed to Willowdale, because of the numerous willow trees in the area.

The house was home to David and Eliza and their four sons and three daughters. After David and Eliza passed away, their son Peter Silas Gibson and his family lived it until 1916. Then, the house was occupied by a series of different owners and tenants. To rescue it from demolition, the Township of North York purchased the property in 1965.

Gibson House was restored and opened as a heritage museum on June 6, 1971. Today, it operates as a functioning household by interpreting 19th-century domestic skills involving cooking, sewing, gardening and farming. Visitors are able to tour this historic Georgian-style farmhouse and museum is at 5172 Yonge Street. The clock rescued by Eliza can still be seen in a prominent position in the house.

Sources:

I am indebted to the tour guide who showed me the rooms within Gibson House and the informative signs posted in the hallways to help visitors understand 19th-century life

Internet sources:

www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/toronto-feature-gibson-house/

www.torific.ca/gibson-house-reminder-of-early-settlements-and-rural-history-in-north

www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gibson_david_9E.html

58. gate and lane to G H in 1913.   nyhs00633[1]

Entrance in 1913 from Yonge Street to Gibson House, which in that year contained the offices of Peter S. Gibson. The view gazes west, with the house partially obscured by the trees. Toronto Public Library, Call number NYHS00633.

61, south on Yonge from north of Park Ave, 1914.   near  nyhs00010[1]

View looking south on Yonge Street from Park Home Avenue in 1914. The rural qualities of the community are clearly evident. This is the view a person would have seen in 1914 after exiting the laneway from the Gibson House and turning southward toward the city. City of Toronto Archives, Call number NYHS00010.

60.  1957.  pictures-r-6389[2]

View looking west at the land between Yonge Street and the Gibson House. The photo is dated 1957, but I suspect it was taken much earlier as the porch is missing from the front of the house. In the next photo, dated the same year, the porch has been restored. Toronto Public Library, Call number SI-4167. 

55. c. 1967  f0217_s0249_fl0090_it0001[1]

East and north facades of Gibson House. The photo is dated 1957, but as the house appears restored, the date of the photo is suspect. Toronto Archives, f 0217, S 0249, fl 1009, item 0001.

59.  c. 1970  tspa_0107065f[2]

Controller Mel Lastman in front of Gibson House in 1970, when the house was overshadowed by a 17-story apartment building on its north side. Toronto Public Library, tspa 01007065f.

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The front of Gibson House in June 2018. Georgian Revival in style, it has a symmetrical facade, with nine windows, and a Greek portico.

                               4.

The Greek-style portico and the door with its side-light windows and fan-shaped transom window above, which add elegance to the entranceway.

11.

The kitchen of Gibson House with its large open fireplace and work table. This is where meals were prepared for family members, the domestic servant, and the farm worker.

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    The fireplace with various 19th-century utensils required for cooking.

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       A cozy table set for tea beside the fireplace in the dining room.

46.

       Tables set in the dining room for a Mothers’ Day tea in June 2018.

                          48.

The clock that contains the face and workings that Eliza rescued from the fire in 1837. The wooden case for the clock was acquired while the family lived in Lockport, New York. The clock was carried across the border when the Gibsons returned to Canada West (Upper Canada, now Ontario) in 1848. 

                          16.

Staircase leading from the ground-floor level to the second storey of the Gibson House. Photo June 2018. The charming young woman in the photo provided an interesting and insightful tour of the home.

                       23.

View from the top of the staircase, the sewing room on the second-floor level directly ahead.

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The boys’ room where James, William, Peter, and George slept, two in a bed. 

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In the girls’ bedrooms, the front room was where Elizabeth (Libby) slept. She had a writing desk beside the window where perhaps a few love letters were penned. The room behind hers was for her sisters, Margaret and Hellen. Two years after moving into the house, in 1853, Elizabeth married and departed her parents’ home.

25.

The bedroom of David and Eliza, containing the best furnishings in the house. On the far wall is a “dumb stove,” a circular device in a stovepipe that radiates heat from the parlour stove downstairs.

26.

As the heat rises through the stovepipe and reaches  the “dumb stove,” it spreads out and heats the room more efficiently. Clothes placed near the dumb stove are kept warm for the morning. 

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           The bed of David and Eliza in the master bedroom.

30.

The sewing room was where clothes were made for the family and where all mending and stitching was performed. In 1851, the hired girl who assisted Eliza with these chores, was 20-year-old Catherine Flynn, an Irish immigrant. Domestic work was not highly valued in this century and Catherine was likely paid about half the wages of the farm worker. However, her room and board were included. She slept in the sewing room.  

   35.

The guest bedroom, a well-furnished room that was designed to impress visitors. Due to the difficulty of travelling any distance after sunset, guests who arrived for dinner often stayed the night.

38.

The room of John Bosa, the young Englishman who was the farm worker that performed most of the labour on the farm while David Gibson was away surveying. The room was his bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom as it contained a chamber pot under the bed. He ate in the kitchen and entered his room via the back staircase. He did not enter the parlour or living space of the family unless invited. However, because he had a cozy room within the house, he was likely viewed as a valued member of the household.

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John Bosa likely sat in his room many an evening after a hard-day’s labour on the farm, soaking his tired feet.

                   40.

The office of David Gibson, where he worked on the maps and documents related to his employment as a surveyor. The drafting table is beside the window to take advantage of the available daylight. 

                 49.

A person can only speculate how many times a member of the Gibson family peered out this window at the farmland and orchard on the property.

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 Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_  

“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The historic Noble Block—Queen Street West

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The Noble Block is a commercial row of red-brick buildings, visible from the busy intersection of Queen and Spadina. Located on the north side of Queen Street, they appear in the distance, in the centre of the photo. The camera faces east from the southwest corner of Spadina and Queen Streets.

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The Noble Block consists of a row of seven red-brick buildings that extend from 342 to 354 Queen Street West. The two buildings to the west of them (left-hand side in photo), numbers #356 and #358, are not part of the Noble Block, but architecturally complement it.

Today, walking along some sections of Queen Street West, a person is able visualize Toronto as it appeared in the 19th-century. Unfortunately, most visitors do not see the historical aspects of the buildings as they rarely gaze above the first-floor level, where the shops windows are located. However, the upper floors contain some of the best preserved Victorian commercial architecture in the city.      

The row of buildings, known as the Noble Block, are located on land that in the 1790s was part of the 100-acre Park Lot #15, granted to William Wilcox by Lieutenant Governor Simcoe. The Park Lot extended from Spadina to Huron Street. To the east of it was Park Lot 14, owned by Peter Russell.

After John Graves Simcoe departed from Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1795, Peter Russell was the highest ranking official of both the Executive and Legislative Councils. He was appointed Administrator of Upper Canada in 1796 and remained in this position until 1799 when Peter Hunter arrived as the new Lieutenant Governor. Peter Street is named after Peter Russell, as is Russell Hill Road, Russell Street and Russell Hill Avenue.

In 1802, Peter Russell purchased Park Lot 15 where the Noble Block is located, and soon thereafter, began sub-dividing the land on its south side, along Queen Street. The small parcels of land were suitable in size for family homes, which began to appear c. 1805. The row houses became known as the Petersfield Row, the name derived from the country farmhouse of Peter Russell, which had been erected c.1799. It was located a short distance east of Spadina, set back from the north side of Queen Street. Today, the site is where Soho Street intersects with Phoebe Street.

During most of the 19th century, the Petersfield Row continued to occupy this section of the street. They extended from Spadina Avenue, east to Soho Street. However, the row houses were eventually doomed due to the city’s constant growth, as it was the government and financial centre of the province.

By the latter decades of the 19th century, land prices along Queen Street were increasing rapidly, and the building lots to the north and south of Queen Street were becoming fully occupied. This created a demand for more shops and residential properties along busy Queen Street, as it was the commercial centre of the community.

As there were no empty lots, the alternative was to raze the low-rise structures and replace them with higher buildings that extended further back from the street. This is why there are numerous tall, narrow buildings along this section of Queen Street. In the late-1880s, the working-class houses of Petersfield Row were demolished to allow the taller structures to be erected.

In 1888, seven three-storey buildings were constructed, numbers 342 to 354 Queen Street West. Three-storeys were deemed a practical height in a decade without elevators. Each building was a separate entity, but they were architecturally similar in style, complementing each other. They were named the Noble Block after Mrs. Emma Noble, a widow, who owned the land on which seven of the buildings were located. The funds for their construction were from money she had inherited from her father, William Noble, a retired farmer.

The new buildings were a commercial block, with shops on the first-floor level and residential apartments or offices above them. James Smith and William Gimmell were the architects. They designed many churches and wealthy homes throughout Toronto and the province, most of which have since been demolished. Thankfully, the Noble Block has survived.

Another widow, Mrs. Mary Ann Harvard, owned the two properties to the immediate west of the Noble Block (#356-358 Queen Street). She intended to invest with Mrs. Noble and add two more buildings to the block. However, for some unknown reason she decided to opt out of the plan. She sold the land and the new owner declined to participate in the scheme. Thus, the two buildings to the west of the Noble Block were not constructed until several years later and are not part of it.

When the two latter buildings (#356-358 Queen Street) were finally erected, though the colour of the bricks was not the same as the Noble Block, their ornate brickwork complemented the earlier structures. Today, these two shops are combined into a single store, with the postal address #356. Despite the passage of the years, the row of three-storey buildings remain an important part of Queen Street West. 

In the Noble Block, five of the red-brick buildings, numbered 346 to 354, have an overall unified symmetrical facade. Above them is a parapet that includes a raised section that denotes the year they were built—AD 1888. The two most easterly of the block, numbers #342 and #344, are not a part of the overall symmetrical design of numbers #346-#354. However, the facades of #342 and #344 are also individually symmetrical. They differ from the other structures in the block as they contain larger arched windows on the second floor.

In truth, all the windows in the buildings are wide and spacious, well suited to an era without electric lighting. Some windows contain coloured glass in the top sections, many with blue glass and a few with green. Their designs and patterns add greatly to the overall attractiveness of the buildings. The windows are surrounded by hand-tooled wood trim for ornamentation. As mentioned previously, unless a person is walking on the south side of the street, the fine detailing of these historic buildings is not easily seen. Most of those who pass by only view the ground-floor, where the shop windows are located.

Over the many decades since they were built, most of the store fronts, on the ground floor level, have been severely altered and modernized. Number #350 (the shop containing Fraiche) is perhaps the least changed. High in the cornices at the top of the building are dentils, and on the facades there are oriel windows, corbelled brickwork, and other interesting designs. There are so many shapes and patterns in this row of buildings that each time a person examines the structures, often, further details are noted.

Listed below are the merchants who were the first occupants of ground-floor shops of the 1888 Noble Block, and the two buildings to the west of the block. The shops reflect the needs of a local community that preferred to shop by walking to the nearest store, rather than hop on a streetcar or drive. From west to east the shops are:

Building to the west of the Noble Block

#358, Albert Harvard, drugs  –  #356, Mr. N. Olives, fruits – (Source, Toronto Directories)

Noble Block

#354, Fawcett and Peterman, tailors  –  #352, Pearson and Company, hats  – #350, John W. Clark, barber  – #348, Archibald Loughrey, cigars  – #346, Toronto Musical Instrument Company –  #344-342, Fleming and Company, furniture  (Source, Toronto Directory of 1888.)

                   Queen, east of Spadina, "Noble Block" – May 17, 1971

The Noble Block in 1971, appearing much the same as it is today, only the cars betraying that the photo is almost half-a-century old. However, on close inspection, there is one difference. There is a piece of masonry that juts from the top of the structures, above the parapet, containing the words “Noble Block,” and a pediment above it. It has since disappeared. Likely it was removed as it was in danger of falling to the street below. Toronto Archives, Font 1526, f 10070, item 0052. 

View of Queen Street West, looking east at Spadina Avenue – September 27, 1981

View looking east from Queen and Spadina in September 1981. The Noble Block is on the north (left-hand) side of the street. The tower of the Old City Hall is visible in the distance. Mature shade trees flank both sides of the street. Most of these trees no longer exist. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, F 0076, item 0024.

View of Queen Street West at Soho Street – June 7, 1981

Gazing west on Queen Street West in 1981, the Noble Block mostly hidden by trees. Sadly, most of the greenery has not survived into the present. Photos like this truly remind us of the damage to the environment by pollution. As the trees died, the City replaced them, but the new trees are small and are not doing well. In 1981, the masonry above the parapet at the top of the building still has the part where the words “Noble Block” was located. Toronto Archives, Fond 1526, F 10076, Item 0022.

image

View looks west along Queen Street at the buildings in July 2018. There are no longer many trees to shelter those who stroll along the street from the heat of the summer sun. The top part that denoted the name of the block is no longer on the structure.

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These five buildings in the centre of the block (#346-#354) have an overall symmetrical design. Though only three storeys in height, they appear taller as the ceilings on each floor are high and there is a parapet (false wall) at the top. 

DSCN3196

The parapet (false wall) at the top of the centre buildings of the Noble Block, denoting the year they were built. It was above this, that the section once stood that contained the words “Noble Block.”

                      DSCN3193

The two buildings, #356 and 358 Queen St. now have a single postal address, number #356.  This is because they are combined into a single shop on the ground-floor level. These are the two structures that were erected after Emma Noble had completed the Noble Block in 1888.

DSCN3204

The brickwork on #356 on the top two floors is quite intricate, and the cornice at the top is massive in appearance. There is a flag pole that has not been used in many years. When these buildings were erected, flying the Union Jack was a regular occurrence.

                            DSCN3195

The two buildings on the east side of the block do not match the symmetry of the five structures to the west of them, but their designs are also symmetrical.

                           image

A bay window in the Noble Block, generously framed with wood. At the top of the window, there is blue coloured–glass.

                            image

The shop at #350 Queen Street, Fraiche, has the only first-floor facade that has survived into the 21st-century. It still has the stained-glass panes above the window and door. The blue door (behind the opened white door) gives access to the apartments on the second and third floors. Photo July 2018.

DSCN3716

The reflection of the Noble Block appears in the glass facades of the buildings on the south side of Queen Street. The building in the background is the District Lofts on Richmond Street West.

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The commercial row, which for over a century, has overlooked Queen Street West.

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 Author

               DSCN2207_thumb9_thumb2_thumb4_thumb_  

“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

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

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. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

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“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It 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 link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“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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