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Category Archives: Toronto history

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.

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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. 

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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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Alllan Gardens (Toronto) and the Palm House

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The Palm House in Allan Gardens on July 7, 2018, a man on a motorized wheelchair approaching the structure. The camera is facing west, the buildings behind the Palm House located on Jarvis Street.

In July 2018, I visited Allan Gardens to photograph inside the greenhouses. Prior to entering the Palm House, while taking photos from the walkway that leads to the front doors, I failed to notice a man on a motorized wheelchair approaching me. When I became aware of his presence, I said, “Good morning.”

He smiled and enquired, “Are you a tourist?”

I replied, “I was born in Toronto but have not visited the park or the greenhouses for many years.”

Expressing surprise, he declared, “I can’t believe you’ve ignored such a great city attraction for such a long time.” I agreed. After a short conversation, as he prepared to maneuverer his wheelchair away from me, he declared, “I am 92 years old and visit Allan Gardens several times a week. I intend to do this until I am over 100 years of age.”

A very worthwhile goal, I thought.

Feb. 19, 2019.

          The Palm House in Allan Gardens on February 19, 2019.

I revisited Allan Garden and its greenhouses on a cold winter day In February of 2019 to experience it in a different season. On entering the Palm House, the first thing I noticed was that my eye-glasses immediately fogged-up. Despite it being a nuisance, the warm, moist air felt pleasant on my face. A few moments later, an employee informed me that it was 16 degrees Celsius inside the greenhouses, though it felt much warmer to me because it was so cold outside. The employee also informed me that the humidity was maintained by spraying the brick floors with a hose, a rather old-fashioned method, but quite effective. When the greenhouses were constructed, built-in humidifying systems were not yet available.

On this day, Toronto was in winter’s grip, but inside the greenhouses there were displays of colourful blooms of amaryllis and cyclamen, as well as groupings of tulips and miniature daffodils. I also noticed that compared to my visit in July, there were considerably more visitors. Viewing flowering plants and lush greenery is a greater attraction when the scenery outside is covered in snow. This is one of the reasons for the great success in March each year of Canada Blooms.

The greenhouses were also being employed as a pleasant environment for other activities. A woman was sitting on a bench in the Palm House to sketch, and another visitor on a bench was reading a book. There was also a school class of teenage schoolgirls who were recent immigrants to Canada. Their teacher seemed very proud to show-off the facilities and the wonderful displays.  

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   The Palm House, the camera facing west, on February 19, 2019.

Allan Gardens possesses a long and varied history. It was originally known as the Toronto Horticultural Garden, its name changed to Allan Gardens in 1901. This was to honour the man who donated the original five acres to the Toronto Horticultural Society. To discover more about the history of Allan Gardens, follow the link: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/historic-greenhouses-in-allan-gardens-toronto/ 

The main attraction of the greenhouses that exist in the park today is the Palm House. It is often employed for wedding ceremonies and special events. Under its enormous dome, tall leafy palms and other tropical plants grow in profusion. The Palm House is the oldest structure that exists in the park today. It opened in 1910, following a disastrous fire that demolished the previous pavilion in 1901. Another attraction in Allan Gardens is on the east side of the park, the statue of Robert Burns, placed there in 1902.

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Postcard printed in 1910 of Allan Gardens. The view gazes northeast toward Carlton Street; the pathway leads to the fountain (now demolished), located in front of the Palm House. The Postcard is from the collection of the Toronto Public Library, pcr-2170. 

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The summer of 1913, the view gazing west toward the Palm House. Visible is the fountain designed by the same architects as the previous pavilion (constructed in 1879). Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 01101.

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View looking across the grounds of Allan Gardens, from the doorway of the Palm House, on August 1, 1914. The camera is pointed east toward Sherbourne Street. Photo from the Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0371. 

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This diagram of the greenhouses is not to scale, but it shows the various structures within it.

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Inside the south greenhouse in 1914, view looking north from its south end. Toronto Archives, S0372, SS 0052, item 0259.

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Looking into the north greenhouse in January 1914. The stairs have since been replaced with a ramp to facilitate easier access for the handicapped. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0252.

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The south tropical greenhouse in January 1914. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0261.

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View of the Palm House in 1925, prior to greenhouses being built on its north and south facades. The front of the Palm House (east facade) has been altered since this photo was taken. The fountain is visible on the right-hand side of the photo, and the steeple of the Old St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, is visible in the background. Toronto Public Library, r-777(1)

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Adults and children in the early-1920s, posing for a photo while sitting on the stone wall that encircles the fountain. In the background, visible is the east (front) facade of the Palm House, which has two large pillars, one on either side of the central entrance. Today, there are large windows where the pillars and centre entrance were once located. Likely, the facade was altered in the late-1920s (see next photo).

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The Palm House during the winter of 1972. In this photo, it can be seen that the pillars and the door in the centre position have been removed, replaced by doors on the north and south sides of the east facade. In the background can be seen a high-rise building, heralding the beginning of the many high-rise buildings that would be constructed on Jarvis Street in the decades ahead. Toronto Archives, F 0124, fl 0002, id 0135.

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The University of Toronto’s Botany Education Greenhouse at 6 Queen’s Park (northwest corner of College and University Avenue). Built in 1932, it  was dismantled and relocated to Allan Gardens in 2003. This was done to accommodate the construction of the University’s new pharmacy building, the Leslie Dan Building. Today, greenhouse is on the northwest section of the greenhouses in Allan  Gardens. It is employed for student programs. Photo from the Toronto Archives, F 1244, item 7374. 

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In this view, the greenhouses are visible, which in the 1920s, were added to the north and south facades of the Palm House. In this photo, taken in 2018, the buildings in the background on Jarvis Street are taller and more numerous than in the 1970s photo.

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    The greenhouse built on the north side of the Palm House in the 1920s. The Palm House can be seen on the left-hand side of the photo.

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(Left photo) Entrance to the Palm House on the north side of the structure. The classical design includes pilasters (three-sided faux columns) on either side of the door and large dentils in the cornice above the door. (Right photo) View from the doorway, looking into the Palm House.

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         Palms beneath the great glass dome of the Palm House.                              

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A wedding ceremony in progress beneath the glass dome of the Palm House.

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                            Serious photographers in the Palm House. 

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              Gazing skyward from beneath the dome of the Palm House.

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Entrance to the tropical greenhouse on the south side of the Palm House.

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Inner pathway in the tropical greenhouse located on the south side of the Palm House.

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Lush foliage and red shasta daisies beside the pathway in the greenhouse on the south of the Palm House.

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A child runs amid the foliage in the south tropical greenhouse in Allan Gardens in July, 2018. It is not difficult to imagine how the child views the scene — a veritable endless jungle of greenery.

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Yellow/red tulips and pink/white cyclamen in bloom in February 2019, a waterfalls in the background. I have observed displays such as this during my travels in tropical countries but never with tulips. They were of course imported for the occasion.

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                            Winter displays of tulips and white amaryllis.

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Entrance to the greenhouse where plants grow that survive in an arid (desert) climate (northwest greenhouse)

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Golden Barrel Cactus in the Arid House. These plants were first discovered in Mexico.

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Entrance to the greenhouses that extends to the west, from the greenhouse on the south side of the Palm House.

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A wall of orchids displayed behind glass in the Tropical House, July 2018.

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Orchid wall in a glass enclosure where humidity and temperature are closely monitored.

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Shed and waterwheel in the southwest greenhouse, where turtles bask in the weak February sun shining through the glass roof.

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                                        Close-up view of the turtles.

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               Orchards in the south Tropical Greenhouse. 

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                         Blooms in the south greenhouse at Allan Gardens.

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A pond with koi (goldfish) and a statue of “Leda and the Swan,” the figures based on a legend from Greek mythology.

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                         View of the statue of “Leda and the Swan.”

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Statue of Robert Burns on the east side of Allan Gardens. Photo July 2018. It was in July 1902 that the life-sized statue of the Scottish poet Robert Burns was donated to the park by the Toronto Burns Monument Committee. It was cast by D. W. Stevenson of Edinburgh, Scotland.

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[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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The Great Hall at Dovercourt and Queen—Toronto

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Majestic amidst the modern urban clutter, The Great Hall at 1087 Queen Street West is on the southeast corner of Queen and Dovercourt Road.

My earliest memories of the Great Hall are from the year 2000. In that year I moved into a condo in the downtown area and passed by the building occasionally on the Queen streetcar. On these occasions, I admired its impressively intricate architecture, even though it was in poor condition. I remember thinking how the dilapidated structure reflected our city’s attitude toward our architectural heritage.

It did not seem to matter that The Great Hall had been listed as a Toronto Heritage site in 1973 and received official designation under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1985. Because of its apparent neglect, I feared that it might be demolished to construct another towering structure of steel and glass. This happens all too often in Toronto, as heritage preservation laws in Ontario are weak. This would be a great pity as buildings such as The Great Hall give texture to our urban streetscape, providing contrast to the smooth, faceless facades of modernity. Fortunately, the story of this building has a happy ending. 

In the 1880s the tale commenced of this fable-like building that resembles a fortified structure of medieval times, with its turrets and towers. In that decade, the YMCA operated from small premises on Queen Street, a short distance east of Dovercourt Road. Having outgrown the site, a wealthy Toronto businessman, Samuel J. Moore, organized a project to raise money from the public to construct a larger building.

Moore was the founder of the Moore Corporation, a company, which among other items, designed and marketed carbon-copy receipt forms. They revolutionized the sales books employed at retail shops for customers’ receipts. Throughout much of the company’s history, it was the world’s largest printer of business forms, and though no longer as influential, it still exists today.

After the land for the structure was purchased for $10,000, the architectural firm of Gordon & Helliwell was hired to construct a four-storey building. Its design was to reflect High Victorian architecture in the  Queen Anne Revival style, which was popular in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was meant to impress those who looked upon it. When completed, The Great Hall certainly achieved this effect.

Located on the southeast corner of Queen and Dovercourt, the cornerstone was laid on November 13, 1889. As construction proceeded, its facades of red bricks soon dominated the street. To add to its impressive appearance, it was trimmed with white Port Credit sandstone. Further embellishments included a rounded ornamented flagstaff tower on its northwest corner and on its northeast corner, a tall pointed tower resembling those found on great cathedrals.

The building was officially opened on October 9, 1890, its completion achieved in a mere eleven months, a testament to the plenteous supply of cheap labour in that decade. The following evening, in the Main Hall the building’s first concert was held, featuring various local groups and individuals. The affair was reviewed favourably by the press.

This new branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was to serve the needs of the West End of the city. It contained a gymnasium that was also employed as an auditorium and was known as The Main Hall. There was a library, basement swimming pool, bowling alley, and a raised wooden running track in the balcony to accommodate aspiring young athletes. Long-distance runner Tom Longboat, a member of the Onondaga Tribe of the Six Nations Indian Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, trained on the building’s track. For many years, he was the world’s most famous long-distance runner. In 1907, he won the Boston Marathon.

The Main Hall in the building had plaster scrollwork surrounding the stage, and the chandeliers of Waterford Crystal were positioned thirty feet above the highly polished oak floor. The cast iron pillars supporting the balcony had ornamented gilded capitals. The west wall contained four arched-windows that were twenty feet in height, allowing copious light to illuminate the interior space.

In 1912, the building was purchased and renovated by the Royal Templars of Temperance, a fraternal organization that promoted the prohibition of alcohol. They also offered life and disability insurance at a reasonable cost to its members. The Templars renamed the former YMCA building the Royal Templar Hall. In the early decade of the 20th century, it was a popular venue for lectures, lantern shows, and popular entertainers of the day. It also organized a baby clinic after the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed more people than the Great War. During the mayoral elections of 1929, candidates Sam McBride and Bert Wemp debated in its auditorium. Sam McBride eventually won the election and today, one of the famous Toronto Island ferries is named after him.   

A dance hall was added in 1933, when the Independent Order of Foresters rented the premises. This organization was similar to the Templars and eventually the two organizations amalgamated. From 1939 until 1987, the building housed the offices of the Polish National Union, as well as the printing presses of the local Polish newspaper. During the Second World War, the building provided temporary accommodations for Polish immigrants arriving from Europe.

In the 1980s, the building became a centre for musicians and artists working in the visual and experimental arts. However, by the turn of the 21st century, the building had greatly deteriorated. Steve Metlitski, a Belarusian immigrant, bought it and provided more than $4 million to restore it to its former glory. During the restoration, it was necessary to install an elevator to comply with accessibility regulations. When layers of plywood and tiles were removed in The Main Hall and balcony the original wood floors were revealed.

The entire interior required repainting and the 20-foot windows on the west side, some of which had survived since 1889, were refurbished. It was also necessary to install a modern cooling system without having the air ducts exposed to view. The restoration was basically completed in 2016, and an opening event was held on September 21st of that year. It was also decided that The Main Hall was to be renamed Longboat Hall after the famous athlete of yesteryears.

As many features as possible of the original hall were now preserved. However, the swimming pool in the basement was not restored, so is not accessible to the public. Presently, the building is named The Great Hall, and features community arts and cultural activities. It is also an excellent events venue. 

Sources:

https://www.thegreathall.ca/

ps://torontoguardian.com › History

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/great-hall…/article31470429 (Marcus Gee)

https://torontoist.com/2014/07/the-great-hall-warns-its-in-danger-of-shutting-down

1908, 1912.  Fonds 70, Series 330, File 345

The Great Hall between the years 1908 and 1912. In those years, few hydro wires cluttered the scene. Toronto Archives, Fonds 70, Series 330, File 345.

1914, Chuckman's Postcard Coll.   ostcard[1]

Postcard printed in 1914 depicting the building. Postcard from the Chuckman’s Postcard Collection.

                                     1907-Tom-Longboat-Library-and-Archives-Canada-Mikan-4169967-211x300[1]

Tom Longboat in 1907, a member of the Onondaga Tribe of the Six Nations Indian Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. He trained on the building’s wood running track. Photo from the Canada Archives, Ottawa. 

blogto.com  2014720-great-hall[1]

       Undated photo of The Main Hall inside the building, image from blogTO.

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The Great Hall in May 2018, looking east along Queen Street West, from west of Dovercourt Road.

DSCN2625   DSCN1918

The rounded flagstaff tower on the northwest corner of the building. Photos taken May 27, 2017.

                            DSCN1920

Outside view of a 20-foot window on the west facade, facing Dovercourt Road. 

DSCN1921

Ornate entrance doors on the north side of the building, facing Queen Street West.

                             DSCN2630

Gazing out through a glass window pane in one of the doors. The buildings framed by the window are on the north side of Queen Street West.

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View inside the doors, revealing the staircase that ascends to the second storey.

DSCN1935

View from the top of the grand staircase, which leads from the ground-floor doors to the second floor where the balcony is located.

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View of the balcony and The Main Hall from the second-floor balcony. Photo taken in May 2017. 

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View from the rear of The Main Hall (Tom Longboat Hall). The ornate plaster surrounding the stage, the oak floors, and the second-storey balcony are visible.

DSCN1929   DSCN1930

The Waterford Crystal chandeliers, positioned thirty feet above the oak floor. 

                               DSCN2622

        Looking east on Queen Street West at the Great Hall, photo May 2018.

view od east side  DSCN1936

View of the east facade of the Great Hall and its pointed tower from the grounds of CAMH, on 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 Blog’s 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. 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. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]

“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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Exploring Historic Spadina House and Museum, Toronto

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Spadina House at 285 Spadina Road in August 2014. The view gazes northeast toward the west (left-hand) and the south facades. On the south (right-hand) side is a large second-storey veranda that has a commanding view of the city below the hill. On the first floor, below the veranda, is the glassed-in “palm room,” containing a winter garden.

Spadina House (and museum), on the brow of the hill that overlooks Davenport Road, is one of the most historic properties in Toronto. Exploring the house on a guided tour provides an intimate look into the life of the Austin family. The Austins moved into the home in 1866 and a member of the family remained in residence until 1982. Today, it mainly features the life of the Austins during the 1920s. In the warm months, visiting it also provides an opportunity to explore one of Toronto’s finest, restored Victorian gardens.

The story of the property where Spadina House is situated begins in the final years of the 18th century, when Toronto was the small colonial town of York. In 1798, the land where the house is now located was part of a 200-acre lot acquired by William Willcocks. In 1803, Willcock’s daughter, Phoebe, married William W. Baldwin, an Irish immigrant. Phoebe inherited the Baldwin property from her father’s first cousin, Elizabeth Russell, the sister of Peter Russell. Elizabeth suffered from mental illness during her later years, but did not pass away until 1822. Thus, William and Phoebe Baldwin must have gained control of the property prior to her death.

Because William Baldwin intended to erect a grand home on the land, in 1813, he commenced building an impressive roadway, 132 feet wide and a mile and a half in length, as a grand carriageway to the dwelling. The roadway led from the bottom of the hill (Davenport Road), south to Queen Street. South of Queen was Brock Street, which was connected directly to the lake.

ist Balwin by Owen Staples, done 1912.

In 1818, Baldwin finally constructed his dream home. He named it Spadina, an Anglicised version of the Ojibwa word “ishpadinaa,” meaning a “hill or a sudden rise of land.” Henry Scadding wrote rather condescendingly in “Toronto of Old,” published in 1873, that the word “ishpadinaa” had been “tastefully modified.”  On the left is a watercolour of it, painted in 1912 by Owen Staples, based on a sketch of 1888. The watercolour is in the collection of the Toronto Public Library. A description of the house is contained in a letter written by William Baldwin in 1819. “I have a very commodious house in the Country . . . The house consists of two large parlours, hall and staircase on the first floor—four bedrooms and a small library on the 2nd — three Excellent bed rooms in the attic storey or garret — with several closets on every storey, a kitchen, dairy and root cellar, wine cellar, and man’s bedroom underground.” It was indeed a luxurious residence for a “country home,” as  Baldwin owned another house in the town.

To improve the view from his residence,” Baldwin cleared 300 feet of wild growth to the south of it, between the house and the edge of the escarpment. When completed, it provided a panoramic view of the land below the heights, which included the wide carriageway that became Spadina Avenue. In the distance, the town was visible, nestled beside the waters of Lake Ontario.

2nd Baldwin House, by F W Poole, done 1912   TPL

Unfortunately, Spadina House burnt in 1835. Baldwin was now 60 years old, and rather than live on the remote property atop the hill, he moved into his mansion on the northeast corner of Bay and Front Streets. However, he erected another country home above the hill in 1836, but the one-story dwelling was more modest in size compared to the original Spadina House. The watercolour on the left depicts the second Spadina House, painted by F. W. Poole in 1912, from a sketch drawn in 1888.

William Baldwin died in 1844 and the property passed to his son Robert Baldwin. He began sub-dividing the estate, selling parcels of land to prospective buyers. By 1866, only 80 acres remained and at an auction, they were purchased by the founder of The Dominion Bank and president of the Consumers’ Gas Company—James Austin. 

James Austin was born March 6, 1813. His family immigrated to Upper Canada (Ontario), arriving in York (Toronto) in October 1829. For two months, the Austins sought to establish themselves on a farm close to York (Toronto). Unsuccessful, they settled in Trafalgar Township in the Oakville area. When James was sixteen, he was apprenticed to William Lyon Mackenzie in his printing shop. Austin spent four and a half years with Mackenzie before establishing his own printing business. After the rebellion of 1837, he relocated to the United States, since it was too risky to remain in Toronto for anyone with connections to Mackenzie, “the rebel.” In 1843, Austin determined that it was safe to return to Canada West (Ontario).

Austin had earned sufficient funds while in the United States to open in Toronto a wholesale and retail grocery business in partnership with another Irishman, Patrick Foy. Austin eventually amassed further funds by investing in banking and natural gas. In 1866, in an auction, with a successful bid of £3,550, he purchased Spadina House, built by William Warren Baldwin. He demolished the house and erected a grand residence on the site, which he named Spadina. No architect was listed. It was the third house constructed on the site that possessed the name “Spadina.”

Austin’s home had two-storeys, although a third floor was added sometime between 1905 and 1915. In 1866, the entrance hall, with its intricately carved woodwork and elaborate crown mouldings, was built to impress visitors. Austin was an avid hunter and placed two stuffed wolves on either side of the interior of the doorway. Stuffed animals of various species were very popular among the wealthy at this time. Upon entering the entrance hall, guests had an unobstructed view of the magnificent grand staircase. This added to the sense of awe that Austin was desirous of creating.

The drawing room (parlour), the most impressive room in the house, was on the right-hand (south) side of the entrance hall. For the comfort of guests, due the room’s size, it possessed two white marble fireplaces, one at each end of the room. On the south side of the drawing room was the palm room, a sunny greenhouse-like area containing many potted flowering plants, as well as palms. Large doors on the south side of the palm room opened onto the outdoor terrace that overlooked the lawns and the city in the distance, to the south.

The dining room was also on the first floor, the room’s windows facing east to catch the morning light. It was relocated in the years ahead, and the former dining room became the library. The spacious kitchen was close to the dining room. It was bright and cheerful, unlike most kitchens in wealthy homes of the period, which were in the basement. To supplement the kitchen there was a pantry, scullery, storage space, and a large built-in icebox.   

The grand curved staircase in the entrance hall led to the second floor. There was an intimate sitting room at the top of the stairs (the Blue Room). The bedrooms on the second storey were spacious and well furnished.

The home greatly impressed the citizens of Toronto. Henry Scadding in his book “Toronto of Old,” published in 1873, wrote: “. . . before us to the north, on the ridge which bounds the view in the distance, we discern a large white object. This is Spadina House, from which the avenue into which Brocks Street passes takes its name.” 

In the years after Spadina was built, other wealthy families purchased property from James Austin to erect their own mansions. By 1889, only 40 acres remained of the land that had comprised the original Austin estate. In 1892, James Austin passed the title of Spadina and the land surrounding it to his son, Albert William Austin. James Austin passed away in 1897.

Albert and Mary continued to expand Spadina. An extension was added on the north side that contained a new dining room, its windows facing west. As mentioned, the former dining room became a library, but in reality it was employed as an extension of the drawing room. During this period, Albert and Mary added two more bedrooms, improved servants’ quarters, and constructed a circular driveway and new kitchen. One of the most impressive additions was a magnificent billiard room, designed by the popular 19th-century architect W.C. Vaux Chadwick. The room also possessed colourful murals by interior decorator Gustav Hahn, who pioneered Art Nouveau in Canada.

A beautiful and visually prominent canopy of handcrafted wrought iron and glass was erected over the main door. Referred to as a “porte-cochère,” it was designed by Carrere and Hastings. It protected guests and family members that arrived by vehicle from the weather. It is likely that at the same time the enclosed porch was added, and the main doorway relocated so that it faced west, rather than south.

Albert constructed a two-storey stucco garage in 1909, which contained a chauffeur’s residence on the second floor. In 1913 a greenhouse was added to the property, its entrance possessing a Gothic-style doorway. There were now 13 bedrooms, most of them for guests. The servants at Spadina were housed on the third floor, each having their own room, though they shared a toilet, bath and sitting room. By 1913, the house was complete and appeared much the same as it appears today.

Because the family was among the most prominent in the city, an invitation to dine at Spadina was highly coveted. During formal dinners in the 1920s, Mrs. Mary Austin (wife of Albert) always sat at the head of the table, nearest to the kitchen, permitting her to inspect the food when it appeared. A small foot-pedal under the table allowed her to summons the staff surreptitiously to remove empty dishes and to signal when the next course was to be served. Thus, she controlled the pacing of the meal.

After the dining ended, guests retired to the drawing room (parlour) on the opposite side of the entrance hall. The drawing room was where they discussed the news of the day, gossiped, or were entertained. When the family was alone, in the evenings, the smaller parlour (sitting room) on the second floor was likely employed for intimate family moments.

Eventually, Albert sold all of the land of the estate except for about 10 acres. A large portion was purchased by the City of Toronto for the construction of the St. Clair Reservoir. However, Spadina House remained in the possession of the Austin family until 1982. In this year, the house, most of its contents, and the remaining land were acquired through donation and purchase by the Ontario Heritage Foundation and the City of Toronto. This was arranged by Spadina’s last resident, Anna Kathleen Thompson, the daughter of Albert and Mary Austin. At the time, she was over 90 years of age. 

The home and grounds were restored by the City of Toronto and were opened to the public as a museum in 1984.

Sources for this article :http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/austin_james_12E.html, 

https://theculturetrip.com › North America › Canada,

https://www.thestar.com › Life › Fashion & Style

DSCN2370

Sketch of Baldwin’s Spadina House, built in 1818. The drawing first appeared in the Evening Telegram series, “Landmarks of Toronto” in December 1888.

2nd Spadina

Sketch of the second Spadina House built in 1836. The drawing first appeared in the Evening Telegram series, “Landmarks of Toronto” in December 1888. 

1885, Spadina Collection

Spadina House in 1885, a view of the north and west facades. The porch on the west facade no longer exists and the third storey had not yet been built. Photo from the Spadina Collection.

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North and west facades of Spadina House in 1898. Photo from the Spadina Collection.

1905, Spadina Collection

View of the south facade in 1905, before the third storey was added. Photo from the Spadina Collection.

Fonds 1244, Item 4135

View of Spadina House in 1915 from a tower of Casa Loma. By this year, the third storey of the house has been added. The camera is pointed to the northeast. Toronto Archives, F 1244, item 4135.

1985 tspa_0113049f[2]

View gazing to the northeast at the three-storey Spadina House in 1985. The palm room and veranda above it on the second storey face south. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0113049f

1988. drawing room  tspa_0113051f[1]

The drawing room (living room or parlour) of Spadina House in 1988, one of the white marble fireplaces visible at the far end of the room. The chandeliers of cut-glass, referred to as gasoliers (gas-run chandeliers), are still in working order. They hang from the 14-foot ceiling. The doorway on the far-left leads to the library, which was originally (in 1866) the dining room. Public Library tspa 0113051f. 

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View of the drawing room in 2018, the large window facing south. The doorway on the extreme right-hand side leads to the palm room.

dining room ceiling      dining room ceiling  2

(Left photo) Ornate crown moulding above the green wallpaper in the drawing room, and in the right-hand photo, one of the gasoliers (chandeliers) with a fancy plaster medallion above it.

palm room 2    palm room 3

The palm room on the south side of the house. It is accessed from the drawing room and on its south side are doors leading to the outdoor terrace.

grand staircase

Grand staircase in the entrance hall that gives access to the second floor. The doorway at the foot of the stairs leads to an enclosed sunlit porch that was added to the house c. 1905.

stuufed wolf, outside porch

One of the stuffed wolves in the enclosed porch. Behind it is where the south-facing doorway was located in 1866, prior to the porch being built.

 

                          DSCN2316

                   View of the grand staircase from the entrance hall.

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The dining room in Spadina House, in an addition built by Albert and Mary. A large gas fireplace is at the far (north) end of the room. A thick red curtain covers the doorway where the servants entered to serve meals.

DSCN2352

                View of the grand staircase from the second floor.

upstairs blie room

   Second-storey sitting room (blue room) at the top of the grand staircase.

Mrs. Austin's bedroom  2

The bedroom of Mrs. Austin on the second floor level. Originally, Albert and Mary shared the same bedroom, but later, Albert slept in a separate bedroom.

kitchen 8

The kitchen on the ground floor, located beside the family’s formal dining room.

cupboard in kitchen

The kitchen cupboard containing products employed in preparing the meals for the family. 

wood stove kitchen   stoves, kitchen

(left) The wood stove in the kitchen that has gas burners atop it, and (right) a gas stove.

servant bedroom , 3rd floor

A servants bedroom on the third floor of Spadina House. The Austins had a household staff of five: a gardener, a chauffeur, two maids and a cook.

                     telephone cupboard

The small telephone room was in a former cupboard in the first-floor hallway. It was insulated with felt to muffle the voices of people who felt that they must shout into the device to make themselves heard. Many people today do the same thing when talking in public on their IPhones. On the table is a Toronto phone book from the 1920s.

Mrs. Austin's bathroom   

The Austin’s bathroom, which has a small gas burner to warm the shaving cream of the Austin men.

shaving cream warmer

     Small gas burner in the bathroom to warm men’s shaving cream.

bill. room 4

The billiard room on the ground floor, with a cork floor surrounding it to give the players better traction when playing.

1988.  billiard room  tspa_0113050f[1]

The billiard room in 1988, the cork floor around the table evident. Photo Toronto Public Library, tspa 0113050.

billard room 3

The billiard room, designed by the popular 19th-century architect W.C. Vaux Chadwick, the influence of the Art Nouveau movement evident. The murals on the upper portion of the walls depict birds, trees and a colourful sky. They were painted by interior decorator Gustav Hahn, who pioneered Art Nouveau in Canada. 

billard room

             The murals and stuffed animals in the billiard room.

built 1913

   Greenhouse with its Gothic-style entranceway, built in 1913.

garage     barn, then coach house, gardiner's cottage 1909

(Left photo) The garage with chauffer’s quarters on the second floor, built in 1909.  (right-hand photo) An outbuilding that was first a barn, then a coach house and finally, in 1909, renovated to create a cottage for the gardener.

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View looking west from under the wrought iron and glass “porte-cochère” (canopy) designed by Carrere and Hastings. It protected guests and family members that arrived by vehicles from the weather.

DSCN1039

               The east facade (rear) of Spadina House in 2014.

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

               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. 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. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb

“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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Amazing story of Yorkdale Plaza (Toronto)

1965 f0217_s0249_fl0199_it0001[1]

Yorkdale Plaza from the Macdonald-Cartier (401) Highway in 1964, the year the plaza opened. The camera faces southwest toward Eaton’s Yorkdale, on the east side of the plaza. Photo from the Toronto Archives, F0217, S 0249, F 019, item 0001.

When visiting Yorkdale Plaza today, I find it difficult to realize that it is the same plaza that I experienced when it opened in 1964. It has been greatly expanded during the past five decades, and though the original sections of the mall survive, they are almost unrecognizable. The story of Yorkdale is a vital part of the history of retailing in the Toronto area. It was Canada’s first indoor mall, an improvement for shoppers that particularly suited the Canadian climate. It allowed people to park, walk inside an enclosed structure, and access shops from its interior.

Yorkdale was built in an era when many suburbanites shopped at “strip malls,” constructed to accommodate those living in communities surrounding the city that owned cars. The first strip mall in the Toronto area was at Bayview and Eglinton. Many such malls still exist today, consisting of shops built in one or more rows, their front doors facing an outdoor parking lot. Customers enter the stores directly from the parking lots.

Strip malls began appearing after the Second World War, when many Torontonians were relocating from the city’s urban core to the suburbs. They were following a dream of owning larger homes on more generous-size building lots. Some of the houses they left behind in the inner city were purchased or rented by the immigrants arriving in the city. Relocating to the suburbs was facilitated by the post-war’s booming economy, which placed automobile prices within the reach of more and more Canadians. Vehicle sales skyrocketed, creating the beginning of a “car-dominated society.” It allowed people to travel greater distances to shop or attend a movie.

Eaton’s was one of the first to realize the potential of meeting the needs of the increasing number of suburbanites. Prior to the Second World War, the company’s department stores were in the downtown core. Aware of the expansion in population in the suburbs, in 1954, for the price $1.4 million, Eaton’s bought 100 acres of land located to the northwest of the city. The intent was to erect a large shopping mall on the site.

Eaton’s knew that it needed another major retailer to join in the venture. As a result, in 1961, the company offered to sell the Robert Simpson Company one half of the site if it joined in the enterprise. However, Simpsons wanted only 19 acres, on the west side of the property, and stipulated that the price must include sewage, water connections and roadways. Eaton’s agreed and spent $1 million to satisfy the terms of the deal. 

The land where Yorkdale was to be erected was cleared and ready for construction by the spring of 1962, the work commencing during the early-summer of that year. Everything was completed by February 1964. As opening day drew near, John David Eaton insisted that the mall close at 5:30 or 6 pm, similar to its downtown stores. However, the smaller retailers in the project strongly objected, since they wanted to remain open until 9:30 pm. John David finally agreed, after he was assured that employees would not be required to work longer hours than they wanted.

On Sunday, February 16, 1964, long lines of customers gathered at the various entrances to Yorkdale, waiting for the 9:30 am opening. By mid-morning, its four parking lots (6,500 spaces) were completely filled. At 2:30 pm, drivers were scouring the lots trying to find a place to park. By the end of the day, the Star newspaper estimated that 100,000 shoppers had crammed into the mall.

Yorkdale had over 1.2 million square feet of space, containing 61 retail shops, several restaurants, and multiple services. The Dominion (today their stores are named Metro)was the largest the company had ever built, containing 17 checkout counters. The week the plaza opened, some of the shops were not yet occupied, but it was still an impressive sight. For a short period of time, Yorkdale was the largest indoor shopping mall in the world. Though its size was impressive, its importance was perhaps due to another factor.

Yorkdale set the pattern for future malls across Canada. It demonstrated the advantages of locating malls near transportation hubs, which allowed shoppers access from nearby arterial roadways. As well, it showed that if retail enterprises of this size were to be successful, more than one large-scale store was required. Yorkdale actually possessed three—Simpsons on its west side, Eaton’s on its east, and a Dominion Store on the south. It was the first time that Canada’s two largest department store chains—Eaton’s and Simpsons—were under one roof. This was accomplished, even though they had been competitors across Canada for many decades.

Prior to the opening of Yorkdale, many people living in the suburbs had continued to shop downtown or visited local strip malls. Neither of these options was truly convenient. When suburbanites drove downtown, even then, parking was becoming a nightmare. Strip malls were also at a disadvantage as they were exposed to the vagaries of the Canadian weather. The appeal of Yorkdale was obvious. It offered numerous retail outlets that were closer to home than the downtown, were impervious to the weather, and possessed plenteous free parking. Torontonians were able to drive to the mall to shop indoors, enjoy a meal or snack, and attend a movie theatre, all at one destination. 

The configuration of the Yorkdale Plaza was basically an “L-shape.” The top of the “L”, the bottom, and elbow of the “L” were anchored by one of the large stores. The corridors that connected the big stores resembled indoor shopping streets, one-third of a mile long, 40 feet wide, the ceiling above them two storeys in height. The three large retailers had large open spaces in front of them, similar to a courtyard or piazza, which were three-storeys high.

Since the mall was climate controlled, shoppers were able to enjoy strolling along the wide avenue-like areas and courtyards in comfort, immune to the weather outside. The curtains in the spacious windows, located high above the shops, could be automatically adjusted to allow the proper amount of light to enter the interior of the plaza. Other pleasing features were the two large fountains as well as numerous 20-foot trees, some of them palm trees.

In 1964, Yorkdale had many popular stores — Reitman’s, Collyer Shoes, Peoples Credit Jewellers, Laura Secord Candies, Hunts Bakery, Jordan Wines, Henry Birks and Sons Jewellers, Jack Frasers Men’s and Boy’s Wear, Toy World, Kresge’s, and Eddie Black’s Camera Store. I vividly remember Coleman’s Delicatessen and its delicious corned beef sandwiches, the restaurant located near the Dominion Store. There was a Smitty’s Pancake House, which also served small steaks (the site later became “Obies”). The Encore Noshery was reputed to be the largest restaurant in Canada in a shopping centre. The beauty parlour, “Ponytails,” which catered to the needs of small children, had hobbyhorses instead of regular chairs.

Yorkdale had a cinema with two auditoriums, with combined seating for 1200 patrons. I remember seeing Mel Brook’s zany film “Blazing Saddles” at the Yorkdale Cinema in 1974. It was an afternoon matinee, attended mostly by seniors. I was one of the few persons in the audience that did not have purple-tinted hair. As a matter of fact, even then, I did not have much hair at all. As the screening progressed, I discovered that I was also one of the few that was laughing. I admit that the humour was a little off-colour— typically Mel Brooks.

Eaton’s and Simpsons both had restaurants. The Simpson’s Court restaurant overlooked the cathedral-like interior courtyard with its three-storey ceiling. I remember visiting it numerous times for lunch, usually ordering the daily special of soup, chicken-pot pie, and a salad. Eaton’s Vista restaurant was on the second floor, at the northwest corner of the store, overlooking the mall where there was a fountain. In the evenings, the Vista featured all-you-can-eat buffet, which included roast beef. I sometimes visited it on a Friday for dinner. I seem to remember that Eaton’s restaurant was later renamed “The Loft,” but I cannot find any proof of this. Memory sometimes plays strange tricks. 

Though Yorkdale was located quite a distance north of the downtown, it was connected by several arterial roadways—Highway 401, Wilson Avenue, and Dufferin Street. Market research conducted by Eaton’s had shown that the mall was likely to attract shoppers from within a 30-minute drive. This meant that people as far away as Brampton and Whitby could easily drive to Yorkdale, as well as those living north of Bloor Street. This was a potential market of almost a million shoppers. In 1966, the location became even more advantageous when the interchange at the Allen Expressway and the 401 was completed, and in January 1978, when the mall was connected to the University/Yonge subway line. 

The architect of the Yorkdale Mall and the Eaton’s Store was John Graham Consultants. The store Graham created for Eaton’s had a striking exterior, with off-white bricks containing three-dimensional patterns that accented the vertical elements of the design. Another added feature of the plaza was the underground truck tunnel that delivered goods to the retail outlets. The gigantic Dominion Store featured an underground conveyor belt that delivered customers’ purchases to a station in the south-west parking lot, where they could pick up their groceries.

John B. Parkin Associates were hired to design the Simpsons store, the architect within the firm who was assigned the work being John Andrews, a Harvard-educated Australian. During the years ahead, Andrews opened his own firm and won the contracts for the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus and the CN Tower.

I recall attending Boxing Day sales at Yorkdale during the 1970s; I visited early in the morning to avoid the enormous crowds, even though compared to today, they were considerably smaller. Yorkdale was where I first experienced the frustration of losing my automobile in a parking lot. I soon learned to memorize the row or section number where it was located.

During the 1980s, I visited the mall to attend the Yorkdale Antique Market. It was usually held each February and continued consecutively for three or four years. It was a large display, which fully occupied all of the “L”-shaped space. The mall also held fashion and automobile shows. On frigid winter days, for exercise, I drove to the mall in the early morning to walk within the enclosed area. When the shops opened, I enjoyed a coffee and then drove home.

In 1984, Yorkdale was expanded by an additional 153,000 square feet, with 75 new stores, at a cost of $14 million. In 1991, Sears Department store opened in the plaza. In 1999, the Rainforest Cafe began serving food in a tropical atmosphere (it closed in 2014). In 2012, an addition was erected on the southwest side of Yorkdale. It included a relocated and expanded Holt Renfrew Store, situated where the Dominion store had been. In 2015, the Sears Store on the west side of the plaza was demolished and replaced with the 70,000 square-foot Restoration Hardware (RH, The Gallery at Yorkdale), which opened in 2017. It resembled an impressive mansion with indoor and outdoor shops, a courtyard café and rooftop conservatory/park. 

In 2016, another section was built on the east side, with a Nordtrom Department Store, Uniqlo, as well as 30 more retailers. In 2017, the The Cheesecake Factory restaurant commenced operation. More expansions are planned for the future. They will be constructed in the parking lots, and the parking will be placed below ground.

Visiting Yorkdale in 2018, I lament the loss of the fountains and the large trees, particularly the palm trees. However, I thought that the massive skylights in the ceilings of the new sections were amazing. Creative in design, they allow plenteous daylight to enter the interior walking areas. In some instances, I felt I was strolling up the nave of a great cathedral.

Sources for this post:  “The Eaton’s,” Rod McQueen Stoddart Publishing, 1998 —- “The Store that Timothy Built,” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. 1969, for the 100th anniversary of Eaton’s—torontoist.com/2012/02/historicist-instant-downtown-uptown/—- The Star. 

John D Eaton cuts ribbon, Feb 1964.  DSCN2217

John David Eaton cuts the ribbon to officially open Yorkdale in February 1964. Source:  “The Store that Timothy Built,” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. 1969, published for the 100th anniversary of Eaton’s.

                1964.   Fonds 0217_s0249_fl0197_it0001_640[1]

A portion of the street-like indoor mall at Yorkdale in February 1964. View looks westward to where Simpsons was located. Toronto Archives, 0217, 0249, Fl 0197, item 0001.

March, 1964. The Star.  yorkdale-eatons.jpg.size-custom-crop.850x0-[1]

View looking west in March 1964 of Yorkdale, the Eaton’s Store in the foreground and Simpsons in the distance.

1965, 401 and Allen Expressway  tspa_0008324f[1]

Intersection of the 401 Highway and the Allen Expressway. In the lower right-hand corner of the photo is part of the parking lot of Yorkdale, Toronto Public Library, tspa 008324. 

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View of the three-storey court on the south side of the Simpsons store. The curved staircase on the left leads to Simpsons Court restaurant. The photo is undated, but it is likely c. 1964. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0014666f.

                                      1968, Tor. Pub. nyhs01375[1]

Piazza-like area outside Simpsons in 1968. People in the extreme foreground are sitting on the edge of the fountain outside Simpsons. The decorative detailing on the ceiling resembles stalactites. Toronto Public Library nyhs 01375.

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The court space outside Simpsons in 1969. Toronto Public Library, tspa 014663.

where Simpsons was

Simpsons store became the Bay. The image above depicts the court space outside the Bay (Simpsons) in 2018. The court is now half the size it was in 1964, as the Hudson’s Bay store has been extended southward into the court. The ceiling with stalactites remains, but sadly, the fountain as well as the tall palm trees have disappeared. 

 

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Gazing west in 1970 along the mall section that connected Simpsons and Eaton’s. The tall plantings no longer exist. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0014661.

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View in 2018, looking eastward along the 1964-section of the mall that originally connected Simpsons and Eaton’s.  The stalactite-ceiling outside The Bay is visible.

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Inspection of the new section of the mall that opened in 1984. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0014662.

                           looking east in 1984 section

                  View in 2018 of the section that was added in 1984.

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Yorkdale after the new section opened in 1984. Toronto Public Library, 0014662.

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Aerial view of Yorkdale in 1989, looking toward the the northwest. The Eaton’s and Simpsons stores are visible, as well as the 1984 extension added to the plaza. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0014664.

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View in 1964 of the open space near Eaton’s, looking west along the section that leads to the Simpsons store. The fountain has a sculpture of three human figures. Several pods of the Eaton’s Vista restaurant are visible in the top-left-hand part of the photo. The large pods contain tables that overlook the court below. Photo from a display at Yorkdale Plaza. 

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An automobile show in front of Eaton’s Yorkdale, the large pods of the Vista restaurant” visible. Photo from display at Yorkdale.

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View looking to the west from inside the Vista restaurant on the upper level, the fountain visible in the mall below. Photo from a display at Yorkdale Plaza.

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When the fountain was dismantled, the sculpture was placed outside in the parking lot on the north side of the plaza. Photo taken February 2018.

where Eaton's was

View in 2018 of the site of Eaton’s, which went bankrupt in 1999. When Eaton’s departed, for a short period of time the space was occupied by Sears. Sears finally relocated to a new site on the west side of the mall. The escalator in the above photo ascends to the second-floor of the former Eaton’s store, where there is today an Italian-style cafe, with a sushi restaurant above it.  

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The third-floor level of the former Eaton’s store is today where the plaza’s food court is located. Photo taken February 2018.

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View from the west parking lot of Restoration Hardware (RH) in February 2018. It is on the site where the Sears store had been located. RH opened in 2017.

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View of Restoration Hardware from inside the plaza. Photo taken in February 2018.

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  Interior of the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, Yorkdale, February 2018.

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   Impressive skylight at Yorkdale outside the Nordstrom Store, in 2018.

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Yorkdale Mall in 2012. The street-like sections have many kiosks and booths that sell merchandise.

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Yorkdale Mall in 2012, a cathedral-like ceiling and skylight above the shops.

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                          Christmas display at Yorkdale in 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 Blog’s 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[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)

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]

“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 Eaton Centre Phase Two (history)

                   Xmas 1994  tspa_0015016f[1]

Phase Two of the Eaton Centre, gazing south toward Queen Street at Christmas in 1994. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0015016.

In 1979, the second phase of the Eaton Centre opened, extending the mall from Albert Street south to Queen Street. It now stretched from Dundas Street in the north to Queen Street in the south. A glass-topped pedestrian bridge provided a link to Simpsons (now the Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue). At the south end of the Eaton Centre, suspended from the glass ceiling was the art installation, “Flight Stop,” by Michael Snow. It depicted a flock of Canada Geese on their migratory path, descending to the ground.

The Centre now contained not only Eaton’s, but over 200 stores and two office towers, one at 20 Queen Street and the other at 1 Dundas Street West. Another tower was built in 1991 at 250 Yonge Street. Under the 274-metre glass-covered shopping galleria, there were five levels of shops and restaurants, two above the concourse (ground) level and two beneath it.

In the 1970s, the Eaton Centre was connected to the Path, reputed to be the largest underground walkway/shopping mall in the world. Today it has twenty-nine kilometers of pathways, which rival the Edmonton Mall in size. It eventually connected shoppers and visitors from the Air Canada Centre in the south, to the Bus Terminal on Bay Street at the north end. The climate-controlled Path had great appeal due to the city’s harsh winters and hot humid summers.  

On Tuesday, April 17, 1979, the Cineplex Odeon Eaton Centre opened in a 25,000 square-foot space in the basement level of the parking garage of the Eaton Centre. It contained 18 auditoriums, each containing 50 to 100 seats—about 1500 seats in total—the largest movie-theatre complex in the world at that time. The auditoriums were grouped into four sections, located on two different floors. A rear projection system was employed to screen the films, which caused the edges of the pictures to be slightly blurred. Few patrons seemed to notice, as the auditoriums were attractive and the seats comfortable. The aisles were on both sides of the auditoriums, which meant that no seats were jammed against the walls.

About 1995, the central court in the mall, in front of the Eaton store, was extended on its west side. It was where Albert Street had once been. This was made possible when The Salvation Army Headquarters building was purchased and demolished.

Further changes commenced in 1999 when additional shops were added to the exterior of the Centre’s Yonge Street facade. This was needed as Yonge Street, between Queen and Dundas Streets, had become somewhat lifeless and devoid of shoppers after the Eaton Centre opened. When completed, the shops on Yonge helped reanimate the street, although it never regained the glory of its past.

In 2001, the Cineplex Odeon Eaton Centre closed, because attendance had dwindled. It was demolished shortly thereafter.

On June 20, 2010, Cadillac Fairview commenced renovating the Eaton Centre at a cost of $120 million. It required two years to complete. The north food court was rejuvenated and a new restaurant added, “Open Kitchens by Richtree.”

Today, the Eaton Centre continues to be a prime tourist attraction and a magnet for shoppers in the city’s downtown core. 

Sources: thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/eaton-centre and torontoist.com/2017/02/historicist-opening-the-eaton-centre and  

blogto.com/city/2010/12/the_origins_of_the_eaton_centre/

                                          200-million-centre--1975--tspa_01099 

Model of the completed Eaton Centre, showing phases one and two. Photo of the model, taken in 1975, gazes south from Dundas Street.

                         closing of Eaton's old store, 1977. tspa_0110033f[1]

Final sales at Eaton’s old Queen Street store in 1977, as Phase Two containing the new Eaton’s Store was set to open. Toronto Public Library tspa 0110133.

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

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

bridge-1977--tspa_0109985f1_thumb3

Looking west on Queen Street from Yonge Street in 1978 at the construction of the bridge connecting Phase Two to the Simpsons Store. Toronto Public Library tspa 019985 

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

View gazing west on Queen Street on September 25, 1978 of the glass-covered bridge that connected the Eaton Centre to Simpsons (now the Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue). The south facade of the Centre, which is under construction in the photo, is visible in the background. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl0090, item 0014.

Series-8-S-0008-Fl-0004-id-0014--_th

Gazing north on Yonge Street (c. 1978) as Phase Two of the Eaton Centre progresses. This is the section where the old Eaton’s store had been located at Queen and Yonge. Toronto Archives, Series 8, File 0008, id 0014.

                            1979-when-860-ft.-Galleria-complete-[1]

Opening day in 1979 of Phase Two of the Eaton Centre. Premier Bill Davis is on the left, John Craig Eaton in the middle, and on the right Allan Lawrence, Federal Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. In the background is the art installation “Flight Stop” by Michael Snow, which depicts Canada Geese descending for a landing.

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               Close-up view of “Flight Stop” by Michael Snow.

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Southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas in 1987, the north entrance of the Eaton Centre visible, Toronto Public Library tspa 0018592.

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                                           Eaton Centre, Christmas 2011.

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                                                Christmas 2012.

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 Phase Two of the Eaton Centre at Christmas in 2012. View looks south to Queen Street.

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                                  Christmas at the Eaton Centre in 2017.

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Eaton Centre in December 2017, looking north to Nordstrom’s, where Eaton’s was once located.

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The bridge that links The Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue to the Eaton Centre. The bridge was opened in 2017 to replace the one erected in the 1970s. 

For a link to Phase One of the Eaton Centre:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/torontos-eaton-centre-phase-one-history/

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

 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[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)  

 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:

Lost Toronto — by Doug Taylor

DSCN2207

Lost Toronto by Doug Taylor, Pavilion Press, published January 2018. Photo King and Yonge Streets, Toronto Archives.

When Old City Hall was slated for demolition in the 1960s, protestors united to save this key piece of Toronto’s architectural heritage. Their efforts paid off and eventually led to the passing of the Ontario Heritage Act, which has been preserving buildings of cultural value since the mid-1970s. But what happened to some of the cultural gems that graced the City of Toronto before the heritage movement? Lost Toronto brings together some of the most spectacular buildings that were lost to the wrecking ball or redeveloped beyond recognition.

Using detailed archival photographs, Lost Toronto recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. Along the way, the reader will visit stately residences (Moss Park, the Gordon Mansion, Benvenuto) movie palaces (Shea’s Hippodrome, Shea’s Victoria, Tivoli Theatre, Odeon Carlton), grand hotels (Hotel Hanlan, Walker House, Queen’s Hotel), department stores ( Eaton’s Queen Street, Eaton’s College Street, Robert Simpson Company, Stollery’s), landmark shops (Sam the Record Man, A & A Book Store, World’s Biggest Book Store, Honest Ed’s), arenas and amusement parks (Sunnyside, Maple Leaf Stadium, CNE Stadium), and restaurants and bars (Captain John’s on the M. V. Normac, Colonial Tavern, Ed’s Warehouse).

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.

DSCN2210

              Back cover of Lost Toronto, available in book stores or online, $26.95

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

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

Books by the Blog’s Author

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

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

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

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

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

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

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

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

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

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2017 in A&A Record Store, Arcadian Court in Simpson's, Bank of Toronto King and Bay Streets, baseball history Toronto, Bay and Gable houses Toronto, Benvenuto, Bluebell ferry- Toronto, books about Toronto, Brunswick House Toronto, Captain John's Toronto, Centre Island Toronto, Chorley Park, CNE Stadium Toronto, Colonial Tavern Toronto, Crystal Palace Toronto, Doug Taylor, Toronto history, Dufferin Gates CNE Toronto, Eaton's Queen Street store, Eaton's Santa Claus Parade Toronto, Ford Hotel Toronto, Frank Stollery Toronto, High Park Mineral Baths Toronto, historic Toronto, historic toronto buildings, history of Toronto streetcars, HMV toronto (history), Honest Ed's, local history Toronto, Lost Toronto, Memories of Toronto Islands, Metropolitan United Church Toronto, MV Normac, old Custom House Toronto, Ontario Place, Quetton St. George House Toronto, Riverdale Zoo Toronto, Salvation Army at Albert and James Street, Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters, Sam the Record Man Toronto, Santa Claus Parade Toronto, St. George the Martyr Toronto, Sunnyside Toronto, tayloronhistory.com, Temple Building Toronto, toronto architecture, Toronto baseballl prior to the Blue Jays, Toronto history, Toronto Island ferries, Toronto's Board of Trade Building (demolished), Toronto's disappearing heritage, Toronto's lost atchitectural gems, Toronto's restaurant of the past, Walker House Hotel (demolished), World's Biggest Book Store-Toronto, Yonge Street Arcade Toronto

 

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HMV Music—history

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     HMV Music’s Toronto flagship store at 333 Yonge Street in April 2017

The HMV on Yonge Street closed on Friday, April 14, 2017. It was crowded for the occasion as people sought bargains there for the last time. The loss of HMV was the end of another Toronto tradition, as more and more people prefer to shop on the internet rather than retail stores. I will miss the HMV store on Yonge Street, having spent much time there browsing the shelves in search of bargain-priced movies.

The HMV Music store at 333 Yonge Street was a short distance south of where the old Biltmore Theatre once stood. After the theatre and a few other buildings near it were demolished, a modern three-storey structure of glass and metal was erected. When the HMV Music store moved in, it was fitting location as it was located only a few doors south of where A&A Records and Sam the Record Man were once located. The interior of HMV resembled these former stores, but its long rows of merchandise did not contain any vinyl recordings and tapes.

HMV is a British company with a long history in the retail trade as a vender of books and music. The letters in its name stand for “His Master’s Voice,” which originated in the 1890s from a painting by that name. Artist Francis Barraud, from Liverpool, was the creator, his painting depicting a dog named Nipper listening to a recording of his “master’s voice” playing on a wind-up gramophone. In 1899, the Gramophone Company bought the copyright to the painting. The Talking Machine Company in America bought the U. S. rights to the trademark. This company was purchased by RCA, and it then became its symbol. I can remember the image of the dog and the gramophone on the 78 rpm and LP records that I purchased in the 1950s.

HMV’s first retail store was on Oxford Street in London, England. Sir Edward Elgar officiated at its opening in 1921. In 1931, the Gramophone Company merged with Columbia Graphophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI), and employed the initials of “His Master’s Voice” (HMV) as its corporate name. In 1925, Sir Edward Elgar recorded his own music for the company. In 1953, HMV Oxford Street changed the store’s ground-floor level into a self-service showroom. This format was immediately popular as customers were able to select their own merchandise and then pay the cashier at the front of the store. This method was later employed by both A&A Records and Sam’s in Toronto.

Thorn Electrical Industries acquired EMI in 1979 and in 1980 the company became Thorn EMI. In 1980s this company opened the enormous HMV Oxford Circus store at 150 Oxford Street. In 1986, HMV became a separate and autonomous division under Thorn EMI. HMV opened its first store in Canada in 1986 and also commenced selling in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States. In 1995, HMV released it first CD. In 2002, HMV Media went public on the London Stock Exchange. In 1991, HMV opened a store at 333 Yonge Street in downtown Toronto and it became a very popular place to visit, especially in the evenings, similar to A&A and Sam’s in former decades.

However, sales began to decline after 2007, when Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader, threatening HMV’s share of the book market. In June 2011, HMV sold its 121-store Canadian chain to Hilco UK. Sales continued to dwindle and the company went into receivership, with 102 stores across Canada, employing 1240 people. When the HMV on Yonge Street closed on April 14, 2017, a vital part of the Yonge/Dundas area for twenty-six years was lost.

Sources: www.hmv.com/about   www..classicfm.com/music    www.retail-week.com 

hmv-history-pictures-16-1358943251-view-0[1]

“His Master’s Voice,” (HMV). Photo from HMV History Pictures.

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The HMV store on Yonge Street in 1991, the year it opened. Photo from the Toronto Star Collection in the Toronto Public Library.

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                                   The HMV store in April, 2017.

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Interior of the HMV store on Yonge, view looking toward the front of the store from the second-floor level.

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                       Customers browsing on the second-floor level.

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       View from the second-floor level, looking up to the third floor.

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                 Signs announcing the closing of the store in April 2017.

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                              HMV’s empty rows of shelves.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

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

Books by the Blog’s Author

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

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

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

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

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

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

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

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

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

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. 

Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

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

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

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

 

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History of the Park Plaza Hotel (Park Hyatt)

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The Park Hyatt Hotel, located at 4 Avenue Road, is on the northwest corner of Bloor Street West and Avenue Road. Constructed between the years 1926 and 1929, it was originally named the “Queen’s Park Plaza Hotel.” Its architect was Stratford-born Hugh G. Holman, who designed it in the Art Deco style. In the 1920s, the classical styles of the previous century were giving way to buildings with setbacks that narrowed them in width as they rose to their summits, similar to the ziggurats of ancient Babylonia.

The ground floor of the Queen’s Park Plaza Hotel and the second-floor above it formed a podium. The two floors of the podium were each the equal of two-storeys in height. Above the podium were ten more floors, which extended upward to the lower cornice. Above it were three more storeys, and perched at the top, on the eighteen floor, there was the rooftop garden and restaurant/bar. However, due to the Great Depression that descended in 1929, construction stopped before the hotel’s interior was finished.

In 1935, Morrow Oxley of the firm Chapman and Oxley was hired to complete the building. It finally opened on July 11, 1936, when its name was changed to the Park Plaza Hotel. In order for it to be financially viable, it offered hotel rooms, residential apartments, and 30,000 square feet of office space. It was among the city’s most luxurious hotels and its apartments among the most prestigious. The apartments had been decorated by W. and J. Sloane. The facilities included three restaurants and a rooftop garden. After the opening, problems soon appeared. The hotel had been constructed above a meandering branch of Taddle Creek, which crossed Bloor Street and flowed south through Philosopher’s Walk. As a result, the structure began to sag slightly, causing the elevators to sometimes malfunction. The solution was to stabilize the foundations by permafreezing the ground.

The rooftop restaurant and bar were originally for the exclusive use of the apartment owners, but in 1937, they were opened to the public. In that year, to the south, there was an unobstructed view of the lake and the Toronto Islands. Immediately below it was Varsity Stadium, where the Argonaut football games could be viewed. Also visible were the roof of the Royal Ontario Museum and green copper-topped roofs of the legislative buildings at Queen’s Park.

In 1956, a 14-storey north tower was added, its architect being Page and Steel. Built in a modernist style, it was of brick, concrete, glass, and metal. The design was the work of Page and Steeles’ talented Peter Dickenson, who was as influential in the 1950s, as the famous Art Deco architects had been in the 1920s. The two towers were linked by a two-storey podium.

DSCN1186Joe Gomes, a Portuguese immigrant, commenced working as a waiter in the hotel in 1959. Two years later, he was promoted to being a bartender at the rooftop bar. Since the Park Plaza was on the edge of the Yorkville District, for over five decades, he observed the ever-changing life of the area from behind the bar. Following the turmoil of the “hippy generation” in Yorkville in the 1960s, it slowly became one of the most prestigious districts in Toronto. The hotel’s bar and restaurants became a favourite of the city’s arts and literary community during the 1970s and 1980s. During these decades, the celebrities Joe Gomes chatted with while serving a drink included Duke Ellington, Pierre Trudeau, Lester B. Pearson (whose favourite was gin and tonic), Christopher Plummer, Burt Reynolds, Russell Crowe, Paul Anka, and John Wayne. The newspaper above has a photo of Joe Gomes on the front page of the Toronto Star.

In 1999, the Hyatt chain bought the Park Plaza and changed its name to the Park Hyatt. At the beginning of the 21st century, the rental prices on Bloor Street, west of Yonge, were among the most expensive in Canada, and the Park Hyatt was in the heart of it.

In 2014, the property was sold to Oxford Properties for $90 million. Extensive renovations were carried out to unify the architecture of the two properties, the designs the responsibility of KPMB architects, the restoration by ERA architects. The 2-storey podium was demolished. The structure that replaced it was larger, and was located further back from the street. In front of it was a crescent-shaped driveway to accommodate those who arrived by cars and limousines. The south tower then contained only apartments, and the north tower was a 220-room hotel. The north tower received a new external elevator core and a lobby on the second floor.     

Today, the hotel is one of the finest hotels in Toronto. Its rooftop bar is as well-loved today as it was during the years when it first opened. However, the view toward the south, in the distance, is now of the skyline of the financial district and the CN Tower. Immediately below the bar is the roof of the Crystal of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The author is grateful for information from http://losttoronto2, www.the star.com, www.ontario-travel-secrets.com, urbantoronto.ca, and torontoist.com.

Bloor St, looking west, to Avenue Road, 2:12 p.m., (Way Department) – April 27, 1929

The camera is pointed west on Bloor Street in April, 1929. The Park Plaza Hotel, not yet opened to the public, is on the northwest corner of the intersection of Bloor and Avenue Road. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 6776. 

3. c. 1933  Fonds 1244_it7360[1]

Gazing north on Queen’s Park toward Bloor Street c. 1933. In the foreground is the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Park Plaza Hotel in the background. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244. item 7360.  

2.  Oct. 29, 1934, s0372_ss0052_it1713[1]  1934

Looking north on Queen’s Park toward Bloor Street on October 29, 1934. Trees are being removed to facilitate the widening of Queen’s Park. The Royal Ontario Museum is on the west side of the street, the Park Plaza Hotel in the background. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 1713.

            1. 1954.  pictures-r-4855[1]

The camera is pointed north on Queen’s Park toward Bloor Street in 1954. The Park Plaza Hotel dominates the scene. Travelling west on Bloor Street is a PCC streetcar. Toronto Public Library, r- 4855.

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The Park Hyatt in 2017, a section of the Crystal of the Royal Ontario Museum in the foreground.

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View of the south (1936) tower on Bloor Street, and the north (1959) tower to the north (right-hand side of photo) on Avenue Road.

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Windows on the south facade facing Bloor Street. The rooftop bar is visible at the summit.

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The rooftop bar, the windows facing south that overlook Queen’s Park, and in the distance, the city skyline and the CN Tower. 

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                        The lobby for the apartments in the south tower.

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The luxurious Interior of the two-storey rebuilt podium that connects the two towers.

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Main entrance to the Park Hyatt from Avenue Road, the modern north tower in the background.

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The entrance on Bloor Street that at one time was the main entrance that gave access to the south tower (left-hand photo) and the Art Deco detailing directly above it (right).

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View looking north on Queen’s Park toward the magnificent Park Hyatt Hotel, the Royal Ontario Museum in the foreground on the left.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

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

Books by the Blog’s Author

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

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

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

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

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

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

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

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

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

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. 

Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

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

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

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

 

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Stories of Honest Ed’s Bargain Store

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The first time I visited Honest Ed’s at 581 Bloor Street West was in 1950, two years after it opened. I was 12 years old that year, and was a delivery boy for the Star newspaper, in which I had seen had seen the store’s ads advertising its low prices. Located at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets, the bargain emporium derived its name from its owner, Ed Mirvish, and the store was attracting considerable attention.

I will always remember the occasion. I had a few dollars extra that I had earned on my paper route, and as I had heard that prices on puzzles and games were cheap, I accompanied my mom and grandmother to the store. We departed on a Saturday morning and arrived shortly after it opened, at 9 am. The first thing that caught my attention was the wacky signs, painted in huge letters on the walls: “We open weekdays at noon, as our staff likes to sleep in.” “If you gotta glow, you gotta glow!” “Customers glow with happiness at Ed’s amazing bargains.” “Honest Ed’s, where only the floors are crooked.” “Our service is rotten, so serve yourself.” “Honest Ed’s no beauty. Whaddya expect at these prices, a movie star?”

Entering the store, I was amazed by the crowded interior. The store was comprised of several old houses, which had been gutted and connected. It was filled with display counters that overflowed with merchandise. The floors actually did sag, but prices were indeed reasonable. I saw Ed Mirvish at one of the noisy cash registers as he rang up sales. I recognized him from a newspaper picture I had seen. My mom and grandmother departed with several bags of goods, mostly clothing, grocery items and cleaning supplies that my mom said were great bargains. I purchased a jigsaw puzzle.

Several weeks later, while delivering my newspapers, I noticed an article about Honest Ed. I read it. This was when I learned a little about Ed Mirvish. He had been born in Virginia in 1914, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. In 1923, the family moved to Toronto and opened a store on Dundas Street, where they lived above it. Ed’s father died when he was fifteen, and he took over the business.

He opened Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street in 1948, selling merchandise from bankrupt companies and fire sales. Employing humorous slogans, he was highly successful in promoting his wares. Little did I realize that during the years ahead, his store would become an institution in Toronto, and that I would eventually be a subscriber at the wonderful Royal Alexandra Theatre, which he purchased and restored.

In the 1950s, when I was in high school, I worked for one summer at the Dominion Bank on the southeast corner of Bloor Street and Dovercourt Road. In this decades, the Dominion Bank had not yet amalgamated with the Bank of Toronto to form the Toronto Dominion Bank (TD Bank). At the bank branch where I worked, Ed Mirvish’s was the most important customer. He maintained a large amount of cash in his account to be able to purchase goods from bankrupt companies. He bought the merchandise at low prices and sold them in his store at prices that undercut his competitors.

During the late 1950s, Ed’s continued to expand, eventually occupying the entire block on the south side of Bloor Street, between Bathurst and Markham Streets.   

Ed Mirvish was to enter my life again in the late-1960s. This story illustrates the type of man that he was. My family took me out to dinner for my birthday, but they kept their choice of restaurant a surprise. I inquired if I should wear a tie and jacket and my brother told me that they were unnecessary. When we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that a tie and jacket were mandatory as it was Ed’s Warehouse on King Street. The waiter offered to provide the proper attire from the jackets and ties that they kept for such situations. He explained that they required the dress code to prevent vagrants from the opposite side of King Street, where there were railroad tracks, from entering the restaurant. We were offended, as the clothes they offered were grubby looking, and we were certainly not hobos. We were wearing freshly starched sport shirts and neat trousers.

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

We explained.

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

We enjoyed the meal of roast beef, green peas, and mashed potatoes. The dill pickles, bread rolls, and spumoni ice cream for dessert added to our pleasure. I think the roast beef was the finest ever served in Toronto.

When the cheque arrived, Honest Ed had reduced the bill by 50 per cent.

Ed Mirvish was a very smart businessman as well as a big-hearted individual. My family never forgot his generosity.

I was very sad when I heard that Ed’s son, David Mirvish, had decided to close the store on December 31st, 2016. The bargain store was an important part of the Toronto scene for over six decades. However, with competition from online shopping and stores such as Walmart, Honest Ed’s  was no longer the attraction that it once was. As well, many of those who had shopped there regularly, had relocated to suburban homes where there were shopping in malls nearby. Times change, and those who own commercial properties must change as well.

Though I had not shopped at Honest Ed’s for many years, I will miss the bright lights and flashing signs that dominated the corner of Bathurst and Bloor.

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Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street in the 1960s, when the store occupied the entire city block from Markham to Bathurst Streets. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, S 1057, Item 0465.

Series 1465, File 622, Item 18

View of Ed’s, looking east on Bloor Street from Markham Street in the 1980s. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1465, fl 0622, Item 0018.

Series 1465, File 514, Item 20

The west facade of the store on Markham Street in the 1980s. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1465, fl 0514, Item 0020. 

Sept. 23, 2013

The east facade of Honest Ed’s on Bathurst Street on September 13, 2013.

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Night view of the store, looking east on Bloor Street from west of Bathurst Street.

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           Some of Ed’s signs posted on the front of the store.

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The northeast corner of the store at Bathurst and Bloor Streets in September 2015.

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                                      Inside the store in 2015.

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A collection of items that were once in Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant on King St. West. The display was in a window that faced Bloor St. Photo taken in 2015.

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View of the northwest corner of the store in 2015, at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets.

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Another view of the northwest corner of the store in 2015, at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets.

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The alley on Bloor St., located between two of the sections of the store, which were connected by a passageway on the second floor level.

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Signage of the store on the Bloor Street, which created fame for Honest Ed’s.

Below is further information on Honest Ed’s that was provided by Gerry Tsuji. I am very grateful for his input as insight such as he possesses can be so easily forgotten.

When Ed was just starting out, my dad was a cook at a restaurant on the SE corner of Bloor-Bathurst a few doors in from Bathurst.  He remembered Ed coming in for breakfast every morning, newspaper in hand.  A small pleasant man.
I don’t think he received enough credit for supplying working class folks with many of their daily necessities at prices they could afford.  My family and the families of my buddies would fall into that category.  Clothes, school supplies, toys/games, household products, even food… Ed carried it all.  His loud, garish store made a lot of people’s lives, a little bit easier.
His store continued to evolve over the years too.  From his original store located in a house to his eventual store on Bloor, I can recall a sporting goods section where he carried ice skates and hockey sticks to baseballs and mitts.  This gave way to a shoe department where he sold what we laughingly called cardboard shoes because they fell apart when wet.  He had a whole floor devoted to toys and games at one time.  For awhile, he had a little snack bar on the third floor too.  More recently, he even added a pharmacy.  He certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things.
He left behind, an incredible legacy.

Ed’s had a shoe department at one time.   I mentioned his cardboard shoes in my previous email but we also bought our running shoes there.  They were very inexpensive and they lasted an unusually long time.  Two important considerations for us at the time.  They were a strange green colour instead of the usual black-white combination and they were so heavy, it was like wearing anchors on our feet.  They were actually called running boots.  We laughed at them even then.

He also had a large toy/game department.  At one time, it occupied pretty much his entire third floor.  He sold plastic model kits which included high end Lindberg models of iconic ships like the Bismarck.  They were 36″ long, motorized so that they could be ‘programmed’ to sail in figure eights or circles and the guns would go up and down.  As kids, we’d go to Ed’s to drool over these kits.  Eventually, one of us came up with the money to buy one.  We built it, took it to High Park on our bikes and promptly managed to sink it.  Since, it was in a small pond (not Grenadier), one of my buddies bravely volunteered to wade in for it, cut his foot open and thus ended the saga of the Bismarck.
Ed’s had a decent sporting goods section too.  I remember buying CCM Comet hockey sticks there for $1.25 when the latest curved, fibreglass models sold elsewhere for $10 and more.  As plain a hockey stick as there could possibly be but they served their purpose.

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

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

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

Books by the Blog’s Author

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

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

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

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

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

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

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

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

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

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. 

Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

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

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

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

 

Tags: , , ,