Sunday, October 31, 2010

# 9 ~ The Haunted Royal Ontario Museum, Then and Now

Greetings, boys and ghouls!  As a special creature feature for Hallowe'en, I thought I'd put up a post on one of Toronto's haunted historic locations, as always showing photographs "then and now".  For a dozen years now, I've operated two ghost tours of Toronto, and although they run all year, the "Hallowe'en Season" wraps up tonight, Sunday, October 31st, with the last tour starting at midnight.

Both tours begin outside the Royal Ontario Museum, at Bloor and Avenue Road, so I thought I'd share some information on its ghost story.

The Royal Ontario Museum was founded in 1912, and opened to the public two years later, in 1914.  The very first curator of the Royal Ontario Museum was a man named Charles Currelly, who was appointed as curator on the museum's founding in 1912.  Currelly had been an archaeologist in the Middle East, and actually brought back many of the items originally displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum. 

Charles Currelly was a bit of a workaholic, it seems.  As the rest of the staff left at the end of the day, Currelly would stay on into the night, burning the midnight oil and spending several hours on his own in the otherwise abandoned museum.  Nearly a century ago, when the museum first opened, its location at Bloor and Avenue Road would have been set out of the downtown core.  When Currelly worked late into the night, he would often give up on the prospects of getting home.  Soon, he spent so much time at the office, that he had a small folding cot installed in his office.  Instead of bothering to go home, he would often change into an old set of pygamas, known as a "nightshirt", and sleep through the night in his office.

Charles Currelly finally retired after nearly 35 years as curator of the museum.  From his start at the museum's founding in 1912, he worked as curator right up until 1946.  He oversaw an expansion of the building in 1933, which is familiar to today's museum visitors as the east side of the building, on Avenue Road.  He was also a steadfast curator during the formative decades of the museum's early life, and a dedicated workaholic.

Currelly enjoyed just over a decade of retired life before dying in 1957.  But apparently, that doesn't keep him from coming back.  Museum personnel claim to still see Currelly wandering around the building, especially late at night.  Some recognize from the old photographs from his days as curator ... others see his ghostly image, still wandering around in his nightshirt.  He's been seen on the museum's main floor, in the gallery where a lot of the Asian artefacts are now on display.  Also, he's seen in the rotunda area, on the east side of the building.  Past visitors to the museum will remember this rotunda from its time as the main entrance, before they opened up the new Michael Lee Chin crystal entrance on Bloor Street.  Currelly was a driving force behind this expansion, which was eventually unveiled in 1933.

But it seems that Currelly doesn't always have to be seen to make his presence known.  These days, staff members will be working late in their offices, all by themselves, after their coworkers have all gone home for the day.  They may not know it, but they are showing the same dedication that Currelly did when he was alive.  They are continuing Currelly's tradition and helping to keep his spirit alive ... in more ways than one!  Staff who are alone late at night in their office will hear the sound of some vintage, tinny radio music drifting into their work space.  This is unusual, as they claim that there is no radio or television playing in their office.  Thinking that someone else has come in to work late in the next room, they wander out into the hallway to see what's going on.  When they step out of their office, they find ... nothing.  No music.  No lights.  No coworkers.  They shrug it off, maybe putting it down to their imagination.  But when they step back into their office, they can still hear the old radio music playing.  When Currelly was working late at night, he used to like to listen to the radio to help keep himself company.  The explanation for today's late night workers is that Currelly is coming back, looking over their shoulder, and approving of their dedication ... and to keep them company, he is switching on his radio, from where ever he is now.

It gives an all new meaning to the concept of dead air time on the radio, doesn't it?  I'm not sure that it would convince me to work late at night, but I guess it's the thought that counts ...

THEN : The Royal Ontario Museum in 1922.  This side of the building, facing the west and "Philosopher's Walk" was the original facade of the building that opened to the public in 1914.  The Avenue Road side, on the east, didn't open until 1933.

THEN : A 1924 photography looking south from Bloor Street at the original Royal Ontario Museum.  No 1933 expansion, and no Michael Lee Chin crystal.

NOW : Looking along the new Michael Lee Chin Crystal on Bloor Street, from the Alexandra Gates.  This latest addition to the Royal Ontario Museum has gained a lot of notoriety.  Some love it, some hate it.  People have come from miles around to see it in person and decide for themselves.  But I suppose that there's no such thing as bad publicity ... as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, right?

NOW : Another view of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal.

THEN : The original Royal Ontario Museum, October 15, 1929.

THEN : The first expansion to the Royal Ontario Museum opened to the public on October 12, 1933.  Tour participants alre always divided as to what they think of the new crystal on Bloor Street, but believe it or not, reactions to this 1933 addition were equally divided.  Some people complained that it was too new and fanciful, and not "institutional" enough to represent a provincial museum.   It was too modern to be attached to the traditional 1914 structure.  Does that sound familiar?  This photograph dates from 1935.

NOW : The "old entrance" to the Royal Ontario Museum, opened up in the 1930s.

NOW : The 1930s addition to the Royal Ontario Museum was the second phase of the building.  Designed with a lot of imput from Charles Currelly, the first curator, it was just as controversial in its day as the big crystal on Bloor Street is today.

THEN : The Royal Ontario Museum's expansion in 1933.  Charles Currelly hand picked some of the mottos and other design elements of this 1933 phase of the museum.  It's said that he still likes to come back and admire his work ... even though he's been dead since 1957.

THEN : Looking south from Bloor Street in the 1930s.  Note that this is before Avenue Road was widened, and you can see the Alexandra Gates in their original position.  They were eventually moved to their current position, at the northern entrance to Philosopher's Walk.  Named after Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, they were opened in October of 1910 by Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later known as King George V and Queen Mary).

NOW : The Alexandra Gates in their new location, at the north entrance to Philosophers Walk.

THEN : A Chinese Tomb on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1933.  Charles Currelly is said to haunt the display of Asian artefacts at the Royal Ontario Museum.  These guardian lions are now on public display outside, on the east side of the Royal Ontario Museum building.

NOW : The same Asian lions that once stood inside the Royal Ontario Museum now "guard" the eastern side of the building, facing Queen's Park Circle.

NOW : The tiled walls of "Museum" subway station.



The foremost online authority on Toronto's ghost stories, the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society, or TGHRS, just celebrated thirteen years of supplying ghostly information to people in Toronto and throughout Ontario.

Their website collects ghost stories from Toronto and across Ontario, and they are the oldest and best established internet based paranormal research group in Canada.  They are the best resource for people who enjoy Toronto's ghost stories, and I just wanted to thank the two founders of the group, Matt and Sue, for their thirteen years of hard work.  Have a happy and safe Hallowe'en, guys, and thanks for all of your dedication.  For more information, please check out their link.

The Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society

Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who has come out on my ghost tours, not only in the last three weeks, but in the last twelve years.  It's been a pleasure for me to share some of Toronto's hidden secrets with you, and whether you're a believer or a sceptic, I hope that you've enjoyed yourself!  Have a fun and safe Hallowe'en, everybody!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

# 8 ~ Municipal Elections, Then and Now

Well, the 2010 Toronto Mayoral election is just around the corner, and all sorts of media time has been dedicated to talking about the candidates.  There's Rob Ford, who claims to want to stop the City Hall Gravy Train, and George Smitherman, who wants to stop Rob Ford.  The third major candidate, Joe Pantalone, seems to be trailing in third place but seems dedicated to keeping his name on the ballot.  The discussions are heated, and hopefully voter turn out will be good, but with the two leading candidates in a dead heat only time will tell who Toronto's next mayor will be.

I'll spare you the insights into my opinions of each of the candidates for this election, but instead, I thought I'd indulge in a retrospective of some of the former luminaries to grace out municipal council.  Were they heroes, or rogues?  Given that all my choices are firmly rooted in the past, I feel it's safe to hold forth on my own opinion.  Though maybe, some of them are well known enough to still resonate today, and others will come forward with a challenging opinion!

 Before the tall clock tower of "Old City Hall" loomed over Queen Street, Toronto's first purpose built city hall stood at the southwest corner of Front and Jarvis streets.  The red brick building, constructed in 1844, now serves as the entrance way to the south Saint Lawrence Market building.  As you walk through the doors off Front Street and head south, the old 1844 structure extends as far south as the "Souvenir Market" on the left, but not as far as the first set of butcher stalls.  Everything south of this 1844 brick building was Lake Ontario.  The set of two images below shows Toronto's first purpose built city hall in the mid-nineteenth century, and again today.  Note the Georgian style window, with its curved top, in the centre of the building, visible in both pictures.

THEN : Toronto's first purpose built city hall, shown in the mid-nineteenth century, when everything south of Front Street was still Lake Ontario.

NOW : The 1844 city hall has been converted into the Market Gallery, the lake waters south of it have been filled in and now house vendors.

Toronto was incorporated as a city on March 6th, 1834, meaning that for the first time, we needed to have an election for mayor.  Well, sort of.  Back in the old days, there were elections for city council held each and ever year.  People would elect their city councillors, and then the councillors themselves would chose who got to be mayor.  And when I say that "the people" got to elect the councillors, what I mean is that wealthy men who owned property got the vote.  The impoverished, working class men of Toronto were not allowed to vote, and of course the franchise for women would not become practice in Canada until well into the twentieth century.  These were our initial steps towards municipal democracy.

From 1834, when the City of Toronto was incorporated out of the old Town of York, elections for city council, and therefore, for Mayor, were actually held every single year, right up until 1956.  Traditionally, campaigning was done for three weeks in December, and elections were held on or about New Years Day.  Now that they let just about anyone in Toronto who's of age go drinking on New Years Eve, perhaps some changes are for the best.

Toronto's First Mayor (1834)

THEN : William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto's Mayor in 1834.

The first mayor to be chosen for the brand new City of Toronto was none other than William Lyon Mackenzie.  Born in Scotland in 1795, Mackenzie had emigrated to Canada in 1820, after leaving behind a youth spent drinking and gambling - not to mention the illegitimate son, James, that he left behind in the care of his aging mother.  Throughout the 1820s he was editor of a series of newspapers, most notable among them "The Colonial Advocate", which he used to slander various Tory politicians.  In 1826, the sons of some of the same wealthy luminaries who Mackenzie criticized broke in to Mackenzie's printing press, breaking up his equipment and throwing it into the harbour.  Although Mackenzie was in New York State at the time of their attack, he took them to court, and eventually won a substantial amount of money.  This was somewhat of a miracle for Mackenzie, as he'd been out of town in New York evading his creditors.  If those young Tories had just left him alone, Mackenzie probably would have gone bankrupt and no one would have heard from him again.

As it was, Mackenzie was able to use the money and the notoriety he gained from the Types Riot to launch a political career.  He was constantly being thrown out of the halls of government for his antagonistic behaviour, but then would get put in again in subsequent elections.  In 1834, the year that the City of Toronto was incorporated, he became our first mayor.  Mackenzie was essentially an ineffective mayor.  He did manage to throw out a number of conservative Tory candidates and replace them with his own supporters, but he did nothing to curb the large municipal debt, and he failed to make much needed improvements to municipal works.  In 1834, there was not even enough money to lay boards on the streets to serve as sidewalks.  Hmm, debates about government expense and struggles with the city's budget ... does that sound like a familiar election issue?

The Toronto city council had one thing to worry about in 1834 which fortunately has vanished today.  That year, the city was devastated by a cholera outbreak.  No one, rich or poor was immune, and whole families were wiped out by this terrible disease, which killed some individuals in half a day.  Huge mass graves - the most well known of which lies just to the east of the Cathedral Church of St. James - were filled in with hundreds of bodies.  Like everyone else, Mackenzie was impacted; he lost many friends to the epidiemic and was heartbroken by the death of his own daughter to the disease.  It was a great municipal tragedy.

Mackenzie's leadership style caused frequent arguments among his fellow councillors.  For his entire professional career, he was known as a man who was incapable of compromise.  By the summer of 1834, Mackenzie's style had crippled the city council and the Reformers accomplished nothing.  The Tories easily won the election of 1835 and Robert Baldwin Sullivan became Toronto's second mayor.  Just a few years later, in December of 1837, Mackenzie would be disgraced as the leader of the Rebellion of 1837, in which he led a large group of followers in an open revolution against the provincial government.  Although Mackenzie successfully escaped arrest and fled to the United States, several of his followers were captured and imprisoned.  Mackenzie literally left them to hang, with a few of the executions taking place on the north side of King Street, between Toronto and Church streets, more or less where a branch of the CIBC stands today.  Mackenzie lived the life of an exile until he was pardoned in 1849, and he returned to Toronto in 1850, dying in a house on Bond Street in 1861.

With his lack of accomplishments as mayor, his failure to muster any kind of cohesion amongst his fellow councillors, and his open revolt against the provincial government just a few years after his term as mayor, it's clear that as a municipal leader, William Lyon Mackenzie was a rogue!


Mayor of Toronto from 1845 to 1847, and again in 1858

THEN : William Henry Boulton, Mayor of Toronto, 1845 to 1847, 1858.

William Henry Boulton was a member of one of Toronto's wealthiest and most elite clans during the first part of the nineteenth century.  He was born into priviledge in 1812, here in Toronto, which was still known as the Town of York at the time of his birth.  Although he was only a boy when Mackenzie arrived in Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1820, William Henry had the honour of being a member of the first family that our "illustrious" first mayor criticized in his reformist newspapers.  As a young man, Boulton studied law and entered a legal practice.  Boulton was first elected to Toronto's City Council in 1838, and in 1844 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada (then made up of parts of present day Ontario and Quebec).  As a member of the Legislative Assembly, Boulton represented Toronto as a conservative member - not surprising giving his family's membership among the establishment. 

Boulton served as Mayor of Toronto from 1845 to 1847, and then again in 1858.  Between the time of Mackenzie's Rebellion of 1837, and Confederation in 1867, there were many debates regarding reforms to  Canada's politics, education and governance.  This period saw the secularization of certain institutions that had formerly been run by the Anglican Church.  Most notable among them was education.  King's College, the predecessor to the University of Toronto, was originally established by the Church, and it was at this time that it was turned into a secular institution.  But the separation of church and education was not without heated debate.  Boulton voted against the secularization of post secondary education, showing his true conservative stripes.  However, he did show some support for reform, supporting a movement to make the Legislative Council elected, and not merely appointed.

William Henry Boulton died in Toronto in 1874, and his wife Hariette Boulton inherited the family estate, known as the Grange.  She remarried shortly after, and her new husband, Goldwin Smith, moved in with her.  When Smith died in 1910, the house was bequeathed to become the "Art Gallery of Toronto".  In the last century, the modern Art Gallery of Ontario - including the recent additions by famed Toronto architect Frank Gehry - has grown around the Boulton home.  The Grange dates back to 1817, making it one of the oldest surviving brick homes from the old Town of York.


Alderman for Toronto from 1894 to 1914, and acting Mayor for Toronto

THEN : William Peyton Hubbard, "Toronto's Grand Old Man".

Perhaps one of the most well loved politicians in the history of Toronto's city council, William Hubbard was born in Toronto in 1842.  His parents were escaped slaves, who fled to Canada from the United States, at a time when cities like Toronto were a haven for those escaping America before the end of slavery after their civil war.  Hubbard had embarked upon more than one career before entering municipal politics.  He worked as a baker for some time, and even invented a special oven, known as the "Hubbard Oven".  For a while, he worked as a coachman.  The story goes that while driving his coach across what would have then been the wilds of the Don River, at about Queen Street, he happened upon a man who looked to be drowning.  Hubbard rescued him, pulling him from the water, and discovered that it was none other than George Brown, Father of Canadian Confederation, spokesman for Canada's involvement in the Underground Railroad, and founder of "The Globe" newspaper, which would eventually become "The Globe and Mail".  From that point, Brown took an interest in Hubbard's career.

It wasn't until he was in his fifties that Hubbard entered politics, winning his first municipal election in 1894.  He served in city council over a span of two decades, and although he was never officially Mayor of Toronto, he did serve as Acting Mayor on a number of occasions.  Throughout his career he was known for a deep sense of public duty, a quick wit, and a wonderful ability for public speaking.  He fought to keep public supplies of water and hydroelectricity out of the hands of private companies, and kept large corporations from instituting harsh licensing restricitions on smaller companies, thereby ensuring that the small companies could remain open and offer competition.

Hubbard retired by 1915 and settled down in Toronto's Riverdale district, moving into a house on Broadview just south of Danforth.  He died in Toronto in 1935 at the age of 93.  He had long since earned the nickname of "Toronto's Grand Old Man", and was for at least a time the oldest man living in Toronto.


Mayor of Toronto from 1928 to 1929, and again in 1936

THEN : Sam McBride, Mayor of Toronto in 1928 to 1929, and again in 1936.
Samuel McBride's name may be familiar to modern day Torontonians because of the ferry to the Toronto Islands that carries on his name.  McBride had a cottage on the Toronto Islands, and represented the Islands as Alderman during part of his thirty years in Toronto municipal politics.  Believe it or not, in the mid-1930s there was a debate about building a tunnel to the Toronto Islands, but McBride had it stopped.  It was only after his death that the City of Toronto opened up the Island Airport, and the debates about alternate transportation to the Toronto Islands are still going on almost 75 years after McBride's death in 1936.

Although McBride had made a fortune in the lumber industry before entering muncipal politics in the early 1900s, he was considered a candidate for the working class.  He supported reducing the work day to only eight hours, and spoke out in favour of giving votes to women.  He also helped to develop the Toronto Transit Commission, and helped to build the Coliseum at the Canadian National Exhibition.

Despite his apparent abundance of humanity, he had a terrible temper.  He got into at least one fist fight with another alderman, and at one point, during another argument, threw a can of beans at another alderman.  He missed his intended target, but left a dent in the wood panelling of the council chambers.  He died on November 10th, 1936, becoming the first Mayor of Toronto to die in office.


Mayor of Toronto in 1963

THEN : Donald Summerville in 1959, before becoming Mayor of Toronto.  On the right is another later Mayor, Nathan Phillips, who became the first Jewish Mayor of Toronto.

Before entering city politics, Summerville served as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.  Legend states that during his training, he accidentally bombed the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.  Summerville was elected to city council in 1955, serving as an alderman for a ward in the Beaches, and was eventually elected Mayor of Toronto in 1963.

On November 19th, 1963, Mayor Donald Summerville was playing at a charity hockey game in the west end of Toronto.  Tragedy struck when he suffered a heart attack.  There was an ambulance only about a mile away, in York Township, but it was never called due to the system of municipal boundaries that existed at the time.  Instead, a City of Toronto ambulance was sent out from over ten miles away.  Had the closer ambulance been sent, Summerville may have lived, but instead he died waiting for an ambulance from Toronto.  It was only after his death - complicated by a bureaucratic municipal policy - that the new Department of Emergency Services was created, and various Toronto emergency services were amalgamated.  Summerville was generally a popular mayor, and his death was considered a great tragedy throughout Toronto, but his funeral was overshadowed somewhat.  Summerville's funeral was held on November 22nd, 1963 - as his funeral cortege wound its way through a closed downtown Toronto, residents also learned that American President John Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas that very same day.


Since 1834, Toronto has had 63 mayors.  There's been too much unsavoury behaviour to expound on in one post.  Here are a few highlights of the lives and misdeeds of some of our other mayors, not covered above.

HENRY SHERWOOD was Mayor of Toronto from 1842 to 1844.  As a young man in 1826, he'd been one of a group of rich thugs who broke into the printing presses of William Lyon Mackenzie, at Front and Frederick streets.  The gang broke up Mackenzie's type and threw it in the harbour.  This was the afforementioned "Types Riot" that launched Mackenzie's publishing and political career.  Sherwood had 18 children, and claimed that he was unable to pay for all of his expenses during his term.  Sherwood died in 1855, in Bavaria, while travelling through Europe on a luxury first class vacation, having left his brood of children at home.

ERNEST MacDONALD was Mayor of Toronto in 1900, and surely was mayor for a new century.  He'd blown a real estate fortune worth $200-million in current figures, and had run for over a dozen elected positions - and lost - before being elected as Mayor of Toronto.  He served a single year, then was defeated.  He had a nervous breakdown, and his health continued to deteriorate.  He took to his bed and died of acute syphilis in 1903.

ALLAN LAMPORT was the Mayor of Toronto from 1952 to 1954.  He was, apparently, highly popular back in the day, though his lifestyle was larger than life itself.  In two years as mayor, he spent somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 in high end dinners, alcohol, cigars and a private suite at the Royal York Hotel, all without any kind of approval and all at the expense of the taxpayers.

Such were the characters that have made up our municipal leadership for the last 176 years.  Whoever we get over the next four years, hopefully knowing who we've had will help give you a bit of balance ... even if you don't end up voting for our next mayor!


And now for something almost as frightening as staying up late on Monday night to watch the polls close ...

Every night from now until October 31st, I run my "Hallowe'en Season" of ghost tours.  The two-hour "Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" tour runs every night at 7:00 p.m., and the shorter "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" tour runs every night at 10:00 p.m.  Both tours are held each and every night.  Make sure to reserve though, as some nights are already almost sold out.  Reservations may be made by contacting me by e-mail at, or by telephone at (416) 487-9017.  Hallowe'en is always a busy time of year, and I am thankful to all the people who help to keep it that way!

Sign up now, as some nights are already sold out!
For more information on either of the two ghost tours, please visit these links.
"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" Tour
"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" Tour

Sunday, October 17, 2010

# 7 ~ Fran's Diner, Then and Now

NOW : The neon lights over Fran's Restaurant on College Street welcomes patrons 24 hours a day.

In my last entry, I talked about the history of Thanksgiving Day celebrations in Canada.  A tradition for me over the past several years has been to have at least one Thanksgiving Dinner at Fran's Restaurant, one of Toronto's cultural landmarks.  I've been going to the Fran's location at Yonge and College for longer than I'd care to admit, and am often there after late night ghost tours.  As with every Thanksgiving for more than ten years now, the second weekend of October marks three straight weeks of offering ghost tours, each and every night.  So, it's tradition, in a way, that I spend an evening there on Thanksgiving Weekend to launch my "Hallowe'en Season".  In the past couple of years, the sense of this being something near a solitary vigil has been broken, and I've been joined by a few friends.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Fran's really is a cultural Toronto institution.  The original Fran's Restaurant was opened in 1940, along St. Clair Avenue West, a few doors down from Yonge Street.  It was started by Francis "Fran" Deck, from whom it got its name.  The original Fran's diner had only ten seats, but the location soon expanded.  The chain expanded, too, with restaurant locations opening on College Street, just west of Yonge, and on Eglinton Avenue East, just east of Yonge Street.  Another location eventually opened in Hamilton, Ontario.

Fran Deck was tragically killed in a car crash in 1977, but his children carried on the business for about two decades.  In the 1990s, the entire Fran's chain was purchased by a group of investors, with the exception of the College Street location, which was bought up by a family in 1997.  The other locations were sold off, and the College Street location was the only one to survive.  In 1998, the owners of the College Street location bought up the rights to the name, and have started to open up new locations, breathing new life into the restaurant chain.  In 2004, a new location opened at Victoria and Shuter Streets.  In 2006 , a new location on Barrie's Bayfield Street was opened.  In 2009, Fran's opened up their first American location, in Kansas City, and 2010, a third Toronto location was planned for the corner of Front and Yonge streets.

Even in its early days, Fran's was known for being open around the clock, for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  That explains the convenient stop off after a long night of ghost tours, where I end my day sometime between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.  Today, only the Toronto locations are opened all the time. As the sign on the front window of the College Street location proudly proclaims ... "Always Open".

Francis "Fran" Deck was the one who coined the term "Banquet Burger", and Fran's was the first restaurant to list the notorious hamburger with cheese and bacon under that name on its menu.  He should have slapped a copyright on the name, just as fast as he slapped the bacon and cheese down on the beef.  Other renowned Fran's menu items include their rice pudding and their chili, both of which have been winning food competitions in Toronto for seventy years.  In recent years, Fran's has added "fusion" cuisine to their menu, but it's always best to stick to what they're known for.  Diner food is their specialty ~ omelettes, hamburger, hashbrowns, and the 24-hour a day availability of a breakfast menu.

THEN and NOW : Forget the fusion cuisine.  Fran's is best known for "diner food".  Francis "Fran" Deck is the one that came up with the name "banquet burger", and their rice pudding, shown in this photograph, has been winning food awards in Toronto for decades.

Before the doors of Maple Leaf Gardens were closed for the last time, the College Street location of Fran's was a popular stop for hockey fans, either before or after the game.  Even after the tragic closure of the Gardens, the stadium's former clientele still continued to visit Fran's, for old times sake.

The most celebrated customer at the St. Clair Avenue West location of Fran's was probably the famous Canadian musician, Glenn Gould.  Gould, who remains one of the best known classical pianists of the twentieth-century, was also known for his eccentric lifestyle.  He lived in a small flat across from the St. Clair Avenue location of Fran's, and would come in almost every night, at 2:00 o'clock in the morning, and would always order the same thing ~ a plate of scrambled eggs.  Gould claimed to be hypersensitive to feeling cold, and would wear heavy layers of clothing, even in warm locations.  Done up in his standard dress of a coat, a hat and mittens, he was once mistaken for a vagrant and arrested while sitting on a park bench during a visit to Florida.  He would come into Fran's, on St. Clair Avenue, in the middle of the night, and eat his scrambled eggs while wearing a pair of gloves.

THEN : Glenn Gould, the famous Canadian pianist, was a notoriously eccentric regular at the Fran's on St. Clair Avenue.  He'd arrive at 2:00 a.m. and always order the same thing - a plate of scrambled eggs.

THEN : A 1940 menu from Fran's Restaurant.
For more historical information and images, please visit the Fran's homepage :

NOW : The bright lights of Fran's on College Street can't help but attract the passerby.  They're always open!

NOW : Fran's spelled out in the floor tiles at the College Street location.

NOW : The late night staff of Fran's on College Street are obviously a welcoming lot, especially the one hiding behind the bar.

NOW : Booth advertising, Fran's College Street location.

NOW : Fran's Thanksgiving menu, 2010.

NOW : Fran's Thanksgiving dinner, 2010.  Our party's "Fransgiving" celebration was made all the better because we ate at midnight on a Saturday night.  We also contemplated what it would be like to sit down to a full turkey dinner at seven o'clock in the morning.  Perhaps we should have spent several hours drinking coffee, and stayed for breakfast.

NOW : No Thanksgiving is complete with the pumpkin pie for dessert.  It's all the better since the dessert plate is inscribed with the Fran's name.


Every night from now until October 31st, I run my "Hallowe'en Season" of ghost tours.  The two-hour "Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" tour runs every night at 7:00 p.m., and the shorter "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" tour runs every night at 10:00 p.m.  Both tours are held each and every night.  Make sure to reserve though, as some nights are already almost sold out.  Reservations may be made by contacting me by e-mail at, or by telephone at (416) 487-9017.  Hallowe'en is always a busy time of year, and I am thankful to all the people who help to keep it that way!

Sign up now, as some nights are already sold out!
For more information on either of the two ghost tours, please visit these links.
"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" Tour
"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" Tour

Sunday, October 10, 2010

# 6 ~ Thanksgiving, Then and Now

When I have American visitors on tours through Toronto, I love explaining to them how Canada is, in many ways, very similiar to the United States.  They can go to a movie, turn on the radio or television, and get much the same culture that they would back home.  But I then expound on all of the subtle differences between Canada and the United States.  We Canadians tend to celebrate these little distinctions, maybe because culturally we are so much like the Americans.  We pronounce and spell our words differently (have you ever noticed that English is not really the same in any two English speaking countries?).  Unlike the Americans, who enshrine all legislative power in one individual, we separate our Head of Government from our Head of State.  I like telling them that one of the main reasons we hold on to our constitutional monarchy is simply because we don't trust our elected officials as much as they do, and that usually gets a curious reaction.

The other subtle difference between us and them, of course, is when, how and why we celebrate our holidays.  The major ones - Christmas, Easter, that kind of thing - are all the same.  The Americans venerate their first president, that rogue and revolutionary, George Washington.  We celebrate Queen Victoria, "the Mother of Confederation", instead.  Not many people are aware that the good old "May two-four" is actually a double holiday.  It commemorates Queen Victoria's birthday, but it is also the official Canadian birthday of the present sovereign.  Our current sovereign's birthday actually falls on April 21st, so we're usually about a month late in throwing her a party.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is celebrated on a different date, and for different reasons, in Canada than it is in the United States.  While we celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, they celebrate theirs on the fourth Thursday in November.  Their Thanksgiving is steeped in more religious tradition, whereas ours is more of just a pagan celebration of gathering in the end-of-season harvest.  I'm not going to say that either of the two is any better than the other ... but, seriously, Thanksgiving on a Thursday?  At the end of November?  It seems like a dry run for Christmas.  Which, apparently, is not altogether unintentional, south of the border.  In America, Thanksgiving Thursday is when they all have dinner, and the following day, Friday, is generally accepted as a holiday.  On Friday, everyone goes out and does some advance shopping for Christmas.  Retail America calls this day "Black Friday", which sounds ominous, but the name actually refers to the fact that the day is the single most profitable day of the year for many stores, and the day on which the ink in their ledgers turns from red (indicating a loss) to black (indicating a profit).  Hence "Black Friday".

But, back to our Canadian traditions.  Historically, Canadians inherited Thanksgiving from English festivals at harvest time.  To me, these celebrations have always seemed one part Christian and one part pagan.  There were elements of Christian worship, with special harvest time religious services, which included special hymns and the reading of Biblical passages to praise God for his bounty.  But it also seems very much tied to the land - a sort of "thank you" to a fertile mother nature for seeing us through another year, presumably without too many friends or neighbours dying of starvation.  This kind of celebration has gone on for hundreds of years, or longer in some older cultures.

Today, with a general decline in attendance at Divine Worship of any kind, Thanksgiving has become more of a secular holiday.  Hopefully, though, most people do feel a sense of gratitude as they sit down at the dinner table and gorge themselves (even if they feel regret, afterwards).

Going back through time, various Canadian aboriginal people celebrated a "thanksgiving" of some kind.  These were taking place for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans in North America.  These, too, were often festivals celebrating the bounty of the natural harvest.

With the arrival of the Europeans, there were new days of thanksgiving.  Not all of these were celebrations relating to the harvest; in fact, there have been many diverse reasons why Canadians have come together to be thankful.  In the early days of European exploration, a day of thanksgiving was often observed for the survival of some sort of expedition.  There were national festivals of thanksgiving to celebrate victory in war, or the health of a national leader.  Our regular, annual commemoration of the harvest - and thus, what we think of when we hear the word "thanksgiving" - has only come around in the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher through a thanksgiving party when he successfully returned to Newfoundland, after a quest a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, through the frigid straits of the Canadian Arctic.  His "thanksgiving party" had nothing to do with the harvest, but was thrown because he was so happy to make it back alive.  Frobisher was later knighted, and had an inlet in modern day Nunavut named after him, but he is often as uncredited as possibly the first European in North America to celebrate Thanksgiving, for one reason or another.

THEN : Sir Martin Frobisher, who in 1578 became, quite possibly, the first European to throw a Thanksgiving dinner in North America.  He was grateful to have sailed through the Arctic without freezing to death. 

Around the same time that Frobisher and other Englishmen were exploring the New World, the French had got the same idea.  From about 1604 onwards, the French settlers who struggled along with Samuel de Champlain to set up a fledgling colony in "New France" began having thanksgiving day celebrations.  Those first winters were brutal, and many settlers died of diseases related to malnutrition, like scurvy.  To lift their spirits, the French would hold a day of thanks, to show their gratitude and faith in the Divine for making it through another year.  They even instituted an order of chivalry to add to the festivities.  Referred to in French as "L'Ordre de Bon Temps", or in English as "The Order of Good Cheer", it was recently revived by the government of Nova Scotia as a provincial order.  The purpose of the original order, as read in it's charter, was "to share in the fellowship and good cheer enjoyed among the "nevous noblise" of New France, as they wintered together in Port-Royal, and to revel in the Glory of King Henry IV."  There's nothing like reveling in a bit of glory to help make it through a tough Canadian winter.

NOW : The Medallion of the Order of Good Cheer, which was revived as a Provincial Order in Nova Scotia.  The original order was founded in 1606.
Ultimately, the Seven Years War came to a close, and the British took over France's territory in the New World.  In Britain's dominions throughout North America, there were hopes for peace, and finally, the end of conflict.  But almost immediately, the American Revolution broke out, once again plunging North America into conflict.  Even after the Revolution came to an end, war didn't cease.  In the summer of 1812, the Americans declared war on Britain, and attacked her possessions in Canada.  These included more than one invasion of the Town of York, with the most major one taking place in April of 1813, when American troops landed on the grounds of the Ex, stormed Fort York, and burned down our parliament buildings.

These three conflicts - the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 - were the major colonial disputes in which Canadians would gain firsthand experience.  In just over fifty years, from the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, which ended the War of 1812, Canadians were faced with three great conflicts.  Each time, they prayed for peace, and each time, they gave thanks when they got it.  In April of 1815, when news of the Treaty of Ghent reached Canadian shores, a day of thanksgiving was held to mark "the end of the war with the United States of America, and the restoration of the blessings of Peace".  When Britain's war with Napoleanic France was concluded, there was a day of thanksgiving held in Lower Canada on May 21, 1816.  There were two great outbreaks of cholera, one in 1832, and another in 1834.  In Toronto alone, these two outbreaks wiped out at least one thousand people, and probably more.  Thanksgiving ceremonies were held after each outbreak, to celebrate the "cessation of cholera".  When diseases like cholera and typhus ravaged the population, we naturally blamed the newcomers, and large numbers of immigrants were quaranted on Grosse Isle, on the Saint Lawrence River.  The island turned into the largest burial grounds of victims of the Irish Potato Faminie outside of Ireland.  A thanksgiving day ceremony was held when the end to the Grosse Isle quarantine was announced.

You get the idea.  There were large scale disasters that Canadians thought deserved some kind of religious observance, so after each one, a "Thanksgiving Day" was observed by specific proclamation.  But still, there was no regular, annual Thanksgiving Day, to mark the harvest.  The first Thanksgiving Day after Confederation in 1867 was in 1872, to celebrate the physical recovery of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the son of Queen Victoria and the future King Edward VII.  Such were our imperial ties that two more Victorian milestones would warrant their own days of Thanksgivings.  These were Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, to commemorate fifty years on the throne in 1887, and her Diamond Jubilee, celebrating sixty years on the throne, in 1897. 

THEN : The official portrait for Queen Victoria`s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.  As opposed to a harvest festival, members of Canada`s Royal Family were offer popular inspirations for various Thanksgiving Days.  In 1887 and 1897, Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving to mark Queen Victoria`s fifty and then sixty years as sovereign.

By 1900, we begun having a Thanksgiving Day every autumn, to celebrate the "blessings of an abundant harvest".  But these were annual proclamations.  Thanksgiving had not yet been established as a set annual tradition, and it was up to the whim of the Federal Government to decree whether or not we would actually get a Thanksgiving Day in any given year. 

It was after the First World War that Thanksgiving Day became associated with "Armistice Day" in Canada.  Armistice Day, held on November 11th, was the precursor to the modern Remembrance Day in Canada.  Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day were held together and went hand in hand, as a reminder of our bounty but also as a day of gratitude that the First World War was over.  Young Canadians, like soldiers on both sides of the conflict the world over, went into the war thinking that they'd be home within weeks.  Four years later, there were almost 40,000,000 casualties on both sides.  The world was devastated, and the eventual return to peace was cause for a euphoric celebration, not to mention a sense of gratitude. 

Incidentally, the last documented soldier to be killed in World War One was a Canadian soldier, from Falmouth, Nova Scotia, named George Lawrence Price.  He was shot in the heart by a German sniper, while serving in Belgium, at 10:58 a.m., just two-minutes before the ceasefire ending the war came into effect.  There is a certain companionship between remembrance and thanksgiving, so in a way perhaps it's appropriate that the two holidays, Thanksgiving Day and Armistice Day were held together for several years after the end of the First World War.

THEN : George Lawrence Price was a Canadian soldier, and the last soldier on either side to be killed in the First World War.  For a time, the Canadian Thanksgiving Day and Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day) were held together, as one holiday.

THEN : October, 1918, Canadian soldiers attend a religious Service of Thanksgiving in France`s Cambrai Cathedral. After the First World War, Thanksgiving and Remembrance had a long association with one another, until the two holidays were finally split in 1931.

THEN : A Toronto family reads a headline declaring the end of the First World War.

THEN : Armistice Day, 1918, at Queen Street West and Terauley Street (now Bay Street).  From 1921 until 1931, Canada`s Thanksgiving Day and Armistice Day were both celebrated together, on November 11th.

THEN : Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Queen Street and Yonge Street, Toronto.

THEN : Armistice Day, Toronto, November 11, 1918.

THEN : Canadian soldiers faced disillusionment when they returned home.  This photograph from 1920 shows Canadian veterans of World War One marching in protest on a combined Armistice and Thanksgiving Day.

In 1931, the two holidays of Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were separated.  That year, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day, and Thanksgiving Day become more and more bound as an autumnal festival in commemoration of a bountiful harvest.  Canadians finally settled on celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday of October, each and every year in 1957.  That year, the Government of Canada proclaimed that there would be "a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed, to be observed on the second Monday in October."

THEN : By the 1930s, Toronto`s prominent Jarvis family had steeped a tradition of holding a traditional English hunt on Thanksgiving Day.  This photograph from about 1930 shows Aemilius Jarvis, far right, leading out the Thanksgiving Day hunt.  Jarvis was a noted Canadian businessman and sailor.  He helped to establish the Canadian Navy during the First World War, and worked for King George V as a spy in the court of Czar Nicholas II in 1915.  A blight on his later career took place when he was convicted of trying to commit fraud against Ontario`s provincial government.  Though he actually served jail time, he professed innocence for the rest of his life. 

THEN : Jarvis family Thanksgiving Day hunt in the 1930s.  On the right is Lady Flora Eaton, wife of John Craig Eaton, and as such, the daughter-in-law of the famed Canadian department store founder, Timothy Eaton.

THEN : Jarvis family Thanksgiving Day hunt, 1930s.

THEN : A more anonymous rider enjoys the autumnal colours of Wilket Creek Park, in the autumn of 1969.

NOW : Pumpkin selection, St. Lawrence Market, Thanksgiving Weekend, 2010.

NOW : Pumpkin selection, St. Lawrence Market, 2010.

NOW : Gourds and maize, St. Lawrence Market, 2010.

NOW : Candied apples, North Market, 2010.

NOW : Pumpkin Pie, North Market, 2010.

NOW : Thanksgiving Decoration, Cathedral Church of St. James, 2010.

NOW : Thanksgiving Altar Decoration, Cathedral Church of St. James, 2010.

NOW : Thanksgiving Altar Decoration, Cathedral Church of St. James, 2010.


Every year, on Thanksgiving Weekend, I start up my "Hallowe'en Season" of ghost tours.  The two-hour "Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" tour runs every night at 7:00 p.m., and the shorter "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" tour runs every night at 10:00 p.m.  Between Friday, October 8th and Sunday, October 31st, both tours are held each and every night.  Make sure to reserve though, as some nights are already almost sold out.  Reservations may be made by contacting me by e-mail at, or by telephone at (416) 487-9017.  Hallowe'en is always a busy time of year, and I am thankful to all the people who help to keep it that way!

For more information on either of the two ghost tours, please visit these links.
"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" Tour
"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" Tour